Evolv: Optimus & The Bandit

It's Not a Shoe Fetish, It's an Evolv-olution

Filed under: , , by: TRuC

In my 16 years of climbing, I’ve worn pretty much every type of climbing shoe. Five Ten’s: Galileo's, Anasazi velco and moccasym, and that random green gym shoe they make, La Sportiva’s: Focus, “I loved those shoes but the damn bastards stopped making them,” Katana, Muira’s, Trad Masters, Boreals’ Diablo and Pyros, Mad Rocks, and a lot of other companies whose name I can’t recall. Despite this veritable cornucopia of climbing shoe-phelia, a pair of Evolv shoes have never graced my foot.

If you haven’t heard of Evolv then you haven’t been paying attention. They are the shoes that Sharma’s been cranking in since he jumped ship from Five Ten a couple of years ago. Also, they are a seriously green climbing shoe company - think Patagonia of the climbing shoe world. They were the first to use recycled content in their climbing shoe rubber, dubbed Eco-Trax, and all their shoes come in a fancy post recycled box with a picture of Chris Sharma on it. With my current pair of shoes about to blow a hole in them, I decided to make the jump and check out Evolv’s selection. I wasn’t disappointed.

The first pair of shoes that caressed my footsies was the Optimus Prime.
When I received the Evolv box with Chris Sharma on it, I had visions of being transformed into an all powerful, taking my shirt off on mono finger pockets, eating 5.13 for breakfast, lucky with all the ladies, climber. Though none of this actually happened when I wore them, especially the part about the ladies, the shoes still kick some serious Decepticon ass.

This being the first pair of down cambered shoes I’ve owned, I was surprised at how much you can hook and heel with these bad boys on over hangs. Due to my European styled feet (think hobbitses with less hair and smaller heels) I’ve had problems with finding shoes that actually stay on while heel hooking. Due to the fit and the cotton liner in the heel absorbing a little moisture, these guys suffered from no such problem and allowed me to heel and toe hook on the steep’s to my heart’s content.

Another concern I’ve had with down camber shoes is how uncomfortable they tend to be. Evolv seems to have found a happy median because I could wear these guys around the gym for a good 20-30mins before my feet started screaming “Let me out of this vice grip.” This being said don’t expect these guys to feel like a foot message or pedicure from happy feet pedicure. Luckily, these are Velcro making them easy to take on/off.

I did find the rubber to be a little slick to begin with but I found this easily fixable by taking a brillo pad or sand paper to the soles before climbing. The sizing is a little different than most companies as these tend to run a little small. I’d suggest checking a pair of them out at your local retailer and using your shoe size as a marker. Evolv isn’t joking around when they say their shoes don’t stretch so size accordingly.

Bruising my femur after hitting a ledge while trad climbing, popping a finger pulley while gym climbing, and having to remove both of my big toe nails due to shoving my feet into impossibly small climbing shoes over the years convinced me that I need a break. With this being so I made my way down to Colorado to do some backpacking and alpine climbing on Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak. My weapon of choice for this moderate multi-pitch climb was the Evolv Bandits.

The Bandits are Evolv’s self proclaimed quiver of one so I was little surprised to find that the shoes have very slight camber to them. This down turn is just enough to make these a viable gym and slightly over hanging climbing shoes. This does take away a little from their slab climbing ability but then again who climbs slab anyway.

Despite the down turned toe these shoes are super comfortable. 8-9 pitches of easy fifth and fourth class climbing in the Vestal my feet never once screamed “get me the ---- out of these things,” which is surprising considering the fact that I have no big toe nails. This could be due to the supple synthratek synthetic upper, “personally I think the red strip adds sex appeal - but I believe has more to do with the crack they mix in with their micro fiber lining that makes them feel so p.l.u.s.h .

In conclusion: I’m kind of sad and happy at the same time, you know like when you get kicked in the nuts but it is by the girl you really like so it’s OK. Sad because I neglected to try Evolv shoes until now and happy that I have new shoes to go to sending with. I will say that both of these shoes are a little on the stiff side in regards to price, $130 and $110 respectively. But hey, if that’s what it takes to get a sweet pair of climbing shoes with a bonus sense of superiority cause my shoes are more environmentally friendly, then consider me sold .
Associate Blogger Jeremy Park can be found hiding in the alpine ranges of the Pacific Northwest and occasionally ditches a day of work to return from his adventures. As a crusty contradiction, he enjoys ice and rock of all types and more importantly, lives for general tomfoolery.


Deuter Speed Lite Series Packs

The Demi Pack of Godly Proportions

Filed under: , , by: TRuC

What do Hermes, the messenger god, and backpacks have in common? Nothing, until you strap into Deuters’ Speed Lite series packs.

The Speed Lite packs are for the fleet of foot who don’t want to be burdened down while transporting their prayers to the mountain gods. My chosen method of worship was back country skiing with my chosen vessel being the Speed Lite 20L.

At first, some of the features struck me as a little odd. A front stash pouch with a sewn top confounded me because it seemed that I couldn’t put much in with only two small side access points. Luckily, Hermes showed me the errors of my ways ( for who am I to question the gods?) by proving that the pouch was a perfect fit for my skins and downhill ski equipment. This resulted in lightening fast transitions - skins on, gloves off - and allowed for some offerings of sublime Ambrosia and downhill skiing.

One thing that made perfect sense was the weight. It weights in a smidge over a pound (1.2lbs) and is about as naked as Hermes himself. This weight, in league with the well thought out, non-hindering shoulder straps and streamline tapered design means you hardly notice the pack while you're wearing it. Completing the package is Deuters patented tensioned Delron U-frame suspension system, a small zippered pouch for keys, snacks, incense and side straps that work well to compress A-frame skis. You could even strap a sacrificed goat to the outside of the pack and you’ll look and feel like a demi-god while practicing your chosen method of worship.

Pros: Lightweight and streamlined makes this pack an awesome addition for your side/back country ski pursuits as well as paying homage to the gravity gods (i.e. climbing).

Cons: The waist belt is too small and thin to be any good other then holding up your pants. No sweat though, it's easily removable. Strapping on some ice tools is limited because there's no way to securely attach the shaft of the tool to the pack.

One Note: Since this pack is so cut, you won’t be able to put anything larger then a Deploy 3 shovel inside. Didn’t see this as a Con just the nature of doing business with this pack.

Specs: 1.2lbs Capacity 20L MSRP: $79.00

Associate Blogger Jeremy Park can be found hiding in the alpine ranges of the Pacific Northwest and occasionally ditches a day of work to return from his adventures. As a crusty contradiction, he enjoys ice and rock of all types and more importantly, lives for general tomfoolery.


The North Face Mountain Sneaker

Not Just for Hippies and Playing the Devils Advocate

Filed under: , , , , by: TRuC

The North Face (TNF), once regarded as the premier technical apparel and equipment manufacturer, has seen its fair share of trials and tribulations since its inception in 1966. They've been praised for their innovation and persistence, scorned for their tastelessly generic line designed for sororities and the general masses. However, their apocryphal strategy seems to have resulted in what has become a trendy line for both the backcountry masochist and the off-the-couch day tripper. Ask most civilians about technical apparel and you'll probably get a blank look...mention The North Face and even the most foreign person you know will most likely exclaim "Oh!!! The North Face! YES!"

I own a couple things from TNF and despite their humdrum branching, the quality still seems to be there. Just today I read a survey that the company was voted 'best vendor to do business with' by SNEWS. Still, I vomit a little in my mouth when I hear someone in a store asking "Do you have any North Faces?" - this link is a must read.

Although I haven't bought any new storm shells - or clothing for that matter - from TNF in years, I have bought a few (3) pairs of their shoes. I got my first pair at a North Face clinic when they first started making shoes circa 1998; and they haven't let me down...yet.

Case in point, enter the new Mountain Sneaker. The North Face shoe boasting the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle. Here's what they say about their own shoes:

"The Mountain Sneaker salutes the off-mountain, outdoor lifestyle and let's its wearer leave a smaller eco-footprint thanks to the metal-free suede and cotton canvas uppers, and cork-blended midsoles. Even accents such as the Tibetan Prayer Flag motif reflect the eco-friendly theme, as it's made from recycled plastic bottles."

  • The definitive, off-the-mountain shoe for outdoor athletes, built with eco-ideals in mind for those who always strive to walk the walk
  • Combination metal-free suede and cotton canvas upper
  • Crepe mudguard and heel protection
  • Plant cellulose fiber foam sockliner
  • Forty percent post consumer recycled rubber outsole
  • Cork EVA midsole with plant cellulose fiber heel cushioning
  • Bamboo shank provides midfoot support and stability

The Mountain Sneaker out of the box has some great attributes. One thing that I've found over the years is that their sizing has always been pretty dead on (read: true-to-size). I have somewhat narrow to "normal" feet and they've always fit comfortably. These sneakers were designed for casual wear and light trail use in which the form reveals the function. The only qualm I have with them is that the arch support was a little weak and a pair of superfeet were the solution. There have been some reports of these shoes being a little on the heavy side and although I did find them to weigh more than the typical shoe ([Pair] 2 lbs 2 oz (950 g) *based on Men’s 9), it wasn't significant.

The details in these shoes are obvious; from the branded bamboo shank visible through the sole, the rubber toe and heel bumpers (for all of us who kick our shoes off instead of properly untying them), the simple yet substantial lug soles to the eye-catching color accents. I found it difficult to determine my feelings on their use of the prayer flags, not because it offends me or anything, but there's definitely a cheese level to it. Fortunately, the flags are so subtle that it just adds a great accent to the otherwise neutral color of the shoes.

The rubber soles are a little slick on wet, hard surfaces - which took me by surprise compared to the 5.10 Impacts - my trusted zapatos for the last few years. So why would I want to leave the comfort of my Stealth? The high carbon content of climbing shoe rubber is infamous for one thing once it leaves the sanctuary of the climbing world, and that's leaving it's mark just about everywhere it goes. Especially on the bamboo floors and the cedar deck of my house - which was one of the reasons I got them. The Mtn. Sneaks performed great under dry and normal conditions.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about these shoes is the stigma that they've garnered from retailers labeling them as "a shoe for the hippies." When will it become NOT a hippie movement to purchase something that's better for the world? C'mon guys, is that the best marketing you can come up with?! For shame. I hate to think about how many potential buyers you might've turned off with that branding job.

All in all, these shoes are great and exactly what I was looking for in a casual pair of kicks.

The New Deuter Pace 30

ISO: Something That Dan Likes

Filed under: , , , , , , , by: TRuC

Light as a feather stiff as a board. To anyone that has done team building activities, this statement might make you cringe. To the uninitiated, imagine someone standing on a wooden platform 10 feet off the deck with 6 people waiting to catch them screaming, “Keep your back stiff as a board and imagine yourself light as a feather!”

This statement also holds true for ultra lightweight backpacks. On one hand, you want your pack to be light (light as feather); on the other hand you want it to be able to carry a load without feeling like you're strapped to a backboard (stiff as a board). With this in mind, I decided to try out a new Deuter pack called the Pace 30.

When I first picked the pack up, I realized it easily met my first requirement of being light as a feather (2lbs) while still having a lot of sweet features - a vented waste belt with goo stash pouch, gear loop as well as a front panel roomy enough for a helmet - making this pack an excellent, jack of all trades.

Since the pack screamed "DO IT ALL," I decided to test it doing a couple of different activities - an approach hike and climbing. I was hoping to test it with more climbing but our “hike” turned into a full on bushwhack, “If you are curious the approach was rated a BW3+. We're talking a full on alder vaulting, black berry bush, and things that go F*** in the night experience.” Even at about 25lbs, I barely noticed the pack while doing my best Rambo impression through the brush, “Sorry for jumping on you Dan I was little caught up in the moment. This is primarily due to the tensioned Delrin U-frame stay system that adds just enough stiffness (stiff as a board perhaps?) to keep the weight on your hips while still being super flexible.

The pack is super streamlined and compresses down easily which allowed me to stalk my prey…I mean follow my partner without getting snagged on limbs or anything else that goes bump in the night. In the end, the fabric held up better then I did. I don’t know if this was due to the bombproof Hexlite 210 fabric or the fact that my face took the brunt of the abuse. Either way, this pack held up so well that Sylvester Stallone would be impressed. This versatility and durability at $99 dollars makes this pack a must have for Spring 2010.

Pro’s: Lightweight, durable, and affordable makes this all-arounder appropriate for all your alpine endeavors from fast and light alpine climbing to back country skiing, “Yes it does carry skis!!!”

Con’s: I don’t know. The fact that it isn’t called the Jack of All 30 or the Rambo 30. Or maybe the fact that I have to give this back to the rep and won’t be able to acquire my own until Spring 2010.

Bonus: My friend Dan likes this pack. Dan never likes anything. Enough said.

Specs: 2lbs Capacity 30L MSRP: $99.00

Associate Blogger Jeremy Park can be found hiding in the alpine ranges of the Pacific Northwest and occasionally ditches a day of work to return from his adventures. As a crusty contradiction, he enjoys ice and rock of all types and more importantly, lives for general tomfoolery.


The Super Ego Messenger Bag

by Tom Bihn

Filed under: , , , , , by: TRuC

On a recent google inquiry of "What is Seattle known for," I found that the Emerald City is known for many, many things. From the obvious and infamous rain, fish tossing of Pikes Place, the Space Needle, to the almost immediate access of the incredible panorama of sea, sky and mountains of the Pacific Northwest; Seattle definitely ranks high on the tourist allure scale.

What I failed to find on my research, was the undeniable fervor and support for local business. When I first moved here, my long time friend and Seattle resident explained to me that despite its size, Seattle lends itself to creating a small town feel.
It's been about a year now and although I haven't been able to totally find that feeling, I have learned that Seattle has more locally owned businesses than any city I have lived.

There aren't any Wal-Marts on every corner (there's just one that's barely on the cusp of the Seattle border) and a person could drive a single street everyday for months without knowing that they passed several independent shops, restaurants and other businesses.

With that said, in a 7 story building where almost every floor is run by the company I work for, there's a secret floor
that I passed everyday for over 6 months. I had heard rumors of a small business gig that made awesome products. Operating mostly online, you couldn't get into this place unless it was on the one day of the month the showroom was open, or by special appointment. I finally made contact a couple months ago...

For 20 years, Tom Bihn (TB) of Seattle has been cranking out a unique brand of bags that carry the image and reputation of durability and reliability as well as distinctive designs. I met up with June (VP of Production) and Casey (Shipping) one afternoon to tour their shop and to pick a bag for my review.
When I exited the elevator, I was immediately drawn to the fact that TB operates solely out of their office in Seattle. The production area is adjacent to the showroom complete with machines, cutting tables and assembly. No overseas production here. June and Casey were more than happy to let me review one of their bags and basically cut me loose like a child in a candy store to determine which one I wanted.

I chose the Super Ego to satisfy my requirements for a large capacity, do-it-all and take-everywhere needs...some would probably argue that I chose it to match or surpass my own ego.
The Super Ego (SE) is TB's biggest messenger styled bag, boasting 27Litres or 1680Cu.in. I chose this bag because 1) I prefer messenger bags for their easy access 2) its lower profile despite the large, accommodating capacities 3) less back coverage = less sweat 4) I think I favor messenger bags a lot based on my cycling days 5) backpacks remind me of being back in elementary school.

While writing this, I'm constantly reminded of the onslaught of messenger bag styles. From the generic boxy designs of private school book sacks to the strange and somewhat functional pregnant inner tube look, I find that I need to discern the TB designs over the rest:

Quality and innovative materials. The exterior of the SE is made of U.S. 1050 denier Ballistic nylon - the thick, tough stuff. I've taken this bag climbing, runs to the store and on my daily commute via motorcycle and can't make it even appear to be dirty or used. It still looks brand new! I even accidentally shut it in the door of my truck and drove around the city for a day and didn't even kink it. In addition to the bomber materials, I'd suggest also checking out their cork-made materials...pretty cool indeed.The splash-proof zippers never jammed and are more than enough to handle a deluge. It hasn't been raining here much since I got the bag (yeah, believe it) so I took it to the backyard R&D department at my home and hosed it with max pressure. Inevitably, some things got wet after I focused the nozzle onto the zipper to simulate an event that I end up swimming with it.

The fit is pretty comfy. For a bag this size, I was surprised that with my daily work commute load (rain pants, jacket/shell, notebook a wealth of papers and miscellaneous crap I have been too lazy to go through and sort or throw away), this bag felt like nothing on my back. Even on a recent hardware store run where I carried about 10lbs of nails, screws, two tubes of caulk and a jigsaw (yes, a jigsaw), I felt unhindered by the weight or had anything poking into my back- thanks to the incorporated padding.

There are three different shoulder straps available for the SE: The Standard Shoulder Strap (included) is a 1-1/2" wide heavy nylon webbing strap with a comfortable, wide foam pad designed to conform to the shoulder and back. The Absolute Shoulder Strap is designed to alleviate pin point strain on the shoulder by incorporating a stretch/shock absorbing feature in the internals of the strap itself.
Adjustments aren't complicated to make and I couldn't live without their Q-AM Shoulder Strap - a great solution to stabilizing the bag to stay on your back.

One of the major features that sets TB bags apart are the details and the focus for accommodating the user. My other messenger bags were essentially big, unorganized, bottomless pits. The SE has compartments for just about everything. Underneath the cover flap, a big organizer pouch sandwiches a larger main compartment, which is then heeled by a totally separate compartment that is zippered for quick access without having to open/unbuckle the flap. Within the zippered pocket are two bomber clips for the super cushioned TB Brain Cell - Tom's laptop carrier. This is where we could begin a whole new path of discussion...but we won't. This design definitely appeals more to the business side of things where organization is important and to be honest...organization is always a welcomed application to my lifestyle. However, laziness always got the better of me and bypassing the organizational apparatus and treating it as a 'bottomless pit' was just as convenient.
Finally, another noticeable feature worth mentioning would be the reflective strip on the front of the bag. On the front flap of the SE is an interchangeable strip that has a dual purpose of form and function. The strap is pretty cool and available in 19 different colors and different materials (Cork?!). The strip also serves as the buckle for closing the main cover flap. While riding on my motorcycle, I felt a bit more comfortable that this strip was there for added visibility. It almost felt as though this bag was designed for the motorcycle rider...or maybe it's the business minded person that refuses to carry a briefcase...or the urban bike rider...or the guy that just wants a bag that can do it all and carry it all!

So my journey to one of Seattle best kept secrets has landed me in a cool place where bags are a lot more than some chic accoutrement. Quality craftsmanship and a vision towards purpose and dependability puts Tom Bihn in a rare niche outside of the 'planned obsolescence' arena.

The Deuter Guide 45+ Alpine Pack

SWM ISO: My Amazonian Goddess

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , by: TRuC

I see backpacks as a necessary evil to outdoor endeavors. They never fit right, are too heavy, don’t have the right bells and whistles, are uncomfortable and the list goes on. Personally I would love to have a Star Trek Transporter magically teleport my gear to the prearranged bivy/campsite anytime I hike or climb. Seeing as the chances of this actually happening (I’ll hold out and hope that I’ll eventually marry some Amazonian goddess that will schluf my gear anytime I want) are zero to nil, I am on a continuous search for the “do everything” bag. This bag would be comfortable, light weight, durable, and have just the right frills – basically, I want the perfect satchel for my gear. As you can see, there’s a reason I haven’t found my Amazonian goddess. However, I’ll settle for the current contender for my “do everything” bag - the Guide 45+ from Deuter. This all around alpine pack is made from a 1000d nylon Duratex and 420d Microlite fabric making this beefcake, well, super beefy. Both of the fabrics are PU coated, making this bag effectively waterproof (minus the occasional river dunking or typhoon conditions since the seams aren’t taped). My first impressions of the bag out of the packaging are mixed. On one hand, the bag is super durable (beefy fabric, beefy zippers, beefy…beefy) and seems to have all the right bells and whistles ( A-frame ski holders, ice tool holders, NO trekking pole holders, NO pull cord to lunch Patriot missiles, etc.), there are add-ons that seem unnecessary. This includes the side-access zippers and bottom compartment access zippers - I’d have one, but not both. As for the bottom compartment separator - I’d probably cut this out. All of these features are nice but add a lot of unnecessary zipper weight. Another feature I would like to see would be some sort of haul system using maybe a 3-point haul system for more vertical travel.

First impressions aside, I started packing the bag. Although listed as a 45L bag, I think it’s a little conservative (think far right wing conservative). I packed all my climbing gear, a rope, a bivy set up, food, stove and still had enough room for a bottle of wine. Compare that to my current 45+10L alpine pack which barely has enough room for the essentials much less enough room for a small flask of whiskey.

The Guide is also the most comfortable alpine pack I’ve ever used. Most light weight packs, the shoulder and waist straps are so trimmed down that they feel like a boa constrictor working on squeezing out your innards; leading to sore muscles and massage therapist bills. The Guide was a champ even on a 2 mile 2500ft approach.

There are plenty other things to like about the pack. Like a high priced stripper I once knew, this pack strips down to nothing but the bare necessities, the simple bear necessities. You can easily, “easily” being the operative word here, remove or put back together the pack stays, hip belt, and foam sheet - which doubles as an emergency bivy pad. On other alpine packs, I’ve found that removing these things can be easy but putting them back in can be a huge pain in the ass (I still haven’t fully gotten my Grivel Alpine Pack stay back in and I’ve had it for almost two years!!!!).Even stripped down and sans hip belt, the Guide was super comfortable. Although the “stripped down system” isn’t perfect and you can’t remove the top lid, it is by far the best system I’ve seen on a alpine pack. All in all, it's a nice alpine pack.

Pros: Über durable (no worries about punching through the pack materials with your crampons), Strips down easily, SUPER comfortable to carry, Reasonably priced at $169 (It was the cheapest pack out of all the comparable packs)

Cons: This is the heaviest pack (4lbs 4oz.) out of all the comparable alpine packs I looked at (I looked at Black Diamond, Osprey, Cilogear, and Grivel). This could easily be fixed by losing the bottom compartment opening and the internal separation flap. Neither of these changes would take away from the carrying comfort.

Bonus: Printed directions underneath the top lid on how to facilitate a rescue that doesn't involve you running around naked.

Conclusions: Amazonian goddess this pack is not (no one’s perfect) but if comfort and durability at a stellar price point is what you're seeking, then get this pack for all your alpine endeavors. Specs:

Volume: 2750-3350 cubic inches
Torso: 16.5-20 inches inches
Weight: 4 lbs. 4 oz. (3lbs. 10oz. min. weight)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 29 x 13.5 x 9.5 inches

Guest Blogger Jeremy Park can be found hiding in the alpine ranges of the Pacific Northwest and occasionally ditches a day of work to return from his adventures. As a crusty contradiction, he enjoys ice and rock of all types and more importantly, lives for general tomfoolery.


Mammut SMART Belay Device

Filed under: , , , , , , , , by: TRuC

BELAYing: In essence, the process of controlling the amount of rope available to the climber and reducing how far the climber could fall.
Back in the day, climbers had to use the body belay - a painful and somewhat masochistic method that surely defies the imagination of employing such tactics on modern applications. It wasn't until the 70's that a German engineer created the first belay device known as the sticht plate and has since then, been an amazing and evolving invention. Now instead of turning this review into a full blown thesis on different types of devices and which ones are better, I'll send you to a basic starting point for learning about belay devices and hand this over to a fellow gear junky, my good friend Jeremy Park...

JP: In my search for the perfect auto locking belay device, I’ve searched the exalted halls of REI to the local gear shop with the dude that smells just a little off. Everything from the Gri Gri (which if you ask me feels like having a bowling bowl clipped to your harness) to the Trango Cinch has graced my filthy paws. Even though the Cinch was a little less weighted, I felt it had the handling properties of a Greyhound bus going down an iced-over hill - yikes. Ultimately, I found both devices “lacking.”

The new contender to the field is the Mammut SMART belay device. When I first laid eyes on this bad boy, I have to say I was a little skeptical. It looks more like the door handle from the space shuttle than a belay device and it weighs next to nothing. This skepticism continued after having the device lock up on me while lead belaying in the gym. But after conversing with my local friendly Mammut rep about the nuances of the device, I gave it another go at a local cragging area. This time the device did not disappoint. The handling was smooth and fluid and the braking was as easy as 1, 2, take...

Lowering takes a little getting used to but other then that, this device far exceeded my expectations. Another nice feature of the device is the fact that it naturally gives a dynamic belay. It does this by allowing a little (and just enough) rope slippage before it automatically locks, similar to a normal belay device. This little amount makes your buddy feel a lot better when he's cranking 20ft above his last micro nut with a Screamer attached. You get all this for a quarter of the weight and price of the competitors’ auto locking devices which if you ask me, is a very SMART investment (Sorry I couldn’t help myself).

Pro: Fluid rope handling, dynamic belay, doesn‘t feel like having a boat anchor clipped to your harness, and with the money you save you can buy your buds a case of PBR and a couple of pizza’s

Cons: Steep learning curve, without proper technique, the device can lock up while feeding out rope.
Uses: Perfect for hang dog sessions with the crew or top roping with that beginning girl or boy climber you’ve had your eye on at the gym for the last couple of weeks.
Bonus: It doubles as a bottle opener.

Guest Blogger Jeremy Park can be found hiding in the alpine ranges of the Pacific Northwest and occasionally ditches a day of work to return from his adventures. As a crusty contradiction, he enjoys ice and rock of all types and more importantly, lives for general tomfoolery.

The 82 MPG 2009 Suzuki TU250X

Filed under: , , , , , , , by: TRuC

Bottom Line: One of the most vintage styled, affordable, fun and economical commuter bikes you can find under 4G's.

Update 8/7/09: The last two times my gas light came on, I was indeed, getting over 82mpg! That's with hard riding on highway, city and occasionally with passengers. I have also, since this review, buried the needle at 90+ mph on a wild hair I had one afternoon. I don't recommend driving it this hard but I admit that it was fun and not too difficult. Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, I achieved this not going uphill.

Ok, let's face it. Planes, trains and automobiles (great John Candy flick by the way) are necessary evils. Sure, we could definitely fly less and, well, who takes the train for travel anymore? But automobiles will always be the king of transpo and something we ALL NEED. Yup, that's right, I'm pointing my finger at YOU. Don't own a car? Don't even try to play that - you mooch off of your friends car when you go roadtripping, making you an accomplice to a bigger footprint than you think. I'm not going to believe you if you try and tell me you've never left your own town (if that's truly the case then you probably should, it's not healthy).

I could write on and on about human powered gear but you know what? Everyone reading this blog depends on a petrol-chemical-cylinder-banger of some sort and it would be unjust for me to not share my point in hopes that we can stretch those reserves as long as we can!

So to break it down:

I drive an SUV. One that can carry me away from the hustle and bustle of the city, off the beaten path and into the wild. One that can also carry my friends, BCF (best canine friend) and all my gear. I've done a few fuel saving modifications on it to afford me 22 miles per gallon (mpg) and enough clearance to really get myself in trouble. I love it.

The downside: The 22mpg are lost as soon as I get back to Gotham. 17mpg if I drive like a sane human, but lets face it, I can't be Ghandi all the time when goobers are too busy texting on their phones, applying make up, talking to their passengers and unable to make up their minds on which lane they want all at the same time.

So after doing some math (pretty simple math because I hate numbers) one day while sitting in heavy arterial traffic with goobers all around me, I figured out that the amount I'm paying for gas and upkeep on my truck exceeded the cost I would need to pay if say, I got a motorcycle...

"Once a guy gets it in his head that he wants a motorcycle, there's no stopping him." - Chas Fisher of Nikwax

Suzuki has debuted a new bike to the United States this year with the TU250X (TU). Notably popular overseas (Japan, Taiwan, Spain and Italy have a good following), the TU has a lot of appeal for anyone looking for a retro styled bike. Especially one with a little more up-to-date technology and a high mpg.
I purchased the TU after several weeks of researching an alternative to bashing my truck up and down Seattle streets (did I mention that Seattle is decades behind in it's street construction?) in hopes to make a little reduction in our fuel consumption and vehicle upkeep costs. I searched every reasonable scooter and motorcycle in the city and fell for the TU as soon as I saw it online. It looks even better in person.

I've always wanted an 80's style bike and even though Suzuki touts it as something out of 69', it's undoubtedly retro. The simplicity was also something that caught my eye - not a lot of plastic, light and nimble (under 330lbs) flat(ish) seats, 7" round light and finished with chrome spokes and accents. In addition, the bike and most of its components can be taken apart with some basic tools; making customizing easy.

As a 250cc (actually 249cc) commuter, this bike isn't destined to set any speed records, but the weight and geometry of the bike lends itself to easy maneuvering around city streets, traffic and neighborhoods. The seat height is at 30.3 inches which allows most people to plant both feet on the ground. Stock handlebars are traditional risers with about a 2" rise and a relaxed sweep. I swapped out my handlebars for some clubman style bars to give it a little more of an aggressive position and reduce wind resistance.

The most modern feature of the TU is definitely not the outside, but the fuel injection and electric start feature. Aside from this, people will look in amazement when you tell them it's an 09'. There's no kick-start or center stand for it and the kick stand has a kill switch feature in the event you try to ride off with it still down.

The engine is a fuel injected, 4-stroke, single-cylinder, air-cooled, SOHC. What this translates into is a longer running, cleaner and more fuel efficient ride than when compared to carburated and/or 2-stroke engines bikes of yesteryear . As I mentioned earlier, the engine displacement at 249cc's isn't intended for crotch-rocket excitement, but it spells FUN any way you look at it. Leaving traffic at the light is pretty easy and cruising through the gears with the clutch action is smooth. The fastest I've gotten this bike is around 80+mph, but I think it's most comfortable around 50-65mph. There's only a single instrument display with speedometer, tripodometer and odometer. Light indicators let you know when the turning signals are on, low on fuel, neutral gear and Fuel Injection (FI) operation.

The starting process for the TU is similar to that of a diesel engine where glow plugs have to be primed a couple seconds before starting. There's no choke necessary and with a simple turn of the key, a humming noise and light lets you know the FI is priming. After just a couple seconds the light goes off and you push the start switch. As with all combustion engines, waiting a few seconds or a minute is always a kind thing to do for the engine before revving off.

Currently, my odometer reads approximately 350+ miles and I've been getting around 70 miles per gallon. At about 400 miles I will be inspecting the valves and giving it the first tune-up. I hope that the 82mpg will eventually come to fruition. I honestly don't see it happening because riding this thing is so fun, it's hard to be nice to it.

See you out there,



Adventure Technology (AT) AT2 Standard Paddle

Filed under: , , , , , , , , by: TRuC

The Final Word: A stiff, burly and amazingly fluid paddle that moves like silk though each stroke.

"5 things you have to have in order to go kayaking - a boat, skirt, helmet, PFD and a paddle." Those were the first and only things I remember hearing that autumn day in 1993. I grabbed all the 5 essentials and headed out to the creek and swore to myself I was going to learn how to roll...by myself. Needless to say that stunt failed miserably and my cohorts were amazed at my stupidity. I didn't even know about a grab loop and was lucky that the skirt was made of nylon and a 5mm bungee cord.

Coincidentally, around that very time and over 2500 miles to the west, in the depths of the Colorado River, a river guide and a pro paddler were laying the foundation for designing a more ergonomic paddle for paddlers. A short time thereafter, Adventure Technology (AT) was born.

I wasn't sold on the concept of ergonomic bent shafts when they first came out. I saw them as an expensive and frivolous gimmick, ultimately designed for the elderly with retirement funds. Boy was I ever wrong.

It wasn't until 2002 that I bought my first carbon fiber bent shaft paddle from the company Seven2. These guys made an affordable and innovative paddle with a small diameter straight shaft incorporated with hand grips that provided the wrist ergonomics. Most people liked the Seven2 for their whippiness, flex and grips. Unfortunately, the paddle eventually riddled me with consistently leaky blades; even after warrantying it 3 times. Even worse and sadly enough, a recent visit to their website reads that they've gone out of business.

After giving up on Seven2, I tried to go back to a straight shaft and for anyone who has ever tried this, it's not an easy task. It's a pretty absurd feeling. It was then that I realized the astronomical differences between a straight and a bent shaft. I couldn't do it.

Enter my first AT paddle, The AT2 standard. The Standard, as the name implies, is the quintessential paddle for many professional paddlers and anyone looking for a dynamic, stout and comfortable paddle. Weighing in at 37 ounces, the burly Carbon & Aramid Kevlar shaft is woven in a helical pattern and is supported by 30 degree offset, foam core blades. Completing the package is AT's proprietary armor-like Dynell blade trimming to resist even the hardest rock bashing.

AT's concept is simple enough - angle the shaft so when you grab it and pull through each stage of the stroke, your wrists are in-line and neutral. This results in a design that contours the natural grip of your hand and wrists. As simple as it sounds, explanation of this only points to the fact that our bodies are laced with paddling design flaws.

In an attempt to clarify, I found that during the initial catch of a forward paddle stroke, when using a straight shaft paddle, we cock our leading wrist at an unnatural angle to get an efficient purchase where the blade meets the water, only to regain full grip somewhere during the power phase. Not only do we lose potential power by compromising our grip, but also compensate this loss by applying more power than necessary. In the end, physical fatigue comes earlier, as well as possible joint and muscle stress. AT utilizes two aspects to assist in alleviating this issue.

The way we grip is somewhat odd when compared to that of say, a construction claw. Our hands would be great tools for using straight shafts if 1) we relocated our thumbs to the center of our wrist and palm, 2)made all of our fingers the same length. Even then, the reach of the blade on that initial stroke still causes us to angle the shaft and again, tweak our wrists. AT's Full Control Grip (FCG) design "transfers all the energy into the bone structure rather than the tendons and ligaments of the wrist. The result is better control, more power and less fatigue from reduced grip pressure."

The unique shape of the FCG matches my hand pretty well. The length of my hand from wrist to middle fingertip is approximately 7.5" inches which gives me exceptional grip and control. AT has engineered the FCG to maintain as close as possible, an inline power coefficient from blade to grip, giving the paddle a more natural feel and the best energy return for your stroke. You can read more on their technology here.
I've always been a fan of foam core blades and AT's unique designed combination of air displacement, sleekness and smooth contours provide a noticeable and responsive float for resurfacing and more efficient strokes. Unify that with AT's one piece construction of the blade and shaft and you've got a uniform and seamless mold that cuts through water fast and effortlessly.

I've been paddling AT2 Standards since 2003 and well, don't think I'll be paddling anything else. There's much to be said about the looks of this paddle as well as the performance. It just a radical looking paddle. From the color of the materials to the smooth lines that roll from tip to tip, this thing looks futuristic, definitely apart from the rest of the paddle industry.
Once this paddle gets in your hands, there's an undeniable feeling of power. It's a little stiff for some people, but for that one important stroke that could either link a trick you've been trying forever or that ever so important "must make" move on the river, the stiffness works just right for me. In the event that the Standard is too stiff, AT makes the AT2 Flexi, as well as an array of other paddles to possibly fit your needs.

There's so much attention to the design of these paddles that its given me, at times, delusions of grandeur. It must be all the kayaking porn I watch and seeing those guys tearing it up with AT paddles.

See ya out there,



FiveTen Dæscent

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , , by: TRuC

Out of the Box :

Comfort: 5 - Think bedroom slippers
Fit: 4 - a little loose
Cost Vs. Value: 3 - could be a little less expensive
Overall Form and Function: 4
Stars: 4

In a nutshell: "Quality and dependability that you'd expect from FiveTen. Super sticky and sensitive sole and uberlight."

It's been almost a year since I got my Dæscents and it's only now that I'm realizing how much I like them. I think it's because when FiveTen decided to make these bad boys, they were a step ahead of their time.

Based out of Redlands, CA, the guys at FiveTen have been graying the lines of what started as a climbing shoe company in 1986 and stretching themselves across a variety of human powered sports. Today, their shoes have set a unique standard in footwear for climbing, paddling, freeriding, trailrunning, approach/hiking, freerunning and parkour. The Dæscent's were created with the latter 3 in mind. This is what FiveTen had to say about their shoe:
Designed as a lightweight, casual off-road shoe, the Dæscent pushes the envelope of technology by utilizing Stealth Mystique™ rubber compound and a new manufacturing process that extends the sole into a thin toe and rand wrap to protect the forefoot. The new ultra-lightweight shoe has a dual-density EVA midsole and synthetic, micro-fiber mesh upper that is exceptionally durable and quick-drying, with plenty of breathability for hot days on the trail.
My first impressions of the Dæscents were not really what I expected. I had a pair of their Guide approach shoes and 2 pairs of their Impacts freeriding shoe from before, as well a pair of Martinis from La Sportiva. When FiveTen was talking about "ultra-lightweight," they weren't kidding. These are lighter than my flip-flops and that's no exaggeration. I initially didn't like them because of this and felt them to be a bit non-supportive. I pretty much pigeon holed them to straight up technical approaches and multi-pitch climbs where light and compressibility is more appropriate.

Sensitivity is huge in the Dæscents, as well as flex and twist. Think of these shoes as a step above some Sanuks (covered sandals) and a step below the Guides (FiveTens' standard approach shoe). I've worn these shoes scrambling in talus, short approaches, rope guiding, bouldering, buildering and just chillin' around town.

Despite FiveTen's statement of designing a "casual off-road shoe," they have video of their athletes doing some wickedly, non-casual things. I personally wouldn't wear them for freerunning or parkour (nor do I think I have the ability), I just don't think they have enough support for me to be hucking myself through downtown streets and buildings.

The fit of the Dæscents are recommended to be your true foot size. That is, your toes should be closer to the end than your average shoe to benefit from the sensitivity. The dual density EVA midsole made for a comfy bed for your foot while the synthetic micro-fiber mesh upper keeps your feet airy and seems to help a bit in retaining their shape and not blowing or stretching out around the toes; the rubber wrap around the toe box helps reinforce this.

All in all, the
Dæscents are a pretty snazzy shoe with a lot of potential. I wouldn't recommend them for everyone, but if you're looking for a super light, super sticky and oh-so-comfy approach shoe, then you might want to try them out.

See you out there,