Archive for the ‘Kayaking’ Category

Embracing the inner geek

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

After fighting nature for decades, the transition begins with this 20-year-old bicycle, bought in September:

In keeping with my newly overt nerdiness, I will gladly bore you for hours with technical explanations for why this is the fastest non-recumbent bicycle you can buy. But the short answer is rigid wheels, 110psi tires, full suspension, and rigid space frame.

Hard to believe? This exact model holds the world speed record for non-recumbent bicycles, at over 51mph with a full fairing.

This bicycle is a strategic decision, in that it gains a persistent edge by a path that competitors cannot or will not follow. Practically no one will ride this bike, no matter how fast, because it looks weird.

I consistently pass serious athletes in Lycra finery and $4,000 carbon bikes. They stare at the rusty bike, the blue jeans and flip flops, and pump furiously, but can’t catch up. Yet, even after seeing it with their own eyes, they will never make the obvious competitive move, which is to buy this bike. So I keep passing them. That’s strategy.

So not me

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

For the past four days, I’ve driven a borrowed 2005 Mercedes SL500. Fun, yet so wrong for me.

Fast but heavy. Graceful but dated styling. Luxurious but showy. Surprisingly non-exclusive — once you drive one, you notice with embarrassment that so does every silver-haired gentleman in Newport Beach. With sport suspension turned on, there is too much body noise for a $100k car.

Mind-bogglingly complex — dozens of motors manage various tasks of dubious import. One example from many: raise the rear windows, and they move a quarter inch sideways for a better seal. Two motors just for that. This is a car that will not age well — who replaces 20 failing motors on a decade-old SL500?

My tastes run to simple quality: Toyota drivetrain, racing suspension, hand-cranked windows. Does this exist? As a matter of fact, it does:

Nature in the big city

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

About 7% of Americans live within 60 miles of the Santa Monica Mountains. “Greater Los Angeles” now stretches in a continuous mega-urb (interrupted only by one large Army base), from Ventura to the Mexican border. 150 miles of solid city. Seriously.

What’s a nature lover to do? First is sea kayaking. 200 yards offshore, at any time of year except summer weekends, you can paddle in near silence. A seal pops his head up, three yards away. A dolphin speeds by. Bright orange garibaldi shimmer fifteen feet below.

Second is river cycling. Hidden among the city is a spider web of river trails, some concrete, many not. Here is my daily bicycle commute:

San Diego Creek

Bicycle touring on the cheap

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

New touring bicycles cost thousands of dollars, but we live in an era of industrial plenty — perfectly good used bicycles are available at an 80% to 90% discount from new. Here are some things to know.

1980s-vintage lugged “chromoly” steel frames are an incredible bargain. Also known as chromium-molybdenum alloy, or CrMo for short, these were state of the art during the bicycle fad of the late 1980s. Used chromoly bikes are cheap, light, indestructible, and last forever. Best of all, they flex in a way that provides remarkable comfort on high pressure tires. My 1987 chromoly Trek 520 runs 95psi tires, yet is more comfortable over uneven surfaces than my 2006 Bianchi Milano, which has big soft tires but a rigid TIG-welded aluminum frame.

In my experience, many vintage bikes are actually more durable than newer ones of similar configuration, because the components are mechanically simpler. For example, my 1987 Trek has gone 100 times as many miles as my wife’s 1997 Trek 2100, yet her Shimano shifters have already failed. Mine can’t fail, because there is nothing to break — they are simple downtube index shifters.

Cheap used 1980s chromoly bikes of interest include Trek, Nishiki, and even high-end Schwinn. You can purchase whole bikes for under $100 at garage sales, and they often need nothing more than new brake cables ($20), handlebar tape ($10) and a modern seat ($50) to approach modern standards of performance, and to exceed modern standards of durability.

Bicycling across America

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Bicycling across America

Several years ago I bicycled solo from Newport Beach, California to St. Augustine, Florida, pedaling roughly 2,500 miles in 40 days.


  • Anyone can do it. It’s a test of mind, not body. You build strength
    (both kinds) as you go.

  • Solitude is rare and valuable. Reflection, like family, is one of the
    basic sources of meaning.

  • Gulf Coast motorists throw beer bottles at bicyclists.

Market Inefficiency in Sea Kayaks

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

You can exploit inefficiency in non-equity markets, of course. Here is a way to get screaming bargains on used kayaks from craigslist.

I wrote this Ruby port of Jeremy Zawodny’s similar Perl script. It runs every 20 minutes, notifying me by email of new postings likely to interest me.

The result is effective, but potentially creepy: you post an item on Craigslist, and your phone rings 5 minutes later with my offer to buy. This freaks a few people out.

Using this method, I bought a nearly new $1500 sea kayak for $600, and a well-maintained $1200 Stairmaster for $200. Beneficial deflation in action.

(You could do this with an RSS reader, as craigslist can publish your search as a feed. But I always forget to check RSS. By contrast, nothing shakes you by the lapels like an incoming email saying, “bargain here.”)

Mahi Mahi off Newport Beach

Friday, August 4th, 2006

The ocean is so warm in southern California this year that mahi mahi, native to the waters off Hawaii, are being caught just a mile off Newport Beach. Deep sea fisherman have reported surface water of 83 degrees (warmer than Hawaii, and at least 10 degrees warmer than the local norm) several miles northwest of San Diego.

My normal kayak fishing routine has been disrupted, as the kelp forests south of Newport are vanishing in the heat. Instead, medium-sized semitropical schoolfish can be seen in 30 feet of water just off Crystal Cove State Beach.

This would be unusual, but not unheard of, if this were an “El Nino” year, in which ocean currents bring tropical water up here. But this is not an El Nino year. Instead, a much more unusual new weather pattern has taken hold. The local ocean is simply heating up, and not circulating. The coastal air is warm, still and, oddest of all, very humid. Totally unlike typical California weather.