08 January 2016

Long bike

01 January 2016

2015 -- Ended with an Exclamation Point!

Last sunset of 2015, from Kamakura on the Shonan Coast
2015 was for me a year of dramatic change.  So I was elated that I managed to complete the major cycling goals I set at the outset for the year, taking advantage of a nice, lengthy planned professional transition to complete both an "SR600" and Paris-Brest-Paris, while also participating in two very different, spectacular weeklong events--the Giro del Dolomiti and Cycle Oregon. According to my mileage log, I rode over 15,300 kilometers in 2015.

Despite all these highlights, this autumn I have been on the other end of the professional transition and very busy on all fronts.  I have only taken a handful of "classic" weekend rides with friends in the hills west of Tokyo.  No randonneuring.   Indeed, October and November were my two lowest mileage months since January, despite regular Wednesday 75+ km commutes to the Keio SFC campus.

For the last goal this year, I looked forward to the annual Strava/Rapha "Festive 500" -- ride 500 kms recorded by GPS and uploaded to the Strava site, and get sent a small cloth patch in the mail months later.  This trivial award is much better than other Strava challenges, which seem to offer mostly an "opportunity" to buy exclusive Strava-branded goods.

I've managed to complete the Festive 500 the last two years, but as of December 30, with only a day left, the situation looked bleak for this year.  I took a short Christmas ride on the 25th, but had other plans the 26th and 27th. On the 28th, I rode out of town in the morning and into town on a commute for an afternoon at the office and evening dinner, but only 90 kms.  Worse, I ate something that disagreed with me, and was so weak by the evening that I needed to lock my bike half way home and hop in a taxi.  On the 29th, I had planned to ride with my two sons, but one was not feeling well, so instead we substituted a much less strenuous plan than a bike ride.  On the 30th, other plans.  So with one day left on the Festive 500 calendar, I had ridden only around 220-230 kms out of 500.  270-280 kms remaining.  (There is some uncertainty because I had not realized Strava does not "count" a ride that is marked private -- which I had done for a few shorter local trips I was recording but did not think merited going into the Strava feed.)  I was considering a click on the "leave challenge" link.

Then again, what is 280 kms?  Less than Tokyo-Itoigawa.  Less than a 300 km brevet.  And riding for a Strava challenge, I could have complete freedom as to my course.  I could even change course mid-ride based on conditions -- come to a long red light?  Turn at the corner and head up the cross street, then cross it at the next signal and come back down the other side, turning again and continuing en route.  Do it all at a relaxed pace, and add 500-750 meters for what otherwise would have been sitting at a signal.

So after a look at a forecast for beautiful weather and only light winds December 31, I decided to go for it.  And did it -- leaving home shortly after 6AM.
I approach Maruko-bashi on the Tamagawa
I rode a classic winter course around the Miura Peninsula and the Shonan coastline to Odawara, and back again, and had a very nice time.

Through Minato-Mirai section of Yokohama.  No traffic around 7AM on December 31. 
At Hakkeijima on the southern tip of Yokohama.  Lost more fishing boats up ahead.
Through Yokosuka now

Near Kannonzaki Park

Agriculture on the southern tip of Miura, Chiba across the bay
Cats at the park on Jogashima -- residents, not visitors.
My first food stop was a convenience store around 115 kms, somewhere on the west side of the Miura Peninsula between Misakiguchi and Zushi.  My next food stop was around 180 kms, in Odawara.  Again, convenience store pasta for the "toshi-koshi" long noodles Japanese custom requires (okay, they really ought to be soba, but I needed the carbs!)
The outer moat of Odawara Castle

At the crossing to Enoshima
The final food stop was a convenience store again, when I was almost back to Yokosuka on the return.  I hopped the train at Motomachi/Chuka-gai station around 7PM.  Not bad for a 265km+ km ride.  Great conditions, ... almost no one driving, except for the LONG lines of cars at service stations as Japanese get a car wash and fill up the gas tank in preparation for the New Year.

I rode the Sky Blue Parlee with my Gokiso wheels -- the Parlee is a joy to ride -- and the 50mm carbon rimmed Gokisos take the minimum of effort to maintain a reasonably high speed.  For some reason, the hills of Miura looked much more gradual than I had remembered from the past.  And indeed, Strava tells me I rode "personal best" efforts on many, many of their segments over the ride.

Anyway, it was a good ride to end the year and complete the "challenge".  I am delighted to be in the same event, of a sort, as Kurt Searvogel and Steve Abraham, this year's two leading HAMR participants ... even if they were #1 and #2, while I was #6091 out of 72,349 participants.


As for 2016 ... stay tuned.  Plenty of epic rides in mind.

26 December 2015

The New Bicycle Quarterly is Here!

I can remember the first year or two I was road cycling, I would enthusiastically pick up "Bicycling" magazine in the U.S. and read "ten tips on how to ride faster", "seven great coastal routes",  "five ways to climb faster", or maybe "six great meals that will help you to lose weight AND ride faster".   Of course, there were reviews of the latest bikes from Trek, Cannondale, Specialized and other advertisers.  After awhile, as my cycling experience and knowledge grew, I lost interest in these.

After I moved to Japan, for a few years I enjoyed "Cycle Sports", the widest circulation Japanese magazine for road cyclists and racers.  I would scan the annual list of "long ride" and "hill climb" events and discuss with friends.  And I still have filed away the issue from June 2009 which featured  the editors' selection of 20 best mountain passes of Nagano Prefecture (信州の峠 Over the Pass!). But I tired of the "one pattern" reviews, always a new model that was "better" than the prior year, always a nice test ride report for a major advertiser, one new carbon frame after another, each "better" than the last.  Another bike shop advertisement ...  nothing new under the sun.

So even as I started building up my own bikes, doing Audax rides and even building one of my own frames, I resisted getting any cycling-related publications for quite awhile.  But after seeing and riding with the Seattle Randonneurs at events in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere, and after meeting Seattle's Jan Heine of Compass Bicycles/Bicycle Quarterly at the post-Fleche party in Kamakura in 2014, I finally broke down and subscribed to Bicycle Quarterly.
I await its arrival eagerly.  The content is mostly a mix of stories from the Pacific Northwest, global randonneuring events such as PBP and LEL, and, yes, Jan & Co.'s recent fairly regular visits to Japan and sometimes elsewhere in East Asia.

The product reviews are very detailed, and even though they are "niche" products usually, they are thorough and add to my knowledge.  Jan got some unfriendly letters from readers when Issue No. 53 devoted a lot of ink to a Specialized bike, the Diverge, but with No. 54 BQ he is back to reviewing products from small, often custom builders, such as the NFE Elephant ("NFE" for "national forest explorer") which is designed for fatter wheels and touring over gravel and dirt roads.

The editors are opinionated and have a definite point of view.  I do not always agree, but I can appreciate that most of their opinions are developed from lots of testing, trial and error.  And they even offer some disclaimers when they have an obvious conflict of interest.

And almost every BQ issue has a feature on a Japanese builder, on how to "rinko" your bike, on a tour in Japan (Houshi onsen, or the Nihon Alps SR600, or otherwise).  Sometimes these offer a foreign visitor's view of Japan that is not really adding to my knowledge (a bit vague on route numbers and station/train line names, the occasional transposition of a Japanese first last name -- as in the caption to a photo of randonneurs "Jun Sato, Noriko Sakai, Matsumura Keisuke and Tak Kawano"), but often (as with the introductions to builders) they open my eyes to something near me of great interest. And as important, it is great to have even BQ's niche audience of randonneurs and other bicycle fanatics (5000+ subscribers?) learn what great opportunities there are for riding and touring by bicycle in Japan.

(I still wish that they would have credited this blog, or link to it, for their report on an attempt at the Nihon Alps SR600.)

Is BQ right for you?  You can get a taste of it at Jan Heine's blog.  You can check out a flip book there with some of the content.

Or, feel free to flip through one of my issues.  Or even borrow it ... if you promise to return it on penalty of death.

17 December 2015

36 Views of Fuji (Litt)

First, there were Hokusai's famed 36 views of Fuji.

Then Hiroshige followed suit in the 1850s with another 36 view series.

Now I have started to work on my own series, depicting the modern Mt. Fuji, world heritage site whose view is revered in Japan.  Lots of buildings and power lines in the foreground!

A few of the new Fujis below ... check back from time-to-time as more may be added:

Otarumi Pass Fuji
Komae Fuji


Chofu Fuji

Tachikawa (South) Fuji
Tachikawa (North) Fuji

Shonandai (SFC) Fuji

Ayase Fuji
Komazawa Dori Fuji

Keio SFC Commute

This Fall I continue to teach a class at Keio University's Shonan Fujisawa Campus on Wednesday afternoons.  More often than not, I do the commute by bicycle, around 75-80 kms roundtrip from my home, and around 95-100 kms total if I also make a morning commute into town.
Morning trip into Tokyo on Wednesday ... included Rugelach and coffee at The City Bakery near Hiroo

Foliage at SFC

Winter nears at SFC
This mid-week ride really helps out when I cannot get in a weekend ride ... as this past weekend when I was traveling and only returned to Narita Sunday afternoon.  And now that I have done this regularly for a couple of years, it no longer tires me out noticeably!
Ready to start the ride home -- darkness comes early in December, but with my randonneuring lights this is not a problem.




07 December 2015

Big December Ride ... Over Jukkoku Pass and into Nagano

We have had seesawing weather these past weeks in Japan, some days unseasonably wet, some days typical winter cold and wind, and even some days with lingering warmth of fall.  This weekend the forecast was for sun and high temperatures in the teens (C) (or in the 50s F).  I cannot ride next weekend because of work commitments, so this looked like it might be my last chance for the season to get into the higher mountains.
I planned an all-day ride for Sunday.  I wanted to get over Yanagisawa Pass, or Matsuhime Pass.  Both great climbs, high with views, and neither have I ridden yet this year!  Is there any year these past 7-8 that I have not made it to one or both of these?
I headed out solo Sunday morning just before 8AM, with a rinko bag, some extra clothes, and a dynamo light on the Ti Travel bike, knowing I would not be home (or to a train station for the trip home) before dusk -- around 430PM these days!  I had not committed to any route, but the plan forming as I rode up the Tamagawa was to stop in Oume at the Aurore bakery, then continue to Okutama-ko for an early lunch at the Yagyu-tei cafeteria (Mrs. Watanabe's place), then go for Yanagisawa Pass or, as a fall back, Matsuhime.  I wanted to revisit memories from the glory days of Positivo Espresso.
Everything went fine until I neared the Higashi-Oume Station area, and was met by a large number of police directing traffic away from main road.  I continued a little further and saw this scene.
Chatting with one of the policemen as I was directed to the side of the road by waves of his orange wand, he told me it was the Okutama Ekiden (relay).  The road was blocked off as far as Kori, but if I hurried via Yoshino Kaido, I had 45 minutes to get to Kori before the road would be blocked from Kori all the way up to Okutama.
I was not enthusiastic about skipping Aurore or riding against the clock to beat a road closure.  Nor did I want to loop over to Musashi Itsukaichi and climb a road I have been up repeatedly this year. So I decided to re-route via Chichibu.  One of the alternatives I had considered for today was to explore the area west of Chichibu, either to ride Route 299 over Shigasaka Pass then on to Saku, or to Karuizawa via the tunnel from Route 299 toward Shimonita, or maybe finally climb to Mitsumine Shrine SW of Chichibu City, a route on my list that I have never managed to do -- routes out of Chichibu City being too far for one-day round trip rides, and the train back via Ikebukuro being quite slow.
On Nariki Kaido, still some colored plants in December
In Naguri

Over a familiar pass.

Through Chichibu City -- on a bike path that actually says it is for exclusive use of bikes!
In the end, I decided to mirror a ride done in 2009 with Jerome, Tom and Nishibe-san, going all the way to Sakudaira via Route 299.
Route 299 west of Chichibu and Ogano - no traffic!
Where is everybody?  Even on bright sunny days in Golden Week this road is very quiet.

Route 299 on the climb to Shigasaka Pass

Route 299 in Gunma now -- still no traffic, and blue sky returns briefly.
The ride was spectacular, the roads quiet, and I ended up going 190 kms with around 2700 meters of climbing -- just what I was looking for!

And I stopped at the really nice roadside michi-no-eki Jerome and I had visited in 2010 (actually called a "kawa no eki" as it backs to a river in a really nice setting) for the best Japanese curry I have had in memory.  





The only problem was my schedule.  The late start and my leisurely pace meant that I was still climbing Jukkoku Pass (elev ~1315m) as the sun set.  I made it to the top at 445PM, in pitch dark.  The temperature dropped precipitously.  I put on my wind jacket, extra cap, and warmer gloves and started the descent.  Fortunately, at least the road was dry (on the climb there had been some small icy patches).  
National Highway (?) Route 299 approaching the Jukkoku climb

National (?) Highway 299 on the Jukkoku climb

At the top, in the cold and dark!
Within a kilometer, my hands were numb and could barely move within the gloves.  I stopped, and managed to put on my thinner gloves and use them as makeshift liners.  Still way too thin, and still numb hands.  I was thinking "what have I got myself into?"
I rode one-handed, trading off putting my other hand under my jersey/jacket.  It was a long, cold, dark descent.  But at least I knew the road on the Nagano side was relatively good, straight and wide compared with the tiny winding track up the Gunma side.  Finally, I was down around 850m elevation, the air temperature seemed above freezing, and I dismounted and rubbed together and breathed on my hands for 5 minutes or so until the full feeling had returned.
Then a gradual descent into Sakudaira on the new Route 2 bypass, a stop at a 7-11 for some chemical foot warmers for my shoes (better late than never), and a shinkansen ride home while enjoying some Karuizawa local beer.  

Mission accomplished!

02 December 2015

Renovo Makeover

I really enjoyed riding the Renovo last month ... but a few adjustments remained since the ones I had made back in April when I first got it.

-- Replace the black 130mm stem with a nice silver Ritchey Classic stem.
-- Replace the 44cm outside measure handlebars with 44cm C-to-C measure bars.
-- Replace the cheapo padded bar tape I had used to cover the thin Lizardskins tape that came on it ... with some gel pads and beautiful brown leather Dipell vintage bar tape.
-- Bleed (or at least "burp") the front hydraulic disk brake since it was getting a bit soft.
-- Most important, add fenders so that I can use it in rainy conditions on long rides with comfort.  I got a pair of smooth polished Honjo Koken aluminum fenders via C Speed, and installed these this evening.  The fenders come without even holes drilled in them.  I had a bit of trouble fitting the front one, given the clamp of the Busch & Mueller dynamo powered light that protrudes down below the front of the fork crown, but managed in the end.  And I placed the front fender so it rides a bit further back than typical, and goes closer to the ground -- a "must" for dry feet and avoiding gunk on the BB area.

The result is a bike I hope will be an absolute joy to use for long rides next year in all conditions, as well as one that is beautiful to look at.




30 November 2015

Epic Ride up Iroha Zaka Amidst the Autumn Leaves?

Nikko's famous Iroha-zaha
An aerial view -- at peak fall foliage
In recent weeks, I have been pretty much staying close to Tokyo, as I have watched Facebook updates and blog posts from many Tokyo-based cyclists with spectacular photos of epic rides.

Last week, there were photos of riders going over Imagawa Pass, eating venison at Tabayama, continuing on to Yanagisawa Pass, cresting it in the eerie mist, then making their way back to Tokyo via Sasago Pass.  An incredible ride I have not done in several years, and never at this time of year.  Indeed, the photos of Fall colors were spectacular.

So this Saturday morning, Jerome and I decided to head for Iroha-zaka.

-------------------

No, not THAT Iroha-zaka.  Rather, the Iroha zaka in Sakuragaoka, just up the Tamagawa about 15 kilometers from Futako Tamagawa.  We first crested Byo-in-zaka, the "hospital hill" on Kawasaki-Kaido and made a treacherous high speed descent down the NW slope. Then we hit the big climb of Irohazaka, with its four (4!!) curves of almost 180 degrees each and massive 60 meters of elevation gain!

The map lets us plan our ascent strategy

We hit the bottom section hard -- full gas!

A crazy driver careens past as we hit the first S curve.

We climb next to sheer walls of rock!

More S curves -- this time a German sports car zips past descending!

Debris on the edge of the road makes it a bit treacherous!

Finally feeling like we have made a real climb -- Tokyo stretches out in the distance below the "sakura" in "sakuragaoka"!

The walls get higher and higher as we dig deep, climbing through the curves!
Finally light at the end of the tunnel, the last, more gradual, right hand turn!
Up on top, Jerome awaits me.
Anyway, after the incredible drama that is Iroha-zaka, Sakuragaoka, we continued out Yaen-Kaido, did a loop around Tsukui-ko, and came back via Onekansen Doro.  All-in-all around 95 kms for me, including some PRs during a very fast return on parts of Onekan. Perhaps 105 kms for Jerome, and he rode again on Sunday, much farther and faster!  Add in another 25-30 kms later in the day Saturday for me on some in town errands and a trip to/from Komae to a concert and, if not an epic day, at least it felt as if I got a bit of exercise!


I said a bittersweet farewell to Jerome at the end of the ride.  We each have some travel plans in December so will not ride again together until 2016.  But we have each signed up already for the Okayama Audax 1200 km event in April.  So look forward to some REAL epic riding in the coming year!