Cameras and bikes. Bikes and cameras.

I find myself attempting to be a photographer, yet again.

I mean, I have always self-identified as a photographer, but the final 15-plus-years of my journalism career was spent either as a photo editor or a photo director. And I’ve been out of the journalism game going on seven years. 

I bounced out of journalism and found myself firmly entrenched in the bicycle industry, first as the Creative Director at inGamba Tours and now as the Marketing Director for Kali Protectives.

The journey back to making photographs on a regular basis has been a long and equipment lust fueled journey. I can’t tell you how much time this old man has spent pouring over youtube videos, Pinkbike posts and attempting to find any tidbit of information available hidden deep in Google searches. The myriad of different ways to search “bikes, bicycles, mountain bikes cycling” paired with “how-to, photo, photography, photographs, cameras, lens” is not only mostly fruitless and soul crushing, but also shockingly revealing about how many youtubers and would be professional photographers are confused about what “helpful” means.

I started with trying to shoot photographs out the window of the inGamba “team” car or to run to the car whenever we stopped to try and capture some of those “off-the-bike” moments.

But this just led to frustration, as I never seemed to have the camera handy when inspiration struck. The other thing “professional” bicycle photographs never tell you is most of the time there is nothing to photograph. I found myself, even in the Italian Dolomites struggling to make interesting photographs for most of the ride, as the epic shooting spots are actually few and far between.

I know. I know. This sounds like whining and can’t possibly be true. But take from an old man photographer who has photographed or photo edited the SuperBowl, Kentucky Derby, World Series, the War in Iraq, NCAA Finals, etc… As Henri Cartier Bresson once said, and I paraphrase, “One must milk the cow quite a bit to make a little cheese.”

This retaliation led me to realize I needed a camera with me at all times, if I were to have any chance at all of making the photographs I was interested in making. 

So I strapped my historic Canon 5D Mark III to my back with a 24-70mm f2.8 to my back and hit the road. Sadly, this was an unmitigated disaster for a number of unforeseen reasons. First, I am not fitted enough to race ahead of a fast moving group ride (and yes, I know Jered Gruber is and this is part of my love/hate relationship with him). Secondly, because of the weight of that box it swings around like a teenager in the mosh pit at a punk show. And finally, the number of days the really great photos didn’t present themselves, having the 5D swinging around took all the fun out of the journey.

The 5D went back in the bag and out came the wallet. I took some well intended advice and started with the purchase of an Sony RX100, but me and the “professional” point-n-shoot camera never really got on. Sure, if everything went just right the files looked fine enough and it offered plenty of “tricks,” including a super sharp lens and a pretty impressive zoom. The thing is the experience is shit. It’s not fun. It’s not enjoyable. It’s not the journey I’m interested in. Pulling the camera out, turning it on and stabbing at the shutter button while messing with the zoom switch just takes all the photographer out of the photography for me.

So next up was a Fujifilm X-T1. Now we were onto something. The X-T1 was small in stature, but had all the buttons and dials of my youth. It looked like a camera, felt like a camera and functioned like I expected a camera to function.

At about the same time I received a “bicycle rider” camera strap as a gift from a friend. It was the original Mettle strap everyone backed on Kickstarter. And with that I had an “actual” camera I could double strap to my back. I was back in business.

The only problem was the files were “good enough,” but nowhere as nice as the files out of my Canon cameras. This is, of course, in my opinion. But this once again took some of the joy out of photography for me. I had spent my life being a photography “snob/critic/editor/tastemaker” and here I was trying to shoot photographs with an inferior tool. I believe part of the problem is my love of making interesting photographs in what others would call “terrible” light. When the light was “beautiful” the X-T1 was delightful, but when the light turned “shitty” the camera was not up to the task. 

Fast forward to today and I can honestly say I think I’ve reached camera nirvana. No longer do I wax eloquently about the glory days of shooting with my Nikon F4, a Nikkor 180mm f2.8 and a 24mm f2. Nor do I wish I could transport back to walking the street of San Francisco with my Leica M6 with a 35mm and my M3 with a 21mm asph.
I’ve run through almost all of the X-T iterations and now my “everyday carry” regardless of which bike I am on is a X-T4 and a 16mm f2.8 lens held to my back by a PS Bagworks Rider Strap. You will also find a Chrome Industries Doubletrack Feedbag or an Outer Shell Drawstring Handlebar Bag with a Fujifilm 16-55mm zoom strapped to my bars. 

This setup is both amazing and frustrating, as with all things camera, depending on the situation. 

If I am going on an actual photoshoot, I most often switch back to my Canon DSLRs. I just feel much more comfortable using “longer” glass on the “bigger” cameras. I have used and do use the Canon converter on my X-T4 and the photos are surprisingly sharp, with great color and contrast, but the experience leaves something to be desired. 

So the journey continues. The balance between “making a photograph” and “taking a picture” continues to gnaw at my younger ethical photojournalism self. Is the destination what is most important or is the journey where the good things happen. What is real and what is fantasy and if every bike ride and bike rider looks like a postcard then am I really telling the story of cycling. If everyone in every photograph is wearing the perfect length sock and riding with the perfect form then am I really contributing to the historical record or am I just throwing more wood on the proverbial bullshit visual fire?

I’m off to continue my journey and I’ll leave the final word to Michael J. Fox:

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”

Mission Workshop Rhake: Bag For All Reasons

Mission Workshop Rhake Backpack long term review Yosemite

Technical backpacks are pretty darn good these days, but camera backpacks are a different story. You have slick urban-ready everyday camera backpacks, to ones made for cycling, long distance hikes, and the ones you get for free with buying a camera kit… But it’s difficult to find a good one.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review

My favorite, or my staple shall I say, was the original ThinkTank Shapeshifter that I purchased in 2011. Yes, 2011. ThinkTank created a nearly perfect backpack for working news photographers. It’s so freaking good that it singlehandedly dominated major news events. Aesthetics? Let’s just say form follows function… 

When Apple launch events were a thing. Seven wire service photographers, Five ShapeShifters.

Which brings me to this review. The Mission Workshop Rhake backpack. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review daily carry edc
What’s in my Rhake on most days

Fans of this site might have noticed our affinity for Mission’s no expense spared apparel. I wasn’t familiar with their backpacks nor did I desire one other than thinking they looked pretty darn cool whenever I saw them around town. That changed when I found out there was a camera cube accessory. I wanted to try one out to see whether it was more than just the hipster tech bro hype.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review

I intended to start the test drive on a two-week photo assignment overseas in March 2019. Unfortunately, UPS had a different idea so I ended up using a Thule Subterra34L on the trip. The Subterra ended up working surprisingly well for the trip, but I’ve been on the Rhake ever since my return.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review

Domestically made out of dual-layer weatherproof MultiCam Cordura, water-resistant zippers, and two beefy AustriAlpin COBRA buckles horizontally across its body, the Rhake is one good looking, backpack with 22 liters of ample internal cargo space within its main roll-top compartment. By design, the Rhake is noticeably slim and is shaped to grow vertically without much ballooning along its sides where the horizontal straps keep its girth in check. Small detail yes, but great to have so I don’t have to go through subway gates sideways like a crab. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review laptop compartment
A roomy, padded laptop compartment

There are also five compartments of various sizes, a hidden water bottle pocket, and a padded laptop compartment strategically placed making organization a breeze. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review mesh padding
Padded mesh back panel with airflow channel

The 80mm-wide shoulder strap was pretty good after a brief break-in period. The amount of padding on the straps is comparable to most high-end packs – it’s a smidge wider but the minor difference in width, plus its lengthy padded section and the perforated back panel, make the Rhake incredibly comfortable and stable for extended wear, especially when using the included chest strap. However, it would be nice to have a detachable sternum strap for more stabilization. But again, that’s a matter of personal taste.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review Arkiv modular system
Rails for the MW’s own Arkiv modular system

I am not convinced on the Arkiv modular system on the shoulder straps. Its rail-like design is a wonderful, stable platform but requires you to be committed to its ecosystem of pouches and bags. Attaching non-Arkiv backed items prove to be challenging because of the rail’s thickness. I’d be happy with a single row of low-profile MOLLE.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review Cobra Buckle AustriAlpin
Cobra Buckles are just so damn cool

On another hand, I absolutely love the upgraded COBRA buckles. I knew nothing about these Austria-made buckles and thought it was utterly overkill to drop an extra $60 for these mil-spec metal buckles over the excellent Duraflex plastic buckles on an already steeply priced backpack, but as one who can attest to the annoyance of a broken buckle on a backpack out on a job, the COBRA buckle is worth the miniscule grams knowing that I am more likely to break before it will. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review camera capsule

The camera capsule, in line with the Rhake’s construction, is exceptionally made as well. It has a noticeably thicker, 1000D ballistic nylon shell with a soft interior plus removable dividers to individualize your loadout. I think Thule’s origami pads from its Covert backpack are the best padded inserts at the moment, but luckily MW didn’t cut corners in this often skimmed over aspect that spellsdoom for many.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review camera capsule
Roomy enough to fit a robust large camera kit. Here the capsule is packed with a Canon 1Dx Mark III, 90mm TS-E, 24-70mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.2, and a 70-200 f/2.8

The capsule adds an extra 890 grams to the 1,400 gram pack and it’s a snug fit into the Rhake where it will occupy most of the main compartment space. The capsule can be accessed by either a clamshell zipper to its entire content when out of the backpack, or through a top zipper to its upper portion where it is inserted into the backpack. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review camera capsule
It’s a snug fit with the capsule installed

To take advantage of the top zipper, I usually set my dividers to stow a 5D with a 24-70 attached on top, with the rest of the gear beneath. Bigger camera bodies such as the 1Dx, D5, or a gripped Sony A9II can also slide in flat. This is not a backpack for rapid camera deployment. Instead, it favors modularity and security with an extra layer of protection from the rough.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review camera capsule

I also find the Rhake to be more inconspicuous than other camera backpacks. Simply put, the Rhake looks like an ordinary backpack without giving away its contents. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review organizer pocket
By design the right pocket only opens on both sides with the bottom sealed. It took some time to get used to but it also kept contents, in this case, three card readers, from falling out.

I came away appreciating the dual organization pockets that allowed me to quickly locate items and the deep right pocket saved me from losing my memory cards and readers on a few occasions when I forgot to zip up the pocket while in a hurry.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review
The left pocket can be opened like a hinged door, revealing its three mesh organizers and pockets

From international travel, bike rides around town, to an unplanned “it’s only a three mile round trip” hike turned five miles of vertical death march with a group of unprepared journalists to see the Yosemite Falls, the Rhake along with the camera capsule took whatever came in stride in style and truly lives up to the company’s mantra of built to endure. With almost two years of daily abuse, my Rhake still looks great with no noticeable fading and most importantly, no delaminated fabrics.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review
Packing day in Hong Kong, October 2019.

At $455 with MultiCam Camo and upgraded Cobra Buckles plus another $130 for the camera capsule, it is an expensive proposition. For anyone in the market for a stylish multipurpose camera-carry capable backpack that appreciates long term durability, then I would argue the Rhake, with or without the camera capsule, is worth every dollar.

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review
The blinker attachment loop at the bottom also works as a pull tab to remove the snug camera capsule

If the camouflaged version with cobra buckles is a bit too flashy, Mission Workshop offers the Rhake in both black and gray HT500 nylon ($370), a slightly lighter weight version with VX fabric ($465) in three colors, as well as a waxed canvas version ($455) in five colors. 

Mission Workshop Rhake backpack long term review

Robert Axle Project Trainer Axle: Perfect Fit For Both Indoors and Out

This is normally the time of the year when we break out our indoor trainer because it’s cold outside, but thanks to COVID, riding the trainer/zwifting is for better or worse a year-round exercise.

It’s not as simple as just bolting your bike these days if you have a thru-axle in the back. There’s nothing to connect the flush bolt-on frame to the trainer. Luckily the folks at the Robert Axle Project are here to help.

By using the company’s robust online axle finder, I was able to locate the right axle for my Ibis Hakka MX and the finishes on it were top-notch: Beautifully machined, anodized with specs clearly marked on the axle body. The axle weighs 70 grams, 23 grams more than the single-use stock version.

Installing it was as easy as the stock axle: slide it in and turn. The only difference is that there’s now a 5mm hex bolt head on the non-drive side, and an identical cap meant to be threaded into the drive-side end to provide space for the trainer. In using, the smooth beveled ends center the bike into the receiving end of my trainer, and my old but beloved 1up USA CPR A-2000 that has seen more work in the past 6 months than in the past seven years combined.

It’s a simple but effective solution that can replace your stock axle if you switch from the trainer to real road, or from the trainer straight to the starting line, whenever racing returns.

Triggered To Buy

Why on God’s green earth would you buy something from someone who claims to not even really use the item he is selling?

It’s like the opposite of buying that hair growth goop from the guy who claims not only to be the owner of the company, but a client. Or was it not only was he a client, but he was the founder of the company?

Either way, unlike those miracle hair growth formulas, Paul’s 22.2 Dropper Trigger never leaves you wondering if all the hype is just that. Don’t give it a second thought, the Trigger will grow on you. 

And it is during these stressful and uncertain times, as I tighten my wallet and consider what the future is going to look like, where I think looking to companies like Paul’s Components has extra value.

At Pauls things are loved over by a small group of artisans and handcrafted to pretty impressive tolerances. 

Sure Paul says he’s not really convinced a dropper post is something he is interested in for himself, but he seems to have still given a shit about those of us who don’t ever want to ride without one ever again.

It is machined in Chico, California out of 6061 aluminum and has a pair of sealed cartridge bearings, two different cabling options, barrel adjuster and hinged mount the Trigger is ready for just about any dirty whip you can mount it to and it comes in a cavalcade of color options.

We wanted to embrace the experience that is the Paul’s colorways, but we couldn’t pass up the bling of the beautiful chrome version. 

Do you need a new lever for your dropper? 

Probably not, as the majority of companies have caught on to the importance of quality lever and the game has greatly improved.

The thing is though, the Paul’s trigger works beautifully, feels great under thumb and never ceases to start a trailhead conversation. 

Besides the obvious difference in clamp diameters, the 31.8 trigger and its cable route are also different from its 22.2 counterpart

And now, Paul has added a 31.8 Trigger into their lineup, so all you gravel-grinders can drop in style to your heart’s content. 

We might even consider going purple on our drop bar, fat tire bike. 


Echos Of Futures Past

Six perspectives on the history of Oklahoma, the Land Run 100’s name change, and the future of inclusion in gravel cycling.

In 2011 Bobby and Crystal Wintle moved from Emporia, Kansas to Stillwater, OK. Following their dream they started a family and opened up a bicycle shop named District Bicycles. Bobby fell in love with the local dirt roads and started a grassroots movement that he called “Unlearn Pavement”. It was only natural that he’d also start a gravel bike race and it was only natural that he’d name it after the most famous event in Stillwater’s history: The Land Run of 1889. He didn’t know anything about it but the locals seemed awfully proud of their past, and the name itself had a resonance that just worked. The Land Run of 1889. The Land Run 100. It was a perfect connection between Stillwater’s history and, Bobby hoped, it’s future as a bicycling destination.

When the Oklahoma State University ROTC company offered a ceremonial cannon to start the race with, it was just as perfectly natural to accept their offer. What wasn’t there to like about starting a bike race with a cannon?

The little gravel race in Stillwater quickly became famous. People travelled from around the world to take part. With that additional exposure came questions about the Land Run name, the cannon and what they symbolized. For some, the Land Run was not something to be proud of and the cannon shot was an echo of a past filled with violence, racism and genocide. Hard questions started to be asked of Bobby, Crystal and event organizer Sally Turner by members of the Oklahoma Native American tribes as well as people in the cycling community. They did know the history of that name, didn’t they? They did know the Land Run of 1889 was started with a shot from an Army cannon? And that it was the beginning of the end for the tribes in Oklahoma?

To the joy of some and the consternation of others in late 2019 it was announced that the name of the race was being changed from the Land Run 100 to The Mid South. In doing so Bobby, Crystal and Sally started a conversation about not just how Oklahoma’s turbulent history still affects the events of today but also about the lengths we go in pursuit of inclusion. Were the Land Runs in the 1800’s that bad of a thing? Does the name of a bike race in the middle of Oklahoma matter? How far do we need to go to make people feel comfortable or welcomed? Why can’t people let go of the past and move on?

In order to try to make sense of it, I traveled to Oklahoma to talk to people from as many sides of the Land Run story as I could. Here’s what they have to say (click on each link below for their individual stories):

  • Sister and brother Nancy Chipukites & Darrell Stiles, the co-owners of Cabin Creek Farm which was homesteaded in the Land Run of 1891 by their Great Grandfather.
  • Choctaw tribal member Tyson Branyon who has ridden in every edition of the race, is a retired Assistant District Attorney and a Board Member of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services. Tyson was and still is against the changing of the name from Land Run 100.
  • Fr. Aidan of St. Francis of the Woods, a small Episcopalian religious community who draw much of their beliefs from historical and current tribal connections that are restoring their land back to original Oklahoma prairie. 
  • Osage tribal member Yatika Fields, an artist and activist who was an integral part of the name change.
  • Lindsay Beltchenko, Marketing Manager, Salsa Cycles. Salsa is the largest sponsor of the Mid South event and the longest running sponsor of gravel cycling as a whole.
  • Bobby Wintle, co-owner of District Bicycles and founder of the Mid South gravel race.

What I discovered is that Oklahoma has a turbulent past of forced relocation, racism, conflict, war, hope, and opportunity. For tribal members in Oklahoma their history has two parts: Before Relocation and After Relocation. While it was still a territory Oklahoma was the end of the Trail of Tears, a place where over 30 Native American tribes were forced to relocate to after losing their homelands and way of life. Natural enemies were forced to live on reservations together. Nomads who followed the buffalo watched the herds get slaughtered and had their freedom to roam taken away forever. Tribal members would argue that the cultural and physical genocide of the 1800’s continues to this day.

But Oklahoma was also a land of opportunity and excitement. Black townships arose after the Civil War where newly freed slaves banded together to escape the rampant, blatant racism that was common in big cities. Homesteaders came for the chance to have land of their own. Poor immigrants, veterans of the Union Army, and those who were just caught up in the excitement of the Land Runs all arrived in the late 1800’s chasing their dreams. Nearly 60,000 settlers participated in the Land Run of 1889 alone. The Land Run of 1893 brought in another 100,000. By the time Oklahoma declared statehood in 1907 there were 1,400,000 residents. The vast majority of them were not Native Americans. Throughout the 19th century Oklahoma’s uneasy existence has continued. Osage artist Yatika Fields told me, “I always put things in Oklahoma into an analogy that it’s like a puzzle. The pieces are everywhere. We’re still trying to resolve it”

Hanging With A Crankworx Superstar

A few weeks ago Jim asked whether I wanted to shoot some dirt jumping at the Kali Protective HQ. I love photographing new, challenging assignments but to be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve really shot anything dirt related. Sea Otter Classic doesn’t really count as shooting dirt. And I hadn’t really shot dirt jumping. I was worried about not knowing what to shoot, much like how regular photographers photographing skateboarding get laughed at by skateboarding photographers for missing the “peak” action shots which actually matter. 

But Jim also said Nicholi Rogatkin was going be in town riding with the local groms. Yes, the Nicholi Rogatkin of Crankworx Joyride fame. So I figured what the heck, yolo. It’s not every day you get to “hangout” with a Triple Crown winner of Crankworx Slopestyle who also happened to pull the World’s first Cashroll on a downhill bike.

The day started out normal enough, photographing Nicholi getting ready, portraits, moments and riding (duh). Things were going as planned until we started doing portraits. It turns out I remembered everything for the shoot, minus my case of lights. Which was a total bummer. I didn’t have enough time to drive home and grab them now. But at least I had one tiny Canon speedlite. I made the best of it and ended up utilizing this set of vintage monkey bars.

It wasn’t long before the kids started to show up. So there we were in a dirt lot turned XL pump track with a bunch of star-struck kids brushing shoulders with one of the hottest riders in the gravity circuit, bantering about tips on how to stop the crankarms from spinning midair, how to approach this one massive jump and running rider train, over-and-over, until well after sunset. 

Speaking of the sunset, someone borrowed a full-blown construction light just so everyone could ride well past sunset. And then it was a twelve-year-old kid who gave me a quick lesson on how to operate a bobcat dozer and casually pointed out what’s wrong with the choking generator connecting to the airbag at the end of the jump.

All that happened while Nicholi was busy launching flips and spins like a walk in the park. It is easy to see why he has won so many contests and is so admired by the dirt jump crowd, his riding is athletic, yet graceful and his personality is equal parts hipster and sweetheart.

At one point, a Mercedes rolled up and out popped a former Powder Puff motocross racer. She saw the riders jumping in the air while driving nearby, and decided to pull in to simply watch. 

It dawned on me that this was completely different from the other “major league” sporting event I am accustomed to shooting. There were no rope lines, no press passes, no media lounge and no pretenses. It was just a real hang amoungst people who came for the love of bikes. 

It was a damn good day, and I’m thinking I should shoot more dirt this year. 

POC Ventral SPIN: A Long Term Review

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

“Oh that’s ugly.” 

 That was my first impression of the POC Octal in 2014. Yeah, the bright colors were dope and all, but I had a hard time liking its shape. Plus, I just got a new helmet that I really, truly loved so I was not about to drop a few more Benjamins.

That didn’t stop me from keeping tabs on the Swedish firm’s progress. It’s pretty hard not to notice them on the road either. Similar to its fellow swede compatriot Volvo where you can unmistakably spot one from a mile away, it’s easy to pick out a POC amongst of sea of helmets, not that that’s a bad thing or anything.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

The time finally came when it was time for a new lid. I was curious about aero helmets because seriously, who doesn’t like free speed these days. I also despise the feeling of wearing a bucket. I already get that when I have to wear my fire or ballistic helmet, thank you very much.

But I do want a do-it-all helmet.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

POC just happened to drop the Ventral SPIN aero road helmet around the same time, so I decided to give it a run. We covered it during its initial launch so I’ll spare the technical details and will focus on how it works on the road. Touted Aerodynamics and ventilation aside, I was especially intrigued with the blue SPIN padding between the shell and my noggin’ that made more than a splash: Lawsuits against those seemingly benign, albeit squishy pads were filed (and settled). Is SPIN finally a challenger to MIPS?

I ended up wearing my all-white Ventral SPIN for almost two seasons now, and it’s time to taIk about it. TL:DR: I am a happy camper.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

Sure that POC look takes some time to get used to, but what helmet doesn’t? The Ventral is a bit bigger, more bulbous, and perhaps has an even thicker appearance than a lot of helmets, but it’s a shape that grew on me as weeks passed.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

From its frontal view, its generous five intake vents doesn’t give away the fact that this helmet is meant for speed. There are six large exhaust vents in the back that are aggressively shaped with sharp lines like the back of a Lamborghini Huracan. Bold. A dedicated dock for sunglasses is also neatly integrated out front.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

Large air vents usually mean ample ventilation at the cost of aerodynamics, but POC mapped them to essentially force the wind in and out of the helmet on a specific flow math to create what is called the venturi effect. In Ventral’s case, the guided airflow utilizes moving air to its advantage to vent and cool heads while producing a more efficient air flow minimizing turbulence.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

All those prominent statements aren’t easy to validate without a wind tunnel, but I can say with great certainty that it is a very comfortable helmet to wear day in and day out. The Ventral channels air well, and run cooler than other aero road helmets that I’ve tried while performing admirably in terms of airiness just below the exceptionally airy, climbing oriented Kask Valegro.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

But while Kask fell short in the internal padding department, POC’s SPIN pads, short for Shearing Pad Inside were wonderful. Its silicone composition gave it a decidedly more fitted feel compared to regular foam pads.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

Visually, it’s difficult to see beyond a humble padding that goes between one’s head and the helmet, but the very same blue pads, or precisely, the allowed movements of the pad’s gel-like center, is POC’s secret sauce to reduce rotational impact and brain damage. The concept does exactly what MIPS does with its movable helmet liner, but POC’s integrated solution is arguably cleaner and more subtle.

At $290, the Ventral comes at a premium, even some $40 more than the Ventral Air, its newer, lighter and more ventilated little brother. I am curious to see how it’ll pit against Giro’s Aether with its new MIPS Spherical system that eliminated the hard plastic slip plane of the original MIPS, or the evergreen Kask Protone. But one thing that’s certain: The Ventral is one heck of a lid one should consider when looking for an aero helmet that excels all around besides free speed.

POC Ventral SPIN aero helmet long term review

Fumpa: The Electric Toothbrush Of Bicycle Pumps

Fumpa portable electric bike pump

My wife uses one of those fancy-ass electric toothbrushes.

She swears by it and is constantly telling me I need to open my mind and give it a try.

But for me, it just seems like an unnecessary gadget for gadgets sake.

You know one of those things you really don’t need, like a quesadilla maker or a smartphone controlled doggy water dispenser or a “smart” trash can. 

I mean I have been brushing my teeth for quite a while now and at my last dental appointment I was complimented for the condition of my teeth.

And I was also doing a pretty nice job with my “analog” bicycle pump. My tire pressure targeting skills seemed to be doing just fine. Or so I thought, until the Fumpa arrived in my life.  

It was my wife, once again, who pushed us into the future. It turns out she had been stopping in at the local bike shop to have them air up her tires while I was out of town.

Now, while I’m super grateful for their excellent customer service, I started to wonder how to future proof her tire pressure issues, just in case she needed air at a time the shop might not be open.

So I did some googling, threw down my credit card and the Fumpa arrived into our lives.

This little red box is nothing short of miraculous.

Fumpa portable electric bike pump

It charges with a standard USB cable, it fits firmly onto your presta valve and the pressure readout is clear and precise. 

My wife finds the gadget to be overly noisy and the vibrations to be off-putting. She still has not completely adjusted to these peculiarities and thus it is not the perfect pump, but it has all but eliminated her trips to the local shop for a top-off.

And as for me, I’ve switched almost completely over to the Fumpa for my tire pressure needs, but I’m still stubbornly scrubbing on my pearly whites the old fashioned way. You can teach an ol’ dog the occasional new trick, but you can’t make him brush his teeth with one of those new fangled contraptions.

Sea Otter Illustrated

It’s been exactly one week since I got back from Sea Otter Classic and I am already yearning for more like a hooked gearhead back from CES.

We’ve featured a few pieces of gear in a previous post, and here is more about all the other things I saw. Some gear, but mostly photographs that wouldn’t make it into a story otherwise. I guess you can call it my visual journal.

eBike pre-race
As in year’s past I started day one in the Wolf Hill parking lot where most attendees parked their cars. Yeah sure, media parking is a lot closer but I absolutely love the vibe at Wolf Hill, like this guy attaching his race number for the 3rd annual eBike race.
Bike valet Sea Otter Classic
With the first day of Sea Otter being on a Thursday, it was more chill and the valet bike parking was pretty light. Speaking of chill, it was windy and cold and everyone just wanted to pack up, ditch happy hour and go home at 4pm.
Sea Otter Classic Parking lot
If you have never been to Laguna Seca and are planning to visit, bring comfy shoes as your main mode of transportation will be via walking. Lots of walking.
Sea Otter Classic XC-Pro racing Cross Country
It took me 15 minutes to walk from the expo to the XC-Pro race, but it was well worth it to be able to see how smooth and fast these guys are.
Sea Otter Classic XC-Pro racing Cross Country
I shot mostly road races during my limited time last year, so I decided to shoot some XC.
Sea Otter Classic expo
The expo area from afar.
Sea Otter Classic Dogs
Cool dog, cool bike, picture time it is!
Sea Otter Classic Ibis Bow Ti
Still one heck of a bike after all these years.
Sea Otter Classic Salsa Cycles
In case you were wondering what was happening at the Salsa booth…
Sea Otter Classic Rodeo Labs Spork
The biggest takeaway after visiting the Rodeo Labs booth: I love their little details like this embossed spork on its fork.
Sea Otter Classic trials show
No bike festival is complete without a trials show.
Sea Otter Classic Ryder Innovation Nutcracker
Hailed from South Africa, Ryder Innovation’s Nutcracker is a mini tool that combines a valve core remover, a valve core holder, a wrench for the stem nut, and a disc brake pad spreader in one compact package. A must have for those running tubeless.
Sea Otter Classic Structure Cycleworks SCW-1 WTF
With its linkage fork, Structure Cycleworks had perhaps one of the wildest looking bikes at the show. Having said that, I would love to give this 150mm front and rear enduro dualie a try.
Sea Otter Classic fi'Zi:k Transiro Infinito R3
A large vent on the sole of the new fi’Zi:k Transiro Infinito R3 triathlon kicks
Sea Otter Classic Erik Zabel ABUS
Erik Zabel, yes the Erik Zabel, second from right, hanging out with a bunch of guys from ABUS.
Yeti SB130 Lunch Ride Yeti
Sure, Yeti showed off a souped-up SB130 dubbed the SB 130 Lunch Ride here, but all I really cared about was this yeti.
Manual Machine Sea Otter Classic
Manual machines sort of went viral last year… so let’s bring one to Sea Otter. It sure was a popular, not to mention, fun place to just watch.
Sea Otter Classic mannequin
Found that lost mannequin.

Handmade Overload

I loathe going to the North American Handmade Bike Show. IT’s not because the show sucks, but because everything just looks so darn beautiful.

The McGovern Cycles Monstercross 2.0. Drools.

I was admittedly grouchy as I made the trek from San Francisco to Sacramento, yet more than anything, the people, new and old friends, really made the show a whole lot more worthwhile. 

Allied Alfa All-Road painted by Brian Szykowny

Onto the bikes. Well, there were lots of them. Scroll through the gallery and you’ll see why NAHBS is such a fun show even if you have no inclination whatsoever to buy one of these custom steeds. The amount of time the builders, or shall I said wizard artisans, spent in making these ridable show bikes was simply amazing. I hope you enjoy the bikes as much as I do.

Fifty One Bikes‘ Mad Bastard experimental TT bike inspired by the ’96 Bianchi titanium TT bike and the classic American-themed Brooklyn Cycling jersey from the 70s.
The Mad Bastard’s cockpit was painted to match the blues on the frame. It also has the new SRAM eTap AXS TT drivetrain.
Caletti Cycles adventure road bike painted by artist Jeremiah Kille.
Impeccable finish.
If I could get one e-bike, it’d be this fresh curvy Sycip
Since it’s a steel Sycip, it’s got the unmistakable penny seatstay cap.
 A Pegoretti tribute bike from Don Walker Cycles
Modeled after the Pegoretti Big Leg Emma, the tribute bike is made with the obligatory massive steel chainstays under its light blue and pink color theme
Italy’s T°RED Bikes brought their Levriero RR steel aero bike to the show.
What I thought was a head tube conjunction more commonly found in aero carbon bikes but T°RED made it out of steel anyway. 
It might not be very obvious, but this Ti Cycles was built with FSA’s ACR (Advanced Routing System) front end where all the cables are routed internally within its own bar, stem, spacers, and headset combo, making one hell of a clean cockpit.
I told you it’s clean.
Here’s another McGovern I really like. While Monstercross 2.0 was fully carbon, this gravel rig has a steel+carbon construction. All the blue tubes are carbon, it’s got carbon-wrapped joints at the seat tube and top tube while the rest of the frame is fillet-brazed steel to combine the best characteristics of both materials.
The carbon-wrapped junction that connects the carbon seat tube with the steel seat stay
Some thought this bike was ugly AF and some thought this bike was offensive given that it’s named Pubesmobile for a dude better known as Bicycle Pubes. But there’s something to be said about this Dear Susan-made frank stein rig. I especially like those curve lines up front.
White Industries cranksets were everywhere at the show but this anodized red/blue version is by far one of the best looking ones. Sorry Paul.
Rob English‘s booth is always a tough one because every bike there can easily win a bunch of awards. This is Rob’s personal bike purposely built to compete in the Trans Am bike race. It’s got some aero attributes such as an aero head tube, fork, clip-on tt bars, a custom carbon fiber storage box while the rest of the storage components are neatly nested.
Both brakes were shrouded with custom carbon covers made by Parlee.
The radical-looking seat stay on this Weis Manufacturing track bike is sure a showstopper but what’s also interesting is the materials used. Weis is the first company to make a frame out of Allite Super Magnesium AE81 tubing that is said to be 50% lighter than titanium and 20 times more shock-absorbing than aluminum.
As to the reason behind the asymmetric seat stay? Better power transfer, according to Weis.
Paul Component founder Paul LOVES his local brewery Sierra Nevada so much he commissioned a Sierra Nevada themed Retrotec single-speed with as much green bits one can possibly cram into a bike.
The custom front rack will fit two 12-can packs of Sierra Nevada perfectly.
Better known for its excellent seatpost and stem, Thomson showed off a prototype titanium bike and matching titanium seatpost they’ve been working on. The Thomson-designed and overseas made 3/2.5 gravel frame will be made in five sizes with details such as accommodation for 650 hoops with clearance for 700×45 tires plus eyelets for fenders, racks, and cable ports.
Besides the titanium bike and seatpost, can I just get some of these Thomson spacers?
It seems everyone that’s doing titanium is also doing anodization at the show, but the Aurora from No. 22 caught my eyes with its matching anodized fenders, Campy Super Record grouppo, and a carbon seat tube pulling double duty as an integrated seatpost.
Just a bit of anodizing on the seatstay bridge. I love the level of detail here.
Based in Salt Lake City, Cerreta Cycles showcased one of their steel road machines made out of Columbus Life tubing plus a custom seat topper covered in a sweet winter dazzle camo-inspired paint job. Oh, this bike is for sale too.
The Cerretta also sports a pair of some incredibly minimalistic-looking and lightweight carbon bottle cages by Alpitude.
Japan’s Panasonic brought two bikes to the show and this is the sole complete bike with a finish inspired by stained glass.
And sure enough it looks like stained glass.
Another gorgeously-made steel road machine. This time it’s the O.Q.O.C from Italian Maker DeAnima featuring Tig welded Deda Zero Custom tubeset, custom cnc stainless steel dropouts, and a BSA bottom bracket. It’ll take a 27.2 seatpost with your choice of external
mechanical or internal electronic routing.
Painted DeAnima logo on the bottom bracket
Spearheaded by legendary framebuilder Carl Strong, Montana’s Pursuit Cycles had one model to show: The carbon fiber LeadOut. As a small batch builder, only 35 of these will be made in your choice of five standard color themes like this gorgeous blue “pursuit” palette. You can also have it custom painted but with the standard paint job this good, I’d happily take the standard paint.
The head badge that also works as a birth certificate with individual frame info.
Our good friend Andrew from Cyclocross Magazine photographing a bitchin’ Seven Evergreen Pro SL with blue/pink finishes and spokes in matching colors by the wizards at Industry Nine.
Awarded “best gravel bike” at the show, Massachusetts made Evergreen Pro SL combines filament-wound carbon fiber top tube, seat tube and seatstays to a 3/2.5 titanium frame with a striking two-piece drive side stay for added clearance.

Special shoutout to Travis at Paul Component, Dennis at McGovern Cycles, Jeremy at Sycip, Billy at ECHOS, Evan at Alex Rims, and Andrew at Cyclocross Magazine for keeping things light and fun.