Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: Keen Arroyo II Sandal

This is one of those times when my cheapness got me. The Arroyo II Sandal was on sale on Amazon at  $55, and I picked up the exact same size as the Newports I usually use. The Newports are so great that whenever I wear out a pair, I just buy a new one, but they are expensive.

Unfortunately, the Arroyos aren't nearly as nice. They're still wearable, but I just don't like them as much. For one thing, they're a half size big compared to the Newports. For another, the casing is leather instead of fabric, which means that you can't treat them roughly (e.g., use them on a sailing trip, run in water, etc).

I should have tried them on earlier but didn't do so until recently so I can't return them now. I'll just have to wear them to death. Not recommended.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

First Impressions: Canon G7X Mk 2

I've been wanting to replace the Sony RX100 for a long time. Roberto owned and recommended the Canon G7X Mark II, and it ticked all the right boxes: 24mm wide angle, 4X zoom (the 24-100mm range is easily my favorite range), fast (f/2.8 at maximum zoom, f/1.8 at minimum), 1" sensor, image stabilization, fast continuous shooting (missing from the RX100) and a flip up screen. Retail price is a nose bleeding $679. But Canon had a refurbished sale for $450 (Canon refurb'd cameras come with a year warranty), so I jumped on it. You might be tempted by the G9X Mark II, which often sells for cheaper and is a newer camera, but don't. That camera has a much slower lens and does not get to 24mm (the wide angle side of the lens only goes to 28mm)

The G7X Mark II is heavy (11.1oz vs RX100's 8.55oz). Most of the reason is the tilt screen. It still fits in a cycling jersey pocket (important for my use case), and the start up time feels a little faster than the RX100's was (2.2s vs 2.8). But most important of all, it has physical controls, which makes shooting with it while riding much better than with most phones (the Moto series is a notable exception, with twist to shoot and the volume buttons as shutter buttons, as is the Sony).
Continuous mode was great. You could hold down the shutter button and just twist the camera, letting you get a guaranteed good shot of your son on a tandem while riding. The penalty, however, is an astonishingly long 15 seconds after that it'll take for the buffer to clear before you're allowed to close the camera and put it back into your pocket! So that makes continuous shooting a bike path or easy riding feature only. Fortunately, the shutter button is correctly calibrated, and I never took a continuous sequence of shots when my intention was to shoot a single shot instead.
At 21 mega pixel, I could crop 80% of the pixels and still get usable images. That makes it a good choice for shooting from a moving bicycle.
When stopped, you can get great images, and the fact that you're shooting RAW files means that even when you forget to turn on fill flash,  you can recover shadow detail in Lightroom. As a relatively old camera, this is supported even in the pre-subscription-only version of Lightroom.

One of the great practical features of this camera for bike touring is that it will charge either via the included charger or via micro USB port. No more carrying a dedicated charger while on tour, but if you do carry the dedicated charger the charge time is significantly less. The other good feature is that you can use a wireless connection from your phone to download photos from the camera to the phone and also geotag the photos from the camera's GPS log. Again, very useful when touring, but I still wished the camera geotagged itself like the Canon S90/95 series did.

It's a great camera, and at a discounted price, well worth the money (and extra weight). Recommended.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

First Impressions: Columbia Mens Titanium Outdry Ex Reversible Jacket

I needed something heavier/warmer for winter riding, and came upon the Columbia Titanium Outdry jacket on sale. Like the Rab Windveil, it comes with a hood, but unlike the Windveil, the material is heavy enough that it doesn't flap in the wind. The sleeves do flap in the wind when you're descending above about 20mph, but all jackets are going to do that if they're not 100% form fitting, and good luck with that if you're skinny!

The jacket is relatively heavy, my size small jacket came in at 345g, or almost 3x the weight of the Rab Windveil. In exchange, it's much better in cold weather, comfortable in a range from about 32F to about 50F in active conditions (i.e., you're cycling, not standing or sitting and reading a book, for instance). I tested it on a morning ride and found that near about 48F you start wanting to unzip and take it off. The jacket is reversible, so you can wear it shiny side out or matte side out. My guess is shiny side out is better for rainy conditions (so the water beads off the waterproof coating and doesn't soak into the jacket making it heavier), and matte side out is better for around town where you don't want to look like someone equipped for severe weather conditions.

The jacket absolutely will not roll up to fit inside a jersey pocket: don't even think about that. It's purely a pannier/backpack item. I can't decide whether it's a better item to have in conjunction with the Rab Windveil or weather a fleece will be better. My guess is that fleece jackets are less practical on a bike tour because having an extra layer of waterproofing is potentially more useful.

I'll be keeping this one. Even when not on tour, it's a great cold weather jacket. I guess that means I'm recommending it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Review: Balancing on Blue

Balancing on Blue will probably never make the best seller lists: you can't even find it at your local library. It'll never be made into a major motion picture, and that's a good thing. Unlike more dramatic accounts of through-hikes, it's made up of days after days of competent hiking:
The soles of my feet had formed the usual hard covering of skin, the body’s method of dealing with constant wear and tear. Two, small ridges ran along the underside of my little toes which always happened on thru-hikes and the pads below my big toes were hard and calloused. Now on full throttle and fighting fit, I slowly started making inroads into the mileage deficit. My mileage was hovering around twenty-five each day and I’d even thrown in a couple of thirties. (Pg. 144)
The author, Keith Foskett, has already hiked the El Camino de Santiago and the PCT, so long distance hiking is not new to him. He doesn't make a big deal out of camping, getting dirty (though there's several pages devoted to crotch rot, which I'd experienced in my youth as a recruit in a tropical army), and enjoys giving people trail names far too much.

The trail descriptions are fun, and also provide me insight that I didn't know, such as nobody seems to carry a trail map on the AT, but usually just a digital guidebook with elevation profiles (apparently it's hard to get really lost). There's also a little bit of history, as well as a story about a death on the trail of another hiker. There's plenty of great prose about the beauty of the scenery, and of course, the great gift of the American wilderness: solitude.

Foskett has plenty of attitude, and is at least honest about how rude he is (in one instance, he insists on his personal trail name for another hiker, despite her picking another one for herself). It's also quite clear from the book that the AT is such a long hike that days away from the trail are necessary in some cases to recover.

I'll probably never do a big through hike of the 3 major US trails, but Balancing on Blue is a fun short read without the whining, moaning, and groaning (and insanely stupid stunts) that mar other memoirs of such accounts. In short, it's not incompetence literature, and therefore recommended.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Review: SweatVac Ventilator Cap

I don't know about you, but one of my limiting factors when cycling is sweat output. Basically, the point at which sweat runs into my eyes is the point at which I have to back off my effort level and slow down. One of the problems of growing up in the tropics is that you develop excessive sweat glands, which means that any time you workout you sweat way too much: enough to leave salt stains on your clothing and salt on your face after a hard ride. The best solution, of course, is to not let your kids overheat when they're growing up or they'll end up with too many sweat glands too. But that's too late for me.

Type "sweat band" into Amazon, and you'll get a collection of terry-cloth bands. These might work if you're a tennis player, soccer player, or basketball player, but any sport where a helmet is essential safety gear rules those out: they puff up your head to the point where a helmet won't fit. Ages ago, I bought a 3-pack of lycra sweat bands that were perfect from Nashbar. They were thin, and absorbed sweat very well. They were also comfortable, because they didn't come with elastic: you tied a knot, which let you adjust the appropriate tension. Their fatal flaw is that they're easy to lose, and this year I lost the last of them and of course, neither Nashbar nor anyone else carries anything similar (they were probably too low profit margin). This illustrates the major principle of cycling as a hobby: if you see something you like, make sure you buy a lifetime supply, because the cycling "industry" is incapable of leaving something that works very well alone.

By the way, the best sweat band ever made is the cotton cycling cap. They're great and I use them when touring in the Alps, where multi-hour climbs are the norm. But they don't work well under helmets and give me a headache if I try to use them in combination. And of course, when touring with my son I can't not wear a helmet if I'm to set a good example.

So now Nashbar only carries two types of sweat bands, the skull cap, or the elastic band which is much thicker than the lycra bands I used to use. I ordered both types. The elastic band looked like it'll die on me after a few rides (elastic does tend to do that), so I tried the SweatVac cap first. It's thin, fits nicely under the helmet, and not too tight.

Unfortunately, a mere 50 minutes of hard riding up a mountain and these immediately fail to keep up with my sweat output. I was once again forced to back off my effort and slow down. Not recommended!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review: Transit Metro Trunk Bag

Trunk bags are a strange beast. They don't carry very much (not even the huge ones), and they depend on you having a rack on the back of the bike. Most of the time, if you're going to have a rack, you might as well use panniers, which have much higher storage capacity, and don't weigh very much, considering you already have a rack on the bike.

Pretty much, their primary use is for day rides on a bike where the rack is permanently affixed and/or too much trouble to remove for the occasion. In that case, when you're trying to ride with a club, they're more aerodynamic than panniers, even if they're not much lighter.

Well, actually, the TransIt Metro Trunk Bag is the first trunk bag I found that's actually quite a bit lighter than our panniers. At a 215g weight (which I checked against a postal scale), they're one quarter the weight of one of our Robert Beckman panniers.  They're also less than half the weight of the huge Escape DX Trunk bag that it replaced. The Escape also had the problem that it would lean to one side during a ride. That didn't bother me or Bowen, but it bothered a lot of other cyclists we rode with, to the point where at least 5 cyclists would bug us about it during a ride.

So for $25 or so, I got rid of the annoying comments, and have a lighter bike at the same time. That makes this trunk bag recommended.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: The Disappearing Spoon

After The Violinist's Thumb, I decided to see if his other books were any good. All of his books were readily available in ebook format from the local library, so I soon had The Disappearing Spoon on my Kindle.

It's been decades since my high school chemistry classes, so this was a great refresher: it covers the periodic tables and the various elements that form it, as well as going into deep physics. One thing I didn't know, for instance, was that there's active investigation as to whether the fine structure constant is actually a constant.

The various biographies of scientists (some of which never got a Nobel prize despite deserving it) were also great. For instance, I wasn't aware that Marie Curie's daughter Irene Curie, also was a Nobel Prize winner. (Clearly my liberal arts education is missing several spots)

In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the selection of topics, and the way Sam Kean covered them. This book is highly recommended and well worth your time.