30 December 2011

January 2 - Manfred von Holstein Memorial Hakone Ekiden Ride

Just a note to mention that the Hakone Ekiden ride is coming up soon, on the morning of January 2.  The weather forecast is good, as usual:  partly sunny and a high of 10 degrees C for Tokyo on the 2nd.  Of course, it will be cold in the early morning.

The planning this year is entirely at the TCC site (to the extent you can call it "planning", given Ludwig's absence this year).  The group will use his instructions from last year. Details can be found here on the TCC BBS.

For anyone not familiar with this glorious event, reports of 2011 can be found here.  And links to prior years can be found here.


Well, another Ekiden ride has come and gone.  I had hoped to ride with both my sons, but Henry awoke with a mild fever, so it was just Geoffrey and me.  We stayed off of the Ekiden route until somewhere past Yokohama Station so that we could make quick progress without all the red lights, spectators and police, and so keep ahead of the runners despite a late start.  This worked fine and we joined we were only waved off the runners' route once, by a policeman who seemed to be sending all of the cyclists off of the "bypass" route and onto the old road past Totsuka Station.  The routes reconnected a bit later.  We were presumably behind the TCC group from the point where we joined the route -- did not see any familiar faces.

We rode past the thousands and thousands of spectators to Odawara, where we took a long stop and watched the runners pass, then hopped the train home.  Mt. Fuji was obscured by clouds, and it was not quite the same without doing the final climb to Hakone -- not nearly as much exercise and not the same intense cheers from the crowd as on the climb.  But the seaside was spectacular, the roads were dry, and it was great to do this with Geoffrey during his short winter break visit to Tokyo.

Done with our ride, at an Odawara 7-11

The final left turn before the Odawara checkpoint

Toyo University has a big lead already in Odawara.
Kashiwabara, their "king of the mountains", extended it to 5+ minutes
breaking his own record on the climb to Ashinoko/Hakone
Waseda is in second place at the end of Day 1

Cold Valley

The cold sky lightens, 6:30AM December 30, on the cold Chuo Line
back from cold Otsuki, as we approach cold Uenohara

For at least the past month, Jerome has been talking about a "repeat" of last year's attempt to complete that most difficult of winter ultra-endurance cycling events, the "inland mountain route" from Tokyo to Kobe on the last two days of the year, arriving just in time to join the Beeren Club for a ride up the route to sacred Mt. Rokko ("Rokko-san") for the ritual viewing of the first sunrise of the New Year (the "Hinode").

Your humble correspondent joined the first leg of the trip last year, as far as snowy Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture (host to the 1998 WINTER Olympics) ... then hopped a train home.  This year, with my older son back in Tokyo from university for a very short of visit, I told Jerome that I could not join him.

On a family overnight trip to Izu this Monday/Tuesday, our shinkansen train was delayed in both directions, because of snow on the tracks between Maebara and Nagoya.  I fired off an email to Jerome -- if there was snow on the relatively low-lying outskirts of Kansai around Maebara, what would the mountain valleys and passes be like Northeast of there?  Surely, only the most courageous (or foolish) cyclist would even try to find out.

On Thursday morning Jerome called.  "You know, the weather has become much warmer and has been dry since Monday, I've been watching the forecast and I think I should be able to do it."  True, it was noticeably warmer in Tokyo on Thursday (low of 4 degrees C, high of 11, according to my morning newspaper), and if this trend held then it would be much better than what we experienced last year.  Jerome said he wanted to get an earlier start than last year, 2AM, so he could be in the Kiso Valley (or over Kamikochi ... madness in trying that route) early in the afternoon.

I hated to see him try this alone, and also wanted a good test of my new dynamo lighting setup, so told him that I might join the first leg -- just the ride out of Tokyo in the dark, assuming I could make it out of the office at a decent hour on the last day of the year, get my bike ready, get some sleep, and manage to stumble out of bed in time for a 2AM start.  No need to wait or call if I was not out front and ready to go.

I awoke at 1:45AM after only a few hours of sleep.  Tired.  We were on the way from my house before 2:15.  The weather was not so cold in Tokyo, but he mentioned that Yazaki-san, the dean of the Beeren Club, had told him it was snowing in Nagano on Thursday.  Jerome had given up the idea of Kamikochi passage, and was instead aiming for Nakasendo through the Kiso Valley.  This should have sent me right back to bed.

The first leg was uneventful, other than a gradually increasing headwind.  The Shimano dynamo hub and Phillips Saferide LED worked beautifully.  We took Yaen-Kaido, then Machida-Kaido and the south side of Lake Tsuikui, joining Route 20 (Koshu Kaido) just over the hill west of Takao.  This route is almost exactly the same distance as going via Takao, but avoids one climb of several hundred meters, in exchange for a few shorter climbs.  Neither route has any significant traffic between 2AM and 4AM!

It was just as we passed Tsukui-ko that the weather started to get really cold.  At a tunnel before the bridge over the lake, the temperature gauge said it was minus 3 degrees C -- and we had not even started the long climb inland up the valley to Sasago.  Rock sand had been spread on the bridge to prevent black ice.  We made our first convenience store stop at a 7-11 just over 50 kms into the ride.  Even Jerome put on some shoe covers, though he did not yet avail himself of a jacket.

According to Garmin Connect, the AVERAGE temperature for the entire 80km ride was -2.8 degrees C (or 26.9 degrees F) -- and that includes a first 20 km that was mostly well above zero degrees C (or 32 degrees F).  Between 4 and 6AM, on the ride out to Otsuki, it must have been -4 or -5 degrees.  My water bottles were frozen within minutes of the 7-11 refill, even though I had added hot water from the convenience store's thermos.

At least my feet were warm.  I had used a combination of thin wool socks, shoe liners, Gore windstopper/felt-lined overshoes, and "kairo" mini chemical warmers, and this managed to barely keep the cold at bay from my toes.  But I had not planned on real sub-zero temperatures.  After the first rest stop, as I shivered through a few short downhills before my engine heated up again, I thought my face would turn to ice and fall off.  My Sugoi-brand head covering, usually just fine for Kanto mid-winter rides, was inadequate.  And even my Nalini winter tights, Assos winter jacket and Craft inner layer with "windstopper" front panel were too thin.  I bid Jerome farewell at Otsuki, around 5:45AM -- I would have slowed him down significantly if I continued.  I sought refuge in a convenience store by Otsuki Station.  My skin was very cold to the touch, not just on my extremities.

I hopped the 6:17AM train back toward Takao, then on to Tachikawa, then the Nambu Line to Musashi Mizunoguchi.  Each of these three was a local train, so the doors opened every 2-3 minutes on average.  I would just start to warm up from a weak heater under the seat when the train car's 8 double doors would open, admitting blasts of cold air and returning the car to sub-zero.  It was a cold 2-hour ride home.  Only on the last train, from Musashi Mizunoguchi to Kaminoge, did I finally feel at all warm.  Then a hot bath and sleep.

I got an email note that Jerome made it to Kofu by 7:30AM ... but hit strong, gusty headwinds thereafter.  He eventually turned around on the climb past Nirasaki, to return to Nirasaki station and get a train for Shiojiri, the entrance to Nakasendo/Kiso Valley.  Did the weather actually get better as he headed by train further inland, to the NW, and to a higher elevation?  I doubt it.  Did he have the sense to stay on a train through Nakasendo and to Gifu, where he was planning to stay with friends?  I hope so.  Stay tuned.

Update, Evening of December 30:  Jerome reports that he remounted the bike at Shiojiri and made it through the Kiso Valley, suffering continually in (cold) headwinds, and arrived at his friends' place in Gifu Prefecture.  He was completely knackered (if I've got that Brit expression right) and suggested he might try to find a less mountainous route for day #2 of his ride. At least the weather forecast for Nagoya/Osaka area looks dry, partly sunny, and low/high temperatures of 1 and 10 degrees C respectively, so this bodes well for his chances.

Update, New Year's Day:  I received a call from Jerome just after midnight, reporting that he was approaching Rokko-san and Kobe, and another note this morning that he had made it successfully.  He departed at 10AM on the 31st from SE Gifu and rode hard, via the North side of Lake Biwa and the Japan Sea (the city of Obama), then over some (icy) mountain roads into Kyoto-fu and on to Kobe.  The weather cooperated on the 31st.  The hardest part was the headwinds and cold after Kofu, in the hours after we parted ways on the morning of the 30th.

12 December 2011

Chesini Storm Trooper

New bike for my son Henri.
Almost ready. Will replace his wonderful size 52 green Giant bike. HIs is now almost as tall as I am. As a front derailleur ist just a waste of money and additional weight in Bremen I connected instead a storm bell to the left STI lever. Always wanted to have one when I was a boy.

It works wonderful, when you shift the bell starts to become very noisy. This one commands respect on the streets of Bremen.

05 December 2011

Union Fixie

Just completed yesterday the built-up for my first fixie, just in time for a test ride on the weekend. Red theme on a blue basis.

More photos here.

In September I bought an old Union frame from the Seventies at a very good price, an opportunity too good to be missed. As nevertheless I didn't want to spend too much money I thought that a fixie would be a nice and inexpensive project. As usual the right parts accumulated slowly over the course of time. I had no previous experience with a fixie drive train so I had to ask some experts for help and naturally I also made some stupid mistakes. Note in case you don't know: Track bike cogs and BMX cogs have different thread diameters.

Union used to be a large Dutch bicycle manufacturer in the same class as Gazelle, Batavus and Sparta. The company is defunct now, but they made mainly Dutch shopping bikes just as their competitors. Tom probably knows precisely what I am talking about. For marketing and image reasons Union sponsored a racing team in the Seventies. But as they were not able to produce racing frames by themselves, they asked Motta in Italy to weld the frames and labeled them "Union". This is the story I was told about the frame I bought.

I assembled quite a mixed bag of components. I got some mid-priced Campa Record brake levers and Campa Gran Sport brakes as well as a NOS Chorus crank from 2006. I also found some beautiful Mavic 500 hubs and Mavic clincher rims.

Again, as usual I saw some nice parts that I desperately wanted to have and which made the whole project expensive beyond reason. The red saddle is brand new, a replica of an old version and while it is still much more affordable then a carbon saddle it is still way more expensive that it should be. I also bought new hoods for the brake levers which cost about the same money as the levers itself and a NOS 3ttt Gimondi handle bar. But I just love the Gimondi handle bar shape which is a hybrid bewteen a classic racing bar and a track bar. And when I saw the red Veloflex tires at an internet shop in Toulouse I wanted to have them too. Luckily the tax return came just in time to pay everything off.

The weather was miserable today so I just took the bike to the Universum. This was the first time I rode a fixie for a longer distance. David and david gave me the chance to ride their fixies for a few meters in Tokyo but today was very much different. As could be expected I am too stupid to ride a fixie and I need a fixie training camp. So lets see if I can get used to it.

If not I am working on my new Chesini winter bike. Life has alternatives.

Yabitsu in December -- a Reminder

Mt. Fuji seen while descending the South side of Yabitsu Pass, with viewpoint/tower in foreground.

Sunday December 4 served as a reminder of what a great place Tokyo is for a road cyclist.  The weather was Spring-like (sunny and a high around 20 degrees C), and the countryside was full of cyclists.  Jerome and I were able to enjoy a spectacular ride through hills, forests, by lakes and along the seacoast, and hop a train to be home around 4PM.

120 km

We went out One-kansen, around the North side of Tsuikui-ko, over to Miyagase-ko, up to Yabitsu Pass, then down the south side and on to the coast line, which we followed back to Kamakura.  Not a particularly long or tough ride, but just spectacular.
Some road construction on the "normal route" around North side of Tsukui let us here.
Can you see Mt. Fuji in the distance -- under the wires?

The Miyagase-ko rest area was buzzing with people and their dogs, not to mention cyclists.
We met a couple, 65 yr olds, who live in Fujino and were going to ride up Yabitsu.
The husband stayed on the big ring and beat me to the top. He said they ride 13-15K km each year.

Miyagase-ko from the rest area.  Xmas lights ready on the lower left.

A river runs through it -- the lower part of the valley on the North approach to Yabitsu.
At the beach near Enoshima.  Lots of sailboats and surfers today, December 4!