Thursday, September 27, 2007

Google Reader Shared Items

I use Google Reader to keep track of all the blogs and websites I like to read. Most websites publish their content in a format (RSS,atom) that a computer program can read. The published content in a computer readable format is called a feed. Once a website has created a feed I can subscribe to the website using a feed reader like Google Reader.

Basically what this lets you do is get updates to websites similar to the way you get email. Imagine if you had to log on to each one of your friends websites each day to check to see if they had written you an email. That would be madness if you had any more than a handful of friends. Instead you just login into your email program like Gmail and look at all the emails sent to you.

Google Reader works the same way as Gmail except instead of emails you get website updates. When I log in to Google Reader, I see all the updates for all the websites I have subscribed to. I don't have to type the address for each website I like to visit. I just log into my reader and see all the updates in nice neat organized fashion. Yes I am a little OCD.

A cool feature of Google Reader is shared items. Shared items let you mark an item in your reader as interesting. Once you have shared an item it is available for other people to look at. Google reader automatically creates a website and a feed for people to read your shared items.

Google Reader also gives you a little widget to display your shared items on your blog. I added my shared items over to the right as well as links to subscribe to my shared items.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Big Red Top Mountain

Bubba and I rode at Red Top Mountain State Park Saturday. What a great trail for children. The trail is almost 4 miles of gravel roads with a very gentle grade. Bubba rode the whole trail without even using the x2cycle. We also took a couple long detours exploring some of the side trails.

My favorite part of the day was when Bubba showed me his new moves he has been practicing in his front yard. He went tearing off down his driveway pedaling as hard as he could. Then he cuts it off the driveway into the grass and goes bombing down this big hill pedaling the whole time. He powerslides it around the corner of his house and goes flying into the backyard. He reappears a minute later and grinds almost all the way back up the hill he just descended. He then showed me his slow speeds maneuvering around the swing set and parked cars. I was really impressed. 3 months ago he could barely pedal down the driveway. He looks like a pro now.

Sunday Amy and I did a quick ride on the silver comet. I played around with the camera.

I like the way this picture shows the difference in wheel size, top tube height, fork rake, wheelbase, etc ...

Whoops. I have never tried taking a picture like this before. It is harder than it looks.

I tried taking a couple pictures to show how the x2cycle attaches.

Here is a picture of my Clark Custom Cycle.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Really Fun Weekend

Amy and I spent some quality time this weekend. Saturday was Amy's day. First we slept late. Then we ate monkey bread and read our books on the couch. Next we went to Seasons 52 for lunch.

We got a Vine Ripe Tomato Flatbread with roasted garlic, sweet basil and melted Parmesan cheese for an appetizer(think healthy thin and cripy pizza). I got the Grilled Gulf Grouper Sandwich, and Amy got the Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Boursin herb cheese, sliced tomatoes & arugula. I liked my sandwich except for the soggy bottom piece of bread. I have gotten it before so I knew what to expect. Amy's sandwich was okay. The cheese had this smoky rich flavor which was cool.

The best part about Seasons 52 is the little miniature desserts. Everything in the restaurant is supposed to be low calorie. So instead of just giving you a massive portion of flavorless desserts, Seasons 52 decided to give you a little shot glass of full flavor dessert. I chose the Rocky Road dessert which is chocolate cake and chocolate icing and some other chocolate stuff. Amy got the pecan pie and vanilla bean mousse. Both were excellent.

After lunch we went to the mall and looked for some new lotion for Amy. I have a sensitive nose so it was hard for me to find something I like. I could only stay in those stores for so long before I got a headache. We swung by the apple store which was cool for me. I looked at all the cool new toys there. Then we played Wii tennis on the way out. We have got to get one of those things. I am so amazed how Nintendo reinvented the video game. They are now once again the number one console seller.

To cap off Amy's day of fun we went and saw the new Bourne movie. To me it was exactly the same as the first movie (I can't remember if I saw the second one). I enjoyed it, but in a year I will probably forget if I have seen it or not. :)

Since Amy had so much fun on Saturday she decided to let me have a fun day on Sunday. First we got up real early. We loaded up the bikes and headed towards Ellijay. We made a quick stop on the way to get some picnic supplies. Amy was nice enough to play DJ with my ipod on the way, and I had fun trying to see how fast I can take the turns on the mountain roads.

We parked at what used to be a gravel lot at the end of FS90B at the base of the Pinhoti 2 trail. The parking lot is now overrun with weeds and is unrecognizable. Amy picked our route at Seasons 52 the day before after I drew a map of the area on a napkin. The route we chose was to head down FS90B, take a right FS90, take a right on shakerag rd, take a right on Conasauga/Mulberry Rd, take a right on FS68, head all the way up the overlook by the Bear creek parking lot, have a picnic, then head back down FS68, take a left on FS90, then right on FS90B back to the car. Here is better map than my napkin drawing made by David Muse.

Our ride went really well. We are still getting used to our x2cycle. We had a couple of tense conversations, but I think we sorted most of it out. My rohloff that I installed worked flawlessly. I was very proud of that.

On our ride, we rode by the Mulberry Gap Inn and Campground. You can camp or stay in one of their bunkhouses. They have a hot tub and showers. They will also cook for you. Amy sounded excited to give it a try.

When we got to the top of the overlook, we had a great picnic. Amy made some cheese sandwiches with Laughing Cow swiss cheese and Hawaiian rolls. For dessert we had two bite brownies. It felt good to sit up there and relax for awhile. The food tasted better after all the hard work getting up there.

After our ride we went to the Corks and Crumbs bakery in the Ellijay square. I laughed at all the motorcycle riders at the wine tasting restaurant. Sign of the times I guess. I got a huge egg salad sandwich and Amy got half a chicken salad sandwich. Mine was okay, but Amy really liked hers. We grabbed a couple baked goods to go and headed home.

Amy said she felt guilty because she enjoyed my day as much as her day. She started talking about going for long weekend bike camping trips. I was in heaven.

Monday, September 10, 2007

x2cycle at Blankets

Bubba and I gave the x2cycle our best shot yesterday at Blankets yesterday. We didn't do so well.

First we had some trouble getting the bolts tight enough so that the ball hitch didn't swivel around too much. The problem was we could never decide on a common speed. When one of us would accelerate the other would brake. The minor "kick in the back of the chair" feeling Amy and I experienced was more like a drop kick to the butt with Bubba and I. The drop kicks eventually took a toll on our mounts and caused the rack or ball mount to swivel around.

Once we got everything tightened up we tried to negotiate Mosquito flats. It wasn't pretty. We had to stop a bunch. There were several crashes. We kept at it though and eventually we were able to make it through without stopping.

Our goal for the day was Dwelling Loop. After our experience on Mosquito flats, I was pretty apprehensive about trying it, but Bubba really wanted to give it a go. So we went for it. The first part went really well. On the Sun direction the first section is mostly rolling with no hills that are too steep or too long.

We climbed up the first big hill with very little problems and took a long break on one of the benches. Then we tried to descend down one of the bigger hills. It started out sketchy and got much worse the further we got. I think all the braking just wore Bubba out. He complained his back and hands hurt. On many of the hard right hand turns he would just wash his front tire out and fall. Not sure if I was pulling him too fast or if we cut the turn too tight or what.

After 20 minutes of this he was done. We couldn't really ride more than 20 feet without Bubba falling or yelling at me to stop. We finally made it to the bottom of the hill and took a break at the second bench by the lake. We refilled Bubba's camelback and learned that he had chewed through his bite valve. The water leaked out everywhere. I gave him my bite valve and clipped my hose up in the air so that the water wouldn't leak on me.

We tried riding again but it just wasn't happening. Bubba was cooked. So we walked most of the way back to the trail head. Bubba let me pull him up some of the longer climbs but no mas for the downhills.

I think I picked the wrong trail for Bubba's first trip on the x2cycle. He made some comments about how he didn't want to use it anymore. I can't blaim him. He hit the dirt way too many times. Even in all the suffering he made a comment like "I feel like I am in a dream I am having so much fun." So he was a really good sport about it even if I did get him in over his head.

I have been thinking about where to go next time. I think I would like to try Red Top Mountain State Park or the big walking loop at Sope Creek down by the river. Both of these are wide gravel paths with very little elevation change, and I think Bubba would have a much easier time on these trails.

My favorite comment of the day came from Bubba when he was flipping through my Bike magazine in the back seat of my car. He was reading an add for the Specialized Stumpjumper. The ad claimed the Stumpjumper was the best XC trail bike in the world and bunch of other superlatives. Bubba said that it was all a bunch of talk and that it doesn't matter how nice your bike is. What really matters is the rider. I couldn't believe he said that. I told him that was really smart and insightful of him. I asked him where he learned that. He told me he learned it from reading the Harry Potter books. Something about the wand doesn't make the magician.

If you know me you know I can't stand Harry Potter. I will have to eat crow though because if those books teach him things like that then I am all for it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Amy's Comments on the X2Cycle tandem rack

From the x2cycle website:

"The x2cycle Tandem Rack looks just like a slick cantilever style bike rack, but hidden inside the body is a telescoping tube that extends out and attaches to a trailing bike to let two people stay together for any part of a ride without having to buy a traditional tandem bike. The link bar connecting the bikes has a special patent pending design that allows one section to "float" about six inches, letting the link bar lengthen or shorten during a ride. This lets the two bikes move freely back and forth in relation to each other.

This permitted movement dissipates the permitted movement dissipates the forces that hitting a rock or rut would normally transmit between the bikes and makes the ride comfortable for both riders. If one bike makes a sudden movement the "floating tube" eliminates or cushions the impact to the other rider.

The linking bar will let the trailing bike swing out about 75 degrees to either side. What happens if you go past that? It simply releases. This ability to be able to go side-to-side also gives the back rider some independence of movement rather than always riding directly behind the front bike

So what will happen if the person on the rear bike comes too far forward and starts to go ahead of the front bike? The safety release will automatically disconnect the link bar from the bikes so the two bikes are now riding independently. A special connection to the trailing bike releases should the back bike fall."

Having had some experience riding a tandem with James on the Silver Comet and at the beach while on vacation, I was excited to try the new x2cycle Tandem Rack. I really enjoy riding a tandem, but I have to admit that one of the drawbacks is the limited line of sight for the person riding in the rear. Since the person riding in the rear is very close behind and lower down than the person in the front of the tandem, the rider in the rear usually has an excellent view of the front rider's back, as well as a view of any scenery on either side of the bike. It's the view of what's happening directly in front of the bike that is very limited.

This concern was really not a problem with the x2cycle. Since there was more room between James' bike and mine, and since I had the ability to move my bike slightly to either side, I was able to see much more of the area directly in front of James than I have ever been able to on a regular tandem. This was great for me in that if James chose to ride a line of terrain that was scary to me, (like a big rock) I could simply drift slightly to the side to avoid it, instead of having to ride directly over it whether I wanted to or not, as I would have to on a regular tandem.

When we first started our mountain bike test ride, we were on some rolling forest service roads in Dahlonega. We latched our bikes together, counted to three and took off. I was slightly nervous at first, but after a few minutes of adjusting, I was much more comfortable. Since the bikes are not permanently attached, the rider in the back has to adjust to the tempo/direction of the rider in the front. The better I could anticipate James movements, the less likely we were to have our bikes push/pull at the other. When James slowed down, I needed to be aware of what he was going to do, to avoid running up on his back wheel. Whenever this happened, which it did occasionally, the telescoping pole would "break away" and we would become unattached. It was not too difficult to get the hang of though, and soon we were riding together much more easily.

One of the biggest pluses of the x2cycle involved traveling uphill. Before I even realized it, James and I had covered two miles of road, including several hills. Usually big hills and I have a hate-hate relationship: on most rides, after killing myself trying to get up one really steep, long hill, I usually end up doing a hike-a-bike up the rest of them. The approximately 10 minutes it took us to cover those first two miles would have taken me at least 45 minutes to complete on my own. I would have had to stop at least three times to gasp for air and guzzle water. Thanks to James' legs, we were able to complete the first two miles of our trip quickly and easily, without having to stop at all.

Unlike a regular tandem, where I would have had to pedal at the same tempo as James was pedaling, with the x2cycle, I could pedal as fast or as slow as I wanted, using as much or as little power as I wanted, or I could choose to not pedal at all if I was feeling particularly lazy. In fairness to James, I tried to pedal the whole time, even if I couldn't do it with as much force as it would have normally taken me to get myself up the hill. There were several really challenging hills where toward the top of them I must admit it was 100% James' sherpa-like effort pulling me to the top.

I asked James later if he could tell the difference between me pedaling hard, lightly, or not at all. He said sometimes when I pedaled hard, he could feel my bike pushing his slightly up the hill, but that usually he couldn't tell if I was pedaling or not. (note to self: he can't tell, so I can slack as much as I want!)

The downhill sections were slightly challenging at first. James and I like to go downhill at different speeds. I think of my downhill speed as fun and fast. For James, my downhill speed translates into the equivalent of grandma driver on an icy road. I was worried initially that since we were attached, I would be dragged along at breakneck speed, careening wildly down the hill until I finally lost control, skidded and fell, pulling James down with me. As we began our first descent, my stomach tightened in apprehension and visions of a spectacular wreck danced in my head. Thankfully, descending did not turn out to be too much of a problem. I was able to brake easily and control my speed that way. I did notice that my hands hurt slightly, from having to apply increased pressure to the brakes to compensate for the added force of James' bike pulling mine downhill. This was very minor though.

Probably the best part of the x2cycle tandem for me was the way that it enabled James and me to ride together, even with our very different skill levels. Since my fitness is not equal to his I cannot ride as far, as fast or for as long as he can. Usually when we have ridden 3-4 miles, I am tired and ready to call it a day, while James has barely warmed up. Since it takes me at least three times longer to ride the same distance, this usually means that he has to stop often and wait for me to catch up. On our first trip with the x2cycle, we rode around 8 miles, which is further than I have ever ridden before, in the same amount of time it would normally take me to ride 3 miles. By the end of our ride, I still felt like I could ride some more, which I would never have believed could be the case.

In addition to riding on the forest service roads, we also went for about a mile on some double track, and for a shorter distance on some not too technical single track. While these terrains were different, we were able to adjust to riding them while attached with the tandem link. I had some difficulty when we went up a steep rocky stretch of single track, but hopefully with practice I'll get better at that.

Our test ride with the x2cycle was really a wonderful experience and I can't wait to do it again!

Here is a link to James' opinion.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labor Day

Weekend started off very slow. I hurt my hand/wrist sometime last week. Not sure how I did that, but it seemed like I was destined to ride the couch for my 3 day weekend. All my plans for bike riding/installing new toys would have to be put on hold till next weekend.

I started icing my hand wrist and taking NSAIDs on Friday, and by Sunday I started feeling a little better. I decided to try and install some tires on my new Rohloff wheel and see how I felt afterwards. My ARCH rims are very tight, and I got some serious wrist pump trying to stretch my new rampage tires over my rims. After I finished, I took a little break and watched some TV. In about 15 minutes, my wrist actually felt better than before I started installing my tires.

With this good news, I went into full on install mode. I made good progress until I got to the shifter cables. I had hard time threading my cables through my grip shifters. Then I screwed up and cut my cable too short. Oh well I will have to wait till next weekend to try my Rohloff.

I did manage to install my x2cycle on my old bike. I wasn't very impressed when I took my x2cycle out of the packaging. My first impression was that it was not very sturdy. Amy and I went for a ride with it yesterday though, and it held up very well. We had some problems with it disconnecting unintentionally in our cul-de-sac but once we got on the trail we didn't have any problems. Granted we stuck to the fire roads mostly and only did one short section of singletrack.

Amy seemed to really like it. She said it was much easier for her not to have pedal so hard up all the hills. I didn't think it was that much harder than pedaling by myself. My legs are really sore today and we only rode for an hour and a half so it must have been a little harder than usual. :)

I really enjoyed Amy's company. It was nice riding at the same pace. Usually I ride ahead and then stop and wait for her. I get nervous when she takes longer than I would expect to catch up. I worry that she has fallen and hurt herself. With the tandem link, she is always right there and I don't worry as much.

Other than the extra physical work on my part, climbing is actually easier with the tandem. If I screw up and lose a little momentum over an obstacle, Amy's bike will give me a little shove to get me going again.

Going downhill is another story though. Amy and I descend at different speeds which makes the tandem challenging. Sometimes I pull her too fast which is uncomfortable for her. Sometimes she swings left or right and pulls my rear tire to the left or right which is uncomfortable for me. Sometimes I see a rut or rock that she can't see so I brake and she doesn't. When this happens, I get a shove from her bike. It isn't terrible though. Kind of feels like someone kicking your chair at the movies.

All in all I am pretty happy with the x2cycle. At the end of the ride Amy said she still felt great and could do another lap. I was sweating pretty good and had a hard time climbing stairs later in the day. So I think it did a good job of equalizing our fitness levels.

Hopefully I will get to try the x2cycle this weekend with my nephew. Maybe I will get a better idea of how will it works on singletrack.