Unexpected Discovery: Mesa Stadium Connector Bike Path

It is November in Arizona. That means our temperatures have finally cooled down and conditions are perfect for biking. Phoenix’s East Valley offers miles of canal paths and bike lanes which can provide bicyclists with dedicated biking infrastructure. Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, and Scottsdale currently offer the strongest options for biking, although Phoenix is beginning to make an effort.

Over the weekend, I decided to take the canal paths and travel up to Mesa. I have not spent much time in that area and ended up near their downtown district. I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the best segments of bike path in the Valley.

Beginning at Mesa Riverview and ending at Hohokam Stadium (which is the Spring Training stadium for the Oakland A’s), the Mesa Stadium Connector Path offers a roughly 3-mile route designed for bicycles. Most of the way is protected from cars entirely, although there is about 0.7 miles of shared roadway through a quaint historic neighborhood. Major street crossings have your typical pedestrian buttons to stop traffic.

Google Street View of the segment which does use neighborhood streets. Low speed limits and not many cars in my experience.

The most noteworthy segment of road is from Country Club Drive to 10th Street (shown in featured picture). This nearly half mile stretch offers a Dutch-style bike path protected from by traffic by concrete curbs. The lanes are painted green with a center line for directions of bike traffic. There is even a protected intersection which is never seen in Phoenix!

For bicyclists in the area or looking to connect to other routes in Mesa/Tempe, make sure to check out this connector. It does not get enough attention for its’ bike-friendly design. For more information on biking in the Valley of the Sun, also make sure to check out the Maricopa Association of Governments Interactive Bikeways Viewer. I’m not affiliated, but it’s an underrated resource.

Google Earth Map of the Route

The Underrated Advantage of Owning An EV

Most discussions around electric vehicles (EVs) focus on environmental issues. Yet, this completely fails to address one of our main incentives of owning an EV: ease of ownership. In our two car household, we have owned an EV for nearly two years. It is amazing how low maintenance it is.

A regular petroleum powered car requires extensive maintenance. Things like oil changes, engine air filters, fuel filters, transmission services, throttle body cleanings, and timing belts are items which need to be addressed at specific intervals with a regular engine. Then, as cars get older, more items can develop, like exhaust leaks or mass air flow sensor failures.

For example, in the final months before we got rid of our aging Mazda, we replaced all these things:

  • Exhaust Oxygen (O2) Sensors
  • Mass Air Flow Sensor
  • Vapor Canister Purge Valve
  • Coolant Hoses
  • Engine Belts & Tensioner
  • Engine Thermostat

Our Nissan Leaf does not have most of these items. After all, there is no exhaust system, no fuel system, and the only transmission is a basic geartrain (photo of deconstructed geartrain on page 10 of this document). I have also seen mention of a small basic cooling system for specific items, like the power inverter and charging system.

Under the hood on a Nissan Leaf. You can see the small coolant tank, brake fluid reservoir, and the 12V battery. The electrical components are shaped like an engine.

The service schedule for the Leaf is basically:

  • 7,500 miles: Rotate tires and inspect brakes/chassis
  • 15,000 miles: Replace brake fluid and cabin air filter, rotate tires, inspect brakes/chassis/reduction gear oil
  • 22,500 miles: Rotate tires and inspect brakes/chassis
  • 30,000 miles: Replace brake fluid and cabin air filter, rotate tires, inspect brakes/chassis/reduction gear oil
  • 37,500 miles: Rotate tires and inspect brakes/chassis
  • 45,000 miles: Replace brake fluid and cabin air filter, rotate tires, inspect brakes/chassis/reduction gear oil
  • 52,500 miles: Rotate tires and inspect brakes/chassis
  • 60,000 miles: Replace brake fluid and cabin air filter, rotate tires, inspect brakes/chassis/reduction gear oil

Note: Always refer to full Nissan service schedule. This post is not intended to be a point of reference and should not be used as such.

These are all basic items. In other words, an EV is just easier to maintain, which means cheaper services. Also, in Arizona, a car needs to be emissions tested after it is 6 years old. That will not happen on an EV because there are no operating emissions.

Admittedly, the battery is a major maintenance item to be discussed. Nissan’s 8 year/100k mile battery warranty covers battery replacement if it has degraded below a certain capacity (which also means less range). If you replace a Nissan Leaf battery outside of warranty, I have seen that the cost of replacement varies from $6,500-$7,500, so it is not cheap. As battery technology continues to evolve, this will continue to be less of a concern.

We still have our other car, which is an SUV powered by an internal combustion engine, for things like road trips, camping, and towing.  However, using the EV for day-to-day errands has significantly dropped our household car maintenance burden and we only have one engine to maintain.  

Since it has to be said, your experience/range/operating costs may vary. Always refer to manufacturer for full service/maintenance requirements and warranty terms.

From ATVs to eBikes: My Experience and Something to Consider

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) were a big part of my life into my early 20s. We had two Polaris 4x4s that we would load up on the weekends and take to the Arizona high country. Built in the late 1990s, they were carbureted which meant that they could be temperamental at higher elevation if not tuned properly. They also consumed quite a bit of household resources. The two ATVs required a garage bay to keep out of the Arizona sun (which fades plastic and destroys vinyl/fabric). Additionally, there was the 12’ utility trailer and then the full-size pickup truck for towing them. The setup could easily be $60k today and that’s on the low side. There are side by sides which I see often exceeding the value of the truck towing them.

Then, you also have the administrative costs associated with ATVs. The truck needs insurance and registration. The trailer needs insurance and registration. The ATVs need insurance and registration. Then, here in Maricopa County, the ATVs also need emission testing after a certain age because of our poor air quality. Oh, and then you can now also have OHV (off highway vehicle) registration decals. In other words, it’s expensive to own ATVs and you also need space to park them.

That became an obstacle for me. Once I went off to college, I learned the value of the dollar. Things like trucks and ATVs and trailers became secondary to things like food, gas, and textbooks. Not to mention, I couldn’t afford a truck and there’s nowhere to put a trailer/ATVs in a one-bedroom apartment. That’s when I got into biking.

As time has passed, quite a bit has changed. Trucks have become increasingly luxurious and easily cost $40k-$50k. ATVs as I knew them have fallen out of style and been replaced by heavy, expensive vehicles like the Polaris RZR (which the cheapest non-youth model starts at $10,599). Arizona’s population has exploded and required regulations like the OHV decal and bans on off-road riding during high pollution days. Not to mention, areas that I used to ride as a teenager have gotten far busier.

Enter the e-bike.

There are many manufacturers now offering lithium powered e-bikes. They come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. Most now offer strong ranges from 60-100 miles. I have a Specialized Vado which was about $3,000 new. It’s not intended for off-road use, but the front suspension fork does okay on gravel roads.

There are now electric mountain bike offerings from Trek and Specialized which could be quite appealing.  They’re not cheap at $4k-$5k, but they offer high end motors and batteries along with reputable build quality. Not to mention, there’s no registration, no full size vehicle required to tow them, and insurance is at the discretion of the owner. Plus, there’s no fuel system, oil changes, or emissions testing, but you do have a lower top speed and range considerations.

For fun, I did a hypothetical comparison of the two methods. This is based upon 2 people.

Truck/Side-By-Side Method

  • Truck: 2020 Dodge Ram 1500 Big Horn Quad Cab 4×4 with 5.7L V8, Off Road Group, and “Big Horn” Level 1 Equipment: $44,575 MSRP (before tax/registration/fees)
  • Trailer: 5.5’ x 9’ Utility Trailer: $1,500 MSRP (before tax/registration/fees)
  • OHV: Polaris RZR Trail 570: $10,599 (before tax/registration/fees)

Total Initial Purchase Price: $56,674 (before tax/registration/fees)

SUV/Ebike Method

  • SUV: 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Sport 4×4 with Hardtop Package, 8 Speed Transmission, and 3.6L eTorque Engine: $39,650 MSRP (before tax/registration/fees)
  • Bike Rack: 1-Up 2” Heavy Duty Double Bike Rack: $619 (before tax)
  • Ebike: Specialized Turbo Levo ($5,000 before tax x 2 = $10,000 before tax)

Total Initial Purchase Price: $50,269 (before tax/registration/fees)

This is a difference of almost $7,000, so I figured I would see what I could do with that difference.

  • Goal Zero Yeti 1500x Power Station + Boulder 100 Briefcase: $2,199.95 (before tax)
  • Front Runner JL Extreme Roof Rack Kit: $1,895.00 (before tax)
  • Thule Tepui Explorer Autana 3 with Annex Roof Top Kit: $2,149.95 (before tax)

Updated Initial Purchase Price: $56,513.90 (before tax/registration/fees)

In other words, for the price of a relatively base model half ton truck with a side by side, you can also get an off-road capable Jeep Wrangler with a roof top tent and a solar power station which I believe might recharge both ebikes (not verified). You would also have two less engines to maintain and three less items on which to maintain registration. It completely depends on your intended usage and what you want to do, but it’s a compelling option. Plus, the ebikes take up less space and might be permitted to access more of the outdoors.

Right Tool For The Job: Using a Bicycle for Short Trips Because I Love My SUV

It can feel odd to be a bicyclist and a car enthusiast at the same time. For years, I felt like I had to pick a side because it is so common to see anti-bicycle rhetoric in the automotive world or anti-car rhetoric in the bicycle world. I am now realizing that each application has its’ purpose and place. That is part of the reason that I started pavementandgravel.  

Committing to just one form of transportation is a bit like committing to owning only one tool for your toolbox. It might work for a few people, but it is going to be hard to renovate a house with just a screwdriver.

For example, I now own a nearly 2-ton sport utility vehicle.  It provides me with the ability to explore the outdoors, navigate bad weather, and create memories of travel. Simultaneously, it gets SUV fuel economy on premium fuel. In other words, it is not a perfect method of transportation, but it does have an application.  

I also live in a somewhat dense suburb of Phoenix with a density of 4,715 people per mile. Most streets around me have bike lanes, our terrain is flat, and the weather is reasonable for biking 9 or 10 months per year. Our closest grocery store is not even a mile away and I don’t have children, so I’m only shopping for two people.  

All of this fits into two panniers. Costco handles some things, but we do weekly trips for perishables.

It seems ridiculous for me to try to take my SUV to the grocery store when it is so close. Ironically, a major reason is that I love the vehicle.  

Why is that? It is brutal on a car’s engine and transmission to make a habit out of short trips. Any car takes time to get up to operating temperature and there is not enough time for that to happen in such a short distance. This means greater wear on the engine and transmission. In fact, there’s even a blog posting on Valvoline’s website which says “Severe driving? That’s a loaded down minivan going through ten stop lights. It’s stopping and starting. That is not where the engine wants to live.” The blog was intended to sell synthetic motor oil, but the principle remains the same. Short trips are tough on cars.

Additionally, my car is an XC70. Volvo stopped producing the XC70 in 2016, which means that I cannot buy a replacement. There is the V90 Cross Country, which is probably the most similar option, but that car starts at nearly $55,000 USD. That will vastly exceed my budget for the foreseeable future. Prolonging the life also delays its’ eventual fate (which, like all cars, is the junkyard).

So, next time you hear someone say, “Get a car!” to a bicyclist, remember that they might have one (or more than one). They might just be using a different tool for the job.

Gear Review: The Stacker Kayak Rack by Thule

Earlier in the year, we started kayaking. It seemed like a great way to get outside during the pandemic and Tempe Town Lake is a short drive away. This meant that we needed to find a way to transport our kayaks.

It was a bit of a shock to find that roof racks, bicycle racks, and kayak racks are in short supply right now. It makes sense now since outdoor equipment is extremely popular, but it required more effort than usual to find a viable option.

I was ultimately able to find an option online by Thule called The Stacker for $169.95. It is a 4 kayak rack (depending on vehicle size) which attaches to the roof rack crossbars. The kit includes two stanchions and the straps to hold one kayak. Installation is easy and uses four wingnuts per stanchion. The kayak is then lashed to the rack tower for support and then uses additional straps to secure to the front and back of the car.

Thule “The Stacker” on a Mazda 3. Note: We have learned it works better to have the hull of the boat against the stanchion.

I have used the rack on both Thule Wingbar and Yakima Jetstream crossbars. The kit worked on both, but the fit was definitely better on Thule crossbars. This makes sense since it is a Thule product. The Stacker performs its’ intended purpose well, although I have found some movement in the kayak after almost every trip (especially with the Yakima rails, which do not have a rubber strip along the top).

One huge design flaw is that there is not a built-in lock with The Stacker. Many Thule products can add locks, but this kit is not designed to do that. If your car is going to be unattended, find a alternative way to lock the rack to your rails or take them off the car completely.

For those looking for an affordable option to carry kayaks to nearby water, I would recommend this kit. Consider upgrading to a more expensive option if you will be doing long drives at highway speeds. Options like the Hull-A-Port Aero might be a better option for that type of usage.

We also used it for a short lumber trip to Lowe’s! (We used 25 mph neighborhood streets to get home).

Note: Always follow manufacturer instructions/specifications.

Pirelli P Zero Velo: A Great Tire Option for Road Bikes

Selecting the right tire can be one of the most significant improvements which you can make to a bicycle. It is like buying car tires. A good quality tire can last for thousands of miles and perform well under your needed conditions. A cheap tire will probably wear quickly, offer poor performance, and generally ruin your experience. I have been happy with tires offered by the well-known car tire manufacturers, like Pirelli, Continental, and Michelin.

Around 2017, Pirelli announced that they were going to be getting into bike tires and have unveiled a variety of options since that time. I was excited since I come from a motorsports upbringing and Pirellis have performed well on my cars. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

The Pirelli P-Zero Velo is my current tire of choice on my road bike. The tires are very responsive and highly efficient. Puncture resistance is respectable, but I probably would not recommend for someone commuting in the Big Apple. I have had a couple flats, but they have also held up to things like crushed leftover glass from a car accident in the bike lane. The tires are also quite easy to mount and look good on the bike.  

The P Zeros are available in a variety of sizes. I run 700 x 23 tires, which is a somewhat dated tire combination. I know that there are studies out there which address the efficiency of larger sizes, but 700 x 23 just feels fast to me. Also, I have found that this tire size is still easy to find and often on sale (even during the pandemic).

If you are interested in Pirelli bike tires, I have always had to order them online in the United States. I cannot think of a time that I have ever seen them on a shelf. It is also important to know that there are a few different variations of the P Zero. Make sure that you pick the tire intended for your application.

The Velo, which is my tire, is the all-around racing/training version of the P-Zero. There are also options like the P Zero TT, which is an ultra-efficient time trial tire, and the P Zero 4S, which is meant for cold/wet conditions. Pirelli also offers the P Zero in a variety of label colors, which can be a nice styling touch.

Note: I’m not affiliated with Pirelli or any tire retailer in any way.

Gear Review: Specialized Face Mask

It’s November 2020. While the holidays are here to provide some joy, the world is still generally a mess. The idea of reviewing a face mask is certainly a sign of the times. Yet, they’re required almost everywhere and will probably be the norm for the next year.

I actually didn’t plan to get this mask at all, but our local bike shop had them at the front desk while I was buying some other stuff. I had a couple dollars leftover of store credit, so they included it with my purchase.

Having worn it for a few days now, I can say that it is infinitely better than my homemade mask from earlier in the year. The cotton/poly/spandex material is lightweight and you almost forget that you’re wearing it. Also, the elastic straps make it easy to adjust the fit of the mask. I don’t have any large gaps around the side or bottom of the mask (even with my beard).

I don’t plan on reviewing other masks or discussing this topic, but I would certainly recommend this option for anyone still needing a comfortable reusable mask. Local bike shops which carry Specialized will probably have them, but you can also buy one through the Specialized website.

Note: Refer to manufacturer for all disclaimers and notices regarding this product’s usage/limitations.

Why Your Current Car Might Be A Great Adventure Vehicle

It’s easy to underestimate the potential of your vehicle. Our first camping vehicle was a Mazda 3. It was a hatchback with the manual transmission and front wheel drive. I made some upgrades to it, like Pirelli tires, upgraded brakes, and a hitch/roof rack. It was otherwise stock. Yet, it made a great adventure vehicle because I understood the limitations and kept the car mechanically well-maintained.

There was adequate cargo space for camping gear, fuel economy was decent, and it had enough power to be comfortable on the highway. With only 5.7″ of ground clearance, it was also capable of traveling some gravel roads. We learned the abilities of the vehicle and used it to travel all over Arizona. It carried our camping gear, our bikes, and our kayaks. It navigated interstates, dirt roads, and twisty two lane blacktop.

Loaded with gear. I calculated the weight of everything in the car to make sure that we were within the car’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)

It was not a 4Runner with a nearly 10″ of ground clearance or a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with heavy duty drivetrain components, but it still enabled us to get outdoors. It also helped us to identify the features which we wanted in our next car.

We simply planned our trips around the abilities of the car. For example, we knew that the car could handle a little bit of dirt. However, the lack of skid plates, four wheel drive or all terrain tires defined the types of roads which we could travel. Anything with exposed rocks, deep ruts, or surfaces which exceeded the tires were out of the question. Snow/ice was also not an option, but that’s not a problem where I live in the desert. We also only used well-traveled dirt roads which we knew were maintained and unlikely to get us into a dangerous situation.

I also learned the vulnerabilities of the car. For example, I knew that, if I wasn’t careful on dirt roads, the oil filter was literally the lowest part of the undercarriage. Hitting that with a rock would destroy the car mechanically and leave us stranded, so I made sure we never got into that type of terrain.

We can all get caught up with marketing. However, don’t assume that you need an Instagram-worthy Toyota before you can get outside. You might be surprised by your current car. Just make sure not to exceed its’ limitations and be safe.

Bajada Loop Drive in Saguaro National Park
Dirt Roads Outside of Flagstaff, Arizona

Gear Review: Stoic Ascend Lightweight Air Pad

Unless you are sleeping in a hammock, a sleeping pad is an essential piece of camping equipment. There are many options, brands, and price points available. I first tried to use an affordable folding foam style sleeping pad, but it was not comfortable for me. It would compress and I would repeatedly wake up because I needed to move.

I looked at some forums, read reviews, and decided that an inflatable style sleeping pad was probably the best fit for me. After all, I wanted something that was lightweight, comfortable, and compact. A cot would be amazing for someone with enough space in their vehicle, but those are just too heavy and bulky for me.

Thermarest is probably one of the most popular names when it comes to sleeping pads. They usually have excellent reviews and hold up well (from what I have heard.) However, they can be a little spendy ($100-$250) depending upon which model you select.

 I was about to invest in a Thermarest online when I saw that Backcountry had an in-house option called the Stoic Ascend. The MSRP is listed at $89.95, but they almost always seem to be on sale. Right now, they are listed at $67.46, which is right around what I paid. This meant that I was able to buy two of these for less than 1 Thermarest.

We recently had the opportunity to use the Ascend in a tent, as well as car camping in the Volvo. Overall, I am impressed with the product for the money. They are easy to inflate, space efficient when deflated (I weighed them at 1 lb, 2 oz), and I think they are reasonably comfortable. The material also seems like it would be relatively difficult to puncture. The only immediate downside which I see is that they are probably not a great option for cold climates. It seems like the pad would transfer cold easily.

Note: I purchased this product. I’m not affiliated with any brand and do not receive any incentive if you purchase the product or click any related links.

Planning An Introduction to Camping: Keep It Simple

It is easy to forget that camping is meant to be a simple activity. After all, you just need a place to sleep, clothes to wear, water to drink, and food to eat. Everything else is up to you.

Want to sleep under a bivy and eat freeze dried Mountain House? Maybe you have multiple kids and need an 8 person Coleman tent? Perhaps you can work from anywhere and want to venture far off the beaten path? The equipment needed for each person varies significantly.

The point is that there are many ways to explore the outdoors. You can use basic gear like an alcohol stove, a sleeping bag, and a tarp. You can also go crazy and spend tens of thousands of dollars on high end camping gear. It all depends upon your circumstances and your needs.

However, the cost of gear should not deter someone from getting into camping. A couple years ago, my wife and I decided that we wanted to explore Utah. We planned to visit the “Mighty 5” which are Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. Our trip was a week long and we would be taking our $3,000 Craigslist Honda CRV. The best way to experience these parks was to camp, but we owned hardly any gear.

We took the time to identify what we needed and then began searching for some of the best prices. Backcountry ended up being our favorite place to buy equipment. They carry reputable manufacturers at reasonable prices. Plus, they are in Utah, which usually means quick shipping to Arizona. I did consider Amazon, but I have seen some horror stories about the quality of some of their gear. We also bought some basic things at Walmart (like cutlery).

Ultimately, here was the gear that we decided was mandatory for our car camping adventure:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Sleeping Pads
  • Camp Stove
  • Camp Chairs
  • Headlamps
  • Camp Utensils (like an IKEA pan we already owned, plates, etc).
  • Pillows
  • Tarp (for under the tent)
  • Cooler
  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • Camelbaks and Water Bottles
  • Organizational Bins

We ultimately ended up spending about $600 for gear for the both of us. After the trip, we found items that would be worth upgrading (cheap coolers don’t work well in the Southwest) and items that we did not need at all (like a kitchen kit with tools I’ll never use).

Do not be afraid to buy entry level gear if you are going on your first trip to a well-traveled campground. Staying at campgrounds with running water and bathrooms will make planning easier and reduce the amount of gear. You can also consider whether there are gear rental places in your area. This can be a great option if you are not sure whether camping is something you will enjoy.

Just remember to be prepared for the weather conditions, be safe, and leave your campground better than you found it.

$44.00 Coleman stove with a million dollar view.
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