Challenge Yourself on a UK Bicycle Holiday

This should make you want to ride the Yorkshire Dales. (Photo by Amber, courtesy of Sykes Cottages)

The English county of Yorkshire is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Locally known as God’s own county, the soaring mountain peaks and sweeping moorlands make Yorkshire one of the greenest places in the UK and the perfect place for a biking holiday. With two national parks and a number of designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you are sure to be enchanted by the rugged Yorkshire landscape. Bicycle enthusiasts will find no shortage of trails and courses to challenge their skills. Champion road racers and daring mountain bikers will find a test of their mettle in Yorkshire.

Way of the Roses

The newest of the UK’s coast-to-coast cycle ways stretches 170 miles across the north of England, from the Irish Sea coast in Lancashire to the North Sea coast in Yorkshire. While peddling your way along this well sign-posted route, you’ll pass through the cities of York and Lancaster and innumerable quaint towns and country villages. The terrain is varied, including traffic-free paths, cycle lanes, and country roads – all of which are part of the National Cycle Network. A reasonably fit biker can complete the route in 3 days, but there are some testing areas of steep hills so you may want to give yourself a little extra time if you’re less experienced. Taking it a little slower will also give you time to explore on foot along the way, and maybe treat yourself to a well-earned tasty treat or two! For accommodations, there are a number of options available to you. Maybe consider one of the many Yorkshire holiday cottages available along the way – a great place to lay your head after a long day of cycling!

Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge

If you seek a bigger challenge, maybe the Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge is for you. Billed as the toughest cyclo-cross event in the UK, this isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll cover 38 miles. … which doesn’t sound so bad. But you’ll climb and descend the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales, Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside, and Ingleborough. You won’t even get to ride the whole distance – 17 miles is on road, 20 miles is unsurfaced road, and 3 to 5 miles is unrideable terrain. The first person to complete the challenge was a 14-year-old school boy in 1959. It took him 6 hours and 45 minutes. Last year’s winner, Nick Craig, completed the route in a staggering 3 hours and 8 minutes, a feat of human endurance few could even dream of accomplishing! This is not an event for an inexperienced rider, and you’ll need the right equipment. But even just visiting the Yorkshire Dales to watch the spectacle would be an experience.

The UK is a great place for a cycling holiday, whether you like to amble down country lanes with a picnic in your basket, or test your endurance and take on an extreme challenge like the Three Peaks. There are many great guiding companies throughout the country who can help you organize a trip or just rent you a bicycle for the day. Either way it’s a great way to see the countryside and will eliminate all the guilt of over-indulging on the local delicacies while on vacation!

This post was written by Amanda, who writes for Sykes Cottages. While she admires the endurance and nerve of those who undertake challenges like the Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge, you’re more likely to find her peddling along a country path with flowers and foraged berries in her bicycle basket! thanks Amanda and Sykes Cottages for this great featured introduction to UK bicycle holidays.

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.

A Visit to Tokyo’s Guitar Shops

One of the amp rooms at Big Boss Guitars.

When I travelled to Tokyo, the guitar shops absolutely shocked me.

"You’re a musician," you might say. "All you guys get nerdy around instruments."

Well, those who know me will tell you that I am jaded. I can walk through a Guitar Center with a few hundred bucks to burn and walk out with -- absolutely nothing. I am hard to impress. And my current gear is primo stuff that earns its keep – ESP and Carvin guitars -- amps by Fryette, THD and a custom frankenamp built by an electronics genius friend.

But then, a few minutes’ walk from Jimbocho Station in Tokyo, I find a place called Big Boss Guitars. It climbs five stories into the first few floors of a 20-story (or so) building. It sprawls into an annex.

Inside, I find rarities that I have never seen in the U.S. That’s right, not even in Hollywood on the famed Sunset Strip. Big Boss Guitars destroys the Sunset Strip – even with its Mesa/Boogie, Carvin Guitars and original Guitar Center stores – as a pretender.

From the second I walk in, it’s like 80s metal never died. There’s nary an indication that grunge, indie, shoegaze and various other forms of low-fi droning exist.

You're looking at close to $20,000 worth of heads in this photo. And that's not counting the Mesas that are barely in the frame. I can tell you first-hand, too, that Diezels sound amazing.

What do I see? Where to begin … how about an Emppu Vuorinen signature ESP? This thing doesn’t even exist on the U.S. edition of the ESP website! There’s a used Egnater TOL amplifier, which I rarely even see on eBay, much less in a random guitar store. There’s a BC Rich that looks like it’s chiselled from white basalt. Everywhere I look, a new treat. Every floor holds wonders -- well, except for the acoustic floor.

I wander to the next storefront, and get my mind boggled by more effects pedals than I’ve ever seen in one place. And more amplifiers.

Here’s the downside: The prices are murder. I wonder what my crazy late 80s Charvels would sell for here. My Carvin could probably make me a mint (because it is a magnificent instrument, my own version of Ned Stark’s Ice).

I return home to Phoenix. I haven’t set foot in any guitar shop since Tokyo. And after that, I barely have any reason to.

Local Media Finally Covers Death of Mountain Biker

The Arizona Republic followed the story I wrote about the second death this year at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

I love this quote:

“We are not suspecting foul play,” sheriff’s spokesman Brandon Jones said. “We are not sure what caused it, but we are not done investigating.”

(Facepalm) Yes. Offing someone by staged bike accident is definitely a high-percentage tactic.

I hope the Republic at least has enough sense to be embarrassed that, if not for a guy freelancing in his spare time, its reporters wouldn’t know about two deaths in its market.

If you feel like reading it, here’s a link.

Make sure you note the publication dates.

Man Dies in Second Mountain Bike Fatality of 2012

This is what you usually get from a ride at McDowell – big smiles and good times. Stay safe out there, everyone.

A mountain biker died during a rider at McDowell Mountain Regional Park Saturday. That’s the second mountain bike fatality at my favorite park in the last six weeks.

I have a story on with more details. That’s what you want to read for the "just the facts" info. Frankly, the story is missing the rider’s identity. I could press harder – but in this case, that’s not what’s important about the situation.

My motivation for writing the Examiner story was two-fold: First, so other riders can remember the basics of how to be prepared (see below). Second, I hope it’s a wake-up to the abject performance of the so-called outdoor writer at The Arizona Republic. Every hiker who skins a knee on Camelback Mountain warrants a story, but the Republic can’t be arsed about anything beyond sight of the newsroom.

But here on my own site – I just have a few messages for my mountain bike brethren. There are a few points I want us all to take away from the deaths of Ron Cadiente and the as-yet unnamed out-of-town visitor.

Be Prepared

If you mountain bike without a helmet, water, tools, a properly maintained bike and a cell phone -- You.Are.Not.Prepared. Don’t leave home without any of these. And think about a sports drink and some snacks, especially as the weather gets hotter. I can’t believe I still need to tell anyone to wear a helmet. It boggles my mind that anyone would mountain bike without a helmet – there is just no valid reason for it.

Don’t Do Anything Stupid

If you can’t pass someone safely, don’t pass them at all. Wait. I don’t care if you’re a Cat 1 or pro mountain bike racer (in fact, they tend to ride safer than Cat 3’s front-of-the-pack riders), finishing a few seconds earlier is not worth your safety or that of your fellow riders. Your sponsors or the bike shop who sponsors your team certainly agrees. And yield the trail whenever you can to riders headed the opposite direction. I notice a lot of people like to ride Pemberton counter-clockwise these days. Fine. Let’s all be good to each other and allow some room.

Control Yourself

This means to things: Keep your speed reasonable and watch where you want to go. I know speed is fun – but the there’s a fine line you’ll cross when the speed gets too much for your skill or the trail conditions -- and it shrinks your margin of error. And that’s not fun.

Now, onto "where you want to go". Most experienced riders instinctively know that your bike will go wherever your eyes do. Call it "target fixation" or whatever, but it’s true. So look at the path around the obstacles before you. See the smooth line and fix a firm but loose gaze on it. It sounds easy, and it is – but it’s also essential for keeping your mountain bike in control.

You are Cool, Caring People

Mountain bikers are good people. The Internet can bring out the worst in people. But read the very first reports of Ron’s death on MTBR. And then witness the support as people set up a low-key but meaningful way to raise funds to honor his memory. The response makes me more than a little proud to be a mountain biker. And I regret not doing more to participate. If there’s a second-annual ride for Ron, I’ll get behind it on this site and I’ll be there to ride.

Do any of you other riders out there have any observations about what we can take away from these unfortunate losses?

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Arizona Pols: Courting the Electorate Via Spam

No, this is NOT the District 9 I live in!

For Arizona political hopefuls like Martin Sepulveda, kissing babies and shaking hands is passe. The power of the Internet and the telephone allow them to spread their names without effort.

And, too often, without consent.

If a guy like ex-Chandler city council member Martin Sepulveda, who hopes to win the Ninth Congressional District seat, knocks at my door -- it’s easy enough to ignore. Not so if he robo-calls to a handy list of phone numbers.

Or if he buys my e-mail address and spams my inbox. On the other hand, it says a lot about a congressional contender’s character when he sends you a grammatically challenged, hyperbolic screed full of some of the most egregious abuse of upper-case letters on record (Note to Mr. Sepulveda – hire a decent copywriter before it’s too late. And please, be smart enough not to throw the word "tyranny" around without regard for its meaning.).

It also sends other messages that voters shouldn’t overlook: "My politicking trumps your privacy. I play dirty. I will do anything to take and hold a seat."

As if Arizona politics isn’t already crawling with that sort of behavior.

This post is my vehicle to shed light on people like Sepulveda, my scarlet "S" (yes, as in SPAMMER) that will show who sends unsolicited campaign messages to an electorate that didn’t consent. This list is non-partisan and open to submissions (so if you get one that I haven’t listed, forward it to me at wanderingjustin at hotmail dot com).

If you are a politician and your name is on this list, fear not. You can win your way off. Just e-mail a signed denouncement of the use of unsolicited e-mails and robocalls for political campaigning, along with your pledge not to use such tactics. I will strike your name through on this list, and post your denouncement (with signature redacted). That’s it.

Here’s where the list starts:

Martin Sepulveda – Running for Arizona CD9 seat

New Zealand – Up and Coming Craft Beer Destination

Outdoor adventure and craft brew go hand-in-hand ... but wait until after for the brew, right?

During my 2009 visit, New Zealand had everything needed to be a great travel destination for craft beer fans: a do-it-yourself attitude, a friendly vibe and the perfect climate to grow untold tons of tasty hops. But I was too early – the craft beer craze hadn’t kindled for Kiwis.

Today, though, I can’t log in to Twitter without hearing about a new craft brewery popping up in Rotorua or Queenstown. Some are just ramping up and earning attention, like Renaissance Brewing Company: I tried its Stonecutter Scotch Ale and 2009 MPA Double IPA at my local brew store, and both were spectacular. Pay attention to what I say, curious beer connoisseur: Book a ticket for New Zealand. Here’s why:

Home-Grown Hops

If you make a product with ingredients directly from the source, you get good results. It stands to reason, then, that the hops I mentioned will produce delicious brews. Just south of Nelson, you’ll see expanses of hops that will send IPA lovers into a state of bliss. That MPA I mentioned earlier? Its Rakau hops infused the brew with a distinct note of apple I’ve tasted in no other hop.

And I can only wonder what the folks at Monkey Wizard (I don’t have to tell you that’s an awesome name, right?) craft brewery are up to. I passed the brewery twice, on my way to and from Abel Tasman National Park – each time I got forlorn that it wasn’t open, and I couldn’t stop the bus even if it was. So do me a favor: Go there and tell me how awesome it is.

Outdoor Adventures of All Kinds

Leave it to Kiwis to turn a cargo plane into hotel rooms.

Craft beer is the pepperoni on the gooey pizza of outdoor activities. Mountain biking, hiking, ice climbing, bungee jumping -- they’re best re-lived over pints. Everywhere you travel in New Zealand, somewhere is advertising some sort of activity straight out of a Red Bull commercial. I barely scratched the surface with Zorbing, street luge and glacier hiking.

My mountain biker nature is still bitter that I failed to try the Schweeb. I still don’t know why I did that. Maybe it was a "bizarre activity overload." Here’s another chance for you to learn from my mistakes: Try everything you can, and find one of these great new craft breweries to relive the rush.

Crazy, Cool and Comfortable

For two nights in Waitomo, I slept in a cargo plane turned into two hotel suites. Other rooms were made from old boxcars and a yacht. While none of my other NZ accommodations were quite as creative, all were reasonably priced and very homey. For instance, every hotel we stayed at had a kitchenette. That means a great place to store any craft beer you score at the local market. And kitchenettes are nice for long trips because it’s easy to get tired of dining out. It’s also fun to try the awesome ingredients from the many farmers markets (Produce and meat in New Zealand are first-rate).

This post is sponsored by Jason’s Travel Media. With extensive online booking for both accommodation and activities, Jason’s is not only a fantastic travel information resource but also a one-stop shop for any travelers, domestic or international.

Grounded Airliners at Pinal Air Park – Random Photos

A Delta 747's huge tail finds a spectacular backdrop in Picacho Peak.

For a flying and travel enthusiast, it’s surreal to see hundreds of acres of grounded airliners. It’s a sad sight for many reasons.

Before I get into that, why are these airliners baking under the Arizona desert sun? Well, they’re parked at Pinal Air Park because they’re surplus to their owners’ needs. Some are just too old to be useful – it’s a 747-400 world, and most of these are 1- and 200-models. So they wind up here until they get pressed back into service … or until they get recycled.

Two more 747s languish at Pinal Air Park.

I see these old airliners and think of where they have gone. They’ve probably taken people all over the world … and back in a time where the world may have seemed bigger and more mysterious. You couldn’t take a peak at Reykjavik on Google Earth, or find a new friend in Busan through Facebook.

And I also see waste. Many of these will never go back into service. And we know there are many clever ways to recycle airliners. Turn ’em into hostels, use them for home construction, turn them into bars … whatever. A lot of effort when in to them. Surely they can do more than just get turns into a new generation of receptacles for processed food.

A 747-200 and a DC-10 at Pinal Air Park

My Switch Vision sunglasses giveaway is still going on! Competition is heating up, with hikers and mountain bikers pitching in some great stories about the best thing they’ve ever found on a trail. Best story wins! Check this blog post  for the rules. Deadline is March 30, 2012.

Travel in Russia – Thoughts from a Cold War Kid

6582 - Moscow - Red Square
When I was 12, I never would've imagined I could visit Red Square. Which made it intriguing ...

There’s something about travel in Russia that appeals to me. I’m convinced it’s because I’m a late Cold War Kid.

One of my earliest memories is the Miracle on Ice – the dramatic U.S. hockey victory over the Soviet Union. I grew up with movies like Red Dawn. I remember wondering when we’d have a nuclear war. The Soviet Union was mysterious, dangerous, hostile. Which made it fascinating.

Sure enough, the Soviet Union collapsed. The once-feared hammer and sickle is clever marketing for selling soda. There are groups of American Airsoft players who relish the role of being Soviet soldiers, right down to accurate uniforms and gas masks.

And now … I can go there!

A former colleague already has. Ryan is now in Russia for a semester of study. He writes about it in his RussianRamblings blog, and I look forward to having him drop in here to share thoughts and advice. Be sure to check out his post about the banya. Way to step into the culture, Ryan!

This is pretty awesome for Ryan, and it sounds like he’ll make the most of the experience.

In my case, a trip to Russia will likely be part of something larger. I have visions of hitting the Scandinavian and Nordic countries in addition to Russia. This is all just starting to take shape in my head. But it could be way awesome – multiple countries and some trail travel are always fun.

My Switch Vision sunglasses giveaway is still going on! Competition is heating up, with hikers and mountain bikers pitching in some great stories about the best thing they’ve ever found on a trail. Best story wins! Check this blog post  for the rules. Deadline is March 30, 2012.

End of the “Ask the Pilot” Bad for Travel Industry and Readers

From exotic destinations to behind-the-scenes info, Patrick Smith and "Ask the Pilot" entertain and inform.

[Editor’s Note 06/11/12: It appears that a hacker busted into Patrick Smith’s “” site. I will keep an eye on the situation. For now, it might be best to avoid it just in case any nasty malware lives in the hacked site.

UPDATE 6/12/12: It looks like Patrick has booted the hacker from his site and is working to restore normal service.

UPDATE 7/25/12 – Looks like Ask The Pilot is off the ground. Congrats, Patrick, and good luck!]

If there’s one thing the travel industry doesn’t need, it’s one less reasonable, intelligent voice.

But that’s what we’ll all have if really does kill the long-running Ask the Pilot column. Patrick Smith, a 757/767 first officer, entertains and informs like few other aviators every time he publishes a new post.

Smith debunks myths. He thinks aloud about dismal destinations. He explains what really happens behind the scenes. He proves his enthusiasm for his lift aloft. He rakes the Transportation Security Theater Administration over the coals early and often.

Not good enough for, apparently. Several readers have said that Smith has informed them of the column’s imminent demise. Since he hasn’t announced it himself, it makes me wonder if a strong enough Internet response can right the ship.

If not, maybe a better publication will lure Smith to continue. I never read before discovering Ask the Pilot. I probably won’t should he depart; I rarely see anything on Salon that I can’t get elsewhere.

Every travel agent, airline and just about anyone in the travel industry should rise in Smith’s favor. His reasonable discourses takes fear out of flying, for those that need it. It encourages curiosity and reminds us how cool it is that we can afford to fly all over the world. He’s no travel industry apologist – he takes the industry to task, when warranted.

Ask the Pilot is exactly what the travel industry needs – to inform travelers and to improve itself. If the column does come to an end, we won’t be better for it.

The semi-good news: You can still visit Patrick Smith at his Ask the Pilot website. Let’s hope his words land in a place where they’ll be well-read.

And if you’re eager for more writing from a pilot, check out Rand Peck: A Life Aloft.

Fiji Travel – Find Your South Pacific Island Adventure

Nadi is where your Fiji travel adventure starts. (By Henning Blatt)

Fiji has always seemed like a relaxing place to me – a South Pacific honeymoon travel destination with sparkling waters, all-inclusive resorts, couples massage.

Sure, Fiji is all that. But there’s an adventurous side to Fiji holidays.

Hiking for Dinosaurs in Koroyanitu National Heritage Park

Just ask Kayla, who calls her visit to the mountains in Koroyanitu National Heritage Park a "Jurassic Park" adventure. Judging from the photos, I can’t disagree. The green foliage is that stunning hue that electrifies my eyeballs – but hey, I’ve lived in a desert for 30 years. So what’s in the park? Epic hiking trails, waterfalls, low-lying clouds that cling to the mountain tops. That sounds alright to me! Visitors say it’s a great break from the beach -- in other words, a chance to get under some forest and cloud cover when you’ve had enough South Pacific sun for awhile. The only thing you’ll miss is a real dinosaur.

Hit the Rapids

Whitewater rafting is another Fiji travel highlight. We’re not talking about massive rapids that threaten to capsize you at every bend. But you’ll see fern grottoes, exotic birds and that feeling like you’ve turned back in time. For me, that’s one of the most valuable parts of a good adventure – just being away from the crush of crowds and feeling like you’re exploring. Sure, I know you’re not. But it’s still nice to let the imagination run.

Cave in for the Kava

I can’t write about Fiji travel without thinking about kava. Never heard of it? It’s a plant related to the pepper, and it’s prepared as a drink with some serious potency. I’ve heard about everything from a mildly numb tongue to full-blown hallucinations. You might want to read J. Maarten Troost’s "Getting Stoned With Savages" to get an idea of what it might taste and felel like. He certainly did get his fill of kava while in the South Pacific! It doesn’t sound tasty – but it must be a great way to produce a nearly unbeatable travel story while experiencing the true Fiji culture.

Get There!

Chances are your Fiji travel will start with a flight into Nadi International Airport. You can count on Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, Korean Air, JetStar and Virgin Australia to get you to the South Pacific from some part of the globe. Fiji is a pretty easy destination to reach from Australia or New Zealand. If you’re from the U.S. like me, you just might have to drop into Sydney or Auckland before reaching Fiji (hint: You can turn that into a fun layover),

This post is sponsored by As part of a network travel blogs and sites, All Fiji helps network connects users Australia-wide with the travel information they are looking for. It’s a great source for Fiji travel information.

6 Horrible Things People do to Mountain Bikes

Pink streamers on a fast bike equals funny.

Last season, I got a good laugh out of a fit, fast racer with pink streamers on the handlebars of her tricked-out mountain bike. I loved the "don’t take me too seriously" humor. The streamers were hysterical … but I’ve seen many other people perform perverse acts on perfectly nice bikes – all by fitting them with ill-advised accessories. Here’s a roundup of the six most horrible things you can put on your mountain bike. (And when you’re done laughing, check out 3 Awesome Things People do to Their Mountain Bikes.)

A Kickstand

Kickstands have their place: on beach cruisers, commuting bikes and kids’ bikes. They don’t belong on a seriously sweet trail bike. First, it’s dangerous – with all the jarring of off-road riding, the kickstand will never stay in place. Second, you should be riding way too much to need a kickstand. If you want a way to get to the local coffeehouse, get the right bike so you don’t have to desecrate a real off-road machine.

Slick Tires

Smooth tires are great. They let you pedal over pavement with a lot less resistance, letting you go faster. Notice how I said "over pavement"? That means smooth tires belong on bikes meant for riding in their milieu. Why buy a mountain bike and put slick tires on it? The most egregious example I’ve seen recently was a Santa Cruz Blur with a full XT group all dressed up for road riding. I actually felt sorry for that poor bike.

Flat Pedals

There’s something sad about a off-road racing machine with platform pedals. I can understand a bit of newbie fear factor when getting into mountain biking. But if you can afford a $4,000 bike and are willing to spend that much cash, you’d better already know what’s best for your bike. And platform pedals are not it. I suppose I’ll cut downhillers some slack – but nobody else!

A Gas-Powered Motor

Nothing says "I’ve had one DUI too many" like retro-fitting a gas engine to your bicycle. This is already bad when the bike in question is an ugly POS. But it becomes an epic travesty when said putting engine clings to the side of a decent bike.

A Pump – On the Wrong Side

Frame-mounted pumps are great – they’re always around when you need them. I really like the kind with a bracket under the water bottle cage on the downtube. But obey this one rule: Make sure you mount the bracket so it holds the pump on the non-drive side. In other words, the side that doesn’t include the cranks. You wouldn’t want some off-road shaking and shuddering to knock the pump loose and into the chainrings.

BMX-Style Handlebars

Some grizzled, mulleted old ex-1970s BMX racers love to combine the current reality of mountain bikes with the BMX looks of their youth. The result? An abominable collision of styles – a horribly upswept handlebar desecrating a mountain bike. Combine this with the gas motor, and you’ll be the ultimate two-wheeled hillbilly.

Architecture in Japan: Tokyo Big Sight

20030727 27 July 2003 Tokyo International Exhibition Center Big Sight Odaiba Tokyo Japan
The wild, crazy, polarizing Tokyo Big Sight.
As my visit to Japan winds down, I board a Rinkai Line subway headed to the Tokyo waterfront. Things get interesting when the train breaks the surface.

Even though it’s an overcast day headed toward dusk, the Tokyo Big Sight catches my eye.

A Sci-Fi Landmark in a Sci-Fi City

As the train zips past, I have no idea what it is. But I aim my Pentax and hope for some luck. It makes me think of a collision between Jawa sandcrawlers from Star Wars. During my post-trip research, I find out it’s part of a convention center.

The Capstone Cathedral, another building that appeals to my pyramid fetish.

I love this crazy thing. It doesn’t look like anything around it. It wouldn’t look out-of-place orbiting Vulcan. Is it functional? I have no idea.

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for pyramids – here in the Phoenix area, I am nuts about Tempe City Hall and the Capstone Cathedral. Give me four pyramids – upside down! – and my eyes won’t move from the thing.

I’ll admit that I had no idea of the building’s purpose. The Tokyo Big Sight could’ve been anything – telecommunications center, uber-health club, Rubik’s cube manufacturing plant, theme park, habitat for giant hamsters. I felt a twinge of disappointment that it’s a convention center, which I associate with all sorts of things un-fun.

To my eye, Tokyo is a sci-fi city. And the Tokyo Big Sight -- yes, it’s even more sci-fi than its surroundings. I had a blast looking at it, and I desperately wanted to wander around in it. If only I’d had time.

But I could tell this was also a polarizing example of  convention center architecture. I asked someone with some actual architecture knowledge beyond "It looks cool" for some thoughts. Here’s what Nichole from has to say about it:

My subway-eye view of the Tokyo Big Sight Convention Center.

Madonna’s Cone Bra Rendered Large

Tokyo Big Sight leaves me feeling like I did when visiting contemporary buildings in China: disappointed, if not repulsed. The eight-story structure is one of several buildings within Japan’s largest convention center and contains space enough for 1,000 visitors plus a reception room. Where shall I begin to expose its flaws?

What makes this edifice different from those designed by the growth-spooged Chinese buildings is the symmetry (Wandering Justin’s note: Nichole is the first person to use the word “spooged” in a post at this site. Congrats!). Symmetry in architecture, around most of the world, is as natural as four walls. When applied in the East we come to recognize the importance of discipline. They either trade symmetry in favor of grandiose (read oversized) scale or reveal an obligatory attitude toward it by eschewing context. The result often translates as being unsure if you’re looking at a library, a government building, or a museum. This egregiousness disregard for rules doesn’t mean they’re shifting the paradigm of architecture. (Leave that the Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry and Netherlands-based LAM architects.) It just makes for projects that have the elegant sophistication of Madonna’s cone bra of the early 90s.

Many architects ruin projects by neglecting to relate ensure a building to its milieu. For instance, notice that this building seems to have been plopped down from the sky. The designers could have diminished that glaring problem and addressed another by altering picture-center’s composition.

Placing a few increasingly wider outdoor terraces or glass-roofed verandas upon every other story would gently lead the eye from the tall, blunt façade to aesthetically stepped levels that approach the ground and end in a landscape designer’s work.

Allow me to point out two more problems. The placement of the elevator at the picture-left entrance adds grace to the composition like a baseball bat to your face. It sadly brings to mind an elevator placement of real success: the Centre Pompidou.

The gold façade is brash. The last time brashness worked Mae West appeared on the silver screen.

From perfunctory to obligatory and brash to demonstrative, the Tokyo Big Sight convention center fails to satisfy.

Nichole L. Reber has been writing about architecture, interior design, urban planning, and sustainability for international publications since 2003.Catch her blog at ArchitectureTravelWriter.

Travel in Japan – Tips and Ideas

If you're traveling to Japan, think about starting in Osaka. (Photo by JKT-c)

A five-day visit to Japan just isn’t enough. While I managed to squeeze a lot into my short visit, I didn’t even scratch the surface.

I enjoyed a few days in Tokyo, plus an overnight trip out to Hakone. That leaves a lot I skipped. If you want to know a few fun things about my stay, check out my Yahoo! Voices story "Six Cool Things to Expect During a Visit to Tokyo". You’ll find out that, behind the weirdness and cleanliness, you’ll be surprised by a friendly vibe rare in such large cities.

Kansai International Airport from the Air (photo by TDK)

But for now, I’m left to ponder what I’d do during a longer visit to Japan. First up, I’d think about my starting place. It doesn’t have to be Tokyo. I’d look into Osaka flights just to start off a bit further from Tokyo. And I’ll admit it – the air travel nerd in me loves the idea checking out Kansai International Airport, which is built on an artificial island.

And it’s not like Osaka is actually some small town: It’s Japan’s second-largest metro area, with plenty to do -- temples, shrines, amusement parks, museums and a ton of sports. High on my list? Sumo! I missed all the sumo action during my last abbreviated trip – and there’s no way I’ll make the same mistake.

Awesome Japanese bullet trains. (By Rdb at de.wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by Srittau at de.wikipedia)

And allow me to unshackle my inner travel geek again: I also didn’t get to use the awesome Japanese bullet train. The Korean KTX train was a revelation, and I’d like to give it a go in Japan. I could catch a bullet train in Osaka to several other cities.

I also like the architecture in Osaka. You have the usual mix of skyscrapers, but with some wild and crazy stuff like the Umeda Sky building. And as a mountain biker, I’d want to see what sort of building Shimano – which builds the majority of the bike components I’ve used over the years – calls home.

Of course, I’d still make my way from Osaka to Tokyo, but with a detour or two along the way. I might also swing further south. With a country like Japan, I can head in nearly every direction and find something interesting.

I thought about visiting Yokohama, but I couldn’t spare the time while still seeing Hakone. Next time around, I’ll carve time out for it.

If you plan to head to travel in Japan, you’re sure to find it just as interesting. But give yourself more time than I did!

This post is sponsored by Flight Centre and its experiences, highly trained experts who are dedicated to finding the best travel deal for any destination and any budget. They are widely traveled and enthusiastic about travel.

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

Asian Airports – Random Photo Fun

The A380 - one of many widebodies nesting at any given Asian airport.

Asia airports – there’s nothing like them. They link cities like Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong. They crackle with commerce and pulsate with cultural experiences in the making.

This is Incheon International Airport, and you see the Korean Air Airbus A380. Regardless of how you feel about the A380 – and boy, does it polarize!- it is an emblem of Asian airports. These airports are not the domain of the single-aisle, workaday Honda Civics of the Sky that dominate the taxiways at American airports.

Nope. Even the so-called "domestic" airports here have 747s come calling. There are too many people to move, too far. This is a job for the widebody, the heavy. The sheer scope of these aircraft, and so many of them, adds something to an airport visit.

Hating airports is now just short of a varsity sport in America. I get it. Honestly. We have the Transportation Security Agent and its radiation-emitting full body scanners (aka Nude-O-Scopes). We pack onto small planes and disembark to see the same chain stores before we even leave the terminal. Onboard, you generally get starved and dehydrated into a cranky mass of semi-intelligent tissue. The airports themselves bark at us with loud TVs and announcements – and starve us of any intellectual stimulation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Asian airports are the proof.

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!

Save Phoenix Views: Now Serving Spam

Don't worry, Phoenix citizens! Save Phoenix Views will protect your view of this magnificent, er ... nice, um ... somewhat adequate skyline! (Photo courtesy of

People in Phoenix, Arizona, now have another busybody political group inundating their email accounts with unwanted spam messages. I received my first message from on Jan. 20.

The group touts its mission to "protect views" and "pristine Phoenix neighborhoods." Its sworn enemy? Billboards. These slabs of advertising are apparently a threat to "unobstructed views of the skyline, mountains, sunrises and sunsets from your backyard." Yes, that world-renowned Phoenix skyline -- it’s the stuff of postcards and fine works of art. The group wants to ensure that such architectural wonders as the Chase Bank building aren’t hidden behind new billboards or electronic billboards.

I had never heard of this group of superheroes so intent on defending my way of life. I never signed up for its email newsletter. Since I also receive unsolicited emails from Phoenix City Council member Sal DiCiccio, I wondered if this is connected to his brand of small-time Phoenix politics. About a year ago, a group he backed also had me on its e-mail list. And wouldn’t you know, it only took 30 seconds of Google searching to discover a link between DiCiccio and Save Phoenix Views. Clearly, e-mail privacy is not one of his pet crusades. The best thing about my move to Scottsdale is that Sal DiCiccio is not on the Scottsdale City Council.

I’m embarrassed for the people behind Save Phoenix Views. Worries about billboards are the epitome of a "First World Problem." What’s really this group’s motivation? My bet is money. Someone stands to lose, so they’re organizing a "grassroots" campaign to stop the evil billboards (someone puh-leeze save us!). Anyone with an ounce of political knowledge will tell you: Behind every so-called grassroots neighborhood movement is money and hired PR guns dressing it up all folksy and down-home. I haven’t figured out the money trail yet, but it has to be there considering the efforts to the group has made and the money it has spent. It would be nice to see a full-time journalist with time and resources put Save Phoenix Views under the microscope (hint, hint – that’s my Bat Signal to The Arizona Republic).

The e-mail I received came to me "via" Naturally, I went to the URL -- and got a white screen with the words "Could not locate requested resource".  

This means someone is hiding. Typical dirty Phoenix politics. So far, 15,000 people have signed a petition to get the group’s wad of "Whereas", "Notwithstanding" and "Therefore" on the ballot. It’s been nearly a decade since I was a news reporter – but I remember a Maricopa County official who told me every item on the ballot costs upward of $200,000. Does Phoenix have that kind of money to spend on non-problems?

The group also wrings its hands about higher accident rates from drivers being distracted by electronic billboards. I’ll swallow that line of BS only if every single person who signed the petition will look me in the eye and say "That’s right, I’ve never used my cell phone or texted/e-mailed while I drive." I’d bet a year’s pay that phone use distracts far more drivers and causes far more accidents than electronic billboards do.

Who could, in good conscience, put such energy into such a trifling cause? A few suggestions for more important matters: Address the many empty buildings, the waste of water, the unsustainable building, the tax handouts to big businesses.

I also sent an e-mail to the group asking to know how I wound up on its distribution list. Let’s see if anyone responds.

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.

Mountain Bike Race Recap – McDowell Meltdown 2012

An unidentified Cat 3 woman (#514) on the course at the McDowell Meltdown.

I hadn’t lined up for a mountain bike race since May; the summer heat, a trip to Asia, moving to a new house -- all conspired to keep me off the course, and off the mountain bike altogether at times.

But I can’t resist McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, Ariz. There is absolutely nothing that mountain bikers can’t love about its 60-plus miles of trails. Of course, the McDowell Meltdown (the first race in the 2012 Mountain Bike Association of Arizona series) only consists of the loops in the Competitive Track. Still great!

Here’s what’s on my mind about the McDowell Meltdown.

Racer Krista Gibson responds to cheers from her friends.

1. The organizers are exceptionally dedicated and nice. Running these races is a labor of love. Need proof? Brandee from Global Bikes posted on Facebook at 3:30 a.m. about how eager she was to get out there and put on a race (she’s also an MBAA board member). Another example: I signed up the day of the race, which didn’t entitle me to an event t-shirt. But one of the MBAA guys scrounged up some leftover t-shirts from the previous year for us johnny-come-lately schlubs. He didn’t have to. We didn’t expect him to. A really nice "late or not, thanks for being here" gesture.

How Did You Do?
If you want to find your race results, check these links:
Cross Country

2. Sign up online. You’ll save stress on yourself, plus a few bucks. And you’ll save some stress for the folks from La Roue d’Or – they have a lot on their hands with managing the registrations.

3. The Arizona mountain bike race scene has changed. My Adventure Bicycle Company boys had no presence. Back in the day, it would’ve been them, Rage Cycles and Landis as the standard bearers. These days, it’s Global, DNA Cycles (the McDowell Meltdown title sponsor), Sunday Cycles and a few others -- and Landis is still around. I didn’t see any familiar faces out there. But I met new people, and hope to run into them again at the next mountain bike race.

Racer Aimee Nay and friend relive the mountain bike race action.

4. The first-timer class is a really nice idea. Unfortunately, the women’s field continues to be small. In the late 90s, there were definitely more new mountain bike racers of both genders. I remember Beginner Class (now Cat 3) men’s 19-24 groups with more than 70 riders.

5. Speaking of the people in each field and the various categories -- I still see sandbagging (the fine art of riding a category – or two! – below your ability to get better race results) as a problem. The front of the Cat 3 pack is where it’s at its worst. Three quick thoughts: A. Abolish a championship title for Cat 3 racers – it’s a dis-incentive to move up to the proper category. B. No racers attached to teams should be in Cat 3. If you’re so plugged into the mountain bike scene that you roll with a team, you are too experienced for Cat 3. C. If you finish in the top 10 percent, you go up. I’d apply this to Cat 2, also. Getting people in the right categories will get more new riders to mountain bike races. Your race results should never take a backseat to integrity.

Overall? The McDowell Meltdown is one of my favorites, and I’m glad I went. MBAA puts on a fine mountain bike race, and you should give one of its events a try.