Monday, September 29, 2014

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura MDX FWD Tech post #2

Second update
Current mileage: 4,963

Lately, most of my time with the MDX has been as a passenger. From the passenger seat, the MDX is still extremely comfortable, but it offers a lot more time to examine the material quality of the cabin. While most surfaces live up to the touch test, a few pieces that would be less noticeable when one is focused on the task of driving are under far more scrutiny from the right side of the cabin. Take the controller for the upper screen, which hardly gets much attention since I tend to rely on a combination of the touchscreen and voice control from behind the wheel, but playing with it from the passenger seat makes it feel slightly less premium. The motions and actions are all well-damped, but the controller itself begins to feel slightly plasticky after extended use. If Acura were to craft this from real metal, or at the very least, surround it with a veneer of real metal, it would go a long way towards making if feel much nicer.

Of course, the backseat is quite comfy. Spending several hour-long car rides back there does not feel at all like being a second-class traveler, unlike flying economy-class these days. In fact, leg room is more than plentiful and the ability to adjust the seat fore and aft offers even more flexibility to stretch out. While there are not a ton of amenities without the Rear Seat Entertainment Package, it is still a plenty enjoyable place to be and even full-size adults should have no problems spending a couple of hours back there, watching the scenery go by.

As a beast of burden, the MDX is excellent, with a huge amount of available cargo space. The airport pickup or Goodwill donation run is absolutely no contest for the MDX's rather cavernous rear hatch. With the third row seats folded, I was able to easily fit several suitcases and folding the second row seats offered up room to fit 6 large boxes and several odd sized objects. Hopefully by the next update, I'll have had a chance to throw our bikes in the back to see how easy they are to carry and transport, ideally in conjunction with a longer road trip for a little more time behind the wheel.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Road Trip: Rocky Mountain High (Cross Country Road Trip Ep. 5)

After some delicious KC BBQ, our road-weary travelers, now more than halfway across the United States, are back on the road and driving through the plains of Kansas. Catch up on the last installment of their adventure here.

A late morning start put the Rocky Mountains in view around late afternoon. At first, little more than a faint outline in the distance, the profiles of the jagged peaks came more sharply into focus as time passed and the sun sank in the sky. The corn fields of Kansas in our rear-view, we began the climb up to the Mile High City, arriving on the outskirts of downtown Denver just as the sun set. Dinner that evening at Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs included some interesting selections (pheasant and rattlesnake, anyone?), though it was the blackened cauliflower that was the real highlight of the evening.

The next morning, we biked downtown for breakfast, before reloading all our gear in the TSX and setting out for Mt. Evans, the highest paved road in North America. Despite the thinning air taking a massive chunk out of the TSX's performance, the winding road as we raced for the peak proved enjoyable nonetheless, each switchback and hairpin revealing ever more breathtaking scenery. The ascent revealed the excellent chassis control and communicative steering of the TSX, but also just how direly this well-developed chassis calls out for a light-weight, high performance motor, preferably of the forced-induction variety.

As we reached the parking lot just below the peak, we could look back down the mountain and see the tiny strip of asphalt that we just climbed. At over 14,000 feet, the air is thin and the impact is immediate as we take our first few steps. We grabbed a day pack with our camera and began the short hike to the highest point.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Road Trip: Missoura (Cross County Road Trip Ep. 4)

We rejoin our travelers as they depart from the state of Tennessee and continue their journey out west. Missed the last episode? Click here to read it!


Back on the road, quickly find ourselves leaving Tennessee and entering Kentucky. The weather continued to be unpredictable and lashed out with bouts of heavy rain as we headed north on I-65 through the rolling hills. Our journey today would take us further west, but before we hit St. Louis, we wanted to squeeze in a quick visit to one of places every car nut should find the opportunity to see: the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY.

The museum, which is located right near the factory where all Corvettes are produced, houses one of the most extensive collections of Corvettes
in the country and includes everything from prototypes, classics, and current models. There are also several fully decked out race versions that have competed at LeMans, in ALMS, and other sports car racing series where the cars were dominant in their performance class. The massive concrete structure is also home to the now infamous Corvette swallowing sinkhole that devoured several cars earlier this year, including at least one virtually irreplaceable collector car that was on loan to them from a customer's private collection. For any fan of racing, car design, and American sports cars, there are few places that feel as complete and thorough in its admiration for a single vehicle as these hallowed grounds.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Road Trip: Tennessee (Cross Country Road Trip Ep. 3)

The journey has taken our travelers down a large portion of America's eastern coast and deposited them in the fiery furnace that is Hotlanta. We pick up the trail again and join our travelers as they head to Tennessee. Missed part 2? Click here.

After loading up and bidding our hosts farewell, we got back on the road and aimed the TSX northward towards Tennessee and the city of Knoxville. Knowing nearly nothing about the city, aside from the fact that it was near the Great Smoky Mountains, we both looked forward to the visit, especially since it was an opportunity to see some friends we had not seen in a while. Since the stay would be short and our hosts were themselves returning from a road trip, we decided that we should take the opportunity to visit downtown Knoxville and relax a bit, possibly sneak in a massage before dinner.

Of course, things never go quite as planned. The combination of a bit of traffic and at least one detour as we were leaving Atlanta resulted in us being a touch behind schedule. As much as we tried to take advantage of the higher speed limits to make up for lost time, we were going to be getting into Knoxville a bit later than expected. It was not really any cause for concern, of course, since we had budgeted plenty of time. Then the low fuel light came on. Normally, this signals that there is approximately 2 gallons of fuel left in the tank and at our current rate of travel, we easily had plenty of range to make it into Knoxville and then gas up. 

As we arrived in Knoxville, the remaining range display on my dashboard went to zero, so fueling up was to be our first order of business. Unfortunately, it appears that top tier brands are not popular around downtown Knoxville because we struggled to locate one nearby and ended up having to drive a little ways to eventually find one. We followed Google Maps, thinking that the information would be relatively up to date, but the first option was a dud, dropping us at a sketchy-looking run-down location that clearly was not an active gas station. We changed course and found another option not two miles away. Rounding the corner, I could see the station off in the distance, just beyond the next set of stop lights. At precisely that moment, the engine voiced its displeasure with a cough. I nursed the car to the light, keeping it moving and trying to optimize the use of momentum, but the car was fighting back at this point. The light went green and I gently nursed it through, hoping that we had enough momentum to make the last 30 feet, but alas, no such luck. The TSX unceremoniously sputtered out as I attempted to turn into the gas station.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Road Trip: Asheville and Atlanta (Cross Country Road Trip Ep. 2)

When we last left our intrepid travelers, they had just spent the day exploring the Finger Lakes. In today's installment, their adventures continue to take south along the East Coast of the United States. To read part 1, click here!

After a good night's sleep, we packed up the car, bid farewell to our cabin, and set course for NYC, where we would be seeing some friends for dinner. On the way out of the Finger Lakes area, we made a quick stop at Watkins Glen International Raceway, because the gasoline flowing through my veins would not allow me to be so close to a race track without stopping for at least a look. Our drive for the day took us through Pennsylvania and back into New York before we arrived in NYC during the late afternoon at the Chelsea Pier. The stop in NYC was brief, but hectic and we spent that evening in Princeton, NJ with friends before heading out to DC the next morning to see some family and friends.

Day 5 opened with us in familiar territory as we headed towards Charlottesville, VA, a city we have visited several times. The original intention was to stop in the area for lunch, but progress was so good that we continued on and actually made it onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. This was my first opportunity to drive this legendary road and it was a blast, low speed limit and all. However, it actually was not the BRP itself that impressed me the most, but rather Route 56, a tiny twisty two-lane highway that connects the BRP to Lee Highway and I-81. The TSX performed like a champ, dancing through the corners with aplomb, its weight distribution no doubt a bit more balanced by the presence of our luggage and bikes towards the back. While it would have been fun to stay on the BRP the entire way into Asheville, we had hundreds of miles to cover so we opted to take the most direct route for the remainder of the day, which would take us through several states and all manners of stunning terrain.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Editorial: Why gas? The Question Should be "Why Electric?"

Image courtesy of Extreme Tech
If anyone has watched TV, YouTube, or Hulu lately, you may have seen a new Nissan Leaf commercial. In this commercial, a man from Nissan's marketing and sales division extols the virtues of the Nissan Leaf and electric cars. The commercial ends with the marketing and sales goon asking, "why gas?" I really did not think anything of this commercial until something interesting happened on my way to work one morning.

As I drove towards the 405 freeway, as I do every morning, I noticed the on ramp that I usually take was unusually crowded. When I had finally made it on to the freeway, traffic was still flowing at a crawl. I thought to myself, "traffic is usually slow, but not this slow!" Inching further along, I finally saw what has holding up traffic. A man with a blue Nissan Leaf was attempting to limp his car on to the shoulder from the carpool lane. Clearly, this fellow did not charge his car and let it run out of power, causing a huge traffic jam.

Image courtesy of Cars.com
"Why gas?" I thought as I amusingly watched this fellow slowly try to get his car over to the right shoulder. "Because stupid shit like this doesn't happen with a gasoline car!" That is not to say that a driver in a gas powered car would not run into a similar situation. If you run out of gas, you would probably have to limp your car off the freeway as well. However, the difference is the gasoline car can be back on the road far quicker than an electric car. If you have AAA or any other roadside assistance service, a tow truck will bring you enough gasoline to get to the nearest gas station. Even if you do not have AAA, all it takes is a gas can and a trip to the nearest gas station to get your car moving. With an electric car, you cannot just slap in some new batteries and call it a day. The best a tow truck driver could do is tow your vehicle to the nearest charging station. Once at the charging station though, it takes a few hours just to get enough energy into the car to get it moving a reasonable distance. Even then, the nagging beast known as "range anxiety" is constantly gnawing at the back of your mind, causing anxiety and high blood pressure.

Image courtesy of Cars.com
I am not saying that I do not like all electric cars. The Tesla Model S is a fantastic example of a well built electric car that is not only quick, but also handles very well. Even with its performance advantages though, the Model S still suffers from range anxiety, just like any other electric vehicle. The two biggest problems with electric vehicles are the long charging times, and the lack of a proper charging station infrastructure. Sure, there are plenty of stores and hotels that offer free electric charging, and Tesla is attempting to expand its Supercharging stations. When you buy an electric car, you can also purchase from the manufacturer a small charging station to install in your home. However, none of this changes the fact that charging takes hours, and if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere, you probably will not be able to charge your vehicle for hundreds of miles.

Until the vehicle the charging infrastructure can match the current gasoline infrastructure, and charging can be done in a quick and reasonable amount of time, electric cars will continue to be limited to large urban markets. With that in mind, I have to ask, environmental issues aside, why electric?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Road Trip: The Finger Lakes (Cross Country Road Trip Ep. 1)

This summer marked the beginning of a new chapter in our life. My wife and I decided that we would be departing from the East Coast to return home to California to be able to spend more time with our families. Rather than just pack our stuff up and fly across the country, we decided this was the perfect opportunity for a cross country road trip as who knows how long it would be before another chance came along. This series will chronicle our adventures, which were partially shared on our Facebook page during the trip, as we explored many parts of the US that neither of us has spent much time in. We hope you enjoy the adventure!


Our departure time already upon us, I quickly scrambled to get the final items loaded into the back seat of the TSX. The trunk, strategically arranged for priority of access, was already full to the brim and the bikes were already on the rack. My wife's aunt, who had kindly allowed us to bivouac at her home for our final few days in the Boston area, saw us off as we finally set off, a bit later than we had originally anticipated.

Despite being loaded like a pack animal, its rear end sagging noticeably, the TSX still felt sprightly, turning with aplomb and only suffering modestly in acceleration. Of course, with the added weight of both of us, our luggage, our provisions for the trip, and the massive bike-rack with two bikes on it, I was most concerned about stopping more than going, Acura's brakes having long been one of the weakest links in the performance chain. Still, aside from a bit longer stopping distance, the TSX delivered predictable stopping power and got us safely to our destinations.

Jumping on the Mass Pike, we crept our way through parts of central Massachusetts before the roads cleared and we cruised through Western Mass into upstate New York. The setting sun, hanging low in the early evening sky, cast a pale pink glow over the vast expanses of greenery bordering the Mohawk River. As we drove on, and the sun set further, the areas bordering the road filled with dense fog covering up most of the scenery and making for a rather eerie experience. We pressed on, passing through the college town of Syracuse, chasing the final glimmers of daylight.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Road Trip: Long weekend in Montreal

Let me start by saying that before this trip, I had never been to Canada (my few hours in the Toronto airport during a layover really does not count). My, admittedly stereotypical, impression of Canada was that it was full of Dudley Do-Right push overs and female lumberjacks. So when the suggestion came up to do a weekend road trip, I was definitely interested, especially since it would not be long before we would be moving away from the Boston area and no longer within easy driving distance of the Canadian border. For the trip, we selected the closest major city, Montreal in Quebec and I promptly went to work getting all of my travel documents updated.

Our party for the trip consisted of my wife and me along with two of our friends from my wife's grad school. Early on, we made a decision to minimize costs, and thus turned to Airbnb for accommodations. Since the itention was a road-trip, the TSX, with its rather capacious interior and plentiful trunk space was pressed into service for the journey. Once we arrived in Montreal, the idea was to use public transportation as much as possible to avoid racking up massive parking expenses. Luckily, Montreal happens to be the home of  Bixi, the bike share company that supplies the docks and bikes to bikesharing programs across many cities in North America, including both Boston and Washington, DC. A plan was hatched to make use of Bixi's rather extensive network and to spend some time biking throughout the city, which would turn out to be an adventure in and of itself.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Editorial: Addressing the myth that motorcycles are dangerous

"Aren't motorcycles dangerous?"

I get this frequently from friends and family whenever the subject of my motorcycling first comes up. Even for those who have ridden in the distant past, albeit in other countries, I get the same question. For many, it is a question stemming purely from the lack of experience, having never even ridden on a motorcycle before, much less been at the controls of one. Others are coming purely based on the image that motorcyclists get in the media, mostly in the form of Sons of Anarchy and high-speed chase videos where things end poorly. Whatever the impetus, I take the opportunity to try to educate the person a bit on riding and precautions I personally take.

To start, there is all of the gear I own. This includes several different sets of helmets, pants, boots, jackets, and gloves, all intended to be used in different types of riding, but all designed specifically for motorcyclists and are armored accordingly. I review with them the protective nature of the gear, including how the materials are designed to resist abrasion and provide crash protection. On top of that, I also talk to them about some of the safety features that my bike has, such as ABS brakes. Of course this is just the start.

Additionally, I talk about the training that was involved in order to get my license. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation course that I took required a focused effort to learn a number of motorcycle specific safety skills that are intended to train motorcyclists to be defensive riders. That included class time to provide training on the mental aspects, which requires a rider to change their entire approach to road use in order to safely navigate the roads. While this training is not required, it is often offered as an alternative to the traditional licensing process and offers more than just the physical techniques needed to operate the motorcycle.

Finally, I talk about how motorcycling has made me a better driver. I am increasingly more aware of my surroundings now, whether on the bike or in the car, and I now do head-checks for all lane changes. This is also reflected in my treatment of other motorcyclists as well, giving them extra space to maneuver, especially in CA where lane-splitting is allowed.

Of course, I am but one rider. And while motorcycles are inherently less stable than a vehicle with four wheels, it offers a freedom that even the best convertible cannot. That is the trade-off that most riders understand when we decide to ride. By itself, the motorcycle is no more dangerous than any other inanimate vehicle. In the hands of the right rider, the motorcycle is a wonderful way to experience the world.

As for being dangerous, sure, but then so are cars and red meat if you are looking purely at the numbers.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Road Trip: Seeking a great burger in Western MA

Sometimes, I just get a craving for a great burger. It might just stem from growing up in Southern California and having regular access to In'N'Out or it might just be that most burger places I had come across in New England were pretty mediocre at best. Whatever the reason, this particular weekend, I had a craving. Digging through my list of highly recommended places, I spotted one that looked like it would fit the bill - local owned burger place specializing in grass-fed beef on house-made buns with a great selection of options to go on top. Best of all, it was located out in Western Massachusetts, which would mean the opportunity to explore some great roads on the Beemer. Not even 20 minutes later, I was geared up and headed out to start my quest.