CategoriesFitnessAdventures

Review: Frenzy Hills Mountain Bike Race

The inaugural Frenzy Hills mountain bike race put on by Aravaipa Rides was one very cool event. Some of this was by design, and some was luck of the draw from Mother Nature.

In a weekend extravaganza of off-road activity, I raced my singlespeed in the 50-mile category. I think I may have been the only 50-mile SS rider to finish, albeit at the back of the entire pack for that distance. My wife did the 25k run the day before.

We both think Aravaipa did a great job with the events. I can’t speak to the running side of it, but I’m going to fill you in what I liked so much about the Frenzy Hills race. After that, I’ll share some thoughts about my day out that on some slippery, sloggy (is that a word?) trails.

frenzy hills
The clouds made my familiar mountains look even more epic.

Frenzy Hills, Not a Frenzied Vibe

This wasn’t a busy race. I drove up an hour before start and found a parking spot close to the start/finish. Everything was a laid-back affair.

I’d estimate there were only 20 people in the 50-mile ride. That spread us all out pretty well. I’m sure this made everyone more willing to banter when passing or getting passed.

Awesome Aid Stations

Most aid stations in most races are kind of crappy. I never count on them. I bring my own stuff.

But if Aravaipa keeps this up, I won’t have to do so for their races. The Frenzy Hills aid stations rocked. I only stopped at two of the three. But check this out: The best one, at Jackass Junction, had a spread that boggled my mind. My favorite items were the watermelon (for magnesium), the dates (for potassium), the energy gel package recycling box, and the delicious Gnarly pineapple electrolyte drink.

frenzy hills jackass junction
Taking a break at Jackass Junction

The station also had pickles, peanut M & Ms, cookies, bananas, and many other things that actually help in events like this. As I told the emcee at the finish line, it was almost like someone knew what they were doing. Love it!

Race Necessities Were Perfect

After a long race, pizza doesn’t just nourish the body. It nourishes the soul. Freak Brothers rejuvenated me with a sausage and pepperoni pie for the ages.

The venue also has bathrooms with showers, and Aravaipa provided a row of portable toilets.

Relive ‘Frenzy Hills 2019’

Another nice touch: There was also a bike stand with a floor pump. I may have seen a few tools, too. This is just nice. It reflects a staff that knows what riders need during a tough event, and the mental lapses that sometimes occur when packing up the gear.

My Day on the Bike

So, we’ve probably established that I’m not super-fast. This was only my third race on a singlespeed. It was also my longest SS ride.

Frenzy Hills was on trails I know well: Escondido, Pemberton, and Long Loop, primarily. I do pretty well on Escondido, generally. My bike rips up the back side of Pemberton because I can settle into a nice climbing groove. The Long Loop is pretty rocky, so my hardtail gives up some speed to the squishy bikes. But I like riding it, anyway. And it’s the perfect bike for sloppy conditions thanks to its belt drive.

Most of the trails were wet thanks to off-and-on rain. The clouds made the McDowell Mountains look a bit like The Remarkables in New Zealand (which you may have seen in Lord of the Rings). The rain would soak me, then stop and let me dry off. By the time I got comfortable, I’d get hosed again.

My times up Pemberton Climb were far slower than usual thanks to soggy ground sucking at my tires. Some of the downhill portions were perfect hero dirt. Portions of the Long Loop were a bit scary for me. There was enough mud in places to make my rear tire sink in a few times.

An Interesting Lesson

I definitely drink a lot less in cool weather. I was down to a single bottle about every hour and 45 minutes. And I still peed three times during the Frenzy Hills race!

So I wasn’t dehydrated. Still, a cramp tried to take hold of me about 45 miles in. The watermelon I ate must’ve kicked in: I rode through it, and it was completely gone not 5 minutes later. My lesson is that I needed a higher concentration of electrolytes to ride my best. The cooler weather means I need to drink less, maybe, but I still need my magnesium!

frenzy hills
Is a medal that isn’t made out of metal still a medal? Or am I just meddling with this wood medal?

Frenzy Hills Finale

This was a fun day to be racing, even if the rain made things a bit more difficult. It also added to the fun in a weird way.

CategoriesTravelAccommodationsTastes

Visiting Seattle with a Kid

Back in September, I took my first trip to Seattle with a kid. Well, not just any random kid – my own, of course.

I’d last been to Seattle in around 2005-ish with my now-wife. We walked all over the place, found all the tasty food and searched for good beer. As walkable as Seattle is, it would still present some different challenges with a 4-year-old along for the ride (and walk!).

If you’re thinking about visiting Seattle with a kid or three, let me share a few recommendations.

travel to seattle
Getting there is part of the fun for us.

Where to Stay

Hotel prices in Seattle are kind of obnoxious. We also try hard to avoid huge hotel chains. We wanted to be somewhat near the Space Needle since many cool things radiate out from that area.

My wife found a reasonably-price-for-Seattle place called Hotel 5, which is almost as cool as one of my other favorite hotels. It couldn’t have been friendlier or more comfortable. The lobby had all sorts of games, ranging from chess to (free) old-school arcade games. They also have a decent free breakfast — nothing fancy, just oatmeal, hardboiled eggs, pastries and the like. They also have a small cafe there that sells various fancier breakfast items, coffee and bar food (later in the day).

It’s a good location that’s pretty close to public transit stops and the Pike Place Market. I can’t say enough about the comfortable rooms and the overall friendliness of the staff. It’s a perfect place to stay in Seattle with a kid.

How to Have Fun in Seattle with a Kid

I realize your mileage will vary on this point. But my 4-year-old is a seafood fiend. She even helps me cook it at home by sprinkling the seasoning. When she walks into Nelson’s Seafood at home, the people there know her by sight and say “are you here to see the fish with eyes?” (She’s partial to whole fish.)

So you can imagine her delight at the seafood markets at Pike Place Market. At one point, she was looking at a pretty gross-looking fish on ice, and then it moved! Turns out the pranksters there planted a fake fish and have it rigged up so they can make it move whenever someone comes in for a closer look.

seattle with a kid
One of the any awesome playgrounds in Seattle.

But there’s plenty of other cool kid stuff aside from looking at fish. There are some epic playgrounds — some that compare favorably with even those in New Zealand — scattered all across the city. The playground at Seattle Center is a grand scale of challenges that will keep kids of all ages occupied. Mine also made several friends during her visits. There’s also the Cascade Playground, which is a lot smaller. But it will definitely keep a preschooler happy, especially since it’s a hotspot for dog walkers.

We had mixed results at the Pop Culture Museum. My little person loved the interactive area where she could play guitars, keyboards and electronic drums. She was also completely nuts over the sci-fi movie exhibit, where she was able to name every cool display from Star Wars. And the other costumes and displays also blew her away. She wasn’t so into looking at old guitars.

seattle with a kid
I’ve had so much trouble finding the right drummer that I’m trying to grow one at home.

The Seattle Aquarium was a hit that kept the little person occupied for several hours. From jellyfish to seahorses to octopi to sea otters, she enjoyed herself. My advice would be to get there early like we did. It gets crowded, so having 30 minutes or so where it’s nearly empty makes it a better experience.

We also took a little side jaunt on the ferry out to Bainbridge Island, which I found to be a very posh Sedona-on-the-water sort of place. We put in plenty of miles walking, which included foraging around for wild blackberries. It looked like we missed most of the prime season, so I was left rooting around for what the birds lefts behind. But it was still fun.

Where to Eat

I’m going to be honest here: If Seattle food is as good as Portland food, we weren’t able to find it quite as easily. That said, we had some wonderful meals there.

La Teranga, another find of my wife’s, served Senegalese food. It was my first time having it. Literally everything I tasted blew me away. There are three tables in the place, but it’s worth the wait. We had Thibou Djeun (a fish dish) and lamb mafe, along with a drink made out of baobab tree fruit called bouye juice. It was much thicker than a juice, and also one of the more unique flavors I’ve experienced. I’m not even sure what comparison to draw.

food in seattle
Delicious Senegalese food!

We all also loved the Skal Beer Hall in the Ballard neighborhood. We’re all big fans of charcuterie, and the little person particularly loves havarti. Everyone went away happy. There’s also the cool atmosphere as a bonus.

Oh, yeah. The little person also enjoys donuts. I made it a point to find her a few local donuts to try. We, of course, tried the local Hot Pot chain. Their plain glazed scored highly with the little person. But Tempesta, a tiny coffeehouse, makes a far better donut. Their coffee is also tasty, but the skew more toward fun coffee creations with a bit of sweetness.

A Little Bit of Fun for the Parents

Two of the things we always like about cities in the Pacific Northwest are beer and coffee.

Let’s start with coffee. This is clearly the city that built Starbucks, but you’re missing out if you don’t hit the local places. I could write a whole post just about coffee and beer, so I’m going to name some top spots for you to put on your list. To give you an idea of what it takes to get on the list, here’s my test: I order a real espresso drink, usually a cortado or a cappuccino. No whipped creme, no sprinkles, no pumpkin spice.

seattle with a kid
Having a donut with Lufthansa Lu.

That said, I recommend you check out Ghost Note, Monorail Espresso and Street Bean. Each has something that’s a standout about it. Ghost Note has a relaxing atmosphere and a barista who takes coffee very seriously while also being friendly about it. Monorail is tiny enough to walk past, but they use the space they have to also be very friendly while making serious espresso drinks. Street Bean stands out to me for its mission to help “street involved” young people in Seattle. All of these will serve a top-quality espresso. I also like Ghost Alley, even though I opted for a seasonal cold brew recipe there.

There be Beer Here

Then there’s beer. A quick note on visiting Seattle with a kid – or anywhere in Washington: Apparently, an archaic law on the books results in some places not allowing minors into the premises. Still others install some sort of a weird wooden bar as a barrier, and minors aren’t allowed beyond it. It’s truly strange. But just know where a brewery stands on this before making a long journey out to it before being turned away.

We are primarily about stouts and IPAs (preference to West Coast and hazy styles). We eschew blondes, most lagers, reds and other more mellow stuff. There is really one big winner from all the breweries we tried, and that’s Stoup. They had literally everything right: great beer, a food truck, a friendly atmosphere, and even stuff for the kids to do. We happened to drop in during fresh hop season, so they had a variety of seasonal IPAs that were mind-boggling. Their selection rotates often, so you won’t often see the same beer. I advise getting a flight.

We agreed that Stoup was our favorite beer place in Seattle.

I also enjoyed Flying Lion quite a bit. I would’ve spent a lot more time there had it not been for a little person completely crashed out asleep at that point. Not many places do cask-conditioned ales, so that was a nice treat. I also loved the old warehouse vibe, and the entire place smelled like cedar. It was so comfortable and easygoing that I wanted to take it home with me. My standout aside from the cask IPA was a blood orange IPA.

Then there’s Optimism, a no-tipping establishment that is sprawling and fun. It has plenty for kids to do, but they could probably take the decibels down a notch. They’re also a Bring Your Own Food sort of place, and they provide utensils. To be honest, Optimism is a bit undistinguished from a beer point of view (their IPAs tasted way too similar to each other), but as a concept, I can’t help loving it.

Point A to Point B

Seattle is awesome at public transit. The bus system, monorail and subway are easy to navigate. It’s a pedestrian-friendly environment. And there are ferries for little desert kids like mine who aren’t used to waterways that are navigable!

seattle with a kid
Taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island

We used Uber for getting to the hotel from the airport and back, and on only one other occasion (the trek for Sengalese food — well worth it).

Seattle with a Kid — Do It

How much did our little person like Seattle? She already wants to go again. We didn’t have to really go too far out of our way to entertain here. She found adventure in every street and on every bus ride. It’s hard to go wrong.

CategoriesFitnessAdventures

Recap: The 2019 Tour de Scottsdale

This was the big year of my big comeback to the 70-mile course of the Tour de Scottsdale. That was the plan.

Back in 2016, I signed up for the Tour de Scottsdale after years away from riding road events. It started off good, but I got a lot of things wrong and wound up finishing in the 13 mph range. Terrible!

This year would be different

Leading up to the Tour de Scottsdale

Had there been a 70-mile course for this year’s El Tour de Tucson, I might not have ridden in the Tour de Scottsdale. But the financial trouble plaguing El Tour convinced me. Plus, it’s close to home and doesn’t give out the ugliest t-shirts known to humankind.

I haven’t been training my hardest in the last few weeks, thanks to a trip to Seattle and general late-Arizona summer malaise. But I had a good base in mileage and a lot of confidence from good performances in El Tour, Tour de Mesa, Prescott 6er, Taylor House Century and a few other tough races.

tour de scottsdale
The electric number plate for the Tour de Scottsdale interfered with my seatbag, so I had to improvise a way to carry a few things

The Tour de Scottsdale itself would come in with just short of 3,000 feet of climbing. A bit less than the Taylor House 60-miler, and without the problems of altitude. I had one late-race leg cramp in that ride, but still had a respectable day.

Something Awesome About Tour de Scottsdale

Last time I rode this event, I was frustrated by getting stuck behind some people whose bike-handling skills, situational awareness and courtesy were -- let’s just say a bit lacking. Fortunately, my recent times earned me a place in one of the TdS "starting corrals." They tried to group riders of similar skills and speed together in seeded sections of the start line.

This made the first few miles a far better experience. It was also far safer for all involved. More races should do this!

What’s in Your Feedbag?

One of my previous mistakes was relying on the aid stations to refuel me. Pretzels, Gatorade and bananas just don’t do it for me. Even since that first Tour de Scottsdale, I’ve experimented with my food and drink.

This time, I carried stroopwaffles, a bottle of EFS gel, a fistful of Sprouts electrolyte powder packs, a few packs of GU Roctane and a vial of pickle juice. This allowed me to skip the first two aid stations before stopping at the third to refill my water.

tour de scottsdale
A view from my handlebar.

I ate half a stroopwaffle every 45 minutes or so. I saved the EFS for the fourth aid station, and split the pickle juice between stations 3 and 4. The GU Roctane came in handy in the final 10 miles.

Hint: I froze all three of my bottles all of the way. This was a mistake. They didn’t unfreeze in time to be completely empty by the third aid station as I’d planned. Still, I had to pee by the third aid station, though I held it until the fourth station. That was another mistake.

While we’re talking about mistakes, I also left my heart rate monitor watch at home. And I wasn’t as diligent about pre-loading myself the week prior with Trace Minerals Electrolyte Stamina capsules.

Quick Bike Note

I rode a Lynseky Urbano, which is a titanium frame with cyclocross geometry. It’s my third event of this type, and I’ve ridden them all with 30c tires inflated to 60 psi. It’s a smooth ride that’s outperformed my previous Lemond Zurich every single time. Which is funny because that was a dedicated road bike rolling 25c tires at 110 PSI. It might also have been lighter.

How I Rode the Tour de Scottsdale

My plan was to find a similarly paced group, maybe some people slightly faster, and shamelessly leach off of them. I have no pride!

It took me about 15 miles to find that perfect group -- which splintered shortly after at the climb up Rio Verde Drive/Dynamite Boulevard. I’d grabbed onto a few other groups that rode slightly faster than I wanted to go. But I decided to Push It and see if the extra effort would pay off. I only got a few miles out of each of the slightly faster groups, but I think they all helped motivate me.

I also took it easy on the descent down 9-Mile Hill. I maintained a low wattage on the pedals while letting the bike do its thing.

I got through all the climbs in Fountain Hills where my legs had cramped in my previous Tour de Scottsdale, which was awesome! Oddly enough, I had about five different cramps between mile 55 and the finish line – all in relatively flat or even downhill parts of the ride. I’m a bit flummoxed over this. I also rode through 4 of the cramps, with only 1 requiring a stop to massage the kinks out. And I also made it up one more nasty climb without a problem, which is odd. Why cramping in easier parts? Weird.

Also weird: It took about two miles for my GPS unit to connect to a satellite.

An Observation About the Cities

The Tour de Scottsdale of course goes through Scottsdale. But Fountain Hills and I believe Carefree are part of the route. I’m not sure if Rio Verde is an actual real town or a county island.

But here’s the point: Fountain Hilles closed a full lane of traffic on one of its busiest roads, even though it has an ample bike lane throughout its portion of the route. This was a convenient, safe and downright classy of Fountain Hills.

In contrast, Scottsdale did not close any significant portion of its roads. Closing a lane of traffic along Frank Lloyd Wright would’ve been a great gesture toward safety -- and actually being the bike-friendly city Scottsdale claims to be. FLW is a terrible place to ride. It has no bike lane and no shortage of ill-tempered drivers who can’t seem to stand bicyclists.

The End Result

I had hoped to ride the Tour de Scottsdale in the top third. I figured this was feasible since I was top quarter in El Tour de Tucson.

Even if I’d ridden both courses at the same speed, though, I would’ve barely cracked the top half. The Tour de Scottsdale seems to draw a fast crowd. I finished in the bottom third.

On the plus side, I knocked 30 minutes off my previous time. That’s progress! I’ll definitely have the Tour de Scottsdale on the calendar next year to see if I can bring it up to my Tour de Tucson and Tour de Mesa speeds.

CategoriesGear

Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV Right For You?

Toyota is making headlines over its new RAV4 PHEV. What does that bunch of letters even mean? It’s easy – RAV4 is of course the name of its compact SUV or CUV or whatever you want to call it. The PHEV part is where it gets interesting: This stands for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle.

That means the RAV4 PHEV, which is coming in 2021, has an electric motor, a traction battery AND a gas motor. You can drive on battery power alone for awhile (the battery size and range specs haven’t been released yet, so I don’t have numbers to provide -- but I will update when Toyota tells us more on Nov. 20) before the gas engine kicks in to drive the wheels. By way of comparison, this is the same technology as the current Prius Prime PHEV, which can go 25 miles before needing a charge or its gas engine kicks in. 

Sounds pretty cool, right? But is the Toyota RAV PHEV right for you? Is it better than an all-battery electric vehicle?

Why Do You Want a Plug-In Hybrid?

Figuring out whether the Toyota RAV PHEV is right for you involves figuring out exactly what you’re looking for. Here are some things to consider.

You Want to Create Less Pollution 

You’re definitely going to emit a lot less pollution with the RAV4 PHEV. There’s not going to be a huge difference in the emissions caused by building the RAV4 PHEV versus a conventional vehicle. 

Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV right for you?
Toyota can’t seem to help itself from relying on old technology. The RAV4 PHEV will rely on the same principle as this Prius Prime.

And post-production emissions will be lower since you’re using less gas. I haven’t seen a cradle-to-grave analysis of PHEVs versus conventional engines. But the Union of Concerned Scientists analysis found that battery-electric vehicles will produce 25 percent fewer emissions over their lifetime than gas cars. That factor will increase as more utilities switch to renewable power – it also changes if your home has a solar array. 

You Want to Save Money

You won’t get quite the same return on your investment as you would with a pure battery-electric vehicle. There will still be emissions from the gas motor, and you can go a lot further on $3 of electricity than you can on $3 of gas. 

When charging from my house, $3 of electricity is about 160 miles of range. $3 of gas in the Prius Prime gets you about 50 miles. The RAV4 PHEV will get less because it’s bigger and heavier. Best case scenario splitting between gas and electric? It’s tough to say. I don’t see it being any more than 50 miles per $3 (nice measurement because it’s right around the current price of gas). 

You Want Less Maintenance?

Electric vehicle drivers love saying "see ya later" to maintenance. We don’t change oil, transmission fluid, differential fluid, serpentine belts, timing belts or any of that other outdated, old-timey, messy internal combustion engine nonsense. 

As it turns out, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV saddles you with an internal combustion engine that will need conventional maintenance. And it makes the vehicle heavier, which causes the efficiency of the electric motor to plummet. 

In this regard, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV is the worst of both worlds.

Is the toyota RAV4 PHEV right for you?
Oddly enough, Toyota had a fully electric RAV4 from 2012-14. The PHEV is a step backward.

 You Want to Support Efforts to Reduce Emissions

If this is a factor for you, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV is a bad choice. It’s actually a step backward for Toyota. 

Toyota actually has TWO previous generations of fully electric RAV4s. The last one was a joint venture between Tesla and Toyota. From 2012-14, the joint venture produced an EV that could go 0-60 in less than 7 seconds, get about 140 miles to the charge (in my experience) and hold a ton of cargo and people in comfort.

Toyota is clearly dragging its feet in addressing emissions. Instead, it’s putting its eggs into the hydrogen-powered car effort. This technology is perpetually three years away. You’ll never be able to fill a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at home. There’s far less infrastructure for fueling. It’s harder to deal with. It’s more complicated. 

So why is Toyota stuck on it? Who knows? My theory: They just don’t know how to let go of the past and modernize. 

Anyway, the company that deserves your money is Tesla. They single-handedly dragged legacy automakers into the battery-electric era.

You Want Performance

People are also switching to electric vehicles for push-you-back-in-your-seat acceleration. Everyone who takes a ride in my RAV EV is blown away by the acceleration. 

It’s very possible the RAV PHEV will have all the pep of its all-electric counterpart while in battery mode. We’ll have to see. I can confirm, though, that the 150-horsepower RAV4 EV is faster 0-60 than the current RAV4 hybrid.

Other Factors

When the RAV PHEV rolls out in 2021, what all-electric options will you have in the same size class? There’s the Tesla Model Y, but that will likely be significantly more expensive. Aside from that, I really don’t know what’s going to happen in this space.

A Toyota RAV4 PHEV could be right for a family of three that likes to hit the road. That’s pretty much my family. My wife, 4-year-old and myself could fit neatly in this vehicle, along with our camping gear and a bike rack. The Kia Soul, Kia Nero and Hyundai Kona EVs are all smaller. And who knows what VW will really come out with -- plus some people are furious with VW for its emissions cheating and wouldn’t give them a nickel at this point. 

one year with an electric vehicle
This is what a car of the future should look like.

Also, range anxiety is still a thing with people. A decently priced EV has about 240 miles of range right now. That freaks people out for some reason, even though they can charge to 80 percent in 15 minutes. 

Part of it is the old-school driving mentality: You drive your car until it’s almost out of gas, and you fill up. That’s not how you drive an EV. You drive someplace and plug in, constantly topping off. You rarely start recharging from anywhere near zero. Road trips are the only time that changes, and fast-charging infrastructure is improving all the time (and will be better by the time the Toyota RAV4 PHEV comes out). For most people who commute less than 40 miles a day, the range is a much smaller factor than they realize.

Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV Right for You?

I hope this helps with your decision. For the TLDR version – it’s better than a conventional combustion engine, but nowhere near the equal of an EV in terms of convenience and operational cost. The Toyota RAV4 PHEV will have a relatively small battery that doesn’t require fast charging, which could be a huge bonus in areas that are actually lacking in charging infrastructure. If that sounds like, you might have a winner.

CategoriesGear

Do Bicycle Safety Cameras Really Help?

Bicycle safety cameras are a big deal right now. More cyclists are worried about getting run over by drivers. Some cyclists are abandoning road riding altogether, which contributes to the rise of gravel bikes (just look for threads about this in the SteveBay community on Facebook).

Some of us are stubborn, though. Instead of letting cars chase us off the roads, we’re gearing up to keep drivers honest and accountable. That means using high-powered flashing lights to mark our positions. And more riders are using bicycle safety cameras to provide evidence if there’s a crash.

The Cycliq Fly12 CE: The Standard in Bicycle Safety Cameras

The Cycliq Fly 12 CE from Australia is an established safety device. When I asked SteveBay members what they used, the Cycliq was the favorite. It’s a combination camera/light that’s packed with features that can even the odds when cyclists hit the roads. Unlike a GoPro, it’s purpose-built for safety rather than capturing thrills (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’ve seen it on quite a few other bikes during my rides.

At $279.99, it’s hardly an inexpensive proposition. I’ll help you get an idea of what you’re getting for that money.

I’m hardly the first person to review the Cycliq Fly12 CE, so I won’t get too deep into what’s on the spec sheet. Instead, I’ll show what it’s like to ride with it and how it might make your ride safer.

Here’s What Makes the Cycliq Fly12 CE Different

The Fly12 CE has a long list of capabilities. It’s a 1080p action camera. It has a 600-lumen light that’s plenty powerful enough to let drivers see you from a good distance in broad daylight. It’s Bluetooth capable. It comes with the Cycliq desktop editing software. And, of course, there’s an app to control it. You can alter the strobe patterns and even set up a theft alert. That’s great for those mid-ride refueling stops. Certain wearables and bike computers will also let you control the Fly12 CE.

But here’s the really cool thing: You don’t have to worry about filling your media card up with footage. Your Fly12 CE will never stop recording because it simply records over old files -- with a huge and helpful exception: If anything triggers the Fly12 CE, it saves the closest files to the time of the triggering event. So if you crash (or someone crashes into you), the camera automatically stores the footage. You can also trigger manually, using a button on the Fly12 CE.

And that’s the real difference between a run-of-the-mill helmet camera and bicycle safety cameras.

The Fly12 CE is very similar in concept to the new breed of Artificial Intelligence-powered cameras used in fleet management (think big rigs, local delivery vehicles, etc.). They also loop, and automatically transmit triggering events. So cycling is essentially borrowing a very effective page from the fleet management playbook.

bicycle safety cameras
You can also get good stills from the Cycliq Fly 12 CE.

Cool Idea. Does it Make You Safer?

I’ve had numerous close calls with vehicles over the years. But I’ve never been hit. I can only comment on close calls. Since starting to ride with the Cycliq, I’ve had only one; you can see in the video that it’s just someone stopping in front of me at the intersection of a bike path and a neighborhood street. (By the way, I shot that video at 1920 by 1080 at 59.94 frames per second.)

I’m new to riding with bicycle safety cameras of any kind. But with the Fly12 CE, I’ve noticed that the flashing light draws drivers’ eyes. I’ve had quite a few who looked like they’d pull out in front of me. They saw the light, stopped short, and backed up to give room. And that’s a dangerous situation that I always dislike. The Fly12 CE definitely makes me feel safer.

It’s also a good alert for runners and other cyclists, too. That light definitely makes cyclists more noticeable.

What Else Should I Know?

Using both the camera and the light, the Cycliq Fly12 CE gives me about four hours of battery life. I use a 64-gig micro SD card (Class 10, of course).

For editing purposes – like finding interesting parts of a ride or minor annoyances – I wouldn’t mind shorter files: I’m thinking two minutes rather than 5. The Fly12 CE warns you if more than half your memory card is taken up by "protected" clips. Shorter clips could alleviate that a bit. The truck-driving cameras I mentioned earlier record 30 seconds before and after the "triggering event." (They also automatically transmit it to a remote server, which is incredibly cool.)

bicycle safety cameras
The Cycliq Fly12 CE – mounted and ready to go.

The automatic triggering makes the Fly12 CE less than ideal for mountain biking. There may be a way to shut that off so you could use it for recording your fun rides, but I’m still getting familiar with it.

I’ve had problems getting the desktop editing app to work, even with help from Cycliq tech support. It just won’t open on my Windows 10 computer. That’s a bummer because it has some cool features, like being able to have your Strava information overlay on the screen. This issue is still ongoing, and I hope I’ll be able to use the Cycliq editing software at some point. It would be cool to see some data from this ride popping up.

The Bottom Line on the Cycliq Fly12 CE

This is a great bicycle safety camera that gives you some features that regular cameras don’t. I know many cycling advocates are annoyed that riders bear the burden of using cameras, dressing in bright colors and wearing helmets to be seen as doing our part for safety -- while drivers do little to help. I get it. It’s annoying. But I’m up to seize any advantage to come back home in one piece when I ride.

Are there any questions about bike safety lights in general or the Cycliq Fly12 CE that I haven’t answered? Let me know in the comments!

AMain Cycling provided the Cycliq Fly12 CE for review. 

CategoriesTastes

We All Need to Stop Being Wusses and Eat Crickets

Americans need to stop being wusses and eat crickets. This hit me as I finished off an Impossible Burger. Or rather, an Impossible Slider.

I was at a burger place in Scottsdale for lunch, and the Impossible meat was on the menu. And holy cow! The Impossible items were actually less expensive than their cownterparts! (I promise there won’t be many more puns.)

eat crickets
The Impossible Burger is pretty good! But it’s not the food of the future.

The Impossible slider was damn tasty. The patty was a bit thin and came with plenty of condiments. Many a carnivore would’ve wolfed it down without noticing anything amiss.

And that’s good. A meat substitute that actually tastes good. But here’s the problem.

The Jury is Out on the Impossible Burger’s Health Benefits and Sustainability

The Impossible Burger’s list of ingredients won’t impress anyone. It’s highly processed, as well. So there’s some disagreement about the health benefits.

And I see conflicting reports on whether manufacturing it is any more environmentally friendly than beef. I could see farmers who raise free-range, grass-fed cattle making a good accounting of themselves versus the Impossible Burger. The Guardian has a pretty solid article covering this and many other aspects of the Impossible Burger.

What About Animal Cruelty?

There are plenty of vegans out there who are vegan because of their concern about animals. And I get it. The big factory farms sound awful, and that’s why some people are trying hard to go for free-range or cage-free options. That’s also commendable.

eat crickets
GIF by Spoon University

And that’s why I think we should eat crickets. Frankly, nobody gives a shit about crickets. People pay other people to spray their houses to kill them. It’s hard to muster concern about cruelty over what’s usually regarded as a pest and barely even lives three months total.

You Want ME to Eat Crickets?

Yes, I do. I’ve done it myself (I’m sure you’re not surprised, considering what else I’ve eaten!), mostly in the form of protein bars. Right now, the EXO brand is my favorite even though they’re overpriced.

There’s a place near me that serves cricket tacos now and then. And I really want to get a hold of some. My schedule rarely ever lets me get to that neighborhood at the right time, though. It would be a nice addition to my long list of fun and unusual foods I’ve eaten.

Look, crickets are nutritious. They’re easy to grow sustainably. And plenty of people worldwide eat insects. But no, Americans are too good for that, right?

eat crickets
Weird Al needs no captions.

I hear a lot of you people squawking about all the ecological ills the planet faces right now. What are you going to do about it? What are you willing to do?

If you eat crickets, you will overcome the initial revulsion. And you’ll become an important data point to the bean counters who measure what you buy: You’ll say "doing something for the planet matters to me. And I’ll eat crickets if it can help." (This is important for all eco-friendly products and actions: You might not save the world individually, but collectively your purchasing choices are a powerful way to move corporations to take action by offering eco-friendly products and packaging.)

Go buy a cricket protein bar someplace. I don’t care which one you pick. Eat it. Maybe try a few different ones. If even just 1 percent of the people who read this tries a few cricket bars, you’re gonna make a big statement.

Quit being a wuss and eat crickets.

CategoriesAdventuresFitness

The Taylor House Ride in Flagstaff – What You Should Know


I just did the Taylor House ride for the second time. I previously did it more than 10 years ago, and exactly three things stood out about it that first time:

  • A tube-socked dude who nearly wiped a bunch of us out through having some of the worst bike-handling skills I’ve ever seen;
  • A very scary return to Flagstaff from Sunset Crater National Monument;
  • The scenery was absolutely wild as the road went through the lava flow area.
taylor house ride
A fast, beautiful stretch of road early in the Taylor House ride.

That last bit is what really brought me back. These days, it’s possible to record ridiculously beautiful rides with gear like the Cycliq Fly 12CE bike light/camera combo. I’ve been testing one for about the past month, and I really wanted to let it roll on this beautiful ride, which comes in four flavors (35, 45, 65 and 95 – I did the 65, which featured about 3,200 feet of climbing).

So let’s break the ride down a bit with some things you need to know.

Taylor House Ride is More Overgrown Group Ride than Race

There are no number plates of official timing for the Taylor House ride. It’s an open course, so you won’t be separated from traffic except for about the first 5 miles thanks to a police escort through the main part of Flagstaff.

Relive ‘Taylor House 65-mile Ride’

That’s pretty much alright until you’re headed back into Flagstaff on Route 66. You’ll have headwinds and crosswinds, plus some really narrow road shoulders. The bike lane also disappears in a few places. And you’ll have to jockey for position with semi trucks, people pulling trailers, RVs -- all that sort of stuff. And there’s a lot of pebbly crap to contend with, which can be scary in some of the faster spots.

On the other hand, the rest stops are superbly stocked and the volunteers are extremely helpful. F-Bomb had some of their cool keto nut butter mixes, which was nice.

There are also event photographers, but they didn’t manage to get a single good shot of me. Then again, I am not photogenic at all, so there’s that!

It’s All About Scenery

I promise that some of the scenery on the Taylor House ride will blow you away. This is especially a treat for people who haven’t seen it before. There are some wonderful bits of forest and prairie to cruise through.

sunset crater
Looking into the business end of Sunset Crater

And Sunset Crater National Monument is pretty much a movie set. Thousands of acres of lava flow and cinders, along with a dramatic cinder cone. Any person who visits from out of state will have trouble keeping their eyes on the road during this bit. In person, it’s far more grand than what you’ll see in my photos.

A Tough Ride Between Climbing and Wind

We had a brilliant day with a few clouds. But holy cow, we had one helluva wind behind us. I knew as our pack rolled through town effortlessly at 30 mph that we would face serious winds on the way back.

Sure enough, there were times when people would be crawling along headed back to Flagstaff. I really wanted to find a pack to stick with both out and back, but I was having trouble matching my speed to anyone. So I wound up going alone for quite a bit of it. It wound up being my slowest time in awhile, which wasn’t helped by a leg cramp with about five miles left; the narrow margin of error along Route 66 kept me from drinking for about 45 minutes, which played hell with keeping the electrolytes flowing.

I wound up finishing in about 4:20, right about how long it would take me to ride 75 miles in El Tour de Tucson.

Wrapping Up the Taylor House Ride

taylor house ride 65
Cranking back uphill from the 65-mile turnaround.

I enjoyed it, and I’m glad I did it. I’m not eager to repeat my experience on Route 66 — some of that traffic is simply too close for comfort. If they decide to close off a lane for cyclists, I’d do it again in a second, regardless of the wind. I think the Absolute Bikes crew did a nice job with everything; they can’t wave a magic wand to make Route 66 better, but I encourage them to do what they can to reduce the pucker factor there. (Maybe I’m just a big baby who hates trucks, trailers and RVs … I’m OK with that!)

Also huge props for:

  • The well-stocked aid stations;
  • The tasty finish-line food;
  • The general event vibe.

Have you ever ridden the Taylor House ride? What did you think?

sunset crater
A look at the lava flow
CategoriesTravel

It’s Time to Fix How We Renew a Passport in the US

The process to renew a passport in America is needlessly slow and archaic. I went through that 20th Century, postage-stamp song and dance a few years ago before going to Brazil. I never spared a second thought about what it’s like in other countries.

A friend’s tweet changed that made me think of this, especially when another Twitter user from UK chimed into the conversation later:

renew a passportCost and Time to Renew a Passport

Of course, I wanted to confirm what she said, so I headed to the relevant US government website to double check. As is typical for so many government services, there’s a lengthy word soup to say what my friend was able to say in one single tweet. 

And I found that a passport book costs $110 while a passport card is $30 (get both for the bargain price of $140!). You send your info in along with a check or money order — it’s not clear if you’re required to chisel this out of stone — and wait -- and wait -- and wait -- 6-8 weeks. Want it faster? That’s another $60, which brings the time down to 2-3 weeks.

Now, contrast this to Merry Ol’ England.

The price is slightly less in England: £75.50 ($95.43 as of right now) to renew online. Tack on another 10 pounds, or quid, or whatever you call them to do it old-school via mail. That’s right: They charge you more to use snail mail. As it should be. England also has services that can reduce the renewal time to -- 4 hours. There’s also a less-expensive one-week option. Point is, passport renewal in England is far more efficient than it is in the US.

A British traveler will receive their new passport in about three weeks.

Why is it So Hard to Renew a Passport in America?

Before we even get to why it’s so hard to renew a passport in the US, keep in mind that only 40 percent of Americans even have a passport to renew. If you think that sounds impressively high, think again. In Canada, 66 percent of people have passports. In the UK, that goes up to 76 percent. This is all according to Forbes. I’m actually unable to find passport rankings by country, which is very interesting. I’d like to know where the US ranks among other countries, and I have not been able to find it.

I don’t think the US government deliberately set out to make it difficult for people to travel internationally. But I do think it has taken advantage of the situation and has little incentive to improve the process.

Consider, also, that generous vacation time from employers is rare in the United States.

Those are just two anti-travel practices in the US. The net effect is that fewer people from the US see other countries.

So Fewer Americans Visit Other Countries. What’s the Problem?

Americans have an inflated sense of their quality of life. There is a general belief, that’s unsubstantiated by any first-hand evidence, that their standards of living are higher. When most indexes to measure quality of life don’t even rank the US in the top 10, you have to be concerned.

And people who never visit other countries will never have that belief challenged. That’s not good at all for long-term quality of life in this country. Travel is a great antidote for being stuck in our ways. If you think you’re the best, you have little incentive to find ways to improve.

Ultimately, the US government knows that. And its elected officials are actually pretty OK with the way things are, from my perspective. People who don’t travel don’t ask uncomfortable questions about why our public transit isn’t better. Why we can’t renew passports online. Why we can’t walk into a clinic in a rural area and get government-funded, fast, efficient healthcare.

Travel scares the status quo by creating a more informed electorate.

I know this is kind of a downer, but it’s worth considering.

CategoriesGear

One Year With an Electric Car

I’ve now driven more than one year with an electric car. I want to share a few thoughts about what I’ve learned for people who are thinking about giving up their gas cars. I think you’ll be in for some surprises.

I live in the U.S., so some of this will vary according to where you live.

Using The Carpool Lane is Awesome, But …

One of the perks of driving an EV in Arizona is that you can use the carpool lane if you have the right license plate (you have to ask for it). The speeds in the carpool — or HOV Lane, if you like the bureaucratic version — stay a lot more consistent. When everyone slows down for whatever reason, the carpool lane mostly keeps humming.

There’s just one problem: Many people think the carpool lane is really the Drive as Fast as You Want Lane. This creates some dangerous situations. And many of these people don’t have the plates and are alone in their car and thus shouldn’t even be in the carpool lane anyway. I’m usually driving 70 in a 65, which is speeding. But these people don’t think I’m speeding enough. Things being what they are, they get away with driving 85mph+. Which is ridiculously stupid: It’s dangerous, obviously, and it turns their gas mileage to shit. And does it save much time? No, because they’ll still get stuck at traffic lights on surface streets.

You Don’t Need Charging Stations

For the first six months or so, I relied on charging at charging stations like ChargePoint, Blink, Volta and others. I favored the free ones, which are fairly plentiful (Blink is a huge rip off). I covered this adequately in an earlier post, so I recommend reading that post for more information, including my recent project to install a 240-volt line at my house.

Driving a Gas-Powered Car Will Suck

Sometimes, I have to drive my wife’s 2017 Subaru Forester. And boy, does it suck. Before getting my EV, I actually liked it.

But when I get into my EV and push the button, there’s no noise or vibration. There’s also no heat pouring off of it after I drive 20 miles. That noise, vibration and heat is inefficiency.

After a few months driving an EV, you’ll be disgusted by the lurching transmission shifts, the noise, the vibration and the slow acceleration.

I know car enthusiasts will argue this point with me. But here’s the thing: I’ve driven gasmobiles far more than they’ve driven electric cars. They have no frame of reference. They have never driven an electric car for months and gone back to their clunky gas jalopies.

Your Electric Car Will Save You Time

Think of all the time you’ve spent at gas stations and getting oil changes. Those days are over. It’s awesome to wake up or leave your desk in the evening to a "full tank."

Getting your juice will be as quick as plugging a cell phone into a wall. It’s weirdly liberating.

After one year of driving an electric car, all this time adds up.

You Can Do Anything You Want in an Electric Car

The top-of-the-line electric cars are getting around 300 miles per charge. The lesser ones get 150, but can re-charge to 80 percent pretty quickly. In the middle, you have some that are getting about 230 miles. That compares to my dear departed Subaru Forester, which got about 350 miles per tank.

one year with an electric vehicle
Great. She likes the Tesla Model X. Expensive taste …

But here’s the thing: How often do you drive that far? And how far do you ever drive without stopping to eat, drink or use a toilet?

My bet is about 100 miles or so. So the difference in miles traveled per tank or per charge is insignificant. The arguments against electric car range are for trips that constitute the tiniest portion of trips taken. Electric cars can more than handle your average daily commute, and many of the newer ones are great for road trips.

Still Good Reasons Not to Get an Electric Car

There are two things preventing most people from getting an electric car:

First is form factor. Americans love SUVs. And the only readily available electric SUV right now is the Tesla Model X. The Model Y will mark the beginning of the end of the gas engine, but it’s still a few years away. Toyota had a huge head start with its RAV4 EV collaboration with Tesla, and they squandered it in favor of hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells. Pair that with their deceptively advertised "self-charging hybrids," and you have a brand in decline. The other electric cars are sedans and smallish wagons. Nissan is clearly milking gas engines for all their worth while paying lip service to electric vehicles with the compromised LEAF. If they were serious, they’d already offer an electric version of the Murano (with active thermal management to preserve the batteries).

Second is cost. Brand-new EVs are still a bit more expensive. The brands that still qualify for the federal tax credit definitely lessen that burden. But in most cases, car buyers have to front the cost and get their money back in April when tax return season rolls around (I wonder how that skews the electric car sales data -- if I were buying a new qualifying vehicle, I’d wait until December for sure). Still, cost will decline as battery cost dives. Which it’s done consistently in recent years.

Even One EV in Your Household Helps

Since getting my EV, my wife drives a lot less. Her work commute is pretty short, and I handle all the weekend driving. We’ll use her Subaru for long trips; my early-generation EV isn’t suited for the long distances and off-roading.

But one year with an electric car has cut down on our collective gas use. And I don’t see any way that there will be another gas-powered vehicle in our house in the future. They’re just inferior. Even ignoring any concern for pollution, they’re more fun to drive and way less maintenance-intensive.

People Have No Idea About Electric Vehicles

After one year with an electric car, I constantly field the same questions. Let me recap them with some quick answers.

I hear Teslas don’t really work.

In what way? I don’t drive a Tesla, but it is the gold standard in EVs. The software is ridiculously advanced. They are also extremely efficient if you measure them by kilowatt-hours to the mile. Used correctly, the Autopilot feature is mind-blowing.

And no, they don’t catch on fire more than gas vehicles. But a Tesla on fire is considered newsworthy. A gas-powered car? It doesn’t get any press. Ask yourself why.

Electric vehicles use "rare earth" minerals/pollute more because of how they’re built/are powered by coal.

There’s a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists that debunks this all. It’s long, but well worth reading.

Global warming is a hoax.

OK. Let’s say it is. Forget global warming or climate change or whatever you want to call it. Think locally. What will happen if you have fewer tailpipes spewing emissions? How will that affect your local air quality? What if your streets become quieter because you don’t have a bunch of diesel trucks roaring? Does that sound bad in any way? What if you have fewer people going into a gas station and loading up on sugary snacks while paying for their gas? What if there are fewer tanker trucks on the roads bringing gas into your neighborhoods? What exactly sounds bad it this scenario?

Guayaki yerba mate chevy bolt
The Guayaki brand of yerba mate has its branding people cruising the streets in this Chevy Bolt. The driver loves it.

I just like the sound of an engine.

Surely there has to be better ways to get attention. I really don’t understand the fixation on noise. My EV makes enough noise to warn a pedestrian -- the sound is like listening to a taxiing jet fighter (but from a long distance).

Now, I know a lot of Americans don’t like to walk. But if you’re one of those people who walk, what would you think of a lot less engine noise? It sounds pretty nice.

Money is Behind the Anti-EV Rhetoric

The electric vehicle is upsetting a lot of corporate gravy trains. Dealerships won’t make as much money on maintenance. Oil companies will face falling demand for gasoline and diesel. And even convenience stores, like I mentioned: They’ll have fewer people making impulse buys while they put gas in their cars.

This is a huge shift. There’s still money to be made and jobs to be had with electric cars. They’re just going to be different. This happened before when we shifted from horses to electric cars. Not as many people need someone to shoe their horses? Hello, auto mechanic. This shift isn’t a problem: It’s an opportunity.

I can’t wait for a new generation of EV modders and mechanics to rise. It will be pretty cool to see how they innovate with a new platform!

Of course, the status quo doesn’t see it that way. They’d rather use their money to squash innovation. Just look at Chevrolet’s EV-1 debacle, and how they deliberately compromised the Bolt EV.

Wrapping Up One Year With an Electric Car

There’s just no going back for me. The smooth acceleration, low maintenance and cheap energy make me pity the poor gas engine. Its days are nearly over.

CategoriesFitness

The Best Workouts in Scottsdale

There is no shortage of ways to burn calories and all of them claim to be the best, so I set out to find the best workouts in Scottsdale. I believe that it’s smart to switch your routine now and then, too.

Much of my exercise regimen orbits around being better at mountain and road biking. My goal is to be light but powerful, more soccer player than swole bro. (Most male cyclists look like praying mantises, and I don’t dig that look. I also don’t find it functional, and I love being able to try whatever sport I want.) I like learning stuff that I can use during my home workouts. Even though I can and do train independently by myself, I like training with other people, too.

best workouts in Scottsdale
Not the goal. Nope.

OK, onto the list. WARNING: Everyone gets a grade. You might think my grade is too low — and that’s fine. I’m evaluating based on my own preferences and biases, which lean more toward actual real weights and creative use of bodyweight. If it’s an A for you and a C- for me, that might just mean we have different goals and requirements. This is an evolving effort that I plan to update. If you have a suggestion, throw it my way in the comments.

TruHIT Reigns for Current Best Workouts in Scottsdale

I took my first TruHIT class back in September. The equipment in the studio mirrors a lot of what I have at home: kettlebells, Olympic bars (which are rarely used in class), medicine balls, box jumps and jump ropes. Truhitt also has a few things I don’t, such as TRX rigs, rowing machines, dumbbells and stretchy bands.

The TruHIT staff combines this all in some creative ways. Different days throughout the week focus on different goals, such as legs, upper body and general conditioning. Personally, I opt for the leg days. Leg muscles and glutes are your biggest muscles, and they burn a lot of calories.

During my time there, I’ve found that that variety is pretty good. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the other participants are also a good bunch. There’s a lot of mutual encouragement, but not in the showy, bro-y, over-the-top way you might see at other gyms. You can borrow quite a bit for your home workouts, and I also like the scale/scanner thing in front that helps track your weight, metabolic age, body fat percentage and other data points.

best workouts in scottsdale
Good for tracking your progress

Is there any room for improvement? I find the TRX exercises involving stretchy bands kind of meh. Some of the exercise variations can be a bit much. A bit of simplifying and streamlining could reduce the "am I doing this right?" factor. I wouldn’t mind some specific classes for more technical movements like squats and deadlifts.

Overall, though, I find TruHIT to be the place to beat for the Best Workouts in Scottsdale title. A drop-in class is $15, and you can also go for monthly unlimited classes or get passes for a certain number of classes. Also good to know: They have a kids area where the staff will keep an eye on your little people for $5.

Grade: B+

Eat the Frog For Odd Hours

This studio is pretty interesting. They provide a heart-rate monitor for you, and you can see your status in real time on the monitors. Also noteworthy: Eat the Frog has other classes that don’t have instructors. You do your workout based on what’s on the monitors. That gives them some interesting flexibility with their hours.

Eat the Frog involves some quality time with a rowing machine. (This photo wasn’t taken at Eat the Frog.)

I did a drop-in class that focused on core movements. It started off with a warm-up on the rowing machines, where the instructor encouraged us to hit certain heart-rate target zones.

I’m not a huge fan of core-focused classes. It’s a relatively small muscle group, and I’m really into compound movements. Eat the Frog does not seem at all suited to people who dig basic but hard movements like squats, deadlifts and pullups.

That said, my core did get a good workout. And I never object to time on a rowing machine. That’s a quality way to get stronger and leaner.

Ultimately, Eat the Frog is not for me. It’s not a bad workout, but I don’t see it building power the way I’d like. I also do find a lot of the exercises a bit gimmicky being the back-to-basics guy I am. Packages range from $80-$150 a month. They also have a "punch card" sort of setup, but I didn’t get pricing for it.

Grade: C+

Fitwall: A Bit Funky

I’m always up for something a bit oddball in my quest to find the best workouts in Scottsdale. So I gave Fitwall a shot. I went during one of their leg days. The sessions revolve around a slatted metal wall where might do leg exercises or ersatz pullups.

best workouts in Scottsdale
A look inside the Fitwall facility.

Sigh. Man. Fake pullups. I get it. Pullups are hard — damn hard. Most people can’t do ‘em. But this wall idea does absolutely zero to get anyone close to a pullup. There is no substitute for a real pullup bar and struggling like crazy to do just one, single, solitary pushup.

During the session at Fitwall, I also used resistance bands and some light dumbbells. I would’ve happily traded them for heavier ones and doing fewer reps. But in all honesty, I am probably not the Fitwall model user. I see this as a workout for people who don’t really have much background in exercise. They’ll burn some calories and tone up a bit. I could also see a serious competitive bodybuilder using some of these exercises to hit smaller muscle groups. (Talk about use cases at opposite ends of the spectrum!)

There are some group exercise classes that seem to involve actual weights, but those take place in a different room. The pricing structure is a bit opaque: The website says they have plans from $7 a class. This morning, they tried to lure me in via text with an offer for $29 for two weeks.

I passed on the offer. I don’t see myself getting what I need out of Fitwall. It’s too gimmicky and focused mainly on proprietary equipment. People newer to training won’t really get enough out of it to independently build their own fitness routine. Unfortunately, I think that’s the goal of many fitness studios. That’s not a knock on the staff members, who were uniformly welcoming and helpful.

Grade: C-

Sweating at Hot Yoga University

I’ve already written a full review of Hot Yoga University. I’ve been going there a long time, and they’ve actually gotten better over time. They now have these HotFIIT and IronSculpt classes, and they are pretty serious stuff. The IronSculpt classes even use some dumbbells. They’re light, but you’ll definitely feel the burn after a few rounds.

best workouts in scottsdale
Hot Yoga University is the yoga studio we all need.

That said, I consider Hot Yoga classes more of a supplement for me. Others with different goals might be fine relying on these as their go-to workouts (even though some yoga folks probably get upset at those of us who think of yoga as a workout).

As for Hot Yoga University itself, it’s reasonably priced ($10 drop-in classes can’t be beat!) and considerably more friendly than many other yoga studios. Some people might be seeking more muscle mass and explosive power. Hot Yoga University can’t provide that alone, but it is absolutely great stuff for those who have other weightlifting routines in their fitness routine.

Grade: B

Categoriesfeatured

Papago Plaza is “Dilapidated.” And That Was the Plan.

Papago Plaza in Scottsdale is all but abandoned these days. And don’t think for a second that’s not by design.

The exodus of businesses from this once-cool throwback plaza pretty much started with the closing of Papago Brewing. It was the major anchor, a role never fulfilled by a huge nightclub space that constantly changed names and had a bad reputation.

And now, we’re getting news headlines like "’Dilapidated’ Scottsdale Papago Plaza Set For Major Redevelopment."

papago plaza

Right. As if Papago Plaza is getting redeveloped because it’s dilapidated. It’s dilapidated because its owners wanted to make it such as eyesore that residents and the city would be completely OK with whatever they wanted to do.

Of course, that is likely to be a generic bloc of anonymous buildings. A hotel. A "high-end" cluster of apartments because why not?

What Should Happen to Papago Plaza

Well, the owners let it fall into disrepair. At this point, there’s probably no way to save it.

And Papago Plaza’s looks have always polarized people. I love it. It has sense of place and character, unlike most of the shopping plazas sprouting up. If they’re going to redevelop it, why not design it with some nods to the original?

papago plaza

Also, I’m concerned about the rush to slap the "high end" label on everything. Is it not possible to make it fit in with the South Scottsdale character? That means a little less sizzle, a lot more steak. This neighborhood is relatively affordable, with some families that have lived in the area since the 1950s. North Scottsdale has its glitz. Why not keep things here more affordable and accessible?

Who wants condos that will sell for $500,000? We already have those up the road at 68th Street and McDowell.

Bring Back Some of the Papago Plaza Past

Just about five years ago, Papago Plaza was home to one of the state’s pioneering craft beer hangouts. It would be great to have it back. It had a hot yoga studio, a small gym, a Korean restaurant, a tailor. In short, some rather nice stuff. These all seem like they would fit into a future development.

papago plaza

I simply doubt developers care enough about maintaining the local character or doing right by residents. It’s all about what they can build now. What happens 20 years from now when we’re stuck with a generic-yet-dated plaza? I mean, Papago Plaza has a dated look to it -- but its late 1960s Arizona vibe is at least distinct.

And the development attorney quoted in the article had this to say about why he thinks the redevelopment needs housing: "If this is too much retail, and we’ve seen vacancy time and time again in this shopping center, what can we do to breathe new life into this corner, and yet make some retail appropriate and successful?”

Again, the vacancies were by design. Ask anyone who was a tenant at Papago Plaza in the last 15 years what it was like getting the owners to upgrade and repair. That’s the sort of landlord that chases tenants out. And their intent was clearly to sell it for redevelopment.

Categoriesfeatured

Chevron and its Push Against Electric Cars

Chevron is using retirees to scare people away from electric vehicles. That’s according to a story in The Arizona Republic. You should read the story.

But just to catch you up for this blog post, it goes like this:

  • One California lobbyist for Chevron
  • A bunch of retired oil industry execs who live in Arizona
  • Writing form letters to "to Arizona Corporation Commissioners not to require electric companies here to build electric-car charging stations."

Here are a few thoughts about Chevron’s incompetent effort to stop a major shift in transportation.

They’re Using Retirees. Of Course.

People who like technology often use the initialsm FUD when they talk about people who fear change. That stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Who better to FUD things up than oil industry retirees?

chevron electric cars
There are certain people who can’t handle how the world is changing.

Look, I don’t want to be ageist about this. But why should retirees have the biggest voice in this conversation? This is the same demographic that kept saddling Maricopa County with Joe Arpaio as sherrif, which pretty much says it all.

An Attack on EV “Subsidies”

Of course the retirees attacked the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. The reporter (good on him, by the way) directly asked one of the retirees about oil industry subsidies. The person denied knowledge of what kind of money his long-time employer received from the federal government. Either the person didn’t actually work for Chevron, or he knew about government subsidies for the industry. That means he was lying.

Let’s answer the question ourselves, then. According to The Guardian, oil companies receive about $20 billion from the US government in subsidies. That’s in just one year. One year.

The electric vehicle tax credit is nothing next to that. I’m not the guy to crunch these numbers, but what would gas cost if they had the same level of subsidies as electric vehicles? The answer is "a lot more. A lot."

Chevron Retirees Say Electric Vehicles are Too Expensive

This connects back to the subsidy point. But it’s clear, also, that none of these people involved with the Chevron electric cars effort have any clue. Used electric vehicles are widely available.

I’ve seen some as low as $12,000. It’s possible to get an extremely capable electric car for less than $20,000. And it’s funny how people will spend $50,000 on a pickup and be perfectly fine with it. But a brand-new $30,000 EV like the 2019 LEAF? Too expensive.

2018 Nissan LEAF

Keep in mind that electric vehicles are a technology in their infancy. What do you think the average horse owner said when rich people in the late 1800s/early 1900s started rattling around in cars? "Too expensive -- playthings for the rich," right?

That sounds familiar. And it won’t age well in regard to electric vehicle adoption.. Battery technology, the most-expensive part of an electric car, is plummeting in price. Parity with gas engines is coming. And quickly.

The Chevron Electric Cars Gambit is Stupid, Anyway

People who don’t actually drive electric vehicles think charging stations are the be-all end-all for EV drivers. Wrong.

All we really need is a 120-volt outlet at home and at work. That’s because EVs come with charging devices of their own. The device is called an EVSE (not a charger, which is actually built into the car itself). An EVSE is designed to plug into a 240-volt outlet ton provide what is called Level 2 charging, which usually gets you 10-18 miles of charge per hour.

chevron electric cars
A close-up look at an EVSE plug. With the right adaptor, this can charge an electric car from a 110-volt outlet.

But EV drivers can use an adaptor to plug their EVSE right into 120-volt outlets and get 3-6 miles of charge per hour. That’s more than enough for the typical commute. And next time you’re in a parking garage, take a look around. You’ll notice at 120-volt outlets are more common than you’ve ever realized.

That said, it’s nice to have a 240-volt outlet at home on its own dedicated circuit. But it’s a nice to have, not a necessity.

And this all means one thing: The oil industry can’t even organize its opposition to do anything that’s remotely relevant.

CategoriesFitness

No, the Pool Noodle Bike Hack Isn’t Great. At All.

Someone put a pool noodle on a bike to keep drivers away. And now media outlets are all over the place are saying this a genius and that the pool noodle bike hack is the greatest thing ever.

No. It’s not.

Using a Pool Noodle as a Bike Hack Sucks

Any transportation planners who see a cyclist using a pool noodle as a visual cue to drivers should hang their heads in shame. It means that their infrastructure is so bad that drivers don’t feel safe.

bicycle infrastructure
Protected bike lanes would work far better than the pool noodle bike hack.

That’s epic bike planning failure. You think cyclists in Finland or the Netherlands need pool noodles to stay safe?

No. Because they have good cycling infrastructure and their drivers are relatively civilized.

This is what the Pool Noodle Bike Hack Really Means

Municipalities in the U.S. were delighted by this news. It cushions them against the abject, epic failure of most towns and cities.

That’s because it’s another device that dumps the full burden of safe cycling on cyclists and absolves drivers and planners. The City of Mesa in my city, which has exactly one good piece of cycling infrastructure along the Rio Salado, shared this post on one of its Facebook accounts:

I called them out, and of course they said it was "just interesting." Smart cyclists see this for what it is: an attempt to push the narrative that cyclists alone bear the responsibility of safety.

Oh, a driver killed a cyclist? Were they wearing a helmet*? Did they have flashing lights? And now -- did they have a pool noodle? Because that’s the best bike hack!

This is Why People Don’t Ride Bikes

Why invest in cycling infrastructure when you can tell people to wear helmets, ride with lights, use horns/bells or strap a pool noodle to their bike?

Casual riders see these so-called hacks and think "if I have to do all that, maybe riding a bike isn’t safe." I see where they’re coming from. Even experienced cyclists have a hard time steeling themselves to ride around cars.

And before anyone starts with the tired “cyclists break the law” argument … so do drivers. Nearly every driver speeds. When I drive 70 in the carpool lane, I’m speeding. And yet I get tailgated, cut off and passed by people who think that’s way too slow. Drivers run stop signs and stop lights constantly. The consequences of their transgressions are far greater in 4,000 pounds of metal than a person who is 170 pounds of flesh and another 30 of metal. (I believe people who like arguing would call this a “false equivalency” or if “whataboutism” if they favor new vernacular.)

pool noodle bike hack
Also better than a pool noodle bike hack: bike/pedestrian paths completely separated from drivers.

Fix the Real Problems, Stop the Band-Aid Approach

Every ride I take, I encounter some absolutely wretched infrastructure. People park their gasmobiles in bike lanes or use them as turning lanes. The bike lanes disappear, or it’s completely unclear what’s supposed happen near intersections. Drivers get away with literal murder, and cyclists have more close calls than you can imagine. But nobody measures close calls.

So to all you touting the pool noodle as the best bike hack: It’s not. It’s a sign that cycling infrastructure, transit policy and law enforcement have all failed.

Bonus Round: Reddit Piles on the Pool Noodle Bike Hack

Ahhhh, Reddit -- the source of so much Internet fun. The cyclists there took to the pool noodle bike hack topic and squirted some humor into it. A few choice bits:

‘Murica loves noisy, smelly gasmobiles. It hates cyclists. But what if the cyclist has a flag on their bike?!

Card

On point. Still lets planners off the hook a bit, but not every response on the Internet can cover every angle.

Card

I can’t resist a Star Wars reference. Especially when someone else replies “A more elegant noodle for a more civilized age.” That’s how you win at Internetting, if I can verb the noun.

Card

This person certainly wears a silicon wristband that says “WWBCD?” That’s What Would Bruce Campbell Do? And the answer is always “put a chainsaw on it.”

Card

This is a real cyclist: They know the bike industry loves a chance to make money and churn out some carbon fiber bike bling.

Card

Not really pool noodle-related, but definitely a good question. I’ve ridden among autonomous vehicles many times. And I’ve had no problems. They pay attention. They don’t hate cyclists. They’re not texting. They are able to stay in their lane.

Card

*I absolutely love wearing bike helmets. They keep me cool through venting and keeping the sun off my noggin. I hate, though, that the first question when a driver kills a cyclist is "were they wearing a helmet?"

 

CategoriesGear

Reborn Marzocchi Bomber Z2: Good News for Thrifty Riders

If you need a solid but relatively affordable mountain bike fork, you should be excited about the Marzocchi Bomber Z2. The original Z2 that came out in the late 90s was a huge step forward with its coil springs and open oil bath system.

The reborn Bomber Z2 has travel options ranging from 100 to 150 millimeters and a price of $499. But none of that matters if it doesn’t work well. And trust me, it will.

Why I’d bet on the Marzocchi Bomber Z2

A few years ago, I built a cool titanium hardtail. It’s a weird one with a singlespeed belt drive. So I had to be weird with the fork, too. I found a sweet deal on a Marzocchi 320 LR fork. That one leans a bit more cross-country in nature than the new Bomber Z-2.

But it was considerably better than the XFusion I used on a previous hardtail. It never bottoms out as harshly, it doesn’t hiss when compressed, it steers just slightly better (possibly because of its thru-axle). It held up beautifully during my first six-hour singlespeed race.

Marzocchi Bomber Z2
There’s my Marzocchi ready for action.

From what I understand, the new Marzocchi forks are built by Fox. That’s another point in its favor (though some people insist that Fox doesn’t make ’em like they used to).

Users on the MTBR forum also praise the 320 LR, which is a good sign for the Bomber Z2.

Wait for the Release Date

If you’re putting a bike together, it would be worth waiting for this fork. My experience with Marzocchi 320 LR gives me confidence that you’ll have a great fork for a good price. You’ll be able to choose between 27.5 and 29er versions, too.

You’ll also be able to get different fork rake options, so be sure you know your frame’s geometry before you buy: Your local bike shop will be able to help. If you’re a DIY type ordering online, you either know this or should at least ask a salesperson before you click "BUY."

Marzocchi Bomber Z2
A look at a for-real reborn Marzocchi Bomber Z2. (Found on the PinkBike website, likely from a Marzocchi press release)

What Other Options?

If you have about $500 to spend on a fork? What else can you get?

The Rock Shox Reba is always a competent option, especially if you prefer to stick with the bigger brands. If you’re more adventurous, you have other possibilities: The SR Suntour Epixcon (sometimes known as an Axon -- Suntour confuses me!) and the XFusion Slide are both easily available new in the price range. I haven’t ridden the Epixcon or Axon, so I can’t say much about them. You might also be able to dig up a Manitou Mattoc.

My X-Fusion Slide 29 is a good fork, but I like the Marzocchi 320 better. Again, my bet is on the Bomber Z2 to be a hit.

CategoriesGear

Bike Test: Electra Sprocket 1 and Giro Scamp MIPS Helmet

Here’s a long overdue discussion of the Electra Sprocket 1 bike and Giro Scamp MIPS helmet. We picked these items up as early birthday presents for our now-4-year-old daughter.

She warmed up to both nearly instantly, but then mysteriously stopped riding. She retreated to her balance bike, which she rode in the house and front driveway.

Just as mysteriously, she took to the Electra Sprocket 1 last week. She has logged at least three miles a day since then. She puts her helmet on, turns her bike lights on and hits the bike lanes and paths with us. (Shrugs) Kids are mysterious.

Introducing the Electra Sprocket 1 Bike and Giro Scamp MIPS Helmet

We bought the bike and helmet at REI. First off, we get member dividends. Second, they had them in stock. Two big points there.

REI offers no shortage of options for kids. Bike manufacturers largely put some aggressive gender markings on bikes. But Electra’s seafoam green looks a lot like the classic, classy Bianchi celeste green. It caught our little person’s eye, and it seemed to just fit her body. You’re looking at about $270 for an Electra Sprocket 1.

Giro is also kind enough to offer some neutral colors that don’t require us to completely pinkify our offspring. She likes a bit of color, but doesn’t go for the head-to-toe bubblegum look. The Scamp comes in a regular version, as well as a model upgraded with MIPS technology. This is supposed to be a safer helmet that protects from rotational stress to the head. It was only $40, so it was a no-brainer.

Spinning the Electra Sprocket 1

Our little person is about 40 inches tall. I can’t remember her weight. But whatever it is, she has more than enough muscle to handle the Electra Sprocket 1. She has already started hopping off curbs, riding up switchbacked access ramps and threading the needle through obstacles.

Electra Sprocket 1
Cleaning the switchbacks on the Electra Sprocket 1

She can also climb some steep grades, and is adept at standing up out of the saddle. The Sprocket 1 doesn’t hold her back.

What About That Lid?

Well, we haven’t had to put the Giro Scamp MIPS to the test. I’m OK with that. But she has no trouble putting it on. She could be a bit better with taking it off, though. The clasp is a bit of a challenge for small people still developing hand strength and coordination.

That will come soon, though. She has the rest of this bicycling thing well under control, so the clasp on her helmet won’t elude her for long.

 

CategoriesFitness

Bicycle Infrastructure is Cycling’s Big Problem

Better bicycle infrastructure could solve a lot of transit problems. More people on bikes means fewer cars on the roads, more people burning calories and cleaner air.

Cycling advocates love to point to the Dutch cycling culture to illustrate the possibilities. Adopting even a small percentage of their policies would be huge for the United States.

Unfortunately, decision makers at every level of government in the United States simply don’t care. Even those who support cycling are too cowed to front the political and financial resources. Exceptions are rare — all credit to the governments in the Tucson, Ariz., are for their success on The Loop. That’s 130-plus miles of safe, convenient riding.

This is why I have no confidence in an American cycling boom.

bicycle infrastructure
This bike superhighway in Helsinki is a great example of bicycle infrastructure.

Inconsistent Bicycle Infrastructure

I live in the Phoenix area. And you wouldn’t believe how widely our bike lanes and trails vary in quality — often within the same city.

Bike lanes wind up going nowhere. And city planners seem to have no concept of their user groups. Most of the bicycle infrastructure is adequate — barely — for recreational riders going less than five miles. Long-distance commuters and recreational riders have to overcome bike lanes that don’t connect to the corridors they need. They encounter frequent traffic lights and situations where drivers have no idea what to do.

One of my least-favorite examples is a cycling corridor along Pima Road: It has bike lanes on both sides of the street, which is good. But there’s a second bike-specific corridor on one side; the two-way bike traffic adds a layer of confusion for drivers and cyclists.

There are signs of progress, but they come very slowly.

Terrible Lane Maintenance

I’ve lost count of the places where I have to swerve out of the bike lane to avoid obstacles. Potholes and overhanging branches are common around Phoenix. That gives drivers another reason to be annoyed by cyclists.

There are many spots around the Valley where cities have added great bike lanes. But within months, plants encroach. If you build bike lanes, have a plan and budget to maintain them!

Debris is also a problem. Broken bottles and fallen branches litter the bike lanes. There’s no plan for reporting bicycle infrastructure problems. Concepts like Bikelanes.org help. But if government entities don’t act on the reports, it doesn’t matter.

Speaking of reporting problems: I’d love a cycling GPS that could log problems on the fly to be shared later.

Bike Industry Not Focused on the Problem

I like racing bicycles. I do it a few times of year, and it’s a great celebration of bike culture.

Photo by Ed Buckel.
This isn’t the reality for most people who own bicycles. We need to focus more on people who ride the roads. (Photo by Ed Buckel.)

But bike commuting and family riding are important, too. Unfortunately, the bike industry is uniformly too focused on the Mountain Dew-swilling extreme sports adrenaline junkie cliche. Most people can’t identify with that.

Maybe bike manufacturers could sponsor fewer races, and throw some money into advocating for bicycle infrastructure. Find some room in the budget for a lobbyist to influence pro-bike legislation and policies. That will pay dividends in bike sales and branding.

No Support from Law Enforcement

Every time I ride, I think of people like Rob Dollar. He was one of way too many cyclists who have been run over by drivers. Way too few of these drivers are ever held accountable.

Some police support would also help with drivers who threaten, harass and endanger cyclists. Chesney Parks’ Twitter account is a litany of near-daily conflicts with drivers. And some of the worst offenders are the authorities. The abuses of power are often shocking.

And police don’t seem to take this literal life-and-death situation seriously. According to this article, they look for any excuse not to investigate.

That sends a message to cyclists everywhere: We’re all alone in this.

And that means fewer people will see cycling as an alternative to cars.

Drivers Can’t Deal with Cyclists

Overall, drivers have no clue how to deal with cyclists. Some will try to be polite, but wind up screwing up traffic flow (Example: At a four-way stop, DO NOT wave at a cyclist to take your turn. Treat them like a car so everyone else knows whose turn it is next.).

bicycle infrasctructure
Here’s a great and very cost-effective way to protect a bike lane. Spotted in San Jose, Costa Rice in November, 2018.

Just yesterday, I was heading through a green light. The driver in the oncoming left-turn lane started to turn in front of me and changed her mind -- and then repeated the process twice. She then started gesturing at me.

And I’ve had so many cars swerve into the bike lane that I can’t even remember every close call. You can see a great example of this with the red cup experiment. Protected bicycle infrastructure would offer some protection.

Other Reading

https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/EBC_report_final.pdf

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-bicyclists-drivers-crashes-statistics-2014nov22-story.html

https://thecisforcrank.com/2018/07/25/bike-lanes-are-for-everyone-fact-checking-claims-that-only-the-privileged-want-safe-cycling-infrastructure/

CategoriesFitness

Rio Salado Bike Path: A Ride Guide (With Video)

The Rio Salado bike path is one of the most-overlooked places to ride in metro Phoenix. It’s a 16-mile stretch of sweet car-free riding. I’ve had many local riders act completely surprised to hear about it.

So let’s lift the lid on the Rio Salado bike path, which doesn’t even seem to have an official name.

Rio Salado Bike Path Overview

There are very few places to ride in Phoenix where bikes are completely separated from traffic. This is one of them. From the family-friendly Mesa Riverview Park to the Mad Max-style apocalypse-opolis of 18th Avenue and the Rio Salado, riders don’t have to cross a single street. It’s all separate bike path.
rio salado bike path

A look at the handy (but not perfect) MAG bike map.

You’ll have to dodge other trail users from McClintock to Priest Avenue. And that’s because Tempe is a prime place to park. You’ll find more users there who aren’t aware of trail etiquette, so be prepared.

As you head west, you’ll pass Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Liberty Wildlife and the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.

Depending on whether you’re chasing a Strava PR, you can stop to have a look at them.

underpass rio salado mcclintock
Construction has started to link the Rio Salado bike path under McClintock Road. That will make it much more convenient.

Who Should Ride the Rio Salado Bike Path?

There’s a little something for everyone. Serious riders will use it as part of a higher-mileage ride. The route doesn’t offer much climbing, but there’s usually a stiff headwind in at least one direction.

But there are several other places where you can do a less-intense ride. Families and more laid-back riders should start somewhere like Mesa Riverview, Tempe Beach Park or Central Avenue and the Rio Salado. Each spot has parking, restrooms and water.

What’s the Best Bike for the Rio Salado Bike Path?

My Lynskey Urbano gravel bike! But seriously, you can ride nearly anything here right now. The pavement is in good condition, so road bikes are pretty good to go — just be careful going under Central Avenue until that gets paved.

There’s very little climbing along the Rio Salado, so even single-speed beach cruisers will work.

What are the Path Conditions?

The Rio Salado bike path is in overall great shape. Here are a few good-to-know bits:

  • The Mesa portion has a 15-mph speed limit. That’s ridiculously slow, especially since it’s nice and wide with lane dividers.
  • Tempe could put some thought into educating trail users. I’ve seen some awful behavior, mostly users meandering on the wrong side and not paying attention.
  • Speaking of Tempe, you can use the pedestrian bridge west of Mill Avenue to ride to the North Bank.
  • The City of Phoenix made some recent upgrades: repaving some chopped up areas and adding underpasses. Its signage could be better, and the 7th Avenue underpass could use some paving. It’s fine for gravel bikes, but road bikes won’t be happy.

Improvements for the Rio Salado Bike Path

Overall, this is a good riding experience. But there is room for improvement:

  • Add more viable, safe connections leading to the Rio Salado bike path. This is especially true on the west side, where there’s literally no good place to ride once you leave the river bottom.
  • Add more bathrooms and water stops.
  • Stretch it out further west, preferably on the South Bank. The City of Phoenix appears to own the property where a fence spells an end to the ride. I wonder how viable it is to move the fencing a bit to allow bike access.
rio salado bike path rio reimagined
Near the end of the line of the Rio Salado bike path on the north bank.

About the West Side: It’s awful past Central. The area needs development. But I know that’s a challenge because of property ownership. But it should be a priority. Until the west side connects to someplace cyclists want to ride, this ride will be a mere out-and-back that pales in comparison to other cycling infrastructure. One good starting place, though, would be figuring out a way to link the Rio Salado path to the new Grand Canalscape bike path.

Fitting in With Rio Reimagined

Redeveloping the Rio Salado is part of an ongoing discussion that’s been tagged “Rio Reimagined.” It’s one of those projects that could last more than a generation. And it involves multiple governments. Sustaining some cooperation, coordination and vision will be hard for the long term.

rio reimagined rio salado bike path
As the Rio Reimagined project progresses, addressing the dead end at 15th Avenue must be a priority.

The Rio Salado bike path is arguably the first tangible link in this chain. Maybe the organizations trying to make this happen should focus there. It’s a perfect starting point for a connected, healthy community. It could fuse transit, recreation, business and residential development.

The Rio Reimagined effort should definitely engage supporters of The Loop in Tucson. That’s 130 miles-plus of car-free riding. And Phoenix cyclists who know about it are jealous. It’s an example of what’s possible with political will and funding.

Planning a Long Ride

Typically, I take Rio Salado Drive out to Mesa Riverview Park. That’s where I’ll hop on the Rio Salado bike path and head west as far as it goes.

I now stay on the south bank since Phoenix re-paved the munched-up sections. Then I’ll usually turn around and head back to Tempe, crossing Tempe Town Lake via the pedestrian bridge. From there, I have a few options for adding more mileage as I like.

rio salado bike path
There are some places along the Rio Salado bike path here you can forget you’re in a major metro area.

Of course, you can plan your own ride. And the MAG Bikeways map is a huge help. It’s not fully up-to-date, though: For example, it doesn’t show that the section under the 143 is finished. It also doesn’t indicate the quality of the routes — a pristine piece of new pavement with barely any traffic is marked the same as a choppy bike lane populated by speeders and semi trucks. Also, it doesn’t point out water sources, bathrooms or parking.

What The Rio Salado Bike Path is Like in 2020

The Rio Salado bike path has some growing pains. The cities have built it, but they’re doing a terrible job overall on a few key elements: They haven’t consistently signed it, and they haven’t educated users about some basic matters of safety and courtesy.

That means you have people wandering all over both sides of the path with no situational awareness. You have unauthorized motor vehicles (mostly ATVs). I’m also not thrilled with the Tempe Center for the Arts golf carts blocking traffic; we use this path to get away from vehicles. There’s no way the arts center couldn’t shuttle people elsewhere.

Take a look at this video. Keep in mind this is just one ride featuring literally everything I mentioned. At least I didn’t get chased by unleashed dogs on this ride. That also happens often.

And look at this guy from my previous ride. Keep in mind, stuff like this happens all the time. By that, I mean multiple times per ride.

It’s impossible to make every human behave themselves. But striping this path and having directional arrows would at least give people a clue. And a bit of attention from park rangers or police could keep motorcycles and ATVs off.

The Rio Salado bike path could be a world-class asset with some attention. Until then, we’re stuck with mediocrity. Building it isn’t good enough. We have to maintain it.

CategoriesTravel

The 737 MAX: One Refreshed Version Too Far

Here’s the big problem with the Boeing 737 MAX: Both Boeing and the airlines are forcing a past-its-prime design to be a flying Swiss Army Knife. They want it to have unparalleled fuel efficiency on short hops from Chicago to Louisville. And they want it to fly from Phoenix to Hawaii, too.
The two fatal 737 MAX crashes seem like a solid indicator that Boeing rushed what Patrick Smith calls a Frankenplane into service. Boeing saw this as the most cost-effective way to counter the Airbus A320 NEO.

United Airlines Versus American Airlines
Inside an American Airlines 737-800.

Here are a few thoughts about the pickle presented by the Boeing 737 MAX family.

Stubby Landing Gear: Huge Problem for 737 MAX

Engine fan diameters have grown over time in the quest for more fuel efficiency. The 737 is low to the ground because airports were different when it was designed in the 1960s: Passengers might have to use a stair car, built-in metal stairs or other means to board.

For the MAX, Boeing wanted a bigger, more-efficient engine. But the company didn’t want all the expense and effort of redesigning the wing to accommodate a taller landing gear (which is necessary for a bigger engine).

Boeing 737 MAX 8
I couldn’t resist an Arrested Development stair car reference.

Boeing engineers "solved" this problem by moving the engines "forward and up to accomodate[sic] the larger fan diameter. Any handling differences as a result of this have been tuned out by Boeing in the flight control system to make the types feel the same to crew. This was necessary for certification under the same type certificate." (That’s the MCAS we’re hearing so much about.)

The more modern Airbus A320 represents a different design area. It has more ground clearance for bigger-diameter high-bypass engines. It was never meant to operate with a built-in staircase. It’s a product of the jetway era.

callsigns
A US Airways 757

737 MAX Can’t Replace 757

Airliners are trying hard to make the 737 and A320 fill a number of roles, including some that suit the Boeing 757. The 757 is a middle ground airliner dating to the early 80s. It’s kind of over-powered, which gives it a huge performance edge at high-altitude airports and in hot weather with a heavy load. This sorry situation that happened to me on an Airbus A320? Never gonna happen on a 757. Its power and capacity make it able to handle scenarios where the smaller twinjets fall short.

But the 757 is nearing the end of its life. Airbus says its A320 family can replace it, which pilots and many airline wonks don’t believe for a second.

Hawaiian Airlines 787
The 797 might replace the 767, too.

Boeing seems to agree: Its 797 program — which isn’t a sure thing — is a 757/767 replacement: A small, high-performance widebody. Airlines initially squawked about costs.

But what about the costs of forcing a Frankenplane into roles it shouldn’t occupy with kludged fixes? That’s a question Boeing and airlines need to consider.


Airlines Fixated on Small, Dense Planes

Over the years, small airliners like the 737 and A320 have swiped routes that widebody airliners used to serve. Southwest Airlines was flying the 737 MAX to Hawaii before the grounding.

No airline previously used anything smaller than a 757 for that route (and no thanks to flying that far on an airline with no in-flight meals — I don’t care how quirky the flight attendants are with their safety demos).

United Airlines Versus American Airlines
Heading to Newark on a United Airlines A320.

Here’s some info from one of my earlier posts about why airlines are doing this.

In the US, airlines have to essentially pay by the pound for their landing fees. Smaller airliners are also a smaller capital outlay, require smaller crews and use less fuel.

That’s another incentive to go small. And the cheapest way to go small, at least in the way that pleases shareholders hungry for a quarterly return, is to refresh current designs.

Paying a little more in landing fees seems like a good bet in retrospect, doesn’t it?

What’s Ahead for the Boeing, the MAX and the 797?

So that Boeing 797 I mentioned earlier. The specter of the 737 MAX looms over the Boeing decision makers. It seems like a great way to keep the company from cutting corners.

But what happens if Boeing produces a great plane? How does Airbus react? Do they cling to the idea of competing with the 797 with a kludged A320? Or do they go for a clean-sheet design?

737 MAX
The split-scimitar wing and scalloped engine nacelles of a Boeing 737 MAX.

I wonder what will happen with the 737 MAX, too. A lot fewer people are saying "If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going." It’s hard for me to trust the MAX family right now, and I wonder how Boeing will fix this damage.
At the smaller end of the scale, the Airbus A220 (formerly Bombardier C series) could fill this vacuum nicely. And the MAX situation invites a stretched A220.

As a co-worker of mine used to say, "I look forward to seeing how this plays out."

CategoriesTastes

Where to Drink Sahti in Finland

I didn’t go to Finland to drink sahti. But tracking down the traditional Finnish beer made a nice side quest during our visit a few years ago. 

If you’re beer-curious and plan to visit Finland, here are a few reasons you should search for a snort of sahti.

sahti
Brewing a traditional sahti (photo from distantmirror.wordpress.com).

You Like Tracking Down Stuff Even Locals Don’t Know About

During my visit, Finns preferred mugs of whiz-colored lager to earthy-brown brews served in a small silver cup. It’s the stuff a Finn’s mothball-scented grandpa drinks, not the young and hip.

So you won’t find sahti flowing like wine (sorry, but I can resist a “Dumb and Dumber” reference). Be prepared to do some digging and investigating, unless there’s been a sudden hipster resurgence.

I found the Lammin Sahti Oy brand in a kitschy farm setting at Zetor near the city center. And my order surprised the bartender: I explained that trying local/regional food and drink is part of the reason I travel. I guess not many foreigners know about sahti.

You might also find sahti at Bryggeri Helsinki. 

You Like the Smell of a Forest, and Wouldn’t Mind a Taste

My first sip of sahti was like tasting liquid forest — pine, wind, cool air — thanks to its main flavoring ingredients of juniper and rye. The small pour had barely any carbonation.

sahti
Sahti – the taste of the forest in a metal cup.

The bartender served it in a silver vessel that looked like a cross between a ladle and a cup. It’s dark and has a very homebrew look to it. You brewers out there know what I mean!

Oh, it’s also about 8 percent ABV.

Because Fake Sahti Isn’t Even Close

I’ve tasted several sahti-inspired ales in the U.S., including Samuel Adams Norse Legend or Dogfish Head Sah’Tea. They’re barely distinguishable from a brown ale — boring. To be fair, the brewers don’t label them as authentic versions.

And that’s the cool thing about travel: It gives you a chance to taste things you’ll never encounter at home.

Alvar
A glimpse of the beer menu at Alvar in Turku – some fine selections, but no sahti.

You Can Brew Your Own Sahti

Live somewhere with access to juniper? Then you brew your own. This recipe is promising if a bit large; some recipes don’t scale down well, but experimentation is part of the homebrewing fun. And of course, trying the real stuff will give you a better bench mark to judge your brew. 

Also, the story that goes along with the recipe is pretty cool. It’s definitely less scientific and sterile than commercial brewers in the U.S.!

An Extra Hint

I confused a lot of bartenders by asking for "sah-tea." It’s pronounced "sock-tea," like tea brewed in a sock. You can also add a bit of gravel to the "k" syllable. Yes, this seems like a small detail. But it can make the difference in finding this elusive beverage. Some even seemed annoyed by the mispronunciation once they realized what I meant. 

 

CategoriesGear

5 Easy Tips to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic

I’m doing everything possible to kill single-use plastic water bottles since around 2010. During that time, I’ve used everything from the latest stainless-steel marvel to a gourd that I hollowed out myself during an Aboriginal Living Skills School course.

During that time — nearly 10 years — I’ve kept a considerable amount of stuff out of landfills. And I’d like to do even better. So I started thinking about ways to use fewer throwaway products.

single use plastics
Some of the reusable bottles I’ve tested over the years.

Wait: Does this even matter?

Before I go any further, I’m going to address a point people bring up: Does using less single-use plastic do any good? Well, every item you keep out of a landfill is one less thing someone needs to order and buy in the supply chain. That is a statement of intent and a data point to decision makers that says "Hey, people are using fewer disposable items. What should we do about that?" As an individual, you aren’t doing much. Collectively, you’re changing society’s habits.

It’s exactly like in the early 80s when a few people decided they would wear seatbelts or quit smoking. And see where seatbelts and smoking are today? Anyone who argues this point just doesn’t want to change their habits to do something beneficial. End of story.




OK, moving on: I’ve mentioned reusable bottles, tumblers and the like here so I won’t go into more details about that even though bottles are a huge step. But let’s have a look at the rest.

Plastic bags are inevitable. Just do more with them.

I know many of us love re-usable cloth shopping bags. But once in awhile, you’re going to forget them. I’ve given plastic shopping bags a second life by using them to scoop cat litter, transport wet gym clothes and line small trash cans.

Some people even use them as packing material when they need to ship something – a good one for you eBay/Etsy types.  

Reconsider the single-use plastic straw.

First, do you even need a straw? Probaby not. But if you do, skip the paper in addition to the single-use plastic. They get soggy in a hurry. So far, my favorite non-plastic straws have been made out of bamboo. If you want to try a bamboo straw, drop in at Peixoto Coffee in Chandler, Ariz. That’s where I saw one for the first time.

And seriously, is there anything bamboo can’t do? Straws, clothing, food for pandas, even bicycles!

Pack your own utensils.

As the dad of a 4-year-old, it’s never a bad idea for me to have a few utensils in my car. I’ve stashed a few items from REI in my backpack for spontaneous snacks and meals.

single-use plastic
Is there anything you CAN’T do with bamboo?

This is also a great habit for travel. You’ll get some good mileage from a titanium spork or even reusable plastic camp utensils. There are also plant-based alternatives out there made from corn and — of course — the wonder material that is bamboo.

Buy in bulk.

Hit the bulk foods aisle of your grocery store. Fill it up using the vessel of your choice — Tupperware, re-used shopping bags or a decent cloth bag. (NOTE: My wife is way better than this than I am, and I’m noting this to give proper credit.)

There’s a huge chunk of packing material you’ll keep out of the landfill. A helluva lot less plastic and paper.  

Go easy on yourself in reducing single-use plastic.

These are just a few options. And give yourself permission not to be perfect. You’ll run into all sorts of situations where you fall short for one reason or another. But try to have more wins than losses and you break the single-use plastic habit.

What would you add to the list?