31 May 2014

Sunrise over Da Saitama

The last two weekends I was in the U.S. with family to celebrate a son's college graduation and my 30th reunion, off the bicycle.

So I planned to join Todor, Eric and 4-5 others for their annual Sea-to-Sea Stupidity ("SSS") ride.  The ride departs Shinjuku at 230AM Saturday morning, heads north to the Arakawa, then NW through Gunma, Karuizawa, Ueda, Nagano, and over a last hill before a descent into Naoetsu (the same descent that is part of the new, 2011 et seq. Tokyo-Itoigawa course).   After a celebratory toe-dip in the Sea of Japan, there should still be time for beer and food (in that order) and a train ride home Saturday evening.  It sounded like a perfect substitute for Tokyo-Itoigawa (held during my trip to the U.S.) and way to get to know a few other long-time expat cyclists.

Everything went fine until around 4:15AM, 48 kms from my house, as we headed up cycling paths along/near the Arakawa making very good time.

Then, as I turned a corner on a short gravel/construction stretch and started to accelerate again, I heard an awful sound from my drivetrain, and after another half-pedal, my feet locked.  I quickly unclipped to take a look.

A piece of wet tissue/baby wipe had somehow gotten mangled into my rear derailleur, pulled in along the chain.  The derailleur had swung back and snapped off near the base that connects to the hangar.  The derailleur had been carried back through the cassette and forward toward the front derailleur, where it had jammed with enough force to twist the front derailleur around the seat tube 20 degrees or so, and of course mangle its cage.  Baby wipe-1, SRAM Wi-Fli Rival rear derailleur-0.
A wet tissue-jammed chain should NOT result in a metal fracture at the base of the rear derailleur.

Shredded rear derailleur, shredded front derailleur
It only took a few seconds to figure out that my ride had ended for today.  I said my farewells and sent the others on.  Then some work with the chain tool to get the bike to where it would at least roll to the nearest train station.  There are also some nicks on the large front chainring, but I hope it is still usable.  And also the chain jammed inside the rear cassette, so I needed to cut the chain in several places to get the rear wheel to roll ... and now will remove the cassette to dig out the remainder.

I enjoyed a ride on the 5AM Saikyo Line local train from Sashioji to Akebane, then the Keihin Tohoku local from there to Oimachi (standing room only, at 5:45AM on a Saturday morning!), then Oimachi line local home, arriving a bit before 7AM.

SSS - Next year!

UPDATE (August 2014):  Since the SRAM derailleurs are warranted for 2 years, and were within this period, I sent a note to Wiggle with photos of the trashed front and rear mechs.  They consulted SRAM, which while SRAM did not fess up to this actually being a warranty-covered issue with their gear, they agreed to replace both derailleurs and the chain that I needed to cut as a result of the accident.  Wiggle's and SRAM's customer service -- even for a mail order purchaser from another part of the world -- wins big.   This keeps me a happy customer.

I like the SRAM double tap shifting -- precise, nice and much better brifter ergonomic fit with my hands than the last few Shimano generations (though I think 9000/6800 is a bit better).  And this kind of customer service makes me willing to consider SRAM for the groupset on my next bike, whenever I should happen to be in the market!

30 May 2014

Wheel Nos 00018 and 00019 - H Plus Son polished rims for the Yamabushi, Road Disk front

The Yamabushi looks great with its high carbon rimmed wheels ... but sometimes a different wheelset would be nice, something not so pitch black and matte, but a bit shiny.  And a rim low enough to fit in the bicycle parking slots near my office.

The H Plus Son Archetype rims were a joy to build.  The spoke holes are distinctly left or right of the peak of the rim and the spoke nipples fit perfectly.  Very nicely made rims ... deserve a careful build -- trued and tensioned carefully, and no scratches from spoke ends!
#00019 and #00018
An easy build!  Easy to tension and true.  Solid feeling.  The rims seem a bit higher than A23 on the outer edge -- harder to fit on the same size of new tire.  But confidence inspiring.
Rear wheel (00018) with Chris King classic rear hub, Competition/Revolution build.
Slight scoring visible on the Chris King hub's aluminum freewheel after 2 years, but better than others.
Spoke washers, of course, and a 3-cross pattern for strength and comfort.

The front (#00019) is another disk brake wheel with SD-8 dynamo hub.  Let there be light!
I hope the graphics and polished rim look this nice after a year of use ...
Time for bed, before a long day in the saddle tomorrow.

12 May 2014

Shizuoka Coast to Azumino and Back

The valley NW of Matsumoto
On Saturday I joined a Kanagawa Audax brevet from Okitsu on the Shizuoka Coast to Azumino in northern central Nagano (NW of Matsumoto) and back.  The weather looked perfect for a brevet.

I arrived at the start point around 9:45AM, later than I would have liked but in plenty of time for a 10AM start.  Almost all the riders were already heading out, having checked in and passed through the bike inspection.  I got my bicycle, checked in, and headed out, the last 2-3 riders still visible up the coast ahead.
There and back again - Garmin battery lasted the first 300 kms
After flying through the first 15 kms and gradually working my way to one of the front groups, we turned north into the valley of the Fujikawa, the river that flows from the area around Kofu out to the sea at Fuji City, SW of Fujinomiya, just west of Shin-Fuji Station, at the foot of, Mt. Fuji.

This route along the east shore of the Fujikawa is well known to brevet riders and other longer distance road cyclists in Japan -- low traffic, nice scenery, 3 or 4 nasty little hills, and frequent strong winds in one direction or the other.  Other than the wind, it is generally a good way to get from the coast to the area nears Kofu.

But on Saturday a strong wind from the North that made progress painful.  A relatively easy course became a long slog, as we would head North not only up the Fujikawa, but then continuing around the west edge of Minami Alps/Nirasaki on Route 12, then National Route 20 to Fujimi, Chino, Suwa, Shiojiri, then a local road all the way to Azumino/Hotaka.  Upwind, uphill, and with plenty of traffic on long stretches during the day on Saturday.
On the climb to Shiojiri Pass north of Suwa/Okaya ... next to the expressway
The wind had calmed and traffic diminished by night, so return trip was much easier.  At the top of Fujimi Pass, I had traveled only 275 out of 400 kms, but I knew that the hard work was nearly done. The temperature had dropped to 3 degrees C, but warmed quickly once on the descent into Yamanashi.

Beautiful Nagano?
I pushed on to the finish, my body aching from the damage inflicted on it in the first half of the ride.  It was the first time I have ever done a 400 km Brevet in under 20 hours -- my official time 19:45 -- and over 1 hr 45 min faster than I did the same route last year.  I am finally starting to feel like I am in strong cycling shape.
Sunset nears as we ride to the turnaround, Alps to the west.  Beautiful Nagano!

07 May 2014

GW Ride 4 -- Epic climbs and scenery -- Kurumazaka and Shibu Passes

Jerome was planning to ride at least part of the SR600 Fuji route, starting at 2AM Tuesday.  I need to function and work on Wednesday, so declined to join ... but instead told him I would meet him in Kusatsu at 2PM to climb Shibu Toge together.

How would I get to Kusatsu?  First, ride to Tokyo Station and hop the early (652AM) shinkansen for Nagano.  Start riding from Sakudaira and crest Takamine Kogen/Kurumazaka Pass, go along the ridge to Jizo Pass, descend into Gunma, and travel the North route of the Tsumagoi Panorama Line.

This was an epic ride -- only 142 kms, but around 3300 meters of climbing, two ascents to over 2000 meters elevation, and some extra fun in the form of a 4 km section of dirt, gravel and snow between Takamine Kogen and Jizo Pass, then lots and lots of snow left (not on the road, but everywhere else) near the top of Shibu Toge, and a temperature below zero degrees C at 520PM.

No time for a full post, but some photos and the route.  Did I mention 3300 meters of climbing?
Golden Week Traffic?  Climb to Takamine Kogen
A 66-year old local from Komoro reaches the top -- training for the annual hill climb event here.
4 Km of dirt, gravel .. and snow on the way toward Jizo Pass.

Brakes clogged with pine needles

More Golden Week traffic on the Tsumagoi Panorama Line

Same -- no traffic!  The Panorama Line did have its share of up and down, but brought me into Kusatsu at over 1000m elev, so I could skip most of the awful (steep, hot, with cars, trucks and buses whizzing by) climb from Naganohara.
Shibu Pass -- Long stretch at the top in another world.

Snow towering on both sides of the road.

Spectacular Vistas, -1 degree C 
Jerome, as we stop to warm up a bit in the sun, out of the wind.

(My Garmin data was wiped when the device jammed and reset!  Here is the route)

06 May 2014

GW Ride 3 - Kobu Tunnel

On Monday the forecast was for some rain in the areas we would normally ride to the West and NW of Tokyo.  Jerome could not ride, but was planning another (unofficial) try at the SR600 Fuji route.

So I stayed close to town, and ended up just doing a short Takao/Otarumi Pass/Kobu Tunnel loop.  The first time in several years I have done this climb from the South side.  A light rain started just as I emerged from the North side of the tunnel ... but stopped once I got back on the flat and put a little distance between myself and Itsukaichi.
Lots of new green growth near Uenohara

Golden Week traffic?

More Golden Week Traffic?

Golden Week traffic on the climb to Kobu Tunnel?

04 May 2014

Wheel #00017 - Sun XCD Randonneur rim and high flange rear hub

Today was my GW weekend rest day, so I am at home getting some work done and taking care of domestic chores ... but I did find time to build up the first of 3 new wide-rim rear wheels.  I love the high flange hub, which weighs no more than my low flange ones and looks appropriate for use in Brevets ... or even L'Eroica.

Wheel #00017

Nice high flange hubs!  Drive side DT Swiss Competition (2.0/1.8), Non-Drive side Revolution (2.0, 1.5)

Upon closer inspection, the SunXCD rim is ... really an Alexrim.  A common brand in Japan.
Built with spoke head washers and set with a spoke head press.

Wear indicator and slightly scored braking surface -- good for a long distance, long lasting rim.
The SUN XCD label and rim joint (visible under the middle of the label) are not directly opposite the valve hole, but one spoke off.  Never seen that before and it seems like an obvious QC miss.  Plus the label looks cheap and pasted on.  A bit disappointing for what is otherwise a very nice looking rim.

Also, this wheel needed significantly more truing in its first weeks than the H Plus Son rim built up with my Chris King Class hub.  Maybe a result of the high flange on both sides ... and thus very different tensions between drive/non-drive side to get the dish right?  In any event, it seems to have settled in nicely after a number of rides.

03 May 2014

Beyond Assos, After Rapha? ... Q36.5!

I first met David Marx standing in front of the Nalshima store in Sendagaya over 8 years ago.  I was getting some maintenance done at dusk, having raced over from my office in Marunouchi to get there before closing.  Of course, it was the OLD Nalshima store in Sendagaya, a few blocks off Meiji Dori on a side street, surrounded by non-descript buildings.

David, a long-time resident of Japan and Nagoya, was the importer for Assos cycling clothing, via his company RGT Enterprises.  He was visiting his customer, one of the best bicycle shops in Tokyo, then as now, and a place whose customers recognized the benefits of Assos.  The old Nalshima store was tiny, and in decent weather customers would spill out onto the road in front. After chatting that evening as we waited, we have been friends since.  I remember that David recommended the Tour de Noto as the best multi-day organized ride in Japan. Indeed, David's company, RGT Enterprises, has been a supporter and regular sponsor of the event, which MOB and I rode twice, the second time with Jerome as well.  Tour de Noto was how we met Stephen Coady, Ryoko, James and others.
At Wajima, end of Tour de Noto Day 1, September 2006
David M. persuaded me to try my first Assos cycling clothing, clothes that have kept me in comfort for tens of thousands of miles since -- especially the bib shorts.

So it was with surprise and interest that I heard recently that David would be working with a new line of cycling clothes, with clothes he said were far beyond and better than anything I had worn before.

The brand is Q36.5.  If you take a look through the website, you will get the picture -- this is high performance clothing -- "an extreme vision of the future of cycling clothing."  The theme is maintaining a constant body temperature at 36.5 degrees C.  Serious Italian-styled, European road racer clothing!  It is the vision of Luigi Bergamo, who was previously the head of R&D for many years at ... Assos.

I now have tried out bib shorts, jersey and socks.  This clothing really does feel entirely different than the cycling clothes I have used before.  Thoughtfully designed.  As the marketing information says, the clothes are designed for snugness (though not constriction); ergonomic support and stability, and ease of movement when in the riding position.

Let me offer some initial thoughts below:

(1) Bib Short--the Salopette L1 Essential, described as "the king of the collection" and a "totally new 'feeling' in the history of the modern bib short.  160g.

After 2 rides, this is now my favorite bib short.  They are snug, yes.  And the material has a different feel than, has more grip and is not stretchy like most cycling spandex shorts.  There is some stretch, but much less.  And the weave looks very, very tight compared with other bib shorts; the material quite thin, but strong.  They are a matte black, not shiny.  Wearing them I do not slip around on my saddle, but only move just when I want to.

I used them on last week's ride to Karibazaka Pass and today's ride to Iriyama/Wada Passes.

How do they feel?  Great.  Meaning that I did not notice them at all during either ride.  And they handled the heat very well today.  I did not notice any sweat gathering in pools inside, as I have with certain other high-end bib shorts.  Of course, they have a very comfortable pad -- no friction or chafing.

(2) Jersey--the Veloce Club Bolzano short sleeve jersey, which is "designed to protect and support the rider in the extreme range of conditions experienced in high mountain pass Summer riding, without any weight penalty".

This jersey again is very thin, light and snug.  It has a lot of stretch in it (and it had better, as otherwise I would not be able to close the zipper).  Skintight.  Again, the weave is VERY tight -- different from any other jersey I have used.

The sleeves are very comfortable -- perfect ergonomics in a riding position so not noticed at all.  The jersey, directly against my inner layer, which was directly against my skin, got wet from perspiration once we were working hard on the way to Itsukaichi.  But I unzipped it and it dried in no time.  And after that, zipped back up, even on the climbs the moisture wicked away just fine.  The pockets are surprisingly roomy for a skin-tight garment, and their inside is mesh -- for added ventilation. Plus, of course it is a full zip jersey, and of course it has a zippered pocket on the right/rear--easy to reach while riding.

I like the design and the color.  It would look great, I think, on a somewhat slimmer cyclist.  Nothing skintight will look good on me unless I can lose some kgs and get back down to my Transalp weight, or below.

(3) Both the "compression" and the "Plus" (wool/silk lightweight winter) socks.  The socks are beautifully made.  The "compression" socks are not typical long compression socks, but are ankle high cycling socks, intended to help circulation in the feet.  And the "Plus" socks are beautiful early winter socks -- wool/silk/synthetic blend, very nicely made and warm while thin.  Very comfortable.
Climbing just past Itsukaichi amid flowering trees
Of course, there is another reason to like these clothes.  They are designed in Bolzano -- a town in the South Tyrol, nestled right next to the Alps and at the foot of the Dolomites

Bolzano is about 15 kilometers NE of Transalp frequent stage town Kaltern, and 45 kms SE of the frequent stage town of Naturns.   Ahh, Naturns -- where we celebrated our victory over the Timmelsjoch and strolled the hillside after dinner in 2009, watched the sun set from the alp south of town.  Kaltern, where we slept outside and Jerome was attacked by ants after Day 6 of Transalp 2009, and had a memorable meal after our strongest team effort in 2011.  The linked blog posts do not do these experiences justice. You had to be there.

South Tyrol is one of the great areas in the world for road cycling, and very close to the Gods of Cycling.  So when I wear these clothes, I will think of descending the south side of the Alps, coming into warm sunlight, orchards in the valley west of Naturns, the soaring passes of the Stelvio and Gavia, the pain of climbing the Mortirolo, and the epic effort of the 2009 "queen stage" from Livigno to Kaltern.

I REALLY want to go back again in 2015 or 2016.  And when I do, I will be wearing Q36.5 clothing.

UPDATE:  The Q36.5 Japan Facebook page has lots of information, including a list of the shops carrying the brand in Japan.  A large group -- including Nalshima, Positivo, Enosan (for those of you in Niigata), and on and on.  Over 100 locations so far, widely distributed around the country.

UPDATE 2:  Took a third ride with the Q36.5 clothes on the holiday Monday, and got wet in a light rain when coming back in from Kobu Tunnel down the Akigawa.  These clothes dry FAST.  Only a few minutes after the rain had stopped completely, the bib shorts and jersey felt dry to the touch.  Very impressive, even on a humid day ... hints of the upcoming rainy season.

UPDATE (Dec 2014):  See here for my later review of Q36.5 early winter clothes.

UPDATE (May 2015):  I WILL go back.  I am planning to join MOB and others for the Giro delle Dolomiti at end of July this year.  6 days of riding in an area like heaven on earth (... well, if you do not mind climbing hills ... )!

GW Ride 2 -- Jet Lag recovery for Jerome -- over Iriyama Pass and Wada Pass

Jerome got back from a family trip last night, so we planned a jet lag recovery (half day) ride today, with an 830AM start.  It was already warm, and the forecast was for a high of 27 or 28 degrees -- more like late June or early July than Golden Week!

We decided to avoid GW traffic by riding the rindos (closed forest roads) from Itsukaichi over Iriyama Pass (Bonbori Rindo), and then up Wada (Daigo Rindo).

A good course -- 124 kms and almost 1200 meters of climbing, in hot weather, with very little to no traffic over the mid portion of the ride.  Now THAT will help Jerome over jet lag.*
Daigo Rindo peaks at 750m elev, about 50 meters above Wada Pass
I get out of the saddle as we enter the Muur de Tokura, entrance to Bonbori Rindo from Itsukaichi side
One of several barriers ... behind which we found a perfectly good, COMPLETED bridge and repaving job.
Why is the road shut?
View from the ridge South of Iriyama Pass -- beautiful new green growth
Exhausted I arrive at Iriyama. No breeze climbing on the back side of the mountain.
Jerome was first up to Iriyama, but on the rindo climb to Wada I felt strong, and pulled away during the second half.   It looked as if the heat was getting to him when he arrived at the pass, or maybe he was just taking it easy, still partly on vacation?
Jerome arrives at Wada, we approached via the Daigo Rindo -- paved except 200m of gravel/dirt at the end.
We stopped for a pasta lunch at a new Family Mart at the entrance to Jimba Kaido, which had a nice flower garden (and bench) in the back.
Caffeine -- the legal performance enhancing substance!
We made good time back into town, despite a bit of a headwind.

*Jerome reports that he made it home and quickly fell asleep.  He awoke around 9PM ... so perhaps our ride was not the perfect jet lag cure.

02 May 2014

Out--Golf; In--Cycling

I am amazed by the number of road cyclists whenever I head into the countryside around Tokyo on a weekend.  I was amazed 5 years ago, ... but the numbers just grow and grow.

Of course, it is not just Tokyo, or Japan, where cycling is hot.  In the U.S., cycling is now identified by even CNN Money as the hot sport for entrepreneurs, executives and professionals who want to network.


Of course, this has been true in Silicon Valley, San Diego/Orange County, and various parts of the East Coast for years.  But the word is now out, and CNN Money mentions Louisville, Kentucky, yes, KENTUCKY, as one such location.

Indeed, if Business Week ever gets around to a cover story, it will be proof the trend has run its course. But for now, the numbers grow and grow.

01 May 2014


Some very long rides in the rain over the past 5 years of randonneuring events has persuaded me of the benefits of fenders.  But even with fenders, and shoe covers, and shoe liners, I realize that these defensive measures while riding in the rain merely prolong the inevitable -- wet feet and a gunked up bicycle around the bottom bracket area.

Just like the Wada scale for measuring hill climb difficulty, there could be a standard scale for how long its takes for feet to be totally soaking wet when riding in "normal" rain and with water standing in places on the roadway.
  • With normal cycling shoes and socks -- less than 10 minutes = 1x.  
  • Add rubberized shoe covers -- another 10 minutes maybe.  1x improvement.
  • Protect the bottom of your shoes so that water does not come up through the cleat holes, maybe you will last 30 minutes or more.  Another 1x improvement.
  • Add fenders and you might get 5-10 minutes longer.   Maybe .75x improvement, plus a cleaner bicycle, especially on the back of the seat tube.
  • Add an inside shoe lining of a waterproof goretex sock or plastic bag, and you might last up to an hour in total (and will ensure that when you do get wet, your feet will be swimming in a warm, soupy mess even long after the rain stops).  A 1.5x improvement.
  • Wear a Gore Tex "touring" bike shoe such as my Shimano MT71 pair, and add another 15 minutes or more, and no swimming feet.  A 1.5x improvement.

  • Wear rain pants that cover the top of your shoes and socks, combined with the shoe lining or water-resistent "touring" shoe.  Another improvement, but even the best rain pants are too warm/sweaty for riding at a reasonably high pace and you end up just as wet inside as out if you go any distance at high speed, or do climbs of more than 10-15 minutes length.
All of these are incremental measures.  Nothing keeps you really dry for very long.

In this framework of incremental measures, last year I read with interest a note from Seattle-based randonneur Jan Heine (publisher of Bicycle Quarterly and author of The Golden Age of Handmade Bicycles, among other books) in which he extolled the virtues of a large, low to the ground mudflap on the front fender.  You can read it here.  And a comparison with a no-mudflap ride here.  I made a mental note to try to add a decent front mudflap.  It looks like yet another major incremental improvement.  An old technology, that works.

I finally got a large leather mudflap at a nearby bike shop last week, and attached it (temporarily at least, with string) to my Curana Lite front fender for a rainy day commute.   

I rode in to the office Wednesday morning -- 30 minutes, with light rain and some water on the street, wearing the Shimano MT71 shoes.  Completely dry.  I rode home with the rain stopped but roads still wet -- completely dry.  And of course, the mud flap seems to have picked up a lot of crud, but my bottom bracket, shoes and lower legs were clean instead of the usual, post-rain cover of grime.

Stay tuned for updates.