Monthly Archives: July 2009

Demo Ride: 2009 Trek Fuel EX 8

I turned my 1997 Voodoo Bizango into a single speed this Spring, so I’ve been without a geared XC/Trail bike. This isn’t a big deal for my local East coast hills, but I knew that I’d want a geared XC bike if I take any trips into the mountains. After a test ride, and tons of Internet chatter, I was set on trying to find a smoking deal on a used Giant Anthem X1. I was definitely not in a hurry.

Innocent Trip To A New LBS

On a whim I stopped into a local bike shop that I’d never visited. I’d written off the idea of getting a bike this season, so it was pretty safe for me to step inside…or so I thought. I got to talking with the salesguy about Trek’s Full Floater and ABP. Seemed a little gimmicky, so I donned a loaner helmet and took a 2009 18.5″ Trek Fuel EX 8 out for a test ride; in my flip-flips. I was surprised to see how well their Full Floater rear suspension felt while hammering out of the saddle. The lower third of the rear travel feel really nice too as I jumped up and down on it. The 18.5″ was too tall, but I liked it since I’m accustomed to being strung out on my Bizango torture rack. And that was that, or so I though.

Later That Night

I was fascinated to see what Internet people were thinking about it. Seems like Giant’s Maestro is still king of the non-exotics, but Trek was getting a lot of respect. I dropped an email to a very trusted bikeshop friend and he gave me some opinions. The Giant Anthem is a very racy platform with steep geometry. short travel, and very little weight. The Trek Fuel EX is way more slack, has nearly as much travel as an all mountain bike, and weighs a little more. The Giant Trance fits right in between the two on geometry, but also has lots of travel to spare. BTW, after my demos and test rides, I disagree. I’d put the Fuel EX between the Anthem and Trance.

His comments got me thinking. I freeride/DH on my Transition Preston a lot too, and I’m always doing stupid stuff on my Bizango. Maybe I didn’t want a racy XC bike. I crossed the Anthem off my list and added the Trance and Fuel EX.

The Demo

The next day, I stopped back by the shop and signed up for a demo on a 17.5″ Fuel EX 8. On my way to some local trails, I stopped in at a Giant dealer. They don’t offer demos, but I figured I could boing a Trance around the parking lot. It was garbage…IMHO. I haven’t gone back through and crunched the numbers, but for some reason, I had a horrible bar height to seat height ratio. That got my weight off the front end and made the steering feel like a truck pulling a trailer with 3x the tongue weight limit. It actually handled a little like my Preston. It was not what I was looking for in a trail bike at all. BTW, the Trance is loved by many and only hated by a few…maybe just me. So don’t put an ounce of weight on my opinion of the Trance. Go ride it yourself.

I continued onward to the trail thanking Giant for making my choices easier. I ride this trail on my Bizango and Preston a lot, so I know how both extremes feel. I unloaded the bike and pedaled away.

The trails were a little dusty, by East coast standards. They’re hard-packed singletrack with lots of roots and gravel on many of the drier corners. I started out heading up a gradual and twisty climb. It climbed very well in the saddle, even with platform pedals on there. The extra travel had me picking the straightest line instead of steering around rough patches.

The trail then rewarded me with some equally twisty gradual pedaling downhills. The Fuel EX has plenty of pedal clearance to pedal through many corners leaned over. I only dinged my bulky platform pedals once. As soon as things sped up and I got out of the saddle, I was amazed at how well it tracked over the rough stuff. It switched lines underneath me really well, allowing me to keep my body running downhill like a creek while I bounced the bike back and forth across the trail and bending it around corners. This thing felt as agile as the Bizango, without the hardtail chatter.

Speaking of chatter, the ABP is no joke. The salesguy told me that it will do really well in those washed out corners where hardtails rippled the trail with their skipping rear wheel. I picked a few downhill, mild switchbacks and ran the bike in with about a moderate 65% F / 35% R brake force. The frontend tracked and the backend was right in step, allowing me to lay it over well before I’d normally want to. No brake jack, at all! Now I sped this up and got a lot more aggressive with the braking. This caused the front end to dive much more, which caused the read end to come up, but it wasn’t so much an issue of brake jack as much as me just being jacked up period. I then tried to rear brake only into a few corners. Really no serious brake jack there either. My college statics class tells me that David Weagle’s Split Pivot patent should eliminate brake jack, and I think that it’s been copied/licensed/whatever well by Trek.

The next thing I tried was the all important out of the saddle climbing over loose rocks, gravel, and roots. I turned the shock’s pro-pedal on for this, and it did splendidly well. The back wheel tracked much better than my hardtail, keeping power to the ground. The pro-pedal helped to limit the bobbing a little, but I still lost energy. You just don’t get that feeling like one powerful pedal stroke will catapult you to the top of the climb. On a related note, the bike stayed settled well when transitioning in and out of the saddle on climbs.

I had some front end traction problems, but I think it’s because my stem was too short and I was riding over the backend to much. I fixed this by trail braking the front through loose, fast corners to keep the front fork in the middle third of it’s travel. I might have tried a lower pressure too, but I hate that washed out feeling you get.

Demo Impressions

This bike was way better than I expected. I was ridiculously fast, but it was still fun to bunny hop and jump off of little hits. I dropped the bike off the next day, and ordered an EX 9; that’s how much I liked it. I wasn’t quite happy with the build list of the EX 8, so I opted to ride their top-of-the-line aluminum Fuel EX. Specifically, I didn’t like the Juicy brakes, I hated the cranks, and I didn’t trust that the SLX shifters would hold up. We’ll see what I think of the SRAM X-9 shifters. I might end up swapping them out for some XTs. My demo weighed in at 28.15 lbs., so I’m hoping the EX 9 will be mid-27 lbs. or lower. We’ll see. I can’t wait.

Eating Out, Well

I’m a typical, lazy basta… bachelor. I’ve got a messy kitchen with a fridge full of beer and breakfast food but little else. I eat out for lunch every day and for dinner about 4-5 times a week. This has definitely made the task of re-engineering my diet interesting, but far from impossible.

Tips to While Eating Out
You’re always hearing people complain about how hard it is to eat healthy at work or while on the road. I don’t buy it. Here are some of my tips:

  1. Learn to Love the Salad. At some restaurants this is your only option. Be wary of the not-so-healthy salads (ala the 10,000 calorie taco salad). Order a light dressing, and make sure you get it on the side. I use way less than half of what they give me.
  2. Soups and Salad Combos. Salads can bet boring, so there’s no better way to add a little variety than to order a soup and salad combo. Many restaurants are offering these options now, with a small side salad, a coup of soup, and sometimes a side. Try to find a light, non-creamy soup, and please don’t ruin it by getting chips as a side.
  3. Hold The Sides. Resist the urge to get unhealthy sides: fries, chips, tortilla chips, potato salads, coleslaw, hush puppies. Once you start reducing your portions, you’ll find that just about every restaurant in America has portions that are way too large. Just try skipping the sides altogether.
  4. Look for Wheat Bread. The enriched white breads that you get are often loaded with sugar. I was floored when I had a “healthy” grilled chicken sandwich from McDonald’s the other day. Their bread was way to sweet! Sneaky guys. So opt for whole wheat. If you can’t, then try to eat only half of the bun.
  5. Lose the Ends of that Burrito. It’s hard to find a burrito with a whole grain tortilla. Some places let you get a burrito without the tortilla. Yuck, is all I can say. Instead I just get the flour tortilla and I rip the wadded up top off. Then I eat the burrito, and leave the bottom of it.
  6. Order Brown Rice. Not too many places have brown rice, but if they’ve got it or long grain wild rice, you’ll be much better off ordering it.
  7. Stay Away from Red Meat. I still eat red meat, but I rarely eat the heavily processed stuff. I instead opt for whole cuts. This pretty much rules out burgers, but I’m a much bigger fan of chicken anyhow.
  8. Pack an Apple. Finding a chance to eat 4-5 times a day on the road is tough. I travel with apples, oranges, and bananas a lot. A lot of the engineered energy/snack bars are way high in sugar, or artificial sweeteners. Apples and Oranges pack just as well, and are a better alternative to most bars.

Favorite Restaurants

Another mildly challenging part of eating out, is finding places with a variety healthy choices. You can find something health just about anywhere, but you’ll soon tire of the place if they’ve only got one option. Here’s my list of favorites:

  1. Jason’s Deli
  2. Panera Bread
  3. Moe’s, Salsarita’s, Chipotle
  4. Mediterranean Places ala Greek Fiesta
  5. Subway
  6. Pei Wei
  7. Wendy’s

Google Voice for Android

I was finally invited to Google Voice a few weeks ago, along with pretty much anyone who had previously signed up. I was mostly just excited to get a local number in my new area code. I don’t have a landline, and I didn’t really want to change my cell number. So for me, the most appealing aspect of Google Voice is the incredibly flexible phone number migration. For a guy like me who works in the telecom space, that’s good news. I can swap phones and SIMs all I want, and have them all ring from the same number.

The Problem With Caller ID
Everything looked cherry, until I had the realization that I couldn’t call people back from these different cell phone and prevent my different numbers showing up as the caller id. You can, however, use the Google Voice website to place a call, which will ring your phone first, then connect to the callee’s phone. In this case, the callee will see your Google Voice number as the caller id and not the particular phone that you’re using at the time.

Google Voice For Android
Although placing calls through a website is cool, it’s still somewhat impractical. Well now Android and Blackberry users have some good news. Google has just released a Google Voice app for both platforms. I’ve got no experience with the Blackberry, but apparently it’s not quite as nice as the Android app based on my read of a TechCrunch article on the Washington Post. Both will let you place calls from your mobile and have the callee see your Google Voice number in the caller id. However, the Android app integrates fully with the phone’s dialer, making it pretty seamless.

Free SMS From Your Mobile
When you set up the app, you can choose to use Google Voice for all outgoing calls, only for international outgoing calls, or for no calls. Once I dug into the app a little more, it made perfect sense why user may not want to always place calls through their Google Voice number. There’s also a strong SMS aspect of the Google Voice service. I can send and receive free SMSs on my mobile now. Of course, the recipient will see my Google Voice number, but to me that’s a worthwhile trade off for free SMSs. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to get the SMS notices as quickly when using them solely through the Google Voice app. If this is a problem, then you can easily go back to the settings for your mobile phone on their website and change it back to the default where Google Voice will forward all incoming SMSs to your Google Voice number as real SMSs to your mobile number.

Final Thoughts
I’m encouraging a few friends to try using my new Google Voice number for calls and SMS for a few days. I’ll see how it goes. If it works out well, then I’ll likely start to switch everyone over to the new number. That’s when it will really pay off. I can start using features like their voicemail transcription service. Goodie!

Quick Prepare, Slow Cook Turkey Chili

I’ve made chili 4-5 times a year for what seems like forever. I’ve definitely tried a bunch of different methods and ingredients, but lately I’ve just been keeping it simple. Here’s a recipe that quick to prepare and slow to cook. This recipe is a bean and tomato based chili, so not true cowboy chili (i.e. meat only). It also makes use of a season kit that I really like. Maybe in the future I’ll mess around with making my own chili seasoning. Alton Brown has a really good Good Eats Episode where he has a recipe for chili powder.

Note: Look for the the tags if you’re cooking it [Fast], [Medium], or [Slow].

Kitchen Gear:

  • [Fast] Large Pot or Small Stock Pot (min 4 qts.)
  • [Medium/Slow] Crock Pot
  • Large Frying Pan
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife
  • Big Spoon

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 of a White Onion
  • 1 Green Pepper
  • 1 Jalapeño
  • 4-5 Celery Hearts
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 1.5 lbs. Ground Turkey
  • 1 Can Stewed Tomatoes
  • 1 Small Can Tomato Paste
  • 1 Can RO*TEL, Hot
  • 1 Can Black Beans
  • 1 Can Pinto Beans
  • 1 Can Light Red Beans
  • 1 Can Dark Red Beans
  • 1 Box of Carol Shelby’s Texas Chili Kit
  • 1-3 tsp. Chili Powder

Directions:

  1. Dice the onion and green pepper.
  2. Slice the celery hearts.
  3. Finely dice the entire Jalapeno save for the stem. You may want to wear a latex glove.
  4. [Fast/Medium] Combine the and cook down in with the oil.
  5. Add the vegetables to the pot.
  6. Brown the turkey. I like to season with Nature’s Seasoning or any good beef seasoning. Add to the pot.
  7. Add the canned ingredients to the pot.
  8. Add the chili seasoning pack, cayenne pepper pack, and as much of the salt as you like. I typically use a third of the salt.
  9. Add the chili powder to taste. I usually use 2 tsp.
  10. [Fast] Put a lid on the pot and place on the stove at medium high heat it starts to bubble slightly. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. Once it starts to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours stirring occasionally. Add water if and only if it starts to dry up.
  11. [Medium] Turn on the crock pot, put the lid on, set it on high, and let it cook for 3-4 hours stirring occasionally. Add water if and only if it starts to dry up.
  12. [Slow] Turn on the crock pot, put the lid on, set it on low, and let it cook for 8 hours stirring occasionally. You shouldn’t need to add any water.
  13. If you like creamy chili (I don’t), then you can add a little water towards the end. Then add enough of the maize packet to thicken it up.

Warning: This chili isn’t too spicy, but it will be pretty hot for people who don’t eat spicy food too often. If you’re unsure, try the following instead:

  • Don’t use a jalapeño.
  • Use mild RO*TEL instead of hot.
  • If you want any spice at all, slowly add in the cayenne pepper packet while stirring it thoroughly and tasting frequently until it’s just right.

Cheater’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa

This is a really easy recipe for black bean and corn salsa. It will feed a party of 6 or so as a snack. You’ll want to match it up with 1 large bag of tortilla chips or one and a half smaller bags.

I based this recipe on two internet recipes that I found, and then modified it to taste. I’ll try to find them later to give them the proper credit.

Kitchen Gear:

  • Colander
  • Medium Mixing Bowl
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife
  • Fork

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 15 oz. can of Black Beans
  • 1 – 8.75 oz. can of Whole Sweet Corn or 2 – Ears of Corn
  • 1 – 16 oz. jar of Newman’s Own Organic Mild Salsa
  • 1 – Lime
  • 1 – Fresh Jalapeño
  • Fresh Scallions
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Tobasco

Feel free to use any salsa you like as the base. I recommend Newman’s Own Organic Mild, because it’s got a mild taste as well. You really don’t want a flavorful salsa as the base, as it can easily overpower the whole thing.

If you opt to use fresh ears of corn, you’ll need to first prepare it by grilling it in the husk, or taking the husk off and boiling it. Then while it’s still on the cob, lightly blacken it over an open flame on the grill. Then cut the kernels from the cob.

Directions:

  1. Drain and thoroughly rinse the Black Beans in a colander. Lightly crush one half of the Black Beans with a fork. Add to mixing bowl.
  2. Drain the Corn in the colander, but don’t rinse them. Add to mixing bowl.
  3. Add the salsa to the mixing bowl. I like a salsa-like consistency to this dish. If you’re going for a pico de gallo, then add 1/2 to 2/3 of the salsa only.
  4. Rinse the lime, jalapeño, scallions, and cilantro.
  5. Cut the lime into quarters or sixths and squeeze each slice over the mixing bowl. Besides flavor, the lime juice will act as a serious catalyst for flavor melding.
  6. Warning: You might want to wear latex gloves for this step. Cut the stem off of the jalapeño along with the first quarter inch. Finely chop the enture jalapeño. If you don’t want to bring the heat, you can open it up first and remove the seeds. Discard them, then cut up the rest of the jalapeño. Add to mixing bowl.
  7. Cut the green parts of six or so scallions into rings. They only add a subtle flavor, but the color offers a nice contrast. Add these to the mixing bowl.
  8. Finely chop some of the cilantro. Cilantro is a powerful flavor component, so you’ll have to consider how much to add. I usually add 2 – 3 heaping tablespoons of the chopped cilantro. Keep in mind too, that the flavor will diminish a little as the flavors meld.
  9. Mix in some tobasco to taste. Generally speaking, the tobasco will affect the flavor before it really affects the heat, but you should still use caution when adding it. Add some, then mix and taste. Repeat as often as you like, but I really wouldn’t add more than a teaspoon.
  10. Thoroughly mix the contents of the bowl, cover, and store in the refrigerator for a minimum of two hours before serving. I recommend storing overnight.