The Best Canals in Phoenix for Riding a Bike

I’m trying to figure out the best canals in Phoenix for riding a bike. We have enough of them – something like 180 miles worth.

For a short ride, most of them do the trick nicely. But if you’re trying to pile on the miles and don’t like sitting at stoplights and crossing roads all the time, things get a bit tricky. 

I’ve been riding the canals quite a bit over the past few years with help from the handy MAG Bikeways map, but I haven’t checked out everything first-hand. I plan to update this as I ride more of the canals. If you’ve ridden areas lately where I’m lacking knowledge, hit me up — I’ll add your quote and throw a link to the site of your choice.

One other thing I’ll mention: It’s really hard to find cold water or a bathroom close to a canal route — or really, any bike route. That’s something I’d love for the cities to fix. Without those two little details, you simply can’t have high-quality bike infrastructure. The water is especially critical. This is Arizona. It gets hot.

Here’s where I am right now. 

The Rio Salado Bike Path

Local cyclists were pretty excited when the Rio Salado finally sprouted a paved route stretching from Mesa to about 15th Avenue in Phoenix. But it’s had a few hiccups, like a train fire that closed the route for weeks in spring of 2020. Now in 2021, it’s closed from about 16th Street to 7th Avenue in Phoenix because of a fire under the 7th Street Bridge (seriously, this city would be so completely screwed if we ever had any major damage to our infrastructure).

The remainder of the route that stills open is still pretty good with one major caveat: the area passing through Tempe, which is a maelstrom of people with zero situational awareness. You’ll see other cyclists, pedestrians, electric scooters and those electric unicycle things weaving all over — I suspect many of them drive like that, too. 

If you can figure out a way to bypass that area or at least avoid it around sunset, you’ll have a way better time.

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal recently went through a makeover and now bills itself as the Grand Canalscape. It’s a winner for people riding a few miles. But if you’re trying to ride from one end to the other, it’s a maddening experience with all the signaled crossings — and the drivers who frequently ignore them.

The surface is fairly decent, and the parts farthest to the east are my favorite since you often have air traffic from Sky Harbor landing right over your head. 

canals in Phoenix
Here is the Grand Canalscape under construction in 2018.

The Arizona Canal

The Arizona Canal is quite the mixed bag. From about Scottsdale Road to 32nd Street, it simply has too many street crossings to interrupt the flow of your ride. 

After that, though, you have sweet underpasses for miles and miles and miles. I’ve taken it as far as the Cave Creek wash portion, where it swings north. I need to keep going far out to the west, where I’ve heard that it connects with the New River. It appears that I could swing to the north or south, depending on how much time I have. 

If you head east, the Arizona Canal will cross Pima Road in Scottsdale. From there, it’s a dirt path that takes you out to Granite Reef Dam. 

Canals on the South Side of the Valley

There are numerous canals on the south side of the metro Phoenix area. The majority of the bike paths along them cross at street level — no underpasses that I know of, but that might change as you head far southeast.

The Tempe Canal doesn’t go very far, but it’s a pleasant enough place to ride. It’s been awhile since I’ve ridden it (it’s on the short side), so I’ll have to go check it out again to see how many crossings have signals. 

I’ve ridden the Consolidated Canal as far as Chandler Municipal Airport. There was some construction that closed the path in a few spots, but that was in 2020. To be honest, I ignored the signs and rode on — gravel bikes can do that!

canals in phoenix
24-24-Miles to go … I wanna be Consolidated!

I haven’t spent much time on the Eastern Canal, but it has my curiosity. If I take it far southeast, I suspect it will have some underpasses. Unfortunately, further north everything is a street-level crossing. 

The Western Canal is a straight East-West shot from about Lindsay Road in Gilbert to just short of Kyrene in Tempe; then it curves northwest and heads far west. I seem to remember a break in the bike path right around Arizona Mills Mall, though, so I wouldn’t recommend counting on it.

There’s also something called the North Branch Highline Canal. I haven’t ever tried it, so I’ll have to put it on this list for summer.

What About the CAP Canal?

The CAP Canal is huge! We’re talking nearly 360 miles from Tucson to Lake Havasu City. With this being the age of the gravel bike, this SHOULD be a perfect amenity, right?

Unfortunately not. Most of its banks are fenced off, and much of the rest is still inaccessible to bikes. Only a few sections toward Marana (just outside of Tucson) have opened to bikes. I’ve heard that could change, but the powers that be are taking their sweet-ass time. 

canals in phoenix
The CAP is an untapped resource of serious mileage for bikes.

So What are the Best Canals in Phoenix for Riding a Bike?

Honestly, the best canals in Phoenix for riding a bike are probably the ones closest to you. It can at least give you a little respite from cars and get you started on a decent ride. 

The frustration sets in when you have to cross a bunch of streets and wind up standing around waiting for lights to change — Phoenix, after all, is a place where cars rule. 

For me, the Arizona Canal west of 40th Street is where it’s at. For now, at least. With some improvements, the Rio Salado would be tops. It needs some cold water and some way to create decent traffic flow in the Tempe portion to be truly excellent. At least it has a bathroom at 7th Street that’s practically right on the path.

Does the Cycliq Fly 12CE Really Suck That Much?

I’ve been riding with a Cycliq Fly 12CE bike camera for a few years now. When I first got it, Facebook served up a suggestion that I join a Facebook group about Cycliq and its cameras.

I did, because it’s always good to know what’s up with your gear. Especially when it’s a niche item like the Fly 12CE — think of it as a dash cam/headlight combo for bikes. It automatically records a loop as you ride, recording 5-minute segments. It can detect a crash, which makes it automatically save two adjacent 5-minute clips. Riders can also manually trigger it to save clips. Clips that don’t get saved get recorded over when the camera’s onboard media card hits capacity. (There’s also a rear camera/light called the Fly 6.)

Sounds great, right?

Most of the time, it is. But when it’s not … boy, do cyclists in the Cycliq Fly User Group love to complain!

So What’s to Complain About?

The complaints are legion.

Riders in wet climates complain about getting water into their Cycliq, causing all sorts of glitches and bad visibility.

They also go off on customer service, especially with delayed orders. Being an Australian company, Cycliq operates on different hours than most of the world, which can make these problems seem a lot worse.

There are plenty of stories about difficulty getting refunds for pre-orders, firmware updates causing problems, the stock mount is a bit flimsy, short battery life … you name it.

My Experience with the Cycliq Fly 12CE

In my years of riding with the Cycliq Fly 12CE, it’s been overwhelmingly beneficial. The headlight catches the eyes of drivers, and it’s caused more than a few to stop before making a right turn in front of me that would’ve been dangerous.

It’s recorded some great footage.

Honestly, there are a few minor quibbles.

First, I’ve experienced the weirdness of Cycliq customer service. I had a question about software for editing video, including the Cycliq desktop app. I went around with a service person for months, with about a week between many emails (sometimes more). Often, they seemed to forget the question or the earlier threads of the conversation.

They finally did release the desktop editing app, which has cool features with some overlays. But you can only edit one clip at a time versus a real editing suite, where you can easily work on multiple clips at a time. The moving map feature and elevation data is amazing, though.

What I’d Improve About the Cycliq Fly 12CE

With some minor tweaks, the Fly 12CE could be even better.

First, they should do a firmware update to shorten the length of the recorded clips from 5 minutes to 30 seconds. That would make it far easier to edit clips and require a lot less searching. And 30 seconds is more than enough time to find evidence in a crash situation – that’s the length of triggered clips from most dash cams for commercial vehicles. That means it’s more than enough for a bike.

cycliq fly12ce
It’s possible to get decent stills from the cycliq fly12ce, as you can see from this shot to a driver blowing right through a signaled crossing. Note the Walk signal.

I’d also recommend a new flashing mode that strobes less often and with a more random pattern. A slower blink would preserve battery life, and the randomized pattern would catch drivers’ attention more effectively.

I can’t speak much to the problems with moisture getting in — I live in Arizona, and I can see how a Scottish or Kiwi cyclist would have to worry about this more. I’ve also been fortunate that I haven’t broken a mount; I’d be more than happy if they released a new Fly 12CE with a GoPro-style mount.

I’ve probably had it glitch on me 5 times — where it isn’t recording during a ride, and I need to do a hard reset at home.

Should You Get a Cycliq Bike Camera?

If I had to get a new bike camera/light combo, I’d get another Cycliq Fly12 CE, no question. I know they’re not cheap.


But they seem to offer more of what I want than other competing cameras, especially with the integrated light and looped recording.

I recommend you check out the user group, consider the complaints and the responses, and compare it to similar cameras. Maybe you’ll be lucky like I’ve been!

One last thing: Plenty of users say things like “why doesn’t somebody just make a better camera?” Right, then. It would be soooo nice if making a better camera and offering better customer service is really just that magically easy. The fact is, it’s not. Especially during the late stages of a global pandemic where supplies are hard to come by.

What’s Up with the Pyramid Peak Mountain Bike Trails?

The Pyramid Peak mountain bike trails are not in the Top 10 of most-talked-about places to ride in Arizona. Really, probably not in the Top 50.

Not appearing on and having little presence on Strava will do that. I didn’t even know about Pyramid Peak before catching an off-hand reference to it on Facebook.

As an East Sider, I rarely get to trails out west (though that’s been changing lately). I’m also hesitant to spend time driving someplace that might not have great trails.

But I got tired of wondering what’s out there. Late in April as the temperatures were steadily rising, I headed west to see what is going on with mountain biking at Pyramid Peak.

pyramid peak mountain bike trails
Checking out the bouldery bits and a downhill that is only for god-tier riders.

I found some interesting, lightly traveled trails. The few riders I saw were pretty friendly. It also wasn’t the stupidly expensive bike parade you’ll see at many other trails, which is also cool.

Let’s just say I liked it so much that I returned 7 days later with Stan, my longtime riding buddy. Though I usually ride alone, I figured he’d have a lot of fun … and would also tell me when I was exaggerating the fun factor.

As an added bonus, Stan possesses excellent geology knowledge. With all the signs of volcanic activity around, I figured he might share an interesting fact or two.

Where are the Pyramid Peak Mountain Bike Trails?

Pyramid Peak is just west of Interstate 17 and south of the Loop 303 freeway. It’s best accessed by grading west on Happy Valley Road; take that west to 51st Avenue and head north. You can park at the end along the road or at a park with some soccer fields.

Good news for those who have to drive a long way — there’s a portable toilet just before you have to hop over a concrete barrier to hit the trails.

Where to Ride at Pyramid Peak

With its lack of presence on and only a bit of Strava segments, it’s hard to know what’s up with the Pyramid Peak mountain bike trails. Where are the good trails? What’s best for who?

Let’s see what I can do to help there.

When you first cross the barrier at the end of 51st Avenue, look to your left. There will be two singletrack trails that stand out. So far, I’ve headed out on the left one.

pyramid peak mountain bike trails

I Want My Mummy

For about 4 miles, you’ll be on a monorail of fun that is perfect for singlespeeds. It dips, dives and ducks its way through the desert, with a few steep drops into washes followed by equally steep climbs out. I’ve named this I Want My Mummy on Strava. (Everything I’m naming out here gets an ancient Egypt-themed name because we’re at Pyramid Peak.)

Resist the urge to turn left/south as you get toward the west end. That will lead you to a trail along the CAP canal. I can’t imagine you’ll like it much.

Pyramid Peak Mountain Bike Trails

Fun Among the Boulders

OK, if you have a bike with a dropper seatpost and a long-travel fork, you’re in for a treat. The area circled in blue on my map is a maze of trails that weave around a bunch of granite boulders.

There are drop-offs and short steep climbs, not to mention all sorts of tight turns around said boulders.

Stan’s Pivot was perfect for this sort of thing. I haven’t seen Stan this happy since a guy in a blue muumuu tried to sit on my lap when we were at a bar in Flagstaff.

Solving the Eastern Conundrum

Going back east in any fun fashion is a bit of a challenge at Pyramid Peak — especially if you want to pile on mileage. My typical mountain bike ride averages about 30 miles. That’s hard to do at Pyramid Peak without either repeating — or dealing with some sandy, drab, desolate stretches of jeep road.

You could also swing a bit further south and look for a Strava segment called Hill Hugger, which is good fun in either direction.

But I see that big northeastern area, and I wonder what sort of goodies are hidden out there. For one, there are some amazing jumps (see the area circles in purple at the bottom right) on the northeast side of Pyramid Peak. I’m a bit too cowardly for most of it – I’m an XC singlespeed guy, after all.

pyramid peak mountain bike trails
These are some sweet jumps – Napoleon Dynamite approved!

But if you have decent big-air skills, these jumps are worth a look. And they weren’t crowded on a Sunday in April.

Best Singletrack to the North – so Far

After a dull slog on jeep roads, we found a nice singletrack (and we encountered some motorcycles here, too). It led straight to the jumps via a slight gain in elevation.

It was a nice change-up after the jeep roads. I hope that we find more like this on future visits.

Following my Egyptian theme, I called this one The Pharaoh. (Let my people ride!)

pyramid peak mountain bike trails

Other Good to Know Bits

While taking a quick break, Stan and I noticed something simultaneously and uttered in near unison something along the lines of “what the hell is that?!”

“That” was a huge amount of broken quartz scattered over a low hilltop. Spoke of it was milky and opaque, with other bits more shaped like shards and extremely clear. The density and amount made it look like the hill was covered in snow.

We found several other piles like it, along with a large quartz knob popping out of another hilltop. There are also plenty of signs of volcanic rock around – you can definitely see signs of lava flows.

pyramid peak mountain bike trails
The snowy mounds of quartz look better in person.

We ran into some serious hike-a-bikes on the central (when viewed east to west) bits to the north. There were also a few sketchy downhills.

Also, there’s a trail that wraps around Pyramid Peak to the west. It’s pretty challenging. Know what you’re getting into.

One last thing: for some reason, it’s easy to get turned around a bit on the Pyramid Peak trails. There’s a weird concrete chute that heads up toward Deem Hills as you cross the canal. Remember where it is and use it as a reference.

Final Thoughts on Pyramid Peak Mountain Bike Trails

The big mystery, for me, is why there’s not more buzz about these trails. Apparently, some people feel bad naming them since they didn’t build them.

Really, that hasn’t stopped anyone at other trails. My advice – find the trails you like and get them into Strava and Trailforks.

There’s already plenty of videos on YouTube of the Pyramid Peak mountain bike trails, so it’s not like you’re really divulging any secrets.

Throwback: Three of My Favorite Travel Books

I always like reading books about places where I’ve been and places that I’d like to visit, even if they’re not technically “travel books.” When I reviewed books for a small local magazine, I had the opportunity to read quite a few books that I might not have found otherwise. Some of them were pretty awful, too, which is its own kind of fun.

I decided to dig a few of these old reviews out to share here just to switch things up a bit. This involved combing through old emails, and I still haven’t found all the reviews.

A Few Thoughts About Kiwis Might Fly

One of the missing reviews is also one of my favorites: An English woman went to New Zealand in a search for the “stereotypical Kiwi bloke.” Until reading this book, called Kiwis Might Fly, I’d never realized that this was a thing.

The author, Polly Evans, had a vision of slightly rough-around-the-edges, inventive, and yet slightly sensitive men. She wondered if they were long for this world.

Driving in New Zealand involves winding roads, low speed limits, rainy weather and beautifully distracting scenery.

Evans combined this setup with learning how to ride a motorcycle, so you also get an inside glimpse of the view of a new motorcyclist, which is definitely fun. It also adds a layer to her traipsing around New Zealand, which has some seriously slippy, winding roads that can be dangerous. But hey, at least Evans is used to driving and riding on their side of the road (unlike this guy right here!).

Her discoveries about the state of Kiwi masculinity might surprise you as she hands out with sheep shearers and various other manly working men.

It all adds up to a fun storyline, and I think Evans does a nice job of capturing what New Zealand is like. I haven’t been everywhere across New Zealand, but my two trips there tell me that she was paying attention, taking good notes and is genuinely curious about what happens around her.

This one functions best as a travel book among these books. It’s been awhile, so I need to go back and refresh my memory on what – if anything – Evans had to say about my beloved Rotorua.

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer: Creepiness on the Moors

There are so many things to like about Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands that its plot becomes secondary. It’s the richness of the details that make it such a great book.

About that plot: It’s like The Silence of the Lambs colliding with About a Boy: Steven, an outcast English boy, seeks to fix his fractured family by finding the resting place of his uncle Billy, who disappeared 18 years ago. Billy was 12 when he disappeared – the same age as Steven.

travel books

Steven spends his time digging around Exmoor, a national park in rural England. There, serial child killer Arnold Avery deposited the bodies of his young victims. While some of the children’s remains were recovered, Billy’s wasn’t among them. He takes a gamble by writing a letter to the imprisoned Avery.

Bauer puts readers in the stark setting of Steven’s world. She gives him an authentic voice that can make readers hope that Steven gets some small measure of change in his life. Bullied at school, scorned at home – he doesn’t have a lot going for him.

She also creates an excellent villain in Avery. He’s clever, yet not to the point of a supervillain. Just a real person who’s crafty and twisted. Avery is exactly the sort of fiend you wouldn’t expect to see in the English countryside, which makes him that much more shocking.

Between the setting and two very well-drawn characters, it’s easy to tear through Blacklands and wait for Bauer’s next book.

(Update: Bauer has been busy, and I’ve read at least one of her other books. I also have to add – if you’re a parent, her books will be hard to read without feeling uncomfortable. Also, I’d never thought about visiting the English moors. Now, I’m all in for a look.

Of course, whatever tourism board exists for Exmoor won’t consider this a travel book. That’s too bad — they could probably attract goths in droves!)

The Tricking of Freya: Nailing the Icelandic Vibe

It’s hard to categorize The Tricking of Freya. The novel exists to introduce readers to Freya, a woman of Icelandic descent, and coming to grips with a convoluted and shadowy family history. But it’s also a tidy exercise in introducing Iceland – its history, its mythology, its literature and its geology.

Author Christina Sunley starts the book off as a letter to a cousin she didn’t realize existed until she was in her 30s. It’s a bit hard to follow at first, but she soon settles into a decent groove that explains the oddly styled first-person point-of-view. Sunley is the voice of Freya, named after an Icelandic goddess. Despite the name, she spent her early years knowing little of Iceland. Her mother seemed content to live in Connecticut and forget that she was just a generation removed from a natural disaster that saw her family flee Iceland for North America.

pseudocraters iceland
Iceland’s crazy landscapes are part of a few sequences in “The Tricking of Freya.”

Freya has little curiosity about this before finally meeting her Aunt Ingibjorg, known family-wide as Birdy. Her aunt is determined to carry her family’s long line of poets into North America and continue being a major voice of Icelandic art. From Birdie, Freya learns all about Iceland, even mastering its tricky language.

Sunley’s writing is very lively and descriptive. She also peppers the text with clues that will help the reader unravel bits of her family’s mystery. I wasn’t surprised by the ending, but that really isn’t the sole point of her book. Freya’s search is a great vehicle for giving readers insights into a fascinating culture and place. To me, that’s far more interesting than any dysfunctional family story.

(NOTE: I read this book both before and after visiting Iceland. Again, this author gets the descriptions of Iceland just right. I suppose there will be two reactions: “Why would anyone want to go there” and “Can I buy a ticket right now?” Iceland continues to be one of my favorite places on the planet, so I hope you’ll read this and fall into the second group.)

I’ve Had Way Too Many Hobbies Over the Years

I love hobbies. After all, traveling and mountain biking are the reason I created this blog. Sure, I sometimes write about other things (especially electric cars with an increased regulatory in recent years).

I’ve largely stuck to my main topics. Now, I’d like to drop something in here to frame who’s writing all this stuff. The overall content here will remain focused — this is just a little something to shake it up. I plan to do this more, while still retaining my original focus.

Today, I’ll tell you about the other stuff that’s interested me over the years … how I started, how far I took it, why I don’t do it anymore, that sort of stuff.

If any of these activities make you say “wow, I’d really like to try that!”, feel free to hit me up to learn more about it. It might turn into a future post.

A Hockey Kid in 80s Arizona

Growing up, I was non-athletic. I had no instincts for any of the typical American kid sports. Then some acquaintance of my mom’s brought a bunch of old hockey equipment over. We’re talking old-school wooden sticks, real rubber pucks, even goalie gear — all the ancient Cooper stuff that you’d recognize if you ever watched Slapshot.

For some reason, my hands knew exactly what to do with every bit of this equipment. Snapping a wrist shot was as natural as breathing. The catch glove and blocker made complete sense to me.

I could go on about this at length. But I’ll keep it short. I wanted to play hockey, but that was in short supply in Arizona. And I knew my parents wouldn’t be up for the effort required to put me on the ice. So I just had floor hockey at school, which was the one time in PE classes when I got picked first for anything.

The ASU Blade Devils circa 1993. Check out my old deer hair-stuffed goalie pads. Old school!

Well, I started playing floor hockey during my freshman year of college as a goalie. I caught the attention of the Arizona State University Blade Devils in-line hockey club, which meant I needed to learn how to use in-line skates. An intense boot camp with a classmate got me ready. And I just got it. I had help from more experienced teammates to help me fill in the gaps formed by growing up in Arizona instead of Michigan, but I caught up quickly.

For a period of about 10 years, I was The Guy in goal. Local teams bribed me with equipment and PowerBars to fill in for their goalies and play in tournaments. Other goalies would groan “oh, no” when I showed up to play their team.

The later days of my time as an ASU Blade Devils goalie.

I still love hockey. But it conflicted with a lot of other things I like doing. And good lord, being a goalie makes you smell TERRIBLE! Roller hockey also fell out of fashion — and ice hockey is even more expensive and has ridiculous game times. So I eventually retired, if you will.

But damn, I still miss the feeling of making a save look effortless or robbing someone of a certain, can’t-miss goal.

A Displaced Curler in the Southwest

Whenever I’ve traveled, people have asked me if I’m Canadian. This includes other Americans.

Well, it’s starting to seem like I just might be. I mean, hockey came to me naturally. And now you’re finding out that I used to curl.

My rink (that’s what they call a curling team) from a beginner bonspiel (that’s what they call a curling tournament).

It all started with a movie called Men With Brooms. Of course, I knew about curling from the Olympics. But Men with Brooms brought curling to a new level for me. My wife found a curling club at one of the local hockey rinks, and we took a learn to curl class.

Eventually, the Coyotes Curling Club moved to its own facility. It became one of the biggest clubs in the western US. I curled for a few seasons straddling the birth of my daughter. She was actually one of the first little people born to the club, if not THE first!

A baby and mom among the curling rocks.

If I ever came into a bunch of free time, I’d go straight back to curling. But crunched for time as I am now, I need to burn more calories with my spare time.

BONUS: My worst injury from my hobbies came while curling on hockey ice. My feet went out from under me, and I came down hard on my side. I’m pretty sure I cracked some ribs.

Cranking Up the Volume

Playing the guitar is a part of my identity. I first started when I was 15 years old after hearing The Scorpions album “Savage Amusement.”

My cousin was my first guitar teacher, and he helped me find a cool used sparkly white Charvel Model 2 and a solid-state Randall halfstack — totally 80s! I jammed in many a garage, but never gigged.

That changed in my 30s, long after I’d slide my last guitar — a red Charvel Model 4 — under my bed. A friend of a friend became my friend, then my bandmate, then a co-best man at my wedding (someday, I’ll tell you about how his pants fell off while giving a toast at the wedding).

My old band, Hung Dynasty, rocking a venue that’s long since closed.

Our band, Hung Dynasty, played close to 200 gigs over 10 years — everywhere from places a karate dojo to the Marquee Theater. And we went from a slightly harder sounding version of The Refreshments to a band that someone said sounded like “Arizona’s Iron Maiden.”

Hung Dynasty disbanded when our much-loved drummer/flatulence aficionado moved to Colorado. I played in another band, but eventually parted ways with them. I came close to putting another band together, only for the drummer and singer to move out of state shortly before we were gig ready.

This venue? Also closed.

Now, one of the members of that project is working with me to drag some former members of Hung Dynasty back into the fray.

I’d be really excited for my daughter (now 6) to be able to see me play a few of her favorite tunes. CUTE BONUS OBSERVATION: For awhile, she was convinced that I was the guitarist for a Finnish band called Nightwish. The guitarist doesn’t look a foot shorter than me in videos, but he is!

Living by the Sword

I’ve always wanted to take up fencing. It just always looked cool. There is a fencing club in my city, but it’s neither close nor convenient.

Well, one night while pushing my daughter through the park in her stroller, saw a bunch of brightly colored lights. As I got closer, I discovered a bunch of people swinging KED-powered sabers at each other. I hesitate to call them “lightsabers” just to avoid the wrath of Disney.

It’s hard to take good photos of people dueling at night. So here’s a little girl with a lightsaber.

As it turns out, there’s a local club for this sort of thing. Some of the people are mostly interested in choreography, while others are more interested in combat (and still others are there for the social aspects).

They had loaner sabers, and I took some basic instruction before trying my hand at dueling.

Pretty soon, I was dueling regularly, though it was nothing like fencing. I favor a two-handed style of combat based on kendo and kenjutsu. The stabbing motion associated with fencing isn’t allowed for safety reasons; groups that wear protective gear allow it.

I’ve had an enormous number of insights about swordplay thanks to club members who have studied various sword-related arts for a long time.

As another bonus, I also got into the “build you own saber” aspect. Now I know way too much about momentary switches, sound boards, LEDs, and wiring gauges! I’m also far better at soldering know than I ever have been, which comes in handy for Halloween decorations and costumes.

I’ve been on hiatus since COVID lockdowns began. But I’ve had my first vaccination, so I fully expect to be dueling again soon.

The Hobbies I Haven’t Mentioned (Yet)

These are just a few of the hobbies I’ve enjoyed over the years. I also played tennis for quite awhile. I’ve practiced yoga since 1999 and have dabbled in various types of weightlifting from CrossFit to HIIT. There’s also the usual reading and cooking stuff that many of us get into as a necessity.

I’m probably leaving some out. And there’s probably a hobby aimed at me that I don’t even see coming right now.

I Rode a Singlespeed for 3 Years. Then I Tried Full Suspension Again.

[I originally published this hardtail versus full suspension bike blog post in March of 2020, right when COVID-19 started to hit. It just got a major update. Read on for the fun!]

I’ve been riding a singlespeed mountain bike for the last three years. During that time, my 2011 Santa Cruz Superlight sat in the garage doing absolutely nothing.

A recent ride with a friend made me wonder what would happen if I:

  • Pulled the Santa Cruz out of deep storage and ran a lap on my local bike/equipment test track.
  • Rode the same on a modern slack-angled full-suspension bike.

During the ride with my friend, I noticed our bikes were the exact opposite from each other: My Domahidy Ti belt-drive bike has fairly traditional geometry. My friend’s bike was carbon fiber with barely any stem to speak of — and a generous amount of travel. I noticed where our bikes excelled and fell short (see the video for some of the fun we had).

And I got curious.

Hardtail Versus Full Suspension for a Day

I topped the Superlight’s tires off with some Stan’s sealant and checked the shock air pressure. Then, it was time to ride.

I’ve been on the Domahidy 29er since I’ve been using Strava heavily. I have a ton of data on it from my local trails. So this would be a perfect test for my Superlight.

I felt like the more slippery climbs were a bit easier on it. I definitely felt faster on one particular rocky descent.

new mountain bike
My Superlight when it was still considered a modern bike instead of a throwback.

Overall, the Superlight didn’t feel as stable or as quick to handle as the Domahidy. That titanium hardtail holds its speed and accelerates with tons of punch.

And there I was thinking about gears again. Especially cumbersome with a 3X9 system versus the modern 1X systems. With a singlespeed, all my concentration is on picking the line and braking.

Enough Feelings – What About the Data?

My Strava times shocked my gizzard. The Superlight was nowhere near as fast on this ride as my top times on the singlespeed (which is also slightly undergeared). It was 52 seconds slower over my nearly 4-mile lap.

That rocky downhill I mentioned? It tied my typical time on the singlespeed hardtail versus full suspension. No faster even over chop and small drops.

I felt like I was working hard, but not worked over (I’d ridden 40 miles on my road-plus bike the day before).

This bears mentioning: I admit that I’m kind of a chicken. My priority is to finish every ride in one piece. So I ride in control, more Iceman than Maverick.

What I Expected

My prediction was that the Superlight would make me noticeably faster. Maybe by as much as a minute.

hardtail versus full suspension

I expected its top-end speed and ability to crunch over some of the rocky sections to win the day — even against the Domahidy’s efficiency.

What about weight? I have no idea what either bike weighs. But the Santa Cruz Superlight has always been a light-ish full suspension bike. Certainly lighter than the slack dropper-equipped trail bikes of today.

What I didn’t expect was for the longer 29er to carve corners so much better and to give up next to nothing to the Superlight in rocky downhill bits. I’m at a loss for words.

There are still question marks with the singlespeed hardtail versus full suspension issue: How would I do riding the Santa Cruz on long rides, like the Fat Tire 40 or the 50-mile Tour of the White Mountains? (The answer to that: If it rains beforehand, the belt drive singlespeed will straight-up murder every other bike I could pick. The mud up there can change the game.)

hardtail versus full suspension
This bike is unstoppable, especially in wet weather.

What Next for Hardtail Versus Full Suspension?

I’m eager to repeat this experiment with a modern bike.

I may also rent a bike to test somewhere like McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Long Loop there is currently in chewed-up condition. During the Cactus Cup and Frenzy Hills races, I got rattled pretty hard back there.

I’ll update this post with more info and data when I have something to add — I hope that’s soon!


Finally Testing a Modern Dualie

Almost one year after the quarantine scuttled my plans to demo a full-suspension bike with this new “progressive” geometry, I finally got my opportunity.

The Rocky Mountain Demo Tour made a visit to Rage Bicycles, just a few miles away from my home in Scottsdale. This also meant an apples-to-apples comparison on trails I know well — Papago is a short pedal away from Rage.

rocky mountain demo tour
The friendly Rocky Mountain Demo Tour van.

The bike closest to my preferences was the Rocky Mountain Instinct Carbon 70, a nearly $7,000 monster with a Fox 36 EVOL fork. That’s 150mm of travel in the front, 140 in the back. It was set up tubeless, with some CushCore type of insert in the tires. It also had a dropper seatpost.

I spent about 90 minutes/16 miles on the Instinct. It made a good first impression with crisp shifting and a pretty efficient feel as I cruised on the canal bank to Papago. I noticed that it responded to small amounts of handlebar input, probably because of that super-short stem.

My first real dirt was at Hole in the Rock, a well-known short climb followed by a short rocky downhill. It took zero concentration for the Instinct to handle the climb. It also knocked off the downhill easily, and this was the only time I deployed the dropper post. But when I got the numbers from Strava, the Instinct was nearly 10 seconds slower up the climb, and a second slower on the downhill. This would become a theme.

Taking Aim at My Record

My real test for the Instinct was the 3.8-miles Pivin Loop, a handy litmus test for messing with bike, tires and suspension.

I was definitely running the Instinct hard. Big suspension, big tires, outstanding brakes. Why not?

Apparently, those big treads don’t like loose rocks. The front tire washed, causing me to dab. Obviously, this was not gonna be a record-setting loop. Sure enough, I was nearly three minutes off my best time.

Rocky Mountain Instinct 70 Carbon
A look at the Rocky Mountain Instinct 70 Carbon I demoed.

I did a second lap, concentrating on riding clean. It was the slowest lap I ever turned at the Pivin Loop, nearly 5 minutes off my best pace and about 4 off of a typical run.

So it suffices to say that, on my Domahidy Ti singlespeed and even my outdated 26er-wheeled 27-speed Santa Cruz, I would handily beat my doppelganger who’s on an Instinct 70 on the type of terrain I usually ride. So that’s two major points in my hardtail versus full suspension debate.

I think it’s fair to expect that I’d get faster on the Instinct as I got used to it. I also think riders with different skillsets might get more out of it than I did.

So Why is This Bike So Slow?

This is actually a very good bike. I want to get that out of the way. I can think of a bunch of black trails at Brown’s Ranch and South Mountain where the Instinct Carbon 70 would be an asset with its dropper and long travel.

But that’s not my type of riding. I am not the kind of guy who has a quiver of bikes. I want something that can let me haul ass when I race and requires minimal maintenance.

And honestly, there’s just a fun factor in that belt-drive singlespeed that makes no sense on paper. It makes me feel like flying a Colonial Viper every time I ride it.

I did notice that the Instinct Carbon 70 was a hefty bike, probably exacerbated by the CushCore inserts dropper seatpost. A lot of the weight seemed concentrated to the rear, giving that bike one hell of a bodonkadonk.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Got Back!

I’m very curious about what I’d think of an Element Carbon 70, which is far more race-oriented. I also don’t want to give the impression that I’m slamming Rocky Mountain: I’m willing to bet that I’d have the same issues with any trail bike.

The Conclusion: Hardtail Versus Full Suspension

This makes me go back to a point I’ve made many times before: Someone needs to bring back the lightweight, cost-effective, short-travel dual suspension bike. At one point, Santa Cruz made a $1,700 Superlight dualie that was about 28 pounds. Someone needs to bring a bike like that back. I realize it’s not 2005 anymore, sure. But could you get a light, responsive, modernized XC speed machine for $2,200? I’ll bet someone out there could do it.

I think that, to be as fair as possible, I also need to do another demo with something a little more race-oriented.

Keep in mind, this might be exactly the bike you need. But if your preferences are more like mine, you might have to swipe left on this one.

7 Things to Know about Mountain Biking at Brown’s Ranch

Brown’s Ranch Mountain Biking at a Glance

  • Four Trailheads
  • More than 165 miles of trails
  • Well-constructed trails
  • Endless Options
  • eBikes are Not Allowed. 
  • Watch for hikers, horses and wildlife

If you want to start a great argument, ask mountain bikers from the Phoenix area to name their favorite trail network. There will be shouts of “South Mountain” and “Hawes” accompanied by cursing.

For me, though, it’s Brown’s Ranch, hands down.

I can already hear everyone warming up to tell me that I’m wrong. That’s fine. The points I’m about to lay out here will tell you why I like the Brown’s Ranch trails so much.

Before we go further … if you’re new here, my only mountain bike is a singlespeed hardtail. I rarely put in less than 25 miles, and I do some fairly long races on it.

Brown’s Ranch = Tons of Trails

According to, there are 165 miles of trails at Brown’s Ranch. And trust me, there are more going in all the time. There are four types of trails: Purple (unpaved access road), green (easy), blue (intermediate) and black (hard).

The massive number of trails and miles means that you’ll have no problem putting a ride of any length together, no matter which of the four trailheads you start from.

brown's ranch

There are so many trails here that you can actually connect to McDowell Mountain Regional Park or even the Maricopa Trail. If you want to unspool an epic ride, you will have no problems doing it here.

Don’t Believe People Who Say It’s Not Hard Enough

The biggest knock on Brown’s Ranch is that it doesn’t have enough climbing or isn’t hard enough. This is complete bollocks.

It has plenty of climbing. During my 32-mile ride the day before I wrote this, I climbed more than 2,000 feet. Yeah, I had to cover a lot of ground to make that happen. But I also did it on a singlespeed, which is bound to make it more interesting than have a 48-tooth low cog.

As for “hard enough.” There are some fun black trails that have excellent technical challenges. If you’re riding a dual-suspension bike with 150mm of travel and a dropper seatpost, maybe these will still be easy for you. I dunno.

I’d also add that, unless you can clean the switchbacks at the top of Brown’s Mountain, these trails aren’t too easy for you.

Bring Water

Not all of the trailheads at Browns Ranch have potable water. Be sure to show up ready to go. You will find bathrooms at the trailheads, but they currently have sanitizer rather than running water.

The facilities at Pima and Dynamite are still under construction. We’ll see what happens when that’s up and running.

Avoid Any Trails with the Word “Wash” in the Name

There are a few trails out there that make use of washes. They are a sandy mess. Avoid them at all costs.

The best you can hope for is to not get too much sand in your shoes. The Dove Valley Trail has some very sandy bits to the east, and I recommend avoiding them.

Expect Lots of Hikers and the Occasional Horse

Hikers love these trails, for good reason. The views are amazing. There’s plenty of wildlife. There are plenty of places to crawl around on boulders.

brown's ranch

Be kind. Yield the trail. Slow down as you pass. I also use a bell to give hikers a friendly audible signal that I”m approaching.

As for horses, I typically communicate with the riders to see what their horses want me to do. Some pull over to let me ride past. Some riders on skittish horses will ask me to dismount as we pass each other. No problem for me either way.

eBikes Are Not Allowed

Back in the old days, mountain bikers used to share these trails (then known as Pima and Dynamite) with motorcycles, who probably made most of the early trails.

Then Scottsdale got hold of the land (I believe from the State Land Department because it was once State Trust Land). They turned it into a preserve and then bounced all the motorcycles north to their own OHV area.

Now, we’ve got eBikes.

I don’t have a problem with eBikes. They’re useful in their time and place. And Brown’s Ranch is NOT their time and place. There are signs at every trailhead announcing that eBikes are not allowed.

And still, I see eBike riders poaching these trails every single time I’m there.

What to do about it? I remember when the Sedona Five poached trails at the Grand Canyon, the feds confiscated their bikes and helicoptered them out in leg irons.

Expect Some Wildlife at Brown’s Ranch

Brown’s Ranch is the only place I’ve seen a gila monster in the wild. I’ve also seen countless snakes here, along with eagles, vultures, what I think was a deer, and all sorts of smaller creatures.

There are Plenty of Maps and Signs

Trails markings at Brown’s Ranch are plentiful. Many of the signs even have a QR code you can use to download the City of Scottsdale map – if you can get cell coverage. This can get challenging further north.

There are also paper maps and permanent maps at every trailhead.

I tend to use the Trailforks app on my phone, instead.

What are the “Can’t Miss” Trails at Brown’s Ranch?

It’s almost impossible to pick just a few. But I’ll try to share the trails I always look forward to:

Hawknest North to South — A gentle downhill with plenty of turns and dips. High-speed fun. The whole thing is 10 miles, so it’ll keep you entertained for awhile.

Renegade — This 2-mile trail on the north side is stupidly entertaining in any direction.

Axle Grease — About four miles of south-to-north warmup to take you away from the trailhead. To get even further north, grab Stagecoach or the West Express. Easy riding, but twisty enough to be fun.

Diablo North and South — One of the newer technical areas. You’ll have to shimmy between some obstacles or hit the occasional drop-off. Riding a cross-county bike makes these more challenging.

Dare-A-Sarah — Rippin’ good fun. There are two steep sections that combine with rocks and turns that will keep you on your toes. All the other challenges are mostly squeezing through tight areas.

Scorpion — There’s some hard stuff here … like “exactly where is the trail here?” kind of hard. But it’s all well-designed, not neglected and stupid like some of what I’ve seen at Estrella Mountain Regional Park.

A Few Final Thoughts

It’s impossible to not have fun here. I’d love it if riders were able to get water from the trailheads, and I’d love to enjoy some race action here (there have been races here before). This would be a perfect place for an epic night race. I can’t imagine how beautiful it would be to ride here during a night event.


EV Versus Gas SUV: The Numbers Don’t Lie

EV Versus Gas SUV: By the Numbers

2016 Subaru Forester: Holds 534 kilowatt hours of energy. About 464 miles of range. That’s .868 miles per kWh.

2014 Toyota RAV4 EV: Holds 40 kWh of energy. About 144 miles of range. That’s 3.6 miles per kWh of energy.

I am going to lay out some information about electric cars in a way you probably haven’t seen before.

There are two cars in my household: One is a 2016 Subaru Forester (base engine with a continuous variable transmission). It’s all-wheel-drive like all Subaru vehicles. It’s rock-solid in rain and snow.

EV versus gas

The other is my 2014 Toyota RAV 4 EV. It has front-wheel drive and requires a more deft hand in rain. I’ve never driven it in snow. It’s a bit roomier inside than the Forester. It also will hand the Forester its ass in a quarter-mile. The electric motor spins up at a rate the Forester can’t match with its CVT.

These vehicles are similar in size and weight. That makes them perfect for comparing an EV versus gas SUV.

Crunching Numbers: EV Versus Gas SUVs

But you absolutely wouldn’t believe the difference in energy capacity and efficiency. I say “energy capacity” because clearly only the Forester can carry fuel as we know it.

After a trip to the gas station, the Forester has 534 kilowatt-hours of energy on board. That’s based on the calculation that a gallon of gas is equivalent to 33.4 kWh of electricity.

The RAV4, on the other hand, has 40 kWh of electricity after charging fully.

EV versus gas

The Forester can go about 464 miles based on the car’s calculation that my wife averages about 29 miles per gallon. I have to say, 29 miles per gallon is solid for an all-wheel drive vehicle its size.

The RAV4 will go about 144 miles on its 40 kWh battery, based on its historical record showing an average of about 3.6 miles per kWh.

Let’s put it another way — by looking at how many miles each of these vehicles goes on 1 kWh of energy:

Subaru Forester: .868 miles per kWh

Toyota RAV4 EV: 3.6 miles per kWh

That makes the RAV4 EV 4.147 times more efficient in energy use than the Forester. When it comes to the EV versus gas question, it’s not even close.

Old EV Tech Beats New Gas Tech

Keep in mind, the RAV4 EV is generations behind in its technology. It doesn’t have adaptive cruise control or seats that automatically adjust to a driver’s profile. There’s no “infotainment” to speak of. It doesn’t have fast charging.

Its utilitarian body, though, has more usable interior room (more than 73 cubic feet) than a Tesla Model Y, Ford Mach E, Nissan Ariya or VW ID4. It’s listed as having 5.9 inches of ground clearance, but I don’t think that’s remotely accurate. The regular RAV4 is listed as 6.3 inches; I know the EV version was lowered for efficiency, but it wasn’t lowered that much.

Though its battery is small by current standards, the RAV4 EV is still impossible to beat as a city car. It’s easy to park, yet can handle all the hardware store runs you can throw at it. Toyota made a huge mistake by dabbling in hydrogen power instead of pure EVs.

EV versus gas

The Impact of at Least One EV

Two-car families aren’t unusual. And if you have one electric car, you’re still going to cut your costs significantly. There are plenty of places to charge cars for free – and charging overnight at your home is convenient and cheap (overnight rates are amazing).

I know some people can’t make this happen. They live in apartments without outlets in the parking lot. Or they live in some far-flung ranch.

These are niche cases. Most people average less than 40 miles per day. Plus more workplaces have free charging – and chances are, you can at least find a 110-volt outlet in every parking garage so you can at least some juice during your work hours.

I also wind up driving the family around in the RAV on nights and weekends. That means the Forester gets fuel maybe once a month. It’s a huge difference.

Any two-car household needs to think seriously about an EV next time it’s time to replace one of the current occupants of its garage.

Two Nights on the Fanxipan Express

[I originally wrote this as a guest post for a website that no longer exists. I’m republishing it to preserve one of my more interesting travel experiences.]

Vietnam taught me one important lesson: For every blazing-fast maglev train or smooth-riding KTX or futuristic Japanese bullet train, there’s a Fanxipan Express.

Fanxipan express
Departing from Hanoi

I experienced an overnight trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai and back during my two-week stay in Vietnam. The bottom line – the Fanxipan Express sways its way along the tracks, creaking and lurching … but there’s arguably no better way to get to Lao Cai and then onto the popular mountain destination of Sapa.

Some part of me really enjoyed the novelty of the rickety Fanxipan Express, if only to feel a little better about my own country’s Amtrak; enjoying rail travel in South Korea or Finland can give an American a serious train inferiority complex.

Let’s take a look at my time on the Fanxipan Express.


It’s entirely possible to book online far ahead of time. My wife and I left some room in our schedules, though, so we could evaluate our side-trip options in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. While staying at the Rendezvous Hotel in Hanoi, some references to homestay hiking trips around Sapa — near the Chinese border — caught our eye. We booked through the hotel, with a price that included train travel. The Fanxipan Express website lists a round trip in four-berth “Superior Cabin” as $45 US person, one way. So call it $90 for a round trip per person.

Fanxipan express
Old school vibes.
The Rendezvous website lists our trek as $185 per person including fare for the train … but I recall us paying less than that. Nearly every price in Vietnam is negotiable, and you’re more likely to swing a deal in-person.

The Rendezvous staff dropped us off about 90 minutes before our train’s departure time – plenty of time to get acquainted with the train station situation, and overcome any language barrier problems.

Aboard the Fanxipan Express

Soon, we were aboard the Fanxipan Express. The strains of a super-schmaltzy ballad echoed throughout the cars (maudlin sounds of this magnitude transcend languages) as we found our room, a wood-paneled, four-bunk affair we’d share with two strangers.

Well, we lucked out. We enjoyed the company of a teacher and an engineer who spoke excellent English. The four of us chatted a good bit before hitting the lights in an attempt to search for sleep.

Fanxipan express
A four-berth compartment. Expect at least six to occupy it.

I did manage to fall asleep, but the swaying and creaking jolted me awake more than a few times. I spent a lot of time in that gray area just short of full sleep. I’d call it a combination of the train’s swaying and being a 6’2, 200-pound person jammed diagonally into a bunk not really intended for my frame. I was relatively clear-headed when we arrived in Lao Cai, and I handled the next three days of hiking just fine … so I guess I got enough rest.

Conductors checked our tickets, and an attendant with a snack cart rolled by a few times. To be honest, I had little interest in snacks or drinks. I just wanted to get to Lao Cai, so I didn’t indulge.

Don’t Miss This Tip

Now, I need to tell you something absolutely vital about the Fanxipan Express – it’s time to talk toilets. Western-style toilets are getting more common in Vietnam, but you’ll definitely find more squat toilets. The Fanxipan Express has both types, which my wife didn’t realize. She found the squat toilet first, and assumed all the train’s toilets were the same.

So, if you don’t favor a physical task that’s like playing billiards on a roller coaster, keep walking until you find the Western-style toilet on the Fanxipan Express.

Wrapping up 16 Hours on the Fanxipan Express

We returned to Lao Cai on a chilly evening a few days later. There are plenty of cafes nearby where you can enjoy a cafe sua da (the delicious iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk that’s so popular here) before boarding the train. We spent some time strolling about Lao Cai, but didn’t wander too far because … well, we’d just hiked for three days and were feeling the weight of our packs. That, and the clock was ticking.

Our return trip was much the same as the outbound leg. This time, three other passengers jammed into the four-bunk cabin. My Vietnamese-language skills allowed me to offer some greetings, but that’s it. No cross-culture connection this time. The Fanxipan Express creaked, we tried to sleep … and we arrived back in Hanoi. We said tam biet to our bunkmates and headed off to our last few days in Vietnam.

Mountain Biking the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

I rarely ever get out to the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. It’s one of the newer bits of municipal open space in Phoenix, but it’s a bit far from me. Last time I was here, it was also shorter on mileage than I’d like.

In February of 2021, I went back for another look. This time, there were trails south of the major road that leads to the trailhead. I consulted Trailforks and formed a plan of attack with a goal of at least 20 miles.

Let’s walk through it to see what you need to know.

Busy at the Parking Lot

The mid-morning on a Sunday parking situation at the main Phoenix Sonoran Preserve trailhead is pretty brisk. So either go earlier or later, as the season’s weather allows.

The trailhead also has a decently equipped bathroom. I was full on water, so I didn’t bother checking the water fountain situation. Sorry!

As a reminder, I was rolling on a singlespeed hardtail with a 100mm suspension fork. That’s my kind of bike, and these trails are well-suited for it. There are a few super-steep trails that will favor a geared bike, and some chonk on the other side that will be better with a full-suspension bike.

Getting Started at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

My ride plan required me to cross Dove Valley Road, which features vehicles regularly traveling at Talladega 500 qualifying speeds, or as close to them as they can get.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
The non-fun part of the ride.

Once I got across, I had to follow a dirt road south. And it’s here where you’ll run into a navigational challenge: You need to veer east of a fence about a mile into it so you can connect to the trails. This is currently not marked with a sign.

On to the Real Trails

I spotted more than a few branching bits of singletrack. I made a left onto Cactus Wren, which took me up a steady climb. The trail had an overall nice flow, and I soon had some nice views.

Cactus Wren eventually meets a trail called Great Horned Owl. If you continue south, it’s nice and rideable on any bike. Turn west, though, and this will get steep and rocky.

How steep? Think 300 feet in .2 miles steep.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
Signage could be a lot better, but it does have some, at least.

As you continue on Great Horned Owl, watch for a right turn. If you miss it, you’ll find that it’s barely even a trail anymore. You’ll push your bike up a steep, rubbly mess — about 200 feet in .2 miles.

Great Horned Owl will connect to Valle Vista, which is a stupid amount of fun. I stayed on it, eschewing Desert Tortoise (which I’ll check out next time) until I hit the Dixie Mountain Loop, where I turned left. I might go right next time, not sure.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
A rusted wreck just off the trail.

By the way, opting against the turn onto Desert Tortoise also resulted in a steep, loose, rocky climb. Not as bad as the others, but still tough.

Anyway, I stayed on Dixie Mountain Loop until it became Bobcat, which I took to the end near Dove Valley Road.

Headed Back Toward the Trailhead

I had plenty of options for the route back, including going back the same way I came. I was a bit rankled that my most-direct option was a green trail called Dixie Mountain Bypass. It’s a non-technical trail that climbs slightly heading back the way I wanted to go.

Let me pause with a recommendation for trail runners. This trail will make you very, very happy. It looks, at least to me, like trail running perfection. If you run it, let me know if I was right on this one.

Anyway, it was more fun than I expected from being a fairly straight green trail. You can get a singlespeed into a nice groove.

I soon wound up back at the beginning of the proper trails, where Cactus Wren got me started. I doubled back a little for more mileage, and wound up on the aforementioned steep climb that is Great Horned Owl.

Room to Improve for the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

Most importantly, I also found a singletrack route back toward the trailhead. This does not appear on the Trailforks site or app. I can only conclude that is because the people in charge of such things at the City of Phoenix are trying to prevent additions to the trail network.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

And I get it. You don’t want rogue trail builders doing stuff to mess things up. But most of the time, rogue trailbuilders get busy because they’re frustrated by inaction. I suspect that’s the case with the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. The south side of the trails are a gem, but the interconnections with the other parts of the network are abysmal.

It’s entirely possible, also, that they might get worse. Why? Developers. And 1,400 more red tile roofs. (If I learned anything from watching copious amounts of Scooby Do, it’s that developers are a scourge. Half a decade as a full-time news reporter reinforced what I learned from the crew of the Mystery Machine.)

I don’t see the addition of homes doing much to help trail connectivity here. Here’s a data point to support that: The unmarked trail I rode back to the road originally went under a bridge. That has since been blocked off my city signs choked with passive voice and bureaucratic prose warning that the area is closed and blah blah blah. That tells me that this wonderfully made and fun connector trail is probably an open secret. The city knows it exists, but it might cost them too much in resources and potential blowback to do anything with it.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
The Man is at work.

Once I got back to the trailhead, I puttered around a bit to bump up my mileage and climbing. The Sidewinder was a nice climb that was entirely rideable on a singlespeed. I didn’t think much of the section of the Apache Wash Loop that I used. I was also less than impressed with the trail manners of some other users.

My totals came out to 24 miles with 1,600 feet of climbing.

Wrapping Up a Good Ride

I had a great time riding these trails. Now that I’m familiar with the lay of the land, I can get even more fun out of my next visit.

If you haven’t ridden at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve yet, get out there. You’re certain to have fun. If you consider anything less than 25 miles too short, definitely put in some time on the Sidewinder after you’ve gotten your fill of what’s on the south side.

5 Important Types of Bike Accessories for New Cyclists

Bike Accessories You Need Today

At a Glance

Bike accessories can be just as important as the shiny new bike you’re buying. Here’s a quick breakdown of the categories we’ll cover. Keep scrolling for all the details!

–Stuff to Wear When You Ride
–Hydration Supplies and On-Bike Storage
–You Break It, You Fix It
–Electronics and Safety Gear
–Other Bike Accessories You Might Need

You’ve spent tons of time test riding bikes, asking questions, reading and generally obsessing over getting your first good bike. You’re ready to make your decision and you’re glad that’s all over.

Except it’s not.

There’s more to getting into cycling than just buying your bike. There’s a wealth of other stuff you need. And not just gear — knowledge, too.

Let’s talk about what bike accessories you need to be thinking about as you head to the bike shop ready to swipe that credit card.

Stuff to Wear When You Ride

I can’t even fathom getting on my bike with street clothes. Even for a short ride, I’m still wearing at a minimum:

Some sort of bike shorts, though I’ll often opt for casual baggy ones on short rides — I’m used to wearing something with a chamois (that’s the butt pad you see that separates stretchy shorts from bike shorts).

A chamois is the difference between bike shorts and stretchy pants.

A helmet — I don’t ride anywhere without one. It’s not just good for protecting you in a fall — it also keeps the sun off your head and protects you from branches, bees and all sorts of other stuff that can whack you. I’m serious about bees; you wouldn’t believe how many bees have donked off my helmet.
Gloves — Indispensable. One fall without them will convince you. Smart people won’t need that fall to convince them.
Eye protection — You probably have sunglasses. You’re good to go.

bike accessories
A good pair of sunglasses are necessary for riding.

These are some optional items:

A jersey — Not necessary. You can get by in a sweat-wicking t-shirt. A good jersey can be awesome, especially since many of them have pockets in the back that come in handy. If you decide to wear jerseys, get good ones.
Bike shoes — These are a must for people using clipless pedals. If you’re sticking with flats, I still advise avoiding shoes that are super-floppy. Something with a stiff sole works better. If you’re determined to use clipless pedals, buy good shoes. My Sidi shoes typically last 10 years. I seldom got more than a year out of other shoes. If you’re going to ride flats, I can’t offer any good advice.
Bike socks — I like them. They fit in my shoes better than my regular socks. But I could do without them in a bike apocalypse.

bike accessories
A stash of bike accessories in a serious cycling household. And this is just some of it! NOTE: The pink mini-miner’s helmet is not approved for cycling.

Hydration Supplies and On-Bike Storage

These two types of bike accessories go hand-in-hand, and I’ll show you what I mean.

On all of my rides, I carry water bottles filled with electrolyte mix. On certain mountain bike rides, I’ll also use a Camelbak — this is especially true of night rides when I might carry a spare battery.

I avoid the Camelbak since it’s a vector for sweat and weight. I suppose I could use a hydration pack for electrolytes, which I used to do — but I let it in my car with a little leftover electrolyte mix too many times and wound up with a gross science experiment in there. And it wasn’t fun to clean out.

The Camelbak helps when I know there’s no place to refill my bottles.

bike acceesories
My Lynskey Urbano sporting both a BeerBabe bag on the top tube and a Topeak saddlebag. Awesome, helpful products.

But I also need to carry stuff with me — food, tools, etc. That means I need some form of bike storage when I don’t use the Camelbak. My go-to method is a Topeak saddlebag. For really long rides, I’ll add a BeerBabe bag right behind my stem along the top tube. This bag is awesome for races when I want quick access to food without fooling around. It saves several minutes, for sure.

For bottles, I use insulated Camelbak bottles. I haven’t yet found the perfect water bottle cage. I break ‘em regularly.

You Break It, You Fix It

I carry a pretty solid arsenal of bike-fixing tools on every ride. I’ve saved myself a few times … and saved other people on more than a few occasions.

Here’s my complete loadout of my bike accessories for handling repairs:

One pump — Self-explanatory, right?
One Innovations in Cycling Bacon Strips kit — I roll with tubeless tires, so this is how I fix the bigger holes. I also love its built-in valve core remover, as well as the spare valves contained within.
One Stan’s Dart — Another method of fixing flats. Mostly for races since it’s the fastest way to fix them.
Multi-tool with allen wrenches, screwdrivers, etc.– I have multiple brands I’ve collected over the years.
Chainbreaker — I also carry a specific chain tool, even though many multitools include them. I find the dedicated type easier to use.
2 Pedro’s tire levers — If I need to use these, I’m having a bad day. If I don’t have them and need them, I’m going to have an even worse day.
1 Small bottle of Stan’s Sealant — Another potential ride saver for those who ride with tubeless tires.

No, not THAT kind of pump!

If your bike uses tubes instead of tubeless tires, you should always carry a patch kit.

It should go without saying that all of this stuff is useless if you don’t know how to use it. The good news: YouTube can demystify quite a bit of this for you. Spend some quality time checking out videos and practicing what you learn before you need to do it on the trail. Still stumped? Get advice from your local shop or other riders.

Electronics and Safety Gear

bike accessories
A bell, Cycliq Fly12 light/camera combo and GPS computer.

If you’d told me back in 1996 how much electronic shit would be on my bike in 2021, I wouldn’t have believed you. Here’s what I’ve got:

A GPS computer — Brilliant for tracking miles. Connect it to Strava for all sorts of great data about your progress, speed, calories burned. Hook it up to Trailforks for more fun. The possibilities are endless. I hate riding without it.
A Cycliq Fly12 light/camera combo — This is expensive, but invaluable for road rides. It actually makes drivers behave differently around me.
Tail Light — Also handy for riding in traffic. I don’t need it as much for the mountain bike unless I’m riding at night.
A bell — This sounds irredeemably dorky. But it’s super-handy for both road rides and mountain biking. It’s a friendlier way to warn people than shouting at them. It’s also a nice “how’s it going?” signal to other cyclists.

I also use a heart rate monitor. But that’s hardly necessary unless you’re training and racing.

Other Bike Accessories You Might Need

bike accessories

There’s a good chance you’ll need a rack for transporting your bike on your car. Great news: I have a nice little guide all about that.

You should also ride with food. I mentioned electrolytes earlier. The hotter your climate, the more important electrolytes are. Even if you’re a casual rider, why make life any harder than it needs to be?

As for actual food, experiment. See what carries well and feels good during a ride.

How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike – 2021

How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike at a Glance

  • Try Rental Bikes
  • Get Familiar With Geometry
  • Think About Frame Material
  • Don’t Obsess About Parts
  • Considerations with Buying Direct
  • Pick the Right Bike Shop

One of my co-workers is looking for a new bike, and he asked me for some pointers about how to buy a full-suspension bike. He just moved to a neighborhood near some nice, rough, rocky singletrack – and he wants something more modern and well-equipped than his 10-year-old Diamondback hardtail.

So what should he look at?

I have some ideas. And I know exactly what you’re thinking — “Is he gonna mention my favorite brand?!”

I might. Before I mention brands, though, we’re going to talk about features. Look, I know a lot of us are very brand-focused. I am, too, but in the opposite direction of most (I avoid the Big Three – Specialized, Trek and Giant).

I’m going to start this off with a features-first, brand-agnostic look at what I’d look for in a good full-suspension bike. This is based on my personal preferences and experiences – your mileage may vary.

This is also intended for newer riders. If you’ve been around awhile, you probably have your own preferences. My intent here is to give less-experienced riders a look at my decision process and let them grab some ideas from it.

How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike

Try a Few Rental Bikes

how to buy a full-suspension bike
I learned a lot from riding this 2X10 26.5 bike in New Zealand.

A test ride in a bike shop’s parking lot won’t tell you much. Putting in a few hours on your home trail, though, is invaluable. Heck, even riding somewhere unfamiliar is educational.

I realize that spending a few hundred on rentals sounds harsh. But you’ll get real education for how the bike and you perform together.

Also, some bike shops might have free demos. Still others may apply your rental fee to a purchase if you buy from them.

About this Modern Geometry …

This is tough to define. In the last few years, mountain bike stems have gotten way shorter, and the angles of their head tubes have gotten much slacker. The seat tubes also seem to be getting less slack. It can make for some funny-looking bikes.

I haven’t tried this new generation, but riders I trust tell me that these changes to frame geometry have made their bikes more fun.

UPDATE March 21: I got a chance to try a Rocky Mountain trail bike recently with “progressive” geometry. With its short stem and wide handlebar, the steering was very responsive. I am still not 100-percent convinced it’s the be-all, end-all solution to mountain bike geometry. But there were a lot of other variables compared to the bikes I’m used to riding — like nearly 10 extra pounds of weight and way more travel than I’m used to. I still need to try progressive geometry on a bike more like mine.

Anyway, if you see a stem longer than 80mm on the front of a bike (maybe even 60 or 50!) that interests you, you might have the wrong bike if you’re after progressive geometry.

One more thing: There are a bunch of types of full-suspension bikes, starting wth cross-country bikes (shortest travel) to downhill bikes (longest travel). Down country, trail and enduro bikes wedged between them in order of travel. This can get confusing, RIGHT?

I Prefer Aluminum Frames

I know carbon fiber is cool. Bike shops tout it as lighter and all-around more awesome.

It’s also more expensive, which means you’ll have trade-offs. Compared to an aluminum-framed bike, you’ll get lower levels of components (drivetrain, wheels and suspension forks being the most-important and likely to affect performance). I’d put some extra money toward a nice wheelset from November Bicycles.

I also don’t like the idea of rocks and other trail detritus plonking off of a carbon frame. All those impacts can add up and weaken the frame. If you don’t think this is a problem, just take a look at all the frame protection stuff coming on carbon mountain bikes, especially on chainstays and downtubes. Those are there for a reason.

On the plus side for carbon (aside from weight), it seems like carbon frames can be shaped to maximize space for stuff like extra water bottles (more on that in a moment).

What About Water Bottles?

Look, I know just about everyone mountain bikes with a hydration pack. But believe me, the water bottle is not dead.

I live in the desert, and I do long rides. I sweat electrolytes out like crazy. If I don’t replace them during a ride, I will be the mayor of Cramp City.

how to buy a full-suspension bike
The Orbea Oiz is smartly designed with two water bottle bosses. Notice the built-in chainstay protection because “carbon.”

Also, putting electrolytes into your hydration pack is iffy. You will at some point forget about it after a ride, leave it in your car and then grow an absolutely hideous colony of funk in there. No bueno.

Here’s another reason I insist on two water bottles: When I race, I don’t want to use a hydration pack. When I do something like the Fat Tire 40, I want to be able to keep the weight down, while also not dying of thirst. Two water bottles are enough to get me through with the electrolytes and fluid that I need, as long as there are aid stations where I can refill.

No Creaking Bottom Brackets

I do almost all of my own bike maintenance. That means I want stuff that works well. Let’s start with the humble bottom bracket – that thing that your cranks are attached to.

There are way too many ways to stuff a bottom bracket into a frame. My favorite is the threaded bottom bracket shell. It’s low-maintenance and relatively fuss free.

The other popular alternative for full-suspension mountain bikes is the Pressfit bottom bracket. The Google machine has numerous stories of woe about these, as do shop mechanics.

29er or 26.5 Wheels?

For me, 29ers are the right choice. Not because there’s a huge difference between the two. It’s just that I have a 29er singlespeed, and I’m all for maximizing the commonality of spare parts – which is another good reason for the threaded bottom bracket, as well.

how to buy a full-suspension bike
A KTM Lycan – a bike I’d never get to ride in the US.

But if this is your first “good bike” or the first one in awhile, try them both. Or grab whichever one is a better deal.

I’ve ridden and am fine with either one.

On the other hand, I would never own a bike with 26.5+ wheels. They are ridiculous if you plan to do any climbing. I also don’t like the way they turn. They’re solid going downhill in a straight line.

What about a Dropper Seat Post?

It will make riding in difficult terrain easier, for sure. If you need to save a few clams, go without one. Buy a better one later, preferably from the shop that’s best at helping you out.

Don’t Get Hung Up on Parts

A lot of newer riders get caught up on the parts – especially derailleurs. But drivetrain parts, stems, handlebars and seatposts are easy to change.

Don’t lose sight of the frame, fork and wheels/tires. Those are the bits that really make your bike. I’d rather have a killer frame and fork with mediocre components than a stellar drivetrain on a crap frame and fork.

Keep in mind, Rock Shox makes everything from high-end to low-end. I wouldn’t go any lower than a Rock Shox Recon. Marzocchi and Fox don’t have anything crappy. I’ve had good luck with X-Fusion, too I rarely see Manitou, so I have nothing to say about them.

Who Puts This All in One Full-Suspension Bike?

Based on what I have here, Salsa would rocket to the top of my lists. Their Spearfish and Horsethief bikes check every box. They are also reasonably priced, starting at $2649 for a complete bike. If they had a frame-option for aluminum frames, I’d grab one and start building. Alas, they only offer carbon frames without parts on ‘em.

There are more-expensive options that at least meet the two-bottle rule: The Specialized Epic, the KTM Scarp, a few different models from Santa Cruz and Rocky Mountain. The Orbea Oiz. Also the Canyon Lux, Cannondale Scalpel and the Fezzari Signal Peak.

This old-ass bike had two places to put a bottle.

These are all good bikes. Some, though, are carbon.

A lot of you can disregard my “two water bottles” obsession. I realize it’s a weird personal quirk. You could argue the same about carbon fiber. I tend to keep bikes longer than most people — if you do, too, maybe you’re nodding in agreement.

If you’re going to ignore me about the water bottles, I recommend a look at Marin. They make some super well-equipped bikes for the money. Also, they’re not a direct-to-customer brand. That means you can see one before you buy. I haven’t seen them as rentals, which is a bummer.

But at least you can buy from a local shop and get the support and service you need.

Direct-to-Customer versus Local Bike Shop

I honestly don’t need much shop support. That said, I like to do what I can to support my local shops. They’re important and helpful.

The industry is moving more toward direct-to-consumer, and I’m starting to see hybrids. For example, I can order parts online through the web portals of some stores. They get credit for the sale, and I just need to either pick them up or have them delivered. I like that.

I’m not sure how you’ll be treated if you show up at the local shop needing help for your Canyon, Framed or Fezzari. Old habits die hard in the bike shop, which is part of the reason so many of them fail. A customer is a customer — and not every customer is going to like the bikes a shop offers. They need to do a better job of understanding this, and some are coming around.

That reminds me …

Buy the Shop, Not Just the Full-Suspension Bike

I recommend giving your money to people you actually like. If the shop staff isn’t friendly and excited to get you into the sport further, find a different shop.

Getting the right shop might be the most important part of how to buy a full-suspension bike. Make sure they’ll know how to help you when it’s time to have shocks rebuilt and pivots replaced.

4 Awesome and Random Short Bike Gear Reviews

When I buy new bike stuff, it’s usually because I broke something I already had or I just wore it out. And it generally doesn’t require a thousand words to tell you what I think of it. That’s why I’ve concocted some handy mini-reviews of bike stuff I’ve had to get lately.

Here we go!

SIDI Dragon Mountain Bike Shoes

Just a few days before the Frenzy Hills 50-mile race in Fountain Hills, my damn bike shoes were having a hard time sticking to my Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals.

That’s because the cleats were worn beyond any reasonable belief. I also started taking a close look at the shoes themselves. And I was like “holy shit, these are worn to nothing.” I also shook my head at Sidi, thinking about how they don’t make them like they used to. I mean, it felt like I just got these a few years ago.

bike gear reviews
Old Sidi let, new Sidi right

Then I thought a little more, and discovered a photo of myself racing in this same pair of Sidi Dominator 4 shoes more than 10 years ago. I hung my head in shame for allowing any dark thoughts about Sidi to cross my mind.

I dutifully trooped over to Bicycle Haus, where I knew I could get new Sidis. The owner strong-armed me into a $400 pair of Sidi Dragon 5 shoes — in black, because it would take too long to get the red ones I craved.

The Dragons have a weird highfalutin sort of clasp with delicate-looking wire things. I quickly figured out how to work everything, and the rather stiff top of the tongue (that sounds terrible) broke in nicely.

The Dragons have a nice stiff sole, replaceable treads and a nice fit. All is right with the world.

And yes, I also got new cleats.


Bontrager Circuit MIPS Helmet

During a nice nearly 30-mile ride on my singlespeed, I was burning back toward the trailhead. This was on by far the easiest trail of the day. My stomach was a-growlin’, and I was thinking about where I’d stop for some post-ride food.

This helmet did its job for me.

That’s when I drifted too wide in a corner. My front wheel washed upon entering a heap of loose pebbles. I nearly recovered, but it was not to be.

I was cookin’ when I lost it, so the results of this crash were: a gnarly flap of skin peeled of my left thumb complements of my Shimano SLX brake lever clamp; a knock on my left shin; trail rash and bruising on my right upper arm and shoulder; a bloodied-up right knee; and a good knock on the head that left visible signs on both helmet and head.

That’s right — five major body parts … a type of crash I will now refer to as a “starfish.”

My budget-priced Kali helmet laid down its life for me. I bought another Kali on Amazon using a gift card. When it arrived, it was way too small despite being marked as the same size as my old one. I returned it and went to a local shop to get the helmet I actually craved: the Bontrager Circuit MIPS.

The magnetic mounts on the Bontrager Circuit MIPS helmet are sweet!

I wanted this one because of its Blendr magnetic mounts for lights and cameras. Yes, it’s also a comfortable helmet with a great adjustment system. But I wanted a more-secure accessory mount after my light got ejected (from a different Kali helmet) just minutes into the first lap of the Aravaipa Jangover ride.

I tested it on one ride with my Ofi OneFive camera on it, and it started to ride a little low on my forehead. I think wearing a headband under the helmet might lock it in a little better. Watch this space for more updates on the Bontrager Circuit MIPS.


bike gear reviews

Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages

I rarely spend any time riding at Trail 100 in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. One day, I corrected that by heading out to the far-west side of it.

During that right, I broke one of my Planet Bike mountain bike cages. That was the second one I killed — the last one was during the Prescott 6er race.

I really wanted some Wolf Tooth cages because those things look like they mean business. But they were sold out everywhere. I found that Spartan Rides AZ had a cage that might be worthwhile, so I plunked down for a few of the Supacaz Fly cages they sold.

Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages
There are way better bottle cages out there than the Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages.

After two months, I am not thrilled about these cages. They’re made from a thin aluminum that flexes and widens after a few rides. I’ve caught my bottles on the edge of being ejected more than a few times. I cannot recommend these for any reason unless they’re going on a road bike.

UPDATE (March27, 2021): And I completely broke the cage on the seat tube. Great.


bike gear reviews

Boie Body Scrubber

I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, this isn’t a bike product! This is something for taking showers!”

That’s where you’re wrong. Getting clean after a ride is vitally important. You NEED to have something to scrub the muck away.
I ordered this Boie Body Scrubber hoping for something moderately abrasive, yet also easy to clean and re-use.

Unfortunately, this soft silicon scrubber simply doesn’t have the grit I need for regular showering. It also does a miserable job of producing suds.

But here’s what the Boie Body Scrubber is absolutely stellar at: cleaning out cuts and abrasions from those moment when your speed outstrips your skills.

boie body scrubber
Days like this are when you need the Boie Body Scrubber.

After the crash mentioned a few mini-reviews ago, I had a mix of open cuts, scrapes, blood, leg hair and dirt all over my knee. The Boie Body Scrubber did a perfect job of gently cleaning everything out without making my blubber like a toddler.


For normal showering

bike gear reviews

For cleaning out groady scrapes and cuts

Wrapping up the Mini Bike Gear Reviews

I’m not surprised that the Sidi Dragon 5 shoes were awesome. What DID surprise me, though, is how crappy something simple as a bottle cage can be. Huge disappointment from these.

And here’s a thought: If you’re testing something new and want to say a few words without writing “Moby Dick,” I’m more than happy to interview you to get your thoughts to add to this post of mini bike gear reviews. Hit me up!

Thinking About Buying a Bike in 2021?

Here’s a handy roundup of advice for people buying a bike in 2021. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Hybrid Bikes
  • Gravel Bikes
  • Mountain Bikes
  • Random Thoughts

This post is inspired by a message from one of my high school friends:

“Any advice on buying a bike? I haven’t ridden since freshman year of college. I’m just looking for something casual (like 2-3 times a month) that I can ride on suburban streets but also dirt roads/trails (but not crazy off-road mountain biking). I’ve heard of gravel bike or hybrid bikes.”

The person asking this question mentioned the Co-Op Cycles DRT 2.2, which goes for about $1,800, as a possibility.

I figured he’s not the only person considering buying a bike in 2021. So rather than dump all my thoughts into email or FB messenger, I’ll just turn it into a blog post to help out anyone else facing a similar situation.

NOTE: If you’re dead-set on buying a full-suspension bike in 2021 or 2022, read this post, too. It gets way more into that type of bike.

Are Hybrid Bikes Any Good?

Let’s tackle the hybrid question first. Hybrids as we knew them aren’t as big a slice of the market anymore. They were the wimpy offspring of a road bike with skinny 700c tires, swept-up handlebars, a short wheelbase and a very upright seating position.

I hated them during my bike shop days. Now in 2021, bikes like the Kona Dew with their 26.5/650B wheels, disc brakes and more-maneuverable geometry have totally crushed that same corner of the market: the person who mostly rides city streets, but also wants to hit unpaved paths. With a change of tires, the Dew and other bikes like it will let you ride some trails without killing you (keep in mind it doesn’t have a suspension fork). I like the Dew so much that my brother and I pitched in to buy one for our dad – he absolutely loves the thing.

I suppose there are probably some 1990s-style hybrid bikes out there. But they’re really not good for anything.

What About this Gravel Bike Thing?

I’ve already written about gravel bikes extensively. Still, I see a split in this category between hardcore off-road only gravel bikes and the “road plus” or “all-road” category, which is how I’ve built my Lynskey Urbano.

Either way you slice it, I love gravel or all-road or whatever. They are super-stable on the street next to a road bike. They’re in their element on unpaved paths. And in the right hands, they can chew up singletrack mountain bike trails. (I don’t consider myself the right hands — I still prefer a mountain bike for that sort of riding.)

buying a bike in 2021
Gravel bikes are pretty awesome for so many reasons.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone who hasn’t really ridden in 20 years to get on a gravel bike to go forth and shred the singletrack, though. That is best left to experienced roadies or mountain bikers who have their handling skills down pat.

Gravel Bike Recommendations

So for my friend here, I’m gonna say that a gravel bike is great as long as he really has no intention of hitting real mountain bike trails. With that said, I’d recommend the State Bicycle Co All-Road Black Label.

The standout specs to me are the 1X chainring setup, carbon fork, tubeless wheelset and excellent Vittoria tires. I’m pretty sure the shifters and derailleurs are made by Microshift. So it’s serviceable more than spectacular.

Still, it’s a lot of bike for the money. A lot.

A few hundred more bucks brings the All-City Cycles Space Horse Tiagra into the frame. (Tiagra, by the way, is the grade of Shimano components on the Space Horse, which is available in various build options. Tiagra is a lower-end Shimano group but still solid – the next levels up are 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace. Below Tiagra from low to high are Claris and Sora. The gravel-specific GRX group exists in three flavors: RX400, RX600 and RX800. Which sounds a bit like a weird pharmacy, but whatever. )

I love the steel frame on the Space Horse — a lot of old bike dudes love the ride of steel, plus the durability. As a brand, All-City Cycles also oozes personality. Their bike just look f-in’ cool. One concern I have about All-City Cycles is that they can be hard to find at a local bike shop. Many bike shops can get them, but it’s unusual to see them on the showroom floor.

What if I Want a Mountain Bike?

If my friend decides to go for a mountain bike, I will always say that if you’re spending less than $2,000, you should buy a hardtail. Avoid rear suspension below that point!

I also favor telling less-experienced riders to go with a mountain bike. Yes, they’re not as fast on city streets. But the maneuvering and fit is more-forgiving than a gravel bike.

What I’d look for in this price range is a Shimano Deore build kit. I’d avoid SRAM’s SX group. The general consensus on SX is “plasticy shite.” SRAM’s mountain bike component levels start pretty much at SX, then NX, then GX and then into fancy stuff with so many Xs you’d swear they were shooting porn.

Shimano’s minimum level of competence starts at Deore (which is actually fantastic stuff for the $$$) and progresses to SLX, XT and XTR. Alivio is below them all. Avoid it.

Fork-wise, you’re really not going to get anything great here — a Rock Shox Recon is the best you can hope for. The Recon isn’t actually bad, though.

When it comes to getting a lot of mountain bike for the money, the brands that are my top-of-mind for me are Salsa, Kona and Marin. They not only offer good value, but they seem to be plugged into what’s going on with modern geometry. They’re also relatively easy to find at local bike shops, which is important.

One concern: Every bike in the price range seems to come with tires that are a minimum of 2.4 inches wide, with some non-plus sizes going to 2.6. I typically ride a 2.3 (usually something like a Continental X King). When those tires wear out, I’d opt for something less chubby.

So what bikes have this?

The Salsa Timberjack was the first one to come to mind. It seems Salsa no longer has a Deore version of the T-Jack, just the upper-level SLX and XT stuff. One of the reasons I like the T-Jack for my friend is that it has mounts for EVERYTHING. This guy is a hiker – I could see him getting bit by the bikepacking bug, and Salsa had exactly these kinds of shenanigans in mind when they created the ‘Jack.

buying a bike in 2021

Now here’s an outlier: If my friend wants to keep it casual, maybe he doesn’t even need gears at all. Maybe he needs an overgrown BMX bike like the Kona Unit.

A singlespeed can do a lot. You can use it for coffeeshop runs … or you can race the hell out of it like I do with my Domahidy.

Plus, if he hates it, he can revel in using all the dick puns in his Craigslist ad.

But I’d predict that nobody can hate a singlespeed. They are versatile, capable and low-maintenance. I’ll also add that Kona has a knack for frame design and geometry. The Unit is also so cheap that he can slap a good suspension fork in it the very day he buys it — he might even be able to swing a good deal on that upgrade since he’s buying a bike, too. Can you imagine that bike with a new-generation Marzocchi fork on it?

I really wish State Bicycle Co. still offered their Pulsar model. That 29er would’ve been PERFECT for my friend.

What About the Co-Op DRT 2.2?

The Co-Op bike mentioned earlier doesn’t do much for me. I’ve not enjoyed riding a 26.5+ wheel/tire size at all. Those huge-volume tires can smoothly roll over a lot of stuff, but they are serious work to pedal. They also don’t like changing directions with near the agility of a non-plus tire. The components are decent SRAM NX stuff with Shimano brakes — an astute pairing. I’ve never had a problem with SRAM shifting, but I’ve never loved their disc brakes. I’ve always preferred the feel of Shimano disc brakes.

Going with Co-Op also men’s that REI is going to be your bike shop, which doesn’t sit well with me. Aside from a few flagship stores, the accessories and parts sold at most REI stores are substandard. You’re also going to find better mechanics at specialty bike shops. REI does sell Salsa at some of its stores. Again, though, REI just isn’t outstanding at bike stuff.

Random Observations

I’m not recommending “direct-to-customer” brands in this case. A new rider is going to wind up needed shop support. For best results, I recommend buying local from a shop that makes you feel welcome. You’re buying the shop just as much as you’re buying the bike.

It’s also important to budget for other stuff: hydration (pack, water bottles/cages or both), bike shorts, tools, etc. This can get in-depth, so I won’t cover to many of those variables here. I might actually have to do a “shit every new rider needs” sort of post.

What About the Big Brands?

You’ll also notice that I didn’t mention the big brands like Specialized, Trek, Giant or Cannondale here.

To me, they don’t offer near the bike for the money that these other brands do. Aside from the brands I’ve mentioned in this post, I’d also look at Marin, who has lately proven they know how to offer some real value.

Not only do I find the big guys a lesser value, I also just find them boring. As one of my friends observed long ago, a bike is like your personal X-Wing fighter. Go with something that offers some panache and individuality — and maybe support a company that has some spirit.

buying a bike in 2021
If you’re going used, be sure to get a second or third opinion.

The Used Bike Question

Buying used can get you some extra bike for the money. At least, most of the time. The bike industry is going through some serious supply chain issues right now, and used bike prices are higher than you might expect.

Also, buying used is a tricky proposition for someone who hasn’t spent a long time working on their own bikes. If you’re considering this route, it’s best to have a friend who’s a serious bike nut to help. This is also a good time to plug for a singlespeed — they just have fewer vectors for serious problems.

Final Thoughts on Buying a Bike in 2021

I’ve done the bike advice dance many times before. My friend probably didn’t expect this much of an info dump, and it will probably spawn follow-up questions. I’ll update here as the conversation evolves.

Knowing what I do at this moment, though, the bike I recommend is the Salsa Timberjack. It’s an excellent value from a reputable brand. The State gravel bike is a great value, but the handling qualities of a gravel bike present a steeper learning curve than a mountain bike like the ‘Jack.

Also to come in a future post — another buddy asked me about buying a full-suspension mountain bike. So we’ll break that down in the future.

Recap: Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

Mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains near Phoenix is, for me, a lot like eating at one of the ubiquitous fast-food joints with “berto’s” in their name. A few years will go by and I’ll think “hey, why don’t I ever go to Filiberto’s/Aliberto’s/Philbertberto’s?”

Then I get myself berto’s quesadilla or carne asada burrito. Hours later, I’m on the toilet regretting every decision I ever made in my life.

So it is with Estrella Mountain Regional Park, which is about 30 minutes from my house. Drive another 10 minutes or so, and I’m at the fabulously fun Fantasy Island North Singletrack. That network is a bit compact, so any decently long ride will wind up repeating plenty of segments.

That’s what convinced me to return to Estrella.

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
This map kind of sucks.

My History of Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

I first rode the Estrella Mountains back in about 1996, in the beginner racing class of the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona series. I remembered it was a pretty fun ride, but not one of the best around. That’s even less true now as the newer, better trail networks have popped up.

I visited the Estrellas a few more times between then and now, including a visit to the Competitive Track, which doesn’t get much love and doesn’t really deserve any. Unless you like sand.

Oddly enough, I didn’t recognize anything at all during my latest ride. It’s like all the trails I rode back in the day have been erased.

Relive ‘Accidentally Epic in the Estrellas’

Estrella Can’t Compare to McDowell Mountain

Estrella Mountain Regional Park and McDowell Mountain Regional Park are both owned and administered by Maricopa County. McDowell is a great example of outstanding mountain bike trails that have something for everyone.

Estrella is … an example of what happens when sadomasochistic dentists get into trail building.

I took the Rainbow Valley Trail (and I use that word loosely) until it met the Toothaker (yes, that’s the correct spelling) Trail. The early portions of Rainbow Valley were alright. At some point, they got steep and loose, with copious amounts of rubble making it hard to get any traction. These trails will involve some bike pushing, especially if you dig singlespeeds.

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
Way too much of the Rainbow Valley Trail looks like this.

I also spent a lot of time on the Gadsden Trail, which is fairly decent. It features some sandy bits, especially when it drops in and out of washes.

My major takeaway, though, is that the Pedersen Trail that connects with what appears to be some social trails over the park’s west border is the way to go.

The social trails appear to be built by the local developers rather than any sort of government entity. Had I more time and fluids, I would’ve scouted that area more to find some better mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains.

My Plan for future Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

Next time, I probably won’t park at Estrella Mountain Regional Park. While the bathrooms are great, the water fountains were too weak to top off my bottles. So there’s no advantage to paying $7 to park there.

Also, the printed trail maps were not a huge help. It seems there are plenty of spurs that don’t feature on the map, which makes navigating hard. I think it would also be wise for Estrella to have a main named loop, and use it as a reference on signage (ie, This Way to the X Loop).

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
Here’s what I could get out of Trailforks after uploading a trail log.

I also lost a few miles to a sign pointing me to a parking lot. I whizzed by too fast to notice that it was the Comp Track parking lot rather than the main parking lot.

Next time, I’ll probably go further into the maze of red tile roofs to try accessing the trails on the west side to go mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains.

One Other Complaint – But About

A pox upon Until recently, Trailforks would let you scout and plan rides just about anywhere.

Sure enough, they hopped on the “pay up” bandwagon right after Strava did.

I have no problem paying for good help. I think, though, that Trailforks isn’t a good value at $36 a year for global trail info.

I would happily buy my state’s info for $10 a year, and if they had an option to buy certain areas for a limited time, I’d be thrilled. For example, if I’m going to New Zealand for a few weeks and want to plan my rides, I’d shell out some $$$ in a second for limited access to that info when I need it.

This is why Trailforks was on my mind: I couldn’t plan my ride, and I also couldn’t use the app to see where I was during the ride. Trailforks gives users a free area – anything not in that area is grayed out on the app.

So if you’re lost during a ride, don’t count on Trailforks to help.

They also say you can change your free area once. I looked up the directions, and it mentions features that don’t appear on my app or in the online version.

The Black Shorts: The Review That Reveals All

The Black Shorts: The Review That Reveals All

Looking for a budget pair of cycling shorts? So was I. Here are some early thoughts on the Black Shorts brought to you by the Black Bibs people.

Black Shorts At a Glance

  • Decent price of $40.
  • The chamois reminds me of an old pair of Castellis I had 15 years ago.
  • The Black Shorts seem a bit itchy at first, with a more relaxed fit than my Assos and Bontrager shorts.
  • The first ride was OK, some chafing but nothing terrible. 
  • Time will tell. Watch for updates!

I’ve needed new bike shorts for a long time. Like, months.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve rendered a pair of Louis Garneaus and Primal Wears completely useless. There’s an ancient set of Pearl Izumi shorts around that not even a masochist would ride in, along with a pair of Fox baggies that I just don’t like at all.

So really, I only have two go-to pairs of shorts, which are made by Assos and Bontrager. Both are pricey – about $130 each.

My wife, who also rides and understands the value of good gear, discovered that these are pretty much the only shorts I wear. She low-key lectured me about not having enough shorts and not practicing what I preach about not being a cheapskate.

Enter the Black Shorts, made by the Black Bib people.

Huh? The Black Shorts?

It’s hard for me to buy bike shorts. I hate ordering shorts without seeing them unless they’re a brand I’m familiar with. But COVID has created quite a crunch for anything cycling related. And too many of my local stores focus too much on baggy stuff.

black shorts cheap bike shorts
How much more black could they be? The answer is none. None more black.

I did some online homework to find brands I hadn’t heard of before to see what’s new. I found the Black Shorts in some listicle. I ignored any article that mentioned the crotch-grater horror that is Bellwether (aka Ballwither) or Canari — you’re seriously better off riding in a Borat mankini.

The price seemed worth a shot, so I ordered a pair and waited. A few days later, they were here and ready to ride.

Are the Black Shorts Any Good?

So to a guy who relies on $130 shorts, can a $40 short be any good?

Well, the first impressions are that they’re OK. I’m planning to update this post as I continue riding the Black Shorts.

But let’s at least give a snapshot of where we are right now.

First, Here’s How I Ride

I split my time between an all-road bike and a singlespeed mountain bike. I rarely ride less than 30 miles, and I logged more than 3,600 miles in 2020.

I do the occasional long event or race, when COVID isn’t screwing the works up.

In the summer, I’ll use some sort of chamois cream to protect my goolies. Those long road rides and hot weather are a prescription for chapping your choad!

Back in Black Shorts

My first impression of the Black Shorts is that they looked a lot like Castellis I rode about 15 years ago, minus the graphics. That’s not a bad thing.

The chamois appears to be a decent quality, but nothing to stand against my Bontrager or Assos shorts. Definitely better than the Fox chamois, though.

When I put the Black Shorts on for my first ride, the material felt a bit prickly, almost a bit wooly. The sensation went away after a few moments, fortunately (I really, really, really hate wool).

A good pair of bike shorts shouldn’t impede your …

They felt a little less constricting around the meat whistle than my other shorts. The cuffs at the bottom of each leg are smaller, as is the waistband. The overall effect was that their fit is either more relaxed, or the material is stretchier.

My First Ride

I figured a quick 30-miler would give me an idea about these shorts.

For the most part of the ride, I forgot about them. That’s a pretty solid vote of confidence if it holds up.

It didn’t.

black shorts cheap bike shorts
The all-red chamois is the Black Shorts. Pink is Assos, gray and red is Bontrager.

By the end of the 30 miles, my undercarriage felt a bit more like I’d ridden at least 60 miles. There were definitely some abrasions forming, especially on the left side right where the leg turns into the crotch.

I also noticed that, when I first put the Black Shorts on, the chamois was much less flexible than the ones in my other shorts. There seemed to be a ridge right along the center that was a bit proctological for my tastes.

I still think these are a better low-budget short that many. I’m going to keep trying these, both with and without chamois cream to see how they hold up.

I’ll be back with my evaluation of whether YOU should buy the Black Shorts.

Forget the Tesla Killer. Which Electric SUVs are a Subaru Killer?

The current bunch of new and soon-to-be released electric SUVs are a weird crop. They look like SUVs, sure. But are they really just 21st Century station wagons?

When it comes to compact SUVs, I think of the Subaru Forester as a great example with plenty of internal space, plus the capability for moderate off-roading (if you prefer competing models from Toyota, Honda or Mazda, great — those are good for gasmobiles, too). I don’t see the same degree of capability from the electric compact SUVs that are on the market or coming soon.

This is a major miss, especially as it relates to Subaru.

You’ve probably heard that Subaru owners are a bit like cult members. But the brand’s hold over its flock is wavering. It’s badly misread its buyers, who largely skew toward environmental causes. Subaru is losing big points in its crowd by dragging its heels on electrification. This is largely based on my own conversations with other Subaru owners.

Add the lukewarm Continuous Variable Transmission to the equation, and the Forester looks particularly vulnerable to a similarly-featured electric SUV.

So why can’t any of the coming SUVs steal a huge chunk of Subaru Forester buyers?

Electric SUVs Need More Utility

They simply don’t have enough utility. Oh, they have sport-aplenty, which is all the press can babble about while overlooking utility at every turn. All the current and coming electric SUVs will demolish a Forester in performance — and in efficiency, too, because that’s just the nature of electric motors versus gas motors.

electric SUVs
I wonder how much the sloping roof on the Tesla Model Y cuts into the specs on its interior space versus a more traditional roof.

The lack of utility comes down to two important specs. The Forester, for all of its gas-powered flaws, is simply way better in these two areas: ground clearance and cargo space.

Ground Clearance is Critical to Beat The Subaru Forester

Look, a stock Subaru Forester is hardly a rock crawler. But it has a decent 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

How do the electric SUVs stack up? Poorly, with one exception.

  • Nissan Ariya: Not Available
  • VW ID4: 8.26 inches (this beats my 2006 Forester, which had 8.1 inches)
  • Model Y: 6.6 Inches
  • Ford Mach E: 5.7 inches

The Ford Mach E is by far the most putrid in the clearance department, with the VW ID4 coming in the closest to respectable.

Electric SUVs
The Ford Mach E lags in interior space and ground clearance. Kevauto, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

When I go camping or just bouncing around the backroads, ground clearance matters. Nobody wants to beat up their undercarriage.

I’ll grant you that most Subaru owners probably don’t beat up on their vehicles as much as they’d like to. But it’s good to know they can handle it should the need arise.

Cargo Space Also Lags

I have a family of three. We do our camping in a 2017 Subaru Forester. It’s the latest in a line of Subaru vehicles for us, and it will likely be our last.

For now, my electric Toyota RAV4 handles all of our in-city family outings, with the Forester handling road trips. The RAV4 is actually laid out better internally, with rear seats the move fore and aft independently.

electric SUVs
Electric SUVs NEED to be able to do what this 2014 electric RAV4 can do.

Still, the Forester gives us about 76 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats folded down, and nearly 31 with the seats folded up. That’s by far the leader among the vehicles we’ve mentioned. Here are measurements for the other electric SUVs:

    • Nissan Ariya: 14.9 cubic feet behind the seats, total not listed
    • VW ID4 64.2, cubic feet with the seats folded down, 30.3. Behind the seats
    • Model Y: 68 cubic feet (no specs on just the rear cargo area, and I’m not sure whether this figure includes the frunk)
    • Ford Mach E: 54.7 cubic feet with the seats folded down.

Again, the Mach E stinks the place up. It’s like Ford isn’t even aiming to make this a useful electric car. The Model Y appears to come in a close second, but it would be nice to definitively answer the question about the frunk.

It’s also worth noting that these interior room specs are for all-wheel-drive versions of each model. For some reason, the feature eats into interior space.

Final Thoughts on an Electric Subaru Killer

Ford, VW and Tesla all have the tools to fire a serious broadside at the Subaru family of vehicles. They offer decent alternatives to maybe the Crosstrek, but the Forester and Outback offer utility that this bunch of electric SUVs just can’t match.

Why? Maybe they were gunning for efficiency.

It’s possible to solve the interior space issues by using a roof- or hitch-mounted cargo box. Sure, that adds some drag.

Unfortunately, the lack of ground clearance doesn’t seem as easy of a fix. These vehicles don’t look they’d readily accept a larger tire to improve ground clearance.

How to Safely Transport Bikes on a Car

How to Safely Transport Bikes on a Car:

At a Glance

Here are the main ways to transport bikes safely on a car. This article will break them down in greater depth.

  • Hitch-Mount Racks
  • Roof-Mounted Bike Racks
  • One for the Pickup Drivers
  • For the Trunks and Hatchbacks
  • Going Rackless

When people start getting serious about cycling, the question of how to safely transport bikes on a car inevitably comes up.

Between being a cyclist for more than 20 years and working in a bike shop, you can bet that I’ve seen every method of lugging bikes around in and on cars. Let me tell you, some of them can be truly terrifying — especially the homemade contraptions made out of two-by-fours, carpet and PVC pipe.

So what’s actually the best way to safely transport bikes on cars and trucks? Let’s break them down. [For Context: I race occasionally, and the 6/12-hour formats I prefer often let riders set up a pit area. I like racks that are helpful for this option. I use my rack for cross-country mountain bikes and road/gravel bikes.]

How to Safely Transport Bikes on a Car

Hitch-Mount Bike Racks

If you have a receiver hitch, these racks slide into it nicely. There is a huge spectrum of pricing and features. I can say for certain that the Kuat NV is excellent. I’ve used one for more than 5 years.

I like its integrated cable for locking bikes to the rack; they’re not enough to stop a determined thief, but it makes them more likely to move to an easier target. The Kuat’s integrated bike stand is also very useful for repairs and quick tune-ups (especially at races). Another nice feature — the NV leans forward to get out of the way if you want to open your rear door/tailgate.

It’s a big, substantial rack, though. It can be a handful for smaller people to mount and remove from a vehicle.

People new to hitch mounts might also find some of the swaying a bit unnerving when they’re driving with a bike. The tolerances in a hitch just can’t be tight enough to remove all the sway. That’s just all there is to it. There’s also another issue: Hitch-mounted racks also cut visibility from your vehicle’s backup camera.

But here’s a good sign that hitch-mounted carriers are The Way: Go to your local bike shop. Look at the employees’ cars. You’ll notice that most of them opt for hitch-mounted.

If the Kuat NV is a bit bulky for you, the 1UP line of racks is extremely popular among people who know their stuff.

Roof-Mounted Bike Racks

how to safely transport bikes on a car
Roof-mounted bike carriers are a pile of NOPE.

Roof-mounted racks are not something I ever recommend when people ask me how to safely transport a bicycle on a car. They have absolutely zero redeeming qualities. They’re so bad that I’m going to have to give you a bulleted list.

    • Roof-mounted racks are tough for shorter people. I’m 6’2, so this doesn’t affect me. But I’m a Man of the (Short) People, too. With vehicles seemingly getting bigger all the time, this problem isn’t likely to get any better.
    • These racks are also a prescription for destroying bikes. You would not believe how many times I’ve had someone come in with a crumpled head tube and a sob story that starts with “I was just riding along – can you warranty this defective frame?” As if I wouldn’t notice the paint streaks and woodchips that are the telltale sign of a cyclist/driver pulling into their garage after completely forgetting they had a bike on their car’s roof.
    • The drag from roof-mounted bike racks will put your gas mileage in the shitter. Your bike will also get coated in squashed bugs. There are actually companies that make shields for this, which reeks of treating the symptoms instead of the disease.

I had one of these on my old Jeep, and I’m still thankful I never destroyed any bikes after a day at the races.

One for the Pickup Drivers

Drive a pickup? You can snag a pad that lets you haul your bike in the bed with the front wheel dangling over the tailgate. The pad prevents the bike and the truck from getting all scratched up.

I suppose this is an OK option. You definitely won’t want to linger over your post-ride pizza, of course.

It’s a relatively low-cost option, and it does take advantage of your vehicle’s attributes.

For the Trunks and Hatchbacks

This last option is for the cheapskate, I suppose. Don’t get mad at me — this describes me during my college and post-college years. I ran around with my bike(s) on my Chevy Celebrity station wagon.

I was not able to drive more than 427 feet without nervously looking in my rearview mirror to make sure that the straps hadn’t loosened and dumped my mighty Pro-Flex 855 onto the pavement to get squished by a Peterbilt.

I haven’t used one of these for years. The rack-mount option is just too good, so I’m not inclined to jack around with this. If you’re hauling cheap bikes, fine. But if your bike is at least as much as a good down payment on your vehicle, opt for something better. Hmmm, I better check my math – my Pro-Flex probably was nearly as much as my Chevy Celebrity!

A Final Way to Safely Transport a Bike on a Car

These days, I drive a weird Tesla-powered Toyota RAV4. It’s perfect for hitting all the local trails.

That’s because even my monstrously huge 29er hardtail fits right in the back. I just need to fold the seats down, and it’s a perfect fit. For races, I can slide a cooler, a repair stand, and all my other gear into it with room to spare.

how to safely transport bikes on a car
Throwing your entire bike inside the car is the safest, most-secure and most-aerodynamic option. But it doesn’t work for all circumstances.

It’s super-secure, doesn’t screw up your gas mileage and you’ll never ram your bike into the wall above your garage.

This doesn’t work if you ride with other people or your ride is part of a family road trip, of course. Unless, I suppose, you’re driving a Sport-Utility Hearse the size of an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Final Thoughts on Hauling Bikes

When it comes to how to safely transport bikes on a car, it’s obvious where I stand: Hitch mount or stuff it into a CUV or SUV.

I realize that this won’t work for everyone. But I’m still going to stand firm on my anti-roof rack stance. I’d go for the trunk/hitch mount any day. They just don’t have near the potential to turn a moment of inattention into a destroyed bike.

As you’ve noticed, I’ve barely mentioned brands here. There are too many out there to adequately cover, aside from those I’ve already mentioned. Yakima and Thule also have good reputations and are widely available. Just avoid the DIY variety made out of PVC pipe and duct tape, and the odds will be ever in your favor.

Who Makes the Best Cork Yoga Mat?

I’ve used a cork yoga mat since 2015. I bought it after being fed up with using regular mats in a hot yoga studio. Hot yoga people always have to use towels with a grippy back to avoid sliding all over the mat when things get sweaty.

As one of the sweatiest of the sweaty, this never worked for me. I did some reading and discovered Yoloha cork yoga mats. At $119, it was a pricey proposition.

But it worked. I didn’t slip and/or slide. It was by far better than the other mats I’ve used since started taking yoga classes in 1999.

Most yoga mats will make you slip and slide in a hot yoga class – unless you use a towel, which has its own drawbacks.

Just shortly before the pandemic kicked in, I did something stupid. I left my mat at the studio where it disappeared before I could return and bring it home.

Now, Yoloha was one of the first ones making a name in cork yoga mats back in 2015. I wondered if anyone else caught up.

Testing the VIRGIN PULP Best Cork Yoga Mat

I found a VIRGIN PULP Best Cork Yoga Mat on Amazon for about half the price of a Yoloha.

I also had some credit on Amazon, so it turned out to be pretty much free. There’s a character in one of my favorite movies who says “Anything free is worth saving up for.” That’s not so true in the case of this yoga mat.

best cork yoga mat
The close-up shows where the VIRGIN PULP cork yoga mat is shedding surface area.

I noticed when I got it that it was far lighter than my original Yoloha, and the grain of the cork was far smaller. It was also a far thinner cork surface. This worried me right from the get-go.

The VIRGIN PULP proved my instincts right. While it was decently grippy, the cork surface started to flake nearly immediately.
It was so bad that I took the rare step of writing an Amazon review to warn people away. Here’s what I had to say:

After only three uses, pieces of the cork are flaking to reveal the material underneath. That’s right – three hot yoga classes, and it’s already coming apart. See the gray areas in the photos.

Also, this mat is about four inches shorter than I’d prefer (I’m 6’2). It’s also very squishy and lightweight, so it tends to move around and even fold.

My last cork mat was from one of the more expensive brands. It lasted seven years, and the cork layer was far thicker. That made a more durable, stable cork mat.

On the plus side, this mat is very grippy when wet.

But wait, there’s more: The VIRGIN PULP mat doesn’t absorb water well. Sweat pools on the surface, which makes all manner of farty noises when you’re doing anything that involves being on your back. Look, I DON’T NEED MORE FARTY NOISES IN MY LIFE!

Back to the Original

My fury at the VIRGIN PULP mat did not go unnoticed. Since my birthday was coming up, my wife grabbed a Yoloha Original Air Cork yoga mat for me.

When I opened the box, I was a little concerned. It was way thinner and lighter than my old version of the same mat (seriously, that old mat was a TANK). It wasn’t much different in weight than the VIRGIN PULP disaster. One thing that gave me hope was that the cork grain seems much larger
and sturdier than the bargain-basement brand.

best cork yoga mat
Here you can see the difference in the grain size of the cork bits. Yoloha on top.

I managed to get in a few hot yoga sessions at Hot Yoga University before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. They recently opened under new management – and with some awesome new practices that will be good even after the pandemic days.

It’s as grippy as the original, and not a single piece of the cork surface has flaked off. The grip is superior to the VIRGIN PULP cork yoga mat, but maybe not quite as grippy as the original. I wonder if this is because its thinner surface doesn’t absorb sweat quite as easily. Like the VIRGIN PULP mat, the current iteration of the Yoloha Original Air allows more sweat to pool. This again results in some questionable noises emanating from my mat; it’s not quite the beans/broccoli/eggs diet sound of the cheaper mat, but it farts noticeably.

Another nice feature: It’s a few inches longer than the VIRGIN PULP. Great for tall people!

The Verdict on the Best Cork Yoga Mat

The Yoloha Original Air Cork Yoga Mat is superior in quality to the cheaper alternative. My last Yoloha lasted years rather than weeks, so spending more is a wise decision.You’ll wind up keeping it far longer. And if you’re debating a cork yoga mat versus a regular matt and a quality yoga towel, the prices aren’t that different from each other.

That said, I’m open to anyone who wants me to put their cork yoga mat to the test. But if I’m spending my own money, I’m sticking with Yoloha at this point. It just seems to be the best cork yoga mat out there.

Steel Road Bikes for 2020 and Beyond

All of you people searching for info about the Lemond Zurich and various other steel road bikes have inspired me to give you something new to chew on. I already wrote about what were then “modern steel road bikes,” but things change.

Let’s have a look at what advice I’d give someone buying a steel road bike in 2020 – or a road plus bike or gravel bike.

What’s Changed About Steel Road Bikes?

A few months ago, I ran into a friend during one of my favorite road rides. These days, I ride a Lynskey Urbano. It’s a titanium cyclocross frame built up as a “road plus” bike.

My buddy was on a steel Bruce Gordon frame built up also as a road plus. Now, he and I often disagree on things. But we’re united in our belief that the road plus bike is the best damn thing to ever happen.

So what’s different about a road plus bike versus a typical road bike like my Lemond Zurich?

Huge Tire Clearance

These days, I roll on 32 or 38c tires. My buddy was on 40s, and we can both go even bigger. This tire clearance is the first feature that allows a bunch of other magic. A road plus bike can shape-shift from a fast roadie bike to — if you have enough braze-ons — a touring rig. And let me tell you, a fast downhill section on 38c tires at 60psi is so much more confident-handling than 25c at 110psi.

Disc Brakes

I love disc brakes, especially the hydraulic variety. The difference in stopping ability between my Lemond and Lynskey is astounding. This is great for handling everything from traffic to squirrely cyclists.


I’m sure I can find someone to argue with me about this – but I love thru-axles. It may seem like cork-sniffing to some, but I can definitely detect a more solid feel on thru-axles bikes. That’s especially true when I’m really stuffing the bike into a corner.

Relaxed Fit and Handling

I always loved the feel of my Zurich. It felt like a monorail. Then I put that Lynskey together. The angles are ever-so-slightly more relaxed than the Lemond. That means the Lynskey holds a line with even more confidence; I never feel like I’m fighting it. Still, it manages to go where I need it to, when I ask it to.

Big Head Tubes

My Lynskey has a tapered head tube versus the skinny, old-style 1-inch straight head tube of the Lemond. I can take this or leave it. I don’t detect a profound difference there — though I notice a big difference in stiffness between newer 31.8mm bars versus the old 25.6 (did I get that right?) of yore. The real factor here is that forks for tapered headtubes are far easier to replace. It’s not easy finding quality, reasonably priced stuff for the 1-inch steerer tube.

Got any Recommendations for Steel Bikes for 2020?

Look, if you’re looking for steel bikes, you probably already have some strong opinions. You might even know everything I’ve already mentioned. I’m really just hoping to reinforce what you’re thinking, and maybe introduce you to some stuff that flies slightly under the radar.

So you know that bikes from the afore-mentioned Bruce Gordon are gonna be pretty awesome. What if your wallet is somewhat less fat?

Here is what tops my list at the moment. I went for the more reasonably priced stuff because it’s easy to spend way too much money.

The All-City Cosmic Stallion

steel bikes for 2020
If this is your bike and photo, hit me up for a photo credit! (Found on Reddit)

All-City Cycles does something few bike brands do – they imbue their bikes with some personality. From names to color schemes, they pour some mojo into their bikes. That matters to me.

They make the Cosmic Stallion with SRAM or Shimano options.

It’s a go-anywhere, do-anything sort of bike with an MSRP of $2,700 for Shimano GRX, a carbon fork and tire clearance up to 47mm.

Fairdale Rockitship

steel road bikes for 2020
If this is your Fairdale photo, feel free to hit me up for a photo credit!

The Fairdale Rockitship is only available as a frame and fork, so how it takes shape is ultimately up to you. For $700, you’re off to a good start with a steel frame and an ENVE carbon fork.

You get massive tire clearance (at least 45mm) along with 12mm thru axles. It also has three water bottle mounts – a nice touch, for sure.

Coming Soon

When it comes to flying under the radar, Milwaukee Bicycle Company is practically Area 51. I wandered across them a few years ago, when I priced a steel 105 road plus/gravel build for about $3,000. That’s definitely a higher-end proposition than All-City or Fairdale, but these frames are built in the US.

You also get your choice of color, which is pretty rare these days. And I’m not just talking about a few colors. They have quite a smorgasbord.

Right now, it looks like the Milwaukee Bicycle Company website is under construction. If you’re buying a steel road bike (or road plus, or gravel or cyclocross or whatever), I recommend that you hang tight or give them a call to see what’s up.

Steel Road Bikes for 2020 — What Did I Miss?

So that’s what I have. Are there any cool, reasonably priced steel road bikes for 2020 that have you excited? Let me know about them. It’s always good to put the spotlight on the less-big brands.

(Thanks to Steven from the MeWe group “Let’s Ride” for the cover photo of the mud-crusted Breezer!)