31 December 2010

Project Galibier - Status Update

Snow, New Year Holiday Season and the family out for figure skating training in Düsseldorf. The perfect time to work on Project Galibier.

In the meantime some more parts have arrived. To built-up an old bike is a tricky thing and I paid the price. Some of the parts I have ordered will not fit on the frame, others fit but don't work properly. Sometimes I am a loss what to do, but doing a lot research on the web, asking friends for opinion and sleeping it over helps a lot. One needs a lot of patience.

The upper part is my tribute to Euro-cyclism: New,old stock Shimano AX brake levers with white gums and white handle bar tape. I shall never touch this bike without gloves or dirty hands.

To adjust the brakes is a real nightmare and it brings me back to the time, 35 year ago, when I tried that with my first bike. Technology has come a long way and today it is so easy o adjust, say, a pair of Shimano Ultegra 6700 brakes. But Golden Arrow? One hand hold the calipers in place, another one pulls the wire and the third hand tightens the bolt. The third hand? Yes, that's the problem.

But the result so far looks good. I don't know why, but I always wanted to own a bike with a bullhorn handlebar. It seems so logical for my style of riding. I almost never use the lower part of a drop handle, all the weight, so needlessly attached. And of course, I like the design, it looks so much more sportif. Vintage fans will kill me most likely for that, but never mind.
Here we can see thee historically correct setup (except for the wheels). Shimano Golden Arrow front derailleur paired with a Golden Arrow crank set and chain rings. Beautiful - also with the label "12 vitesse". The bottom bracket which you cannot see is from Shimano as well, but brand new. After I assembled everything I found out that the chainline is not correct. The smaller chain ring is too much on the inside so that the front derailleur position does not match. I will need to de-assemble everything again and buy a new bottom bracket with a longer axle. Paid.
Again beautiful and historically correct. Golden Arrows shifters (although on later Shimano 600 sockets) and Golden Arrow front brake. A nightmare to adjust. Brakes poorly, compared to today's standards. Still not sure about the correct wire routing. But it looks perfect and nice with the chrome fork and the Peugeot pantograph on the crown.

The Gravity Zero wheels look nice but I am still working on the pair of Maillard 700 hubs. I gave up to remove the cassette and asked the bike shop to do that for me. Then I will order spokes and new rims for clincher tires. Old tubular tires are just to messy.

I couldn't resist to buy this brand new Charge Spoon saddle. Design-wise it fits perfect and apart from the chain, tires, the spokes and the rims it will be the only new part on the bike. It is also cheap but then it is only artificial leather. Please also note how the seat stem is fixed in the frame: This is a quilted stem and the nut for adjustment is located just below the saddle.

All of this takes a lot of time. I was working in the garage yesterday night and when I looked at the watch it was already past midnight. But it's fun and I hope that spring arrives soon and the bike will be ready.

30 December 2010

The Missing Expedition - Updated Photos

Zen. Bike leaning against rock in garden on the shores of Lake Suwa, Nagano Prefecture.

After a delicious and filling dinner at Jerome's house, some preparations and about 4 hours of sleep, Jerome and Yutaka appeared as scheduled at 3:15AM outside my house, as they went ahead with Jerome's crazy plan to ride to Kansai on the 30th and 31st to see the sun rise for the New Year from Mr. Rokko above Kobe. I had agreed to ride out with them today and see them well on their way.

And Yutaka seems to know how to take care of himself in these kind of cycling adventures -- he is one of the Kinki Audax organizers in Kobe, rides around 20,000 km in a typical year, and has done 1000km+ ride events in Canada, the U.S. and Germany within the past year or two. (he mentioned something about a Canada event which involved three 1000 km rides in succession, with a day or two off in between, and also the Cascade 1200 in Washington State).

The only problem with the plan, what made it crazy, was Jerome's insistence on taking the "interior route" through the Kiso Valley via Nagano Prefecture -- a region recommended more for ice skating and downhill skiing in winter than for cycling. And after a fairly dry and warmer than usual early season, normal seasonal conditions had appeared in recent days and weeks.

In any event, the temperature gauge on the hill west of Takao read -1 degree C before 5AM, and as we had passed Uenohara and headed toward Sarubashi and Otsuki, another gauge read -3 degrees C. Our water bottles started to freeze, and it became impossible to get any liquid from them. We pulled in to the 24 hour family restaurant "Gusto" just at the far end of Otsuki, 80 kilometers into the ride, and enjoyed the breakfast special, with an extra order of pancakes and many refills of hot soup and coffee.

Thawing the water bottles as we wait for our breakfast.
Yutaka and David -- guess who is faster going uphill?

The climb toward Sasago tunnel was welcome after we remounted our bikes. I pounded my pedals in a bigger gear than usual, the work generating heat and warming my extremities. The tunnel was warm and almost empty -- only a few cars and trucks passing us each way during the 3.9 kilometers. Then the long gradual descent toward Kofu, blanketed in a layer of thick smoke from wood burning fires -- reminded me of the view of Los Angeles on a summer day, except the smog was greyish white and lacked any brown tinge and, of course, this was no time for shorts and flip flops. We pulled off Rte 20 and headed North into Kofu, seeking a less unpleasant, alternative route through town, eventually (after a quick stop for me to tighten a spoke on my Fulcrum "2 way" tubeless wheels) passing around Kofu Station and heading out to Nirasaki on Route 6 (Yama no te Dori), to rejoin National Route 20.
+1 degree in Nirasaki!

We stopped at a Lawson just a few hundred meters from the Nirasaki checkpoint location for Tokyo-Itoigawa. The store had a counter and chairs INSIDE, where customers could eat their food and drink their drink -- Now after 11AM, and as warm as it would get, the temperature gauge outside the window showed +1 degree C. A Positivo number and the only one we would see!
Then we continued up the long gradual climb toward Fujimi at the Nagano border. At the top, the few flakes of snow flurries picked up, and mixed with some drops of rain. The air was clammy and damp, and getting even more so.

Jerome, after lagging behind on the climb to Sasago and again when he ran out of fuel just before Nirasaki, was getting stronger as usual, and he and Yutaka waited for me at the top. Yutaka always patient with us ... when he no doubt could have zoomed ahead at any point.

On the climb to Fujimi, looking back down the hill toward the South.

The weather ahead looked pretty bleak and there were at least a few centimeters of snow continually along the side of the road -- narrowing the "rideable" surface and making it more difficult for cars and trucks to pass us as we stayed on the dry pavement. I decided to ride as far as Kami-Suwa (190 km+ for the day) and hop the train home for a 5:15 arrival, a hot bath and then dinner with family. I gave Jerome my photocopied map pages -- a lot more detailed than what he had printed from the Internet -- said my goodbyes, and took one last photo of the expedition.

As I took the Azusa limited express train back, looking up at the first of the many lines of mountains that separate Chino from the Kiso valley further west, I could not but wonder whether they would make it, or disappear into the white void and end up on a list of missing explorers and adventurers -- Amelia Earhardt, John Franklin, Jean-Baptiste Charcot -- or whether they might, like the great Norwegian Amundsen, reach their destination, or at least like Ernest Shackleton, eventually make it back to civilization, to try again another day.
The weather closes in on Chino. Not really riding weather in the mountains toward the West.
UPDATE 12/30 10PM: A telephone call this evening reports that the expedition struggled up over the little hill North of Suwa -- as snow was sticking at the higher elevation, descended to Shiojiri, and made the turn onto Rte 19/Nakasendo and headed into the Kiso Valley. They made it about 275 km for the day, through the one longer tunnel, into the valley and to Kiso Village. By then dark was coming and the road was too icy and treacherous even for them. They have found shelter and sustenance for the night and will assess the situation in the morning -- whether conditions permit them to press on, or whether they will use their last remaining lifeline -- the conveyance known as the "Chuo-sen", which can magically extract them out of the Southern end of the valley and to the land known as "Aichi", from which it should be possible to continue by bicycle. Unfortunately, the weather forecasts suggest that even if they can get out of the mountains, more snow may await them.

Ice and gunk stuck on Yutaka's rear brake.
Nothing a little hot water won't cure.

Is this Jerome's host mom in Gifu?
UPDATE 12/31 11:30 PM: An email "where are you" inquiry gets a response, after midnight, of "stuck in Ritto" -- a city in Shiga Prefecture on the SE side of Lake Biwa, near Kusatsu and entering Kansai. The NHK TV midnight broadcast welcoming the New Year shows the monks ringing a huge bell at a temple in Kyoto. There is snow on the ground and on the temple roof. Other live broadcasts show ... more snow in Western Japan, Northern Japan, huge snow being dumped along the Japan Sea, even in Kyushu (Saga). Just about the only place without any hint of snow on this last day of the year seems to be the Pacific Coast within a few hundred kilometers of Tokyo each direction.
Suzuka Pass -- 11:45PM New Year's Eve

UPDATE 1/1 8:00 AM: After waking and going back to sleep early, I am awakened a second time just before 8AM to the ringing of my cellphone -- a New Year's greeting from both Jerome and Yutaka. They are in Yamashina, in Kyoto (if I heard correctly), and are taking the train, having abandoned due to the icy roads. They were stuck in lengthy traffic jams because of the weather, unable to go around the cars as usual b/c of snow and ice on the shoulder.

I will get the full report when Jerome is back in Tokyo -- he is driving back with his family after celebrating the New Year with his wife's parents (and no doubt some time with cyclist friends) in Kobe.

The plan may have been crazy, but the riders demonstrated sanity, at the margin. And you don't get the memories of a lifetime from an easy spin on a warm day.

28 December 2010

PEE (positivo espresso europe) winter report

The damp, grey days of winter are upon us so its time to dust down the winter bikes - scrape down mine really, cracking off the crust of mud from the last outing. However, PEE's other member didn't have a winter bike, so it was time to get busy with some banging and screwing.
Take one very pretty titanium frame (not unknown to another PE member), a pair of new SKS mudguards, a drill, a saw, a hammer and a sketchy knowledge of engineering. And you get this... British engineering at its best (thats right - the same engineering that gave you Rolls Royce aero engines....)

not enough clearance on the front forks. So some sawing, drilling
and three brackets reclaimed from an IKEA cupboard...

at at the back - more sawing and drilling, just one IKEA bracket and some cable ties
Not very pretty, but effective.

and here is the PEE clubhouse bike park. Two winter bikes, one fixie, one mountain bike (found in the garden - now repaired after MOB broke it!), Juliane's BD1 and her trusty Kalkhoff (made from scaffolding poles). The summer bikes have gone south for the winter.
...and at the back you can just see the wheel that MOB broke.

Happy Holidays to Positivistos everywhere. See you on the road in 2011.

26 December 2010

They Call Him Mr. Rindo

Mr. Rindo stops for a quick refuel during the wind-assisted return trip.

Merry Christmas!  (And Happy Hanukkah too.)

Christmas morning in Tokyo ... cold (around 0 C, or 32 F degrees) but dry, a "green" and not a "white" Christmas, like on the other side of the island of Honshu.  Not a national holiday here, just a normal Saturday with most people rushing to complete their year-end business before everything shuts down for 4-5 days around the New Year, plenty of trucks on the main roads.  So with some family activities planned for late afternoon and evening, and mid-day Sunday, there was no reason not to get up early and squeeze in a ride.  Ludwig was also of a similar mind.

I don't ride often with Tom S. or Manfred/Ludwig, since they usually go at a pace that is just enough faster than me to prove uncomfortable after the first 30-60 minutes.  But they each have cyclocross bikes for winter, with heavier frames and thicker tires, and now that I've gotten a bit faster, I can usually keep up on the flats.  It helps if, as in this case, they have ridden within the past day or two (Ludwig on Thursday) and so do not have completely fresh legs, and it also helps if I well-rested, also the case yesterday.  So the ride went fine.  Of course, Ludwig waited for me at the top of the steeper hills ... but he did not wait as long as he once might have needed to.

(NOTE:  For anyone to whom the following place names are unfamiliar, please see the Garmin Connect link/map at the bottom of the post.)

We met at 7:25AM at the end of the gravel stretch of Tama Cycling path, about a kilometer north of the Odakyu Line bridge over the Tamagawa.  We planned to do the Kobu Tunnel -- repeating my ride of last week -- but then, instead of returning over Wada (the "Ura Wada" climb), to try a "reverse Bijo Tani" -- a trip over the forest road (Rindo) that departs just down the valley from the base of Ura Wada, and climbs from around 200 meters elevation to above 650 meters elevation, then back down to meet Rte 20 on the back side of Otarumi; then the shorter, much gentler climb over Otarumi and down to Takao before the last leg home .. with a 2PM target and 3PM hard deadline for me.  The amount of climbing was boosted slightly by taking a different route -- Akigawa Kaido -- to Itsukaichi.  Some of this road, out of Hachioji, was a bit narrow and heavily traveled, but it gradually cleared up and the last 5-10 km were very nice, as it climbs a gradual slope then crests at a tunnel entrance.  It passes through the wide and little used tunnel and descends into Itsukaichi, and is a nice change from the usual trip up the Tamagawa and out the main road to Itsukaichi.

The sunlight helped to keep the cold tolerable most of the way to Itsukaichi.  But as soon as we started into the Akigawa valley and hit long, uninterrupted stretches of dark shadow, still just after 9:00AM, it got fricken' (or is that "fracken" or maybe "effing"?) cold.  I wished I had a face mask, even though I was working hard and climbing gradually.  Eventually, the steeper climb up to Kobu Tunnel seemed to do the trick, and the warm sun on the Uenohara side felt glorious.

Ludwig followed me down the descent from Kobu Tunnel and was just behind me at the bottom, but I did not hear him screaming for me to take a left turn onto a small road about 100-200 meters AFTER the turn off for the golf course hills, and I continued along Rte 33.  After climbing up most of the next gradual hill, I looked back.  No Ludwig.  The last time I was certain I had seen him was about 1 km before the bottom of the descent.  Had he flatted?  Crashed?  He had said he slipped on a descent riding his cyclocross Red Bull on Thursday, and had the scratches on his cycling wear to show for it, and he noted that the "Bull" does not handle as well on turns as his Canyon.  I turned around, went to the bottom and started back up the lower part of the climb to Kobu.  My phone rang just about as I got to the last place I was sure I had seen him.  .... He was already well on the way to Uenohara proper, on the other road, and we agreed to meet at a Daily Yamazaki on Rte 33 on the way into town.  Next time I will try his alternate route -- an older, quiet road just across the river from Rte 33 -- almost no traffic, and less up and down, probably, than Rte 33, which climbs well above the other road, then descends and drops down to cross the river, and climbs briefly into the town.
At the Daily Yamazaki on Rte 33 in Uenohara -- the rare convenience store that combines a decent selection, and comes complete with a nice wooden bench, and a view of Mt. Fuji!
A turn at the signal just after the Daily Yamazaki led us away from Rte 20 and over a nasty, short and steep little hill, past the Uenohara Junior High School, then over toward the base of Ura Wada.  We miss a turn and end up taking a footbridge and cutting through a field to get to a driveway to Rte 522.

The climb to Bijo Tani from Rte 522 side is varied, with some traffic on the lower stretches -- mini postal delivery vans, onsen food/supply deliveries, a short steeper stretch at the bottom followed by some gradual, almost flat (in comparison) sections.  Eventually, you pass the last onsen and farms, and get to a stretch where the road turns directly into and up the hill.  The pavement changes from the usual smooth dark asphalt to a coarse surface of cement with embedded rocks in a lighter shade.  I've seen this road surface before -- on parts of one of the nasty, steep roads from Agano (Rte 299) up onto the Green Line and Takayama temple in Chichibu, and on the steeper parts of the climb to Nenogongen.  This is the road surface used when cars would otherwise slip and slide downhill, or maybe when asphalt would droop and slide down out of the mold before it hardened.  I associate this concrete with grades well above 10%, and this was no exception, as we gained 70 meters elevation in about a 500 meter stretch.  Ludwig waited for me at the top.  We dismounted at the gate and continued onto the closed Rindo.
At the top of he nasty little hill in Uenohara, before the climb toward Bijo Tani.

Near the top of the climb to Bijo Tani -- nice vistas to the West.

It seems like only yesterday that Knotty was asking "What's a Rindo?"  (林道 Definition: a "forest road" -- in contrast to a National or Prefectural road; sometimes behind a chain or gate to keep out unofficial traffic, totally ineffective at keeping out cyclists.  Often, as in this case, reasonably well-maintained and paved the entire way).  I'm convinced that Ludwig deserves another crown.  In 2009 he was "D" class champion, this year I declare him "Mr. Rindo 2010."

These forest routes expand the ride alternatives in our area dramatically.  They have no (or very little) traffic, offer great views, and nice training opportunities (especially steep climbs).  But just looking at a map does not really tell you whether you will find a beautiful, deserted, paved road, or a gravel road covered in rocks from a landslide.  This requires some patience and experimentation.  For a few of Mr. Rindo's posts, see here, or here, or here.

The descent down the other side to Koshu Kaido (Rte 20) is deserted, behind the gate much of the way, but lacks any of the gradual flatter stretches -- relatively steep the entire way.  Only try this if you have plenty of brake pad left.  Road construction has been completed on the steepest stretches since I rode this with MOB back in 2008, so there was only a little debris to avoid on the descent.

Compared to last weekend, almost an hour shorter "elapsed time", but 13 km more/24 minutes more on the bike -- so 1:20 less resting time, and an additional 300+ meters of climbing.  And a much zippier climb the 2.8 km up to Kobu tunnel. -- the only section where I got a directly comparable split time.

22 December 2010

Minus Fourteen

That was the temperature in Bremen when I checked the weather forecast before I left for work. 

Nevertheless I opted for Bad Boy to take me to the university where I arrived much later than usual because I had to ride slow and carefully over large patches of exposed ice on the road. That is still much better than being left stranded at Frankfurt or Heathrow airport. Winter salt is now much in demand but also useless at this temperatures to unfreeze the ice.

My Assos early winter gloves are also now useless: Being designed for down to six degrees plus, their protective value doesn't last for the 15 minutes ride to work.

Surprisingly enough the German postal system is still working and another batches of parts for the Galibier project arrived on Sunday and today.

I cheaply bought a set of wheels, consisting of Maillard 700 high flange hubs and Mavic rims with glued-on old tubeless tires. I am not a big fan of tubeless tires, to cumbersome in event of a puncture on the road, so I completely de-assembled the front and rear wheel. Then I de-assembled the front wheel bearings. There were only eight balls instead of nine on one side of the bearing so I will need to look for an replacement. Nevertheless I greased the bearing and started to polish the chrome of the which now looks pretty good. Supported by a red rubber bear.

I will buy some spokes and a new rim and try to built my first wheel. Well at least I will give it a try and complete it as far as I can but most likely the truing needs  to be done by a pro from a bike shop.

The same for the rear hub. The spokes on the side of the cogs couldn't be removed so I cut them with a cable cutter. Then I went to the local bike shop and asked them to remove the cassette, which is old-style, screwed on cassette with integrated freewheel. They gave me a big laugh and told me that it is impossible to remove the cassette without the complete wheel: Opposed to modern cassettes, where only the last and smallest cog is screwed on to hold all other cogs in place and where you need to counter the against the stripping tool with a chain whip on any other cog, here need to unscrew the complete cassette with the freewheel that is screwed as one piece on the hub. So you need to counter with the lever of the rims. So it could very well be that this hub will never be usable any more at is neither possible to put new spokes in nor to remove the cassette. I should have read the Sheldon Brown advise before starting where all of this is described in detail. So let's see if I perhaps cannot find another way.

By the way, this thing is pretty heavy, perhaps more than a set of lightweight wheels.

I also have now a almost new Shimano 600 Arabesque front derailleur. Design-wise that was my first choice for the Galibier and I am happy that I could buy one rather cheaply. I still need to de-assemble, grease and polish this baby. These derailleurs are still working friction-based and not indexed so it depends on the rider to adjust it properly while riding. It can be used with index shifters nevertheless, so I will have a wide range of options. I will probably end-up with a strange mix of components, so the re-sale value of the bike will be rather low as real connoisseurs will not be interested. But I would like to use the components I think will look best, regardless of epoch-correct assembly.

During assembly I found out that I am really a poor mechanic. For me, perhaps because of my academic-theoretical background, if a problem is intellectually solved, I am not much interested in the implementation. I guess my marriage may serve as a prime example. I am getting really impatient when the bloody handle bar can be fiddled around the bloody handle. Or the rust cannot be polished away on the hub. So perhaps by doing this kind of mechanical work I can learn to become slightly more modest, patient and thereby by also nicer to my wife.
The question is, will she be nice to me, when in due time even more nice bike that bought will arrive on our door steps. Ah, the temptations are so big in Germany and the winter is so long. So I better start working patiently on this beautiful piece of Shimano 600EX Arabesque rear derailleur. Again, this one was produced between 1978 and 1984, as the FD. The cage is open, so it is possible to remove the chain from the derailleur without opening the chain. I am not sure what this is good for, but I like this small, useless engineering details.

The Galibier, however will need some more time. I will keep posting pictures 
of it's progress.

20 December 2010

Multi-use Garmin

"...As soon as I got home, I turned off the Garmin. THE GARMIN!!! It was right in front of me the whole time. I quickly ran upstairs and plugged it in to my computer. “Please download! Please download!” I said over and over. Sure enough, it downloaded and the full telemetry of my ride came up, including a map and running time stamp of my ride. Clear as day, you could see where I stopped at the stop sign, where I got hit by the car, and where my bike came to rest. On the corresponding time stamp, you could see the speeds, the stops, and even where my heart rate spiked as she hit me. Then you could see when my bike was moved out of the street, then when I picked it up and fixed it and got it back home. All of it was on there. I called the police department to say I had this but they were reluctant to do anything. They said it was a matter for the insurance companies and refused to add it to the file. That left me a bit disheartened.

Nevertheless, I called the driver’s insurance company in the morning. Not surprisingly, the driver had already made a claim and insisted it was my fault. They wanted me to give my statement, which I did. During my statement, I mentioned the GPS telemetry. Instantly, the agent perked up and asked if I could send it to her. I told her that I was happy to send it to her in any format she wanted: a screen shot, several screen shots,  the whole file, even the Garmin itself, anything she wanted. Anyway, I sent it to her and she was able to see exactly what happened, how it happened, and when it happened.

Within a day, the driver’s insurance took responsibility for the accident and I was able to get my bike fixed and once I was able to train properly again, I was back at it. Without my Garmin, I don’t know if this would have happened. It certainly would not have happened as quickly as it did. The insurance company was absolutely top notch. Once they realized what had happened, they acted swiftly and professionally. What proof would I have had without the Garmin? What would the outcome have been?

So, to our fans and followers out there who are thinking about using GPS, here is another important reason to use one. I am very grateful that I had it on that day, and grateful to the insurance company for knowing what they were looking at. I will carry my Garmin with me for much of the foreseeable future. Be careful out there."

Why Every Cyclist Should Ride With GPS - Black Dog Procycling.com

Great story.

18 December 2010

Altitude Dropping

Two weeks ago Jerome and I rode up to 1475 meters elevation.

Last week I made it to 1000 meters elevation.

... And today we settled for 650 meters and 730 meters -- Kobu Tunnel and then Wada Pass from the west (Ura Wada) approach -- including an extra climb to around 730 meters elevation, as we left the top of Wada by the forest road (rindo) alternative.

Jerome and David triumphant at Wada, December 18, 2010

Tuesday evening (Dec 21) is the winter solstice, shortest day of the year, and there was frost on the ground in the shade as we rode up the lower part of the Akigawa climb.  Definite signs of the upcoming winter ... though nothing to compare to, say, snowy Northern Germany, and hopefully the Kanto vicinity will be still rideable at lower elevations until mid-January, and straight through until Spring on dry days.

Jerome and I were joined by his friend Didier, who lived many years in Japan, was responsible for introducing the "Look" bicycle brand to Japan in the 1980s, rode with Laurent Fignon in his youth (according to Jerome -- I did not remember to confirm with Didier), and who has returned to Asia this year after 6 years in Nice, France.  Didier is living in Hong Kong, but his family moved back to Japan and his employer/company is based here, so he makes very regular trips to Tokyo.  Amazing that he is able to keep in shape in crowded, bicycle-unfriendly Hong Kong, and could make it up Ura Wada ... a hill that has our, and now his, respect.

Near the top of the Uenohara "golf course hills". Short, but painful as always.
Mt. Fuji was visible from Uenohara and Ura Wada, against a cloudless but slightly hazy winter sky.

It was a very nice, recreational ride, with the hard work being the short climb to Kobu, the longer and much more difficult Ura Wada, and the "golf course hills" of Uenohara in between the two.  A winter version of the "reverse Paul Jason" ride -- a ride I did twice in 2009 (solo in winter and with Jerome in August), but had not managed yet this year.  The descent down the "rindo" instead of the usual route down Jimba Kaido, was great.  The first time I have taken this route, favored by many P.E. members.  No traffic, no dodging buses on the narrow approach road at the bottom.  And yet another picturesque narrow valley on the lower section.

17 December 2010

35.000 HITS

I just checked that we have almost achieved 35.000 hits on the Clustrmap counter. Which is much, much less than the reported hits on site traffic, but as an engineer one has to stay on the safe side of the equation. I am really happy to note that the blog is doing so well and there is so much interest in the now very diversified posts.
0 - 5.000 hits from 14.11.07, the start of the site to 26.09.2008, 316 days,

- 10.000 hits to 21.05.2009, 228 days
- 15.000 hits to 18.11.2009, 181 days
- 20.000 hits to 21.03.2010, 123 days
- 25.000 hits to 14.06.2010, 85 days.
- 30.000 hits to 24.09.2010, 102 days
- 35.000 hits to 17.12.2010, 84 days

With all the snow in Bremen I thought it nice to start the workday with reading the appropriate blog. Which in this case is "Up in Alaska".
I haven't accessed the site for quite a while, the thought to do so naturally occurs in winter only. So I was shocked to read that Jill, the blogger, has moved on to Montana.

Winter Goals

The morning after another day with heavy snowfall in the Bremen flatlands.

On Monday the sky was blue and the roads were dry so I took my Cervelo out of the garage for a 80 km standard spin. I made it just up to Worpswede, about one hour, when it started to snow again. There must have been some very well blue-camouflaged snow clouds somewhere up there. I had to ride about 25 km back to Bremen against the snow and the roads were slowly becoming white. The snow was rather dry and while there wasn't sufficient quantity accumulated on the surface, it formed in small hurricane patterns. When I came home it was snowing heavily and when I left for work an hour later on the Gazelle, I was hardly able to steer through the snow.
I rode to work early in the morning the next day on the Gazelle through the snow. It is a little bit tricky to ride on a racing bike with 700 x 23C tires as every little bump below the snow forces a sudden and unexpected change of direction. I thought it as a good exercise to learn how to control a slippery bike. I was probably just thinking that and how great I was handling the steering already and how fast I could go, when I came to a crossing where I had to brake a little bit harder. I did it too hard, so that the rear wheel went to the right and me down hard on the road.

After that I thought what a bloody stupid prick I am. I am not 26 any more when I rode home in the rain on my Motebecane on a bicycle lane than was separated from the pedestrian walk by a line of randomly spaced bollards and I crashed directly with my right knee into one without seeing it. That hurted very much but I survived, nothing was broken and there were no consequences at all. Now I am 48 and every time I fall it takes weeks until all of the pain is gone and I really should consider this when making cycling decisions.

So after spending a day in the office, trying not to move at all and after another night at home, trying not to move as well, I went into the garage and refitted the Bad Boy with the winter Schwalbe tires (700 x 30C). I was reluctant to use Bad Boy in the winter, first it is very messy to clean the bike, second the paint is very sensible to scratches (strange spec for a MTB or urban hybrid) and third it has no mud guards. And forth, the last time I crashed really hard was riding down from Yabistu Toge to Hadano on Bad Boy with winter tires.
But winter in Bremen leaves me no other choices than to ride on fat tires:  The Bad Boy was placed just behind the Cervelo and the Gazelle and the electric shopping bike of my wife and the new green Giant of my son and the Peugeot Galibier frame I am working on. Which stands in front of the old Pinarello frame which I am polishing and the beautiful Peugeot I have bought recently for fun and just leaves enough space for this super cheap Pesacarola racing bike I incidentally bought and the beautiful Gianni Motta I could not resist to buy. If performance really depends on the number of newly acquired bikes, I should be ready for Paris - Roubaix.

In other words, I took me some time to get the bike out, mount a saddle, pedals, tires, saddle bag, speedmeterand lights, which took another half an hour. All of this for 15 minutes of riding to work.

After having done the commute now three times I have to say that it is actually much more fun than on a racing bike. It is also stimulating not to been overtaken by grandmothers on their sturdy Holland-bikes while trying to stay upright on the Gazelle.

On the weekend I will utilize my newly rediscovered cycling courage to ride through the white planes on the Bad Boy.

And after coming home an having enjoyed a cup of hot instant coffee, I will go to work on the Peugeot Galibier frame. I am still waiting for parts to arrive at my home and I am excited how some of the purchases, like the charge saddle, the Maillard 700 high flange hubs will look like. Although I have to admit that assembly of a bike is a tricky business, even if one has most of the tools. I wasn't able to remove the crankset covers from the Pinarello frame and had to ask for assistance at a bike shop. I am also not able to mount the Shimano 600 rear tube shifters properly. And it was an absolute nightmare to fiddle white handle bar tape around a bullhorn handle bar. Well, this must be the fate of the Euro-cyclist, I guess.

I will post some pictures once the wheels have been mounted.
Meanwhile have fun in the snow, if you have snow.

Ekiden Ride - January 2 - A Positivo Espresso Tradition (since 2008)

Save the Date.

January 2 is probably the only day of the year that any cyclist in his (or her) right mind would ride down National Route 1 from Kawasaki to Odawara then up to Hakone.  Usually a miserable road, full of speeding trucks and unhappy salarymen trying to get back to base after losing yet another sale, on January 2 the outbound lanes are shutdown for part of the morning, just a long enough window for the outbound leg of the 87th running of the Hakone Ekiden (collegiate running relay), watched live by millions of spectators and nationally televised as well.

The runners start at 8AM in Otemachi, and get to Hakone - Ashinoko around 1:00-1:30PM. 
Last year, reports indicate that a significant portion of the crowd was there just to see MOB and Manfred ride by in their JCRC "D" Class Champion jerseys. 

Two years ago we met in Kawasaki at 8:15 or so, and that worked out okay.  This year, we will trade cellphone numbers ahead of the day, so we will not get into trouble if separated (as happened last year to some riders).  The key is to stay far enough ahead of the runners so you don't get asked to get off the road by one of the 20,000 police and 25,000 volunteers, but not so far ahead that you are riding in traffic.  This is most difficult in the Kawasaki-Yokohama stretch, where there are frequent, long red lights (which must be respected, given the crowds, cross traffic and ever-present police).  ... I would not mind meeting somewhere beyond Yokohama Station this time, to skip the least pleasant part of the ride.  Or start a little earlier and plan a decent rest stop after we get through Yokohama and out past Totsuka and onto Shonan coast/Sagami bay.

In any event, the main event is the climb from, effectively, sea level, at Odawara up to 875 meters elevation above Ashinoko.  After Ashinoko, we leave the race and adoring crowds behind, head up to Hakone Pass, then take local Rte 20 (MOB's "favorite road in Japan") to Atami Pass, then burn up our brakepads on the descent to Atami Station, and hop the Shinkansen home (25 minutes to ShinYokohama, more like 40 to Shinagawa).  Bring your bike bag (or let me know if you need one -- I have a spare).

The 2010 report is here, or is it here, or here?  Okay, there were at least 3 reports.  Not to mention MOB's more detailed explanation of the event and concept than I just wrote above, here.

And the very entertaining report from the Jan 2009 version is here

There is no 2008 report.  I did the 2008 version alone, and bailed at Odawara due to New Year's lethargy and equipment issues (later revealed to be a small but growing crack in my titanium frame's bottom bracket -- now rewelded and serving as a winter bike for the PE London chapter. 

For anyone who wants to bring less-serious or fit riders, the Odawara bail out is a very relaxed and easy option.  For anyone who wants to ride further than Atami, there are plenty of other options, of course.

Details about meeting time and place to follow.

I will also post a link on the TCC site in case there is interest.

15 December 2010

Shed. Tool. Sharpest. Not. The. In.

I get the up part. The down part. Not so much. Makes my knees ache just watching. Nicely made piece though. via gh

14 December 2010

Rapha Rendezvous group

Rapha Rendezvous Group ''Positivo Espresso'' *CHANGED*

Download the Rapha Rendezvous iPhone App here http://www.rapha.cc/rendezvous

12 December 2010

Economic Emergency

A new economic crisis struck this weekend.  No, not the possible collapse of the Euro, or the prolonged high unemployment and sloppy home mortgage foreclosures in the U.S. -- swimming in a vast ocean of debt -- but something even worse:  The end of 30 years of seemingly endless growth of the Japanese convenience stores, one of few bright spots (until now) in Japanese retailing.

The CEO of Seven & i Holdings, Toshifumi Suzuki, summoned his counterparts at Family Mart, Lawson and Daily Yamazaki to an emergency meeting for Sunday evening to discuss countermeasures against these developments.

What triggered the sudden sense of crisis?  On Sunday afternoon, Suzuki received reports from the automated monitoring systems of franchisees in western Tokyo of a cyclist who rode about 150 kilometers without a single stop at one of their stores.  No ham and cheese burritos, no crappy sports drinks, not even yogurt products or a Snickers Bar.  Numerous stores recorded the cyclist passing (first picked up by the RFID chip in his train pass, and confirmed by automated camera footage of him passing nearby, on the same route he had taken only 8 weeks earlier (Tamagawa, Akigawa, Tomin-no-Mori and back).  A quick check of the POS databases of the other chains confirmed he had not stopped there either.  How was it possible?  What to do?  Perhaps another new flavor of Kit Kat was needed to lure him into the store (Jalapeno and cheese Kit Kat)?  Or maybe it had been a mistake to double the ham in the ham and cheese burrito -- making it sit heavily in the stomach of a cyclist well onto the next climb?

Apparently, the cyclist survived on High5 products, a combination of energy bars, two gels on the last stages of the climb to Tomin no Mori.  He filled one water bottle with a 4:1 carbohydrate/protein mix drink, the other, larger bottle with water.  "Bootleg imports", as Suzuki referred to the High5 products.  "How can Japan meet its food security goals if people can order this stuff with free shipping from Wiggle and get it at their doorstep the next week?"  And the cyclist was able to refill his water bottles at public faucets, avoiding even the need for a 2 liter water refill from Seven Eleven. He did stop for a bowl of mountain vegetable (sansai) udon at Tomin no Mori, but no economy ever got wealthy off of mountain roots and tubers!

Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a ride, warm for mid-December as I basked in the sun at Tomin no Mori.  I made the round trip as quickly as I have ever done, and improved my former "toge baka" time by about 2 minutes -- 1:08:43, down from 1:10:38 in April 2008, just before Itoigawa Fast Run, and almost 6 minutes faster than when I did this climb on October 17 this year (1:14:36).  This time I used the Fulcrum Racing 1 wheels with tubeless tires -- a bit slower on the descent and a bit more work to maintain speed on the flats, especially into headwinds, but also 200 or 300 grams lighter than the HED Jet 6's, so noticeably more spin-worthy on the climb.

09 December 2010

Shimano Golden Arrow

There was a time not so long ago, when the rank order was not Dura Ace, Ultegra and 105, followed by names serious cyclists spell with the same intonation as "leg cramps" or "Daily Yamazaki". Yes, that was the time of Dura Ace, 600 and Golden Arrow. Golden Arrow was the lowest (serious) road racing group set produced by Shimano between 1983 and 1986. 

Still I believe it is one of the most beautiful designs done by Shimano ever. An arty touch, but not too much, so much nicer than the apparently pure functional parts of today. Although, while writing this I think of these ugly Hollowtec crank sets of Shimano from today.

Of course, if you really love to have pieces of art on your bike, the Shimano Arabesque series is even better. Unfortunately it is politically incorrect to use them these days. If you are more interested in such details, there is no better place to look than Velo Base , but be careful, if you like that stuff the site is highly addictive.

I was looking for some old parts to built up the Peugeot bike under the working title "The Galibier Project". I have spend thousands of Yen for bike mechanical services, mainly with Nagai-San from Positivo and given the long winters in Bremen I thought I could learn to do this as well. I think this is a habit of people lively in harsh environments and  I am just happy that I don't have to polish and paint wooden nutcrackers.

For very little money (less than 700 Yen, to be precise) I bought a pair of shifters, a front derailleur and a rear derailleur for the Galibier. The parts were anyway in good shape, but nevertheless I spend some time to de-assemble them, clean each of them thoroughly, greased and oiled them and assembled them back into shape. They still looked used, but for me they are fine enough.

The wonder word in vintage cycling is: "N.O.S", meaning New, old stock: spare parts that were never used before but produced in the seventies or eighties and kept in stock somewhere when inventory level was not equal cash flow equal financial performanace equal quarterly report for the share holders. I just bought another set of Shimano 600 AX shifters in NOS conditions. Not sure what I will do with them but they were too cheap (550 Yen) and too beautiful to be ignored.

These are racing components from the first aerodynamic-crazed wave, long before Cervelo jumped on the train and compared aerodynamic adavantages against weight advantages. 35 seconds overall on one of the hardest stages of the Tour de France for an average rider. Thank you very, convincing. Already in the eighties components were constructed in such way as to produce minimum drag. My Golden Arrow shifters, for example are located on a clamp above the lower tube instead of left and right on the lover tube for precisely that reason. 

An even better example to eighties aerodynamic design are the Dura Ace AX brake calipers which sell today in the range of 20.000 to 60.000 Yen a pair.

So I will continue for a while to buy stuff here and there and hope that I will be able to learn to fit all pieces of the puzzle together in the garage later.

I also bought a nice piece of tableware from the Edo-period while visiting the Maeda mansion in Komabatodaimae with Juliane some time ago. On the left we see a cyclist engaged in stretching exercises for the forthcoming stage of the Transalp, while his wife to the right is urging him to stay home and play with the kids. Heartwarming. 

05 December 2010

Yomiuri V Dori

The slope from the Tamagawa up to my house offers at best 20-25 meters elevation change, and only one short stretch that requires a low gear ... never even bothered to measure it precisely.  The "hospital hill" at Sakura-ga-oka and Tama Hills, is over 15 kms away and not very steep, as the grade gradually shifts from 2-3% up to 5-6% near the top.  Most of the hills in central Tokyo offer only short stretches, mostly no more than 100-200 meters long, so you barely get going before you stop.
James M. last year mentioned the climb to Yomiuri Land as a good training spot.  I tried it once but somehow it had fallen off my radar screen during my off time last summer.  I've stopped by twice in the past month, each time doing the climb 4-5 times as part of a short ride.  From the train station roundabout at the bottom to the top of the main climb is a little over 700 meters distance, and a little over 60 meters of elevation change.  There is a 9-10% grade, with a bit less at the very bottom and top sections.  Little or no traffic.  Other cyclists are there doing the same thing.  There are what seem to be Yomiuri Giants baseball fans hanging out at the back entrance to the ballpark/training facility near the top  ... they acknowledge your effort on your 3rd and subsequent climbs.  And a big plus for the Giants fan (not me), the roadside is lined with flags, one marking each Giants victory this past season.  Maybe even better motivation for any Hanshin fans. 
Highly recommended for training.
The hill to Yomiuri Land.  Does not look like much viewed from Tamagawahara-bashi

This view from the bottom of the climb.  It continues around a curve to the right.
Directions:  Cross the Tamagawa from Tokyo at Tamagawahara-bashi (the road to One-Kansen, Tsurugawa Kaido - Rte 19).  Continue across Kawasaki Kaido (Rte 9 - the major crossing just after going under the train tracks within 500 meters of the river), then turn left at the next signal onto Rte 124.  Proceed until you go under the Keio tracks and turn left into the roundabout on the South entrance of Keio Yomiuri Land Station.  In the photo above, you can see the station platform on the left edge of the photo.  Climb and descend.  Climb and descend.  Repeat until you wilt.

The Y's Have It

Jerome and I did a "scouting" ride on Saturday, checking out the road conditions to Yanagisawa Pass as he contemplates his idea of a 2-day year-end ride from Tokyo to Kyoto (to the extent practicable, via an interior route).  Whether this is do-able will depend on the weather conditions, to say the least.
We have gotten in a very nice series of late-year rides, the weather being far more cooperative in Kanto than it has been for our colleagues in the Positivo Espresso European chapters.  Two weeks ago there was Yamanakako (via Yamabushi Pass), then last weekend Yabitsu 2X, and now Yanagisawa.  Oh Yeah!
On December 4 mid-day, as the sun cleared the hilltops and shown down warmly on the Michi-no-Eki (rest stop) at Tabayama-Mura, Jerome's idea of an interior ride to Kyoto seemed not such a crazy idea.

It might not seem quite as smart when trying to change a flat tire at 10 or 11PM Dec 30 on National Rte 19, somewhere along the Kisogawa in Nagano/Gifu, in sub-freezing temperatures.
In any event, on Saturday I was suffering some after-effects of a Friday evening feast, did not feel at my strongest, so we just went up to Yanagisawa, stopped for Curried Udon, turned around and I hopped the train from Oume, instead of crazier ideas such as a side trip to Kamihikawa, or maybe coming home via Imagawa Pass and a soak in the hot spring in Kosuge that we missed on Halloween morning.  Still, 170+ km and over 2000 meters of climbing for me, and home by 6PM.  Jerome, of course, rode all the way home, putting his day at 230 km or so.
The climb up Route 411 beyond Okutama-ko was ... peaceful, with very little traffic, as nice as I have ever seen it.  The view from Yanagisawa toward Mt. Fuji was breathtaking.

Even more so without obstructions:
On the way up the hill, the thermometer at 1400 meters elevation reported 11 degrees C.  On the way back down, after 2PM, the sun had slipped below the edge of the Southern ridge and the valley was entirely in the shade.  The thermometer at 1400 meters showed 4 degrees.
We stopped briefly at Okutama-ko, hoping to catch a ray of sunlight ... but were 15 minutes late, the sun slipping across the waters and still lighting the dam and opposite hillside.
As with last weekend, this was a nice, recreational pace.
I'll embed the Garmin data ... but one complaint.  Garmin has switched from Google Maps to an MS/Bing version.  I hope they are saving money and will pass the savings on to the consumer, since it seems to provide a noticeably inferior view on screen.