Sunday, September 9, 2012

New ride: Giant Twist Freedom DX


I'm not a cyclist; I'm a bike commuter. I've been happily using a ragged Trek with a ripped up seat and worn brake pads for the past eight months. Then on a recent Sunday, I did a whimsical search for electric bikes on Craigslist. Suddenly, the Trek seemed inadequate, especially on DC's huge hills. On Tuesday, I brought home a barely used Giant Twist Freedom DX for a third of the retail cost.

I'll let the manufacturer and magazine reviewers explain the technology. I want to describe the real-world experience of riding this "hybrid" cyborg bike. The most common question I get is: "Do you still sweat?" No, this bike does not magically prevent me from sweating.  

The muscle source, a Sanyo motor.

Hill master: Cyborg bike rocks the hills. I still have to pedal to keep the motor going, but it's equivalent to pedaling an exercise bike with easy resistance. I cruise up the hills but don't lose my breath. At speeds above 15 mph, the motor stops helping out. On level ground, 15 mph comes very easily and very quickly. A lycra-clad cyclist who is in good shape on a regular bike will pass you on flat terrain. It deflated my ego the first time it happened, but these cyclists would pass me even if I rode a regular bike.) Often, I find myself wishing that the motor would boost the speed to 18 mph or 20 mph.

Riding style: Cyborg bike forced me to adjust my biking habits. At a stop, I can't rest my foot on the pedal because the computer senses tension on the drive train and engages the motor. Starting out, I learned to resist the urge to pedal hard and get myself up to speed. Instead, you pedal easily and allow the motor and its robotic mechanical whirring sound to bring you up to speed. There is no benefit to pedaling downhill, since the motor won't assist above 15 mph and seven speeds get used up quickly.

One battery and charger. Note the Euro plug!

Battery life: Giant estimates a top range of about 34 to 43 miles using one battery in economy mode on flat terrain with no wind. I don't intend to ever fully drain the batteries. Two battery lights remained (about 1/3 to 1/4 power remaining, according to the owner's manual) after my hilly 10-mile roundtrip ride to work in sport mode. Later that week, I rode 3 or 4 miles one day and didn't charge the battery. A day later, I rode about 12 miles round trip to Nationals Park. By the time I got home from the ballpark, one battery light remained (charging is recommended). I don't know where I will find replacement parts for this bike, especially the batteries and charger, or how much they will cost to replace, since none of these parts are found on Amazon.

Rain: I'm happy to report that cyborg bike does not fear rain. The day that I rode to Nationals Park, a fierce storm rolled through DC. The bike was parked at an unsheltered bike rack outside the stadium and got rained on for an hour or so. After the worst of the storm settled, I rode home in a fairly steady rain that eventually stopped about halfway home. The bike's electrical components worked fine the entire trip. The fenders kept my backside from getting splattered with dirt and grit.

Battery holders keep everything snug and dry, even in rain.

Build quality: The bike is solidly built with tons of commuter comforts, such as front suspension fork, fenders, chain guard (no more one cuffed pant leg!), kickstand, cargo rack, suspended seat post with sprung seat. This bike starts out heavy, then add an electric motor, two 4-pound batteries, my 5-pound bike lock, and water, and I estimate the rig must weigh 70 pounds. This bike's heft is evident as I manhandle it in and out of the elevator (thankfully, I am not lugging this beast up stairs). The heft doesn't affect handling or ride quality on the road, however, I would not want to be stranded with dead batteries and pedal power up the hills of DC.

Pros:
Flattens hills
Solidly built
Commuter ready
Comfortable ride
Works in the rain

Cons:
Heavy
Rare parts, probably made of unobtanium

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Half-smoke: DC's signature dish

Two months ago, I couldn't have told you what a "half-smoke" is. Basically, it's a sausage that may or may not be half-pork, half-beef. It may or may not be spicy. It might be grilled or boiled in dirty water. However it's made or cooked, it's DC's only native dish.


I bought a package of half-smokes from a local sausage start-up. I charred the outside like Ben's. The verdict: Tastes like a spicy sausage that one could buy anywhere. The lone criteria for a half-smoke is that it must be made or bought or cooked or eaten in DC.

If I bought a package of half-smokes in DC then took them outside the city limits, would anyone notice?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Taco Bell Doritos Loco Taco



Fresno and Bakersfield are test markets for Taco Bell's latest creation: a taco with a shell made of Doritos. Initially, I didn't care because we don't eat at Taco Bell, since the quality of real tacos in Fresno is supreme. But the interest on the Internet and jealousy among my East Coast friends convinced me to give it a try.

The verdict: It doesn't really taste like Doritos. I even broke off a piece of the shell to eat alone and still no Doritos taste. At $1.69 per taco, I give it a, "Meh," but that's because Fresno's ground zero for legit Mexican food. If you live on the East Coast where Chi-pole-tay is considered "Mexican" "food," you'd probably love it.

Wildlife of the central coast





Monday, September 12, 2011

Huntington Boulevard mile-long yard sale


Thousands of people and vendors jammed the sidewalks of Huntington Boulevard for the annual yard sale Sept. 10. I wasn't sure what to expect from this and forgot to bring the camera. It was just like a flea market but with no parking fees. Typical Fresno street foods such as snow cones and tacos were available on every block. One friend who lives on the street said they were expecting 10,000 people to visit.

A couple observations:

  • Lots of people were selling tube TVs for huge amounts of money, like $100.
  • Old (not vintage or valuable) electronics were everywhere. Every home seemed to be selling inkjet printers.
  • As a follower of Huntington, I know which homes are vacant. Vendors were setting up shop at vacant homes and homes that were for sale.
  • Thanks to my smartphone, I did some research and didn't buy an abused Pioneer SX-525 stereo receiver

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'd live in a trailer park


Especially if that trailer park was across the street from the beach in Cayucos.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fay Elberta peach season

Fay Elberta peaches
Last August as we prepared to leave Guam for Fresno, I read about the short-lived harvest of Fay Elberta peaches of the Central Valley. This variety is beloved by bakers and chefs but is so delicate and easily bruised that it is only sold locally. Sadly, we arrived in Fresno a month after the season for Fay Elbertas.

This season, we were committed to finding these peaches to try ourselves. I found a classified ad (!) that advertised Fay Elbertas and O'Henry peaches for sale. I called the number to ensure they still had some available, and we set out for Peach on Earth's roadside stand at Shaw and Dower. We scored a bag of each for only $10. The lesson of this story is to check the classified ads for fruit more often.

O'Henry peaches

Friday, July 22, 2011

Castle Air Museum mega post


We recently visited the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, CA. It reminds me of the airplane storage facility in Mojave, CA. I had a difficult time picking out my favorite photos. I enjoyed admiring the fighter jets.






















Thursday, July 7, 2011

Circus comes to town


I missed the elephants marching down the street, but I was able to get these shots from the roof of a parking garage.



The circus does not travel light.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Morro Rock at Morro Bay




Fresnans love the central coast. In fact, I saw a vanity license plate "WE<3PSMO" (referring to Pismo Beach) with that stupid [heart] symbol. I took a road trip to meet a New York college friend who was visiting Morro Bay.

Morro Bay reminded me of a New England beach town with shops selling useless items (like Pillow Pets: "It's a pillow, it's a pet ... It's Pillow Pet.") and fried seafood on the bay. The only difference from the East Coast was loads of free parking. My friend said SLO got much busier after Oprah featured it as "America's happiest city."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Scenic route thanks to GPS


On the way to SLO, the GPS device sent me on Rte. 41 to Rte. 101, an easy predictable route with lots of traffic and stores and services along the trip. I made the trip in about 3 hours with a 10-minute rampage break for baby.

On the way back, the device sent me a different way, Rte. 101 to Rte. 59 to Rte. 229 to Rte. 41, a route that I blindly followed.


View Larger Map

After taking 10 miles of S-turns at 20 mph on Rte. 58, I was ready to get back on the highway. Then I turned onto Rte. 229, the picture at the top, which was narrower and just as twisty. It looks like a the hypotenuse to a triangle. In theory, it should have been a shorter trip, especially when the GPS device thought I should be doing 55 mph on those roads. Without an actual paper map, I had no idea whether Rte. 229 turned into a dirt road or sent me over a cliff.

As I took turn after turn, stories I'd heard recently about "Death by GPS" weighed heavily on my mind. We made it to the other end just fine with nobody getting ill. Normally, I'd enjoy the slow ride through a wealthy rural area, but I had other stuff on my mind, like a baby getting car sick 30 minutes into a 3-hour trip.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Welcome to Kettleman City


My jaw dropped when I rolled through Kettleman City, CA, and saw gas for more than $4.30 a gallon at every single gas station. It's just off Interstate 5 at the perfect location to gouge RV-ers who began their journey in the L.A. area, 175 miles away. At the same time, gas in Fresno is $3.60 a gallon and $3.85 in San Luis Obispo. Fun fact, gas in Guam is $4.53 a gallon.

Poor Kettleman City.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Father's Day dinner


After hiking around Sequoia National Park, we stopped at The Gateway restaurant in Three Rivers, CA, for food. It was the closest restaurant to the park entrance and right on the Kaweah River.





The restaurant charged big-city prices with a bunch of $20 to $30 entrees, the cheapest being a $16 Kobe burger. I selected prime rib while my wife chose filet mignon.


Overall, the food was fine but not spectacular (considering that you can get a prime rib dinner around here for $7). The service, however, had some issues, especially for a place that charged $30 for most entrees. We had to ask for everything, including a high chair, steak knife for prime rib and every single water refill. The server walked past our table once with pitcher to refill the water at the table beside ours and didn't see my empty water glass on the edge of the table. In addition, the toilet in the men's room had no door on the stall, putting you on display for every man and boy who entered the bathroom.

After the meal, I had that nagging regret that usually occurs at the counter of car rental agency as I wonder if I'd just been played. Next time we spend $100 on a dinner for two (no drinks or appetizers!), hopefully, it'll be at The Ripe Tomato or some other fancy place.