Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tour de Timor: Verdict

My Santa Cruz Superlight against a mural painted on a wall in Baucau, Day 2 Tour de Timor.

With the roads closed off to vehicular traffic, the riding was outstanding. Terrain varied from fast and smooth bitumen to rough and rutted doubletrack, although it was usually a combination of both, sometimes with sudden changes from one extreme to the other.

Nearing the top of the big 1840m hill on Day 4, Tour de Timor.

We started our ride along rugged coastal roads from the capital Dili to Baucau, then turned south through green fields of rice paddies and coffee plantations to Betano Beach, finally traveling west and north deep into the central highlands with wide, sweeping vistas before dropping back into Dili. The scenery was nothing short of spectacular, and my photos from my little Panasonic LX3 don’t do justice to the Timorese landscape.

Laura reaches her limit near the end of Day 1, Tour de Timor.

It was the first time had I raced with my wife, and not knowing her limits, we pushed her a little too hard. When she dragged herself into Baucau at the end of the first day, the Race Doctor immediately rushed her to the Hospital. Needless to say, we ended that first day in last place among the Singapore teams. She recovered well though, we finished the race in good standing. It was a very positive experience for us both, and we are keen to race together again.

Laura handing me a tube in our tent to fix yet another flat tire on Betano Beach, Day3, Tour de Timor.

I do a couple of small criticisms that I hope the race organizers will look into. While the riding and race management was good, I could not help but feel that the infrastructure was a bit stretched. Accommodation, in Dili and for campsite space on the first night in Baucau, appeared insufficient for the 350+ participants, volunteers, media and officials. Meals, though sufficient in quantity, could have been better distributed, perhaps in individual packs, rather than as a buffet. Racers in the front of the buffet queue ended up hoarding food for fear of not getting enough, which is what happened to the racers at the back of the queue. Finally, the number of toilets provided could be improved, either by digging pit toilets, or by transporting portaloos.

Verdict:
A great event that can only get better!

Photos: All photos taken with a Panasonic LX3.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tour de Timor: The Gear

Note about gear: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t second guess yourself and undermine your confidence at this stage of the game. Decisions about what kind of tire to use may seem really important now, but once the race starts, it won’t. It’s more important to bring back-ups: a spare tire in case what you brought doesn’t work, or you shred one; extra water bottles or a hydration bladder in case of loss or failure; more riding clothes in case it is colder than you think or in case they don’t dry in time; extra food; etc.


Tires
My ‘best guess’ is to go with semi-slicks. The touring/messenger slicks are a good choice for puncture resistance, but they are heavy and may not necessarily roll faster on poor roads.

We are going with a Kenda Klimax Lite 1.95 (345g) up front and a Panaracer Speedblaster Race Lite 1.75 (360g) on the rear. (For this race, I would have preferred the Kenda Kozmik Lite II 1.75 (390g) for the rear, but those aren’t available here in Singapore). The Klimax Lites have surprisingly traction with low rolling resistance, but are quite puncture prone. We put the Speedblasters on the rear for (hopefully) better puncture resistance. Both tires roll very fast with hard inflation, but the key with the Speedblasters is not to overinflate them, otherwise the big side knobs won’t bite. The Klimax Lites don’t have this problem as they get traction from the ‘V’ shaped knobs down the center. Pump ‘em up hard and enjoy!

The bike and me. Photo by Laura Liong.

Hydration and Nutrition
I’m bringing 3 bottles on the bike: 1 downtube bottle filled with Hammer Perpetuem/Endurolytes mix, and 2 filled with water in a ‘triathlon’ style bottle holder behind the saddle. I’ll also be bringing an extra water bottle AND a hydration bladder, just in case. I’ve had a few questions about the behind the saddle bottle holder and my suggestion, as usual is, if you haven’t tried it in training, don’t race with it. They do look cool, but the bottle holder introduces some issues you may not have thought of:

1. It may restrict shifting your weight to the rear on downhills;
2. The bottles are prone to popping out on bumps and we’ve had to rig up some shockcord to hold them in.
3. It may require more coordination handling the water bottles than drawing water from the mouthpiece of a bladder.

First Aid Kit
Ours is a patch up and go kit:
1 satchet Antiseptic wipe
1 satchet antibiotic cream
2 small butterfly bandaids
1 paracetemol tablet
1 ibuprofen anti-inflamatory tablet
The first 2 items are good for road rash; add the 3rd item for deep cuts; and the lot for a major wipeout.

Good Luck everyone!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tour de Timor: The Camera

Laura's Olympus 1030 SW. New.

We have a lot of gear to bring and we are trying to keep the load manageable. My wife, Laura, and I will be using compacts during the race and sharing her Canon Rebel XT/350D DSLR for other times. Her aging Canon XT/350D is overdue for replacement and she’s waiting to either switch to the new Nikon D300s or wait for the upcoming Canon 60D or 7D or whatever it’s going to be called.

Laura's Olympus 1030 SW. One year later. Scuffed up, dented, but still ticking!

Laura’s compact is her trusty and well-used (abused?) Olympus 1030 SW. I’ve been lusting after the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 for a while and now have the perfect excuse to get one. In a rugged, compact camera with a minimum wide-angle of 24mm, this is still the best choice for me. I’ll need the widest lens I can get to be able to work the angles I want while shooting from the saddle. The fact that it has a very fast (f/2.0-2.8) and sharp Leica lens is a nice bonus ;o)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Shooting from a moving bike is tough. More so during a race. My strategy is to put the naked LX3 in a Bento Boxon the bike, whip it out when the opportunity arises, and shoot a variety of shots, and then replace it.

Update: A reader has informed me of similar product, the Topeak All-Weather Tribag. It is similar to the TNI Bento box but slightly bigger and heavier. It is padded and a has a rainfly cover. All in all, it is superior to the TNI Bento Box for carrying a camera or cell phone on the ride. I've just bought one. Thanks Ben :o)

Update: Sorry folks, this is a bad idea. I've gone to using the standard LX3 strap around my neck which allows me to drop the camera if I need both hands on the handlebar suddenly. The Tribag allows me to store the camera when I no longer require it.

The LX3 is such a popular camera that it is sold out everywhere and it may be a bit of a challenge for me to find one before the race :o(

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tour de Timor: Shout Outs

The race is less than two weeks away. Team Singapore Spirit is done with our hard ‘peak’ training and we are into the ‘tapering’ phase of our training, final gear selection, and packing. We are still short one team member, and although we are hoping the race director can hook us up with a strong female rider, If anyone is going to the race without a team, we are intermediate level racers looking for a 4th team member. Please contact me at adventurenomad@gmail.com.

Hammer Nutrition has agreed to sponsor all teams from Singapore going to the race. I completed last weekend’s training riding 250+ km all over Singapore with Hammer Perpetuem and Endurolytes and am impressed. I’m convinced that this stuff is the future of endurance nutrition!

The Chain Reaction Project

One team that deserves mention is Team Chain Reaction Project, an all women’s team that is doing their bit to raise some money to help make a difference in the lives of the people of Timor. Check out their website here.

Update: TCRP will be selling Tiger Beer during the race at $2 per can. Proceeds go to charity. Anyone still working on your hydration strategy take note!


Thanks also OCBC Bank for offering to give all teams from Singapore race jerseys and to Totobobo for antipollution face masks for training and racing. I would also like to thank my personal sponsors, The North Face, for their continued support.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ferguson Hill Transparent Speakers

Ferguson Hill FH007. FH008 Sub not in image.

I bought a set of these last week. It’s one of the bigger purchases I’ve made this year that’s not related to photography or sports. It is a set of transparent speakers for my iPhone/PC. They are expensive, but boy, they sound great and they look awesome!

These speakers look as if they are designed and engineered purely for sound. There’s no exotic wood cabinet, no grilles covering the speaker cones, no frills. Just naked, pure looking speakers.

I did have a little trouble with the speakers when I bought them. I shot off an email to the company and got an almost immediate reply from the founder, Timothy Hill. He solved one problem with ‘crackling’ when I moved the volume switch (turns out to be dust on the volume potentiometer). The second problem was terminal, it turned out that the FH008 Subwoofer was faulty and needed to be replaced.

I found the literature a bit scarce and emailed Timothy Hill for some advice on the initial setup of the FH007/FH008. Here’s what he said:

“Use a small screwdriver to set the ‘bass level adjust’ on the back of the FH007 mini amplifier to about 3/4 of the way round;
Then set the frequency on the back of the sub to about 70Hz or just before half way;
Then set the volume on the sub to also just before half way.
After this, listen to a few different types of music and make small adjustments on the sub to suit.”

I’m no audiophile, and how these speakers sound really depends on what you listen to. To my ears, these speakers excel for anything with strong vocals, acoustic or natural sounds, which is what I bought them for.

Anyway, I like 'em :o)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bad Air Days Are Here Again

Photo by Kevin Lim/The Straits Times, from the story Haze is back in Singapore.

The haze is back in Singapore. Yesterday was the worst day I’ve seen this year in Singapore. The acrid smell of smoke from forests burning in faraway Indonesia was pretty thick in the morning and I actually took wore my Totobobo Anti-Pollution Face Mask, something I haven’t worn since my bicycle tour of Vietnam.

Totobobo in use in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Laura Liong.

The mask came in very handy as I was training on the bike for the upcoming Tour de Timor. Francis, the developer of the Totobobo Mask, met up with me and reminded me to change the filters on the mask as it was getting to be quite a dark grey. He’s since upgraded the filters to N96 to offer more protection from viruses, such as the H1N1 Flu virus. Francis was also kind enough to offer riders going to the race in Timor a free Totobobo Mask.

My filters after a the bike tour of Vietnam, worn approximately 2 hours per day for 14 days.

Way to go, Francis!

For more information or to order the Totobobo mask, please click here. Enter "adventurenomad" into the discount code to receive a special price on the Totobobo anti-pollution face mask and filters!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Magic Pill

For the past year, The Supplement Warehouse, a nutrition supplement store based in Singapore, has been kind enough to assist me with my sports nutrition requirements.

Keep in mind that there is no magic potion or pill that can substitute real training. But when used properly, there is a subtle, but noticeable, difference when using ergogenic aids such as this.

Champion Nutrition Muscle Nitro
Champion Nutrition calls this product a “V02 Maximizer” and “the secret weapon of top professional athletes”. It claims to provide up to 11% more exercise capacity and has studies to back this up.

I’ve used this in racing and hard training and have noticed a difference with and without it. The trick to using this product is with the timing and the amount, so some experimentation prior to an important event is required. Too little won’t give you any ergogenic effect and too much will play havoc with your stomach (and your results!). Unlike some other ergogenic aids, like phosphate loading, this product does not require loading prior to race, so it is relatively simple to use. I’ve had good results taking the low side of the recommended dose with a small meal immediately prior to race start.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Black and White

My present watch is a cheapo Timex that has proven to be simple and reliable, but when the duct tape holding my Timex together became a little too embarrassing, I figured it was time to get a new watch, recession notwithstanding.

I’ll admit that I’m vain, and began a search for an outdoor oriented limited edition timepiece. I also wanted a watch with built-in compass and altimeter functions, which will surely come in handy for the upcoming Tour de Timor with its massive hills.

Here’s a short list of what I found:


Suunto XLander Military Edition
Two of my previous Suuntos had issues with waterproofing. All my previous Suuntos had plastic faces, which tend to scratch easily. The military edition addresses both these issues with 'stinger' push buttons that can be used underwater (same technology as Suunto dive watches) and the use of a scratch resistant glass face. If you’re into the stealthy military look, this watch has a black negative face, comes encased in a black aluminum housing, and is equipped with a durable black rubber strap. Way cool!


Casio Protrek (Pathfinder) PRW-1300WFJ-7JR World Wildlife Fund Limited Edition
I got my first triple sensor Casio ‘Protrek’ watch in the early 90’s (80’s?). It was super reliable and super chunky. Back then, the limit of the altimeter was only 14,000ft. I suppose that was fine for Japan and most of the contiguous USA, but pretty useless once you’re in the big mountains of the Himalaya. It was still working great when I gave it away.

Casio has come a long way since then. Casio’s altimeter now works to 32,800ft (10,000m), more than enough for any terrestrial pursuit. The key feature is the built-in ‘tough solar’ panel, which recharges the internal battery so theoretically, you’ll never need to change batteries.

I ended up ordering the The Casio Protrek (Pathfinder) PRW-1300WFJ-7JR World Wildlife Fund Limited Edition from www.amazon.jp. The watch is white (which is still a cool color, though may not be for much longer :o), super slim and ridiculously expensive. Well, I hope I’m getting what I pay for: This watch is a limited edition Pathfinder/Protrek and Casio’s only made 1000 pieces.