Catching Up

As you may remember, I finally decided to pull the trigger on a new digital camera, and sold my old Canon digital rebel to my sister and fellow blogger. The main things that I wanted to get in a new camera were smaller size so I wouldn't leave it at home so much, a nice prime lens with fast aperture for low light shooting, and perhaps a video mode. The Olympus Pen came out right around this time, and while it was small, it was noted to have slow autofocus, and worse, the Olympus 17mm lens it was available with was an average performer, with f/2.8 maximum aperture. Their new E-P2 is a nicer camera, with a good electronic viewfinder but a much higher price.

I chose to go with the Panasonic GF-1, one of the new "EVIL" cameras (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens). I had to wait a couple months after ordering, because Panasonic didn't have enough GF1 20mm kits on hand for the initial rush - a poor supply chain is something Panasonic is known for. The 20mm is a 40mm equivalent, making it a wide-ish normal lens. It reminds me a bit of the Konica pancake 40mm of old, which was also an excellent performer. This lens has a 1.7 maximum aperture, which makes for great out-of-focus background effects, along with good low-light performance.

I took the camera along on a road trip recently, and I am so far quite impressed with it. The build quality seems superior to my Canon dSLR, and each little component gives a satisfying feel in the hand. As with all digital cameras, I wish there were fewer buttons and more dials and switches, but I've found the menus so far to be logically laid out and easy to navigate. The performance is also quite good, with fast autofocus, a beautiful and large live-view LCD, and accurate color rendition and metering.

St. Louis sunrise

The small size did cause me grief once, when I was crawling around in one of the 50-foot high tunnels at St. Louis's City Museum. I watched as my wife climbed through first, and her cell phone jumped out of her pocket, landing far below. Not thinking, I shoved the new camera in my jacket pocket and followed her. I was horrified to hear a distinct clink as I traversed the tube, and looked down to see the GF-1 sandwiched between two metal bars just wide enough for it to drop through if it shifted at all. After my heart began beating again, I picked up the camera and climbed down as quickly as possible. So if you have a small camera like this, be careful putting it in your pocket, as it may not stay there!

Next on my agenda are to procure a few adapters so I can use my older lenses with the camera. For now, here are some photos from my first set of shots, to give you an idea for the camera's performance.


Baby Shower


Mountain Biking in November!

Going out to the local singletrack in November is just a little crazy most years, in that it's freezing, often snowy, and most moderately sane people have given up mountain biking for the year by then. This weekend, with its 70 degree sunny forecast, made the urge to get at least one last ride in irresistable for myself and some friends.

We headed out to Anderson Park, a nearby short ~5 mile loop of singletrack. It was my first time there; I had thought the closest trail was the longer Burchfield Park trail, so being told there was a closer location was great news. The trail was a good mix of fast and technical - one section had nice burmed curves and fast downhills, one loop a short twisty mix, and the last a longer, up-and-down trail over roots and logs. It was shorter than Burchfield, slower in many sections, and the hills were a tad smaller, but it's a great change of pace.

I brought along the Bridgestone XO-1 instead of my mountain bike to see if it could handle harder offroad adventuring, and it actually performed admirably. I was most concerned about the thin 1.5" tires, road geometry, relatively high 38x24 low end, and moustache handlebars getting in the way, but I shouldn't have worried. The lightweight Bridgestone made it simple to hop over logs and rubble, the handlebars gave me tons of positions for my hands so they didn't get tired, and it was no problem at all accelerating up hill and down dale.

Not that it was perfect. The lower bottom bracket made it difficult getting over the more difficult stunts. The slick tires slipped when I needed traction uphill in the mud, and the narrow tires got sidetracked by roots in the trail at times. Most of this could be fixed by a knobbier set of tires, and altering my riding style a bit. I'm not 100% convinced on losing my mountain bike entirely, especially on the rougher trails like Poto, but riding the XO is a new interesting way to ride these backwoods loops, making me ride a bit more technically instead of going roughshod over each rock and stump.

Also, thanks to Melissa (above) for taking photos. I really need to get a digicam for events like this.

Polaroid Week!

From today until Friday it's Polaroid Week over at Flickr. Shoot 'em if ya got 'em!

An indelible mark

I got 'em, so I'm shootin' em. This is Scott Woods over on Lansing's east side.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Hope you get more treats than tricks. As for us, we're going on a rumpus tonight!

Wild Things

"XO" stands for hugs and kisses.

I should know better - not long ago I thought to myself that I wouldn't want or need to buy another bike for a while. I was happy with the bikes I had, I decided, and short of spending $1500+ on a new bike I didn't think there was anything out there I wanted. Famous last words, of course.

Sure enough, a bike I had always drooled over, the Bridgestone XO-1, popped into my life. Someone was selling the frame and fork for an affordable amount, and I decided that opportunities like this are rare enough and plunked down the cash. I spent a while sourcing some decent but inexpensive components, and now have the bike I never really thought I'd have the chance to own.

Please stay on trail

Other websites do a good job explaining what the XO-1 is all about, and why it has such a cult status today, but it's important to remember that this is a bike that was not at all popular in its day, and, in my opinion, likely contributed to Bridgestone pulling out of the US bicycle market.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Bridgestone USA was run by the eccentric Grant Petersen, who made it clear that his focus was on "everyday" riding. In this market where the newest and shiniest sold best, Petersen's Bridgestones, with their lugged steel frames, friction shifting, cotton handlebar tape, rigid forks, and fat squishy tires, seemed out of place.

Suntour Barcons

There were a few fanatical owners of the Bridgestone RB and MB series, who called themselves BOBs, or members of the Bridgestone Owner's Bunch. There was a BOB list, a newsletter that came out that had wonderful articles on setting up bikes, camping, and all sorts of "Bobbish" things. The bikes actually lent themselves well to a wide series of tasks, in that you could ride a rough road on even their raciest bike, and ride a road-oriented tour on their mountain bikes. In the end there just weren't enough BOBs to stay in business.

The XO-1 is perhaps the best and brightest symbol of this. Instead of the popular "hybrid" bicycles of the day, Petersen designed the XO series around a lightweight Ishiwata steel-tubed road frame with fast but comfortable geometry, gave it clearance for wide 26" tires, and designed a new do-everything handlebar, the Moustache, to go with it. Reviewers of the day blasted the bike to pieces, saying it was unfit for anything, from roads to trails, and the handlebars were the worst of all worlds, poor ergonomics and ugly to boot. They sold poorly for two years, and when Bridgestone pulled out of the US market in 1994, its dealers were left with many 1993 XO-1s to get rid of, many times for fire sale prices. As Petersen himself was heard to say about the demise of Bridgestone, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

Moustache Bars

With all this going against it, it's hard to see why the XO-1 is so popular after the fact. It may be that the market has come around to seeing things the Petersen way, and it may be that the roughly 2000 XO-1s produced in 1992 and 1993 are rare enough to warrant cult status. In any case, the bike is odd, versatile, and fun to ride, which makes it right up my alley. I have the 1992 version, which has caliper instead of cantilever brakes, and is pearlescent white instead of the 1993 pumpkin orange color. I plan on using it for cyclocross, trails, and commuting - all of which it looks like it will do well at.

If you're interested in more of the history of Bridgestone USA, Sheldon Brown put together a great page with lots of reading material, including copies of the old BOB Gazettes, which contain incredible reading material about all things to do with the "retro-grouch" lifestyle. And take heart for Grant Petersen, as he began his own bicycle company, Rivendell, and it is still going strong, producing durable, classy, and versatile steel bikes in the vein of the best Bridgestone models.

A Walk through the Woods

Scott Woods, to be exact, in Lansing. These were taken a couple weeks ago with my Mamiya Super 23, a giant camera that takes great photos but is a bit slow to work with. No matter, it's worth it. I may go back out to this spot today and see how the leaves have changed the view.



All the Leaves

The Red Stain