Five Ten Freerider MTB Shoes

After upgrading my stock pedals to Shimano Saint MX80 Flats I discovered that my hiking shoes were no longer up to the job, their tread pattern was too open so didn’t grip the pedal pins, my feet would move around on the pedal too much.  After looking into what others use with flat pedals I decided to try the much-recommended Five Tens, as luck would have it they were on sale so I picked up a pair of Freeriders.

What a difference the Five Tens made, they gripped the pedals like glue compared to my hiking shoes, this combination were a world away from my old stock pedals.

If there is one niggle it would be that they feel a little tight across the top of the shoe, as a consequence the sole of my foot feels compressed against the sole of the shoe and in cold weather feels numb after a while; I will need to try the next size up at some point, I am normally somewhere around 8.5 – 9 in UK shoe size, 9 is 43 in Euro size.  The problem is made worse in the winter of course as I need to wear thicker socks to keep my feet warm, the Five Tens are not waterproof so waterproof socks are a consideration along with a woollen sock inside that.

In conclusion the Five Tens were a very good investment for me, on the Saint MX80 pedals they provide just the right level of grip which I should be able to improve by extending the pedal pins (if I’m feeling brave!)

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Shimano Saint MX80 Flat Pedals

My mountain bike came with a pair of those cheap shop-fitted pedals, the kind they fit just so that you can use the bike and quite honestly expect you to throw away within a week; I used these for over a year, I struggled with them as they were one-sided and often rested with the wrong side up, so I ended up trying to pedal on the pedal axle rather than the platform.  Eventually, after doing some research and umming and arring, I decided to buy a decent pair of pedals.

For a long time I looked at the Superstar Nano-x with Titanium axles in black, they received good reviews and looked to fit the bill for my strong, light-weight ideal requirements, however I decided against them for two reasons – one was the cost, at £85 for the pair it felt like quite a price for something I wasn’t sure about yet, second reason was nobody seemed to have heard of Superstar Components, meaning that I might have difficulty finding spares (or have to pay through the nose for them).

I decided to play it safe and go for the market leader – Shimano – selecting the Saint MX80 as a good solid looking pedal that seemed to be in every bike shop.  I heard people saying there were problems with them but so far I haven’t experienced any, at the same time the Shimano pedals all have a reputation for being completely serviceable, with cheap and readily available spares and bullet-proof reliability through thick and thin.

I’ve had the pedals on for the winter and found no problems with them at all, they have helped my riding style and confidence enormously so I would recommend them to anyone; it’s easy to get hung up on what the in-crowd think you should be riding but at the end of the day if it works and I’m not in a race where every gramme of weight matters, it really doesn’t matter if they are 20g heavier than a pair that costs twice as much.  I think with any product there will be people who have a bad experience, these are usually the voices that are heard the loudest when they leave reviews, there will be a lot more people who are perfectly happy who never leave a review.

I use Strava to keep a record of my efforts while out on my bikes, the time improvements with these pedals was staggering – no more looking down or trying to flip the pedal over to the flat side when I should have been concentrating on enjoying my ride and making the next turn.

When combined with Five Ten flat mtb shoes the Saints have turned out to be a great upgrade for me, I also discovered that there are orange pedal reflectors available which I added for winter riding on the road to and from the trails, a good road safety feature for those dull winter days or in case I find myself out after sunset.

 

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Celestron CG-4 Mount DIY 6V Battery Project

The CG-4 is probably my favourite astronomy mount – it has very sturdy thick tripod legs, a good solid feeling mount, has space for a polar scope (which I have purchased separately and fitted to mine), and can also be driven by dual motors for RA and Dec control.

When I first started using the CG-4 I tried it with the manual slow motion controls, this was fine but it soon became a bit of a chore to have to keep winding it on, especially as I was not very good at polar alignment (still not that great at it), I decided to go for the upgrade to dual motors.

The motor drive kit came with the controller, motor units with gears already attached, and a big battery holder pack, however I found inserting and removing batteries to this big plastic battery holder difficult, I also looked up batteries and read on numerous sources that the large D cells that this holder took were usually just AA cells in a larger casing, not a true ‘bigger’ cell inside at all; rather than spend extra money on a charger and rechargeable D cells (which cost a small fortune for anything really good) I decided to try battery adaptors – two AA cells in a plastic D cell casing, just like the internet sources said was in actual D cell batteries anyway – and this worked quite well for easy charging of the AA batteries, however I was still left with the cumbersome large D cell battery pack.

My first thought was that I could simply lose the D cells completely and, at the expense of some Ah, just use an AA battery pack instead, here’s what I put together (ignore the BNC connector in this photo, that was from a different project):

This small, light AA battery pack provided the same 6 volts that the much larger D cell battery pack did, at about half of the Ah but that was never really a problem for me; this AA battery pack was then easy to slip into a cheap compact camera case that I could hang off the mount accessory tray.  The power cable was custom added by me with connectors so that I could easily remove it from the mount.  I used this pack for a while but still wanted something a bit more powerful as rechargeable AA batteries don’t hold their charge very well if left for a while and I was liable to forget or not be ready when a clear sky event happened, I decided to go bigger.

I did my research and eventually went for the Yuasa Y4-6 6V, 4.0Ah C20, which is a sealed lead-acid battery in a small tall form factor, fits perfectly in a medium-sized compact camera case for hanging from the tripod or accessory tray.  Again, I added custom wiring using Fast-On battery connectors and plastic covers, although I don’t need to remove them for charging as I made a small additional wire with metal contacts for connection to the battery charger I purchased for charging it.  An in-line fuse holder on the negative wire, available from any auto accessory shops such as Motosave, prevents any short circuits from causing a fire in the cabling; it has a 2A quick-blow fuse in it which should be more than enough for the wire I use.

This lead-acid battery setup works very well so far with the CG-4 mount, I can’t comment on tracking accuracy as I’m not able to finely measure this, I can say that I haven’t had any problems with low power that I occasionally experienced with the D or AA batteries (mostly because they had discharged by themselves before use – the lead-acid battery holds its charge for a long time if stored at room temperature).

I have made a similar setup for my larger NEQ6 Pro mount, using auto power sockets instead of the smaller connectors, more on that in another post.

 

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DIY Spectroscope

As it was the last day of the holiday season I decided to clear away a few things, at the bottom of the pile on my desk was a plan for a spectroscope which I had downloaded from http://www.iucaa.ernet.in/~scipop/Obsetion/spectro/iucaa_mvs_spectroscope.pdf, printed out but not got around to mounting on card and putting together, so it was now or never.

Here are the results, it took me about 30 minutes to construct, a fun little project.  I then proceeded to run around the house looking at all the different light sources I could find like a kid with a new toy on Christmas Day!

The photo of the spectrum doesn’t really do it justice, some energy saver light bulbs had definite strong lines whereas others had a more even distribution across the spectrum.

This is something I could get quite interested in, watch this space in case I can translate that enthusiasm into something tangible.

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DIY Baader solar film binocular filters

While the solar observing specs are on back-order I decided to have a go at making some binocular solar film filters, so ordered an A4 sheet of the Baader solar film and downloaded the Baader instructions.  While the translation may have lost out on one or two small things it was very easy to follow the guide to build my own objective filters using the film and some white card.

The view through them is better than I had imagined, there is some granularity visible (like a gradient around the edges of the sun giving it a spherical appearance) and right now I could see three large areas of sunspot activity.  The colour is white as advertised, with shades of grey and black.  I could just make out the branches of a tree that were close to the sun, probably just their shadow I could see as they blocked some of the sun’s energy.

As per the instructions, I held both filters up to the bright daylight to check for any pin prick holes before using them with the binoculars.  They are a snug fit for sure, no chance of them coming off once they are firmly pushed on.

These fit my 8×42 Bushnells, I’m sure a larger pair of binoculars would show an even better view.  I may attempt to make one for my 102 refractor with the remaining portion of the A4 sheet.

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Celestron 8SE Power Socket Replacement

Note: This is a post I made at stargazerslounge.com in 2012, pasted here for my own blog.

Finally, I think I’ve cracked it. I’d always had some dicky power connection problems with my 8SE mount, and even after replacing the plug on the end of my SkyTron power cable with one that I believed was a better fit, it still showed problems. I ordered matching plug and socket from Maplins, but even then it was all too easy to lose power from just the slightest tug on the cable.

While I had the mount apart (the power socket and switch are on a convenient panel which unscrews – it is not necessary to dismantle the whole mount to remove this panel, it is just a couple of screws) I had a closer look at the socket.. no wonder it is so easily disrupted, the main center pin is fine, it’s the pathetic small outer contact that is the problem; it doesn’t connect to the main metal part of the socket chassis as I expected, but is a small contact right at the bottom of the socket, meaning that the slightest movement could break the contact. This may be fine for most applications of this socket type but where there is a chance that the cable may be snagged it is a terrible choice in my opinion.

I had read somewhere about replacing it with a BNC connection, or saw another scope that used one, something like that, so that is exactly what I have done.

One order of matching BNC socket and plug from Maplin’s later…

Maplin parts:

http://www.maplin.co…sis-socket-1570

http://www.maplin.co…onnector-476116

(despite the picture on the Maplin website, it is silver in colour and not gold)

I needed to make my own hole in the plastic panel but this was easy enough to do with a small drill bit and some needle files to finish it off; I was careful to trim the hole so that it has a flat edge for the BNC socket, otherwise it would be possible to rotate the BNC socket which would make using it more difficult.

One trick I missed but got lucky with was marking which wire goes to the center pin (positive), I had to take a guess at their relative positions as I had removed the old socket. If I were to do it again, I would mark the wire with a red marker pen or such as they are fairly nondescript grey ribbon cable wires that disappear into the mechanism.

I made sure that I applied heat shrink to all of the connections to prevent any dew droplets from causing a short.

A quick test and it all works, the connection is rock solid and I believe should never break under normal conditions. The wire would probably get pulled out of the BNC plug before it broke due to the BNC losing connection! Perhaps that is a slight loss of a ‘safety feature’, but in my experience if the cable is wrapped around it will be pulling sideways and would not pull the plug out of the socket, if I snag my foot on the cable, well that would be my hard cheese.

It should be noted that I am fairly competent with a soldering iron, but if you can solder small wires together neatly then that should be all the skills required.

I’ll probably plug the hole with something. I’m optimistic that this should be the end of the power problem, only time will tell, the real test will be at 12am on a cold January morning.

And further posts that I made on the thread…

It should be noted that after some experimentation it turns out that the BNC plug from Maplin is not as good as it could be… I originally tested the BNC socket using a different BNC plug, but the one from Maplin is a slightly different design (not as good, in my opinion). The metal flanges that surround the center pin need to be pushed outwards slightly, as it is these that contact the outer metal of the socket chassis (on the inside of the shaft). Difficult to explain if you don’t have a BNC socket handy for reference. The one I tested with had a white plastic collar inside that kept these flanges out – see pic below:

Whereas the BNC plug from Maplin was like this:

For the sake of a fraction of a penny’s worth of white nylon it is suddenly not as good. Those metal flanges need to be kept pushed slightly outwards to make good contact, otherwise when the plug or cable are moved or pulled it can break the contact and result in the mount / handset resetting. I verified this by trying it with the flanges pushed in and then pushed out, out being very solid. Not sure how long it will keep functioning well, but I should at least know what the problem likely is if it shows any signs of intermittent power.

I’m not sure where one buys BNC plugs with the white collar, this one came from an existing cable that I picked up from a car boot sale (sealed unit, I won’t be taking it apart).

A further update regarding the BNC plug…

I picked up a couple of right-angle BNC plugs from an electronics shop in town, they have the white collar (I asked about the collar, the guy said he’d never heard of a BNC plug without one and gave me a bit of a quizzical look). Here it is on the end of a Skytron cable:

Fits well, works like a charm, and as a bonus doesn’t stick out as much so shouldn’t snag. Requires no soldering too which is handy.

And then finally an idea for a safety release cable:

I realise there is another trick here to help with the snagging cable potential problem.  The BNC connection is fine, but an added safety feature could be an in-line plug and socket that will pull apart should the cable be snagged suddenly.  I have already used such a pairing in a custom power lead configuration for my CG-4 dual axis set up (I wired up a regular 4xAA battery pack instead of the bulky 4xD cell battery pack).  If this was installed a foot along the cable from the BNC socket it would be easy to reach and find, I don’t foresee any intermittent contact problems with this method because the plug and socket pair I purchased are rock solid and fit tightly together, in fact the original SkyTron cable would probably fit this socket.

Here’s a photo showing the 4 x AA battery pack with short fly lead to a connector, and the two connector types, which I use to drive my CG-4 mount.  Also the BNC right-angle connector just because it was to hand (used with the 8SE, not CG-4).  These two connectors are a very firm fit, think I bought them from eBay – bought about ten of each (male and female) in case I wanted some for future projects, they were so cheap it only came to a few quid.

I have since sold my 8SE Goto mount as I was no longer using it for anything and needed the space.

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Astronomy!

This is a hobby I have not really gone into any detail about here yet but one that I have invested quite a bit of time and money in for a few years now.  Time to put that right.

My first telescope was a Celestron 8SE, a decision that I deliberated over for quite a while as I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of binoculars for one reason or another.  The 8SE is an 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope, or SCT, which is a fairly decent size for a first telescope and a keeper for some time to come; the electronic goto mount was the weakest part and that has now gone (sold it to someone who uses it for solar observing with a much smaller telescope), the problems with the 8SE goto mount were mainly that it was at the weight and size limit for the 8SE Optical Tube Assembly, or OTA, and there was no room to add more parts to the 8SE such as a different focuser or big heavy eyepieces and diagonals, there just wasn’t the room or stability.  Another thing that I found disappointing was the power socket for an external 12v supply – despite several attempts to cure it I just could not prevent it from dropping the power mid-session, this was due to the poor contacts inherent in the design of the chosen socket; maybe not all of them suffered from this but mine did with the socket that was fitted so I replaced it for a BNC, very secure and never faltered again, although by the time I finished that modification I was ready to sell the mount as I had already switched to using a bigger manual mount that could accommodate all of the extras I had fitted to the 8SE OTA, but more on that power socket modification in another post.

The 8SE OTA is a great scope for lunar and planetary observing, and bright objects that you want to get zoomed right up to, it is not so great for dim wide field objects such as faint nebula although it certainly works well on the Orion Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy as they happen to be the brightest of their kind.

The replacement mount I spoke of earlier is a Skywatcher NEQ6 Pro SynTrek, a non-goto guiding mount that can handle a lot of weight and size, although the largest scope I have fitted to it to date is the 8SE it should easily be able to handle a 9.25, 11, or 12 inch SCT should I choose to upgrade to one in the future, so it was an investment really.

Since starting out with the 8SE I have purchased several other telescopes, mounts, and binoculars, all with specific purposes and specialities in mind, as well as ancillary pieces of equipment that all aid in the enjoyment of the hobby.

That’s all for now, more when I can be bothered!

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Cycling catch-up

Over the past few years I have progressed quite a bit, going from owning an old Dawes Galaxy touring bike and a hybrid bike that I rarely used to owning a mountain bike and a cyclocross bike and venturing out every weekend, averaging about 35-40 miles each time.  This did not happen overnight by any means though.

The hybrid bike is a Claud Butler with 700x38C tyres, alloy frame and wheels, V-brakes, typical Shimano triple chainring and chain set.  The hybrid tyres allowed me to venture off tarmac but also rolled well enough to enable quite long rides, the furthest I went was 60 miles which is still about the furthest I have been.  After exploring the wilderness around my local area, which includes numerous bridleways, footpaths, and forest tracks, I learned which are bike-friendly and which are overgrown mud alleys, so now I know pretty much exactly where I can go for a decent ride.  The local forests are at the top of a hill in either direction, there is no easy way up to them, this has been to my advantage as it means I am spoilt for choice of small country lanes up the hill which all lead to the forests, and I have been forced to improve my hill climbing ability and general cycling fitness; once up there I can ride along the top or venture down the other side out onto open moorland. The hybrid served me well, I upgraded the handle grips to a pair of ergo ones to help with shooting nerve pain from the grip position, this helped a great deal to keep me going out on the bike.  During this time I also invested in and upgraded my cycling clothing and other bits and pieces, increasing my enjoyment and making life a lot easier in general when out on the bike; I went from tracksuit bottoms and t-shirt / jumper to proper lycra padded trousers / shorts, cycling jersey and long-sleeved top, with windproof cold / wet weather jersey, headband to protect my ears from the cold, winter cycling gloves, fingerless cycling gloves, and numerous other things too.

I take my Garmin Dakota 20 with me to mark waypoints along the way, helping me to pick out landmarks and work out interesting routes, places to avoid, dangers on the mountain bike trails, and to know where I am in the middle of the forests on the maze of forest roads – a map generally isn’t much use here as one crossroads looks much like another.  The GPS also records my route so I can analyse this when I get home and upload it to Strava to share with friends.  I have considered a dedicated cycling GPS but the price just seems prohibitively expensive for something that doesn’t really do anything more useful than my Dakota 20 already does.

I decided that if I was to tackle and enjoy the forest trails properly then I should look at getting a mountain bike, I read a lot of reviews and opinions on the internet and eventually took a gamble on a 29er hard tail that was on sale as an ex-demo bike in a local bike shop, I snapped it up and it turned out to be a perfect match for my style of riding, which by now had become quite fast and unrelenting, zipping up and down the roads and forest tracks.  This bike is not suited to the technical parts of the mountain bike trails, however it is excellent at the uphill and fast sections so those are the parts I tend to ride, the trick for me is finding ways to miss out the technical sections as the forest tracks tend to take me a long way around and sometimes don’t meet up with the other end of that particular section at all, I’m still exploring this part.

During the time I rode the hybrid extensively and moved onto the mountain bike for trail riding, I lost probably two stone in weight and went down a couple of belt holes.

With the hybrid definitely out-grown I decided I wanted a better bike for use predominantly on the road, the eventual decision was a cyclocross bike, mainly for its riding position of slightly more upright and relaxed compared to a road racing bike, and still very capable of some off-road fun.  The bike came equipped with Rocket Ron 700x32C mud tyres which I rode for a total of 330 miles before noticing the rear had started to wear down, time to upgrade to some proper road tyres; I purchased some Panaracer TourGuard Plus tyres, classed as city tyres these are designed to cope with bumpy streets, gutter rubbish, water, muck and bullets, you name it these tyres should survive it.  First ride out on them this weekend was a great success, they roll so much better than the mud tyres and offered me plenty of grip on the tarmac, felt more grippy in the wind too as I couldn’t feel the bike wobbling about as much under me.

So that’s where I am at the moment – averaging about 35-45 miles each weekend, more if I ride on the roads, less if I’m in the forests on the mountain bike trails.  I’ll be detailing some of the kit I’ve purchased over the past few years in later posts.

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Tamiya Lunch Box

Purchased this as one of those essential classics, but then got carried away reading about all of the modifications in forums.  I ended up modifying the front suspension, adding the third shock at the back, replacing all four shocks, fitted alloy body pins and a cross-beam at the front of the chassis to prevent bending of the plastic chassis.  I test-drove it after completing it as a stock build to see how it was, pretty much just as described – bounced around all over the shop and made some rather alarming banging sounds from the suspension, that was just casual bashing around the driveway too.  After modifications to the suspension the difference was a marked improvement all-round.

The body was painted using Tamiya TS spray paints, first fine white surface primer which was sanded with very fine wet and dry, then several TS-16 yellow top coats that were sanded with wet and dry between coats to get a very smooth and glossy finish; it’s not car showroom perfect but still pretty good.

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General update post

It’s  been a while since I posted anything here, mainly because I’ve been too lazy and always forget.  In this post I’ll just do a little update on some of the things that have been happening that I might start posting more about here.

In the past year or so I’ve been getting out on my bike regularly each weekend, the mild winter has helped with this despite some very windy days.  I purchased a mountain bike and suddenly found myself being re-introduced to cycling, but it was not the old cycling I knew from when I used to go out regularly as a teenager, technology and trends have moved on a lot since then.  I now have new tools, new knowledge, and new bike maintenance equipment, as well as some proper cycling gear (yes, that means lycra and a padded bottom).  I refurbished my old Dawes Galaxy as best I could without a complete strip-down, still needs more work but it’s smoother than it was.  I have mainly been riding my Claud Butler hybrid bike, it is a very easy and comfortable bike to ride (which is why I bought it after having ridden a similar bike while on holiday in California), and fitted a few accessories to make the rides more fun and also to record my journeys.

The other main thing I’ve been doing is building radio controlled vehicles including buggies and rock crawler trucks.  To date I have built the classic Tamiya Lunch Box, Sand Scorcher, and am currently on the Fox (now re-released as NovaFox), as well as an Axial SCX10 rock crawler.  I can definitely see where my attraction to these comes from, as a boy I always loved those motorised toys – tanks, buggies, and hill climbing 4×4 (called Stompers, I seem to recall), when I think about that now it’s obvious why I’ve chosen the 1/10 scale radio controlled models that I have now.  I didn’t realise it at the time but I owned a miniature version of the Fox, the very 1/10 scale model that I am building right now, as I recognised it instantly while perusing the Tamiya range recently.

I have also been interested in photographing and recording wildlife around where I live, this is on a separate blog which is in my links.

That’s it for this update post, more detailed posts to come soon.

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