Friday, November 11, 2011

Top 4 Travel Must-Haves To Keep You Healthy

These are my top 4 travel must-haves.  They have multiple uses and purposes and can often replace more than one item in your travel kit.  These are what I use at home and take with me everywhere I go to keep me healthy. 

Silver Sol

I've gone from being a skeptic to a convert (see my original blog post here).  Silver Sol is a broad spectrum antimicrobial.  What that means is that is kills germs, bacteria and fungus.  Think about it.  That means possible protection from SARS, malaria, dengue, Hepatitis C, AIDS, influenza, diarrhea or dysentery, athlete's foot and a whole host of other fungal, viral or bacterial infections you could get (the full list is available here).
I use Silver Biotics from American Biotech.  That's the liquid stuff.  It's not effective if you use it topically for issues like athlete's foot.  For that, you'll need Silver Sol gel, which is more concentrated and stays on your skin longer.  For external problems, I just use tea tree oil, which is the 3rd item on this list.
Personally, I just buy the liquid Silver Sol, transfer it into a small spray bottle and keep it in my toiletry case.  I put 4 squirts in my mouth (about a teaspoon) after I brush my teeth (twice a day).
Silver Sol has replaced the anti-biotics, alchohol swabs, antiseptic cream and diarrhea medication from my first aid kit.
Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap

Dr. Bronner's Castille Soaps have been around for ages.  They come in a solid soap bar, or liquid in a bottle, and come in a variety of scented flavors.  I buy the peppermint liquid soap and transfer it into a smaller, leak-proof, plastic bottle.

They are organic and natural and hence they are great when used outdoors (with the possible exception in bear country because of the scent in the soaps).  I use it as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid and deoderant.  Here's the official Dr. Bronner's list of what you can do with it.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea Tree Oil is an essential oils from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia.  It is often used for its anti-fungal and anti-septic properties.  It is used externally, and should always be diluted.  It should never be consumed, although small amounts used in toothpaste and mouthwash is ok.  Be careful using this stuff around pets as it can be toxic to cats and small dogs.

These days, I'm biking a lot, and in the humid conditions here, I'm prone to fungal infections like athlete's foot.  Tea Tree Oil can be mixed with Silver Sol for a potent anti-fungal treatment.  I haven't tried this yet, but it's on my list.  I mix a few drops of tea tree oil with my Dr. Bronner's soap in a small plastic bottle and use it when I shower.  It's light enough that I can still use it as toothpaste if I need to.

Gloves in a Bottle

Gloves in a Bottle is not a moisturizer.  It's a shielding lotion that bonds with the outer layer of your skin.  Having said that, for me, it works like a moisturizer on steroids.  It seals in moisture, and helps to protect minor scrapes, abrasions and burns.

I was turned on to this stuff after my Aconcagua climb, where my skin cracked and split at the nails.  This was painful and made it hard to work on the mountain with my hands.  On Everest, my Sherpa and I used this stuff successfully with no problems during our two month long expedition.  I use it on my face, body and scalp; and it can also be used on lips as well.  My wife used it in lieu of a moisturizer on her face when she biked from Lhasa to Kathmandu earlier this year.  Despite the harsh, dry conditions, she said her skin never felt better!

Most of these items can also be purchased at iherb.com.  Iherb is pretty good if you are shipping overseas.  I'm not sure what the prices are, but it may be worth comparing.  Also, if you are new to iherb, use this discount code to get $10 off you first purchase: KOH756

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bottles vs. Hydration Bladder

Which is better for mountain biking: water bottles or a camelbak style hydration bladder pack?  It's an age old debate that I'll try to answer for myself for the upcoming Cape Epic mountain bike race.
Running on Empty at the Tour de Timor
To answer the question, I need to look at how much water I'll need for the ride, and also where I'll be riding.

Quantity
Bottles are typically 750ml each, and if you can get two bottles on your frame, that will set you up with 1.5 liters (1.6 quarts).  Bottles are a great option for rides or races where you can refill your bottles mid-ride.  For the occasional longer ride, you could stuff another bottle in a jersey pocket and hope it doesn't fall out.

Hydration bladder packs start at 1 liter and max out at 3 liters, the size and weight of the carrier pack increases with the bladder size.  A 2 liter bladder is a good choice for most situations, and 3 liters is a must for a long day out with no chance of refill.  Bladders are the natural choice if you cannot refill mid-ride.

Terrain and Location
The main problem with bottles is that you need a relative straight and smooth section of trail where you can take a hand off the bars to reach down and grab a bottle for a drink.  Needless to say, this takes a bit of skill, and as I learned from my recent trip to Drak Park with literally hours of continuous singletrack, it was difficult to get a drink without stopping.

The second major issue with the bottle is that all sorts of crap gets thrown up and gets around the spout of the bottle; buffalo crap, cow crap, pig crap, goat crap, chicken crap...  you get the idea.  The mouth piece from a hydration bladder typically sits around my shoulder, and is affected much less than the bottle on my down tube.  Here in South East Asia, there are all sorts of diseases can one can pick up and that is enough reason to use a hydration bladder here.
Aid Station at the Tour de Timor
Bottom Line
For me, I prefer to use bottles wherever possible.  I think I ride faster with bottles than with a hydration backpack.  I think getting as much weight off my back is also a good idea.  For the Cape Epic, with aid stations 30-40km apart, I'm probably not going to get enough water just by using bottles, so I plan to use a combination of a 1.5 liter bladder (filled with Hammer Perpetuem or Endurox Accelerade ) and a 750ml bottle to give me a total capacity of 2.25 liters.  I hope somebody who's been there can tell me if this is a good idea.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Drak Bike Park: As Good As It Gets!

With 65km of groomed and maintained singletrack, Super D and downhill courses, is Drak Bike Park as good as it gets?

Drak Bike Park is situated on the Indonesian island of Batam, just a 40 minute ferry ride south of Singapore.  Drak (short for 'Durian Kang' or Durian River) Bike Park lies in the area to the east of the lake formed when the river was dammed 20 years ago for the fresh water needs of the island.
Drak Trail Map
The park had it's beginnings when a rider from Singapore, Stewart Ong, came to Batam over 20 years ago for work.  He rode the farm trails and wanting more, began creating trails in the nearby park.  Today, he works in conjunction with the community and state park authorities and created the Drak Bike Club, which maintains and operates the Bike Park.
"The Gap".  Image Courtesy of Drak Bike Park
There are many challenges building trails in South East Asia.  The dense jungle canopy drops leaves and heavy rains often topple trees over trails and erode trails.  Stewart and his crew work full time maintaining the trails when there are no customers.
65km of singletrack trail at Drak Bike Park.  Photo by Stewart Ong.
How does does one go about riding in the park?  First of all, get in touch with Stewart by Facebook.  Stewart will book you on one of the morning ferry services from Singapore to Batam (on the weekend, it is either the 8:20 or 8:50am; on a weekday, only the 8:50am ferry is available).  He will meet you at the Batam ferry terminal, and take you and your bike to the club.  At the club, Stewart provides a simple breakfast or snack while you change up, and then head off to ride.  There's a time difference of one hour between Singapore and Batam, so it still seems quite early when you begin your ride about 10am Batam time.
Laura negotiating some 'adventure' singletrack trail.  Photo by Stewart Ong.

All riders are guided for safety and security.  Faster riders get to follow a motor bike, and it was fun trying to keep up with a powered bike through the singletrack trails.  Stewart normally takes riders on a scenic 10km warm-up ride along singletrack farming trails which crisscross padi fields and along the lake shore.  Then the trail dives into the park's gem, 65km of maintained singletrack trails.  In addition, there are other 'ride-able' trails around the park, such as unmaintained 'adventure' singletrack and motocross trails.
Photo by Luki Gunawan.  Courtesy of Drak Bike Club.
Stewart's crew will meet rider's with a lunch pack and cold drinks at a prearranged lunch stop.  After the ride, showers and a snack await.  If you aren't staying the night, Stewart will send you and your bike back to catch the ferry back to Singapore.  Drak Bike Club has enough beds to sleep 24 riders in 5-6 rooms, so an overnight stay with more riding the next day is encouraged.  Note that each ferry has a limit of only 12 bikes, so if you are coming over in a bigger group, it has to be split-up over 2 or more ferries.

Cost varies, depending on the number of riders and how long you stay.  For large groups, the cost is about SGD$80 per rider for a day, and includes park entry fee, guide, all meals and drinks.  The ferry ticket costs SGD$50, and you have to pay another SGD$10 for bike handling.  For overnight stays and longer, it's more cost effective as you only pay for the ferry once.  Contact Stewart or Drak Bike Club for details and cost.

So back to the question: is Drak Bike Park as good as it gets?  For South East Asia, my answer is yes :o)


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lighten Up!

I'm in the process of lightening up my Giant Anthem X.  I'm hoping a lighter bike will save me some energy for the upcoming grueling Cape Epic Mountain Bike Race in South Africa.  So how does one go about building a light bike?

300g Savings or more: Frame, Fork and Wheels
The best place to start is obviously in the 3 biggest, heaviest and costliest components.  If you haven't bought a frame yet, it's best to start looking at your needs and then a frame that will fulfill those requirements.  Carbon frames are where it's at for racing.  For daily riding duties, a more durable aluminum or titanium frame may be more suitable.  I chose to get a more durable aluminum frame and pay a slight weight penalty over a comparable carbon frame.

The Wheels are the next best place to spend money if you're trying to shave weight.  The wheels rotate, and a lighter rotating weight saves more energy than a static weight elsewhere on the bike.  Depending on where you are and what you can get, wheels come pretty light.  I bought a Stan's ZTR Crest wheelset and replaced the stock Shimano XT wheelset, saving 360g of rotating weight in the process.

The fork is the third major piece of this puzzle.  My Fox F120 RL is a heavy fork, and there are lighter options, but I like the way 120mm rides.  Rockshox's SIDs and DT Swiss XRC are a couple of lighter forks you could look at.

200g Savings: Drivetrain, Brakes and Tires
Drivetrain, brakes and tires aren't really the place to get creative to save weight.  Pros run the standard SRAM XX or Shimano XTR drivetrain and brakes.  If your budget doesn't stretch that far, look at the SRAM X0 or Shimano XT equivalent.  They may not be as light, but are often more durable.

While it is possible to go really light on tires, a lighter tire may be more puncture prone, and may be less grippy, thereby eroding your confidence and making your overall slower.  For the Cape Epic, I'm thinking of using Continental Protection X-King 2.4 up front and a Continental Protection Race King 2.2 on the rear.  Not really light, but low rolling resistance and good puncture protection.
KCNC Ti Pro Lite Seatpost
100g Savings: Seatpost, Handlebar, Stem and Pedals
The savings here are modest, but this is where you can get creative and still save about 100g for the handlebar and seatpost each, and 50g for the stem by replacing them with lighter aftermarket parts.  Pedals like Crank Brothers Eggbeaters are about 100g lighter than the Shimano equivalent and their Ti version is even lighter.  Taiwanese companies, like KCNC, are coming up with products like the KCNC Ti Pro Lite 8000 SeatPost , which at about 160g and a cost of about $100, is getting some rave reviews.  KCNC also makes a nifty stem and some lightweight handlebars.  Shop around and you can find even lighter carbon parts, but how light do you dare to go?

Keep in mind that there is no free lunch.  With lighter parts, comes a higher chance of equipment failure.  Lighter equipment can be more flexible, more prone to damage when knocked around and more likely to break or fail.  Assess your needs and the risks of going light.
Mt. Zoom Top Cap/Stem Bolt Combo. 4.7g.
10g Savings: The Small Bits
Swopping out some small bits like the seatpost clamp, top cap/stem bolt, jockey wheels, Ti rotor bolts, Ti QR skewers, etc can save between 10 - 30g each.  Swop out a few of these, and the savings are over 100g. 


2.5g Savings: The Bolts
Aluminum bolts for bottle cage bosses, brake levers and other non-load bearing places, Ti bolts for everywhere else.  Savings are about 2.5g per steel bolt swopped for a Ti bolt, more for an aluminum bolt.  It starts to get expensive here and its up to you to decide where to draw the line.

Remember, should you decide that your current steed is still too heavy, you can remove the Ti bolts and other lightweight bits and transfer them to your new bike.