Category Archives: Fitness

New Blog Launch — Bikeway Central!

Dear readers,

As you know, is on hiatus while I transition the site to a new platform.

Meanwhile, I’d like to invite you to visit Bikeway Central, my brand new site that continues on the eco-friendly theme but focuses more closely on my interest in bikeways, greenways, bike lanes, bike trails and so forth.

My goal is to provide a central hub for news and discussion of national (and occasionally) international efforts to build bike-friendly infrastructure that knits communities closer together, provides opportunities for exercise and gives us fun alternatives to complement our auto transportation network.

So without further ado, I hope you will take a moment to visit Bikeway Central.

If you like what you see, please subscribe to Bikeway Central updates, share comments on the posts and help spread the word about the new site.


Aaron Dalton, Editor,


Blog Talk Radio – Vapur, Radley London, Anvil Eco, YogaFit, ECOS, Skoy, GlacialLight and Sylvania

Tune in Wednesday March 17th at 8 p.m. Central Time (9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific) to the show on Blog Talk Radio for reviews of these eco-friendly products.

(If you’re unable to listen to the show live, you can always download it later and listen to it at your convenience.)

Have questions or comments about other products we’ve reviewed in the past? Call in to the show (347-945-6594) and share your thoughts!

Vapur 16-ounce Reusable Water Bottle ($8.95 via Amazon)

YoGen Mobile Charger ($49.99 via YoGen website)

Radley London Umbrellas and Totes made from post-consumer PET plastic bottles and other recycled materials.  ($50 for umbrellas, $35 for totes). Note that only the Nostalgia and Beside the Seaside styles within the Umbrella collection are made using recycled materials.

Sylvania Ultra LED high performance series 8-watt bulb ($29.98 via

Floodlight-style LED GlacialLight (GL-BR30, $44.95 via C. Crane Company)

ECOS Laundry Detergent ($46 for 4-pack of 100-ounce bottles via

YogaFit jacket made from 70% bamboo ($25.99 via YogaFit website) Correct link and image posted on 3/24.

Skoy Cloth 100% biodegradable cleaning cloth ($5.99 for a 4-pack)

Anvil Knitwear Eco (available for direct purchase here) collection including AnvilRecycled T-shirt ($10) made from 69% recycled cotton…

….AnvilSustainable T-shirt ($12) made from recycled PET plastic bottles and transitional cotton (grown on farms that are striving to obtain organic certification)…

….AnvilSustainable fleece sweatshirts ($37) made from a blend of organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles…

…and AnvilOrganic T-shirts ($12) made from 100% certified organic cotton

To hear reviews of all these products, discuss any past reviews on or talk about whatever eco-friendly products you’ve got on your mind, remember to tune in Wednesday March 17th at 8 p.m. Central Time (9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific) to show on Blog Talk Radio.

Disclaimer – All of the companies mentioned above sent me free samples of their products for testing purposes.

Update – Did you miss the live Blog Talk Radio broadcast? You can still hear the show at your convenience by clicking the button below…

Listen to Aaron Dalton on Blog Talk Radio

Favorite Products of 2009 — Epicurean Cutting Boards, Sylvania Living Spaces CFL bulbs, prAna Sutra Pant and much more!

Welcome to the second annual roundup of my favorite Green products I had a chance to review in 2009:

Cut on recycled cardboard? You betcha.

1. Epicurean Cutting Boards, particularly those made from recycled cardboard.

2. Sylvania Living Spaces CFL bulbs. Affordable bulbs offering the usual CFL energy savings with better-quality light. What’s not to like?

3. prAna’s tough but lightweight men’s Sutra Pant, woven from a combination of hemp and recycled PET. I have a feeling these pants will last for a long time. I’m pretty impressed with prAna’s total clothing line, which incorporates lots of bamboo, hemp and recycled fabric while using quality workmanship and cool designs.

4. Green Pieces affordable, biodegradable puzzles made from recycled paper and implanted with wildflower seeds. Great idea!

5. It wasn’t specifically marketed as a ‘green product’, but after six months of use I’m still super-impressed with the performance, size and especially the energy efficiency of my new desktop PC, the Compaq Presario CQ2009F. Of course, it was so affordable and efficient that Compaq discontinued it (grrrr…) but you can probably find similarly small and efficient PCs from various manufacturers now. If you’ve been using an older PC and you upgrade to one of these mini desktop machines, you could your computing energy usage by 60-70 percent!

The incredibly efficient GeoBulb-II is now much more affordable.

6. The incredibly energy-efficient GeoBulb-II LED light bulb. Using just 7.5 watts of electricity, the cool white version of the bulb is designed to deliver as much illumination as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. Note that the price of this bulb has dropped by 50% in just five months since I first reviewed this product. It’s now somewhat more affordable at $49.95. Meanwhile, the next generation GeoBulb-3 has hit the shelves, costing $99.95, but apparently using a tiny bit less energy (7 watts) to deliver more luminosity and last nearly twice as long (50,000 hours)!

7. A2B Electric Two-Wheeler. I rode several electric bikes in 2009. If price were no object, this is the one that I would buy. It was the most fun, the best-looking and offered the most comfortable ride. (If you look around a little, it seems like some dealers are now offering the A2B for a few hundred dollars under MSRP – i.e. around $2500.)

8. Reynolds Wrap 100% Recycled Aluminum Foil – works just as well as the non-recycled kind, but requires much less energy to produce and keeps trash out of landfills. Brilliant.

9. Soft, comfortable, durable and eco-friendly bamboo clothing from Ivee. For yoga, fitness or just lounging around, Ivee Bamboo Clothing has got you covered.

10. Dr. Oetker Organic Muffin Mix and If You Care unbleached baking cups. A muffin mix on the top 10 list? Oh yeah, these are some tasty eco-friendly muffins 🙂
And that’s all folks for 2009. Have a very merry holiday season and a wonderful New Year’s celebration. I’ll do my best to bring you reviews of lots more exciting Green products in 2010.

Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for making this site better, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I welcome your ideas for making even better in the year ahead.

Thank you for reading and for caring.

– Aaron Dalton, Editor,

Natural Fitness Soft Weighted Balls

The Product:

Natural Fitness Soft Weighted Balls ($15.99 for 2 lb set, $17.99 for 4 lb set, $19.99 for 6 lb set)

The Promise:

Natural Fitness claims to offer non-toxic and environmentally friendly exercise and yoga products.

The company’s products include yoga equipment made from natural, renewable and eco-friendly materials like cork, bamboo and hemp.

For its soft weighted balls (available in 2 lb, 4 lb and 6 lb sizes), the company has chosen the low-tech approach of encasing sand and iron inside latex-free vinyl.

The Reality:

Can vinyl ever really be eco-friendly? An interesting article over on Lavish and Lime suggests that the answer is yes.

We’re not totally convinced, but Natural Fitness does claim at least that it has developed a non-toxic, phthalate-free plasticizer for its PVC-based products.

Since phthalates are implicated in various toxicity/reproductive issues, coming up with a phthalate alternative would seem to give Natural Fitness the right to label its products non-toxic.

But of course without more information on the new plasticizer, we’re basically stuck having to trust Natural Fitness sight unseen. (We don’t mind trusting Natural Fitness, which seems like a perfectly nice company, but we tend to prefer the Ronald Reagan catch phrase, “Trust, but Verify.”)

We didn’t cut our soft weighted balls open (which would have rendered them useless), but based on the sounds and weight shifting feeling that the ball produces when shaken, we’re inclined to believe that the balls are in fact filled with sand and iron. Since there’s an awful lot of sand and iron readily available in the world, we think Natural Fitness made a good choice in picking these materials for its soft weighted balls.

The Experience:

Natural Fitness calls the soft weighted balls a “soft and fun alternative to dumbbells”.

We have to agree. Exercising with a dumbbell seems like serious work. For some reason, swapping the dumbbell for a soft, squishy weighted ball turns makes the whole experience more playful.

The softness of the balls seems to reduce the risk of potential injury (say from dropping a weight on your foot), and grasping the ball seems more comfortable and natural than holding a rigid dumbbell.

Incidentally, the moderate squishiness of the balls also makes them a nice alternative to dedicated ‘stress balls‘. Since stress balls are supposed to help relieve arthritis and help circulation, you get those benefits plus the strength-building resistance benefits of weight training in the Natural Fitness soft weighted balls.

(Any time you can eliminate the need for one type of product by improving the design of another type of product, you win a few extra eco points in our book.)

At the bottom of the soft weighted balls box, Natural Fitness includes an exercise chart with some ideas for using the stress balls. Some of these ideas (squats, curls, triceps extension) work with just the balls, while others incorporate other Natural Fitness products.

Overall, despite some trepidation about the vinyl and the lack of information on the phthalate alternative, we really enjoyed using the Natural Fitness exercise balls and think they make a good relatively eco-friendly workout option.

The soft weighted balls are made in China. A notice on the box says that product packaging and inserts are made from recycled materials, but both the insert and the box seemed awfully glossy. We would have preferred to see something a little less bleached and perhaps the use of non-toxic, soy-based inks.

FYI, many of the other items in the Natural Fitness product line made from hemp, bamboo and cork seem even more eco-friendly than the weighted balls.

Where to buy:

Online at the Natural Fitness website or other e-tailers like

Prefer to shop offline? Use the Natural Fitness Store Locator to find a health club, yoga studio or other retailer near you that carries the company’s products.

Most Dangerous on the Roads?

Here are some Chinese bicyclists who have stopped at a red light. See - it's not that hard to do! (photo by Matthew Stinson/Flickr)

Here are some Chinese bicyclists who have stopped at a red light. See - it's not that hard to do! (photo by Matthew Stinson/Flickr)

Who is most dangerous on the roads – car drivers or bicyclists?

From a weight and mass standpoint, cars are definitely more dangerous. In a collision between a car and a bicyclist, I think it’s safe to say the car will almost always win.

In fact, there is a ghost bike on the corner of my street that stands as testament to a child killed while riding a bike not too long ago.

New York City drivers, perpetually  frustrated by the congested roads and the slow pace of traffic, often take chances. As a pedestrian, I have been nearly hit countless times even when walking in the crosswalk with the light in my favor.

(To be honest, I have also taken stupid chances walking against the light.)

But while the majority of car drivers usually obey traffic laws, I have to say that bicycling around the city over the last couple of months has made me realize just how many of my fellow bicyclists routinely ignore the most basic traffic laws.

Bicyclists wanted to be treated with respect by car drivers, but they don’t want to have to play by the same rules. My two biggest pet peeves? Bicyclists who roll through red lights and bicyclists who go the wrong way down a one-way street.

Here's a bicyclist going the right way in a bike lane on one-way East 91st Street in Manhattan. Hint to other cyclists - if you're in the bike lane and all the cars are pointed toward you, YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! (photo by bicyclesonly/Flickr)

Here's a bicyclist going the right way in a bike lane on one-way East 91st Street in Manhattan. Hint to other cyclists - if you're in the bike lane and all the cars are pointed toward you, YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! (photo by bicyclesonly/Flickr)

The one-way street think really burns my biscuits, especially when there’s a bike lane going in the right direction only one street over. If a bicyclist rides the wrong way in the bike, his/her stupidity puts me in danger by making me veer out of the bike lane into traffic in order to avoid a head-on collision.

Like many things in life, a little respect and consideration for others would go a long way.

Give respect and you just might get respect. Play by the rules (at least the major ones), and car drivers might start to see you as another legitimate user of the streets rather than as an unpredictable, arrogant loose-cannon.

As an eco-minded cyclist, the behavior of other bicyclists particularly ticks me off because I think it reinforces in the minds of the majority that cycling is a behavior for loony daredevils and thus discourages people from biking. If more cyclists respected the rules, then the car driver or the bus rider might look over and think “Hey, that cyclist seems like a normal fellow. I could see myself doing that.”

So who is most dangerous? Car drivers by their nature or bicyclists by their behavior?

We want a lot from the powers that be – many of us want more bike lanes, bike paths, bike lockers, bikeshare programs, etc.

We’re only going to build broad support for these measures by convincing the rest of society that we’re not all self-absorbed egotistical maniacs. We need car drivers and public transport riders to see us as helping them – taking a car off the road or a body off the subway by choosing to ride our bike – not as a menace to everyone around us.

So like many other voices on the Internet, I’ll add my plea for bicyclists to slow down and take it easy. I know it’s a pain to break your stride, come to a stop and actually respect the red light, but try it!

Take a breath, watch the people strolling around, listen to the conversation or the music in the car next to you, gather your energy for the next bit of the ride.

The net result will be fewer accidents, less road rage and perhaps a few drivers in their cars and riders on the bus will even look at you and think, “That guy/girl seems alright. I could see myself doing that. Maybe I’ll try biking too!”

That would be good for cyclists and good for the planet.

PS – Brooklyn’s bike lanes seem relatively safe (at least compared to Manhattan’s streets), but separated cycle tracks would be even better! Check out the photos below to see a tiny section of cycle track being build at Grand Army Plaza near Prospect Park. Just a little bit of raised curb between cyclists and traffic can make a world of difference in the safety and comfort level of bicyclists (and maybe car drivers as well).

Protected cycle track under construction at the busy Grand Army Plaza traffic circle in Brooklyn, New York (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Protected cycle track under construction at the busy Grand Army Plaza traffic circle in Brooklyn, New York (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Protected Grand Army Plaza cycle track gives way to painted bike lane (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Protected Grand Army Plaza cycle track gives way to painted bike lane (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Eco-Travel in Colorado: Boulder, Fort Collins, Estes Park and Pawnee Grasslands

Hiking path in Boulder Colorado (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Hiking path in Boulder Colorado (photo by Aaron Dalton)

This just in – Colorado has mountains!

OK, it’s not exactly the newsflash of the century, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who ever flew into Denver (where I’d spent my entire previous trip to Colorado) and wondered whether the distant outline on the horizon was in fact the Rocky Mountain range.

Well, after spending a week in northern Colorado bouncing around between Boulder, Fort Collins, Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park, I can in fact report that the mountains do exist.

(Although truth be told they look remarkably similar up close to the fake mountains at the Disney theme parks, especially the Big Thunder Mountain ride. I kept expecting a theme park coaster full of screaming kids to materialize from behind an escarpment at any moment. Nonetheless, despite the resemblance, I’m prepared to believe that the Rocky Mountains are not just a creation of Uncle Walt.)

And now, with apologies for such extensive throat clearing, I present a few nuggets (pun intended) of information on eco travel in northern Colorado.

Boulder – The Denver Post has described Boulder as a “little town nestled between the mountains and reality.”

It’s true. Boulder is very close to the mountains – and it is a bit separate from reality. There’s a certain vibe here as though the 60’s never ended. Strolling around the pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall on a Thursday afternoon, my wife and I encountered a sizeable crowd sitting in the shade and listening to a duo of folk singers. I don’t think I had smelled so much incense in the air since graduating college.

Later that night, in the courtyard of the sophisticated yet comfortable St. Julien Hotel & Spa, a much larger crowd rocked out in unpretentious glee to the upbeat sounds of a Brazilian band, while women and children hula-hooped on a grassy lawn.

Here’s the best way I can sum up my experience in Boulder. When the valet at the St. Julien found out I was writing a story on the place, he told me how much he loved the town for its “gentle” vibe. I’ve never heard anyone else describe their town as gentle, but it really does seem to fit Boulder.

Anyway, back to the St. Julien. With its in-room recycling bins, its use of low-VOC materials (carpets, paints and wall coverings), its use of earth-friendly cleaning products and its decision to avoid any leather products, the St. Julien has a long list of eco-friendly qualities. The hotel’s restaurant – Jill’s – not only serves a seriously delicious buffet lunch (salads, pizzas, sandwiches, soup, fresh bread, etc.), it does so while sourcing as much organic produce and humanely-farmed livestock as possible, composting its food waste and recycling its cooking oil for the creation of biodiesel. The hotel recently planted an on-property herb garden to make sure Jill’s had plenty of locally-grown ingredients for its recipes. Some of these same herbs are then incorporated into the St. Julien’s spa treatments. Expect to pay approximately $240-260/night for a room at the St. Julien this fall.

Prickly pear flower in Boulder Colorado's Chautauqua area (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Prickly pear flower in Boulder Colorado's Chautauqua area (photo by Aaron Dalton)

We took advantage of another eco-friendly perk at the St. Julien — free use of cruiser bikes for hotel guests. The cheery bikes look cute and retro, but the lack of hand brakes may frustrate some riders. That grumble aside, the hotel is practically across the street from an entrance to one of Boulder’s nicest bike paths that threads alongside Boulder Creek.

The St. Julien also sits close by the Chautauqua Park area, part of more than 45,000 acres of open space land owned by the city of Boulder and managed by the department of Open Space and Mountain Parks. The Chautauqua area is not only convenient to downtown, it contains a variety of trails leading right up to the famous Flatirons rock formations that serve as beautiful backdrop to the town.

You’ll frequently see Boulder appear at the top of city lists for its livability and healthy environment. For example, the town attracts a wealth of athletes who come to train in its sunny, high-altitude environment. But it’s the community that really makes Boulder special. The city is proud of its claim to be the first city in the U.S. to tax itself for the acquisition, management and maintenance of open space back in 1967. The city’s residential green building code dates to 1996 – another first.

That community has attracted the type of people who own Green companies including Namasté Solar, IZZE sparkling juice, Pangea Organics (previously reviewed on, Horizon Organic, Fiona’s Granola and Ellie’s Eco Home Store.

Delish beet salad @ Black Cat Farm Table Bistro in Boulder (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Delish beet salad @ Black Cat Farm Table Bistro in Boulder (photo by Aaron Dalton)

The city is considered to be a fine-dining destination. We didn’t spend enough time in town to confirm or deny that reputation, but I will say that chef Eric Skokan’s Black Cat Farm Table Bistro cooks up some awesome organic and local dishes. I was particularly impressed with the beet salad (sliced paper thin) and the cucumber soup (refreshing and clarifying on a warm evening). Service was warm, friendly and informal – par for the course in Boulder.

In short, it’s a bit silly trying to describe everything that’s eco about Boulder. Let’s just say that Green-minded folks will breathe deeply of the clean mountain air and feel instantly at home. For plenty more Green info on Boulder, visit the Environment page of the Boulder CVB.

Amazing cyclists on the beautiful Peak to Peak Byway - the roundabout route between Boulder and Fort Collins (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Amazing cyclists on the beautiful Peak to Peak Byway - the roundabout route between Boulder and Fort Collins (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Fort Collins – This college town (home to Colorado State University) has a great reputation. Among the many awards won by the city, residents seem fairly proud of the  2006 designation by Money Magazine, which called Fort Collins the best place to live in the U.S.A.

More recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council placed Fort Collins #3 on a list of ‘Smarter Cities’ based on environmental standards including use of renewable energy, creation of green space, encouragement of alternative transportation and energy-efficient building techniques.

Speaking of alternative transportation, the 280+ miles of bike lanes and 30+ miles of bike paths have helped Fort Collins achieve a Gold level designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community. Recently, the city installed new bike racks downtown with the help of New Belgium Brewery, a local institution praised as much for its eco-sensibility as for its awesome microbrews.

Visitors to Fort Collins can take a tour (and tasting) at New Belgium, learning why the brewery’s signature beer is called Fat Tire and about the important role bikes play in the company’s culture.

I have a lot of respect for companies and communities that are willing to put their money on the line alongside their Green sensibilities. Just as the citizens of Boulder took a hit to their pocketbooks when they voted to tax themselves to preserve Green space, so too did New Belgium’s employees take an economically irrational decision back in 1999 when they voted unanimously to give up profit-sharing bonuses for 10 years in order to pay a premium for wind-powered electricity.

Full bike rack outside New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado (photo by theregeneration via Flickr)

Full bike rack outside New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado (photo by theregeneration via Flickr)

New Belgium also has a sweet policy of giving employees a free cruiser bike on their one-year anniversary with the company.

Meanwhile, the company isn’t slowing down on its efforts to become Greener by diverting more waste from landfills and planning installation of a solar photovoltaic array. Basically, I came away super-impressed by New Belgium’s ability to turn challenges into beautiful eco-friendly solutions. Faced with the destruction of the state’s beautiful lodgepole pine forests by beetle infestation, New Belgium decided to use some of the fallen dead trees to build its new packaging hall. When the company had to find a better way to treat wastewater from its brewing and packaging activities, it built its own treatment facility that captured methane gas and used it to power a co-gen plant that supplies up to 15% of the company’s electrical needs.

And did I mention that the beer is pretty tasty? 😉

Incidentally, Fort Collins also has other well-regarded microbreweries (Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins Brewery and Coopersmith)  and a massive Anheuser-Busch macrobrewery.

Fort Collins also has an ambitious project underway to create the world’s largest zero-energy district. Called FortZED, this district encompasses the historic downtown and the main campus of CSU, aiming to reduce energy demand and simultaneously meet the remaining demand with Smart Grid technologies including wind and solar energy.

Colorado State University also plays a major role in Green research and development. The university’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory (EECL) looks for ways to make engines more efficient and investigates potentially useful biofuels like algae. If you happen to be visiting Fort Collins with a group of at least 7 other eco-minded friends, you may be able to organize a tour of EECL by contacting Stacy Grant at CSU.

While in Fort Collins, eco-minded visitors might like to sample the yummy organic/vegan fare at Tasty Harmony. I enjoyed the jackfruit taco and the awesome berry smoothie.

If you’re looking for a little adventure, Mountain Whitewater Descents offers rafting trips on the Cache la Poudre river, Colorado’s only Wild and Scenic River. I’d been rafting once before and had unintentionally gone swimming a couple of times on that previous trip, so I was a little anxious about the ride, but the Cache la Poudre trip actually turned out to be just the right mix of relaxing floating and adrenaline-pumping rapids. MWD’s prices range from $49 to $109 per person for half-day or full-day rafting trips. (Since the rafts are human-powered and go downstream with the current, the experience seems relatively benign and eco-friendly for the river. Of course, there are diesel-powered buses involved in bringing the rafts and people upstream to the put-in point, so the experience can’t be classified as totally eco-friendly, but MWD does give back to the environment with an annual river cleanup, tree-planting to offset carbon emissions, purchases of wind-power credits (with a goal of being 100% wind-powered) and donations of 2% of gross receipts to non-profit organizations. The company also lives the recycling credo in its everyday life by re-using salvaged lumber and materials in its office and recreation areas.

Oreo - resident cat at the Armstrong Hotel - needs a bigger chair (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Oreo - resident cat at the Armstrong Hotel - needs a bigger chair (photo by Aaron Dalton)

If you’d rather park your car and spend your time walking and biking around Fort Collins, I’d suggest staying at the Armstrong Hotel, a 1923 landmark that was restored in 2004. With free wi-fi in every room, a great location and free cruiser bikes available to guests, the Armstrong was a great home base while in Fort Collins. Cat lovers take note — lazy kitty Oreo seems to spend all day snoozing away in the chair next to the front desk and is perfectly happy to be petted whenever you like.

If you want to get out of town and enjoy nature, the city of Fort Collins does have a Natural Areas Program funded by citizen-initiated taxes and encompasing more than 32,000 acres of land suitable for hiking, biking, bird watching and horseback riding – most of which are open from early in the morning (5 a.m.) until late at night (11 p.m.).

Two other quick eco tidbits about Fort Collins. The city has a Climate Wise program to help businesses figure out ways to reduce waste, save energy, conserve water and promote alternative transportation. And in case you’re not staying at the Armstrong, there’s also a local Bike Library in Fort Collins where you can borrow a bike for up to 7 days at no cost.

Oh and in case you’re in the market for a lithium-ion powered tricycle, I just read about a new electric bike shop called RunAbout Cycles that relocated to Fort Collins.

Morning view across lake in Estes Park, Colorado (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Morning view across lake in Estes Park, Colorado (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Estes ParkEstes Park is one of the gateway towns for Rocky Mountain National Park, which gives eco-minded travelers more than a quarter million acres of rugged land with almost 360 miles of trails, 150 lakes and more streams, vistas and wildlife than you can shake a stick at.

If you’re looking for non-motorized ways of exploring the beautiful countryside around Estes Park, consider a horseback ride from Aspen Lodge or an exhilirating downhill bicycle tour with Colorado Bicycling Adventures.

(Be sure to wear warm clothes on the cycling tour. I was freezing in just a t-shirt in the middle of July. I also was happy that I’d taken the relatively gentle North Fork tour rather than the windswept, high-altitude Trail Ridge Tour. Plus the North Fork riders get to enjoy the awesomely delicious cinnamon rolls from the Glen Haven General Store.)

If you’re looking for a good meal in Estes Park, consider the Rock Inn, which we found to have a comfortably casual atmosphere, welcoming service and even some organic ingredients on the menu (coffee, tea, apples, quinoa, etc.). You might also enjoy the unbeatable lakeside view in the Shores Restaurant at the Lake Shore Lodge hotel.

The clear mountain air and high elevation make Estes Park a lovely place for star-gazing. Amateur astronomers will get a thrill out of visiting the newly-opened Estes Park Memorial Observatory with its 16-ft. diameter observatory dome, its Meade 12-inch LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and its gracious staff. The observatory has two open houses scheduled for August (15th and 29th), but I believe you can make appointments to visit on your own at other times by emailing the observatory directly.


Timeless shortgrass prairie and modern wind farm practically invisible on the far horizon at the Pawnee National Grassland (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Pawnee National Grassland – For most tourists, Colorado equals mountains for skiing, hiking or just sightseeing. But the fact is that much of the Eastern section of the state consists of high prairie. Most of this high prairie has been developed for farms, ranches or cities, but you can still see nearly 200,000 acres of the grassland in their native form at the Pawnee National Grassland.

This is definitely the road less traveled. Conditions can be extreme on the grasslands – very hot and dry in summer, dangerously cold and snowy in winter. But if you’ve got a hankering for wide open spaces and a desire to see something like the views that the first caucasian settlers must have seen as they crossed the plains, the grassland can’t be beat.

As a bonus, the Grassland has a reputation as a world-class birding destination where bird enthusiasts come to see raptors, hawks, burrowing owls, thrashers, lark buntings, numerous kinds of sparrows and literally hundreds of other species of birds. Guides to the Pawnee National Grassland urge birders to do their birdwatching from the car so as not to disturb birds or scare them away from nests. Since the Grassland is actually a patchwork of private and public land, staying on the numbered roads is also essential. And since many of those roads are unpaved and not even graveled, be sure to check the weather reports since rains can apparently make many of the roads impassable.

Your intrepid editor hiking the Pawnee Buttes on the Pawnee National Grassland

Your intrepid editor hiking near the Pawnee Buttes on the Pawnee National Grassland

If you come to the Grassland, make a point to seek out the Pawnee Buttes, remnants of an ancient landscape that has been mostly eroded away by the action of wind and water over millions of years. A hiking trail leads to the base of the Buttes – just be sure to watch your step to avoid cacti and prairie rattlers.

If you’d like to spend a night out on the grassland, you can try to get a room at the West Pawnee Ranch B&B. For more creature comforts, the most convenient urban base close to the Pawnee Grassland would be the city of Greeley, an interesting place in its own right that began in 1868 as a utopian agricultural colony founded by Nathan Meeker, agricultural editor of the New York Tribune. Meeker named the town after his editor at the Tribune, Horace Greeley, whose name has become inextricably linked with the 19th Century ralling cry, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

Today, the country has certainly grown up and moved on. The countryside that Americans like Meeker, Greeley and others knew less than 150 years ago has mostly disappeared, but remnants like the Pawnee Grasslands endure and provide a glimpse back into another world.

Well…even the view isn’t quite untouched. On the horizon, a line of bluffs marks a boundary with Wyoming and a wind farm atops the bluffs provides an inspiring clean energy sight. I think this might be the Ponnequin Wind Farm owned by Xcel Energy.

If your curiosity for the Pawnee National Grassland has been aroused, definitely check out these gorgeous photos of the Pawnee Buttes by Rick Dunn.

(I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked in Greeley, but the town seems to be home to some interesting cultural attractions including Kress Cinema & Lounge and The Greeley Philharmonic – oldest continually running orchestra between St. Louis and San Francisco!

Afterthoughts –

1. Prius – I had a chance to drive a Toyota Prius for the first time in Colorado – not the new 3rd-generation Prius but the second-generation version. I’ll save a full review for when I get a chance to test drive the 3rd-generation car, but generally I was very impressed with the vehicle. Green Car Congress notes that the 1st generation Prius had a combined mileage rating of 41 mpg, the 2nd generation car had a mileage rating of 46 mpg, while the 3rd generation Prius has a combined mpg rating of 50 mpg.

Amazingly, even at high altitude and with lots of uphill mountainous driving (and of course lots of corresponding downhill rides), I managed to get over 50 mpg in the 2nd generation Prius. This gives me great home for achieving even better mileage in the 3rd generation car. I found the car’s feedback system simultaneously exciting and annoying — I liked knowing exactly what impact my driving habits were having on fuel efficiency, but I also found that it distracted me a bit from the road, the scenery and the pleasures of driving.

Still, in the end, 50+ mpg can’t be beat. I loved driving around Colorado for a week and then topping up the tank for $16 and change.

2. Denver Airport Solar Array – On my way back into the airport to fly home to NYC, I noticed a large solar array on the approach to the airport. This is certainly the biggest airport solar installation I’ve ever seen and one of the biggest solar arrays I’ve witnessed firsthand. Information online indicates the array generates more than 3 million kWh of electricity, enough to provide half the energy for the underground train that connects the terminals at DIA.

I also noticed that some of the limited-access highways near Denver allow bicycling on the shoulder of the road. What do you think of that? Clever idea or recipe for disaster?

OHM Electric Cycles – Urban XU500

OHM Urban XU500 electric bicycle

OHM Urban XU500 electric bicycle

I have a new appreciation for New York City’s bike messengers and delivery guys.

Most of those cyclists use regular bikes – I was on a brand new OHM Urban XU500 cycle with a long-range 28V 12Ah Lithium-ion powe pack and 250W auto-assist hub and I still felt like I’d been put through the wringer after biking from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn.

OHM says that the XU500 can go 20 miles per hour, but I wouldn’t know since I had to stop every few hundred feet to avoid nailing a pedestrian, a cab or a delivery truck parked in the bike lane.

(Most of the time there was no bike lane – then I was just avoiding double-parked cars and trucks.)

And even though the handy NYC Bike Map shows a bike path alongside the East River, the reality (as I was warned by Mark at NYCE Wheels, where I picked up the tester bike) is that the East River path is barely wide enough for pedestrians much less cyclists.

So I ended up racing down 2nd Avenue, then West to Lafayette and south again onto the Brooklyn Bridge, where all the soot and other airborne crap that I’d been inhaling from cars, trucks and buses sent me into a coughing fit that lasted pretty much the entire length of the bridge.

Thank goodness for OHM’s electric assist or I don’t think I would have ever made it home!

OHM bikes offer four levels of electric assistance – I kept the bike on maximum assist (200% boost) or nearly maximum assist (100% boost) pretty much the entire ride. At that level of assistance, I think I drained perhaps a quarter of the battery over about 10 miles of mostly level biking. That’s pretty darn amazing, actually, since it suggests the OHM XU500 might be able to go 40 miles on a charge.

(For comparison’s sake, the A2B Electric Two-Wheeler reviewed earlier this month gets 20 miles per battery.)

OHM Cycles logo

OHM Cycles logo

In fact, it looks like my tester bike performed better than OHM’s own specs, since OHM suggests the XU500 should have a maximum range of 24 miles at maximum assist and 29 miles at the next-highest level of assistance.

Update – The battery did drain a bit faster on another day, going down perhaps 1/3 over about about 8-9 miles, so that’s closer to the range estimate that OHM provides.

So why did I get greater range? One part of the answer might have to do with OHM’s clever regenerative braking technology. Basically, I think this works the same way as on a hybrid car like the Toyota Prius. When you hit the right hand brake, the bike captures some kinetic energy and feeds it back into the battery.

Super nifty.

Even niftier, the OHM Cycles don’t just come with an Assistance mode, they also come with a Generation mode. Basically, the Generation mode adds resistance to your pedaling and then captures this energy to recharge the battery. That’s right – you can recharge the battery on the fly without waiting until you get home to plug in the bike.

(OHM also suggests placing the bike on a stationary bike stand and using the Generative mode to recharge the battery while simultaneously giving yourself a cardio workout. Pure genius. Theoretically, it seems like you could recharge the battery without ever plugging in the machine.)

And speaking of recharging the battery, OHM says that the battery can recharge to 90% capacity within 20 minutes or fully charge in 3 hours.

I didn’t time the battery to 20 minutes, but I did remember to look about an hour after I plugged it in and the OHM’s display registered the battery as fully charged. Pretty sweet.

Since I live in Brooklyn, I brought the OHM XU500 up into my apartment to recharge it and park it, but if you bike to work and have the opportunity to store the bike in a secure area, you could easily detach the battery pack, carry it into your office, plug it in under the desk, unplug it a few hours later, store it in a drawer and then carry it down to reattach to the bike for your commute home.

Incidentally, at the lowest level of assistance (25% power boost), the XU500 is rated to provide 55 miles of pedal-assist. So if you just need a little help, the OHM cycle could keep you moving for quite a lengthy ride.

The top of OHM's urban line - the XU700 bike

The top of OHM's urban line - the XU700 bike

According to the folks at NYCE Wheels (who know their electric bikes), OHM uses top quality components in its cycles including Molicel® batteries, which OHM claims will recharge to 100% capacity over approximately 500 cycles and then gradually decrease to 80% capacity over the next 500 cycles.

OHM has also managed to make the XU500 a good bit lighter than the last electric bike I rode. Where the A2B tipped the scales at more than 70 lbs., the OHM XU500 weighs less than 50 lbs. You’ll appreciate that lighter weight if you have to carry the bike up or down any stairs.

What else did I like about the OHM experience? I was happy with the quality of the aluminum frame and the Newport saddle. I liked the fact that the bike had mudguards, a sturdy Topeak Explorer Tubular carry rack on the back and Busch & Muller headlight and tail light for safety. (The system for turning on and off the lights was a little confusing since it involved holding down the same button also used to turn the bike on and off, but with a little practice, I was able to figure it out.)

As you can see, there is a lot to like about the OHM XU500, but is it all sunshine and roses? Not quite.

There were a few ways in which I felt the XU500 fell a bit short in comparison to the other e-bikes I’ve ridden, namely the A2B that I tested earlier this month and the Muji bike that I rode in Japan.

Suspension – This might not be a fair comparison since 2nd Avenue is a mess compared to most of the downtown streets and the Hudson River bike paths where I rode the A2B, but I definitely felt the bumps quite a bit more with the XU500. Maybe the A2B’s extra weight helped it eat up some of the shocks. Whatever the case, I definitely felt a bit shaken up by the time I got home.

(Side rant to whoever dug the trench inside the 2nd Avenue bike lane – Bike riders can feel bumps in the road much more than car drivers! Please smooth over the pavement for real next time rather than just dumping in some asphalt willy-nilly.)

Twist throttle vs. Pedal assist – Some electric bikes (such as the A2B) have a twist throttle mechanism that propels the bike forward even if the rider hasn’t started pedaling yet. This sort of ‘stealth scooter’ action seemed a bit sneaky to me when I was testing the A2B, but in retrospect it makes a lot of sense for city riding since it allows the rider to easily accelerate from a stop at a traffic light. Pedal assist is nice in terms of giving you a bit more of a workout, but I think it’s better suited for riders who have the luxury of nice bike paths, light traffic or a rural/suburban route with few stop signs or traffic lights. For city riding, I think I’d prefer twist throttle over pedal assist.

OHM is proud of its BionX torque sensor that it says “automatically responds to the way the rider pedals and provides a smooth natural sensation.” Again, the guys at NYCE Wheels had only good things to say about the BionX, but I prefered the more forceful push delivered by the Japanese Muji bike. I suppose the lesson here is that even if you do decide on a pedal-assist bike, you should test a few different models to find out which type of power boost you like best.

Sexiness Factor – I mentioned in the A2B review that the bike was a conversation starter and drew a lot of admiring stares and comments. The OHM XU500 looks more like a regular bike. As such, it probably won’t get as much attention. I think the OXM XU500 looks nice, but it doesn’t have the va-va-voom of the A2B.

Snap! – Remember those bumps I mentioned on 2nd Avenue? I hit one of them, heard a ‘snap’ sound and the next thing I knew, the SRAM MRX twist shifter was feeling awfully loose. I rolled to a stop and watched in dismay as a small piece of black plastic fell to the street. Yep, the shifter had broken within about the first 3 miles of riding. Not a good sign. Luckily, OHM cycles come with a 1-2 year warranty (depending on the part of the bike), but it was still more than a little disappointing to have the shifter break so quickly. It made me wish that the XU500 bike had the trigger-type Shimano shifter found on OHM’s XS Sport bikes.

The slightly-more-affordable OHM XU450

The slightly-more-affordable OHM XU450

Price – The OHM XU500 costs $2,699 through NYCE Wheels. That’s the same as A2B’s MSRP. And just like I said with the A2B, I still think that’s pretty expensive.

(To illustrate the potential for sticker shock here, a New York bus driver opened his door at a stop light on 2nd Avenue to ask me where he could find the electric bike I was riding. He seemed interested — until I told him how much it cost. I’m just saying…)

If you have a shorter commute, you can save a few hundred dollars with the OHM XU450, which seems identical to the XU500 according to OHM’s specs except that the battery only provides 16 miles of assist at maximum power and 20 miles of assistance at the next highest level of assistance. (As mentioned earlier, the XU500 is rated to get 24 miles of assistance at max power and 29 miles at the next highest level of assistance.)

So what’s the bottom line? I really liked the fully-equipped feel of the OHM XU500, and I was particularly impressed with the range, the recharging time, the regenerative braking and generative settings. I also appreciated the design, the safety features, the performance of the hydraulic disc brakes and the relatively light weight of the bike itself.

On the other hand, I wish the OHM Cycles were more affordable and that the XU500 gave a somewhat more dramatic assist. Some people might like what OHM describes as the “smooth natural sensation” of the BionX sensor, but I wanted something more obvious and potent. I also was disappointed with the fragility of the SRAM shifter.

Other than the broken shifter, I’d have no hesitation in recommending this bike for a test ride to someone with relatively deep pockets searching for a pedal-assist electric bike.

Where to Buy:

In New York City, NYCE Wheels carries some OHM Cycles and can provide expert advice on e-bikes in general.

If you’re not located in New York, you can still order an OHM Cycle through the NYCE Wheels site for a $200 shipping fee.

Alternatively, you can use the OHM Cycles site to find a dealer near you in the USA, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Germany or Spain.