I'd like to share a story from a couple years back. I won't name any names because the parties involved were pissed enough at the time and there is no sense in kicking the hornets nest again. It should shed some light on product reviews in the bike industry and how they are a farce. Just remember this story next time you read even an "independent" product review.
I was approached by a fairly popular "user review" type website to test out a product made by a very well known hydration pack manufacturer. They were trying to get some bloggers on board to get this product reviewed and info on the web ahead of its release. I had my reservations about doing the review, as I had previously written off this manufacturer because of their cheap materials and increasing cost, but ultimately agreed to do it. They said they wanted honest reviews of the product, written by us (blogger types) selected, posted to the user review website they had teamed with. I'm cool with honesty.
The product arrived in the mail, absolutely free of charge. I thought the idea was great, I get to test out new unreleased gear for free just for giving my two cents. I could get use to this.... or so I thought.
I un-boxed the product and took thorough photos from all angles, paying attention to build quality and materials, as well as unique features. I was immediately disappointed in the quality as the materials felt very cheap and the zippers honestly looked like crap. The reasoning behind the thin material was "weight savings" as they said, but this is mountain biking and I like durable things. Considering what I received would retail for nearly $200 Canadian, I was disheartened.
These faults aside, I had to actually use the product to do a proper review. This is when everything went sideways. I loosened the straps all the way but it still wouldn't fit. I know I'm a big guy and hard to fit at times, but this thing had no chance of even coming close to fitting. A few emails between the manufacturer, the user review site, and I later... I was pretty much told tough luck about the fit. They say its appropriately sized for average riders. I guess I'm above average. They also had no plans of making bigger sizes for bigger guys.
Taking into account that my Wingnut packs fit me great, I had no choice but to call BULLSHIT on this product being made for the masses. It was completely unusable, and made like shit in my opinion. I went to work typing up my review. I was honest just like they asked. I quickly realized that honestly and bike industry reviews do not go hand in hand. A shit-storm was brewing.
It wasn't even two hours after submitting my review that I got the first email. It was the boss of the user review site asking me why I felt the way I did about the product. I reaffirmed my position and told them that I would not be changing my opinion. The next day I noticed that my review had been heavily edited and my rating changed. I was pissed. There was one of my pen names being whored out to this deep pockets corporation. I took up the issue with the user review site, the manufacturer got involved and threatened libel.... all over an honest review.
In the end, the review was nuked to uphold the farce that this was a great product. After all, a negative review before the product even hit the shelves would be disaster... that and the fact that the manufacturer was a sponsor of the user review site. My last message was to inform them that I had too much personal integrity to do any more "honest reviews" for them and I would not be available for future reviews. I'm pretty sure I wasn't on their "reviewer" list anymore anyways.
Just remember this next time you read an "independent" user review on any website, and especially for bike magazines who depend on advertisers to keep the lights on. In light of all that, I've decided no more reviews from me... and I've deleted all reviews from my blog. Just like in the X-Files... Trust No One.
The human heart gets an average of 2.5 billion beats in a lifetime...... how will you spend yours?
I'm sure at some point many of us cyclists have been asked "Why ride?". The knee-jerk answer is "Its fun" but looking deeper into the psyche of a cyclist will undoubtedly result in a much more complex answer. Some ride out of necessity, some for fun, and some fall in the middle ground between the two. Each cyclist has their own reasons. So I sat down and looked in the mirror, asking myself "Why ride?".
For me, cycling isn't a hobby or a pass time. It has been a way of life for me since I was very young and found the first spark of love for cycling by pedaling along deer paths in the woods. It was an escape for me, to be outdoors surrounded by nature, the sights and sounds of everything simple and pure. As I aged I became more and more aware of my own mortality and the fact that I wouldn't live forever, I wanted to get as much fun and personal happiness as I could in this life. I want to traverse the path less traveled, take the alternate route and stop to smell the roses. I want to find things hidden in plain sight that most people scurry by in their busy lives. I realized that sometimes to get the most out of life, you need to slow it down. Quantity does not equal quality and packing more into your day will not make lasting memories if you have to stay on schedule and can't stop to daydream or laugh a bit.
I've battled my own demons and used cycling as the cure. I've never spoken about it but I've suffered with depression and did a great job of hiding it from almost everyone I know. I've crashed head first into the dark tunnel and found the light at the other end, just to stumble into the darkness again. I've had the talks, taken the medications, but with the support and love of my wife and kids I've beaten the disease. I ride as often as I can because I know that I could slip into the darkness again. I'm a big guy and not scared of much but being trapped in your own head is tough sometimes when you can't help but think you are worthless. When I feel the cold damp fingers of depression reaching out again, a quick spin on the bike does wonders for my mind. I am committed to staying on top of it and using my life-long passion to battle it is a bonus. I was ashamed of myself but realize now that depression is a disease, and I can only hope that my coming out of the shadows will help lift the stigma surrounding it, or help someone else push on, to know that better days are ahead. I realized that on my darkest day, in my darkest hour, there is a light at the end and better days will come. Cycling has a way of melting away all your worries, fears, and poisonous thoughts. I've gone from thinking "I can't" to saying "I can" even if the odds are against me. Bicycles, for me, are the cure and the prevention.
I cannot just exist. Everyone needs some sort of driving force in their life that keeps their heart ticking, whether it be cycling, baseball, cars, etc. To have to just go to work and pay the bills, just doing enough to exist, would drive me back into that dark tunnel. Being outside and interacting with nature, whether by riding or camping or gently floating down the river in a canoe, gives me a sense of how small and insignificant a human life can be, or how wonderful and filled with joy and accomplishment it could be. To be out there and smell the pine needles, sit in the dirt, and gently drag your fingers across the bark of a hundred year old tree, gives meaning to our place in the world. Being outdoors in the forest isn't just existing, its living.
When I die I don't want to be filled with regrets. Regrets are made of unfulfilled dreams and expectations that where not met. I'm not concerned about being a person of great importance or remembered by many, I'm only concerned with being the best husband and father I can be and to do the things in life that bring me joy, even if faced with failure. I would rather try something and fail than to not try at all and be filled with regret when I've run out of time to live. I'm going to love my wife and kids with every ounce of my soul, I'm going to ride the trail I've never been on, take that road trip to a trail far away, spend the money on a new bike, all because when I've had my last breath I don't want to be wishing "I had" when right now, in this moment "I can". Too many people trade their time for money to buy things that won't matter in the end, because when you are at the edge of death the only thing that will matter are your memories and the ones that you've made with your loved ones and friends that they will carry on in their hearts.
So, in the end, my answer to "Why ride?" is simple.... to live. To keep my glass full and squeeze every drop that this short life has to offer. To look up at the stars knowing just how small and fleeting we all are in this vast universe, but to be satisfied with who I am. To know that in the end, I've done everything I could to make the best out of my time.
To many miles of dirt under your tires, and memories made along the way.
I'm not going to lie. I've been a long time gear head (ever since my first shitty car) and have loved anything with an engine since. Growing up I was always interested in how things worked and figuring them out on my own. Once in High School, I signed up for every auto shop class I possibly could while working at a local grocery store trying to save enough money for my first car. Once I had that first car at seventeen (and a Haynes manual in hand) I had to keep it on the road and was working on my $700 heap of crap every weekend. I learned alot in a hurry and my interest in motorized things was going from a bubble to a roaring boil.
A car just wasn't enough to keep me satisfied and after some time spent with ATV's and dirtbikes, I decided to get my motorcycle license on a whim one day. I woke up, drove to the drive-test center and wrote my M1 license test. I passed with flying colours. I got home an told my parents the good news, both of them looking at me very surprised as they didn't know I was going for my license (and in all honesty neither did I until that morning). My mom and dad were supportive, being motorcyclists themselves, and my mom offered up her bike for my maiden voyage. I quickly tossed on some jeans, a hoodie, and an old snowmobile helmet and roared out of the laneway on her 1986 Suzuki GR 650 Tempter. I muddled about the back roads near Delhi getting comfortable with the handling of the bike, the little parallel twin sewing machine humming away underneath me.
It was my first taste of motorized two wheel freedom (on pavement) and I knew I needed more. I returned mom's bike home with a full tank of fuel, smiling ear to ear. I pulled a copy of "Boat Bike & RV Trader" from the saddlebag that I picked up at the gas station and began studying each page. In the days before Kijiji we had to wait a week for each new issue, hoping to score that deal of a lifetime. My dad and I looked it over, lots of me pointing to a bike excitedly and him doing his best humm and haw. Finally we came to agreement on a good looking Yamaha in Woodstock. A phone call later and we were on the road.
It was a 1982 Yamaha Seca 550. The bike was mint and I put down my $1400 and loaded it on my trailer. This bike was so clean you could eat off it. My first motorcycle might have been plain Jane to everyone else, but to me it became an icon of freedom and speed. I still get starry eyed whenever I see one out in the wild. My vintage rocket, 550cc's of engine spread out over four cylinders, front disc brake and rear drum, chain drive, and pure fucking black with a red stripe that said "I'm sexy".
In all honesty the bike was a little slow, but it didn't matter to me. It would reach 140 km/h on a long flat stretch and the brakes were weak to say the least. In two years I put over 60,000km on it, commuting to work, pleasure cruising, and even some iron butt 500km+ days. That bike took me places, from lake shore vistas to the stop and go of city traffic, onto roads and places I didn't even know existed. We had some close calls too, nearly being run into a few times by distracted drivers. I had to learn quickly to ride like no one could see me and always assume that the guy at the stop sign is going to pull out in front of you.
One of my favourite rides was to head south out of Delhi to Turkey Point and head east along the lake shore passing through Port Dover, Nanticoke, Peacock Point, and eventually way down the lake shore to Fort Erie. I'd head north and grab some lunch at a retro looking diner in Niagara Falls (I don't even think the diner is open anymore, I can't remember the name) and either head home via Dunnville and Highway #3 or West on the QEW and over the Burlington skyway, around the north side of Hamilton and eventually south from Brantford on Cockshutt Road. I also did quite a few late night runs to Brantford to eat the huge hamburgers at Admiral Submarine and watch the drunks walk the streets after being kicked out of the bars.
I ended up selling that bike, which I still regret to this day. I did own another Seca 550 a few years later but it was a heap of shit to be honest and having a toddler and a baby made the insurance hard to pay for. I'm bike-less now but I know that my motorcycle days are far from over. I can feel the itch every now and again. I keep teasing myself by dropping in at the local toy store and drooling over machines like the FZ-09, the V-Strom, even the Harley Davidson Iron 883. I dream of bikes I will never afford from the likes of Triumph and Ducati. I spend time looking at 2-3 day routes around Ontario or the Great Lakes, imagining putting on big miles over a few long days. A new bike might not happen today, or tomorrow, but I can see one far off in the future. Besides, my midlife crisis is only 8 years away and I'm guaranteed a new motorcycle then..... or a sports car...... nope, fuck that, it will be a motorcycle.
Another year, another Global Fat Bike Day. This one was special for me as it was my first ride back on the mountain bike (expect for a couple of very painful rides I gave up on in the summer) since my accident. It was also the first ride out on my resurrected fat bike.
The bike was everything that I hoped it would be when done. Fully rigid on 4" rubber, 1 x 10 driveline, loaded with simple and reliable components. It doesn't get much simpler than this when it comes to mountain biking, and its just what I needed. A reliable machine to get me back on the trails. Full spec below...
Feast your eyes.....
My good riding partner, Wide Open Willie, and I set out to do our own little ride at Turkey Point. We kept to the trails within the Provincial Park and did a nice loop that reversed back on a few trails. A great day to get out there. The resurrected fat bike did well, very well. It took everything in stride and kept me grinning ear to ear. I think its safe to say that I'm back in the saddle again and I can't wait to put more miles on.
Its been far too long and I've missed the sound of my huge tires humming along in the dirt, with the occasional click of the shifter or squeak from the brakes. Carving up the winding trails and attacking the short climbs put me back into my Happy Place that I've missed for months.
See you on the trails...
Its been an exciting few weeks getting the fatty frame put back together. The paint is done and the bike is built. Lots of work has gone into the fat bike rebuild and now its time to ride. Can't wait to get it out and return to mountain biking on Global Fat Bike Day. Its going to be great. I'll take some photos and do a big reveal then.
Working on the project has added fuel to the dwindling fire that is my passion for cycling. After my accident in April I had little to no interest in riding, until now. My body is healing and the fatty is fixed, its going to be great.
The frame turned out great. The metallic black is stunning in person. The build went perfect with a few much needed new parts to get it ready to rock for another few years. GFBD'17 here I come...
Got some more work done recently on my fatbike rebuild. After the flux was cleaned off and the frame was given a good working with steel wool to remove any surface rust, I gave it a rub down with Acetone and got to work with priming.
A good paint job is all in the prep and doing light coats. I sprayed the self-etching primer and let it cure for a few days. A soft rub with a scouring pad and another Acetone wipe down, then a coating of primer sealer. Not many people bother with a primer sealer but I find it makes the paint job tougher and improves the look of the finished project. Self-etching primer is also a great option for extra hold on your base coat.
Its looking good so far. After the primer sealer cures over the next couple of days I need to start thinking about a colour. Lots of options in the automotive isle, and am thinking I'll spray it with an Acrylic Laquer. It will be my first time with laquer, I've done a few with enamel but it does not seem to cure very well and won't polish up nice with wax.
Once its shot with colour and clear coat, the fun beings and I get to hang parts back on it. So far I'm going to need a new bottom bracket, cables, and a chain. Everything else looks good. This old friend is going to be back and badass when she's done. Can't wait.
Back in the spring of 2011 I was getting bored with my tried and true 26er and needed something different. It was right at the cusp of the 29er explosion so I decided to buy a Cannondale Trail SL4, my first 29er. This was back in the days before I had children and could afford to buy a bike then upgrade it to my liking. Upgrades included things like a DT Swiss wheelset, Thomson post and stem, Rock Shox Reba fork, Avid Elixir brakes, and the cutting edge (at that time) Shimano 3x10 driveline. I sure do miss all that reckless spending I did back then, upgrading parts that didn't really need to be upgraded, owning a stack of brand new tires because I wanted to "try out" various makes and models. These days I'd rather buy a well spec'd mid level bike and leave it nearly stock.
I had this bike for 3 (semi-abusive) years before the frame cracked and she went to the scrap yard. The nice parts went on my fat bike and I started riding fat 100% of the time after that. I did eventually get a warranty frame after a few months and having Cannondale send me a 26er frame by mistake (way to go C-Dale, lost a customer there) that I sold to buy some replacement bits for the fat bike (Kids in the picture at this point). The C'Dale was fun, but fat tires are better. No more pizza cutters for this guy.
As my recovery comes along and I get closer to getting life back to normal, I've felt the urge to mountain bike again. I've been out on some easy going rides this year while out camping and with the kids around town, but have not had a good hard ride since the TPMBC Spring Kicker (and the Tillsonburn4 a week prior). I sold my awesome RSD Sergeant to help pay some bills while injured and am left without a mountain bike.
As my body has been healing I've realized that maybe I gave up on the old fatbike too soon. I was empathetic to it. I felt as if I should have helped it recover from its own broken frame just as all the doctors and physiotherapists have been helping me recover from my fractured spine. I spent a good evening out in the shop staring at the dust and cobweb covered frame, reminiscing of all the good times we shared, before finally arriving at the conclusion that I should give it another chance.
I got to work stripping the pain from the frame and fork and fashioned a gusset from some plate steel. It wasn't long after that I fired up the torches and got to work brazing the frame. I felt right at home with the brazing torch in my hand while carefully doing the dance of heat and bronze. The smell of sizzling flux filled the shop while the gentle hiss of the torch played its melody in my ears. Fillet brazing is a bit of a lost art that I got good with years ago, but its just like riding a bike.... you never forget.
I added brass as I needed, carefully wetting out the puddle for maximum penetration. I didn't want to have this joint crack again and the plate I made is very heavy duty.
Brazing is a gentle process. You have to run the torch at low pressure to avoid blowing out the base material from too fast of a flame. The slow flame and quick wrist are what makes a good welder here. You need to be able to adjust on the fly and use your gut to know when to wick the torch away and prevent cooking the joint, and when to pour on the heat and lay in the brass. Experience is the greatest teacher when it comes to this type of welding, and you need to think one step ahead of where you are. There is nothing quite like it and it brings me a slice of inner peace during my rough injury recovery.
I finished off my joint rebuild and shut down the torches. I let the joint cool for 10 minutes before putting the joint into the dunk tank. The dunk tank is just warm water and will dissolve the glassy flux off of the steel. Without the dunk tank, the hardened flux is nearly impossible to chip off but will disappear overnight in water. Science Bitch!
Check back for Part 2 soon. This baby is going to need some paint and lots of parts!
Its September 1st and I feel that the entire summer has passed me by. I've been on my mountain bike twice since my accident in April, and both times turned out to be a very painful ordeal afterwards. My recovery is still making progress but I'm also coming to terms with the fact that I might never be the same again. Its a bit depressing to be honest.
I ended up selling my RSD Sergeant. I loved that bike and the short time I owned it was great, but I can't ride at that level anymore and will likely need a full suspension bike from now on due to my back (whenever it heals enough to ride again). I sold it to a long time rider who is replacing his fifteen year old GT with it, so I know it will see alot of use.
I miss the sound of my tires rolling over dirt. I miss the smell of pine needles and sand baking in the summer sunlight. I miss the sweat dripping from my helmet. I miss the quiet click and snap of a well tuned driveline. I miss the ride.
Sorry to be a downer, its just hard some days. I do have things to be happy about as well. I'm happy I'm still alive. I'm happy that I still get to see my kids grow up. I'm happy that I can still get outside in a canoe or on foot for the time being.
Ride a few miles for me next time you're out there!
If you check in here every so often you have probably realized that I'm missing in action. I was in an accident in the end of April and have been recovering since. I am hopeful to get back out mountain biking soon but have had some hurdles along the way. I have a few articles that I wrote before the accident still waiting in the queue and will publish them soon.
In the meantime I've started a second blog focused on camping and paddling. I will repost all my old camping / canoeing related articles on it over the next few weeks. Go check it out at TheCampingSasquatch
The Bric...._ mountain biker, road rider, heavyweight gear abuser. Built like a brick sh*thouse. No bike is safe.