25 February 2013

The iPad presented us with flash problems, thus a bit of a late post....

PE Europe had an impromptu celebration of Stephen's birthday in Dublin on 27th December 2012 en route to the far west of Europe to scout out routes for the Positivo Craic summer tour 2014ish.

No bikes this time, but Sweet Molly Malone's wheelbarrow has two wheels...

We found the perfect map for the job:

Beautiful quiet roads, empty sandy beaches, torrential rain, gales what else could you want?
Errrr, sunshine?

23 February 2013

Updated Fender review -- Curana C Lite alloy, Axiom Fastback DLX Reflex, SKS Raceblade Long, Procraft Rainbow Race 35, SKS Xtra-Dry

Fenders are for shopping bikes, commuters, and old geezers on touring bicycles with full panniers and unpadded leather saddles.  At least that was what I thought for many years, as an aspiring road cyclist zooming in and out of Tokyo with the Positivo Espresso train.

Yes, I would use a "clip on" seat post fender for riding in the rain.  But mostly, I would just avoid riding in the rain, or get a bit wet.

Then I started doing longer Audax rides.  The rides are scheduled long in advance, and go through several days, different geographies, and you will not finish many (any?) if you just skip the ones where rain is a possibility.  Thinking back over the past 3 years, I have gotten wet on EVERY Audax event I have done that is 1000 kms or more.  2010 Chubu 1000, 2011 PBP, 2012 Tohoku 1700, 2012 Cascade 1200, 2012 Rocky Mountain 1200.

Now I seem to get rain even on mid-length brevets.  We had rain during much of the night on the October 2012 Kanagawa 600, and again at night for the last 6-8 hours of the January 2013 Kinki Audax 400.

Cyclist culture varies by geography with regard to fenders.  Lots of riders in Japan complete audax events fenderless, even if rain is forecast.  The same in Europe, where lots of the PBP riders did not have fenders or true "randonneuring" set ups, and were on typical road racing bikes with 700x23mm tires.

But try to ride a Seattle International Randonneur (SIR) event in the rain without fenders and you will be treated just slightly better than a leper.  I started Cascade 1200 in June 2012 with just my seat post clip-on blade fender, and was soon firmly told to move to the rear of the pace line (in a voice that included a bit of thinly disguised contempt--a tone rare during Audax events and more suited to racers).

Apparently a rear fender with mudflap is intended primarily to prevent water from splashing the rider behind you, and is considered an essential part of cycling etiquette in those rainy parts.  Indeed, a blade, or larger rear seatbag, will protect my backside reasonably well, but does nothing for the person trying to draft behind me.  And as sage Sheldon Brown noted, fenders protect your bike from the road grit that can get inside your headset and, to some extent, reduce the amount of grime on your derailleur and brakes.
Seat post clip-on blade fenders on my aluminum and titanium bikes - just keep the spray off my back
So when I was in Vancouver BC last July, before RM 1200, I paid some attention to the wall full of fenders in each bike shop that I wandered through.  Again, fenders seemed to be essential equipment in a city where it rains all winter.


Axiom Fastback DLX Reflex.  I picked up a pair of clip-on plastic fenders that are designed to fit on a road bike that does not have fender attachment eyelets or significant extra brake/fork clearance.

These clip-on fenders, the "Axiom Fastback DLX Reflex", have mudflaps and a very nice reflective stripe.  Unfortunately, they do not attach well to my Reynolds Ouzo Pro fork.  And without eyelets and bolts to attach the fender directly to the bicycle frame, I could not manage to install them on a road frame in a way that is stable or did not rub against my tires, even when I used a 700x23 tire.  They were worthless for me.  Then again, they were not expensive, and I thought I might even cannibalize the mudflaps and some portion of the reflective striping.  BUT SEE BELOW -- I got these to work with a different fork and they are just fine ...


Procraft Rainbow Race 35.  Also in 2012, I ordered a cheap (18.50 Euro) pair of Procraft Rainbow Race 35 black plastic fenders that  require eyelets and use traditional hardware.  These I planned to use on the steel Yamabushi, with its cyclocross clearances and ample braze-ons and eyelets.

I only tried to install them in January, after putting the disk brake on the Yamabushi.  The disk brake completely blocked the path of the metal rod you can see in the photo, which extends from the eyelet near the front hub/axel and attaches at two places on the front fender.  With a metal rod on each side of each fender, there are 4 rods attaching in 8 places in all.  And they are way too wide and thick for my other bikes, even the Ti Travel Bike with its relatively generous brake clearances.

So they will sit in the garage, unusable and unused, for the time being.


Curana C Lite Alloy.  In late February, I rode the Yamabushi home from work, and stopped at the Potavel shop near the corner of Komazawa Dori and Kyu-Yamate Dori.  They had what looked like a very nice, light weight aluminum fender.  Better yet, the fender was noticeably stiffer than the plastic Procraft, and so required only a single rod for each of front and rear.  The rod attaches to the eyelets on both sides of the hub.  And since I had the bike with me at the shop, I could confirm that the disk brake would not interfere with the fender rod, nor the rod with the brake.  I bought the set and did the installation as soon as I returned home.

Front fender -- single rod wraps around the wheel and does not block the disk brake.
These Curana CLite alloy fenders are really great.  They look nice (to me), fit well, are stiff, easy to install and very light weight (apparently they are made from two thin aluminum layers, with plastic in between -- achieving much greater stiffness and weighing 30% less than plastic).  Yes, they did cost a bit more, around 5500 yen ($60).  But that is not so much considering that I wasted money at least the Fastback clip ons.  Highly recommended.

These fenders won an award at Eurobike 2008 ... so I am a bit late to the party!

They are now tested over many commutes and a few rides outside the city, and work as advertised.

My experience with the Procraft Rainbow 35 (useless for now) and the Curana C Lite Alloy (a great purchase) speaks to the importance of not buying a product online unless and until you really understand how it works with your bicycle.


Rear Clip-on Blade -- SKS Xtra Dry 3.  If you do want a rear clip-on blade fender, I swear by the SKS Xtra Dry 3.  It is designed for wide mountain bike tires, so still does the job even if knocked a bit off center.  The clip-on mechanism is very easy to use and adjust.  And it is light weight, fits easily in luggage, etc., etc.  Perfect for use on a road bike during a rainy one day event.


Update.  The Axiom Fastback DLX Reflex fenders work!

Fender clearance
I got a cheap Tifosi replacement fork for my Ti Travel bike, which has grommets for fenders, more room around the tire area and narrower blades.

I was going to put on the plastic traditional fenders, ... but need to tweak one piece of connecting hardware, so tried the Axiom Fastbacks.
They do fit, both front and rear, and seem reasonably secure.  And the mud flaps protect riders to the rear, unlike some other clip-on fenders.

No rubbing, with 700x23 tires on fairly wide rims (Velocity A23 or HED Belgian).  And now I can report that they also work with 700x25 tires (Conti Four Season Gran Prix 700x25), and over lengthy rides in the rain (14 hours of rain on the May 2013 Kanagawa Audax 400km Okitsu Classic).

The "quick release" feature is great.  I was planning on installing traditional fenders on the Ti travel bike ... but I very much like the QR feature -- the ability to remove them in a few seconds and just leave the hardware on my fork and seat stays -- I will stick with these for the time being.

Two minor issues.  First, the plastic latch that secures the right side of the rear fender broke.  Still, the fender stayed secure even without any latch over a 2-day ride.  And I was able to use superglue and a minor reinforcing piece to revive the latch, at least for the time-being.  Two months later, the plastic latch for the front left attachment also snapped off as I tried to assemble my bike after a train journey and put the fender on at the beginning of ride.  Again, these latches seem unnecessary ... but if they break, then why have them at all?

Second, the rear fender ends at the brake/seat stay, and so in heavier rain/standing water on the road there is definitely some spray off the wheel onto the seat tube and back of my legs.  Still, it is good to get 90% of the protection of a full fender with something that can come on and off in a minute or two.  Perfect for the travel bike.

Third, the fender attachments form large, ugly attachments on the fork and the seat stays.  These are semi-permanent features, even when the fenders are removed during travel or a ride on an entirely dry day.  I am not so worried about the aerodynamics, but these large plastic clumps defeat at least one of the reasons for a removable-style fender.

Update.  SKS Raceblade Long plastic removable fenders!  After a bit of browsing on Amazon, I realized that there is one removable fender that fits road bikes, is reasonably priced and seems to get near universally positive reviews.  Also, even though the product is manufacturer-rated for 18-23mm tires, online comments suggested that it works just fine with 700x25mm tires as well.  I purchased a set a few weeks ago from Wiggle (after carefully studying the attachments to confirm that they ought to fit my Ti Travel bike).  They arrived at the end of June and are now installed.

The "semi-permanent" attachments are smaller and less visible than on the Axiom Fastbacks.  The main attachments are small metal pieces that fit onto the front/rear quick release skewers.  By using the QR skewers, instead of some user-selected location on the fork and seat stays, the location is certain every time the fenders are taken on or off.  This allows use of a fixed length fender stay that wraps around the fender.  The fit is perfect for a 700x25mm tire (or 23mm or 20mm).  No need to tweak it.  No worries about the fender adjustment getting re-set after the bike leans against a wall and something gets knocked out of kilter. 
The other semi-permanent attachments attach to the brake.  One sticks out toward the rear, clipping to the main fender body.  A second sticks out to the front, allowing a 150mm attachment extending around the wheel in front of the fork (front) or seat stay (rear).  Significantly better coverage than the Axiom Fastback, without the need to fit a fender through a narrow area under a road bicycle brake.  Plus, as with the Axiom, the product includes mudflaps for extended coverage.  No backwash for a rider following in a paceline.  
On the other hand, there is still slightly less than full rear fender coverage along the seat tube, and no front or rear coverage under the brake itself.  
One of the semi-permanent attachments looks like this:
Although it take a bit of work to get these installed in the first instance, once they are on, the fender just slides on, and comes off with a small push on a tab.  
Here is the 150mm attachment to the rear fender, with the plastic tab visible:
Assuming no problems experienced over the next few weeks, I will use the SKS Raceblade Long fenders instead of the Axiom Fastbacks for London Edinburgh London.
"Final" LEL setup, including SKS Raceblade Long fenders?

New Acquisition - 3 wheeler

We got some new wheels for our youngest, Max, age 8, recently.  On sale recently at a nearby shop.

Max has had some back problems (herniated disk) ... and seems to be showing his age after many years of perfect health.  I just hope that once he mends he will be able to go up and down the stairs in our house again at least for the next few years!

17 February 2013

Kita (Nishi) Kaze ni Makeru Na! Don't give in to the North (West) wind!

If last week's Gunma 200 km Brevet was a bit of a disappointment because of the 530AM Sunday traffic on the Kanetsu expressway and the lack of true Gunma February winds ... yesterday's 300 km Aoba Randonneurs-sponsored event met and exceeded all expectations.

Notably, it was another one day ride that included the stretch in Gunma east of Takasaki, and at two points (that I noticed) took the same roads as last week.

But this time, Jerome and I would get to and from Gunma by bicycle.  And we also could get to and from the start/goal by bicycle.  So no traffic jams, no tolls, no gasoline stations.  And we could ride 300 (actually 330) instead of 200 kms, leaving home at the same time and getting back only a few hours later, after a family restaurant stop at the finish with Tominaga-san and the organizers near Yanokuchi.

The temperatures were cold, below freezing the first few hours and again at night, never really warming much in the day, despite sunlight.

And the wind was fierce, much of the time above 10 meters per second (40 kph/25 mph), and gusting higher.  This was the true "don't give in to the wind" ride.

Jerome and I were the first riders through the bike check and started out with another faster rider who, fortunately, knew the route well.  We were caught at a traffic light by a large group after about 2kms, but the fast rider gunned it over an overpass (on which bicycles were permitted, I might add), and Jerome and I did our best to follow.  Pretty much everyone else took the surface road, and it was another 30 or 40 kms before we saw a few others.  The fast rider would pull ahead, then we would catch him at the next red traffic light -- a pattern that went on for at least 20 kms.  These roads are not pleasant at mid-day, but between 6 and 8AM on a winter Saturday morning, they were fine.

We got really fierce headwinds on the stretch running NW toward Takasaki.  Jerome was working with two other riders, but I was well back, alone. Crossing the bridge pictured below, SW of Honjo, I managed only 14 kph, even though I had refueled with an energy bar where I snapped this photo.

The run to the east from Takasaki to Tochigi was fast and easy -- flat and with a tailwind.  The only issue was congestion amid the suburban sprawl around Isesaki, as it was now mid-day.

There was a memorably nice stretch (with tail/cross wind) along the top of a levy Northwest of Koga (Ibaraki).   And other nice stretches as the course hugged the hills of western Saitama north of Hanno.

We struggled going straight into the wind around Hanyu and Gyoda in northern Saitama, fatigued from having ridden more than 200km.  Jerome pretty much pulled me through that stretch at a speed of maybe 20-21 kph.
I wore my PBP vest and yellow Assos wind block jacket, the latter in honor of Juliane P.'s yellow Assos and also with a hint of Uma Thurman's yellow jump suit in "Kill Bill".   Kita Kanto Expressway above.
Jerome, at what he declared one of our "best rest areas" -- tucked beneath the pillars of the Kita Kanto  Expressway, cars roaring by behind and overhead, modest bits of trash strewn around.
At the 250km last control point, with 57 kms still to go, it started to get really cold.  Tominaga-san, who had pulled in to the prior controls just as we were leaving, had closed the gap and arrived only 5 minutes or so after us.  We have seen him at many other events, and he was one of the few finishers on the last Brevet I rode with Jerome -- the October 2012 600km Kanagawa monster.  Jerome and I rode with him to the finish.  Jerome and Tominaga-san opened up a gap on me on the longish, very gradual hill south of Hanno, but they waited for me on the other side, and I could keep up (and pull my share) the rest of the way to the goal.

We were finishers 6, 7 and 8, out of close to 60 who started, with a time of just over 15 hrs 30 mins.  The next cohort did not arrive until 50 minutes later -- the wind taking its toll.

11 February 2013

Not-Epic Brevet

On Sunday I joined the February 10 Gunma Audax 200 km Brevet, titled by its organizers「北風に負けるな」, which roughly translates as "don't lose to the North Wind".  

I had tried to sign up for a few 200km Brevets closer to town ... but the inevitably filled up the instant that online sign-up opened.  Audax Japan is considering establishing a series of "permanent" courses, like RUSA and some others, to take the pressure off of the applications for the shorter brevets.

And what is the point of a 200km brevet in any event?  No night riding.  Nothing epic.  And not a race.  

Still, I have struggled with 200km events in the past.  In early March 2010, I rode one out of Utsunomiya while recovering from a shoulder injury, also early in the year.  I was on record pace until I had a flat tire that took 15-20 minutes to fix along a path in a hillside.  Then I struggled the last half of the route, into headwinds and eventually dark with an elapsed time over 11 hours.  In January 2011, I rode one in Shizuoka, that had one of the stiffest headwinds I can remember ever facing on my bicycle.  The cold and wind made it really slow, and epic in its way, almost 12 hours in all.  Last year's 200 km events were Day 3 and Day 4 of the Tohoku 1700, much of these routes along beautiful coastline in Akita and Aomori, and sandwiched between more challenging 600km and 300km events.   That is the right way to plan a 200km Brevet!

This year, I just wanted to get the 200km ride out of the way, so I will have my 200/300/400/600km series by mid-year, and qualify for an event I want to do this summer.

The Gunma course was flat, much of it through mixed use, sprawl and farmland that covers much of the flat areas of Japan.  There was some wind, but not enough to slow us down.  The weather was what I would expect in December in Kanto -- clear, dry and cold, but with a high of 8 degrees C.  No February rain or snow this weekend, at least.

The biggest challenge was the traffic jam on the Kan-Etsu highway.  I left home at 450AM, expecting to arrive around 630AM just in time for the "briefing" and 650-700AM start.  Instead, I found myself sitting in traffic on the main expressway out of Tokyo to the Northwest.   No accident, no construction, so why was there a traffic jam at 530AM on Sunday in the middle of a 3 day weekend?  A reminder of why I avoid driving in Japan whenever possible.

I made it to the start area at 7:23AM, a few minutes to spare before they closed down at 7:30AM, having called ahead to one of the participants who warned the organizers to expect me.  I signed in, completed my bike check at 7:28, and went back to my car to get prepared to ride -- shoes on, etc.   I set out around 7:35 or 7:40, the last participant onto the course.  I pushed the pace at first, then moderated once I started to see and pass other riders.  

I stopped for food/rest at 67, 101, 140 and 170 kilometers, the only official checkpoint being the 101 km turn around, the others just randomly selected convenience stores from among the hundreds and hundreds that this course passed.  I rolled back into the finish at around 425PM, for an official time of 8 hours 57 minutes, about 3 hours faster than the Shizuoka 200km from 2011, almost 2 1/2 hours faster than the Utsunomiya 200km from 2010 ... but still very much a Brevet pace.  Not anywhere near fast enough to contend with the stronger riders at Tokyo Itoigawa, for example.

The ride itself was uneventful.  There were some nice views of rivers and of mountains to the North and West, and lots of sprawl.  The organizers were limited in their choices for a course in February in Gunma.  Any attempt to leave the flat plain around Takasaki and to the Southeast would risk snow and ice.  So this is what I expected, and not bad for a February ride.  

We were greeted at the finish with bowls of hot "tonjiru" (pork soup), hot water for coffee, and folding chairs in a tent to chat and rest for awhile before packing up and heading out again into the traffic.

02 February 2013

The Power of Kawaii?

This just in -- a scientific study asserting that viewing cute ("kawaii" in Japanese) images improves performance of various tasks.  No, not related to cycling, but bizarre enough to be worth taking note.  It must be the Japaense love of "kawaii" that has led to its precision manufacturing prowess!

And if it works with fine motor skills, then ... could it also work with athletics?  I guess it is not likely to help with strength and endurance sports such as cycling or running, but maybe in the future NBA teams will try to boost their free throw shooting percentages, and golfers to improve their putting scores, by carrying flashcards with their favorite photos of puppies, kittens and other baby animals?