27 January 2013

Club des Cingles du Shiroyama

In France, long before the high passes in the Alps (or Pyrenees) are free of snow, cyclists can train for big climbs on Mt Ventoux.  To scale this monster, one ascends from only a few hundred meters above sea level to the summit at 1909 meters.  The mountain is visible from far, far away, the white rock of its upper slopes reflected in the sunlight throughout much of Provence.  And as every road cyclist and fan knows, Mont Ventoux has been the scene of many epic moments in cycling.

Ventoux has a special place in the heart of British cyclists.  The last time Britain was a strong competitor in cycling (until the Wiggins/Cavendish era we now see) was the 1960s, and Ventoux is the location where, in 1967, British cycling great Tommy Simpson collapsed and then died on the last stretch toward the top, his blood containing a mix of amphetamines and alcohol that likely contributed to dehydration and death.  Most recreational cyclists who do the climb will stop and pay homage at the stark granite memorial to Simpson, just a few steps up hill from the place where he came off the bike for one last time.
Tom Simpson, 30 November 1937–13 July 1967
Like many things in cycling, there is always a group that tries to take it to an extreme.  With Ventoux, it is the Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux.  Entry into the club is simple -- just complete the climbs up (and down) each of the 3 paved routes to the summit of Mont Ventoux in a single day.   Pez Cycling has a good description of a day spent joining the club a few years back.   The Dutch and Belgians seem most taken with this Club.  Perhaps due to lack of mountains in their home countries worth climbing?

This morning, Sunday, was cold and clear, as Tristan, Tom and I headed for the rolling hills of Onekansen.  (James and Tim also rode the early part of the route, but did not head out Onekan, sticking instead to their regular route).  We found ourselves riding with two Japanese as well, trading places.  I was in the back on the hills, Tom and Tristan in the front, the Japanese usually in the middle.  Tom, of course, had ridden over 210 km on Saturday (Miura Peninsula plus some extra), and was joining us solely for a recovery spin.

Eventually, we made our way onto Machida Kaido, and started to discuss our destination for the day.  It would be too cold for climbing into the high mountains.  No Yanagisawa or Odarumi Passes today.  No Nagano or Chichibu for several months.  We needed to find a hill closer in, one where we could get our work in so we would be ready for big climbs later in the year.

All of a sudden, there it was, staring us in the face:  the ascent to Lake Shiroyama and Honzawa Dam.  There are 3 approaches, the "main road" from the South side, which meets Route 413 at a traffic signal within 500 meters or so of the dam across Tsukui-ko, and the 2 smaller roads up the East side, up parallel valleys that are deceptively gradual until the road rises to 12-15% grade for the last bit.   If one would ride each of these climbs, we would have our own Club des Cingles du Shiroyama!

We started on one of the East side roads and made it as far as a locked gate.  One of the Japanese cyclists -- riding a Canyon CF SLX -- was with us, and neither he nor Tom looked willing to hop the gate, portage over a few meters of snow, and continue up.  So we descended back to the bottom and did the other route up the East side, all the way to the top.  We said farewell to our Japanese friend, descended toward 413 on the South approach, took a left through a tunnel and looped around (and up over one of the shoulder of the great hill) to where this road joined the East side ascent near its bottom.

Sure, the climb is short and we had only done it one and a half times, but with the false starts and looping around the base, it felt almost as if we had climbed it three times.  So we declared the new Club des Cingles du Shiroyama, with Tom, Tristan and myself as its founding members.
Tom and Tristan, having just joined the Club, the awesome climb in the background.
We wound our way back to the Tank Road, then made a quick trip back down Onekan, said farewell to Tom, and Tristan and I had an even quicker trip with tailwind (and titanium travel bike + HED Jet 6 wheels!) down road along the Kawasaki side of the Tamagawa.  85 kilometers, almost 800 meters of elevation gain, and home before Noon.  What more could one hope for in late January.

*A check of Google maps suggests that there may be yet another way up, if it is paved and not blocked off so well as to deter even a determined cyclist.  If so, the club membership rules will be duly amended.  Then again, a check of the Club des Cingles du Ventoux rules page notes that there are 4 routes up Ventoux as well!  A climb up the 3 main routes and the Route Forestiere earns the designation Galerien, while a double Cingle (twice up each main route) in one day wins one the rare and coveted Bicinglette -- if a Cingle is extreme, a Bicinglette is crazy.

26 January 2013

LED dynamo light Reviews

I have now had about 15 months trying various LED headlights powered by my dynamo hubs, and want to offer some impressions.  LEDs with good reflectors are real "game changers" for night time cycling, and keep getting better and better.

The Supernova E3 Pro is my favorite.  The Busch + Mueller Lumotec IQ2 Luxos U failed after one ride in the rain, so earns a failing grade.

In thinking about which lights to try, I have relied on two online information sources.

First, there is a good, practical set of English language online comparisons from a website in the Netherlands, here.  I pretty much agree with what that author says, and his photos of various beam patterns are useful.

Second, there is Peter White Cycles in the U.S.  He is the U.S. distributor for SON dynamo hubs and the Edelux lights, among others, and his website has his take on the requirements for lighting, as well as photos of lots and lots of lighting beam patterns taken down a pitch dark road in the New Hampshire night.  The photos are very useful.

A few thoughts:

1.  These LED dynamo lights generally include both wires to connect to the hub for power input and also separate wires for output to an LED tail light.  I have never bothered with dynamo powered LED tail lights, since my Panasonic rechargeable Eneloop AAA batteries and rear lights will last weeks or months set on flashing mode, and even on a constant-on mode (as required by most Audax events) one set of freshly charged batteries will make it through all or most of a 1200km ride.

2.  There are now lots of Japanese LED headlights for use with dynamo hubs, but they are generally for use with shopping bikes, light only the near field and not way down the road, and look ugly.   At this point, stick to the European (primarily German) products for the best lighting.

3.  The nicest looking lights by close to consensus opinion are (1) the Supernova E3 Pro and (2) the Schmidt Edelux.

4.  It is not easy to compare lights.  Some lights include "Lux" ratings.  Others are rated in "Lumens".   (Lux = 1 lumen per square meter, and so takes into account the area lit as well as the output of the LED.  Others have the same brightness in theory, but seem to use more or less efficient LEDs and so get bright at lower/higher speeds.  Others seem to dim somewhat after the LEDs heat up fully.

5.  Brightest is not always best.  If you plan to do trail riding in pitch dark, you want the brightest light and widest beam you can find.  But for most on road riding, you may want a light that draws less power and provides enough light.  And you do not want to blind drivers coming toward you.  I do not need an E3 Pro Triple.  I  find the E3 Pro offers plenty of light and a good beam pattern.  Then again, I might want more light if I was on a fast descent in rain at midnight, or if I had poor eyesight.

6.  Get a light with cutoff switch.  The lights designed for bottle (rim) dynamos are "always on", since you turn them off by lifting the dynamo from the rim.  For a hub dynamo, you definitely want a cut off switch so you can reduce the dynamo's drag during daylight hours, or use the current to charge a USB device.

Which lights have I tried?

A.  Philips Saferide 60 Lux
This 60 Lux light has a beam that throws plenty of light in the distance, but notably also has a very bright, wide near field beam, just around the front of the bike on left and right sides.  This can be useful,  especially at slow speeds and in the city, but also is a bit distracting on long rides in the country at speed, with light shining off the front tire and the ground around you.  It is affordably priced (around 60 Euros last time I checked).

It has a reflector along the front of the mount.  And it fits nicely behind the front road brake mount.   There is also a 40Lux version -- plenty for most uses.

Unfortunately, the mounting tab snapped off at its base an hour or two before the end of the Rocky Mountain 1200 last summer.  I descended a steep hill (on a sunny afternoon), and I think metal fatigue plus intense vibration of the Canadian rumble strips snapped it off.  So I cannot give an unqualified recommendation.  Then again, I was given a refund (still within initial one year warranty period).  And even if the warranty had not covered it, I could buy two or three of these for the price of one Edelux or Supernova E3 Pro.

B.  Trelock 885

This is another relatively reasonably priced light.  It is 40 Lux, and I used it on the October 2012 600km Brevet I rode with Jerome, as well as keeping it on my Canyon road bike since.

The Trelock had plenty of light for an overnight Brevet on Japanese paved roads.  And it also fits nicely behind a road bike front brake mount.  It is not the most beautiful of lights, but it is reasonably priced.

My main complaint with it is that the beam pattern has a sharply defined area and lights only a relatively narrow area of road in front.  This was a major detriment as I descended the North side of Tsuru Pass just after dusk on the Brevet last October.  I could not see the road in front of me as I twisted through turns and the beam lit the corners that I turned through, rather than the road I was turning into.  And once I hit a straight away and really accelerated, I could barely see anything outside of the beam's defined edges.  I almost hit a deer, descending at over 50 kph speed.  Really.  At least I think it was a deer.  I smelled it just about the same time that I saw its shadow.

C.  Busch & Mueller Lumotec IQ Cyo Senso Plus

Busch & Mueller has a dizzying number of different models with different characteristics.  There is something for everyone.  Be very careful when you order to make sure you get the right one.  The first I ordered, in 2011, lacked a cut-off switch, and so is on all the time, unless you unplug it at the hub.  (Jerome has been using it since without complaint).  B&M have 60 Lux models that they advertise as 500% of the brightness required by the German regulatory scheme.  The 60 Lux plastic model is around 50 Euro.

I have been using a 40 Lux version (300% brighter than required) that has some brushed aluminum mixed in with the black plastic, instead of just black plastic, and is costs just under 60 Euro.  I could not bring myself to get the true retro-styled, more expensive and only 30 Lux "Classic" version.

I have been reasonably happy with this light so far, using it mostly on my fixed gear bike for night riding in the city.  The beam is relatively close to the Trelock ... but offers just enough more leakage outside toward left and right sides in order to make on aware of nearby obstructions.  With this light I would probably have seen the deer.

D.  Supernova E3 Pro
E3 Pro with multimount, and wires for tail light wrapped around the mount (eventually I should cut them off as I am unlikely to use them and they detract from the aesthetics).
E3 Pro with handlebar mount
The Supernova E3 Pro is much more expensive than the lights above (it is around 140 Euros).  It is a thing of beauty, feels solid, and comes with either a handlebar mount or a "multimount" that fits well with a V-brake and a cyclocross style fork.  It does not fit with a road fork/brake absent another adapter.  Of course, it is also possible to mount with an axle extension (such as Velo Orange offers in the U.S. or I have found in Japan), but this kind of low light position usually results in too much lighting of the near road and not enough in the distance.

I like the beam pattern.  Unlike the Busch & Mueller and Trelock, which have an LED at the top front of the light, which shines indirectly off the reflector and out onto the road, the Supernova LED is in the rear of the reflector and shines both directly and off the reflector.  The beam is not as sharply defined as my B&M or Lumotec, but rather gradually dissipates at the edges.  And my version of the E3 Pro has a "Terraflux" reflector, designed to spare the eyes of drivers just like a "low beam" auto headlight.  Even so, just enough light expands to see a reflective highway sign overhead.

I used the E3 Pro on the Tohoku 1700 rides last May and again on the Brevet I did last weekend.  I expect that I will use it a lot in the future.


I do not have a Schmidt Edelux, though have heard that they are great -- very attractive and perhaps lighter weight and slightly less expensive than the Supernova E3 ... but they use a Busch & Mueller style reflector, and so I somehow find it hard to pay 120 Euros for the Edelux instead of 50 or 60 for the B&M.

The other light I would like to try is the new Busch & Mueller IQ2 Luxos B or Luxos U.  As you can see on Peter White's B&M page, and from his beam photos (worth scrolling way down the page to see these) this has a very bright LED (70 Lux), with a very wide angle beam.  But unlike the Philips Saferide, the near field is not overly brightly lit so as to distract or make it more difficult to see further down the road.  And the Luxos U includes a built-in USB charger for iphone, Garmin or other accessory.  What's not to like?  Well, in the catalogue at least it looks ugly, and it probably draws more current (and creates a wee bit more drag) at the dynamo hub than is necessary in many conditions.

NOTE:  Price information is from Bike24 website, excluding VAT and shipping charges.


UPDATE 2013 May -- Busch + Mueller Lumotec IQ2 Luxos U FAIL:

I purchased a Busch + Müller LUMOTEC IQ2 LUXOS U in late April 2013 and tried it on its first real ride on the May 11 400km Kanagawa brevet.

We rode through rain off and on the first 14 hours of the ride, but I was using fenders and riding on decent quality Japanese roads ... relatively smooth, with only limited standing water ... I had no problems with the light during the event.  And though I lacked a side-by-side comparison, the light was definitely bright, brighter than my others and with a noticeably wider beam than any, with the possible exception of the Philips Saferide 60 Lux.

The light came with instructions describing the sophisticated electronic controls, Li-Ion cache battery, USB charger, temporary "floodlight" feature, ... and warning about water getting inside the light's electronics from the bottom/rear, and not to use the USB charger during rain.   I had fenders on my bike during the Brevet, so the light (and my frame) were protected from the worst water ... and indeed my bike and I looked relatively clean at the end of the ride, compared with other similar rides taken without fenders.  I left the USB charger socket plugged the entire ride -- never once even testing the feature.

... But when I next tried the light a few days later, it would only flash on and off.  And when I took an hour test ride on Saturday, the battery would not charge, the light would not light.  And I can see water condensation on the INSIDE of the light's lens.  I have sent a note requesting a return/refund.

A quick check online finds at least some other riders have had the same experience, or other problems.  I am glad I tried this light on at least one rain-filled event before London-Edinburgh-London, and I feel luckly that it did not fail and require me to use my back-up when I was many hours of darkness away from access to enough spare batteries.  For now, I will stick with lights that do not have a lot of extra features, and that emphasize durability and reliability.

If I want to use my dynamo hub for USB charging, it will not be via a system that compromises the core function of lighting.

I should note that Busch & Mueller (via Bike 24) did give me a full refund for the light.  Also, B&M is a leader in bicycle lighting, has some great products, and I know some other riders have taken the trouble to further waterproof the wiring/leads and other potentially vulnerable areas of their LUXOS lights and seem happy with them so far.

UPDATE May 2013:  There is a new Supernova E3 Pro from sometime last year, the E3 Pro 2.  Based on reviews it seems an incremental improvement over the version I have, but basically the same.  I have purchased the attachment required so the E3 Pro fits on a road bike mounted behind/above the front brake.  The E3 Pro has a much more flexible adapter than most other lights, and so I can swing it so that it protrudes out, just a few centimeters above my front wheel and fender.  This gives a lot of clearance for me under my Ortlieb Ultimate Classic 5 handlebar mounted bag ... much easier to use with a handlebar bag than the other lights in this review.

UPDATE August 2013:  A commenter points out that AXA (not the insurance company, but a Dutch bicycle lighting company) now has a dynamo powered headlight with USB charger incorporated, which made it through LEL without incident.  Their website is here ... looks as if they have several models (50 and 70 Lux).  Prices look reasonable, for a light with many of the features of the Busch & Mueller Luxos.  Any others have experience with this?

UPDATE November 2013:  The U.S. "randon" Google group now has several reports of similar failures of the Busch & Mueller Luxos U in or following wet weather, and a miserable experience of trying to finish Super Brevet Scandinavia without much in the way of front lights -- borrowed, dim, spare, weak to dying batteries.  Unacceptable.  On the other hand, there are also reports that the design has been modified slightly to eliminate at least one possible area for leakage.  And there are some other new Busch & Mueller designs out that look of interest. ...

UPDATE January 2014:  Just got the IQ2 Eyc T Senso Plus.  Looks like a great light.  See my post here.

UPDATE January 2014:  Someone pointed out to me the new Magnic lights -- powered by a "touchless" dynamo that sits very close to the rim.  See a review here and article there.  These lights are not quite ready for prime time, but within the next iteration (adding a stand light and somewhat brighter) might be a great option.  I have not seen any real tests showing the light on/off resistance generated by the magnets, as compared to a hub dynamo.  Of course they are more efficient than a sidewall dynamo ...  They do point out the possibilities for lower power, lower resistance dynamos as LEDs get more efficient and systems begin to integrate the latest in both dynamo and LED technology.

15 January 2013

2013 First Brevet

This weekend I rode my first Brevet of 2013 and my first ever Kinki (i.e. Kansai) Audax event.  Where to ride 400km in mid-January, without a near certain cancellation or ice?  Kinki Audax decided to try a route starting in Takamatsu, heading west along the northern coast of Shikoku, over the "shimanami kaido" -- a bike route that goes on bike paths over spectacular bridges, via islands of the seto nai kai from Imabari in Shikoku to Onomichi on Honshu (Hiroshima Prefecture), then eastward back to Himeji, a town west of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, famed for its beautiful castle.

We departed at 5AM from Takamatsu in dark and near-freezing temperatures.  I recognized and greeted a number of riders from other events.  3 of the Japanese contingent from RM1200 were present (Kaz Tachikawa, Makiyo Goto and Yoshiaki Philippe Misawa).

The ride in Shikoku was uneventful.  We passed some very nice seashore, and lots of industry.  The roads were mixed but at least traffic was very light on the early Sunday of a 3-day weekend.  The organizers required us to detour out to the tip of land just underneath the Seto Ohashi, the bridge from eastern Shikoku to Okayama.  Since there was no official checkpoint, we needed to take photos of our bicycles with the bridge in the background as proof of passage.  Mine looked like this.
3 lights from Seto Ohashi in the upper left corner -- proof of passage
As we rode through Niihama, an industrial city, I remembered visiting a water park there with my family the one time I had been in north Shikoku previously, on the way from Matsuyama back to Tokyo, more than 10 years ago.  The water slide was great.  The men's locker room had a very large, prominent sign warning that the establishment refused service to persons bearing tattoos.
A nice stretch on Shikoku north shore just after sunrise and before the clouds close in
Imabari Castle moat
It was a relatively fast trip to the second checkpoint, just before we started to cross the bridges -- 157 km in just over 6 1/2 hours, including stops.  At this rate ... I will be done in no time at all.  27 hour time limit, but maybe I can do it in 17? or 18?

Then things slowed down.  After the first long bridge, I stopped at a michi-no-eki restaurant and enjoyed some local seafood for lunch.
Looking back at the first bridge of many
This must be the most expensive bike path in the world -- with bicycle/pedestrian-only bridge entrances in places along the lines of the loop road you can see in the photo, carefully graded, drained, and built to the gold-plated standard of Japanese government contracts.
On the shimanami kaido
But it is nice, and is wildly popular ... in warmer weather.  Even in January there were a few cyclists other than the brevet riders.

Anyway, I ran out of energy before the last bridge approach climb, stopped for an energy bar and managed to make it to Onomichi by around 4:30PM.  227 kms in and still on track for a decent time.  But the Onomichi checkpoint was a Mister Donut in front of the main station.  Onomichi looks like a nice tourist town and there were lots of people there on the holiday weekend.  I waited more than 10 minutes just to buy a donut and get my receipt.  Then after a rest with other riders I went another 20-30 minutes to the East and stopped for convenience store pasta.  On the next stretch I fell in with a couple other riders and we worked together.

But around 730PM the rain started.  At first it was light rain (mixed with sleet).  Then it got heavier, but at least the sleet disappeared.  Eventually I was wearing rain pants and jacket, with plastic bags over my socks, inside my shoes.  The pace slowed.  And slowed.  The rest stops were cold.   My feet and hands were cold ... I had some navigation issues, managed to backtrack without losing much time, rested briefly at a 24 hour McDonalds to recharge my GPS unit, made it through some very dark, rural patches in the hills, and finally to the finish in Himeji.  I wished at this point that I had been riding with Jerome -- who would have insisted on stopping for a proper meal in the early evening.

The last 125 kms was almost entirely riding alone in the cold rain.  But a nice sense of accomplishment to make it through.  In the end, it took me 22:40 or so to complete, and I was something like 16th fastest to finish.  (approximately 100 signed up, 16 DNS and 28 DNF, so only around 55 finishers.)  And there was a good group at the family restaurant in Himeji where we all ate and rested a few hours ... before heading for the morning train home.  By the time the train entered Shizuoka, the scenery had changed to white.

12 January 2013

Something New Under the Sun, or along the Tamagawa?

Sometimes, we ride a route for years, grumble to ourselves about something along the way and wonder why the powers that be do not make a modest improvement.  In this case, I am thinking of the path along the Tamagawa as I head out of Tokyo on the Tokyo (not Kawasaki) side of the river.   Southeast of the Odakyu Line, I ride in the street -- which most of the way between Futakotamagawa and Komae is just a small local road with little traffic and good visibility.

Heading Northwest, just before the Odakyu Line, I join the path and go under the train tracks and a bridge approach ... only to hit a stretch where the choices were (1) a dirt and gravel path, or (2) a road that (on weekends, at least) had at least 3 chains blocking the path to cars and cyclists.  Often, we instead would take a detour through the neighborhood, especially if it had rained recently and the path had large pools of water and areas of mud.
Looking SE at the new plastic posts, where there once was a chain
Finally, as I rode this section in December, a change!  The chains blocking the road have been replaced with some posts that are passable by bicycle.  And at one point, the "detour" through the neighborhood is now blocked off to cars as well, which should keep all except local car traffic off the stretch of road completely.

And of course, just a few hundred meters further North, where there is another gravel section of path and then a narrow, congested area of the (concrete) path for the next kilometer or two, the alternative of taking a parallel road has been dramatically improved as construction finished within the last year or so that makes it possible to stay parallel to the path and quite close to the river most of the way this stretch and the Keio Keirin oval, instead of looping far inland.

03 January 2013

Hakone Ekiden 2013

January 2nd's weather forecast promised sun with a high of 13 degrees celsius.  A classic warm, dry Tokyo winter day, perfect for riding bicycles along the closed roads of the Hakone Ekiden, as in past years:  2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and P.B. ("pre-blog") 2007.

Nittaidai (Nippon Sports Science Univ.), our neighbors  on Komazawa Dori in Setagaya, win the relay!
James K. and Shane P. rode out via my house, then we met Laurent D. along the Tamagawa and headed toward Yokohama.  We joined the Ekiden route a little north of Yokohama Station and were immediately welcomed by a large group of cheering fans, as in past years.

As with last year, we were directed onto the "old road" near Totsuka Station, rather than the no-bikes-permitted bypass that we used to take with the runners.

This year we faced very stiff headwinds much of the way, and where we were not protected on the sides -- crossing some bridges near Oiso and closer to Odawara -- swirling gusts threatened to push us sideways, off our bikes and into the guardrail or, worse, into the passing traffic.  At one point,  I unclipped my left pedal and put a foot down.  Laurent, with his deep rim Lightweight wheels, held on for dear life.

We saw a TCC group as we passed them at a rest/gathering spot near Route 16 ... and they passed us back at the Odawara 7-11 that serves as an informal staging area pre-ascent, where James and Shane said farewelll and headed for Odawara Station, as Laurent and I started the last section up the hill to the finish at Hakone Ashinoko.

As we got to Hakone Yumoto, still near the bottom of the climb and far ahead of the lead runners (who were at least 10~12 kms back, not yet in Odawara), a policeman directed us off of the main road and onto the "old Tokaido".  The old road does go up the hill to Ashinoko ... but would take us away from the cheering Ekiden crowds.  After a rest stop, some attempts to find a way around the barriers and rejoin the route further up (we did, but not far enough up, and were quickly pointed down the hill), Laurent and I descended 1-2 kms and stopped at a convenience store for pasta. 15 minutes or so later, the runners came by, in remarkably close succession after 85+ kms.

Laurent and I headed back toward Tokyo, together along the coast as far as Chigasaki.  He continued to Kamakura and took the train home, while I headed inland to take a look at the Keio Univ. Shonan Fujisawa Campus and then continued the rest of the way home through the Kanagawa sprawl via bicycle.  A bit more than 160 kms in all -- an even 100 miles.

It was great to see James, Shane and Laurent after quite awhile, and to get in such a good ride on January 2 to start the year.  Then again, I think with the added police measures to keep us off of the climb, even with a good "cushion" ahead of the runners, the Ekiden tradition may have run its course.

Ekiden ride as far as Hakone Yumoto, then back to Chigasaki and inland to Shonandai/Fujisawa:

From Shonandai/Fujisawa back home: