Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Magpul BEV Block AR Tool: Essential AR Kit



The Magpul BEV Block is the second in Magpul’s two-deep lineup of armorer’s tools. The other tool, Magpul’s Armorer’s Wrench, is an exceptionally well designed and executed tool that works equally well for the professional and the weekend armorer. At over 11 ounces, the roughly 4.5” x 2.25” x 1.25” block weighs twice what a basic Delrin plastic mag well vise block does.





BEV stands for Barrel Extension Vise and is specifically designed for use with the AR15/M4 platform rifles and AR pistols of the .223/5.56 variety due to mag well and bolt size. The multipurpose Magpul BEV Block can be used as a standard magazine well vise block, but its real advantage is as a upper receiver vise block. Regardless of which end is in the rifle, the other end must be secured into a bench vise for maximum stability.



 


The Magpul BEV Block has a unique other end. And on that other end are two unique other ends. The Magpul BEV Block mimics the AR bolt on one end by meshing perfectly with the barrel extension splines. Opposite the barrel is another mating point where a bolt carrier sans the bolt, cam pin, firing pin, and firing pin retaining pin. The bolt carrier is inserted like normal with the charging handle locking it in place.



The combined fore and aft security of the Magpul BEV Block with the base seated in a vice provided phenomenal upper receiver stability for serious work. But where the Magpul BEV Block really shines over more traditional clam-shell designs that grip the outside of a forged milspec upper receiver is that the Magpul BEV Block doesn't get anywhere near the top rail meaning any optics or other accessories can remain untouched. And reading between the above lines, billet and other custom upper receiver millings and forgings may keep the clam-shells from working at all.


 





For upper receiver work, the Magpul BEV Block locks into the forward takedown pin uses an o-ring to hold the BCG onto the BEV Block. Depending on the BCG, the fit can be quite tight and necessitate a bit of muscle to seat it. Although the block part of the Magpul BEV Block is polymer, the splines that lock into the barrel extension are solid steel as is the bolt post.



In use, the Magpul BEV Block as a lower receiver vice block rocks as well as any other I’ve used. The narrower profile of the upper receiver mating components keep them out of the vice jaws when inverted for lower receiver work. With an MSRP of $49.95 and a street price as low as forty bucks, the Magpul BEV Block sells for as much or not much more than a single function magwell vice block that works only for the lower receiver.

If you’re shy about pulling apart your BCG, the Magpul BEV Block may work fine with or without the added security of the bolt carrier. There will be more play and the upper receiver is tilted a bit, but as long as no receiver work pushes or pulls the barrel forward, the Magpul BEV Block with barrel-only seating works fine.



The Magpul BEV Block works great holding the upper receiver in one position, and the lower receiver either right side up or upside down. The upside down is for when you might be working on the grip and need to keep the safety selector detent and spring under the control of gravity. Or when playing around with the trigger guard. And of course, right side up allows full access to the lower receiver guts including trigger, safety, and buffer tube.



In practice the Magpul BEV Block is essential for many tasks including torquing the barrel nut, snugging the castle nut, and loosening and retighting muzzle devices. And it makes most other AR tool tasks easier and safer including trigger work, anything to do with the buffer tube, and installing or removing handguards whether free floating or delta ringed.



The debate about the AR 15 as a first choice survival or SHTF rifle is just as lively now as last year. Opinions often diverge when it comes to the number of moving parts, especially springs and fasteners, of the AR platform compared to traditional bolt action long guns. While spring numbers don’t lie, the fear of springs that many bolt lovers have may be rooted in a low comfort level with the clockwork of an AR 15.

It is hard to appreciate a design when the nuances of the mechanism can shoot springs across the room, or have detents slide out into oblivion when a receiver is rotated, or require more tools than a screwdriver. But for those of us who appreciate the AR15 and all its idiosyncrasies, the more we can tinker with our rifles, the better. So the value of a solid tool ike the Magpul BEV Block is amplified through repeated use. Good tools encourage quality work. Great tools encourage confidence and understanding. And the Magpul BEV Block is a great tool.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Burley COHO XC Bug Out Bike Trailer





A majority of SHTF scenarios hit a bottleneck with mobility. The bug-in crowd solves it by staying put. The bug out vehicle crowd will just drive over the huddled masses. And the lone wolves will run for the hills scoping nightscape through a rifle-mounted thermal imager. For the rest of us, we need realistic gear solutions that address actual needs, and have a proven track record of performance. And we also need authentic solutions to move our gear. The Burley COHO XC Bike Trailer is a serious piece of hardware what scores at the top of its class across all categories whether for recreation, lifestyle or TEOTWAWKI.




Bicycles are the most efficient form of mechanized transport and can easily carry a human and gear over a hundred miles in a single day powered by nothing but bananas. Rolling along a flat road at easily over five times faster than a normal walking pace, the bicycle excels as a bug out vehicle. Add some cargo to the rolling equation and the mobility options presented by a bike and trailer can easily rival any other bug out vehicle. With a suggested capacity of 70 pounds, the Burley COHO XC can quickly exceed the gear hucking of even a Recon Marine. And that’s while still maintaining that 12-15 mile per hour pace!

There is a strong overlap between backpacking and bugging out And there is a significant overlap between the bug out trailer and a popular outdoor activity called “bikepacking.” the difference between bikepacking and traditional bicycling touring is that bikepacking uses the bike to carry the load whether riding the bike or not. Preferably the former. Bikepacking is like touring as road tripping is like overlanding. There is just something so different about piling on the gear and heading out anywhere, especially off road. And moving your heavy gear to a trailer has many serious advantages including an overall lower center of gravity, the ability to carry large single gear pieces such as a backpack, the advantage of ditching off your gear in one quick motion like unsnapping and dropping your backpack, centralizing your gear to maintain the front end handling of your bike as it was designed, and especially increasing your overall gear-carry capacity.





The bike and trailer combination can move near silently on and off road, and stop on a dime, turn on a quarter, and quickly be disassembled for portage over rock, water, and obstacle. The entire system can disappear into a bush, be hidden in a lake, or buried under dirt and leaves. It requires no gas, no oil and no electricity, and will run to the point of failure without a single complaint. The only real drawback is that you are the engine so your health and fitness is what keeps the bike and trailer system alive.

The serious single-wheel bike trailer was popularized by an early adopter called the B.O.B. Trailer. It’s heavy metal frame, complex yoke attachment, and low ground clearance opened the door for innovation. Other companies joined the quest for the perfect single-wheel trailer including the original B.O.B company, but until the Burley COHO XC arrived on the scene, all bug out options were a compromise given just how good a single-wheel bug out bike trailer could be.



Some of the major accomplishments of the Burley COHO XC bike trailer include an adjustable width yoke that fits up to 29-inch tall wheels and three-inch wide tires. Although the Burley COHO XC bike trailer requires a dedicated axel, there are enough choices to fit most bikes, and the variable-width yoke keeps the COHO XC engaged in the bug out across almost all realistic bike frames.



The COHO XC uses a wonderfully simple hitch mechanism. At the edges of the replacement axle are two spherical knobs that seat into matching cups on the trailer’s yoke. The curved nature of the knobs allows a spring-loaded capture/release catch to lock the ball into the cup. In the center-top of the yoke’s handle is a lever that operates the catch mechanism.



Because the lever and handle are integrated, it is both easy and fast to release the COHO XC from the axel and move it where you want. Unlike other designs that requires individual-side axle release and small-part manipulation (and risk of part loss), the COHO XC truly is a fine piece of high-speed-low-drag bug out kit.



Furthering the low-drag theme is the essentially tool-free design of the COHO XC. The yoke is attached to the frame with a long quick-release skewer, and the oversized rear fender mounts into frame tubes and is secured with cotter pins. As expected, the single wheel is locked into the fork with a traditional axle quick release skewer.

The COHO XC consists of a metal frame with durable nylon fabric completing the basket. A rigid fender accepts additional panniers (saddlebags), and throughout the frame are attachment points pre-drilled, threaded, and spaced for water bottle cages or any other attachment of similar bolt spacing. Another feature of the frame is that the top rails are level meaning an odd or oversized shaped load can be strapped to the frame without it pointing towards the ground. With all the packing goodness of the COHO XC it will be easy to forget the recommended 70 pound carrying capacity.



A key element of the COHO XC is the integrated kickstand. The spring loaded stand resembles an upside down set of old-school BMX bike handlebars, but the new-school advantage here is that the adjustable height kickstand not only folds away automatically when you start riding, but also is strong enough to support both the COHO XC and your bike keeping them upright assuming roughly level terrain.



The real test of the COHO XC was a fiery ride down a winding single track with all 70 liters of cargo space filled with bug out gear. On its own, the COHO XC performed splendidly. And compared to other past trailer designs, the COHO XC demonstrated what is possible when design evolution is set free to do its job.

The Burley COHO XC and I took a few three mile descents over varied terrain and hairpin turns. Even through mud and dropoffs, the COHO XC performed flawlessly. During the first run, I noticed the quick release attaching the yoke to the frame had loosened, but adding a little more tightness, it never loosened up again.



The effortlessness of the hitch mechanism seems to be something I should worry about, but only because it is so easy to operate. But too easy? In studying the design, I found the only real concern is that water could enter the cable housing that runs from yellow release handle on the yoke to the spring-loaded detents in the sockets where the axle balls fit. This would accelerate a RTTPOFS or rust-to-the-point-of-failure scenario. However, if the cable broke, I could easily disengage the detents and release the trailer manually by simply reaching into the sockets and depressing the detents with my finger. In a true SHTF, you could easily work around the ball-and-socket mechanism to the point of permanently securing the trailer to the axle, or building a simple but effective work-around to allow on-demand hitch and release of the trailer.



The handling of the loaded COHO XC requires a small adjustment in your riding habits. Due to the additional length, weight and potential sideways pull of the loaded trailer, the flow of the turn must account for the entire bike-trailer system. If the bike is turned too quickly, the trailer will add a Newtonian Law lateral tug on the bike requiring a course correction and balance adjustment. But when the bike and trailer are driven in unison, the entire system flows through turns and terrain like a champ. And when going downhill, you might even forget it’s there.

A key element of the single-wheel trailer compared to the more traditional dual-wheel trailer is that the articulated nature of a triple-wheel inline system (bike wheels followed directly by trailer wheel) provides multiple pivot points where road bumps and trail undulations are soaked up with a rocking motion rather than the aggressive ram-and-bounce approach of the dual wheel designs. The reason this articulation works is that as trail bumps and dips lift or lower the angle of the trailer while two-wheel designs raise and lower the entire trailer at once making for a much harsher ride and also a trailer than can easily get hung up on logs and curbs.

Even more, the width of the COHO XC fits within the width profile of the bike’s handlebars meaning you can zip through with trailer any opening or pathway you could have ridden through anyway. Not always true with dual-wheeled trailers, especially when turning. Even if you do encounter an edge, the wedge shape of the COHO XC as it extends off the bike will just force itself into alignment with the bike. And with a single-wheel design, there is no way you can hook a trailer wheel on an obstacle, tree, branch, fence post, or any other object small enough to fit between side wheel and frame and strong enough to destroy your trailer or throw you over the handlebars, or likely both.

Furthering the smooth ride of the COHO XC is a spring shock mounted between the frame and the rear wheel fork. The adjustable spring soaks up bumps and vibrations, and keeps the wheel on the ground as much as possible. Trailers are notorious for briefly leaving the ground when encountering bumps of a certain size. This phenomenon can cause the trailer to bounce sideways, and even hop off the side of a trail on its own. With a bit if spring actuated float, the trailer tire will grip the ground better under lateral forces over bumps and washboarded roads.



For the bug out, there is one feature that will likely not get used and that is the orange safety flag that rides atop a flexible pole. However, one flag component that will likely get some use is the bottle opener integrated into the flagpole mount.



The value of any particular piece of survival gear is based on its overall contribution to the survival equation with bonus points added for gear you can use now for fun and work. A $40k dedicated bug out vehicle that sits in your garage is an effective and desirable piece of kit, but perhaps not the most immediately functional. So for one 100th that price, you can have the next best thing, the Burley COHO XC bug out bike trailer.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Magical Magpul Bipod




The wizards at Magpul have done it again. This time with the humble rifle bipod. From its earliest start of two crossed sticks, to the dedicated but standalone bipods of the 19th century buffalo hunters, to the advent of the bolt-on bipods of bolt actions and machine guns in the 20th century, bipods have proved their necessity. One of the most popular civilian bipods is the ubiquitous Harris. The spring-loaded adjustable length legs of the 12.3 ounce Harris have pinched skin and caused blood blisters for over six decades. And still it remains popular. Until now, that is because the industry disruptor extraordinaire named Magpul Industries just showed up to the party and heads are turning. By mixing their special alchemy of hardened steel, anodized aluminum and proprietary plastic polymer, Magpul has delivered yet again another product that not only outperforms all others in its class, but makes everyone need one even if they didn’t yet know it.



Futureland
So what is the Magpul Bipod? Well, let’s start with what the Magpul Bipod isn’t. It isn’t two pounds. It isn’t $300. It’s isn’t spring-loaded. And won’t give you a blood blister or cut your finger no matter how many times it’s deploy it. And just what is the Magpul Bipod? Well, it is now the finest 11.7 ounce, $109, button-deployed bipod on the market.



 


 

Available in two colors and three attachment options, the Magpul Bipod has raised the dusty old bipod bar so high that unless there is another company out there like Magpul, we won’t be seeing a better bipod offering any time soon. And we all know Magpul is a singularity.



The Magpul Bipod, for such a simple and elegant design, has a remarkable portfolio. In addition to being a six-position, adjustable length, pan, tilt, 45-degree, reversible platform of stability, it keeps its footprint small and personality sedated. Personally, I opted for the Picatinny rail option for the widest application across my rifles. The dual-bolt clamp grabs the rail, securely tightened with either a larger slotted screwdriver or 1/8th inch hex wrench.

Isosceles Rules
The key to the Magpul Bipod’s performance is its ability to lock up solid when under load. The geometric magic of the triangle is in the amazing property where a triad of corners connecting three lines eliminate movement and distributes the force equally across the entire geometric structure. So no matter how much play there is in the system when not under load, when forward pressure is added to the equation, the Magpul Bipod steps up and locks down.


 
The Magpul Bipod has no loyalty to any particular triangle whether acute, obtuse, scalene, isosceles or even equilateral. The variability of the triangles along with the added 50 degrees of pan and 40 degrees of total tilt makes the Magpul Bipod a wildly effective stability enhancement. The polymer and 6061 T-6 anodized aluminum legs extend four inches beyond their initial 6.3 inches. The pair of glove-friendly buttons, one each for leg deployment and leg extension, snap to attention through spring-detent only. Not a blood blister in sight. For those who don’t get the reference, the Harris bipod is known to retract with sudden force often catching a bit of skin in the mix. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone, and like having a mean dog for a pet, you learn to keep your distance.





New Shoes
The legs of the Magpul Bipod have aggressive rubber feet, but if your mission requires something even more overt, the legs will accept Atlas-pattern bipod feet whether spikes, skids, or spiky skids. A single roll pin holds the current shoes in place so swapping them out is as easy as swapping out a flat trigger guard with a Magpul enhanced trigger guard on an AR15. Easier actually.


 
 



When combining the tilt of the Magpul Bipod with a single full leg extension, you can get over 45 degrees of single direction offset. The average roof, pretending for the moment that you have SHTF overwatch in your neighborhood, is 26.6 degrees. Any roof over 37 degrees is considered a steep slope. In fact, a roof slope of 45 degrees would be difficult to stay on without ropes. So the Magpul Bipod will easily perform as needed across all useful domestic ridgelines.




And should your immediate needs not require any panning (side to side swing of the rifle), you can spin a disk that sits between the bipod and mounting platform to lock out the panning feature. This adds a measure of additional stability to situations where you are guaranteed a perpendicular intersection between bipod face and target direction.

 





 

Before the Magpul Bipod, my favorite bipod was the Elite Iron Revolution Bipod. It is truly a feat of engineering, and has no loyalty to pretty much anything. It works just as well upside down as rightside up essentially allowing the rifle barrel to spin freely but solidly within the bipod’s center. The two problems with the Elite Iron Revolution Bipod compared to the Magpul Bipod are that the affordable steel version Elite Iron starts at $600, and second, the 34 ounces of bipod is over three times the weight of the Magpul Bipod. All that said, the Elite Iron works well for those heavy rifles in the upper thirty caliber numbers and well into the forty-plus calibers.

 
Size Matters
In the crotch of the Magpul Bipod is a manly one-and-a-quarter inch diameter knob that locks or loostens the pan and tilt. A quarter turn is plenty to access those features, but if you want to reverse the direction of the Magpul Bipod legs, you will need to spin the manly knob about four revolutions. And why would you want to reverse the leg direction? Simple. First, the bipod legs are usually mounted at the most forward position of the available rail, and since bipod stability is often a function of the forward pressure load on the bipod (lightly pushing the rifle away from you to strengthen the angle of the bipod), you would want the deployed bipod legs to be pushing against their housing rather than against the release mechanism. But this usually puts the feet of the stowed bipod in front of the muzzle essentially extending the overall length of the rifle package. 







By spinning the bipod around pointing the feet towards the stock, the Magpul Bipod extends only a quarter-inch in front of the mounting point. I have several covert rifle cases that easily hold my ARs but not with the bipod pointing forward. A quick spin of the center knob (which, by the way, does not fully unscrew so there is no risk of loss or rifle wardrobe malfunction) the Magpul Bipod spins freely allow the rifle system to smoothly seat into its minimum case.


 



The knurled knob at the center of this angular masterpiece is a massive improvement over previous bipod designs. But also of note are other two pairs of buttons controlling the legs. A 7/16th inch diameter metal button releases the legs to re-stow them. Both legs can be deployed their 90 degree rotation without any button pressing. Because there is no button-press needed to put the Magpul Bipod to work, it’s possible to drag the bipod feet on the ground or other object while bringing the rifle barrel upward. This causes the legs to snap into position and remain there until the release button is pushed.


 
 
Control. Alt. DELETE!
Just south of that button is an 11/16ths by 9/16ths inch rectangular button that when depressed releases the leg to extend or retract, or stop along its path in one of the five intermediate detents. Since the release button is on the moving section of leg, the operation can be quickly and efficiently done with one hand. Just push the button and pull the leg out. In contrast, the Harris bipod only had two built-in leg length choices; all in our all out. And worse, the legs were spring loaded into their short position, not locked up by any other means. And since the retraction button is unfortunately on the upper leg segment, combined with the loaded spring of the leg when in the extended position, when the retraction button is pushed whether intentionally or not, the lower leg screams home sliding into the upper section at lightning speed often catching a bit of skin or cloth along the way. Hence “Harris Bite.”


 

Actually the two-position Harris leg is not quite true. There is a set screw with a knob that holds the leg in place with a turn. However, the leg is still spring loaded with only the set screw holding it still so the briefest turn of the set screw knob sends the snapping violently home. Further, it requires two hands, one to hold the leg in position against the spring tension, and the other hand to turn the set screw. And pretty much the same mess happens with the overly aggressive springs driving initial leg deployment and retraction. Watch your fingers.



 



So Magpul has done it once again with the Magpul Bipod. By combining its engineering talents and in-house materials science, Magpul has created a rail accessory you can be proud of, and will actually improve your rifle’s performance along with your own. So do yourself and your rifle a favor; BYOD: Bipod Your Offense and Defense.