I had a particular mission in mind when I went shopping for a new bike. It needed to have fenders for bad weather operation because I ride all through the year. It needed to have swept back handlebars and some padding in the saddle for an upright riding position and comfort because my road bike was giving me inflammation in my shoulders, elbows and lower back due to some of the rough roads and alleys that I travel. It needed to have fairly wide tires for both the lousy weather and the rough roads mentioned above. It needed to have cargo capacity because I run as many errands as I can on my bike. Also, it needed to look good and have quality construction. Additionally, local factory certified support is important to me. I needed a high quality commuter bike that ran well, did the job, looked good and was comfortable. I did a lot of shopping and comparing. I went to every shop in town and looked at models and prices. There was one bike of the many I saw that captured my imagination: The Trek Allant.
The Allant is an elegant European styled commuter. The color is a dark gray with a brown leather saddle. The logos, decorative decals and other markings are tastefully understated. There isn’t a screaming 600-point manufacturer banner ad on the down tube. Trek puts their logo on the frame on the forward area of the top tube so it doesn’t feel as if one is riding a sandwich board advertisement. The frame of the Allant is made of Trek’s “Alpha Silver Aluminum Alloy.” I don’t have a clue as to what that is, but it is light without being excessively rigid. The front fork is chrome molybdenum steel which provides a bit of flex to the frame to smooth out the bumps. I have often heard it said that aluminum frames are rigid and transfer more road shock to the rider than steel frames do. Perhaps it is the alloy that Trek uses for the Allant, but I don’t notice the Trek feeling any rougher than my steel bike.
The drive train is the ubiquitous Shimano 21-speed indexed shifting transmission. I could live without it, but it seems to be what everyone wants these days. It is geared low so it climbs well and deals with poor surface conditions well. The tires are medium wide Bontrager H2 Hard-Case Lite, reflective, 700x35c. Other niceties include the Bontrager Satellite Elite lock-on ergonomic grips which are really comfortable, Bontrager Interchange rear rack, full-coverage color-matched fenders, and alloy kickstand.
I have read the criticism of this bike that it is not “fast.” To this critique I have some advice and comment: put it in high gear and pedal faster. You will find that it is fairly quick, but it isn’t as fast as my old 12-speed road bike. If you’re planning to enter the local triathlon, don’t buy this bike. Anyone who buys this bike for speed has been poorly served by their advisors. Buy this bike if you want a comfortable, high quality commuter that looks great and carries a really attractive price tag.
This is a lifestyle bike. It is designed for a person who will spend a lot of time on the bike. I have become seriously engaged with the idea of doing as much on my bike and as little in my car as I can do. I don’t want a single dinosaur to die for my sins. I do believe that automobile culture is reaching a breaking point. There are too many cars and they cost too much to buy and operate. Already, there seems to be more cars than the streets and highways can comfortably handle. There is a finite amount of space available for streets and highways, and we are already finding the limits of that capacity, especially in the urban areas. Alternative forms of transportation of which the bicycle is one, can help to relieve the overcrowding of our streets and highways.
Utility is part of the mission description for this bike. The rule is that all errands get run on the bike as long as time and weather make it possible. There are situations for me when I have to take the car due to time constraints and weather conditions. I’m not crazy. When I need to use the car, I use it, but when a particular trip or errand is possible on the bike, I do it on the bike. This rule makes me healthier, happier, richer, and saner. I have Bongo Bros. grocery bags that clip to the cargo rack and I do as much grocery shopping as possible on the bike. I also have a clip-on briefcase carrier for my laptop so I can hang it onto the bike and drive to a coffee shop to work in a different atmosphere if I desire it. I have found that this can stimulate creativity at times.
Part of the charm of this bike is that, with its fenders, great saddle and swept back handlebars, it is the “super bike” that I always wanted as a kid. Of course, it didn’t exist then. The aluminum alloy frame and space-age Shimano 21-speed shifters waited many years in the future when I was twelve. Still, the look and feel of the bike has a way of transporting me back to that younger me who sailed the streets of my childhood on a two-wheeler. I love that feeling. It has been said many times before, going back to Susan B. Anthony, but the bicycle has an almost magical capacity to impart a sense of freedom to its riders.
The price of this bike deserves a mention. In a day when “entry level” bicycles are running $1200 and up, my total cost with taxes and couple of accessories was just under $650. Bicycles have become really expensive and I suppose that value is in the eye of the buyer, but paying $4K or so for a bicycle just hits me the wrong way. Part of the charm of the Allant is that it is a really top quality bicycle for a really reasonable price. Perhaps it is the style – it doesn’t look like a bike that will run the Tour De France – but the bike is a terrific value.
Does it accomplish the mission? Yesterday I did 12 miles on it and today I did 14 miles and these 60-year-old arms, legs and back feel great. I love this bike. I am finding that I can do more miles on this bike than I ever could on my old road bike. It is more comfortable and less tiring. When I finish a long ride, I don’t hurt. The old road bike, as much as I loved it, was giving me inflammation and pain in my elbows and shoulders. The Trek Allant has made all of that pain and inflammation go away. I can report that I am averaging twice as many miles per week on the new bike than I could do on the old road bike. The pain in my elbows and shoulders is a distant memory. I am doing almost all of my grocery shopping on the bike due to its cargo rack and the Bongo Bros. Grocery Bags I bought to go with it. It took a few weeks to get used to the indexed shifters, but I have now, and I use them. So, to the mission question, the answer is yes, it is the bike that I wanted and it fulfills my expectations. I would buy it again.
My Kenwood KR-4600 amp and the Pioneer PL-516 turntable. This is exquisite sound. Click on photos for larger view.
This is how to do it if you want to listen to music. There has never been a iPod built that can produce sound like this rig can. There’s not a molecule of digital in the whole pipeline. It’s pure analog. Run it out to a pair of Bose speakers and it’s ecstasy.
My Christmas present to myself was Adobe’s LightRoom 3. I had been using PhotoShop, Capture NX and ViewNX 2 to manage my digital photographs, but LightRoom 3 presented a single package that provides all of the functionality of these other programs and then some (except maybe PhotoShop for manipulation) in a single unified package, and it can handle the RAW files of my new Nikon D7000. Just before Christmas, it went on sale on Amazon for half off and I couldn’t resist.
What is LightRoom?
LightRoom is a complete management solution for digital photography. It has three major areas of functionality: correction and adjustment, database and filing, and output to print and the web.
In this article, I’m going to focus on the adjustment and correction. I may do the database and output in subsequent articles.
LightRoom 3 provides non-destructive image editing and color correction for digital images. The images don’t even need to be RAW files for LightRoom to perform its non-destructive magic. By “non-destructive” we mean that modifications to the original image are saved in a separate instruction file, and the original image, be it digital camera capture or scan, remains unaltered. Modifications in LightRoom are only saved into the image when you “export” it to a TIF, JPG, or other derivative format.
LightRoom is very smart about cameras, RAW formats and lenses. It has profiles for nearly everything I use in the digital world. It reads all the EXIF data from my RAW files, and it has lens profiles for most of the lenses I use. So, it does a superb job of interpreting the information the camera captures. It has handy presets for embedding copyright and other file information into the image files. It also has a handy “preset” system which allows you to quickly apply a set of adjustments to a given image. There are a bunch of default presets; you can create your own, or you can download a gillion of them free on the web. There is also a cottage industry of plug-ins created for LightRoom, much like PhotoShop plug-ins, which perform more complex operations using the adjustment capabilities inherent in LightRoom.
What LightRoom Isn’t
It isn’t Photoshop. It isn’t Illustrator. If you do a lot of serious retouch and photo manipulation, you still need PhotoShop. LightRoom does not do layers, layer masks, vector imports, outlines, typeset, feathers, drop shadows, EPS files, vector art, spot color duotones… and on and on. If you are a publishing professional, you still must have PhotoShop. A photographer could easily get by on LightRoom alone unless one does extensive retouch on complexions and backgrounds.
Color Correction in LightRoom
The following image was done a while back with a Nikon D70s shooting RAW on site in the dead of summer with hot sunlight beaming down overhead (click on the image for a larger view):
What you see here is a portion of the LightRoom “Develop” screen showing the “before” and “after” of the image. A white tea rose in direct sunlight is a problem. The highlights clip and much of the texture of the petals is lost. Using LightRoom, I was able to “recover” a great deal of the texture in the petals. This is where I find LightRoom to be superior to PhotoShop in some ways because LightRoom is natively dedicated to digital photography, and its adjustments are designed to make optimum use of the image information in the RAW file. In PhotoShop, RAW manipulation is an afterthought. You have to download a separate “Camera RAW Plug-in” for PhotoShop to read and correct RAW files, and it isn’t as good in my opinion, but Photoshop is navigating a different universe of imaging.
The image to the right is the LightRoom control panel showing the adjustments I made on the rose (you can click on the image for a larger view). Mostly, I pulled the highlights and light colors back while adding vibrancy and saturation to the mid-tones. I added a bit of “Recovery,” brightness and contrast and left the shadows and dark tones mostly unchanged. This gave me much greater detail and texture in the flower petals and made the clipping all but go away. These are subtle things, and an untrained eye might miss them, but they can make the difference between a really excellent photo and a near miss.
LightRoom 3 is giving me superb color correction, great library organization, and a host of new output options. I’m enjoying the hell out of it.
LightRoom 3 is not a program which is mastered in an afternoon. There is still much I have to learn about it. It would take a book to cover all of its features in detail. It is a full-featured management interface for digital photography that will correct, organize, output and create web galleries for your digital photographs. It quickly became the core interface for my digital imaging, and I recommend it without qualification.
Unfortunately, the half price deal is over, but you can still get the program on Amazon for a fairly decent price. And, of course, if you use the link below, I’ll get a little piece of the action which will help to keep me going and taking chances on software so you don’t have to: