Monday, February 9, 2015

The AMB100 at Mount Stromlo 8th February 2015

Have I ever mentioned that I love racing at Stromlo? Well, I do….I have been riding there since it was built and there is such an attraction to the trails that are there. For me the Stromlo landscape is like a desert, dry and barren, having been ripped apart by the 2003 bushfires that ravaged Canberra.  The trails out here are world class, and hands down it is in my honest opinion the best place in Australia. Of course it has to be said that opinions are like other attributes of the human anatomy that everyone has….yep, everyone’s got one.

So many tent pegs were sacrificed when setting this tent up

Rockytrail Entertainment run this race annually and this was the 3rd time that I have done this race. They run a smooth show and keep a lot of people happy setting up awesome events all over the place. A very chilled atmosphere. I’ll dot point a few thoughts and observations from this event:

  • 3 laps
  • 1, 2 and 5 laps were other options
  • 28km per lap
  • 84km total distance
  • I would be very surprised if anyone wanted to do another 16km
  • 680m of climbing each lap
  • 2040m of climbing for the entire race
  • My math is pretty good at calculating these totals
  • 27% gradient on one of the fireroad climbs
  • 95% singletrack
  • 30 degrees = 40 Stromlo      Degrees ™
  • 7 bottles of Sukkie consumed
  • 10 Pro4mance gels consumed
  • Stromlo has quite a few rocks
  • Stromlo was, by Stromlo standards, quite dry and extra drifty
  • Fireroad start to spread riders out accordingly
  • 1st XCM race in the season
  • Definitely in the top 5 of hardest marathons in the country

Don't make it too obvious when looking at an overhead drone - photo: Peta Stewart

 Onto the race then….the gun went off and we were hauling it along the fireroad with a mix of 2 and 3 lap riders starting together. Funnelling into the singletrack it was the opportunity to grab a small breather as the concertina effect slowed things down for a few seconds. This also presented a decent opportunity to back it off slightly and not go too deep just before entering the singletrack due to the aforementioned Concertina Effect ™.
After having ridden the course on Thursday evening, I had learnt a few things about the course. There was a steep climb out the back, and it was super dry and sketchier than normal. Due to the fact that I am not as strong as Kim Smith, who opted for the 34 tooth chainring,  I opted for the Relative Safety ™  of the 32 tooth chainring to compliment my SRAM XX1 groupset. Mated with the 42 on the rear I knew that I could get up that 27% hill every single time. Riding around on lap 1 Shippard and came across Ed McDonald who had flatted a couple of times whilst doing the 5 lap version and we discussed the chainring option during a run down Pork Barrel. Anyway, this was one option that I felt worked for me. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong answer.

The other thing I did was put some grippier tyres on. One other Stromlo Fact ™ that I use is that grip is always a premium on going fast at Stromlo and new tyres, or tyres with great grip work really well here.  

So, Scott Bowden, Andy Blair, Shaun Lewis, Michael Potter, Tristan Ward (are you even a Ward bro, bro?), Shippard and myself were able to get into the singletrack with a small gap over the chasing group which contained the Ward Brothers ™, Troy Herfoss, Marc Williams, Tom Goddard, Tom Patton, Dan Beresford and a few others. Gaps can be largely irrelevant at Stromlo because of the fact that there are about 284 switchbacks each lap, and different people will ride different sections differently depending on their strengths.

On lap one I was following Shippard and Tristan Ward and when we got to the fireroad climb, Ships took off like a scalded cat. I couldn’t hold his pace as he was probably putting out 450 watts at least, so I let the elastic stretch. At this stage, I could tell that Tristan was paying for the XCC, XCO that he had done over the weekend and would not be having a great day. I caught Ships back up later on down the hill and we motored along for the first lap and crossed the line after an hour and 15 minutes ready to head out for lap 2.

At the top of Heart Breaker - Photo: Grantley Butterfield

We both grabbed bottles and gels from Pit Boss ™, Peta Stewart and motored off. Just before the cockatoo switchbacks I spied a wombat scurrying up the hill and pointed him out to Shippard. It, in fact, turned out to be Shaun Lewis and we discussed what to do with him. He also spied us and yelled out some encouragement to us in the form of a good sledge aimed at Shippard! When you make a catch there are a few things that go through your mind….ideally you want to smash straight through them. But, they may have been cruising and could just jump on your wheel. Knowing Shaun’s attributes, we discussed leaving him to hang out a bit longer. We got fairly close to him and on one of the switchbacks we passed each other and I was pretty tempted to wave to him, but instead we exchanged smiles. I now had a feeling that he was probably up for a bit of a race! Ships got some more words of encouragement from Lewis and we chased him down the hill.

Some good looking dudes go to mountain bike races that is for sure - photo: Peta Stewart

After descending Pork Barrel following Shippard in chase of Lewis, I had to pull out a Tupac ™ line on Ships through RedRock. To those not familiar with Stromlo, there are many alternative lines that exist. These are known as ‘A’ lines, or ‘Canberra lines’ and if you use them in a race, as long as you yell out ‘Tupac!’ then you are exempt from any issues that may arise. Hey, this is part of the politics of Canberra, I am just conveying this one! Of all of the ‘A’ lines across Stromlo made popular by solo 24 hour chuggers, the RedRock one is a thing of majestic beauty to behold.  Shippard murmured his appreciations and then I was off in hunt of the Wombat.

I got pretty close up the 27% gradient climb. I reckon I was within 5 bike lengths up there but it wasn’t until the base of Heartbreaker that I got on his wheel finally. Even though one might class themselves as a Stromlo Specialist ™ it is not an exclusive listing. Lewis knows how to ride the mountain. Someone who also knows his way around two wheels and is no stranger to Stromlo is Troy Herfoss. I think that I have been racing him here since about 2008. He caught us up close to Slant Six and was on a mission of sorts and got on my wheel just as we were climbing up Blue Tongue. I let him through and he went off in chase of Shaun, and in about 60 seconds I was going through a massive cloud of dust after he overshot a line and had to grab a handful of brake!

I did the same to him after Party Line and he took his spot back behind Shaun with me hot on his wheel. At this stage we were 2nd, 3rd, and 4th out on the course and hauling ass through the badlands of Stromlo. We were wheel to wheel, and hit the berms and the double jumps as a train with Herfoss driving it hard and fast. When we came barrelling in for the start of lap 3, everyone scattered for the bottles in different directions! Peta stocked me up once again and I was off. And so were the other guys. The heat of the day was now beginning to get me and I just looked at limiting my losses on Lewis and Herfoss. Blairy was well up the road somewhere and we were looking at closing out the final lap with no issues.

Happy and dusty - photo: Peta Stewart

At a shade under 4 hours I crossed the line in 4th place, less than a minute off the podium. Oh well….3rd year in a row for 4th place. It is almost like the Convict 100 where I have placed 6th on 4 occasions! What can you do?!?!

All in all, not a bad day out on the bike. It is always hard to know where the form is when you haven’t raced for a while….obviously some good things as well as some things to takeaway and sort before the next few races. As they say in Spain and Italy….the sensations are good, I am Muy Tranquillo ™!

Don't mind if I do

Next up….Husky 100 on the 28th of February , provided that it does not rain!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Drift Innovation Stealth 2 High Definition Video Camera Review

Late last year I was really fortunate to be able to get my hands on the Drift Innovations Stealth 2 High Definition video camera. I will firstly disclose that I received this item from sponsors who also distribute the Stealth range in Australia. 2 years ago I was also fortunate enough to receive a GoPro Hero from my Cannondale Australia connections. This allows me to have a good comparison between the two cameras.

At $249 it is priced incredibly well to make it appealing to get yourself into the Video game. It is available at most bicycle and motorbike shops.

I spent a fair bit of the last 2 off seasons with both cameras just simply using them and collecting footage as you do. So, the experience for both was exactly the same. I’ll get to a comparison later on, but for now I will discuss the Stealth2.

The size of the Stealth2 is quite impressive - this is on my Toshiba Satellite Ultrabook. It really is incredibly compact.

Form Function
Straight out of the box I noticed that it was small. Like, REALLY small. In fact the dimensions are 80mm x 42mm x 27mm – which roughly equates to half the size of a normal PC mouse. Of course, that will obviously vary depending on the size of mouse on your desktop! But at 97 grams, not only is it small, but It is super light also. Pretty much, the guys at Drift Innovations nailed it with regard to the name of this camera – it is, in fact, incredibly stealthy. This is a major bonus if you are wanting the bike to look uncluttered.
I got a handlebar mount as well as a helmet mount included in the package. Both are incredibly easy to use. There is a standard quarter inch thread on the bottom which allowed the ‘foot’ to be fitted and then the foot slides and clicks into place on the mount. Due to the standard thread used, you could easily mount this to a tripod or a selfie-stick. If you are strapped for cash, you could always just use some PVC tape, grab a stick from under a tree and you are good to go!
The unit itself has a really good form function. It is sleek and narrow, with all of the buttons along the top. The lens itself has a swivel function which allows you to adjust it depending on how you decide to mount the camera – for instance, if you mount it on the side of your helmet or bike, you can twist the lens to ensure that the footage is captured in the upright format. A handy white triangle marked on the lens lets you know which way is ‘up’

The Stealth 2 compared to a set of sunglasses. Apologies for the blurry photo! Just trying to get the relative size referenced.
The camera is made using a rubberised material which is quite tactile. It also serves to protect the camera and all of the intricate electronics inside it. There is a small 1.3 inch backlit LED screen which allows you to see what type of image capture you are undertaking. It also allows you to adjust the settings.
The back of the camera is where you mount the micro SD card, and plug the camera into your PC via the USB cable. A simple screw down element allows you to access this portal. Now, for me, as an avid Samsung\Android user I was pleasantly impressed with the fact that the cable is the same as my S5 phone. So that is one less cable to worry about!
Now, it goes without saying that this unit is dust proof, water resistant and pretty much set up to be able to handle the rough and tumble world of cycling as well as other two and four wheel pursuits. But don’t just limit it to those activities. It would work well mounted to a horse or a dog! The possibilities are endless.

Photo Capture
The colour coded screens make it really easy to see what you are actually doing! After turning the camera on, you can scroll through the different camera capture types by pressing the Mode button. For still photo capture you have the both single photo as well as:

Single photo – 5, 8 and 12 MP
  • Photo Burst – up to 3 photos per second
  • Timelapse – 3 MP
You can also adjust the settings to start taking the photos or videos at a set interval such as 30 seconds. This is really handy if you want to be able to set the camera to record, then run up the hill with your bike before hitting up a section. It just saves on data capture and useless footage. This is a pretty handy bit of functionality that I really appreciate at times.

These images are from the Drift Innovation Stealth 2 web site and display the different coloured screens for the different still capture settings on offer.

Video Capture
Green means go for video capture
The Stealth2 captures in 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second for crytsal clear high definition capture. It also captures sound…..and as a bonus, you can set it not to, so that you can place your own music over the top when editing. When you are actually recording, there is a nice little timer ticking over and the light that is on top of the unit will turn red. These are niceties that just help you to manage the whole filming thing.There is nothing worse than heading off for a run thinking you are capturing the most awesome footage only to get to the bottom and realise that you didn’t press the button properly!

Pro level selfie stick. Sun in my face about 9am on a clear day

You can record for 3 hours straight providing your SD Card is sufficient in memory allocation which will allow for a good day’s worth of riding captured.

There are handy battery and storage card volume icons at the bottom of the LED screen – this is pretty good as it allows you to see how much battery life as well as footage potential left on your SD card.
Data Transfer Time

It is pretty quick and easy. Of course it is going to depend on how much footage you have captured, the size of your SD card and your PC’s ability to churn it out. But for reference, I have copied across an hour’s worth of capture in a couple of minutes.
Data formats

Once your data has been transferred it is available in the standard formats of MP4 for video footage and JPG for still photos. As a bonus you get both Thumbnail photos and videos at a reduced resolution as well as the full resolution files. I only tended to use the full resolution ones for my purposes, but if you wanted to be able to make a lightweight front end (with regard to size and subsequent loading time) then the thumbnails may be of use to you.

Video editing

This was one of the first video edits that I did. The day was super overcast with a bit of rain. I placed the camera on the ground and just captured the footage using the time lapse function.  (captured at 960p)
Technically not a function of the Stealth 2 but due to the fact that the Stealth transfers files in the MP4 format means that it is really simple to drop the files into Windows Movie Maker and churn out tight videos extremely quickly. Of course if you want to you can use any software you want in order to make a pro level video. This was one area where the GoPro annoyed me. I had to use their proprietary software. Not necessarily a deal breaker using a bespoke bit of software , but I find Windows Movie Maker to be exceptionally easy to churn out good clips.

Comparison to Go Pro
The GoPro is an industry standard that is for sure. But, I am going to go out on a limb and say that for my purposes, the Stealth2 is a better unit. For me, I simply like the size and shape of it a lot better. It fits very easily into the back pocket and it is mildly aero on the handlebars. It earns the name of 'Stealth' by being so light and sleek and simply just makes me want to take it out a lot more and use it all of the time. It just doesn’t get in the way and look like a dorky old school camera.

Getting the unit set up to capture footage is a lot easier with the Stealth2. The buttons are in the right place where your fingers want to land and that allows footage to be readily captured.

One huge benefit over the GoPro is that I found the data transfer and video editing a LOT easier using the Stealth2. This is due to the fact that I can use Windows Movie Maker. Now, I do realise that there are way more #pro video editing packages out there, but here is the thing. ….. I am making my videos for Instagram, Facebook and occasionally to pop up onto my YouTube channel. I want to be able to get home from a ride and churn out a decent 15 second video in less than twenty minutes. With this set up I can achieve that.
I had a mate ride beside me holding the camera for this video edit. (captured at 960p)
So, where have I used the Stealth2? I have mounted it up to the handlebars to capture quite a few Short track MTB races. At 97 grams, it is not exactly going to slow me down. I have also had a mate simply hold, shoot and point the camera at the racers while he was on foot. It does a great job of capturing footage without that anoying fish eye lens look to it. There is a 135 degree optical field of view which pretty much does the magic that makes the footage look real. It also helps bring the footage closer as it captures it.

I also had it mounted to the handlebars for an #Enduro that I raced on the Cannondale F29er. Being a hardtail, and the course being bumpy, I probably should have mounted it to the helmet as the image stabilisation is superb, but I was bouncing around like crazy on the rough course and the video capture showed that.

When I take the road bike out for a spin, I also sometimes grab the Stealth2 and just put it in the back pocket. It is good for the occasional impromtu shot whether I am holding it by hand or if I just place it on a flattish surface.  I have also taped it to a stick. It can handle it! This thing is pretty close to bulletproof. And being an action camera, if you do happen to bust the lens it can be replaced which is a major bonus.

For this video edit I had the Stealth 2 mounted to the handlebars. The trails were pretty rough in places as well!  (captured at 960p)
The funny thing when I had the GoPro was that it just seemed like a pain to set it up and mount it to the bike. The form factor that it had made the bike not look very neat at all! With the Stealth, I just love having it on the bike! Like I said before, it is sleek and you don’t notice it being there. That is a great thing. If you have it mounted on the helmet, it is light, so you’re not going to get a sore neck, nor look like a space cadet!

I do think that the Stealth 2 is a GoPro killer. If I was paying for this with my own money I would select the Stealth2 hands down. It is cheaper than the Hero3 and 4 from GoPro and in my opinion, it is just simply easier to use. That allows you to just ride your bike (or whatever) and click a simple button to capture great footage. I sold my GoPro because I never used it, but that is not the case with the Stealth 2. I won't be selling this one at all!

This one was captured with a rider filming from the rail trail that ran parallel to the trail. It was simply a 'hold the camera' and roll along sort of thing! Point and let it shoot! (captured in 960p)
My favourite way of capturing still images is using the photoburst setting on a 1 second interval. As is the case, you sometimes need to capture 100 photos to get the perfect 5 that you would actually use! Whether I am holding the camera, have it up on a stick, or just placed on the ground or a rock, this function is the best one I reckon. It is like having your own paparazzo with you wherever you go!

A sneaky 70km/hr capture – I just held the camera whilst it was on the 1 second photoburst setting. Sun was obviously behind me on this picture. The image stabilisation is quite good considering that I was travelling pretty fast over a bumpy chip seal road. hanging on with one hand.

Relatively overcast on this particular morning at 7am. I am riding into the sun, so the camera is taking the photo with that particular orientation. It acutely captures the 3 day growth happening.

This is a screenshot from Windows Media Player of a video I captured. The sun was just about to drop down behind the mountain to my left. Probably around 7pm. This would be considered low light conditions and this is an ‘action’ shot with me going directly past the camera when it is being held by someone. The clarity is really impressive for a screenshot of an action shot.

This details the particulars of the Video Capture – and a nice little infographic from the Drift Innovation website. It explains a fair bit about the camera’s technical aspects.
The bottom of the camera has the standard ¼ inch thread for the foot as well as any tripod or selfie stick. The microphone is also located under here as indicated by the 7 small holes.
The 3 buttons on the top are incredibly simple to operate. They have a ‘firm’ feel so that you know that the button has been pressed. No chance of an ‘accidental’ photo or video. The light on the top of the unit lets you know when the camera is on, and also denotes which mode, and whether you are recording or not. The small white triangles let you know which way is up.

Like I mentioned earlier, the price is superb and makes it highly appealing in order to get one, or have someone buy you one as a present! 

The bottom line for me is that this unit absolutely rocks. I love it and use it on more than half of my rides because it is so easy to use and extremely easy to either have mounted or stuck in a back pocket. That is the real key here. The ease of use as well as the form factor make this the most awesome video camera going around right now.