Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Where to Mountain Bike in the SF Bay Area?

I'm going to flush this one out shortly, but wanted to quickly put up a list of my favorite trails to ride.

1. Soquel Demonstration Forest! It's off of Summit Road off of Highway 17. I'll post detailed directions soon, as well as links to my GPS tracks on http://www.everytrail.com/ But if you go to everytrail now and search for Soquel Demo Forest, you should be able to find them. I recommend descending Saw Pit, climbing, Sulphur Springs, then Descending the Braille Trail. Lots of great jumps & man made stunts.

2. Tamarancho. In Fairfax / San Anselmo, and also called Boy Scout Camp since the hill side is apparently owned by a boy scout camp. You need either a yearly trail pass or a day pass which can be purchased either online, or at Sunshine Bicycles (in San Anselmo, I think). Great loop, 100% single track, fairly technical, and best ridden clockwise.

3. Skeggs Point, also called El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve. I believe maps can be found at openspace.org. I'm a big fan of descending the Resolution trail to the Cross Cut Trail, down to the Giant Salamander Trail, across the North Leaf Trail, then up the other side. I also like descending the Manzanita Trail, and/or Steam Donkey and Blue Blossom. Generally at Skeggs we descend single track and climb fire roads.

4. Pruissima Creek OSP. Maps at Openspace.org. I park at the top of the Purissima Creek Trail on Skyline, ride north on skyline to the parking lot for the Whittimore Gulch Trail, descend the Whittimore Gulch Trail, then climb the Purissima Creek Trail back to the car.

More to follow soon, and I have GPS logs of most of these trails up at everytrail.org.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Swing dance shoes

Those of you who swing dance have realized that having the right shoes really does make a difference. There's nothing worse than being on a nice, fast, hardwood dance floor with sticky rubber shoes on. You can wish you could spin & slide to your heart's content, but without the right shoes, it just isn't going to be the same.

In my experience there are two ways to go. One is to buy dedicated dancing shoes with hard-leather or suede soles, and the other is to convert a existing pair of shoes.

For men's shoes, I think hard-leather soled shoes both spin & turn best, and they're the most predictable. I wear white Aris Allen shoes from Dancestore.com. They go with any outfit, and will give your dancing credibility, whether or not it deserves it. They also sell them in black, but the white ones are more fun and look a whole lot more flashy.

For the women, the Aris Allen Canvas Sneakers with a suede sole are quite popular, as are the Aris Allen retro running shoes with suede soles. However, if you're dancing Balboa, or like to dance on your toes, I'd recommend something with a heel, like the Mary Janes or the Rug Cutters. You can also dance in any other leather or suede soled shoes, but I'd make sure they have a strap on the heel to keep them in place, and I would suggest against open-toed shoes so that your toes don't get stepped on. Also, I'd avoid spike heels just in case you step on someone by accident. It happens all the times.

Alternatively, you can take any pair of shoes and put duct tape over the soles to make them spin & slide, but the duct tape doesn't last long, nor does it look all that sharp. Moleskin (for blisters) works well too, but again, it doesn't last long before it either peels off, or gets worn out. I also found moleskin to be too fast. I was sliping and sliding all over the place, and actually had trouble controlling the shoes.

Lastly, you can "chrome" any pair of shoes. That consists of gluing suede to the sole of the shoe. It's called "chrome" because the type of suede used is called "Chrome Suede". Apparently you can do it yourself using barge cement, or you can pay $30-$50 to have it professionally done by a shoe cobbler. I took a pair of Adidas Samba indoor soccer shoes to a cobbler in San Francisco and for $50 they did a fabulous jobs of putting chrome suede on the soles of the shoes.

The only downside to using suede or duct tape is that you can't do heel slides like you can on hard-leather shoes. But that's a minor downside if you ask me.

Happy spinning & sliding!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mountain Bike Body Armor

I've been discussing mountain bike body armor with a quite a few friends lately, so I figured I'd post something about it.
If you're out riding technical single track and descending hard sooner or later you'll see the value of good body armor. I've lent my armor to a bunch of friends, and every time everyone always asks which make/model it is since it's super easy to put-on, take-of, without removing your shoes or gloves, which I think is key since then you're much more likely to take the time to put it on. One other thing that I look for in a pad is hard plastic on the outside of it. The plastic slides better when you do hit dirt compared to fabric covered pads (Race Face/Roach and some 661 pads) (thanks Sean Cooney for the reminder about that one).
For knee/shin pads, I wear the Dainese Knee Guard Revolution. Your local shop can probably order them, and if not, they are available through BeyondBikes.com's website.

For my elbows & arms I wear the Dainese 3X Elbow Guard. Again, they're available through BeyondBikes.com website.

I also do have ankle guards. I generally don't wear them unless I'm riding in Tahoe or somewhere with lots of rocks that can "bite" your ankles. I wear the Dainese Pro Socks. And again, at beyondbikes.com.

Beyondbikes.com seems to have one of the largest body armor selections I've seen. It's worth checking it out here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

So you think you want to learn how to swing dance?

I have a bunch of friends who keep saying they're going to come learn how to swing dance, so now I'm going to make it really easy for you to find out when & where to learn how.

At the beginning on each month, virtually all venues that teach lessons start a 4 week "beginning lindy hop" class. THAT is where you want to start. The weekly half hour drop-in east coast swing classes can be fun too, but really, I'd suggest learning to lindy hop. I think it's much more fun dance, and it's what most of the leaders tend to lead on the dance floor. And once you know the lindy hop basics and a few moves, you can follow almost anything. Or, if you're a leader (generally guys), once you can lead a few lindy hop moves you can dance with just about anyone on the dance floor. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's important to learn East Coast Swing, but I'd focus on taking the full 4 week beginning Lindy Hop class.

What: Beginning Lindy Hop at the Verdi Club in San Francisco.
When: 8-9pm Tuesday Nights
Where: The Verdi Club located at 2424 Mariposa St. at Portrero St in Potrero Hill in San Francisco
How Much: $65 for the 4 week series or $20 to drop in.

You do not need to bring a partner, as in class you will rotate partners every few minutes. Then, later in the evening when the live music comes on, both leads and follows will be asking people to dance. So feel free to come alone, and feel free to ask anyone to dance.

Also, wear something comfortable to dance in, and ideally slick soled shoes. (ie. hard leather or suede, but ideally not rubber) Heels are ok, but not spike heels since they're both more difficult to dance in, and much more painful should you step on someone by mistake (it does happen). People dress in everything from jeans and a t-shirt on up to vintage outfits. I generally wear jeans (or baggy pants) and a nice shirt. Oh, and wear something that won't get too hot. Believe it or not, swing dancing can work up a sweat very quickly. So dress in light weight clothing, or bring a few shirts. You may not work up a sweat your first day out, but if you're dancing to fast music, you really can work up a sweat.

Also, between class and dancing, or if you sit out for a song, the Verdi club does have a bar/lounge where you can get a drink and just enjoy the music.

Other places to learn to lindy:
What: Fundamentals of Lindy Hop at Swing Central in Redwood City, taught by Carla Heiney
When: 7-8pm Tuesday nights.
Where: "Swing Central" located at Foresters Hall at 1204 Middlefield Rd., Redwood City, CA 94063 Swing Central has a great map on their site with directions.
How Much: $65 for the series, or $16 to drop in. $55 for the series if you register early (see details on their site)

What: Back 2 Basics at the 920 Special - They teach both 6 count East Coast Swing and 8 count Lindy Hop in this class.
When: 8:20 - 9:20pm on Thursday
Where: The 920 Special is at the Russian Center at 2460 Sutter St. at Divisidero in San Francisco
How Much: $50 for the series, $14 to drop in (drop-in only allowed for the first 2 classes)

After the lessons dancing begins at 9:20pm with a DJ and a huge dance floor and goes until 12:30am.

There are certainly other venues where you can learn to swing dance like the Metronome Dance Center on Monday Nights, Cat's Corner on Wednesday Nights, and even a free intro lesson on Sunday's at Lindy in the Park in Golden Gate Park.

Now that you have all of the details, I look forward to having you come join us on the dance floor soon!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mountain Bike Tires

Which bike? What conditions?

Rolling resistance, cornering knobs, size/volume, UST?

SUPER light - Kenda Klimax
Meaty - WeirWolf 2.3
Big - Mutano Raptor 2.4
fast rolling - leadville, etc. Hutchinson Python 2.0 or 2.1 air light (Stans)
inexpensive - Panaracer Fire XC Pro 2.1, Kevlar Bead

Digital SLR Cameras

I have a lot of friends asking me about which digital SLR camera to get, so here's a quick summary of my responses.

First off, if you decide not to get a digital SLR, I would highly recommend the Canon PowerShot 800IS. It's a 7.1mega pixel, image-stabilized pocket sized camera that I don't go anywhere without. I've taking it biking, hiking, and even backcountry skiing in Austria, and in all conditions it has taken fabulous photos. You can find the latest prices on MySimon.com

If you do want to go with a digital SLR so that you can take action photos with an instant shutter release, there are lots of great options. I only shoot with Canon cameras, so I don't have much to say about other brands.

If you want to spend as little as possible I'd suggested the latest Canon EOS Rebel digital SLR. I have several friends who have the most recent Canon 30D, and I love mine. But it seems that from looking at the reviews, there aren't many differences between the Rebel and the 30D, which makes me think the Rebel might be the right call if you want to save money & weight. But if you have the option, the 30D sure is nice. Then there's the 5D, which is just amazing and I believe is closer to $2200 or so. Hopefully that will be my next camera!

As for lenses, you can get Canon lenses, or a bunch of other brand lenses that will work on Canon cameras. For example, Tamron or Sigma lenses. Tamron makes a 17-200 zoom lens that my brother uses with his Rebel. The lens costs something like $300+/- and works well. But the photo quality is not nearly as good as it is from the Canon f/2.8 70-200mm IS zoom lens. That said, the Canon f/2.8 70-200mm IS zoom lens costs $1500. Fortunately, it's almost impossible to take a bad photo with it.

If you do buy a digital camera, buy the memory card(s) at Fry's Electronics or BestBuy, not at a camera story. You can get 2x the memory for half the price if you buy it at Fry's or from Amazon.com. And if you get a second battery, which I'd highly recommend, definitely get a Canon battery, not a generic brand one. There is a significant difference in performance.

I'd suggest walking into your local high end camera store and talking with them. In Palo Alto I'd suggests Keeble & Schuchat on California Ave. They're very helpful and really know what they're talking about. There are also some great on-line forums and review sites like

Gear recommendations for hiking Kilimanjaro

A buddy asked me what gear & clothing I recommend for his hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Here are my suggestions of what & where to get it.

Mountain Gear and Backcountry.com are the two places I buy most of my gear since other than the local REI, we don't have any high end gear shops in the area, unless you want to drive to Tahoe. Moosejaw.com is good too, but for whatever reason I don't shop there as often. I also watch Steep & Cheap for occasional deals, but that gets addictive.

I wear Merino Wool long underwear tops & bottoms if it's cold. I happen to have both a smartwool top and an Arc'teryx top. I find the Smartwool is a little loose on the torso, and I like the fact that the Arc'teryx has a longer torso, so I can tuck it in to prevent drafts. It also has a great chest pocket for keeping powerbars warm so they don't freeze in the cold. (key for skiing!)

I wear Smartwool's light weight "boot top" long underwear bottoms, but only so that it doesn't interfere with my ski boots. For hiking, you may want to go with the full length.

If I'm going up hill I usually wear a super thin Pearl Izumi OpTik jacket to block the wind. (I wear the white one) It stuffs down really small, so it's easy to stick in a pocked or a backpack, and really blocks the wind and keeps in heat.

If it gets really windy, or wet, I wear a light weight Marmot Precip Jacket. I do have a heavy weight Arc'Teryx Goretex XCR jacket that I ski in, but unless I'm resort skiing, I wear my Marmot Precip jacket for everything else outdoors (hiking, backcountry skiing, etc.)

Several other companies (GoLight, Mountain Hardware, etc.) make similar light weight ~12oz jackets & pants, so go with whichever you like most. And I also have the light weight Marmot Precip pants in case it starts to rain, and I wear the full zip pants so I can put them on/take the off easily if I'm wearing boots. Then I can also unzip the legs part way for ventilation while hiking.

I also definitely carry a down jacket. I LOVE my down parka. I have a North Face Optimus Prime jacket, but they don't seem to make them anymore.

I guess I'd suggest the Mountain Hardware Phantom Jacket for it's light weight. Or maybe the Mountain hardware SubZero, or the North Face Nuptse. You can't go wrong with any of those. I would avoid the jackets made by companies that are not well known for their mountaineering gear (ie. New Balance - running shoe company), Jansport, Oakley, etc.) I'd stick with North Face, Mountain Hardware, Patagonia, Arc'Treyx, Montbell, Marmot, etc.)

I'm a big fan of going light. Saving a few ounces here and there can lead to saving pounds in your pack, and at 19,000' a few pounds makes a HUGE difference.

Swing Dancing in SF!

Now that I'm fully hooked on swing dancing, here are my recommendations for dancing in San Francisco.

Monday Night:
There is an awesome intermediate Lindy lesson at the Metronome Ballroom from 8-9, followed by an advanced Lindy lesson from 9-10pm. It's in their "dance party" studio around the corner from their main studio. They offer lots of other classes too. Here's their Lindy Hop calendar.

Here's a quick video of some new moves we just learned at Camp Hollywood 2008:

Tuesday night:
If you're already a good dancer and just want to dance to live music, I recommend the Verdi Club on Tuesday nights. For that matter, if you're just learning they have great lessons. I pretty much learned to dance at the Verdi club. They have monthly series in beginning Lindy hop (8-9pm), intermediate Lindy Hop (7-8pm), beginning Balboa (8-9pm), and intermediate Balboa (7-9pm). They also have a drop-in beginning east-coast swing class every Tuesday from 9-9:30. Then Stompy Jones (my favorite swing band) starts up around 9:30 or 10 and plays until midnight with one break. DJ'd music goes from midnight until the wee hours (3am?). Alternatively, some of the best lessons in the country are taught by Carla Heiney & her crew at "Swing Central" aka Redwood City Swing. I've taken a few lessons there, but most of my friends live in SF and dance at Verdi, so I rarely make it down to Redwood City. After their lessons they have DJ'd music that probably lasts until 12 or so.

Wednesday night:
I generally don't dance on Wednesday nights, but I hear that Tin Cup Serenade plays at Le Colonial on Wednesday. And for that matter, Lavay Smith & her Red Hot Skillet Lickers plays at the Top of the Mark on Weds as well. I assume both are at least decent bands to dance to, and great bands to listen to.

Thursday night:
Thurdsay Nights I generally start the evening at the 920 Special which is at the Russian Center on Sutter at Divisadero. They have great lessons, followed by slower DJ'd music from 920 until ??? Huge venue, younger crew, and pretty casual (jeans, t-shirts, etc.) I start with an intermediate Lindy lesson at 7:20pm at the "920 Special". They also have beginning lessons, and occasionally advanced lessons. I had several friends who stay and dance at the 920 after the lessons. However after the lesson I generally go to the Top of the Mark to dance to Stompy Jones again. They play from 7:30 until 11:30 or 12, but I (and most of the dancers) usually get there around 9pm. There are generally only 8-14 dancers there (vs. 100+ at Verdi), but it's great fun!

You can also go to Le Colonial on Thursday's as well. There are many more young people 25-40 at LC, but the dance floor is really really small, so I don't go very often. But I have heard good things. On Thursday's & Sunday's the Martini Brothers play, and on Wednesday Tin Cup Serenade plays.

Friday Night:
I tend not to dance on Friday nights, but I hear that the Metronome (now Cheryl Burke Dance) has a fun 20's charleston classed followed by a "swing dance party". It's DJ'd music, but the instructors there are really fun, so I bet the vibe is great. I know I really enjoyed the 2 Lindy classes I took there last night.

Alternatively, in the early evening DJ Raul spins at Le Colonial from 5:30 to 9:30 pm or so.

There's also "Blues Dancing". Much slower music, and much less structure, but it can be fun. We have Friday Night Blues in SF, which consists of a class followed by DJ'd music. Blues dancing is sometimes done fairly... um.... close to your partner. Check out FNB's site and videos. It's great for helping your connection with your partner and leading & following to slower music, if you're into it, but it's not for everyone.

Weekends... not sure about Saturday PM, but Sunday-day there is "Lindy in the Park" in Golden Gate Park. I've never been, but I hear it's fun. And Sunday August 19, 2008 is their 11th year anniversary which should be a fun event.

Lastly, there's always the Lindy List for more events, etc. in the SF bay.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Here's a map of many of the SF venues:

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