30 April 2011

Why bike shorts should be black


The (official) start

The top

The view

29 April 2011

Runjoo and Ashesh

Runjoo and Asesh are one of the nicest couples I ever met. Originally from Nepal, we met in 1994 when we were working on a dam construction site on the Yellow River in China called Xiaolangdi (Map). Even 17 years later my memory is that of a pretty miserable place, where the best thing one could possible do to spend one's time was to sleep. Eating, drinking or riding a bike were no real options. Friends like Runjoo and Asesh helped us to survive.

While we continued to move around the world a bit and ended up in Bremen after a long stay in Japan, Runjoo and Asesh stayed in China for some more years before they moved around in the world until today. I cannot even remember all the countries they have lived in, but Runjoo continues to write long letters and emails about their experiences and sends photos. This makes me think about countries or areas I haven't been thinking about too much and where my knowledge is basically a small, neatly packaged bundle of prejudices: Sawarak (Malaysia), New-Caledonia and lately Sudan.

They have been staying in Sudan for perhaps a year now and as the internet connection to their construction in Damazine (Map) is pretty bad or non-existing, infos have been scare recently. I got a mail today and some nice photos. Like this one, showing the "TV-Rock".
TV Rock could be the background for a flintstone movie. And of course there are cycles also in this part of the world.
I am already very curious where Runjoo and Ashesh will end up next.

27 April 2011

Bike Messenger -- Dream Job?

Wired Magazine has a short online feature about the bike messenger business in NYC.  From the photos, looks like the pavement is (almost) always dry.

25 April 2011

No Photo Brevet

I did not bring a camera on this Saturday's Brevet.  It would be enough just to try to keep my cellphone, blackberry and wallet dry.

Jerome and I completed the 400km Aoba April 23 Brevet, leaving Saturday from across the Tamagawa near Noborito (where the Odakyu Line crosses the river, about 7km from my house) and returning to Machida, traveling via Hanno area, Chichibu, Gunma, then the climb along the old Route 18 (Nakasendo) up the famous 183 marked curves to Usui Pass and Karuizawa.  From Karuizawa we took the same route as last year's Numazu-Karuizawa-Numazu return leg through Nagano -- to Saku, then Rte 141 for the climb to Nobeyama/Kiyosato and down to Nirasaki and Kofu in Yamanashi.  Then around Kofu in the dark on the auto race course known as Rte 20, up Misaka-michi (Rte 137) to a long tunnel through to Kawaguchi-ko, Rts 139 then 138 past Yamanaka-ko, and then down Doshi michi (Rte 413), then via Rte 412, Rte 510, Rte 508/63, and Rte 57 back to Machida.  According to the organizers approximately 4800 meters of climbing (my altimeter malfunctioned at various points).  And almost 430 km, including getting from home to Noborito and back from Machida, as well as the usual short detours.

The rain.  It was raining hard when I awoke Saturday morning.  Our newspaper deliveryman managed to ring the doorbell when he put the Nikkei in our mailbox, sending our fearless watch dog, Max, into a frenzy of barking at 4:30AM (upon inspection, this incident seems more a design problem of poor bell/button placement near the box opening than carelessness on the deliveryman's part).  So I had an extra hour to contemplate the rain before starting my departure preparations.

Jerome arrived on time, and we rode in the rain to the start.  He was clad in short sleeved/short legged summer cycling wear and a loose fitting blue poncho draped over his handlebars which, he explained, was the only way he could avoid getting wet from internal moisture (he had a warmer Look outer layer -- not waterproof -- in his pack).  So instead of an "orange bullet", he looked like a "blue sail".  We underwent an unusually demanding Brevet bicycle inspection at the start.  Jerome was told the poncho (his only real rain gear) was non-compliant, seeing as it was outside of and so blocked visibility of his reflective vest.  He stowed it for the time being, though it re-emerged later. 

Fortunately, within 30 minutes of the start the rain had stopped, and we even found ourselves on dry pavement for awhile ... until Nariki kaido on the approach to Yamabushi Pass in Chichibu.  Chichibu's Yamabushi must be one of the dampest places in the entire Kanto region, since it always seems to be raining here when it is only cloudy closer in to town.  We found ourselves in a drenching rain, mountain sakura barely visible in the mist on the hills nearby, and standing water on the road during the descent to Rte 299, a bit treacherous and much slower than usual.  Rte 299 into Chichibu city was again dry, as was the entire 3rd leg of the Brevet, until we reached the rest area on the Nakasendo (here, "old" Rte 18) just at the bottom of the climb to Karuizawa.

Once up the monumental 20km climb, with its 183 designated curves and over 6000 METERS of elevation gain, RIDICULOUSLY STEEP with a grade of 34% (oops, typos -- that would be more like 600 meters of elevation gain, with a 3-4% grade) we reached the edge of Nagano Prefecture, near Karuizawa.  At the soaring pass (elevation 958 meters above sea level), we looked down on Karuizawa far, far below us (well, actually 8 meters below us, at an elevation of 950 meters).

Nagano Prefecture did not send its greeting committee.  It must not have been happy to see us.  The weather got cold.  It got rainy.  On the climb to Nobeyama, the rain got heavier, and the temperature dropped.  At the top of the climb, there was fog, and heavy rain.  At least not ice.  The road was wet enough so that the edge where a bicycle could ride was a visible trench of water, the pavement depressed by the weight of 10,000 trucks and their heavy loads.  Passing trucks on the climb gave us a nice spray.  We stopped at the Kiyosato checkpoint just after 9PM and declined directions to the nearby rest area that was available for riders, wanting to get down off the mountain and out of the rain as fast as we could.

After a fast 25 km descent, we stopped again at a "Gusto" restaurant between Nirasaki and Kofu, taking an hour or more for dinner and a rest.  My feet were wet and refused to dry at all.  I was cold, even in the restaurant, even sipping hot soup and coffee, and could not sleep.  Jerome slipped and fell -- treacherous cycling shoe cleats to blame -- walking on the way back to our table from the "drink bar".  Fortunately he was okay and the only damage was a shattered water glass that surprised the young couple dining near his landing area.  As we left and went out to our bikes, we left big puddles under the table.  One employee, who had not seen me pay a few minutes earlier, ran out after us shouting (politely -- this is still Japan, after all) "customer, the bill please!"  ... until I explained to him that he should check with his colleague at the register.  Not our must successful Gusto stop ever.

Anyway, we reached the 4th checkpoint later than I had expected, and quickly left for the climb up Misaka-michi to Mt. Fuji.  Jerome went ahead of me on this climb, and I slogged it out, but only felt a need to stop just enough to pull out an energy bar to keep well-fueled.  After the LONG tunnel and very, very cold descent down to Kawaguchi-ko, I caught Jerome, who waited for me.  The stars and a half moon were out, clouds gone, and it was only a few degrees celsius, 2AM now, nearing the coldest time of night.  Jerome went ahead again on the gradual climb from Fuji Yoshida (850m elev) to Yamanakako (1000m elev), but I eventually caught and passed him.  We rode together and he pulled me into the wind as we rounded Yamanakako for the checkpoint on the south shore.  Jerome inquired about the sleeping place the organizers had mentioned nearby.  The friendly clerk pointed it out, just next door, but said it was of course closed at this hour (after 3AM).   He chatted with us and did not object when we remained inside to eat our cup noodles.  Three other cyclists, including Jun Aoyama, and then another solo rider, pulled in after us.  The group of three riders had taken a hot bath at the Kiyosato rest area, and looked a lot fresher than I felt.

We left ahead of them, I warmed my freezing hands and feet a bit with heat generated on the short climb to the tunnel at the top of Doshi Michi (our second "Yamabushi Pass" in the same trip!).  As we descended Doshi Michi, a purple color appeared in the sky to the East.  Eventually birds began to chirp everywhere.  The moon looked smaller, there was still mist on the hillsides, but the mountain sakura were spectacular in color.  It was a glorious dawn, as we enjoyed the lower part of this effortless section of the ride.  By the time we reached Sagamihara, I was hot.  My gloves had dried, the sun was shining down and it was hard to imagine what we had gone through.

At the finish, we sat in Denny's with the organizers and other arriving riders, enjoying breakfast.  We learned that ... many signed up (80?), but only 50 started the ride.  By the time Jerome and I finished, at almost exactly 24 hours from the start, 11 riders had called in to the organizers they were dropping out.  We were the 9th and 10th finishers, and another 29 riders remained somewhere out on the road.

Now just one more (600km) qualifier and I'm bound for Paris-Brest-Paris!

23 April 2011

The love for new things old and old things new

During the dark and cold winter months in Bremen I developed a love for old bicycle parts. The magic letters are N.O.S.  the abbreviation for "New, old stock". 

It seems that people or history tends to forget small things.. And that suddenly, these small and insignificant things from the past turn up in the present and now they have become significant for some of us. Well, perhaps not to the same scale as we would welcome the return of the original amber room from the palace in Petersburg that went missing in 1944 or 1945. And our previous girlfriends (3 or 4 in my case) will not return in their original shape and age. Luckily. 
However, there are batches of batches of old cycling parts somewhere out there  and it is rather tempting to buy them like pieces from an old puzzle and hunt for the remaining puzzle pieces. And finally one will be able to see the complete picture.

Here are some examples from recent purchases.
Lyotard pedales. Not sure which type or year.
Lyotard was one of these French companies. They invented a special pedal (Marcel Berthier) in the twenties and basically continued to produce the same designs well into the eighties until they went belly up. This will be a nice addition to any of my old steel frame commuting bikes.

An older Olmo stem from 3ttt with the Italian flag engraved in the upper side. Italian brands are my favourite. Not Pinarello or Colnago, but smaller steel frame builders such as Botecchia, Chesini, Ciocc, Somec and many others. I still have an old Moser frame in area 51 and wonder what I should do with it. The handle bar clap on this stem can be completely opened, so one doesn't need to fiddle the bare handlebar through the hole. This allows also for different handles with premounted brake levers to be assembled on the same bike. I love this piece so much that I am going to assemble a bike around this stem. 

A Shimano 600 AX series front wheel hub. This is a piece from the first aerodynamic craze in the Eighties. It is set that the arrangement of spokeholes which determinates which spoke has to be on the inside and which on the outside is made in such way with the wave shaped rim, to allow for minimum air resistance. What nonsenses, but it surely looks good.
In addition to the hub which I am thinking to use to built up some extreme aero wheels, I have purchased a complete Shimano 600AX group set last week.

And last but not least one of my favourite, a clamp type shifter from the Shimano Golden Arrow groupset the predecessor of the 10-5 series.

Sayonara Cervelo

I just packed my Cervelo and will bring it to the post office tomorrow. A guy in Holland bought it.

The Cervelo was a good bike. I bought the frame in December 2007 and then one by one I also bought all the components to assemble the complete bike. Nagai-San put everything nicely together. In 2009 I made one upgrade from Shimano 6600 to 6700 mainly because I liked the routing of the shifting cables along the handle bar. 

This bike took me to a lot of nice places. We went down together fast and made longish uphill rides. The last one was with Juliane and David on Mallorca. Unfortunately I am too heavy for this bike, or well, after three seasons and perhaps 30.000 km I manged to crack the seatpost tube. Perhaps this is what can be expected from a high performance frame.

And perhaps I could have repaired it. Even Titanium frames can be repaired these days. But I have laid my eyes on something new already. Will blog about the new bike once the frame is here.

Crack on the left side developing from the round "stress-relieve" cut-out at the end of the slit.
..and a second crack in the same location on the right side.

18 April 2011

Time to Climb - Sasago, Kamihikawa, Yanagisawa

Inspired by tales of the Positivo Espresso Europe ("pee") training camp in Mallorca, still trying to catch up with my own Transalp training after too many weekends off the bike from mid-February through March (work, earthquake, visit to the U.S. with my son, etc., etc.), and with spectacular weather forecast, it was time for a big ride, with some real climbs.  I thought I should return to Kamihikawa Pass, a long climb that was one of the key days on my April 2009 Transalp training.

Jerome and I left early and rode together out One-Kan and the tank road, and as far as the South side of Tsukui-ko. From there Jerome headed for Yabitsu Pass and then on to Zushi to meet some business contacts for an early lunch.  I continued on to the West, joined Rte 20 and took it as far as Sasago -- cannot hurt to ride the first leg of Tokyo-Itoigawa a few times this year to have it fresh in my mind for May 21, and traffic was light after Uenohara.

Resting before the Sasago climb, in Euro-cylist gear -- Assos jersey, bib shorts, socks and (not visible) inner layer today, with plenty of white (though the shoes are red and silver/grey).
I left the main road for the always beautiful climb up to Sasago Pass (1050 meters). 

The ghosts were nowhere to be seen in the sunlight today, but I felt their cold breath in the haunted tunnel.
Entering Koshu City, at Sasago Pass.
Even Route 20 looked nice today -- this photo in front of from the Kai Yamato 7-11.
After the descent, I stopped for spaghetti at the 7-11 in Kai Yamato, then headed up Kami-Hikawa. 
The town was full of sakura, still in bloom.
If this is Yamanashi, then there must have been a battle involving the Takeda family nearby ... this statue of Takeda Katsuyori ko, 4th son of Takeda Shingen. 
In this case, it was the last stand of the Takeda, against the Tokugawa, in the battle of Tenmokuzan -- Takeda Katsuyori died in Tano (田野), early in the climb up the Hikawa.
Kami-Hikawa was just as long as I remembered it, from 650 meters elevation at the base of the Sasago descent up to 1625 meters, just above Kamihikawa Pass.  But it was not quite as steep, perhaps, as the impression from my first visit.

Then a second refueling stop with Houtou (Yamanashi flat noodles in miso broth, with vegetables and, the house specialty, pork that had been marinated in wine), and then the last climb of the day up to Yanagisawa, followed by the long ride back to Oume.  At 210 km and 3400 meters of climbing, I hopped the train home at Oume.

I took the big climbs slowly, but had better legs than in 2009, managing a third pass (Yanagisawa) and a much longer ride this year.  Now I just need to get faster.

16 April 2011

Positivo Espresso Europe (PEE) Training Camp Mallorca

Ups, just noticed that this is the 1.000th post on this blog, so I better write something good.

Juliane, David and me travelled in late March to the island of Mallorca where we hold the traditional PEE spring training camp (since 2011). It is impossible to recount all the things we did there, but basically we slept, drank, ate and rode our bikes. Mainly the last one. We also hat a lot of good food. Within one week we rode 750 km and more than 10.000 elevation meters. We left the island one day before pure exhaustion would have prevented us to travel at all.

I had a lot of prejudices about Mallorca before arriving. In particular I thought that this is a part of Germany, where the elderly and the drunk terrorize the Aborigines. Wrong. This is a wonderful island with mountains, ocean, sun (MOS), perfect roads and friendly people. There were hundreds of cyclists out on the roads, mostly Germans, but also some Austrians, Swiss and Norwegians.

David with 5 litre water bottle.
Rest day (accidentally). On the beach.
Coastline at cape formenta or so.
Most importantly, after Mallorca we felt much more confident about tackling the Transalp in summer.
Picnic somewhere in the mountains,. Please note the red shotgun cartridge.
Juliane in good mood with 1 litre water bottle.
Last ride for my Cervelo. Frame is broken. The perfect spot for bicycle suicide.
Eduourd Manet: Le dejeneuer sur l'herbe. Or perhaps BowWowWow.
David, too fast for the rest of us.
Juliane, climbing.

Close to the Col des Reines, 682m. The road down to the sea on teh otehr side is spectacular.

Deia. Before lunch.

Mountain roads on Mallorca.



Riding down to the sea. David.

Same. Juliane.

Mob racing with David, a close second.

11 April 2011

Hell of the North, Fog of the East

April 10, 2011 saw the 109th edition of one of the great events in all of cycling, Paris-Roubaix.  Johan Van Summeren, of Team Garmin-Cervelo, rode in a lead group, "beyond the peleton" as it were, and managed a solo victory as the race over the bike-busting, wheel devouring broken cobblestones and mud of Northern France lived up to its nickname as "The Hell of the North."

I had Paris-Roubaix on my mind as I headed out early on my Cervelo, complete with Garmin, and attacked the "pave" of Hachioji.  It was warm in Tokyo, even at 6:30 AM, with a forecast for sunny skies and a high temperature of 18 degrees C (approximately 64 F).  I figured I would try Wada Pass via the forest road, then Tawa, and Tsuru Passes via Uenohara and along Rte 18, then make a decision about where to go from Kosuge - Mura, whether Matsuhime, Kazahari, or maybe even Imagawa and Yanagisawa.  It would be, for me, a big day of training.  The sakura were in full bloom along the river and hillsides.

The weather, however, disappointed.  My sunglasses started to fog up as I climbed Wada, not from my breath, but just from the wet and clammy air.  My rear tire slipped on the grate covers and mossy sections -- a problem largely solved if I watched for trouble spots and remained in the saddle at key points.  I had brought glove liners, thin arm and leg covers, and a thin vest, but was missing a jacket, a warm cap, toe covers or winter socks.  Still, after the descent, in Uenohara at my first stop, I warmed a bit and figured it had just been early morning cold that I encountered on Wada, and surely things would warm up with the day.

So I headed out of Uenohara and then onto Rte 18 over Tawa and Tsuru Passes, again greeted by clouds, fog and cold, as well as a damp road surface higher up.  At the base of Matsuhime Pass, I considered making a right turn, heading down into Kosuge Mura, to the day-trip hotspring, then on to enjoy a quick lunch at Yakyu Tei and home via Oume.  That would have been a wimp out. 

Instead, inspired by the gods of cycling then preparing for the cobblestones, and Mario Cipollini's recent comments, I "manned up", turned left and made the climb, much of it in the fog. The temperature indicator about 100 meters elevation below the top of Matsuhime said 5 degrees C, with snow still on the side of the road in a few places. At the top, I stopped only long enough to slip on my bright orange vest -- glowing as if with radioactivity in the wet mist, and extremely useful in providing visibility to oncoming traffic.

The Matsuhime climb, in the clouds.

Back down at Sarubashi, the day was warmer, and I even saw some blue sky.  After enjoying a hot pot of "Houtou" -- a Yamanashi local udon-like dish -- I headed home via Sagami-ko, the "Hiroshi twist" along the N. edge of Tsukui-ko, One-kansen-doro, and the Kawasaki-side of the Tamagawa, seeing many, many more flowering sakura under cloudy, cool skies. 

A good training ride -- 210 km and 2800+ meters of climbing in all -- including some classic Positivo Espresso routes.  Now in order to get ready for Tokyo-Itoigawa and Transalp, I just need to ride faster!

Cipollini at it/s best

Cycling today, it seems, has become something for the weak and unmanly...in th eyes of Mario Cipollini:

“I read an interview with Umberto Veronesi, a scientist, a reputed oncologist and Minister for Health,” Cipollini continued. “In five hundred years or more, human beings might have both sets of genitalia, male and female. I don’t want this evolution to have started already in cycling…” 

Full post from Italian Cycling Journal:

Mario Cipollini has launched a stinging attack on what he called the lack of machismo in modern cycling. The Italian, who recently joined the Katusha team as a consultant, said that he is bemused by the reaction of certain riders in the current peloton to defeat.

“I lived a very different cycling,” Cipollini told L’Equipe. “At the beginning of a sprint, I felt like a gladiator, ready to do anything to keep my place. And when I lost, I wasn’t capable of going to congratulate whoever had beaten me, like Andy Schleck did at the Tour. Me, I’d hate him because he’d taken the bread from my mouth.”

The friendship between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador is something that Cipollini finds difficult to fathom and he echoed the thoughts of the late Laurent Fignon on the aftermath of the “Chaingate” incident.

“Seeing Schleck and Contador embrace on the Tourmalet after crossing the line and then seeing Contador affectionately pinch Schleck’s cheek during his interview was unreal for me,” Cipollini exclaimed. “Logically, Schleck should have been raging, he had just lost the Tour after all.

“After the chain slip incident on the Port de Balès, he should have attacked the Spaniard day after day, in front of the microphones and on the air too, without giving him time to piss!”

Nor did Alberto Contador escape Cipollini’s criticism. “Machismo is disappearing, I can’t find it in Contador,” he complained. “Contador has the anonymous face of a surveyor or an accountant.”

Cipollini was also left bemused by the reaction of Italian leader Filippo Pozzato at the end of the world championships road race in Geelong.

“Pozzato has just been beaten for third place and a second later he has only one idea in his mind, to congratulate the winner,” Cipollini said incredulously. “What can be going on in his head? Has winning become so incidental at this point that there is no joy or disappointment? Are they only working men now?”

“I read an interview with Umberto Veronesi, a scientist, a reputed oncologist and Minister for Health,” Cipollini continued. “In five hundred years or more, human beings might have both sets of genitalia, male and female. I don’t want this evolution to have started already in cycling…”

Cipollini admitted to being far more expressive when he was defeated and he believes that the riches now on offer to top cyclists mean that the edges have softened on many rivalries.

“At the end of Milan-San Remo in 2003 I threatened to strangle Bernhard Eisel while shaking my fist because he had blocked me with 300 metres to go,” Cipollini recalled. “And I was really frightening. I could see it in the eyes of the spectators.

“I had the meanness in me and it was necessary. The others weren’t going to give me any gifts. In Flanders, on the Koppenberg, the gregari would throw themselves under your wheels to block your route. And if you were in a bad position 3km from the line, Kelly and Vanderaerden would start an echelon straight away to put you in the ditch. That was the rule.”

04 April 2011