Monthly Archives: May 2013

Stuff I Like (And Paid For*)




Like Oprah’s Favorite Things, I have a bunch of Stuff I Like.  Unlike Oprah, you won’t find one under your seat.   Here goes another addition of, Stuff I Like (And Paid For*)*not always retail.


The podium at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials. Since I always seemed to get 4th it was nice they let five of us up there.

Long before I had a blog, hell, before the Interwebs had blogs, I was a bike racer. And I was pretty successful on a national scale.  And I was short. Am short. Not growing taller.  And back in the 1990’s, there was not one single stock bicycle frame in the world that was worthy of racing in my size.

“Oh c’mon Jen, that’s not true,” you’re moaning, “Trek made them, Specialized had one, TONS of people had WOMENS SPECIFIC FRAMES.”

Sure they did, you’re right. But for one, I predate those and two, when they did show up most of them were not all that great from a racing perspective.  Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Chicken and Egg. There were like ten of us who were any good and nine of us were tall enough to ride men’s bikes.


Driving the breakaway on my custom bike. It looked like a bike. It rode great. I was happy.

And so I rode. On things cobbled together. Until one day I was sponsored by an independent frame builder (crafty, huh?) who made me beautiful hand-made custom steel bikes in exactly my spec.  It looked like everyone else’s bike because it had a horizontal top tube and was proportional.  And those bikes rode like a dream. I am forever grateful to them for meeting my needs and I turned down literally tens of offers to join other teams for fear I would have to give up my bikes that fit.

I retired from bike racing in 2001. I had my team bike re-painted all shiny so I could pretend I still got new bikes.  I put new parts on it.  Life was good.

The rest of the world began riding compact frames, but my steel steed still looked like the bikes everyone was riding when I started. And I was fiercely loyal to my sponsor even after I had stopped racing.

Discussing small wheels with the world's most famous shortie, Jeannie Longo.

Discussing small wheels with the world’s most famous shortie, Jeannie Longo.

One day I was approached by a good friend and former race mechanic who now works at Specialized. He asked if I would like to be a tester for a women’s bike.  Now if you know me then you probably know what I was thinking. (Purple with flowers on it doesn’t make it a good bike people!) To be fair, up until that moment I had the ultimate women’s bike – custom.  But somehow I was drawn.

Perhaps it was the carbony-goodness of this new bike. Or the fact that it was almost TEN POUNDS LIGHTER than my steel ride.  Maybe it was the fact that it wasn’t purple with flowers on it. Or maybe it was a maturity that brings open-mindedness.  Whatever it was, it resulted in a Specialized Amira being delivered to me one April day in 2009. The Amira is the women’s version of the men’s Tarmac – Specialized’s standard road racing machine.  I built it and took it for a ride.

Now if you’re a sporting company and you would like me to review something, there is a bit of detail you should know.  I HATE NEW EQUIPMENT.  I hate it so much. I hate it the minute I try it.  If I keep trying it, though, sometimes things turn around.  This bike was no exception to the rule; it is built around a much more modern design than my old bike, so the front end was five centimeters higher than what I was riding.

“I hate this and it rides like a semi.”  I think those were the first words out of my mouth.  But I couldn’t seem to resist the lightness, so I rode it again. And again.


Awesome enough to ride anywhere, comfy enough to ride seven months along.

I don’t remember when my opinion started to change, but I remember when it completed its one-eighty.  Jonathan and I rode the Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive from end to end.  It is roughly one hundred miles and about 10,000 ft. of climbing.  We did it in just over six hours without going hard.  When the ride was over I realized I had never once felt that good after a ride that hard.  The anti-fatigue properties of carbon were evident as well as this one other little detail. This bike fit. It fit and it was STOCK.

We moved to Utah that year.  One day I came home from a ride and leaned the bike against the wall in the garage and went inside. With me right there, some horrible soul came into my garage and took it.  Upon discovering this I sobbed like I had lost my best friend.  I was utterly inconsolable.

When the tears finally dried up I concluded I would now be willing to purchase a replacement. And if need be, I would pay RETAIL.  I can stop the review right there, because if you know me, you know I never want to and hardly ever pay retail.  So you know I LOVE THIS BIKE.


Loving my Amira five seasons and counting.

In the end I didn’t have to pay retail. Insurance helped out with parts and friends in nice places helped me find a new one. I had an identical bike back.  See this bike was STOCK and not completely irreplaceable. To me, after all those years of not being able to just buy a bike like a normal human, this was and is a big deal.

At this point you’re wondering, “what’s so great about this bike? Does it have a motor? Does it also make Belgian Liege Waffles while you ride?”

Here’s the techie stuff. Keep in mind I am not large and therefore I will review things from a different perspective than a 250 pound, over six-foot dude. I don’t break much, and when I do it must be crap.

Fit:  It specs out like my custom did. Sure, that’s my bias, but Specialized probably wouldn’t have made it in this size if there wasn’t some demand. I ride the 51cm Amira S-Works.

Ride Quality:  Haters stand back: steel may be real but “plastic” is fantastic!  See my info about riding the Shenandoah road above.  Fatigue disappears when the road shock is being sucked up by a carbon frame, seatpost and handlebars. Remember, I’m small, so I’m not as worried about breaking things.

Handling:   Bicycling Magazine voted Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT the second best road descent in the entire U.S. It sits about two miles from my door. Though in my opinion it takes second to Big Cottonwood, which is about one mile away and has more cool turns.  Anyhoo, I’ve had this bike on both of those roads, brakes open wide, 50mph plus.  With a slight lean of the hips the Amira sails through corners like it’s on rails.  To be fair I haven’t raced a crit on it, but then again I don’t want to race crits anymore anyway.  It is solid and predictable.  It is stiff in all the right places so you lose nothing cranking on it in a standing climb.  Its weight (about 15 pounds for mine) makes it go uphill like you aren’t even on a bike, but on descents it handles like it weighs much more (in a good way).  Trustworthy.

Availability: Perhaps from where I sit this is the most amazing part of the story.  I walked into a local shop one day and there were multiple models of this bike in stock. I had to pinch myself as a strolled along looking at multiple builds and sizes available when NOT ONE of these would have existed ten years ago.  There are two sizes smaller than my 51 cm and a couple sizes larger.  Any bigger than that and you are well into the men’s size range. Price points for this bike range from $1750 to $8500 in seven different parts packages and as a frame.  Seriously! Unheard of ten years ago. I still ride a 2010 model but the 2013 models have only gotten better.

Early season rides sure feel better on a bike that soaks up bumps!

Early season rides sure feel better on a bike that soaks up bumps!

But does it look good?  Sadly, if you are in the market for a purple bike with flowers, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Besides coming in a huge variety of sizes and builds, the Amira is also painted to look like, well, to look like a proper racing bike.  Red, black, navy, you know, regular bike colors.  I think somewhere in the line there’s a purple one if you must.  The curved top tube is a nice aesthetic that hides just how compact the frame is; in other words, this bike just looks NORMAL.  And for a long time that was not the case.

I will admit that I haven’t ridden any other bikes of this era.  And I don’t feel the need; Specialized nailed this one first try.  For years all I wanted was the option to walk into a local bicycle dealer and purchase a bike that was every bit as nice as the big men’s bikes, but in my size. And now short folks everywhere have the same option.  Lots of my female friends have purchased Amiras and Ruby’s (the women’s version of the men’s Roubaix).  It’s a good time for shorties to ride a bike. Now if it would only stop raining!

Bottling Day





It seems backwards to feature bottling beer before actually making it, but that’s how it worked out. There was a batch of beer that predated Baby M. that needed to be bottled and it’s a great opportunity to talk about beer and all the greatness involved with homebrewing.

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Secondary fermentation chamber – ready to bottle.

The beer to be bottled was a strong IPA.  We dubbed it “Hoppy Go Lucky”. Brewed on October 29th, we transferred to secondary on November 13th because I knew Baby M. was coming. I also knew beer keeps much longer in secondary because it is off the yeast and out of danger for suffering autolysis.

Two days later we were off to the hospital, the beer safely transferred and stowed in the dark corner of the crawlspace in the basement where we let the magic happen.  We managed to remember to dry-hop on November 29th as per our schedule, but then things got away from us with nordic ski season and a new baby.

The beer goes in here with a little sugar water on its way to the bottles.

The beer goes in here with a little sugar water on its way to the bottles.

We finally hauled it out the other day to bottle it, hoping for the best but knowing we were pushing it.  IPA‘s are among the shorter timelines, usually taking 6 – 8 weeks from start to finish.  This one was six months in the making, so it is either going to be awesome and we discovered something, or likely it will be ok, but a little off due to age. At least it is full of hops, which were a huge reason why IPA survived on boats back in the day.

Bottling, in a nutshell, consists of adding some corn sugar that has been dissolved in water to the beer, and then siphoning it carefully into sanitized bottles, slapping a fresh

cap on the top, and letting it sit in a warm place for about two weeks.

Super technical fix for the leaky spigot.

Super technical fix for the leaky spigot.

A little bit of live yeast remains in the beer after it is transferred, and the addition of the new sugar gives the yeast a little something to eat, creating carbonation in the bottle.  At this point you hope you added the right amount; too much and your bottles blow up. Not enough and you end up with flat beer.  So far we’ve been lucky.

After filling all the bottles and rinsing off the sticky overflow (which isn’t much once you get good with the bottling wand), one must exercise great self-control to keep from “peeking”. We’re always tempted to open the beer a week early, and we’re always disappointed and left feeling either guilty for wanting to pour it out or obligated to drink it flat.  Most of the time one more week in the warm room does the trick and we enjoy an effervescent brew..

Fill 'er up!

Fill ‘er up!

So why does one get into homebrewing? In our case, we were interested in the chemistry and academic nature of the job, and we live in Utah. I know, you’re thinking, “Utah? It’s dry there. No wonder you would want to make beer.”  Well, you’d be sort of wrong.  There are so many local brewers here making really interesting stuff, and yes, there are some seriously jacked up liquor laws here. But these local brewers like to brew big, high-alcohol beers in large bottles.  They inspired us to do the same. They also don’t recycle glass in this state, so we decided to do our part to directly recycle bottles by refilling them.

And then there’s the matter of the Beehive Brew-Off competition for home brewers.  We entered five of our beers last year and came away with a 2nd place in the Imperial Stout category. Probably more exciting for us was the feedback we received from professional brewers about how we could improve our beer.  For five bucks an entry it was well worth it just for the feedback.

So how does an average beer-lover with a little curiosity and some spare time get into this?  We were lucky; a friend gave us a bunch of brewing equipment with the request that we put the letter Z in our beer names for his dearly departed doggie.  We bought a few more items and a simple extract beer kit for a Brown Ale from Northern Brewer.

21 22's and 13 12's ready in 2 weeks!

21 22’s and 13 12’s ready in 2 weeks!

Their kits and accompanying instructions were an awesome way to start out and they have videos and even live chat for your beer questions (and for when you panic because your yeast didn’t seem to activate).

I love to shop locally too, and we have two amazing beer brewing shops here in Salt Lake.  The Beer Nut and Salt City Brew Supply are both well-stocked and full of people who know beer and will share their knowledge with you freely. I have recently taken to buying all my yeast at the last minute from one of the two because then I can assure it has been in the fridge until I use it. They are also among the only places open on Sunday, which is a likely brew day. So when you run out of something, they “got your back”.

Finally, we like to do our part to recycle glass since the state of Utah doesn’t.  We have a great partner in Yellowfinn Sushi in Sugarhouse. Their manager saves 22 oz Sapporo bottles for us and those labels come off easier than any other. Greg and the rest of the crew are our favorite taste-testers too.

Taste tester-in-training.

Taste tester-in-training.

This weekend we’re brewing an Imperial Stout with thoughts to the 2013 Beehive Brew-Off. It’s a 3-4 month beer, so we might nail this timeline a little better.

We started with extract brews, which essentially are malt syrups that you boil and add hops and yeast to, ferment and bottle.  After fourteen successful batches we decided to move to an all-grain process; basically you move back a step and steep grains in hot water to extract your own malt syrup.  It greatly extends the brew day (from roughly two hours to more like five). It also requires more equipment and a lot more attention to detail. The return is that for many beers, like IPA’s, there is a certain sweetness that you don’t want in the beer and you can’t seem to shake when using the extracts.  It has something to do with the fact that not all of the sugar is eaten by the yeast and is left to foul the taste.  I’ll say that you don’t notice it as much until you do, and when you do you’ll never go back to extract.  That said, darker beers do well with extract and it is the only place to start to learn the process.