29 May 2013

Japanese Builders do well at NAHBS ...

The North American Handmade Bicycle Show is a late-February event, but I did not manage to check out the winners until seeing an article yesterday in one of the English language newspapers in Tokyo, highlighting some awards won by Tokyo-based Matsuda Cycle.

[JULY 2013 UPDATE ...  unfortunately, the linked article has expired ... I guess the "Japan News by Yomiuri Shimbun" has no aspirations to be the "newspaper of record" for Japan ..., if that was not already clear from their publishing 3-month old items as news.]

To read the article you might not realize that there were other awards given out ... or that the event happened three months ago.

Konno-san of Cherubim won Best City Bike, and there is plenty of other eye candy here: NABHS 2013 winners.

Since there cannot be more than a few Japanese builders who go to NAHBS, one would need to say that they are punching above their weight ... or perhaps more appropriately that they have a very high power-to-weight ratio.

27 May 2013

Tomin No Mori -- in 30x12 gearing

Jerome and I went for a Sunday morning ride yesterday.  No photos, and just a trip to Tomin no Mori and back.  No personal records.  The weather was a bit humid, we both felt tired (even before the hill), and the traffic reminded me of why I do not take this road often.  But it was a good ride, and I noted about 30 road bikes nicely sitting on the racks at Tomin no Mori, evidencing the huge numbers of cyclists who do this road on any day with decent weather.

Jerome's bicycle has been complaining of late.  His Mavix Aksium rear wheel died on him recently, after much maintenance deferral.  He has broken 2 spokes now with the Rolf Prima wheel that I sold to him ... and he is using an older Mavic Ksyrium from off his old bike, but the freewheel has a problem and will require some new parts to make that workable.  I am going to build him a new rear wheel ... parts on order.  Meanwhile, on the way to Itsukaichi, he managed to break his rear derailleur cable.

I would have turned around and headed for home at that point, but not Jerome, who usually climbs in a bigger gear, out of the saddle.  He went all the way up the hill in 30x12, stopping once for a good rest about half way up the hill.  This may be the only time I beat him up the hill (riding 39x28 gears).

After returning home, I replaced Jerome's cable and the broken spoke on the Rolf Prima ... and we are ready for next weekend's 600km Brevet.

19 May 2013

Positivo Espresso Riding Week August 3-10, Costa del Sol

Looking at the summer's cycling calendar, after the Tour de France and London-Edinburgh-London, the next major event will be Positivo Espresso's week in southern Spain.  Representatives from the London, Bremen and Tokyo branches will head to Malaga/Costa del Sol for a mixed agenda of recovery, recreation and training.  

The trip will definitely include rides in the Sierra Nevada, so remember to set your bike up with some climbing gears.
These climbs start at sea level?

18 May 2013

Ignoring the GIro

I had been ignoring this year's Giro d'Italia through its first 12 stages.  I have nothing particular against the Giro.  Indeed, I like it.  It is always seems bigger, sexier, wilder, more fun.  And pink.  Very pink.

But I have done my very best to take an extended vacation from anything to do with professional road cycling.

To me, ignoring the entire sport seemed like the only possible response to the Lance Armstrong brouhaha -- the final year or two of denials, followed by the weak confession on Oprah, the inevitable renewed lawsuits, accusations against the UCI, etc., etc.  It made me want to just ride my own bike and not pay any attention to professionals racing.

My office is across the street and down the block from the Trek Bicycles concept store at the back of Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, and every time I walk by it, my blood pressure rises.  I look at Trek as one of Lance's major enablers.  Maybe they were duped?  Who knows.  In any event, I am glad I never bought a Trek bicycle.  Maybe Trek will bring back the LeMond brand, which they allegedly shut down bowing to pressure from Lance after Greg LeMond dared speak the truth about Lance and his friend Dr. Ferrari?  LeMond now again seems to be the face of U.S. cycling, and if he were again associated with Trek, then I might feel like setting foot inside the shop, at least to take a look.

Anyway, even with Lance gone, too much doubt remains.  What about Wiggins' remarkable 2012? Can we trust the results, knowing what we now know?  Sure, the sport seems to be much cleaner than it was ... but the same could have been said 5 years ago.  There are still deeply suspect (to me) riders like Contador and, until his retirement after winning at last year's Olympic Road Race, Vinokourov.

Then, I happened to turn on my PC last night and watch a little bit of streaming broadcast via steephill.tv -- there was a 9 person breakaway trying to hold off the peleton, only 10 or 20 seconds back as the race entered its last 10 kilometers.  I watched all the way through to the sprint finish, in which Mark Cavendish held off all comers (including Elia Viviani) to take a 4th stage victory.

I happened to check cyclingnews.com -- still in my browser's bookmarks, despite my extended vacation -- and peak at the upcoming stages.  Wow.  They will go over the 2000+ meter elevation Sestriere on Stage 14.  Then Stage 15 takes them into France, along part of the route I rode in the 2011 Etape -- from Modane down a valley, then up onto the climb over Col du Telegraphe, through Valloire and then to the 2600+ meter Col du Galibier, a real monster of a climb.

And then there is Stage 19, on Wednesday.  They start at Pont di Legno, the South Tyrolian ski resort where we enjoyed a tribute to Marco Pantani after climbing the Mortirolo during Transalp 2011.  They climb the Gavia (2600+ elev), then the Stelvio (2750+ meters elev), then a third 22km climb to Val Martello (2050+ meter elev).  Over 4300 meters of climbing in a 138km stage, after nearly 3 weeks of racing.  Ouch.

No matter how much I know that I should ... I cannot stay away any longer.  At least until the next doping scandal.


Postscript:  A few hours after writing the note above, the weather caused a major route change.

No Sestriere today.  And very likely no Galibier tomorrow.

That is another feature of the Giro -- by racing in May and trying to go over the highest passes in the Alps, inevitably the race's reach exceeds its grasp!

Second Postscript:  They made it onto the Galibier ... moved the finish down 4 kilometers.  But the Gavia and Stelvio are now removed from Stage 19 ...  Still, the last 2 stages look very good, even without the highest passes.  I might even watch a bit.

12 May 2013

Fujikawa At Dawn

I continued preparation for London-Edinburgh-London by joining the Kanagawa Audax's 400 km brevet this weekend. This view of the Fujikawa at dawn is one of the things I would like to remember about the ride.
Looking back up the Fujikawa from the hill south of Minobu. The river is full from yesterday/last night's rain.
The route went from Okitsu on the Shizuoka coastline to Hotaka in Nagano (north of Matsumoto) and back again, via the Fujikawa, then Route 52/Route 12 around the western edge of the Kofu metropolitcan area, Route 20 past Hokuto, Fujimi, Chino, Suwa, Shiojiri, then skirting around the west of Matsumoto through the countryside, to Hotaka in Azumino City ... and back.

All in all it was not so difficult a route for a Japanese 400km Brevet, with the highest passes Fujimi and Shiojiri, over 100kms from the start in order to rise from sea-level up to 1020 meters elevation.  ... but it rained, heavily at times, the first 14 hours.  It was a relatively warm rain, so not a big problem in terms of exposure.  I looked at the bright side and considered it part of the training -- a chance to try out my rain gear and bike setup.

The Ti travel bike and fenders I recently added worked just fine, the fenders significantly reducing the road grime and gunk on my bicycle and myself when riding through standing water.  And the Continental Grand Prix All Season tires also worked well -- nice grip, and made it through 400 kms without a flat.  A combination including rain pants, gore tex shoe liners and plastic bags kept my feet dry ... for the first hour or so.  A loose lockring on my rear cassette caused me all kinds of difficulties shifting the rear derailleur.  At first I thought it was just road grime, and did my best to clean the chain and derailleur pulleys then added some lube.  But the shifting continued to deteriorate until I needed to pull over and spend enough time to actually figure it out.  I could tighten the lockring just enough with my fingers to regain a bit of function and make it to the finish, 6th in out of 29 riders.
Lower Fujikawa, on Saturday.
With this ride, I have now more distance logged in the first 12 days of May -- 950 kms -- than I managed in all of April.

06 May 2013

More Golden Week(end)!

After a Saturday rest day, Jerome and I went on another Golden Week ride on Sunday.  Given anticipated heavy traffic and the spectacular weather, it was time, again, to ride the rindos (forest roads), climbing hills on asphalt behind closed gates.
First ride on the Canyon in a couple weeks.  ... It is nice to be on a carbon framed racer with deep rim wheels once in awhile!

View to NE from Iriyama Pass -- between Wada and Itsukaichi
We made good time out to Itsukaichi, and chatted at the 7-11 there with 2 riders we had passed on the last leg (primarily by being a bit more aggressive at traffic signals, not because of any real difference in speed).  Once we mentioned that we ride Brevets, they immediately volunteered that they were preparing for Tokyo-Itoigawa, one proudly mentioned that he ride with Nalshima whose Kondo-san is Japan's fastest brevet rider and toppled Andy W. last year as Tokyo-Itoigawa champion.  They each had done Toito at least 15 times.

The Koinobori on west side of Wada -- listless in the breeze on Children's Day.
We stop to admire the koinobori.
Ready to continue the descent.
We rode Bonbori Rindo over Iriyama Pass, then Daigo Rindo up Wada Pass, down the back of Wada on Jimba Kaido, then up and over Hime Valley - Bijo Valley on its closed rindo, then back over Otarumi Pass on Route 20.  The rindos were wonderful -- only one car and one motorcycle during the entire time on Bonbori Rindo and Daigo Rindo.   We did not push the pace much until the last part of the ride -- but still got in excellent exercise with our four climbs.  Bijo Valley's road was strewn with rocks on the Southern descent, and each of Jerome and I experienced one flat tube.
On the last rindo, signs to Hime-tani, Fujino Station (via Jimba hotsprings), etc.
Golden Week traffic ... on the closed roads
We stopped for lunch of ramen and gyoza at the top of Otarumi Pass ... on what must be their busiest day of the year.  It was a long wait, but well worth it.

Another spectacular ride -- 4 passes and nearly 2000 meters of climbing, mostly on closed roads, and back home by 4PM, despite delays due to the flat tires and lunch.

Oku Nikko - May 3

This week's "Golden Week" holidays have really been two "Golden Weekends" -- the first a 3-day weekend (which included this year's Fleche), and the second a 4-day weekend.

On Tuesday through Thursday, I and many others worked as usual, except that on Thursday morning I needed to go to Tochigi for meetings.  I brought my bike on the shinkansen, and Jerome rode up the 135 km from Tokyo in the morning.  We visited a few potential sites for solar projects in the afternoon by bicycle, and made it to Nikko City (actually Imaichi, down the valley from the Nikko train station most tourists know).  For Jerome the day was more than 200kms, including much ugly sprawl, while even including my ride to Tokyo Station in the early morning, I logged less than 100kms -- enoug, as my body still felt the after-effects of the Fleche, and we had a big day planned for Friday.

We found a reasonably priced business hotel, ate a filling dinner at a local tonkatsu/yakuniku restaurant, and zonked out.
Ready for dinner
Up for 630AM breakfast and on our bikes by 730AM, we started out just below 400 meters elevation, heading west through Nikko and onto the climb up Iroha-zaka to Lake Chuzenji and beyond.

On the Iroha Zaka
We were early enough to beat most of the GW tourist traffic.  We were already nearly 700 meters elevation as we entered the one-way uphill segment of the Iroha-zaka, with the top somewhere around 1250~1275 meters.

Buuurrr -- a cold wind on Chuzenjiko
It was very cold and windy at Lake Chuzenji.  Very brisk -- I was glad to have brought some late-winter gear.  The only convenience store we could find was a Daily Yamazaki bread shop attached to a cafe, the shelves almost bare.  At around 1275 meters elevation, I asked if the pass ahead was over 2000 meters elevation, and how far it was.  The shopkeeper responded that it was only 10-12 kms to the "entrance" to the pass, and the top was only 1600 meters or so.

After a rest, we continued on Route 120, headed up the lakeside and into Oku Nikko.  The scenery was spectacular, and we were now beyond most of the tourist traffic.

Oku Nikko
We could see the road ahead as it climbed toward Kousei Toge (pass) -- NOT 1600 meters, but more like 1900.  After another climb, and an uphill tunnel, we started a great descent along the snow-lined highway.  The entire segment was just over 40 kms and took us from 400 to 1900 meters elevation.  Just as if we had done the first part of a Transalp day, a climb of truly Alpine duration and scenery.

Early on the climb to Kousei Toge -- looking back
The same view .. without panorama

The climb to Kousei Toge
On the descent, at one point we passed a ski area, open and with lots of snowboarders enjoying GW sunshine as they slid!  (No photos -- I did not want to stop).  After enjoying the first half (or more) of the descent, we stopped, drawn by signs advertising a free foot bath ... then buying udon as well.

We continued on, heading down, down, down into Gunma, eventually leaving Route 120 for quieter Gunma Route 62 and a climb back over 1000 meters elevation and down again to Mizunuma and Kiryu, where we hopped the train back to Tokyo.

At Sonohara Dam in Gunma
Spectacular weather and scenery, and a couple of roads and passes not previously traversed!