It’s rush hour. I approach the busy intersection cautiously. I’m in a bike lane, but my side of the road is choked with cars that want to make a right turn. Once our light switches to green, I feel it’s a race to get out in front, before I get side-swiped by someone that wants to make that right turn, crossing the bike lane I’m in. Then, I hear someone yell out their car passenger car window. My anxiety heightens:
“HEY! NICE LIGHT! I CAN ACTUALLY SEE YOU!”
My stress levels return to normal, and I’m relieved that the car besides me not only knows I’m there, but acknowledges my presence with a compliment! The light I’m using? The Magicshine MONTEER 1400.
As Fall turns to Winter, and a lot of my riding happens now at night, it seems fitting to investigate some lighting solutions I’ve been looking at. I’m willing to invest in a nice light, as my main form of transportation is my bike. My main goal is to see, and be seen. I’m usually either riding the streets at night, or riding trails bikepacking, but both scenarios need the following for a good bike front light:
- Long Lasting and Dependable. For the majority of riding, I want a light that can be on for a long while between recharges. I want it to Just Work, to not fall off, to not turn on expectantly (while stored in a pack, say). Seems like an obvious wish list, but you won’t believe how many times this gets done wrong.
- BRIGHT! If I want to flood my immediate vicinity, give me that choice. When I’m going Mach 5 down a winding road, I wanna see every piece of sand on said road. If I’m in a busy intersection, I want the light to scream: “Here I am“.
- Rechargeable. Make it easy to recharge the batteries without making me carry half a toolbox of cables and chargers. Make it easy for me to swap out batteries with freshies if need be.
- No Nonsense. I don’t want external battery packs and wires running all over the place – these just get in the way and get broken. External battery packs just hide the fact that the batteries inside are ones I can buy off the shelf cheaper than buying an entire battery pack.
There’s many different lighting solutions out there, including battery-free, dynamo-powered lights. The fact still remains that a battery-powered light is going to be brighter than a dynamo-powered light. A dynamo-powered light is also going to be more expensive. In the end, it’s convenience of not needing a external battery source (outside of the dynamo wheel, of course), may make it a fine solution. But, if you have more than one bike and you wanna fully invest in dynamo lighting, you probably need more than one of everything. With a battery-powered light, you can swap things out.
In this review, I’ll be talking about the Magicshine MONTEER 1400 USB Bicycle Light, and why I picked it.
In September, I started working with Andrew Skurka on his guided backpacking trips and was looking for a light hiker that would work well for this task. I was offered to try out the La Sportiva Spire GTX, so here’s my review.
My usual advice for anyone doing a long-distance backpacking trip would be to pick a trail runner that you really enjoy, and find that you can wear all-day. The days of extremely heavy, overbuilt, inflexible, high top boots for backpacking are over (save them for special purposes, like full-on Winter conditions).
My pick for both my all-time favorite trailrunner and what I would usually pick for backpacking is the the La Sportiva Mutant. Sized correctly, they hit the sweet spot for me as a more than viable trail runner (I would run an ultra in these, without hesitation), kicks for fastpacking – like my time in the Weminuche, and even for a scramble a low/moderate pitch of alpine rock when the great majority of the time is on the approach – like the Maroon Bells traverse. I personally stick with low to mid height shoes, because of my ankles – I want the mobility that a lower shoe gives, as I want to keep my ankles constantly challenged by terrain – it’s the only way they became, and remain: strong. And believe me, I’ve had some serious challenges with ankle injuries.
But, all shoes exist on a spectrum and no one shoe will work for everything. For a wishlist, I would certainly want:
A more bulletproof upper. Off-trail hiking can cause a number on the uppers of a pair of well-ventilated trail runners.
A tough outsole. I’ll be carrying a lot more additional weight than I usually do – even when I’m on my own fastpacks.
Generally, I want to make sure that whatever shoes I use will last me until the end, and I’m not hobbled – I’m workin’ here.
Enter the Spire.
The electronics gear kit list! Bringing any sort of gear – especially electronic gear, is a fine balance between the convenience of having the resource, and the burdens of carrying it all with you. Doubly so with electronic gear, as it all requires some sort of power source to charge it all up.
For the Tour of the Highest Hundred, I brought more electronic gear than on any other ultra racing/FKT trip in my life! It was a lot to manage, but I made all my choices after much deliberation.
Here’s the rundown:
5:00pm on Friday. Time to set off towards Estes Park. Although I would have like to take a more dirt route off the bat, the day was getting long, and I had some exploratory tracks to travel, so I took the express-way down Highway 36; it’s traffic known somewhat for its rep of severely injuring cyclists. I’ve never had a problem – but I usually ride it around 3:00 in the morning on my way to Longs Peak where the highway is desolate rather than filled with rush hour traffic.
I survived to Lyons in no time, and turned onto St. Vrain Canyon, which must be one of the prettiest canyons to slowly pedal up. Or so I’ve heard – I usually do this pedaling in the wee hours of the morning – the last time was during a snow storm with zero visibility, so today was somewhat of a rare treat for me to see the canyon in the waning daylight. Large pinnacles and crags shot up from the canyon floor. Loads of climbing adventure potential!
My objective this evening was a FS 82 near Meeker Park. Word has it that there’s National Forest access in the tight squeeze of private property, Wilderness, and National Park of the Tahosa Valley. Surprisingly, I’ve never looked around to see what’s around this road before. My friendly National Forest Service Ranger Station, which I live across the street from, supplied me with a Motor Vehicle Use Map of the surrounding areas accessible by road, which helps greatly in finding legal campsites off private property.
Imagine my delight,
when an enormous box from Surly was delivered to my door, with instructions to do something cool with the contents: A medium Surly ECR, and a 24-Pack Rack! I was planning a trip to Breckenridge to say hello to my Brother who was becoming a year older, and I wanted to climb some mountains to train for the Tour of the Highest Hundred, so naturally, The Surly ECR entered into the thick of my plans.
In this post, I’ll go over the unboxing process, some of initial thoughts, and how I’ve set things up for a 5 day bike tour + mountaineering (bike-a-neering?) trip to Summit County. In a follow up post, we’ll talk about that trip itself.
Somewhat puzzling, I haven’t mentioned on this site officially that I’m now an Ultimate Direction Ambassador! I utilized the UD Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest on my little 14er Mountain Bike/Run shindig last year and it filled out the exact niche I needed: a pack that I could ride and run in, without being too bulky or heavy – and still make it to the end of the month+ adventure somewhat intact. This ambassadorship means a lot to me and the UD family are wonderful people. I’ve been able to meet many of them on my visits to the UD HQ, as well as on the trails, in the climbing gym, at the running store, etc. The lead designer has some really great ideas brewing and I’m excited to see what comes out in the future.
One of the products I’ve been given to test is the Body Bottle Plus. Think of it as a water bottle (flask, really) that’s made similar to a hydration pack: same flexible plastic material, but in a much smaller size, with a valve to drink out of, rather than to run a hose through. Since moving to Ultimate Direction products, I haven’t used a pack with a large water reservoir as I’ve had in the past.
The big reason is those damn reservoirs always leak on me and usually in mysterious places that take forever to track down and impossible to fix. And it is a pain to refill them – something you don’t realize until you find an alternative. Upfront water bottles, like the UD Signature Series have seem to work much better. I also like these bottles since they fit my bike frame’s cages just fine (and I ride a lot of bikes!).
The Body Bottle presents something a little different. Although it doesn’t work in my bike bottle cages, it will work in the pockets up front on all the UD vests. I haven’t used them much for this purpose, as I also like the larger capacity of the harder bottles (I tend to need to drink a ton of water). So, what to use these for?
Two applications come to mind. As well as water, the Body Bottles work well with carrying powder nutrition. I use the Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem product often – usually chocolate flavored and caffeine-free (I add instant coffee for an extra kick and extra flavor, plus I can control the portions). 14 ounces, the amount the Body Bottle Plus holds, is a lot of powder for mixing in with water and the Body Bottles work nicely – just throw the bottle inside my pack and go. They’re easy to find again, since they have a distinctive feel, and they don’t rip or break like a plastic baggy does. They also magically shrink when you take contents out of them, which keeps my pack from getting too unwieldy with all the opening and closing and shuffling of gear.
The other application is just to use as a place to stash extra water into the back of my UD vest on long runs which don’t have access to potable water. Here, a bottle would really stink, as the hard plastic would indeed hurt my back as it rubs up against it. No problem with the Body Bottle – just take it out, drink it, squish it empty and pop it back into the pack. There’s a nice locking mechanism on the top of the bottle, so they things don’t leak – that’s pretty important, when the Body Bottles are right up against things like my rain jacket and phone.
So let’s do something with these things.
Decided Friday was going to be a long run – I’m trying my best to get ready for the Dirty 30, 50k of single track in the Front Range! Surprisingly, this will be my first sanctioned ultra trail race – I’m just not that much into sanctioned events, and well: bikes just need to be ridden. But sometimes, I like to test out my fitness alongside others, rather than on the somewhat insane tests of attrition FKT’s I dream up.
In this run, I wanted to keep myself moving, so stopping to try fiddle with finding water and treating it was out. The route I decided on was a local test piece: The Boulder Skyline Traverse – a classic line, summiting five of the peaks just west of Boulder. I remember reading about this route on Anton’s Blog way back in the day, when doing such a line sounded preposterous to me: I just didn’t have that sort of fitness, and Anton was winning Leadville 100’s like it was just another daily run. But I kept it in mind as a way to mark my own progress. Would I ever be able to do something like that? Now I look back, having done a Double Skyline Traverse – essentially a doubling up of the peaks summited, and realize just how much progress I’ve made in such a short time.
My variation Friday was around 27 miles, and 8,000′ of climbing.I tend to need to hydrate quite often, so I had to strategize how to do this on a route that has no potable water.
I locked my bike at the Settler’s Park Trailhead, and brought up just a UD Fastdraw handheld up the Mount Sanitas Trail – the first peak, and descending the newish Lions Lair Trail (long! gentle!). Once finished with the loop, I visited my bike locked again and traded out the handheld for a UD AK Vest I had stashed which had two UD Kicker Valve bottles up front, and two Body Bottle Pluses stashed in the back, along with a light jacket and gels. And off to Flagstaff Mountain I went.
I finished off my first Body Bottle on Flagstaff, and the second after ascending Green Mountain (my 48th summit of Green for the year). Finishing off another bottle on top of South Boulder Peak I then had a whole bottle left for the entire length of the Mesa Trail and back down to my bike, about a half mile north of Chautaugua. Worked out perfectly, and I didn’t stop for more than 30 seconds to a few minutes at each peak to hydrate, take in the views, down some gel – great emulation of aid station stops.
Looking back, the trudge back from the South Mesa Trailhead was probably the low point of my run. You lose at least 3000′ from the top of South Boulder Peak to the Southern terminus of the South Mesa Trail, battering the ol’ quads. Then, you have 7+ miles to run on the Mesa Trail and then finally needing to run down back to the bike on Pearl Street.
Happily, I found a second wind not far from the Mesa/Fern Canyon junction, finishing the run with a 13:00/mile pace. Being now a month out from the Dirty 30 50k, it’s a good test of my current fitness and I can now try to polish off some of the weaknesses (which are many). Of course, I wish I was a little faster, but I’m guessing the course won’t be as grueling. Although it’s approx. 4 miles longer than this run, it has almost 1500′ less elevation gain and it certainly can’t be more technical than all the flood-damaged parts of this route. In all, that should make for a faster pace for me. How much faster is really to be s
With the help of UD and products like the Body Bottle Plus, I’m really looking forward to my introduction to sanctioned ultra trail racing!
See you out there!
I’ll write some sort of actual entry, soon, but I’d like to just give thanks to Illegal Pete‘s. I let myself spurge in buying their tasty tasty burritos after rides, as a nice way of giving myself a little treat as well as supplementing my dirtbag diet of rice and beans and oatmeal and pb+j’s and whatever else I can whip up in my kitchen. Money is tight, but their burritos are worth it.
They’ve repeatedly been super nice to me and helping me out when they can and always curious about the race and just being cool to me, especially when I come in, dripping wet from the snow and ice that’s quickly melting, from the +30 degrees temperature difference, between inside and out.
And their burritos are better than the other chain of burrito shops, which shall remain nameless.
Thanks Illegal Pete’s! You guys and gals rule! Stay sexy.