15 January 2024

AJ Chiba Flower Line 200km Brevet ... with Thunder Snow!

At the start

I injured my wrist on July 27, 2023, and the recovery has been longer than it should have taken. 
After a negative x-ray, and 10 days for my bruised ribs to recover, I started to ride again. But my wrist felt tender. I could not put my full weight onto it without significant pain. I got a wrist brace, tried to adjust my riding position, and hoped for the best. 
After a trip to France and a DNF at Paris Brest Paris, and a couple weeks off the bike to see if it would fully heal ... it was no better.  So back to a (different) orthopedist. This time, the x-ray showed a scaphoid fracture, confirmed by a CT scan. The "non-union" fracture would need surgery. After another overseas trip, I had surgery at the end of September, with a 25mm bolt inserted to hold the two pieces of bone together so they would heal. They did so.
The next six weeks, as I recovered from the surgery and let the bone heal, I walked, a lot, but still gained weight.
In early November, I got on the trainer and did some Rouvy rides.  On November 19, I took my first ride outside of my immediate neighborhood and short (2km each way) commute.  By early December I was doing 40-55km rides several times a week.  I had a week off for an overseas trip, then kept going with the shorter rides.
Finally, it was Christmas Eve and time for the "Festive 500". I rode 513kms over the last 8 days of the year, spread quite evenly with no single day longer than 110kms, and not that much climbing. But I was starting to feel more strength on the bike. My right knee complained at times in recent months with a sharp pain or some tenderness, but usually not actually while riding the bike -- more likely from twisting it a bit when getting on or off, or some other off-the-bike irregular motion. Once it got noticeably worse, or noticeably more noticeable, after a weight training session. In any event, whatever I did to it, it seems better now than a few weeks ago.
In early January, I rode to Hakone on January 3, almost 100kms, and felt pretty good. Then, on January 5, I went on from Hakone to Kofu before hopping a train to Kobuchisawa. That was a serious ride of 118kms with 2000 meters of elevation gain.  First there was a steep 700 meter climb up the Old Road (箱根旧道) to the pass above Ashinoko. Then there was a shorter climb to Otome Pass. Then a long (700m+) climb from Gotemba up to Kagozaka Pass above Yamanakako. And finally there was a couple hundred meters of climbing from Kawaguchiko to the southern end of Wakahiko tunnel. 
The following day I added 103kms getting most of the way back to Tokyo. All of this had me feeling like I was just about ready for the first brevet of the year when January 13 rolled around.

Over 100 riders total.

Jerome readies.
For this, I had chosen AJ Chiba's Flower Line 200km, held January 13 this year. For a winter brevet, the course looked great, with much lower traffic volumes and more rewards (lovely sea coast, beautiful "satoyama" countryside) than the typical Kanto winter 200km. It was, indeed, a lovely course.
Jerome joined, and was allowed to register on the spot, a courtesy from the organizers who know him well from his many Chiba rides. We got stuck in traffic on the Aqua Line both directions, but at least the outbound delay was modest.
The forecast was for excellent weather ... until mid-afternoon. Then the temperature would plunge and we would get some precipitation and a wind from the North. So my plan was not to dawdle, no long lunch, just a purposeful ride. Indeed, there were 3 climbs, 2 of them relatively short, to just over 200 meters elevation, on the outbound leg, and one from sea-level to nearly 350m elevation after Kamogawa on the return, 150kms into the course. I wanted to get over that last climb before the nasty weather arrived -- precipitation at that elevation could be snow or ice, and the road could quickly become difficult or impossible to ride.
So I was disappointed to learn that I (and Jerome) would start in "Wave 3". Wave 1 would go at 8AM, Wave 2 at 8:15, and Wave 3 at 8:30.  The organizers offered that each wave could start immediately after the "bike check", which would be 10 minutes earlier. No reason to wait, especially as the course was 205, not 200 kms in length.
I was the first one through the Wave 3 bike check and took off as fast as I reasonably could. I wanted to get ahead of any line of riders so that I could time the traffic signals easily going through Sodegaura and Kisarazu. This was a good strategy -- Jerome caught me and stayed with me at times, but I basically was alone until more than 20kms into the course, when I passed one, then another rider from Wave 2.  Of course, Jerome says that I go out too fast, and I do, and at some point in the ride we switch places and he is faster and stronger than I am. But this time I had good reason, and I was happy to get a good average speed (>28kph) on my Wahoo to the first checkpoint at ~37km.  
Heading south with favorable winds and sun!

After the first checkpoint, we headed for the two short inland climbs of the outbound leg. I remembered the second of these very well from a few years back, the Shiitake Mura being just below the Pass. I still felt that all was okay. No physical complaints and the equipment was working well.  Except for my GPS track of the ride. Usually I will "copy" a ridewithgps track to my account then make sure it is synced to my Wahoo unit. But this time I just "pinned" the organizers' track. That should achieve the same result, but this time even though Wahoo showed a 205km route, the route track ended at the first checkpoint. I tried reloading it in various different ways using the iPhone apps from ridewithgps and Wahoo, but I could not get it to show on the Wahoo, even though I could see it on my iPhone. But during the ride my iPhone was stowed in my back jersey pocket, inside a vest and, later, a rain shell. And I could not operate the iPhone (if I did take it out) without removing my winter gloves ... never easy to get them off and on again at the drop of a hat. Oh well, at least from here the course would have relatively few twists and turns, and I could memorize most of them from PC to PC, and follow visible riders at times.

Shiitake Village climb

We got to Tateyama, started along the coastline around the southern tip of the Boso Peninsula, and could see Kanagawa's Miura Peninsula across the bay. A second checkpoint was at 82km -- by now after the climbs Jerome was riding ahead of me, and when I arrived he was already eating a large 7-11 spaghetti. I was not so hungry, but opted for a smaller rice "doria", and put a 7-11 chicken sandwich in my rear jersey pocket for later. Even the "doria" was probably too much carbs at that point, and I felt a bit bloated for the next stretch until I could fully digest.
As we left the PC, Jerome said "next PC at 142km". Both the organizer rep (who was standing there) and I immediately corrected him -- nope, there is a photo checkpoint at "Aloha Garden", 12 km on, at km 94-95.  It was not listed in the brevet card, but was on the cue sheet. We were off and pretty much rode together to the photo check. But I was struggling a bit to keep up. I told him to go on ahead so we could each stick to our own pace. I needed that to fully digest the "doria".
It worked. I felt decent and made decent time all along the southern coast of Boso. It was beautiful and as dramatic as this flat coastline ever gets. Even better, the wind was generally from our backs -- from the southwest -- as we proceeded. This can be a difficult stretch with a stiff headwind.  
On the southern coast of Boso - the "Flower Line"

At least the sea walls have murals on them. My bike butts heads with the shark.
Makes me wish that I had been RIDING a shark.
It was just after 3PM when I pulled into PC3 at Kamogawa. 142kms in 6 hrs and 40 minutes. I was on pace for a 9hr 45min time -- fast for me for a winter brevet, whether due to the course and relatively favorable winds, my equipment (the "Sky Blue" Parlee and smooth-as-silk Gokiso wheels), or my conditioning rides over the year-end/New Year. One rider put on rain pants, rain jacket, helmet liner, etc. before she headed out. I said "if I put on my rain gear, I will get hot, and guaranteed the rain will stop". 

Some rain drops now--pavement turning dark and damp.
As I approached Kamogawa, there were some raindrops ... but not so much as to require rain gear over my winter gear. I headed out 10 minutes later, rode out of Kamogawa and turned North to start the biggest climb of the day -- around 6 kms and 350 meters elevation. After a brief warm-up section, the climb got steep and stayed at 7,8,9, and 10 percent grades for a couple kilometers. There was even a new circular skybridge. And the rain HAD stopped, for now. I would have been very hot climbing with an extra rain layer, even as the temperature plunged.

Looking back from the sky bridge as the weather changes

At the very top, there were 3 younger riders. I had passed them leaving Kamogawa (they waited at an odd "Y" intersection where we had the green light, as I passed).  They passed me early in the climb. At the top, they were resting and putting on more clothes. The precipitation had started again -- just a few drops of nasty sleet now. I did not rest but kept going.  After a few minutes descending, I did not feel any more precipitation, and was relieved to be lower where any that fell might be less likely to stick to the road. This was it. All downhill to the finish. Mission accomplished?
Alas, it was not that easy. The sun set just as the precipitation started up again, mostly as rain, but this time, it was hard. I put on my thin rain shell, and my warmer gloves. This worked OK for awhile, but the precip had turned to "wintry mix" of snow, sleet, and rain.  And the wind got stronger, stiffer, faster. By the time I was all the way down the hills and emerged from the "satoyama" area at around 170kms, the conditions were awful. I stopped once to put on my new Q36.5 rain pants. These cheered me up -- easy to fit on over my shoes (and overshoes), easy to zip tight, no straps to adjust. And they worked as promised -- kept me dry but breathed enough so they did not get covered in sweat on the inside, as most rain pants have done. They were expensive, but I was very glad I had them.
My gloves did not perform as well. My hands were nearly frozen. I tried my thick Pearl Izumi winter gloves ... soaking wet now. I could not even get my hands back into them after a stop. So I went back to the Q36.5 Amfib gloves. They are okay in dry conditions down to many 3-4 degrees C, and they are somewhat water-resistant, but they were soaked, and my hands got cold, frozen cold.  The headwind was vicious. I had long ago taken off my glasses so that I could see better in the dark/rain. But sleet or snow would hit my eye and temporarily blind one side or the other. I needed to squint and dry not to look directly into the tempest. I finally got to a 7-11 and pulled off for a cup of coffee, a quick check of the iPhone, and a change back to the thick Pearl Izumi gloves.  As I emerged and remounted, I could barely make progress to the North, and was getting pummeled with wet snow. The road was full of puddles. 
It was a long slog north the next 15 kms or so.  Several times I needed to dismount, the wind was so strong I could barely turn over the pedals, even in a very light gear. I heard claps of thunder amid the wet snow and sleet. Thunder snow!  At a second 7-11 stop during this stretch, to check my iPhone/map and warm a bit, I got word now that Jerome had finished. 
Anyway, the route finally made a left turn at 193kms. I was all alone, but could get the turn and continue now with a cross wind (and some protection from nearby trees, buildings, hill) west toward the bay and finish. 
Just as the course reached a "T" intersection, and I faced a need to guess my direction, two riders passed me. I followed as they made the right turn, then continued straight at the next intersection.  I could follow them a few more kms until we reached familiar territory and I knew the route.  We caught another group of 3-4 riders. I got behind at a traffic light, but caught up a bit on a long, straight stretch along the bay, straight into the nasty wind -- a reminder of what we had faced previously. But at the end of the stretch was our goal, a parking lot, the organizers, and, in my case, a car that was already warmed up and waiting. The organizer checked my brevet card.  My time was 10 hrs and 50 minutes -- not fast, more than an hour behind Jerome, way way too late to "beat the weather" as I had hoped, but still way, way ahead of the 13 hr 30 minute cutoff and, considering the weather, not bad at all. I asked if he wanted to see the photo from Aloha Garden. "Not needed, not today". He was as cold as we were.
After grabbing a quick bite with Jerome at a fast food place in Sodegaura, I drove home. The Aqua Line had a 40kph speed limit due to cross-wind restrictions on the return. In fact, we were sitting in traffic until after the bridge becomes a tunnel, so no worry about exceeding 40kph!  
But all in all, a very successful start to the 2024 brevet season for me. How often do I get a real adventure like that on a 200km brevet? Not often!
Our route was counter-clockwise.

14 January 2024

Sarah Gigante wins the Tour Down Under

Sarah Gigante flashes a wide, transparent grin while on a training ride up Doshi Michi
July 21, 2021, at the Tokyo Olympics. Obviously, she is enjoying just being there.

Today, Australian cyclist Sarah Gigante won the Women's version of the Tour Down Under, a major World Tour Title.

Gigante hit the cycling scene with a splash five years ago -- with a victory in the Australian national time trial at age 18, repeated at 19 -- and launched a professional career that included a stint with a local Australian team then several years with Movistar, all by age 23. 

In 2021, in her first pro season in Europe, she had a bad crash, only 4 months before the Tokyo Olympics. She nonetheless made the  Olympic team selection and placed 11th in the time trial, 40th in the road race. After more health issues and two disastrous seasons at Movistar -- the most recent of which saw her race only a few days -- she has moved on to AG Insurance-Soudal Quickstep. 

Gigante gives the thumbs up!

And now, she's back! In her first significant race with the new team ... she won the Tour Down Under with a dramatic, decisive victory in the last stage. You can watch the last few minutes of her climb to victory up Willunga Hill here.  And then you can see her interview at the finish line -- half of what spills out of her mouth seems gibberish, she is so overjoyed and excited at winning that her words trip over themselves.

Why is this of interest to me, other than the pleasure of watching someone who is so happy, especially after overcoming a period of difficulties?  Well, that day in 2021 when I rode up to Yamanakako looking for Olympians doing training rides. I had the best luck as I headed down Doshi-michi. I saw groups from Australia, Denmark, Japan, Israel, among others. (The mighty Slovenians I had seen for a few milliseconds as they descended south from Kagozaka toward Subashiri earlier. The Brits - G Thomas - I saw as I descended from north Kagozaka to Yamanakako). 

But the only Olympian who really acknowledged me, who smiled and made eye contact, was Sarah Gigante. Indeed, as she saw that I had pulled off Doshimichi and was going to take a photo with my iPhone ... she gave me the thumbs up!  

Thumbs up!

Maybe a close-up would be better!

Sarah -- Best wishes for your success over the rest of 2024 and beyond!

Trying Out Some Shorter Saddles, Saddles with Cut-Outs, and Cheaper 3-D printed Saddles

I have yet to write up my PBP adventure of 2023. I DNFed after Loudeac and before Brest, just under 500kms.  The main problem was with my left wrist -- a lingering injury that turned out to be a scaphoid fracture but had not shown up on an earlier x-ray.  

A secondary problem was chafing/saddle sores that made it painful at times to ride — made much worse by my inability to ride out of the saddle due to the wrist injury, and a very hot afternoon on the stretch before Loudeac. I had the same issue in 2019, much later in the ride, with the same saddle on the same bicycle. That is a Fizik Arione model that is just slightly wider (and interferes just slightly more with my leg motion) than the classic, original Arione.  And the saddle cover is slippery/smooth on top, bit a bit grippy on the sides where the legs should slide smoothly. Also, the narrow front part of the saddle is a bit wider and protrudes more than on the "Classic" version.

The wider Arione w/ grippy sides and the more-bulbous front. 209 grams.
Worked fine on many rides ... but problematic on the longest randonees.

As mentioned years ago, the classic Arione (the "good" Arione) has been my long-time go-to saddle. I rode 205kms yesterday on one and it fit me absolutely fine.

The Classic Arione. 225 grams and worth it.

But I have my doubts whether the Classic Arione can continue to be my go-to. 

--First, Arione model types have proliferated, and most of them do not work at all well for me. The "classic" Arione is not easy to find these days. Sure, I only need one every other year or so, but at this point I cannot find one in stock anywhere.

--Second the Arione is said by Fizik to be appropriate for the most flexible "snake"-like cyclists. I am toward the other end of the flexibility spectrum.  

--Third, saddle styles have changed a lot in the past decade. The Arione is a long (30cm) and flat saddle. That has the benefit of allowing the rider to shift forward and back, relieving pressure and getting some variation over a long ride. But it also means that the rider is not "dialed in" to a "proper" position. Now, shorter saddles that put the rider in such a position have proliferated and seem favored by bike-fitters and many riders.  These nearly all have a "cut out" or "channel" in the middle to avoid numbness or pressure on the most sensitive parts of the anatomy. If your butt gets sore ... you get out of the saddle briefly instead of shifting back and forth. And the shorter saddle makes it easier to lean forward into an aerodynamic/racing position without putting pressure on your sensitive parts.

I ordered two of the shorter saddles during my injury-forced time off the bike. 

The first is a Fizik "Argo Tempo Kium R3". It is 265mm long, 150mm wide, and has a large cut-out. It is designed for endurance rides and has a bit more padding than Fizik's racing models. It is stated as 229 grams, but mine weighs 243. The cover is very smooth, almost slippery. This contrasts with the more grippy "suede" feel of the middle strip of the Classic Arione.  How do I like it?  It is OK. There is nothing particularly uncomfortable when used on the shorter rides I have taken, but I find the edges around the large cut out to be quite sharp in shape, so I feel a bit as if I am sitting on two sharp ridges, not a saddle. The padding at the rear is wasted when the edges of the cut-out are so sharp. That, the slippery feel, and the weight, all mean it will not be my go-to saddle.

Fizik Argo Tempo Kium R1

The second is the [Shimano] Pro Steath Curved [performance] saddle. It is 142mm wide, 248mm long, weighs 203 grams, and ... is now on the Ti Travel Bike. The Ti Travel bike has been in storage recently and may not be ridden for the next month or two. I liked the feel when I sat on this saddle, and I think the dimensions will work better for me that the wider Fizik Argo. Also, the edge of the cut-out has a smoother transition and feels more comfortable. But just because I have a good feeling about it does not mean nearly as much as actual testing on long rides. Stay tuned. 

Pro Stealth Curved Performance

If shorter saddles are a trend across model line-ups, a recent trend in high-end saddles is 3-D printed versionsSelle Italia advertises 6 models, priced at Euro 340-450.  Specialized ones also cost in this range.

Fizik has 6 models in its "Adaptive" line, starting from Euro 250. As Fizik explains it, "Adaptive padding is created through a process known as Digital Light Synthesis. DLS uses digital ultraviolet light projection, oxygen permeable optics, and programmable liquid resins to essentially “print” saddle padding that is comfortable, supportive, and incredibly resilient—resistant to both UV exposure and prolonged, repeated use."

These saddles have a kind of mesh padding, like this:

I think the main advantage of this design is probably to get a greater degree of more effective and appropriately distributed padding than a traditional saddle ... at a lower weight. It is for weight weenies, and priced like a higher tech, weight-weenie product. But I just cannot see paying 2 or 2.5 times the price just to shave 50-60 grams off my saddle weight and get padding that may or may not be noticeably different than my trusty Classic Arione.

But ... I was curious. Then I saw that this style of saddle is now being offered on Aliexpress from no-name manufacturers in China. I bought one for around $70 from a brand called Bucklos. It comes with carbon rails and a carbon shell, while the padding area is made from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethanes -- a kind of sturdy but elastic rubbery plastic) ... and weighs in at 153 grams, light as a feather. It is around 143mm wide and 240mm long -- the shortest of my new short saddles. My first ride, of around 50kms ... I did not even notice the saddle. That is about the best thing one could say in reviewing a saddle. 

On the longest ride I have taken with it so far (around 120kms, including 2000m of climbing), I finally "noticed" it after around 100kms, and even wished it (or my bib shorts' chamois) might have had a wee bit more padding. But that is to be expected after months without any long rides. And on that ride, after my next food/bathroom stop, I again forgot about the saddle.

"Bucklos" 3D printed saddle from Ali Express.

The Bucklos does not have the same harsh edge to the cut-out as the Fizik Argo Tempo. And the surface grips my bib shorts just enough so that I don't slide around ... but does not seem to cause any chafing where my legs are moving. I've had this saddle on the RAMAX now since the Festive 500, for maybe 700 kms of riding, and I like it a lot. I'll try it on some longer rides eventually.  

Is the "TPU" material for the padding comparable to what Fizik and Selle Italia are using on their high-end models?  Well, it seems that the major brands work with Carbon 3D.com for their printed saddles. Here is a photo of a Fizik saddle, the padding for which seems made of EPU 41. As is stated, EPU 41 "is comparable to commercial TPUs with a Shore A hardness of 70."

In fact, I like this saddle so much that ... the last time I was on Aliexpress I ordered a second, very similar one (from "Ryet") for around $40 on sale. That one weighs in at 151 grams.

Ryet 3D printed saddle. Carbon shell and rails, 151 grams.

I'll update this post once I have more experience riding these.

Oh, and the one other saddle I really want (and plan) to try, is the Infinity Bike Seat. It's the official bike seat of RAAM. The seat is basically all cut-out. It places the rider in a set position, no saddle sores because ... not much saddle except around the edges, and you are propped forward so you can use aero bars on a long solo ride. I have a line on a "loaner" I could test, since this is an expensive investment.


31 July 2023

Wheel Nos 00030, 00031, and 00032

In the PBP year, new dynamo hub wheels are in order. 

Jerome asked for a new one, together with a new light. So back in June I built him one using a slightly worn H Plus Son rim I had used briefly while waiting for a different (tubeless ready) rim some time back. Jerome says he is done trying tubeless so this was a perfect match. A new SV-8 hub, and DT Swiss aero-bladed spokes, and voila -- Wheel No. 00030:

For myself, I want to try to ride PBP with a more "modern" tubeless setup this year, with carbon rim wheels. I got a slightly shallower Imezi rim than my existing ones (complete with pink decals to match my rear wheel) and built it up with Sapim CX-Ray spokes and another SV-8 dynamo hub, for use with my travel bike. Wheel No. 00031:

After a few weeks of riding the new setup, I worried about carbon rim brakes for PBP. Jerome and I went for a ride to the base of Wada Pass ... and I could not help but remember the time I melted another carbon rim sitting on the brakes descending the pass. And even though the dry weather stopping distance seemed okay, I lack the stopping confidence that I have with regular aluminum clinchers or, better yet, disk brakes. 

I saw that Ijichi-san, one of the regular Tokyo area randonneurs, had just taken delivery of a beautiful new custom titanium rando bike from Vlad at Equilibrium cycles, Tokyo-based Latvian framebuilder, and that Ijichi-san's new steed was using mechanical disk brakes. The thought hit me immediately -- why not swap out my Reynolds Ouzo Pro fork and replace it with a road disk brake fork, including mechanical disk brake that I could use with my current SRAM AXS Force/rim brake brifters? After all, that was the setup that I ended up with on the Yamabushi, where I did not really like the original brakes -- and a front mechanical disk was the ideal solution. After some searching, I decided to go for a made-in-USA Paul Components flat-mount short-pull mechanical disk brake that looks and feels very solid and has strong reviews. 

So I built up Wheel No. 32 today from an SP Dynamo PL-7 hub, Sapim CX Ray spokes, and a fairly wide (22.5mm internal, 28mm external, 40-42.5mm deep "wavy", hookless) rim purchased off Ali Express. Likewise I got a road disk brake fork from Ali Express. Everything has worked fine (so far) except that the fork is designed for M6 bolts, while the Paul and every other disk brake I have ever seen uses M5. Anyway, with a bit of extra elbow grease the new M6 bolts I purchased fit and the brake is attached.

Wheel No. 00032:

The mechanical disk brake:

The wide rim means the Corsa N.EXT TLR 700x28 tire sizes to 29mm wide, but still plenty of room in this fork. I think this should just about be the perfect rim/tire combination for both comfort and speed.


03 June 2023

Helmets -- An Update, and [Shimano] Lazer

New helmet - Lazer Vento Kinetocore

Last September I wrote a brief review of my helmets when I discarded my ancient Giro Atmos and got a basic Bontrager Specter "wavecell".  I have thought about it some more in the meantime. I think my perception of helmets varies significantly with the season/temperature and length of ride.

First -- one helmet that had been in storage and was not included in last year's review. It is a Bollé model I got some years ago. It is just a little too wide to fit snuggly on my head unless I am wearing a cap of some type underneath. It does, however, have some interesting features. First, you can latch on covers that block the vents on top of the helmet (there are still a couple small vents on the side). This makes the helmet a lot warmer in winter and also presumably improve the aerodynamics considerably.  I used the Bollé this winter on the February Seattle Randonneurs' 200km brevet and some other rides, and I must say it is ideally suited to winter riding. The helmet also came with a removable thick felt lining that covers head and has generous ear flaps ... too warm in Tokyo for all but the coldest days of mid-winter. I still have that liner somewhere but have not been tempted to use it in years. If the Bollé were just a little bit narrower, I might use it in warmer weather without the vents covered ...  Anyway, it probably has another few years of winter use in it before it needs to be discarded.  (The US CPSC recommends replacing helmets after 5-10 years, even if not damaged, as the foam filling deteriorates over time).

Vent covers on!

Vent covers off!

Side view

Vent covers

Second -- last Fall I gave a relatively mixed/lukewarm review of the Giant Pursuit MIPS helmet. I have used it on a few rides recently and have adjusted it so that it fits a bit better and feels balanced on my head. It is still a bit heavy and bulkier than some, and it is still a very dirty white color.

Finally -- For PBP and other future rides, I finally bought a first-tier aero road helmet, the Lazer Vento Kineticore. "Kineticore" is Lazer's name for their crumple zone crash-protection tech, which gets 5 stars out of 5 from the Virginia Tech helmet crash testers. Lazer is a 100+ year old name in cycling helmets and was acquired by Shimano in 2017 or so. On the Worldcycle Japan domestic online site, it is listed as "Shimano Lazer" or, actually, シマノレーザー. Elsewhere it is just "Lazer".

The Vento

Rear left view. The corrugated surface above the light is actually a band to tighten/loosen the internal part that wraps around your head and holds it snug. Very easy to adjust while wearing. AND does not protrude from the back like many of the wheel systems that would interfere with a ponytail or riding on the recumbent with the headrest.

Side view with reflective stickers 

The Kinetocore crumple zones.

The helmet looks distinguished, I think. It fits perfectly, is very easy to adjust with an external adjustment mechanism on the back, and is easy to attach a rear LED light. There is even a decent place to stash glasses. And it is relatively light, as well as being designed for aerodynamics ... with decent airflow. I added some reflective stickers given the darkish cover, and affixed a rear light.  I compared it with a number of other similar designs ... and it was 10-20% less expensive and available within Japan, but by no means cheap at around $180 equivalent.

Wout van Aert (aka WvA)!

Jonas Vingegaard [correction - Marianne Vos] ... showing too much mouth.
Christophe La Porte (winner stages 1 & 3, GC leader, Critérium du Dauphiné)

Team Jumbo Visma uses the Lazer helmets which ... seems odd, given that they are not a Shimano team (they use Cervelo bikes and [Cervelo affiliated] Reserve wheels, with SRAM groupsets). Then again, Lazer is a Benelux company that downplays any Shimano connection; and Jumbo Visma is the #1 Benelux team. As the sponsors want to hear fans and consumers say, if it is good enough for [Wout/ Jonas/ Primoz/ Rohan/ Christophe ... ] then it is good enough for me.

Then again, Wout van Aert usually rides a Red Bull sponsored helmet ... he was using a different Lazer model until, at Tour de Suisse, he appeared with a Vento that has the Red Bull logo and color scheme. 

WvA in his Red Bull Vento

For a seriously hilly stage in warmer weather ... some of them opt for maximum ventilation rather than aerodynamics. I did not see Primoz Roglic using the Vento at last month's Giro. But they all seem to have the Vento at the Dauphiné ... and won 4 out of 8 stages, 3 wearing the Vento. Vingegaard used one on Stage 5, but had on a different Lazer helmet with full ventilation/less aero at the end of stage 7 -- a stage under 150kms in length but with over 4000 meters elevation gain. (Team FDJ also uses Lazer helmets.)

I hope that, with this new purchase, I will not be buying any helmets for the next couple years at least. I'll still use the Bontrager for my rides in town, and the Bollé for some rides in winter. The Giant Pursuit perhaps can see service as a backup, or for a TT-like effort.

22 May 2023

The Manxman Retires this Year


Nice press conference. Emotional.


15 May 2023

World Record?! And If I had to do it all over again ...

I received my WUCA "Record Certificate" now that the ride has been validated. It is nice to get a record certificate from the organization that validates the HAMR (the Highest Annual Mileage Record) -- currently held by Amanda Coker of the USA, at 86573.2 miles, and the 24-hour record -- currently held by Christoph Strasser at 1026kms. I should get a certificate from Guinness as well within the next month or so. 

The overall speed of 12.15kph, over 5 days and 17 hours 16 minutes, is shockingly slow ... but I guess once you get very tired and start sleeping overnight, your average speed plunges.  That is recognized by events like PBP, where you need to maintain 15kph the first 600km, but only 12kph on the second 600km. I think Randonneurs Mondiaux cut the average further for events over 1200km. Because this ride did not have any such time limit even, I dawdled at times when tired, losing a bit of that "not a moment to lose" spirit of a randonneur and deciding I really wanted to take that photo, or rest and recover just a bit.
Anyway, the record should easily be beaten by one of many ultra-endurance cyclists I know here in Japan. Many others could easily break 5 days, I think, or perhaps even 4.
That said, overall my Honshu end-to-end ride was a success.  I made it, at least, and could enjoy some spectacular sections of the ride and make it through the less spectacular ones. As I wrote on Facebook, I cannot imagine a better place than Japan to try something like this, and I felt a lot of support along the way, even though it was a solo, unsupported event. 
If I were to do it again, I would try to make some minor changes to optimize it.

1. Training.

I have ridden the standard Super Randonneur series this year - 200, 300, 400, and 600 km events - so I meet the basic condition to do a longer ride. Box checked. But only the 400km event was done this year with the Pelso. The rest were done with a normal road bike. I did ride the Pelso regularly in January for 3-4 weeks, and more recently on a few 100km training rides. But I have never done a multi-day ride on it.  And I really should have done another 600k or even a 1000k on it before attempting to do this ride. It is a big jump to go from a 400km ride to a 1667km ride on a recumbent. 

That said, I was happy that the reclined position and headrest really did mean I had no back, neck, groin or other pain ... except my "burnt toast" leg muscles, some ankle pain (that resolved each time when I pulled over and stretched my ankles some), and minor swelling of my hands the last day and for a few days after I finished.

Still, I should have done at least a 600km ride on the Pelso, and a 1000km ride on ANY bike this year, before trying to get a decent time on this long an event.

Also, I should have trained enough to lower my weight to "best" historical levels, in order to make the climbing easier and offer a somewhat better power/weight ratio.  My weight at the start of the ride was close to my typical peak winter weight, probably due to two 5-6 week U.S. trips in late fall and winter.

2. More rest in advance; An earlier start in the evening.

I did not start this ride fully rested.  At least I got decent sleep the last few nights before the ride, but on the morning of the 26th, I woke early, went to my university and taught an 830-1030AM law school class, met with some colleagues, then took the shinkansen all the way to Shimonoseki (5+ hours including a transfer to local train at Kokura), went to my hotel, walked 15 minutes to Yamato to pick up a large box with my wheels and seat, carried the large box all the way back to the hotel, spend the next 90+ minutes setting up the bike ... and before I knew it, it was time to leave and start the ride. I did get some "rest" on the shinkansen, but no sleep, and I ended up doing work on the train that I needed to complete before starting the ride. So while the excitement of starting the ride kept me going past dawn near Hiroshima, I was really, really tired the remainder of the first section to Okayama. 

If I did this again, I would arrive a day in advance in Shimonoseki, get at least 10 hours sleep, spend a relaxed day including naps, and start at 7PM instead of 8:43PM. Traffic volumes were already dropping by the time I carried my wheel box back to my hotel, and I really would have liked to get past Hiroshima a couple hours earlier and all the way up into Higashi Hiroshima before morning rush hour.

3. Routing - dead ends, non-paved roads, high traffic volumes. 

I did not "pre-ride" any sections of this trip. I used Strava's route mapping feature to select the "most direct", "least elevation" options, and only made minor tweaks from that course before transferring to Ride with GPS and importing from their to my Wahoo Elemnt Bolt.  Overall, it worked out very well.  And I had ridden at least various sections of the route before so as to have a good sense of many of the roads. Misawa-san (Philippe) warned me that Route 2 from Higashi Hiroshima to Mihara was not a good selection ... and he was right. There were too many trucks, and not enough shoulder. It was difficult to feel safe at times ... I walked up one hill just because of the trucks zooming by. If I did it again, I would look for an alternative route between Hiroshima and Mihara/Onomichi, if available.

Also, the coastal road just north of Tsuruga, Fukui, felt scary in the early evening after dark, with trucks and cars roaring by and no shoulder. But there is no better option I can find, and once I got 15kms or so from the Tsuruga, my route continued left along a deserted coastal road while 95% of the traffic headed right and up a hill on the main highway. From there north the route was awesome. But I would prefer to do that busy section just north of Tsuruga before dark, or maybe in the wee hours when there would be low traffic and trucks could pass by going far into the opposing lane.

Finally, I would have should have tried harder to avoid Route 2 in eastern Hiroshima, Okayama, and western Hyogo. There are parallel roads or even paths along rivers in some places that would be better, as I was basically stuck in traffic jams. I tried to "time the traffic lights" in many places, watching when they turned green or red, cutting my effort if it looked as if I would arrive to a red light, accelerating if I thought it might get me through before a green light changed. But it was impossible in heavy traffic of eastern Hiroshima and western Okayama prefectures.

There were a number of places where the Strava routing sent me onto a gravel rutted path. Once or twice this worked and proved a good alternative to a busy highway. Other times it was a big waste of time and required me to backtrack or hunt and peck in the dark for a route when the highway would have been much faster. A couple of times, Strava's route directed me to turn off a road and ... proceed through the middle of a field or flooded rice paddy. Other places, when I missed a turn and got slightly off course, Wahoo tried to route me back to the course by sending me ... along the edge of a dirt field that dead ended into a thicket of jungle, still 100 meters or more from the road I wanted to get to. Overall I wasted an hour or two with these kinds of issues.

I split the entire route into 5 sections for loading onto my GPS unit, but each of these was too data heavy for Wahoo to load "turn by turn" instructions. I should have split it into more sections and gotten the turn-by-turn instructions to save time when I was exhausted and missed a non-obvious turn. That tweak, plus an evening or two online going over the route very carefully using Google streetview etc and tweaking it, could have saved me an hour or two, at least.

4.  Bike and gear.

The Pelso is a good "all around" recumbent. It is not the fastest, but it is relatively practical, relatively comfortable, relatively aerodynamic, and it survived the 1667kms. I do not have experience with other recumbents, and this was my first ride longer than 400kms on the Pelso, but I would make a few tweaks if I tried something like this again. 

a. Steering column and handlebars. The steerer column protrudes quite far above the frame of the bike. I think I could cut this down 10 cms or more and it would help the aerodynamic profile of the bike a bit, still with enough room for my feet around the double "J" shape handlebars.  The manufacturer confirmed that I could do this without affecting the integrity of the bike, but I did not have time to try. Another idea would be to replace the double J shaped bars with a steering "tiller" that protrudes less and allows one to ride with arms tucked in, thus lowering aero drag. But I would not want to do that without ample time for experimentation.

b. Wheels. I thought about potentially using a disk rear wheel ... or at least covering a wheel with monokote to fashion a home-made disk wheel, for better aerodynamics. I was glad I did not do this, given some strong gusts and cross-winds at many points along the way.  But I would have liked a compromise -- a deeper-rimmed rear wheel with aero spokes. Also, the Velocity Aileron rims I used are optimized with 28mm wide profile tires, while I had 30mm ride tires.  So different rims would have likely been faster, and more comfortable. This optimization could make a bit of difference that adds up over time. That said, I would keep my SP Dynamo front hub. On a ride of this length, the 5 watts or so of drag from the dynamo hub is more than compensated, in my view, by 24 hr x7 day bright front and rear lighting and no worries about batteries.

c. Helmet and clothes. Likewise, I did not use an "aero" helmet on this ride, but might if I wanted to save a few more watts. Riding a recumbent does not require cycling bib shorts -- no pad -- as you are not sitting on your groin area. Most days I wore running shorts. These were comfortable, but I should have chosen shorts that hugged my legs tightly, for aerodynamic purposes. I did have good arm and leg covers that are designed not to cause aerodynamic drag, at least.

d. Water bottle placement. When I ride the Pelso I usually place a water bottle in a holder that protrudes from the side of my Radical Designs rear bag. This time I pulled that holder closed with safety pins to reduce drag and instead carried two bottles in water bottle holders on the underside of my seat.  Unfortunately, the bolts I used to attach the bottles protruded too far and scratched the bottles every time I tried to pull them out or return them. By the end of the trip, one of the bottles was leaking. The other probably has a very limited life left. Some more care setting up the bottle holders would have solved this problem. I think the under-seat location is ideal in terms of aerodynamics, even if harder to reach.

e. Tubeless tires. I was generally very happy with my tires -- Schwalbe Pro One 700x30mm TLR. They roll with low resistance and are comfortable. I lost air once in the rear tire just before Niigata, and in the front in Aomori. The first was likely due to a big dent in my rear rim. The second was some kind of puncture and IRC "respawn" sealant quickly sealed the leak. Overall, this was less trouble than one might expect on a ride of 1667kms, including two nights riding in the rain. Before I would do this again, however, I would try to get some experience "plugging" holes in tubeless tires. At least now I know how to use the "respawn" successfully.

f. GPS. My Wahoo GPS unit recorded the ride flawlessly. The battery life was plenty to make it through my 350km segments with only a short "top up" recharge mid-ride, and never got near empty. That said, I really should have run a parallel/back-up GPS recording in case of trouble, and would do so if I ever try another long ride to be validated by GPS. Over the course of a ride this long, as often as not there is SOME trouble with part of the GPS recording. And in this case, a GPS issue would have invalidated the record attempt.

g. Tighten bolts and check daily. The seat on the Pelso is attached directly to seat stays and frame, and it forms an important part of the structure of the bicycle. When I put the bike together in Shimonoseki, I tightened everything properly. But a few days later, in Niigata (or was it Akita), when I checked again, many of the bolts had worked a bit loose and I could retighten them at least several turns. I think this actually resulted in somewhat diminished confidence in bike handling and a "squishy" feeling at times that was accentuated when I was very tired. In the future I would check and tighten all the bolts daily.

h. Groupset. My Pelso has a 1X SRAM 11-speed groupset. 1X is ideal for a recumbent, as it simplifies the chain line, and avoids a front derailleur and double chainring sticking up on the front of the bike, and with the long chain I think the typical 1X problem of a chain that is consuming more watts drag when in the innermost or outermost gear is largely avoided.  When I had my bike turned upside down to clean the chain and frame before leaving my Niigata hotel, I bumped the bike ... and the right (rear) brake lever mostly snapped off.  From that point, I survived without any problem on a front brake and an at best a 25% functioning rear brake. ... The brake lever looked like a cheap piece of crap. Not sturdy. And the 11x46 rear cassette is probably near its replacement date ... though a clean chain helps it to last longer. The chain came with the bike and now has over 7000kms on it also. Anyway, if I want to experiment with a steering "tiller", I might as well upgrade the levers and even get a better grade of rear derailleur ... perhaps even electronic shifting? The Pelso is due for a bit of an upgrade. 

Meanwhile, I will focus on riding my road bike(s) until I am done with Paris Best Paris!

09 May 2023

Japan Energy Tour -- Down Solar Memory Lane, the Nuclear Ginza, TEPCO's 7 plants, Aomori

My ride started as a solar PV tour, and ended up as a nuclear tour. Kind of like Japan's post-2011 energy policy? I don't actually have any photos of the sites I mention below ... because they were not close enough to be visible from the roads I took -- in the case of the nuclear plants, that is intentional.

I started in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture. I remembered driving all over Yamaguchi Prefecture back in 2013-2014 looking for solar project sites. Eventually my company started to develop one ... on the northern outskirts of Shimonoseki, at a closed campus of Baiko Gakuen, a women's college. Women's colleges and 2-year colleges are shutting down all over Japan, victims of demographics and trends toward co-ed 4 year university degrees.  

Anyway, we got working on the project, submitted preliminary applications to the utility, did a layout, talked with a construction company, and negotiated with the landowner, the university. Unfortunately, the university really wanted someone who would take over the entire campus, not just the ground where we wanted to do our solar project.  We would have gotten the project if they had not fund someone who was willing to do so ... a local group led by a technologist (Shiroshita-san) who was a very nice guy and a pleasure to deal with, though this would be his first "mega solar" project. We ended up transferring our application to the local group's project company, and getting some modest compensation, and they ultimately were able to implement a project. I don't know if they managed to use the campus buildings for something (I think they were considering mushroom production).

Solar PV project at Umegato in N Shimonoseki

The first leg of my ride took me through Hiroshima, then on Route 2 through Higashi Hiroshima and on to Mihara. Passing through the Hachihonmatsu and Saijo areas of Higashi Hiroshima, I remembered countless trips to this area to try and secure project sites and to work on the one project, in Kurosecho just SW of my route, that we did realize. I thought about my former colleagues, as well as our real estate finder (Handa-san), Doi-san who prepared our applications to the city, Yamamoto-san, our surveyor who handled some very complex land issues, Itoh-san, head of sales at our construction company partner on the project, and many others.  I still hold a minority interest in the Kurosecho project today.

Kurosecho Mega Solar

The next day, as I passed from Kasai-shi, Hyogo Prefecture, into Kato-shi, I rode near yet other projects we had worked on. These two, in the Takaoka district of Kato-shi, were done as "floating solar" projects on irrigation/adjustment ponds. We co-developed them with the leading manufacturer/designer of the pontoons for these installations, and sold them pre-construction to a major Japanese company's affiliate. They built the projects and, upon commencement of operations, the larger of the two was the largest floating solar PV power plant in the world. That status lasted for only a month or two, until a larger, similar project was completed in Kasai-shi to the west.

Floating solar PV in Kato-shi, Hyogo

I did not pass any other solar PV projects I felt any connection to during the remainder of the trip, though I think I saw more larger-scale residential solar PV on the Shimokita Peninsula in Aomori than just about anywhere else I can remember. I guess this area, on the Pacific side of Aomori, gets relatively good sunlight.

Later on the second day of my trip, after passing Maizuru where I reached the coast of the Sea of Japan, I entered Fukui Prefecture and cycled along the "nuclear Ginza". 

I first passed through Takahama, infamous in recent years as the place where Kansai Electric executives got massive kickbacks from a local construction boss and former Deputy Mayor, Eij Moriyama. When Moriyama died, this all came out into the public and the entire top executive ranks of Kansai Electric needed to resign, though they miraculously escaped criminal prosecution. 

The town had some spectacular public infrastructure -- great town hall, great sports facilities. The nuclear plant was out of sight (in fact, ALL of them were out of sight along the nuclear ginza).

The town's "character" had a prominent place on the sign as I entered town.

I guess the character, Akafun Bouya, is supposed to be a little boy. But on the sign coming into town, I wondered ... is that supposed to be an old man? It certainly looked like an old man, with the shaved head. I wondered, is that perhaps supposed to be Eiji Moriyama, who was partly responsible for the lovely town hall and sports facilities and is the most famous resident of Takahama town (from my perspective, at least)? What a joke that would be! 

Alas, upon my return home I looked up Moriyama's image, and he did not have a shaved head or look anything like Akafun, at least not at the age when he was giving suits with 99% pure gold plates sewn into the lining to the Kansai Electric executives.

Takahama Nuclear Plant

The next town was Oi. They also have a nuclear complex, one that also has been in litigation since the "restart", with 2 older units now shutdown and 2 newer ones operating. 

The Oi Nuclear complex

Then it was Obama -- a nuclear free town so far as I could tell. 

After a turn north, I was in Mihama, the site of yet another nuclear complex, far away from the town center and the highway on which I was cycling.

Mihama nuclear complex -- out of sight, but not quite out of mind?

And finally, I made it to Tsuruga, home of the Monju experimental fast breeder reactor, now being decommissioned, and the Tsuruga nuclear plant complex, where restart efforts have been stymied so far due to serious inaccuracies in "cleaned up" data submissions to the regulator by the operator, on the question of whether a particular unit of the plant is located directly on top of an active nuclear fault.

Lower left - closed down Monju;
Upper right - Tsuruga nuclear plants one of which still might be restarted.

Finally I had run the gauntlet, as I headed North along the coast from Tsuruga into Fukui Prefecture. I would go far south of the Shika plant on the Noto Peninsula. The next major nuclear installation I would not ride by until the following evening, as I passed Kashiwazaki Kariwa in Niigata, the site of seven TEPCO reactors, none currently operating. These reactors should be visible from down the coast during day, but it was night and I was passing inland of them, so I could see only some red lights on towers in the dark. 

Kashiwazaki Kariwa - TEPCO's complex in Niigata

I had passed close to about half of Japan's nuclear reactor fleet at this point, and enjoyed a nuclear-free zone for quite awhile in Yamagata and Akita. 

Aomori, on the other hand, has placed a major bet on the nuclear fuel cycle, with the massive Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant. Construction started in 1993 and, 30 years and $20 billion plus later, it still is not done. But that money has contributed a lot to the economy of the Shimokita Peninsula. And there have been attempts to promote other energy businesses -- the biggest onshore wind farms I have seen in Japan, some massive solar PV facilities, a big oil tank farm, one completed and one under-construction nuclear reactor at Higashidori, etc., etc. 

Rokkasho village reprocessing plant, solar, tank farm, etc.

Higashidori plant and (further north) construction site. East of Mutsu.

I don't know that passing all these facilities changed my views about nuclear power in japan, but they do really show how much time, money, and resources, were poured into the technology during the decades leading up to 2011.