I could write more about Sea Otter but pictures are way better than words. Enjoy the partly random, partly happy snaps along the way!
For me, the chase of finding the perfect camera bag is as difficult as finding freaking Nemo.
You see, over the years I pretty much have what some might call a collection of camera bags, and the collection is still growing. There are bags I use everyday (ThinkTank ShapeShifter, AirportSecurity), some are seldomly used (the good ol’ LowePro Stealth AW), and some, such as my giant Pelican 1650 where I bought solely to photograph the America’s Cup a few years ago, are essentially one hit wonders. There’s even a repurposed Timbuk2 messenger bag with inserts for small flashes and lenses when I need to go light and stealth.
All of those have been my “system” and they have worked for me for a variety of assignments from shooting the Super Bowl, wildfires, sitting in presidential campaign motorcades, CEOs, weddings, and bike races.
But, as if the N+1 rule extends to camera bags too, there’s always room for another one.
The struggle is so real that I now sympathize with my wife whenever she goes bag shopping. Okay, maybe not about the last part but you get my drift.
So here comes the Thule Covert camera backpack.
Better known for their extensive line of roof and bike racks, Thule has been making inroads into various products to help consumers bring whatever they want along, hence their motto of “Bring Your Life.” So out in the wild are Thule phone cases, luggage bags, strollers and backpacks.
On the outside, the Covert looks just like any other roll-top backpack that has been all the rage lately. It’s a pretty inconspicuous bag that doesn’t scream “HAVE CAMERA. ROB ME NOW.” Awesome.
From the top, the roll-top lid is neatly tucked away with adjustable buckles, and unrolling it will reveal the zipper to access the main compartment.
The main compartment can be divided into two with its removable partition that seals the top half of the bag from the lower half that houses the camera insert.
Halfway down the bag is a second flap that covers a generous zippered organizer for small items such as batteries and keys. There are also two Velcro pouches that I found to be perfect for storing external hard drive and charge for my Macbook Air.
As if there isn’t enough space, there is one more pouch on the lower half of the bag where I can comfortably store a u-lock or a Nalgene bottle. There’s also another zippered pocket behind the lower center pouch to carry more ClifBars.
So yes, lots of pockets for those who 1: Like to carry a lot of stuff and 2: like their bags to be organized.
On the right side of the bag is an open pouch with an adjustable opening that’s meant for bottles and a small travel tripod. Also good for beer.
Moving on to the left side of the bag, there are side-entry zippers to the laptop/tablet storage and the heart of the bag: the camera pod.
While the idea of a removable camera compartment isn’t new, Thule deserves giant kudos for making the compartment right. Dubbed SafeZone, the pod’s dividers are some of the best I’ve ever come across. They’re denser than the ones from my other camera bags and cases. They also have origami-like ridges to facilitate folding for a customized fit.
I’ve been using the bag on and off for the past few months and it’s now my go to when I have to travel with my camera. During a recent wedding shoot in Mexico where I needed to divide up my gear for security, I was able to fit my essential kit (a Canon 1Dx Mark II, a 135mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.2 and a 24-70mm f/2.8) into the pod. The removable-nature of the pod also made going through custom inspections an easy one since I was able to just pull it all out at once. The partitioned top half of the backpack also meant the rest of the gear wouldn’t fall out of the side door if you go for the camera or remove the entire pod.
For short in-town trips, I could pack a 70-200 2.8 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 attached to Canon 5D Mark III straight into the compartment with room to spare. The carrying chassis of padded shoulder straps and the back panel are ergonomically shaped to stay comfortable. I do wish Thule included a waist strap for better stability though.
Maybe I am a sucker for a multifunctional backpack with an understated look, but the more I use the bag the more I actually enjoy using it. For me, the Covert hit the sweet spot of what I want in a travel camera backpack: Keeping my essential camera kit safe while leaving plenty of room for everything else. By removing the divider and the camera pod, the Covert can be quickly converted into a regular backpack for those last minute grocery runs. The water-resistant material and overall construction are good quality and it is well thought out from its pockets and dividers, all the way down its zippers. At $199.99 and a lifetime warranty, the Covert is made for the long haul and will carry all your gear, or lots of six-packs, with ease.
Thule Covert next to a Canon 200-400 attached to a 1Dx Mark II
Yup. I can shrove a Canon 200-400 f/4 with a 1Dx Mark II into the Covert. With the camera pod and divider removed, of course. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The all-new Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 Di2 Hydraulic group. photo: Shimano
Dura-Ace FC-R9100 crankset. You'll have the chainring choices of 50/34, 52/36 and 53/39 while crank arms will be offered from 165 to 180mm in 2.5mm increments. photo: Shimano
Dura-Ace FC-R9100-P powermeter crankset. Notice the small black module near the top center of the crank arm. photo: Shimano
The Di2 electronic front derailleur. photo: Shimano
The Di2 electronic rear derailleur. photo: Shimano
The mechanical front derailleur, notice the lack of the long cable arm and much more compact design compared to the previous iteration. photo: Shimano
The mechanical rear derailleur. photo: Shimano
Redesigned standard rim brake caliper, notice the quick-release assembly is now tucked in into the arm. Clean. photo: Shimano
Redesigned Direct Mount rim brake caliper. photo: Shimano
Dura-Ace R91000 Shift/brake lever for standard brake caliper and mechanical shifting. photo: Shimano
Dura-Ace R9120 Shift/brake lever for hydraulic disc brakes and mechanical shifting. photo: Shimano
Dura-Ace R91050 Shift/brake lever for standard caliper brakes and Di2 shifting. photo: Shimano
Dura-Ace R91070 Shift/brake lever for hydraulic disc brakes and Di2 shifting. photo: Shimano
The new textured STI lever hood. photo: Shimano
Flat Mount Dura-Ace hydraulic brake calipers. photo: Shimano
SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza disc brake rotor. photo: Shimano
Updated Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedal. Gone is the replaceable top plate and addition of hollow channels on both sides, presumed to shave more grams. photo: Shimano
And it’s a doozy.
You’ve seen spy shots, heard rumors, and might have even seen the official teaser (which more or less gave it away with the site aptly named www.duraace.com).
But yes, Shimano announced their new flagship road drivetrain group. The Dura-Ace R9100 series.
It’s still 11-speed driven with a metal chain, but the devil is in the detail, so let’s see what’s up with this grouppo.
At first glance, it’s easy to point out that the FC-R9100 crankset has an (even) bigger crankarms, a darker finish (instead of the two tone silver/black) than the previous generation, but there’s much more under the hood. Returning are the four-bolt, Hollowtech II crankarm construction, but the chainrings profile has been reworked with a slightly wider spacing to accommodate frames with disc brakes and shorter chainstays. It’s also seven grams lighter and thank goodness the spindle remained the same at 24mm that we’ve come to love, or loathe, depending on who you talk to.
Shimano is going to shake up the already crowded powermeter market a bit by offering their own power-measuring crankset, the FC-R9100-P. We haven’t seen much of the actual unit but we were told it’s a waterproof, dual-sided unit (powered by a single rechargeable battery) with an accuracy of +/- 2%. Communication will be done via your typical ANT+ and Bluetooth so you can use whatever head unit you have.
On the cable-actuated side, the front derailleur (FD-R9100) has been reworked so that gone is the long lever arm. The light shift action remains but the action is much more compact, and cable management is said to be much easier. Shimano has also integrated the tension adjuster right into the unit, so bye bye barrel adjuster. In the rear, the RD-R9100 borrowed the proven Shadow design from Shimano’s mountain bike derailleurs for a lower profile (no words on the possibility of any aero benefit – yet), direct mount capability, as well as better survivability in case of a crash (because shit happens). The hanger pulleys are also new, with a slightly longer toothing. To control the mechanical drivetrain, two models of STI levers will be offered. the ST-R9100 for standard caliper brakes and the ST-R9120 for hydraulic discs. The overall lever shapes remain more or less the same but with smaller detail upgrades such as textured hood tops (ala Campagnolo), and a claimed 14% shorter lever movement and 24% faster gear shift. It’s all about those marginal gains, dude.
Now that we’re done talking about the mechanical side of things, let’s talk about the Di2 system. Again, borrowing from the XTR Di2 MTB group, synchronized shifting is now available with the new Dura-Ace 9150 Di2 group. Besides the standard synchro mode where the computer shifts the front chainring while the user shifts the rear up and down the cassette, the new “semi” synchro model basically flips it the other way around where the user controls the front chain ring while the computer shifts the rear to keep a consistent cadence. Pretty novel concept, don’t you think? Hardware wise, the new rear derailleur (RD-R9150) will receive the shadow treatment similar to its mechanical brethren while the front derailleur (FD-R9150) remains largely the same.
Ultegra 6870 and Dura-Ace 9070 owners rejoice
New firmware is coming to your existing 11-speed Di2 groups this November so the synchro shift option is there if you so please.
Two more things on Di2
The lowly but oh so important cable junction box got a makeover and now there’s the option of having it integrated into compatible frames and handlebar ends for a cleaner appearance. Sure beats having a tiny black box at the bottom of your stem. While Shimano didn’t go full wireless like SRAM eTap, Shimano is releasing a wireless junction box, the EW-WU111, made to enable programming of the Di2 system from a tablet or phone (instead of a pc), as well as to those who want to transfer drivetrain data to computers for better visualization.
Unfortunately, the clutched Shadow Plus derailleur did not make it into the group.
As expected, Shimano didn’t stop making caliper brakes while launching their first Dura-Ace disc brake. And as if the previous Dura-Ace brake is not good enough, the new brake calipers have been updated for even more stopping power and clearance (thank you) for 28C tires. For the hydraulic brakes side of things, however, it’s completely new. The hydraulic caliper utilizes the Flat Mount mounting system for a smaller footprint while a wider pad clearance was made to further minimize rubbing. The most visually-striking part of the brake system, though, has got to be the new SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza rotor. While the stainless steel braking surface remains, the rotor’s aluminum inner core now extends out as one continuous piece towards the center for better a 30% heat reduction. And similar to its predecessor, it will only be offer with Centerlock mount in 140mm and 160mm diameter, just big enough to double as a pizza cutter and throwing star (but don’t tell the UCI about that)
It’s the same CN-HG901-11 with the tool-free connecting link. Nothing new here.
Not much different other than the new 11-30 cassette combo. Let’s hope the dreaded cracked cassette syndrome is done and over with.
The overall design is the same as any other SPD-SL pedals but the new PD-R9100 pedals are now 24.5 grams lighter and now shipped with hollow cleat bolts (ProTip: Use good hex keys).
Well, that’s another department deserving of a separate post. But yes, there are redesigned hoops in various materials and forms
Price and availability
The full R9100 mechanical group will be available this September for $2029.92. The R9100/R9120 mechanical/hydro brake group will come at $2354.90; The R9150 Di2 group will $3046.85 whereas the R9150/R9170 Di2 with hydraulic brakes will cost the most at $3137.90. Yea, there’s actually four similar, but different groupsets this time around within the Dura-Ace family.
Finishing our Ellsworth photo shoot. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Thank you for your service, mannequin head #1. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
No, this ain't no motorcycle. It's the drivetrain for the Haibike XDURO Downhill Pro. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
eDH bike Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Product explanation at Winter Press Camp. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Lazer AeroShell deployment. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Vintage Raleigh racing jersey by Giordana. This one's not for sale but sure looked great. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
See those horizontal lines? That's compression fabric on the Giordana NXG bib shorts. Detail matters. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Yo. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Ridley beer steins. Works great. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The 2016 winter PressCamp wrapped up recently and there’s a lot to talk about. Here are my personal highlights in no particular order.
I have to admit that I once thought Haibike was a brand out of Asia (and there’s absolutely no shame of being an Asian brand, just ask Samsung). Haibike is actually German and has been around since 1995. “Hai” means shark in German and their eBikes are catered to the performance-oriented crowd. In 2016, they’re offering 55, yes, 55 eBikes from their SDURO and XDURO line equipped with either a Bosch or a Yamaha motor. “Your dealers must hate you,” an editor jokes.
Jokes aside, I’ll say this: Haibike makes beautiful ebikes. The XDURO FatSix RX fat bike might just be the ultimate do-it-all SUV on two wheels that I’ve been waiting for.
I can talk all day about all the nuisances of fabrics technology that goes behind a jersey (for example, it takes six separate pieces of fabric to construct the collar of the body-hugging NX-G jersey). But Giordana‘s EXO line stood out to me. Summer weight knickers with compression designed in conjunction with the legendary Dr. Max Testa? Sounds perfect for that typical San Francisco “summer.” We’re currently testing one and will report back soon.
Also love their sport jersey made with a blend of merino wool too. A slightly more relaxed fit, soft to the touch and clean, understated color wise. Sign me up.
Ellsworth is back. With BST Nano Carbon being its new owner and after a redesign, gone are the massive rocker links Ellsworth was known for. But founder Tony Ellsworth is excited to show us that the soul Ellsworth remains unchanged. Legacy models such as the Moment, Dare, and Epiphany are now offered in carbon fiber and boost 142×12 rear with a hex-shaped axle end for stiffness. Thankfully the bottom bracket is still english-threaded.
The Epiphany, being Ellsworth’s bestselling model, will also offer a USA made, alloyed-frame version with a shot-peened finish both inside and outside the tube. You now have three different wheel options to choose from (27.5, 27.5+ and 29). While you’re at it make sure to check out their 4-layered paint job, especially in red.
Founded in 1924, Abus sure knows a thing or two when it comes to locks. Products such as the Bordo have been a hit and now Abus is finally bringing their helmets to the states. The Hyban helmet will have a rear taillight and a storable rain cover for those unexpected showers while the magnetic Fidlock buckle clips securely into place with the quick flip of a finger. Pretty neat stuff. I am sure you can race with it too with all those vents atop.
It’s a bold, confident move when your entire line up consists of only one model and that’s exactly what former Giro D’Italia and Vuelta winner Pietro Caucchioli is doing here. Just one bike, the do it all ST. Though Divo offers only one model, it’d be hard to find two identical Divo ST given the robust Divo customization program ranging from frame color, decals, carbon finish, and custom geometry too. Now that’s custom for realz.
For Lazer, helmet integration is (literally) the name of the game: Add an AeroShell for aerodynamics and warmth; a LifeBEAM sensor to measure your heart rate like a fighter pilot, and a pair of Magneto sunglasses that’ll snap onto your helmet strap, or the back of your helmet via magnets. Don’t like it? You can always
shake take it off.
We love super bikes, but honestly how many of us mere mortals can afford dropping all that money on a bicycle that costs as much as a decent motorcycle every few years? Well here comes the Ridley Noah. It’s essentially a Noah SL (same mould, actually) but with a different carbon layup and a traditional fork compared to the more expensive F-Split fork to keep the price more affordable ($3,750 for a Ultegra-equipped bike) while staying aero.
Fabric Cell Elite saddle in Blue. The translucent top just glows in the light. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A durable polyurethane top, the hex-shaped air cell core, and a flexible nylon base that makes up the Fabric Cell Elite Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
At 155mm at its widest, the Cell Elite has plenty of cushy real estate for your rear. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
The top view of the Fabric Cell Elite Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
At first glance, the Fabric Cell Elite looks like a normal saddle with a bright-colored top. Well, it’s much more than that. And if you’ve never heard of Fabric, you should.
Launched in 2014 by the founder behind the hugely popular UK brand Charge Bikes, Fabric has in a short time brought on quite a few innovative products: The striking carbon ALM saddle designed in collaboration with Airbus, the Chamber multi-tool, and the cageless water bottle system. The Fabric guys are obviously onto something.
The Cell, in true Fabric fashion, is not your ordinary comfort saddle. No gel, no cutouts, no crazy amount of padding.
Beneath that opaque waterproof cover is a trick air-cell that acts as an air spring just like those neon Nike Air Max 95s you wanted so bad when you were young. Unlike the pressurized air cell in running shoes where an unfortunate puncture will spell it’s premature demise, the Cell’s airsprung will not be affected even if its polyurethane top is punctured or torn. ‘Cause you know, stuff happens.
My first ride on the saddle was during a wet cyclocross race (tells you how much I love the saddle that came with the bike) and my initial thought was it’s one bitchin’ saddle. I was a bit skeptical on the effectiveness of the air cell core and that slight noise it made when I squeezed it with my hands. However, I never heard a thing when I was out on rides. And the air cell? It works. Not only does it act as a nice landing during my remounts, but the top has just the right amount of grip even in the rain. One extra credit for the Cell’s nylon base is that it makes post ride clean up a whole lot faster. Just rinse and repeat.
It’s been a month since the Cell was bolted onto my bike and it’s such a comfortable ride it’s staying on there. Its generous 155mm-wide platform reminded me of the old WTB SST (with a different cushion feel, of course.) Oh, and it’s a unique looking saddle that’s not black or white (Fabric does offer a black and opaque top).
At 354 grams, The Cell elite is not going to win a weightweenie contest; it’s not what it’s designed for. It’s one heck of a saddle for all it’s intended purpose, though. Super comfortable, a clean look, plus the price is right at around $65 with 6 different color ways to match your steed.
It was a rainy winter. Or maybe it was a regular winter, and the past two winters had been so dry that I wasn’t ready for it. But the upshot was the same: hastened by the permeability of the shed behind my house, my road bike developed a nasty cold.
It’s my fault, really; I didn’t take good enough care of it. I kept it clean, sure, but I took it for granted. And when the tickle in its sinus began, the shifting got little wonky. It’s January, I told myself. The shop’ll take forever. So I wiped the bike down instead, and gave it some new tires. Then it got sluggish, and I dropped the chain going down to the little ring. I’ll bring it to in this week, I told myself. It’s the right thing to do. So I wiped the bike down instead, and made sure the chain was lubed.
But then, toward the end of a Sunday spin last weekend, my rear shifter cable gave up the ghost. Just…snapped. Somewhere up inside the brake hoods where mortals dare not tread. I pulled it out of the derailleur, stuck the housing in my pocket, and rode the last five miles on a singlespeed, 82 gear inches into a bitch of a headwind, cursing my negligence with every mash.
Now, my bike is out of commission until the shop can get to it—which happens to be eight days from now. All of this is to say, don’t be like me. But that’s obvious. So it’s also to say that while you might not even be aware of the rhythms that have developed between you and your steed, they exist, and they are sacred.
It’s plain when you jump on another bike for a ride. Climbs are guessing games, descents a gamble. It’s not like my backup bike is 30 pounds of creak, either. It’s more than sufficient, and it’s taken me through centuries and up mountains. It’s just not my real bike.
To be fair, it’s not like I knew my bike was my real bike when it first came into my life. My line of work allows me to ride a lot of different things, most of which are lighter than a loaf of bread and all of which are thoroughly above my pay grade. That’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also given me an almost monastic aversion to the idea of bike permanence. So the first thing I thought when I saw my bike was “I guess bikes are murdered out now.” Specialized’s Roubaix line of Classics/endurance rides has been around for more than a decade, but 2013 was the first year it was available in stunning black on black.
It was also the first year the company had married the idea of comfort with its SL4 top-tier frame—so while my first impression was visual, my second was “smooooooth.” That wasn’t a thought, it was an actual involuntary utterance when I hit a chattery stretch of road. (And in Oakland, “chattery” is close to the best you can hope for until you get to the blacktop up in the hills.)
Everything about it was perfect, but subtle. Dura-Ace, but not digital. An 11-speed cassette that got me up just about anything, and Zertz dampers that let my legs feel the road without my…other parts feeling the road. Brakes that I trusted, on in-house wheels that were light without leaving me vulnerable to crosswinds. It didn’t jump off the line, but it didn’t need to—it got there fast, and it gave back to the road everything that I put into it. It made me stronger. Faster. And now it’s gone.
Look, yeah, I get it. It’s not gone forever. I’ll be back on it in a week. But mark my words: I’ll never take it for granted again. Q-tip was right: Joni Mitchell never lied.
Nicknames are a strange thing. There’s a good chance your family has one for you your friends don’t know about; there’s a much better chance that it’s vice versa. They’re mutable, nonsensical, and the only thing you can ever really hope for is that, at some point in your short stupid life, one will stick that isn’t completely embarrassing.
Thanks to my riding partner, that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I’m Precious.
I’m not saying there’s not good reason for it. It’s not the suffering that gets me about cycling—that’s the part I like. The despair that whispers in your ear when you come around a hairpin and see a whole new dizzying grade? Fine. That sensation when you’re 15 miles from home and concrete is settling in your legs? Bring it on. No, what I hate is discomfort. Headwinds; rain; drafts curling under your neck. So I’ve always done what I can to prevent it. Maybe that means a neck gaiter on a cold day, maybe it means keeping my warmers on even as the mercury rises past 70. Maybe it means begging off when there’s even a hint of mist in the air. So yeah, I’m Precious.
Or at least I was until this winter, when I finally realized what was possible in the rarefied air of Castelli’s Rosso Corsa tier.
(I should probably point out here that my definition of “winter” has changed over the years. Growing up in the midwest, it meant face-freezing cold and wind that bit through everything I wore; over my 15 years in New York City, it meant three months of filthy slush and de facto hibernation in a tiny apartment. Now, in the Bay Area, it means January early-morning lows in the low 40s. Yes, I realize that year-round riding leaves me very little to complain about.)
First came the Gabba 2 jersey ($180), which finally managed to integrate admirable qualities like “windproof” and “water-resistant” without also including less admirable ones like “feeling like a trash bag.” The thing’s already become such a staple in the peloton during inclement Classics that last year Castelli trolled us all by releasing a “pro edition,” the sole distinguishing characteristic of which is a magic marker so that riders sponsored by other apparel companies can black out the offending logos. The thing somehow combines the warmth and proetction of a softshell jacket with a regular jersey profile, never leaving you feeling overburdened or vulnerable to the elements. Paired with Nanoflex warmers, it kept me comfortable down to just about 50—in dense fog, rain, even pure brilliant sunshine.
When the mercury dropped and the wind really picked up, though, I found myself throwing a wind jacket on over it—which was fine, but still wasn’t quite the all-in-one solution I’d been hoping for. So for the worst that Northern California could throw at me (again, I realize that that’s better than the best that many other states can muster up in late winter), I reached for the Alpha Wind Jersey ($250). It’s rated down to the low 40s, which made it the perfect choice for those weekday early-morning rides when I needed lights as much as I needed a good hat. A lightweight insulation layer is sewn into the jersey’s front so that you can unzip the windproof panel on a long climb to avoid overheating while still keeping things comfy. A super-high collar means that your neck stays warm no matter what, and the same extra-long rear flap as the Gabba’s keeps you dry from road spray. And when I say “you,” I mean “me,” because not only have I been riding outside all winter, but I’ve been doing so happily—which is a first for ol’ Precious.