Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW first impressions

During my trip to Lapland a month ago, I had my camera gear (except a pocket camera) in an ordinary 30 liter backpack. The result of this was that the camera didn't come out often enough, since it involved taking off the backpack completely and dig out the camera. My trusty Lowepro Slingshot 102 AW, while being an excellent fast-to-use camera bag, didn't have any extra space for the sleeping bag and down jacket, hence I had to take a slightly bigger backpack.

Since I'm now trying a completely rackless bikepacking setup, I need to be able to put some light and bulky item on the back, but an ordinary backpack unsurprisingly turned out to be suboptimal for this. Some googling and a few questions on the Finnish cyclist forum fillarifoorumi quickly led to me buying a (slightly) used LowePro Photo Sport 200 AW, which promised to be very suitable for my use. It has a large enough padded camera compartment accessible from the side without taking it off completely as well as a 13.9 liter upper compartment. All the reviews say that it is very light, but at 1.3 kg it doesn't really seem so from an lightpacker's point of view. Anyway, here are my first impressions of it:

Loaded with some camera gear and clothes in the upper compartment it sits well on the back. At home I confirmed that my winter sleeping bag would fit there, though it was a tight fit. The waist belt is rather light and flimsy, but since I won't load it with more than 3-4 kg it won't be a problem for me.
Accessing the camera is fairly fast and can be done without taking the backpack off completely. A slingshot type bag is faster, but this is not bad.

No problem getting a Panasonic GH2 with the Olympus 14-150 mm lens mounted to fit. A few extra lenses and a flash unit also fit without problems. In fact, there is a little too much room (m43 gear is small), but the tightening system does a good job of preventing things from bouncing around. There is no good place for memory cards, though.
There is is a water bottle pocket on the right side, which fits a small tripod perfectly.
A small pocket on the lid for e.g. mobile phone and other small items. Inside the bag is another small pocket for e.g. a wallet. The waist belt has two small pockets suitable for e.g. energy bars.
There is a separate compartment for a water reservoir, which also fits a laptop or an IPad. I probably won't use it much.
Another possible place to secure a small tripod on the bottom of the backpack.

Built-in raincover.

The backpack seems to be what I was looking for. I will use it for bikepacking trips, but probably not for ordinary rides, since the Lowepro Slingshot 102 AW works well for that and I have room in my frame bags for some extra gear. There is also a smaller slingshot version of the backpack, the Lowepro Photo Sport Sling 100 AW, which could be a good option if less room is needed.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kids in the forest

No riding my fatbike in the forest this weekend for me. Last Sunday I took a nasty fall when out trail running in the rain and hurt my left shoulder and leg. The leg is feels almost normal now, but the shoulder is anything but. I tore a muscle in it and while the shoulder has almost full mobility, it is much to weak to ride a bike on technical singletrack. Hence an overnighter with the kids suited me fine this weekend.

We went to the Västerby area again. It is a one hour drive from Turku, but the area is nice and very familiar for me, since I grew up in the vicinity. We started walking a little after six in the afternoon, a little less than three hours before sunset. It rained a little for the first hour and the ground was wet. The younger boy had forgotten to take his rubber boots and it didn't take long before his feet were all wet.

The distance to cover wasn't very long, but the kids have other interests than covering a lot of ground. This time it was billberries...

... and blueberries. The blueberries were tasty and big.

A little more walking...

... and we arrive at a suitable camp spot close to a shelter and fire place. I didn't find a suitable tent spot exactly where I thought, since the Golite Shangri-La 5 has a pretty big footprint. Next order of business was to put up the tent.

Interestingly enough, there were very few mosquitoes until sunset. After that they came out in big numbers, exactly like during an overnighter in August a year ago.

The evening was very nice.

While I was out doing some photography, the kids consumed some literature.

 Soon it was night and time to sleep.
The night was quite warm and humid. With water from the previous rain dripping from the trees and no wind, there was a lot of condensation in the tent, but the steep walls of the tent made sure nothing dripped down on us.

The next morning was misty.

For breakfast a porridge made of rice flakes and powdered milk, which still tastes a lot better than oatmeal porridge.

With blueberries on top the porridge tastes great.
The kids tried not to fall in the water while I packed down everything.
And on we go.

Some final blueberries before the trip is over.

That's it.

PS. About half of the pictures are stills from video, which might not be visible after a quick look. A closer look quickly reveals it, though.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Video practice

For several reasons I did not get the video footage I wanted from the Tour de Pältsan trip. During the first day I didn't bother to take the detail shots I would have needed. After that the weather was mostly rainy, which in conjunction with the hordes of mosquitoes didn't really tempt me to take extra breaks for filming. The main reason, however, was that I didn't have enough protection for the camera from rain and it stopped working on the second day due to too much moisture. It didn't really get wet, but the moisture obviously caused some condensation inside the camera, affecting how it worked. Back at home it worked fine again when it had dried up completely. We'll see if I get the motivation for putting something together from the few pieces of video footage I have...

Yesterday I practiced a little video filming in the forest next to my home. It rained the entire day, but this time I had a rain cover for the camera and had no problems with the rain. I used the Panasonic GH2 with the Olympus 9-18/4-5.6 mm lens, except for the first scene where I used the Panasonic 20/1.7 lens. The result is here:

I'm actually quite satisfied with this little experiment. The film is mostly has a good pace, without using MTV-style one second clips, and has a suitably absurd mushroom picking section in the middle. I also tried some new (for me) things: The focus change from near to far in the beginning turned out quite fine, despite the actual focus change being made in software from one clip focused near and another focused far. The slow motion section at 1:02 turned out quite well too. It was made by using 720p with 50 fps and a fast shutter time (1/400 s) and then using a 0.3x playback speed.

For Vimeo usage the limited bitrate (recommended 5 Mbps for the source material) has some implications. Panning seems to work fine, but panning and zooming contains to many changing details and the encoder goes nuts. Check e.g. how the background gets its own life at around 27 s. A render with a bitrate of 15 Mbps shows no such problems.

There is still a lot to learn, but I think this was a valuable practice session, since I did learn something.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer wheels

One of the criteria when choosing a new fatbike was the ability to fit a lighter summer wheel set for ordinary trail riding. My choice, the Salsa Mukluk, easily enabled that through its symmetrical 170 mm rear. I knew what kind of summer wheels I wanted, but it took until now to get the Hope fat bike hubs to Foxcomp. I can't complain about the speed of service, though. Tommi started building the wheels immediately when the hubs arrived and they were ready the same day.

Hope Fatsno Pro 2 Evo hubs (170 / 135 mm), DT Competition spokes and TrialTech Real SL rims (47 mm wide).

To the left a summer wheel (TrialTech Real SL 47 mm rim) and to the right a winter wheel (Surly Rolling Darryl 82 mm rim).

The tires are around 10 mm narrower with these rims and the profile is more round. The height seems to be the same, though, and when riding I didn't notice that the low BB of the Mukluk would have felt any lower. The rolling resistance seems lower and they should be a lot easier to get up to speed. The front wheel is 245 g lighter and the rear wheel 420 lighter. The rim is itself 250 g lighter, which is a good difference at the outer perimeter of the wheel. With the summer wheels the bike should weigh 14.3 kg without any extra bags and stuff mounted, which I think is quite ok for an XL sized geared fatbike without any weight weenie stuff.

The first test rides indicate that the wheels work as they should.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tour de Pältsan

Grab a cup of good coffee, since this post is long.

After returning from a family trip to Sweden and Norway, I still had time for a short bikepacking trip before my vacation would be over. I contemplated a few alternatives, and Abisko was right on the top of the list. Some uncertainty regarding the bus schedule on the Swedish side made me choose another option. In just the same time I could go a bit further north to Kilpisjärvi and do a little bikepacking in Finland, Sweden and Norway during the same trip. I had some information saying that at least part of the trails in the area would be suitable for riding a bike.

On Thursday evening I entered the train in Turku. There were quite a lot of bikes on it this time. Since you can sleep decently on the night train, this doesn't really cost much time. The train ticket with a sleeping cabin is rather expensive, though.

After a night on the train followed some eight hours in a bus, before I finally arrived at Peera, about 15 km before Kilpisjärvi. I quickly stashed away a bag with clean clothes for the return journey before starting the ride. An air temperature of around 15C was quite pleasant.

After a short while I came upon the bridge to Keinovuopio, the northernmost community of Sweden. Crossing the bridge also meant crossing the border.

Now around 8 km of rather coarse gravel followed, leading to Kummavuopio.

The road ended at Kummavuopio and the trails started. The trails were mostly easy, though there was a distinct advantage to having a fatbike during a longish soft and wet section. Now the sheer number of bugs also became obvious.

Well, I think the risk of getting a rocket in your head is rather minimal, so I didn't check out the details.

Closing in on the higher region. Notice the good visibility.

Pältsan and Moskkugáisi.

The waterfall near the Pältsastugorna cabins.

I chatted a bit with the host of Pältsastugorna and he was skeptical about my route. The trail to Rostahytta would be fine, but Isdalen would not be rideable at all.

I still continued for one hour after Pältsastugorna, which was a little too much. I had only eaten a banana while riding for almost six hours, and now felt a bit weak. I never seem to learn...

I found a nice place for the tent, suitably close to a small creek.

The period with midnight sun ended one week earlier, but the sun didn't go far below the horizon for the two hours it wasn't visible.

The following morning saw a little lower cloudline, but the visibility was still good.

I left sometime after nine in the morning. It was now slightly chillier, around 9C, which suited me fine, since I needed the wind clothing for bug protection anyway.

Leaving Sweden for Norway.

Bartsia Alpina.

The weather was now quite grey with a light rain.

My Salsa Mukluk fatbike performed perfectly.

Downhill towards Rostahytta.

The fun ended when I flatted my front tire through a nasty snakebite. It was less fun to change the inner tube in the rain among the mosquitoes.

The bridge over Iselva wasn't made for bikes. It started with an almost two meter high ladder and the bridge itself was rather unsteady. Attempting to push the bike over could have ended only one way. By dismantling the bags from the bike and crossing it several times I got everything over.

A good place to have lunch. I managed to buy a supply of Real Turmat meals a week earlier in Sweden for a price that was not totally horrible.

A short ride later I arrived at Rostahyttan.

The bridge over Rostaelva did not seem much better than the previous one.

I'm going to Gappohytta via Isdalen.

A view back.

The trail was still mostly rideable, though it was hard going because of the climb.

Finally the difficulties began.

When I arrived at the highest point in Isdalen it was time to search for a place to put up the tent. All the suitable spots I found were rather exposed, but fortunately the wind was quite weak. And unfortunately, since the wind was weak the bugs were quite annoying.

It took a while warm and dry up in the tent, since I was about as wet as possible after a rainy day. The feet were wet from creek crossings and despite the rain I had only used my wind clothing instead of the rain gear. Using the rain gear would have been much to warm, despite the temperature being only 9C. Riding and pushing a bike generates lots of heat. I slept fine during the night, though.

I tried a different breakfast this time. A porridge made on rice flakes and milk powder was a lot better than the usual oatmeal porridge.

The road ahead.

Still no riding.

The Glacier Buttercup lives where nothing else can.

The terrain became (barely) rideable again.

Purple saxifrage.

 The rain just continues.

Briefly going into Sweden again.

 I certainly got my feet wet.

I came from there.


My original plan was to ride to Goldahytta from here, but I had plenty of time and decided to take the trail to Pältsastugan instead. It was supposed to be great.

The trail followed a ridge that mostly was rideable. Only a few sections were to rocky.

Another lunch accompanied by bugs and rain.

A Finnish couple is hiking om the trail.

Arriving at Pältsastugorna I again chatted a while with the host. He was again skeptical towards my plan to ride over Duoibal to the Three-Country Cairn. I was again optimistic.

The waterfall again.

Hey, it's summer. You should be green.

Pushing the bike up from Pältsastugorna was quite hard work. The trail was partially rideable, but it was slow going.

A little Norwegian energy.

Wringing water from the socks.

I set camp on Duiobal a short distance from where the trail would begin to descend. There were still lots of mosquitoes and some rain.

Couscous, butter and beer sausage for dinner.

Without a bugproof shelter the sanity would be in grave danger.

The next morning saw no difference in the weather.

The trail started to descend.

After a while I was below the cloudline.

The Three-Country Cairn (Kolmen valtakunnan rajapyykki, Treriksröset, Treriksrøysa). I felt the trip was a success this far.

A glimpse through the clouds reveals part of the steep face of Bárrás.

The trail to Koltaluokta was more like a road. And the rain had now stopped.

The boat from Kilpisjärvi bringing tourists for the short walk to the Three-Country Cairn.

I chatted with the boat driver and he told me that the route from Koltaluokta to Keinovuopio should be mostly rideable, with a fairly even terrain. The fat tires gathered comments, as usual, but the main question for the boat driver was that I had no booze with me. A Finn without booze, how is that possible?

The trail rose quickly through the forest...

...and soon provided a view back towards Koltaluokta.

A final lunch on the trail.

The terrain was generally quite easy, but when the ATV trail went in another direction, the hiking trail occasionally became hard to follow.

During this section the head net was absolutely essential. There was a slight breeze coming from behind, making it easy for the bugs to keep my speed.
 From here it is downwards to Kummaeno and the Kummavuopio-Pältsastugorna trail.

 Leaving the interesting area.
 Kummavuopio again.

After this followed 8 km of gravel, getting the return journey clothes from their hide and finally 15 km of road riding to Kilpisjärvi. I arrived at 18:00 on Monday evening and rented a cheap room and ate an expensive dinner. The next day again saw almost eight hours in a bus, followed by a nice dinner with Mark Roberts and family from Backpacking North and finally the night train to the south.

All in all a very nice trip in an area which don't see too many cyclists, despite the potential. The following map shows the route, but the details are found in the Swedish map Fjällkartan BD1. You can click on the sections for a short summary.

Visa Tour de Pältsan på en större karta