Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review: A Better Cycling Camera and an Essential Ergonomic Accessory

The Canon S95 which I called the ideal cycling camera and its successors the Canon S100/110 remain the best choice for a very light, good quality cycling camera. However, small cameras come with a built in limitation: a smaller sensor, the recording device that replaced film. Onscreen photos are crisp enough but 8X10 prints begin to look soft--and become noticeably softer if you enlarge further.  Unless the laws of physics are rewritten you can't expect to print large, high quality photos from a small sensor camera.

Want to hang your cycling photos on the wall? Generally this has meant jumping to a large sensor SLR and a collection of high quality lenses. Unfortunately, SLR lenses can weigh a pound or more each and some require a tripod. Pretty soon you're hauling a photo package that weighs half as much as your bike! I've met bike tourists with fifteen pounds of photo gear.

Recently, the major camera manufacturers have compromised: smaller cameras with a medium sized sensors that accept mini lenses. Such "mid size" units approach SLR-quality photos without the burdensome weight or bulk.

If this were a camera site I'd roll out mind-numbing statistics to justify choosing a Nikon 1 V1. I'd split hairs citing  test equipment "differences" that human beings can't actually see. The truth is almost all digital cameras will take decent photos if all you want to do is post online. Printing is where the rubber meets the road. Print quality improves dramatically as  sensor size increases. And large sensor cameras are also much, much faster, a critical capability when shooting action. But an even more important difference, the one you might want to obsess about, is in the ergonomics.

Speed first: no camera now made at any price in any format is faster than Nikon's entry in the new "mid size" camera market the Nikon 1  which will actually take 60 (Sixty) perfectly exposed frames in one second! You have to see this happen at, say, a soccer game or bird preserve, to appreciate the jaw dropping results.

Doting parents and grandparents struggling to capture fast-moving kids need look no further:  the Nikon 1 is the camera you've been dreaming about. Gone are the empty goal posts shot  just after the  heroic touchdown. Every single moment is captured in sharp, high resolution color and the video capabilities are impressive as well.

Cycle tourists will take home perfect renditions of all shots taken in decent light with this camera.

Now to the ergonomics: even at less than half the size of an SLR, cyclists must consider the extra weight involved, which will vary according to how many lenses you pack. (Two will get you through most situations). The Nikon V1 includes a proper viewfinder which permits you to hold the camera up to your eye instead of struggling to make out a sun-blasted  screen while balancing the whole camera in front of your face, a great feature. Both the photo quality and speed are far better than any small sensor camera, making the mid size Nikon 1 an attractive option for cycle tourists who are serious about photography. The Nikon 1 V1 (below), now last year's model, has dropped to a fraction (as little as one third!) of its original price and can still be had new with a factory warranty. But it has a serious ergonomic flaw:it can easily slip from your hands.


As it comes out of the box the Nikon 1 V1 is a handsome camera with classic rangefinder styling, but how are you supposed to hold on to it? The cosmetic ridge below the "1" isn't going to do you much good if you are shooting one handed from a bike.

As soon as you add the Richard Franiec Grip the V1 is transformed from a slippery bar of plastic to a fine hand tool. Like all Franiec products, the grip appears to be factory made by the manufacturer. In this case it's better than the one that Nikon grudgingly added to the V2 (below).


Nikon followed Franiec's lead: the V1 needed a grip so they  tacked one on to its successor, fattening up the camera even more by squeezing in a (reduced capacity!) battery. The result looks like a halfway measure, an awkward afterthought. If Nikon had simply hired Franiec to design an ergonomic grip the V2 might have retained the elegant good looks of the V1.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

iPhone Power-Saving Tips

Want your iPhone to last all day? Try these settings on your next ride.

  • Turn off Bluetooth (very important)
  • Turn down brightness ( very important)
  • Turn off ask to join networks
  • Turn off push notifications in mail
  • Turn off maps
  • Turn off mail
  • Turn off location finder

Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Ecco Yucatan Sandals

Last year I moved from clip-in pedals to Ergon pedals, which allow me wear any shoe for a bike ride. To put it mildly, this change is liberating. Despite dire warnings from my clipped in peers I have no trouble keeping up with other riders and hills are not a problem. Thanks to the Ergon pedal's great ergonomics, my foot doesn't slip off the pedal. In fact, unlike any other pedal I've tried, the Ergon includes a fitted depression that perfectly accommodates the ball of my foot. Grant Peterson may have a point when he calls special cycling shoes (and so called "clipless" pedals) "one of the biggest, fattest lies of all time."

Skipping clipless pedals on a tour means you are spared the bother of hauling extra shoes in order to take a walk: your riding shoes become your walking shoes. I did my first unclipped tour in Shimano bike sandals, a fairly heavy "dedicated cycling sandal" with a rigid sole. Even so it's a big improvement over two sets of shoes. I replaced the sandal's metal clip in mechanism with Shimano's rubber insert but I couldn't do anything about the interior stiffening material which felt like a thick steel shank. The Shimanos are really intended to clip to a "clipless" pedal.

The rigid and somewhat heavy Shimano Cycling Sandal

I was able to walk a bit in the Shimanos without feeling like I was balancing on the cutting edge of a saw. But when I needed to hike two miles to a beach I found myself yearning for "real" shoes.

A few weeks ago I visited an Ecco shoe dealer in San Francisco and discovered the Ecco Yucatan Sandal. As a walking shoe they are simply superb: no break-in needed. You simply walk out of the store and into your life. And since I do my life by bike whenever possible, it made sense to take the Ecco sandals for a ride.
The Ecco Yucatan: a gift for your feet

It's not your imagination, Ecco sandals actually look more inviting, a clear sign of good ergonomics.  Unlike Shimanos, Eccos are form fitted against the arch and will flex as you walk. Better yet they weigh significantly less than Shimanos; riding or walking you hardly notice you're wearing shoes. I doubt that anyone has called these sandals "bike shoes" but with a decent pedal like the Ergon they add a significant ergonomic advantage to your ride.

One caveat: Ecco shoes come from Denmark. Like a great many Scandinavian products they are ergonomic—and pricey. Yes, you can get by with $6 Wallmart flip flops...and you can sleep on a sheet of cardboard out in the park.

Walking or cycling, the Ecco Yucatan feels just right. I've found the sandal for my next bike tour!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

After the Rain: The Arcata Bottoms

I went for a long ride across the Arcata Bottoms yesterday afternoon.

I wasn't alone. Thousands of geese were feeding in the pasture. Alas, no zoom leans this ride. 

While I was watching the geese I attracted some attention from another creature.

I didn't have any goodies for my new friend that day but I will be watching for him next time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Road to the Far North

For cyclists who want to avoid riding on a freeway, Southern Humboldt County--and all of California to the south--has been linked to Oregon and everything to the north--by a single, rapidly disintegrating bridge over the Mad River. If, say, you were headed south (You don't want to tour the Pacific Coast heading north because you will be fighting head winds daily) you needed a way to cycle from this…

Redwood National Park

to this

Downtown Arcata

"Emily's House"  7th St Arcata

You had to hope the Mad River bridge on The Hammond Trail, which is crusted with rust and no longer maintained, lasts long enough for you to cross it.

Now we have a very sold alternative. Caltrans has added a protected and separate bike lane to its Freeway (route 101) bridge over the Mad River. The bike path wasn't officially opened yesterday, but I followed the lead of other cyclists and joyfully jumped the detour--and rode across the river.

Pick it up in Arcata (on the south side) by opposite the Chevron station on Guintoli Road. On the north side simply take Central Ave in McKinleyville to North Bank Road.

I headed north yesterday...

...and returned on the Hammond Trail, which I had all to myself for miles on end.

To the north Oregon, Washington, Canada and Alaska. And to the west the whole way…

Saturday, February 16, 2013

100 Yards on Old Arcata Road

Home bike shop sale.

Ultra-cute Quonset Hut

Beachcomber Bayside, a bike-friendly cafe

Beachcomber Bayside, racy, artistic perspective

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


My Rivendell Romulus, meditating

Eureka bike parade

Bayside, a few hours ago

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Aleutian Geese, Old Arcata Road

Old Arcata Road has bike lanes on both sides of the road. This was the view to the west today.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance, The Legacy

Afternoon TV commercial, 2020

Kid in High School audience: "Mr. Armstrong, you mean you took ALL those pills every day for TEN YEARS?" 

Lance: "Yes, kids but remember, I was in training and I'm a professional. Take it from me, there are no shortcuts. It takes years  of disciplined pill popping to build up to a mega-pill sport. Start with a few pills when you're young, take them on time every day and work up slowly to major meds. Never obsess on dosages or labels; focus instead on quantity. If you want to excel in sports, you need to consume lots of pills on a daily basis. 

Don't improvise. Consult a knowledgeable friend in the locker room or neighborhood pub before adding new pills to your training regimen. And never give up. If I got all those pills down you can do it too."

Sexy female narrator: Pills. They make you powerful like Lance. And they really turn me on! 

Some pills may have unintended side effects including but not limited to hyper obnoxiousness, paranoia, mindless aggression and multi-gendered genitals growing out of the side of your head. 

A public service announcement by The Multinational Pharmaceutical Association

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Latte Warriors vs. Winter

About 10 am

Clam Beach overlook, later that same morning

The Arcata Bottoms road got a facelift. Gone: 1,000 potholes. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Great Rainy Day Books: "Beowulf"

If you're like me you don't read enough poetry. You think you can live without it and then you fall in love or you get married or somebody dies and suddenly nothing else will do. Why wait for a life-changing event to turn to poetry? Start with this smash hit from the tenth century.

Ezra Pound: “Literature is news that stays news.” 

from page 15:

"These were hard times, heart breaking
 for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counselors, 
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
 might resist and beat off sudden attacks. 
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
 offerings to idols, swore oaths
 that the killer of souls might come to their aid
 and save the people. That was their way, 
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts 
they remembered hell."

Sound familiar? The original Old English (included on facing pages) is so distant that Seamus Heaney had to almost rewrite the poem based on the original. Poetry translators know the problem well: as the linguistic gap widens, say, Japanese or Finnish to English, the roles of translator and poet begin to merge. Here the result should be good for another thousand years at which point somebody will have to translate Beowulf again. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Great Rainy Day Books: "Over the Edge of the World"

We've had many days (weeks?) of rain with more to come, a reminder that Humboldt County is in the SW shadow of the great NW rain forest that stretches up to Alaska. Sure, you can ride anyway in a driving rain. Let me know how it goes.

As Albert Einstein famously pointed out, cycling concentrates the mind. But that doesn't mean you're stuck thinking about one thing at a time. The last thing you want to do is "be here now" on a bike ride. Say you're on a bluff with a panoramic view of the Pacific. What better place to listen to "Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard" on your iPhone--or in your head. Better yet, when you're coming off a long rainy spell, you may have read a truly great book that you can savor on a bike ride. If not let me suggest a few. You don't want to settle for anything mediocre to bring to that moment above the Pacific.

Here's a truly great book recommendation with a link to the author's website (you'll find it online and at your neighborhood bookstore):

The adventure to end all adventures! Magellan is pursued from day one by jealous rivals who plan to kill him--and almost succeed. Utterly lost much of the time, he sails on even though the food stores have spoiled, the ships are wrecked, half the men mutiny and seize a ship, another ship deserts and the natives are hostile. What follows is akin to the discovery of an entirely new planet. Nobody handles it well, least of all Magellan who reaches for his inner Jesus Christ in the Philippines.  It's a tough act to bring off.

Bergreen spins a terrific yarn. I'm not going to spoil the ending--or the beginning--for you but I've never read anything remotely like this astonishing history.

More book recommendations to follow...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Small Good Thing

New Year's Day, Eureka waterfront. Indian Island in background. 

Seagulls unaccountably seagulling...

...and a brand new 1.5 mile bike trail! Using surface streets through Eureka's Old Town and this trail at the south end of town, you can now ride through all of Eureka along the bay and avoid Route 101 traffic.

Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review: Rans Stratus: The Ergonomic Difference

Bike ergonomics done right: the bike adapts to the rider. 

After a year and more than 2,500 miles on my Rans Stratus XP I have just one question: why aren't there millions of these bikes on the road?  

Whether you ride a Stratus XP for a few minutes or half a day it sails down the road almost effortlessly. You simply sit back and watch the scenery fly by. You have to ride one to appreciate what I'm talking about: it's the Mercedes Benz of recumbent bicycles. Rans has been working on this bike for decades and it shows. Everything about the Stratus adjusts to the rider: the handlebars, the grips, the seatback and the seat position. The big wheel up front eliminates fiddly small wheel handling. The Stratus XP fits my body like a glove, nothing to "break in." no tedious "learning curve,"no aches and pains. 

How did Rans do it? They thought about ergonomics and put the needs of the rider first. Practically the whole bike industry is headed in the opposite direction: adding cost-be-dammed racing features to minimalist frames. The result: fast bikes with terrible ergonomics that torture riders. I talked with Randy Schlitter, the head of Rans, who put it this way: "Over the years we've refined the Stratus, adding helpful features when we could." That shows too. The Rans Stratus XP is a supremely ergonomic bike.  

Bike ergonomics done wrong: the rider adapts to the bike. 

Yes, this slightly exaggerated version of the familiar "racing bike" is fast. Make sure your medical insurance is up to date. Your lower back, crotch, neck, knees, ankles, neck and wrists will be overstressed every time you ride this bike. Your wrist joints, for example, aren't designed to support half your body weight while you pound away at them. Until the invention of the racing bicycle, nobody had figured out a way to bounce half the body up and down on the large blood vessels and nerves in the crotch--until the whole area goes numb--and call it fun. 

Rivendell and Rans make rider-centered ergonomic bikes. Most other manufacturers cater to the speed at any cost crowd, which put the needs of the machine ahead of the rider's needs. You'll go fast for a few months and then you'll get to know a good Chiropractor. 

I redid the stock gearing on my Stratus XP for better hill climbing, moving from the stock 30 tooth inner chain ring to a 24.  Schwalbe Marathon tires put an end to the rash of flats that shredded the stock tires in my first 500 miles. I also added a brass bell along with a Rans seat bag and rear rack. With that setup you could ride this bike across North America and most other continents. I've done Washington State and chunks of Oregon and California. More--much more--to come. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why does a country the size of New Jersey have 10,000 miles of dedicated bike paths?

Does the first part of this story sound familiar?

Eureka and Arcata are five miles apart. We're now in our 20th year of meetings to argue about whether an abandoned railroad track between the two towns should be converted to a bike trail.

As we begin our third decade of meetings more have been scheduled for next month.

A tip of the helmet to Dick Van Hoose for this important story.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Future Exercise

Will the next generation of cyclists fly? Will these kids change the world? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ernest Hemingway Cyclist


ImagesNext, Adrienne and I took up cycling under Hemingway's tuition and influence; not that we did and cycling ourselves, but we attended with our professor the "Six-Jours," that six day merry-go-round at the Ve´l d'Hiv, easily the most popular even in the Paris season, Fans went and lived there for the duration, watching more and more listlessly the little monkey-men, hunched over on their bikes, slowly circling the rung or suddenly sprinting, night and day, in an atmosphere of smoke and dust and theatrical stars, and amid the blare of loudspeakers. We did our best to follow what the professor was saying to us, but rarely could we distinguish words above the din. Unfortunately, Adrienne and I could spare only one night for this sport, engrossing though we found it. But what wouldn't have been engrossing in Hemingway's company?

Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company

Images 1NewImage

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Good Day for a Ride

There are days when the sun is out everywhere on earth except fog bound Eureka, Ca. And then there are days like this that make you wonder why you would want to live anywhere else.

Oyster Beds, Arcata Bay--as seen from the Samoa Bridge

Three bridges connect Eureka with the Samoa peninsula. Happily, they have bike lanes in both directions. Steve Fox stopped to grok the Bay.

We couldn't resist to brief detour to Woodley Island, an easy exit from the bridge. The fisherman statue honors those who were lost at sea. Unfortunately, this fisherman looks like he has returned from the watery deep. I expected to honor the dead, not meet them in person. I thought about it: "you don't get zombies on a sunny day like this.

Eureka's previous mayor lives here. Minutes from the city waterfront, it's reachable only by boat.

The ride back to Arcata on the Samoa peninsula gave us a panoramic view of Arcata Bay and the mountains to the east.

We stopped for an excellent lunch at The Bayside Beachcomber on Old Arcata Road, which is becoming a cycling destination just like its sister cafe in Trinidad.