28 May 2012

Portland Reclaims #1 Spot -- Most Bike Friendly City in the U.S.A.

News Flash -- May 21, 2012.  

Bicycling Magazine's 2012 list of the most bicycle friendly cities in the U.S.A. is out. Portland, Oregon reclaims the number one spot on the bi-annual list, with Minneapolis (#2), Boulder, CO (#3), Washington, DC (#4) and Chicago (#5) rounding out the top five.

Read more here or here.  And you can see the full list here.

Separately, "Walk Score" Internet service that ranks real estate for walkability, has added a city wide "bike score" feature.  Minneapolis tops Portland (#1 vs #2) on that measure among larger cities, I think primarily because the "bike score" methodology detracts for hilly areas, and Portland has hills all over its west side.  Of course, those hills give the city much of its character, and give you a nice view of the snow capped Cascade Mountains.

Maybe some group should start a similar list for Japan?

25 May 2012

SP Dynamo Series 8 Hub Review -- PV-8 and SV-8 -- A "Must Have" for Brevets and Long Rides

One of the topics that long-distance and Audax/Brevet riders tend to get a bit obsessive about is bicycle lighting.  They (we) also tend to obsess over products that make us self-reliant when we ride.  So my apologies for this somewhat geeky and long post.

Last summer at Paris Brest Paris, I noticed that many, perhaps a majority of the participants from some countries seemed to be using lights powered by dynamo hubs.

Of course, I knew what a dynamo hub was -- you see them on practically half of the shopping bikes (mama chari) in Japan.  My wife's shopping bike has one.  But I had always assumed that they produced too much drag to be used for longer distance riding, even where you need lights for many hours at night, several nights in a row.  (And this is certainly what I heard from Japanese mechanics and cycle shop owners -- too much drag!).  I was wrong -- as several of the PBP riders were happy to explain.  Top dynamo hubs in recent years create so little drag as to be insignificant in any context except racing, and they save weight, trouble and cost when compared to carrying and using multiple sets of spare batteries.  This was of special interest to me at the end of PBP.  Before, I had been quite happy with a couple of small, cheap, bright Gentos LED lights, just swapping in spare batteries or buying more at a convenience store when I ran low during night rides.  But as I found myself rationing batteries on the last night of PBP so that I would have light available until morning, and then crashed out after blowing both tires on a small barrier in the roadway that I had not seen, I thought maybe I should try a dynamo hub.

So when I got back home to Tokyo in August, I did some basic reading on the Internet about them.  I learned that the "Campy Record" of dynamo hubs is the Schmidt nabendynamo out of Germany (SON Delux and SON 28).  They are very nice to look at (polished silver), fairly light weight -- especially the SON Delux -- very low drag with or without the light turned on, but costly, and expensive.  Did I mention that they also have a high price ...  In Japan, the price borders on outrageous.  In Germany, it is just high, not outrageous.

So I read some comparative reviews which persuaded me that the newest DH-3N80 Shimano dynamo hub, with "Ultegra class bearings" would be a good compromise -- not quite as low drag, especially with the light off, but lacking the vibration at certain speed ranges that some people complain about with Schmidt hubs, and a bit heavier.  Maybe 35-40% of the Schmidt's cost at retail.  The DH-3N80 is, well, the "Shimano" of dynamo hubs -- not a thing of beauty, certainly not something you can get passionate about, but functional and not temperamental.  I built up Wheel No. 00001 around one of these.  Shimano hubs are readily available in Japan, of course, and it works just fine.

In my online research, I found another interesting approach -- a hub with a mechanical switch to completely disengage and separate the magnets, thereby eliminating any extra drag whatsoever as compared to a non-dynamo hub while a light is off and the magnets are disengaged.  This version, sold in Germany by Supernova, which also makes the beautiful, expensive E3 Pro lights, seemed worth further study.  I noticed that the Supernova detachable hub seemed the same as one made by a small company in Taiwan, SP Dynamo (Series 7).  It was pretty clear that SP Dynamo must be the source of the Supernova product.  Likewise, the Velo Orange brand in the U.S. seemed to be selling a similar design of hub, in a Velo Orange package.

I sent a note to SP Dynamo and was delighted to get back a personal reply from the main man there, Vic Chen.  He noted that for long distance night riding, such as Audax events, I might prefer their Series 8 hubs.  The Series 7 detachable hub adds a lot of weight, and the "light off" drag of the Series 8 hub is so low as to be inconsequential and make it a better choice, especially for rides with lots of elevation gain.  The PV-8 is their standard model designed for a 622/700C road bike wheel.  But Vic mentioned that if you are a  Brevet rider using an LED light, and want the best combination of low drag, it should be possible to use their SV-8, which is designed for 20" wheels.  This light might not generate sufficient current to power many lights when ridden at very slow, grandma's shopping bike speeds, or if you want to run a USB charger at the same time as the light.  But otherwise it is great.  Also, he noted, you are trying to minimize "light on" drag, you need to choose a light that does not draw too much an electric load -- such as some super bright trail-riding versions.

(The "V" in "PV-8" and "SV-8" is the version to be used with a rim brake.  They also make a "D" version of each model (PD-8 and SD-8), for use with a disk brake.  The shape of the actual shell around the dynamo's magnets and wiring is the same for both "V" and "D" models, with the flanges are somewhat closer to the center of the bike than on many road front hubs.  This creates a slightly more aerodynamic wheel, but slightly less wide support for the rim -- and is similar to the SON Delux.)
SV-8 in silver or black; PV-8 looks identical
The PV-8 is SP Dynamo's model designed for a standard 700C road wheel.  It is actually available in Japan (via Trisports, and maybe one other wholesaler), at least in black, and costs about the same as the Shimano DH-3N80.  I could not find the SV-8 in Japan, but eventually purchased one direct from Vic.  The PV-8 went on Wheel No. 00004 -- which I rode a few times just to check it and then sent to a friend whose bike with dynamo hubbed front wheel had been stolen.

The silver SV-8 went on Wheel No. 00005, which I kept and have now used for around 2000 kms -- the biggest test being 1375 kms of Tohoku riding over Golden Week -- including one day with lots of rain and plenty of water on the road -- plus lots of other trips around and near town.  It should get another real test when I use it on the Cascade 1200 in late June.  I like the look of the silver version.  Not quite the shiny polished silver of the Schmidt, but very nice.

A recent independent German test of various hubs by an online magazine vindicates SP Dynamo's claim to be very comparable to the Schmidt hubs in terms of performance.  (NOTE:  Actually, the author of this article is identified as working for the manufacturer of SON hubs, Schmidt Machinenbau) It tests the PV-8, not the SV-8 -- which of course is lighter weight and lower drag than the PV-8, but not approved in Germany for use with 700mm road bike wheels.  (If you use Google Chrome browser and have your browser translate the German article to English, you can decipher 95%+ of the article.)  The test also includes the Shimano DH-3N80, which does okay, except it seems to have much higher "light off" drag than either Schmidt or SP Dynamo, because of different placement of its magnets.  And there is another new Shimano hub in the test -- 1.5V instead of 3V, for an upcoming new standard.  Here is another German site that has some reviews and relevant information, including some English content at the far lower left.

The German test only covers the PV-8.  If the SP Dynamo PV-8 has very similar low drag to the Schmidt models, it excels in two other areas -- lower weight and lower price.  If you compare the PV-8 to the new SON28, it is 390g vs 440g.  If you compare the SV-8 to the SON Delux, it is 367g vs 390g. (Since the SON Delux is also a lower output model, this seems appropriate, whereas the German test compared the PV-8 to the SON Delux, both 390g.  And did I mention that the SP Dynamos retail for much less than half of what the Schmidt ones do?

Charts on SP Dynamo's website compare the SV-8/SD-8 with a "Germany Brand" dynamo.  It shows the output (voltage) and drag (light on and light off) of the S-8 dynamo using a 20" wheel at various speeds.  I believe the comparison is against the SON Delux (also in theory a 20" wheel model, though approved in Germany for 700mm wheels with the SON Edelux LED light).

A second chart that compares the higher output, slightly higher drag/weight P[V/D]-8 against a "Japanese Brand" dynamo using a 700C wheel.  This shows the weak point of the Shimano DH-3N80 -- extra drag with the light off.  Maybe not enough for most of us to notice, but still it is 2.5 times the drag of the P-8.

In any event, I now have enough experience with the SV-8 so that I feel comfortable giving a very positive review.  It works like a charm, produces plenty of current to power either my Philips Saferide LED 60 Lux light or my Supernova E3 Pro LED.  And it is very low drag -- a simple "spin test" confirms what the more scientific test data shows.

Using the SV-8 with Supernova light in Tohoku, at the very slowest (almost crawling) night climbing speed, I still would get a reasonable light from the SV-8.  When I stood out of the saddle and basically was "walking" up the hill at 5 kph, the light would brighten and dim with each stomp of the pedals (dimming down almost to the "stand light" level).  But I do not need a very bright light when going at 5 kph.  And when I got back in the saddle and pedaled with a bit more of a normal rotation, even at very slow speed, the light was steady.  On the flats and on fast descents, the light stretched way out ahead down the road, giving ample advance warning of any danger.

Only time will tell how durable the hub is -- whether the seals keep water out over the long haul, whether the sealed bearings will hold up or will need to be replaced.  But so far, so good, including plenty of riding in rain and with standing water on the road.

At a more wonky level, by looking at the first chart above, showing the S-8 voltage and drag at various speeds with a 20" wheel, it is possible to roughly extrapolate to the result with a 700C wheel if we assume that the circumference of the 20" wheel and tire is about 0.75 times that of the 700C wheel and tire -- of course, the actual ratio will depend on the tires used, and whether you are using a 406C or 451C version of the 20" wheel.  The difference could be greater.  I'm no electrical engineer, and I'm just eyeballing the test charts on the SP Dynamo page, but based on the German independent test I feel comfortable at least suggesting as follows -- please let me know if you disagree.

1. Sufficient Voltage
If the S-8 is placed on a standard 700C road bike wheel, its voltage at any given speed as shown on the S-8 Chart will need to be determined by looking at 0.75 times the speed shown on the Chart.  For voltage produced by an S-8 at 20 kph using a 700c wheel, look at the 15 kph on the chart.  Likewise, for voltage at 30 kph, look at 22.5 kph on the chart.  As can be seen, using a 700C wheel, 6V is obtained at approximately 17.5 kph.   With a road bike wheel, 4V can be obtained at approximately 9 kph -- my speed for steep, slow, climbing at a 9-10% grade.  3-4V is plenty to power most dynamo LED lights.

2.  Lowest Drag - Light On
Conversely, the charts showing "additional power input" needed when the light is on or off must be adjusted downward if the S-8 is used with a 700C wheel.  The S-8 chart shows that at a speed of 15 kph, with the light ON, power input of approximately 4.8 watts is taken.  In fact, however, at 15 kph the additional wattage should be only that shown as needed to run at 11.25 kph, approximately 4.0 watts.

Similarly for the S-8 at 20 kph with the light ON and 700c wheels, required wattage is approximately 4.8 watts, as opposed to 5.25 watts if using 20" wheels with the SV-8, or 5.5 watts if using the PV-8, 5.1 watts if using the Schmidt dynamo (adjusted for 700C wheel size), or 6.4 watts if using the Shimano model.

3.  Lowest Drag - Light Off
For the S-8 at 20 kph with the light OFF and 700c wheels, required wattage is approximately 0.5 watts, as opposed to  0.65 watts if using 20" wheels with the SV-8, or 0.6 watts if using the PV-8, 0.65 watts if using the Schmidt (adjusted for 700C wheel size), or 1.5 watts if using the Japan brand (must be Shimano) model. 

At 30 kph with the light OFF and 700C wheels, required wattage for the SV-8 is approximately 0.7 watts, as opposed to 0.9 watts if using 20" wheels with the SV-8, or 1.0 watts if using the PV-8, 0.95 watts if using the Schmidt, or 2.3 watts if using the Shimano model. 

4.  Lowest Weight

Weight of the SV-8 with 100mm spacing for a road bike fork is 367 grams.  PV-8 is 390 grams.  Schmidt SONdelux is 390 grams, newest SON28 is 440 grams (down significantly from 570 grams in 2011 and earlier models), Shimano DH-3N80 is approximately 520 grams.

5.  Lower Price
If I forgot to mention it, SV-8 retail cost is much less than 50% of the price of Schmidt models, and is comparable with the Shimano DH-3N80.

6. Conclusion
The SV-8 provides ample output for an LED light and affords the lightest weight, lowest drag solution, with light on or off, at a lower cost.

Given the benefits of having a dynamo -- not just for lighting, but also with special adapter, for charging USB devices such as Garmin Edge GPS computers and smartphones -- there is no excuse not to have one for any ride that is going to extend over several days or require more than a few hours of light.

I have yet to explore the add-ons needed for USB charging from a dynamo hub ... but you can find some information at the relevant thread on the TCC BBS, and that is on my future agenda.

Now that I've gotten confident in my wheelbuilding skills, I am thinking of ordering some more of these direct from the manufacturer to build wheels for friends and family.  If anyone is interested in having a wheel built with an SP Dynamo SV-8 or PV-8, just let me know.

UPDATE (July 6 2012):

A new "spin test" comparison of the SV-8 against the SON XS -- these are both 74mm versions for use with Brompton or similar folding bike wheels ... but the hub internals should not differ from other models.  Here is a LIGHT ON spin test.  And here is a spin test with the LIGHT OFF.  And the winner is ???

UPDATE (July 30 2012):

The SV-8 has now made it through (1) 1375 kms in Tohoku in May, (2) the Cascade 1200, and (3) the Rocky Mountain 1200, and still seems as good as new.  Each of these rides involved at least 24 hours of nasty weather -- riding in sometimes heavy rain, with water collecting on the road surface, and the Rocky Mountain 1200, in particular, was very, very tough on my equipment -- shredded tire sidewalls, broken spoke, broken shifter cable, lots of flats, and on and on.

UPDATE (March 2013):  I have added a review of some different LED lights, in case of interest.

UPDATE (April 2014):  The SP dynamo hubs I am using are all working beautifully.  The "main" SV-8 on the A23 front wheel I use for most brevets and randonees now has over 15000 kms at least.  I stopped counting.  The disk brake version on my Yamabushi has thousands of kms, including urban riding as my commuter bike, as well.

And no reports of any problems from the people I have given these to or built up wheels for.  Let me know if you do have any issues.

SV-9 UPDATE (December 2014):  I now have gotten my hands on one of the new series 9 SP Dynamos, the SV-9.  This hub is over 15% lighter weight than the SV-8, and noticeably more compact, and noticeably smoother than any other dynamo hub I have seen or tried, especially when an attached light is switched off.  See my review here.  Watch for it as it becomes available over coming months.

20 May 2012

2012 TOITO -- On the Most Beautiful Day of the Year

We are now well into 2012's peak bicycle racing season.

Saturday saw the 14th stage of this year's Giro d'Italia -- the first high mountain stage into the Alps, near Aosta.  There are some incredible days ahead next week in the Dolomites and Sud Tirol, including the 20th stage that goes over Passo del Tonale, then the Mortirolo and the Stelvio (Bormio side climb).

In this week's Tour of California, Rabobank's Robert Gesink capped his recovery from last year's broken femur with a victory on Mt. Baldy that also put him 45 seconds ahead in the overall leader's jersey, with only Sunday's Stage 8 Los Angeles circuit remaining.

And Japan also witnesses two major events this weekend -- the start of the 15th annual Tour of Japan, in Sakai on Sunday (today), and Saturday (yesterday)'s running of the 41st annual Tokyo-Itoigawa Fastrun Classic ("TOITO").

Of course, it is typical Positivo Espresso braggadocio to compare TOITO with these other events.  Admittedly, TOITO is not quite in the same league, even if it has been around longer than the Tour of California or the Tour de Japon.  And just as important, it is not really a race.

It is more like a timed 308 kilometer one-day ride -- a "fast run" on open roads, some with heavy traffic and street lights.  The term "fast run" is a pretty good description of what it is getting at.  Unlike a Brevet, where the goal is to finish within a specified time limit, the goal for TOITO is to finish within a specified time limit, and to do so as quickly as you can.  There is no lunch break -- just the food at the rest areas and, in my case, a few minutes to vacuum down some microwaved spaghetti at a 7-11 en route.  There is not a lot of time to stop for photos -- a shame on what must have been the most beautiful day of the year, on a route that traveled by snow capped peaks, green valleys and roaring rivers much of the way.  TOITO is a kind of right of passage.  Any serious road cyclist in Japan needs to complete it once, just to show that it can be done.  Only a few are foolish enough to repeat the experience.

This year the organizers made a major change of the route, and as a result the length increased from 291 to 308 kms.  The start moved from Takao in Tokyo, to Manriki Park in Yamanashi-shi (Yamanashi City), in the middle of Yamanashi Prefecture.

It would be more accurately named the "1st annual Yamanashi-shi-Itoigawa Fastrun Classic".  But anywhere except in Japanese English usage the term "classic" would be dubious if it were really the first run of an event.   And Yamanashi-shi is not really significant to the event, and the word is difficult placed in mid-title, with its double "shi".  Maybe they should just call this event the "41st Annual Itoigawa Fastrun Classic", since it at least does go to Itoigawa?

Some key consequences of the route change:
  • The start area seemed to have more room for team cars, overnight camping, etc.  There are cheaper business hotels and then are only 7 kms away, instead of 8 or 9 kms.  And now there is no way to do the event from Tokyo without leaving home the night before -- forcing one to actually try to get some sleep the night before the ride.
  • There is no traffic whatsoever as one takes National Route 20 through Kofu around 5AM, in contrast to 9AM or later when going on the old route.  At 5AM, it hardly matters whether one takes the surface streets or overpasses on Route 20 through Kofu, and Kofu becomes a much more pleasant experience.  Also, traffic was lighter than in prior years through Shiojiri/Matsumoto, at 9AM instead of 1PM-ish.  And it was really nice to ease into the event over a stretch that gradually descends about 75 meters over 10 kilometers from the start, instead of launching into the Otarumi Pass climb right out of the gate at Takao.
  • The new route avoids the harrowing tunnels on the descent from Hakuba to Itoigawa, and instead swings far to the East, through Nagano-shi, then over a climb to Shinano-machi, past Lake Nejiri, and then swiftly descends to the coast at Joetsu, before taking the coast road the final 50 kms to Itoigawa.  Parts of the descent to Joetsu were in heavy traffic, with plenty of big rigs, even log trucks and tanker trucks, but at least there was a good shoulder on the road almost the entire way.
As in past years, some people did their own creative routing -- taking a steep shortcut on the climb to Shiojiri Pass to shave off about 1 km, even though it is NOT the official route this year as construction is long past complete on the "usual" route; some go the wrong (longer) way around the East side of Lake Suwa; intentionally or not, some took a Route 19 bypass to go around the center of Nagano City and miss some of its many traffic lights; and some riders were seen taking a major short-cut near Joetsu to join the coastal road a few kilometers to the west of where Route 18 does.  I stuck to the "official" route the entire way.

Looking at a random selection of riders, the change in route and additional 17 kilometers distance seemed to increase average times 30-50 minutes from last year.  This year, the temperatures were ideal.  Even at mid-day, I did not see any roadside thermometer showing more than 24 degrees celsius, and after a morning chill -- helpful on the first long climb, it was 15-20 degrees celsius for almost the entire remainder.  The wind was an obstacle, but no worse than in past years, and it actually in our favor the last 35 kilometers.

On Friday afternoon, I rode out almost 120 kms from my home to Yamanashi with Pete W.  Pete is a very strong rider, who said he often logs 400-500 kms a week, except when he is coaching seasonal sports at one of the international schools where his wife Glenda (who he said also rides) is an administrator.   Pete is the type of rider who can and has placed top 10 or 20 at the annual Norikura hill climb.  Did I mention that he is Australian, is handy enough to have built a house for their family in Australia, and likes beer -- with preference for microbrews, or maybe Asahi or Ebisu?  Kirin is accepted only in the absence of any other available choice, such as at the Itoigawa finish area.  He also had some good advice for me regarding my riding position and persuaded me that it is past time to get a longer stem for my Canyon bike so I can move the seat forward from its current extreme set-back.
The Fuefuki River in Yamanashi, runs through the heart of Takeda Shingen's former domain.  "Fue" is a Japanese type of wooden flute, and "Fuefuki" roughly means "playing the flute".
In front of  the Hotel Sun Plaza along the Fuefuki River.  Single rooms were 3150 yen as advertised on the sign.  And there was even a Daily Yamazaki store on the premises.
Pete enjoys post-ride refreshment (Asahi Super Dry 350mm) in front of the hotel's former Italian restaurant, now closed, as we wait for Douglas and Steve to check in.
Douglas (who made it to the podium in the 75kg+ class at Yatsugatake hill climb in April) and Steve T. (who will always be known to me as the man who rode his bike from England to Japan) came out later in the afternoon by train.  I probably should have taken the train myself, since the Friday afternoon ride made clear to me that my legs had not yet returned to "fresh" condition after the Tohoku 1700 rides over Golden Week, and also that my overall cycling training this year has been very scattershot, especially compared with last year when I was focused on TOITO as part of my methodical preparation for Transalp.

Michael R. rode his Neil Pryde bike out from Tokyo after the rain showers had passed and made it in time to join us during dinner.  Gunnar, harried at work this week, ended up catching a train that got him to Yamanashi and Manriki Park well after 11PM.  He set up his camping hammock there, and tells me that it was quite cold outside over night.

The Sun Plaza hotel, where I had reserved rooms for all of us but Gunnar, offered spacious single rooms for 3150 yen each, and a large onsen style bath as well.  It had a Daily Yamazaki convenience store on the 1st floor which served cold beer by the can.  We quenched our thirst and watched the mountains visible from the front of the hotel, and then headed for a stroll through the Isawa Onsen area of Fuefuki City, looking for an appropriate restaurant and eventually finding a place that served large cast iron bowls of "houtou" -- a Yamanashi delicacy of thick flat noodles in miso soup with "the works" on top -- all kinds of vegetables and, for me, prawns, scallops and other seafood.  Perfect pre-race food.

I was relieved that the hotel worked out okay this year, after all the ribbing I took from MOB for the tiny, cubicles they called rooms at the R and B Hotel in Hachioji back in 2008 during our first Positivo Expresso appearance at TOITO.  Of course, the Sun Plaza does not seem to be part of a chain, and it is a bit worn around the edges.  They even let us bring our bikes to our rooms, without taking the wheels off -- a battle fought and won by a group of Japanese TOITO competitors who checked in at the same time as Pete and me.

If we had any major complaint, it had to do with the wake-up calls.  The four of us with 4:25/4:35AM starts asked for 3:15 automated wake-up calls.  Mine (and the others) came at 2:57AM.  Michael R., whose start was not until 6:20AM, asked for a later call.  His call did not come; or if it did, it came late.  Or maybe (doubtful) it came on time, and he dozed off again.  In any event, Michael did not get to the start on time and lost precious minutes because of it.  He was riding entirely alone for the early stretches, because of his late start time.
4:15AM, assembled at the start, after an early wake up call.

As for the ride itself, I liked the new course somewhat better than the old, and was quite happy in that at least I felt that I got, if anything, stronger as the ride went on, and did not suffer too much from my unsystematic training in the year's first quarter (January to March).

Douglas and Pete en route
Douglas, Pete and Steve started 10 minutes after me, and passed me about 40 kilometers into the event.  I could not hold onto the back of their train, and ended up pulling off the road within 10 minutes after they passed in order to use the public facilities in a rest area, after which my digestive system largely ceased its complaints.  Steve T. dropped off their back not too much further than I up the climb to Fujimi. Pete and Douglas rode together the entire ride, and finished in a great time, an excellent performance slowed only by one flat tire/change (and then a slow leak in Pete's replacement tube as they approached the finish).  Gunnar passed me when I was resting at a 7-11 in Nagano-shi, and seemed to be riding solo the entire way.  Tom S. passed me just as I was slowly getting up to speed a few minutes later on ... and I missed the next traffic signal and did not see him again until the finish, where he was already looking relaxed and cleaned up, post-onsen.

I rode mostly alone, after escaping off the front of the group I started with.  On the climb through Nirasaki, however, I joined the rear of a group of about 8 Japanese riders from two teams, all sucking the wheel of the guy in front.  After about 5-10 minutes of this, the strong rider in the front started to slow, tiring in the headwinds.  No one stepped up, so I rode up the line, loudly chastising them for not rotating and sharing the work, and urging every one to take a pull, however short.  I took my turn and did about 1 km on the front, then drifted off back ... and we had a real pace line for a few kilometers, until one of the two teams dropped out, leaving me with 2 other riders (one of whom had a nice bike with beautiful Enve carbon wheels, aero bars, etc., an awful clicking noise coming from a loose rear spoke).  We did cooperate for awhile and the 3 of us were still together when Douglas, Pete and Steve passed me.

There were some other stretches of the ride when I pulled for others, especially into the headwinds while we traveled north from Nagano on route 18.  On the shallow, early stages of the climb, I pulled a Jyunnobi (Niigata-based team) rider who was a couple years older than me and said he weighted 56 kgs (to my 95).  He was very appreciative of having someone big to block the headwind.  I did not mind, but finally waved him ahead when the climb got steeper.  And I rode with a "Charirin RC" club member taking turns at the front on the stretch ahead of checkpoint 2.

As I pulled into the third and final checkpoint, a small lady in a black polo shirt was directing me and other riders not to pull into the 7-11 parking lot, but to go to an adjacent lot where there was a blue banner waving in the breeze.  Only I must have not understood, as I got quite close up (and into a stand-off with a little farmer's truck that was turning in nearby me) before I figured out what was going on.  Who was the staffer?  It was Midori Shiroki, Chair of Japan Audax.  I had last seen her as we suffered up the long hill at Tappi Misaki a few weeks back in Tsugaru Peninsula, Aomori.  There were a number of other Saitama Audax PBP 2007 and 2011 jerseys in the field, including the #8 finisher.  And I saw Maya Ide just before and at the first checkpoint.  Maya, who rode PBP last year, and joined a number of the Tohoku 1700 rides, will also do the Cascade 1200 in late June.  Another Tohoku rider had told me to watch for him -- and shown me what his team jersey looked like -- but either I did not pass him or I completely missed him.

I did get to serve as "domestique" for Michael R. on the long descent from Nejiri-ko to the coast at Joetsu.  Mikey rolled into the 3rd and last checkpoint (213 kms) just as I was about to leave.  He caught me and zoomed by at around 223 kms.  But I was just getting a second (or eighth?) wind, and descending into a stiff headwind I started to really enjoy the benefits of my aerodynamic HED Jet 6 wheels, my Vision mini-TT aero bars, and my sturdy 95 kg frame.  I caught Mikey at kilometer 229 and suggested I would try to give him a pull.  I did so, as fast as I could, for the next 15 kms or more.  When I started to flag a bit as the descent neared its end, he handed me one of his spare gels, which I quickly downed and gave me enough apricot flavored sugar to continue a bit more.  This was fun.

It was also fun riding along the long semi-downhill stretch between Shiojiri Pass and Nagano-shi.  This stretch of 90 kilometers went from a high of over 1000 meters elevation to a low of 330 meters, with no climb of more than 50 meters anywhere in between.  Even riding solo, I could make excellent time with my aero tuck.  Likewise, the 40-plus kilometers along the coast road from Joetsu to Itoigawa was also fun.  The sea was beautiful, and the headwind that had dogged us from Nagano-shi shifted around and became a mild tail wind, helping to push us home.  I also was able to ride a good bit of the last 20 kms with some Japanese riders, including reappearances by the guy with the noisy, clicking spoke and the "Charirin RC" member.  As we neared Itoigawa, we stopped at a red light.  As is often the case, Japanese road racers accelerate faster than I do ... though I often top out at a higher speed once I do get going.  They took off after the light and I found myself off the back, and decided I would just finish alone, going into my aero tuck again and eventually losing a few hundred meters.  But as the course turned off the coast for the short ride inland to the finish, I saw them again, just starting up at a light that turned green.  I put on "full gas" and did my best Fabian Cancellara imitation, and passed them at about 45kph just as they approached their normal cruising speed.  When I looked back a minute or two later just before the finish, no one had followed, or was even visible around the last curve in the road.

My 20 km time splits, visible at the "metrics" tab on RidewithGPS, show that I had long stretches spread evenly throughout the day with an average moving speed comfortably over 30kph.

That said, my average total speed, including rest times and checkpoints, was no better than last year.

My main complaint as the day wore on was the soles my feet.  From a short ride a week ago, I knew that my cleats on my shoes had slipped and the placement was problematic.  So I had remounted and realigned the cleats to make sure they were well centered under the balls of my feet.  One of the cleat bolts had been stripped by the hex wrench, so I replaced it Thursday and checked them again.  The shoes were comfortable on the trip out from Tokyo to Yamanashi ... but by the time I was 150 kms into TOITO, I was getting intermittent numbing in the right foot, with the kind of tingling and searing pain you might get from going ice skating and tying the skates too tightly, as the blood flow cuts off and returns to the foot.  I tried to compensate by pulling up more on the pedals instead of pushing, and then by pushing more with the left foot than right ... which, of course, also caused the left foot to also become a bit numb and start to hurt.  I took a couple of extra 5 or 10 minute rests in between the checkpoints to let my feet recover, losing precious time (but also eating and/or lying down and closing my eyes, to get the most from the break).  I got out the bike multi-tool and tried to adjust the right cleat, ... but the tool's hex wrench promptly stripped the new bolt.  The bolt would not loosen without a large screwdriver, which I did not have.  And even if I could have loosened it, the cleat placement looked okay to my eye, so I am not sure what I would have done.  In any event, according to my Garmin my riding time this year was 11:08, but my total time was 12:51, so almost as long off the bike as when we did TOITO back in 2008, and much longer than last year.

Once I had pulled Michael R. down the long descent after Nejiri-ko and realized that I was not going to make it to the finish under 12 hours, I took a nice, relaxed break outside a 7-11 just south of Joetsu.  There was shade around the side of the store, which was set well back from the highway, by a little flowing canal, and I could eat, rest, and look up at a tree moving in the breeze and completely blue sky.  It looked like this:
I felt that this must be what Prince Andrei saw when he lay wounded at the Battle of Austerlitz, in War and Peace, and realized that all his former ambitions were pointless.  Of course, the 7-11 roof overhang should be cropped out of the picture.

I was a bit surprised, after resting for a few minutes and even closing my eyes, to come around the front of the store and see at least 7-8 road bikes on the front of the store, riders collapsed outside, and in lines at the rest room and register.  Maybe I had closed my eyes for longer than I thought?  I remounted my bike and did not stop again until the finish.

TCC finishing times were:

Michael R. in 10:20:56.  Good enough for 13th place overall.  

Pete W. and Douglas E., 10:35:54. Tied for 19th.

Gunnar H. at 11:06:56. 28th place.

Steve T. 11:52:55. 45th place.

David L. 12:51:45. 97th place ... my first "top 100" finish, despite the rests.

Riding for the Jyunnobi team, Andy W. is listed at 9:34:21, in 7th place.

And Tom S. came in at 10:30:37 for 17th place and 2nd in his age group.  

Kondo-san of Nalshima Frend, a perennial top-5 finisher and former champion, won the event in 9:22:11.  He is the fastest Brevet rider in Japan, and this is in line with his prior efforts.  Respect.

Looking at the incredible efforts by the other TCC members, I would fear that I might lose my starting position in next year's team, except that, as usual, just about everyone participating in our group has declared they will NOT DO IT AGAIN next year.  We shall see.

Andy W's trip report (English and 日本語) can be found HERE.

The GS Astuto report can be found HERE.

11 May 2012

Loaded for Bear

As you can see from photos of last week's ride, Jerome already got his "competition cut" and is ready for summer racing.  Now, I got mine, ... just to make sure I will be taken seriously when I show up next week at the start for the Tokyo-Itoigawa Fastrun Classic.

05 May 2012

The Story of "Busu Kawaii" Wasao and Kikuya-san the Ika-Yaki Lady

As we bicycled through Akita and Aomori, Jerome and I saw some mangy looking dogs tied up by the roadside, who barked as we passed by.

And of course, one of our most memorable brief interactions was with the ika-grilling lady, waiting patiently for customers at her grill as she has probably done for at least the past 50 years, and will do as long as she is able to stand up.  This rest stop was somewhere on the coast of Aomori between Senjojiki and Mutsu-Akaishi, just west of Ajigasawa.

The ika griller brought to mind a story that captivated Japanese dog lovers recently -- the story of Wasao, the 'ugly cute' dog and his master, Kikuya-san, an ika-grilling lady of Ajigasawa ... who became famous after being discovered by a Japanese blogger.  I was glad to hear that their current fame and relative prosperity are due to a blog entry that went "viral".

Their story is told here (Japanese only):

... or you can look for the 2011 major motion picture "Wasao-The Movie", starring Yakushimaru Hiroko as the ika-griller.  It is the kind of sentimental tale that Japanese love and that brings tears to the eyes.  Unfortunately, it was released soon after the March 11, 2011 disasters, when Japan was in no mood to go out to movie theaters.

It is easy to understand the connection between man's best friend, the dog, and the motion picture industry -- the attraction is obvious.  Sounder, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Benji, White Fang, Old Yeller, Air Bud and countless other dogs have graced the big screen.

But I think there also may be a connection between the lowly Ika -- a/k/a cuttlefish or squid -- and motion pictures.  Where did the Sci Fi special effects gurus get their model for the monsters in the movie Alien?

Dried squid:

"Squid" on face -- from the motion picture "Alien".

04 May 2012

Done - 600+200+200+300 - And Fundraising Update

On a climb in interior Akita Prefecture -- lots of snow near the top of the pass
I finished around 9pm Thursday night. Over 300 km. A few hours mid-day were wet, and then the last 25% or more was very dark and wet, as were the 11-12 Kms to our hotel in Tendou. This, plus a few stretches with heavy traffic, turned an otherwise relatively easy (for Japan) course into a tough day.

Jerome, who rested on Wednesday instead of riding, went ahead of me from the start pulling other fast riders and finished around 2 hours faster. He plans to ride again today ... whereas I will take the train home.

The total official distance traveled over five days (rounding down) is 612+201+203+302 or 1318 kms.
Actual distance traveled was 1375 kms or more, given the need to go from the finish to a hotel and then to the next day's start, plus various small side trips.

Jerome at Hirosaki Castle - rest day
UPDATE:  Jerome finished the final 400 km early Saturday morning after another 23 hours of riding.  He called to tell me he had arrived safely, and used the term "nightmare" at least twice in our brief conversation.  The rain -- coupled with constant headwinds over the last part of the ride -- and the very long climb over Shirabu Pass in the mountains of western Fukushima, took a toll.

Jerome's official total distance for the week is over 1500 kms.  612+201+302+410=1525.  He once again proved himself a very strong rider ... far stronger than I am.  I knew that if I attempted the last 400, the punishment to my body would be such that I could not recover for the Tokyo-Itoigawa Fastrun Classic on May 19, and maybe even not for planned rides in June and July.  As it is, I think the week has helped make me stronger, instead of wearing me down.
The sun briefly breaks through at dawn Thursday as we leave Hirosaki
The Hirosaki Castle that Jerome visited on Wednesday looked slightly different than it did in January when Misako and I were there on our yukiguni onsen trip -- a few more tourists, and a bit less snow.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE:  I defer to the MoFo Tokyo in-kind donation team on whether they want to count "official" 1318 kms or "actual" 1375 kms, but at 399 yen per kilometer the total raised for charity would be either 525882 yen and 548625 yen.  In either case it is more than US$6500.

Plus, I was pleased to get a very generous pledge of 42 yen per kilometer from a party who wishes to remain anonymous.  That works out to another 55356 yen (US$693) at the official distance, though it will go to a different charity.  I would only note that anyone who would pledge "42" yen must be one of the following:

(1) a big Douglas Adams fan, since The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy identifies 42 as "The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything",
(2) a member of Germany's Pirate Party, or maybe a reader of the Economist -- which recently had a nice article about the Pirate Party's decision to put forward 42 candidates for election in North Rhine-Westphalia.  (Apparently they are big fans of Douglas Adams), or perhaps
(3) a Japanese person who was trying to cast an evil spell upon me, since "42" or "shi-ni" could mean "going to one's death".

I can assure you that the pledge came from a non-Japanese reader, and as you can see, we survived the ride!

Lastly, on the topic of lucky and unlucky numbers, I was very glad that the MoFo Tokyo office pledges came in at 399 yen, just UNDER 400 yen per km, since the time limit for completing the longest, 600 km segment, was 40 hours.  As long as we finished in 39.9 hours, we would be okay.

Peace sign, or V for Victory, from Inagaki-san, who plans to do the Cascade 1200 and Rocky Mountain 1200 rides this summer -- as do I

02 May 2012

Land's End

Approaching the northern tip of Tsugaru Peninsula. Then I will be heading back toward Tokyo!

At the northern tip - Tappi Misaki

Fog up the hill above Tappi Misaki
Another Dazai monument ... this one at Tappi Misaki

We just climbed up that hill.  Very steep and longer than expected!
Did I mention it was a long hill?  You can see the same fog bank over the hill at Tappi Misaki down at the bottom.
Next we descended the other side.  My wheel rims were burning hot from braking on this slope.  I stopped to let them cool a bit so the tire tube would not burst.
Mount Iwaki and apple orchards on its eastern side near Hirosaki.

Shayoukan at dawn

Dazai Osamu's family home and memorial hall, 15+ km north of Goshogawara.

Beautiful Japan

Tuesday was a bit easier day - later start time, morning tailwind and plenty of flat and rolling terrain. Nice coastline and light traffic.  Wednesday will be tougher. 5:00 check-in for a 5:30am start.  201km (official)/205km (unofficial) traveled today, for a total well over 800.

Early Wednesday, north of Goshogawara near Kase -- one of many areas where we rode by spectacular flowering sakura.

01 May 2012

Aomori Delicacies

Only 30 km left to Goshogawara so we stopped for a quick snack. Whole grilled locally fished ika w/ mayo for JPY250. Local color comes free of charge. Hard to understand the Tohoku dialect!

Next Hill

There is always a next hill ... this one to the top of Kanpuzan.

Reward for a Long Climb

Beautiful weather and a tailwind pushing as we start up the coast, then climb one shoulder of Kanpuzan - cold wind mountain.  Unfortunately, I broke a spoke (rear drive side) on the climb while standing and pushing hard on a steep stretch ... but still 35 spokes left on the rear wheel so no problem to keep going.  Almost 90 Kms covered before stopping for soba.


We made it to Akita City around 630-645pm Monday.  The main geographic features I will remember from Monday were the Mogamigawa -- full to the brim with brown water swiftly flowing to the coast -- and Mt Chokaisan -- a massive, snow covered presence for the last 100+km of the ride.

The coastline looks nice ... other than the heavy golden week traffic on the main/only road.

Official mileage so far: 612km.

Actual distance, including false starts, side trips and getting to our hotel near today's start ... 635km.