Thursday, October 29, 2009

Its got that Octane stuff! The myth of Super Unleaded

Last night in Reno I stopped by a "VP racing" gas station. And behold they had 100 octane at the pump for $7.59 a gallon. I did not know they sold racing gas at the local pumps. So for all you high boost and high compression ratio folks: eat your heart out.This is a good time to talk a little about octane. It is very misleading that higher octane gas is better for your car. This is a myth perpetuated by the fact that high octane gas is labeled as "Super". Why run regular when you can run super. Higher octane gas actually has less energy per mass then lower octane gas. The reason it is, is because octane is needed is to delay combustion, and absorb energy.

In an engines combustion chamber, or cylinder, a volatile mix of air and gas is introduced. This mixture is then compressed with the piston. As the piston compresses the gas mixture, it is adding mechanical work energy. If the engine is built as a high compression ratio (the amount of space in the cylinder when the piston is at the bottom of the stroke vs the top), say 10.5 to 1 and you are running low octane at sea level, the piston can introduce enough energy to the mixture to combust it prior to the piston reaching the top of the stroke, and being lit off by a spark from the spark plug when the engine is ready. This is actually the basic theory behind the diesel engine, with its super high compression ratios of 20+ to 1. Instead the piston is still moving up and has not reach top dead center when the mixture goes boom and wants to push the piston back down. This is very bad and usually blows hole in the top of pistons. I believe this is called pre detonation, and it is the worst thing that can happen in a not enough octane situation. Lesser degrees of this are known as detonation, and pining. Octane is added to allow the gas to accept more energy and not pre detonate, and only fire off when at the correct time by the added energy from the spark.

So if you do not have a turbo/super charged car, or one with relatively low compression ratio (8 to 1), getting high octane gas is a waste of money. At higher elevations lower octane is required as well, due to lack of oxygen making for a less volatile gas mixture. For example my 10.5 to 1 compression ratio car runs fine on 87 at 6000 feet. "What about the additives they put in the gas that are only available with Super?" one might ask, "aren't those good for my car?" My car runs on gas not additives. If I want fuel injector cleaner (which is what Techtron is) , I buy it at the store and add it to my tank at suggested regular intervals.

Based on the above mentioned fact, I did not fill up my truck last night with 16 gallons of 100 octane gas. Cause hey, if 91 is consider SUPER...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Alcohol/Beer Can Stove

Several years ago I was introduced to a beer can stove on a group backpacking trip. One particular member, an ultralight backpacker, brought his usual getup, which included a home made beer can stove. He was kind of a douche and did not par take in group gear or meals, but that's another story for someone else to tell. But his beer can stove was very interesting.

Essentially you can burn two types of alcohol for cooking. Solid and liquid. Solid alcohol is best known as Esbits tablets. Esbits tablets are usually used with a holder or wing stove, and you simply light the tablet on fire and heat up your cookware. Sterno cans is another form of solid alcohol usually used in chaffing dishes at buffets.

Burning liquid alcohol is a little more complicated. I suppose you can simply pour a bit of alcohol in a small pan and light it on fire, however this does not burn efficiently. If you remember your high school chemistry: solids do not burn. And in fact liquids do not burn either. Only gas vapors burn. Liquid and solid alcohol must first go through a phase change or two before it going into its flammable vapor state. Holding a flame to an Esbit tablet first liquefies some of the alcohol then vaporizes it. Liquid alcohol evaporates into gas form and readily catches on fire. Simply burning the evaporated vapors do not provide enough heat for cooking purpose. In order to provide enough fire power, one must first pre heat the liquid alcohol and provide a large amount of alcohol vapor. To do this a stove must have vapor generating chamber.

The basic design of a beer can stove is to use the bottom portion of two cans. Cut the center out of one can, and slip a ring of aluminum can material in between as you nestle the two halves together. The ring should have several holes punched out of the bottom to allow the alcohol to flow from the inner chamber to the vapor generating outer chamber. Many small holes are then punched in the top portion of the outer chamber to allow the pre heated vapor to escape, and combust. So there you have it, a camp stove that cost almost nothing to make.
Beer can stoves have been around for a long time. There are even a few commercially produced versions; Trango for example makes one. So why have you not heard of them. Well these stoves require a bit of tinkering and are not good for anything more than boiling water. There isn't much money to be made from manufacturing them either. For the camping masses this is not the stove of choice. They have limited power and will have trouble melting snow for drinking water, and generally do not simmer. However these stoves have quite a cult following amongst the ultra light gear geek crowd. A quick goggle search will yield many sites documenting the finer details of beer can stove construction.
Having spent many nights consuming various beers to find the perfect combination of cans, and punch holes in cans, I finally gave up. A beer can stove seemed to be more of a hobby than an actual piece of outdoor gear. I could never give up packing my ol trusty MSR Whisper light, and I usually cook meals which require a little more than boiled water.
Recently my interest in beer can stoves were peeked again. Within the depths of is a vendor section where people sell all kinds of things, including their home grown products. A particular Shady Rascal produces and sells his own version of a beer can stove. Instead of using a beer can he uses aluminum beer bottles. He also rivets the two halves together. This solved three of my primary issues with the beer can stove. Durability: crushing the stove in my pack (1), and the two halves coming part (2), and having to tinker with a poorly built prototype (3). For $7 and $2 shipping and handling, you can get one of these built stoves (or you can make it yourself). I bought two.
Though I have not extensively field tested this product, initial back yard test results are promising. Who knows, maybe one day you will find me atop some mountain cooking my top ramen with a beer can stove!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shinko 244 - New Tires for the DR

It seems that I am never satisfied with the way a product comes to me from the factory. Everything I own needs to be modified. However with my new to me dual sport motorcycle I decided to take a new approach. Modify things only that need it. In other words if the stock part does the job and I do not break it then do not change it. For example, the factory skid plate provides very limited protection. It protects the engine from a direct frontal hit, however the bottom side of the motor is completely unshielded. My initial though was that I needed an after market skid plate. But based on my new philosophy, I refrained. Instead, I try to take notice how often I hit objects on the factory skid. The answer is none. Sure it is a sign that I am riding fairly easy non aggressive terrain. If I was to make contact with a rock at speeds it would be very bad. However this is a risk I am willing to take. If I start noticing stick marks on the factory skid and/or frame, then I would consider getting an after market bash plate.

S0 this motorcycle came to me with road tires. The previous owner used it to commute to work on the road. I tired riding the local trials with these tires and it was unacceptable. The first thing that I needed to modify were the tires. A dual sport bike can run the entire range of tires, from road slicks to motor cross knobbies and everything in between. Tire manufactures rate dual sport tires based on percentage of time ridden on dirt vs pavement. Typical ratios are 80/20, 50/50, 20/80. This ratio riding surface ratio, can almost be directly translated to the ratio of rubber vs voids. The more voids a tire has between the rubber blocks/tread, the more it is considered a off road tire. Though some tire manufactures might list very specific percentages 95/5, I would still categorize them as one of the major three combinations. 100% dirt or street is not listed in my three categories. 100% road tires are obvious, however the label of 100% dirt is not so. A 100% dirt and 20/80 street/dirt tire might look the same as far as how aggressive the tread is, however a 20/80 tire is DOT approved for road use. The three tires I have pictured fit the three categories I mentioned earlier.

Since my time on the bike is split 50/50 road and dirt I choose a tire with similar characteristics. Enter the Shinko tire company. Shinko is a Korean tire company that has recently entered the market. Most of their tires are copies of other companies thread pattern. However since many of these patterns are copy righted, they buy the molds of discontinued models from other companies. The second tire pictured is a Shinko Model 244. Though it looks like a fairly aggressive knobby tire the blocks are closely spaced and provides a good amount of contact for pavement pounding. Both Kenda and IRC have tires with very similar tread patterns. Several reviews of this tire were mostly positive, and above all they are CHEAP! One common complaint of the tire was that they "chunked" easily. Chunking refers to losing chunks of the rubber tread. This is usually caused by long high speed run on pavement, on heavy bikes. 2 hours +, 70 mph +, 650cc+. It is also a good idea to heat cycle the tire a few times prior to a long pavement ride. This is true for all knobby or semi knobby tires. Heat cycling a tire simply means to run them a few times prior to a long ride.
The tires performed as well as I hoped. I really do not have much to compare it to. Road manners were not much different than the slicks I have on previously, and dirt performance increased significantly. The front tire however is not the grippiest on the dirt and I might switch it out for a full knobby in the future. For the price, though I can not complain. I paid under $30 for the front and under $40 for the rear. That is cheaper than the tires I run on my mountain bike.
I changed the tires at home. The front tire was much easier to change than the rear. I did not use a rim lock on the back for the the PO did not have on in there already. I did nothing to balance the tires and do not find them to vibrate noticeably. In the future I might use balancing beads. This is one mod that I found to be worthwhile!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Autumn Climbing at Lovers Leap

For my brother, life is about two things: surfing and climbing; everything else is work. Six months after moving into my new house he finally came to visit. He had been busy "working", all summer, though he is unemployed. He had recently heard and read about Lover's Leap, as the best climbing in the Tahoe Area, and wanted to go. Though I was not very familiar with the area, I had climbed there once before. Luck would have it that the weekend this Southern California boy decided to visit, was the first real weekend of fall, complete with one of the largest October snow storms I have seen.

The small community of Strawberry California is not known for much. Most who know of it, know it as a stop along Highway 50 right before South Lake Tahoe. However a lucky few know it as the home of Lover's Leap. The sign on the side of the highway says Strawberry California population "50". Its most popular attraction is the Strawberry Lodge and Strawberry Market. Located in Eldorado County, this Strawberry should not be confused with the two other communities of the same name which are also located in California; one in Marin and the other in Tuolumne county.

Many years ago my then to be wife and I spent a romantic new years eve night at the lodge. A harrowing introduction to cross country skiing was experienced the next morning. Off in the distance I could see a massive looming rock formation behind the lodge: Lover's Leap. When I returned home I started researching climbing the rock. Scanning the SuperTopo website, a 5 star 5.7 route appeared: Corrugation Corner. Perfect cause I only lead 5.7 trad. The more I read the more I was excited. Sentences like this, "this is one of the steepest climbs in this guide and one of the steepest granite 5.7’s you will find anywhere. Instead of following the main corner, the route often pushed you out on a horrendously exposed arĂȘte..." made me want to do this climb even more. What finally sealed the deal was the free topo provided by SuperTopo. Thanks again Chris!!

This last Sunday conditions were quite different than the time I did it about six years ago. We had waken early and was on the road by eight. It had been storming the day and night before but only a light dusting fell at my house. Even though LL is considered Tahoe, the drive there took over an hour and a half; it's a big lake! Halfway around the lake we went from fall to winter, as the landscape was covered with 2 inches of snow. When we arrived at LL the winter landscape was still present. We racked gear at the car while answering question to many onlookers shocked that we were climbing in this weather. We even got a "better not" remark from a well bundled up lady. I parked the car in the "day use" area and paid the self pay fee. I was glad to pay the fee, anything to help out our state parks, and it was good karma for a day such as this. All set we shouldered our packs and were off tromping through 2+ inches of fresh snow.

As we climbed out of the camp ground and onto the old Pony Express trail, an open view of LL great ed us. It is the largest granite "rock" I have seen outside of Yosemite. Sure there were granite mountains which are larger, ie Tahquitz, however that is not one single bubbling mass of quartz, feldspar, and mica. The corner which Corrugation Corner laid upon is instantly apparent. I don't know if it was the dusting of snow, the dark wet face, or the cold that gave the rock its menacing look. I shuddered thinking of being on the middle of that rock clawing and scraping my way up, then patted myself on the back, knowing that I had successfully climbed the route in the past.

Soon after monk boulder and the cut tree across the trail we turned right onto a climber's trail at the center of the lower buttress. We made our way up and to the right. To our delight we found a two pitch over hung section of rock call Dear John Buttress. The second pitch was ridiculous, however on the first we found a nice 5.9 and a high grade 5.10. My brother lead the nine and we top roped the ten. With frozen finger tips we packed up and moved on to do some more exploring. Though it never seemed like we were on trail we soon found ourselves a top the ramp which lead to C Corner. The falling snow from the night before did not stick to the rock face. Instead it cascaded down until it settled on the ledge. I remembered the ledge being wider when it wasn't covered with frozen water.

Being atop the ramp, brought me back to the first time I stood at that spot looking at the rock wall ahead of me. It was many years ago and I was in my climbing prime. Back in those days I lived the sport. I preferred the title rock climber over engineer, outdoors man, even Mister. With My Wife To Be, we had climbed in most of California's popular climbing area's. We'd hit the climbing gyms on the weekdays and travel to find rock on the weekends. Scrambling across the then dry ledge, it was little more than careful walking. I think it was fall and though there were several obviously climber's cars in the once free parking area, none were to be found on our corner. The base of the climb has a open area, and without exchanging words MWTB flaked out the rope as I finished racking gear onto my harness. I tied into the rope and did a quick check of each others gear, and stepped off the dirt onto the rock.

It is moments like this that I love the most about climbing. The clarity it brings. The mix of fear, and excitement, allows me to push away all thoughts and concentrate on the task at hand. The first pitch went by smoothly. On the second pitch the exposure was intense and I made a belay anchor on a "whales belly", a large smooth sloping ledge. As MWTB came into view I could tell she was mentally exhausted. The last piece of protection prior to the belay was a well sunk nut in a tapered slot, my favorite nut: a home made double tapered number "7". With my name stamped on the side it fit every time I drew it. A good attribute of a nut, when at the time of it's creation, way before LL, my rack consisted of three cams and a sparse set of passive pro. In her frustration she could not free my nut and we left it to continue off the climb. The third pitch topped out easily and we had an enjoyable hike off LL and back onto the Pony express trail. That was the last time my wife climbed a multi pitch route with me.

Those quick memories flashed in my mind and passed as I took a step down towards the start of Travelers Buttress one ledge below the main ledge CC was on. The sky had turned angry when we at the base of TB and decided to head down. Someone had been up there that morning and we followed the two tracks back to the PE trail. We returned to the car only to find two climbers racking up in the falling snow. They were about the depart the parking lot and head up to the rock. We told them that Dear John Buttress was dry and wished them luck. We then quickly jumped in the truck, fired up the engine, and cranked the heater.

I know that my days as rock climber are over. Sure I still rock climb many times each year, however I no longer wear that title. I gained what I needed from it: the ability to move over rock confidently, the mental strength to over come my fears, and the clarity needed to concentrate on the task at hand. As my brother and I warmed ourselves with a cup of tea I realized the most important thing that I gained and continue to gain from rock climbing is the time spent with those that I love.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

For Sale - 2007 Vento Phantom Scooter - SOLD

Today a nice girl gave me the cash for the scooter. It sold for much less than I hoped however it will be making someone else happy. She has a torn knee, and can not ride her bike. The idea of driving around town in her car all summer was too much for her to bear. At least this way she can still ride.

Sad is the day when I am putting a member from my very own fleet up for sale. Up for sale is a 2007 Vento Phantom Li 150cc scooter. Asking price is $1400, however any offer will be considered. Below are a list of key features

-EPA and CARB approved. Difficult to find California street legal scooter
-Front and rear disk Brakes with front ABS
-12 inch Kenda Dual sport tires

-CVT automatic transmission

-Electric start with Kick back up

-80+ mpg

-Trunk, rear rack, glove box, and flat floor. This thing is a two wheeled pickup truck.


-popular and reliable Honda GY6 based motor.

-Ca registered till July 2010

-Great Condition!

I bought this for my wife as a Valentines day present. After a trip to Asia we were very impressed with the scooter as a form of transportation. Not willing to spend the 4 grand for a Honda we opted to go the Chinese scooter route. The Honda GY6 150cc motor is the most popular scooter motor. The scooter was ordered from an on-line vendor and arrived in a box. It took a little bit of time to assemble and to work out some of the kinks. Since then it has performed flawlessly.

Now that I have a bike and my wife no longer rides, the Vento rarely gets used. It is still the prefered bike to run to the grocery or liquor store with, due to its storage capacity and ease to ride. We just feel bad having the bike sit most of the time.