Lighting My Way: Serfas S500 USB Headlight | Oct 14, 2014
Living on the 53rd parallel is both a blessing and a curse for year round cyclists. On the summer solstice we are blessed with almost 17 hrs of daylight, however, on the flip side, during the winter solstice, we receive a little more than 7.5 hrs of daylight. Some of us arrive at work when it’s dark, and head home…when it’s dark!
This is where the Serfas S500 headlight is a crucial tool in my ride all year routine. With 500 lumens and a 1 hour & 45 minute run time on the highest setting, the S500 is the perfect light to get around Edmonton in the dark hours of the night, evening, or albeit, late afternoon. 
Perfect for bike path commuting, snow trail shredding, and the occasional rip on buff single track, the S500 is as versatile as it is affordable. October is a prime riding month as the single track has opened up with the lack of overgrowth and the crowds are thinned - the perfect opportunity to let-er-rip! With the 150 gram S500 in your pocket, it’s easy to get out after work for a ride in the daylight, and safely make it home in the dark, whether that be on the trail, bike path, or streets.
The official burn times are as follows:
Overdrive: 1 hour and 45 minutes (500 lumens)
High: 2 hours and 30 minutes (325 lumens)
Medium: 4 hours (200 lumens)
Low: 8 hours (100 lumens)
Flashing: 4 hours and 30 minutes 
I’ve used my light for over 3 seasons now, and it’s still going strong. I set it on the highest setting and leave it burn, and I’m yet to out ride it’s beam on a ride to or from work. Easy to recharge at the office or home with the USB connection, the S500 helps get you where you need to be - even when it’s dark!

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Game Changer | Oct 8, 2014

   While I hate reading platitudes in bike equipment reviews like, “This is a game changer” or “best (insert whatever here) ever”, this best describes how I feel about the Shimano Ultegra DI2 electronic shifting.  Like most people who first heard about using batteries to run bicycle drivetrains, especially mountain bikers, I was incredulous about the benefits versus the detriments of such a system.  In a traditional sense, one of the many beautiful aspects of cycling is that it is free from technological constraints, yet ironically, we yearn year to year for the newest innovations from the industry so we can ride lighter, faster and more efficient bikes.  Bikes basically have looked the same for a hundred years, yet it is packed full of modern engineering and manufacturing, so when the idea of electronic drivetrains came to light, the misoneists went on a hysterical rant whilst fondling their Garmin and updating their Strava.  




   After having many discussions with fellow cyclists about the positives and negatives of the DI2 system, I decided that the best way to settle the dispute was for me to actually buy a bike with such a system and test it out in a single sample size experiment.  While I was eager to try out the new DI2 XTR system for mountain bikes, it was unavailable at the time.  But, when the opportunity for me to obtain a cyclocross bike with Ultegra DI2, hydraulic disc brakes and carbon frame and fork came up from Opus, I immediately took it.  To be honest, I have been eyeing this bike all summer as I was impressed that such a well built bike was a stock option considering that Devinci and Rocky Mountain seemed to be going with a conservative build within their cross lineup.


   Out of the box, the Opus Stelle 1.0 had the looks that immediately made people look for adjectives which would describe an ugly baby: Unique, interesting or whatever.  Well, whatever the looks or lack there of, I was more excited about the battery, modules and robotic noises of the electronic system.  All you have to do to get the system working is to plug it in just like any other computerized toy in the house via its USB connector that plugs into the module placed underneath the stem.  That’s it. I started to push the buttons and the derailleurs simply started to move.  I didn’t have to connect it to the computer and program it like The Matrix, although with the Shimano software, which I have not bothered to download, you can adjust all the settings your heart desires.  I find that I’d rather live in ignorance and just enjoy the simple pleasures of button shifting.






   The buttons corresponded exactly like the mechanical system where the right shifter controls the rear derailleur and the left controls the front, so the system was very intuitive from the start if you are familiar with the mechanical system (You can totally change the button functions if you want to, but I don’t know why)  Once riding, the system was essentially fluid and precise, just like advertised.  A click of whatever button you press, the system just moves the chain to where it’s supposed to go, and I know it sounds obvious, but there has been many times where I tried to shift and it didn’t do what it was suppose to do.  The brilliance is in the front shifting, the bane of my existence.  I hated its poor reliability and performance.  I can’t tell you how many times I looked down in vain as the front derailleur refused to move that chain up or down on the desired ring.  With one easy push of a button, the front derailleur moved that chain up or down with stoic authority.  I would guess that the DI2 shifting will add to our need for immediate gratification, but I will not feel guilty about enjoying the expedience of bicycle shifting.




   After racing half the ABA cyclocross season so far, I think I put the system through a solid enough testing session.  The results have been a resounding positive experience with no dropped chains, missed shifts or even delayed shifts.  I had to only charge my battery once during the 6 weeks of riding, and that includes commuting, training and racing.  I haven’t found any negatives in having an electronic system so far, and I’m sure something will come up as nothing is infallible, but even so, the positives will far exceed the negatives.  Bring on the wireless electronic systems and the brain chips.   


submitted by: Greazypanda

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Spot Brand Rallye CX Bike is Spot On! | Sep 21, 2014

Single Speed cyclocross reminds the Spot Brand folks of another balls to the wall sport born in Europe - Rally Car racing! In my opinion, the name for this bike is, pardon the pun, spot on. The geometry of this aluminum frame is super agile as it makes you wan tot throw it around and rail corners. The bike can be run with gears, but it really shines as a belt drive single speed. The belt drive works really well - especially in the shoulder season where the roads are wet and dirty as there is no need to worry about cleaning a chain after every dirty ride. The belt is silent with no degreasing or lubing required.

The surprisingly comfortable aluminum frame is very forgiving over Edmonton's rough city streets due to the gently curving seat stays and the Time Trial cutout on the seat tube provide subtle vertical compliance. Sliding rear dropouts provide enough space to tension the Gates Drive belt properly and I’m pleased to report that they actually work - meaning once you’ve tensioned the belt and tighten down the dropouts, they hold and your rear hub stays in place. This is no small feat in my opinion with my experience of other sliding drop out designs. The full carbon fork is Spot-designed with a tapered steerer for precision cornering.
The High Vis yellow with black paint scheme looks great and draws attention, which is especially good for commuting. Random people especially kids yell “nice bike” as I ride by.
If you’re looking for a great and simple bike to bomb around town and to tackle the local cyclocross series, the Rallye Spot brand is the bike for you!

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Silverstar, Silverbells | Aug 27, 2014

   Conventional wisdom would say that testing out a fractured right elbow by going resort downhilling for a week is pushing all forms of luck.  Well, who has two thumbs, speaks limited French and likes to push his luck?  This moi.


   Every summer, my pedal adverse friends and I head off to British Columbia for some brotherly bonding and full-face helmet downhill cycling, which involves taking a chairlift up a mountain to ride the designated trails at full speed.  It’s quite a production, as we have to transport 4 portly 40-year-old guys, 4 downhill bikes and “glam” camping equipment for a week.  This year, we decided to head back to Silverstar in Vernon because we had such a successful trip last year, which was full of drunken moments and the most disgusting beach in the Okanogan. 



   Going downhilling for me is such a wonderful respite from the series of racing during the local and ABA season.   This kind of cycling involves just suiting up in protective gearing, drinking Redbull and vodka, and rolling off the chairlift to just ride down the hill without having to pedal up it.  It really is a breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally.  The runs are marked and rated based on their difficulty just like ski runs in the winter, so there are green, blue, black diamond and double black diamond runs.  In a rare occasion of common sense, we decided to start the trip by dropping into a green run called Challenger, which had numerous off-shoots of blue obstacles like log “skinnies”, drop offs and small “kickers”.  It’s a great warm-up run just because it’s still an exceptionally fun ride for a green run and it’s relatively safe.  Even after the first run, my hands started to cramp up and get sore from the frequent braking.  It eventually gets better as the body gets used to it, but it’s also the fact that you just start ignoring the pain or you get used to releasing the grips in the middle of the runs when you can.


   After the first run and feeling edgy and tentative, we started taking some of the fast and smooth blue runs, Superstar and Shazaam.  These blue runs discern themselves from the green runs by adding “tabletop” jumps, which are larger jumps with a flat top before the transitions starts, and larger berm turns.  These runs are perfect for practicing the air jumps that you never get whilst cross country racing, at least for me.  They have little pink flags at the start of the jumps so you are prepared for them and to mitigate the odds of a surprise launch into the air.


   The next run you graduate to is called Jedi Mind Trick, which is a perfect mid-sized jump run because it is full of bigger tabletop jumps with higher lips off to the side so you can take it to get more air if you choose.  This is where you start getting used to the float of a properly executed jump and appreciate the collection of body armor you have on. 


   The second day we decided that we had the audacity to hit the dreaded black diamond runs.  To get to the advanced runs, the ski hill place a small jump that floats you over a collection of rocks.  This obstacle was designed to test the rider’s ability, so if you didn’t feel that you could handle this jump, you shouldn’t continue on to the runs.  I really loved this idea as it quickly and easily dissuaded some riders who shouldn’t be riding such dangerous trails from trying them out.   Silly enough, this is where I had my first sketchy moment as I pedaled hard into the jump to get up to speed, but I overlanded the transition and hit the front end first and swerved off the trail.  After a quick recovery, I had myself a nice, “Get it together, Mark” moment under my breath.  The rest of RockStar was pure bliss with nothing but big smooth berms, tabletops and dropoffs.  Tim said after that run, “Now, that’s why I come all the way here for!”



     Next run was WorldCup.  This was the run that everyone could appreciate as it had a little bit of everything: choppy technical sections, ladder bridge drop offs, tabletop jumps, step ups, wood bridges with a steep run off and huge wood berms.  I could have done this all day long without getting bored.  To make this trip even more memorable, Tim and I decided rather haphazardly to take the jump off of Walk The Line, which is a double black diamond.  The ramp just launched me into the air for an uncomfortably long time where I landed nose heavy and thought that I was going to crash face first.  Remarkably, the lovely Rockshox Boxxer World Cup absorbed most of the force and the rear of the bike followed through beautifully.  Crisis avoided.  Tim and I counted our blessings and cut off early and headed to Pipe Dreams, which was a more suitable double black diamond.  


   By the end of the trip, our hands were sufficiently sore, blistered and cramped, Tim injured himself, Stefan blew out his $500 RockShox shock and Ashley spend $200 in new equipment and repairs; a pretty typical trip.  But, I don’t think anyone of us care because we had such a brilliant time.  If any of you cyclists never ventured out to try resort downhilling, you are doing yourself a major disservice, as this is such a different and unique aspect of cycling which can help you with your handling skills and remembering why you loved cycling as a child.  It’s just fun jumping off of things with your bike.

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Breck Epic - some final thoughts | Aug 20, 2014

Breck Epic Overview – it’s all good. | a donkey's tail

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Donkey at the Breck Epic - Day 6 | Aug 17, 2014

Breck Epic Day 6 – got me a buckle for not buckling | a donkey's tail

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Donkey at the Breck Epic - days 4 and 5 | Aug 15, 2014

Breck Epic Days 4 and 5 – moar suffering… | a donkey's tail

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Donkey at the Breck Epic - Days 2 and 3 | Aug 12, 2014

Breck Epic Days 2 & 3 – the good, the bad, and the ugly | a donkey's tail

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Donkey at the Breck Epic - day 1 | Aug 10, 2014

Breck Epic Day 1 – An unfortunate detour | a donkey's tail

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Injury Report: Broken Elbow Creates a Mid-Season Break | Aug 5, 2014

   Back in the 80’s, one of my favorite arcade video games was Double Dragon.  It consisted of twin brothers using their martial art skills to foil criminal gang activities in some seedy underworld.  You had at your arsenal a variety of offensive moves to subdue your enemy, but it was soon realized that you only needed one move to submit bad guys into a prostrate position: the reverse elbow throw.  Despite the seemingly more powerful moves like the jumping side-kick, front kick or the hip toss, the elbow continuously confused the digital figures so much so that you can just repeatedly put out your pointy elbow to continue to higher levels.  What I found out in reality is that if you fall on your wrist or elbow whilst mountain bike racing, it will break and it will hurt a lot.  You just can’t throw your elbows out all the time and expect it to be fine.  The stupid video game lied!!!


   During the Iron Maiden race, there was a sketchy A-line descent where I successfully cleared it repeatedly during practice.  I also cleared it all four times during last year’s race so I felt pretty confident that it would not be a problem during this year’s race.  Hubris.  I approached it carefully during the first lap; I cleared it without a problem.  During the second lap, while feeling a bit more winded, I approached the A-line with more speed and the next thing I knew, I was sliding down the trail with my bike bouncing behind me.  Without a second thought, I grabbed my bike, fixed my rotated brake lever and continued on with the race.  I suppose it was my adrenaline or my total disregard for physical awareness, but I didn’t really notice any significant pain.  Side note: I also broke my carbon Selle Italia SLR saddle during the race, so really, two things fractured.


   It was the next morning where I noticed a very sharp pain in my right elbow.  It wasn’t an ache from overexertion, but it was an intense shocking sort of pain.  Of course, I really didn’t get too worried about it as I thought it was just some joint irritation and inflammation. So with some Nsaids and ice, I expected it to be resolved by the next day.  The next morning arrived, and my elbow grew to double the size and I was barely able to move it in any direction.  It was basically frozen in one position without the ability to flex, extend, supinate or pronate my arm, and the pain tripled over the night.


   I tried to get on my bike so I can ride to work as usual, but any pressure on the wrist went to my elbow and caused a shocking pain.  I was able to one-arm ride my bike to the emergency room at the University Hospital where I waited 5 hours to get an X-ray.  I was expecting for the ER physician to tell me that the x-rays were negative and that it was all soft tissue, but after an unusual long time of waiting after the x-rays were taken, I was getting antsy about the result.  Eventually, the physician came back with a surprising forlorn look and told me to follow him to the plaster room.  He informed me that the radiologist recognized the posterior fat pad sign on the x-ray, which is a sign that I had an occult fracture, most likely in the radial head.  The orthopedic aide promptly put me in a half cast, then the ER physician told me to keep it on for 2-3 weeks.   



   I suppose the timing was good considering the circumstances.  There was a fallow period of races for the next few weeks anyways so I took this as forced home vacation.  I am now out of my cast and am trying to get my range of motion and strength back so I can get back to biking.  I don’t know how hard I can push my arm while racing or whether I can race at all this year again, but I am certainly going to get on my bike as soon as I can.  Luckily for me, I have a therapeutic laser and an ultrasound in my office so I have been plugging myself into rehab at my own convenience.  I haven’t broken a bone since my left collarbone in 2008, and that was pretty awful physically and emotionally so I am very optimistic about cross season.  Very optimistic.

submitted by: Greazybear

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