Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Kelly Kettle

On some of my fast & light bike trips, I forgo the comforts of hot food at the campsite and I live off cold snacks in camp and I get my hot food and coffee at mini-marts when I pass through town. But one of the great pleasures in life is having a hot beverage early on a cold morning or a hot meal at the end of a damp day, so more often than not I bring two pieces of somewhat more than minimal gear with me on my journeys: a Kelly Kettle and a 16-ounce Thermos. I've mentioned these items in passing in some of my tour posts over the years, but I often get asked about the kettle so I figure it deserves a post of its own.

Long before anyone invented the Jetboil, Irish fishermen were using a handful of twigs and a Kelly Kettle to quickly boil water. A detailed explanation of how the kettle works can be found here, but a diagram doesn't quite convey the wonder of this device in action. It only takes about five minutes for water to go from icy cold to a full boil in the kettle. Air gets sucked through the bottom vents and the conical shape creates a vortex which makes the fuel (twigs, paper, pinecones or whatever) burn very efficiently. The kettle gets a rumbling roar going and a jet of flame shoots out the top.

On a trip a few years ago, my friend Mark inadvertently brought the wrong kind of alcohol for his soda can stove, but he was able to cook his dinner thanks to the vortex action of my Kelly Kettle.

The Kelly Kettle is not really a stove, it's a device for boiling water but hot water is really all you need for many back country meals. On a typical trip I'll boil up one batch of water and use that to reconstitute a freeze-dried meal, pouring the boiling water into the food pouch which is wrapped in something insulating, like a sleeping bag or my wife's wool hat. While the food is soaking up the warm water, I run a second batch of water through the kettle and when it's boiling, the water gets poured into the thermos. The thermos water gets used to make instant coffee, cocoa, tea or whatever and water stays hot in the thermos for hours.

While the Kelly Kettle is bulkier than some stoves, I don't have to worry about packing or running out of fuel. I do tend to carry some dry paper, twigs and a small candle in the empty space of the kettle in case I wind up camping in a complete downpour and can't find any dry fuel, but I've always been able to find enough dry fuel to get the kettle going. A stiff wind, which tends to decrease the efficiency of most stoves, has the opposite effect on the Kelly Kettle. Wind blowing into the lower vents and across the top of the chimney amplifies the vortex effect.

The Kelly Kettle is one of those wonderful old things that works well and is very satisfying to use. My kettle's storage bag is a bit battered and the inside of the chimney is blackened with soot but I've used the kettle for years now and it'll probably still being going strong decades from now.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Portland Design Works Cosmic Dreadnought 110

For the past couple of years my favorite bike headlight has been the Planet Bike Blaze. While the Blaze is still a fine light, my friend Dan at Portland Design Works recently sent me a care package containing what is now my new favorite bike headlight, the Portland Design Works Cosmic Dreadnought 110. Now let me pause to make this clear: Dan is a friend of mine and he gave me this light. As a blogger & a bike shop guy I get stuff. Manufacturers are looking for exposure and feedback and I'm looking for things to write about. Do these freebies bias me? Probably, it's human nature to think kindly towards people who give you things. So, take that caveat into account. Also remember that this blog pays my enormous coffee bills via those little Amazon links so I've got an incentive to get you to buy stuff and this could all just be a big Jedi mind trick to get you to buy things. Welcome to capitalism! Keep your eye on your wallet.

Where was I? Oh yeah, buy the PDW Dreadnought, it's awesome!

Seriously, the Dreadnought is a lot like the Blaze. Here is a PB Blaze next to PDW Dreadnought:

While both lights use 2 AA batteries, the Dreadnought is a bit smaller and lighter. The clamps on the lights are similar enough that each can fit in the bracket of the other, but the PDW clamp is a bit more solid. Changing the batteries is a mater of twisting the head on the Blaze, while on the Dreadnought a screw on the bottom of the light holds the battery compartment closed. Since I've had my Blaze pop open one occasion while I was riding, I think the Dreadnought's battery arrangement is better.

While the Blaze is available in 1/2, 1 and 2 Watt versions (I own every one of them!), the Dreadnought uses a 1 Watt Cree XPE LED. Like the various Blazes, the Dreadnought can be set to High, Low or Flash modes and the package lists the run times as 10 hours on high, 15 hours on low and 25 hours on flash. I have not tested this, but experience tells me these times are probably optimistic. That same experience tells me that the run times of the Planet Bike and Portland Design Works lights will probably be very similar.

The beam pattern of the lights is also very similar. I tested the One Watt Dreadnought against the Two Watt Blaze, expecting the Dreadnought to be overwhelmed by superior fire power. The photo below shows the Dreadnought's beam on the left and the Blaze's beam on the right. Both lights are set to High:

I don't see much difference. Repeating the test with the One Watt Blaze, the Dreadnought was the clear winner.

I still think the Blaze is a good light, but the Dreadnought is a bit better.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A True Tale of Bike Geek Love

Longtime readers of this blog will have deduced that I am rather fond of my wife Christine and that she is also rather fond of me. This past week she has been out east visiting her mother and brother in Rhode Island while I have been working here in Issaquah, building bikes, fixing bikes and selling bikes. I miss her and she misses me, as evidenced by a recent note which she concluded with:

"I miss you so much. I miss my Allant, too, but not nearly as much as I miss you."

Shortly before she left on her trip, Christine's bike hit a bump and her otherwise excellent Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Tail Light popped in two and the important lighty bits went bouncing away unnoticed. Later when I did notice the damage, I replaced the light with another from my light stash and secured the light extra tight with a rubber band cut from an old bit of inner tube.

But Christine & her Allant deserve better, heck they deserve the best, so today I purchased a welcome home present for her, a bright and lovely Portland Design Works Danger Zone Tail Light. Because nothing says I love you quite like a really, really bright tail light.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Friday, August 19, 2011

Laser Lite Lane: A Tail Light with Lasers

I recently got to test the most interesting bicycle tail light I've ever seen, the Laser Lite Lane. The Laser Light Lane is more than a normal LED tail light, it uses a laser to project a virtual bike lane behind the rider. In addition, the Laser Lite Lane uses tilt sensors to blink the LEDs and the appropriate lane stripe to indicate the direction of a turn.

I mounted the Laser Lite Lane on my Dahon, waited until dusk and had my son Eric shoot the following video, which demonstrates the key features of the light:

The following video (supplied by the manufacturer) demonstrates the tilt-activated turn signal feature:

My pal Mark Canizaro and some of his friends made this video showing the Laser Lite Lane in action on the streets of Seattle:

Mark and I both agree that the light really needs a more versatile mounting system. The mount is designed to fit on a seatpost and while it worked fine on my Dahon, on Mark's bike his rear rack blocked part of the laser projection. Also, many riders use a seat bag under their saddle. A mount or a variety of mounts that would let the light be mounted directly to a rack or seat stay as well as a seat post should be a top priority for the people behind the Laser Lite Lane.

The tilt-turn signal feature is something I found myself using most often when I was stopped at an intersection. By tilting my bike in the direction I intend to turn, the signal worked great. When riding however, a cyclist actually tilts the bike in the opposite direction when initiating a turn. You can see this happen in Mark's video. I think this would just confuse a following driver. It would be nice if there was an option to turn off the tilt signal or manually activate the signals to indicate direction.

While the lane does project behind the rider, I'm not sure the current power levels of the lasers are enough to mark the lane in a truly meaningful way in an urban environment. Riding with other riders, conventional LED tail lights such as the Planet Bike Super Flash or the PDW Radbot seem to provide a more effective means of letting drivers know that there is bike on the road ahead.

I think there is great potential in the Laser Lite Lane and I look forward to seeing the product evolve. Anyone interested in buying a Laser Lite Lane can send email to The current pricing for a single Laser Lite Lane is $149.00 US and a distributor kit consisting of two Laser Lite Lanes and a set of flyers and brochures is $199.00 US.

Keep 'em rolling & stay safe,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Photos from Trek World

Last week I was in Madison & Waterloo, Wisconsin for Trek World, the annual Trek dealer show. Some of the most impressive things, like Trek's testing lab & the high-end carbon assembly areas, are photo embargoed so no photos of that stuff. This slide show is basically a dump from my camera phone of all the things I could take pictures of. In some cases the lighting is poor and my photographic technique is bad, but I figure any pictures are better than no pictures.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA

Friday, August 12, 2011

Concept Bike: The Trek Sasquatch

I saw a lot of very nice bikes at Trek World, bikes that are actually in production and available for purchase at your local Trek dealer, but I also got to see some cool "thing we're working on" projects which may or may not ever be available for purchase. The Sasquatch falls into this latter category. When I originally posted the above photo on Twitter, one person asked "Why is there an axe on that bike?" That is clearly the wrong question for the target market. Speaking as someone who would love to own a Sasquatch, my immediate thought on seeing the bike was "Why doesn't my bike have an axe on it?"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Madison B-Cycle Bike Sharing System

I just got back from the lovely town of Madison, Wisconsin where I was busy getting the inside scoop on what Trek has in the works at an annual conference called Trek World. While I was there, I got to check out Madison B-cycle, the city's bike sharing system. The system is pretty slick.

As a Trek World attendee, I got a complimentary 7-day access pass to the system but I did have to register a credit card because the credit card becomes the key that identifies a user to the system. Also, the system is optimal for short trips and to encourage this, trips under 30 minutes are free. If I'd opted to keep a bike for a longer period, that usage would be billed to my credit card. Using the system for a couple of days, I only did the short trips and never incurred any fees.

If you go to the B-cycle website, you'll get a full explanation of how things work, so I won't fully explain it all again here. What I will say is that the system works well, the bikes are fun & functional and the system is very easy to use.

There are a bunch of places where you can grab a bike, and maps showing you where other stations are and giving someone like me, who was new in town, a good orientation of where things are at.

The kiosk is like an ATM. Slide your card in follow a few prompts and in 30 seconds you have a bike.

Once you've swiped your card and made your choice, the racks unlocks the bike you've chosen.

The bikes feature a three-speed hub (fine for fairly flat Madison), a quick release seat clamp so you can easily adjust saddle height, full fenders, tough tires, a basket and a bike lock. The bikes also have a an electrical generator built into the front hub. If the bike is rolling, its lights are on.

You can return the bike to any B-cycle station and every time I returned a bike, I got a nice email informing me the return really worked. I never had a problem finding a bike when I needed one but I did ride by one completely empty rack at one point in my visit.

The B-cycle was a great asset to me as a visitor to the town. I got to see more, do more and have more fun in Madison than I ever could by walking or driving. If you ever are visiting a town that has a bike share system, check it out.

I'm very happy that Madison has a B-cycle system so I could keep rolling while I was in town.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
now back in Issaquah WA USA and thinking we should get a B-cycle system here.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Journey to Wood Creek

Dawn is breaking through the darkness of tall evergreens. I am nestled comfortably in the warmth of my sleeping bag, somewhere in that drowsy, contented place between dreaming and waking, when I become aware of two things: Kent is stirring beside me, and our tent is MOVING. “Yikes!” Kent yelps. “The tent is sliding!”

Last night we pitched our free-standing Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 in a very small not-quite-flat space near the edge of a 20-foot drop down to the rocky edges of a waterfall, and we are slipping toward that edge with alarming speed. I have visions of us falling, zipped inside the tent, crashing down against the rocks. Adrenaline kicks in, and I come fully awake, wailing incoherently, bracing myself and jamming my foot against a rock in an attempt to pin the tent to it, while Kent grabs hold of a tree root, trying to halt our downward slide. Gravity is not our friend at the moment, and I am very scared.

It seems a bit ironic, because up until now we have been having an idyllic adventure. We left Issaquah yesterday early in the morning, with our camping gear loaded on our Trek Allants. It was a picture perfect summer day, with beautiful sunshine and clear blue sky. I had actually managed to make it up the hill out of Issaquah without stopping for the first time ever, and we rode comfortably to Preston, through Fall City, then turning right on SR-202. We stopped to buy a small bunch of Rainier cherries for $1.00 at a roadside stand. After a short stretch along 202, we turned onto the quiet and pleasant Fish Hatchery Road, where we were greeted by a lady with her pug, and caught a glimpse of kangaroos. Fish Hatchery Road parallels the Snoqualmie River and then turns to rejoin 202 for a very steep climb up to Snoqualmie Falls. I stopped a couple of times to walk, while Kent pedaled along behind me all the way up.

Snoqualmie Falls is worth the climb. The waterfall is magnificent in the sunshine, and we are close enough to feel a bit of the spray from the overlook. We watch for a while, then find a bench in the shade to rest and refuel with trail mix and cherries.

Leaving the falls we turn onto Mill Pond Road which has a short, busy section. Big trucks roar by, and I am relieved when we come to a lovely quiet section beside a small lake. A bit past the lake, we arrive at the bottom of stairs leading up to the Snoqualmie Trail. I am doubtful about my ability to carry my loaded bike safely up the stairs, and Kent volunteers to carry both bikes (chivalry is not dead), handing me the camera so I can take pictures of him “being rugged and manly.” We enjoy the view of the river from the small bridge at the top of the stairs, then roll forward onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail -- packed gravel and very pleasant riding -- all the way to North Bend. We stop at Scott's Dairy Freeze for lunch – a burger and chocolate milkshake for me, clams and chips and a chocolate malt for Kent, and an order of onion rings to share. Then we're back on the trail, arriving a couple of hours later at Rattlesnake Lake.

This beautiful green lake, set against the backdrop of Rattlesnake Mountain, is a popular spot for families in search of summer fun. Kids and grown-ups alike float on inner tubes and other inflatable toys in the water, or stretch out on quilts and beach towels, enjoying picnic foods and drinks. We rest in the shade of a tree, watching a cute little girl in her pink dress and sun hat wander around clutching the leash of her equally adorable Basset Hound named Lily. It's a bit of a toss-up as to who is taking whom for a walk, but they both seem to be having a good time. Eventually we get up to walk around the edge of the lake, stopping to read about the wildlife and the submerged city of Moncton, and to take pictures by a waterfall at the edge of the trail.

Rested and refreshed, we head up onto the Iron Horse Trail and ride along the gravel surface in search of a place to camp. The climb is not steep, but it is pretty relentless, and after an hour or so I am really starting to hope we will find a campsite soon. We explore the grassy open space at Ragnar, which is pleasant but has no water nearby. It's a very warm, sunny afternoon, and we've used up quite a bit of the supply that we started out with, so we were hoping to find a site with water along the trail. Kent thinks we'll find something “just a bit further up” around Garcia, so we head back to the trail and ride on. As the climb continues, I keep on gearing down until I am barely moving forward at all. I am trying to be a good sport about this, but it has been a long climb and there is no part of my body that is comfortable at this point. My shoulders ache, my hands ache, my butt aches, my legs ache, my feet ache.

We pass several groups of rock climbers, and I suddenly find myself riding out onto a trestle overlooking an impressive chasm. At least, I would be impressed if I were not terrified of heights. I'm rolling across, trying to follow the classic piece of advice, “Don't look down,” but unless I shut my eyes completely, the “down” hovers at the edges of my peripheral vision. Vertigo sets in. I cannot orient myself in space or feel any connection to the ground beneath me, and I start to scream. Kent assures me I am safe, and I know this in my head, but I can't feel it. I focus on his rear wheel and manage to make it across, where I collapse and try to breathe deeply, apologizing profusely for freaking out. Kent reassures me that it's fine, that “the trestles are freaky.” He also assures me that Garcia is “just a bit further up.” So on we go. There are more trestles, and I get off and walk across them. We finally reach Garcia, but there is no place to camp, no place at the side of the trail that is not steep rock. We ride on, and Kent moves further ahead to scout out possibilities while I plod, and plod, and plod, along in my low gear.

The trail is beautiful, my mind can barely hold all the richness and beauty of the day's experiences, and my bike is generally a joy to ride. But it's been a long day of riding for me nevertheless, and I am rapidly reaching a place where I can barely keep turning the pedals. My mind's soundtrack is playing an African-American spiritual:

It was inch by inch that I sought the Lord;

It was inch by inch that he saved my soul . . .

Keep inching along, keep inching along,

Jesus will come by and by.

Keep inching along, like a poor inchworm,

Jesus will come by and by.

We'll inch and inch and inch along,

And inch by inch till we get home . . .

Oh, trials and trouble on the way,

But we must watch (for a campsite!) as well as pray . . .

It's perhaps a bad thing for a lifelong Christian to be looking forward to supper and sleep more than the coming of Jesus, but I have to admit, I am getting to that point. This poor little inchworm is tired, and – did I say tired? – make that “exhausted” -- and running out of energy to inch forward any further. Finally I come to a stop, get off my bike, and start walking. Exercising different muscles for awhile helps, and at least I am continuing to move.

Kent rides back to me a few minutes later, and reassures me again that we'll find something “just a bit further up.” “This is why so many of your friends don't want to go camping with you,” I mutter darkly, smiling to take the edge off my words. “Your definition of 'just a bit further' is different than any normal person's.” He offers to go back to camp at Ragnar, but I tell him firmly that there is no way I am going over those “freaky” trestles again tonight. No “freakin'” way.

Eventually, we arrive at a little sign for “Wood Creek” where it appears that we can actually get off the trail. We venture into the woods up the hill (of course, it would be “up”) and find a small, sloping space with just barely enough mostly flat space to pitch the tent. I'm a little concerned about the steep terrain, but it has taken us so long to get here, and I'm really not anxious to hit the trail again. And in a weird kind of way, this place is beautiful. Impossibly tall trees surround us, giant silent sentinels that I imagine Tolkien's Ents would find congenial, somehow sinking roots into the steep slope. And there is a waterfall tumbling over the rocks to the ground far beneath us, and a short climb over a log to a spot where we can actually reach it. The idea of camping by our own secluded waterfall is enchanting. Kent hauls the bikes in from the trail and sets up camp while I move gingerly along the slope collecting fuel for the Kelly Kettle.

Kent fires up the Kelly Kettle while I open packages of Easy Mac into a small plastic container. The water boils quickly, and Kent pours it over the macaroni. “I need something to insulate this,” he announces, so I move carefully over to my bike and dig my wool hat out of a bag. It works perfectly. While I'm at it, I extract my spork from my Camelbak to stir in the cheese sauce. In a few minutes, we're digging into mac and cheese, a tin of smoked trout, the rest of the cherries, and chocolate. It tastes wonderful, the view of the trees and the waterfall is magnificent, and the company can't be beat. I am a blissfully happy inchworm, and amazed that I have actually inched along as far as we have come today.

The space for the tent is so small that one of us is going to have to sleep with our head over a tree root that is sticking out under the tent. I don't mind taking the root, but Kent insists (as I said before, chivalry is not dead). Darkness falls quickly in the forest. We settle into our sleeping bags, and are soon asleep. I wake up occasionally during the night, hearing the sound of water and thinking it must be raining, then I remember that wonderful waterfall . . .

“Yikes!” “Eeeeeeeeek!” -- that wonderful waterfall that we are starting to slide down into, as early morning light filters through the trees. I've got my foot jammed against a rock, fighting panic and clinging to Kent, and Kent is holding tight to the tree root.

“I think you have to get out so we can move the tent,” Kent says. “I'll hold onto the root.”

I don't want to release my hold on him or take my foot off the rock, but I know he's right. We have to get out of this predicament, even if it means risking further slippage. I nod, trusting him to hold on for both of us, and scramble out of my sleeping bag to unzip the tent, pitching my jacket and sandals out ahead of me, climbing out, grabbing the tent, bracing myself against a log, digging my heels in, and holding on tight to the tent. Kent climbs out after me, and we secure the tent back in its semi-flat space. We carefully crawl back into our sleeping bags, joking about falling for each other and inclinations and so forth, and Kent eventually dozes off again, but I'm wide awake, and happy just to rest, looking out at the sunlight filtering through the trees, and giving thanks that we've survived a bit more excitement than most folks prefer on a camping trip.

Eventually we get up, fire up the Kelly Kettle, and enjoy hot beverages, bagels, and granola bars. We break camp and are back on the trail by 9am. It's another beautiful day, a really good day to be alive and not crushed against rocks at the base of a waterfall. I am determined not to be such a weenie about the trestles today, and as we approach the first one, I take a leaf from Jan Karon's Mitford books, and invoke “Philippians 4:13!” Her main characters are all good Episcopalians who know that this Biblical citation is for “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me,” and when confronted with any challenge from the sublime to the ridiculous, they go around chirping “Philippians 4:13!” at each other. It is actually fairly annoying, exceeding my saccharine tolerance at times, though I generally enjoyed the books. So I spice it up a bit as I roll across the trestle by punctuating my Scriptural citation with a bit of profanity. With each turn of the wheel, I settle into a rhythm. “Philippians 4:13, damn it! Philippians 4:13, damn it!” It certainly won't put me in the running for sainthood, but it gets me across the trestle! Yes! And every trestle after that! Woo-hoo!

We continue on down the trail, and catch a glimpse of a raccoon scurrying across, pausing to perch on its hind legs and look at us curiously. He seems to be out late for a raccoon; these nocturnal critters are normally back home fast asleep by dawn. I wonder if he's been out partying, maybe sneaking in after curfew? “But Mom, it was so cool; I saw two humans on the way home, riding funky two-wheeled machines! And the one with the mustache, on the black machine, pointed a little shiny rectangular thing at me, but I got away.”

Speaking of the funky two-wheeled machines, the Allants have performed superbly on this trip. They handle fine with the added weight of our gear, and are very comfortable to ride on the packed gravel trails. And in case anybody is wondering, Trek isn't paying me to say so. We just really do love and enjoy our bikes, like lots of other people. And the fact that they are so similar makes it easy for us to ride together, despite the fact that Kent is a much stronger rider.

We coast along happily on the trail, enjoying the downhill trip home that is the sweet reward for all our climbing yesterday. I don't think inchworms really undergo metamorphosis. But as I zip along on my Allant under the trees with Kent beside me, smiling, and sunlight shines down on us through the green canopy overhead, my spirit soars, and I think that I just might be flying.

Link to Map & Directions