28 March 2011


I was not able to ride Saturday with Jerome due to a scheduled client meeting.  I understand that he happened to link up with James K. and some others for a ride out One-kansen.  I also saw James K. and Jamie S., as they concluded their ride and were talking at the side of the road near Daikanyama, as I rode in Komazawa Dori for my 1:30PM meeting ... which was switched to a conference call as I rode in ... and even that was cancelled before it started.

In any event, way, way behind on my Transalp training, unable to ride Saturday, unable to join the European chapter's Mallorca early Spring training camp, and with the Chiba 400km Brevet cancelled this weekend, I was eager to ride on Sunday.  I headed out despite remnants of jet lag and a cold that had caused me to completely lose my voice during the last few days of my U.S. trip last week.

I went for Tomin no Mori, over Kazahari, down the back side, stopped for a quick lunch at Yakyu-Tei (Watanabe-san's cafeteria) at the far end of Lake Okutama, then home via Oume/Yoshino-Kaido.  I had hoped to continue over Tsuru/Tawa passes or Matsuhime, but felt exhausted already after the effort on Kazahari and the very cold descent. Despite trying to push it some on the climb, I was far off my pace of a few months ago.

Watanabe-san said the first week after the earthquake almost no cars had passed by her restaurant, because of the gasoline shortages.  She said that she had not seen many cyclists either.  When I mentioned that there had been plenty of cyclists today on both sides of the climb to Kazahari (including some coming up the approach from her restaurant), she narrowed the comment to "well, not many foreigners" and asked about the reports that embassies had told their people to leave.  I reassured her that, while there had been some such warnings, there are still plenty of foreigners in Tokyo, and many who left when the international schools closed (as did I with my son for a week) are coming back.

It was a good training ride, 175km with a side-to-head wind the entire trip home to make up for the lack of hills on the return leg.  I think I overdid things a bit in light of my cold, and my stomach was upset for a few hours after getting home and soaking in a hot bath.  But all seems well this morning.

I'm really, really hopeful that the April 2 Shizuoka Brevet will go forward on schedule.  If not, I may need to conclude that the fates have conspired against my participation in Paris-Brest-Paris this year.

Baseball practice along the Tamagawa as usual, with Mt. Fuji in the background, with a mysterious non-radioactive cloud rising from its near side -- mist off of Yamanakako?
Looking back at the route from a vista just about Tomin no Mori.  Spring has not yet arrived in Okutama.
The roadway near Kazahari Pass.  Snow has been cleared to the side and the surface is dry, but the temperature gauge reads only +2 degrees C at the Noon hour.
The cafeteria at Okutama-ko.  I was the only guest at what should be peak lunch hour on a Saturday, and was treated to extra Konnyaku, pickles, and Miso w/ my curried rice, plus a seat right next to the stove.  There was a bit more traffic at the remodeled place not shown in this photo, but still very quiet.

17 March 2011

Projekt X Ride 1

Bike Porn 1: KNC aluminium 7075 jockey wheels with ceramic bearings. Matching low weight titanium screws. Powered by Wippermann Connex gold chain. Experiments have shown that you can ride an average Paris - Nice stage 5.17 seconds faster with this set up.
Today was the day when I was asked to collect project X from the big bike dealer at the the other edge of the town. Yes, I was supposed to assemble project X completely on my own but I had to give up on some parts.

Well that is actually also the reason why I like to work with old bikes. It isn't that costly if you break something. On the other hand, if you put too much torque on the screws connecting the stem with the carbon handle- easily within milliseconds 10.000 Yen are gone forever.

Never mind that nasty thought. Today I learned that:

a) It is better to shift into highest gear before installing shifting wires as otherwise you can do it again.

b) There is actually another spacer between the wheel and the cassette even if you match a Shimano Dura Ace cassette on a Shimano freewheel.

c) You cannot mount a SRAM crank set in a Shimano specific bottom bracket.

As you may have already guessed, there are smaller and bigger Yen signs behind each bullet point.

I had my thought with Japan today and again. So I decided to take one day of holiday in order and do some riding. Before I rode out, I posted a longer post about elevator safety in case of earthquakes on the TCC blog. I hope it can be of help. This is different from writing hilarious stories.

So I rode out along the river Wuemme where the reed harvest was in full swing.

Project X is a very light bike, the lightest bike I ever had and it behaves pretty nervously. This is also the first time I ever use a bike with tubeless tires and I glued them on by myself so I didn't felt very comfortable on the bike today. But its fast when it goes straight. And climbing trunk road pedestrian overpasses is a piece of cake with this baby.

I thought that I was faster as usual while staying in the lower 140 HRM range. On the way back I also found out why: It was an exceptional windy day and I could hardly ride at 25 km/hr back.

I have a workshop with my students next weekend in a youth hostel about 100 km away from Bremen. Weather permitting I will ride there by bike, but which one?
Bike Porn 2: Syntace 99 stem with titanium screw: less than 100g. Otherwise mostly carbon.

I like the concept of Project X: A cheap, average aluminium frame equipped with nice components. The frame is made by Easton under the name of the Italian brand. Nice orange color. 

Orange Aluminium screws combined with the N of "Faggin". Of course it never works out like that. Too many standards. Think 31.6 mm seat post diameter.

Bike Porn 3: Full carbon saddle. Less than 100g. Less than 10.000 Yen, so even cheaper than my Selle Italia. 
Bike Porn 4: The power train. Blue valve cap brings luck to the owner. SRAM crank from the original Cervelo setup, later replaced by Ultegra 6700. This bike has nothing that isn't necessary. Note the missing front derailleur and smaller chain ring. With a 12 - 28 in the rear never mind in Bremen. By the way, stronglight chain rings don't fit on SRAM cranks. One also need special single speed screws for assembly if only one chain ring is used.

15 March 2011

Historical Photos

Nagasaki, 1945

Fukushima, 2011
I was hardly able to work today, too many thoughts about what is happening in Japan were going through my head. Every five minutes I checked CNN and Spiegel Online for news, did the atomic reactor blew up? Is there radioactive fall-out in Tokyo? Another earthquake, another Tsunami? Many relatives and friends called over the weekend. There is little I can do from here, but at least I started to put pressure on the German-Japanese associations I am a member of to collect relief funds (DJW, DJG, SP-Alumni).
Even riding 100 km+ yesterday didn't offered much needed distraction.

Luckily everybody I know better is all right, but I am even more worried about the long-term effects. I don't mean the effects of radiation on health, but what will happen to a country still knee-deep in the morass of depression after falling down from the heights of the bubble economy in 1990.

Some weeks ago I spoke with one of my few good Japanese friends and he told me, that there are some people in Japan that feel that today's Japan is similar to the dawn of the the Tokugawa Shogunate in mid 19th century. A political stubborn and ineffective government that couldn't provide wealth and power to its people and was at the whim of Western foreign powers was replaced in the Meiji revolution by a (by Japanese standards) modern government and a new powerful class of merchants and industrialists.

The comparison targets the political establishment of the LDP and its clones with the late Tokugawa bakufu (administration). I don't know if this is a common thought in Japan, but the many parallels were interesting for sure.

Another thought came up: There is a historical, philosophical concept in China that justifies the rule by one or the other ruler or dynasty called "Mandate of Heaven". Wiki has all the details:

"The Mandate of Heaven  is a traditional Chinese philosophical concept concerning the legitimacy of rulers. It is similar to the European concept of the divine right of kings, in that both sought to legitimize rule from divine approval; however, unlike the divine right of kings, the Mandate of Heaven is predicated on the conduct of the ruler in question."
"The Mandate of Heaven had no time limitations, instead depending on the just and able performance of the ruler. In the past, times of poverty and natural disasters were taken as signs that heaven considered the incumbent ruler unjust and thus in need of replacement."

I don't even want to discuss heavenly influence paired with Japanese politics, but just as the first comparison, one can draw parallel lines as well.
I really hope that this disaster will have at least a positive impact on the way Japan is heading into the future.

14 March 2011

Inspection Tour Reports Life in Most of Japan Proceeds As Usual

With trains disrupted Friday evening and my Brevet cancelled, I had planned to ride on Saturday, but put off any plans as I was glued to the television, watching reports of horrible devastation along the coast in Tohoku, visible for the first time after a long dark Friday night.

And then there were concerns about the nuclear power plants in Fukushima, not so close to Tokyo, but not so far either, with a lot of confusion in the hours following an explosion that blew the roof and walls completely off of the building that houses (housed?) reactor #1.  The huge explosion was visible via some media outlets (I saw one broadcast that had been posted to youtube and linked from U.S. aggregators like Business Insider), while on Japanese TV I could not find any footage, and the government reported that the "roof had collapsed" while at the same time asking people to evacuate within a 20 km radius.  I think "roof had been blown to smithereens" would be a bit more accurate, even if this did not ultimately coincide with a major radiation release (and who really knows, yet?).

So I put off any ride until Sunday, awoke, quickly checked the news (no meaningful news updates) and decided to head to the west, as usual, and even further away from the disaster zone.  I was hoping to get over Sasago Pass and then try Kamihikawa, or maybe head up the first part of Odarumi and along the Crystal Line, inspecting for quake-related damage.  But I planned to go at a leisurely pace, as my legs were so stiff when I awoke that I could barely walk -- the result of descending 29 flights of stairs in my road cycling shoes on Friday end of the day to get out of my office building (note to self -- next time, walk down in your normal shoes and change at the bottom, even if it requires bring them home in the rucksack).

What I found was, well, normal.  There were significantly reduced volumes of traffic as compared to a typical Sunday, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary.  Life goes on.  And the further west of Tokyo, the more normal things are.  The main disruption that I found was at the 7-11 in Takao, where there was no 2-liter private label bottled water available, though everything else could be had.  Further away from Tokyo, at the 7-11 past Otsuki, even the 2 liter bottled water is available.  And baseball practice is proceeding as usual, along the Tamagawa and further out west.
The Chuo Line runs normally between Fujino and Uenohara, no damage to houses, roads, bridges or train lines.

The Katsuragawa flows normally toward Otsuki, from Tsuru, on a late winter/early Spring day.  Observe the non-landslide on that steep hill along the western (right side) bank of the river.

Traffic crosses the undamaged bridge over the Katsuragawa on Route 20 as people go about their Sunday morning business.   The "Gusto" restaurant that sheltered Jerome, Yutaka and me on December 30 has been serving food without a break since our visit 10 weeks back (still open 24-7!).
At Otsuki Hatsukari Elementary School ... Baseball practice must go on!

I headed up the old road toward Sasago Pass, but was quickly met by snow and ice on the road in the shade -- a bit of a surprise given the lack of visible snow on the lower hills to that point, and the warm temperatures (by now over 10 degrees celsius and climbing to the mid- or upper-teens).
I dismounted and walked through the patches of ice, since I remembered that the road would soon climb along a sunny, much more exposed slope, where I expected any snow would have long since melted.  This worked well at the lower elevations and until I got much closer to the pass, when I began to run into some deeper drifts across the road, even on the sunny slopes.  I pushed my bike through a few of these.
I gave up, 50-75 meters or so elevation below the tunnel, when I reached a patch of snow that continued around the corner and as far as I could see beyond, and also as I realized that the opposite slope of Sasago is mostly shaded and so probably in far worse shape.

After a quick trip back toward Otsuki, I made the left term at Magi and started the climb up to O-Toge.  The Sasago climb on the old road starts at 700 meters elevation, whereas the Magi traffic light is below 450 meters, so at least I would get some climbing before encountering snow.  And the climb is all on the South slope of the mountain.  I made it up to the gate, and around the next corner, before I found the first stretch that would require dismounting.  Realizing that this was the first of many and that I still had 500 meters of elevation gain ahead, I turned around and headed for home.
The O-toge gate, approximately 975 meters elevation.
O-Toge Southern approach at 1000 meters elevation.
At this point, it is still too close to the event to know with any certainty the medium and longer term consequences of Friday's earthquakes.  But as I descended back down the road, still free of cracks, potholes or obstructions, and looked out to the South at the next line of mountains, over the roof of an undamaged house, I knew that much of Japan -- indeed, where 90% of Japanese reside and the vast bulk of Japanese industry and commerce -- is still just fine.
Another undamaged farm house on a smooth road -- Magi, on the climb toward O-Toge, about 75 km west of Tokyo.
I had a quick trip back toward town and, having ridden just under 190 km (10 km with my Garmin GPS turned off), I hopped an uncrowded but otherwise normal train at Hashimoto (Yokohama Line, then Denentoshi Line) and was home for dinner.


Elevation Profile:

And today, from my office a photo of a few of the many buildings in central Tokyo that did not fall down on Friday:

Practicing Brevet

I am gaining a lot of experience at preparation for Brevets -- "randonneuring" (unassisted long distance cycling) events.

I download the cue sheet (and map if available), study the course in detail on Google Maps, noting the turns, copying relevant pages from my highway map books (or printing from the internet) and then trace the route in felt-tip pen highlighter.  I think about where the major climbs are, how tired I will likely be and, on the longer events, where I will want to rest or sleep.  I try to prepare my bicycle and gear well in advance, studying the weather forecast, anticipating the need to deal with a significant swing from daytime flatland sunny high temperatures to the bone chilling cold of a mountain pass at 4AM, figuring out whether sustained rain is likely and so requires different gear selection, making sure batteries are charged, lights functioning, tires and brakes in good shape, chain clean and lubed, reflective gear ready.  Recently, I've even made an extra set of the maps for Jerome on the Brevets we have ridden together.

I went through the full exercise last month for the February 26-27 Chiba 300 km Brevet.  Unfortunately, work intervened (a major tech M&A transaction with a short deadline), with meetings and calls scheduled throughout the time I would be riding, and a need to be awake and functioning during the 12 plus hour sleep/recovery period I would need following such an event.  So I gave the map set to Jerome and DNS'ed.

At least I could make it up by signing up (the last day before sign up closed!) for the March 12 Chubu 300 km Brevet.  I did the same thing again, a full preparation drill on Wednesday and Thursday evenings complete with maps and markers, gear (conveniently some of it still where I had put it for the February 26 event preparations).  Then I rode my Cervelo to work on Friday so that I could leave straight from Tokyo Station at 4:50PM, for dinner with a friend in Nagoya, a night at a business hotel and the early start from a park along the Kisogawa north of Ichinomiya City.

Then at 2:46PM Friday our office building began to sway violently to and fro as the earthquake hit Tohoku ... and you pretty much know the rest.  The trains did not run again on Friday -- and despite repeated statements that a few shinkansen would head Southwest from Tokyo, none did to my knowledge.  At least this time I will not get a DNS, as a late night email indicated the event had been cancelled (hard to hold a cycling event through the countryside/hills when the news keeps warning of aftershocks).  The Brevet has now been rescheduled for April 30.

I guess the 600 km "Attack Fukushima" Brevet that I signed up for on April 23, which is supposed to go up the coastline by the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear plants to Soma city, where many lives were lost as a result of the tsunamis -- though nothing near as bad as farther to the North -- will probably need to be re-routed in a different direction.  I fear that any trips to Fukushima in the near future would be as part of a volunteer relief/rebuilding operation, and not for my enjoyment.

It is common to refer to the "practice of law" or the "practice of medicine" in order to describe one's profession as a lawyer or doctor.  As a transactional lawyer, this becomes a bit of an inside joke when a client plans lots of transactions but never implements them, or asks us to think about all kinds of improbable eventualities.  "Practicing" law, just like practicing a musical instrument without performing.  So I guess this past month I have been "practicing Brevet".

12 March 2011

The Big One

I was mildly concerned when I heard this morning that there was an eathquake in Japan, but after having seen the pictures on the internet I am pretty much shocked.

Kazukos family ist all right, although her mother is stranded somewhere in Tokyo as she was out of the house when the quake stroke. She has to stay the night in a public building before she can hopefully return to her home on Saturday.

I hope that all of you and your families are all right, my thoughts are with you. This is an absolute nightmare. I hope hat nobody got caught out on a rindo somewhere up in the mountains on a beautiful, balmy spring day.

I would appreciate if you put some comments so that we know about you when you have time.

08 March 2011

Moser Leader AX Frame

Ah, a Francesco Moser bike.....
Moser Leader AX Evolution Frame Size 56 cm. A typical Italian engineered product: Beautiful design, top notch engineering and some miserable details: integrated quil-stem for teh saddle post.

 "Unifork" , according to Hiroshi this qualifies the bike from selling in Japan. But...
... the fork is open at the drop-outs. I guess this is due to weight savings? Or just sloppy craftmanship?
Of course, a bike like this must be equipped with Campagnolo components. Old Athena head set.

This is a used frame and it has some wounds.
Dedacciai tubing. "Modern" steel technology. Forget Columbus, Reynolds or Oria.
The integrated seat post design. Looks alomst like an aluminium frame.
Some work to be done.
But generally the frame is in good conditions. Although perhaps not good enough for Japan.

Wishbone type brake bracket.

A wonderful frame indeed and I would really love to built it into a complete new bike with modern components. But the frame size is just too small.

I came out of the garage (aka as area 51) yesterday and just by chance my wife as arrived with the family car. She noted the Project Galibier and said "Oh, another bike, is this not your third one?" It was a classical situation, first I wanted to mutter somethinga long the lines "Well, it isn't like it looks like, please let me explain...." But then I realised that my wife has missed purchase of #3, #4, #5 and #6 so I could answer with gusto: "No, this is not my third bike!".

Anyway, there is hardly place in the garage left.

Area 51 and Area 52

Area 51 is the garage next to our house where I work on "some" bicycles from time to time. It is a highly classified area, protected by the home turf security act against female members of the family and it receives almost unlimited funding. Recent research at area 51 has led to the development of "Project Galibier" and "Project X".
It is although not the only classified area in or close to Bremen.

After getting the Cervelo ready for spring on Sunday, I took it out for a 100 km ride. I had eaten almost nothing when I jumped on the bike and I wanted to take it easy and ride in the 140 HRM bracket. It was a beautiful day, still cold, but definitely the feeling of spring was in the air. There were lots of people on the road at the river Wümme and the weather-harded Bremenites took the opportunity to eat and drink at makeshift tables outside of the rural cafes.

I opted again for Ritterhude and did the three climbs, each one for 20m. The carnival season has started in earnest; although the event is much less pronounced in the North of Germany. But still a lot of children dress-up and much glass is littering the roads and bike path.

I got lost in Osterholz-Scharmbek and suddenly found myself riding in Western direction towards Schwanende, Farge and the river Weser. I have never been before in that area, but it was nice and a little bit hilly. I finally arrived at "Area 52" which is a military training complex close to Farge (you might recall that Farge indeed has a long militar history. This is where the submarine "Bunker Valentin" was built.)

The road leads straight through the training ground. At one point there is a barrier where the traffic stops. But I asked some by passers and they told me that it is OK to ride through. So I did. There is a nice, wide road, completely free of traffic and people. One constantly has the feeling that a tank might break through the bush like a giant wild boar, or that a MG company might sit in hiding somewhere and watches, finger on the trigger. Later I realized that this is the closest I got so far to this feeling of exploring new and unknown territories when crossing barriers and gates of rindos in Japan.
I arrived in Farge and was lucky that the ferry over the river Weser had just arrived. On the other (Western) side of the river, I continued to ride South. The roads are leading through old villages lined up in the shadow of the river protection walls. At Lemwerder exists the huge area of the Lürssen wharf. Yes, warships again, but also luxury yachts for Roman Abramowitsch, Larry Ellison and the other usual super rich of this world.

From there I entered Bremen again and rode home through the city. Of course I did the usual climbing exercise at the Kurfürstenstrasse pedestrian overpass.

I wasn't fast, but including the time on the ferry it took me less than 4,5 hours for the whole 100 km and I stayed generally low in the HRM despite some tailwind. I will try to do more basic training to built up the fundament for longer rides later this year.

What I am lacking in terms of performance will be compensated by Project X. Hopefully.

07 March 2011

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I took Friday off to clean my bikes and bring law and order to my garage

It has been a long winter and still during the night temperatures are dropping below freezing point. But the weekend surprised with some sunny days. I started to clean all my bikes and remove the true winter grit. Bad Boy and Gazelle are looking better now and with some oil, grease, new brake pads and adjustment of the rear derailleurs they are running fine again.

Finally I had all parts together to re-fit the Peugeot Galibier. As the Galibier will never become a fast bike, I bought a new stem, handle bar, grips and the most beautiful brake levers and assembled the whole thing on the bike on Saturday.

I am not sure why, but every time, I look at the front of the Galibier I think about Teriyaki burger. How I miss that stuff!

I bought also a nice "Bremen type" vintage Dura Ace cassette for the Galibier. Instead of the almost "compact-like" 12 - 19 5 speed cassette< I mounted a 11 - 15 one which combined with the 53/39 front crank provides optimal choice for Bremen and surroundings.

Looking at the Peugeot I realized today, that I learned a lot about cycling parts in the last weeks and that I am able to do many things on my own with the help of a rather extensive collection of tools. Nevertheless, there are still many things that drive my crazy: The handle can still be turned in the grip of the stem, despite the fact that it is tighten to the maximum. No idea why this is so, I can only assume that the diameter of the handle bar is too small. I can also not install bar ends, which would support the conclusion in the last sentence. And after exchanging all brake wiring (I left the old handle assembly with stems and wires as it is, so it can be mounted easily on another bike) I cannot properly adjust the rear brake. The only way to tackle all this problems is to sleep one night over it and do it again some other day. In the worse case I have to ask for help at the LBS.

The biggest problem with the Peugeot is, that it is too small. One day when I have found the perfect 58 to 60 cm frame, I will remove all parts and reassemble them on the new frame. Of course this will not work out, as the new frame will have Italian thread bottom brackets and other useless features. So I have to spend heaps of money again

I sold my trusted Zonda wheels which I have used on the Cervelo bike for three years and perhaps 25.000 km. The alu rims would probably have not survived the ups and downs of the Transalp. And now, living n Europe, I thought that some European flair would be nice. So I bought a pair of conventional DT Swiss wheels in white. Of all colors. Standard rims R1.1 and standard DT swiss spokes: 32 in the back and 28 in the front. That should be bullet proof for a rider like me. Replacement spokes are cheap and one can true the wheel on a ride in case one spoke breaks. A safe option.

Ultremo Z1 tyres, in case you wanted to ask. As this would most likely be my setup for the Transalp, I mounted the Ultegra 12-28 cassette from the Zonda wheels. Another surprise was waiting for me: The Campagnolo lock ring doesn't fit on the standard Shinao rotors. I used one from my Bad boy wheels for the time being.
Please note the orange valve caps.
As Sunday was a really beautiful day, I took her out for ride at noon. But this is another story that will be written tomorrow.

I used the remaining time on Sunday morning to work on Project X. This will be my secret weapon for all kind of ambushes and I am sure it will become as famous as the King Tiger, the F104 Starfighter and the Porsche 911 Carrera. By punishment of exile and death it is not allowed to make photos of Project X, but from time to time some daredevil nevertheless manage to take some blurred shots.