BikeWing trailer hitch bike rack

For a while now, I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to transport two bikes in addition to my camper. One of the first things I tried was a hitch attached bike rack from Curt that used a spring loaded mechanism to hold it to the hitch post. As I stated in my review, it was somewhat lacking, and I haven’t really used it much since my initial outings.

We’ve also tried just putting the bikes inside the trailer, but that involves laying the bikes on top of each other, and if we wanted to access the bikes on a long trip, it would mean having to jack up the trailer and open it back up again. Also, laying the bikes on top of each other isn’t really something I like doing often. So it was back to the drawing board.

Then I came across the BikeWing bike rack which looks like it solved all of my problems. It’s a large v-shaped piece of metal that attaches to the hitch post, and you attach the bikes to the hooks on the V. I decided to order one up and check it out. I arrived I got it all set up.

First off, installation was dirt simple. Just some simple tools (that you probably own if you own a trailer) so secure the mounting post to the hitch. The four bolts that hold it down are very secure, and it feels incredibly solid. It was then time to assemble the V portion of the rack. This took a bit more fiddling, but once you understood what each part does, it wasn’t difficult at all. The nice thing is that many of the components just use lock pins, meaning that you can take the entire thing apart really easily for storage.

Once I had it assembled I grabbed my bikes, and came across my first problem. I had mounted the rack towards the back of the hitch, and it meant that the bikes bumped into the battery that is stored there. Thankfully, the product comes with an extender that lifts the rack higher, and angles it in one direction or another. However, it still wasn’t tall enough to get over the battery, so I reversed it and directed the rack the other way, moving it closer to the end of the hitch where it attaches to the car.

The next issue is that it’s apparent that this rack was designed for bikes that have a flat-bar design. Trying to get the drop bar handlebars on our two gravel bikes to line up appropriately was an exercise in frustration. I managed to get them on, but it wasn’t pretty or easy. Feeling frustrated I put the whole thing away for a while and decided to come back at it the next day.

In thinking about the problem overnight I decided to try something different. First, I moved the mount point from the back of the hitch to closer up front. That meant I could use the extender to push the rack closer to the trailer, but not so close that it interfered with the battery.

Second, I loosened the handlebar bolts and rotated the handlebars to the side. This got them out of the way of interfering with each other, and it’s a simple process to lock them down again when you take the bikes off. It’s an additional step I was hoping not to have to take, but the solution is simple enough.

Once I had done this I got both bikes mounted with minimal difficulty and the rack appeared to be far enough away from the car to not interfere with cornering. The real test will be an actual trip.

This past weekend we headed to Kilen Woods State Park, and even though we were only planning a short trip, we brought the bikes along anyway. I loosened the handlebars and rotated them to the side, and mounted each bike on the frame. It took a bit of fiddling to get all of the attachment points in just the right spot, but once I did, everything locked down secure. The only issue I ran in to was that things were a bit tight with the racks on our bikes. It still all fit, but it was snug.

Once loaded we headed out for a 3 hour trip. Although there appeared to be a fair amount of sway in the arms of the “V”, the actual rack components stayed put, and were solid the entire time. The bars that the bikes are attached to comes with padding that helps ensure your bike don’t bang around too much. When we arrived to our destination, it appeared that everything worked as advertised.

On Saturday I pulled the bikes off the rack and we did a short ride. It didn’t take very long at all to get them set back up, just tightening a couple of bolts. Putting them back on the race was also pretty simple. The entire process only took 5-10 minutes total.

Even though it’s only been one trip, I’m feeling pretty good about the Bikewing. It does what it’s advertised to do, and aside from dealing with the drop bars, it was simple and easy to work with. We got our bikes to and from our campsite with no issues, however, I do think a future purchase will be a cover for each bike for during travel. A lot of dirt and grit gets kicked up from behind the car, and some protection would be good.

It’s taken quite a while, but I think I’ve finally found something that will work well for our needs. Additionally, if we every upgrade our trailer, there’s a different mounting system that works with A-frame style hitches, so I’d just need to swap out that one part, and could continue to use the wing. If you’ve got a trailer and are struggling with how to transport your bikes, this is certainly something to check out.

Quick Review: The Outer Worlds

I’ve wanted to lose myself in a video game lately, and recently saw that The Outer Worlds was now available on the Nintendo Switch. It reminded me that the game existed, but the initial reviews of the Switch port were somewhat mediocre. So, I opted to pick it up on XBox One, which worked out in my favor since it was on sale on that platform.

The Outer Worlds is a first person RPG in an expansive set of worlds in the distant future. You’re awoken from cryo-sleep after being adrift for longer than intended. You wake up into a world where corporations control everything, and the colony you were destined for is struggling to survive. There’s not much time to figure things out before you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, trying to survive.

The gameplay is typical for titles in this genre. You have typical first person shooter controls and weapons for battles, but it’s augmented by a deeper interaction system, as well as a robust skill tree system. You can travel around and interact with the environment in an open-world format, learning more and more about where you are, and why you’re there. You meet companions on the way, each with a backstory that you can delve in to and explore.

The game is structured around completing an every expanding series of quests that helps unfold the story. You spend time going back and forth between different locations (and different planets) fulfilling tasks that slowly build upon one another. However, your path through the story is unique to you, and your choices allow you to craft your adventure in a way that you see fit. You may decide to be a lone wolf, or maybe you want to be a jerk to everyone. You’re given options to go into situations with guns blazing, or try your hand at diplomacy. Although I haven’t finished the game yet, I’ve been told there are multiple endings that you can achieve. It reminds me a lot of Deus Ex (the original) which ushered in this genre of gameplay and storytelling in a FPS context.

In terms of issues with the game, the combat system is pretty simplistic (at least on normal difficulty). I miss not having thrown weapons, but thankfully it’s never left me feeling like I can’t overpower a situation. The time dilatation mechanic is cool, but sometimes feels tacked on. I also wish there were more options for getting up and down surfaces, instead, many places are simply blocked with a wall, and you can’t do anything about it.

None of this detracts from the engaging story though. I’m really enjoying learning more about this world, and interacting with it. The writers have done a great job in crafting an engaging place to play, and I’ve found myself staying up way too late following clue after clue. One of the best compliments of a game (in my mind) is not wanting to put it down, and sacrificing sleep to play more and more. The Outer Worlds delivers on this engagement front, and I’m anxious to see how the second half finishes out. When I bought it, it was on sale on the XBox store, but really, any platform you play it on should be fine, since the story is what’s key.

Product Review: SP Connect Phone Mount

A year ago I decided I wanted to start using a phone mount on my bike. Sometimes I’m out and about and am looking for directions, or I need to send/receive text messages while I’m biking (via voice). Other times I want to be able to quickly grab my phone and take a picture of something I’m passing by, or perhaps I just want to play Pokémon Go while I’m biking around. For all of these reasons I decided to start searching for a mount for my bike to keep my phone front and center while riding.

My first attempt at a mount was a very inexpensive one I picked up off of Amazon. As with most cheap crap that you find online, this one performed as expected. It got the job done, but that was about it. It used elastic bands to hold the phone in place, and the mount secured to the handlebars with a simple clamp. This mount had some problems though. The rubber bands held the phone well enough, but getting the phone on and off the mount was a chore. It meant that stopping for a quick photo wasn’t really an option. In addition, the mount had a swivel head on it so that you could angle the phone in different positions. That swivel mechanism never was able to tighten very well, and so often the phone would flop forward or backwards while riding over bumps. It didn’t make me feel very comfortable about riding with my phone like that.

Thankfully, I have a deep bench of experience in my biking community, and my friend Abe suggested that I check out the SP Connect bike mounts. He’s been using them for years, and loves them, and said that they meet all of his needs. After hemming and hawing for way too long, I pulled the trigger and bought their kit. The basic kit comes with a mount, a case, a weather protector, and a small attachment that allows you to prop the phone up at an angle when sitting on a table. It came to $60, but that seemed to be standard across the market for a system like this.

DSC02121The kit arrived a few weeks ago, and I’ve had a chance to try it out on around a hundred miles of biking. The mount is a simple clamp mechanism that uses a plastic strap that you screw tighter by turning a small nut. It actually does a decent job holding the mount securely in place. In order to use the mount, you need to use the SP Connect case, which contains the other part of the mounting connection. There are two raised bars on the mount that secure to the back of the case. You set the phone on the mount and then turn 90 degrees to either side and the phone locks into place.

The mounting is really secure, and I’ve even (gently and momentarily) lifted the front of my bike off the ground by the mount. Lining up the case to the mount is pretty easy as well, and there’s only been a couple times where I’ve struggled to get it in the right place the first time. Those times have become less and less with more practice. Many times it involved me trying to set the phone on the mount at an odd angle that isn’t fully flat against the mount. I’ve gotten better at matching that up each time I do it.

DSC02124The case that you need to use is moderately ruggedized. It’s not at the same level as an Otterbox, but it does have some heft to it, and good protection around the edges. It fits my iPhone well and I’ve had no issue with slippage or things being blocked. All around, a decent case. In addition they send along a weather proof cover that you can put over your phone while it is mounted. The cover is a simple piece of fitted plastic that allows you to still touch your screen, but keeps the phone dry.

Finally, they send along a small stand that you can attach to the back of the case, and it allows you to sit the phone up on its side for (I assume) watching videos. It’s a cute little addition, but I’m not sure how useful it’ll be for me in the long run. Maybe it’ll be fun to use if I’m out biking but then stop to eat at a table and want to watch something.

Should you but the SP Connect? One of the things I haven’t mentioned yet is the competition. There were two other systems that I looked at when deciding on this mount. The first was Quad Lock. From everything I could see, there are very few differences between Quad Lock and SP Connect. They use similar locking mechanisms and the accessories and price are similar.

I also investigated Rockform, and it is still one that I might like to try some time. Some of the unique features of Rockform are it’s mounting mechanism which is a quarter turn, star-like system. It also utilizes a strong magnet in the case to secure the phone a second way to the mount. Rockform seems to be a great target for mountain bikers who are hitting some really serious terrain that might break other mounts. Since I didn’t need that much protection, I decided to save a few bucks and go with SP Connect. I did also see some online reviews that felt the Rockform was a bit harder to get used to attaching. Though, I’d want to get a kit myself and see if I can replicate that.

In the end, I’m very happy with the SP Connect. So much so that I got my wife a mounting kit for her phone and bike, and she loves it. The SP Connect is a capable mount that does what I want it to do. It allows me to quickly remove the phone from the mount on the go, and otherwise keeps the phone solidly connected and in place. Based on the last couple months, I have zero complaints about it, and would recommend folks check it out if they’re looking for a phone mount for their bike.

Shoe review: Altra Timp 1.5

In the trail running world, Altra is a huge name. They sponsor a ton of racers, and are a fan favorite shoe for many, many runners. They’re also zero-drop shoes, which is why I’ve shied away from them for so long. A couple of years ago I did give them a spin with some demo shoes, but I’ve held off pulling the trigger on my own pair until now. In January I picked up a pair of Timp 1.5 trail shoes, and have gotten around 40 miles on them so far.

One of the things that drew me to the Timp’s was how incredibly comfortable that they are. They are perhaps the most comfortable shoes I’ve put on my feet. The wide toe-box and the soft cushion makes then an incredibly enjoyable ride. Altra’s are known to be a bit snug in the mid-foot, but I didn’t find that to be the case with the Timp’s.

The biggest issue for me was learning to adjust to the zero drop. For my blog readers who aren’t in to shoes, a “drop” is the hight of the heel minus the hight of the toe. That difference is how much your foot is sloping downwards from the back to the front. I started running in 2010 in shoes that had a 12mm drop, and have slowly been moving further down the scale.

Back in January when I first put these on, I was dealing with a big of a niggle in my knee. I had seen an orthopedic, and gotten some exercises, and things were slowly starting to get better. However, when ran in the Altra’s I discovered that the pain went away. I was pretty confused at first, so I alternated between the Timp’s and my Saucony Guide ISO2 shoes. Every time I ran in the Saucony shoes, my left knee complained. Moved over to the Altra, and the complaining almost entirely went away.

The fact that these shoes helped with an issue I had been dealing with for a long time is a huge step in convincing me that this is the right time to transition to zero-drop. So much so, that I even picked up a pair of Altra Torin Plush road shoes (I’ll review those later). I haven’t noticed any calf issues from going to zero drop, and that might be due to the fact that I’ve slowly been moving to lower drop shoes for years. For a long time 8mm was my sweet spot, and then in the past couple years I’ve done a bunch of runs in 4mm drop shoes. Over the course of time I’ve managed to move my body more into alignment with a lower drop, but it’s been slow and measured process.

img_0908In terms of the shoes themselves, I find them to be one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. The midsole material is comfortable and cushy (despite not being their new Quantic material), and the upper is soft but supportive. The outsole feel grippy in the little bit of mud that I’ve been running in, but due to the pandemic, I haven’t hit any really steep or rocky climbs to test them on. The only weird thing is this fin that sticks out the back of the outsole. It’s like a little horizontal rudder that is supposed to add more stability, but I really can’t tell.

Right now the shoes seem like they’re pretty durable, but I have had friends who have worn through their uppers in 200-ish miles. Those were a few years ago, so I’m hoping that these newer models have a bit more durability going for them. If nothing else the outsole feels really solid, and seems like it will take a beating.

img_1384Because the 2.0’s are out now, I managed to score a decent closeout price on the 1.5’s. I’m curious to try the next version because apparently a LOT has changed on the shoe. I do always worry though when a shoe goes through significant revisions. I’ve had more than one occasion where the revision has completely ruined the shoe for me. With summer almost upon us, I’m hoping to spend some more time running on dirt, so I might need a second pair of trail shoes before too long.

Overall, I’m loving the Altra Timp 1.5’s. They are a solid trail shoe, that is incredibly comfortable. Having a nice wide toe-box is a huge perk, and I love how my toes can splay more than in normal shoes. You can probably still find some 1.5’s on clearance, so if you’re curious about a zero drop experience in a great shoe, I’d highly recommend giving the Timp’s a try.

Quick Review: Logitech G432 headset

With the advent of full time working from home, I decided to invest in a new headset. I’d been wanting a full over-the-ear gaming headset for a while, so I looked around and found a good deal on the Logitech G432. It arrived the other day and I’ve had it for a couple of days of meetings and video conferences now.

This is a USB headset, and so simply plugging it in gets you up and running really fast. The cord is nice and long, and the overall fit of the earpieces is what I was expecting. It’s a large-ish headset, but the bar along the top is padded for more comfort. I’ve been wearing it for hours at a time and haven’t noticed any discomfort. The only issue is that the ear cups are secure enough to cause my ears to sweat just a little bit after I’m done with a long session.

In terms of audio quality, the sound is really, really good. I’ve listened to music and videos as well as teleconferences, and the quality is really outstanding. I need to do some deeper dives into the different ranges, but for now I can say I’m very pleased with how these sound.

My one disappointment is with the mic audio quality. It’s a bit thin and tinny, and I wish I had access to some type of software equalizer for these. I want to round out the mids and lows more, but there’s no customizable option for that. If these had one failing, it’s the mic quality. Thankfully, for my work calls, it’s not a huge deal, but I know I’ll need something else if I ever start doing podcasting or more video work.

I managed to get these on sale for a good discount, and so that made these a good deal overall, especially considering the really good output quality.