8 Versatile Camping Essentials for New Campers

Camping Essentials at a Glance

  • Light sources
  • A decent fixed-blade knife
  • Tools for starting a fire
  • A way to carry and collect water
  • The super-versatile shemagh
  • Cordage
  • Carabiners
  • Cookwear

I don’t have the numbers to prove it, but I’ll bet COVID-19 has done wonders for camping. Without the option of easy air travel, my family looked close to home. And we set a record for camping this year.

And I’ve heard of a few new-to-camping who are wondering what they need to get started.

That’s a huge topic, especially because smart campers could write massic tomes about “shelter systems” (tents, to the layperson, and hammocks to the slightly-less-laypeople). I’ll get into selecting a hammock in a future post — I’ve been through the beginner learning curve, and I’d love to help some people flatten that curve so they can start hanging with confidence. (That sounded terrible, but there’s no way I’m deleting it.)

I’m going to focus this particular post on the type of stuff nobody really mentions, yet will still be incredibly handy.

Here is my list of items I consider camping essentials, and highly recommend for any camper who is doing some short-range backpacking or car camping. This isn’t for RV people.

Go to the Light

camping essentials
The MPOWERD Luci solar-powered camping lantern boggles my mind with awesomeness.

Campers absolutely need light. I recommend a minimum of two types: a head-mounted light that allows you to operate hands free, and a lantern of some sort.

I’m largely brand- and model-agnostic about head lights.

But I am a hardcore fan of the MPOWERD Luci solar-powered inflatable lantern. Stick it in the sun for 8 hours to get about 12 hours of charge out of it. Heck, hang it deflated on your backpack.

It’s waterproof, low-fuss gear that will not let you down. It’s also cheap, with models starting below $20.

Get an Edge on the Nature

A good knife is a camping essential. And no, I’m not talking about a Swiss Army knife. I don’t trust any folding knife at all. I’m also not talking about some stupid phallus extension straight out of a Rambo or Crocodile Dundee movie.

camping essentials
A camping knife doesn’t need to be big. The little ESEE Izula – the little green one – is among my favorite camping knives.

While my personal preference is a full-tang fixed blade like an ESEE-4, they can be a bit spendy. I also like the tiny little ESEE Izula.

For a new camper looking for a good deal, I recommend the Swedish Fireknife, a simple, low-cost, decent-quality knife with a firestarting flint built into the hilt. It’s made by Mora of Sweden, and you simply can’t go wrong with it.

You won’t feel guilty treating it mean, and you can do anything with it. Need to turn a biggish branch into small branches? You can use the FireKnife and another branch to baton that branch into a manageable size. It’s easy to sharpen, and it keeps its edge well.

Keep the Fire Burning (Carefully)

Making a fire (when conditions allow) is a huge part of the camping experience. From cooking your evening meal to simply keeping warm, this is an important skill you’ll need to master.

Good firemaking tools are next-level camping essentials. I mentioned the flint in the Swedish FireKnife, which is great for making fires with one caveat: You have to be skilled enough to make a tinder bundle and have the patience to get the whole thing going.

There’s also weather conditions to consider. Sometimes, it’s hard to use the flint in sloppy, wet conditions.

So I advise keeping a second way to start a fire. REI has all sorts of heavy-duty camp matches that come in sealed containers. If you really want to prepare, bring a few cotton balls and a tube of Vaseline. A dab of Vaseline on the cotton ball can get your tinder going quickly and easily.

An Even Better Way to Carry Water

Right now, I know most people prefer hydration packs for carrying water. Fair enough. They’re handy and hands-free.

But let’s say something pokes a hole in it. You’re in trouble.

camping essentials
This water-carrying setup is reliable and versatile – and uses many items on this list: Paracord, carabiner and water bottle.

Even if you carry a hydration pack, bring two 32-ounce Nalgene bottles with you. They are indestructible. It’s also far easier to refill them from streams and other sources – they also give you a very easy way to disinfect water – a few drops of 2% tincture of iodine (another overlooked camping item) in each bottle and a half hour of waiting is enough to disinfect water from many sources.

You can also get some other uses out of the bottle: If you use a bit of paracord secured to the bottle with duct tape, you have a way to carry extra duct tape for any of thousands of uses. Hang the whole setup from your backpack with a carabiner.

Keep Yourself Covered

Imagine a giant bandana that is software and more comfy than a bandana.

That’s a shemagh, a familiar sight to anyone who has seen news coverage from the Middle East. It is a tool of infinite use, and your creativity is its only limit.

You can turn it into a headwrap to keep the sun off your noggin. You can do an even fancier wrap to cover your face if you’re dealing with smoke or airborne dust. And it’s perfect for hauling a big bundle of pine cones for your fire.

A shemagh can even be a good way to filter water. One of the most-effective, low-cost camping essentials I can recommend.

Tie One On

Sometimes, you just need to tie something up. Like a shemagh, cordage of any kind is only limited by your creativity.

I’ve used it to string up a few LUCI lights to illuminate a campsite in areas with fire restrictions. It’s also helped me secure the ends of my hammock fly to the ground. That’s just to name a few.

Warning: Not all paracord is created equal. Here’s a nice guide to buying paracord.

Connecting Everything Together

“By golly, I brought too many carabiners,” said absolutely no camper ever.

I’ve already mentioned hanging water bottles from them. They’re also handy for hanging my hammock, storing gear inside my tent or hammock so I can find it quickly, keeping my keys where they belong, hanging my LUCI lights at night – you name it.

Be sure to get carabiners that are rated for climbing if you plan to use them for hanging a hammock or anything like that.

Considering that a decent Metolius carabiner is only a few bucks more than a light-duty one, it makes sense to simply go heavy for all of them.

How many do you need? Start with a 10. You won’t regret it.

Cooking Something Up

My home state of Arizona has been absolutely plagued with fires. That means fire restrictions.

That’s a bit of a bummer. But you can still cook with a decent camp stove. I use this
MSI Whisperlite setup along with one of their cookware sets. The cookware comes with collapsible utensils. Don’t rely on them. Get a set that’s more durable, even if they’re less convenient.

I’m also a bit brand and model-agnostic on camp stoves. This is the only one I’ve ever owned.

Go to your friendly outdoor outfitter. Get some advice and see what works for you.

Wrapping up the Camping Essentials List

I could probably go a lot further than this in listing some of my favorite camping essentials. Let me know if you want to know about anything not on this list.

But before I go – there’s one camping essential you can’t buy.

That’s knowledge.

All this gear is only as good as your ability to use it. Camp with people who are more experienced and can show you what works for them – in person! A blog post is great to get you started, but working with this stuff hands-on is the way to go.

To supplement the hands-on experience, I also recommend picking up a copy of Cody Lundin’s 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive. It’s a survival book, and there’s admittedly a difference between camping and survival.

That said, his info on shelter, first-aid kits, selecting a knife, disinfecting water and even choosing clothing have a lot of overlap with camping comfortably and safely.

I also took the Provident Primitive class at his Aboriginal Living Skills School. Even though I’d been camping for decades, I still took away an amazing amount of new skills. And I had a stupid amount of fun.

Recap: 2020 Aravaipa Jangover Ride

The answer is the Aravaipa Jangover Ride. The question is, what race starts just a few hours after a long work week and goes to the wee hours of the morning?

I registered for the 6-hour solo category of the Jangover Ride after lunch on the day of. That’s right. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. I could’ve also registered for a single 15-mile lap (too short), a 12-hour (too long, but there are also quad categories in addition to the solo), or a duo 6-hour (not for me). There was no separate solo class, though.

jangover ride
Ready to ride

I’ve been riding a lot this year thanks go the coronavirus, so I knew I’d be fairly decent compared to previous versions of myself. I hadn’t been on my mountain since June, either.

Anyway, here are a few random thoughts and observations about the 2020 Jangover Ride.

Good Course – No Surprises

The Jangover Ride uses the well-known, 15-mile Pemberton Loop at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

I consider this perfect for a few reasons: First, 15 miles is a nice chunk of trail. You won’t wind up riding it so many times that it’ll make you stir-crazy with boredom.

It’s also a well-maintained trail that has that elusive quality known as “flow.” It doesn’t feel like you’re constantly fighting the trail. There are tricky bits that require your attention, but it’s far from super-technical.

And there are bits where you can just let it all hang out. It’s a good time on a mountain bike.

sears fire
I tried to get a decent photo of the Sears Fire, but they were all meh. I’m pretty sure Jamil from Aravaipa took this one since it was on their Facebook page.

Everything is on Fire … Again

The Sears Fire started earlier in the day. Riders could see the flames on every lap, which made an interesting if unfortunate backdrop.

Also, a water main at the park somehow broke. That meant the bathrooms were out of commission. Fortunately, the Aravaipa crew had plenty of drinking water plus Port-a-Johns.

Aravaipa Jangover Ride = Stellar Amenities

This was my second Aravaipa ride, and it was again a clinic in how to provide for riders.

They had a solid selection of food, though I stuck mostly to my own stash of solid foods. But I was grateful for the Heed electrolyte mix (to supplement my Gnarly Hydrate mix and Nuun mix), the cold water and the pickles/pickle juice. I could’ve grabbed cookies, watermelon, oranges and even a cooked-to-order quesadilla had I been so inclined. There were two aid stations – one at the start/finish line and one at the famous Jackass Junction that locals love so much.

jangover ride
stopping for fuel

It wasn’t quite as marvelous a spread as the Frenzy Hills race, but it exceeded my expectations for a race in the Covid era.

For non-food amenities, I appreciated the ample number of outlets and USB ports for charging lights. That’s invaluable!

Laid-Back and Friendly

Yet again, Aravaipa provided a friendly quality to an event. They ran out of t-shirts my size (no surprise, I was a last-minute entry), But they still offered to send me one. That’s exceptionally gracious.

They also texted me about moving my start time earlier, and even allowed me to grab a time I liked even better than my original start time.

The riders were all very cool, as well. The super-fast dudes passed safely and where appropriate. The slower people made room when needed. Riders chatted before the event and during laps.

It all just adds up to a good experience.

The start/finish area had tunes playing the entire time – though I’d recommend they start making it a tradition to play “Two Minutes to Midnight” starting at 11:58pm!

Desert Night Riding is Awesome

I don’t often ride at night. But desert night riding is something everyone should experience, especially in the summer.

What I like so much are the weird fluctuations in temperature. Sometimes, you’ll climb out of a ravine and the temperature will jump 10 degrees. Other times, you’ll drop a few feet along a wash and the temperature will plunge in seconds.

And you’ll see all sorts of desert critters – I saw jackrabbits and coyotes. I’ve seen plenty of snakes, tarantulas and scorpions on the Pemberton, too.

Plus the stars came out in full force once the moon set.

How I did at the 2020 Jangover Ride

I figured three laps would be a guarantee. I expected that I’d do two laps back to back, with both of those being at about the same speed. I expected my third lap to be considerably slower, and that I wouldn’t even want a fourth lap.

Well, I did those two laps and stopped for a break. I fought off a little cramp in my left hamstring with help from pickle juice, lots of electrolytes and some protein gel I got at Sprout’s.

I did feel the effect of going racing right after a long work week, and I’d been up since 5am. So I stretched out in the back of my RAV for a quick rest. That was probably a smart move, ultimately, because my third lap was remarkably consistent with the other two. My bike handling was slightly sloppier – possibly because I was having a lot of fun and just hammering a bit harder in the downhill bits.

jangover ride
Getting ready for another lap. Party on, Garth!

I had more than enough left in my legs for a fourth lap. Taking that lap, though, meant I’d be virtually useless the next day. So I packed it in after three.

A few things I’ll do differently next time: Take a half-day off to get some pre-race sleep, and also set my camp up along the route to make my battery and water bottle switches faster. I also had a problem with my helmet light ejecting itself from its mount just minutes into the first lap, which cost me some time. I’ll need to figure out what’s up with that.

The Lighting Situation

My main light was an older Nightrider with a lithium-ion battery rebuilt by the super-awesome people at MTO Battery. My backup light was an Exposure Lights Race from Bicycle Haus.

I used the low mode of the Nightrider for the climbing parts of the lap before going to medium for the downhill. The Exposure Race was on some kind of interesting adaptive mode that used a dim setting for climbing, then brightened up as my speed increased. I put each on the charger after every lap.

Pro tip on the Exposure: It charges way faster using a USB3 port. If you have a laptop computer with a USB3 port, bring it for charging just in case. I also mounted it under my handlebar, so I had to cut away a bit of my number plate.

Oh, that other backup light on my helmet that fell off? That was one of my old MagicShine lights from like 2010. That thing sucks.There’s a reason why people who bought then started calling them TragicShine. I don’t know if the new ones are just as bad – but I’d be shocked if you didn’t wind up needing the batteries rebuilt.

Final Thoughts on the 2020 Aravaipa Jangover Ride

12/10, would do again.

via Gfycat

What You Need to Know About Paradise Valley Bike Rides

It’s ironic: Paradise Valley is a pretty good place to ride a bike most of the time. Yet the town wears that status begrudgingly. The town’s government and residents seem united in a hatred of cyclists.

There is simply no other way to interpret their actions. 

Paradise Valley Bike Resources Go Off the Map

More than a year ago, I noticed that every scrap of information about Paradise Valley and its bike infrastructure had disappeared from the MAG Bikeways Map. Now, this map is one of the most-valuable resources for anyone who rides a bike in the Phoenix area. That’s particularly true for roadies who scour it for the best bike infrastructure – especially bike lanes and stuff like the Rio Salado bike path.

I finally have a definitive answer about this from a MAG employee: Paradise Valley residents wanted the information removed from the map. They lobbied town officials for this change, and then town officials carried it to the Maricopa Association of Governments. 

paradise valley bike
“Take me to your town manager.”

Poof. No more Paradise Valley bike information.

If the town of Paradise Valley receives any public money from Maricopa County or any other regional agency, the tap should be turned off. This sets a precedent that any other town could follow. No government agency should be allowed to withhold information — especially about transportation infrastructure — from residents. 

Paradise Valley Bans Bikes from a Construction Area

paradise valley bike
No cop on Sept. 2020 – but a sign of the times.

In July of 2020, a Facebook thread popped up alleging that bikes were not allowed to use a road that was under construction. 

“Now they are not only prohibiting bikes from using the normal traffic lane, they have also stationed an off duty policeman there to prevent cyclists from using the sidewalk,” the original poster said. 

I couldn’t find a single law allowing this. In all my time riding in Arizona cities, I’ve seen many closed bike lanes (and sidewalks, but bikes really shouldn’t ride on sidewalks anyway).

Every time I’ve encountered closed bike lanes, there was signage indicating that bikes can use the car lane. That is the way road closures work.

I have never seen an off-duty police officer preventing bikes from using a lane. 

Also, I saw a police officer enforcing this during a recent ride through PV. The officer instructed cyclists not to turn onto 68th Street as they headed east on Hummingbird Drive. It might still be going on. (I didn’t see an officer on my Sept. 1, 2020 ride.)

I could find no precedent for other Arizona towns taking any action like this.

What This Tells Us About Paradise Valley and Bikes

Clearly, Paradise Valley would put a gated wall around its borders if it could. And bicyclists are persona non grata.

Paradise Valley gonna Paradise Valley, I guess. If the town is that hostile toward cyclists, who smarter municipalities recognize as a valuable demographic, I wonder who else is impacted by its insular policies. Its population of about 15,000 should think about how this looks in the current political climate.

And its elected officials should definitely remember that, if they run for higher office, people like me will be all too happy to remind them of their actions. 

There’s not much recourse. But if any like-minded cyclists out there would like to team up for a “Map Every Single Paradise Valley Bike Route and Share It EVERYWHERE” project, just let me know. I’ve got a GPS and I know how to use it!

Have you had any problems as a cyclist in Paradise Valley? Tell me about it in the comments.

Testing the SOS Hydration Mix

Hydration is the difference between a good ride and a low-down, cramp-filled, no-good sufferfest that will make you regret ever getting on a bicycle (or running, or kayaking, or whatever it is that you do). I largely have my regimen set, but I’m always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing. That’s why I was excited when SOS Hydration contacted me about testing their electrolyte mixes.

SOS Hydration sent me a sampler of two each of several of their flavors, including berry, citrus, mango, coconut and watermelon.

Putting SOS Hydration to the Test

I took a little time to crunch the numbers to try getting the liquid-to-’letctrolytes ratio just right.

My typical loadout for a hot summer ride is three bottles:

  • One 20-ounce one (exactly like the nice one SOS Hydration sent me) with a single Trace Minerals Magnesium tab in it. That 4-gram tablet contains 150mg of magnesium – which I’ve discovered is critical for me – along with 175 mg of sodium and not much else.
  • Two 25-ounce bottles each packing 1 Trace Minerals magnesium tablet and a Nuun Hydration Sport tablet.

To be somewhere in the ballpark with SOS Hydration, I’d need 1 5-gram sachet in the small bottle and two in each of the big bottles. Let’s break down the comparison between my two big bottles of Justin Formula versus the SOS Hydration bottles. Oh, and I’m also going to list my go-to Gnarly Hydration mix that I use for particularly hot days and races. All serving sizes are 10 grams. (I’m only hitting the electrolytes that are most-important to me rather than the whole laundry list. I also don’t really care about calories.)

Magnesium Sodium Potassium Sugar
Justin Formula 175 475 150 4
Gnarly 96.6 250 100 7
SOS Hydration 67.2* 660 190 3

*I calculated based on two things: The USRDA of magnesium for guys my age, which is 420mg, and the SOS Hydration label that said that each sachet has 8% of the USRDA of magnesium. That comes out to 67.2mg for two sachets, well short of the 100mg claimed on the comparison page of the SOS website.

 

That’s not the only discrepancy I noticed. It also appears that the SOS is comparing two servings/sachets of their mix to one Nuun tablet. I didn’t check the numbers on Skratch, which is the only other legit hydration mix for athletes in the table. Pedialyte, Gatorade and coconut water don’t belong, and I’ve never heard of WHO ORS.

My main takeaway from the chart is that SOS is really salty, and it lags in magnesium. Through trial and error, I’ve found that potassium isn’t a difference-maker for me.

So how would it perform?

Testing on the First Ride

I had my three bottles all frozen the day before the ride, and my plans to use my road-plus Lynskey Urbano for a 50-miler want to hell. It had to get some attention from the good people at Bicycle Haus.

That meant it was time for a summer mountain bike ride! Hot weather makes desert mountain biking a real bear, and I had a nasty sunny morning to deal with.

I headed to South Mountain since it had been awhile since I’d been there. Right from the get-go, I could tell this ride would be pretty tough.

Aside from the heat, there are no casual, easy rides on a singlespeed hardtail. They’re demanding bikes that flog their riders pretty hard.

sos hydration test
There’s never an easy ride on this thing.

And I just wasn’t feeling it after the first five miles.

I slugged generously from my icewater-filled Camelbak and my two bottles of SOS Hydration mix. My first impression was that this is some seriously salty stuff. There was more than a hint of the Dead Sea to it.

I’d planned to ride at least 25 miles. But I turned around about 13 miles into it to head back to my car. I stopped at a trailhead to drink the rest of my SOS mix, then I refilled them with the sachets I’d brought along.

My ass was well whooped after this short ride. It was a nasty day, to be sure.

So I had to give SOS a more regular test.

Round 2 – Apples to Apples

With my Lynskey back in action the next weekend, I set my course for San Juan Point, which is about a 53-mile jaunt from my house. It’s also a ride I do often, so I have plenty of data to compare SOS and look for any major observations in performance.

I still hadn’t acclimated to the saltiness of the SOS Hydration mix.  But I did find that I liked the coconut and watermelon flavors best. I wonder if I like the watermelon so much because real watermelon contains big amounts of magnesium, which makes this guy happy.
sos hydration test
I had a pretty solid ride that day, especially since I’d bumped up my tire size from 32C to 38C. The big tires cost me very little time, only about 8 seconds slower than my personal best on a 3.1-mile climb. The very next weekend, though, I set a new PR that was 20 seconds faster with my usual mix.

As per usual, I drained my three bottles (all filled with SOS) and had to refill. Those were the last of my sachets, so I finished my ride with a bit of Gnarly mix. By that time, though, all the serious work was over.

Wrapping Up the SOS Hydration Test

It appears that SOS works pretty well. Aside from that one especially unpleasant mountain bike ride, it wasn’t a liability.

Still, I’m not a fan of the taste and I’d like to see more magnesium in it along with less salt.

I think it would also be a good idea for SOS to double-check the numbers in its comparison chart to make sure they’re measuring similar serving sizes. They should also include more serious competitors, like Gnarly, EFS and CarboRocket Half-Evil. That’s serious stuff that you’ll see at the big races.

And that might be the problem with SOS: It positions itself not just for sports nutrition, but also for hangovers and illnesses. Casting a wide net might cause some of the finer points of more-athletic use to get overlooked.

There’s also something else to note: There is literally no one-size-fits-all formula for every bike racer, marathoner or (insert sport here). This makes me extremely skeptical of their research claims. I know I said this a few sentences earlier, but it bears repeating: The same formula will not work for every single person.

We’re all individuals, and the ratios in SOS Hydration might be exactly what you need. If it fits you and you like the taste, you’re good to go.

Bicycling in Southern California – A Quick Guide

Bicycling in Southern California is a real treat, especially if you’re from the desert like I am. Even in June, you can count on mild temperatures, decent cycling infrastructure and some hilly routes to help burn more calories.

If you’re into bicycling, Encinitas is a nice place to get a taste of bicycling in Southern California. It’s a bit removed from the craziness of San Diego, but close enough that you can still get there in about 20 minutes or so.

Here’s some advice for riding in and around Encinitas.

Bring Your Bike or Rent?

If you’re traveling, I recommend renting a bike. It’s one less thing you’ll have hanging off of your car or pack up for the airplane.

It’s also fun to try a different bike. You’ll appreciate your personal bike a little better, while also getting an idea of what other bikes do well.

I rented from RIDE Cyclery. It was $80 for 24 hours with a carbon-fiber Cannondale road bike with Shimano 105 on it.

bicycling in southern california

The staff was friendly and very accommodating. I actually forgot to bring my personal pedals from home, but they found a matching pair among all their spare parts. They also took time to nail my saddle height, plus they included a small seatbag with a few essentials for fixing flat tires.

I added my own computer bracket to track my ride. And some of the locals hanging around recommended some routes for me. RIDE Cyclery couldn’t have been better at helping me get the most out of bicycling in Southern California.

What’s Bicycling in Southern California Like?

If you’re visiting Encinitas, Carlsbad or any of these beach communities and plan to ride your bike, hit Strava. Look for people holding “King/Queen of the Mountains” records and check their routes.

Chances are, you’ll find some nice options for rides of all lengths. These can be the building block for planning your route. If you’re using a fancy GPS-based computer, you’ll also be able to create turn-by-turn instructions to navigate.

bicycling in southern california
Hanging out on the beach after a ride.

One of my routes took me down the Coast Highway to the north end of La Jolla. The route had some nice fast parts, along with a terrific climb as I headed south.

The Coast Highway can be a bit maddening when you start hitting four-way stops and stoplights. When you’re on the beach, you’ll also deal with a lot of people walking in the bike lanes, especially in the wrong direction.

El Camino Real is also a great street to ride on. I got stopped at traffic lights while riding early on a Sunday morning. But traffic was light and most of the lanes were in decent shape. Also, nice views and plenty of rolling terrain and curves. Good fun!

There’s an interactive bike lane map for the area. It’s a valuable resource for planning a ride in the San Diego area.

California Bike Culture

In Arizona, when you pass riders in the opposite direction, you give a nod or a wave. Not so much in California.

That could be because there’s so damn many riders. If you acknowledged them all, that’s pretty much what you’d be doing the entire ride. It’s actually nice to see that many people riding.

There’s also widely varied opinions about how to handle stop signs, especially when there are no cars around.

Most of the drivers were also relatively civilized, so that was pretty good.

On the down side, more than a few streets had “sharrows,” those infernal arrows that indicate that bikes can use the same lanes as cars. Every cyclist or cycling advocate I know find these sketchy. Give me a good, dedicated bike lane any day.

What About After the Ride?

To me, beer and biking just go together.

The closest spot to get a beer is at the Modern Times tasting room. They have a huge selection of fine Modern Times beers, including many I couldn’t ever access back in Arizona. They also had their social distancing game dialed in. The food seemed to be all vegetarian (but still good).

bicycling in southern california

If you want to go further afield, I recommend Arcana Brewing. They had a delicious single-hop ale called Mosaic Monster that was perfect; moasic hops are among my favorite (along with amarillo, galaxy, simcoe, and cascade). Another standout was a fruited braggot. It’s one of those places that changes its lineup often, so you won’t always find the same selection. It appears they are BYO for food, too.

So that’s what you need to know about bicycling in Southern California. I recommend Encinitas rather than Carlsbad as your base, just for proximity to Modern Times and the great people at RIDE Cyclery.

5 Tips for Buying a Titanium Bike

If you’re thinking about buying a titanium bike, I understand why. You’re probably after a combination of ride quality, cool factor and longevity.

People can debate the ride quality to death – there are plenty of variables that can impact this, especially tire pressure. Also, some people think the stealth fighter look of carbon fiber beats the Cold War jet fighter appearance of titanium.

But nobody is about to debate the longevity of titanium with you. It has impact resistance that you won’t find in carbon fiber bikes. If you can actually get a titanium frame to fail, it’s not going to crack into pieces. It can handle rock spray, hard impact, shitty weather and just about anything else you can throw at it.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a titanium bike fan.

I’ll also admit that buying a titanium bike isn’t easy. They’re more expensive and harder to come by than most steel, aluminum or carbon fiber bikes. That makes it imperative that you get the right one.

So here are a few tips for buying a titanium bike. Some are from my own experience, while others are from other titanium bike owners.

Avoid Buying Titanium Frames with Paint

I love my Domahidy titanium singlespeed. The designer conceived it from the ground up to have a Gates Carbon Drive system instead of a chain.

He made the bottom bracket area overbuilt to handle all the power output of someone cranking hard on a singlespeed. He got nearly everything perfect.

buying a titanium bike
Titanium ages better when left unfinished. Skip the paint!

Then he went and painted it.

Admittedly, it looked pretty for a long time. But mountain bikes go through a lot. And their paint gets ratty over time.

In retrospect, I should’ve had it stripped and buffed before hanging a single component on it.

Double-Check the Seatpost Size

If you’re buying a singlespeed, you’re certain to pour over plenty of specs. And you shouldn’t miss the humble seatpost diameter.

One of my fellow ti bike owners wound up with an oddball 28.6mm seatpost size; he’s having a hard time finding the right replacement seatpost.

He still loves the bike, but he’s less than thrilled with the scarcity of seatposts in that diameter.

Buying Used? Be Patient

Titanium’s longevity means that plenty of people are eager to get a hold of even older ti frames. Personally, I wouldn’t touch anything that doesn’t have disc brake tabs and thru-axles, both of which are relatively modern.

But some people love the classics. And it seems like they never sleep, constantly scanning and sniping on eBay, SteveBay, Craigslist, and anywhere else people post used bikes.

You might be tempted to settle for “close enough.” Don’t. The right deal will eventually come. If you settle, you’ll be the next person to list that titanium bike and hoping to break even.

Buy the Frame Builder, Not Just the Frame

When I bought my two titanium frames, I didn’t just click “Buy” and hope for the best. I emailed the frame builders and I asked questions.

Going full-custom and made-to-measure just isn’t an option for me.

buying a titanium bike
My first titanium bike. The company owner’s patience with all my questions won me over. 12/10, would buy from again.

I waited for good deals to appear, and then I started asking questions. In both cases, I got prompt, courteous replies. This told me that these were companies I wanted to support with my dollars.

They also gave me peace of mind that I was getting the right size and the right frame for my riding style.

Talk to Titanium Bike Owners

There’s no shortage of people who love titanium frames. Get in touch with them and see what their thoughts are on certain brands and models. Find out which ones are re-branded frames made overseas – and also find out which of those made overseas are better.

Along the same lines, there are plenty of American companies selling titanium bikes that don’t actually make those frames themselves. Find out who does.

Check Facebook for titanium bike owners groups to get started.

I also look to Spanner Bikes, which is chock-full of helpful titanium bike knowledge.

Wrapping up Tips For Buying a Titanium Bike

This is all pretty basic stuff that you could apply to buying any kind of bike frame — aside from maybe the part about paint.

But it’s always good to check your enthusiasm, especially when something looks like a great deal. Do your due diligence and get yourself a bike that will last the long haul.

Abandoned Movie Theaters of Scottsdale

South Scottsdale is nothing like the palm trees-and-golf courses luxury destination you expect it to be. My neighborhood is full of abandoned and disused property. It’s almost like there’s a systematic plan to make the area look crappy so everyone is OK with tearing everything down and replacing it all with “luxury condos.”

I think about this every time I drive around my neighborhood – and I thought it might be fun to preserve some of those memories. So let’s remember some of the abandoned movie theaters of Scottsdale from the days of olde … by which I mean the 1980s.

Camelback Theater

Back in the 80s, there were two separate malls in what is now Scottsdale Fashion Square. There was Scottsdale Fashion Square and another to the west called Camelview Plaza. If memory services, that’s where the Camelback Theater was.

I definitely remember that Camelview Plaza had a crepe place called The Magic Pan. I’m not sure if I actually saw any movies at the Camelback Theater, but I definitely knocked back a crepe or 50!

Camelview Theater

If you’re new to Scottsdale, you might wonder why I’m mentioning this when there’s actually a Camelview Theater. Well, that’s not the original one.

abandoned movie theaters
ModernPhoenix.net has more great photos of the Camelview Theater.

Before the fancy version that you know today, there was a much more modest version a few blocks west. It had distinct architecture that I’m not schooled enough to describe. The interior paid homage to Old Hollywood. I loved the place.

One of my favorite memories of the original Camelview was going there with my brother Erich to see Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In more recent years, the Camelview gave us a place to watch non-blockbuster artsy stuff – which was very welcome.

Cineplex Odeon

This more than an abandoned movie theater in Scottsdale – it’s an abandoned concept of the mall of the future. It was called the Galleria, and it was meant to start a new generation of anchorless malls. There’s already reams of copy online about what a silly idea this was.

I can’t recall setting foot inside the Cineplex Odeon, and I’m not even sure what it is today. Unlike most of the others, this one probably still exists within the shell of the Galleria, so

El Camino Theater

Today, I live just blocks from the El Camino, a free-standing theater with just one screen. I know it’s been some sort of weird auction house. Right now, it’s just a fenced off abandoned movie theater with a broken front window. There are signs it will soon be torn down.

I also don’t remember ever going to a movie here.

abandoned movie theaters
El Camino Theater looks like it’s going to get razed soon.

Fashion Square 7

As part of Scottsdale Fashion Square, this is barely worth mentioning. It’s been repurposed into some art space that’s overpriced. Par for the course.

IMAX Theater

Like the Cineplex Odeon, the IMAX was part of the Galleria. One of the things I actually liked about the Galleria is that it’s connected to my favorite restaurant – The Famous Pacific Seafood Company. Twelve-Year-Old Me loved eating their shark cooked over wood-fired grills. Dead serious.

I remember going with a date to see a filmed Rolling Stones concert, even though I wasn’t a Stones fan. I also interviewed the first Spanish woman to climb Mount Everest there; she was featured in a movie that showed at the Galleria.

Kachina Theatre

The property that would become the Galleria sure had a lot of theaters nearby, and this is another one of my favorite demolished and/or abandoned movie theaters of Scottsdale.

abandoned movie theaters
Photo found at cinematreatures.org.

And it’s the home of a huge movie memory for me: The Empire Strikes Back. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if they had social media when this came out? I can practically hear the outrage at Darth Vader’s claim to be Luke Skywalker’s father.

I also saw ET here, but I was never a huge fan of that movie.

Los Arcos Mall Cinema – My Best Abandoned Movie Theater in Scottsdale Story

Los Arcos Mall is a topic that fired up the southern half of the city. A developer called the Ellman Companies bought the mall with plans to tear it down and build a hockey arena – but it wound up being some weird work-live-eat amalgamation of stuff affiliated with ASU. Its signature funny-looking spaceport thing is still polarizing (I love it).

The old mall had a movie theater in the bottom. I don’t remember ever seeing a movie there.

But here’s a memory I DO have of the old mall:

When I was a news reporter, the local papers were looking for every possible angle to write about the mall’s upcoming demolition. At one point, a bunch of psychics approached me and spun all sorts of tales about hauntings and visitations. Things like apparitions of javelina running around, and specters walking the halls bisected by the floor.

I concocted the idea of spending a night in the old mall with a photographer and whichever of the psychics was game for it. I had to get the PR stooge for the developers onboard with it. He stalled me long enough for demolition to begin, that worthless worm!

I am also disappointed to this day that we never used my photo cutline of the demolition: “Mr. Elman, Tear Down This Mall!”

UA Movies 5/Scottsdale Dollar Cinema

This building still lives on as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, which is nice among this list of torn down or abandoned movie theaters. I saw many a movie here back in its heyday as the United Artists 5.

abandoned movie theaters
The old UA7 gets some upgrades as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts.

The most memorable?

I’ve only walked out of one movie ever. I was probably 7 years old.

The movie was Without Warning, which was about some alien that threw little pissed-off starfish that sucked people’s brains out or something.

At some point, I’d had enough. Erich took one for the team and walked me to the next theater, where they were showing Middle Age Crazy starring Chevy Chase. Though it may also have been Modern Problems.

You might also wonder why a 7-year-old was watching Without Warning. This actual quote from my mother may explain things: “This one’s rated R – it must be good!”

Looking Nearby For Abandoned Movie Theaters

Cine Capri

The Cine Capri was just about five miles away from South Scottsdale on the southwest corner of Camelback and 24 Street. It was an impressive screen, and I’m pretty sure it was the biggest around.

It also had the very hip Cafe Casino nearby. My tween self loved that place for reasons I can’t quite remember. Nevertheless, both it and the Cine Capri are gone.

I remember seeing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home there – with Erich, you guessed it!

An Outdoor Abandoned Movie Theater

There was also apparently a drive-in movie theater somewhere east of Scottsdale Road on McDowell. That must’ve been before my time.

There was also a drive-in theater in North Tempe, right on the southeast corner of Mckellips and McClintock.

NOTE: I used this cool website to refresh my memory about the names of these theaters.

It’s hot. Let’s talk about summer hydration.

It’s not even June yet, and I’m already doing my usual summer hydration stuff when I exercise. Beating cramps and the dreaded post-exercise headache is a huge undertaking. For me, getting it right is the result of trial and error.

Not everybody is riding 60 miles in 100-degree heat. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from some hard-won knowledge to stay healthy or to stay alive. Let me share some of my secrets.

Summer Hydration Doesn’t Just Mean Drinking More Water

There’s more to hydration than water, especially when you’re sweating during the hotter months. Sweat leaches your body of electrolytes. And that doesn’t just mean salt. Potassium and magnesium are two other important ones.

You will not function as well if you only replace the liquid and not the electrolytes.

But figuring out which ones isn’t always easy.

summer hydration

What to Know About Sports Drinks

When I say “sports drinks,” I don’t mean Gatorade or anything else you can buy in a convenience store (though convenience stores have some helpful stuff, which we’ll get to later).

I’m talking about the good stuff. Skratch Labs, Nuun, Trace Minerals, Gnarly, Hammer Nutrition and even Sprouts are just a few brands I’ve used.

Over time, I learned what worked well for me. After a ride, you can see streaks of salt all over my face. The muscles in my calves would twitch like there was some sort of alien just waiting to burst out of my skin.

Apparently, that was a sign that I needed more magnesium. So magnesium became the number-one priority in my drinks.

summer hydration
Even with a wealth of hydration products on this table, I went for the Gnarly Hydrate formula.

Surprisingly, the sports drink industry doesn’t agree on a ratio of electrolytes. They’re all over the board. Almost all have some salt. Many skimp on magnesium. Others try to say the key is potassium, while skimping on nearly everything else.

I haven’t seen any sports drink maker say “If you have these problems, you need these electrolytes for summer hydration.”

This means you’re in for some trial and error, especially if you exercise hard in the heat.

My Summer Hydration Formula

I’m going to include magnesium per serving here since that’s a big deal to me.

For a typical hot-weather ride, I’ll freeze three bottles three-quarters full with a mixture of one Nuun tablet and a Trace Minerals Magnesium tablet. My ratio is one tablet of each per bottle. You can use any flavors you want, but the strawberry lemonade Nuun and orange Trace Minerals Magnesium tabs pair nicely. I find them both easily at Sprouts. That’s 42% USRDA of magnesium.

Electrolytes in tablet form are also handy – you can take a tube with you for longer efforts. My three bottles won’t get me even two hours in the dead of summer.

summer hydration
Image found at www.snstoman.wordpress.com. Be sure to visit them – but feel free to get a latte first!

For races or other special occasions, I’ll use Gnarly Hydrate. Their orange-pineapple flavor is packed with magnesium, as well as being one of the tastiest drinks out there. It’s pricey next to my other mix, as well as harder to find. I’ve always had to get it online. That’s 23% USRDA of magnesium.

I’ve also had good results with EFS mix, another big-time magnesium monster. My wife digs Carborocket Half Evil, which is especially good for people who don’t like to eat while exercising; it packs 333 calories per serving. Half of 666 … get it? These are 38% and 28% of USRDA of magnesium, respectively.

I still have to be careful: It’s possible to get carried away with magnesium. The result of overindulgence is pooping like a banshee for several hours.

Thoughts from the Grocery Store

Is there anything good you can get a grocery store for summer hydration?

 

summer hydration
This is not an actual photo of me, but this is my summer exercise spirit animal. (Found at whiskeyriff.com)

Not so much for during the ride. But there are some great post-ride options. Pickles are amazing for rehydration, and straight pickle juice is almost as trendy among endurance folks as bone broth is among CrossFit bros. Apparently, the real magic is in the vinegar, not even the salt. It’s also more appetizing than it sounds when you’re low on electrolytes.

Then there’s my dirty secret: V8 vegetable juice. The only race I ever won was a three-person, 12-hour relay. V8 was part of my between-laps fueling protocol (along with chocolate milk and Pepsi – it was not pleasant, but it worked for 25-year-old me).

That brings us to a far tastier option. Watermelons are full of magnesium. They also happen to be delicious and versatile. Use them to make your own sports drink, or just devour one after you exercise.

What If I Can’t Find Anything?

In my last blog post, you’ll remember that I mentioned the couple who went for a “5-minute hike” without any water? Don’t do that.

Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Bring something salty, too. Potato chips will do. Just don’t overlook doing something for summer hydration outdoors.

And remember that you may need to experiment to find what works for you, even under the best circumstances. The harder you exercise in the heat, the more likely you are to uncover some specific needs of your own. Plow on, ask for help, look things up on the Google machine (or DucKDuckGo, if you’re the paranoid type). You’ll figure it out!

COVID-19 Quarantine is Getting People Outdoors. But There’s a Problem.

COVID-19 is driving a lot of people outdoors to find some relief from the quarantine. On the surface, that’s a good thing.

But a lot of these people discovering (or rediscovering) the outdoors are going to wind up injured, sick or worse. I went out for a ride to scout the Goldfield Mountains near Apache Junction, Ariz., yesterday. I’d never seen such long lines to park at a trailhead.

While it was initially refreshing to see, I had some encounters with other trail users that show that the COVID-19 outdoor boom is going to have serious repercussions.

This is important right now because our healthcare system is already working itself to death. The last thing anyone needs is your ass in an emergency room for reasons that are 100 percent preventable.

Lack of Preparation Can Kill

During the last few minutes of my ride, a couple in their 50s flagged me down.

They’d wandered out of the park boundary on what they’d planned to be a “five minute hike” (insert face-palm here). No water, no sunscreen, no snacks.

covid-19 outdoors
These two were lost, and they didn’t have a drop of water.

The wife was calm as could be. The dude was losing his shit (they were literally less than a half mile from their car). He was getting dizzy so he sat down – and I actually had to tell him to get in the shade. He also said “can anyone come and get us?“

This was a singletrack trail, so that wasn’t possible. He also kept saying he didn’t think the directions I gave him were right – my dude, only one of us is lost.

I gave him some gels and electrolyte powder (his response was “what is it?“). I also made him put on some sunscreen.

Wildlife is Nothing to Mess With

Spring in the desert means one thing to me: rattlesnakes.

I’m sure the guy wandering off-trail in tall grass would disagree. Rattlesnakes were clearly the furthest thing from his mind.

Here’s the thing: Rattlers love tall grass. Fortunately, they really don’t want to bite people. That’s a last resort. But stepping too close to them is their definition of last resort.

And a good way to step too close to them is to not see them, especially in areas where they like to hide.

This guy was a rattlesnake bite waiting to happen. And he probably has no idea what to do if he gets bitten by a rattlesnake.

How to Stay Safe Outdoors During the COVID-19 Quarantine

I don’t want people to stay indoors during the quarantine. This is a great time to rediscover the outdoors for recreation and fitness. But I don’t want any of you to do anything stupid. Like get yourself killed (dehydration and rattlesnake bites are awful ways to die).

covid-19 outdoors

These are some basic by no means comprehensive tips:

  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Carry water with you at all times. I recommend no less than a gallon per person.
  • Carry some form of electrolytes. Exertion and heat will make you sweat, and you need sodium, magnesium and potassium to keep your body working. I recommend Nuun tablets.
  • Bring a snack. Calories matter.
  • Screen yourself from the sun. Hats, sunscreens and long sleeves are the way. I know long sleeves seem counterintuitive. But loose-fighting, lightweight fabrics keep you cool and provide sun protection.
  • Use some sort of a GPS device, and carry a map, too.
  • Stay calm if things start going pear-shaped. Fear is the mind killer.
  • Finally, use the outdoors within your means. If you’ve been sitting on the couch for the last decade, don’t make your first hike an epic adventure. Work up to the bigger stuff.


I could add a lot of things, like first aid kits, a decent fixed-blade knife, etc. But none of that does any good unless you know how to use it.

Know How to Encounter Other People

It’s inevitable that you’re going to run into other people while you enjoy the outdoors during the Coronavirus quarantine. See keep something else in mind: Be ready to encounter others. Stay to the right whenever possible. Don’t spread your party out across the entire trail.

covid-19 outdoors
Bad trail manners on display. Stay to the right whenever possible. And travel single-file to hide your numbers

Treat it like a road. Allow others to pass you, whether they’re going faster in the same direction or headed the other way. Model this behavior for your kids, too. They’ll act on the trails just like you do. So be safe and courteous.

Where to Ride on the Grand Canalscape Bike Path

My local news outlets recently had a bunch of headlines about the Grand Canalscape bike path. Most were breathlessly impressed by a bike/pedestrian lane that would stretch “12 miles from Tempe to the I-17.”

I’d bet that not a single one of the journalists rode the entire length on a bike. I honestly wouldn’t expect them to. What I wouldn’t mind, though, is if they interviewed a wide swath of users. That would range from people using a bikeshare for a mile to someone working the Grand Canalscape into a larger ride, maybe even in combination with the Rio Salado bike path.

I’m part of that latter group. So I have the info you couldn’t get from the news stories.

Part of a Huge Canal Network

I’ll repeat a key talking point: Phoenix has tons of miles of canals dating back to the days of the Hohokam civilization. They could be much more than they are today, which amounts to unsightly watery alleys.


Back in the old days, huge shade trees lined the canals. Jon Talton correctly points this out and laments the loss. I get it.

Right now, utilities are in charge of the canals — mainly Salt River Project. There are rules about how much unobstructed access utility crews require.

Trees cut into that, which is especially critical in skinner sections of the path.

Obviously, the beautiful tree canopy is history. There’s no bringing it back.

The question is — what’s the best way to use it now? The Grand Canalscape bike path sure beats letting the canal languish.

Phoenix Cyclists are Hungry for Infrastructure

The Phoenix area is a horrible, horrible place to ride a bike near a road (our mountain bike trails are pretty damn fine, though).

Experienced cyclists are scared to become the next Rob Dollar. Authorities have little appetite to protect us, either proactively with bike infrastructure or with arrests and judgments that fit the circumstances; one often-repeated line is “If you want to get away with murder, use a car.”

And make your victim a cyclist.

grand canalscape bike path
Here is the Grand Canalscape under construction in 2018.

The plethora of canals presents a nice option for separating bikes and cars. If you can’t make the drivers civilized, get cyclists away from them, right? Tucson showed what’s possible with the 130-mile length of The Loop. Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix have done an alright job with the Rio Salado bike path.

The Arizona Canal is pretty solid, especially since it offers quite a few underpasses for cyclists, runners, walkers, scooters and whatnot.

The Time is Ripe for Grand Canalscape Bike Path

So how was the ride?

grand canalscape bike path
Other people getting out for a ride on the Grand Canalscape.

Honestly, the Grand Canalscape bike path is a mediocre ride if you plan to cover the entire distance.

It’s as good as it can be, but it has some inherent flaws that prevent it from being world-class cycling infrastructure:

  • It’s at street grade with no underpasses. That means traffic signals will stop you often.
  • Speaking of traffic signals, some of them are interminably long.
  • Since the canal cuts through the city largely at a diagonal, you’ll run into even more traffic signals.
  • Drivers are either confused by the HAWK signals at the crossings, or they just don’t give a crap. I saw many blow right through when cyclists and pedestrians had the right of way.
  • There are no restrooms or water fountains. My bet is that officials were worried about use and abuse from the homeless. Well, address that situation better and the problem goes away, right?
  • There’s one particularly big miss: The Grand Canalscape bike path should be directionally striped like a road. There are way too many people meandering in the wrong direction. Some particularly incompetent riders can’t even seem to stay on one side. At least striping it gives the rest of us a leg to stand on when we say “stay on your side.”
  • If you’re trying to connect to the Rio Salado bike path, forget it. There doesn’t seem to be any logical, safe way to accomplish that at this point. I will keep hunting for it and update this post if I find a good way.
  • There are few good connections to any good locations or cycling infrastructure, actually. This needs to be a priority with both signage and helpful, obvious ways to connect bike lanes to each other.

Pavement, Amenities and the General Vibe

The pavement is perfect out in the east. I favor rubberized asphalt, but whatever this surface is, it’s pretty nice. It’s seamed concrete, but without the bumpity-bump I associate with this sort of surface.

The seams and the bump get more pronounced as you go west.

grand canalscape bike path
Here’s a driver blowing right through a signaled crossing. Note the Walk signal.

There are also no easy-to-see amenities. If you ride the Arizona Canal, you have OHSO Brewery. They’ve rolled out the welcome mat for cyclists.

The Grand Canalscape desperately needs amenities like this. A nearby espresso shop (or even an espresso food truck) would go over well.
Phoenix needs to encourage “a scene” for lack of a better word to coalesce around the canal. Food, beverages, bathrooms, bike shops — any combination of them would be brilliant.

How to Ride the Grand Canalscape Bike Path

The ride begins in the east (as of March 2020) on 56th Street south of Washington Street. From there, it goes northwest before hooking back to the southwest.
On the west side, the pavement ends at Fairmount and 22nd Avenue. It continues unpaved and ends with an exasperated sigh at the I-17 frontage road.

grand canalscape bike path
The Grand Canalscape ends with a whimper at I-17.

The nicest bits are between 7th Street and 7th Avenue. There are some coooooool homes around the canal in that area.

The worst is currently between 32nd and 16th Streets. 24th Street was entirely closed to cyclists, and 16th Street and Indian School don’t have signalized crossings.

What’s the Best Bike for a Grand Canalscape Ride?

Grand Canalscape is great for just about any bike except maybe traditional road bikes using old-school 23c tires pumped to 120 PSI.

There are still enough choppy parts and the western part has enough bumps in the seams that more-forgiving tire sizes and air pressures will make it a better experience.

grand canalscape bike path
The perfect bike for riding the Grand Canalscape bike path, no matter how short or how long your ride will be.

Bike shares, mountain bikes, gravel bikes? All perfect. Obviously, some riders will do better on bikes built for the ride they’re doing. I wouldn’t want to ride more than a few miles on a bike share just because the position is so weird.

I also wonder what the rules are for powered. If someone gets on the Grand Canalscape with a bike retrofitted with a gas motor, is that legal? And which types of electric bikes are OK?

Bottom Line

The Grand Canal just has too many inherent flaws to make the Grand Canalscape bike path anything special.

No matter how many espresso carts, public art, bike shops or water fountains line the route, it will always have a herky-jerky stop-start nature that drives long-distance cyclists crazy.

grand canalscape bike path
Some parts get pretty industrial, but that’s OK.

But for local commuters and casual cyclists? That’s another story. They should love it. I know it lacks any shade, but that’s honestly OK for short rides. This could get a few cars off the road, and that’s no small matter.

Let’s just hope that better cycling infrastructure like the Arizona Canal and the Rio Salado bike path get the attention they deserve. Those are the real game-changers for serious local cyclists.

And again, I have to credit The Loop as Arizona’s number-one example of prime cycling infrastructure.

VIDEO: The Pivin Loop and Papago Park

The Pivin Loop at Papago Park has become unbelievably fun over the past few years. It didn’t even exist until a few years ago when the City of Phoenix decided to — without public input — plow the existing singletrack trails.

There was plenty of howling and gnashing of teeth (including myself). Some people wanted the trails restored to their original state. I thought that was a crappy option. I could see the use in the new trails, even if I didn’t like the method. The wide, smooth trails are perfect for runners and wheelchairs. I advocated for building new trails.

And sho’ ’nuff, someone did. It wasn’t the city, that’s for sure. Because these trails rock hard. They exceed the original trails in every single measure. More fun, more challenge — yet beginners like the dudes I met this weekend were undaunted and willing to try their luck (a few pointers from a certain rider helped them clean an obstacle that had stymied them).

The Pivin Loop at a Glance

Some guy on Strava mapped this loop out. I don’t think he actually built it. But he sure as hell staked his claim to history by IDing this 4-mile loop that encompasses all the good that Papago Park has to offer.

There are other new offshoots of the Pivin Loop. None have worn in as nicely, though. None can match the variety and ever-elusive and hard-to-define flow of the Pivin Loop. There are even a few little jumps scattered around to make things more fun.

In retrospect, I welcome the 5k and say good riddance to the old trails. The Pivin Loop thoroughly whoops their ass.

What Next?

I’d like the city to actually legitimize these trails. Someone did what they couldn’t — faster and inexpensively, to boot. And cities that have offroad trails need to figure out a way to tap these resources. Why not welcome them into the fold to use their expertise and time?

Bureaucracy has a place. But this isn’t rocket surgery. It’s just people having an idea about using the existing resources better.

Anyway, on to the video. Enjoy!

What Does it Cost to Use a Blink Charging Station?

Back in September, the cost to use Blink EV charging took a slight dive. They switched from time-based charging to kilowatt-hour charging. This makes a lot of sense. Before this change, it actually cost more to use the Blink Charging Network than it did to operate a gas-powered vehicle.

Which is of course a giant scam: Low operating cost is one of the benefits of owning an electric vehicle. That’s why the total cost of ownership for a $40,000-ish Tesla Model 3 is lower than the cost of a $25,000-ish Toyota. When I charge at home, it costs about $1.60 to charge enough to drive 120 miles. With Blink charging, the same amount of charging would cost about $22.40. That’s right: literally 20 times the price of charging at my house.

Since the change, Blink network members will now pay 39 cents per kWh. That’s a considerable improvement and brings the price down to about $15.60 to “fill” my car from empty (which is rare – typically, EV owners add a few kilowatt-hours here and there whenever they park).

blink charging
Blink charging stations

Non-members will pay 49 cents per kWh. For you math majors out there, the cost before the switch from time-based pricing was about 56 per kWh.
This isn’t a big difference mathematically, but it’s a step in the right direction toward uniform and reasonable pricing.

Have a look at this pricing calculator to get an idea of the per kWh charge in your state; keep in mind, though, that it may not reflect options like generating your own solar power.

How does Blink Charging Compare to Other Networks?

That’s nearly impossible to answer. There are some networks like Volta that are free. Businesses pay to advertise on the stations, which pays for the electricity. Then we have ChargePoint, which ranges from about the same as Blink at some stations to free at other stations — some businesses eat the cost of charging to bring in customers and strut their environmentalist cred.

Using Blink charging, Volta and free charging at work to run my Toyota RAV 4 EV, I’ve paid less than $1 in the last month for charging away from home. That accounts for about 75 percent of my charging.

If the other charging networks are even remotely smart, they need to attack Blink Charging and its high rates.

blink charging
The Blink Charging Network is riding the wave of contracts with municipalities. When they expire, Blink will need to step its game up to survive.

What’s the Future for Blink?

I have no idea how long Blink Charging will be around. They’re still priced high relative to other networks. The quality of their stations varies greatly (some have displays you can’t read during daylight hours). The stock price was pretty well in the toilet when I wrote this, but it bounced pretty high in late 2020. They don’t have a good reputation with EV drivers.

Working in their favor, Blink got ahead of the curve and managed to snag long-term deals with quite a few public institutions. Here in Arizona, they’re ubiquitous on the Arizona State University campus, City of Phoenix buildings, City of Chandler buildings, and more than a few others.

Once those deals dry up, though, Blink is either going to have to try a lot harder or risk being the Edsel of charging stations.

Review: Frenzy Hills Mountain Bike Race

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

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

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

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

Frenzy Hills, Not a Frenzied Vibe

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

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

Awesome Aid Stations

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

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

frenzy hills jackass junction
Taking a break at Jackass Junction

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

Race Necessities Were Perfect

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

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

Relive ‘Frenzy Hills 2019’

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

My Day on the Bike

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

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

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

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

An Interesting Lesson

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

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

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

Frenzy Hills Finale

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

Visiting Seattle with a Kid

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

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

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

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

Where to Stay

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

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

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

How to Have Fun in Seattle with a Kid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Eat

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

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

food in seattle
Delicious Senegalese food!

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

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

A Little Bit of Fun for the Parents

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

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

seattle with a kid
Having a donut with Lufthansa Lu.

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

There be Beer Here

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

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

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

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

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

Point A to Point B

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

seattle with a kid
Taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island

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

Seattle with a Kid — Do It

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

Recap: The 2019 Tour de Scottsdale

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

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

This year would be different

Leading up to the Tour de Scottsdale

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

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

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

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

Something Awesome About Tour de Scottsdale

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

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

What’s in Your Feedbag?

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

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

tour de scottsdale
A view from my handlebar.

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

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

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

Quick Bike Note

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

How I Rode the Tour de Scottsdale

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

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

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

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

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

An Observation About the Cities

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

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

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

The End Result

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

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

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

Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV Right For You?

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

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

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

Why Do You Want a Plug-In Hybrid?

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

You Want to Create Less Pollution 

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

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

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

You Want to Save Money

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

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

You Want Less Maintenance?

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

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

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

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

 You Want to Support Efforts to Reduce Emissions

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

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

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

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

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

You Want Performance

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

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

Other Factors

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV Right for You?

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

Do Bicycle Safety Cameras Really Help?

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

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

The Cycliq Fly12 CE: The Standard in Bicycle Safety Cameras

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

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

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

Here’s What Makes the Cycliq Fly12 CE Different

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

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

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

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

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

Cool Idea. Does it Make You Safer?

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

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

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

What Else Should I Know?

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line on the Cycliq Fly12 CE

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

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

AMain Cycling provided the Cycliq Fly12 CE for review. 

We All Need to Stop Being Wusses and Eat Crickets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Animal Cruelty?

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

eat crickets
GIF by Spoon University

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

You Want ME to Eat Crickets?

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

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

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

eat crickets
Weird Al needs no captions.

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

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

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

Quit being a wuss and eat crickets.

The Taylor House Ride in Flagstaff – What You Should Know


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

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

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

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

Taylor House Ride is More Overgrown Group Ride than Race

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

Relive ‘Taylor House 65-mile Ride’

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

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

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

It’s All About Scenery

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

sunset crater
Looking into the business end of Sunset Crater

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

A Tough Ride Between Climbing and Wind

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

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

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

Wrapping Up the Taylor House Ride

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

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

Also huge props for:

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

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

sunset crater
A look at the lava flow

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

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

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

renew a passportCost and Time to Renew a Passport

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

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

Now, contrast this to Merry Ol’ England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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