22 February 2015

Flat Kanto 300

At Choshi - Eastern Tip of Chiba Prefecture and the Kanto region

In order to participate in Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) this summer, I need to complete a standard series of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets by mid-June.  Of course, last year I had planned some early season brevets ... but snow resulted in cancellations.  Weather, injury, equipment failure or illness; these are the things that can trigger a DNS or DNF and ruin as plan to ride PBP.

So I want to "check the boxes" quickly and get through the standard series quickly and without incident.  Thus, I signed up to ride the February 21, 2015 first edition of the "Flat" 300km sponsored by the Audax Randonneurs Nihonbashi.  AR Nihonbashi is a new group sponsoring Audax events (one of several to crop up in the past year).  I guess just about everyone who does enough Audax rides at least considers the idea of forming a group with friends and planning their own.  But Nihonbashi?  Surely a terrible place to start a brevet, meaning at least 60-90 minutes of traffic signals to get to the countryside, repeated on the return.
Future randonneur (randonneuse?) with papa
The 7:30 starters begin to gather at Kiba Koen in Koto-ku.  20 riders each at 6, 630, 7 and 730 on this event.
As the AR Nihonbashi website indicates, by starting near central Tokyo, they want riders and organizers to get to the start by bicycle or public transit, and avoid using cars to the extent possible.
  • オダックスランドヌール日本橋は2015年より、東京都・日本橋近辺を発着地とするブルベを開催します。都心発着のメリットを生かし、参加者・主催者とも自走や公共交通機関を利用し、できるだけ車を使わないブルベを目指します。
Okay, this is a worthy goal ... though not necessarily one requiring a Nihonbashi start.  For 200, 400 and 600 km events, it should be possible to start/finish on the edge of the Tokyo metropolis, and still get to and from the start by public transit (same day for a 200km; next morning for a 400km, next evening for 600km) or bicycle.  But for a "normal" rider on a 300km event, taking between 15~19 hours out of the 20 hour limit, indeed, it is tough to plan an event without an automobile if start/finish are far from one's home. One solution:  an evening start.  This has two merits:  first, it is possible to come and go via public transport.  Second, you get to ride at least the first half of the event with little to no traffic, no matter the location or road.

But an evening start does not seem like a great idea for a February brevet near Tokyo.  Icy roads, and starting straight into the coldest part of the day ... between midnight and 7-8AM ... do not seem appealing.  So this event started from Kiba Koen, only 4 km east of Nihonbashi in Koto-ku.

I rode the Canyon Shark, with my Gokiso wheels.  This, and the flat course, made it one of the easier 300km Brevets I have joined, and my fastest to date, at 14 hrs 59 minutes.  And yes, I did ride to the start and back from the finish (almost 22 kms each way).  When added to the event (which was actually 307~308 kms), that put me at 350 kilometers for the day.  I had the 5th fastest time out of around 55 finishers (with another 22 DNS and 7 DNFs) -- typical that I do better on a flat course like this.

But so many, many times I needed to accelerate, only to see a light in the distance -- first the walk light turns blinking green, then red, then the traffic light turns yellow, then the right turn signal (if there is one), then red.  For a minute or more.  Each time, I would ease up my pace hundreds of meters from the light as soon as I realized I would not make it.  Each time the Gokiso wheels would roll and roll, and I would need to brake as I neared the (red) signal.  Mottaenai.
Home to the Start of the Brevet
The Brevet course-- 308 kms

Home from the Finish
I rode the first 20 kms or so with Hayashi-san, a Utsunomiya-based randonneur.  He rides with lots of zip, so helped me get off to a fast start despite the endless traffic signals.  I saw my neighbor Kazu Tachikawa, and rode together briefly through Chiba City.  ウワン-san (Twitter handle), who I got to know during Tohoku 1700, rode as well, starting a 630AM.  He looked a bit surprised when I caught up with and passed him before PC1 (how did I get there so fast?  Hayashi-san, of course ... and Gokiso). And, of course, I was traveling very light -- my Q36.5 Salopette tights and hybrid que perfect for Saturday's 0-10 degrees C range, just some extra glove liners and a warmer head garment needed early and late, and a thin rain shell in my pack just in case.

ウワン was in and out of PC1 quickly, and we met again between there and PC2, and again when he arrived at PC4.  And he complimented me on the Guide for Audax Staff.  Glad to hear some people are enjoying it.

And thanks to Yoshiaki Philippe.  He and another rider passed me as I was slowing a bit, riding along on Ku-ju-ku-ri about 85 kms into the event.  I could hop on the back, draft and ride with them, dramatically boosting my speed over the next 30 kms or more.  Yoshiaki Philippe has switched the trusty mountain bike I remember him on at Rocky Mountain 1200 and numerous other events ... to a sleek Focus road bike with Enve deep rimmed carbon wheels, and he looked as if he was enjoying riding fast(er).  Over the 30 kms, Yoshiaki Philippe pulled at least 20 kms.  The other rider at least 5 kms.  And me, only a few.   Still, I flagged again and needed to pull over for an energy bar near Iioka ... and so lost the benefit of their speed a few kms before the Choshi checkpoint.  That was the last I saw of them.

Hara-san, one of the Vice-Chairs of AR Nihonbashi, had warned me I would not like this course because of the constant stop and go.  He was right.  The course was the worst I have ridden on an Audax event.  Constant stop and go with signals.  And riding in heavy traffic what seemed like most of the way. The course needs a serious redesign.  Yes, heavy traffic is inevitable for a ride in Chiba and Ibaraki, but there must be better alternatives.

Generally unpleasant stretches included:

-- from the start through Chiba City.  Especially under construction Routes 14/357 through Chiba City.
-- Chiba Route 20 (Oami Kaido) across the northern Boso Peninsula to Kujukuri beach.  Many congested stretches and nowhere near as nice as the route further south on the Chiba 300km event last October that brought us to Takataki Lake in the center of Boso.
-- after Choshi, Route 124 then Ibaraki Route 212 near Kashima.  We were blessed with a tailwind ... but this was another very heavily traveled stretch of road.
-- after a few nice stretches on Route 354, ... but more heavy traffic on Route 355 to Ishioka!
-- then long stretches of heavy traffic most of the way back to Tokyo, Ibaraki Routes 48 and 26, Route 6 etc.  (I would like to try the Audax Saitama route on their 300km event yesterday -- which also traveled between NE Tokyo and Kasumigaura.)
A quiet moment. Dusk at Lake Kasumigaura, over one of the HUNDREDS of solar farms we passed.
Even the section along the beach at Kujukuri offered only limited actual views of the ocean, and plenty of mid-day Saturday traffic.

There was a nice stretch on the return to town, as we could see Tokyo Skytree in the distance, and it was late enough in the evening (after 9PM) so that traffic had started to thin.  Indeed, Sumida-ku seems to have undergone a bit of a revival.
From a hill near Choshi, looking North
From a hill near Choshi, looking back SW
But other than the nicest view sections at Choshi, I have to say my favorite parts of the entire ride were ... going through Tokyo in early morning and late night, getting between the start/goal and my house.  I got to enjoy at least some parts of the city at a very quiet time of day.  Much better than riding along the narrow shoulders of roads through traffic jams, or racing trucks and weekend warriors on the highways of Chiba or Ibaraki.
Dawn at Eitaibashi -- the welcome peace of central Tokyo before and after hours

19 February 2015

Playing Hookey!

Taking the morning off for a nice spin upriver with Jerome ... I really needed to stretch my legs before Saturday's 300km Flat Kanto brevet.

09 February 2015

More PDX -- Bike Shops

Well, a week in Portland visiting my parents.  The first trip to Portland in awhile, and the first without a bicycle in a long while.

It rained pretty much every day during my visit, so I did not miss the bike much.  Not that a little rain would have kept me off one if I had had it with me!  I saw plenty of hardy Oregon "ducks" commuting in the pouring rain.  Should have snapped some photos.  At least on my last visit to central/downtown Portland, I snapped a few photos of commuting rigs:
A Portland commuter rig.  Fenders a must.  Big solid lock - standard.
Another example -- even with the (rare) drop bars you need fenders.  Really need them.
I did visit a few bike shops during my stay, and stopped by to see Bob Kamzelski, one of my 2012 UBI instructors, at Bantam Bicycles.  Bike shops:

1. Clever Cycles. I stopped by to get some rainlegs rain chaps.  Really a great idea, and I am sure I will get to test them out soon on a long rainy ride.  A nice shop with its own focus.  I also got a nice Ibex brand button down LS wool shirt here - nothing to do with cycling, but a very nice casual garment.

2. River City Bicycles.  A major bike shop.  They have some great looking 1970s and 1980s bikes hanging from the rafters, with explanations ... first commercially available bike in the U.S. with carbon fork, etc., etc.  Very nice.  Lots of River City Bicycles' jersey types ... But I already have one that I like better than the others I saw (and which I use regularly).  I was looking for and asked about their best iPhone holder for use on a bike ... and the guy who helped me persuaded me to his preferred approach -- use a Cateye Strada Smart -- leave the smartphone in your pocket, and read the data on the Cateye cyclecomputer. Stay tuned for a report once I get it set up.

3. Universal Cycles.  I wandered in as I got to Bob's workshop early.  As the name suggests, a somewhat soulless looking store selling mostly online.  They may be part of the Universal Group -- related to Universal Exports, the company James Bond worked for with all the cool equipment.  They are more focused on mountain than road.  On the plus side, they are open early for commuters, and they do carry Ortlieb bags as well as all the Portland essentials (full wall of fenders, reflectives, rain gear, etc.).  I could get an Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Compact to use with my existing handlebar bag attachment, on rides when I do not need the size/weight of the Ortlieb Ultimate Classic but still want an easily removable handlebar bag -- a kind of man-purse for the bicycle, complete with shoulder strap.

4. West End Bikes.  This store is Specialized-dominated and expensive.  I did not buy anything.  But I did need to wipe the drool from my mouth as I walked around and looked at some of their high-end offerings.

Also saw some new bikes from The Bike Gallery when I signed up for Cycle Oregon and attended their kick-off event -- they are a sponsor.  I gave my Dad the $10 off coupon I got, since he uses one of their stores.

And I did see a little blue sky on the last full day of my visit.
The clouds closed in again quickly.
By the way, what is the deal with Kale and Quinoa?  No one ate these when I moved to Japan a decade ago, and last year when I was in the U.S. every restaurant was pushing them.  Now they are even in the airport sandwich shops.
Salads:  Left - Quinoa, Right - Kale

02 February 2015


You know you've arrived in Portland when ... the Bike Assembly Area is given equal billing in terminal signage. Hard to imagine this anywhere else.

And on Tuesday went into a high rise office building downtown.  It had a sign at the elevators warning people to use the freight elevators with their bicycles!  I guess a reasonable request given the grime on walls, carpets and other passengers that might otherwise result ...

Yes, Portland has more microbrewers per capita than any other city in the U.S.A.  But as for independent bicycle framebuilders, it has more of them not only per capita but on an absolute basis than any other city in the U.S.A. ... or perhaps any city in the world?  I did not stop by the airport's "Bike Assembly Area" this trip, but I would not be surprised if in Portland "Bike Assembly means not only putting back on wheels, pumping the tires, and a few adjustments, but some serious Bike Assembly!  Maybe installing a headset and a full re-cabling operation?