26 January 2014

Pedaling Rectangles, Osymetrically

Winter view from North side of Lake Tsukui.  Snow toward Mt. Tanzawa.
On Saturday, the weather was its warmest in weeks.  Even with a layer of clouds, it was over 10 degrees (C) in the Sagamiko/lower Doshi area.  I rode out Onekansen Doro, north side of Lake Tsukui, up Doshi Michi, then onto Kanagawa Route 76, then Route 517.  Then back of Otarumi Pass, through Takao, along the Asagawa and home.  About 135 kms in all, on well-traveled routes.

Tall, dry Susuki grasses along Route 76 in winter.
This time, I had a new toy.

I've had an NOS (new old stock) FSA Team Issue standard size crankset (130 BCD/172.5mm arms) sitting in the garage for years.  It was a warranty replacement provided when the original (an earlier design) had a problem with the left crank arm delaminating.  For Christmas, I finally got myself some chainrings for this crankset.  Instead of yet another 53/39 crank, I ordered a set of Osymetric chainrings.

Osymetric chainrings?  These are what Bradley Wiggins (excuse me, I meant Sir Bradley Wiggins) and Chris Froome each used in 2012, when they finished 1-2 in the Tour de France.  Sir Bradley also used them during his gold medal performance in the London Olympics TT.
52/42 rings.  But the 42 ring is quite narrow where you pedal through your "dead spot".
The general idea is that your legs are like the pistons of an engine, so chainrings should be more like cams, with the shape of the ring to match the part of your pedal stroke where your legs deliver the most/least power. The shape is irregular, but you can almost see 4 sides with rounded transitions.  The inventor, a small French company, has some fairly extravagant claims.

The earliest versions were said to look home-made, and the majority opinion was that they look odd, weird, or ugly.  But the current version looks solid and professionally finished, and in a black finish other riders will barely notice the shape.

Reviews are not clear about whether the effect is real or a gimmick.  Some riders have an immediate positive reaction.  And the idea is simple.  At least if Wiggins and Froome used them in 2012 then at least they cannot do much harm!  Wiggins dropped them in 2013.  Froome -- seems to be using them as he crests Mt. Ventoux, one of the most memorable performances in recent history of the Tour.  They seem more popular with long-legged riders, whose angle of motion is slightly different.
Froome at Mt. Ventoux.  See chainring.
Arashiro bottles
They were easy to install, and with a minor adjustment of the front derailleur (moving it up the seat tube so there would be enough clearance at the largest part of the chainring) they shift fine.  It takes a big push of the front derailleur lever to get up on the big ring, but a minor cable adjustment should help.
And no, the chain does not fall off.

TT warmup
I had an almost immediate positive reaction.  The pedalling motion felt different only for a few minutes, pulsating, almost.  But quickly the difference is barely noticeable.  Except I did feel as if it was easier to push the pedals than usual.  I could spin to accelerate beyond normal speed/cadence without the straining my muscles as much as I otherwise would have.  I think I could perhaps reach and sustain a higher cadence with this shape of chainring.  Of course, in reality, my cardio limit quickly becomes apparent, so I am not sure that I end up riding any faster.  But even if the limiting factor is my cardio system, over a long ride I think less strain on the leg muscles can only help.  And with a bit of practice I might learn to climb sustainably without my enthusiasm pushing into the red zone.

Looking at the data for my ride Saturday ... I rode no faster than normal.  Will I keep these on my bike?  Can I climb the Japanese hills with a 42-tooth inside chainring?  It is too soon to decide.  Even if they do increase my speed a bit, I worry a bit that using them while training will just keep my dead spot ... dead.  But maybe if they let me work on pushing my cardio limit without working so much about leg fatigue, they will help?  And they might have real benefits for an event -- either a race or a multi-day, really long ride like LEL, PBP or Hokkaido 1200?  Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  On Monday morning, I hopped on a different bike for the commute to work, with a Shimano 50/34 compact crank.  For the first minutes, it felt WEIRD.  Just as odd as the first few minutes on the Osymetrics.  I am really surprised that I "adjusted" to the Osymetrics so quickly.  Of course, after 2-3 minutes, again I felt normal on the round cranks.

19 January 2014

Our Training Partner

Jerome and I rode up to Nariki/Naguri, just into Chichibu, and back again today.  It was cold in the morning, but we were relieved that at least it had not snowed at all overnight, as feared.  Most of the day, there was not a cloud in the blue winter sky.  We passed Futakotamagawa just as the Sunday 730am social  "coffee ride" of foreigners was leaving and crossing the bridge (on their way upriver -- eventually to Seijo Gakuenmae for Starbucks).  I wanted to see if my friend Jon T. was with them (not this week, it turned out), so we also crossed the river.
Jerome's bike and clothes at a rest stop somewhere around Hamura.  Is the other our training partner's bike?
As we turned upriver along the path on the Kawasaki side of the river, we were met by another training partner.  Mr. Hokusei-Kaze.  He forced us to work hard all morning as we headed to North and West.  Indeed, it was hard anyway to get going in the cold, and the wind made it that much worse,  So we worked hard but were not going much over 25 kph.  My cycling mentor Bob R. used to say that a headwind is your training partner.  If I think about the wind that way, I do not mind it so much.  Yes, the ride is a bit of a struggle (until the return leg!), but it just adds to the training.

We were on the Kawasaki side of the river, so decided to go over the "hospital hill" past Tama Hills and then up the local "iroha zaka" hill.  That set a theme.  Lots of little climbs.  By the end of the day, around 1400 meters, including 9 "cat 4" climbs.  Of course, the climbs along Nariki, but also side trips up the Rindo that leads toward the back entrance to Nenogongen, and up to Arima Dam, and over the hill to Ikusabata on the way back.

Tama Hills, Irohazaka, and 9 Cat 4s, ....  add up.
Our highpoint, just over 400m elevation, on the Rindo between Naguri and 299.
Lake Naguri at Arima Dam, with Arima Pass in the background

We stopped at Stephen's place on the way back.  Jerome needed to meet someone there, so I headed back into town, but not without a stop at our favorite P.E. approved bakery, Aurore, in front of Oume Station, for some sustenance.  Mmmm.

When I asked if I could take a photo, the girls put on a spontaneous display of V signs.
All in all, it was not one of our longer rides -- just under 140kms.  But it was hard, and I am knackered more than I have been after any ride in at least the past few months.  The best kind of exhaustion.

18 January 2014

First look at the Tiny Busch Mueller Eyc T Dynamo Light

A new dynamo light arrived yesterday from Bike24.  It is the Busch & Mueller Lumotec IQ2 Eyc T Senso Plus  It is very bright (50 Lux), has a switch and on/off sensor, was reasonably priced (far less than half the cost of a Supernova E3 or a SON Edelux).   Reasonably broad beam pattern and plenty visible to ride relatively fast on a dark road.  And the "Senso Plus" indicates that it has daytime running lights and automatically senses darkness.

All that makes it seem to be a very good product. 

But wait, there's more!

The most remarkable feature of this light is that it is small.  Very small. tiny, miniscule.
Fits in the palm of my hand!
Mounts easily on the front brake holder.
Close-up shot
As a result of the small size, it fits on my brake mount and clears all of the hardware -- including the braise on shifter barrel adjustments/guides that get in the way of every other dynamo light I have tried to mount here on the Ti Travel bike!

I also purchased and installed my first rear light for dynamo use.  I got a Philips light that claims "220 degree visibility" and offers a seatpost attachment, a major advantage in my case over those that attach to a rear rack for example.  It is a bit large and clunky, but seems to work quite well.

Now, just a matter of using the Eyc T enough to confirm its durability.  See my earlier review of various dynamo lights.

Wheel No 00016

Spoke head washers
Last weekend, my ride with Jerome was cut short by a broken spoke on my rear wheel.  I was riding the last rear wheel I purchased from a third party before I started building my own.  It consists of a White Industries H3 hub, Velocity A23 rim, and 36 DT revolution 3-cross spokes.  This wheel has seen me through numerous long rides, including Tohoku 1700, Cascade 1200 and Rocky Mountain 1200 in 2012.  The 36 spoke design was intended for such events.

But its spokes do break from time to time.  It was a mistake to use DT Revolution spokes on the drive side (as I learned after reading The Art of Wheelbuilding, by Gerd Schraner).  And Hiroshi had recently suggested that as long as I was using 36 spokes, I should try 4-cross for the strongest result.

Still, even if I do break a spoke, it is possible to finish a long ride on a 35 spoke wheel without feeling as if one's equipment is compromised or dangerous.  And it is easy to use a spoke wrench to true the wheel laterally and ride on.

Last weekend, as well, the bike was still rideable with a broken spoke, but it had some rubbing at the brake pad.  I did not have a spoke wrench with me for what had been planned as a short spin.  We were near Y's bike shop on the Tamagawa, and so ducked into a fast food restaurant in Tachikawa to get some coffee and wait until Y's opened .  They were kind enough to lend me a spoke wrench.  But when I trued the wheel laterally, the wheel developed a "hop" -- a bump where it was not quite round.  And even when I tightened the relevant spokes, the hop remained.

I had had enough.  Time to rebuild!   There are still years of life in the rim and hub.  Here is the rebuilt wheel, with DT Competition 2.0/1.8mm spokes on the drive side, and DT Revolution 2.0/1.5mm again on the non-drive, with 36 spokes in a 4-cross pattern.  And, of course, spoke head washers.  No, not the lightest design, but with this build, the spokes are no longer the weakest link.
Number 00016 -- A new wheel, with used rim and hub.
In the truing stand.  Label on hub lines up with valve hole -- check.

These hubs have seen many thousands of kilometers/miles.  I hope they will see many, many more!

13 January 2014

Panasonic Beauty

I still belong to some Google Groups I joined in preparation for the two 1200km randonnees I rode in  the U.S.A. and Canada during summer of 2012.  I enjoy seeing what is going on from time to time in these groups, with whom I hope to ride again.

Last month, there was a post from a group member asking for help getting in touch with a Seattle-based framebuilder.  The member had paid a deposit months earlier ... and had not heard any update or even gotten an email response from the builder in months.  He said another customer was in the same predicament.  Was the builder sick?  bankrupt?  Left town on a multi-month bike trip without a smartphone or email?  or just unprofessional?  Well, the builder's reputation is pretty much burnt toast after several other individuals joined the thread with "I also have not had any word from him in 6 months", each message blast on a grouplist with hundreds of local randonneurs/would be randonneurs.  And then even after the builder responded to the group that the situation was complicated and he would explain to each customer off the group list ... a week or two later someone else revived the "where is he" thread.

This kind of thing is not unheard of.  Framebuilders do not go into the business because they are good at accounting, highly organized, or want to live a regimented existence in a large organization.  They are sole proprietors and free spirits.  Of course, framebuilding is a business, and customer interaction is the key in sorting out who among those that attain a core level of craftsmanship actually survive and prosper.

I am building up a bike for a Japanese friend/colleague.  He and I agreed that steel is most appropriate material in this case, so I consulted Hiroshi at C Speed about the best way to go about getting a nice steel frame in a 52-53cm size.  Hiroshi suggested Panasonic's order made frame service.  The frame is not "custom".  But it is "order made" from a wide range of options -- standard geometry, but several different tubesets, and sized to the single cm (in this case a 53cm C-T seat tube, not 52cm nor 54cm).  Also there are many options for paint, logo size/placement, and an optional owner/rider name on the top tube.  Hiroshi tells me that Panasonic -- which has made great frames for many decades -- has a team of 6 builders on staff.  And it is Made in Japan.  国産.

(By the way, new cars in Japan also are "order made" -- not purchased from dealer inventory, but manufactured at the factory exactly to options selected by and for the specific customer.)

Panasonic offers delivery within 1 month of the order.  The cost, including frame, fork and threaded headset, is around $1000 (less for heavier steel, a bit more for Tange Prestige or Reynolds 8630; a lot more for titanium).

UPDATE:  The final bike can be seen here.

Panasonic Tange Prestige Cro-Mo steel frame -- with optional paint in Panasonic signature colors.
The only downside, from my perspective, is the "Panasonic" logo, which I associate with electronic goods, not bicycles.  But Japanese remember the Panasonic/National frames of days past and so do not have the same issues with the brand.

As for the wheels, Hiroshi had sitting in his shop a beautiful (barely) used rear wheel, with Dura Ace 7403/Hyperglide freewheel hub, Hoshi 1.8mm spokes and Mavic Open Pro blue rim.

This week, I built up the front wheel (Wheel No. 00015) -- a blue rim to match (Kinlin X Keymet XR240), with a (500 yen closeout sale) Tiagra hub and 3X 32 DT Revolution spokes.  Not quite the same level of components as the rear wheel, but the color matches, and I hope my colleague will like road cycling enough so that this is not the last wheel he ever uses.

Wheel No 00015
Wheel Set -- now with Panaracer 700x26 tires and Ultegra 6600 12-27 cassette.  And Panasonic rim tape.
And Panasonic will not likely go incommunicado before delivery (.. despite the parent company losing more money in each the past 3 fiscal years than the entire profits of all bicycle manufacturers since the beginning of history).  I look forward to taking delivery of the frame and getting work on the build before the end of the month!

UPDATE:  The final bike can be seen here.

03 January 2014

Ekiden Ride

On January 2 we did the traditional Ekiden Ride, along the course of the Hakone Ekiden to Odawara.

I rode with my sons, who had no problem keeping reasonably close to me this year.  We made it to Route 1/Route 16 in time to catch the TCC group, led by Fumiki and Delta Force, and rode with them through Totsuka.  Fumiki ignored the police waving us onto the side road, but the rest of us meandered via Totsuka Station and rejoined the Route 1 bypass at the top of a hill, at the Ekiden's Totsuka checkpoint.  Soon after, my boys and I pulled off at a convenience store and the rest of team TCC went ahead.  We made it to Odawara, enjoyed lunch and hopped the train home.

It looks as if Fumiki made it up to Ashinoko and over the Tsubaki Line climb, and back via Oku Yugawara, Manazuru etc.

Weather was spectacular, the roads were crowded, and we ended up steering off course to get a few more kilometers riding directly on the water's edge.  Surfers were heading out to enjoy the sunshine.

01 January 2014

Rest in Winter

Jerome invited Misako and me to join the family Bouhet for a dinner of steamed mussels in garlic broth last month in his neighborhood.  Special guests at the dinner were Yukiya Arashiro and his significant other, Miwa Iijima.  It was a fun event, with plenty of mussels, fried potatoes (French fries? Freedom fries?) and beer followed by several bottles of wine.

Yukiya went straight from Ishigakijima to rural France at age 19 to pursue his dream of becoming a pro cyclist, and has made it as far as being Japan national champion, first Japanese rider -- with Fumi Beppu -- to complete the Tour du France (and first to have completed both the Tour and the Giro), a member of the Europcar Pro Tour (now World Tour?) team, "most aggressive rider" in a stage of the 2012 Tour de France, and winner of the 4 day Tour du Limousin in 2012.  He is now 29 and so could have his peak years just ahead.  He is a popular, aggressive/attacking rider, more than capable of winning a stage in a Grand Tour.

My theory is that one reason he has been so successful is that he went straight to France.  For awhile there was a theory of multinationals that would try to succeed in Asia by "Japan passing" instead of "Japan bashing" -- going straight to other markets in Asia without worrying or complaining about the difficultiies of succeeding in Japan.  Arashiro-san has done the opposite by going straight to the world.  He is kind of like those intrepid Japanese high school students who reject the entreaties of their "sempai" and skip Tokyo University to instead study abroad at Yale, MIT, Harvard, or Oxbridge.  If you want to play on a world stage, best to get out of the Japanese "system" as soon as possible.  Yes, Arashiro-san now has Japanese sponsors and fans, but he was able to develop in relative obscurity for awhile, and far better than anyone who had stayed in Japan longer, he is able to speak fluent French and to fit in well on a French (might one say a VERY French) team, dominated by Thomas Voeckler and now Pierre Rolland.

In any event, he told us that in the December off-season he could relax and enjoy life, without worrying about training.  He would soon be off to Thailand to start preparation for the 2014 season, but Nov/Dec offered a period of rest and recuperation, even an opportunity to eat mussels and drink alcohol without worrying about the next morning's early departure.

We all need a break like this, even amateur cyclists such as Jerome and myself.  So here we are, already 22 hours into the New Year, and my 2014 kilometer log shows a big goose egg -- zero.  Today was a day devoted to family and food, with a little blogging and online shopping mixed in.

Starting tomorrow, we ride again.  But only for fun, with my sons, on the lowland portion of the annual Ekiden Ride

I already have in mind my 2014 cycling goals, so there is plenty of time to map out my training plan for 2014, then implement.  For now, I rest.