Monday, August 22, 2011

I no everything, just ask Me- Part 3

Tons of emails lately about bicycles, photography, and one question about back acne from Lenny in Peoria, Illinois.  You guys are sending in some really great questions, I will try to answer a few, but first to answer your question Lenny, wear a shirt. Always. And thanks for the question and the photo.

Arnold from Boston, MA asks, "I am interested in buying a classic Dutch bike, I notice that some male riders are riding girl bikes and am curious as to the reason.  My friend says that it is a life style statement, I think it is because they are less expensive, can you give me some insight?"

That is a really good question Arnold, the "girl bikes" you are referring to are called step through frames, that is, there is no bar running from below the handlebar horizontal to below the seat.  Years ago, bike manufacturers realized that boys would tend to be harder on their bikes, toss them around, jump curbs and other things that girls would not do with their bikes.  So we got the classic boy-girl type frames based on durability and cost.  But things have changed in design and components since that era, so now in fact high end Dutch bicycle companies like Gazelle and Batavus manufacture bikes in which there is absolutely no difference in load weight, stability, or ride ability between the two frame styles.  I have a Gazelle Toer Populair in both Dame (step through) and Herr (male frame) deigns and you can see where the step through frame is just a tad thicker in load bearing areas to offset the lack of a top tube.  In congested areas, places where you are constantly stopping for traffic, signal lights and the such, the step through frame is the way to go, less chance of pinching the twins if you know what I mean, and these types of bikes being large and heavy, it much easier to get off on then on again. Also, the price is usually identical.  So Arnold, hope that helps, and get a step through frame and ride it down to "Arm Wrestling" night at your local biker bar.

"Hi Matt, my friend told me that any bicycle over $500.00 is a rip off and a waste of money, is there really a difference between a low price bike and a really expensive one, especially if you only ride casually on the weekends?" Laurette from Richmond Hill, Georgia

Thanks Laurette, your question can best be answered by one of my favorite quotes, "The poor man pays twice." Or in this case, woman.  What does that mean? Here is a good example based on my own experience, and this particular example is repeated over and over, I have even seen articles referencing this exact scenario when talking about "You get what you pay for," and other don't be a cheapskate advice. Here goes, when I first got into photography I bought a new Nikon D70s at a large camera chain store, and decided at the time I needed a tripod.  Since I just dropped a grand on the camera, I opted for the cheapest tripod they had which was $56.00.  The tripod was heavy, poorly built and would not stay steady.  Big deal I thought, I will hardly use it.  Well about six months later I started doing paid jobs which required better results, so I had to get a better tripod. I went to the same chain store and got the top of the line model for $165.00.  It was much better than my first one, and for portraits in a studio, no problemo.  After about two months of heavy use, the release mechanism broke, and since this tripod was one unit with no separate components, off to the dumpster it went.  I learned my lesson, so my next tripod was purchased from a specialty camera store in New York, $284.00 from a well known tripod maker,  the cheapest model they made, but so what?  It lasted four months, collapsed with a ten pound Fuji GX680 camera mounted on it, snapped a leg, the camera wasn't even scratched.  I anted up and bought a $690.00 carbon fiber tripod and separate ball head, have had it for years, no problem, I could fight my way through a band of starving pygmies with it, hack down a tree to build a raft, and mount a 20lb camera on it in a hurricane and take a picture of the whole thing without any worries.  So Laurette, the bottom line is I paid $1,195.00 for a $690.00 tripod.  The same holds true for bicycles, a quality Dutch built bicycle will last a generation, I have a 1955 Fongers Dutch built bicycle that I can ride without any issues, like it was new, fifty years from now that Wal Mart bike you buy today will have been in a land fill for decades, the only thing remaining is the Made in China sticker.  You get what you pay for.

This email from Lawrence in Brisbane, Australia, "I want to get into photography but the choices are overwhelming, every time I decide on a camera brand I see some negative comments about it, there seems to be no reliable sources, basically I'm just confused, can you help? Thanks, Lawrence "

I know where you are coming from Lawrence, but today is your lucky day because there is only one true reliable source, and I be it.  First, forget about everything you have read or heard about cameras and camera manufacturers, clear your head Lawrence, because they are all the same, more on that later.  Do you read the camera reviews in the popular photography magazines? Have you ever seen a bad review, as in "Bottom Line: This camera sucks"? Me neither, but you will notice a direct correlation between how high a camera is rated based on the amount of advertising that camera manufacture has placed in that issue.  Let's use the big two, Nikon and Canon for our demonstration to show how these two companies are more about marketing and playing the consumer, than about the product.  Oh, and by the way, Nikon and Canon US engineering headquarters are next door to each other in New York state, so you don't think there is a little mix and mingle going on during happy hour?  When digital first became popular, it was all about the megapixel race, the more the better, and the more expensive. Both Nikon and Canon released new models every year at the same time with the same megapixel count, with the same features, at about the same price point. Once digital cameras got to the ten MP count, really anything above that is fluff and not needed by 99% of the users, Nikon and Canon continued to raise the megapixel bar and the price, and the consumer bought into it hook, line, and sinker. The problem was, as more pixels were crammed into the sensor, the more heat and digital noise were effecting the photograph.  But Canon wasn't hopping off this gravy train, they had spent millions to convince people the more megapixels the better, to Nikon's credit, they realized that consumers were starting to wise up which is why their professional D3s "only" has 12MP, but still costs around $8,000.00.  Nikon uses sensors made by Sony, so does Pentax.  Do not buy into the megapixel myth, know that the two grand you spend on a Canon 7D will turn into about $400.00 when you go to "update" to a "better" Canon with more megapixles in a few years.  So Lawrence, to get back to your question, it really does not matter what brand you go with, I would go for something used, let the other guy take the depreciation hit, get a good lens, and go make some art. 

As a follow up to the email from Lawrence, I personally shoot film with a Nikon F5 for serious stuff, and for just goofing around I use an Olympus E-PL1, a digital camera with, uh, let's see, a bunch of megapixels, not sure how many, really don't care.  In the last year I have owned a Canon 7D, a Nikon D7000, a Sony SLTa55, a Sony NEX-5, and an Olympus E-5, the fifteen year old Nikon F5 smokes them all in terms of image quality, you can pick up a minty one for less than $500.00, and unlike all this digital stuff, the F5 prices are going up.

Keep those questions coming, thanks everyone, and Lenny, put that shirt back on or somebody is going to think the pizza delivery guy is here!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I no everything, just ask Me 2

Wow, the questions are pouring in from readers far and wide, everything from bicycles to cooking, you guys just want answers, and you came to the right place. Remember, there are no stupid questions, just questions not asked. Except that question I got from Jerry who lives in Lawrence, Kansas. I won't post his question, but Jerry if you are reading this, tell your Mom that you had a rash and were applying some type of healing ointment, and she should respect your privacy and knock before entering your room. Here we go.

"Matt, I live in an area with varied terrain, a lot of small hills, occasional flat stretches, and some steep inclines, my question is when looking for a bicycle to buy, how many speeds would you recommend?" Beth from Macon, Georgia

Thanks for the email Beth, that is a question I get asked a lot.  The truth is the number of gears is irrelevant, the range of gears is what is important. A lower gear to get you up those hills, and a higher gear to propel your bike down an incline if you want to go faster. Just like digital cameras and the megapixel race, bicycle companies are marketing the "more is better" and that is just not true.  A quality bicycle with seven or 8 speeds is all that you will ever need.  

"Yo Dude, my bike got ripped off, I had it chained to a lamp post and they still got it, your bike even(sic) been stolen and what can I do to prevant(sic) that?"  Jerry from Detroit, Michigan

Yo, Jerry the first thing you can do is move out of Detroit, since thieves in the "D" regularly break into schools and steal copper wiring, and since every metallic ornament and landmark in Detroit has been dug out and sold for a piece of the rock, your bike had no chance.  I'm guessing the lamp post was the victim, your bike just went along for the ride. You can register your bike with NBR, a firm that works with local law enforcement agencies to return stolen bicycles to their owner.  Bottom line, make it hard for the thieves to steal your bike, U Locks and cable locks, and know where not to go. 

"What should I make my boyfriend for dinner, we just started dating and I invited him over to my apartment for dinner but I am a terrible cook and need help!"  Amber from Greenville, South Carolina

Calm down Amber, you have several options.  First option is to not cook, that is what I would suggest. Why go through the hassle and expense just to feed the garbage disposal? Let's face it, Prince Charming is not over there to sample escargot is a white truffle sauce.  Just be honest, tell him you planned a nice dinner (lie) and you got caught up at work (lie) and you did not have time to properly prepare dinner (another lie) and let's just order a pizza.  If he says that he understands and pays the pizza guy when he gets there, you have a keeper.  If he calls his buddies and tells them there is a pizza party at your place, come on over, then it's time to change dating services.  Good luck and Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Win this Bike and help fight childhood Exploitation

The statistics are mind numbing.  Every month, 375 young girls are trafficked into Georgia, the state in which I live, for the purpose of prostitution.  The average age of these young girls is 14, but young girls as young as ten have also been exploited. I have donated a bicycle to be raffled off with 100% of the proceeds going to StreetGRACE an alliance of churches, community partners, and volunteers dedicated to the elimination of childhood sexual exploitation.  Your donations will go to the advocacy, aftercare, and mentoring of these young victims.  Stop the candy shop, get involved and help us stop the horror of childhood sexual exploitation.  Just $5.00 will get you a ticket for a chance to win a new Gazelle Chamonix Xtra, you do not have to be present to win, and we will have the drawing before Easter.

About the bike, the Gazelle Chamonix Extra is an 8 speed hand built beauty from the Gazelle factory in Dieren, Holland.  This is the Rolls Royce of bicycles, it comes with full factory warranty, and features too numerous to list.  The bike is on display at Nearly New Thrift a non profit thrift store located at 123 West Main Street in Buford, Georgia.  Kate, the owner, ran a successful bike shop there for over a decade, then about three months ago decided it was time to give back.  Kate is still the best bike mechanic in these neck of the woods, and she will  still work on your bike if you ask her, she still has her service area in the thrift store, but all her fees go to charity.  Kate says it's in her blood, when we spoke today she was replacing some transistors in a donated big screen TV.

About the raffle, as I said you do not have to be present to win.  We are a 501(c) so all donations are tax deductible.  You can stop by Nearly New Thrift and see the bike and buy some tickets, if you want to mail a check, make it out to StreetGrace, and send it to 123 West Main Street, Buford, GA 30518. Be sure to enclose your email and phone number so I can contact you and give you your drawing number(s).    Each ticket is $5.00, no limitation as to how many you can buy.

For you out of state or out of country readers that would like to contribute,  if you win and are within 300 miles of Atlanta I will personally deliver the bike to you.  Farther than that, we ask that you pay just for shipping, we will box the bike up and take care of those details, just let us know which method you want us to use, or send us a shipping label.  If you have any questions, please contact me at

Thank you for your support, the drawing is scheduled for April 21st, 2011 in downtown Buford,  I will let everyone know the time so hopefully you can attend. Updates to come.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quit jammin' Me-Anyone for some common Sense?

I'm not in the bicycle business because I think everyone should ditch their cars, put solar panels on their roofs, and only eat seaweed, I'm in it because I enjoy cycling for the pure fun of it.  Remember when you were a kid, playing cards in the spokes, a make shift cape made from a towel, flying down the hill pretending to be Superman? Remember when the "Chopper" craze hit about 1967,  Schwinn started making those Krate and Stingray bikes with the shifter built right on top of the frame, really cool until you caught the "twins" on the shifter knob, which you would do about every time you got on or off the bike. My brother was older so one Christmas he got a Lemon Peel and I got your basic Murray single speed.  I think my dad eventually felt sorry for me, so one weekend he brought home a used fork from another bike and we cut the two forks in half and fabricated a chopper fork for my Murray.  Now that Murray is a crap brand made in China, if you have a newer Murray bike and want to do the fork fabrication thing, don't go through the hassle of cutting the fork, just ride over a few bumps and the fork will split for you.  My Murray was American made and built to last, and with the chopper fork it did everything I asked it to do except turn.

Common sense says that very few people here in America are fortunate enough to be able to commute by bike to work on a regular basis.  The roads and infrastructure are just not bike friendly in most urban areas. Here where I live the county commission just approved $1.2 million for a bike path which is good news indeed, even if the new bike path will only connect certain public parks and not really have much of an impact on commuting to city centers.  But it is a start and will encourage more folks to start riding again.  Most of the designated bike paths where I live are not what Europeans know as bike paths, here they are just a four foot wide striped lane on the side of the road, and ironically are mostly on sparsely traveled rural back roads.  As soon as you get to a major intersection or close to a heavy populated area you get a sign that reads "End of Bike Lane" and the single designated stripe is gone. The bottom line for people deciding if commuting to work by bicycle is an option for them is practicality. It doesn't matter how many Green Peace, Save the Wales, Kiss Me I Recycle stickers you have on your bike, if you work thirty miles from home as the majority of people do in the county where I live, commuting by bike is not practical.

Unless you are Ed Begley, Jr.  For those unfamiliar with Ed, he is a B list actor here in the US and one of the many self proclaimed guardians of the planet, think Al Gore and that liar Paul Watson from the Sea Shepperd Society.  But Ed can walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to bicycling to and fro. On Saturday you may see Ed in his cycle garb (he never takes his helmet off when the cameras are rolling just so you evil planet killers know he rode his bike here) at a benefit for the Spotted Owl in Hollywood, and then on Sunday here comes Ed rolling up at a fund raiser for the Dimpled Beaver in Denver.  And since Ed wants you to think he rode his bike to Denver from Hollywood overnight, he's out of breath and chugging on a bottled water. And of course Ed will recycle that water bottle even if it does cost twice as much in energy to recycle a plastic water bottle than it does to produce a new one. Here's a clip of Ed's tires coming off the rims in an interview with Fox News  Hey Ed, quit jammin' me.

The benefits of bike riding are numerous, it's good for you health, it's cheap, it's fun, and yes it is environmentally beneficial.  But how eco friendly can it be, I mean they make bike racks for cars for a reason.  Just a week ago the BPA Power Company in Eugene, Oregon drafted a policy that would turn off several energy wind turbines because they are producing too much power.  The Endangered Species Act makes it a federal crime to shoot a bald eagle which is good, but also makes it a federal crime to pick up a feather from a bald eagle if you happen to find one laying in your front yard.  And if God forbid a couple of bald eagles decide to build a nest in a tree on your property, guess who has to move out?  Which is why some people may be inclined to shoot an animal on the endangered species list, it happens a lot for that very reason. In Georgia where I live, you cannot purchase alcohol on Sunday, but you can drive to a bar and drink enough to float a battleship and then drive home and hope you don't kill somebody.  Where's the common sense?