Category Archives: Review

2021 Retrospective and Getting Back into Double Centuries

Well here it is … another year in the books, and yet another year under the environment with Covid-19. From a cycling perspective, at least some of the restrictions have been relaxed enough to allow us to do some of the things we used to do. For me, it was getting back into Double Century riding (although I had taken a 7 year hiatus, separate from all this Covid non-sense).

I think I got the bug to get back into Double Centuries due to all the Virtual Doubles that my friends have been doing. However, one thing that prevented me from doing doubles in years passed, was partly due to work. My group was down to 2 people (where it used to be 4). What that meant was every other weekend, I had to be on call, which really impacts how much training you can do for long distance riding. I was fortunate that this year, the schedule was laid out, such that I was on call once every 6 weeks or so, and I had more flexibility to change schedules.

The first virtual double I did was in April, and it was for the Mulholland Double. It wasn’t the actual double (I would never be able to make the time cutoff). Still, it was 200 miles, and 12,000 feet of climbing. It was basically doing a big loop up and over Mt. Hamilton, then down the other side and over to Livermore, then back to San Jose. Well, that was 130 miles of it … we then made up for it by doing a series of smaller 3-5 mile loops until we reached 200. I felt like a hamster, spinning my wheels.

One of the best things about these virtual doubles is being able to ride in your local neighborhood, and being able to have local support (whereas actual double events wouldn’t let you have your own local support). The other nice thing about this was having local friends hang out and serve you food on the course.

My favorite was Melissa’s rice porridge .. mmm, that hits the spot, after 150 miles, and especially if it was cold. It was so good, I went around a couple more laps, stopping each time for rice porridge, but I had to continue on.

With this being my first double coming back after 7 years, I did have some doubts in my mind. At mile 130, I was tired, I was exhausted, and I was ready to throw in the towel. But thanks to my friend Dzung, he convinced me to continue on. I needed that push, to get me over the edge, and I thank him greatly for that. The funny part was his comment, that the first double I do coming back, was one of the hardest. Yeah, I don’t like to do things easy.

After succeeding there, I decided I wanted to do a double solo. Oh, big mistake. Well, I did my own loop, of ~ 60 miles, and met up with a group ride. There was a bit of climbing on the group ride, but I figure I should be able to handle that. Unfortunately, the weather (in May) was a little more wet than expected. It was pretty foggy … it was almost like a misty rain, but it was enough to make us all wet. I was the only one who knew the route well, and being the local, the group begged me to lead them back to the start, as everyone was wet and cold. So I led them back, but I still needed to continue my double, as I had only 90 miles with 110 more to go. I continued on, and instead of doing multiple 5 mile loops, I had a great 20 mile loop, through bike paths, and I figured I would be able to keep doing this to get to 200. My care was parked along the route, so if I needed something, I would stop by the car. On one of the stops back to the car, I was really exhausted, and since it was solo, I didn’t have anyone to motivate me, and that’s what did me in. I stopped at mile 155, and since I was at my car, it was way too easy to just go on home. So that was a failed attempt.

To this point, I chalked this up as a training ride, but I kept thinking if only I had more mental toughness to continue on. Others were impressed I continued on, after the weather conditions. I can’t blame the weather on this, as by the time I got back to the car, it was all dry, and should have been able to continue on … but it is a learning opportunity.

I was able to complete one more virtual double, and that was Grand Tour, which I did in July. That was fun, but that hardest part had to be doing all those small 5 mile loops, but at least we did it, and that was the 2nd one of the year, and that would end up being the last. Again, my favorite part was stopping for rice porridge on those 5 mile laps. Eventually we shortened them to 3.5 mile loops, just so we wouldn’t get delayed by traffic lights.

In August, it was our club’s double century event, Carmel Valley Double. This was not virtual, and I think it was the first non-virtual double. This was a tough one, as it was 14,000 feet climbing. The most climbing I had ever done in one event was Devil Mountain Double, but I DNF’d that one. By the time I DNF’d, it was 159 miles, and 17,000 feet climbing. When I finished Carmel Valley Double, I was ecstatic. This was tough, and it was the first worker’s ride I had ever done (I volunteered, and supported the actual ride which was held on Saturday, two days later).

There were 4 of us doing the volunteer ride, but I was the slowest. I was able to ride with Stefan for most of the ride, but by the time we climbed Carmel Valley on the way back, I was far behind. The difficulty was when I descended, it was pitch black (about 8 pm). Since this was rural, it had many turns, and I needed to put higher beams on. I definitely was not going as fast as I normally would down this road, and it would go on forever. One mishap on this ride, was that somehow, the screw on the mount for one of my lights was no longer there. So I couldn’t really use this light, so had to rely on my other one. Since I had to use my brighter beam, that meant using more battery, and I was running low on battery. I was able to finish before it went out, but that was a close one.

The best part on this ride was to actually cross the finish line. While riding this, I was worried I wouldn’t make it to the cutoff, thinking it would be after midnight before I finished. I underestimated myself, and I actually finished around 10:30 pm, so not too bad. That was one of the happiest moments of all the doubles I did. It also helped having so many friends to support me on this one.

I really had the double bug now, so I proceeded to do Bass Lake and Solvang Autumn Double. On Bass Lake, we had quite a few people from XDV drive out to Clovis (near Fresno) to do the ride. I wanted to do this as a group ride, but right off the bat, we got separated, as I rode with the lead group, but most of our group had a flat, which delayed them for about 40 minutes. I eventually waited for the rest of the group at the 2nd rest stop (at Bass Lake). I probably should have just continued on, but something tells me they would have caught up to me anyways (as Dominique and Ellen are so so strong).

Solvang Autumn Double was the week after Bass Lake. This would be my fifth of the year. It was a bit colder than I was anticipating, especially when we got into the canyons. This was a bit tougher than I thought, as we did Drum Canyon twice (once in each direction), and that road was really rough. Descending on a road bike felt like I was in a boxing match, getting my upper body taking body blows, with all the bumps the bike was taking. I think a gravel bike would have been more appropriate for these descents.

One thing I did observe was I did slow down quite a bit in the second half, while others took longer in the first half and finished stronger in the second half. Even after all the doubles I have done, I still have some things I have to improve upon (aside from the fitness).

The last double I was able to do was the Dead of Winter, which was held first weekend of December. It was a nice flat double, with a climb up Lake Casitas pass, which is always a lot of fun. This is the same as what we do on the actual Grand Tour Highland Double. What was nice about this was seeing a lot of double century friends that I know from the many trips I made down to So Cal. It was a blast seeing them, and was fun to complete my 6th double century of the year. I’ve never done 6 in a year before, so this was a first for me.

For 2022, I have a goal of completing my 25th double, and that will be for Carmel Valley Double. Melissa has said they will create a big banner for me for that one, so how could I not strive for that as a goal. So that’s my plan … that’s my new year’s resolution … I am currently at 20, so I will need 5 more to get to 25. Wish me luck!

I would also like to thank Dzung Dang for maintaining a group that encourages cycling and more importantly, keeps me motivated to keep riding. I was burnt out, and that’s why I had a 7 year hiatus from double century riding. It’s his emphasis on doubles and endurance riding that kept the double century bug in me. It also helps to have a group that has the motivation to do these rides (as these events are not for the normal every day bike riders). Thanks Dzung!

Jumping from Garmin to Wahoo

Along with preparation for doubles is checking on my GPS recording device … in other words, if I do a double, I want proof.  This really didn’t become an issue until I did a training ride, a 100 mile ride from my house to the Cliff House in San Francisco.  By the time I finished, I had a low battery indicator for the last 20 miles.  When I finally sync’d it, I discovered it had 4% battery life left.  This was just short of 8 hours of run time.  Sure, I could just re-charge it, mid-way through, with one of those portable battery chargers, but that’s inconvenient, and a pain.

Now we’ve all had problems with Garmin before, like not recording sometimes, GPS being way off … I’ve heard many really positive things about Wahoo, so this is the perfect opportunity to buy one.  After evaluating reviews, I decided to go with Wahoo Element, for both price, features, and more importantly, battery life.  It does advertise on its spec up to 17 hours battery life.  I went with this, over Roam, only because I didn’t need the pretty color maps, and the turn-by-turn, I figure I could get with Element.  Besides, I’m used to just downloading a course.  The price was good, $239, as opposed to $380 for the Roam.

It’s a nice big display, and I like the fact that you can zoom in/out, to display larger fonts with less number of fields, and if you zoom out for smaller fonts, it will display more number of fields.

The turn-by-turn, is displayed while viewing the map, so that’s pretty nice.  Even if you are not in the map view, it will give you an overlayed dialog, telling you where you need to turn.  However, I haven’t figured out, if you suddenly want to abandon the course, how to turn off the turn-by-turn navigation.  Gotta play with that a little more.

Ok, now to the gripes I have, after only a week playing with this.  First, you download the Wahoo app, and you control the Element via the smartphone app.  However, in order to connect to it, you need to have it connect via bluetooth.  However, I’ve found you can’t connect, as long as you have an already existing bluetooth connection on your phone.  For example, if you have a fitness watch paired via bluetooth on it (I happen to have a Garmin Vivoactive paired up with it), the app won’t find the Element GPS unit.  I was able to connect to it, if I reboot my phone.  I think even that was just a lucky chance.

After many Google searches, and browsing through Wahoo web site, I found that you have to disable all bluetooth connections, then connect from the Wahoo app to the Wahoo GPS (and no, you cannot try to connect from the bluetooth control panel).  So I had to disable bluetooth connection from my Vivoactive watch, headset, and any other bluetooth connections, then have Wahoo connect.  This same process holds true when you sync the ride from your Wahoo GPS, to the Wahoo app on the smartphone, and then eventually upload it to Strava, or whatever fitness app you prefer.

When I first got the Wahoo Element, it kept wanting me to update the firmware.  Now Wahoo updates firmware via Wifi, so the Wahoo Element is a Wifi client.  I tried for a week to update the firmware, but I couldn’t, even though it does have a proper Wifi connection.  Again, after many Google searches, I finally found the Element Wifi client only supports 2.4 GHz channel, and my standard on my WiFi Access Point is 5G.  Wow, seems like we are re-gressing in technology.  I had to add 2.4 GHz on my AP, then after that, I was able to get it to update the firmware.

The bluetooth thing is stupid, and the Wifi 2.4 GHz thing, was just driving me nuts, especially since I do Tech Support for a living.  It’s not like it’s something that they clearly point out in the documentation that comes with the box, because all it has is a getting started leaflet, which doesn’t go into any detail at all.

I really wish they could add some notes, in the Getting Started leaflet, that updating firmware requires 2.4 GHz wireless, and that sync’ing requires all other bluetooth connections to be disabled.  For a product that is trying to claim they are technologically advanced, these two things brings it backwards.  I wonder if the same problem occurs on Roam or Bolt.

So Long Fitbit

I’ve had a couple of fitbits, so I know how the ecosystem for that product works.  I was about ready to go out for a ride, and I was wearing my Fitbit Surge.  Then all of a sudden, I felt the watch band slip … took a closer look, and I find the design of the watch band is … well stupid.  It looked like the glue holding the permanent band failed.

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So I did some research, and it looked like the Fitbit Charge 3 should be a good replacement.  Nice sleek design, and seemed to be the flagship of the Fitbit line, moving forward.  So I got it, and the interface looked pretty good, and pretty easy to use.  I try connecting to my phone, and I could never get it to sync up.  Sure, it detected the watch, but I could never get it to sync.

I did a whole bunch of Google searches, and I wasn’t the only one experiencing the problem.  If you do a Google search on Fitbit Charge 3 sync to Android, or even to iPhone, you will see many threads regarding the same problem.  To have your flagship product, unable to sync up to the phone?  I mean, that makes the whole fitness tracking thing useless.

So I decided to look to Garmin.  I know I’ve had some GPS and accuracy issues with Garmin on the bike computer, but maybe the fitness tracking watch will be different.  Based on dcrainmaker’s reviews, the Vivoactive 3 seemed to be a good overall value.  I didn’t need a watch with music, so I just went with the Vivactive 3.

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Since I already have a couple of Garmin Edge devices in Garmin Connect, adding the Vivoactive should be a breeze, and since I’m used to using the software, it is an easy transition.

So long Fitbit.  Good luck, and hope you fix your sync’ing issues.  All the great features you have doesn’t help a whole lot if you can’t sync to a phone, which has all the tracking features you need.

Portable Chargers Are a Must on My Bike Rides

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Portable chargers are great!  With the way we use Garmins, smarphones, cameras, and expect them to last throughout the whole ride, what we don’t realize is that it can run out of juice.

How many times, do you go through a ride (lasting > 4 hours), where you want to take a picture on your smartphone, and you are out of batteries … or when your Go Pro runs out of batteries, and you miss the opportunity to capture a deer running across the road, which would have made a great viral Youtube video?

Now I don’t have to worry about that.  Just carry myCharge portable charger, and I can get it charged pretty quickly.  I used to conserve on my Go Pro, by picking the lowest resolution, just so that I can get it to last through the day.  Now, I can bump it up to 1080p at 60 fps (as long as it doesn’t exceed 16 GB).

BTW, this is the RZ60G-c, and it has a 6000mAh capacity, which is recommended for high end smartphones, like iPhone, Samsung, Pixel, etc …

The only challenge, is when you stuff this in the back jersey pocket, pulling out the phone, with the cable dangling in the pocket, can be a mess … but if you can work around that, this is golden.

Fitbit Surge

I earned enough recognition points at work to buy me a Xmas gift for myself.  I browsed through the web site, but there store didn’t have much that I liked so I just got an upgrade of my Fitbit … Got a Surge.

It is a little bulkier, but it does have a larger display.  In addition, it has a heart rate monitor, and it can actually track my bike mileage (it does have a GPS).  I still prefer to record my data via Garmin onto Strava, but it is a novelty that it can track my mileage.

One nicer thing, in addition to tracking how much sleep I’ve been getting, if my testing heart rate.  It’s cool to keep track of that.

Curses Black Friday

I live Timbuktu products, and when Black Friday hit, I kept getting those promo emails, and I caved in.  I mean, they had a laptop backpack for $39.  I got the Rogue … Oh hey, Rogue One is coming out.  Coincidence?

Laptop fits nicely.

It’s actually pretty comfortable on the commute.  It doesn’t feel too heavy.  Plus, it’s got lots of pockets.  Marketing video states you can put your U-lock on loops on the outside if the backpack.  Haven’t tried that yet.

Groundhog Day Meets the Matrix

To all my typical blog followers, you normally expect something cycling related, but since I’m off the bike for a while, I have to do something to occupy my time.  It’s a perfect time to catch up on movies. 

I decided to go and see Edge of Tomorrow.  Now I normally don’t like Tom Cruise, but I wanted to see this because he dies multiple times … Kind sadistic isn’t it, but this is part of the plot of the movie.

This was an adaptation of a Japanese military sci-fi flick turned into a feature  film.  The story is set a few years into the future, and mankind has banded together so that it can fight this alien life form that is taking over the world.  The alien looks a little like the attacking drones in the third Matrix film.

Cruise is playing his typical character, smug, snobby, who became an officer, and not a military man.  Then, he gets put into the trenches in the battle.  He dies in the first 10 min, only to be resurrected to the beginning of the day.  Oh darn … Is this a hidden Church of Scientology message?  So this is the Groundhog reference … So he gets killed multiple times, and re-do’s the same day till he gets it right.

The other interesting aspect of this is the technology … No not the CGI, but the military armory and artillery that each soldier has.  They also have the concept of having these weapons that us dependent on battery life.  So as you can see, this has the perfect combination of action, violence, and hi tech geekiness.  Oh yeah, he does get to kiss Emily Blunt, but that’s about the only romantic part of this.

I won’t spoil this for those wanting to see it.  I do highly recommend this for any of my geek friends, who like the combination of action and high tech. 

I saw this with no iMax, no 3D, and I felt I was still able to enjoy this.  Thus flick holds well without all that other technology.  Oh, I was going to see the 11:30 am showing, and I arrived at the ticketing window at 11, and they were still offering tickets for the 10:45 showing.  Came in and caught the beginning if the movie.  Maybe I’ll use this strategy on movies in the future?

My Other Christmas Present to Myself – Nexus 5

I heard about the Nexus 5, but really never looked into it.  I never did because my contract on my Samsung Galaxy S3 doesn’t allow me to upgrade until Oct 2014, so why even look into it. 

I’ve been eyeing the Nexus 5 for a while, and now I find out Verizon will not support Nexus 5 on their network. 
So even if my contact was up, I wouldn’t be able to use it anyways.  So I made the decision to switch carriers.  Yes, I’ll be ready to pay the penalty, but that wouldn’t matter too much.  I decided to go with T-Mobile, and their JUMP promotion, which touts you can upgrade your phone without paying any out of contract fees. It just make sense. Why not but a phone when you want to?

So I went ahead and got the 32 GB Nexus 5. True, it doesn’t have a replaceable battery, so you couldn’t get a higher capacity battery … But when I had my Galaxy S3, I never really went for a higher capacity battery, so the point was moot.

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I got it 2 weeks before Christmas (took a week after I ordered it), and it came in a box that really looked like I it got new checks.

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It is really sleek, and I especially like the way the back feels. It has enough friction (almost a rubber like feel), and it just feels good in your hands.

After initial setup (since I already had Google accounts, didn’t really have to fill out a whole lot if forms), it was pretty easy. In fact, after I got connected into the WiFi network, it was smooth sailing. I later found out, through Google, it synced all my Wi-Fi together, and I didn’t need to re-authenticate … It just worked. Really seamless and easy.

There was one really big reason I wanted to get a Nexus … They seem to get the OS updates on Android first. In fact, while all other Android phones on 4.3, mine S3 was still on 4.1. Another reason was a feature called Photosphere, which allows you a full 360 QuickTime-VR like experience. Better than panorama, because you can rotate the picture around.

Google also has a Siri-like feature. All you have to do is say “OK Google” and it pops up the goggle search and it will search location based on what you tell it. Very cool.

There is one really nice feature that the camera has called HDR+. It takes multiple layers of a shot, then takes the best exposure and combines them. Here’s a couple of pics to compare.

First, non HDR+:

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Now, with HDR+:
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Seems much richer and fuller.

So I’ve had this Nexus 5 for almost a month, and so far no complaints. There is one claim that the battery recharge is much faster, but I’ll have to play around with that a little more.

Rocking Out While Riding Safely

Going out on a ride, if you are riding solo, sometimes you like to rock out, listening to your favorite tunes, but that generally means headphones, and by law, you need to have at least one ear exposed. Now, whether or not people out riding, listening to music, has both ears covered, or only one, who knows.

Now there’s a new product, made by Aftershokz that features headphones that don’t cover the ears. That’s right, you can listen to your music, and still hear background noise all around you.

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The technology is called bone conduction, and it vibrates against the front of the ear. This is pretty cool, not just because of the safety aspect of it, but you don’t have that annoying ear bud stuck in your ear.

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The actual surface of the part that goes in front of the ear is flat.  When you put it on, it feels comfortable.  It’s pretty freaky to listen to your music, and talking to someone, at the same time, and be totally coherent.

There are a number of different versions of the headset … There is just the standard headset, one with a mic (so you can use it to send and receive phone calls), and a Bluetooth version. I found trying to get the Bluetooth version is hard to find, so I just got the wired version with a mic.

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If you do use it for calls, you do need to make sure the controls are pinned to the top of your shirt, so that your voice can reach the mic.

Sound quality? Well, that is not the main focus of this product, and it does lack some bass, so there’s something you have to give up.

Sweat? Some people were concerned about sweat and overall dampness on the membrane, but so far, I haven’t run into any issues.

Overall, I highly recommend this to any commuters (unless you don’t care about music or a podcast). You do hear all the noise around you, and you do have experiment with the volume to get it just right. To me, it’s a win win situation. Listen to tunes, be aware of surroundings, and just enjoy it. I just wish this was more available in LBS or REI, or something like that.

Can’t Really Justify an IPad at this point

When the iPad came out, you couldn’t help but notice the big ad campaign. Apple’s tablet entry was sure a big splash. However, I had just purchased my Asus EeePC net book. The net book is a little thicker and a little wider, but I liked the form factor of it. So when the iPad came out, I kept wondering if I really needed this.

Well, at work, I made some major contributions and they rewarded me with my own iPad. Great, now I don’t have to kick myself for wondering if I should have bought an iPad. What better way than to get it free.

Now I was envisioning powering up the unit, having a list of wifi access points, and connecting. Makes sense, right? Well, not to Apple. No, you have to hook up to iTunes first, before you can do anything on the iPad. this means hooking up to another external computer, that has iTunes updated, then sync to the iPad. What????????

Apple iPad relying on Windows 7 Net Book just to get started!

So I had to hook up a USB cable to my Windows 7 powered net book. How ironic is that? I took the picture above using a droid powered phone, with anApple ipad, connected to an EeePC on Windows 7!

Apple’s prized tablet, relying on Microsoft Windows 7 to get it going? So if you send an iPad to your parents, who doesn’t have a computer, won’t be able to use it. It will be a brick. Major fail!

Multitasking is clunky. I couldn’t figure out how to quit an application or switch between applications until I talked to someone who owned an iPhone. Not very intuitive.

My decision to buy an iPad would be to replace my net book. Well, based on my initial experience, I think I prefer my net book. I can’t really consider the iPad as a tool, but more as a toy. I continually try to find a productive use for this, but the only conclusion I came up with is, it is a toy!