Wednesday, October 26, 2011

WRIAD on the brain

WRIAD:  White Rim In A Day.  The 100+ mile loop in the Canyonlands Natl Park that most sane cyclists do with SAG over a few days.  Other not so sane riders do it in one shot, pre-dawn to dusk. 

The route is not terribly difficult from what I have read.  The elevation gain is moderate at, IIRC, 5K' or so.  And it is not really all that technical.  But 102 miles offroad is still 102 miles and 9 to 12 hours in the saddle is not something to take too lightly.   It is remote with no water or supplies over the course and no cell phone coverage.  The weather can play into the time it takes to complete the loop and when you are so far in, keeping going is just as good as turning back.  Mechanicals need to be dealt with.  No easy way to get out of there.

Still, it is well traveled as far as backcountry routes go and the jeep road (no singletrack) is well marked and easy to follow.  The scenery is like one postcard shot after another.  It is quiet that far out in the Canyonlands.  Moab and the surrounding areas are magical in many ways and you can look around and feel like you are the only man on earth.

Just one man, all alone, who has a long ways to pedal.

I am intrigued. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Rise of the 'Everybike 29er'

I was running down a rocky, rutted trail in Southern France after just enduring a short but intense ascent up a dirt road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  We had gotten to that point by way of a few miles of back alley riding around town.  I enjoyed the tight and responsive ride of a sample bike I rode to the trail head with nary a pedal bob or sluggish feel.  Then I had saddled up on a carbon FS and ridden the dirt section of the ride enjoying a bike that pedaled really well and was quite light despite the XL frame and less-than-Gucci parts spec. This one climbed very well and I remember thinking that I could race this bike just as it was.

Now I was on this roller coaster of a downhill ride on a longer travel feeling FS 29er with moderate trailbike angles and thinking that it was almost as good as the Specialized FSR I have on long term test, but it was more agile.  This would make a great medium to light/heavy trailbike and would do likely 90% of what the FSR does.

The thing was, it was all on the same bike.  The townie ride, the fast climb, the tricky bike changes.  One bike, in this case a Specialized Camber Evo, a Euro spec bike, but comparable to a Camber Expert Carbon for the most part.  Carbon main frame, 110mm of front and rear travel, 70* HT angle, decently short chainstays, good tire clearance, bigger front rotor, nice 2x10 SRAM build.  Lock out fork and Propedal.  Fast but strong wheels.

And it occurred to me that 2012 is seeing the rise of the Everybike in the 29er world, that being a nearly do-all scooter that is light enough to race but tough enough, long enough (travel wise) and slack enough to trail ride.  It is a 29er bike you can take nearly anywhere and be good to go and that has not been the case until now.  Last year the Santa Cruz carbon Tall Boy caught my attention as a bike that, when run with a 120mm fork, was a pretty good do-all bike.  Light enough, stiff enough, capable enough.  Only 100mm of rear travel, but that was not too much of a deal breaker.

Now this year we see the promised Ibis Ripley, something my buddy that works at Ibis called a "Quiver Killer".  There is the Camber I was riding, the new Lenz Mammoth just announced, perhaps the Salsa Horsethief, and others to come.  So what makes a great Everybike?  Glad you asked.

Light weight -  Not crazy light but somewhere in that 27lb or less range in a XL.  25lbs would be a great target to shoot for.  Now that is a number pulled out of thin air a bit, but at that weight and with good wheels, it begins to pull itself along nicely.  Some aluminum bikes will not get there.  Some will.  The Lenz likely will as Devin is a wizard at whittling frame weights down...not sure about the Horsethief or the new Yeti SB95 but they are strong contenders.  Perhaps with the right parts.  But, in this case, carbon is king and the better Everybikes will be carbon and not cheap.

Enough travel - 100mm is not enough.  130mm is perhaps too much.  120mm is likely the sweet spot for the Everybike, but the overall balance will count for more than just the travel numbers.

The right spec - Parts need to be prudently chosen to keep the bike responsive and wheels need to be very good.  Tires cannot be a weight weenie 2.0 but on the Everybike, you can always change tires for the occasion. 

The right geometry - Just a bit slacker is better for an Everybike.  Not way into the 60*s, but 71.5* HT angles ain't gonna do it either IMO.

Now if you have a few 26ers in your garage, then you likely already have one of these 26" Everybikes.  Something like a carbon Stumpjumper or a Yeti 575 or maybe even a Ibis Mojo SL.  It is a bike that you can run on the weekends with your buds and still hang in the Team 12 hour before you head off to the Bike Park to ride the 'Blue' rated trails.  Not brilliant at anything, but very good at everything.

The Everybike 29er is here now too and they are gonna' sell a ton of them. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Leaving is Verboten.

Well, the time in France was over and we bid adieu to the soft winds and soft sand of the coastline, loaded up in the six speed diesel mini-van rental bus, and drove to the airport at Nice.  In the airport I enjoyed a crazy good chocolate muffin and a cappuccino and waited with the others for our flight to arrive.   The flight status board showed our plane on time at first, then 15 minute delayed.  Then 30 minute delayed.  Then it got worse.  The loudspeaker told us that there were issues at the Frankfurt, Germany, airport and that we might be quite late for our connecting flight.  We only had 90 minutes to make that plane change and that was looking grim.

The cool thing was hanging with Gary Fisher...yes, the Gary the Nice airport as we waited.  I have met Gary before on several occasions and I am always glad to see him.  Aside from any controversy on what he actually did or did not do as a founding father of Mtn Bikes, he was and is a bike nut of the first order and is a smart and creative person.  If you ride a bike, he is your friend.  Gary, we sure are glad you came along when you did.  Thanks for all you do and I sure miss your name on the downtube of a Mtn Bike in BIG letters where it belongs.

Finally on the tarmac in the plane, we were once again delayed by the removal of three drunk passengers.  And their luggage.  Oh my.  Quite tardy arriving at Frankfurt, it was obvious that our plane home was long gone.  There was a pre-strike meeting for all the ground crews that service the planes, so very few flights were moving.  Some lucky folks made it on another flight that afternoon, but not this little soldier.  Nope.  Seven hours and multiple lines later, I was re-booked on a later flight the next day and headed to a hotel courtesy of Lufthansa.  Well, how about that?  I had actually figured I would be sleeping in the airport, but the hotel room was a welcome relief.

The next morning I was headed home on a 747-400 double decker nicely stuffed into economy class.  I had been away from home a long time and I was feeling lonely and vulnerable.  I was drawn to a girl next to me.  Her big eyes caught my attention and her wonderfully shaped ears spoke of fine breeding.  I missed what she offered...a warm touch, soft breath, playful kisses, a wet nose.  Gotta have a wet nose.  I have to admit it...I stole a few looks and shared some meaningful glances between us.  I think she liked me.  But I felt the pangs of guilt for the lady I have at home.  That lab/greyhound mix just would not understand my airplane 'fling'.  So, I left it at that, turned back to my iPod and drifted off to sleep feeling lonely still, but virtuous.  What happens in Germany very nearly stays in Germany and I was headed home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vive la (in)différence

Ah, yes...the French waiter.  We had many meals in France, some really good, some really bad, but on the average the food was quite tasty.  But the service was, ahhh...unique.  There was a pattern that repeated over and over.  We would be seated and wait.  Drinks would be ordered.  Water was not a given.  You had to ask, and even then it was likely to be bottled (not free).  If you did get it in a pitcher or caraffe, it would not be refilled when empty, no matter how long you sat there.  Ice with your drinks?  Not likely.

Then, after quite a while, food orders would get taken and written down, typically on a little pad of paper like here in the US (or maybe on a PDA looking thing).  Now waiters here, even in the normal restaurant, will write the orders down so that they know who gets what plate when it is delivered.  I have never been a waiter, but there must be a system they use.

Apparently that has never made it over the 'pond'.  The food would eventually show up and the waiter would ask, in French of course, who had the [insert some French words here of mystery] platter?  Heck, we could barely read the menu to know what we wanted much less pronounce it an hour later.  So this comedy would proceed meal after meal.  Order with vague for meaning at food delivery time.  It was amusing and annoying all at the same time.  The only thing that would have made it better was for the waiter to be a mime.  Marcel Marceau, where are you when we needed you?

"No, Monsieur American customer...I have no idea what you ordered, nes pa?"

The other thing I noticed was the, well, not rudeness really, just indifference.  You out of bread?  Need water?  Want your plates cleared away?  "I do not care, nes pa?"  Apparently.  Tons of impersonal attention going on here.  Truly odd.  In one eatery we made an error in ordering and ended up with an extra meal of pasta.  No biggy.  We will take it back to the guys in the mechanics truck.  I asked for a to go box.  You would think I requested the Holy Grail.  Really?  Maybe they do not do 'take-out' in France.

The nice thing was a much more relaxed approach to the meal.  They took a long time and no one seemed to be in a hurry to get you out of the table space.  Kinda' cool and I wish that was more common these days.  It does make for long lines for the next customer though.

So all in all, one can expect food equal to a fine eatery and service equal to a bad cafeteria.  Does the government run the food services?  Very civil servant like.  In France, Burger King says "Have it our way".  Want to know where all the French waiters were trained?  At the American Department of Motor Vehicles.  I could go on, but I feel the need to be ignored and pay for the privilege.  I am heading to the Post Office for a cappuccino.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am an island

In the US, unless you are at an airport or Disneyland, you typically hear English spoken.  Of course there is a huge Latin population and other groups from far-away lands who live here, but by and large they tend to speak English too at some point.  In fact, English is the defacto language for most international travel and business.

The end result of this has had one unfortunate by-product.  We as Americans tend to speak only one language...English.  To be bi-lingual is usually due to having an ethnic background where the parents speak another language or you were raised as a youth in another country, etc.  But largely, linguistically speaking, we are a rock, we are an island.

In Europe (and in Israel too) it is very common to proficiently speak several languages or at least be decent conversationally.  I guess some of that is the close borders that make it easy to have move between countries.  You can travel thousands of miles and never leave the States.  Why else?  Not sure.  Maybe it is more of a world awareness.  Maybe the educational system...dunno.

In any case, it is a bit of a smackdown every time I travel and realize that the waiter at my table speaks French, German, and English.  In Israel it was Hebrew, Arabic and English.  Me?  Stoopid American.  I can just fall back on the old sloooowly and loudly in bad English like some Steve Martin comedy and gesture accordingly.  That always helps annoy the locals.

Most of what I know came from watching movies and TV.  The funny thing is, I have a pretty good ear for languages.  I just never put in the effort to learn one.  Island living does that to ya'.  But, I think I need to change that.  I don't buy into the "I am a citizen of the world" stuff.  I am a citizen of the US.  But I think I need to get off the island more.

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's the little things.

Things seem to be smaller in they were left out in the rain or something and shrunk.  Cars, houses, roads, beds, bathrooms, elevators...all kinds of stuff.  I suppose that comes from having limited room to grow as a country (typically).  I mean, there is nothing here like the US of A's wide open spaces where those deer and antelope play.

And I imagine some of that is simple economics.  Fuel costs (typically diesel) abroad can be significant.  Small cars make sense in heavy traffic and narrow roads.  They cost less to own and are easy to park, etc.  I like this actually.  It flys in the face of the V8 behemoths that typically carry a soccer mom and her nubbins around town.  I never saw any lifted Powerstrokes with license plates that said RVRLIMO, etc, getting 10 miles per gallon on a good day.  The cars there are cool looking too.  Like the Peugeot in this first pic and the new World Car version of the Ford Focus (second pic) we get here for 2012 (no diesel option though).

The elevators seem to be Lilliputian too.  This was how big the one in the hotel was.  The first pic is the floor area and the second pic is looking down with my feet against the back wall.  That is not a room to tango in.  A good size phone booth would make this seem roomy.

But you know, I like the smaller approach.  We are tuned to wide open living and it is slowly or not so slowly catching up with us.  For decades, bigger was better, so we were told.  I think, in reality, we were upsizing the emperors new suit and the tailor is now handing us the bill.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pardon me American lady, is that your butt or a snow plow?

Average French 40 year old woman.
der·ri·ère also der·ri·ere  (dr-âr)
The buttocks; the rear.

[French, behind, from Old French deriere, in back of, from Vulgar Latin *d retr : Latin d, from, of; see de- + Latin retr, back; see retro-.]

Yeah.  We are an obese nation or culture or people or whatever.  We are fat, on average, and getting fatter.  Along with that comes climbing rates of juvenile diabetes, high blood pressure, early joint failure, heart disease, etc.

Fat, fat, fatty.

I was at a stateside restaurant with the wifey (who is a knockout at post the big five-oh) and noticed a family next door that was made of three generations.  Grandparents (I assume here), parents and grand kids.  All of them were dumplings.  And, sloppily dressed ones too.  Poor kids...what do they know?

In all of France, including a few hours of people-watching in a public area, I saw two overweight ladies.  Two.  And they were just plump, not obese.  I saw a few men with bellies, but nothing that a bit of time on a stairmaster would not fix.  I never have seen so many 40s, 50s, and above ladies who had kept themselves up.  They were just 'trim'.  And they actually could move along under their own power at a good clip, none of the fat person, bad knees, ankles, out of breath death march I see in the US.

Very attractive.  And the French dress well too, guys included.  I liked that.  Americans are very casual dressers.  I am not suggesting we go back to Ozzie and Harriett and wear suits, ties, and pearls for dinner at home, but a bit of care and style is a good thing.

Shame on us.  I am not sure if it is the diet, the portions, the culture or what, but it was striking.  Oh, I am sure that in some areas of Europe that weight can be an issue, but not what I saw in that part of France or the time I spent in Germany.  I never saw a fast food food joint in town anywhere.  No supersized sodas full of high fructose corn syrup.  Food portions were moderate most of the places we ate and people seemed to eat more often, but have less of it.

My first day back at work I was in the supermarket and out of the 5 women that were in line ahead of me, 3 were very overweight, not to mention the cow in the moo-moo at the dairy box.

I know this.  If I ever need to find a new lady in my life (God forbid), I may just have to shop overseas.  Wanna' know one reason that America is falling behind in the world?  They are out of breath.

Vive la France...Vive la Derriere.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

So this is France?

Looks like Santa Barbara, CA, to me.  We were in Côte d'Azur along the Mediterranean coast of France, but it looked like a nearby seaside area I am familiar with.  Very cozy and easy going, the soft winds and softer sand were seductive.  It is France after all, so one would expect that.

The hotel was very nice and quiet and the whole area was in the off season, so even traffic was light.  If it was not for the race venue going on, I bet it really would have been sleepy there.

There were some oddities though.  The elevator had a button that said floor '0' (zero).  Well, now...I am not sure I want to press that one.  Kinda twilight zone-ish.  I was looking for Rod Serling every time I hit that one to go to the lobby.  Yeah...'0' equals 'L'.

Then there was the language thing that made some signs kinda' interesting.   There was the one that apparently told of a public plague involving dogs.  I guess the French finally figured out the fleas/black death thing.

Or there was the restaurant that proudly advertised it specialized in poisons.  That was to fight off the plague, no doubt.

Then there was this image on a menu board in a restaurant that amazed me.  It is an ad for a soft drink called Orangina.  At first I thought it was topless which would have made sense since the beach next to us was.  In any case, it struck me as truly odd in a very French way.

 That was only matched by the service van on the ground at the Frankfurt airport that had ASS written on the side in large letters.  Really?  They carry that around in trucks now?  How about that.  In the US they would need a bigger truck to carry the average load of ASS around and that will lead into my upcoming post.  Why are French (and German too), ahhhh...derrieres...less wide than American ones?  My thoughts on that remarkable observation later.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Qu’ils mangent de la brioche"

Or, as it is loosely translated, "Let them eat cake".  That quote is attributed to Marie Antoinette, but it seems to be unlikely that she actually said it.  In any case, the saying was in response to a supposed 'princess' that, when informed that the French peasants had no simple bread to eat, suggested that they eat "brioche", or an enriched pastry (cake).   The saying is now a symbol of the upper classes ignorance of the common man's plight.

But for me, it points out that we in America have Dunkin' Donuts.  Europe has awesome stuff like this pic from the Frankfurt airport.  Seriously?  I mean, this would be a CRAZY fancy pastry/deli/bakery shop in the US and this is just in the airport for cryin' out loud.  Fabulous pastries, ham and cheese croissants, serious'....etc.  Israel was like this too.

None of it is crazy sugary sweet either.  No jelly filled, fried dough here.  But wow, was it good.  I came to find this commonly across the countries I was in and it was in stark contrast to what I am used to seeing.  Yeah....I ate there.  I mean, how could I not? 

That is when I found out how the Euro is unfriendly to the dollar.  Oh well.  What cost, that cake, eh?  Vive la brioche!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

France or Bust: Off to Roc d'azur

Airports promise the romantic in me that they are portals to adventure.  They deliver to the realist in me long waits, hassles, and odd restrictions.  Nevertheless, and despite the disparity there, I continued to hope for the best as I signed up for another go around in the pursuit of far away places.

Perhaps the worst part about airports is that they inevitably place you into an airplane.  Those noisy, flying germ tubes are such a bore.  I am not worried about dying or anything so dramatic, I just hate that I cannot get up and escape the crying child, sneezy woman, or snoring guy with too much ear hair.  Just how much ear hair IS too much anyway?  Not sure.

Anyway, I do like looking out the windows as the earth rolls by, but when the flights are 11 or more hours and all you see are clouds or ocean or darkness....well, that sucks to be me.

In this case, I was sucking all the way to France by way of Germany.  Neat places to go...awful way to get there.  So, for a while I will spend some time blogging about the recent trip, Europe-ness, odd things, and being an American in the land of fromage, mimes, and long dinners.

Left LAX in the rain.  Hello Lufthansa.  Or should I say "Guten Morgen"

Cloudy in Frankfurt too.  Yet another plane.

Plane shrinkage.  In Europe everything is smaller. The Germans love the efficiency and the French find it easier to ignore.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yet another beer can dream?

Well,  I seem to be locked in this Sisyphean task of becoming happy with riding an aluminum hardtail, and of course, a singlespeed at that.  Another new frame arrived that will be getting built up for duty, but what I usually do is strip the existing SS and move parts over.  This time I am working on a ground up build as I want to have both bikes up for the duration.

This is the new frame, a 2012 Specialized Carve Pro SS.  You won't see it in the Specialized website for USA and I actually cannot find it on any other country I checked, but it must exist as I have one.  Pretty, too.  Striking black and white motif and the tapered HT and hydroformed tubes are very stout looking.  Notice the lack of chainstay and seatstay bridges?  Also notice that there is no crimping of the chainstay at the chainring area?

This frame is kind of the next step up from the old Rockhopper SS frame I tested last year.  I liked a lot about that 'Hopper SS frame:  The spit shell eccentric BB, the long top tube, the handling, the short back end.  But the frame simply was not refined enough (too flexy) to make it a great SS choice, especially when the ride was only so-so as far as compliance.  However, even with the under-built chassis, it still pedaled very well and accelerated nicely.

So that brings me back to Sisyphus and that rolling rock of his.  I know that an SS frame should be a pedaling monster in that you want great transfer of power when it is stoked along.  Oversize and shaped aluminum tubes can provide that easily enough, but I really am smitten with the smooth ride of steel.  But steel can be heavy unless it is really expensive steel, like the recent Spot Rocker.  So here I am with the new Carve Pro SS, hoping that I will get great power transfer, lighter frame weight, and...hope hope...a decent ride.  They claim to have designed compliance into the rear of the frame and it looks like that may be true.  But I also have a plan...if the center of the bike is hard core, soften the edges a bit.

Specialized woke up corporately and spec'd 27.2mm seatposts on the hardtails I have seen for 2012.  That is sooo smart as a nice 27.2mm post will go a long ways toward softening the blows up through the saddle.  Then, run a WTB Pure V saddle.  Comfy, yet firm, and with a rear kick to it that allows you to unweight a bit and still put some power to the pedals.  Then, a decent fork...maybe even 100mm...not sure yet.  But at the bottom end, I am going to run some 2.25 tires or bigger and at a max of 25psi.  That ought to make a difference.

The Geax Saguaros will fill that bill for now and although they are a bit of a weight hit in the TNT casing version, the benefit is an ability to run at lower pressures and still have the tire casing retain decent handling manners, unlike less stout tires.   They also are pretty tall and roll like a ghost.  We shall see how that works out.  Can I get an alu bike to give me that better than steel response and steering and yet not pummel me into submission?  We shall see.  I think that between what the Big S did in the design lab and what I will do is going to be a good combo.  I know this frame looks darn fast and fun, if a frame can do that.  If not, then there is always carbon if I can find a carbon SS frame that I think is right for me.  Most are too race oriented, like the Stumpjumper Carbon SS and the Niner Carbon.  So, I go into this build with renewed hopes of a better all around bike for my needs.

Me and Sisyphus.  We are such romantics. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Baker's Dozen

Oh my goodness.  13.  I would never have believed it.  What a year.  Glad they are not grizzly bears.  Last night was a two footer crossing the road and tonite was a youngster (a coooold one) stretched out on the trail.   Maybe the cooler weather coming in will encourage 'denning up'.