February 2014 Archives

New Wheels


It's no secret that I hated my Toyota Prius with an unbridled passion. That car was the source of so much frustration; I couldn't stand the thought of driving it - I hated walking out and seeing it each morning, and I loathed commuting home in it each night.

It was noisy, it rode rough, it didn't have heated seats, the brakes were terrible, the electronic dash controls were abysmal, the GPS was completely worthless, and so on. The only redeeming factors were the decent fuel economy (around 40mpg), the sound system, and the fact that as a hatchback, it held a ton of stuff. I also liked not caring about it - I never washed or detailed it.

So, a few months ago, I got the itch to start looking for a new car. The Prius had 125,000 miles on it, and things were starting to show their age. I had to replace one of the water pumps (the car has 5 water pumps!!), and I did some other general maintenance on it. I noticed the engine was getting noisy - lots of valvetrain clatter... which is a common trait in Toyota engines due to an internal oil distribution issue. I had always used full synthetic oil with quality filters, changed every 5k miles...

I figured that now was the time to get serious about finding a new car, so I set my sights on a few different car models: Audi A6, Audi A7, Audi S4, and Mercedes-Benz E350. I also considered a Porsche Cayenne or the VW Touareg SUVs, along with the Audi Q7, but I didn't need such a beastly vehicle, and trying to park said beast in my tiny garage would've been a challenge.

Lots of searching, looking, testing later, and I decided that the Mercedes was the way to go. Unfortunately, the Madison area dealer didn't have much selection, and their prices were insane, compared to what the Chicago area dealers were offering. So, I started looking in Chicago, when I stumbled across the vehicle I eventually purchased.

I found a CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) 2011 Mercedes Benz E550 4Matic with the Luxury II package, and a bunch of extra goodies. It had 29,xxx miles on it, and looked to be quite stellar.

To sweeten the deal, Mercedes was offering an unbelievable CPO sale special; they had massively discounted the price of the car, provided 1.9% financing, made the first two car payments for you, threw-in 2 years of unlimited mileage no-cost maintenance, AND provided an unlimited mileage bumper-to-bumper warranty through 2017.

And, as if that weren't enough, they gave me $8700 in trade on my Prius, which was ridiculously high. When it was all said and done, my E550 payment came to just around $80 more per month than my Prius cost. Deal? Yes, please. Especially when you stop to consider the original sticker price on this car was over $80,000 in 2011.

So... here are a few pictures of it. With it being winter and oh so cold, it's been difficult to get any decent photos. I'll have to update this entry in the coming months, after the cold snap wraps-up. I mean, if the cold snap goes away. Crikey.

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The E-class is the second highest class within the Mercedes line-up (the S-class is the highest and biggest car). The "550" designates this as a 5.5L V8, which makes just around 400 horsepower, which is good for a 0-60 time of less than 5-seconds. That's crazy for a car that weighs over 4,000-lbs and has all wheel drive. It's shockingly fast.

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To help keep that speed at bay, the E550 features huge cross-drilled brake rotors with 4-piston calipers. The car also features pre-safe intelligent braking; it has a radar unit in the front of the car that does a number of things, including watching for sudden changes in traffic speed. It will slow the car before you even realize what's happening.

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Speaking of sensing things, the car also came with lane departure prevention - that radar unit, along with a series of cameras, watches the road at all times. If you deviate from your lane without using your signal, the steering wheel will vibrate quickly (like a cell phone on silent). If you ignore the warning, and the car detects that you're crossing a solid line (center line or shoulder), it will automatically slow the car and correct the heading so as to keep it in your proper lane.

There's also a 360-degree blind-spot detection system that alerts you via small LEDs in the side mirrors when cars are present in your blind spot.

Combined with the automatic cruise control - the radar unit reads traffic speed around you, and will automatically keep you at a safe distance behind the car in front of you, even if the car in front of you slams on its brakes - and the thing literally drives itself.

The little coffee cup emblem indicates the "driver alert" system, which monitors the driver's eye movement and body language while driving. If it senses you're falling asleep, the car will alert you to wake-up by vibrating the steering wheel and sounding an alarm.

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At the center of the dash is an accident/collision/pedestrian avoidance/alert system. When you're moving at slow speeds, the car detects objects and shows you how close you are to them. It also scans the road for pedestrians and large animals, so your chances of hitting a deer that's approaching from the side of the road at night are greatly reduced. A series of lights show the approximate distance from the object(s). There's a similar sensor on the back of the car, which when combined with the rearview camera, makes for easy parallel parking. :-)

Speaking of night - the headlights literally turn the night into day. They're auto-leveling, active cornering (they turn as you turn the car), bi-xenon with LEDs. There are no high beams; the lights automatically adjust upward when conditions are right so as to illuminate more of the road. As cars approach, or as you approach a car in your same lane, the lights adjust downward so as not to blind the other driver(s).

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The center stack is awesome. Intuitive, easy to use, and well presented. The huge center screen is absolutely fantastic, as are the GPS, DVD player, phone controls (with Bluetooth), Satellite radio, general audio (with iPod and USB interfaces), and system settings. The screen is huge and so easy to navigate.

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The audio system is simply amazing - it's Harmon Kardon's Logic 7 system, which delivers 5.1 surround sound via 14-speakers and a number of DSP amplifiers. It will reach concert-level volume while remaining crystal clear, full and rich. I love listening to music in this thing - it's just unreal.

And, as great as the sound system is, the view is even better, thanks to the full-glass roof. Here's a view of it with the sunshades in place (they're motorized):


And finally, let's talk about the seats. This particular car came with an "active" seating arrangement - the driver's seat has active bolsters that automatically grip your body while you take corners. If you turn left, the right side bolster grabs your side to prevent your body from shifting to the right as you corner. If you turn right, the left side bolster kicks in. It doesn't seem like much, but it's super cool and helpful. It's very reassuring.

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In addition to the active bolsters, that control pod has settings for the active massage. Yep, you'll get a true massage from the seats, and it's quite good. It's not the "buzzy" chair massager system you remember from The Sharper Image. Nope - this uses the air bladders in the seat, along with servos to really give you a solid massage. It's crazy.

Oh, and see how the leather seats are perforated? Yeah. They're not only heated, they're air conditioned. No more sweaty leather seats in the summer...

So, there you have it. The car is unreal. It's so fun to drive, it's so competent and capable, and it takes care of the driver and its occupants (there are 20+ airbags, including ankle and thorax airbags)). I can't wait for the spring so that I can give it a proper cleaning and detailing.

Believe me when I say that I didn't shed a single tear as I waived good-bye to the Prius...


Chunky love


I have a confession to make: I love - LOVE - fat bikes.

Yes, ultra-light, ultra-stiff, race-ready carbon fiber road bikes still get my pulse racing, but there's something to be said for the laid-back, take-no-prisoners position that comes with a fat bike.

"What's a fat bike," you ask?

Picture a pseudo mountain bike, sans suspension, but with cartoonishly wide tires. Like, ridiculously wide tires - we're talking 4+ inches of tire, wide. For comparison, my Cervelo race bike rides on 20mm tires (about 3/4" inch wide), and my Kona Jake the Snake crossbike rides on 35mm tires, which are about 1.5" wide. A 4" wide bike tire is huuuuuge.

Consider this as well - a fat bike's tire pressure runs about 15psi. For comparison, a standard car tire uses around 35psi. My Kona uses 70psi. My Cervelo uses 120psi... So, you get this super compliant ride, without suspension. And, you also get amazing grip in almost any condition, but particularly so in snow and sand.

And that's why I finally brokedown and bought one of these chubby beasts.

I had been wanting a fat bike ever since I rode my friend Paul's Nine Zero Seven fat bike. Besides looking cool, they're just fun to ride. The hum of those huge tires, the spongy feel, and the double-takes that everyone does when you ride by... it's too cool.

The local Trek store was hosting a bike club information night, complete with free beer and food, and I met my friend's Paul and Sallie at the event, where I consumed a few beers, all the while staring lustily at the last Trek fat bike on the floor... I didn't listen much to the club's presentation... no sir, my gaze and attention were locked firmly on this beauty.

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That's a Trek Farley. I love the name - coined in honor of the infamous Wisconsin-born actor/comedian, Chris Farley - a lovable, portly fella.

After some shrewd negotiating on my part, I left the store with said bike in hand. I say shrewd, because I managed to get an incredible deal on the bike... there were only 500 of these bikes ever produced, and at the time of my purchase, there were only three left in Trek's inventory, world wide. They were released to the public in October of 2013, so they went quickly. I guess it was meant to be.

The store gave the Farley a quick once-over; here it is on the mechanic's stand getting some final attention, while being fitted with some stellar pedals and bar mitts.


I'm happy to report that the new car easily accommodated the Farley for the ride home (more on the new wheels later). After that, it was time to ride.

Timing couldn't have been more perfect - we had some awesome snow on Monday, which allowed me an opportunity to put the bike through its paces. I'm happy to report it was EXCELLENT.

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It's geared super low, so it doesn't take much effort to turn the pedals and wheels, which is great when you're navigating through 5-6" of fresh snow. Just torque away, and you'll be OK. That's the trick to riding in the snow on one of these - keep pedaling... as soon as I'd coast through the deeper stuff, the bike would get unsettled. Pedaling kept it on the straight-and-narrow.

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I love that black-and-green color combo. Trek calls the color "Trek Black" - I think it's sorta' Batman-esque. The green cranks, fonts, and spacers provide just enough "pop" without being obnoxious.

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Those Bar Mitts are thebomb.com - holy cats, what a great invention. They provide complete protection against wind, snow, rain, etc., while allowing you to have full operation of your brakes, shifter, and bars. Add a thin pair of gloves to the mix, and you're totally set to ride. My friend Paul turned me on to these, and boy am I glad he did... they are totally awesome.

And finally - one last shot... this is from last night - I rode about 15 miles through the slush and snow and had an absolute blast. This so beats riding the trainer...


I wanna be sedated (and offline)


Earlier this week I had a medical procedure done that required me to be sedated (knocked-out). I've never experienced that before, and was a little nervous, primarily because I wasn't certain what I might say or do after the procedure was finished. I've heard horror stories about what people say/do during the recovery time, so I was on edge a bit...

Sedation is a weird thing. I remember lying on the stretcher, looking at a monitor and seeing my vitals. The anesthesiologist said, "Ok, we're ready to go - you should be feeling the sedatives very shortly. They may feel cold in your arm."

I thought, "Hmm, this is ok. I feel like I'm totally coherent." And then I started to see two or three sets of monitors and numbers. I remember trying to look at just one set, and I said something like, "I think I'm seeing double."

The next thing I remember is sitting on my couch at home, some 7 hours later.

Seven hours of complete amnesia. Talk about crazy. I don't remember talking to the doctor or nurses, nor do I remember getting dressed or leaving the hospital. Apparently I was hilarious, but I have no idea what I said. Totally wild.

Geekysteve.com Update

In other news, I'm going to be moving the site from my current hosting company (DreamHost) to a new hosting company in the very near future.

I have been having a boatload of issues with DreamHost behind the scenes... their service has been anything but dreamy over the past six months or so, and their support has been absolutely atrocious. So, I'm going to migrate the site to the new provider with the hope that things will improve.

I'm hoping to keep it as seamless as possible... but if the site goes offline for a bit, rest assured it'll be back online as soon as possible. I'll let you know when I'm about ready to do the move.

Throw away your car keys. Now.



It snowed about 1/4 of an inch last night, and you're seeing the result of that dusting of snow. If you look closely, it took me 34 minutes to travel 5 miles. I could ride my bike twice as fast as that...

I don't understand it.

Today's cars come equipped with unbelievable technology: anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, yaw correction, siped snow tires embedded with sunflower oil to improve cold weather traction (seriously - I'm not making that up), all wheel drive, lane departure warning sensors, blind spot detectors, and more...

And yet we can't figure out how to navigate a lightly snow dusted set of roads?

Besides the car technology, snow removal has come along way as well - cheese brine applied to slippery roads; carbide tipped snow blades; magnesium pellets, and plows that run non-stop during bad weather...

Yet we creep along and ram into one another like there's a snowmageddon. I saw six - that's SIX - accidents on the beltline today, within an 8-mile stretch. My 14-mile commute took me 1 hour and 9 minutes, all in. That's ridiculous.

So, I suggest we all throw our keys into a big pit and walk, take a bus, or find some other way to travel, because it's obvious there's no hope for any of us as drivers.

How the hell did people drive from the 1940s until now?? Back then cars were rear wheel drive, had manual steering, manual drum brakes, and unbelievably horrible bias-ply tires. I'd wager a guess that commute times were half of what they are today.

Ugh. I'm off to bang my head against the wall, with the hope that I forget about my commute.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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