05 October 2019

Cyclyng Bike and Cafe

Part, only part, of the Cyclyng Bike & Cafe shop.
MOB's shop is located at Silbermannstrasse 2, in the Uberseestadt, which is a newly developed area on what was once a major industrial site within the port are of Bremen, Northwest of the Center City. The River Weser runs on one side, while an inlet for mooring ships is on the other, separating this manmade isthmus from the rest of the city. Many new, upscale apartment blocks are built or under construction in this area, with the population going from zero to tens of thousands in the past few years, and office and retail space mixed in. There are nice walkways (bikeways?) along the river, and a manmade beach. Importantly, this location allowed MOB to get plenty of space for the shop in a nice, new building, decent parking for customers who pick up/drop off bikes by car, reasonable rent, and it is not too far from the city center.
Cyclyng signage
Another interesting feature of the location is the proximity of Stadler, a HUUUGE warehouse store for bicycles. This building is, literally, the largest bike shop I have ever seen, and it is just at the entrance to the Uberseestadt. We are talking Home Depot or Costco size! I guess if someone wants to shop for a bicycle in Bremen, ... they are likely to come to this area, and if they do, they will check out both shops. More often than not, someone who appreciates a personal touch, and excellent mechanics, with competitive pricing, will end up buying from MOB.
MOB's shop is the red pin drop. City Center is at the lower right.
Like most bicycle shops, MOB's business will make some money selling bicycles, but eventually he hopes to build a large customer base who rely on his shop for maintenance, upgrades and consumables. He has an excellent full-time mechanic already and will add another, with a nice space for maintenance ("to-die-for," as they say). He did an incredible job in getting my Ti Travel bike ready for Paris-Brest-Paris.
The Wilier mats kept me from drooling on the floor as I looked at the racing bikes.
When I think of MOB's philosophy of this shop, it reminds me of Tsutaya's T-Site in Daikanyama. Apparently the founder of Tsutaya/Culture Convenience Club decided to make his own "dream store". He did not worry about whether it would make money, about how much revenue each section would generate. He made a store he loved ... and as it turns out, everyone loves it. It is always full. And the sales, well, they take care of themselves.

So MOB's store is designed the way he loves it. Others will also. And the business is off to an excellent start and on a good track.
MOB's 2008 JCRC Champion Jersey
Plenty of supplies - consumables, gels, bars, etc.

Helmets, saddles, shoes, bottles, tools, some kit, etc., etc. All you need.

Does that say America?

Color coordinated cable-end covers!

Very Nice Trackstand
The store seems very much a family operation, and Kazuko is in charge of the cafe side of the operation. The cafe is spacious, the food delicious, coffee tasty, and there was plenty of cycling literature to browse ... enough to keep a customer coming back over and over. I've just sent several years of Bicycle Quarterly issues to add even more to the collection.
Some of the cafe seating area

Food and drink preparation with a smile




Bicycle postcards?

Salad for lunch
Catalogue of the leading bicycle collection in the world ... recently sold off by the collector!
(The postcards were inside here.
The Cyclyng Logo.
Next post -- some discussion of the bicycles themselves!


The Cyclysts of Bremen

As longtime readers know, Positivo Espresso expanded from a local to a global phenomenon when many of the core members left Tokyo in the last great exodus of expats -- generally 2008 to 2011. This exodus has somewhat (well, severely) limited our initiatives within Japan over the last decade, but it has given us a core/founding presence in diverse locations such as ... London, then Mallorca, and Bremen.
Reunion of the 2015 Bremen B Team for the Giro del Dolomiti
(That is me across from MOB in the front, with the muscular arms and flat stomach.
No, actually that is Jochen, who placed on the podium in 2015 Giro. I am at the back,
my usual location for riding up mountains with this group).
Our founder (I won't call him our "bicycle leader" in German, since the word for "leader" reminds people of a very dark period in German history), Michael O.B. Kraehe (aka "MOB") is now the Bremen leg of the Positivo Espresso tripod ... After spending most of the last decade running an international business program in a university, MOB in 2018 opened a bicycle shop. The shop, "Cyclyng Bike and Cafe", quickly established itself as one of the leaders in Bremen, a city that was recently rated the most bicycle friendly city in Germany of over 500,000 persons. Perhaps Cyclyng Bike and Cafe" pushed it into the top spot, ahead of Hanover.
At dinner with MOB's family (Kazuko, Henry, Karin) -- even the teenagers showed up.
Why does MOB spell Cyclyng with a "y" instead of an "i"? His award-winning German cycling blog is titled "There is no "i" in Cyclyng". MOB tells me that he based this on a Facebook post he saw long ago where one friend wrote "There is no 'I' in happiness", and someone else answered "Well there would be, if you spell it right". But I always think of it as a play on the old high school sports team coach's entreaty for players to be less selfish -- "There is no "i" in team" (apologies for crude language in that excerpt).  The classic comeback is, of course: "There is no 'i' in Team, but there is an 'M' and an 'E'!")

Of course, there IS an "i" in cycling, and a lot of "me" at least in cycle racing, as Lance Armstrong, Bernard Hinault, Eddie Merckx, and other aggressive, not-so-friendly champions have shown over and over.

Anyway, at long last I was able to visit MOB in Bremen and to enjoy Cyclyng there. I had a great stay in Bremen and these posts present a long overdue report to other members and our long-neglected readers, mostly in the form of photos.
The famous "musicians of Bremen", and a couple of humans.
Not as impressive as the similar animal statute in Bolzano ... but more famous.
This post starts with some general tourism. The following ones will focus on MOB's incredible shop, and our afternoon ride outside of the city.

It is a little known fact that MOB is not "of Bremen". No, he is a Rheinlander living in a foreign land. These city-states go way back to the middle ages, and the Rheinlanders in Bremen sometimes feel a bit like foreigners. They retreat to the informal "Rheinland Consulate", which serves the right kind of beer. We went there.

Warning -- place your coaster over your empty beer glass, or it will be swiftly refilled. House rules.

Rheinlanders -- Look for the sign of the winking owl with a finger/feather to the head.  ... or so I am told


Roland of Bremen, Protector of the City, this statute from 1404

MOB as tour guide, at Roland's knee, across from the old city hall.

Peace sign in the city square. Bremen has been ruled by the Democratic Socialists for many decades.

Leaving the square.

These incredible buildings are a legacy of Ludwig Roselius, the inventor of decaffeinated coffee, a local.

More from the coffee king.

Coffee tastes good, morning, noon and night! Decaf!
Bremen also hosted the very first coffee shop in German speaking countries, 1673.
Scary statues, interesting fish tank.
After the in town tour, we went to a lovely restaurant in the countryside along one of the many rivers and marshlands near Bremen. It is over 65km from the North Sea, but very much a coastal city, with its shipyards, and links down the River Weser to Bremerhaven
Approaching the restaurant


Setting sun on the marshlands.



A feast for two. Those are small local shrimp (ebi) on my plate.

Serious berries for dessert ... and not the only berries on this visit to Bremen.

As we were ready to leave the restaurant ... last light.
Enough of tourism. Next post -- the bike shop!

11 July 2019

Swim and Bike day - to Chichibu and Takasaki with Peter - SRAM Etap Fail

Hydrangeas still blooming in July along the slopes of Nariki-Kaido
Deep green with running water -- beautiful in every season.

Last weekend I could not get out on the bike. Rain, work on Saturday, and a barbecue for my students on Sunday (not work, but workplace-related), all prevented it.

So I looked forward to trying a mid-week ride. 

I had been talking about trying to ride with Peter W. I met Peter when he gave me a lift to and from the Fuji Hill Climb.  (I offered to drive or be driven ... just to cut down the number of cars going with the Tokyo Cranks and avoid sitting alone in traffic. Peter loves to drive, ... but he is the first to admit he would not make a good passenger, so the bikes went on top of his sportscar. I am more flexible in these things.) Peter has a flexible schedule mid-week.

Anyway, we settled on yesterday, Wednesday, to try to ride, and the weather forecast was for cool, cloudy, but dry -- as good as it gets near Tokyo in July, I think, though a bit of blue sky might have been nice also. 

I suggested 3 possible routes, all starting from Oume and ending in Karuizawa or Sakudaira. And I had told Onikata-san, the cyclocross racer I met on the way back from Karuizawa a few weeks ago, that if I got back to Gunma I would let her know and see if we could ride with her when in her home territory (she and her husband are in Annaka). She reported that she should be able to ride some in the afternoon.

After morning swim practice, I headed to Tokyo Station where I met Peter, and we boarded an 8:30 Chuo Line rapid train that would continue to Oume. The train starts at Tokyo Station and ends at Oume, so this assured we could fit our bikes even during rush hour, and get a seat the entire trip. Peter would rather have driven (did I mention he likes to drive?).  But we needed to go by train to Oume so we could come back a different route. Frankly, in Japan train offers much more "optionality" than car even if it can sometimes be slower. 
South entrance to Chuo Line platform, Tokyo Station 830AM weekday -- not so bad, though
now that I think about it, the sign does say "don't put luggage in front of here".
My first choice is to ride the entire trip, but if distance and time do not permit that,  I prefer train to car. My fast, minimal "rinko" preparation makes train easier, also -- 5 minutes and my bike is in or out of the rinko bag and ready to go. Again, Peter is more deliberate, and more careful, but it takes him much longer to pack or unpack his bike, even though it is a "rear wheel on" rinko bag (no grease on the hands from removing the back wheel, but takes much more space on the train).  
Takes a bit of time to get this bike ready out of the rinko.
Anyway, we were at Higashi Oume and on the road by 1015am. 
Another view -- always beautiful ... near the start of the Tokyo Hillclimb
We made decent time to the "Holy Fountain", where we had a quick water stop, then climbed Yamabushi and were at the top by Noon. 
The shrine of the holy fountain - fresh water before the climb
Arai Fudou-son shrine - the "holy fountain"
Peter is taller and thinner than me, and has a lighter carbon Specialized "S Works" Roubaix bicycle. But I am still a faster climber and waited 4-5 minutes at the top of Yamabushi. He is relatively new to road cycling, and if he rides regularly I expect he will at some point improve and get up the hills faster than I do, at least he will do so unless I lose some weight. Physics and the magic "power to weight ratio" make it highly likely. So for the time being I enjoy every hill that I summit ahead of him.
Elev 600m, or 608m, or 610m.
This sign serves as SR600 Fuji proof of passage ... only the framebadge is missing. 
Peter arrives at the top of Yamabushi ...
He grumbled about it being 30 meters lower than I had represented, as his Garmin still registered under 600m.
... Said he was "saving his energy for the last push".
I got way ahead again on the downhill, and I do not expect this will change. I drop like a rock and am descending well this year, picking my line carefully and trying to stay off the brakes--eager for Alpine descents. My knowledge of these roads, heavier weight, and Peter's upright riding position give me the advantage on the downhill.  Plus I had my mini aero bars on the bike, which pull in my shoulders and cut drag. Near the top of Yamabushi the pavement was wet and we were in mist from the clouds, but the lower part of the descent to Route 299 was dry, and once we joined 299 (this stretch aka the "ajisai kaido"), it was very fast all the way into Chichibu.

On the Fuji Hill Climb weekend Peter had brought all his own food -- a bit fanatical, I thought. Perhaps excused as a by-product of years living in China and Hong Kong, where food safety and quality can be an issue? I was glad that once we reached Chichibu he seemed eater to eat a regular meal, in fact said he preferred a sit down lunch. We went to an Italian place with good pizza and pasta, full of local ladies at Wednesday noon. The food was tasty and prices were reasonable--not a tourist stop.

From Chichibu the ride went downhill, figuratively and, mostly, literally. I was riding my SRAM Etap setup. I love this wireless electronic shifting. But last week I had a dead rear derailleur battery, way too premature. I figured the battery had a problem, or maybe I had done something to it. So I swapped out the battery for my spare. I put the same battery back in after recharging -- better check to make sure it was not my imagination. Sure enough, on Tuesday when I checked it was dead, so I used the spare battery. But that battery was ALSO dead when I left swimming to ride to Tokyo Station yesterday morning. Hmm. I almost went home ... would have missed the train, so instead decided to swap front and rear batteries and limit myself to a single chainring. Big ring, but I could temporarily change the batteries and use the small chainring on the Nariki Kaido climb and on Yamabushi.

Anyway, this worked fine until one of the sections a few km after Chichibu. The last battery died. I was stuck for the rest of the ride in a 50-23 gear. If you needed to pick one gear for the rest of this ride, it might have been 50-23 or 50-21 -- just enough to get over the last few hills until the climb to Usui Pass, and just big enough to make OK progress on the flats, even if I would "spin out" as soon as I exceeded 28-29kph.

With this gearing, Peter went ahead and soon had a few hundred meters lead on me. ... I could not tell him to turn left for one last hill that would have taken us to Oni-ishi and Fujioka. In the end, we just kept going down a valley to the Northeast and emerged to the flats of the north Kanto plain.

We contacted Onikata-san, whom we had planned to meet at Tomioka and ride with as far as Karuizawa. Instead we headed for Takasaki, a major station. She came by and we could at least get some coffee at a Starbucks. Annaka, Tomioka, Takasaki are all close and all her riding territory. She told us about her Sunday group rides -- typically they train on Jizo Touge, or Mt. Haruna, or a few other places. She said there was lots of repetition, always the same 3-4 routes. I guess I am envious, since living in Annaka puts you close to plenty of nice riding territory, far better than Tokyo. But to get variety you need to go a bit further afield. Or rinko, as we did. Her husband apparently was a serious bike racer -- won the Japanese national championship in his university days. And a friend of theirs runs a bike shop next to her hair salon in Annaka.
Post-coffee pre-train photo.
Anyway, it was a good, active weekday. Even though we could not make our goal of Karuizawa, I still rode 87km with good company, nice roads, and did one of the classic Kanto passes (plus I got in another 10km in town, and a morning 1800m swim).

Also, importantly, my etap failed BEFORE my Europe trip, with still time to put on a mechanical groupset -- better safe than sorry for PBP. Mark Thomas and Lois Springsteen, two winners of the "American Randonneur Award", both warned me off of electronic shifting systems for long events ... and I guess, despite my happy experience in Tasmania, they were probably right. I will submit a warranty claim for the SRAM rear derailleur, but meanwhile will likely be riding good old trusty mechanical shifting in France, cable splitter, spare cables and all. 

26 June 2019

Ride back from Karuizawa - New Friends and Unreliable Weather Forecasts

On Saturday I went to Karuizawa by shinkansen for an orchestra 合宿 (weekend event) -- an all-day string section practice, followed by a dinner and then evening party. I brought my bicycle in rinko bag since I hoped that, if I could get my friend Yuichi to bring back my viola in his car and the weather stayed dry, or dry enough, I could ride the bike home to Tokyo the following day.

The forecast was for clouds during the day and rain in the evening. But the weather upon arrival in Karuizawa Saturday morning was not good. Raining already, way ahead of forecast.
Leaving the shinkansen station 9AM Saturday
It cleared up in the evening, just when the forecast had been predicting the heaviest Saturday rain.
Mt. Asama ... en route to onsen after dinner (via car!)
The forecast for Sunday was for rain starting at 9AM or so in Karuizawa, and from Noon on likely elsewhere in eastern Japan -- Chichibu and other parts of northern Saitama would have rain by noon and through the rest of the day. Saturday's weather did not inspire confidence in the forecast accuracy, but I decided that if I woke early and it was dry, I would just head out missing breakfast and a short morning practice session so I could beat the rain for at least awhile.

It was light by 430AM, I was fully awake by 530AM, and dressed in my gear and in the closest 7/11 for coffee and yogurt soon after its 6AM opening (Karuizawa does not permit stores, even convenience stores, to open before 6AM). I was on the bike at 625AM.
Prince Dori

Route 18 through Karuizawa
Unlike last year, when my brevet route out of Karuizawa at the crack of dawn took me on the Usui Bypass, this time I took the old road, the original Route 18, and long before, the Nakasendo.

The road surface was wet in places, requiring care, but I enjoyed the gradual descent, curve after curve. I saw only one car and one motorcycle coming up the road on the first ten km, all the way to meganebashi, where several motorcyclists were taking a break. I even hit spiderwebs on this stretch of road -- no vehicle as high off the ground had gone down the road yet this morning!
Usually I've taken this photo while climbing instead of descending - different angle

Spectacular morning
At the bottom, a few km after merging with the Bypass, I pulled over at a Lawson convenience store for a first quick rest stop - bathroom break and iced coffee. As I walked into the store, a Japanese cyclist was just sitting in the cafe area to eat some breakfast. I noticed that he was wearing DHB brand clothes -- the house brand from Wiggle, an online shop in the UK that is a good source of lower cost, decent performance gear that magically appears a week or so after the click of a mouse.

He looked like a long distance rider, so I sat nearby and introduced myself. His name was Isono-san, and he said he was hoping to ride to Naoetsu that day, about 180km away and over two significant hills. I mentioned that I ride Audax/brevets. He said he did as well. I mentioned that I would ride PBP in August. He said he also would go. He just started riding brevets in 2015, not in time for the last PBP, and seemed very eager to join this one. We chatted for awhile longer and parted with "see you in Rambouillet in August!" I was glad that I struck up a conversation.
Looking back up the hill -- not a hint of rain, yet!
I made very good time now that I was through the curves of the descent from Usui Pass. I recently got my mini Aerobars off the shelf and put them on my Ti Travel bike, and they work! They really get me to pull my elbows and arms in, and even if I do not feel that I am much lower on the bike, just by pulling in the shoulders I cut a narrower profile in the wind. Before I realize, I am cruising 2-3kph faster than usual, without any more effort. If I want to use them on PBP, I had better ride them as much as possible over the next month, since currently my tolerance for this position on the bike is a bit limited.
Cockpit for PBP - Vision mini aero TT bars with Wahoo in the middle?
Anyway, I was enjoying this beautiful morning, low traffic ride and making great time on Gunma Pref Route 213 when, as I approached a red traffic signal, I saw a road cyclist round the corner about 75m ahead of me. The light turned green well before I got to the intersection so I kept up my pace. There was a rise as the road went over a minor overpass. I was gaining on the cyclist, who had slowed a bit for the turn. I thought -- I can blow past him! Indeed, I accelerated up the ramp, passing the rider on a very nice, understated Cervelo R5 (black carbon frame with black matte lettering) just at the top. I looked over and nodded ... and to my slight surprise I noticed that it was a she, not a he.

Anyway, I was zooming along at 45+kph down the other side of the overpass and did not give much thought to the rider, slowed a bit on the flat, and maybe a km later, I looked back. She was about 20m behind me, having no difficulty holding my pace. I accelerated a bit, then made a right turn at a T intersection, and after another few hundred meters headed up a hill.  I thought -- on the hill she will probably zoom past, but I tried to hold a steady pace. She was still there, a few meters back, not drafting, but not passing. Maybe she wanted to chat? So near the top of the hill, I sat up in the saddle and said "ohayo gozaimasu".  We chatted as we rode for a few km, until she turned off to the North to head for home. A local rider, she said she races cyclocross, and lives nearby in the "inaka". We made introductions (her name is Onikata-san) and traded contact info as I headed for home.
South of Annaka 
Rolling Hills Southeast of Annaka
So Isono-san, I will see you in Rambouillet, and Onikata-san, I will look you up if I am riding in the Annaka area again. What other mode of transport can you make two new friends while heading back to Tokyo on a Sunday morning?
Karuizawa to Sakado
I pushed on, hugging the southern edge of the valley between Annaka and Takasaki, and exploring some new (for me) roads around Yorii and finally getting a few very short climbs. It was just after noon, as I approached Sakado and Kawagoe that it started to rain. I thought I would get to Kawagoe, but saw that the same train line (which merges to become the Fukutoshin Line near Ikebukuro) goes to both, and the rain started to get quite hard just as I was within a km of Sakado. So I rinko'ed the bike and hopped the train.
"Solar sharing" farm in the hills above Yorii.
The trees growing under the module rows do not need much sunlight, apparently.
The rain seemed to stop by the time the train got less than half way to Ikebukuro. I thought about getting out to ride more, but I had had plenty of exercise, and I wanted to be awake for a later dinner with my older son, visiting from the USA.

Strava track is here.