Jul 20 2017

Ahoy There, Chuck Smith!

You wrote to Farwell a while back, but his answering e-mail bounced. He thinks there was a typo in your reply address. So if you see this, drop us a line with your correct address and Farwell will get back to you ASAP.

Jul 25 2017

Batteries Not Included: The Virtues of Simplicity by Farwell Forrest

It’s high summer. The snows of winter are only a distant memory. But winter will return. And winter has lessons to teach us about our dependency on technology, as this tale from In the Same Boat‘s early years makes clear. So crank up the air conditioner and imagine there’s a winter storm headed your way. Because sooner or later, there will be.

Originally published, in slightly different form, on March 6, 2001

As I write this, a major winter storm is threatening the mid‑Atlantic coast. Some parts of the country, where a couple of inches of snow usually brings traffic to a standstill, are going to get a couple of feet. Funnily enough, though, New York’s northern mountains will be spared the worst. We’re unlikely to see more than a foot of snow in all, and that’s just business as usual for the North Country.

A little more than three weeks ago, the shoe — make that the snow — was on the other foot. While the rest of the state dealt with downpours and minor flooding, we were expecting a one‑two punch of heavy ice and high winds. Surrounded as we are by 80‑foot‑tall white pines, many of them already bearing the scars of earlier storms, we were on the alert. And let it never be said that we don’t heed our own advice. Following Tamia’s lead, I was keeping a close eye on the barometric trace on our Casio 950 watch, a marvel of technology combining a digital timepiece, an altimeter, a barograph, and a thermometer, all in a package no larger than an old‑style silver dollar.

The trace wasn’t encouraging. Updated automatically every two hours, it dropped steadily, first by single 0.05‑inHg increments and then by bounds of two and three. Already the wind was a steady 20 miles per hour or so, with gusts to 30 or more. A blow was clearly in the offing. We watched helplessly as a glaze of ice began to build up on the trees, listened to the wind rise relentlessly in pitch, and jumped whenever small branches blew down onto the sheet steel of our roof. Several hours later, the National Weather Service finally caught up with us and posted high wind warnings.

Then the impossible happened… Read more…

Deep Thinking

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jul 22 2017

In It for the Long Haul: Building Up the Ultimate Surly by Tamia Nelson

Tamia’s Surly Long Haul Trucker is a heavy beast. Too heavy. It’s time she did something about that.

OK. I’ll come clean. My Surly LHT is a heavy beast. Too heavy. That’s not just my opinion, by the way. Almost any advertising copywriter you ask will tell you so. So I’m putting my Surly on a diet. I’ll begin by stripping off all the stock components and then building the bike up with totally new stuff. No, not just new stuff. The newest stuff, some of it so new that the ad copywriters haven’t seen it yet. Obviously, being so new, it’s also the lightest stuff. And the most expensive. But who’s counting the cost? Not me. I just sold my next novel to HarperCollins. So price is no object.

Will it be worth it? Sure. Once my state-of-the-art bike is ready for the road, I figure I’ll be riding triple centuries with no more effort than it took me to do doubles on my “old” bike. Honest. And I bet you’d like to do the same. Which is why I’m going to outline my rebuild plan, beginning with…

The Frame  I’m keeping the LHT frame. Surprised? Don’t be. It fits me perfectly. That’s point one. Plus steel is real. Point two. But it is heavy. Luckily, I’ve got a secret weapon: I’ll be stripping off the grotty old powdercoat and doing a respray job. And I won’t be using any old paint. I’ve got a premarket trial batch of NanoLite’s UltraLift clearcoat. Trust me. This stuff is incredible. It’s the first weight-negative bike finish. I kid you not. I have to put a thirty-pound dumbbell on the paint can to keep it from floating out the window. Once I’ve resprayed my LHT, the steel frame will weigh less than nothing. You heard me right. From seven pounds plus for fork and frame down to something like minus two pounds.

Incredible! How does NanoLite do it? I don’t know. Like I said, the ad copywriters haven’t even seen this stuff yet. But it has something to do with nanospherules of hydrogen gas. UltraLift is full of ’em. And hydrogen is what they put in dirigibles, right? So you know the stuff’s got to be good. Just one thing: You don’t want to smoke while you’re riding. That’s not a problem for me, though.

Here’s the bottom line: Carbon fiber is so yesterday. The future belongs to hydrogen. And steel. Get used to it. Now let’s do the…

Drivetrain  Another winner here. In exchange for a rave review, I just got my hands on A-to-Zed’s latest 4×15-speed Integrated UltraCompact OmMerdium gruppo. You’ve probably never heard of OmMerdium, of course, let alone A-to-Zed, but that’s how A-to-Zed’s owners, Abby Grimes and Zoe Zelinsky, like it. They’re the team behind the phenomenally successful Earth Goddess Organic Vegetable and Free-range Chicken franchise. But fame and fortune bored them  — how many pink Learjets can two girls use, anyway? — and they decided to take on a new challenge. So they committed to spending five years in a walk-up, cold-water yurt in Inner Mongolia while mastering the art of shamanic forging under the tutelage of Anna Dablam, the sole surviving Sister of the Temüjin Kahn Artists Cooperative. Only members of this secretive Sisterhood know the location of the fabled Merdium mines, the world’s sole source for this incredibly light, impossibly strong rare-earth element.

It’s no secret that I’m privileged to own one of Abby and Zoe’s 32 gram OmMerdium drivetrains, however. And if you’re in the market, I have no hesitation in saying it’s a steal at just USD100K (plus shipping and sales tax). But unless Abby and Zoe decide to call you, you’re out of luck. They don’t do retail, and they don’t respond to customer enquiries. I’ll be happy to take your number and pass it on, but that’s all I can do. The rest is up to the Sisters.

Luckily, Abby and Zoe also agreed to forge the hubs for my new…

Wheels  The rims are spun from extra-virgin KrakenSilk, a natural fiber harvested in Innermost Inner Mongolia and fabricated into wheels by the Kahn Artists Cooperative, using an adhesive prepared from the saliva of blue-tongued mango voles, a threatened species surviving only in the dark corners of the Kahn Artist’s Grand Yurt. (Abby and Zoe assure me that no mango voles are harmed in the extraction process, though some of them do get mad enough to spit nails. Not to worry, though: The Sisters have hired a certified post-expectoration stress disorder consultant to help the afflicted voles work through their conflicts.) The resulting KrakenSilk-Mango composite has unequaled strength and resilience, combined with phenomenally light weight: 15 grams a wheel, including hubs and spokes. (KrakenSilk spokes weigh only 0.01 grams each, and their extraordinary tensile strength means that only three are required for each wheel.)

Of course, wheels are useless without…

Tires  And here, too, I’ve been lucky. The reclusive firm of Odomane et Fils are best known for their fine perfumes, but they also do a line of racing slicks by appointment to several of the royal families of Europe. Rumor has it that plans had been drawn up for bride-to-be Kate Middleton to be wheeled to the Abbey on a tandem Bike Thursday, studded with hundreds of gold acorns donated by Lloyd’s Banking Group and sporting Odomane tires. Both firms, however, have so far refused to reply to enquiries as to why this didn’t happen. In any case, Odomane slicks are fabricated from a proprietary formula utilizing KrakenSilk and ambigris. The resulting tire is completely puncture-proof, yet has negligible rolling resistance. The only drawback? A pronounced, though not necessarily unpleasant, fishy smell — a very small price to pay for such incredible performance. And speaking of price, I suppose you might be wondering what Odomane slicks go for. Well, if you have to ask… Need I say more?

Anyway, even if money is no object — if, for example, you’ve just sold a blockbuster novel to HarperCollins and have a movie rights deal with Jaz Milvane pending — the uncertain supply of ambergris means that availability of Odomane slicks is extremely limited. In fact, it appears likely that the Duchess of Cambridge and I have absorbed the entire production run. Still, market conditions are always evolving, so if — now that you’ve got a sniff of Odomane slicks — you’ve decided that you just have to get a pair of your own, don’t lose hope. You never nose know what will turn up.

What’s left? Not much. We’re getting to the end of my LHT refit. Of course, I’ll need someplace to put my feet, and that means…

Pedals  And here A-to-Zed come through again. Their prototype HotFoot Shoeless Joe pedals make all earlier designs obsolete. Exploiting another of the many unique properties of Merdium, HotFoot pedals invoke the principal of TarsalTantric attraction, eliminating the need to clip in or out. Just put your foot on the pedal and go. And I meant “foot.” There’s no need to wear shoes with HotFoot pedals. All necessary support is supplied by the Integrated Merdium Footbed. Best news of all? A pair of HotFoot Shoeless Joe pedals weighs only 10 grams. But remember. You can’t buy them in your local bike shop. You just have to wait for Abby and Zoe to call.

The same thing is true of my new…

Handlebars  The old Nitto Noodles were OK, but I wanted more. And that meant less. Now, thanks to A-to-Zed — whose generosity to compliant hacks knows no bounds — I’ve got KrakenSilk-Mango composite bars. They’re improbably strong and impossibly light, and they come with a matching seatpost. Plus they cost a fortune. If you’re lucky enough to be given the chance to buy them, that is. Who could ask for more?

Whoops! I could. I still need a…

Saddle  And this time A-to-Zed couldn’t help me. Abby and Zoe’s prototype seatless saddle (tentatively named the Edward II) needs a few tweaks before it’s ready for the marketplace. (This is a rather sore point with the Sisters, but I don’t imagine they’ll mind me mentioning it.) So I turned to KiZiF (pronounced KISS-OFF), instead. And KiZiF did me proud, letting me have one of their Cloud line at a price that couldn’t be beat. If you’re not familiar with KiZiF’s saddles, they make use of the recently discovered O’Nolan effect, involving the interchange of atoms at all contact points between rider and saddle. The fitting process is somewhat prolonged, of course, but the result is a saddle that becomes an integral part of the cyclist’s nether anatomy. The downside? (No pun intended!) This makes walking somewhat awkward. But the Cloud offers unequaled comfort and efficiency when on the bike. In short, I’ve never owned a better saddle, and it will take some doing to get me off of my Cloud. (I’m having my home remodeled to eliminate any need to dismount. Piece of cake!)

The only things left to touch on are…

Brakes and Shifters  I’ve gone with Room101 Systems here. Room101 have refined electronic thought-control systems to the point were it is now possible to dispense with the weight and inconvenience of both levers and cables. You’ll never again have to shift (or brake) for yourself. Just form an image of the desired result. Thinking about it will make it so. Are you worried about the possibility of systems failure? Don’t be. All Room101 brakes incorporate integral Scuff-n-Stop manual backups for use in emergencies. And you can still shift for yourself, can’t you? if you have to, I mean. Of course you can.

That’s all there is to it. As soon as I’ve finished my rebuild I’ll have an LHT that weighs less than a filled water bottle. Then there’ll be nothing to stop me.


…I suppose I could just pull the LHT down from its rack, wipe off the dust, lube the chain and go for a ride. As nifty as A-to-Zed’s state-of-the-art components are, maybe they aren’t really necessary. And the same thing goes for KiZiF’s Cloud and Room101’s shiftless controls. Maybe I should just pack the lot up and ship them back — with my thanks, of course.

In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do. My (almost) stock LHT may not be the lightest thing on the road, but so what? It’s light enough. A famous man once counseled would-be racers to postpone buying upgrades. He suggested riding up grades, instead, and the steeper the grade, the better. The heart of any bicycle is the engine, after all, and you can’t buy an upgrade for that, can you? Then again, you don’t have to. You just need to sweat a bit. And that doesn’t cost a penny.

Fly My Pretty, Fly

This article was originally published in a slightly different form on October 22, 2013.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jul 19 2017

Kicking the Bucket List: In Defense of Serendipity

The bucket list is now a staple of many blogs and websites. It’s as important to the modern traveler as his smartphone. But is this a good thing? A couple of weeks back, Farwell investigated the bucket list’s destructive potential. This week, with a little help from the Prince of Serendip, he’s digging deeper.

Bucket lists are all the rage these days, getting a helping hand from legions of bloggers and countless chambers of commerce. The former are probably in the game for the notoriety: “Hey, guys, I just got back from checking out the seals on Elephant Island. That was Number 125 on my list. Awesome!” The chambers of commerce aren’t into bragging rights, of course. As you’d expect, they have their eyes fixed firmly on the bottom line. And any list of must‑see attractions is tailor‑made to lead more sheep to the shearing.

Bucket lists. Pro or con? I opt for con. That’s not exactly a closely guarded secret, and there’s more to my antipathy than simple curmudgeonly contrariness. Bucket lists have several downsides… Read more…


Originally published at Paddling.com on July 18, 2017

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Previous Articles »