Category Archives: Stuff I Like

Stuff I Like: Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds

I do not wash my bike often, but when I do I use Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds:

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Unlike Dr. Bronner’s more well-known pure Castile liquid soaps, Sal Suds is a concentrated all-purpose cleaner.  According to the instructions you can use it on just about anything without fear of damage.  Depending upon your cleaning task you can mix in more or less Sal Suds.

When I clean my bike—which happens so infrequently that anyone I ride with refers to my bike as the “dirtwagon”—I mix a healthy squirt of Sal Suds into a wash bucket and fill the rest with water from the hose bib.  A few minutes with a soft bristle scrub brush and some low pressure water spray is all that is needed to get my bike into near new condition.  Okay, as news as something can look after thousands of miles.

When I rinse my bike and allow it to dry in the sun there is no greasy soap residue that you might get with something like an all-purpose wash for an automobile.

This stuff is great because I do not need to worry about the impact that the cleaner will have on my landscaping when it inevitably gets washed off the sidewalk or driveway.

About the only downside I have discovered is that my disc brakes howl like a monkey on meth the first ride after a wash.  Seriously, it is like I put polyurethane brake pads on my bike.  For those of us who came of age on bikes in the 1990s, never forget Winwood Poly Brakes.

Note: I buy this stuff with my own money and get no compensation from Dr. Bronner’s.  This is not some influencer pimping a product for money.

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Stuff I Like: Rock “N” Roll The Absolute Dry

I will admit that I do not clean and lubricate the drivetrain of my bicycle nearly enough for the amount of riding that I do.  Compounding this fact is that a lot of the riding that I do is north of the paved section of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  This is the section of trail where a weird amalgam of crushed limestone, loose dirt, sand, and whatever else has been spread over the years comprises the surface.

In the 1990s and for probably a decade or more afterward I was a firm believer in the lubrication powers of White Lightning.  Not the white lightning of rural American fame, but the chain lube that used to promise a quiet and clean running chain.  Somewhere along the line the formula changed or my expectations changed.  No longer was it the preferred choice.

After a series of products recommended by the Internet, friends, not so friends, and whatever I call those dudes who ride recumbents in jean shorts I was at my wits end.  Why?  All of the lubes I tried seemed to become a mass of trail dust, grease, and other gunk within a few rides which necessitated scrubbing my drivetrain clean with a stiff bristle brush.  Is there anything more tedious than spending a weekend morning scrubbing your cassette?  I thought not.

On the recommendation of the good folks at Goldfinch Cyclery—best bike shop in eastern Iowa—I bought a bottle of Rock “N” Roll The Absolute Dry:

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Like Popeye’s Chicken in the oft derided Adam Sandler classic film Little Nicky, this stuff is the shiznit:

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All right, early aughts nostalgia aside The Absolute Dry is the answer to my lube prayers.  That sounds all wrong when I say it out loud.

Here’s the deal: I put this stuff on when my drivetrain starts making some noise and I generally forget about it for a week or more.  What more can I ask out of a bottle of chain lube?  Oh wait, it also does not create the mini mountains of trail crud that seem to result in using more moist lubes that promise to endure miles of abuse.

If you ride a lot of dust strewn miles get a bottle of this stuff and save your weekends for riding.

Note: I bought two bottles of The Absolute Dry with my own money and of my own volition.  I receive no compensation or reward for suggesting that this is an awesome product.  There is no influencer pimping going on here.

Stuff I Like: Revelate Designs

2019 has been a year of really dialing my bike for “big day” rides of 50 to a 100 miles.  It’s sort of a no man’s land between regular rides and the long rides that a lot of bikepackers undertake.  It’s also the sort of riding that is super prevalent here in eastern Iowa.

The requirements for being on a bike for several hours and tens of miles from home are the ability to deal with any mechanical gremlins that arise, have enough food on hand in case you begin to bonk, and be prepared for dramatic changes in weather.  The last requirement is key.  You may end up packing a compressible down jacket for a ride that may end in short sleeves.  That is spring in eastern Iowa.

On my bike right now I have a Terrapin System 8L and a Mag-Tank:

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The Terrapin System 8L replace a much more traditional seat bag that had just enough room for my phone, spare tube, mini pump, and a multi-tool if I spent a few minutes arranging everything just so.  Do not ask what happened if I had to actually get anything out of said seat bag.  It was reverse Jenga in all the wrong ways.

The benefit of a seat bag like the Terrapin System 8L?  Variable size.  If you do not need to carry a jacket or a burrito as big as your head just roll down the bag insert, close the one way purge valve, and clip it into place.  Want to carry a puffy, rain jacket, gloves, and a five dollar foot long?  Just unroll the insert, stuff it full, and get to pedaling.  About the only downside to bag like this is that the inside is one big compartment.  It’s liberating in that there are no internal obstructions to limit your packing imagination, but at the same time it can get a little bit jumbled.  I am considering sewing my own tool roll to contain some of the chaos.  More projects!

Before the Mag-Tank I had gone through a few top tube or stem tops bags, but ended up binning them after a few rides because nothing ever seemed to work.  The Mag-Tank is about the perfect size to hold my smartphone, driver’s license, keys, cash, and some trail snacks in an easy to grab location.  In the past I have stored these same items in a seat bag.  The problem?  To really access a seat bag you have to get off the bike and root through the bottomless pit.  Ugh.

Now if I want to take a picture of something on the trail I just pop open the Mag-Tank, which has a snazzy magnetic enclosure as opposed to Velcro or a zipper, and grab my phone.  All from the saddle.  If you need or want more space there is a larger Mag-Tank 2000, but that seemed like overkill if I was also going to be rocking the Terrapin System 8L.

My only real gripe with the Mag-Tank is that the strap for fastening to the top tube was obviously intended for more voluminous carbon or allow frames.  It was pushing things to the limit when I tightened down the strap on my steel Breezer Radar.  Granted, the tubes on my bike are of the very skinny old school steel variety.  I was left with a lot of extra strap.  A little scissor surgery remedied the offending flap.  Sure, this bag is limited to this particular bike but when am I going to change rides?

After approximately 1,500 miles so far this season of mixed surface riding in eastern Iowa I can safely say that these two bags have solved all of my cargo carrying concerns.  At least one thing has been figured out this summer.

You will notice that my bike now has a flat bar.  Updates to follow.

Note: I received nothing from Revelate Designs or anyone else for this post.  I bought both products with my own money and intend to keep using them until the end of time.  Okay, that might be a little extreme.  Regardless, there is no paid product pimping here.  I did use my REI dividend and bi-annual member coupon to reduce the sting a little.  These products are great, but they are expensive.

Stuff I Like: Wolf Tooth Components B-RAD 2 and Morse Cage

If there is one development in the world of cycling that has been a positive it has to be the evolution of the sport away from the duality of road cyclist versus mountain biker.  In the halcyon days of the 1990s this was the only distinction that mattered.

Fast forward to whatever we call these years and there is a proliferation of cycling “genres.”  Sure, the traditional roadie still exists but that rider shares space with the bikepacker, gravel cyclist, fat biker, fondo enthusiast, and so on.  These new or rediscovered styles of riding suit a lot more people and a lot more fun than spending your afternoons in a group ride staring at someone’s lycra clad rear end.

My preferred riding style falls into the big day ride camp.  I do not bike camp—yet—but I may spend an entire day in the saddle over mixed terrain pretty far from home.  As such, there is a decent amount of stuff I want to carry with me including enough water to complete the ride or at least make it between widely spaced trusted sources.

The problem that I have discovered is that my new bike’s frame triangle was quite small.  There were two bottle locations in the main triangle, but the one mounted on the seat tube did not allow for the insertion of a Zefal 164 water bottle.  These bottles are a favorite of long distance riders here in eastern Iowa because each one holds 33 ounces of water.  Two of these give you more than a half-gallon of water for any given ride.

Enter Wolf Tooth Components.  Probably best known as one of the original aftermarket specialists making narrow wide chainrings.  The geniuses at this Minnesota company have branched out into all sorts of solutions for those of us looking to tweak our rides into some semblance of personal perfection.  In my case it was the combination of a B-RAD 2 and Morse Cage.

The B-RAD “system” is a series of mounts and accessories to maximize your on bike storage.  What the B-RAD 2 allowed me to do was shift the mounting holes for my seat tube bottle cage down a few inches.

I also paired this with the most excellent Morse Cage.  Made by Durango, Colorado based King Cage for Wolf Tooth the Morse Cage features holes and slots for the perfect positioning of a water bottle cage.  Witness:

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Made of bent hollow stainless steel tubing—titanium is available for you crazies out there—these cages are a thing of beauty.  Okay, I geek out a little about small things like cages.  Just wait until you hear me opine about the cable housing that I have eyed up.  Bike bling is a real thing.

The end result is a main triangle that looks like this:

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This setup give me two bottles within arm’s reach when in the saddle.  It also puts the spigots up higher than if I used the underside of the downtube.  I cannot imagine how much limestone dust would be caked on the spigot after ten miles off of pavement.  It all seems like small ball stuff until you realize that after spending hours in the saddle on a ride the last thing you want to be dealing with is a water bottle that is strangely out of your reach.

Note: I bought both the B-RAD 2 and Morse Cages with my own funds.  I receive no compensation from Wolf Tooth Components for my endorsement of their products.  I just happen to really like the stuff these guys make.

Stuff I like: Instant Pot

The Instant Pot is the most basic white girl thing this side of athleisure wear and waiting with bated breath for Starbucks to unleash pumpkin spice lattes.  You know what?  The Instant Pot freaking rocks and I am not going to apologize.

Sure, the small appliance miracle known as the Instant Pot can make yogurt and serve as a countertop canner and do a hundred other things you can discover down the rabbit hole that is Pinterest.  Do you know what the Instant Pot is really good at?  Letting you make something for dinner on a weeknight that would have been near impossible.

How so?  How about weeknight risotto?  Unless you are unemployed or you’re a masochist who wants to make their children wait until after 8:00 for dinner risotto is something reserved for the weekend.  All of that stirring and careful addition of stock at just the right temperature is not something you undertake on a weeknight.  Banish the complexity and embrace the Instant Pot.

Mushroom risotto is cutting board to plate in less than an hour.  While the Instant Pot is coming to pressure and cooking use that time to prepare a quick salad and additional side if you are feeling frisky.

How easy?  Here you go:

  1. Set Instant Pot to “Saute.” Melt about 4 tablespoons butter.  Add 8 to 16 ounces of diced mushrooms—choose your favorite variety.
  2. Stir infrequently until mushrooms release liquid. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of soy sauce.  Continue sautéing until the remaining liquid begins to thicken.
  3. Add an entire diced onion and a couple of diced shallots. Saute until soft or your preference.
  4. Once the vegetable mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pot liner move to one side. Add a nice coating of olive oil.  Once heated add two cups of Arborio rice and stir until most grains show the white dot.
  5. Deglaze the pan with some white wine. I use cheapo leftover chardonnay.
  6. Add four cups of chicken or vegetable stock. Make sure that there is no rice stuck to the sides of the pot liner above the liquid level.
  7. Put the lid on and set for 10 minutes.
  8. Once the time is up do a manual release of the pressure and stir in some parmesan cheese.

That is it.  Are the measurements—save for the rice and stock—hazy at best?   Yep.  I do not get hung up on a cup of onions or a quarter cup of shallots.  It’s a preference thing.  Sometimes the mushrooms at the farmers market look amazing and I add more than usual.  Sometimes the onions available are kind of junk, so I go light on those.

This is the best thing about the Instant Pot.  It took a somewhat fussy dish like risotto and made it something so easy that I am inclined to let it be an improv moment.  I would never have done that staring an hour of stirring stock in ladle by ladle.

This is what things we bring into our lives do: make things easier and make things fun.  For me, the Instant Pot does just that and I ask no more of it.  Now, if I could just figure out when Starbucks was going to bring back pumpkin spice lattes…

What’s in the Box: Nomadik August 2017

This month’s theme may be “summer adventure” but I am going to go with flashback.  Seriously, the stuff that came in this month’s box takes me back to an earlier time in my life.  How so?

Consider the Mountainsmith Cooler Tube:

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Do you remember when these were all over your college campus in the 1990s?  Granted, the earlier versions were usually made of black nylon as opposed to eco-friendly hemp but the idea was the same.  Load a six pack of cold beer into a tube, sling it over your shoulder, and enjoy the great outdoors with a few beers.

For me this meant spending the better part of a lazy weekend afternoon playing ultimate and sharing cold Pabst Blue Ribbons—before that beer became the choice of flannel clad hipsters—with my fellow disc chuckers.  Now we have better options.  Soft sided coolers hold more beer at a colder temperature for longer for not much of a penalty in weight or comfort.  Other than hiding a six pack in a golf bag what purpose does the cooler tube serve anymore?

You want another flashback?  Check out the Chums:

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I thought these were only used by river guides and people at theme parks.  Now, the good folks at Nomadik do admit that these are the choice of water sports enthusiasts for retaining glasses in all conditions.

Combined with the final item of Surface Face Stick I cannot help but tell a few river guide jokes:

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What do you call a river guide who just broke up with his girlfriend?  Homeless.

How do you find a river guide in the dark?  It’s hard.

What is the difference between a river guide and god?  God does not think that he is a river guide.

Sorry, river guide jokes just tend to roll off the tongue this time of year.  You could substitute ski instructor for river guide and get about the same impact.

I said in prior posts that Nomadik was going to have to come on strong to get me to consider renewing my gift subscription.  I am just not feeling the need.  The problem is that I am not exposed to new things as much as I get things in the mail that I just do not care about.  It is kind of the same problem I see whenever I visit an REI or Sierra Trading Post.  People seem enamored with buying stuff that seems cool in the store, but that they will rarely if ever use once they get home.  Come on, how many of those cool shaped bottle openers by the cash registers do people every actually use to open a bottle of beer?

What’s in the Box: Nomadik July 2017

I actually got to writing about July’s Nomadik box before the next month’s box was ready to ship.  Not bad considering I spent the first part of the month in Colorado struggling with altitude and failing in my quest to summit a 14er.

Every Day Carry (EDC) is the theme of July’s Nomadik box.  Now, EDC started off as something for concealed or open carry gun advocates to show others what they took out onto the street every day.  Hit the interwebs, search for EDC, and be prepared to see a plethora of images detailing the pocket dumps of EDC advocates.  The term EDC has evolved lately to encompass other enthusiast communities like the outdoors and I guess that is who Nomadik is hoping to satisfy with this box.

Is it dorky to get excited about a keychain?  Regardless, I am digging the Exotac FREEkey:

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The idea here is that it is easy to add or remove keys without the usual hassle of cracking fingernails or pinching skin.  With a well-placed squeeze the ring opens up:

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Granted, I do not frequently add or remove keys but the struggle is real.  The test of the FREEkey’s worth will be how it holds up over the next few months when compared with my five year old key ring.

Have you heard of Famous Surf Supply?  I hadn’t, but now I have a vacuum water bottle with their logo emblazoned on it so I guess I have heard of Famous Surf Supply:

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Look, it’s a vacuum bottle.  Like carabiners can we ever really have enough of these things?  I appreciate that it came with an alternative lid that has a screw top for drinking.  I outfitted all of my old school wide mouth Nalgene bottles with a similar cap and it makes a world of difference.  It may be from some famous company, but it is after all just another vacuum bottle in a world of Yeti tumblers.

Do you even MOLLE bro?  Are you an operator who operates in an operation environment?  Sorry for the sidebar into mall ninja jokes.  This is a 3V Gear utility pouch:

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3V?  As in “veni, vidi, vici.”  Very subtle guys.  If you know what MOLLE is you are probably aware of the guys who cannot get enough of the military’s standard system of loops and straps for bags and other gear.  I have seen guys outfit the backs of truck seats and the interior roofs of Jeeps with attachment points.  I am sure that it serves a purpose when you are trying to outfit hundreds of thousands of soldiers with gear but a well thought out pack will accomplish the same thing.  Heck, it might even be high speed, low drag.  Sorry, I went into mall ninja territory again.

It’s a small pouch that you can loop through standard MOLLE straps.  You could put some stuff in here or you could have it collect some dust in your bin of stuff you may get to someday.

I really enjoy getting food items in these boxes.  It is a function of my desire to try every new energy bar or snack that shows up in the little boxes by the cash register of your local bike or ski shop.  Why?  I have no idea, but if Honey Stinger comes out with something new I am usually right there buying one to try out the next day.  This month’s box included a Big Sur Bar:

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First off, it is big.  Like a very weighty granola bar.  I was somewhat afraid to look at the caloric content given its heft, but the Date Night flavor clocks in at 200 calories.  Wait a second, that is 200 calories per serving and the label says that the package contains three servings.  WTF?  Can we please stop the labelling insanity where items usually consumed as a single piece or serving are chopped up into multiple servings?  So, this thing has 600 calories.  Damn!

Second, it is layered:

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This would not have been a problem had the bar not separated into three pieces along these fault lines about four bites into the bar.  Not really a problem unless you are intending to actually consume this while being active, which is sort of the target market for this monstrosity.  I am going to have to take a pass on future Big Sur Bars and keep stocking my Honey Stingers.