Testing The New Fat Bike

Gravity Bullseye Monster

Gravity Bullseye Monster

So, in case you haven’t heard, a few days ago I purchased a new Gravity Bullseye Monster (yeesh, that name is heinous) from Bikesdirect.com, which makes my sixth purchase from that company.  They just keep sucking me back in with their great deals and fairly high quality products.  I can’t complain.

As you’ve seen from a previous article of mine, my friend Jeff allowed me to test out his fat bike in the winter, and I was extremely impressed with their sure-footed-ness.  Four inches of tire compared to the regular 2 inches you find on most mountain bikes makes quite a bit of traction difference.  So, I had to have one to add to my fleet of bicycles.

Today, I woke up, had some breakfast, and set out for Nasty Hill to see what I could do with my new fat bike.  Cycling out felt very nice, very mountain-bike like, except more so (interpret that however you will).  ;-)  And then came Nasty Hill.  I tried, I spun on on the loose rocks, I failed.  I hiked-a-bike to the top and decided to try decreasing my tire pressure.  The Vee Rubber tires that come with this bike are marked as 8 – 22 psi, and I set out today with about 16 psi.  So I decreased down to 12 psi using my handy-dandy tire pressure gauge that I bought from Autozone.  It’s one of those Slime brand, low pressure, internal-needle style gauges you can get for $5.99.  I think they’re more accurate than the ones that look like a ball-point pen, and using them to deflate accurately is a breeze.  Anyways, so I attempted to ascend Nasty Hill again, avoiding the loose rubble, and made it.  Twice!  I then attempted attacking the loose rubble section again, and spun out and failed.  Well, there ya go.  Low pressure plus avoiding the loose stuff on steep grades equals success.

After heading back home, and doing a high speed descent on the asphalt road, I felt the gyroscope effect with the heavy tires / wheels on the turns which felt a little funny.  All in all, this is a mountain bike that gives tons of extra traction and I really enjoyed myself.  Next, I will be going on a longer trail ride with my buddies in the coming months.  Stay tuned!

Two Hour Challenge Ride, Version 2

Ten days ago, on Thanksgiving, I gave my 2 Hour Challenge Ride a good honest try.  But, as I explained in that article, at around the 1 hour 20 minute mark I was starting to feel some fatigue.  I neglected to mention in that article that along with my legs starting to feel fatigued, I was just plain ‘ol bonking.  Not bonking hard, but that oh-so-familiar feeling of “I need to stop off somewhere and buy a triple cheeseburger” was setting in.  Then, a few days later, I stumbled upon an article by Carmichael Training Systems that addressed sweating and how it relates to exercise.  And here is the small part that gave me a sudden realization:

Electrolyte drinks or carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks should be a part of during-exercise nutrition strategy whenever your workouts are going to be longer than 1 hour. For workouts shorter than an hour, electrolyte drinks may still be somewhat helpful, but generally you’ll start short workouts with enough carbohydrates and electrolytes on board to complete a high-quality one-hour session.  — Chris Carmichael, Founder/Head Coach of CTS

Wow, maybe this explains why I died at the 1 hour 20 minute mark.  Ya think?  :-)  I had actually used Gatorade or Powerade in the past, but had stopped using it since most of my rides back then had a lot of breaks where I’d eat granola bars, peanut butter sandwiches, and so forth.  I just felt like it didn’t need it.

So, sometime last week, I thought of a fun experiment.  I was going to go buy some Gatorade powder, mix that into my water bottles, and drink that instead of my usual plain old water.  Well, friends, it worked.  I was totally expecting to start feeling like a weakling at the 1 hour 20 minute mark or so, and I didn’t.  It might have been the turkey and cabbage wrap I ate this morning, it might have been the fact that I started cycling a few hours later in the day than last time.  But, I dunno.  I’m pretty sure it was the Gatorade.  I felt pretty fabulous energy-wise all the way to the finish line.  My legs were pretty fatigued, but I was able to power through it anyway since my stomach felt fine and I didn’t feel so horribly weak like I did on the previous attempt.  I felt like I could go for another hour (haha, ok, maybe not…).

And my time?  2:04:15 with an average speed of 15.3 mph (taken from my cyclometer).  Shaved off nearly 6 minutes AND I didn’t feel like I was going to fall over afterwards.  Great success!  </ Borat >

Two Hour Challenge Ride, Thanksgiving 2014

It seems like almost every year, Thanksgiving has perfect cycling / running / whatever weather.  I think the universe is telling us to burn some calories before taking too many of them in.  :-D  This Thanksgiving, it was 50 degrees and sunny, so I decided to do my 2 Hour Challenge Ride!  This is a name I made up for a very popular road route near Pocatello, which I wrote about in this article.

I hadn’t done as much cycling this year as I have in past years (life just seems to get busier as you go along, huh?) so I didn’t expect to set any personal records.  I had tried this ride a few months earlier, and I couldn’t even finish it due to the hot temperature in combination with my wussiness.  However, today was cool which gives a massive performance advantage so my time today shouldn’t be all that bad, I thought.

As a side note, I usually like to do these personal challenges by myself, as I’m sure many of you understand.  Being able to think about how your cardio and legs are feeling, and the appropriate gear you ought to select based upon those feelings (oh, the pain), works a lot better if you concentrate without distractions.  Okay, okay, sometimes riding with others can give you extra oomph and can help you to ride harder.  But that’s for another article.  :-)

The route is in a big loop with a big hill climb, followed by a long downhill, followed by rolling hills and flats sprinkled here and there.  I usually tackle the mountain first while my legs are fresh, even though it never feels like I’m warmed up enough for it and I’m slower than beans.  Also, I’m a heavy-weight, and hill climbing is my personal biggest challenge.  It’s hard.  Really hard.  So, yeah, I was doing the granny gear up Buckskin Canyon.  Yes, my road bike has a granny gear.  Bite me.  :-p

After the agony of that, I usually reach the top at around the 45 minute mark or so (starting from the Booth / Pocatello Creek Road intersection).  And, oh, the joy of the downhill is the elixir of life after that.  And, wow, is it a long and joyous downhill.  Miles and miles of it.  And I really like giving it hell on the downhill, using downhill momentum to accelerate up the occasional hill, getting into an aero position, and having a general blast.

I reached Inkom at about the 1 hr 20 minute mark and I thought, “Ugh… nope… 2 hour finish is not going to happen.  It’s gonna be more like 2:30.  I should have exercised more, not drank so much beer, blah blah blah.”  Also, the onset of my-legs-are-starting-to-feel-toasted syndrome was setting in.

But then as I headed onto Portneuf Road on the other side of this circular route, I felt a small, steady tailwind pushing me from the southeast.  Oh, glory, all may not be lost!  And I was very grateful for it, for by the time I was nearing Pocatello, I was looking for my friendly Bannock Highway Sinclair to stop at and rest.  But, as I neared it, I thought against it.  Especially since the temperature and conditions were so amazingly fabulous.  You can’t ask for any better conditions than 50 F and a tailwind.  That seldom happens.

So I plugged on, talked myself through it, spun a lot in a lower gear, kept moving, and finally arrived at that glorious Benton / Main intersection.  And then I wadded my mouth with granola bars and chugged water like mad.  Felt pretty good after I got some sustenance.  ‘Twasn’t a bad ride.  According to my cyclometer, my time was 2:10:10, average speed was 14.7 mph, top speed was 39.8 mph, and distance was 31.8 miles.  Whee!

Another Lesson In Mountain Biking: Really Steep Hills

East Cedar Street Trail

East Cedar Street Trail

This blog entry is a continuation of my personal mountain bicycling learning journey that I started recently.  I am a road cyclist who is learning the art of mountain biking with a little help from my friends.  :-)

Last fall, Jeff Selfa was kind enough to take me, and some other mountain bikers who were looking to improve their skills, out to the East Cedar Street trail system to do a bit of practicing and to learn a thing or two.  This turned out to be highly educational for me as I learned and practiced some important techniques pertaining to traversing steep, rocky grades.  The trails in this area are pretty nice.  They’re close to town and they’ve got quite a bit of variety:  jeep style trails, deeply rutted trails with some crevasses, moderately steep stuff, very steep stuff, rocky sections, loose dirt sections, easy sections, etc.  So it’s a great place to get out and try a few things.

There is one particularly steep hill section (marked as “Steep Hillclimb!” on the map to the left) that I affectionately refer to as Nasty Hill (or whatever other profane thing I feel like calling it at the moment) that is great for practicing steep hill-climbing and descending techniques.  I was fairly familiar with these techniques, but Jeff and Nasty Hill emphasized them for me quite well.  The most important of these techniques is to use your body to move the center of gravity backwards or forwards on the bike as necessary, and make this a lot more exaggerated on really steep hills.  This means that you are hunching way up on your handlebars for steep hill-climbing.  And your butt is hanging over the rear of your saddle for steep descents.  Other than that, you just have to practice your balance, braking, pedaling, and practice a lot.  I don’t know about all you other folks, but I require a lot of practice to get some of these techniques down pat.  I’ve watched a ton of technique videos on YouTube, but I never really “get it” until I learn it for myself out on the trail and get some “muscle memory” put in place.

So, descending Nasty Hill isn’t too bad.  I do it at a snail’s pace because I’m a wuss, but I can do it without any mishaps.  Jeff and Dan Lloyd do it at a much faster rate.  And they were also able to climb the hill without losing their balance.  The rest of us, however, were not.  Maintaining your center of gravity, balancing while moving slowly in your lowest gear, trying to maintain smooth-as-possible pedaling, trying to avoid loose stuff, and spinning out on loose stuff is difficult to do all at the same time.  You’ll fall over unless you’re totally prepared for it.  Having your center of gravity somewhere other than the soles of your feet is not a feeling humans are accustomed to.  :-)

Over the next few months, I cycled back to Nasty Hill and kept trying.  I was getting better, but still was not able to climb the hill without falling over.

But I am going to remember Sunday, March 23, 2014 as a day of great success.  For it was on this day that I scaled the mighty Nasty Hill, not once, but thrice without losing my balance!  Staying on the far right side of the trail away from the loose stuff, relaxing, and concentrating on good form was the keys to my success, I think.  I am excited to go back and give some other areas of the section a try.   I am also  going to pick up my downhill speed a bit and see how I do with that.  Yeehaw!

Bonus video!  This is a video I shot of Jeff Selfa and Travis Poppe riding fat bikes on Nasty Hill in December 2013.

Portneuf Valley Bike To Work Month Is Here!

May is bike to work month

Learning To Mountain Bike

Chinese Peak, West Trail

Chinese Peak, West Trail

I have spent the vast majority of my cycling time on the road.  It’s useful (in terms of commuting), it’s easy, it’s a great workout (in terms of those wonderful weekend road rides), and there’s very few variables involved to throw off it’s sheer simplicity and ease.  Most of the time, road cycling in Pocatello involves nothing more than scenic miles of endless country roads and your ability to traverse them on your road bike.  It’s so pure and simple.  I love it.

However, I would venture to say that most cyclists in Pocatello love this area for it’s world class mountain biking and it’s vast network of trails that range from easy to insane.  It would be a shame to spend all your cycling time on the road in such a rugged and mountainous place.  But getting out on the trail usually involves hopping on a mountain bike and traversing terrain that is absolutely nothing like a smooth, flat section of pavement.  Oh dear.

I’m convinced there are 2 kinds of mountain bikers:  naturals and panicky wimps, and I am of the latter category!  I know, I am sure there is a whole spectrum of mountain bikers out there, but it appears these are the 2 categories I’ve observed so far in my beginner-to-intermediate mountain biking history.  I’m sure I’ll change my opinions after I get more experience.  I always do that with everything it seems, but there’s nothing wrong with jumping to conclusions too early, is there?  This is a blog after all!  :-)

A few friends of mine, Jeff Selfa and Dan Lloyd, are quite experienced at mountain biking and have offered many times to go on a few rides with me and help me out with my technique.  This seldom happens though since A) getting people together for a ride just adds more complication to the hop-on-your-bike-and-go feel to cycling and B) I like learning by myself most of the time, even if it takes me longer to learn.  That’s just me.  :-p

Ok, enough background history, let’s talk about 3 recent mountain bike rides I’ve done!

The Cedar – Center – Buckskin Route

Cedar - Center - Buckskin trail map

Cedar – Center – Buckskin trail map

Jeff recommended a fairly short trail close to town that is fun to practice mountain biking technique on.  It is shown on the crudely drawn route map to the left.  There is one steep section of the route where you do have to hike your bike up a rocky part, but other than that it is pretty nice and easy.  It’s so close to town that it’s a trail you can ride to from your house and traverse it within an hour easily.

It was on this ride that I attempted to try a few different things to make steep downhilling easier and less scary for me.  I lowered my seat a couple of inches, hung my legs down over the front of my pedals to lower my center of gravity as much as possible (probably not a proper technique!), and made my way down a steep section with some loose gravel on it.  It was surprisingly easier than having a higher seat and keeping my feet on the pedals, and therefore felt less like I was going to fall over the front of my handlebars.

 The Two Chinese Peak Rides

After feeling better about my downhilling technique, I wanted to try my new skills out on my arch nemesis of trails: the south side trail of Chinese Peak.  This is a fairly narrow, rocky trail that has some very steep sections near the top of it where I am forced walk my bike down due to my fear of riding down it.  And it was those sections that Dan Lloyd, in the past, had merrily rode down to my chagrin.  :-(

Also, as I have attempted (and failed) several times in the past, I wanted to finally succeed in cycling up to the top of Chinese Peak (on the regular, west side trail, of course) without stopping!  This is a feat that requires that you do 2 critical things:

  1. Cycle slowly in your lowest gear, concentrate on good form and breathing, and relax.
  2. When you encounter steep sections near the top, you must pick up your speed a lot to avoid falling over!  This is usually difficult because you’re pretty exhausted by the time you’re near the top.

My first attempt was in late October and all the lovely foliage colors were looking beautiful.  Some of the large clumps of trees also happen to be at the same location as the steep sections, so I took the opportunity to wuss out, get off my bike, and take some photos of the fall colors.  Sigh.  :-)  After getting to the top, I cycled over to where the horrifying south trail begins and there was a big “Temporary Closure” sign across it.  Secretly, I was relieved that I had an excuse not to traverse the trail, and I gleefully cycled back down the west trail.

My second Chinese Peak ride was with Dan Lloyd, and so I was anxious to show him a thing or two about scaling Chinese Peak without stopping (hopefully)!  Also, he had been running a lot lately and not spending any time on his bike, so I was curious to see how he’d do.  As it turns out, he was a bit faster than I was, but he also had to stop a few times.  I, however, slowly made it up the entire way without stopping!  Success at last!  We found the south trail not to be blocked by closure signs, but the trail was muddy and a little snow-laden, so we went back home down the west trail.  There’s always next year to test my skills on the south trail.

So there you have the end of the mountain biking season of 2012.  Here’s a brief to-do list for myself for 2013:

  1. Learn wheelies, bunny-hopping, and other nifty techniques.
  2. Practice more trail riding.
  3. Improve my general agility and technique.

I am envious of those cyclists on YouTube videos that seems to use their bicycles as a natural extension of their bodies and can make it do amazing things, and I yearn to explore that almost completely missing part of my cycling experience!  As always, I’ll let you know how I do by recording my experiences in this blog, probably more for your amusement than for your information.  ;-p

Pipeline Campground Cycle Camp, Labor Day 2012

Cycling to American Falls On Frontage Road

Cycling to American Falls On Frontage Road

My usual cycle camping buddies (Travis Poppe and Dan Lloyd) and I were eager to do an overnighter soon, and Labor Day weekend was approaching.  Recently, Jeff Selfa had joined our circle of geeky beer drinking cycling folks and Travis had gotten himself a girlfriend, Justina, and they both wanted to come along as well.  Jeff is a very experienced cyclist and has the ability to blow us all out of the water in terms of speed and skill as well as sheer coolness factor of the bicycles that he rides, so I thought he was going to be bored to tears for this event.  Justina is pretty new to cycling so I was worried that this 60 mile round trip ride was going to make her hate cycling for the rest of her life.  Ah, well, I was interested to see how things were going to turn out!  And you never really know how a cycle camp is going to go anyway, to be honest.  But that’s how adventures are supposed to be and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

We all gathered at Travis’ house at around 9:00 am on Saturday, September 1.  It was a sunny day and the temperature felt perfect.  Dan and I were towing trailers, Jeff and Travis had their panniers packed, and Justina carried a bottle of water.  ;-)  Yes, we knew what Justina was in for, so we thought we’d better assist her the best we could.  She seemed very happy and enthusiastic about the ride; I hoped this would carry her through when things got tough for her ahead!

A Dock On The Mighty Snake River

A Dock On The Mighty Snake River

Soon, we were all cycling along Highway 30 at a moderate speed, chatting with each other and enjoying ourselves.  By about mile 20 we were all ravenous for Tres Hermanos, our favorite place to eat in American Falls.  A few miles later we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, went in, got our food, and began shoveling tamales into our faces.  There’s nothing like authentic Mexican food after 25 miles of riding.  :-P~~

After we ate, we picked up some food and beer at a local grocery store and cycled the remaining 5 miles or so to Pipeline Road.  Jeff and Travis decided to cycle down the dirt road to see how crowded it was since many locals love to have one final camp for the year over Labor Day weekend.  After a while, Jeff cycled back to us and announced “we’ll have to share the campground… with the birds!”  The campground was completely empty!  We all cycled down to the campground, had a look around, cracked open a few beers, and relaxed.  The lush greenery, massive Snake River, pelicans floating by, and the surprising absence of bugs made this area seem like such a paradise.

Next, we set up our tents, made a fire, drank more beer, and started cooking some food.  Shortly thereafter, dark clouds started coming in, the wind began to pick up, and a few sprinkles began to fall.  Dan shot a video of it!


Storm's A Brewin'

Storm’s A Brewin’

The rain started getting a bit harder, but I just stood there like an idiot, shirtless, drinking beer and enjoying myself.  The temperature hadn’t fallen much and I have a layer of blubber that keeps me warmer than other people, I think.  Dan and Jeff put on their rain jackets and Justina turned herself into a burrito with a sleeping bag.  Next, the wind and rain started falling way too hard for comfort, so I dove into my tent!  I was sure to take some beer with me, though.  I’m an expert at outdoor survival, I’m sure you can tell.

The rain stopped after about 30 minutes or so, so I emerged from my tent and went back to the campfire.  Jeff and Dan had apparently weathered the storm by standing around the campfire with their jacket hoods cinched up.  We cooked more food, ate plenty (mostly thanks to Jeff and Dan’s instant add-boiling-water meals) and took some lovely shots of the sun setting across the Snake River.  And then we headed to our tents for bed.

And it was at this point that poor Jeff discovered that his bivy sack and sleeping bag were completely soaked.  He decided his best choice was to cycle home through the night.  Dan volunteered to go with him since drivers probably aren’t used to seeing cyclists pedaling along the back roads in the middle of the night.  I loaned Jeff my headlight blinker and he and Dan pedaled off into the night.  Jeff wrote a brief but vividly written article entitled “The Pipeline Deserter Branch – s24o Labor Day 2012” about his experience that night.  Tis a good read!

Mist Coming Off Of The Snake River

Mist Coming Off Of The Snake River

The next morning, thick fog rolled in and mist was coming off of the river.  It looked like like an enchanted scene from a fantasy movie.  I walked out onto the dock and basked in the sounds of fish jumping and water birds talking to each other.  As soon as Travis and Justina were up, we cleaned up the camp site, packed up, and headed back towards American Falls.  There, we stopped at a cozy diner called Casey’s Lounge, ate a hearty breakfast with plenty of hot coffee, and then headed back to Pocatello.   Hot coffee and breakfast is so fantastic and delicious after camping overnight, isn’t it?

The ride home was pleasant except for the fact that we were all tired of sitting on a bicycle saddle.  And the temperature had risen a lot, so by the time we were nearing Pocatello, I was ready for a long shower and more beer!  And that’s exactly how I ended my journey.  Oh, and Justina endured this whole trip like a real trooper!  She did amazingly well for her first long bike ride as well as being surrounded by beer swilling barbarians for 2 days straight and we’re all very proud of her!

Here’s a link to all the photos we took!

And here’s a short video taken by Travis at around 7 am on Sunday morning (September 2):



Bicycle Speed Comparison

Booth Drive to the end of Pocatello Creek Road

Booth Drive to the end of Pocatello Creek Road

I’ve been riding a touring bike, road racer, and mountain bike for the last 5 years and each one feels different in terms of riding position, speed, and maneuverability.  The touring bike has a long wheel base, 32 mm tires, and is about the best combination of speed, aerodynamic riding position, and comfort of all my bikes.  It just feels good to ride, but this may be due to the fact that it is the bike I ride the most.  My road racer has the average road racer frame geometry, skinny tires, and is good for a no-frills, minimalist bike ride where the objective is to get from point A to B in the least amount of time.  On the other hand, it has a rear rack, a granny gear, and some low gearing so it isn’t exactly the raciest road racer.  The mountain bike has fat, knobby tires, disc brakes, and compared to the other bikes’ riding positions it feels like you’re riding a tricycle.  The riding position is quite upright and it feels slower than beans.

So just for fun, I thought I would ride all three bicycles along the same route on 3 different weekends and compares the times!  This way, my legs would be fresh each time and all variables would be mostly constant.  My cycling buddies thought the results wouldn’t be very accurate due to different weather, wind, how Korey was feeling that day, etc.  But, hey, it’s the best your average recreational cyclist can do, OK?  And besides, I’d be burning calories while experiencing an interesting experiment!

The route I selected was an out-and-back gradual climb of about 900 feet starting at the intersection of Booth Drive and Pocatello Creek Road to the top of Pocatello Creek Road and back to the intersection for a total of 11.8 miles.  I chose this route mostly because it’s close to home, so I can do the whole ride in under and hour.  Even though the route is far from flat, it is out-and-back so that any climbing slowness could be made up for with a speedy decent.  And at the same time my lightweight skinny-tired road racer should be able to climb faster and descend faster, thus magnifying the speed difference between it and the other bicycles.  On the other hand, this route snakes through a canyon so that top speed on the downhill cannot be reached without the risk of losing control around a bend.  Ah, well, enough of the pros and cons, let’s take a look at the results:

Uphill Downhill Total
Bike Time Speed Time Speed Time Speed Notes
Touring 30 min. 11.7 mph 13 min. 27 mph 43 min. 16.3 mph Nice day, wind calm.
Road racer 27 min. 13 mph 16 min. 22 mph 43 min. 16.3 mph Wind blowing up hill.
MTB 33 min. 10.6 mph 16 min. 22 mph 49 min. 14.3 mph Wind blowing up hill; I pedaled hard on the downhill to try to offset wind and knobby tires

Please note that the total speed averages take into account the time spent on the downhill and the uphill; I didn’t just add the uphill and downhill numbers and divide by 2.  Also, the table shows the order in which the rides were done.  So by the time I got to the MTB ride, I had some experience with the road and the stiff wind that seems to blow up the canyon all the time!

I guess my cycling buddies were correct in saying that the wind speed would affect the results.  I think the wind blowing up the canyon really improved the road racer and MTB uphill times by a few minutes, and really ruined the downhill.  I was tired of bucking the wind on the downhill, so when I got to the MTB ride I really gave it hell on the downhill, especially since I had to overcome both wind and knobby tire rolling resistance.  And I guess that paid off since I got the same downhill time on the MTB as I did on the road racer.

Anyway, there you have my less-than-perfect experiment results!  I actually had a lot of fun with this and I highly recommend that you time yourself on your bikes with different routes and such.  You never really know how well a bike performs or how well you perform until you get out there and do some timed cranking.  Gee, maybe I should do another experiment where I keep the bicycle constant and then cycle while tired, drunk, and hungover and then compare those three results!  Or maybe keep the bike and the rider’s condition the same and do a ride at 60, 70, and 80 degrees!  Ah, so many experiments to think of!  :-)

The Elegant, No-Engine, Reel Lawn Mower

Reel mowerAnd here we have my first non-cycling-related article on this blog, which some of you might find a pleasant relief.  However, it is still somewhat related since the subject matter is still about human-powered machines, the “simpler is just as good or maybe better” concept, and being environmentally friendly.  This article is about how I mow my lawn!

Many years ago, back when I still lived with my parents, my mom decided to buy a reel mower.  She hated smelly lawn mower exhaust and she was a big fan of peace and quiet, so she read up on reel mowers and decided to have her son (me, the family landscaper) give one a shot!  After getting used to the feel of the mower, I found that I liked it better than motorized lawn mowers for a number of reasons:

  1. No more burning sinuses.  Mowing for thirty minutes while breathing in exhaust never made my nose feel very good.
  2. I didn’t have to take a shower after mowing.  Sure I was a little sweaty, but I didn’t smell like I worked at a mechanic shop or petroleum refinery.
  3. Modern engine-less mowers are very lightweight and easy to push.  I find them much easier to push (especially uphill) than hauling around an engine on a mower.
  4. You can stop mowing whenever you want without wasting gasoline, having to restart an engine, or getting shot by something flying out of a grass chute.  Stop anytime to move something out of the way, pick up some trash, go get a drink, whatever.
  5. Reel mowers are safer.  The blade is easy to see and therefore easy to stay away from.  And the blade stops quickly and easily—you just have to stop pushing the mower!  Also, it’s virtually impossible to injure a foot while mowing since the grass cutting happens in the front of the mower, not the rear.  And even if a body part somehow got into that area of the mower, the injury would probably result in only a deep cut, whereas a motorized mower would most likely deliver a much more serious wound.
  6. No having to run to get more gasoline, no oil changes, no service and maintenance, no fuss, no mess (lots of cash savings over time).  Reel mower blades are scissor-action, so they sharpen themselves.  As the blades getting trimmed down over time, you simply give a little turn to the blade adjustments screws, and you’re back in action and your mower feels brand new again.  Oh, and I guess you have to apply a bit of oil and grease to the moving parts at the beginning of each mowing season.
  7. Reel mowers start out at only $150.  Try finding a brand new motorized mower for that price!

Reel mowerYears later when I purchased my own home I bought my own reel mower, pictured in this article.  This is my first home and doesn’t have a lot of grass to mow, so a reel mower is ideal.  If I ever buy a home with a massive yard, I might consider buying a different kind of mower, but using a reel mower on a small to medium sized lawn is quite easy.

Reel mowers are very simple machines, so they usually have no problems or repairs for many years.  After using my mower for 6 years, however, the handle decided to snap off!  After calling around to all the local stores that sold mowers, I was told that replacement parts didn’t exist for any kind of reel mower than they knew of and that I’d have to just buy a new one.  I thought this was ridiculous, so I called around to some repair places, looked on craigslist.com, and I found that I actually had a few options.  I found a handyman who said I could go buy a pipe from a local hardware store and he would bend it, drill it, and that should work fine as a handle.  There were also a few people on craigslist.com selling ancient reel mowers for a few dollars, and from the photos it looked like I could probably fit an old mower’s handle onto my mower with a little bit of finagling.  That weekend, my wife and I went to a friends’ yard sale that was going on, and lo and behold an old fashioned reel mower was there for sale!  To make a long story short, I bought it for the low, low price of $5, took the handle off of it, bent it a little to fit my mower, and I was back to happily mowing in no time!  It sure beat buying another mower!

Reel mowerAlso, before taking the handle off of the old lawn mower, I actually tried a bit of mowing with it.  I was horrendously astonished at how heavy and stiff it was to move, as it weighed about 3 times as much as my modern reel mower.  Whenever I talk to anyone about my reel mower, the first thing they always say is “haha, I’ll bet that’s a workout!”  Well, they’re probably remembering the good old days of these Fred Flintstone models.  Reel mowers have changed a lot, folks.  They are no longer made out of anvils and boulders, and are now made with lightweight steel and modern components; so I suggest you head over your favorite hardware store and give a new one a try before spreading anymore hate and discontent about these wonderful machines!

Lastly, here is another benefit of reel mowers from the lawn mower Wikipedia article:

Of all the mowers, a properly adjusted cylinder [reel] mower makes the cleanest cut of the grass, and this allows the grass to heal more quickly. The cut of a well-adjusted cylinder mower is straight and definite, as if cut with a pair of scissors. This clean cut promotes healthier, thicker and more resilient lawn growth that is more resistant to disease, weeds and parasites. Lawn cut with a cylinder mower is less likely to result in yellow, white or brown colouration as a result of leaf shredding.

Cool!  :-D  Happy mowing, everyone!

Scout Mountain Cycle Camp 2012

Travis' Hennessy Hammock

Travis' Hennessy Hammock

For those of you who just want to browse the photos taken at this cycle camp, here is the gallery!  The photos were taken with cell phones by various people, most likely while under the influence.  ;-p Also, I was too lazy to put the photos in chronological order in the gallery.  Sorry  :-(

So, we (myself, Travis Poppe, and Dan Lloyd) decided to do an early spring cycle camp, and in Idaho, by the way, “early spring” is May.  April is rather chilly and snow is still usually plentiful above 7,000 ft. or so.  We felt like camping somewhere fairly close and with some trees so Travis could try out his new Hennessy Hammock.  Dan knew some other folks who also wanted to camp with us, so we conveniently took advantage of the SUV they were going to drive and made them haul food, water, and firewood.  I guess we kind of cheated.  :-)

At this point in our cycle camping career, we are pretty accustomed to how to load our bicycles up, and soon the three of us were at Travis’ house and comparing equipment and so forth.  Travis had his usual setup of 2 massive panniers, I had my usual child trailer, and Dan also had a child trailer.  I hoisted both trailers to compare weight and Dan’s probably weighed about 70 lbs at least while mine was probably only 20 lbs!  Dan is always going the extra mile.  I was seriously wondering how he was going to pull off a 1600 foot climb up to Scout Mountain with all that weight and was anxious to see how he did.

The camp site

The camp site

Cycling up to the base of Scout Mountain wasn’t too bad.  I actually stopped by a gas station on the way up and picked up a six pack of Samuel Adams Boston Lager and threw it in my trailer just to try to even out the weight difference between mine and Dan’s trailers!  But then came the steep 5 mile climb to the camping area of the mountain.  I shifted into my lowest gear, relaxed, and enjoyed the scenery for the most part, but I could tell through the last third of the climb that Dan was having a tough time.  After pulling into the parking lot at the top, I quickly laid my bike down, grabbed a beer out of my trailer, and stood there slurping my beer while waiting for the others to arrive just to make their experience a little more frustrating.  Bwahaha.  :-)  I then saw Dan walking his bike and trailer the last few feet up to the top and I thought he must be really, really having a tough time.  Poor guy.

Dan’s friends had arrived about an hour before us, so they met us in the parking lot and led the way to the camp site.  We then began drinking more beer, setting up tents, taking some photos, and having a good time.  Dan, however, disappeared into his tent to lie down for a while and eat a few pieces of watermelon that his friends provided; yeah, he was definitely suffering from exhaustion and not feeling like partying much.  Meanwhile, Travis took great glee in busting out his new hammock, tying it to a couple of trees, and figuring out how the rest was supposed to be put together.

Scout Mountain scenery

Scout Mountain scenery

After an hour or so, Dan was back to his usual self and was eating and drinking with the rest of us.  Everyone then decided to take a walk and look for some geocaches.  We actually found a geocache, an old abandoned amphitheater, and lots of great scenery.  Later in the evening, more friends of ours drove up to the campsite and hung out with us.  The most important event of the evening was the camp stove cook-off!  This is where Travis, Dan, and Brian (one of our visiting friends) all took out their various camp stoves and saw who could get water to boil the fastest!  Travis and Dan both had some sort of little propane fueled contraptions whereas Brian had one that required him to burn some twigs, while a AA battery powered fan blew upward beneath the burning embers.  It looked like an episode of Science In The Great Outdoors or something.  Congratulations to Travis who won with his Jetboil stove!  After hanging out with more visiting friends, we all settled down for bed around midnight.

The next day, we had a breakfast of coffee, omelettes, and sausage (thanks to Leslie for showing us how to cook eggs in a plastic bag!).  Dan’s friends decided to drive home so we helped them pack up, and Travis also decided to go home since he was hungover  ;-)  However, Dan and I wanted to do a short hike before heading home, so we took off to the south and saw some spectacular scenery.  We definitely want to devote more time to hiking around Scout Mountain.  It is a big mountain and there is a lot to see!

Then Dan and I wandered back to the camp site, made sure everything was packed up and the site was clean, and took off for home!