Friday 1 December 2023

Winter is, ahem... winter.

If one more person tells me that "Winter tyres make no difference on ice" or that "It's not worth buying winter tyres for three days a year!" I swear to you, I'll... well, I won't do anything, really. I'm already writing this strongly worded article on the subject, and that's about as aggressive as I get, frankly. But I do pride myself on smiling sweetly (most of the time), and saying 'Riggggghhhhttt..." when I feel like yelling "Are you a f***ing moron? Shut up!"

Still, people need to be disabused of their delusions sometimes, so here we go.

Winter tyres are for winter. They aren't special magic tyres for Arctic conditions. They are for winter - anytime the temperature is 7ºC or less, even on a dry road, you'll be much better off on winters. The tyres most Brits have on their cars are called "summer tyres". They aren't "normal tyres" or "road tyres", they are for summer, to maximise grip on warm road surfaces. And that means warm like Europe. I looked at the average max/min temperatures for Birmingham and conclude that we are better off on winter tyres October through May (inc) so if I could only afford one set of tyres, I'd be on winters year round.

Now, that ice thing. Here's a video:
If you get up to go to work or drive your kids, and it's slippy, or just damp, or it's 7ºC, your car will steer and stop a lot better on winter tyres. If you crash your insurance excess will be probably be more than those tyres would have been. But it's not about you. It's about not crashing into an innocent pedestrian, or damaging other peoples property. Or clogging up the roads so that the trucks (that might otherwise have managed just fine in the snow) can't get to the shops with MY food. Selfish, is what it is.

By the way, by winters I mean, actual winter tyres. As per the video, all-season tyres don't even come close. Neither do M+S (mud and snow) tyres, or the big chunky tyres that came with your 4x4. The latter two are strong in some conditions, but do not have the  general cold-weather stopping and steering performance of winter compounds.

So, four wheel drive. We need to talk about this. Four wheel drive can be a massive advantage in slippery conditions, or it can be a liability. If you're driving a Land Rover or 4x4 jeep or pickup truck like a Hilux then you are probably going to be doing better than most, even on shonky tyres. Same goes for a 4x4 car designed for rallying like the original Audi Quattro, the Mitzi Evo or Subaru Impreza, Lancia Delta Integrale, Sierra/Escort Cosworth, etc. Other 4x4's, not so much. Most of the other luxury 4x4's, the 4x4 SUV's and other random things, they don't have the right kind of technology for really slippy conditions. Basically if your 4x4 doesn't have the ability to lock (or seriously lim-slip) its diffs, including front to back, you're just going to get stuck the moment one wheel loses traction. Which is kind of worse than a two-wheel drive car.
A soft-roader, faux-by-four, or as a friend put it, "Four by f-all"
We did an experiment with a highly rated 4x4 SUV on full winter tyres and it still couldn't make it up the road as far as my old Ford Transit could with RWD and no limited slip diff!

If you don't understand what the hell I'm talking about above then you probably don't have the right kind of 4x4 for the snow and ice.

Having said all that, here's a disclaimer: winter tyres mean more grip in cold dry weather, in cool damp conditions and in the snow, and on ice. They are not a brain transplant or a cloak of invincibility. Do not drive like a twit.

To recap, here's a short list of things that don't seem to work terribly well in the winter:

Summer tyres
All-season tyres
M+S tyres
4x4 SUV's
Driving fast
and the brains of non-snow-dwellers, apparently.

Friday 7 January 2022

The mainstream news media is usually wrong. But it's the best we have.

The mainstream news media is usually wrong. We know this. Well, I do, anyway - because every single time I've read or heard an article that I had insider knowledge of (like, I witnessed the event myself, for instance), the coverage has been woefully inaccurate or downright wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Not a scientific study, I realise, but the consistency of my experience leads me to believe that I cannot (or should not) treat any news report as gospel truth. It's just way too unlikely to be right.

Enter the "new" news. Social media has spawned myriad dot-com news pages that the cynical and the conspiracy theorists love to share, because they appear to be the antidote to the dry, old and reputedly biased trad media. These pages, according to popular belief, are a breath of fresh air, telling us the truth behind the lies and blowing away the smoke and mirrors of the bastard political elite.


I'm not talking about stupid memes that people share because they reflect their own political agenda. Those are all bollocks, but no. I mean serious sounding websites, usually with "art", "science" or "health" in the title, which purport to educate and inform. I have bad news for you...

Many, if not all of those articles are written by pillocks like me. For next to no money. With little or no regard for fact-checking or in fact anything except hitting the word count in the shortest possible time.

Back in the day when I was a bit desperate for cash, I would take any writing gig I could get, so I stumbled across these "agencies" that provide writing work to freelancers. You have to pass an infantile writing test and then, boom! The editor emails me a list of subjects:

Deodorant - 800wds
Space Exploration - 700wds
Is the taxpayer footing the bill for the Royal Wedding? - 1000wds
The Large Hadron Collider turns up another new particle - 500wds
The world's banks are really run by the Rothschilds - 700wds
I made these up, but you get the picture...

You have about two days to write ten to twenty articles and you get paid a set amount for the lot, if and only if they all conform to a set of guidelines, which was a bigger document than the contracts for any of the books I've written! The point is that I know nothing about these subjects and just Google quickly and write them quicker still; I worked out that if I wrote as fast as I can I could earn about £3 per hour. The editor pastes the words in and the content goes out as informative material. But, with the best will in the world, it's crap.

The purpose of these articles is only to get you to the site and expose you to advertising. That is almost exactly the same business model as a newspaper, but the perpetrators do not care at all about accuracy when it comes to social media. If a few people rubbish the claims and start an argument that just means more exposure and more ad clicks.

If I was writing for The Independent or something, they'd only use me for work that I knew something about. Like kayaking. Or snow. These "agencies" would just send a list of seemingly random subjects to me and say "Do it."

I realised pretty quickly that I didn't want to do this work, but there are a lot of unemployed, stay-at-home parents, wannabe writers, or just desperate people who are still doing it. I suppose that by not sharing this nonsense on social media, we are potentially depriving people of their income, but for the greater good I suspect that perhaps we shouldn't.

Monday 1 November 2021

The Wizard Stick

 Here is the NEW Wizard Stick paddle from Mega:

Disclosure: I am a Mega Team Rider, and I was given this paddle to review. However, like the magical sitar from the movie Moulin Rouge, I only speak the truth. The words in italics below are the official Mega claims. The rest is me.

Mega are renowned designers and laminators of sexy composite boats, most famous for their surf kayaks (market leaders since 1991), but also sea kayaks, open canoes and even a playboat! Now they are trying their hands at the magic of paddles. Weighing in at just 850g, the new Wizard Stick is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Mine is carbon blade with sky shaft (history lesson about pole-vault poles, Google it), and I've gone for a length that I can use for surfing (but it's a bit long) or sea kayaking (but it's a bit short) or whitewater, for which as you might guess it's perfect! Medium blade (745cm/sq).

I've snapped paddle shafts before, including a sky pole; one over the deck of the boat 'cos I landed flat from 40', and another by jumping on it. But unless the shaft is damaged already, a more likely outcome is a catastrophic failure of the blade or joint.

"The carbon paddles are made from carbon fibre multi-directional prepreg laminate."


"The shafts are 30mm and inserted into a 70mm long sleeve in the neck of the blade for extra strength."


I can't tell if they're strong, but they look strong. The joint is a bit bulky because the designers have erred on the side of Mega-strong, and the blade looks as if an inch-thick pile of carbon fabric has been put in an autoclave and squashed paper-thin under Mega-tons of pressure. Which it probably has! (See what I did there?)

Hmm, no dihedral... Is this even gonna work? Dihedral is the principle of shaping the drive face like the convex side of a spoon rather than the side you eat from. The slight loss of power stabilises the blade and prevents flutter. The only paddles that don't have dihedral are usually in slalom or other power-hungry applications, and the immense forearm strength of the athletes is relied upon to control the flutter. Until they retire with wrist and elbow injuries. No... we like dihedral.

"The blades are spoon shape tip to tail and flat across the middle plane with a thin profile to bite the water efficiently with no flutter."

Are they now? This doesn't sound right. So I took 'em paddling. The only way to be sure...

I have many sea kayak paddles, from G-stick to long touring Euro blades, but I like to go out fitness training in my Inuk (fast sea kayak) with short slalom style paddles just for the workout it gives me. Enter the Wizard Stick. I put a few miles in on the Tamar estuary where I live. There's no flutter. There's less splash and more power than with my slalom paddle. What is this witchcraft? Damn...

"Very light - almost all flex has been eliminated from the blade, so the power output is immense."

This is true. There is flex in the shaft, though, just the right amount to give the paddle that "living thing" feeling like a wooden paddle and protect my ageing joints! I love sky shafts and have done since Werner first used 'em way back when. They're incredibly strong with just the right (minimal) amount of flex, and the ovals for the hands are much nicer than most. Speaking of ovals, the Mega paddle seems to have less than usual, which worried me until I used them and it felt great!

One problem I've had in the past is with the Skypole having a greasy feel so that I had to use surfboard wax to give me a confident grip. The Mega one is slightly different, with a matt finish almost as if it's been sintered. No grip problems here.

OK, so it's my new favourite paddle. But I haven't exactly tried it in its element. I put the paddle away and kept checking the surf forecast for a day I could a) surf and b) take decent photos, but another opportunity came up first; a massive rainfall on Dartmoor brought the rivers up big, notably the Dart. I was pencilled in to do a boat test, so after the school run, I found myself bowling across the moor with whitewater boats and the new fave stick. 

In my head, I was going to get some photos of the boat doing its thing and some of the paddle for this review. With snapper Kate on the bank with a DSLR, I seal launched into the pumping river, painfully aware that I hadn't been on whitewater for a year (or in this boat ever), and a strange thing happened. I forgot about the paddle. Completely. I was thinking about the somewhat general-purpose boat, how to use it, how to get it to surf a wave that most people can't surf even in playboats, and I forgot I had a new paddle. I think this is the best accolade possible. It just works. And I did paddle the surging floodwaters, and I did surf the difficult wave, and the paddle didn't make me adapt or think or anything.

So, perhaps I'm biased or just lucky (probably), but I think it's perfect.

It's also available with glass blades, carbon shafts, bent shafts, bla bla... But mine is the best. End of story.

I will use it for surfing when the right day comes. But in the meantime, I'll use it for everything I can!

Friday 23 October 2020

Sorry about the radio silence...

It's been a while! I decided I would shift the emphasis of this blog to my then embryonic personal training business, and then there was a toddler, and then Covid-19. I seriously underestimated how time-consuming toddlers are, especially when you're stuck with 'em 24/7. But no regrets. It's been great to be able to spend so much time with her.

Now, onwards. I'm writing some PT and personal development stuff; it's very progressive and closely aligned with my philosophy, one that regular readers are probably familiar with. If you're new to my ramblings, it may or may not be for you. The next post might be called something like "Your goals are not the answer".

Watch this space, and in the meantime, don't forget to breathe...

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Soul, baby...

It's past Easter, and in the northern hemisphere that means more people start to think about the upcoming watersports season. For me and my whitewater tribe there's no off season - in Britain, unusually, the whitewater boating happens in the rainy (ten) months of the year, most of which are concentrated in the autumn and winter. But for most people, now is the time. Now that we've got the snow (!) out of the way, it's the season to dust off the toy cupboard and realise that the correct number of boats to have is always n+1, where n is the number you have already...
I'm excited about the new crop of slicey playboats, like the Mixmaster and whatever Shane's called the LL boat I said he should call Slicey McSliceface. But I'm getting a Soul 303 and F Bomb, for reasons that may become clear if you read to the bottom.
My daughter, on the other hand, is three years old. She knows nothing of slicey, of three-dimensional hydro-gymnastics or anything else of that ilk. She just wants to float in wonder, look at ducks, and bounce over little waves shouting "Wheeeee!" So I got her the Terrible Two (tandem whitewater kayak) and the Minime (toddler upwards kayak). Here's my experience of them.
I knew the Minime was going to be small but I didn't picture quite how small. It's tiny! But as soon as my 2yr old got in (she got it for her 2nd birthday) I could see that she was only just big enough to paddle it and won't grow out of it for years, maybe not until she's eight. It is a beautifully made boat with great styling and graphics and simple yet effective outfitting drawn from Corran's own experience with his kid. It looks at first glance as if it's a playboat, with a planing hull and rocker breaks, but the overall volume and its distribution is more practical than that. I reckon it will look after the little ones when they finally transition to solo white water boating. The really magic feature though, is the flip down skeg. At the flip of a switch the long skeg swings straight down and keeps the tiny ones, who initially paddle entirely in sweep strokes, from the frustration of zig-zags. The skeg kicks up easily if they paddle into shallow water.
It's hard to picture what kind of paddle a little person is going to need so we got a supercheap (£7) plastic thing online to get started, knowing that it can break down into oars for her raft or be modified to make a better paddle. It was too long and too thick so I transplanted the blades onto a bit of plumbing pipe and we continued to experiment at low cost. Currently she has a wooden squirt-stick style paddle I made out of a broom handle and some plywood!
Initially though, she was much happier going out in the tandem Terrible Two with Daddy. The TT is very different from whitewater doubles like the Topo Duo / Dynamic Duo. The front cockpit is the same as the Minime, which works as a big open cockpit for a toddler but will soon work to brace and roll with a spraydeck on as they get bigger. The volume has been distributed accordingly. Because of this, it doesn't paddle like the Duos. Those boats are reminiscent of end cockpit C2's with a big effort by both paddlers required to make the moves. In the TT the boat turns around a point somewhere under the rear paddler's knees, which means that it can be controlled entirely from the rear with good effect. As someone who paddles pretty much in a constant bow rudder/draw/scull//pull fusion on rapids, I appreciate that a lot. I'd be happy to put a cockpit cover on the front and paddle grade 4 in this boat. When the munchkin is in the front it makes little difference to me - I just wouldn't take her down big rapids for her sake. Grab handles for the front paddler are a cool feature though. If she gets alarmed she can drop her paddle and grab these - Brace! Brace! Brace!
On the side is what I call the "suitcase" handle. Basically I can just pick up the boat and carry it like a suitcase. Which brings us to weight. It's not heavy. The yellow ones are a bit lighter than the others. The TT comes in at 19kg. That's awesome. Because realistically I will be carrying that and all my kit, plus the Minime in the other hand, probably, whilst my babygirl toddles alongside.
Finish. Most plastic kayaks look a bit disappointing, in my view. Like something that fell out of a Christmas cracker, but with a mysteriously stratospheric price tag. These boats are quite simple but so nicely finished, with a mix of shiny and textured areas, great 3d graphics, and handles and fittings that look very robust and high quality. The moulded outfitting for the standard seat is attractive and functional. The kid's seat looks a bit simple and thin/cheap, but it's in effect a baby power-seat, and doesn't need to be heavy to support a child's weight, and allows us to stick foam pads in there to stop small people from falling to one side of the boat. It adjusts fore/aft and up/down without tools.

Other brands are available. They just don't make boats for toddlers.

Monday 5 November 2018

Press-up Challenge

Press-ups (or push-ups), 200 per day. Simple. Earlier in the year, inspired by something I saw online @gymfcks I thought I'd pump the pecs and sort out my lower back lordosis in one fell swoop; spring was coming, planks are boring, and this is a great way (for me) to get through the day; interspersing it with endorphin-boosting intervals.

If you'd like to join me, just go for it! Film each set on your phone or action-cam (with or without toddler hindrance) join 'em together and speed it up - tag me @itsmattos on Instagram, Twitter, FB or whatever you have! Looking forward to seeing other people's sets. Any type of press-up - you might be a minor deity doing one-arm push-ups on a TRX strap or a starter for ten doing them on your knees. I'm going for a mix of wide, narrow, assymetric, incline and decline - doing about twenty on the hour through the day. It works wonders for my mental health and it can't hurt on the fitness front, either!

Saturday 23 December 2017

Sitting, standing, kneeling...

Canoe & Kayak UK - photo © Pierre Mellows 
Only because I  found it on the internet, to be quite honest, but this lovely photo by the talented Pierre Mellows was shot for my first foray into writing about SUP for print. Interesting composition works really well here (it's a DPS so there's a fold down the middle), and the canoe shot is not what anyone expected. Thus lulling the canoeing and kayaking readers into something or another and circumventing the expected backlash from the anti-stand-up-community... maybe. Why people can't all play nicely together is beyond me. Sitting, standing or kneeling, it's all fun...