05 March 2015

Good and Evil Saddles: Fizik Arione vs Fizik Arione R5

When I first started riding road bikes, I tried a bunch of different saddles before I found one that was really comfortable for long rides, multi days, etc.  There was one the came with my first road bike.  Then a WTS saddle with a cutout center. Then at one point a super-light Fizik Aliante.  And some painful experiments with Selle Italia models that did not suit me.

True, I was not always dressed in proper cycling gear (okay, there were those first few rides, embarrassing in hindsight, before I was told "no underpants, only an under shirt--and don't call it that, call it an inner layer").  And then there was a multi-year process of getting slightly better quality padded shorts, then bib shorts, then Assos bib shorts (and now, Q36.5).  

So when I found the Fizik Arione saddle, I could not have been happier.  Ride all day, then ride again the next day.  No sores, no pain, no numbness, lots of positions on the long/flat platform.  I see other people riding all different types of saddles, and hear them rave about ones that look, to me, extremely painful.  
I think Mike Rice was riding one of these in Toito a few years back.  Looks painful to me ... but he said it was great.

Someone was riding this awhile back -- I think Tom Wielrenner ... or am I misremembering?
Super light ... super hard.  Looks painful to me.
No, they say, it works for them.  There is a theory behind the bare shiny hard piece of twisted carbon (or two pieces at odd angles with a slot in the middle).  Well, more power to 'em.  But I will stick with what works for me.  The trusty Fizik Arione.

The Fizik Arione.  "Nylon reinforced shell".  Has carried me how many kilometers this past decade? 100,000?  More?
My only recent deviations?  I tried a Brooks B-17 -- very comfortable once broken in, if a bit heavy ... great for a touring bike or commuter (except you need to cover it in the rain to keep the leather in good shape). Then I got a Brooks Cambium -- worked fine on the Yamabushi for commuting, until one of the rivet heads came off.  I sent it back.
Brooks B17 - a classic. Mine is honey brown.
Brooks Cambium -- Liked it until tip's rivet cover popped off
But my stable of bikes has grown, the Fizik saddles do wear out eventually, and the Cambium was sent back and needed replacing, so I ordered another Fizik Arione in December.

I thought, maybe I should try the "VX" or "versus" type with a lower channel section in the middle.  But no, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  The reviews of the channeled version seemed more mixed than the standard, anyway.
The "versus" model of Arione.

Instead, one of the slightly lighter, higher-end Arione models, the Arione R5, was on sale, so I clicked and closed the deal.
Arione R5. Ouch.
I recently had a chance to put it on a bike and try it out.  It was a definitely newer and lighter weight model. Less padding (but I thought, should be okay, as long as I have padded bib shirts).  

In fact, the feel was completely different.  Uncomfortable.  Painful.  

And after my broken cable on the Yamabushi, I rode it in a pinch once in the city without padded shorts.  OUCH.  In a pinch indeed.

The R5 has a newer "nylon carbon thermoplastic composite shell" instead of the old "nylon reinforced shell". Whatever.  It strikes me as an entirely different saddle.  They should have dropped the Arione name and just called it an R5.

The real Arione. Good.

Arione R5.  Evil.  Ouch.

Brifters -- SRAM 1, Shimano 0

Last week as I was heading home one evening on the Yamabushi, I tried to downshift hard, pulling in the right hand brifter of my SRAM Rival double tap derailleur.  I heard the sound of a cable pulling apart, metal threads shredded, and rear shifting done for the evening.

No time to replace the cable that evening ... and I would not get around to trying until beginning of this week.  When I did, I could see that there was still at least a couple centimeters of cable attached to the brifter.  But I could not pull this severed cable out.  The repair was again delayed.

This morning, got the right tools and carefully removed the 3 screws securing the hard plastic plate on the inside of the brifter, then tried again.

Wow.  It was easy to dig out the parts, and to see out the brifter works.  Installing a new cable also was easy.  So unlike the two times I have gotten severed shifter cable stuck in a Shimano 7800/6600 series brifter and been left with an unrepairable piece of metal, plastic and rubber, the SRAM Rival double tap brifter looks incredibly resilient.
Well used, grimy SRAM brifter with severed shifter cable end.
To be fair, I have not (yet) had any broken cables with the Shimano 6800 brifters I have on the Canyon Shark ... so all my negative experience is with older 7800/6600 series.  But so far, SRAM has the edge in terms of each of repair and reliability.  Aesthetics also.

What don't I like about the SRAM brifters?  The rubber hood covers wear out way too fast.  I used this occasion to replace them with a set of spares I got a few months back.  But my SRAM Red brifter hoods are tearing as well.

03 March 2015

Shiny things

The eyes of an infant are easily drawn toward shiny objects.  Well, not just infants.  This showed up parked on the street outside my office today.  Plenty of chrome, especially on the high rimmed wheels -- a give away that this is a bike more for looking at than actual riding.  But still nice to look at.

Brooks B-17, the old standby, in a honey colored leather. 
Shallow drop, wide swung bars with leather tape.  Like the Nitto B130AAF, but shallower and more swept back.

Bike Sharing Programs in Japan

Recently in getting around Tokyo, I have noticed some large scale rental bicycle stands.  First, there was one in Minato-ku, with red-colored bikes and a clear Minato-ku sponsorship.  Then I passed one in Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku.  I picked up one of the pamphlets for "Chiyo-kuru", the Chiyoda-ku "community cycle" program.  Then I was out near Tokyo Big Sight last week (in Koto-ku), lamenting the lack of any official bicycle parking (ironically, at a massive conference on energy conservation and renewable energy!), ... when I happened upon another large bike sharing/rental station.

What was going on?  Has Tokyo been implementing a massive "Boris Bike" or "Citi Bike" or "Velolib" program on a stealth basis?

I decided to investigate more, and with the assistance of my crack research team, entered the Chiyoda-ku program name, ちよくる, into my secret "search engine".  All was revealed.  These programs are run by NTT Docomo in conjunction with the localities.
Chiyoda-ku bike rental station near Jimbocho

Explanation of the program and user guides.
Indeed, there are now quite large trial bike sharing/rental programs going on in the following locations:

Koto-ku (which includes the Odaiba and Tokyo Olympics 2020 area).
Chiyoda-ku (Tokyo central business district)
Minato-ku (Tokyo central business district and commercial/residential mix)
Sendai (in Miyagi Prefecture, NE Japan)
Yokohama (2nd largest population city in Japan, just SW of Tokyo, port and tourist focus)
Hiroshima (major regional city and the #3 tourist destination after Tokyo and Kyoto).

The Chiyoda-ku program's website is here, and it has menu tabs for all the other Docomo programs as well.  English pages are available as well as Japanese.
Chiyoda-ku's stations
These programs each appear an order of magnitude bigger than the program in Marunouchi a few years back -- which was doomed to fail lacking critical mass.  I am not likely to ever use them (the bikes are too d#mn small!).  But if they can achieve critical mass, they will be a great resource.

Any obvious issues?  Well, other than the small bikes, I should note that these are only trials and they are very localized.  There is nothing that would allow someone to rent a bicycle to get to/from Setagaya-ku, where I live.

The Koto-ku program has been going since Nov 21, 2012, and will end March 31, 2015 ... this month!  Chiyoda-ku's program runs for another two years, to March, 2017.  Sendai's "Da-te Bike" program runs 3 years in total, to March 2016.

Minato-ku's trial is only 6 months ... I just noticed last week that it had started, and it will end on 4 weeks, March 31, 2015!   What a waste ... if in fact the program terminates after 6 months!

Yokohama, on the other hand, started in April 2014 and will run through March, 2019.  Hiroshima runs for 3 years starting this month (March 2015 to March 2018).

Let's hope these trials are successful and result in permanent programs. Thank you, NTT Docomo!

This got me thinking.  Where are Kyoto and Osaka?  Especially Kyoto, a major destination for foreign tourists, would seem an ideal place for a bike share program.  So more crack research reveals -- there IS a community cycle program ... just not sponsored by Docomo.  And no end date listed on its website!  You can find Kyoto details here.  And Osaka also now has a small "HUB Chari" program, with 19 stations.
Yokohama's bike share stations

01 March 2015

Tsukui - Otarumi Loop, and Gout Watanabe bicycle bag shopping

Nothing unusual about this route ... a very nice half day ride with Jerome.  119 kms.
Then another 26 kms into town and back for an alumni group dinner.

We came back via Kichijoji to check out Gout Watanabe, which makes (by hand) some of the nicest bicycle bags in the world.  This is very beautiful and very practical randonneuring gear.

22 February 2015

Flat Kanto 300

At Choshi - Eastern Tip of Chiba Prefecture and the Kanto region

In order to participate in Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) this summer, I need to complete a standard series of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets by mid-June.  Of course, last year I had planned some early season brevets ... but snow resulted in cancellations.  Weather, injury, equipment failure or illness; these are the things that can trigger a DNS or DNF and ruin as plan to ride PBP.

So I want to "check the boxes" quickly and get through the standard series quickly and without incident.  Thus, I signed up to ride the February 21, 2015 first edition of the "Flat" 300km sponsored by the Audax Randonneurs Nihonbashi.  AR Nihonbashi is a new group sponsoring Audax events (one of several to crop up in the past year).  I guess just about everyone who does enough Audax rides at least considers the idea of forming a group with friends and planning their own.  But Nihonbashi?  Surely a terrible place to start a brevet, meaning at least 60-90 minutes of traffic signals to get to the countryside, repeated on the return.
Future randonneur (randonneuse?) with papa
The 7:30 starters begin to gather at Kiba Koen in Koto-ku.  20 riders each at 6, 630, 7 and 730 on this event.
As the AR Nihonbashi website indicates, by starting near central Tokyo, they want riders and organizers to get to the start by bicycle or public transit, and avoid using cars to the extent possible.
  • オダックスランドヌール日本橋は2015年より、東京都・日本橋近辺を発着地とするブルベを開催します。都心発着のメリットを生かし、参加者・主催者とも自走や公共交通機関を利用し、できるだけ車を使わないブルベを目指します。
Okay, this is a worthy goal ... though not necessarily one requiring a Nihonbashi start.  For 200, 400 and 600 km events, it should be possible to start/finish on the edge of the Tokyo metropolis, and still get to and from the start by public transit (same day for a 200km; next morning for a 400km, next evening for 600km) or bicycle.  But for a "normal" rider on a 300km event, taking between 15~19 hours out of the 20 hour limit, indeed, it is tough to plan an event without an automobile if start/finish are far from one's home. One solution:  an evening start.  This has two merits:  first, it is possible to come and go via public transport.  Second, you get to ride at least the first half of the event with little to no traffic, no matter the location or road.

But an evening start does not seem like a great idea for a February brevet near Tokyo.  Icy roads, and starting straight into the coldest part of the day ... between midnight and 7-8AM ... do not seem appealing.  So this event started from Kiba Koen, only 4 km east of Nihonbashi in Koto-ku.

I rode the Canyon Shark, with my Gokiso wheels.  This, and the flat course, made it one of the easier 300km Brevets I have joined, and my fastest to date, at 14 hrs 59 minutes.  And yes, I did ride to the start and back from the finish (almost 22 kms each way).  When added to the event (which was actually 307~308 kms), that put me at 350 kilometers for the day.  I had the 5th fastest time out of around 55 finishers (with another 22 DNS and 7 DNFs) -- typical that I do better on a flat course like this.

But so many, many times I needed to accelerate, only to see a light in the distance -- first the walk light turns blinking green, then red, then the traffic light turns yellow, then the right turn signal (if there is one), then red.  For a minute or more.  Each time, I would ease up my pace hundreds of meters from the light as soon as I realized I would not make it.  Each time the Gokiso wheels would roll and roll, and I would need to brake as I neared the (red) signal.  Mottaenai.
Home to the Start of the Brevet
The Brevet course-- 308 kms

Home from the Finish
I rode the first 20 kms or so with Hayashi-san, a Utsunomiya-based randonneur.  He rides with lots of zip, so helped me get off to a fast start despite the endless traffic signals.  I saw my neighbor Kazu Tachikawa, and rode together briefly through Chiba City.  ウワン-san (Twitter handle), who I got to know during Tohoku 1700, rode as well, starting a 630AM.  He looked a bit surprised when I caught up with and passed him before PC1 (how did I get there so fast?  Hayashi-san, of course ... and Gokiso). And, of course, I was traveling very light -- my Q36.5 Salopette tights and hybrid que perfect for Saturday's 0-10 degrees C range, just some extra glove liners and a warmer head garment needed early and late, and a thin rain shell in my pack just in case.

ウワン was in and out of PC1 quickly, and we met again between there and PC2, and again when he arrived at PC4.  And he complimented me on the Guide for Audax Staff.  Glad to hear some people are enjoying it.

And thanks to Yoshiaki Philippe.  He and another rider passed me as I was slowing a bit, riding along on Ku-ju-ku-ri about 85 kms into the event.  I could hop on the back, draft and ride with them, dramatically boosting my speed over the next 30 kms or more.  Yoshiaki Philippe has switched the trusty mountain bike I remember him on at Rocky Mountain 1200 and numerous other events ... to a sleek Focus road bike with Enve deep rimmed carbon wheels, and he looked as if he was enjoying riding fast(er).  Over the 30 kms, Yoshiaki Philippe pulled at least 20 kms.  The other rider at least 5 kms.  And me, only a few.   Still, I flagged again and needed to pull over for an energy bar near Iioka ... and so lost the benefit of their speed a few kms before the Choshi checkpoint.  That was the last I saw of them.

Hara-san, one of the Vice-Chairs of AR Nihonbashi, had warned me I would not like this course because of the constant stop and go.  He was right.  The course was the worst I have ridden on an Audax event.  Constant stop and go with signals.  And riding in heavy traffic what seemed like most of the way. The course needs a serious redesign.  Yes, heavy traffic is inevitable for a ride in Chiba and Ibaraki, but there must be better alternatives.

Generally unpleasant stretches included:

-- from the start through Chiba City.  Especially under construction Routes 14/357 through Chiba City.
-- Chiba Route 20 (Oami Kaido) across the northern Boso Peninsula to Kujukuri beach.  Many congested stretches and nowhere near as nice as the route further south on the Chiba 300km event last October that brought us to Takataki Lake in the center of Boso.
-- after Choshi, Route 124 then Ibaraki Route 212 near Kashima.  We were blessed with a tailwind ... but this was another very heavily traveled stretch of road.
-- after a few nice stretches on Route 354, ... but more heavy traffic on Route 355 to Ishioka!
-- then long stretches of heavy traffic most of the way back to Tokyo, Ibaraki Routes 48 and 26, Route 6 etc.  (I would like to try the Audax Saitama route on their 300km event yesterday -- which also traveled between NE Tokyo and Kasumigaura.)
A quiet moment. Dusk at Lake Kasumigaura, over one of the HUNDREDS of solar farms we passed.
Even the section along the beach at Kujukuri offered only limited actual views of the ocean, and plenty of mid-day Saturday traffic.

There was a nice stretch on the return to town, as we could see Tokyo Skytree in the distance, and it was late enough in the evening (after 9PM) so that traffic had started to thin.  Indeed, Sumida-ku seems to have undergone a bit of a revival.
From a hill near Choshi, looking North
From a hill near Choshi, looking back SW
But other than the nicest view sections at Choshi, I have to say my favorite parts of the entire ride were ... going through Tokyo in early morning and late night, getting between the start/goal and my house.  I got to enjoy at least some parts of the city at a very quiet time of day.  Much better than riding along the narrow shoulders of roads through traffic jams, or racing trucks and weekend warriors on the highways of Chiba or Ibaraki.
Dawn at Eitaibashi -- the welcome peace of central Tokyo before and after hours

19 February 2015

Playing Hookey!

Taking the morning off for a nice spin upriver with Jerome ... I really needed to stretch my legs before Saturday's 300km Flat Kanto brevet.

09 February 2015

More PDX -- Bike Shops

Well, a week in Portland visiting my parents.  The first trip to Portland in awhile, and the first without a bicycle in a long while.

It rained pretty much every day during my visit, so I did not miss the bike much.  Not that a little rain would have kept me off one if I had had it with me!  I saw plenty of hardy Oregon "ducks" commuting in the pouring rain.  Should have snapped some photos.  At least on my last visit to central/downtown Portland, I snapped a few photos of commuting rigs:
A Portland commuter rig.  Fenders a must.  Big solid lock - standard.
Another example -- even with the (rare) drop bars you need fenders.  Really need them.
I did visit a few bike shops during my stay, and stopped by to see Bob Kamzelski, one of my 2012 UBI instructors, at Bantam Bicycles.  Bike shops:

1. Clever Cycles. I stopped by to get some rainlegs rain chaps.  Really a great idea, and I am sure I will get to test them out soon on a long rainy ride.  A nice shop with its own focus.  I also got a nice Ibex brand button down LS wool shirt here - nothing to do with cycling, but a very nice casual garment.

2. River City Bicycles.  A major bike shop.  They have some great looking 1970s and 1980s bikes hanging from the rafters, with explanations ... first commercially available bike in the U.S. with carbon fork, etc., etc.  Very nice.  Lots of River City Bicycles' jersey types ... But I already have one that I like better than the others I saw (and which I use regularly).  I was looking for and asked about their best iPhone holder for use on a bike ... and the guy who helped me persuaded me to his preferred approach -- use a Cateye Strada Smart -- leave the smartphone in your pocket, and read the data on the Cateye cyclecomputer. Stay tuned for a report once I get it set up.

3. Universal Cycles.  I wandered in as I got to Bob's workshop early.  As the name suggests, a somewhat soulless looking store selling mostly online.  They may be part of the Universal Group -- related to Universal Exports, the company James Bond worked for with all the cool equipment.  They are more focused on mountain than road.  On the plus side, they are open early for commuters, and they do carry Ortlieb bags as well as all the Portland essentials (full wall of fenders, reflectives, rain gear, etc.).  I could get an Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Compact to use with my existing handlebar bag attachment, on rides when I do not need the size/weight of the Ortlieb Ultimate Classic but still want an easily removable handlebar bag -- a kind of man-purse for the bicycle, complete with shoulder strap.

4. West End Bikes.  This store is Specialized-dominated and expensive.  I did not buy anything.  But I did need to wipe the drool from my mouth as I walked around and looked at some of their high-end offerings.

Also saw some new bikes from The Bike Gallery when I signed up for Cycle Oregon and attended their kick-off event -- they are a sponsor.  I gave my Dad the $10 off coupon I got, since he uses one of their stores.

And I did see a little blue sky on the last full day of my visit.
The clouds closed in again quickly.
By the way, what is the deal with Kale and Quinoa?  No one ate these when I moved to Japan a decade ago, and last year when I was in the U.S. every restaurant was pushing them.  Now they are even in the airport sandwich shops.
Salads:  Left - Quinoa, Right - Kale

02 February 2015


You know you've arrived in Portland when ... the Bike Assembly Area is given equal billing in terminal signage. Hard to imagine this anywhere else.

And on Tuesday went into a high rise office building downtown.  It had a sign at the elevators warning people to use the freight elevators with their bicycles!  I guess a reasonable request given the grime on walls, carpets and other passengers that might otherwise result ...

29 January 2015

Solution to the Equation: Winter + Cycling = Coffee

Under the Toyoko Line on Komazawa Dori - Gohongi
My first regular weekend morning rides on a road bike, in the countryside outside Bethesda, Maryland well over a decade ago, often ended with coffee (or latte, or espresso) at a Starbucks in Potomac -- the most "social" part of a social ride.

Eventually, a new, local coffee shop opened up in Poolesville, near our usual turn-around point. In the winter, when the warmth of the shop, the smell of hot coffee, and the caffeine pulsing through the veins after we remounted and accelerated out on the road, was especially attractive, our coffee stop shifted to mid-ride.  Indeed, good coffee is almost an essential part of a social ride.  The ride makes the coffee taste better, and the coffee makes the ride better.  After all, caffeine is (within limits) one of the few legal performance enhancing drugs.

Sometime in the past year or so, a new shop opened up along my commute home - a spacious high-ceilinged coffee shop under the Toyoko Line at Komazawa Dori - Streamer Coffee Company.  The open, airy design looked like a good place to hang out, read, open up a laptop.  Very much like something one might see in Old Pasadena in Southern California, or in Seattle or Portland.  It is one of several in the trendy SW Tokyo chain, whose owner, Hiroshi Sawada, is a kind of "celebrity latte artist".

Riding by, I could not help but notice the bike rack in front, a bike hanging from another wall rack inside, and yet more bicycle parking to the left of the door ...  I sensed a theme.

But I had never managed to stop.  Most evenings, it was already closed (8PM) when I would pass. Other times, I was just on a mission to get home, or trying to maintain a quick pace on this flat section of Komazawa Dori.

Today, I stopped.

The shop looked almost deserted from the outside, but in fact, there were 5-6 customers, all further back and to the right hand side.  One woman took my order and chatted with me while another, the barista, served an impressive looking latte in large, bowl-like cup.  It took both hands to move this massive cup toward my lips.


I will go back. And bring a good book.

24 January 2015

80km before 8am -- Send Off Ride with Jerome with No Gusto

Dawn Looking toward Sekidobashi
Early Light Crossing the Tamagawa
Jerome is planning another winter trip by bicycle to Osaka, where he has a meeting on Monday. This time he will try the inland (i.e. mountainous) route, since the weather forecast is decent -- a few degrees warmer than at end of December, though still below freezing for the first 5 hours and again for at least another 14-16 hours from late afternoon as he enters Nagano to morning in Nagoya on Sunday!
Light shines from the heavens onto Futako Shinchi
I felt the least I could do was give him a pull out of town, so I woke up early, threw on my warm gear, and left around 4:20AM.  As we rode through Machida and Sagamihara, we decided to stop at a "Gusto" family restaurant at Lake Tsukui for a quick breakfast and warm-up, before I would head back into town for my day's activities.

Unfortunately, the Gusto was closed!  No signs of activity at 6AM.  Too many of these places are no longer open 24 hours.  I guess old people in the countryside do not frequent overnight restaurants.  In any event, the Family Mart up the street had a place to eat (and sip hot coffee) inside the store, so we made do with it.
Jerome checks weather on his ride route

We say farewell. Jerome puts on the warm gear for a cold morning ride up to Sasago and beyond!
Then a fast ride back into town.  And now I get to start my day.  All in all much more exercise than I had hoped for today ... though at the expense of a bit of sleep.

Stay tuned for any reports of Jerome's progress.

JEROME UPDATE:  After we parted, Jerome made steady progress up Route 20 (Koshu Kaido) through Uenohara, Sarubashi, Otsuki and to the mouth of the Sasago Tunnel.  As with the Fellowship of the Ring, Jerome knew that evil lurked deep in the mountain, and so chose the beautiful, deserted road to Sasago Pass.

I wish he would have asked me, since I would have told him this would almost certainly be blocked with snow.  Indeed, it was blocked with snow when I tried it once in mid-March.  So in late January ... not likely passable.  Of course, it was not.  But in addition, there is the well known "witch of Sasago Pass".  We have only actually seen her once, as we climbed through mist up the other side of the pass several years ago, and came upon an old hag-like woman wandering around, who asked us if we knew of a "yado" (lodging) nearby.

But her work was in evidence on Saturday, as she had strewn debris on the road, resulting in a flat tire, even before he started the portage section on snow and ice.

Debris blocks the road
In the end, Jerome made it to the pass and the entrance to its short, pitch-dark tunnel.
Sounds and smells of the witch emerge from the pitch black tunnel mouth
But he was driven near-mad in the effort. And the witch noises (and smells) emitting from within her tunnel lair persuaded him to turn back ... and go down the hill again.
Jerome -- near mad with frustration.
So Jerome went back down the hill and, now several hours behind his planned schedule, decided that rather than going on through Sasago Tunnel, he would return to Tokyo.  Another ill-conceived plan for mid-winter ride to Kansai via the mountains was cast aside!  The disappointed rider returned home, only to seek a more traditional transport mode that will get him to Osaka Monday meeting.

Still, he logged around 200 kms.  Not bad for a Saturday in January.

*According to his Strava track, Jerome now has recorded the fastest time in 2015 on numerous segments, with speeds of 2.6 kph on the upper part of the Sasago Pass climb (where he changed a flat then walked in snow).  Strava really needs to get rid of the "fastest this calendar year" feature and try a "fastest in last 365 days" feature instead!  And it appears that he actually DID make it through the witch tunnel and down the other side of the mountain, before returning through the main Route 20 tunnel and back to Tokyo.