27 April 2014

GW Ride 1 -- Remembrance of Chichibu Past

Spectacular view of blossoming trees, from Shomaru Pass
My first foray over Yamabushi Touge and up onto the Green Line was the TCC Okumusashi Madness ride back in September 2008.  It was a hot day, and trying to keep up wtih Alan, Naomi and other stronger riders along Nariki Kaido then into Naguri did not help.  Jerome overheated and sat in the river along Nariki Kaido, then headed home.  David, Juliane and I ended up taking a wrong turn off Route 299 and climbing in the heat up to the Green Line at the wrong point, where we would never hope to catch the TCC train. We ate soba at a nice viewpoint, then headed back, making a wrong turn and swinging way east into Saitama, then hopping a train exhausted by the heat and the prospect of a long slog through traffic home.  Saitama in the summer.

Then there was a great ride with Jerome and Juliane in late autumn 2008, among spectacular red leaves, as we sent Juliane on her way to London.  And a series of others - Nenogongen, Arima Pass with Tom and Nishibe-san and more.  But somehow I get to Chichibu less often now than in the early days of exploration. 

So I was delighted to return today, in spectacular weather, on a solo ride with no planned route, but full of possibilities.  I ended up taking a tried and true route -- out through Nariki and Naguri, the climb to Yamabushi and Shomaru passes, then the climb to Karibazaka in spectacular flowering trees.  
On Narikikaido
The Holy Fountain before the climb to Yamabushi
The classic bike-leaning photo, yama-sakura casting shade on the Karibazaka Pass sign post 
On the climb to Karibazaka.  Flowering trees everywhere.
 From Karibazaka I headed East/Southeast along the Green Line over several humps -- Iimori Pass and Yoburi Pass, among others.

From the Green Line looking SW
Green on the Green Line, and almost no traffic
Then a stop at the same soba shop as I had with David and Juliane in September 2008.  In 2008 there was a group of older couples who had finished some work on communal garden plots on the hillside and were enjoying soba (and alcohol) before returning home.  The alcohol made them less inhibited and they wanted to talk.  This time there was an even bigger group of people who had finished a hanami (blossom viewing) trip and were enjoying soba and alcohol.  They gave me some "soba-yu". Upon hearing that I had come via bicycle, an old lady -- must have been 90 years old -- wanted to touch my arm -- "chikara wo morau tame" -- to get some of my "power".  Plus there was a group of at least 15 cyclists, including several women, on an organized ride including support van.  
Hanami and Soba
Then it was down the steep descent, and onto Route 299 SE into Hanno, then back via Oume.
Even Route 299 into Hanno looked glorious.
The trip home was tough, with a stiff headwind most of the way once I started heading SE.  

167 km, and 2100 meters of climbing in all. 

26 April 2014

Review of wide rims to come ... Velocity A23, HED Belgium/HED Jet, Sun XCD, TNI, H Plus Son, GS Astuto Continental

As a heavier cyclist (around 95kg), I was an obvious target for the marketing buzz some years back when HED came out with its wider 23mm "Belgium" series of rims for aluminum (Ardennes, Bastogne, etc.) and carbon-faired (JET) clincher wheels.

At the time, I was still focused on SPEED more than DISTANCE, and the marketing/technical theory was that a wider rim formed a smoother transition to a 700x23 tire, resulting in better aerodynamics.  I loved the counterintuitive idea -- a fatter wheel equals a more aerodynamic wheel.

Also, of course, with a wider clincher rim, a wider surface of tire is actually touching the road.  But this, I was told, also helps the tire to roll more efficiently AND improves stability/cornering, etc.
HED Jet 6 wheels -- look fast even at rest with a fully loaded bike!

In 2010, I purchased online a set of HED Jet 6 wheels, and have enjoyed them since.  They "woosh" as you ride, and they are very fast even in crosswinds.  They look fast.  After the initial break-in period, I have tried to save them mostly for events when I will really benefit from their aerodynamic advantages.  But even so, after a few years wear on the braking surfaces is very noticeable, the carbon fairing around one valve hole is torn, and there is serious scoring on soft, lightweight aluminum of the rear cassette body -- to the point where I struggle to get a cassette on or off, and strongly favor using the outrageously expensive, very nice SRAM one-piece 1090 Powerdome cassette now with this cassette body.
Velocity A23/White Industries hubs ... on Norikura
Velocity A23/White Industries hubs -- on the Cervelo
After getting the Jet 6 wheels, in summer of 2011 I ordered a pair of aluminum clincher wheels with Velocity A23 rims (23mm wide, White Industries' beautiful polished hubs, 36 spoke rear and 28 spoke front).

At 2011 PBP I had made the mistake of riding on a pair of standard Mavic Open Pro rims, with 700x23 tires at "normal" road bike pressure of around 100psi.  The chip sealed portions of the road were punishing on my hands, feet and butt.  I learned that many randonneurs, especially the Americans I met at PBP, scoffed at the idea of riding "normal" 700x23 road tires at 100psi.  They were riding 700x25mm, or 700x28mm tires, or even 650B wheels with 30mm or fatter tires, at lower pressures.  Somehow, they could zoom along at very high cruising speeds despite these fatter tires and lower air pressure, and without the punishment I had suffered.

I was hooked on the idea of at least a slightly wider rim and tire.  Wide enough for improved aerodynamics with a 700x23 or 700x24 (Open Pave!) tire, or that would work well with a 700x25 or 700x27~28 tire.  But not so wide that my bike would no longer look like a road bike, or slow noticeably.

The Velocity A23/White Industries wheels I got worked well.  I built up a second pair of Velocity A23-based wheels with Chris King classic hubs (32/32 spokes) I got deeply discounted at the end of my framebuilding class at UBI.  And I added 2 more A23-based front wheels with Shutter Precision SV-8/PV-8 dynamo hubs and CX-Ray spokes for randonneuring.   These Velocity A-23 based wheels have served me very well over the past 2-plus years, including a host of 400, 600, 1200km and longer randonneuring events.  They are comfortable, and with an adequate number of spokes they are sturdy, and when an occasional spoke does break, the wheel is still rideable.  The front wheels have been essentially trouble-free.  Especially the wheels with dynamo hubs and CX Ray spokes.

36 spoke A23/White Industries rear -- rebuilt 4-cross pattern.  Bombproof. 

As for the 2 rear wheels, after a few broken spokes in succession, earlier this year I rebuilt the 36 spoke White Industries hubbed wheel to switch from DT Revolution (2.0/1.5mm)/3-cross to a 4-cross/DT Competition (2.0/1.8mm) drive side/DT Revolution non-drive side.

The wheel with Chris King hub was already built with DT Competition drive side/DT Revolution non-drive side (32 spoke/3 cross) and worked great ... until the recent spoke pull through sent the rim to the garbage bin.  So all of a sudden, I needed a new rear rim to rebuild around the Chris King hub.
Oops.  Spoke nipple pulls through my A23 rear rim, after 2+ years and 10,000+kms of service.
The most likely candidates being the Velocity A23 and the HED Belgium C2 rims, I searched online.  Neither was in stock and available from the likely candidates WITHIN Japan, nor from the sites I usually use in Europe (Wiggle, Bike 24, CRC, etc.).  I could find them in the U.S., or on Ebay, but the HED rim is very expensive (well over $100, with another $50 or more for shipping).  And the Velocity A23 also is quite expensive when you add international shipping charges from the U.S.  Not practical for a single rim order, best to wait and order a set of wheelgoods and other items.

So I looked for wide-rim alternatives, and found a few.

Mirror mirror on the wall ...
Very shiny
An obvious choice is the H Plus Son Archetype.  These came out a few years ago, from China, and have been well received.  They look great.  They are a slightly higher rim, at 25mm.  470g.  MOB last year built up a pair of the black Archetypes.  I ordered a set of the high polish version.  $75 each, plus $40 shipping for the pair.  A bit expensive, but looking nice enough for a show bike.  These I will set aside until I get the right hub/spoke combination.

Within Japan, I found 2 others that I could buy online at Worldcycle.  First, a Sun XCD (model SXR702) 32 hole rim targeted at the randonneur market.  The rim is 22mm wide, and has eyelets -- no rim pull-through likely.  The rim is a bit heavier than the Velocity A23, at 490g, but still well within the range of road (as opposed to "touring") rims.
SunXCD -- with eyelets for a change
I also ordered a TNI CX28 rim (32 holes).  Hiroshi had recommended this rim to me a few months back.  It is another 23mm wide rim, slightly deeper (28mm high), also 490g.  And at 4000 yen (under $40) it is the least expensive of the bunch.

Comparison by ERD, outside width, height, weight:

Velocity A23 -- 601mm, 23mm, 19.5mm, 451g
HED Belgium C2 -- 594mm, 23mm, 24mm, 462g
H Plus Son Archetype -- 595mm, 23mm, 25mm, 470g
TNI CX28 -- 582.5mm, 23mm, 28mm, 490g
Sun XCD -- 599mm, 22mm, 19.5mm, 490g

With all the rims weighing between 450 and 500 grams, and 22-23mm wide, and 19.5-28mm high, I will be surprised if I notice any difference as I build and use them over coming months and years.

In a year or two, I should be able to do a good comparison of the A23, Archetype, TNI and SunXCD rims.  Stay tuned ...

HUB UPDATE May 3, 2014:  I will build up one of the rims with my Chris King Classic rear hub, which was on the A23 rim that went to the garbage bin.  I will build another with a Sun XCD high flange rear hub, and the third with an Ultegra 6800 rear hub.  The Chris King Classic is back from a complete maintenance/overhaul, and the other 2 hubs arrived this morning.
--The Chris King has only tiny scoring on the cassette body after 2 years of intense use, and is a great hub - spins like new.
-- The Ultegra 6800 feels, well, soft, in comparison.  At least it will work with 10 or 11 speed cassettes.  It together with the Fulcrum 3 2-way wheels I got last month start me toward a transition to potentially getting a bike with an 11 speed groupset, next year.
-- The Sun XCD looks nice and I am looking forward to trying it.

I am planning to use the Chris King Classic with the H Plus Son Archetype rear rim (and a dynamo hub for the front wheel), build the Sun XCD with the Sun XCD rim -- for randonneuring -- and the Ultegra hub with the TNI rim.


As you can see in some later wheel-related posts, the H Plus Son rims built up beautifully. They are very solid, the spoke nipples somehow slot in perfectly and adjust perfectly.  The only downside I can see is that it is a bit harder to fit new tires onto these rims than some others.

The Sun XCD rims -- are "produced by Alex Rims".  I was shocked to see that the valve hole is not directly opposite the label / joint in the rim, but 1 spoke off!  Is there any impact in practice?  I expect not.  But this seems a basic QC miss.

Finally, I have noticed that the A23 rims I have used over the past 3 years have taken considerable, visible punishment.  Not just the spoke pull through, but various minor dings and deformations.  These are not going to last forever.

I found a great online summary of wide-rim options at Fairwheel bikes forum site, dating from early 2013.   These folks are much more knowledgeable than I am, and so I commend it to you.  At the Fairwheel site they suggest the A23 rims are "soft" compared with some of the others and do better with higher spoke counts.  I would tend to agree, especially based on the wear I can now see on mine.  I wish I could find/try the Pacenti SL23 rim in Japan ...  have not seen it (it does look similar to the TNI CX-28, but is a bit lighter, "tubeless friendly" ... and costs more than 2x).

FURTHER RIM UPDATE (December 2014):

I ordered some more H Plus Son rims -- black version.  They have been available on Wiggle in recent months at around $60 per rim (Wiggle "platinum" price).  I have just built up a set of wheels and will post about them in due course, and I have 2 more black H Plus Son rims to build up this winter.

Lots more to come about those rims ... and some other hubs ... and another set of wheels with wide rim carbon clinchers I will discuss in coming weeks!!!

WHEEL UPDATE:  I now have over 800 kms on a new pair of wide rim Gokiso carbon clinchers.  A completely different category than what is presented above.  Love at first spin.  See The Gokiso Story / Gokiso Monogatari.

GS ASTUTO - Continental:  Tim Smith at GS Astuto is now selling a wide rim clincher, the GS Astuto Continental.  Hiroshi is using these and is very happy with them.  I have seen them at C Speed and they look very nice!

Saturday near Futako with MOB

Last Saturday MOB and I spent part of the afternoon visiting areas near Kaminoge.  We had already gone to Positivo a few days before, and MOB had been back since, so we checked out a few of the other quirkier shops.

On the way to lunch in Jiyu-ga-oka, we made a brief stop at the CPW Skate Shop with its high rider bikes.

The proprietor, full tattoos on both arms, was delighted to learn that a Bremen-based anarchist group are big fans of his shop.
Bikes at lunch
On the way to C Speed, we visited the Above Bike Store, where the Yamabushi was painted.  MOB managed to find a beautiful 59cm Nagasawa used track frame hanging from the ceiling in the rear of the shop, which he immediately purchased.  A thing of beauty in a spectacular metalic blue paint.  I wish I had spotted it first!  I expect it will show up on MOB's blog before long, with a beautiful track build.

We next visited C Speed and chatted with Hiroshi.  With an aria playing in the background, and Chesini bikes on display, the shop is a little bit of Italy.  After a long chat, I left MOB there to head home for Brevet preparations.

Yes, the Chesini "Florian" image marketing is nice.  But Above Bike Store's "Summerlong (Steel Era)" image movie is a bit more ambitious.  (full screen recommended).

"SUMMERLONG" (STEEL ERA IMAGE MOVIE) from goooove on Vimeo.

23 April 2014

74 Km Commute

Today was a beautiful day, and it also happened to be the day of the week when I go out to Keio SFC to teach a corporate law class in the public policy management faculty.

So I enjoyed a really, really nice 74 km round trip commute.  My legs are not quite fully recovered from this weekend's brevet, so I took it easy and no records were set, but it was a great day for a ride, even a ride including 15 kms each way on Route 246.  as well as other sections along a river, through neighborhoods, etc.

A few detours as I looked for the shopping center en route with QB House.
One of the nice parts of the ride home!
With 3 commutes to SFC this month, the Fleche (380+kms), the Nishi Tokyo brevet (350+kms), my regular commutes into town, and a few shorter rides, I am now at 1395 kms for the month.  And we have yet to enter Golden Week.

21 April 2014

3[5]0 km Brevet around Mt. Fuji with Special Guest

What should have been a (relatively) easy 300 km Brevet turned into a real challenge as a result of weather.  No, it did not rain for the entire 300 kms.  No it was not sub-zero C.  But the weather was different, and worse, than forecast, and much colder and somewhat wetter than one would expect in mid-April.
350 kms including travel to and from the start point.  3000+ meters climbing, of course.
The forecast showed 10-30% chance of light rain most of the scheduled ride time along the course, with temperatures generally in the high single to mid-double digits.  Cool, but not cold.  Maybe a little wet, but not most of the time.  Almost ideal conditions!  And we would pass the coldest part of the course, high on Mt. Fuji, mid morning, keeping warm by climbing for several hours.  So I decided to get by with less than "mid-winter toasty gear", and less than "rain-storm wet weather" gear.  I just slipped a blade fender on the rear of the Ti Travel bike.

Special guest MOB joined for the last half of the ride after going to Fuji-shi, Shizuoka by train the night before.  We made sure he rode well ahead or behind me so as not to violate the Audax rules on assistance from non-participant riders.  I hope they will recognize my sincere effort to obey the rules -- mostly by being sure to climb hundreds of meters behind MOB -- and still credit me with completing the ride while trying to interest a famous foreign cycling blogger in the Japanese brevet scene.
The ride started and finished at the Konno Seisakusho (Cherubim) shop and factory in Machida.  Inside briefing due to the spitting drops of rain outside.
I hope to add some photos from MOB later, but for now let me report that it rained most of the first half of the ride, and the almost one-hour descent from Gotemba to Numazu in rain and 0~2 degree C weather was a real survival challenge.  It reminded me of Rainy Pass on Cascade 1200, minus the headwind.  With water coming up off the road and no front fender, my feet were soaked within the first hour or the event, despite shoe covers.  I was glad to have at least decent "Sealskins" gloves (almost waterproof ... much better than the "Sealskins" socks).  I held on desperately, resisting the temptation to hop in at a convenience store for soup or coffee, knowing I would only need to return to the wet descent and would be just as cold again after a few minutes.  I finally rested and warmed up at a family restaurant in Numazu, the bottom of the hill.
Pavement just starting to dampen 45 minutes before the start ... 
Umbrellas coming out ...
The other major challenge was the climb from Shibakawa up over the west side of Mt. Fuji, past Asagiri Kogen on local route 71.  From sea level to 1120+ meters.  At the top it was dry, but very cold and windy.  The roadside temperature showed 3 degrees ... a few hundred meters elevation lower on the mountainside.  MOB and I pulled in at a "Gusto" restaurant between Saiko and Kawaguchiko on Route 139 for a late breakfast.

The climb up Hinazuru Pass was shorter and the top was lower than I remembered, and the descent to/past Akiyama Onsen delightful.  Then the route took a detour down memory lane by heading south on Kanagawa Route 76, then lower Doshimichi, before joining the mid-Sunday afternoon traffic on the way back through Kanagawa to Machida.

Many more, and much nicer, photos by MOB here and here.
An example, the climb through Asagiri Kogen:

P.S. Joe Wein's report and much nicer photos are in the here in the TCC April thread.

19 April 2014

Bike Lock Comparison -- Germany vs Japan

A comparison of a perfectly adequate lock for parking a bicycle in Tokyo, Japan (right) with a barely adequate lock for doing the same in Bremen, Germany (left):

This is the kind of comparison that is difficult to pick up in GDP statistics.

18 April 2014

Reunion for MOB

We assembled at 19:30 at the Baird Beer Nakameguro Taproom to welcome MOB back to Tokyo on his first visit in over 3 years.

MOB arrived around 21:50, having refreshed his memory about the time it takes to ride from Oume to Okutama, Kosuge, Matsuhime, Sarubashi, Uenohara, Tawa, Tsuru, Kosuge and Okutama.

A good time was had by all.

14 April 2014

Flèche #2 -- 2014!

Last year's Fleche was a challenging ride, the gale force headwinds in Shizuoka sapping our strength early and making it a struggle just to get 3 riders across to the minimum distance.  Then our team leader, Tanaka-san, had a prolonged dialogue with the organizers about whether or not we met the rules.  They were real sticklers on one or two points that had nothing to do with whether or not we had ridden the minimum 360 kms, on the designated course, within the designated time.  In any event, we were finally certified, and resolved to try the Fleche again in 2014.

Suffice it to say that 2014 went much better!  As Maya Ide remarked at the Kanagawa Audax sponsored wrap up party at the Kamakura Prince Hotel on Sunday, everyone reported tail winds as riders converged on Kamakura from all directions.  A true "kamikaze".  No rain.
Moon over Lake Suwa and Yatsugatake, as immortalized in the famous Hiroshige woodblock print
Our route, while requiring over 3500 meters of climbing in just under 400 kms, was hard but not brutal.

The route offered many rewards in terms of quiet roads and nice views and flowering hillsides full of sakura and other plants.
Sakura trees near Takato, Nagano, from Circle K parking lot
Kiso-cho, from Michi no Eki view area at around 780m elevation, just before we climb up to 1200m tunnel entrance
Mt. Ontake, 3026m elev., from Kisocho, one of the "most beautiful villages in Japan"
Snow capped mountains visible.  We avoid Route 19 by traveling up the west side of the valley.
Bridge over the River Kiso and toward the road less traveled
We took many side roads along trains and reservoirs - low traffic, picturesque alternatives to Route 19.  We form a nice even line of riders as I stop for the photo -- though a bit stretched out!
Jerome and Tanaka-san in Toki City early in our ride.
One of many, many river valley stretches.
Many thanks to Tanaka-san for again leading the team, and to him and his wife/family for hosting Jerome and me at his house the night before the ride, which added to the pleasure.  And it was very good to make the acquaintance of Kosakai-san (who missed last year's event after a crash a week or so before left him without a bicycle) and Higuchi-san (who is slated to ride the Hokkaido 1200 in July as well).
The Tanaka house has a "drive through" entrance designed specifically for bicycle arrival and storage!

I suffered in the middle portion of the ride -- bad choice of convenience store snacks and maybe the fatigue and strain on my digestive system of riding hard leaving me very weak over the Fujimi and Sasago climbs.  But my teammates were supportive, allowed me to rest, and waited at the top of Sasago when I fell behind.  The stomach trouble was a distant memory by the time first light appeared around Sagamiko.  They got me to the finish line!

My equipment worked well generally, with a few minor exceptions.  The biggest casualty was my Velocity A23 rear rim, which suffered a spoke nipple pull-through somewhere late in the ride -- perhaps on the descent from Miyagase-ko?  At least it would ride without difficulty to the finish, relatively true after loosening the 2 adjacent spokes a single turn. Time for a new rim after 2 1/2 years of tough service.

More, better photos by Tanaka-san and Higuchi-san. Below Higuchi-san's photo of our Fleche team and one touring cyclist -- a young guy on day 40 of a trip, headed back to Ibaraki after having ridden to Kagoshima.  We passed him on the Nakasendo, and he caught us temporarily at the Kiso-cho michi no eki.