Review

Bicycle Review: Trek Allant

Trek Allant 20I 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.

Trek Allant 3The 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.

Trek Allant 17Utility 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.

Trek Allant 18Does 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.

 

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Hi-Fi

My Kenwood KR-4600 amp and the Pioneer PL-516 turntable. This is exquisite sound. Click on photos for larger view.

 

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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.

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My Year of Living Socially

twitterbluebox You would probably call me an “early adopter” of the Internet. I have had some kind of online presence for 15 years. The web immediately fascinated me when I first discovered it, and the fascination has not waned. I am grateful that my intuition led me early on to what would be the most revolutionary phenomenon of my adult life. One part of the online revolution for which I wasn’t an early adopter was “social networking.” I had blogs and web sites and felt that sites like Facebook and Myspace were for people who didn’t operate their own blogs. I just didn’t get Twitter at first. I checked it out early and it struck me as a pointless waste of time. Eventually a couple of friends convinced me to get on Twitter and Facebook, so in December of 2009, I opened accounts. After more than a year of doing both Facebook and Twitter, my ideas about these services have evolved significantly.

Facebook

I think Mark Zuckerberg is a creep and I think his creation, Facebook, is creepy. There isn’t really a lot about Facebook that I like. There seems to be a basic dishonesty about Facebook in that it promises personal privacy, but actually works to “share” that personal information as widely as possible. Thousands of people have literally wrecked their lives with Facebook by posting things they thought were “private” only to find out that their postings were quite public. I learned a long time ago not to put anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper, but most users don’t understand how public the Internet really is. Facebook has also been shown to share personal information with advertisers and I think that is at least sneaky, if not unethical. The format of Facebook is so limiting that it is unusable for anything beyond little “status updates” and sharing links. I don’t even like the way Facebook uses the word “Friend.” “Contact” would be better. Most of my “friends” on Facebook aren’t really friends; they’re acquaintances or friends of friends. You don’t become a friend by a mouse click on a little gray box. According to Facebook, I have 112 “friends.” I wish I had 112 friends. In the way I think about friends, I may have a dozen, but not 112.

I disapprove of the way Facebook handles photos. I don’t like the down-sampling that Facebook does on images, and I do not affirm the claim that Facebook makes to have rights to use and redistribute any image uploaded to Facebook. I think this claim in their terms of service is needlessly predatory on the part of Facebook. Most people who upload photos to Facebook do not realize that in the act of uploading a photo to Facebook, they are granting Facebook unlimited rights to use or redistribute their image.

As a “social network” Facebook has completely failed for me in one important way: none of my “friends” on Facebook came from Facebook as the original point of contact. All of my Facebook “friends” are the result of prior contacts and associations, or they are from new contacts I have made with Twitter.

I do find some value in Facebook. I have reconnected with a number of people with whom I had lost contact. I do enjoy seeing the notices from friends of the birth of babies, new accomplishments, notices of upcoming events, and the like. It is a convenient utility for sharing quick communications among those contacts who are active on Facebook. I will continue using Facebook because several of my real friends and relatives have taken to using Facebook instead of e-mail, but that is the only reason. Otherwise, I could live without it.

Twitter

You will remember that Twitter is the social networking medium I viewed as pointless. Apparently, other people saw possibilities in Twitter that I didn’t see at the time. Twitter can still be the supreme time waster, but it can also be very interesting and useful, depending on how it is used. Twitter has become the social network I really enjoy and use. Unlike the social suffocation inflicted by Facebook, Twitter has gained for me quite a few new friends and contacts, people with whom I carry on lively discussions. I follow a number of news services and I find that I get breaking news quicker on Twitter than I do on the news web sites. I enjoy sending tweets about interesting photography, news, baseball games and other things that interest or outrage me.

Twitter does have its shortcomings. 140 characters isn’t a lot for someone who likes to write, so you can only do quick comments and send links to longer things. This can be a good discipline for writers who pack their copy with unnecessary words, but it does get tedious at times. Only those who follow you and those who happen to be tracking a search term that appears in one of your tweets will see your tweets. Due to the dynamic nature of Twitter, even those who follow you don’t always see your tweets unless they have you on a list, or are watching the time line when you tweet. The basic timeline goes by so fast that it is easy to miss things, especially when you are following a lot of feeds.

The Numbers

In the year of living socially, I have accumulated 112 Facebook “friends” and more than 1800 Twitter followers. I follow about 1400 Twitter feeds. Both accounts were started at the same time. There isn’t direct parity between friends and follows, since the Facebook friending often implies a more substantial relationship than a Twitter follow. Nevertheless, a nearly 20-fold discrepancy between the two services does get my attention.

The Hidden Agenda

I’m a blogger. I have been doing it for a significant period of time and it continues to be a source of great satisfaction to me. My photography and journal blog, Shutter Priority, was not getting the kind of traffic I wanted, and I decided to test the social networking services to see what kind of improvement they could give me on my blog traffic. The impact of Twitter on my blog traffic has been substantial. When I tweet a link to a new blog entry, I will often get hundreds or sometimes thousands of page views. If I only post a link on Facebook, I may get a couple dozen page views. Twitter wins the traffic test hands down.

Learnings and Observations

Obviously, Twitter and Facebook are vastly different types of services, and I suppose the individual’s preference for one or the other comes down to which environment one prefers. To me, Twitter is dynamic, free-wheeling and open, something like attending a big trade show with a bar. Facebook, in my opinion, seems far more restricted and clubby, akin to a high school reunion. For the most part, the people we talk with on Facebook are people we already know, whereas on Twitter we constantly meet new people.

I don’t buy the hype about Facebook that it’s going to put Google and blogs out of business and own the Internet in a few short years. The claustrophobic and highly restricted style of Facebook runs contrary to the basic openness that has made the Internet the success that it is. The potential of Twitter is probably still underestimated and unappreciated, but awareness seems to be growing.

From a utilitarian perspective, Twitter has gotten the job done for me. Facebook really hasn’t. For someone looking to get the word out about their blog or business, Twitter should be considered seriously. I won’t give up on Facebook for the reasons given above, but these days, posting a blog link or a new print for sale to Facebook is an afterthought, with little expectation for real results.

As always, these are just my opinions and impressions. Your mileage may vary (YMMV). I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the effectiveness of these two services. Feel free to use the comments below.

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Digging LightRoom 3

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):

LightRoom3 Demo

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.

LightRoom3 Adjustment Panel 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:

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