26 April 2021

Just about a bike: Specialized Fuse 6Fattie

The archives here at rockychrysler.com never lie.  A quick glance at them and you'll see: I haven't written a Just about a bike blog post about any of my bikes since July 2016.  That's kind of a shame.  Honestly, it is.  I still have a few fun bikes that I haven't told you about yet.

I'll admit, there was a period of time there, beginning around fall of 2016, where I had very little to say about anything here on the old blog-space.  For lots of reasons.  So I mostly didn't.  I put up a scant 20 posts from 2016 through 2020.  Truth is, it has been quite a while since I really felt inspired to sit down and write... So I am quite pleased to report that the mood to write has resurfaced somewhat, and that a few ideas have popped into my head of late.
We'll start with something simple: my "new" bike, a first-generation 2017 Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie hardtail.  Really, it's called a 6Fattie?  Yep. An unfortunate marketing misstep, calling a bike, even a mid-fat (or anything other than an ample blunt), a 6Fattie, isn't it? I think so (and I'm pretty sure Specialized came to think so eventually, too.  They dropped the word "fattie" for the second generation bikes).  I've always assumed it's intended as a riff, a kind of portmanteau in fact, on the bike's stock wheel/tire size: 650b hoops, 40mm rims, and 3.0" tubeless mid-fat tires, which is, for sure, a bit on the portly side of things... right where I always like my wheels and tires to be!  And it's really for the best not to hold its somewhat unfortunate moniker against it, 'cause, in a nutshell, I'm here to tell ya, the Specialized Fuse 6Fattie rocks!

For the record: I like the Reba fork that came on the bike and haven't ever felt the need to upgrade it. It's maybe not as supple and active as my Fox forks, but it does the job just fine. Many riders scorned the stock press-fit bottom bracket, said it was of poor quality and made lots of noise, but it's performed well for me, and never did make too much noise. On occasion it would tick like metronome a bit, but a drop of Triflow at the top of the shell/cup interface always stopped it from recurring. In the end, however, it did require replacement with another OEM unit... at about 3000 miles (the nylon cups were fully played out), which I think is a decent duration for any nonserviceable bottom bracket.  I put a new chain, cassette, and a chainring on at about 3500 miles (bit of a challenge finding a new ring for the obscure Sram/Specialized cranks that were original spec).  Buncha worn-out tire changes over the years, Specialized Butchers and Purgagorys mostly (I'm sold on the handling their proprietary Grid sidewalls provide), always tubeless 3.0s and I've had zero, that's right, zero flats (running at 15/18 psi front/rear) with this setup. And the Avid DB3 brakes have worked consistently and reliably for me, too, with only periodic bleeding, just to keep things fresh. Pretty standard stuff for a bike that gets ridden. Overall, the 2017 Fuse has been a very problem-free bike.

My Strava says I've put almost 4000 miles on this bike since I bought it new (for full-pop retail, by the way) from Absolute Bikes it in 2017.  It's not the only bike I ride these days, but I do ride it a lot, especially if I want to go on a big mileage ride, or, better yet, keep up with my younger, fitter, faster friends on any kind of ride.  The Fuse isn't a weight weenie, it tips the scale at just over 28 pounds, but it spins up singletrack and rips down gnarly trails in a very nimble, capable, and thoroughly confidence-inspiring way. It hops good, manuals well, and rails corners tipped onto its ample sidewalls like a beast. It's by far the longest, lowest, slackest bike I've ever owned.  And (likely because of that) it's also one of the most fun to ride! The stock dropper-post, my first, has been seriously life-changing, too.

I hear lots of manufacturers are growing disenchanted with the whole mid-fat bike thing.  I think that's too bad.  There's something kinda Goldilock's porridge about bikes like the Fuse, ya know... I think they're "just right" for a whole lot of riding. I've ridden this bike all over the Colorado Plateau region, on a wide variety of terrain types, rides of all distances, long climbing rides, fast descending rides, ledgy slickrock, loamy singletrack, moondust, chunk. fire road, goopy mud, and even a fair amount of snow and ice.  And I can safely say, with the exception of super-steep rubbly ascents, which are always a sufferfest no matter what bike you're riding, but are even moreso on the long-low-slack geo of the Fuse, there's really nothing in the whole wide world (in my experience) that this bike doesn't excel at.  It really is that good.  And not just for a hardtail.  It's a truly great all-around mountain bike, regardless.

13 April 2021

Snowbiking is seriously good shit

Winter feels over. Skiing this season was just okay. Have to say, COVID rules made waiting in the maze to ride the chair at Snowhole kinda lame.

But, I did get to ride some seriously good shit on the Pugsley this winter. So there's that. Check it.

Select images to embiggen


Fat biking in the snow is rad.  You should try it sometime.

29 March 2021

Let's play some records!

System specs:
Fluance RT80, Ortofon 2M Red
iFi Zen Phono (balanced), Denon AVR-1804
Paradigm Mini Monitors (v.3)
I listened to a ton of FM radio growing up, you probably did, too. I also had a small record collection in my bedroom, and a stack of tapes in a big tattered case in my car.  As a result, I was slow to adopt digital music, CDs, MP3s and streaming content, not because I was an analog purist, mostly just because of the cost of conversion. 

I have always enjoyed listening to music, not so much for the sake of the lyrics, but quite simply as a background soundtrack that permeates nearly every moment of my life. As I see it, life flows better, most things are a little easier, food and conversation are more enjoyable, and I am more productive when there's music playing.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I listened to a whole lot of mainstream music during the early period of my life, Journey, Elton John, U2, Scorpions, Def Leppard, Prince, ELO, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., Van Halen and the like. These bands and artists, and this sort of easily accessible music-for-the-masses, was the gateway through which my musical tastes have since expanded and become enriched throughout the couse of my lifetime. In fact, many of these same groups still have a well-deserved place in my music collection to this day (in truth: all of the aforementioned do, except the Scorpions and Def Leppard, whose former appeal has faded with time). The music of my youth is still on regular rotation in my life, not for the sake of nostalgia but because, at least to me, a lot of it is still quite diggable and good.  Still very diggable and very good, in many cases.

It's a bit strange to think that there was a time when analog sound, AM/FM radio, cassette tapes and vinyl records, was the only sort of music, other than live music (which is also analog, naturally, and presently ruined by COVID) one could listen to.

Likewise, it's hard to express how much I missed listening to analog music during all the years, from the early 1990s to the late 20-teens, when I didn't, because digital music, even for this reluctant adopter, became ubiquitous and tapes, and moreso records, were increasingly hard to come by.

And I think it's that "missing piece" which has played a such a large part in what has compelled me, in the past two or three years, to rebuild a vinyl record collection, literally from the ground up. And, honestly, I have been so content, so sincerely satisfied, in doing so. I really do love listening to vinyl records now, much more than I did back when I was a kid.  And I guess it is that simple reality that begs the important question: why.  Why do I prefer to listen to analog music, and, more to the point, why do I so enjoy listening to vinyl records played on a turntable?

The Internet is full of full-throated debates, passionate arguments, and even a few purportedly scientific justifications for why the sound produced by a vinyl record played on a well designed, carefully aligned, balanced, and appropriately amplified sound system might be superior to listening to a digital sound source or file.  That's not what I'm here to discuss, because A) I don't put much stock in any of that, ultimately our ears can only hear and our brains can only decode so much sound; B) I don't listen to music in an attempt to recreate an ideal soundstage or the most-accurate reproduction of the original recording (though I really do like the way my humble system sounds); and C) because, to me, the enjoyment of music is a pure, exhuberant, fully subjective, individual experience, wherein I find personal transcendence, introspection, and peace-of-mind, among other things.  It's not wrong to collect or play records for other reasons, but to me those other reasons just doesn't make a lot of sense. 

So why purchase costly individual vinyl records rather than buy what will ultimately be a much less expensive annual subscription to a high-quality commercial-free digital streaming service that will have absolutely everything, every album, artist, and song I'll ever want to listen to, for the rest of my natural life, abundantly available to me in one place, from anywhere in the world, all in an instant?
Buying records cheers me up
whenever I'm feeling low, too.

Because chasing down and checking-off an ever-growing list of must-have records for your collection is really fun.  Because flipping through crates filled with vintage vinyl in dank used record stores, or racks of mint shrink-wrapped discs in swank new music stores is always entertaining. Because building an eclectic collection of new and old records from multiple genres and eras is certain to expand one's musical, social, and historical horizons.  Because chilling out in your living room for a couple hours in the evening, either alone or with friends or family, playing records on the turntable is good for everyone's individual and collective soul.

At this point you might be expecting me to expound further on the benefits of listening to records.  And, without doubt, I could.  In fact, until a moment ago, I thought I would.  Because there are, indeed, dozens if not hundreds of other valuable and important reasons why seeking, collecting, and playing analog vinyl records is beneficial.  But, for the time-being, I'm not inclined to delve any further into my own reasons for doing so.  Instead, I'd like to be an encouragement to you to give record collecting, and more importantly, record playing a try.  I think you might dig it.  And if you do, and you get into it, and it becomes your groove, a way of life for you as it has for me, if it becomes something that transcends just a simple hobby, and begins to define you as an individul, well then, all the better.

So rather than waxing-on prosaically, I think I'll challenge you to a little exercise in self-awareness and introspection instead.  

You see, there are records and then there are records.  I like to imagine that every record in my collection is a work of art, or at least the original work of an artist... you know, someone who had something burning in their heart, a story, a picture, a set of songs, that they absolutely had to release.  And that record on my shelf, it is the final artistic form that that certain burning something took once it finally bubbled over.  I know this isn't always true.  I know that a lot of music, especially popular music by popular artists, is just so much dreck rushed to market with limited integrity just so someone could make a quick buck.  But, like most record collectors, I think, I'll be the first to tell you: there's not a lot of that sort of garbage in my personal collection.  But there probably is.  I just can't see it that way.  Because I dig it.  Seriously.  I dig every record in my collection.  Every single one.  Won't keep a record that I don't dig.  Won't keep a record that I wouldn't love to listen to, if, say, you came over to my house today and browsed through my collection and said, "Oh, cool! What a great record!  I haven't heard it in forever.  Can we play this one?"  If it's a permanent part of my collection, my answer should always be, "Yes!"

But like I said, there are records, and then there are records.  We've established that all the records in my personal collection are really good.  Many are really really good.  A few are truly outstanding.  Some are even critically important. But only a few of them are perfect.

An therein lies your challenge, dear reader.  I really just want you to find for yourself a few perfect albums, a few rare records that are flawless.  Not so much in terms of their physical condition, that's too easy a thing to assess.  For our purposes, I'm talking about records that contain no dreck, no schlock, no garbage filler, no wasted notes... hell, no wasted moments.  Perfect records aren't necessarily nostalgic records, or best-selling records, or well-reviewed records, however sometimes they are, and being so, or not being so, one way or the other, certainly doesn't exempt them from consideration.  But most of the time, perfect records speak to your heart in ways that are too personal to always fit neatly into one or more of those catagories.   To me, a perfect record must score a 10 on the I Will Listen To It Anytime scale.  And a 10 on the Every Song Is Awesome scale.  And a 10 on the I Will Never Sell It Nor Get Tired Of It scale.  A tall order, for sure.  Fortunately, finding and selecting your perfect albums is totally up to you. No one can pick your perfect records for you.  And the only way to find them is to sit back and listen. 

So, just for good measure, and by way of setting an example for you, here, entirely without comment and in no particular order so as not to introduce any bias, is an ever-growing list of perfect records from my own collection:

AIR - Moon Safari (1997)

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)

Portishead - Dummy (1994)

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here (1975)

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

Kirsty MaColl - Kite (1989)

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin (1969)

Eagles - Hotel California (1976)

Foo Fighters - Foo Fighters (1995)

Norah Jones - Come Away With Me (2002)

Led Zeppelin - untitled (1971)

Radiohead - Amnesiac (2001)

Beck - Sea Change (2002)

Fiona Apple - Tidal (1996)

Keane - Under The Iron Sea (2006)

Radiohead - Hail To The Thief (2003)

Zero 7 - Simple Things (2001)

Cracker - Kerosene Hat (1993)

This Mortal Coil - Blood (1991)

Uncle Tupelo - Anodyne (1993)

Jimi Hendrix - Bamd Of Gypsys (1970)

Neil Young - Harvest Moon (1992)

Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)

Travis - The Man Who (1999)

Camper Van Beethoven - Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988)

Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection (1970)

U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987)

Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007)

25 April 2020

Let's adopt a rezdog!

A few years ago the Internet introduced my wife to the plight of the abandoned pets at Dead Dog Beach on the island of Puerto Rico. As her awareness and concern for mistreated and misbegotten mongrels grew, she and my daughter both became occasional volunteers at a local no-kill shelter.  It was a short distance between this formative experience, helping in the recovery, care, and re-homing of unwanted animals, and the adoption of our own first rescue-pet, an adorable-but-feral little black puppy. She had been found a few weeks prior by some travelers, wandering alone and mortally ailing on the roadside not far from the town of Kayenta, Arizona.  Her bowels distended and  infested with worms and infection, the travelers took her straight to an animal hospital here in Flagstaff where she received emergency surgery to repair her destroyed prolapsed rectum, and intravenous antibiotics for several days.  Her care was made possible by High Country Puppy Rescue, from whom we acquired her.  We call her Nellie.

Our younger dog and her sole surviving sibling were clever enough to be able to evade capture by the good people at the Tuba City Humane Society for several days after they were first reported as strays to them.  Just another set of feral black puppies scavenging, motherless, in trashcans near the center of town, but my wife and daughter immediately fell in love with them the day their pictures were first posted to the agency's website.  After a brief in-person get-to-know-you session, they brought the more gentle of the pups home.  As with our first rezdog, she's quickly socialized positively into our domestic life, though, because she's still not quite a year old yet, she continues to be inclined to be cautious and nervous when out in the world beyond our home. She is never far from Nellie’s side no matter where we are.  We call her Skadi.

The rezdog isn't a recognized breed by any formal dog-breeding association, not by any measure whatsoever. And, of course, that's just fine with us.  But I think, perhaps, those that find something integral and meaningful in identifying dogs by their common traits and breeding, might do well to consider the merits and appeal of the Native American reservation dog.

As descendants in a long, long line of self-sufficient survivors, and prior to that, in many cases, real working/herding/hunting/companion dogs, there are a number of compelling and endearing traits in both disposition and intellect that I suspect all rezdogs share, despite their sometimes feral origins and often broad and diverse differences in appearance. 

Native American people, including the DinĂ© (Navajo) on whose lands both of our dogs were born, have revered the dog for thousands of years.  And, while certainly many other standard-breed pets are likely to have been sold, abandoned, or lost on Native lands over the course of many years of colonization and tourism, we can be confident that the rezdog of today, despite the introduction of a wide array of dog genetics from far and wide, are nevertheless the direct descendants of the very same dogs who provided companionship and cooperative hunting and herding assistance to the native people of North American for many generations.  I think that's a very cool legacy.

Photo credit: White Wolf Pack
There aren't too many differences between raising a rezdog and raising a more familiar variety of pure- or mixed-breed dog.  Rezdog puppies can be pretty undomesticated and unsocialized when they first come into your home.  But, with consistent love, affection, and training they always come around and seem, to me at least, to bond on a very deep level with the members of their new family.

Also, rezdog puppies are always hungry.  For nearly the entire first year of their lives they seem to be almost insane for food, with each meal it's like they're trying to make up the calories they missed out on while they were homeless during their first weeks and months of life.  But eventually, they get their fill and begin to approach mealtimes with the same excited anticipation most other dogs have, but without wolfing down every morsel with the feral madness they once had.

Rez Dog - Navajo
Photo credit: White Wolf Pack
Aside from some occasional barfing and the loose stools that come with the always-hungry sampling of the many unfamiliar things growing in our backyard to determine if they're edible, neither Nellie nor Skadi has ever been ill or injured since they've come to live with us.  Rezdogs, I gather, have a good strong set of diverse genetics to sustain and empower them and their ancestors to survive in all sorts of adverse and challenging conditions.  I hope both of our amazing rezdogs will be a part of our family for years and years to come.

If you're interested in bringing a rezdog into your home (and why wouldn't you be?) there are several organizations that can assist you with the adoption process:

09 April 2020

Let's roast coffee!

Green beans are shipped in sealed plastic bags
I've been roasting coffee at home for at least 15 years, probably longer. I can't exactly remember when I began to do so, but I think it was my friend Mark (the same guy who sold me my Rock Lobster) who first clued me in to how to do it, way back in the early 2000s, before our daughter was born, when Lisa and I were still living simple in the barrio on the other side of town.

Here's the lowdown on home-roasting coffee: It's really fun, and it's also a very satisfying thing to do, in that putting-your-hands-to-really-good-work sort of way, same as fiddling with your bikes in the garage, or pulling dandelions out of your lawn, or spending a few hours flipping through crates of old vinyl in your favorite used record store. I dig things like that, especially when I've been able to take the time to perfect my process for doing so over the course of time for many years.  Home coffee roasting is also a little bit cheaper than buying your coffee already-roasted from the coffeebar down the street, so that's another advantage for sure.  But the very best reason of all for roasting your own coffee at home is how it tastes.  There's really no comparison.  None. 

We store green beans in our pantry in muslin bags
I've always ordered my green coffee beans from Sweet Maria's, for several reasons. First, because they're the place that Mark first recommended to me, way back when, probably because at the time they were the only game in town.  Second, I always buy from them because they've never ever disappointed me, they ship fast, always ship fresh, they're priced competitively and fairly, and they're obsessive about testing, evaluating, and reviewing each and every product they sell.  Third, I always buy my green beans from Sweet Maria's, because Thompson, the guy who runs the place, buys most of his coffees directly from farmers and co-ops and he travels all over the world to sample and purchase the most interesting and tasty beans that are available each season.

Until recently, I've always used Freshroast roasters to prepare my coffee.  I've probably owned four or five of them over the years.  They're great little roasting machines, effective, simple, and reliable, at least to a point.  I tend to burn out the heating elements in them after a few years of regular weekly use.  Admittedly, it's a lot of use for a simple roaster that, truth be told, is basically just a cleverly modded hot-air popcorn popper. And I don't bear any kind of a grudge against Freshroast for the fact that their roasters eventually always wear out after a few years.  Like I said, they get seriously used around here, a couple batches at least, every week of the year, always outside on the back deck, in warm dry weather, in cold humid weather.  It's a work-out for sure.

We were going through a bit of an economic rough patch when my last roaster died about a year ago, so I couldn't afford to immediately replace it.  Nevertheless, we needed our morning coffee, and I still had several pounds of green coffee beans on hand. So I began to look around at low-tech, affordable options for preparing roasted coffee at home.  Not surprisingly, Thompson at Sweet Maria's had demo'd the best solution in one of his many Youtube videos: roasting coffee in a cast iron skillet.  We don't have a gas stove in our house, so I decided to try Thompson's method on our propane BBQ's sideburner.  I assumed this would be a short term solution, just until I had the money to buy a new Freshroast machine.  But, now that I've survived a entire winter of roasting outside, I've become quite fond of this method's hand's-on, fully-analog technique and so, for the time being anyway, I'm sticking with it.

Below are a few short videos that show the process I go through to roast coffee on the BBQ in our backyard.  Here, at 7000' elevation, it takes me about 15 minutes to take a skillet full of beans from green to full-city, just past second-crack, which is commonly where I find I like to take the Ethiopian beans that I typically buy from Sweet Maria's.  I usually set the burner on high and wisk the beans pretty fervently the entire time they're over the fire to prevent scorching.  Since there's almost always a breeze blowing here in Flagstaff, the chaff after first crack kinda takes care of removing itself from the pan, and the remainder of the chaff blows away when I spread the roasted beans out on cookie sheets to cool.  As a general rule, I try to allow our roasted coffee to degas in the hopper for the better part of a full day before we grind and brew it, but sometimes, if I've forgotten to roast and the hopper's empty, we've been known to go right from roasting to brewing while the beans are still warm.  Definitely not ideal, but still way better than the old stale bagged bean from the coffeebar down the street.