07 November 2015

Basic route with Gunjira

I took a 4.5 hour ride today with Gunjira.  I was still tired from the week, and not in great shape in my post PBP slide. Gunjira has a new baby daughter, Nona, and has been off the bike for most of the past 6 months.  So a welcome event to ride in warm, dry November weather.

Crossing the Tamagawa and heading toward Onekan.  A quiet morning.

Mega Solar peacefully co-exists with giant spider, at the far end of the Tank Road.

Bike leaning -- Sky Blue Parlee Altum R, with the Gokiso wheels!

My bike and Gunjira's

Today Gunjira rode one of his Equilibrium bikes, made by Vlad. Road disc brakes, single front chainring.

More pix over the North side of Lake Tsukui

On the bridge over Lake Tsukui.  Twist body for photo.

Gunjira's Equilibrium tries to climb over the rail and escape
I headed back via Otarumi and Takao.  Gunjira continued on for Kobu Tunnel and Tomin no mori.
At Otarumi.  Is that, yes, surely it must be ... Mt. Fuji in the distant haze!

It was great to catch up with Gunjira and great to get on the bike and out of town a wee bit!

28 October 2015

Solestar insoles -- relief for the feet

Over the years, I have suffered occasionally with various degrees of pain in my feet while cycling. Later on during some one day rides, I would get "hot foot" -- if you have had it, you know what it is: the nerves in your foot are telling you the foot is hot, burning hot.  Sometimes it would go away by doing one-leg riding exercises and easing the pressure off my left and right feet alternatively.  Other times I would need to get off and rest for 5 minutes before continuing.  Other times, I suffered the same tingling numbness I remember from lacing ice skates too tightly ... accompanied by searing pain as the blood re-entered the feet once the issue was addressed.

Solestar road insole - side view.  What is so special?  Read on.
Solestar road insole - top view.  Just another insole?  Well, no!
On PBP in 2011, my feet hurt, a lot. I was practically in tears at times.  I wore regular road shoes and regular cycling socks.  A big mistake for that length of event!

So what have I done over the years to manage and even eliminate foot pain?

1.  Proper cleat placement. This is the first step -- in my case I need to make sure the cleats are far enough back on my shoes so that I am pushing on the pedals directly with the balls of each foot.

2.  Larger but proper fitting shoes.  Toes wedged in are not good!  Narrow shoes are not good! Especially on VERY long rides like PBP, it is good to have shoes that give a bit of extra room.  I now generally ride one size larger shoes than I did 5 or 10 years ago ... for the same size feet.

3.  Shimano cycling sandals.  I love these for shorter rides, and my feet feel great.  But they are too flexy for me to work on rides over 100km.

4.  Metatarsal pads.  I tried these after reading some about the causes of foot pain ... but I am not convinced they had a significant impact.  Some of them were downright uncomfortable.

5.  Double and/or thicker socks.  Sometimes I avoid thin cycling socks in favor of thicker wool socks, or double socks.  This can make a big difference.  Recently I would never try a 400km, 600km or longer event riding without double socks -- the inner thin wool and the outer thicker wool.  Wool definitely.

All these steps have helped, to the point where even on a 600km ride I do not worry much about foot pain, as long as I avoid a hammering style of ride.  But there is one other major piece to the puzzle:

6.  Insoles.

I have never gotten custom orthotic insoles, but I have tried a wide range of aftermarket solutions available in cycling shops and on the Internet, as potential replacements for the insoles that come with my shoes.
Sidas insoles -- did nothing for me.
"Powerstep" -- with metatarsal pads glued on -- did not get the job done.
Downright painful!
Another common insole with different swapable arch supports for different feet.  Nope.
The only ones I have that have "worked" for me over the long term are called Bill Peterson Powerbeds.  I got them back in 2002 or 2003, and have never found them since.  As you can see below, mine are pretty ratty.  (I never should have tried gluing metatarsal pads into them.)

Powerbeds - upper side
Powerbeds - underside

Just as I was thinking I really needed a new pair of insoles, my friend David Marx at RGT Enterprises started to import and distribute a brand of insole.  Perfect timing!  These are called Solestar.  Designed in Germany.  David swore that I would love them, and that I would notice a real difference if I used them for at least 7-8 rides.

He was right!

I rode in the Dolomites and PBP with the MTB version, and enjoyed almost no foot issues.  (Well, there was that one extra long day in the Dolomites when I pushed way too hard for way too long and had a little pain, but otherwise no problems.  No foot problems at all on the 1230 kms of Paris-Brest-Paris!  Again I am practically in tears ... but tears of joy instead of pain.

David warned me that it takes awhile to notice the difference with Solestar.  Why?  Because they are designed to keep your foot much straighter and more stable in the shoe than otherwise.  This helps your pedaling motion and can even sometimes solve knee or ankle issues.  It may (according to manufacturer claims) even increase your power.  Also, because your legs stay in the correct plane, your stroke is a bit longer than before, and you may even need to adjust your saddle after the first 4-5 rides, raising it a few millimeters.

These insoles are very popular with top riders -- Andre Greipel, Fabian Cancellara et al endorse on the Solestar website.

Unlike other store bought insoles, they are thick where they need to be, thin where they need to be, they are stiff and flexible just where needed.  They hug and stabilize your foot.  There is even a depression at the rear center so that the large bone at the rear of your foot can sit down and your heel is low enough in the shoe.  They are NOT like cheap one-size-fits-all inserts that are cut to fit in your shoe.  You must get the right size.

The MTB and Road versions retail for 14,000 yen, a fraction of what custom orthotics or high end shoes cost.  With an MTB and a Road pair, if I use them exclusively for a few years, I can get that cost down into the ~1 yen per km range.  Well worth it for happy feet.

Solestar - MTB version

Solestar - Road version

This photo STARTS to show the special features.

Solestar "black" - sprinter's model.
David Marx's model friend "Igor"
Thank you, Solestar!

21 October 2015

Sunday in the Hills

This past Sunday I got in my first regular Sunday ride in the hills west of Tokyo in a long time: since before I left for the Dolomites and PBP in July.  The occasion was the visit of Christian S., a German rider based in Australia who comes through Japan from time to time (and, I understand, reads this blog).  We rode out and as far as the T intersection where N and S Akigawa separate, at Hinohara town hall, with Andrew and Dan. Dan distributes Ritte bikes in Japan, as well as clothing under the Cyclism name (note the color coordination on his MAAP jersey).
Andrew, Christian, Dan and David ... posing with the Sky Blue Parlee Altum R
The weather was beautiful, and we did a traditional route -- up the Akigawa, Kobu Tunnel, then back via Lake Tsukui and Onekansen-Doro.
The steps toward the swimming hole at Motojuku are tempting today ...
(oops, the name of the intersection is no longer Motojuku ... now Tachibanabashi?)
On the Akigawa climb.
From near the entrance to Kobu Tunnel
A beautiful day
We stopped for a lunch on the south side of lake Sagami at Restaurant Shu.  Much more civilized than sitting on concrete in front of a convenience store.
Dining outside in perfect weather
Artistic hitching rack for bikes! 
The hitching rack comes complete with locks -- just take the key to lunch!
Incredible cyclist accommodation I could not imagine a few years ago.
At the end we did a detour off Onekan and rode over steep hills (Google Maps' walking route) to GS Astuto near Ikuta Station in Kawasaki.

The bike Tim rented to Christian.  This seems to be Chinese, not Japanese?
And probably means "specially fast" or "fastest"?
Tim was not at the shop, Christian could not raise him quickly via mobile, and I needed to race back into Tokyo to meet someone at Tokyo Station, so in the end Christian left the bike at C Speed for Tim to pick up.

All in all 177 kms for me on the day -- longest since PBP -- and a fun ride.  Hope Christian will be back through again, and that I'll see Andrew and Dan again before long.

The Idaho Stop becomes the San Francisco Stop?

One interesting factoid from Cycle Oregon:  in Idaho cyclists do not need to stop at stop signs.  These are "yield" signs for cyclists.  No cross traffic -- roll on through!  So the law has adjusted to fit the behavior of 95% or more cyclists.  What a great idea.  Besides, well, in Idaho how often is there actually cross traffic at a stop sign?

But now, according to an article in today's NY Times online, San Francisco is considering the same thing.  Incredible.

22 September 2015

I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain - Cycle Oregon 2015

Day 6 between Cove and La Grande
Day 4 between Weiser, Idaho and Farewell Bend State Park, Oregon
On Saturday I finished riding Cycle Oregon 2015, a week-long ride that attracts 2200 riders (and sells out almost immediately when applications open in early February).  The ride visits small towns and rotates annually among different parts of the state.  This was originally planned to give the largely Portland-based group of riders a chance to see areas of Oregon they might not otherwise get to, and to raise money for charities to meet local needs. (The ride, in its 28th year, now attracts riders from all over the U.S. and, this year, 8 foreign countries, so is much less focused on Portland-based riders, though they still form a large core).
Day 4 Again
Dawn at camp, Day 6
This year's ride was planned to feature the Hell's Canyon area along the Oregon/Idaho border, including an overlook way down into the deep canyon -- which is deeper than the Grand Canyon.  My first memory of Hell's Canyon is from watching on TV Evel Knievel's attempted rocket-powered motorcycle jump in ... 1973, just a few years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  Now it seems like before I was born, and a kind of more innocent era of daredevil stunt. This year's Cycle Oregon was named, appropriately, "Hell on Wheels".  Previous rides have been named "The Magnificent 7" (for 7 tall mountains on the route), "Going Coastal" (for a ride in the Oregon coast area), and similar themes.
Day 6 high point -- 1273 meters elevation.  Matched/exceeded only on Day 4.
Ride Director Steve Schulz joins "Karaoke from Hell" night with his rendition
of Garth Brooks' Classic "I've Got Friends in Low Places"
Ian Madin, Chief Scientist of the Oregon Department of Geology, offers evening lectures.
Want to know about Columbia River basalt?  Great floods of the past (no, not Noah's flood, the Missoula floods)?
Worried about the Cascade Subduction Zone potential for an M9.0 Quake?  Ask Ian! 
Cycle Oregon's Priority Activities
Cycle Oregon actually made NEWS in the region this year when an 18,000 acre wildfire flared up just outside of Halfway, Oregon, the planned overnight stop at the end of Day 3, forced a complete re-routing of days 3 to 6.  (Actually, the fire was man-made, so "flared up" is a bit too passive a term.)  This route change involved a herculean organizational effort, and came off pretty much without a hitch.  Imagine the logistics involved in moving, feeding, showering, and disposing of waste from, an army.  That is Cycle Oregon -- an amazing logistical feat.
Day 3 "option" ride out of Cambridge and to the southern (dammed) part of Hell's Canyon
We start the longest climb of the trip.
Day 4 -- Oldtime Fiddlers Entertain at a Rest Stop
Weiser Idaho is home to the National Oldtime Fiddlers' contest 
Jeffrey's Community Hall and Shamrock Club, Day 4
The Snake River between Farewell Bend and Weiser, Day 4
Dammed area of the Snake River above Brownlee Dam, Day 3
These dams lack any passage for migrating salmon ... so there are none this far inland.
The reservoirs look dead in comparison to a flowing river ...
At the evening ride announcements in Cambridge, Idaho, we were told that we could not go to Halfway, nor to the following stop at Joseph near Lake Wallowa, since the fire had caused repeated highway closures and evacuation of homes.  We would miss the Hell's Canyon overlook.

As we all stood in an open field, in darkness, hearing this news, rain started to pour down from the heavens.  It rained pretty much all night, testing the seam sealing on my 35-year old tent's rain fly.  I managed to make it through the night warm, with only minor dampness that a towel soaked up before it could get to my (even older) sleeping bag.  It rained again the following night, but we had dry weather on the road.  Only on Day 5 did we get a few minutes' of rain showers while actually riding, though later or slower riders got more rain.  Despite riding on dry roads, the rain that first night in Cambridge apparently set a record for precipitation on a Cycle Oregon event. Unfortunately, the rain would not be in time nor in the right place to extinguish the fire and save our route through Halfway.

The Cycle Oregon website unofficially changed the name of the ride from "Hell on Wheels" to "Hell or High Water".  Given the lack of flooding (i.e. "high water"), I think James Taylor's "I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain" might be more appropriate.
Dinner tent in Baker City, Day 0.  A massive feeding operation comes off without a hitch.
"Option" section near Baker City, morning of Day 1
I enjoyed meeting lots of friendly people on this event -- people from all over the U.S. and some from abroad.  People of all ages and professions.  And I was glad to meet up for several dinners with Roy T. and "the gang", the nucleus of which is from the Portland Saturday morning ride that I joined back in February 2012.
Dinner at the Grand Geiser Hotel, Day 5 
Grand Geiser Cafe and Hotel's Skylight
Large volumes of beer were consumed.
Widmer Brothers ran out of IPA at one point, forcing participants to settle for amber ale, wheat beer
and a few other options, or move on to numerous wines.
You can find the GPS maps of the original planned routes here.

With the two hardest days cancelled and rerouted, I found the cycling was a nice "warm down" after PBP.  Not too challenging, plenty of leisurely riders and a few fast folks.  The randonneur bike proved very comfortable, and very fast.  I was passing large numbers of riders not only on the flats and descents, but even on the climbs!  And I appreciated different hand, foot and saddle positions vis-vis the bike I used at PBP. Other than swapping out the rear non puncture-resistant Grand Bois tire after some flats on Day 3, the bike worked like a charm.

The camping -- just setting up and sleeping/living in a tent for a week -- was more of a challenge, but still enjoyable.  The food -- was always plentiful, too plentiful, and quality was as good as could possibly be expected for this kind of mass event.  The daily entertainment and the "beer tent", pizza and Nossa Familia coffee were all very good.  This would be a great event to do with a partner or as a reunion for a group of friends.  It also would be a great event to keep doing into my 60s and 70s.  This year's oldest participant was 81.  Far less likely to collapse and die of heart failure here than at PBP!
"tent and porter" service including camp chairs ... for an extra fee
useful if you do not want to bring or pitch your own tent
...but no choice of location and packed in a bit like sardines
Lots of couples do this annually.  Lots of tandems.

On the outward leg of Day 3, climbing

PDX culture = bicycles and tattoos,  so why not a cycling tattoo?
This one looked quite nice -- much better than the Pantani or 力 tattoos
I saw in the Dolomites earlier this summer
Camp with view of the Snake River at Farewell Bend
Many riders swam in the river on warm Day 2.  Not on cold Day 4.
At one stop I counted 7 of these 2-part mobile shower units.
Hot showers.  And hot water for shaving etc. in the sinks out front.

Strawberries at a rest stop.
Lunch stop Day 2

Folk singer Kelly, at lunch stop Day 2. She was very popular with the gang.

Random horse later on Day 2
Unlike cows or sheep, horses tend to react ... move quickly and approach ... when you stop for a photo
View from my tent, end of Day 1 Farewell Bend.
View from camp at Farewell Bend
Jonathan Maus' Bike Portland blog has nice entries on the event, links to which can be found below at the bottom of this post.  You can find photos of my randonneur bike on Day One and Day Four, though I was hoping he might give a bit more of a "plug" to the builder, Bob K. of Bantam Bicycles. And the Cycle Oregon Facebook page (link below) has plenty of photos of happy riders.
Happy Rider with Randonneur Bike near end of Day 6 ride
Claiming a space to camp on Day 5 while I pick up my luggage

At the lunch stop on Day 6, at beautiful Catherine Creek State Park, my bike was approached by a Cycle Oregon official photographer, who said they were taking photos of riders holding up their bikes, for future promotional use.  He said that since my randonneur bike was the "most beautiful bike" at the event this year, they wanted to get a photo of me holding the bike. ...  I will let you know if I find it posted somewhere.

Day 6 was definitely the highlight, as our route followed an Oregon "Scenic Bikeway".  These routes are the best that the state has to offer for road cyclists.  There are 15 so far ... and I want to go back and ride them all, maybe some as part of a future Cycle Oregon, and some with just a small group of friends.

Cycle Oregon Facebook Page is here.

Cycle Oregon photo pool flickr is here.
And links to lots of other spectacular photos by the Cycle Oregon photographers are here.

Bike Portland blog reports and photos:

Getting Things Started
Day One
Day Two
Fire Forces Re-route
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
(No Day Seven entry as of this point, but see: Exploring Baker City and Environs

Final PDX Note:  Just-released figures show that 7.2% of commuting trips in Portland in 2014 were made by bicycle, a record number for the city and WAY better than the U.S.-based competition.  Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington, DC and San Francisco are all in the 3-5% range.  New York, despite the Bloomberg years, is still at 1.1%.