The Outside Blog

Athletes : Gear

Electric FW02 PU

Take a hefty stainless-steel case, add a funky artisanal aesthetic, and let Thomas Edison pick the name—that’s the Electric FW02. Available in five sleek color combos, it isn’t for those who want their data fast and loud: the chrono dials are blended into the main dial, and the pushers have to be unscrewed. And we love that.

$350, electriccalifornia.com 

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Sunscreen On a Plate

Summer may seem like the best season for your skin. But under that well-tanned surface, the sun is actually wreaking havoc on your cells.

“When you leave lettuce in the sun too long, it wilts and turns brown because the light is causing oxidative damage. This is similar to your skin exposed to sunlight,” says Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., who researches antioxidants at Tufts University. On your skin, the damage manifests in the short term as a red-hot sunburn, but long-term, it can cause cancer.

And while sunscreen helps prevent the light from penetrating, what comes to the rescue once free radicals have taken over? The hero has to come from your plate in the form of antioxidants—like vitamin C, E and beta-carotene—which block free radicals from causing more damage. “Antioxidants float through your blood and amass in tissues, including the skin,” she says. This means when the sun damages your cells, antioxidants are already on the front line to battle damage.

Plus phytochemicals—a nutrient group that includes antioxidants—may ramp up your body’s natural protection systems against cancer-causing damage, adds Karen Collins, registered dietitian, Nutrition Advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. In fact, a 2010 study from Tel Aviv University found that participants who follow diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, like that in the Mediterranean region where melanoma rates are extremely low, have lower incidences of skin cancer.

One of the best foods for protection? Tomatoes. A new British study found that people who ate ¼ cup of tomato paste—which offers high levels of the nutrient lycopene—for two weeks saw less oxidative damage. And a 2012 UK study found women who eat a tomato-heavy diet have 33 percent more protection against UV exposure than those who skip the fruit.

But since nutrients all have different functions and interactions, it’s important to eat all colors of the rainbow. “Many phytochemicals manifest as pigments, so eating fruits and vegetables of all colors guarantees that you’re diversifying your nutrient intake and better fortifying your skin,” says Johnson.

The best skin protectors include dark leafy greens, beta-carotene-rich carrots and cantaloupe, and polyphenol-packed berries and citrus fruit. And skip supplements in favor of whole foods. Most phytochemicals are bioactive, meaning they’re most effective coming from whole foods, and the high doses of most supplements can be harmful to your health.

Protection doesn’t occur overnight, Collins adds. In fact, most studies supporting nutrition’s benefit on sunburns or cancer prevention don’t see results until participants have been eating the food for at least 8 weeks, she adds.

Most importantly, there is no better protection against developing skin cancer than limiting your exposure to UV light, Collins adds. And, while a nutrient-rich diet can help fortify your cells, slathering on sunscreen as well will give your skin the best chances to stay healthy.

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Why Cycling’s Hour Record Matters

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling’s governing body, recently announced that it’s changed the rules for the Hour Record—an event that pits a cyclist against the clock to see how far he can ride in 60 minutes.

Previously riders attempting to beat the record had to do so on bikes without any aerodynamic benefits, which ruled out shaped tubes, deep section rims, drop handlebars, and anything resembling a modern time trial position. Because of these limitations, Eddy Merckx’s 1972 record of 49.431km (30.715 miles) was long considered the mark to beat.

Under the new rules, any attempt at the hour record moving forward will be bound by the regulations that apply to endurance track bikes (including equipment and position) in place at the time of the ride. That means modern TT positioning and aerodynamics will now be fair game, and it moves the benchmark up to the 2005 record of Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka, who rode 49.7 kilometers (30.882 miles).

Though this all may sound like eye-glazing esoterica, the decision has some interesting, broad-based implications for the cycling world.

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First of all, it’s important to remember that not too long ago the hour record was a prestigious accomplishment that appealed to fans in much the same way as the quest for the four-minute mile did in the 1950s.

The ping-pong record trading of the ‘90s between Graham Obree and Chris Boardman, as told in the biopic The Flying Scotsman, captivated the public—even people outside the bike-racing niche. The record gained so much cachet that even some of the biggest names in the peloton, including Tony Rominger and Miguel Indurain, tried their hands at it.

That period culminated with Boardman’s 56.375-kilometer record in 1996. But the UCI cut the heyday short when it amended the rules to disallow records set during the period because the organization felt technology—including unorthodox aerodynamics such as Obree’s superman position—was making for an uneven playing field.

The move away from the anachronistic 1972 standard—as well as the simple act of explicitly clarifying the rules at all—should help reignite interest among the top pros. And with all the bad press cycling’s had in recent years, that’s a good thing. Wouldn’t it be great to see some of the most respected names in the sport battling it out for the honors? An Obree-Boardman-style rivalry could help reignite some interest in road cycling as a whole among the public.

Before the rule change, several riders—including time trial world champions Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin—had talked about taking a run at the record. Cancellara is reported to have put his plans on hold since the ruling, presumably because Trek had been developing gear for him based on the old standards. Meanwhile, Tour de France champ Bradley Wiggins sounds more interested than ever in giving it a go

But the import of the rule change reaches beyond the hour record. The UCI has come under fire for all sorts of ineptitude and malfeasance in recent years, and it is widely considered too stodgy and dogmatic regarding equipment. Hopefully, this move on the hour record signals that the organization, under the direction of its new president, Brian Cookson, is ready to move into the future. 

“This new rule is part of the modernisation (sic) of the UCI Equipment Regulation,” said Brian Cookson in the news about the changes to the hour record. “Today there is a general consensus that equipment used in competition must be allowed to benefit from technological evolution where pertinent. This kind of evolution is positive for cycling generally and for the hour record in particular.”

That’s refreshing talk, and there have been other promising signals in this vein, including word that the UCI is considering the legalization of disc brakes in professional racing.

I’ve also heard rumors in recent months that there could soon be changes coming to the minimum weight for race bikes (currently set at 6.8 kilograms, or 14.99 pounds). Many have criticized this 14-year-old standard because it means professionals are constrained to equipment that is inferior to that of many recreational riders. Just imagine if the general public drove nicer cars than F1 drivers or piloted finer boats than America’s Cup sailors.

Of course no equipment regulation is all that important. But the fact that the UCI is thinking about these things hopefully signals that it’s in the process of much-needed reform, both in terms of equipment and beyond. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” And right now, the UCI—and professional cycling in general—could use some expansive thinking to rescue the sport from the doping morass.

In the meantime, I just hope we see a few top pros throw their legs over an hour attempt. It might be the closest we’ll ever come to seeing an in-form Cancellara race against Eddy Merckx at his prime. Let the betting and conjecture begin.

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Building the Ultimate Green Home

How do you build an energy-efficient home on an island that’s 20 miles from civilization—and electricity? Let’s just say you’ll need some creativity, and a lot of time.

The owner pondered how to build this private home, located on a remote island off the coast of Maine, for 30 years. The first challenge? Establishing the boundaries of the three-quarter acre lot, which the locals call the “floating island.” Next, the team had to determine the perfect spot to lay the home’s foundation.

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Take note: if you’re building in a remote area, you better follow energy-efficient best practices. This cabin’s design is deliberately compact and efficient. The island has no electricity, so only battery-operated power tools were an option during construction. Now, four solar panels power the lights and refrigerator, while the stove and water heater run on propane. The owners even collect rainwater for drinking and washing dishes.   

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Most of the materials for the home were gathered on the mainland, shipped to the building site on an amphibious truck, and then moved to the job site on a converted lawn mower. (Remember how we mentioned the need to be creative?) 

When the cottage isn’t in use, the windows are covered with sliding metal panels to protect them against the often-ferocious weather. Smart storage units are concealed under the sofas, beds, and dining benches, while a sleeping loft is tucked under the single slope roof.

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Why Solar-Powered Roads Won't Work

An ambitious plan to build solar roadways across the country sounds almost too good to be true. And guess what? It is.   

First, some backstory: A two-person startup called Solar Roadways wants to pave roads with solar cells, and they’ve already secured almost $2 million in crowdsourced funding. The basic idea is pretty simple. The solar road would use existing asphalt as a base layer, while the tempered-glass cells would generate about 52 watts of power each and last about 30 years.  

The company’s math is quite compelling—if all the asphalt roads in the U.S. were paved with solar cells (about 31,000 square miles of land), they’d generate three times the electricity we use today. And the potential interface between the roads and future electric cars (with the solar cells providing wireless power to undercarriages) also sounds great. And it gets even better. This “information superhighway” wouldn’t only generate power for cities and cars, but also for powerlines and fiber-optic cables.

You might also be wondering how tempered glass is supposed to hold up to all this abuse. Well, the company claims the new roads can withstand vehicles weighing up to 250,000 pounds. In fact, Solar Roadways claims that a tank convoy could traverse the road. (It also admits that the material it plans to use hasn’t yet been load-tested tested in an environmental chamber.)  

With a small town in Idaho promising to build a solar parking lot and a bike path this year to test the technology, and with plans to move from prototype to production relatively soon (although there’s no mention of exactly when or where), the road to the future seems to be coming along nicely, right?  

Um, not so fast. There are some potholes in the plan.  

One seemingly mundane question has to do with tire marks. You’ve seen them—skid marks on the highway that look so dark you wonder what terrible accident occurred. Solar Roadways says it hasn’t yet tested the effect of car tire marks on its solar cells. Instead, it’s only used bike tires to see if these black streaks impede power generation. The company claims the answer is no, but we’re still waiting for more data during the next round of testing.     

Then there’s the question of funding. In several of the FAQ comments, Solar Roadways says the cells “pay for themselves.” Back in 2011, I asked noted Gartner automotive analyst Thilo Koslowski if the project sounded feasible. His main objection at the time? That building solar roads would cost several billion dollars and require serious government and taxpayer involvement. We’re still waiting to hear from the company regarding how much it anticipates the next phase of the project will cost, although it claims we should have those numbers later this summer. 

There’s no data available about what would happen to the road after a year of heavy commuter traffic, trucks, and buses following their routes on a daily basis. And the effect of skid marks and the everyday abuse roads must take from the elements is still unclear.  

The takeaway? While we’d be stoked to see this idea succeed (sounds like a win-win, right?) the tech is still untested. Solar Roadways hasn’t made it obvious, from its FAQ or the crowdfunding campaign, what its long-term plans entail, how much a stretch of road will actually cost, or when the company will start building working models. 

 

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