Thursday, July 11, 2024

Organ Grinder Marathon: The Spiritual Successor to the Bow 80?

Due to the pandemic and cancer, I had not raced at a weekend bike race since 2019. Those two factors obviously explain some of that absence, but there were other more personal factors: I had spent years racing before and slowly working my way up, was it worth racing if I was not at my best and would be racing at a level similar to where I had spent lots of time racing before. After a pandemic spent chasing strava segments and exploring excellent running and biking loops, what reason did I have to spend hundreds of dollars on entry fees, gas, and have to make sure that I spent one of my precious weekend days either resting or recovering? To end my hiatus, the race would have to have an inspiring course, something I would enjoy racing. 

First, let's return to the original race referenced in the title: The Bow 80. For those that don't know, the Bow 80 was a long distance marathon mountain bike race in Kananaskis. The first versions that I have heard of were a roughly 80km loop around Moose Mountain featuring Sulphur Springs, Elbow Valley, Powderface Creek, Prairie Creek, Jumpingpound Ridge south, Cox Hill and finally Tom Snow Trails. Taking place in September, epic fall weather sometimes added to the legend. In my mind, this route could be the ultimate Kananaskis bike FKT. My one and only Bow 80 in 2011 was on the 2nd version of the course I know of: which ommited Jumpingpound Ridge, Cox Hill, and Tom Snow, and instead returning over Powderface pass, and up Pneuma and finishing down Special K and Tom Snow. It was a more modern version, less logistically complex, a little shorter at 65km, and debatably whether it was more or less technical than the original. With the Special K trail, it was my first more technical mountain bike race and I remember putting on some "burlier" Maxxis Ardent tires on with this section in mind. To put on this race with the constraints of Kananaskis (remoteness, field limits) is a big undertaking and sadly the 2012 edition was the final. Not to mention the 2013 floods had a slight impact on the course. Since 2013, the trail variety in the area has exploded, presenting many more options for epic racing in Kananaskis. 

I had first seen rumblings of a marathon mountain bike race on Strava with some cryptically titled ride names from Mike Sarnecki and Dave Roberts. To be honest, this one slipped under my radar. The "Organ Grinder" was another name from the past, a 5 hour (or 6 or 8?) lap race at the Canmore Nordic Centre on the day after an XCO race that has gone by various names over the years: Iron Lung, Iron Maiden, Mountain Maiden. Sadly, I never did this race as I was usually content to recover from the XCO race the day before. As I type this, I am warming up to the idea of racing a multi hour lap race (Salty Dog 2025?), but prior to racing this edition, this format was not something that would keep me from other adventures in the mountains. 

It was a skimo teammate who brought to my attention what this race actually was, a week before the race: A single 50km loop with 5 climbs in West Bragg. Holy shit, it's 5/8ths of the Original Bow 80, or 10/13ths of the later Bow 80. And priced like an ABA race (cheaper). While I was unsure of my form (power meter, running splits), I was too intrigued to miss this one. I needed an excuse to ride West Bragg, and I could use this race to see how my form was. Sign me up...well in the 35-44 category because I didn't think I could do that well in the Open category. 

Near the front at the start were actually many riders familiar with the Bow 80 (aka, been in the game for a while) as well as some newer faces who have been smashing the West Bragg trails. Some with tired legs from racing the provincial XCO the day before. With a longer day in mind the start wasn't too fast but it did end up single file. Sensing a lull in the pace, I the front to give me a head start on the Ridgeback 3 descent. And ultimately attempt to smash the Bobcat climb so I could at least come out of the day with a comparison to some of my previous times up this climb from 2020 and 2021. Shawn Bunnin caught and passed me on the Ridgeback 3 descent, but nobody else. I hit the bottom of Bobcat, passed Shawn and went hard up this climb, well as hard as my mind would let me with 3 more main climbs to come after. On the next descent down Sugar Daddy, Shawn didn't catch me until the very bottom. I soon retook the lead. 

The Boundary Ridge climbs were not as big as Bobcat, but had some punches, and it was hard to tell where they topped out and the descent began. I managed to descend down to the parking lot and the base of the next climb with my lead intact with the first of 2 loops done. 

With the 2 separate loops each taking roughly 1.5hours and passing through the trailhead, it was easy to organize feed, but I only have 1 bottle cage on my bike, so I raced with a bottle of drink mix and a hydration pack full of 1.5L of water. The extra weight might have slowed me on the climbs, but maybe I saved some time in the feed zone not having to stop and it was easy to stay hydrated through the day. The next climb was Telephone to Disconnect before a shorter descent down Long Distance to the base of Merlin. At Merlin, I felt a couple of leg cramps, and gulped some drink mix from my bottle. Maybe I needed something other than just water in the pack? But I was able to hammer up the Merlin climb. I was unfamiliar with the next section on Kestrel. All I knew was that it traversed along the ridge for a while before dropping down to the Tom Snow trail. Kestrel featured a seemingly never ending stretch of false summits. Finally the descent came and I still rode down like someone could be coming up behind me any second now. Just like the original Bow 80, there was a section of the Tom Snow trail towards the finish. I had never done that section, but I heard it had been revamped as part of the Great Trail (Trans Canada Trail), and wow was it fast. Good thing no gravel bikers were coming the other way! The next section had a couple of ski trail climbs and while nothing compared to the 5 main climbs, they stung a bit. And finally, just when you think you can smell the finish line, the course turned onto some tighter West Crystal Line singletrack. Still, nobody had caught me and finally the finish line was in sight and I rolled across, taking my first ever weekend race overall win. 

Maybe my power meter is broken, maybe everyone else's legs were tired from the day before, maybe I am comparing myself to something I was in 2021 when all I had to compare myself to others was a power meter and strava. But I guess I'm back.

 As it is difficult to mark a long course, they had us race with GPS navigation. The junctions were very well marked and my only confusion came when I was on unfamiliar trails and was wondering if I was still on course. The trail area is usually very busy and I'm not sure many people knew there was a race going on even after riding by course markings at the junction. I know trail etiquette is a thing, but there are also a large variety of trails that weren't being used for the race and there are hundreds of other days in the season to ride those trails. Thanks to the organizers for putting on this race, it was certainly worthy of being spoken about in the same breath as the legendary Bow 80.

Thursday, June 29, 2023


In parallel with Lego, I got back into K'Nex and Meccano. My history with K'Nex and especially Meccano was different than my history with Lego. More time consuming building with Meccano and less realism with K'Nex limited how many creations I made with either of those mediums compared to Lego.

K'Nex and Meccano sets contain instructions for many alternate builds (5+) compared to Lego where many sets have none, or just have suggestions for alternate builds on the back. Like Lego, I rarely took apart built models which limited me from discovering the alternate builds. We also had large K'Nex sets like the Big Ball Factory, Screamin' Serpent, and Saturn V which remained assembled having never built the alternate models, but collecting dust. We even had a pinball machine, but that one is gone after it must have broken.
Building the Big Ball Factory on Christmas, losing the race against daylight

Screamin' Serpent
While there is a scan and inventory for pretty much every Lego set, finding information on older K'Nex sets is harder. There are a bunch of instructions saved on a website on also has some instructions. Perhaps someone has uploaded a scan to youtube, manualslib or instructables. But it isn't hard to come across sets where one can find pictures and set numbers but no evidence anywhere of instructions. Fortunately, Meccano has a more complete history, even including scans of magazines.

My reintroduction to K'nex began with the K'Nex Dinosaurs multi-set. The walking motion and the way that the dinosaur heads, spines, and tails were created in 3 dimensions with K'Nex was mindblowing. I quickly worked my way through all of the builds. 
The head on the T-rex really opened my eyes to the 3D potential of K'Nex

The ears and trunk on this Wooley Mammoth as well

Inspired by the dinosaurs, this ultimately led me to conceptualize building a K'Nex version of Grogu from the Mandalorian with Jenny (who was also inspired by the Wooley Mammoth and the master behind the head and ears).

The next K'nex set I rebuilt was a Robot World Set. I received this set when I was a teenager and was disappointed at the time because in my mind, it was not a robotics kit like Lego Mindstorms. I only built one of the 10 models and unfortunately I deconstructed this model to build the others before I realized that the actual model I built was absent from the scanned instructions I found. Oh well, after building all of the others, I had to re-create it based on a couple of pictures. While this set was disappointing when I was younger, I was amazed by the walking motions and the clever use of parts to create ratcheting mechanisms.
Robot World

With K'Nex, there are actually not that many unique parts, so like Lego, I looked for possible sets that I could rebuild. I discovered the massive Hyperspace Training Tower builds as well as smaller builds. 

I set off building the Hyperspace Training Tower. It was a massive set and I did exhaust my supply of some parts and had to borrow from Jenny's childhood K'Nex sets. It was time consuming to create, but the final result was a 6 foot tall tower with 9 different stations to clip a K'Nex figure to spin around on and I was again hooked.
Hyperspace Training Tower

Next up was the Power Tower Crane, which is a ball machine that uses a crane that can lift and rotate to pickup balls and move them into the chute. I found the ball picking up and release mechanism neat and also liked the sturdy crane rotation bearing.
Power Tower Crane

I then started to build a couple of roller coasters, scaling up some of the K'Nex designs so that I would not have to cut the track from my Screamin' Serpent. I enjoyed these builds as they went quicker and created exciting results.
Sorceror's Revenge

Roller coasters led back to ball machines and I built all three models of the Trampoline Tower.
Trampoline Tower Ball Machine
With most of the big builds on my list behind me, I plan on making more vehicles.


Compared to the other two construction toys, I spent the least amount of time in my childhood building with Meccano. Meccano is much more time consuming to build as you have to fasten each plate and bracket together rather than just clicking them into place. It can also be frustrating to install hard to access nuts in tight spaces. Over time or with play, the nuts also have a tendency to loosen, requiring using the wrench to reach deep into the model to tighten them up, like a bucket of bolts.

I received 3 different sets around the same time, Evolution 4 (which also contains instructions for Evolutions 1-3 allowing for 40+ different models to be built), Evolution 2 (which is redundant because Evolution 4 already had the parts and instructions), and a knock off MekStruct set. The first issue was that I wasn't sure how the flimsy styrofoam trays and cardboard boxes would contain all of my parts, so I made my dad buy me a proper red metal toolbox to store these sets. The next problem was that genuine Meccano used British threads while the knock off MekStruct used metric threads. I didn't know this at the time and ended up mixing all of the pieces together. Worse than MegaBloks in Lego, there was no way that the two different threads would work together and it was difficult to tell them apart. As an adult, I have to look closely at the threads and nuts, the more uniform looking ones are Meccano while the others are MekStruct but still occasionally I have found some parts that make it pass this test and require a test fit.

In the end, in my memory, I only ever remember building one of the Evolution 4 models, a buggy, and the model sat in the toolbox. Occasionally, I must have picked it up and assembled a couple of plates together but that was it.

The only model I ended up building as a kid, rebuilt as an "adult"

I did receive a much larger crane set for Christmas one year from my grandma. I was probably near the upper end of the "age range", but I spent the time putting it together and was impressed with the results and the functions (the transmission to change between modes on the crane was interesting). But again, I left it constructed and did not build any of the other 24 models. 
The one model of the crane I built as a kid, rebuilt, along with the 24 others as an adult.

Meccano can be used to build sturdy models. In university, I did use Meccano to make a simple prototype in the 2nd year design course. I struggled with the geometry and construction, opting to use the MekStruct motor with the built-in drivetrain so I wouldn't have to build the drivetrain from Meccano. I made a camera cable car as well, where I wasn't sure if Lego or K'Nex could handle the weight of the GoPro.

After I rediscovered K'Nex and Lego as an adult, I finally picked up Meccano. Upon opening that red toolbox, I was unimpressed. The plates were of course all sitting flat on each other and it didn't look like there could possibly be enough to make a full set. It was only after counting them and comparing them to the inventories that I realized that they were mostly all there! 

I started building and I enjoyed the challenge of installing nuts in hard to reach places. I enjoyed watching how the brackets were used to allow for the ability to install plates on different faces similar to Studs Not on Top (SNOT) construction in Lego. I also liked "tuning" the models so that the axles spun more freely, panels were aligned better, and gear trains were more optimized. And the sound of the motors and meshing gears. As soon as I completed one model, I would tune it, run it, and then take it apart to build the next one.

I added extra gear reduction to this truck and it allowed the motor to start the vehicle better

As I had multiple Meccano sets that each had multiple models that could be built I had one set to build in Canmore and a couple to build at home, so wherever I was, I could be building! My brother had received a couple of sets in adulthood and I rebuilt those too!

My brother's 30 model "Motion" set contained my favourite builds

One interesting aspect of Meccano sets is that they claim that the sets can build 20, 25, 45 (+ more from your imagination!) models but they actually only include instructions for 10-15 models. The rest are built from examining pictures, similar to a back of the box Lego build. Upon finishing the models with included instructions, I enjoyed the challenge of building these models based off of the pictures. I found the best technique was to build up all of the aspects of the model that are visible in the picture and then use the remaining pieces to deduce what is going on with the rest of the model.

Some modern Meccano sets use plastic panels, a controversial topic among Meccano enthusiasts. I understand there is the worry of less durability, but the benefit of the plastic panels is that the thin ones bend easily to form more contoured shapes and the larger panels have a square, nut shaped recess on one side so that bolts can be tightened without needing the wrench.
Modern plastic Meccano car

Plastic Meccano Excavator with hydrualics

Building these Meccano sets has inspired me to attempt to build some classic Meccano mechanisms like a Meccanograph as well as a Millennium Falcon, the classic "bucket of bolts".

Re-discovering Lego

 Resurrections: Emerging from the Bin, Technic, Mindstorms:

There is a term for the period in one's life between when one loses interest in Lego as a teen and when one rediscovers it as an adult and becomes an Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL): The Dark Ages. Mine lasted until I was 33, while quarantining at home after being hospitalized with covid while undergoing chemotherapy. I had thought about playing with Lego again while undergoing chemotherapy, but thought that the construction would be too hard on my fragile skin.

The sets were still there, still built in my brother's room. I was a little curious if I could find information on some of the sets. I discovered that there were various websites dedicated to Lego that would help me find information on these sets: number of pieces, original prices, inventories, and instructions. I was re-entering back into the world. There were actually less sets produced each year than I expected and we actually had a good representation of the sets at the time.

As I mostly kept my models fully built, I never build up the alternate models or suggestions on the back of the box. So first I rebuilt the 735 Fire Truck alternates. My next goal was to rescue 8277 from the bin. The build that I never got to do. I started by removing anything technic related from the bin, then moving on to any interesting parts from the bin. Alongside 8277, I found parts for 6835, 6879, 6898, 6889, 6852, and 6341. As mentioned earlier, these sets were early in my Lego life and I didn't even remember them but by cross-referencing that special parts that I found, I was able to deduce that those parts came from these sets. I built those sets and any others that had found their way into the bin as best as I could. I made a spreadsheet listing all of the sets that I suspected were in the bin. I added the sets that were in my brother's room to the spreadsheet. Even a Lego Znap set 3571 Blackmobile is interesting because it contains instructions for many different models!


Giant Model Set Robot

I finished all 6 alternate models of 8277. The large models were impressive. The scale of the 16L bricks combined, and the functions led to a thirst for more. I rebuilt the alternate models for 8445 and 8446, the bricks dusty after sitting on a shelf for so long. Next, I collected all of the remaining technic sets from my brother's room and rebuilt them and their alternate models. Rather than leaving sets built up, I was excited to take them apart so that I could build the next one. At first, the disassembly process was hard on my hands, but now they are tougher. Rebuilding the sets has been another highlight because when I was younger, I would get into a trance while building, but neglect to appreciate the part usage and functions that are hidden from the completed model.

While playing with Meccano, I had another revelation. Meccano has a limited number of unique parts and if one had multiple Meccano sets, it is conceivable that one could build even more official Meccano sets by combining the multiple sets together. Meccano has a similar database of instructions and inventories but what I found was a little disappointing as while they don't release new sets very often, they do update their shapes from generation to generation and larger sets also have larger parts making it hard to build different sets.

In a similar vain, the larger Lego sets did include some specialized pieces that I did not have in my entire collection. But while closely examining some Star Wars sets, I noticed that they included many very old Classic Space elements. From before my time. This led me down an ever expanding rabbit hole. Not only could I build some space sets, there were sets from other themes like Castle (including the classic yellow castle 375, which I did build) and Town that I could build. I could build the skulls from Pirates. I could build classic Technic Sets. My spreadsheet has expanded to include an ever increasing list of sets that I can build although I doubt I will have the time to build all of them. My current interests are the technic sets that are a larger scale and have good functionality and space sets. My experience with Town Jr. has made me less interested in boring town sets. While I had originally cleaned out my brother's room of all technic and space sets, I cleaned out the rest of the Lego to add to the part collection I could use for building other sets.

Classic "yellow" castle

Next to make up for my dark ages, I looked for Lego Mindstorms. Mindstorms had evolved 3 generations since my time and I was able to pick up a set from the 2nd generation NXT for pretty cheap. Alongside the software which included instructions for 4 builds (and more with the education package software), I discovered more websites dedicated to this model released back in 2009 and was able to build and program even more models. Some of these models shared similarities to my other technic builds, cranes, steering vehicles and a switch was turned on in my head: motorizing my sets with the NXT!

Lego NXT Alpha Rex

The first build I attempted with my parts collection was 8450 The Mission. A fairly large technic set, I brazenly begun grabbing parts from sets in my collection, keeping track in a spreadsheet. This familiarized me with the parts in my sets, knowing the limitations. It was a time consuming process, but eventually I got it finished and fortunately never ran out of parts or encountered a roadblock requiring a special part. The finished model was amazing and again I was impressed by the scale and features. The time was eased when I was quickly able to build the alternate models because the parts were already sorted out. I refined my system for later parts bin builds by choosing a more similar Lego bag to base the build out of and taking greater care into making sure that I had the parts to complete the build.

8450 The Mission

8855 Plane

These builds introduced me to many different building techniques and interesting ratchet mechanisms. The time that I had sunk into building these models encouraged me to troubleshoot these models to make them work with the parts I have.

Battle Droid. These Technic Star Wars models aren't very well liked, but I enjoyed the non-machinery application of Lego!

While I hadn't integrated the NXT into my sets yet, I started to integrate it into my parts bin builds, perhaps starting off with the most ambitious: 8094 Control Center. It was here that I found the limitation of the LabVIEW like NXT-G software, mainly with math required to draw circles and a feature from the original set: being able to store and replay chains of commands. I discovered that there were other ways to program NXTs using text-based software that would be much simpler. After hours and hours of learning and programming, I was able to create programs for both of those tasks among the builds of that set.

Control Center

While that was my most ambitious NXT program, my most ambitious build was 8479 with over 1200 parts. After a couple of weeks, I was able to build the main model and then the alternate models came quickly. The programming was fairly easy. The original set was based around the older 9V system with smaller motors. To incorporate my larger NXT motors, I had to remove some of the aesthetics of the models, but the spirit of the model remained. 

Barcode Multi-Set

With 8479 coming close before the release of the original Mindstorms RCX sets, it shares many of the same parts, so I have been able to build many of the builds from those sets without having to sort more parts. 

RCX Grabber Arm

I asked for and received Lego 42128 Heavy Duty Tow Truck for Christmas, which is notable for a couple of reasons. It is over 2x the size of any set that I had when I was younger, and it contains pneumatics and many interesting functions. Parts that will be useful in other parts bin builds.

Heavy Duty Tow Truck

My Lego Journey

When I was young, I was very into Lego, definitely a Lego Maniac. Here I dive into my history with Lego. 

Early Beginnings: Duplo, Small Sets, MegaBloks, Azam:

Of course, I started with Duplo, but I don't remember this phase. My earliest Lego memories start with a tub of bulk Lego pieces (1708, 4162) and some small sets. My parents informed me that they would have to do most of the building of the small sets at this stage but a friend from down the street, Azam, would come over and take them apart and the pieces would end up with the rest of the bulk Lego. I don't even really remember the sets as they were built because they would quickly end up in the bin (6835 Saucer Scout, 6879 Blizzard Baron, 6898 Ice Sat V, 6889 Recon Robot, 6852 Sonor Security, and 6341 Gas 'n Go Flier) but I remember using the parts in the rest of my builds (My Own Creation or "MOC's" as adults call them), the "best" one I built at the time being a car-carrying ferry among numerous spaceships. Sets that I was absolutely drooling over because friends had them were 6195 Neptune Discovery Lab and Lego 6959 Lunar Launch Site.

Recon Robot and Sonar Security

Blizzard Baron

Ice Sat V

I also received some MegaBloks for Christmas. MegaBloks, while touted as being "Lego compatible" and subject to a lawsuit for that reason, was not created to the same standards as Lego pieces and either fit too loose or too tight to each other and to Lego pieces. One set we received was neat Castle with many small, decorative pieces that were to be attached to exposed studs on a castle shaped shell. The many small parts were probably too much for me to handle at the time and I have no memory of the castle in its final built form, but more of the poorly fitting parts making their way into the bin. Another set came in a rocket-shaped container which contained many neat transparent pieces but were not much use for adding to my Lego builds.

Middle: City Building, Leaving Them Built:

As I got older, I was introduced to the Technic Theme. For my 8th birthday, I received a fairly large (for me at least) Technic set, 8277 Giant Model Set. Like larger sets at the time, it came in a box with a flap and the pieces were organized in trays. More commonplace now, the set also featured multiple instruction manuals. The set required the construction of a central core (with one of the instruction manuals) followed by building up to 6 different models around the central core using the other instruction manual. In my excitement, I started building with the big, bright yellow pieces for the 6 different models, skipping the construction of the central core, that manual may have never made it outside of the box. I quickly hit a roadblock once it was time to start building around the central core, which magically appeared already build on the instructions. The thought crossed my mind that the central core was actually part of another set, like a motor, and I lost interest in the set, the parts made their way into the Lego bin. I used the many 16L Technic bricks in my MOC's but I never got to experience the large models of the Giant Model Set.

I received many other sets, this time leaving them build in their original form. Space themes were my favourite and the highlight was 6949 Robo-Guardian. 6544 Shuttle Transcon was also a highlight with both a space shuttle and an airplane with many special airplane parts. I received the Lego Club Magazine and was kept up to date on the themes and also had some Adventurers featuring Johnny Thunder sets . Western sets were also of interest (my brother had 6761 Bandit Secret Hideout, which sadly ended up in the bin although the interesting parts lived on in our MOC's), I even built a MOC of a fur trading fort for a school project, but I was surprisingly not interested in the castle sets at the time.

Robo Guardian

My brother and I had a table with L-shaped baseplates surrounding a 'pit' with a net. Our part collection overwhelmed the net and made its way to a big Lego bin. The table with the baseplates quickly became home to a bustling Lego City with multi-story buildings, replicas of local landmarks (like the Butterdome) and even an attempt at an elevated railway. Windows and panels from deconstructed sets that found their way into the bin were the highlights of the builds.

We also had a fairly extensive (and expensive) HO train set at the time, so never got into Lego Trains, but it would have been great to have been able to build rolling stock, tunnels and stations instead...

Visits to grandma and grandpa often included Lego sets, but breaking open the box, building, and then glimpsing at the mini-catalog inside only fueled the desire for more sets: 6451 River Response leading to 6473 Res-Q Cruiser, 8226 Mud Masher leading to 8252 Beach Buster, and various Tech-Play sets: like 8229 Tread Trekker, 8215 Gyro Copter.

The big thing in this era for Lego was Star Wars, and I had a couple of the early sets, 7141 Naboo Fighter and 7110 Landspeeder were highlights.

My Lego sets peaked around my 10th birthday with my "Big 3": 8445 Indy Storm, 8446 Crane Truck, and 5563 Racing Truck, with the 735 Light and Sound Fire Truck getting an honorable mention. Of note is that aside from the big 3, there were many sets with piece counts between 100-300 that were very memorable which is important to remember when comparing against the many modern modern sets where even 1000 pieces seems small. Lego Mindstorms was in its early days, I definitely wanted it, but the $400 price tag was a lot. I don't really remember lusting after many other large sets at the time.

Crane Truck

Indy Storm

Basic Building Set. The fire truck is less basic than the name suggests

I stored sets from this time built up in a rolling cart and would take them all out and arrange them to play with them. I would never take them apart to build alternate models, and tried to limit them having parts falling off beyond repair and ending up in the bin. A Lego Book, Krazy Action Contraptions included some technic parts and instructions for many builds, but again, I only built one, a cable car that traversed my bedroom for a while.

End: Constraction, Regrets, Town Jr., Soccer, Games

Throwbots. They were cool. I didn't have any Power Rangers action figures when I was young (but I had Batman and Star Wars figures), so there was something about an action figure that was novel for me at the time. The throwing feature was neat, but the worm gear head movement was underwhelming due to the slow nature of worm gear drives. We had lots of these and Robo-Riders as they were priced within reach of an allowance or two. Sadly, while my mom has kept all of our Lego and other GOAT level toys (Brio Trains, K'NEX, Hot Wheels, and lower tier stuff like Playmobil), except for one set 8523 Blaster, the Throwbots and Robo-Riders were the only sets to have been donated or end up at garage sales. Which is a shame because they contained some unique parts that were used in other Technic builds from the time.

Which brings me to the major Lego regrets from my childhood: Chasing after sub-par sets. First up was Lego Soccer. Going to lots of football games at Commonwealth Stadium, I was fascinated with stadiums and when the Lego Soccer line came out, I was inspired to make a stadium, using many of those previously mentioned 16L technic bricks. We eventually got the 3409 Championship Challenge soccer set, but I then wanted the stadium sets: 3402 Grandstand, 3403 Grandstand with Lights, 3408 Super Sports Coverage, a field expansion 3410, and 3 fricken team buses. The sets were as underwhelming as their names with empty builds featuring large panels.

The other regret was Town Jr. I didn't even notice the "Jr." in the name at the time. These were sets with larger bricks and panels and pre-built vehicle chassis with simplified building intended for younger builders. These parts were actually the subject of much criticism of the Lego of this period and the many large, specialized parts are said to have contributed to Lego's near failure years later. My brother received 6554 Blaze Brigade, 6330 Cargo Center, and 6556 Bank (actually the most decent set of the bunch as it is way cheaper, while despite being similar built size). These were multi-story town buildings that seemed large and impressive and I wanted my own for my Lego City. I was probably 9 or 10 at the time but I got 6332 Command Post Central. The 3 story building that was quickly constructed was very underwhelming. I found the open back and lack of stairs to get between floors unrealistic.

Compared to my L-shaped baseplate donut city which was a 100% Lego environment, these Town Jr. and Soccer sets  featured separated buildings with open backs on small 8x16 baseplates that could be slid around on carpet and arranged how one wanted and either played from street level with the buildings acting as a facade or inside the interior with the open backs. I didn't want this, I wanted realism with enclosed buildings in a Lego environment. Similarly sets with many small builds (carts, small landscapes) scattered about to get lost about my Lego city versus putting all of those parts into one solid vehicle or building frustrated me. My approach at the time had more in common with modern Lego cities with modular buildings rather than the sets at the time. The regret comes from what could have been: Insectoids, Aliens, technic or even whatever the castle subtheme was at the time (although castles do feature large panels that remove many of the joys of building). 

Probably due to other interests: video games, skiing, peer pressure, I got out of Lego. After Robo Riders but before Bioncle came the next year which is a shame because the bevel gear action of Bionicle and parts are a large step up from the slow worm gears of Robo Riders and Throwbots. The last bit of life in my Lego was 8353 Slammer Rhino, a decent technic for the price but underwhelming compared to 8445 or 8446, which still stood proudly on my shelf.

Slammer Rhino

Lego video games were also a highlight at this time, Island, Loco, Chess, Racers, and Rock Raiders. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Finding vertical where it isn't expected

 Those that know me or follow along on Stava probably notice that when I leave Edmonton on the weekends, I don't intend on hanging around on flat trails. We have enough of those in Edmonton. I seek out elevation gain and other than total activity time, elevation gain is the main stat I chase when I am out. 

So, I "gravitate" towards big climbs, which of course lead to equally big descents. Of course, having rested on Friday to travel to the mountains, I am somewhat rested and ready to race up challenging climbs. I don't complain, I don't beg for shuttles and batteries. When I am tired and when I get old and frail, I'll ride the flat trails that I currently bypass.

My main activities are mountain biking in the summer (with running and road cycling becoming more prominent) and ski touring in the winter. Ski touring obviously lends itself well to climbing. Modern mountain biking is trending more towards continuous, one way, downhill trails that require continuous climbs, rather than loops and out and backs. 

Cross country skiing has also increasingly crept into my weekend activities and although most popular trails are flat, following summer fire roads or trails along rivers and creeks. Slogging along the flats isn't interesting to me: in classic skiing, it is heavily reliant on the upper body for double poling and skate skiing is reliant on balance and fast conditions. Fortunately, there are a couple of longer climbs around and it has been fun to race up those as well. 

I am a bit of a fan of World Cup Cross Country ski racing and in the leadup to the Holmenkollen 50km race, I saw it mentioned that the course also contained 1800m of climbing. So not only are those athletes covering 50km in just over 2hours, they are also doing that while climbing 1800m! 

When you put it that way, it makes you realize that climbing is an essential component of competition cross country skiing. It's not just double poling in classic technique or riding the glide while skating! Now you have my interest. In a similar way, cross country mountain bike racing is requiring an increasing amount of downhill skill to put in fast times on the courses and at the competition level is removed from what one would think of when they picture typical cross country mountain bike riding (aka, going across the country on easier trails).

The Canmore Nordic Centre hosted the 1988 Olympics and has since been upgraded with a more modern set of competition trails that feature shorter loops. They all feature roughly 30-40m of climbing per kilometer. Like any good international governing body, FIS has created its own bureaucracy requiring that courses be certified to meet certain climbing statistics before a race can be held. Compare this to cyclocross or mountain bike, where we make changes to the course as we are setting up the night before!

This means that course maps are published, although it can be hard to find maps from the earlier days of the internet. 

At Canmore, the older loops can be up to 15km long (the 50km race had a 10km loop followed by a 15km loop) while the newer, more modern loops top out at 7.5km. While the climbing per kilometer is approximately the same, the newer courses are wider to allow for mass start racing and have shorter climbs (105m climb on an old 15km loop vs 45m on a newer loop). 

So, I was recently able to throw myself at various loops, racing 10km, 15km at a time. I was curious if having a course punctuated by climbs that I could run up and then coast a descent would actually be faster for me than double poling or skating the flats. I didn't have ideal snow conditions, but I think I might have been faster. And it was a blast. The climbing was a major portion of the loops, while the descents were a nice rest (compared to sprinting out of corners in a bike race), although requiring some commitment to go fast. 

Something I'll look forward to doing more of next winter and there are a bunch of possibilities for comparison. Classic vs. Skate. Flat vs. proper course. 

An old course map with stats and elevation profile

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Dynafit Speedfit Pro Boot Review

Dynafit's TLT5 boot was revolutionary. It brought decent ski-ability to boots barely over 1kg and simplified walk-ski mode transitions. At the time, only the Scarpa F1 (with the bellows) and Garmont Masterlite (that didn't last long), were similar in weight, but well behind in skiability (for the former) and durability and simplicity (for the latter). They were light enough that I used them as 1 boot quiver for 1 year as they were as light as the F1 Race they replaced and were able to drive bigger skis like a 95mm x 187cm Dynafit Manaslu.

The design was refined slightly with the TLT6, losing the miniscule forefoot flex that didn't do much and better buckles. I skied the  TLT6 from 2014 until 2020. The liners were getting worn, and buckle hardware loose, so I looked for a replacement.

As with the skis, there were lots of options of boots around 1kg in 2020, but again, the unfavourable exchange rate made the boots seem much more expensive than I remember from 2014. And at the time, Dynafit was experimenting with boots without toe welts with the Dynafit TLT7 and TLT8. I don't use crampons very often, but it would be nice to not have to buy new hardware on top of having to buy new boots. 

Fortunately as part of their budget Speedfit line, Dynafit sold a slightly modified TLT6 in 2020 branded as "Speedfit", with both composite (fiberglass instead of carbon on my TLT6) and plastic cuff versions. Like the Ski Trab Stelvio skis, the Speedfit Pro boot brings the performance of fiberglass at a lower price. Combined with the Stelvio skis and the Dynafit Speed Turn bindings, they make a great high performance budget setup.

There are a few notable differences between my Speedfit Pros and my TLT6. My TLT6 had the thicker liners and the lighter weight and less cuff restriction of the Speedfit liners is noticeable on the way up. The Speedfits on the other hand, lose the capability of installing a plastic tongue to stiffen up the boots for the way down. I only really used this feature of the TLT6 during infrequent ski resort days or when touring on bigger skis like. But that brings me to another knock on the Speedfits. The cuff feels less stiff, so I definitely miss being able to stiffen them up with the tongues during the rare times I feel like I need to (last lap of the day?). Fortunately, the Speedfits feature an awesome powerstrap. I never bothered with the velcro powerstraps on the TLT5 and 6, leaving them undone. My TLT5 strap didn't like being loose under my pant cuff and actually ripped itself out of the eyelets. The powerstrap on the Speedfits is a cam lock design that can be tightened by pulling on the tail of the strap (once fed through the cam) and loosened for the next climb with a pull loop. I definitely don't use the powerstrap for short laps, but it doesn't slow things down at the transition area that much for bigger laps.

So you have thinner liners, and can't install tongues to stiffen them up, and the cuff isn't as stiff to begin with, but the powerstraps are much better to use so they have that going for them. Aside from the uphill performance, which is a little bit better due to the lighter weight. Again, a decent budget boot that probably skis better than the plastic boots in the same price range.