Civilian “Young Turk” Mountain Bike – My Thoughts

A look at the Young Turk. (photo courtesy of Civilian)

Big bicycle brands love flash. Bright colors. Huge graphics. The hollow rattle of a carbon frame. And many riders share the love.

But not all of them. Some prefer understatement.

For them, there’s Idaho-based Civilian. It makes the bicycle equivalent of Cold War-era Soviet MiG fighters – hardy, utilitarian, affordable.

Civilian encompasses the entire bike spectrum, from road bike to mountain bike … all built from steel – not the lightest material, but hard to beat for ride quality, longevity and value. Civilian is creating a dealer network, says designer Tyson Hart. So far, Civilian is only available online at Competitive Cyclist. Hart hopes to find shops "with some soul" that fit the Civilian ethos.

The Civilian frames are made in China, then painted and assembled in Taiwan, Hart says.

"The factory is Taiwanese owned and I spent much time researching manufacturers that I wanted to partner with and I chose the factory based on working conditions, quality of output and overall professionalism," he says. "The factory I use to build Civilian excelled at all three criteria and is used by other US- and Europe-based bike companies."

The Civilian mountain bike line includes the Luddite ($1,049) a singlespeed 29er and The Young Turk ($1,499) 29er, which has a 10-speed drivetrain and a Rock Shox Reba suspension fork.

The Young Turk’s sole nods to advanced mountain bike technology are a Rock Shox suspension and Avid hydraulic disc brakes. The 10-speed drivetrain is a bit newfangled since 10-speed rear derailleurs and cassettes are relative newcomers. It’s still stripped down compared to 27- and 30-speed drivetrains.

Eliminating a front derailleur isn’t a very popular setup for a mountain bike. But it could be a perfect setup for many Phoenix-area rides: Many riders could find some use for a 10-speed setup at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Papago Park, the Desert Classic at South Mountain and the Fantasy Island North Singlestrack network in the West Valley. The flatter, rolling terrain on these trails makes the extreme gear range less important. And fewer chainrings makes it easier to dial a drivetrain in and makes cleaning it a few steps easier.


Scandinavia – My Travel Packing List

Epic trips require epic backpacks. Store that away for a rainy day, eh?

Scandinavia is less than a month away. Well, same for Finland, which is really a Nordic country. No matter what you call this trip, it’s time to mentally pack my bags for a trip through Sweden, Finland, Norway and possibly a bit of Estonia.

We like camping and hiking when we travel, which adds challenges people who go on laid-back beach vacations won’t ever encounter. So, what’s on the packing list for Scandinavia? Pretty much the same stuff I brought to Iceland with a few new additions …

  • Cook stove (MSR Whisperlite International) – I’ll never go on a camping vacation without it after seeing a French family whip up a gourmet meal with one -- while I choked down a cold military MRE pack. It sounds like bottles and fuel are readily available in Scandinavia. There’s no reason to eat bad when you travel!
  • t-shirts and underwear (tasc Performance) – I wind up wearing the same stuff for many days. The bamboo blend of the tasc Performance gear resists funky stench. And it’s super-comfortable. tasc sent me some of its latest bamboo/merino wool blends to test out above the Arctic circle. It’s not on the tasc website yet, but you can check here for other tasc goodies. Watch for a full review later. I expect they’ll be great for hiking and camping.
  • Shirts (Kuhl Breakaway Cafe) – These follow the "no stink allowed" theme. They’re made from something called Coffeenna, which incorporates recycled coffee grounds to beat the stink. Also comfortable to the max. I flogged them without mercy in the humidity of Asia and stayed fresh the whole while. A perfect travel shirt.

I’ll also bring a few packets of freeze-dried foods to get us started. But we may switch to canned stuff once we’re on the ground … I imagine all sorts of canned fish products in Scandinavia. Lutefisk, anyone?

And my travel pillow stays home this time. I’ll bring an inflatable pillow instead, and use a stuff sack as either a pillowcase or a second pillow. I might also skip my infamous hat and just roll with a decent stocking cap instead. But that should do it for the big Scandinavia trip.


Review: tasc bamboo athletic wear

tasc performance
Kettlebells – a great way to sweat enough to test the tasc Carrollton T.

Bamboo fiber athletic gear is one of my favorite finds of the last year. I ran across the brand then-known as Thriv at my local Sports Authority. I added several bits to my collection before Thriv changed its name to tasc Performance.

I reviewed my original shirts and shorts and tasc performance took notice of my comments. They sent me some of its latest gear (the Blaze LS crew, Carrollton t-shirt and Sideline shorts) for a Wandering Justin review back in February. Here’s what I found:

tasc Bamboo Blaze LS Crew

This is pretty much a long-sleeve version of the short-sleeve relaxed-fit t-shirt from my earlier review. It’s great for the cool winter months, or as a base layer for skiing or other winter sports. The snow was too pathetic this year for me to test it skiing, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t be up for the job. I had no concerns about the fit or the feel based on my previous bamboo athletic gear experience. You can expect it to be comfortable and to wick sweat.

This one is still going strong in the winter of 2020.

Carrollton T

This tasc performance t-shirt is perfect for the warmer months. I ran this shirt through the ringer of CrossFit and kettlebell workouts, and it was a perfect workout shirt. I tested the antimicrobial/anti-odors that’s one of the bamboo selling points: four consecutive workouts in the same shirt, no washing. It only started to smell ready for a wash after the fourth workout … and don’t take my word for it: I used my wife as a smell tester for this review. What a lucky girl! Conclusion: This is a flawless workout t-shirt.

And they last a long time. As I’m updating this in December 2020, both of these shirts are going strong.

Sideline Short

One of my few complaints about my earlier Thriv/tasc gear centered on the shorts. They didn’t have pockets, and they had that annoying built-in underwear. I loved the feel of the fabric, but I felt like the shorts needed to address these two points. Wouldn’t you know it? The latest tasc bamboo shorts have pockets and ditched the mesh underwear. Great!

But there’s one little hiccup: The Sideline shorts reach below my knee. I like my shorts to be a touch more out of the way. I imagine some people must like them longer; maybe tasc can mull the idea of a shorter version, more like its Ace Short. Still, the Sidelines are the first shorts I reach for at workout time.

As if 2020, I wore these shorts so much that they were worn out a few years ago.

Final Thoughts: tasc Bamboo

Here’s what you can conclude from my review: tasc performance has kept things the same where they need to, and made strides to near perfection in others. From the non-performance side, you also get athletic gear made with sustainability in mind. To adapt a phrase from George Costanza, I’d drape myself in tasc bamboo athletic gear if it was socially acceptable.

As of December 2020, I’ve retired two pairs of my tasc undies and one pair of shorts. Everything else is still pretty solid.

tasc Performance could use some Twitter followers. Get over there and find out more!

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Camera Tips for Low-Light Photos

Long exposures gather the light and show your favorite low-light travel sights for what they are.

Using a camera in low light is a challenge for travelers. You might wind up in places like dense rain forests or – like in my last post – a lava tube deep underground. After I finished the last post, I realized it could also illustrate some good low-light photo tips.

Let’s say you’re headed out for an epic vacation, and all you plan to take is a camera. But you don’t want to miss a shot. Here’s what you need to know.

Pick Your Camera

You don’t need a pro-level digital SLR. But you need a camera with manual controls. You will absolutely need to maintain some sort of control of your shutter speed. I’d also recommend a camera that allows you to select ISO.

Live off the Land

You probably don’t have a tripod, so you’ll have to innovate. Look for a stable place to plop your camera … someplace flat and secure. You’ve just found yourself a “field tripod.”

Pick your spot for a makeshift tripod and make some photo magic,

Set Your Camera Up

The fun start now. Experiment with 5-, 10-, 20- and 30-second exposures. But even before you get there, set your camera so that it delays before opening the shutter. The longer you give yourself, the more time you have to compose yourself in the photo. Or keep it quick – 2.5 seconds or so – if you are just going for landscape. But do use a delay: If you just click the shutter, that can be just enough jiggle to ruin the sharpness of your shot. Hello, accidental and unwelcome blur.

A slow-shutter look at Majanngul Lava Tube

Get Ready for Surprises

You’ll get interesting effects from long exposures. I love the ghostly images of people walking through long exposures, especially against a sharp, focused background.

Stay Energized

Holding the shutter open can sorely tax your battery power. Carry lots of extras.

Don’t be a Flasher

A flash can work wonders used properly in a cave, a canyon or some other dark environment. Pro photographers and their gear and knowledge amaze me. But if you’re traveling, chances are it’s just you and your camera. Your flash will add harsh, unnatural light ot only the foreground of your photo. It will obscure everything behind. And isn’t capturing that cool background the whole point?


Sharp-Eyed Cyclist Wins Switch Vision Sunglasses Contest

It’s time to announce the winner of the Switch Vision / Stoke Sunglasses giveaway -- read on!

Testing my H-Wall sunglasses at Papago Park.

More than a month ago, I asked readers to tell me about the oddest thing they’ve ever found while hiking or biking. Tell me the best story, I said, and my buddies at Switch Vision will send you a pair of the awesome Switch Stoke sunglasses – just like the ones I wear.

Veteran BMX hero-turned-mountain biker Abel from Queen Creek., Ariz., could’ve won the sunglasses with both of his best trailside finds. The first item? During a ride at San Tan Mountain Regional Park, Abel found a brand-new – with tag! – Dallas Cowboys jersey. But that wasn’t his winning entry.

And I have to say, his winner does shock me. It handily beat such entries as a Bowie knife, a crescent wrench, a pair of Pearl Izumi gloves and a deer carcass.

Abel earned his pair of Switch Vision sunglasses by finding what he describes as a "a pair of what looked to be fetish homemade metal mesh underwear hanging on a bush" in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve near Squaw Peak.

"I passed the underwear and saw them hanging there and was like, ‘What the heck was that?!’ As a curious George I had to stop and investigate," Abel tells me. "Didn’t touch them though cause you never know where they have been. Got a good chuckle out of it and continued my ride."

A slick par of Switch Vision Stoke sunglasses in olive. But Abel showed some boldness and chose Demi Purple. (Photo courtesy of Switch Vision)

Shenanigans involving homemade chainmail chones seem much more likely to happen in Papago Park: Crazy things happen at Papago Park, the famous urban outdoor refuge plunked right in the middle of Phoenix. Just a few years ago, I railed around a corner on my Santa Cruz Superlight and nearly plowed into a bikini-clad model posing on a rock. The scene bewildered me – the photo assistants bouncing sunlight off her, the photographer issuing orders, the disdainful air of the model toward all around her.

But the Phoenix Mountain Preserve? Wow!

Let’s all salute Abel for his find, applaud him for his discretion in leaving the chainmail undies alone, and berate him for not taking a photo (I could’ve used the pattern to make my own).

Speaking of my friends at Switch Vision, they also sent me a pair of their H-WALL sunglasses. This a more sports-oriented, lightweight model than the Stoke glasses that I like so much. So far, I’ve had them out for quite a few mountain bike rides.

The report? The disappear on my face. I forget that they’re even there – except for all the sunlight they block and that nice polarized tint they add to my world. For some reason, their lenses seem to be more sweat-resistant than the lenses on my Stoke sunglasses. They definitely make me look faster -- which only leads to disappoint when people see that I’m not really that fast! But overall, I really like them. If you want a lighter-weight, Euro-fast-looking pair of sunglasses with that awesome Magnetic Lens Interchange System, they are likely perfect for you.


Long-Term Gear Review – Switch Vision Sunglasses

Switch Vision sunglasses
Rollin’ with my Switch Vision Stoke sunglasses – always.

I’m having a Switch Vision sunglasses giveaway. Check this blog post for the rules! Deadline is March 30, 2012.

Last year, Switch Vision provided a pair of Stoke sunglasses for my review more than a year ago. Since March 2011, they’ve been my go-to glasses.

My initial review praised their optics, fit, cool factor and their very innovative magnetic lens retention setup. Magnets hold the lenses in place, giving every Switch Vision model the absolute fastest, easiest way to change lenses that I’ve ever seen.

So what do I think of these Switch Vision sunglasses one year and buckets of my nasty sweat later? Well, they’re still awesome, with the lenses still giving a crystal-clear view and the frames holding up well. I only have a few observations to note:

  • A funny quirk – If you drop your Switch Vision sunglasses in the dirt (which I do, all the time!), you might notice that the magnets in the frames will pick up little magnetic bits. Not really a problem, but kind of amusing.
  • My toxic sweat has an odd affect on the lenses. It puts rainbow-colored streaks on the lenses, which affect the optical quality. A thorough wipe-down with a soft microfiber cloth erases the smudges. On the trail, that might not be feasible. If you have gloves with a strip of terrycloth, you should be OK.
  • I wouldn’t mind an adjustable or replaceable nosepiece. Sometimes, when the going gets sweaty, the glasses will slide down my schnoz. This would help for people with smaller features, too: My wife ruled the Stokes out immediately. In her triathlon bike-riding position, the fairly spacious nose piece allowed the glasses to slide right down her nose.
  • They’re still hard to find. Switch Vision needs to bang hard at REI’s door. I like Switch Vision far better than any other glasses at REI.

All said, the Stoke sunglasses are by far my favorite sunglasses. I keep the lenses clean, and the reward is a clear but less-bright view of the world. I’m a Switch Vision sunglasses fan; if I lost a pair, I’d stick with them and buy another pair immediately.

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Mountain Biker’s Death Sad and Sobering

Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
This is what mountain biking should look like ...

There’s been a second fatality at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Read more in this Wandering Justin post. March 26, 2012


Sometimes, I really hate mountain biking. Like when I learned earlier this week that a fellow mountain biker died on one of my favorite trails.

The local media has not seen fit to cover the death of Ron Cadiente, 61: I heard about it on Facebook and Details are sketchy. All I know is that he was a properly equipped veteran rider. It’s unclear if his death was caused by a crash, or if his crash was caused by cardiac arrest while on the Long Loop of the Competitive Track at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

These are the moments that suck the energy out of mountain biking. I can’t count the number of times I’ve ridden this trail. And now someone lost a life on it.

This is a shadow that follows me every time I ride. I hate admitting this, but it’s as honest as I can be. My number-one task on every ride is -- come home in one piece. I often roll into a stretch of trail, give my brakes a quick tap – knowing full well I could go faster and do it better. But I know that quick feathering of my brake levers makes it more likely that I’ll walk back in my door.

The same unease hits me when my wife rides. I just want her to come back happy and safe.

How and why do we ride like this? Hell, how do we live like this, while the potential of changing our lives for the worse chases us every mile of the way?

I can’t explain it fully. It’s part of mountain biking, and it’s part of living. Risk is everywhere. Eliminate that risk, and I guess you eliminate everything that’s interesting in life.

Of course, that doesn’t mean much to Ron’s family. To them, I can only say this: I wish it hadn’t happened, and it’s not supposed to be like this.

To those of us who still ride: Come home safe. For yourself, and for all those who care for you.

UPDATE (Feb. 14)

A member of the MTBR forum posted information about services for Ron, which he found on the Bunker Mortuary website. And condolences to his daughter Brooke and son Brett, who posted very kind messages thanking the mountain bike community for its support. It’s impossible to not think really well of Ron and those who survive him when you see the goodness and dignity in their words.

Name: Ronald Roy Cadiente

Date: April 15th, 1950 – February 11th, 2012

Cadiente, Ronald, 61, died in a mountain bike accident February 11, 2012. He is survived by his wife Pamela, children Garron (Sharon) Cadiente, Brett Cadiente, Maren (Jimmy) Bloomer, Brooke Cadiente, Paige (Sterling) Stahle, 13 grandchildren and brothers Herb Davis, Carlos Cadiente and Rick Cadiente. A kind and loving husband, father and grandfather he was devoted to his family whom he loved unconditionally and enjoyed being involved their lives. He was passionate about the work he did as a software salesman and valued the relationships he made. He was honest, hardworking, sincere, and compassionate. Ron was a baseball coach, avid hiker, mountain biker, University of Arizona graduate and family man who was as generous in his relationships as he was genuine. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he served a mission in southern California and served in a variety of church leadership positions, including Bishop, all of which he loved. He was an influence for good in every aspect of his life. He is missed and loved by many, especially his family. Viewing is February 16th from 6-8 PM at Bunker’s Garden Chapel, 33 North Centennial Way, Mesa AZ 85201. Funeral is February 17th, 11 AM with viewing one hour prior at the LDS Church, 1430 N Grand Street, Mesa AZ 85201.

6:00PM to 8:00PM on Thursday, February 16th, 2012 at Bunker’s Garden Chapel
10:00AM to 10:45AM on Friday, February 17th, 2012 at LDS Lehi Stake Center

11:00AM at LDS Lehi Stake Center on Friday, February 17th, 2012


Life Force of Mountain Biking: The Beginner

The view from your bike got you jaded? Talk to a beginner for a reality check.

Mountain biking got you burned out? Are the local trails getting dull? Look to beginners for your salvation in your favorite sport.

New mountain bikers remind the old hands of the way it’s supposed to be: silly fun, learning new stuff, discovering new places, meeting new people, making incremental progress.

I know plenty of way-fast riders, like all the characters I encounter in the Short Track at Papago races. And they’re all good people. But beginners like Tammy Smith do more than anyone to rekindle my mountain biking enthusiasm. They help me rediscover the sport and inspire me to ride more.

Tammy did a Q & A session with me on just after her first race – the MBAA McDowell Meltdown. It’s full of mountain biking wisdom for riders of all levels. Veterans will get a reminder of what’s so cool about the sport. Newcomers will get inspiration to try racing. People contemplating their first mountain bike purchase will discover that it’s not just a sport for energy drink-addled 20-somethings, nor exclusively for heart rate monitor-obsessed fitness fiends. They don’t train – they ride.

Tammy and riders like her also make the bicycle industry work economically. They throw down for their first bike and all the trimmings – helmets, hydration packs, gloves, shorts and the rest. They are why your 27-pound, 30-speed, five-inches-of-travel, dual-suspension bike works so much better than bikes for the same price did 10 years ago.

Mountain biking newbies, you are the marrow of this sport. Thanks for all you do to keep it fresh for the rest of us. Welcome!


On the Mountain Bike Trail – Random Photo

"Why didn't anyone tell me butt is so big?" (photo by Lorne Trezise FrozenMotionPhotos)

I never expected anyone to snap a photo of me on my mountain bike quite like this. Nobody told me that the white stripe on my (I thought) uber-cool Italian jersey made it look like I’m rolling in a filled-up pair of Huggies. Well, now I have to decide whether to wear that thing again!

Oh, well. I suppose it’s less jarring than taking my laps in a Borat-style slingshot thong.


Gear Review – Tasc Performance

I have a reflex action every time I see someone sporting those oh-so-trendy Lululemon workout clothes -- a shake of the head. An eyeroll. A muttered-under-my-breath exhalation of "sucker."

Go to any yoga studio or CrossFit gym, though, and you’re sure to see people who paid upward of a hundred clams for the privilege of sporting that omega logo on their workout duds. Why they’re so willing to shell out when there’s a company like Tasc Performance, I’ll never know.

I picked up a bunch of Tasc’s bamboo gear during a blowout sale at Sports Authority -- back when Tasc was known as Thriv (neither name is very good, but I think Thriv fits the eco-friendly vibe better. Clearly, this company needs hard-core, visionary branding consultants.).

Here’s the deal: Bamboo fiber is allegedly less stinky when exposed to sweat than my typical synthetic gear. And it’s soft – like polish-your-camera-lens-with-it soft. I ran a wide range of gear through the ringer -- two fitted t-shirts, two pairs of gym shorts and a pair of fitted boxer-briefs. I didn’t pay more than $20 for any single item (on-sale, but retail prices were still reasonable).

All were ludicrously comfortable. And yes, I noticed that I smelled far less worse when wearing Tasc gear. Here are a few observations about each item.

Hybrid fitted SS Crew – The sleeves are a bit long, coming slightly below the biceps. But that’s no big deal. Perfect performance and fit for yoga, CrossFit, running -- just about anything that breaks a sweat. I can’t think of a single improvement.

Shorts – Off-the-charts comfort, but I want the exact same shorts with two changes: Lose the built-in underwear, and add pockets. Getting rid of the undies means they’ll pair well with the Ventilate compression shorts. Other than that, these are very close to perfect.

Ventilated compression shorts – I wish all my underwear fit this way. But I noticed immediate wear in the meshy area up-front. Nothing should develop a hole by its second use, so some quality control should be high on Tasc’s list.

Other stuff to note: Tasc’s website is a touch clunky; I’m hitting items in the drop-down menu that don’t seem to take me anywhere. The company could also improve and focus its social media efforts: Tasc needs to interact, not just talk about its products. Social media sells me on organizations. A strong social media can encourage me to try a product that I can’t otherwise get my hands on -- the unexpected find of cool bamboo stuff at Sports Authority was fortunate happenstance on both our parts. But I think Tasc needs to work the social media hard to get its name out there more. Especially vital since Tasc sells on its website.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing some pants for hiking and some for yoga, along with socks. This bamboo thing is for-real, and what body part needs anti-stink support more than our feet?

Tasc could use some Twitter followers. Get over there and get them talking!


Gear Test: Giro Xen Gloves

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo Justin Schmid
Notice the always-reliable Fox gloves.

I love Giro bike helmets. Even its less-expensive models are beyond reproach.

This track record had me pretty excited about trying out its Giro Xen gloves. I picked some up at South Mountain Cycles in Ahwatukee, Ariz., in December of 2009. Since then, I’ve been able to test two pairs and have some strong opinions about them.

They had a lot to offer: full fingers (nice for cooler temperatures), lack of bulk, nice fit. And they looked cool with a swirly gray-and-black urban camouflage pattern. The hook-and-loop fasteners were a bit odd, wrapping counterclockwise around the wrist. But that seemed to be the only major deviation from convention. They were reasonably priced at $30.

Giro Xen
It didn't take long to start poking holes in the Xen.

Unfortunately, they’re also the flimsiest gloves I’ve ever owned. Within four months, stitching on the palm of the right glove started coming unraveled. I couldn’t find my receipt, but Giro was accommodating enough to send a new pair. They arrived for the hot summer riding. I split my time between the Xen gloves and an old pair of Fox half-finger gloves.

The palm started unraveling, too.

Despite a fairly light workout, the newer pair developed problems. By December, the left glove’s index finger developed a pinhole. By December, my finger was poking all the way through.

My Fox gloves, on the other hand, are so old that I can’t even remember buying them. Age and heavy use have made them crusty and skanky – even after a thorough tumble in the wash machine. But they are still in one piece.

That makes my next glove purchase a no-brainer: I’ll get another pair of Fox gloves. Unfortunately, Giro’s gloves are nowhere near a match for the excellence of its helmets.

The Xen gloves DO look cool, though.

Gear Review: Switch Sunglasses

Switch sunglasses
The Switch “Stoke” sunglasses survive their first off-road test handily.

Last year, I bought sunglasses with interchangeable lenses. But actually changing the lenses is a pain even under the best of circumstances. They’d drive me crazy if I had to change lenses out on the trail at dusk in the middle of a race. I managed to put the clear lenses in, and I left them in. I used one pair of old glasses for daytime riding, and the "interchangeable" pair for night riding.

That paved the way for Switch Vision to offer a pair of its sunglasses for my depraved dungeon of product testing.

All the items in the Switch sunglasses line have a magnetic system (Magnetic Interchange Lens System, in the parlance of Switch) that holds lenses in place. When I first read about it, it sounded like a great theory.

Switch sunglasses
This is a look I call Blue Steel.

Switch delivered a pair of its Stoke glasses in a tortoiseshell finish to my door.

Forget reading the manual – what about this magnetic deal? Well, the lenses slid right out with a gentle tug. There are metal bits embedded into the top edges of the lenses – I’m not sure if those are the magnets, or if the other metal bits in the frames are the magnets. Either way, I was eager to see how they get back in. With my other glasses, this would cue twisting, pushing and profanity.

Not this time. I got the lens in the vicinity, and the magnets sucked the lenses into place. Impressive! I tried it a few more times with the same result.

I drove around wearing the Stoke glasses for a few days. Then I hit the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, one of the rockier beasts in the area.

Hitting the Trail

First, the optics are super-crisp. I have the Switch "Glare Kit" of lenses, which includes the Polarized True Color Gray and Rose Amber lenses, along with a plastic lens pod. The True Gray turn even the brightest light into something your eyes can live with. (I tried the Rose Amber a few days later on a cloudy day – they allowed a bit more light in while keeping the harshness out.)

The Stoke is not a lightweight pair of sunglasses. But they never dented the side of my nose. They didn’t slide down my pointy beak despite being lubricated by sweat. The rock-and-rolling of well-rubbled off-road trails was not a factor.

Even without magnetic lenses, Switch gives you some very sharp optics and a comfortable fit. Add the cool lenses, and you have a standout product.

I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just giddy over cool factor, so I showed them to a few buddies. The magnetic retention amazed them all. A few were extra-impressed by the availability of prescription lenses. After the oohs and aahs, they asked "Where can I get a pair?"

Here in Phoenix, the answer so far is that you can find Switch sunglasses at selected local eye clinics. I hope that expands in the future to bike shops and other sports suppliers. For now, it looks like you can also find Switch sunglasses online at REI. I saw the Stoke advertised at other websites from $169. The new Switch model, the Boreal (the company’s first full-frame model), will range from $119-$189.

What’s Missing?

One thing I didn’t notice in the lineup of Switch sunglasses is an all-clear lens for middle-of-the-night mountain biking. That’s an easy fix, though.

Bottom Line

Someone at Switch thinks like an outdoor enthusiast: Dealing with small, finicky bits while your heart is pounding, while you’re getting dehydrated, while you’re started to cramp -- is absolutely no fun. So they made sunglasses that take at least one gadget-related worry of your mind.

What’s Next?

A long-term flogging. The Switch Stoke sunglasses have impressed me. They’re a lot pricier than my usual glasses, but I see what Switch is offering for the extra scrilla.

I’ll update this post in a few months with new observations and thoughts – the kind that only come from lots of hard-core flogging and use. Stand by!

In the meantime, Switch sunglasses deserve some props.

You can find more by following Switch on Twitter at @InsanelyFast. You can also see far prettier pictures of the full line of Switch sunglasses at


Lessons Learned from 2 Years with a Pentax Digital Camera

This is what you can do with a Pentax DSLR.

Just before my trip to New Zealand (which was so awesome that I still can’t shut up about it two years later), I got a Pentax K-100 Super camera. It was my first digital SLR, and I learned tons from toting it on my misadventures.

And it’s given me some insight about the new entry-level Pentax, the K-x. Here’s my in-depth look at my camera and what it’s taught me to expect from the K-x.


Gear Review – The North Face Rock 22 Tent

The North Face Rock 22 tent
Sarah lounges by The North Face Rock 22 tent in Skaftafell National Park, Iceland.

It’s been about 10 years since I first met my wife – that meeting, though, spelled doom for my old tent. It was an aging model from The North Face; it was so old that I can’t even remember the model. But it had room for three, a main door and two sphincter-like hatches your could escape from should a bear attack the front door (I’m presuming that’s why there were there) -- and the grimy funk of more than a decade of teenage/twenty-ish male flatulation, sweat and abuse.

Anyway, I loaned my then-girlfriend my tent for an expedition to the Grand Canyon with her friends. The first night they pitched it, said grimy funk angrily awakened from its tent tomb like Elvis might’ve after hearing that the late Michael Jackson married his daughter.

"Does your dude smell like that?" one of the campers pointedly asked.

My wife-to-be defended my hygiene, but spent the next few years jabbing withering insults at my beloved tent, which was less than portable shelter and more a repository of memories.

I eventually wound up at the late, fairly great Popular Outdoor. There, I scored a deal on a more modern tent – this one The North Face Rock 22 tent.

Over the past few years, I’ve had some chances to use The North Face Rock 22 tent in a variety of places and weather conditions. And I can’t help being even more pleased with it than I was with its smelly predecessor. It’s been nearly blown aloft by strong winds in Prescott, Ariz. It’s been subjected to freezing temperatures in the high desert. It’s been pelted by rain in the Landmannalaugar highlands of Iceland.

Not a drop of water has leaked into it. No pole has broken. There’s not a rip or tear anywhere. And it can endure being compressed to a size small enough to fit into a pack loaded for two weeks of mixed backpacking and civilized vacationing.

That makes The North Face Rock 22 tent pretty impressive. Even better, it only needs two poles. That’s fewer things to lose or break. It goes up in moments, which is really nice when you want nothing more that to dive into a comfy sleeping bag for a good night of sleep.

If I my Rock 22 disappeared or met some horrible fate that made it as smelly as my original tent, I’d buy another one in a second. According to The North Face Web site, it’s going for $189.

That makes The North Face Rock 22 tent a good buy for two adults who don’t camp in the snow. Pair it with quality sleeping bags, and you’ll still be able to use it when he temperatures plummet.

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Packing – One of the Hardest Parts of Travel

That's a big pack, dude!

As I was filling up my backpack for traveling to Iceland, all I could think about was a line from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian: “Is it too big? Is it too small?”

I never want to bring too much, but I also never want to get totally soaked in a random storm like I did in New Zealand.  And I actually needed a tent and sleeping bag this time – and a pair of running shoes since my wife signed us up for the Miðnæturhlaup, which is “Midnight Run” in Icelandic. I also had to bring stuff for hanging out in Reykjavik in addition to exploring the volcanic badlands.

Anyway, I ruthlessly put together a packing list of everything I took and evaluated whether or not I would bring it on my next trip (well, to a place with a similar climate, anyway). Some mainstays that always make it into the pack are ExOfficio underwear, my freakin’ awesome La Sportiva boots and my practically immortal REI convertible cargo pants, which continue ticking after nearly 5 years of use.

Anyway, here’s how all this stuff fared during two weeks at the 66th parallel. Keep this in mind if you’re planning to hit the cooler climates this summer.

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Flying With MREs – Banned or Not?

When it comes to flying, you can’t be too careful these days when it comes to packing. Since my upcoming trip is going to involve backpacking in Iceland, I decided to take some military Meals, Ready To Eat packages.

Then I paused. The MREs all come with this little self-heating thing. I decided to check with the authorities to check on whether flying with MREs is allowed. I wrote to Delta Airlines, which we’re flying from Phoenix to JFK, and Icelandair, which will take us the rest of the way. I explained my plan, and specific that I’d have the MREs in checked baggage. Here are their answers.

flying with MREs
MRE 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Primal Strips Vegan Jerky is Eco-Friendly, Healthy – and Tasty

Primal Strips - worthy of a place in my pack.

Soon, I’m going to get on a 6-hour flight. A day later, I’ll put on a backpack and head into Iceland’s remote Landmannalaugar region. Right now, the road to Landmannalaugar isn’t even open yet. There will be no Starbucks, no fast food, no convenience stores. It’s all gotta go in with me.

That means I’ll need some snacks. They have to be compact, of course. But they also have to be tasty, relatively healthy and a bit on the salty side. Tasty and healthy are obvious. But why the salt? I’m planning to sweat out some eletrolytes.

Before I really got far into planning the contents of my pack, the folks from Primal Strips contacted me to ask for a review of their vegan “jerky” snacks. They sent two of each of their flavors.

I’d planned to take the whole lot to Iceland for testing. But I got a little impatient and opened my first a few weeks out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s talk about jerky first – the kind made from meat. I have a love/hate relationship with it. Cheap jerky is leathery and briny. Good jerky is expensive, and a bit less salty. Exotic jerkies like shark, ostrich and bison are fun, but they’re often a bit on the chewy side.

This all means the idea of a vegan jerky intrigued me. I’m an ominover. I think meat is delicious, but I have absolutely no knee-jerk ideological hangups about eating something that didn’t “have a face,” as so many people do.

Primal Spirit Foods makes the Primal Strips from soy, seitan (a type of wheat gluten) and shiitake mushrooms. Different flavors use one of the three as their main base. The first one I tried was the Thai Peanut flavor, which is made from seitan.

It had a meaty appearance, right down to some bacon-like marbling. I poked at it to gauge the texture and took a bite. What I found was a surprisingly meaty texture – a tad more spongy than jerky, but far easier to chew. And I liked the spicy peanut flavor. I was pretty impressed – so much so that I knew it would be hard to stay disciplined and not eat them all before boarding my Icelandair flight.

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First Ascent Outerwear Shootout – Downlight Versus Serrano

Keeping warm in the Downlight.
Keeping warm in the Downlight.

Eddie Bauer is doing some work to make its original mountain explorer image part of its company vibe again. At the heart of the effort is its First Ascent brand.

You won’t find First Ascent casual wear of any sort. It’s meant to be technical wear, and you will see it on some of the world’s highest peaks. First Ascent designed the line with input from experienced mountaineers like Ed Visteurs and Melissa Arnott. And these experts are outfitted with First Ascent gear as they span the world climbing all sorts of crazy stuff.

Obviously, First Ascent wants this stuff to hold up against some stern tests. That’s good news for everyday people like me, who are more likely to just go skiing, snowshoeing or even just sledding in the cold weather.

I recently tested the First Ascent Downlight sweater and Serrano jacket, and came away with some impressions. This should help you figure out which is better for you.

Up with Downlight

The first to endure my abuse was the Downlight sweater ($169-$189). I grabbed a blue XL from my local Eddie Bauer store. Its first assignment was keeping me warm at the Kona 24 Hours of Old Pueblo – mostly at night when I wasn’t on my bike. Temperatures got into the low 30s F. Mission accomplished! Next up was four days in Breckenridge, Colo., with temperatures from 12 to 22 degrees. Even in windy conditions on the slopes, the Downlight kept me warm. I teamed it with an UnderArmour Heatgear shirt, a long-sleeved cycling jersey and a light fleece Alpine Designs sweater. At night, every part covered by the Downlight was warm, even though I had one less layer.

Testing out the Serrano in Flagstaff.
Testing out the Serrano in Flagstaff.

There’s just one problem with the Downlight – the down feathers don’t seem to stay put. My fleece was always covered in white feathers. I described the problem via e-mail to Eddie Bauer customer service; the representative said it was likely defective, and gave me some instructions for returning it. I took it back to my local store, and I learned that a few other Downlight sweaters had also been returned. With that in mind, I decided to go with --

The Serrano Jacket

Rather than down, the Serrano ($169) is made from PrimaLoft. Both products look similar, though I missed the awesome electric blue of the DownLight – black is cool and all, but the blue just rocked. And unlike the Downlight, the Serrano doesn’t have the very cool ability to fold into its own zippered pocket for travel – it does come with a carrying bag, though.

Here’s something that I loved about the Serrano, though – it has these cool wrist gaiters that keep snow and wind at bay. I was able to use my old pair of short-cuff Hotfinger gloves rather than the rather ragged and ineffective long-cuff gloves I used in Breckenridge. Through two days in Flagstaff, Ariz., and temperatures in the high 20s, my hands stayed really warm thanks to the gaiters.

The Polartec Power Stretch side panels, though, exposed a weakness in the Serrano. When the winds picked up, the cold air knifed straight through and gave me a nasty chill. I’d axe these side panels in a second. Considering the gaiters, which seem to scream "use me in cold weather," the side panels seem to muddle the Serrano’s mission.

So Which is Better?

I love the solid, non-feather-losing construction of the Serrano – and it’s super-fly wrist gaiters. It also has more pockets than the Downlight. But I think it’s awesome that the Downlight folds in on itself and better protects from the wind. And have I mentioned that sweet blue color?

First Ascent can perfect both of these by offering wrist gaiters in both, fixing the feather problems with the Downlight and ditching the side panels on the Serrano.

I really like both products, despite some quibbles. Both are very compact and do their jobs well. They’re a decent value compared to competitor’s products, and the Eddie Bauer customer service and store staff members were first-rate.

You can also see my more in-depth review of the Downlight Sweater on


5 Facts About Bike Shorts

bike shorts
Now that’s a pair of bike shorts!

Bike shorts are a bone of contention with just about every new bicyclist. “Do I have to wear Spandex?” they’ll whine. “Why are they so expensive?” usually comes next. The answer to the first question is “yes, you do.” The answer to the second is “‘Cause they’re doing a hard job – supporting your miserable, stinky undercarriage!” Here are a few things that might add some detail to these short answers for the new bicyclist.

1. Yes, you really need to wear bike shorts.

They have a pad in the butt to make sitting on a bike seat more comfortable. They’re also made from materials that wick sweat away so it can evaporate. That means less heat and less chafing. You’ll be far happier than a bicyclist wearing jeans!

2. Dude, please don’t wear underwear with your bike shorts.

My brother tried taking up biking. I think he stopped after the relentless mocking I gave him when I caught him wearing tighty-whiteys under his bike shorts. If you wear undies (boxers, TWs, thongs, whatever), you defeat the wicking capability of your shorts. You will stay wet, making you feel like you’re wearing a diaper. If you’re into that sort of thing, fine!

3. I consider $80 for a pair of Castelli shorts money well spent.

But to me, throwing $35 down for some Bellwethers is like spraying my money with WD-40 and lighting it on fire. The difference in quality and fit is huge. A new bicyclist riding short distances might not notice the difference. But some experience and increased time on the saddle will reveal all.

That said, budget shorts are getting slightly better as you may notice in this review of The Black Shorts, which seem a cut above other cheap bike shorts.

4. When you’re looking for shorts, look for a few things:

The butt pad (aka chamois) should not be a big blob of foam. It should be designed to conform to your mysterious man/lady parts. Also, the shell of the shorts should be constructed from more than one big piece of material. The more panels, the better the fit. Just try on a pair of Bellwether or Canari shorts, and follow with something from Castelli, Assos or even a higher-end Pearl Izumi. You’ll know where your money is going.

5. After you’re done riding, don’t go to the coffee shop and lounge around in your bike shorts.

There’s still some moisture in there, as well as some heat. That’s a breeding ground for bacteria. Change into some regular ol’ shorts for your post-ride coffee. Sure, you won’t look like the cool bicyclist that you are, but you’ll smell and feel better. | Shop Apparel


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