About two years ago, I decided to try mountain biking again. It's not as if I was new to it. My current mountain bike at the time was a 2001 Trek 4900 (mine does not have the hideous pedal clips), which I bought new. I rode off and on at a few trails but never really put much thought or effort into actually learning about mountain biking. As a result, I lost interest but kept the bike until I picked it back up to try again in late 2011.
The first order of business was to get fit. It's difficult to really enjoy the thrill of singletrack when you have to stop frequently to catch your breath. To remedy this, I worked on building up my strength and endurance by riding on a sidewalk near my house that goes around a 5 mile loop. It includes plenty of climbs and descents as well as quick changes in direction, so it made the perfect "training ground" without having to worry about rocks, roots, trees, or any other of the many obstacles normally encountered on a real mountain bike trail . After two months of building up my speed, endurance, and pedaling strength, I was ready to hit the trails.
I'm fortunate to have a great trail system a little over a mile from my house, so I just ride there instead of loading the bike and riding gear into a car and driving (plus it serves as more opportunity for exercise). Over several months I gained a lot of confidence and the ability to tackle many obstacles but realized I needed a way to stay attached to the bike for more bumpy terrain. A colleague at work was generous enough to give me two pairs of Shimano clipless pedals. I rushed out to buy shoes and SPD cleats and was quickly back on the trail. What a difference! If there is one investment worth making that can dramatically improve your riding, it has to be clipless pedals. Not only do they keep you attached to the bike, but they enforce a good foot position on the pedal (the ball of your foot is on the pedal instead of your arch as is the case with platform pedals) and give you the ability to "pedal up" by pulling up on pedal upstrokes as well as pushing down on down strokes. By itself, that gives you double the pedaling power since you can pull up on one side of the crank while simultaneously pushing down on the other. Steep climbs become a non-event.
With my increasing stamina, confidence, and pedal power came an increase in speed and riding skills. This increase meant I was starting to hit the limits of the bike so I began to look around for a natural upgrade. My two criteria were 29" wheels and disc brakes. Rim brakes just don't cut it when you need real stopping power. After some advice from a friend, I bought a 2013 Trek Cobia. In short, this bike rolls over anything in its path, fits like a glove, can go all day, and is easily as nimble as the 26" 4900 it replaced. If you've never tried a 29" mountain bike, it can be a real eye opener. The larger wheels give you much more rolling momentum than a 26" at the expense of needing more foot work to get up to speed. The trade off is well worth it. I'm able to coast down a trail and pass riders on 26" bikes while they're pedaling furiously to keep up.
After several months of increasing my abilities even further, I decided it was finally time to buy a full suspension bike. Having had such good experiences with my two Treks, I figured I'd put it at the top of my list but keep an open mind on brands. I looked at several Felt, Specialized, and Giant models, but nothing seemed to quite fit what I was after. I then turned to the Trek Superfly (the 100 AL) as it was the only reasonably priced 29" full suspension bike at the time. Another option was the Remedy 8, but at over $3,000, it was more like a pipe dream. On my next visit to my local bike shop, I got wind that the 2014 Fuel EX line was going 29", so I decided to hold off on a purchase. I checked back in a few weeks later with my eye on the Fuel EX 7, but was advised to pay the extra $300 for the better equipped Fuel EX 8. I usually don't care to get the upsell talk, but in this case, the recommendation was spot on. I took delivery of my new 2014 Fuel EX 8 (at the time, 1 of 7 remaining in the U.S. in my frame size!) on August 1st. When the weather finally cleared up a few days later I took it to the trail for a spin.
WOW! The test ride I did at the bike shop was nice but nothing comes close to riding on a real trail. The difference between the components in the Fuel and the Cobia was more than noticeable. You can really appreciate the engineering that went into this bike when you switch the CTD lever on the shock and fork and aim the bike down a hill. Coming from a hardtail that bumps and bounces all over to a full suspension bike that stays planted (thank you ABP!) frees you from worrying about keeping the bike under control so you can concentrate on the trail ahead. The Shimano SLX calipers stop on a dime without feeling too "rigid" like the Avid Elixers on the Cobia. I can go on, but the takeaway is this: combining 29" wheels with the impressive components and tech the Fuel line is known for makes for a bike that annihilates anything you can throw at it and dares you to go faster and ride harder. My average speed on my local trail is nearing 15 mph. That may not seem like much (it's basically standing still in road cycling), but consider that I'm going up and down hills, over rock gardens, over roots, up and down switchbacks and berms and on and on. In short, it's like I'm doing 120 on the freeway and getting away with it.
With that said, not everything is so rosy. In particular:
- You HAVE to get the EX 8 dialed in for maximum performance. Make sure the bike shop inflates the fork and shock according to your body weight. Experiment with the height of the saddle. Mine is set higher than I have it set on my hardtails (or at least it feels that way).
- Get comfortable switching the CTD levers based on the terrain you're riding. For the most part you can leave them both on the Trail setting, but I find myself frequently using the Descend setting on the fork and the Trail setting on the shock.
- Even though DRCV does feel like you have limitless travel, I've bottomed out my shock a few times with it set to Descend mode. I likely need to play with the settings and add some air, but using Trail mode keeps it in check at the expense of a slightly stiffer descent.
- The bike itself is actually quite attractive, but do realize it's gonna get scuffed up. I've had good luck with the frame, but for some reason, my shoes rubbed the Shimano logo off the cranks. The down tube guard helps to keep the frame from getting too scuffed.
- The stock Bontrager XR3 tires provide incredible grip but are a bear to get back on the rim when replacing a tube. Replacing tubes on the Cobia and 4900 is much easier.
- The Bontrager Race Lite grips are uncomfortable. I'll likely replace mine with the same Ergon GP1 grips I have on my Cobia.
Regardless, the good aspects of the EX 8 by far outweigh the negatives, with the negatives consisting mostly of complaints and not faults. If you're looking to purchase your first full suspension bike, I cannot recommend the Fuel EX 8 enough. The EX 7 is a great bike as well, but the brakes on the EX 8 are much better and worth the extra expense. What a journey it has been!
Some parting thoughts:
- I still have my 4900 and ride it occasionally. I have beaten this bike to death and it still goes. I've crashed on it too many times to count and yet nothing bends or breaks. Not bad for a $500 starter bike. It'll outlive me.
- I mostly use the Cobia when I can't make it to the trails these days. I intend to keep it and alternate between it and the EX 8. Riding a hardtail on tough technical terrain makes riding a full suspension bike on the same terrain a cinch. Hardtails build your mountain biking skills while a full suspension bike lets you get away with being more careless.
- The EX 8 performs surprisingly well on very muddy trails. Great handling, no fuss shifting, and easy to maintain crucial momentum. The second time I took mine out I returned with the entire bike and most of my legs covered in mud and a big smile on my face.
- I've yet to justify a carbon fiber frame. They eventually wear out and have to be replaced. I carry a water bladder, tools, food, and a cell phone so the weight reduction would be negligible for the extra expense. I'm happy to hear some cogent arguments for carbon fiber. Until then, aluminum frames are cheaper, longer lasting, and you can ride as aggressively as you want without fear of cracking the frame.
- Seat pouches are a waste of money. They never have enough room and when they do, they're an eyesore. I keep breaking mine. Buy a better CamelBak instead. I've got my eye on an Osprey Raptor 10. Tons of room for everything and will even carry an extra helmet!
- I'm not a Trek fan boy or even an advocate, but don't let anyone steer you from buying one. Do your research. Shop around and test ride several bikes. My purchase was based on copious research and shopping around, but also on the fact that I can ride my Treks as hard as I want without fear of breaking them. I had my eye on the Specialized Stumpjumper but the EX 8 won on the full floater suspension and components.
- Mountain biking is very addictive. Be sure to keep yourself in check or you might drain your bank account and/or alienate friends and family.
So I'm neck deep in my GRE studies. I've already gone through two GRE books and an ebook. I'm close to finishing my third book (this test is NOT easy). I'm learning some interesting properties of numbers such as the following:
- Integers are whole numbers (whether positive or negative)
- Fractions are not integers
- Zero is an integer!
- Positive integers get larger as they move farther from zero
- Negative integers get smaller as they move farther from zero
- Listed in order of increasing value without any numbers missing between them
- Fractions and decimals cannot be consecutive numbers; only integers can!
- You can even have consecutive even integers: 2, 4, 6, 8...
Properties of Zero:
- 0 is even
- 0 plus any other number is equal to that number
- 0 multiplied by any other number is equal to 0.
Positives and Negatives:
- pos x pos = pos
- neg x neg = pos ("two wrongs make a right" is my memorization tool)
- pos x neg = neg
Even or odd?
- Any number that can be cleanly divided by 2 is even (i.e. no remainder)
- Any number that cannot be cleanly divided by 2 is odd (i.e. has a remainder)
- Zero is even
- Fractions are neither even nor odd
- Any integer is even if its units digit is even, and odd if its units digit is odd
- Multiplying and adding odd and even integers
- even x even = even
- odd x odd = odd
- even x odd = even
- even + even = even
- odd + odd = even
- even + odd = odd
- Absolute value is how far away a number is from zero
- Absolute value is always a positive integer whether or not the number in question is positive or not
- A number is prime when it is only divisible by itself and the number 1
- Here's all the prime numbers less than 30: 2,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29
- Zero is not a prime number
- 1 is not a prime number
- 2 is the only even prime number
- Prime numbers are always positive integers. There's no such thing as a negative prime number
Rules of Divisibility:
- An integer is divisible by 2 if its units digit is divisible by 2. For example, 598,447,896 is divisible by 2 because the units digit (6) is divisible by 2.
- An integer is divisible by 3 if the sum of its digits is divisible by 3. For example, 2,145 is divisible by 3 because (2+1+4+5 = 12) is divisible by 3.
- An integer is divisible by 4 if its last 2 digits form a number that's divisible by 4. For example, 712 is divisible by 4 because 12 is divisible by 4.
- An integer is divisible by 5 if its units digit is either 0 or 5
- An integer is divisible by 6 if it's divisible by both 2 and 3
- An integer is divisible by 9 if the sum of its digits is divisible by 9
- An integer is divisible by 10 if its units digit is 0
- When one integer cannot be divided evenly by another, the remainder is what is left over after the division
- When one integer divides evenly by another the remainder is zero (no remainder)
- A number is a factor of another number if the second number can be divided by the first with no remainder
- Factors of 12: 1,2,3,4,6,12
- Best to write factors in pairs to make sure you get them all:
- 1 and 12
- 2 and 6
- 3 and 4
- A multiple of a number is that number multiplied by an integer
- Multiples of 10: -20 (10 x -2), -10 (10 x -1), 10 (10 x 1), 20 (10 x 2), etc...
There's obviously far more to the GRE than these simple concepts but some are quite handy and will make short work of doing calculations for the GRE. Yea, you can't use a calculator at all. Fire up those neurons!
I SSH between my many computers several times in the course of a day. Today when I went to SSH to my web server I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong. I could ping the IP address but SSH just didn't want to work. I tried restarting the SSH daemon and when that didn't work, I rebooted the entire box. After it still didn't work, it finally hit me: I forgot to renew my domain name and it was set to expire on July 17th! To confirm, I did a simple dig lookup:
; <<>> DiG 9.4.2-P2 <<>> xaero.org
;; global options: printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 46405
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 2, ADDITIONAL: 0
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;xaero.org. IN A
;; ANSWER SECTION:
xaero.org. 85511 IN A 188.8.131.52
;; AUTHORITY SECTION:
xaero.org. 85511 IN NS expired-domain-ns50.directnic.com.
xaero.org. 85511 IN NS expired-domain-ns51.directnic.com.
;; Query time: 0 msec
;; SERVER: 127.0.0.1#53(127.0.0.1)
;; WHEN: Mon Jul 20 13:08:14 2009
;; MSG SIZE rcvd: 124
Oops!! Needless to say, I very quickly renewed my domain name and within a few short hours my nameservers were happily serving up DNS again. Thankfully my registrar provides a grace period for renewing expired domains so they don't immediately get thrown back into the available pot. Next time I'll stamp a sticky note on my forehead.
W00-h00! Finally passed the last test. I took it a few months ago and failed pretty badly. This time around I continually reviewed my material to make sure I knew it cold. I'm glad I'm through with this certification. I may move towards the design track. But first, a much needed break.
Been experimenting with some fun stuff on the site, as you may or may not have noticed. First I've enabled comments, but you have to solve a CAPTCHA. Instead of a normal CAPTCHA though, I'm using a reCAPTCHA. The difference is pretty cool though. Instead of just solving a bunch of jumbled letters, you're actually helping to digitize books by "reading" words that OCR software couldn't solve. Pretty cool! Secondly, I've made my permalinks a little prettier. I'm considering changing my domain name too. Now that you can comment, let me know if you like this domain or www.xaero.org!
So I finally sat down and added something to the Articles section. Check it out!
So I passed another CCNP exam today! Three down, one left to go. This one was far easier than the routing and switching exams. The shear amount of content those exams had was, in a word, overwhelming. I wonder if it's intended to weed out the slackers so only the truly dedicated persevere. The BCRAN tests your knowledge of a variety of different remote access technologies, from ISDN BRI/PRI (yes it's still around), to Frame Relay (yes, it's still around), to DSL, Cable Modem, and Satellite. You're required to learn and apply backup strategies so if your main link dies or becomes saturated, you have a means to back it up. You have to know the intricacies of several different queuing and compression strategies so you can optimize WAN capacity. Finally, you have to learn several ways of securing remote access, using such things as AAA and IPSec. Since this exam is retired, you have to be a Networking Academy student to take it, however, it still counts towards a CCNP. All in all, a fairly difficult exam, but certainly passable with the right amount of study and hands-on time. Onward to the last exam, the CIT!
Wow, did a speed check on my Internet connection at www.speedtest.net and got some surprising results:
So, I finally passed another CCNP test! I actually took this test back in September and failed it by just a few questions. I've been extremely busy with other stuff since then, but found time here and there to study and fill in my knowledge gaps. The book that pushed me over the passing edge is none other than Routing TCP/IP, Volume I. I felt that this test was very difficult (I did fail it the first time after all). You're expected to know 7 routing protocols faily intimately, subnetting, VLSM, controlling routing updates, redistribution, and on. It seemed like once I finished learning the last routing protocol, I forgot the first one. Jeff Doyle's book certainly helped since it put everything into perspective and was very approachable. Highly recommended, even if you just use it as a desk reference. Well, onward to BCRAN and CIT!
Yes, I realize that the BCRAN and CIT are expired, but I'm a Cisco Networking Academy student and am able to take them through the end of this year.
Handy little guide to the people behind what is the Internet today: