The Outside Blog

Adventure : Apr 2012

A Telescope That Finds the Stars For You

 

CelestronSome might say this is the perfect telescope for the star-searching newbie. If you can't hone in on the galaxy you're looking for on your own power, Celestron's Prodigy 6 robotic self-aligning telescope will find it for you. Using electronic motors, an intelligent on-board computer, a digital camera and a database the scope can find over 4000 celestial features. Once the telescope points you in the right direction, it helps open your eyes to the wonders of the universe by letting in up to three times the light of past models. Simply turn it on, push a button and enjoy the view. 

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The Long, Slow Way Down

A new book about the iconic Tour d'Afrique bicycle race, 10: Celebrating Ten Years of the Tour d’Afrique Bicycle Race and Expedition ($40), documents the annual 4-month, 7,500-mile ride from Cairo, Egypt, to Cape Town, South Africa. Edited by David Houghton and published by Tour d’Afrique Ltd., 10 tells the ride's story through the words and photographs of the riders themselves. 

Houghton, who completed the the tour in 2005, chose from a decade's worth of pictures and quotes as he assembled the volume, organizing the selections based on themes—Discovery, Humanity, Challenge—rather than chronology or geography. Both the pictures and the text offer a vivid description of traveling by bicycle in places where recreational cycling is rare and novel. Several anecdotes are painful to read—children throwing rocks at the riders, for one—but 10 captures the event's struggles and triumphs in a way that seems very real.

I bicycled nearly the same route in 2009, in reverse, and in many ways flipping through 10 was like traveling back in time. If I have one gripe, it is that many of the photos are taken from the perspective of a tourist, and aside from the riders, the book's human subjects are often shown with an anonymous quality. I found this element odd: bicycling is an immersive mode of travel, and Africa is renowned for its hospitality. Still, the range of pictures, from portraits of the riders to panoramics of the landscape, give the reader the feeling of the tour. All that said, to really appreciate the continent's splendor, your only real bet is go there yourself.

View the photo gallery from 10: Celebrating Ten Years of the Tour d’Afrique Bicycle Race and Expedition

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Horsethief

Best For: Trail riders looking to push it.

The Test: A lot of companies are debuting longer-travel 29ers this year, and, dollar for dollar, the 4.7-inch aluminum Salsa was our favorite. “I didn’t think I needed big travel with big wheels,” said one tester, “until I rode the Horsethief. It skipped down stairsteps like a 26er but delivered that stable feel of a 29er.” The secret? The combination of burly Stan’s ZTR Flow rims and the thicker stanchions on Fox’s new 29er-specific 34 Float fork virtually eliminated the flex that can sometimes hold back big wheels in the rough. Salsa’s proven single-pivot rear suspension also made for surprisingly nimble handling uphill, but this is definitely more monster truck than mountain goat. 

The Verdict: A bargain for such a well-equipped bike. 29.5 lbs

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K9 29er

Best For: Racers without sponsors. 

The Test: The hardtail K9 delivers the same speed and agility of big-brand cross-country race bikes for decidedly less cash. Jackal, a tiny company out of Santa Fe, does it by sourcing its carbon frames straight from Asia and keeping overhead low with Web-only sales and made-to-spec bikes. Even with the value build, which included an all-business SRAM X9 drivetrain, a hardworking Fox Float 29 fork, and Stan’s feathery but robust new Arch EX wheelset, our K9 weighed a svelte 22.5 pounds. That made for explosive climbing and giant slalom-like carving power on buffed-out trail, though the build quality (loose bottom bracket, badly adjusted shifting) tripped us up a bit.

The Verdict: A true speed machine. 22.5 lbs

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Virtue Elite

Best For: Looking as fast as you feel. 

The Test: Though it’s a trail bike, with 5.1 inches of travel to swallow up the obstacles and a slack headtube for confidence blasting down rubbly chutes, the carbon Virtue feels faster than that label suggests. It’s partly the spicy styling—“It just looks fast,” one tester noted. It rode fast, too, especially on crisp singletrack and out-of-the-saddle efforts, where the firm rear suspension hooked up to punch the bike forward with every pedal stroke. That stiff feel wasn’t as welcome on more technical trails, though, with several testers complaining that the Virtue lacked plushness. Everyone, however, loved the meaty WTB Wolverine tires, which tore into loose desert sand and loamy mountain trails alike. 

The Verdict: Cross-country guys looking for a bit more will love the solid feel and quick steering. 28.5 lbs

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