Saturday, 26 January 2013

Specialized Sirrus - my daily commuter

I started commuting to work in March 2012 on a $125 Magna Excitor bike from Target. It isn't a bad bike I suppose, my commute is 3 miles each way on flat roads and the Magna was up to that task. I started cycling to work because I didn't have a car, and kept at it even after I got the car because I liked it a lot. However, I found myself wanting a better bike, so I started test riding bikes at LBSes in my area. I finally ended up getting a 2012 Specialized Sirrus (the base model).

So far, I have only good things to say about this bike. The higher end models have better shifting and are specced more like a road bike, but the base Sirrus is just right for me. The bike cost me $487 (inclusive of tax) - and I have spent a lot more on accessories since then. A photo of the bike as it was after I got it:
The bottle cage is a Topeak plastic cage, light and with adjustable size - allows me to carry bottles of different sizes. The bike changed a bit as I commuted - I added fenders, a rack, bag, computer, lights, changed pedals. Here is an intermediate photo - this isn't the latest photo but it shows the bike in its correct place - my office :)
I like this bike quite a bit - like all new bike owners, I keep thinking of the n+1 bike - but I ride this bike and any desire to buy another bike melts away.

Things I like about the bike:
1. The 700x32 tires give a nice comfortable ride.
2. The 48-38-28 gearing up front has a gear high enough to push the bike to 30 mph, but also has a gear low enough to help me up hills. Race bike riders like close gearing so that they can maintain perfect cadence - I like the range in gearing more.
3. The frame has plenty of eyelets and braze-ons - adding fenders, rack and bag was no trouble.

Things I don't like about the bike:
1. The front derailleur could have been better. It is a Shimano Tourney - bottom of the barrel. It does its job, but it is definitely not snappy about it. However, an Alivio upgrade will cost about $15, so I'm not too worried about it. And all said and done, the Tourney does the job well enough, so I haven't felt like springing for the $15 yet.

I now take the bike on weekend rides as well - not really a pro rider yet, and my rides are restricted to two hours at the most (that is the time when our 2 yo is asleep) - but I really enjoy the rides.

A quick review of the accessories/changes I have on the bike so far:
1. Topeak Explorer rack, with Topeak MTX EXP bag.
Love this setup. The slide in and lock system is pretty nice, and more importantly, because the panniers start from the top of the rack bag, they end pretty high - so I have no heel strike. I carry my laptop (in a padded sleeve) in one of the panniers, clothes in the other and food, patch kit etc. in the rack bag.
$25 got the rack from Amazon.com, $60 shipped for the bag from Modernbike.com

2. Planet Bike Hybrid fenders
$25 fenders from Amazon.com. Was really upset with them initially, the rear fender didn't fit snug and rattled a lot. Solved that by removing the screw from the seat stay, and using twisties instead - the screw didn't hold the fender high enough. Additionally, after I contacted Planet Bike support, they kindly sent me another clamp - I used the clamp to give the fenders a better line - attached the clamp to the rack using twisties. Really solid fit now - no issues at all.
Older Sirrus versions have reported issues with fenders and the front derailleur - those issues seem to be sorted now. Plenty of clearance:
3. Sigma BC 1009 computer
Easy to setup, plenty of videos on Youtube. Inexpensive, and reliable.

4. Topeak cage
Works well, looks nice too.

Have a few other accessories, but will cover those later - I need a new photo for that. The bike looks more nicely setup now, so I want a better photo before I post further :D

Latest photo, fenders off for the summer.


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Bay Area Kids Museum


Another Kid friendly, Budget friendly trip in The SF Bay Area - Bay Area Kids Museum

It looked like it was going to be a warm day, so we decided to step out for an exploratory trip. Still on our resolve to spend more carefully, we decided to look first at Discover & Go options. We quickly decided on The Bay Area Kids museum, printed out our pass, packed a small picnic and set off.

From the Peninsula was about a 45 minute drive, through some lovely scenery on a great day. We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, and luckily for all the people walking on the bridge, there was a clear view. Once past the bridge we drove down into Sausalito, and very quickly reached the museum. Parking is free, and it’s next to the marina and just under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Inside, there are lots of play areas - indoors and out, all meant for kids. Imagination Playground is a small lot full of blue giant foam blocks, noodles and balls with kids busily putting them together. Meant to encourage kids to be creative and build, it was fun even to watch. From there we moved on to the next play area - the Lookout Cove. This is a couple of acres of playground with lots of features. Our 2 yo's favorite was the construction site (complete with helmets, shovels and dump trucks), representative of the Golden Gate construction scenario. There’s also a shipwreck, where kids can search for treasure (that friendly volunteers help along by secreting pennies in the sand) - coins, porcelain and even a sword.

Next we stopped at the TotSpot. There's a height restriction so not for kids above 42 inches. Outdoors there was a meandering stream that kids can splash in and play with toy fish and frogs. There are aprons for kids, to avoid getting wet, but it may be best to bring along a change. Indoors there are 2 areas - the woodlands and wetlands. Wood lands have meadow to roll in and tunnel to crawl through. The woodlands have ponds (water beds)  where kids can jump and hear ducks and frogs. The Cafe didn’t have too many vegetarian options and they were out of a lot of things - so may be best to bring your picnic along. Picnic tables and restrooms, with diaper changing areas are plenty, so you can plan to spend a day.

There was a lot more to see and play - Art Studios, Bay Hall, Discovery Hall, Wave Workshop - but our 2 yo was all played out so we headed out. As the emphasis is on unstructured play and the play areas have been designed to be kid safe - it was a relaxing and fun day for all of us.  Next time, I'm going to take a book.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Kid friendly day out in the SF Bay Area - Lindsay Wildlife Museum

Kid friendly day out in the SF Bay Area

If you are looking for ways to keep your kid entertained this winter, a visit to the Lindsay Wildlife museum could be the answer. An indoor museum, with a park outside - so this can even work on cold and/rainy day.


Tucked away in Walnut Creek, its about a 45 minute drive over the San Mateo bridge from the Peninsula. We had a big breakfast and started out planning to reach there by about 10 am. After a quick snack in the car on reaching (to avoid any hunger tantrums by 2yo) we went in and got started. The entry fees are $7 for adults, $6 for seniors 65+, $5 for children 2 -17, but if you have a SF bay area library membership, chances are you can get in for free, thanks to the Discover& Go program. 

See live, non-releasable California wild animals - Hawks, owls, eagles and other birds of prey perch overhead. There are also a fox, bobcat, opossum, coyote, Snakes, toads, turtles and other reptiles and amphibians exhibits. Young and old volunteers wander around offering information and answering questions, and they have regular sessions - Petting Circle,Live Animal Encounters - where kids can learn more about an animal - 'creature powers', habitat etc. Some of the fun things for kids include a fly like an eagle simulation with a birds eye view, microscopes to look through, animal sounds all at kid friendly height and meant for kids.

The basement has exhibits about local flora and fauna, and native Indian life and artifacts. From food they ate, to hunting habits and weaponry to baby pouches and grain baskets - its interesting, and not just for the kids. The volunteers are kind, patient, good with kids and animals and full of information. You can see that they care, and thats really the best way to show kids how passion and commitment can translate into meaningful work. There's also a gift shop- with interesting books and toys, mostly wildlife centric that make a good takeaway.

We've been there twice so far and my 2yo has touched a mouse, been introduced to an eagle, met a rattlesnake and a fox. We will probably go again :)

Both times we have finished this visit with a walk in downtown Walnut Creek and a meal at the Counter, also kid friendly - with kiddie meals and a toy for our 2yo. 

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