Fun Sticks – Vanilla

May 14, 2013 at 11:01 | Posted in biscuits | 2 Comments
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Vanilla Fun Sticks PackYou may remember that some time ago I looked at the Choc Fun Stick. At the time I noted that there was also a vanilla variant – which I have finally got around to looking at.

You may also remember that, when looking at the Choc version, how struck I was by all the parallels to cigarettes – everything from the look to the packaging. Well, the vanilla version steps this up several notches. The thing just looks exactly like a roll-up. Indeed, it’s very reminiscent of a rather different kind of fun stick I remember from my college days. It’s quite uncanny. Frankly it rather puts me off them, but once I had taken the few obligatory imaginary puffs, I sampled it.

Vanilla Fun Stick ArnottsAs you’d expect, it’s very similar to it’s choc brethren. Quite sweet, but with a satisfyingly vanillary taste, free from the artificial tang that bedevils some cheap vanilla products. They are quite moreish, with a good crunch to them, and small enough to chomp away with abandon.

I’m going to give these a seven out of ten.

Fixie temptation

November 21, 2012 at 19:14 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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It’s a question I’ve been asked a few times recently – Why do you ride a fixie? Fixed gear bicycles (bikes without gears nor a freewheel – meaning you can’t stop pedalling) are very popular at the moment, but seem to be associated in some people’s minds with ‘hipsters’ and ‘wannabe couriers’. And whist it’s true there are some high-fashion low-practicality fixed gear bikes out there, there’s much more to riding one than fashion or trendsetting.

When the topic came up again recently on SydneyCyclist, I put together a few points about riding one. Actually more than a few points; I waxed lyrical at some length. Never being one to waste the opportunity to re-use old material, below is an edited version. It seems that it had some effect on the original questioner on SydneyCyclist – so perhaps it might persuade you to try out a fixie too!

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Fixies are FUN FUN FUN. Truly. You don’t know what you’re missing until you try it. You have no idea that your pedals have a ‘dead spot’ at the top and the bottom until you experience the smoothness of a fixed drivetrain. You have no idea as to how exhilarating and fast 35km/h can feel until you are spinning down a slope on a fixie. You have no idea how much better you can feel the amount of traction the rear wheel has until you ride with your legs coupled directly to the wheel. You have no idea how fast you can accelerate away from traffic lights until you ride with an optimised, super-efficient gear set-up.

There is no reward in freewheeling down a hill, or clicking down through ever lower gears so you can crawl up a hill at a walking pace. You will only know this once you get comfortable on a fixie.

Getting comfortable takes about two weeks. For the first week it feels very weird. I remember just stopping the bike was odd – you have to get used to taking your foot out of the pedal anywhere in the stroke. For the second week you are more relaxed, but keep forgetting to pedal. Nothing really bad happens, but the bike gives you a bit of a jolt to remind you to spin those legs!
After a couple of weeks, though, it becomes second nature. It’s definitely worth riding singlespeed for a while first, to work out which gearing is going to suit you. If you jump straight on a fixie, you’ll think the gearing is too high because you are not comfortable putting in your normal effort. If you know that you can manage the gearing on a SS, though, it’s more clear that it’s just a familiarisation issue. (In fact, you can probably drop one size on the sprocket when you move to fixed, as it’s actually easier to climb hills on a fixie than on an equivalent freewheel. This is another magical fact you will discover when you get into it).

What else to say? Fixies are FUN FUN FUN. Did I say that already?

Gearing? I run 48×17, and love it. I’ve yet to find a hill in Sydney I couldn’t climb, but it’s high enough to cruise at a reasonable speed and cover good distances. Having said that, that’s probably on the higher side of average. Don’t make the mistake of going too low though. Using your lowest gearing from your normal ride will be too low – you’ll be spinning like mad and not getting anywhere. You’ll be surprised how you can climb those hills when you just have to get on with it, and don’t have the pernicious seduction of clicking down to a lower gear.

Disc brakes? Sure, why not, although you’ll struggle finding a hub that can take one on the back and you’ll probably need to replace the stock forks (I don’t know of any frame / fork sets with rear drop-outs and front disc mountings). However, you’ll quickly find you rarely use your rear brake on a fixie – one benefit of feeling the traction so well is that you can deliver maximal braking to the front wheel – which is the most efficient way to stop the thing. I can perform a better emergency stop on my fixie than on my geared bikes.

Anything else? Fixies are FUN FUN FUN. Did I say that already?

Safety? Once you are used to them, I think fixies are actually safer to ride, too. Few reasons for this.
1) You go slower. You simply can’t built up that massive head of steam you get on a geared bike going downhill. You also have to take corners more slowly, to avoid pedal strike (an oft-worried about problem which in reality just doesn’t materialise. I’ve never had pedal strike on my fixie). However, you don’t sacrifice intensity nor adrenaline – you feel like you’re going fast, but without actually going as fast.
2) You can brake better. That ability to feel the back wheel starting to lose traction is real, and really helps tune your braking skills. It takes a while to get used to it (emergency braking whilst still pedalling will seem very strange to begin with), but it soon becomes second nature.
3) Better in the wet. For the same reason, you are better able to judge traction in the wet on a fixie. It’s quite an eye-opener just how much your rear wheel skids around in the wet – which in turn makes you go slower. On a regular bike you don’t notice so much. Until you lose traction completely…
Yes, there are some watch-outs – like not getting clothing caught in the chain, keeping everything tight so the chain can’t slip off etc which you need to be aware of, as if they happen are more problematic on a fixie than a regular bike. But in reality, I’ve never found them a problem.

Oh, one more thing. Fixies are FUN FUN FUN. Did I say that already?

In terms of pedals, you will need some sort of foot restraint – either clipless or cages. I DO NOT recommend using open platforms. Having your feet come off the pedals on a fixie is a very uncomfortable and even dangerous experience – it’s very hard to get your feet back on to a pedal that is churning round at high speed, and it could even crack into your shins with unpleasant consequences.

In terms of the best system to use – use the one you are most familiar with. Getting your foot in and out of the pedal whilst the pedal is moving takes a bit of getting used to, and you don’t want to be fumbling with an unfamiliar pedal system at the same time.

You will need brakes on a fixie you intend to ride on the road. (Yes, I know a few people manage without them, but you need to have exceptional control of the bike to compensate for the lack of brakes – and even then you will be unable to stop the bike as quickly as you can with a front brake). I have two regular brakes on my fixie, which is nice because it feels familiar, although as I said I rarely use the rear one.

Stopping feels odd at first, because you are used to taking your feet off the pedals at a particular point. Normally, when you stop you cease pedalling just before you reach the point you want to actually stop, and coast with your feet in that position so you can unclip when you stop. This habit takes a little time to break, which means you either stop a metre or two before the point you intended (as that’s when the pedal is in the ‘right place’), or you go a bit too far forward. You’ll have a few uncomfortable moments when you almost do a very slow-speed rear-ending of a car or something, followed by a scramble to get your foot off the pedal in an unfamiliar position. It doesn’t take long to get used to unclipping at any point, however. I remember this quite clearly when I first went fixed – just stopping the thing at exactly the right spot seemed bizarrely hard. As a consequence I rode more cautiously for a while, whilst I got used to it – I was wary of having to do an unexpected stop. Now I’m used to it, i can’t really understand why I ever had a problem, as I can now pull up where I need to and do full-on emergency stops without thinking about it. Still, you will feel a bit more vulnerable in traffic to begin with. It’s not a major drama, and it only takes a few weeks to get comfortable. Think if it as an opportunity to empathise with less experienced cyclists on regular bikes setting out into traffic for the first time!

One last thing – you’ll need to get used to spinning the back wheel round to get the pedal into the right position after you stop, ready to take off again. I do this by putting the front brake on, then pushing down and forward on the handlebars to lift the back wheel. You can then spin it (in either direction!) to get your lead foot into the right position. Again, as you get more comfortable you’ll be able to get going with the pedals in a less optimal position (especially on a downhill slope – hill starts are always a bit more interesting!).

Oh yes, and fixies are FUN!

Fun Sticks

July 6, 2012 at 22:59 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Regular readers may have noticed that the biscuit reviews have been a bit few and far between lately. Whilst that’s partly just because I’ve not got myself into gear to write them, there is also another, more pressing reason.

You see I’m simply running out of varieties. Notwithstanding the apparently near-infinite range Arnott’s seem to have, I am now finding it very hard to find new and interesting sweet treats to sample. So imagine my joy, dear reader, when I happened down the biscuit aisle in the supermarket one lunchtime, and saw a bone-fide brand new Arnott’s line! I rushed them to the checkout (unexpected item in the bagging area indeed!), and from there back to work in order to tear into them.

Fun Sticks seem to be part of a new range designed as lunchbox fillers.There are two other lines in the new range, although the other two are simply re-packaged Tim Tam Originals and Mini Wagon Wheels (although I might have to try the Tim Tam ones, to see if they are a new form factor, or just new packaging). At first glance, Fun Sticks seem to be a miniature version of those praline things you get in large tins at airports – and indeed this is sort of what they are like.

However, what I wasn’t quite expecting was just how miniature they were going to be – about five centimetres long and perhaps only five millimetres thick. There are ten ‘snack packs’ in the big box, and each ‘snack pack’ contains nine Fun Sticks, thoughtfully placed in a plastic tray. So that’s a full ninety sticks of fun to chomp through – something that, given their size, I would say was eminently achievable in a single sitting, for the truly dedicated.

The other striking thing about Fun Sticks is that they look exactly like small cigars. Indeed, as I raised one to my lips to sample it’s choc stick goodness the guy who sits opposite me looked up in surprise and said ‘Is that a cigar?’. Once he said this, I found it impossible to resist the temptation to take some imaginary puffs and do a quick Groucho Marx impression. I wonder if kids these days still do this kind of thing, now that you can no longer buy candy cigarettes? Once I got thinking along these lines, I also couldn’t help noticing how the main packet also seemed to have something of the appearance of a box of smokes, and the little tray in the individual packs does make handing them around feel a lot of proffering cancer sticks. All very strange – I wonder if this line was dreamed up down in the smokers corner of Arnott’s factory?

Still, for all that, they taste quite OK; soft choc cream inside a light, crispy tube. Sure, it’s cocoa rather than real chocolate but as an everyday snack I suppose it does the job – they are quite moreish and I would say the elements of the size, shape and packaging does add a definite element of fun. I’m going to give them seven out of ten.

Raspberry Shortcake

November 12, 2010 at 10:22 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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One of the things I like about Arnott’s is that they don’t flog an idea to death. Having introduced a Raspberry Shortcake, many other lesser companies would have gone on to produce strawberry, apricot, chocolate and tropical mango shortcakes. Arnott’s, however, are content to stick to just classic raspberry.

The biscuit appears to consists of two shortcake biscuits sandwiched together with jam. However, if that’s what you thought you would be mistaken. It’s not jam that sandwiches the two biscuits together. Oh no; it’s fun. Yes folks, that’s right; as the strapline on the pack proudly proclaims: ‘Raspberry Flavoured Fun in a Shortcake Biscuit‘.

The top biscuit has a hole in it, allowing the fun to peep out somewhat in the manner of a Jammie Dodger. There;s something about this that just makes you want to press your index finger into the hole, and then examine your fingerprint. If you see a fingerprint in the fun before you start, then I’d say that was cause for concern.

The shortcake itself is quite soft and crumbly, which immediately alerts you to the fact this is a wholly different beast tot he aforementioned Jammie Dodger. The fun lacks a really distinctive raspberry flavour, although this could be because it is overwhelmingly made from apple. Only 1.8% of the fun content is raspberry.

So just how much fun are they? They are quite pleasant, but I’m not sure they are really dance-around-the-room fun. That said, the soft shortcake is quite moreish and it’s quite easy to chomp through half a pack without really realising it. I’d give these a six out of ten.

The Mosman Hills…

April 5, 2010 at 17:35 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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What a lovely day for a ride! I managed to get out for a ride this morning – first time since the little one arrived. The logistics are all a bit more complicated now…

So I met up with a mate, and we rode out to Mosman, and down to Taronga Zoo, with two side trips down (and up!) to Bradley’s Head and Clifton Gardens. Then back in a loop via Lane Cove. A few reasonable hills to help work off the chocolate…

And, being a nice day, a chance to take the fixie for a spin. It is fun!

Not that my mate is convinced about the fixie. In his world, bikes have gears and are made by Masi! I think he was getting a bit frustrated at my inability to go down the hills at 60kph. When you can’t stop pedalling, there’s a point where you can’t spin your legs fast enough on the descent. That said, I did go up the hills faster than him!

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