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Micropore Refresh

In 2008 I purchased a pair of Julbo Micropore glacier glasses from Opticus. This was before PRK, so I needed prescription lenses.

At that time, Opticus was the main (perhaps only) supplier of prescription glacier glasses for the US Antarctic Program and Raytheon Polar Services. Opticus sent me the frames with the prescription lenses installed, but included the uninstalled standard Julbo lenses in the package.

After my surgical shine job I installed the standard lenses, but still did not get back into the habit of wearing the Micropore glasses. They had quite a few miles on them by then. Both the nose pads and the rubber covers on ear hooks at the end of the temple arms were torn up, which diminished their comfort. And outside of deployments under Special Circumstances – like being on a glacier (do they still have those?) – the Micropores are not as functional as my Rudy Rydons. They fail to meet my simple sunglass criteria. Yet they are fun to wear, and unlike sports-wrap style spectacles like the Rydons, the Micropores fold down flat (more so if you do not have the leather side shields installed, as I usually do not). That is attractive for travel when you want to be able to store your spectacles without taking up a lot of space in a bag.

Julbo Micropore

Julbo discontinued the Micropores I-don’t-know-how-many years ago. I think the modern equivalent is the Julbo Cham. But I recently learned that Julbo still offers spare Micropore parts. When I saw that, I jumped at the chance to refresh my pair. I purchased new temple arms, a new nose pad, and a new nose bridge.

I couldn’t actually figure out how to remove the old nose bridge. But once I removed everything that was obviously removable, I was able to clean my original nose bridge and decided that I didn’t actually need to replace that part (and my old one was already sanitized). The temple arms and nose pad were simple to replace.

The aggressive curve of the ear-hooks on this style of spectacles does not work well with the cable retention I use on the Rydons. Nor is such a thing necessary to keep them on your face – those big hooks keep them secure. But I do like the option of having some sort of lanyard so that I can drop the glasses and let them hang around my neck. This is especially useful given that the lenses are not photochromic. The Micropores originally came with a simple nylon cord, but I don’t know what happened to that. Now I am using a Chums Tech Cord. It is an injection molded piece of silicone, and about as simple as it gets. I like it.

Julbo Micropore and Chums Tech Cord

The Micropores remain inferior to the Rydons, but I’m enjoying wearing them again intermittently. It is pleasing to be able to buy new components and rebuild old equipment. Eventually I may get custom cut lenses.

Hafny FR03 Jones Bar Mirror

I tried a few different mirrors on my Jones Loop H-Bars.

The D+D Oberlauda UltraLite Bike Mirror mounted underneath the bars just before the weld worked decently, but the mirror’s clamp is annoying when you want to rest your hand on top of that part of the bar.

Oberlauda UltraLite Mirror

After further trials, I developed a preference for the Hafny HF-M951B-FR03. This opinion is shared by others.

The FR03 uses the same high quality glass and mount as the FR06 model Hafny on my road bike, but the two models have slight differences. The mirror of the FR03 is round, where the FR06 has a subtle teardrop shape. The bracket which connects the FR03 to the bar plug attaches to the edge of the mirror, where on the FR06 the bracket attaches in the center of the rear of the mirror. These differences make the FR03 better suited to flat bars, and the FR06 better suited to drop bars.

Rear View Tamalpais

A bike with Jones bar is a wide load, and a bar-end mirror makes it even wider. I compensate for this by only having a left-side mirror, which gets the job done. I also keep the adjustment bolt loose enough that I can tilt the mirror into the bars if I’m squeezing through a narrow passage.

The Elusive Triple Crank

I broke the drive-side crank on my New Albion XDT crankset. I have strong legs.

New Albion XDT Crank Break

The crankset was only 5 years old. I don’t track distance, so I don’t know what sort of mileage it had – more than 10,000 miles and less than 100,000, on a healthy mixture of pavement and dirt – but it is certainly too new for these sorts of shenanigans.

New Albion is one of the many brands of local company Merry Sales. They are responsible for bringing a number of Japanese bicycle components to the American market, and are usually associated with quality equipment. The New Albion XDT is basically a clone of the Sugino XD – made from the same molds, in the same factory, out of the same 6061 aluminum. I also have a lot of miles on an actual Sugino XD (and I put an old one back on after this break so I could limp around town while deciding on a more permanent fix). I’ve never had any problems with that crank. So I’m prepared to accept that this was just a fluke, and it probably would not happen again, but I still wanted to replace it with something I could have more confidence in.

Unfortunately the dystopian hellscape that is the modern bicycle industry means square taper triple cranks are few and far between.

Fortunately Rivendell is still fighting the good fight. The best option I found was their Silver crank. These are made of 7075 aluminum, and Rivendell claims that they pass the EN 14766 mountain bike fatigue standard. They use a 110 BCD for the middle and outer rings, and 74 BCD for the inner. That makes them compatible with any triple chainrings a reasonable connoisseur would want to use.

I bought their full triple crankset with 44x34x24 chainrings. But as I was waiting for it to ship, I sat staring at my broken New Albion crankset and decided that its 48x36x26 chainrings were all still in pretty good shape (if in need of a cleaning). And while I was prepared to try Rivendell’s gearing, I do really like the big 48 ring for flying down mountain roads, and I’ve never really felt like I need anything lower than a 26 granny gear on this bike. So when the Silver crankset arrived, I broke it apart, stored its chainrings for later use, and installed the (cleaned) rings from the New Albion.

The Silver seems to have a slightly wider Q factor than a Sugino or any of its clones. I run a Phil Wood bottom bracket with a 113mm spindle, just like God intended. After slapping on the Silver, I was getting some chain rub on the big chainring when in the two outermost sprockets on the cassette. I was able to adjust the derailleur to account for this, but that makes me think that a couple millimeter shorter spindle would be needed to maintain the same Q factor as I had before. The difference is minor enough that I don’t notice it when actually pedalling. It rides great. And it looks pretty good too.

Rivendell Silver Crank

The other options that turned up in my search all disappointed in one way or another.

The Velo Orange Grand Cru 110 is pretty, but they recommend a 124mm bottom bracket. I didn’t want to buy a new bottom bracket.

The Rene Herse Triple is pretty and passes the EN 14781 racing bike fatigue standard (which I’m guessing is lesser than the mountain bike standard), but is prohibitively expensive, and they too recommend a wider bottom bracket. Their instructions also state that “if you have broken cranks in the past, we recommend that you do not use lightweight components like the Rene Herse cranks.” I now belong to that rarefied coterie, so they’re not for me.

Sugino triples are still to be found here and there, but can be difficult to locate. I wanted something stronger than the 6061 aluminum of the XD, if only for my own psychological comfort. Some years ago I ran a Sugino Alpina 2 Triple. I don’t remember what kind of aluminum it was made of. I stripped the threads on the drive-side after I wore down the bearings on my previous Phil Wood bottom bracket until they were mush and rounded the spindle (they said it couldn’t be done – I took that as a challenge). So I didn’t really want another one of those.

If I had been displeased with the Silver, I would have purchased a Spa Cycles TD-2. This is another Sugino clone – made in the same factory, out of the same molds – but it is made of 2014 aluminum, so ought to be plenty strong. (It’s also a clone of the Alpina 2 rather than the XD. That means the 5th bolt is easy to access, rather than hidden behind the crank, which makes swapping around rings easier.)

But as it is I’m very happy with the Silver cranks. If you need a well designed and well built square taper triple crank – and who doesn’t – I’d say just buy one of those and be done with it. I see no reason why the cranks shouldn’t last me forever. When I need new chainrings, if I don’t want to go with the 44x34x24 gearing from Rivendell, I’ll probably buy the Spécialités T.A. rings that Spa Cycles sells. (I’m pretty anal about staying on top of chain wear, so it may be a while.)

Battery McIndoe

Elzetta Retention

As I have previously mentioned, I started out using a Prometheus Lights Titanium Pocket Clip on the Elzetta Alpha before switching to the now-discontinued Raven Pocket Clip in 2016. The O-ring provided by the Raven Pocket Clip is key to how I use the light. It allows me to release the light and use my hand for something else, without dropping the light. The clip itself is perfectly adequate, though not as tight and springy as the titanium clip.

Last summer, I decided to move back to the titanium clip, but to add my own O-ring. I basically knocked off what Retention Ring sells, just using spare bits I already had around. It consists of a little bit of Lawson Ironwire, an O-ring with 1” internal diameter, a tiny piece of heat shrink tubing, and a knot. It isn’t pretty, but it has been working great as part of my EDC for the past 8 months.

Elzetta Alpha, Prometheus Titanium Clip, DIY Retention Ring

How I Audio: Mobile Edition

I do not regularly listen to audio of any sort outside of home or the office. But I value the ability to do so, so I always carry earbuds in my bag. As with headphones, the cable is the usual failure point. The solution, once again, is modularity.

Specifically, I recommend skipping the entire consumer earbud category and going straight to “professional” in-ear monitors.

I carry Shure SE215 IEMs. These are near the bottom-end of the IEM market. I’ve heard people claim that paying hundreds, or thousands, of dollars for custom-molded IEMs is worth it. I’ve heard other people claim that the Chi-Fi market now offers IEMs that are cheaper than the SE215s and yet provide better audio quality. To my non-discerning ears, the SE215s sound great, and they satisfy my listening and comfort requirements. But more important than the specific make or model is that most products in this market segment will offer replaceable cables. The SE215s use an MMCX connector.

For portable use, I want a cable with an inline mic (and 3-button remote) so that I have the option of using it to go hands free with my pocket telephone. Shure sells IEMs with such a cable. This cable failed for me after a couple years. Fortunately, the Chinese Communist Party has realized Marx’s dream of a practically infinite supply of generic MMCX cables with inline mics for dirt cheap. I’m now using a cable I bought off AliExpress for about $10, and if I have to spend another $10 in another couple years I shan’t shed a tear. (If this was for more than occasional and incidental use, I would likely purchase something like the Antlion Kumura Cable or Kinera Gramr, but I’m not going to carry that sort of thing around in my bag just in case.)

I prefer silicone eartips when out and about in the world. They are long lasting and easy to clean. They don’t provide as much isolation as foam tips, but I consider that a feature rather than a bug; I don’t want to be cut off from the surrounding environment. (In special circumstances where I do actually want to block or diminish environmental sound, I use actual ear protection). My favorite tips are the Spinfit CP100+. The medium size feels good upon initial insertion, but I find the small size is more comfortable after a couple hours of continuous penetration.

As a general rule, I subscribe to the Kamala Harris School of Audio Peripherals, as documented in my favorite example of modern hard-hitting investigative journalism. Wireless is a trap. But I admit that there are times when a wireless connection is convenient and worth the additional hassle, however few and far between those times may be. With a modular system, this can easily be addressed by the addition of an adapter.

Originally I thought I might purchase something like the FiiO UTWS5 or Shure RMCE-TW2. But both of these utilize telephone software, which I’m allergic to, and I realized I didn’t actually understand what the sales pitch was for this new-fangled category of “true wireless” earbuds.

Instead, I ended up going back to AliExpress and purchasing a much cheaper necklace style adapter. This isn’t something I carry everyday, but it’s nice to have the option to grab it when plans warrant.

Bluetooth is the one component of the modern audio stack where the technology is still improving – or, at least, getting less bad – so using an interchangeable module here makes sense. The adapter I purchased is built on the Qualcomm QCC5181 chip, providing Bluetooth 5.4, which appears to still be the latest and greatest thing. Portable Bluetooth devices have a limited service life due to their integrated batteries, so again, modularity makes sense here. When these batteries fail, or when I determine it is worth updating to the latest chip, I just buy a new adapter rather than purchasing a whole new system. (It’d be great if we could buy adapters with replaceable batteries, but that seems to be a dream too far.)

If someday in the future I decide it is worth it to buy custom molded IEMs, I’ll just order them with an MMCX connector and they’ll be able to play nicely with my existing ecosystem of cables and adapters. This is the antithesis of the market trend and may result in the revocation of one’s listener license.

Modular, Portable Audio Rig

How I Audio: Desktop Edition

At my desk, I use open-back, circumaural, wired headphones. This technology peaked decades ago. Despite what marketers may claim, there is no reason to keep up with the flavor of the month. At home, I use the Sennheiser HD 600. At work, I use the Massdrop Sennheiser HD 6XX. These two models have some aesthetic differences, but in my experience they are identical in use. I can’t tell a difference between them when they are on my head, either in feel or in sound.

The key with both of these headphones is that they are modular. Every pair of headphones I’ve ever had fail has failed either at the cable or due to the disintegration of the padding. Both are replaceable on the Sennheiser cans. The cables and ear pads on the 600 and 6XX are interchangeable, so I only have to stock one set of spare parts. (The headband pads are different, but I wear the headphones with this pad just lightly resting on the top of my head, so those pads last indefinitely.)

I had to replace the cable on both headphones after five years of use. In both instances, I went with a generic 3-meter Chi-Fi cable from NewFantasia. It is cheaper than the official Sennheiser replacement cable, and it works great. The braided sleeve may provide some extra durability.

I replaced the ear pads in one pair after four years, and in the other pair after six years. Since ear pads can actually effect the sound, unlike the cable, I went with the official Sennheiser replacement pads.

Both my Sennheiser cans have Antlion ModMic microphones attached (one has the Uni, the other has an older discontinued model). This allows for audio calls without needing to switch to some sort of inferior, integrated solution. Boom mic or bust. Importantly, the ModMic has an integrated mute switch. This allows the microphone to be kept muted, and only made hot when actively speaking. (When not on a call, I unplug the ModMic cable.) Because it is a simple two position switch, it provides haptic feedback and thus can be toggled blindly. With this system, you don’t look like a noob trying to find the software mute button in whatever video chat software the kids are using this week, nor will you start talking without realizing that you’re still on mute. Just touch the switch with your finger and you’ll know what position it is in.

The ModMic cable and headphone cable are wrapped together in a length of Techflex Flexo F6N0.25 braided cable sleeve. This keeps the cables together, and also provides some extra protection when they inevitably get stepped on or rolled over by a chair.

Both cables are plugged into a Schiit Fulla DAC. This is the only piece of audio equipment I have that is approaching the “audiophile” market (but is incredibly cheap by the standards of that market). More important than the purported improvement in audio quality that this provides is the volume control knob. I’m a sucker for sexy knobs.

I recently got the newer USB-C model of the Fulla at home, and moved my older Fulla from home to work. Previously I used the UGREEN USB Audio Adapter at work. This was adequate for solving the problem of needing to plug dual TRS connectors into my laptop, but it did not provide the hot knob fondling action I desire.

I also keep Kingtop Headphone Mic Splitter cables in a desk drawer at home and work, so that I may use this rig with my cellular telephone. I use this rarely, as most voice communications these days are VoIP based, and thus performed on my laptop, rather than PSTN.

When not in use, the headphones are stored under my desk on the Elevation Lab Anchor.

The theme with my entire desktop audio setup is modularity. The headphones allow for pads and cables to be replaced. The mic is a separate unit. The DAC is a standalone device. All these components can be easily swapped if one fails. All of them are based on long established technologies that have already reached a practical level of perfection, providing me with a level of immunity to advertising in these spaces.

The FMP Cutting Board

I previously mentioned that I install Rhodia pads in my Field Message Pad backwards, such that the thick cardboard backing is on top. This way when I open the pad, the cardboard provides a surface for writing on the back of the pages, where otherwise I would be writing on top of the FMP cover’s tool slots and the stuff carried within them. This means the other side of the pad has a less firm backing. On a fresh pad this is not an issue, but can become one as pages are consumed and the thickness of the stack of remaining pages is reduced.

My latest innovation in Field Message Pad technology is the addition of a cutting board.

FMP Cutting Board

I keep a number of thin HDPE cutting boards on hand at home. I don’t use these in the kitchen, where I care about my knives, but as project mats. If I’m gluing something, or cutting material with a utility knife, I’ll throw one of these mats down to protect the work surface.

I traced a 4x6” square out on one of these, cut it out with a utility knife, and gave the 4 corners a few passes with a file. The resulting piece slides down the back slot of the FMP cover, behind the notebook. With this underneath, and the Rhodia’s cardboard backing on top, I have a firm writing surface from the first page of the notebook to the last, on both sides of the page.

FMP Cutting Board

Being able to take notes on a stable surface while standing up, with the FMP in one hand and a pen in the other, feels like a super power.

Also, I always have an A6-sized cutting board with me now. Perhaps for impromptu charcuterie.

Screwing, Redux

Since I outlined it in 2018, my EDC tool kit has not changed much. It is still based around the same titanium Fix It Sticks, and intended primarily as a vehicular repair kit.

Sticks of Fixing

It is still carried in the same cuben fiber packing cube from Mountain Laurel Designs (since discontinued and replaced by the otherwise equivalent Ultra X 100 Packing Cubes), though said cube is much worse for wear. Some of the smaller bits have poked a couple holes in the bottom of the pouch. I’ve patched this with Tenacious Tape on both the inside and the outside.

The bit selection has been augmented slightly. Installed in the Fix It Sticks are my most frequently used 1/4” drive bits.

  • Torx T20s
  • Torx T25s
  • Phillips #2
  • Hex 4mm

In the bit holder, I carry additional 1/4” drive bits.

  • Hex 1.5mm
  • Hex 2mm
  • Hex 2.5mm
  • Hex 3mm
  • Hex 5mm
  • Hex 5mm x 50mm
  • Hex 6mm
  • Hex 8mm
  • Torx T8s
  • Phillips #0
  • Slotted 0.6mm x 4.5mm
  • 4mm MicroBit Adapter, holding a slotted 0.25mm x 1.5mm

Keen eyed readers will notice two 5mm hex bits. The longer, 50mm bit is needed to reach into my Gevenalle CX Shifters to adjust the mounting bolt. This longer bit can also be used to provide a turning tool to be used with my Pitlock key. (In 2018 I discussed using the longer Torx T25 bit for this. I now carry a standard length T25s, since I need the longer 5mm hex for the shifters.) My rear Phil Wood Touring Hub takes two 5mm wrenches to remove the end caps. Doing this allows the cassette to be removed from the wheel, providing easy access to repair a broken drive-side spoke without messing around with cassette removal tools.

Mini Knipex Cobra Pliers are only used infrequently, but are so useful when I do need them that I put up with their extra weight in the kit.

The Fix It Sticks tire levels and chain breaker still live in the kit, though I have been debating removing the chain breaker. It is compact but heavy, and it has been about 15 years since I last had an incident that required a chain breaker on the road. It would definitely be in the kit for any multi-day trips.

My Pitlock key is on a Flex-o-loc key ring. The ring also holds a spare KMC CL559R Missing Link, a Maratac Titanium Peanut Lighter, and a CountyComm Titanium Piccolo Capsule that holds two small security bolts.

A small cuben fiber zip pouch holds my patch kit and one FiberFix, including that little spoke wrench that comes with the FiberFix (annoying to use, yes, but agreeably small and light).

EDC Toolkit