Part bike shop, part athletic training center, Faster is most unique because it is the nation's first shop complete with a cycling-specific wind tunnel. Discreetly tucked in the back of the shop, the tunnel is available to cyclists of any type — be they professional triathletes looking to perfect their aero tuck or weekend warriors wanting a good bike fit so their back stops hurting. They can get in the tunnel and see just how much drag quotient they create while trying to blaze to new levels of speed. This means that cyclists can go in, buy a bike, get it sized, and then get tested in a true wind tunnel to make sure they are riding that machine as fast as their physiology can possibly make it go. But the wind tunnel service does not come cheaply. Hourly rates start at $599, and the folks at Faster make no bones about the service being for athletes looking to optimize every bit of their ability and for manufacturers to test their latest developments. Either way, there's some cool science happening in the back of that shop and it's worth a trip to take a peek.

The Bicycle Cellar

Imagine a place that enables people to commute to work or school by bike, saving loads of cash while improving fitness, by supplying the all-needed showers and safe bike haven while said folks work through the day (or night). One such harbor exists in Tempe, at the city's Transportation Center. Started as an initiative by Tempe to encourage bike commuting, operations of Bicycle Cellar were awarded to Valley cycling stalwarts John Romero and Joseph Perez. They since have turned the room that included little more than a couple of rows of two-tiered racks, lockers, and some showers into a full-fledged, full-service cycling center and retail space. Bicycle Cellar is open seven days with staffed hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Monthly and annual Cellar members have after-hours (4 p.m. to midnight) access to lock up or retreive their bikes and use the facilities, with rates starting at $35 a month for bike storage. Cellar also has a wide array of bikes for rent, and its location near Tempe Town Lake, Papago Park, and ASU means that fast, fun riding is close, no matter which direction you head.

Simple physics dictate that in order to descend, one first must ascend. When it comes to cycling, it's widely known that climbing is not for everyone, although many believe that there is no greater descent than a descent earned. For those who fall into the former category and just go for the downhill bomb, Gnar Gnar Tours is your rescue, providing regular shuttle service up South Mountain every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. So, if you're one of those huckers bounding down National or Geronimo Trails on one of those burly downhiller rigs, a tow to the top with Gnar Gnar may be just what the doctor ordered. Runs up South Mountain cost $5 a trip or $20 for the day, and the shuttle stops at Scorpion Gulch near the park's main gate, the Heard Scout Camp, and Cactus Bikes in Akwatukee. There's also a shuttle service to Black Canyon Trail and up north to Sunrise Ski Resort, for a total heat escape. Bike rentals also are available for those who want to indulge in the torment of South Mountain but are in need of wheels.

Outside magazine recently named it the number-one bike town in America. Bicycling Magazine tabbed it number nine. The Old Pueblo may be regarded as Phoenix's little sibling in terms of Arizona's urban centers, but when it comes to cycling, Tucson has the Valley outclassed across the board. The fact that many pro cyclists and triathletes either live or train there in the off-season is proof positive that Tucson is among the very best cycling destinations in the United States, and it's a mere 90 minutes south of Phoenix. Tucson is home to two full-fledged hors categorie mountains (that's the hardest of the hard) in Mount Lemmon and Kitt Peak. The rolling landscape in and around the Tucson Mountains, including the always leg-straining Gates Pass, beckons roadies for miles of top-level riding.

For those craving the dirt, Starr Pass, Fantasy Island, and Bug Springs rank among the best mountain bike trails in the state. Throw in races such as El Tour de Tucson and 24 Hours in El Pueblo, not to mention one of the biggest and fastest group rides in the country in the Saturday Morning Shootout, and it's easy to see why cyclists such as Lance Armstrong, Greg Lemond, Clara Hughes, Tinker Juarez, and Chrissy Wellington have set up shop in Tucson over the years. Multitudes of spas and resorts make high-end off-the-bike recovery very easy, and the town is littered with good, healthy restaurants to keep the fuel levels optimized. Looking for a more official, organized bike retreat? Carmichael Training Systems, one of the leading cycling and endurance-sport coaching and training centers in the world, has an office at the base of the Catalina Mountains and offers an assortment of weeklong camps.
Grille At Las Sendas Golf Club

With about 200 courses to choose from, this was a tough one, but being that we are suckers for magnificent views and thoughtful holes where sheer power doesn't always win the day, Las Sendas is this year's winner. This gorgeous desert course winds through the Usery Mountains in east Mesa nearly 1,800 feet above sea level, but unless your golf is as beautiful as the scenery, forget posting a decent score. No kidding, you can pretty much check out the entire Valley from the elevated 18th hole, a classic double dog-leg par-5 with water in play. The price is fair for such a treat of a course — as low as about $30 in the summers and about $100 in prime time, after the snowbirds have arrived. Often rated one of the top 10 courses in Arizona by real golfers, as if that matters.

Southern Dunes Golf Club

Located about a half-hour southwest of Sky Harbor, on the other side of South Mountain, this sweet public course provides both a "true test" of golf and one of the best bangs for the buck this side of Augusta. The fairways generally are wide and forgiving, a must for our many wayward drives, though the second shots on the par-4s invariably are dicey, with strategically placed deep bunkers that protect the greens like sentries. And those greens, while expansive, undulate like belly dancers, which make dreaded three-putts loom ever possible. Though it's a bit of a schlep for many, the price at this Troon facility is much lower than at fellow courses in Scottsdale, an hour or so north. When the much-higher winter rates kick in, usually around November 1, it still costs "only" about $100 for a round. We do appreciate that we didn't lose even one ball over the 18, on our way to a comfortable 94. That, non-golfers, is eminently mediocre.

Talking Stick Resort

It may not be the Valley's most demanding course (actually two 18-hole courses, North and South), but this well-maintained facility on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, off Loop 101, is perfect for our scattershot game, especially in the summer, when prices drop from $175 to a cool $40 or so. The North Course has a hole, number 12, dubbed the Red Mountain Gambler, and with good reason — there's no easy way to get there other than to hit two almost perfect shots. That is usually above our pay grade. The perfectly sculpted fairways are wide enough to land an airplane on. And absolutely no worries about blasting the little white ball into someone's home, because there are none out there. After the round, the Wildhorse Grille, which sits inside one of Arizona's sweetest resort hotels, also named Talking Stick, is the perfect place to chill with a cold one and some of the best views around.

Castles -n- Coasters

Some people dream of traveling the world, buying a sports car or a mansion, or diving into a swimming pool filled to the brim with Cristal should they ever win the lottery. And sure enough, that last option sounds pretty tasty, but we'd still prefer one thing over all these options: a world-class miniature golf course in our backyard, with all the old-school putt-putt features, including a Dutch windmill and a medieval castle and the open mouth of a dragon to chip a shot into. Until then, we'll stick with Castles N' Coasters, which at least has the medieval castle as a course feature and is pretty cool to go to on a non-summer weekday when all the screaming kids are in school and you have all four courses to yourself. Who needs mega-millions and mini-golf in the backyard, or even a backyard, as long as Castles N' Coasters is open for business?

It's time to shoot down some stereotypes: Geeks and nerds of the world long have been encumbered with the reputation of being nothing but a bunch of socially inept and physically unattractive loners who shirk the outside world in favor of hiding in Fortresses of Solitude to revel in their fandom obsessions (see: Cooper, Sheldon, from The Big Bang Theory). And though a certain segment of the population fits this description, it ain't necessarily true for everyone. For proof, look no further than the members of N.E.R.D.S. (short for "Niche Enthusiasts Really Doing Stuff"). The people involved with this local Meetup group help it live up to its acronym by routinely attending geek-friendly events across the Valley. The 600-odd members of the group include representatives from practically every faction in fandom, be they Whovians, Trekkers, Twihards, Browncoats, Gateheads, or Warsies. They flock to any and all events with a niche following, whether it's a gaming tournament, midnight movie premieres, or the annual Renaissance Festival. Unlike the bullies who likely laid into them during their school years, the nerds of N.E.R.D.S. accept everyone. Even if they haven't been outside for years.

Imperial Outpost

We witnessed a melee taking place in the West Valley the other day, and it wasn't pretty. A horde of ferocious, green-skinned Orks carved through a phalanx of soldiers from the Imperial Guard in vicious fashion, waylaying bodies with their gnarly-looking chainswords and leaving few survivors by the end of the skirmish. Thankfully, such slaughter happened within the confines of one of the many combat-filled sessions of tabletop role-playing game Warhammer 40K that frequently take place at Imperial Outpost, and nary a drop of real blood was spilled. Geek-on-geek combat is the norm at this Glendale store, which regularly holds tournaments for many favorite RPGs and collectible card games, ranging from miniature-based titles like Flames of War and BattleTech to Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! Imperial Outpost is also an absolute gaming paradise that offers more than 200 different titles for sale, each providing various dice-tossing, card-turning, and strategy-plotting antics. Owner Darren Johnson expanded the place within the last year, and it now offers twice as much space for the large green table where battles are held, as well as stocks of supplies for customizing units and figures (such as paint and precision tools), a wealth of accessories and singles, and a seperate in-house card shop called MannaWerx. Feeling game? Then head for the Outpost.

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