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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Wolf Gap Recreation Area


Just about every year for the last 20 years I would take a trip to Wolf Gap Recreation Area. I've been taking my son there since he's been a baby and it is one of our favorite places.  We've gone there a couple times this year and it appears to be loosing its luster due to over crowding.  We usually either go backpacking or camping. 

Due to the advent of the internet and sites like www.HikingUpward.com, which is a great site, everyone in the world is easily able to find all the great trails with the click of a button.  Unfortunately the downside to this is that it causes over crowding of some of the best places.  This is one reason I favor backpacking over camping.  Backpacking enables you to go off the beaten path if necessary and find a spot away from others if you so choose.  This is another great benefit of using a hammock.

To give an example of what I mean just a few years ago we would go to Wolf Gap and see a handful of campers.  Now it seems every time we go there are anywhere from 25-50 people.

This is a great place to hike and a great place to camp.  I totally understand why it has become so popular.  It provides easy access to various popular trails.  A few years back they build a new bridge crossing over a steep ledge on the Mill Mountain Trail. 


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Friday, October 21, 2016

To Quilt or Not To Quilt - Hammock Insulation

I have been using a hammock for backpacking for a very long time.  Well before they became mainstream.  I have owned and still do own a multitude of gear related to hammocks.  One question I often hear is, "How do you stay warm".

There is definitely no shortages of gear on the market for keeping warm in a hammock.  To answer the question you really must understand where you are going and how much money you have to spend.

Determine the climate and temperatures you plan on hanging.  If you are doing a backpacking trip in the fall or winter you want to be prepared if the temps suddenly drop.

I will discuss 3 basic types of insulation, which can be used for hammocks:

1) CCF (closed cell foam) pads
2) Air Pads/Mattresses
3) Quilts



A single bottom has one layer of material on the bottom of the hammock.  This can help conserve weight.  However, it's not ideal if you plan to use a slippery pad under your back for insulation.

A double bottom hammock has two layers of material on the bottom which are sewn together like a pocket.  The space between the two layers is where you want to put your insulation if you are using an air or a CCF pad.

The purpose of the double bottom is to help keep the pad in place and prevent it from shifting.  A shifting pad can be extremely annoying when trying to sleep, especially in colder temperatures. It still takes a little practice to properly adjust your pad.

Both types of pads are great if there is any risk of having to go to ground during your trip.  This can be common at higher elevations and areas where there isn't any trees or places to hang a hammock.  Fortunately most hammocks can easily be setup on the ground similar to a solo-tent or bivy.  This is where the use of pads really shine.


CCF pads are generally lighter than air pads, but are usually not nearly as comfortable.  The true purpose for a CCF is to keep you insulated from the ground so you stay warm.

Air pads on the other hand keep you insulated with the added benefit of comfort. They are more costly than CCF pads but well worth  the extra money in my opinion.

CCF and air pads work similarly in a hammock as they do on the ground.  CCF pads may be more comfy in a hammock, however.  This is because you don't have to worry about rocks, and such,  sticking in your back.  There is nothing worse than sleeping in that one lumpy spot you cannot fix. 

One common issue with pads in a hammock is they tend to curve around your body leaving your shoulders and hips exposed to cold spots.  Wider pads can work, but tend to fold which can cause some discomfort. Some companies make special attachments for your pads to get around these issues.

My preference is to use an under quilt.  Under quilts connect to the bottom of a hammock and when adjusted properly provide superior warmth.  They are very light weight as well.  There are both down and synthetic quilts for your hammock.

The downside to quilts is they cannot be used if you need to setup your hammock on the ground if you don't have trees.  Some people carry small pads in addition to quilts if they are in areas where trees may be an issue.

In all honesty it all comes down to purpose and personal choice.  For me I usually only carry my quilt unless I think there may be an issue with trees then I bring and air pad, or a CCF pad + quilt.

Keep in mind, even if you have an under quilt you will still need a top quilt, or a blanket of some sort.  I like down top quilts because they are very light weight.  The downside is if they get soaked they won't insulate.  Synthetic will keep you warm even if its wet.

There are quilts that wrap around your hammock, but the drawback is you cannot use a hammock which has a built in bugnet, or weather shield.



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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Backpacking in Full Swing

Sorry folks, after I recovered from my back injury my father was in a pretty serious motorcycle accident.  With all the travel and hospital stuff I have not had much time to post.  Everything is pretty much squared away at this point and my father is doing much better so now I'm back to my regular scheduled program.

Backpacking season is now in full swing and I cannot wait to get out and enjoy the foliage this fall.  My wife and I attempted to go on a backpacking trip this past weekend, but had some issues getting out of the house at a reasonable time.  Thus, we ended up hiking a bit of our trip in the dark.

Hiking in the dark was totally fine with us and was nothing new.  However, what was new was the trail we were hiking.  Unfortunately it was extremely overgrown and there were various dangerous sections on the side of the mountain.  We had our dog with us too, which was even more difficult because he was having trouble with all rocks which were sliding down the side of the mountain as he was walking.  He slid down with them a few feet on several occasions.

This just goes to show that my previous words still hold true, "proper planning is everything".  No matter how much experience you have, or what kind of mood you are in it always pays to plan ahead.

As a result of this hectic trip we have decided to plan out 10 trips and store all the details in the filing cabinet.  We have one bin for each of us containing the contents of our packs.  I'm currently  making enough dried foods for the rest of the season and will vacuum seal them in convenient meal size bags.  This way if we decide to go on a trip last minute we just stuff our gear in our pack, throw some food in, get our trip details and head out.  No more stressing over last minute planning.

Normally we would plan our trips a few days ahead of time, but its much more convenient to have several trips planned far in advance for our hectic schedules.  Also, this gives you the opportunity to do more research and order some reasonable maps.

That being said I am on the search for a new compass since my Silva compass has been sent back to the factory because it is developing a bubble.  Silva have agreed to replace it for free, but in the meantime I don't have a backup so will be getting another one I can use until my replacement arrives.

Silva has a lifetime guarantee for their compasses and they always own up to to so I am a definite customer of their products.

Checkout my top picks for Silva compasses below:


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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Wider Softer Tires and Performance

My back is feeling much better and I finally had the opportunity to test my new Clement X'PLOR USH tires.  My concern was that thew would slow me down as a result of being wider and softer than the original  Continental Ultra Sport's that came standard on the bike.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately and many tests are starting to prove that wider softer tires have better rolling resistance.  I expect there would be a point of diminishing returns if the tires are too wide and soft.  After reading many articles on this topic I was skeptical so decided to do my own test run.

I took my bike on a portion of my normal route to see how the tires would handle.   My back was still a little sore so I was taking it a bit easier than normal.  I must say I was quite impressed with the results.  Surprisingly he new tires didn't seem to slow my performance.  Considering I was not pushing as hard as normal due to my back injury I was expecting my times to be very slow.  See for yourself.  I've created a map video with all the stats down below.

Here is an interesting article discussing performance of a wider tires on BikeRoar.com.

The videos are below.  On you way down please check out the ads.  Thanks.



Here are the USH tire stats.



Here are the Stock tire stats.


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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Choosing Bicycle Tires

 Choosing new tires for you bicycle is probably one of the most difficult tasks you can undertake.  Well, it is for me at least.  Then again I am super picky and tend to go overboard doing research.

There are so many different style and brands of tires to choose from.  Each tire designed with a specific purpose in mind too.  For example: pavement,  gravel,  mud,  sand, multipurpose, etcetera.  There are a variety of styles too: tubular, tube, clincher, tubeless, etcetera.

The thought of having multiple sets of tires is nice, but expensive and can be a pain in the neck when you have to change them out.  Especially if you don't have a spare set of wheels to go along with them.

For my purposes I immediately ruled out tubular tires because I don't want the hassle of putting them on, taking them off and repairing them if/when I get a flat.  Basically for me it came down to deciding between tube tires, and tubeless.  Each of which have their pros and cons.

Tubeless tires are nice for several reasons.  One major benefit, in theory, if done correctly flats are not a problem.  Tubeless tires have a sealant inside so if a sharp object punctures the tire it will immediately get sealed so minimal air and repair time will be lost.  In general this does actually work quite well.  The only issue here is that if its a large enough hole you will have to repair it by putting a tube inside the tire.  This means you still have to carry a spare tube while riding.


Another great benefit to not having tubes is that you can have minimal air in the tire and never have to worry about a pinch flat.  This is great if you love to ride with soft tires.  Soft tires are nice because they give you a fair bit of cushion for comfort and better traction to some degree.

Last, but not least a benefit of tubeless is weight.  Not having a tube in your tire can save a bit of weight.  However, its debatable that this is any benefit to the average non-racer.  Also, the sealant in the tire does add some extra weight, but not quite as much as a tube.

The downsides to tubeless tires art that they require more maintenance and have a learning curve to get them setup correctly.  If you don't have rims specifically designed for tubeless tires it takes even more effort to get them right.  This is generally referred to as ghetto tubeless.  Tubeless usually cost a bit more than tube tires as well.  They are definitely more expensive if you are going ghetto tubeless. A tubeless conversion kit will run you $50+.

Tubeless tires many times require you to add air regularly.  Much more often than on a tube tire.  Some people I have spoken with claim they add air every day, and other's say weekly.  In general you should be checking the air in your tires at least once per month on any type of tire.  Tubeless tires can do what's known as burping, which is when air escapes through the seal between the tire and rim.

Here is a really good article on pinkbike that explains why wide rims with low air pressure are better than narrow rims and high pressure when running tubeless.

Tube tires may be slightly heavier, but generally require less maintenance than tubeless and are much easier to install and repair.  Definitely if you don't have tubeless rims.  If you really want to you can even put slime inside.  I prefer to carry patches, and/or an extra tube on my rides in case of a flat.

During my research of choosing a new set of tires for my gravel bike I went through dozens of popular models and brands.  It was actually quite daunting.  I read article after article on each product I researched, checking the reviews on each.

Here are a few of my top picks from the dozens of tires I researched while shopping:
Clement X'Plor MSO
Clement X'Plor USH
Schwalbe G-One
Gravel King SK
Flintridge Pro

Each set of tires have a very different footprint, or profile.  For example, the MSO have a pretty meaty tread.  This is good for loose, or slightly muddy conditions; it has more bite.  I was looking for something that could be used well on road and off road.  All the above tires are great adventure tires, but it depends if you are looking for something more road worthy, or dirt worthy.  I wanted something 1/2 in between.  No matter what you choose there is always a compromise when selecting a multipurpose tire for your bicycle.

For me I already have an MTB for the rough trails and was looking for something I could basically ride anywhere, but would still be efficient on the roads.  For this reason I chose the USH's.  They are not the best in wet and muddy conditions, but I am interested in something for mostly dry conditions with the ability to go on gravel and moderate single track.

The USH is slightly better on road than the MSO and the MSO is slightly better off road than the USH.  Since I plan to do most of my riding on the street, gravel and light dry single track the USH was a better fit for my application.  They are also wider than my 28" tires.  This may add some comfort and control, but the side effect is reduced efficiency.  See, its always a compromise.  I chose the USH's for my new bike based on the intended application.

It may be true that tubeless are the future of tires, but I'm sticking with my tubes for the time being.  The cost and maintenance free setup is well worth it to me.  I am definitely not anti-tubeless by any means.  Its just at this time the cost and tires were right for me.  The big decision maker for me is that my existing rims are not tubeless and I don't want the extra hassle of the ghetto setup, or cost of new rims.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Meadowood Grand Tour MTB Trail System

Sorry for not posting for a few days. I'm recovering from a back injury and have been in a bit of pain.

I've been going out and exploring for places to have group rides. I'm interested in setting up rides for road, gravel and mountain biking.

I checked out the "Meadowood Grand Tour" this passed weekend and was quite impressed. They have some really nice trails and decent raised platforms. It was pretty wet when I was there because it was after a heavy rain. There are a fair amount of roots and mud puddles. The wood platforms are nice, but can be very slippery when wet. If you are not comfortable with the platforms there are plenty of trails without and there are dirt trails along side the platforms on most, if not all routes.

I debated taking my gravel bike or sticking with the MTB. In the end I decided to stick with the MTB, which was a good choice. My gravel bike isn't really setup for wet muddy trails. Its more for dry hard pack, loose gravel and such. I did see several other individuals riding on this trail with their gravel bikes, which was pretty exciting.

Anyways, the trail conditions at this place are really nice. It looks very well maintained and has multiple parking lots.


This is definitely a place I plan to revisit in the coming weeks, that is if my back feels up to it.  I was reading a bit on the website for Meadowood Grand Tour and it mentions they are building connector trails to the Fountain Head trail network.  This is great news!!!  It appears they are planning to build a large network of trails all over in the area.

Meadowood is definitely suitable for beginner mountain bikers.  There's even plenty there for advanced riders.  For beginners you may want to go on a dry day if you don't have a lot of experience.

There are plenty of hills, but I did not come across any monster mountains or steep declines.  According to the website the ascent is 586' over 7 miles, which should not scare anyone away.  It's a very enjoyable place to ride.  You do have to be aware that its single track with two-way traffic.  It can sometimes be annoying to have to stop and way for groups to pass, but wasn't much of an issue.

On trails like this I like to wear bright colors to make sure riders come from the front can easily see me before its too late.  Be cautious around the turns.  There are few hairpin turns so you should definitely look at the make to make sure you don't go too fast in these areas.

Ok, I have to sign out for the night.  Enjoy!  Keep an eye out for upcoming local events.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tatical Flashlight - Review

There is a definite craze going on with tactical flashlights right now.  Not a day goes by that I don't see ads for these awesome little pieces of gear.  When I recently purchased a new bicycle I discovered my existing CatEye Headlight was due to be replaced.  It was getting a little beat and wasn't as bright as I would have liked.

As a result I decided to look around for a replacement.  I was originally overwhelmed by all the products on the market.  I was strapped for cash and didn't really want to spend a lot of money on a headlight, since my time riding at night is limited anyways.  So I decided to look at some lower cost tactical flashlights with bicycle mounts.

Wow, I was really surprised at how many are actually on the market.  One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted something bright.  After owning a few other, which were not very bright I began to get frustrated when I really needed to see where I was going at night.

As I scoured the internet looking for different lights and reading reviews I started getting exhausted.  I'm the type of person that when I plan to purchase something I do extensive research to the point most people would go insane.  I enjoy doing that sort of stuff, so for me its great.


I was very hesitant due to the low cost, but I figured why not get a few different ones to try out.  After all they for the price of a handful of them I could get one more expensive light.  At least if I have several other people in my family can use them and I can put them in different rooms of the house for emergency purposes.

When my packages arrived and I opened them I was pleasantly surprised at the quality for such an inexpensive item.  It just goes to show competition is good for the market.  It forces companies to build better quality products for lower cost.  Its a win/win for the consumer in this situation.

The only issue I had was the bicycle mount, which came with one of the lights didn't fit my fat handle bars.  However, I was not concerned because one of the other mounts fit the bike and both flashlights.  Now I was even more excited because I have the option of which light I want to bring.  The lights I have are two different sizes.  My suggestion is to get something between 300-500 lumens unless it is adjustable.

My favorite pick is below.  Its small, light weight and easily fits in my pack.  It has multiple modes and the beam width can be adjusted to your liking.  It even fits my fat handlebars.  This one even comes with a taillight.  Its as durable as other light's I've used, but may not be as durable as the really hight end bicycle light setups.  For the price and quality of this item I highly recommend it.  It's definitely hard to go wrong with this price.


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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Eye Protection

sun glasses
Many people wear sun glasses because its bright outside.  As a cyclist I wear a pair of Scattante glasses for two main reasons.

The first reason is for protection.  This means protection from the suns UV rays.  Over exposure to UV rays is not only bad for your skin, but is also bad for your eyes.  According to my eye doctor a person can actually get cancer in their eyes from over exposure of UV rays.

Protection also means from debris.  For example, insects are terrible little creatures to get smacked in the eyeball with at 25 mph, or any speed for that matter.  The lager the bug, the more the danger and pain.  I've had friends get stung in the face while riding.  I got stung in the armpit once while riding wearing a t-shirt.  The bee got trapped in my shirt when I rode through its flight path and stung me.  Anyways, that's off topic.  My point is that when riding you want to take every possible means you can to protect your peepers.

Wearing glasses when on the trails and in the woods is extremely important.  You can easily get poked in the eye with a stick.  When I was a kid, before helmets and glasses were even considered for riding a bike, or even skiing I scratched my pupil on a branch while going down a trail. A scratched pupil is not pleasant by any means.

Secondly I wear glasses for visibility.  That's right, visibility.  They prevent my eyes from tearing up and getting blurry from the wind.  Another aspect of visibility is the shade lens you use.  The of Scattante's I have come with three shades of lenses: clear, orange and tint.  The tint are great for when its sunny outside and you need to block some of the brightness to see where you are going.


The clear can be used anytime just to protect your eyes if you don't need the shaded versions.  Last, but definitely not least is the orange shade lenses.   Many people don't know the purpose of orange lenses so I will do my best to explain.  The orange lenses help to make things more visible in times of low light.  For example, in late evening, early morning, or at night.  Apparently they block blue light from your vision, which helps clear things up.  This is why hunters use them while shooting.  It helps clear up their view.

There are some articles on the dangers of blue light rays to the human eye, but I will leave this for your further research if you are so inclined.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Bicycle Safety Tips

Click Photo - Flashlight with Mount

  1. Always wear a helmet and make sure its buckled while riding.
  2. Visibility is key.  Always wear bright colored clothes.  I wear a bright orange t-shirt and have a bright orange camel-bak when I need to carry stuff.  If you are riding in the evening, early morning or late at night make sure you have lights and reflectors.  A decent flashlight with a bicycle mount works well as a headlight.  It won't cost nearly as much as a light marketed as a bicycle headlight.  For example, I use a very high powered  flashlight with a mount I bought for under $12.
  3. Ride your bike like you are driving a car.  This means to follow all the same traffic rules you would driving an automobile.
  4. Keep your mobile phone in your bag where it belongs while you are riding.  I've lost track of the number of people I've seen talking on their phone, or texting while riding a bicycle.  THIS IS DANGEROUS!!!  Especially on popular routes with traffic.  I'm astonished at the number of people I see riding or driving while texting and swerving all over the place.  None of this Pokemon stuff on your bike please.  Headphones are also almost always a bad idea.  They may not even be legal in certain areas.
  5. Watch out for less thought about hazards.  There are many dangers to be aware of while on the road, or trail.  One of the most frequent dangers of trail riding are animals (rabbits, squirrels, groundhogs, deer, etc.).  I have animals jump out in front of me on a daily basis.

    Animals are unpredictable and can cut back in front of your wheel in an instant.  I've actually accidentally run over squirrels because they panic and run back and forth.  It would be a tragedy if one was heading down a hill at speed and a groundhog ran into the spokes of the front wheel.

    A few years ago I was going 25mph and a deer jumped out of the bushes, ran along side me then cut right in front of me.  I could have been seriously injured or even killed if it ran into me at that, or any speed.



    Dog walkers on bike paths are also very dangerous.  I've come to the realization that most people do not train their dogs and use really long training leashes to walk their dog.  You have to watch out that you don't get tangled in these things.

    Another danger while on the trail are hidden holes, sticks, roots, rocks, and other debris.  Take it from me, its no fun when you are cruising along on an overgrown and a hidden stick flips up into your spokes causing you to fly over the handlebars.

    Depending on the areas you ride in walkers could also be a potential hazard.  Be familiar with the people on the path and the path etiquette in the area.  For example, while riding in Western NY with my nephew I noticed the people on the bike path along Lake Erie don't know the simple rules of multi-use paths.  When a biker comes from behind and passes while saying, "on your left", this means they are passing you on the left.   It does not mean jump to the left in front of my bike and run me off the path.

    This is a very different than riding on the W&OD in Virginia where people are very knowledgeable, away and respectful of others on the trail.  Most people know what it means when you say, "on your left", and will move to the right or stay put.  You sill have to watch out for children, and pets however.
  6.   Always use hand signals while on the road and/or when riding in a group.
Please ride safe!!

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Monday, August 1, 2016

DIY Bicycle Action Cam Mount / Selfie-Stick

DIY Action Camera Mount - Modified Version


Here is an idea for making your own bicycle mount or a selfie stick for your action camera for about $10 in parts.  It takes only a few minutes to build and works really well on paved roads.

This is not a mount I would take mountain biking.  However, it may hold up for gravel grinding depending on the weight of the camera you plan to mount on it.
The camera I mounted is pretty heavy so it tends to want to fall forward when I hit bumps due the the inexpensive tripod

Parts for Camera Mount

Parts:
  • 2' - 3/4" piece of ABS plastic pipe
  • 1 3/4 inch PVC 90˚ insert elbow
  • 1 3/4" PVC insert end plug
  • 1 tripod mini-ball head
  • 1 bicycle flashlight mount or 1 mount with flashlight.
  • 1 #4 2-2.5" break-off machine screw.  This is the screw to hold the tripod ball head onto the mount.
Modified Version
Above is a diagram of the parts and how they fit together.  To the left is the same exact diagram with parts circled in red.  The parts circled in red can be excluded.  The reason is because I modified the mount after testing it and found the top leg is better when its cut short.

I didn't realize this until after i put everything together and it was too difficult to take apart to retake the photos.  See the directions below.  On your way down please check out the flashlight mounts in the ads.  Thanks.



Directions:
1) Cut the pieces to the desired length.  Must be long enough to be held in the flashlight mount.
2) Drill a hole vertically through the elbow large enough for the screw to fit.  I made mine a bit snug so the screw would fight tightly in the elbow.
3) Put the screw through the elbow with the head on the bottom of the elbow.
4) Fit the ball-head then snap the screw at the correct length.
5) Put all the pieces together.

Another tip is that you can put a piece of rubber between the wall of the flashlight mount and the horizontal member of the camera mount.  Another idea is to put a small bolt or two through both the wall of the flashlight mount and camera mount to prevent the mount from turning sideways due to the weight of the camera.  I went with the piece of rubber because this way I can still used the flashlight mount for the flashlight.

To make a selfie stick instead just make the horizontal leg on the mount arms length instead of short enough for the flashlight mount.

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