26 December 2015

The New Bicycle Quarterly is Here!

I can remember the first year or two I was road cycling, I would enthusiastically pick up "Bicycling" magazine in the U.S. and read "ten tips on how to ride faster", "seven great coastal routes",  "five ways to climb faster", or maybe "six great meals that will help you to lose weight AND ride faster".   Of course, there were reviews of the latest bikes from Trek, Cannondale, Specialized and other advertisers.  After awhile, as my cycling experience and knowledge grew, I lost interest in these.

After I moved to Japan, for a few years I enjoyed "Cycle Sports", the widest circulation Japanese magazine for road cyclists and racers.  I would scan the annual list of "long ride" and "hill climb" events and discuss with friends.  And I still have filed away the issue from June 2009 which featured  the editors' selection of 20 best mountain passes of Nagano Prefecture (信州の峠 Over the Pass!). But I tired of the "one pattern" reviews, always a new model that was "better" than the prior year, always a nice test ride report for a major advertiser, one new carbon frame after another, each "better" than the last.  Another bike shop advertisement ...  nothing new under the sun.

So even as I started building up my own bikes, doing Audax rides and even building one of my own frames, I resisted getting any cycling-related publications for quite awhile.  But after seeing and riding with the Seattle Randonneurs at events in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere, and after meeting Seattle's Jan Heine of Compass Bicycles/Bicycle Quarterly at the post-Fleche party in Kamakura in 2014, I finally broke down and subscribed to Bicycle Quarterly.
I await its arrival eagerly.  The content is mostly a mix of stories from the Pacific Northwest, global randonneuring events such as PBP and LEL, and, yes, Jan & Co.'s recent fairly regular visits to Japan and sometimes elsewhere in East Asia.

The product reviews are very detailed, and even though they are "niche" products usually, they are thorough and add to my knowledge.  Jan got some unfriendly letters from readers when Issue No. 53 devoted a lot of ink to a Specialized bike, the Diverge, but with No. 54 BQ he is back to reviewing products from small, often custom builders, such as the NFE Elephant ("NFE" for "national forest explorer") which is designed for fatter wheels and touring over gravel and dirt roads.

The editors are opinionated and have a definite point of view.  I do not always agree, but I can appreciate that most of their opinions are developed from lots of testing, trial and error.  And they even offer some disclaimers when they have an obvious conflict of interest.

And almost every BQ issue has a feature on a Japanese builder, on how to "rinko" your bike, on a tour in Japan (Houshi onsen, or the Nihon Alps SR600, or otherwise).  Sometimes these offer a foreign visitor's view of Japan that is not really adding to my knowledge (a bit vague on route numbers and station/train line names, the occasional transposition of a Japanese first last name -- as in the caption to a photo of randonneurs "Jun Sato, Noriko Sakai, Matsumura Keisuke and Tak Kawano"), but often (as with the introductions to builders) they open my eyes to something near me of great interest. And as important, it is great to have even BQ's niche audience of randonneurs and other bicycle fanatics (5000+ subscribers?) learn what great opportunities there are for riding and touring by bicycle in Japan.

(I still wish that they would have credited this blog, or link to it, for their report on an attempt at the Nihon Alps SR600.)

Is BQ right for you?  You can get a taste of it at Jan Heine's blog.  You can check out a flip book there with some of the content.

Or, feel free to flip through one of my issues.  Or even borrow it ... if you promise to return it on penalty of death.

17 December 2015

36 Views of Fuji (Litt)

First, there were Hokusai's famed 36 views of Fuji.

Then Hiroshige followed suit in the 1850s with another 36 view series.

Now I have started to work on my own series, depicting the modern Mt. Fuji, world heritage site whose view is revered in Japan.  Lots of buildings and power lines in the foreground!

A few of the new Fujis below ... check back from time-to-time as more may be added:

Otarumi Pass Fuji
Komae Fuji

Chofu Fuji

Tachikawa (South) Fuji
Tachikawa (North) Fuji

Shonandai (SFC) Fuji

Ayase Fuji
Komazawa Dori Fuji

Keio SFC Commute

This Fall I continue to teach a class at Keio University's Shonan Fujisawa Campus on Wednesday afternoons.  More often than not, I do the commute by bicycle, around 75-80 kms roundtrip from my home, and around 95-100 kms total if I also make a morning commute into town.
Morning trip into Tokyo on Wednesday ... included Rugelach and coffee at The City Bakery near Hiroo

Foliage at SFC

Winter nears at SFC
This mid-week ride really helps out when I cannot get in a weekend ride ... as this past weekend when I was traveling and only returned to Narita Sunday afternoon.  And now that I have done this regularly for a couple of years, it no longer tires me out noticeably!
Ready to start the ride home -- darkness comes early in December, but with my randonneuring lights this is not a problem.

07 December 2015

Big December Ride ... Over Jukkoku Pass and into Nagano

We have had seesawing weather these past weeks in Japan, some days unseasonably wet, some days typical winter cold and wind, and even some days with lingering warmth of fall.  This weekend the forecast was for sun and high temperatures in the teens (C) (or in the 50s F).  I cannot ride next weekend because of work commitments, so this looked like it might be my last chance for the season to get into the higher mountains.
I planned an all-day ride for Sunday.  I wanted to get over Yanagisawa Pass, or Matsuhime Pass.  Both great climbs, high with views, and neither have I ridden yet this year!  Is there any year these past 7-8 that I have not made it to one or both of these?
I headed out solo Sunday morning just before 8AM, with a rinko bag, some extra clothes, and a dynamo light on the Ti Travel bike, knowing I would not be home (or to a train station for the trip home) before dusk -- around 430PM these days!  I had not committed to any route, but the plan forming as I rode up the Tamagawa was to stop in Oume at the Aurore bakery, then continue to Okutama-ko for an early lunch at the Yagyu-tei cafeteria (Mrs. Watanabe's place), then go for Yanagisawa Pass or, as a fall back, Matsuhime.  I wanted to revisit memories from the glory days of Positivo Espresso.
Everything went fine until I neared the Higashi-Oume Station area, and was met by a large number of police directing traffic away from main road.  I continued a little further and saw this scene.
Chatting with one of the policemen as I was directed to the side of the road by waves of his orange wand, he told me it was the Okutama Ekiden (relay).  The road was blocked off as far as Kori, but if I hurried via Yoshino Kaido, I had 45 minutes to get to Kori before the road would be blocked from Kori all the way up to Okutama.
I was not enthusiastic about skipping Aurore or riding against the clock to beat a road closure.  Nor did I want to loop over to Musashi Itsukaichi and climb a road I have been up repeatedly this year. So I decided to re-route via Chichibu.  One of the alternatives I had considered for today was to explore the area west of Chichibu, either to ride Route 299 over Shigasaka Pass then on to Saku, or to Karuizawa via the tunnel from Route 299 toward Shimonita, or maybe finally climb to Mitsumine Shrine SW of Chichibu City, a route on my list that I have never managed to do -- routes out of Chichibu City being too far for one-day round trip rides, and the train back via Ikebukuro being quite slow.
On Nariki Kaido, still some colored plants in December
In Naguri

Over a familiar pass.

Through Chichibu City -- on a bike path that actually says it is for exclusive use of bikes!
In the end, I decided to mirror a ride done in 2009 with Jerome, Tom and Nishibe-san, going all the way to Sakudaira via Route 299.
Route 299 west of Chichibu and Ogano - no traffic!
Where is everybody?  Even on bright sunny days in Golden Week this road is very quiet.

Route 299 on the climb to Shigasaka Pass

Route 299 in Gunma now -- still no traffic, and blue sky returns briefly.
The ride was spectacular, the roads quiet, and I ended up going 190 kms with around 2700 meters of climbing -- just what I was looking for!

And I stopped at the really nice roadside michi-no-eki Jerome and I had visited in 2010 (actually called a "kawa no eki" as it backs to a river in a really nice setting) for the best Japanese curry I have had in memory.  

The only problem was my schedule.  The late start and my leisurely pace meant that I was still climbing Jukkoku Pass (elev ~1315m) as the sun set.  I made it to the top at 445PM, in pitch dark.  The temperature dropped precipitously.  I put on my wind jacket, extra cap, and warmer gloves and started the descent.  Fortunately, at least the road was dry (on the climb there had been some small icy patches).  
National Highway (?) Route 299 approaching the Jukkoku climb

National (?) Highway 299 on the Jukkoku climb

At the top, in the cold and dark!
Within a kilometer, my hands were numb and could barely move within the gloves.  I stopped, and managed to put on my thinner gloves and use them as makeshift liners.  Still way too thin, and still numb hands.  I was thinking "what have I got myself into?"
I rode one-handed, trading off putting my other hand under my jersey/jacket.  It was a long, cold, dark descent.  But at least I knew the road on the Nagano side was relatively good, straight and wide compared with the tiny winding track up the Gunma side.  Finally, I was down around 850m elevation, the air temperature seemed above freezing, and I dismounted and rubbed together and breathed on my hands for 5 minutes or so until the full feeling had returned.
Then a gradual descent into Sakudaira on the new Route 2 bypass, a stop at a 7-11 for some chemical foot warmers for my shoes (better late than never), and a shinkansen ride home while enjoying some Karuizawa local beer.  

Mission accomplished!

02 December 2015

Renovo Makeover

I really enjoyed riding the Renovo last month ... but a few adjustments remained since the ones I had made back in April when I first got it.

-- Replace the black 130mm stem with a nice silver Ritchey Classic stem.
-- Replace the 44cm outside measure handlebars with 44cm C-to-C measure bars.
-- Replace the cheapo padded bar tape I had used to cover the thin Lizardskins tape that came on it ... with some gel pads and beautiful brown leather Dipell vintage bar tape.
-- Bleed (or at least "burp") the front hydraulic disk brake since it was getting a bit soft.
-- Most important, add fenders so that I can use it in rainy conditions on long rides with comfort.  I got a pair of smooth polished Honjo Koken aluminum fenders via C Speed, and installed these this evening.  The fenders come without even holes drilled in them.  I had a bit of trouble fitting the front one, given the clamp of the Busch & Mueller dynamo powered light that protrudes down below the front of the fork crown, but managed in the end.  And I placed the front fender so it rides a bit further back than typical, and goes closer to the ground -- a "must" for dry feet and avoiding gunk on the BB area.

The result is a bike I hope will be an absolute joy to use for long rides next year in all conditions, as well as one that is beautiful to look at.