29 December 2016

No Festive 500 - Festive 2017!

This year for the first time in quite awhile I am not joining the Rapha "Festive 500" challenge.

Of course, as always the timing (December 24 to 31) does not match Japanese New Year vacation, which usually starts on December 29 or so and goes until January 4 or 5, details depending on the calendar.  Rapha really needs a Japanese version of this, an "oshogatsu (New Year's) challenge".

More important, my sons are visiting Tokyo from the U.S. this week, and so it is not the most convenient time to disappear onto the bicycle.  Instead, we went (without bicycle) to Nagano for two days, and even drove part of the Venus Line (around Kirigamine, up above 1700 meters elevation) with a light snow pack on the road. Most of the places we went by car the two days I knew well from traveling by bicycle at a different time of year.
Nagano welcomed us!
From Kirigamine - was here during SR600 Fuji by bicycle during warmer weather.

Shirakaba-ko  ... usually come here by bicycle
Hot spring hot water at one of the Suwa Taisha shrines

And unlike last year, when I took a monumental ride on December 31 to get in over 500kms for the week, this year I really need to rest on December 31.

Why?  I signed up for the first brevet of 2017, which will be held from that Midnight on New Year's Eve (12:01AM, or maybe 12:00AM and a few seconds on January 1, 2017.

This is a 200 km event sponsored by Tamagawa Audax, with a start at Futako Tamagawa, within a few kms of my house.  We will ride SW through Kanagawa, get to the coast around Ninomiya/Oiso area, then loop counter-clockwise along the Shonan coast and Miura Peninsula.  If all goes well I should see the first sun rise from the coast line, and finish my first brevet of 2017 on the morning of January 1.

Unless there are events scheduled in Australia or New Zealand, the first finisher of this Tamagawa event might be the first finisher of ANY Audax ride in the world for 2017.  There really ought to be a special prize for that -- there seems to be for just about everything else in Audax.
Anyway, just because I am not joining the Festive 500 does not mean I am not riding at all this week. I did get out on Saturday with the Tokyo Cranks, go for Yomiuri-land loops Sunday and Monday, as well as a ride this morning (67 kms) out the Tamagawa, then Onekan/Tank Road and back, and hope I will be able to do another morning ride tomorrow. The weather has been dry most days at least.  So maybe I can end up with a Festive 300 and a good start to 2017? 
Santa Claus garb? Worn on 12/24 and 12/25
Tamagawa on 12/29

Solar project at end of the Tank Road on 12/29

11 December 2016

Tsuru Tsuru Onsen

Jerome and I planned a ride for Saturday. It seemed our last chance to get in a ride together thisyear. We planned a 730AM start so we could get in some serious hills!
Well, we ended up with an 830AM start -- and a good thing to as I had work left over from Friday to finish.
On the way from the Tamagawa toward Itsukaichi, we took the path along the Akigawa. But this time we stayed off the main road longer than usual, and found that we could go under the Ken-O-do and join Mutsuhashi Dori further west than we usually do, much closer to where the traffic lightens up.  Here (except we got off course on the return and ended up back at Mutsuhashi Dori once):
Avoiding Route 7 - Mutsuhashi Dori
We sometimes go along the Akigawa here, but the ability to easily connect up with the main road AFTER Ken-O-Do makes a difference. We will take this route more frequently in the future, despite the very rough surfaces at places along the Akigawa.
A beautiful late Fall day on the lower Akigawa!
We were both sluggish and made our way finally to Itsukaichi, where we had planned to decide whether to ride the "reverse Paul Jason" tough Kobu Tunnel, or do a closer loop over Iriyama Pass and, perhaps, Wada.
As I went inside and got some food and used the bathroom, Jerome lay down and dozed. My stomach was feeling heavy (okay, I seem to have picked up a kg or two, in recent months). Neither of us were enthusiastic about a longer ride.
Jerome had a brilliant suggestion -- a trip to Tsuru Tsuru Onsen, about as close and nice a destination as we could think of, and we both really wanted to soak in a tub and rest. We recalled the first time we tried the SR600 Fuji and stopped at a very local onsen in Yudanaka after descending from Shibu Pass. Soaking in the hot water pretty much wiped me out and ended my SR600 attempt!
The famous Tsuru Tsuru Onsen, a day spa and popular destination for hikers
Likewise this time, after a decent bath it was time to rest, then I felt like rolling downhill and downriver and home again. By the time we left Tsuru Tsuru Onsen, around 2PM, the sun was already noticeably low over the hills.
A few hundred meters down the hill, we popped into a bike shop we had noticed on the climb! What was a bike shop doing here, all the way up a valley with almost no through traffic (sure, a few cyclists, but I could think of 100 better spots to serve weekend cyclists).  Anyway, it was a roadbike shop called RIN, and the owner/manager was there.  He asked if we were from the Yokota Airbase.  Actually, he said it in Japanese more like "so you must be from the Yokota base".
It seems like a De Rosa/Campy specialty place, another semi-retired Japanese salaryman who decided to set up a shop.  Awfully lonely.  Jerome asked to borrow a floor pump. He was charged 50 yen.  Jerome bought a bell.  There were a few nice bikes in there, one in particular that looked interesting, and I asked if I could take a picture.  He said "no".  He was worried about the photos might lead to bike thieves.
Anyway, I wish him the best of luck. I will not be among his customers, absent emergency.
115 kms in all.  Short for P.E., but a decent trip.

20 November 2016

Onekan / Tank Road / Yaen Kaido run

I had an afternoon commitment, and Jerome was in the early stages of recovery from some kind of stomach bug (e-coli?), so we took a short ride only on a beautiful fall day when, many other years, we would have headed for Chichibu or Matsuhime. At least we made it as far as the Tank Road, a bit shy of 70 kms.

Anyway, the ride started cold and clammy.  I saw some mist as we approached Futakotamagawa, and it just got thicker and thicker as we headed up the Kawasaki side of the river. Fog.
By the time we entered Onekan, the fog had cleared, and we could see a snow covered Mt. Fuji ... just not from the spots where I took photos.  Anyway, a very nice spin at a relaxed pace.
Solar farm at the northwest end of the Tank Road

06 November 2016

Fall weather

It is finally nice, cool fall weather in Tokyo ... though still quite warm midday.  I am in the middle of a house sale -- I had a work-related meeting Saturday morning, then met with surveyor and neighbors for 境界確認 (border confirmation - a Japanese property ritual), and spent much of today (Sunday) sorting through things to throw away or keep, so not much time for riding, and November looks like it will a bust from a cycling perspective.
Looking upriver from the Setagaya-Dori bridge just beyond the Odakyu Line
That said, I did get out with the "Tokyo Cranks" and joined their 715AM Saudany sortie from Futako Tamagawa, looping down, then up river, then ending at Seijo Gakuen for coffee and conversation. Only a quick 35km loop, with some wind-assisted and wind-hindered sections, but good company and a chance to at least stretch the legs.
Nils, James and Maki-san mount up after we regather.

Nature and infrastructure.  A very Japanese combination.

30 October 2016

Beautiful fall colors in Karuizawa

The sawteeth mountains of Gunma
Yesterday I was in Karuizawa having helped move some furniture for a friend Friday night.  The fall colors were really glorious.  The center of Kyu-Karuizawa and Naka-Karuizawa were mobbed with people (and the primary language sometimes seemed to be Chinese, not Japanese), but once out of the center it was actually quite peaceful.  Only a 26 km ride, but almost 600 meters of climbing.
Kyu Karuizawa Main area. Tour busloads.

My route. 2 shorter climbs.

On the way to Miharashidai

Walking up to the viewpoint -- spectacular reward ahead.

Gunma below
Peak foliage

Chinese language for this wedding photo.

At the bottom of the climb to Miharashidai, looking back to Kyu Karuizawa area
I tried to climb to Kita Karuizawa, but the toll road is closed to bikes, so I descended this very nice (gravel) rindo back to Naka Karuizawa, it came out through Hoshi no ya.

I am reconsidering my opinion of the place.

28 October 2016

Old Hero, New Hero

That's me with Le Blaireau, Bernard Hinault
He joins the "Peace Race" charity event at Chateau Chailly each August
On the way in to my office yesterday, on Meguro Dori, a cyclist caught up with me from behind -- all too common an occurrence this year. It was Laurent on his new, beautiful Eddy Merckx machine fresh from its Belgian home! We rode together until our routes separated around san-no-hashi.

Laurent mentioned that he was going to the French chamber of commerce & industry event for the Tour de France Saitama Criterium, that evening. I jumped at the information and opportunity to join.

I arrived a little after 8PM, only leaving the university after my class finished. The event was supposed to be from 630 to 900PM, so I was surprised to see that the "presentation" speeches were still in progress.  I talked my way in, with the admission charge and mention of Laurent's name--too late to join the raffle.

I went to the first of these events, back in 2013 with Jerome. In fact, I think a significant portion of the audience showed up that time because we posted it to TCC, this blog and elsewhere. But I am not on the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan's mailing list, so I would have missed this but for the serendipitous meeting with Laurent.  The location this time was OVE Minami Aoyama, a Shimano-owned "life creation space".  A nice space -- I would like to go back and see what it is like on a normal day, though it seems to be basically a cafe, only open 10AM to 6PM.

Anyway, back in 2013, we enjoyed rubbing shoulders with Bernard Hinault, Romain Bardet, and Yukiya Arashiro.  Jerome and I and families ended up dining with Arashiro and his significant other a month or so later.  This time Yukiya was not there, but Hinault, Bardet, Adam Yates and others were.
#2 at the 2016 Tour (the younger, thinner guy, not the guy with shiny forehead)
He said he remembered me (and Jerome, of course!) from 2013
Romain Bardet has quickly moved up the ranks of Tour finishers, this year ending 2nd in the General Classification, and winning a difficult mountain stage late in the event.  He is rare among pro-tour cyclists, a "fat adapter" rather than "carbo loader".  In other words, he has trained his body to burn fat rather than relying upon carbs -- a hot topic on, among others, randonneuring message boards.  He has the best hope of any French cyclist in a long time for a victory in the GC at the Tour, and at age 26, he is just entering the "window" of 5-7 years when such things are most likely to happen.

Of course, I parked my commuting bike out front of the event. I was a bit surprised that it was ONLY bicycle at the event.  Yes, there were plenty of bikes inside (part of the store display, pushed to the side for the reception), but I was the only one to arrive or leave by bike.  Maybe it was the fact that my commuting method forced me to forgo alcohol at the event?

16 October 2016

Passenger for Jerome

Jerome and I rode out to Keio SFC on Saturday morning where I had work.  He continued on over Yabitsu Pass.  An 80 km round trip for me, and much more for Jerome. Today he dropped off his front wheel for some maintenance, complete with a passenger on his bike.
Saturday was a gorgeous day for a ride.  This is within the Keio SFC campus.

As I start the return trip ...

Hoppy, Jerome's dog.

Hoppy likes to stay close to Jerome.

02 October 2016

Iriyama Pass

Today was the nicest weather since my return from the USA over 3 weeks ago.  Still a bit warm and sticky (for October especially), but nice.

Jerome and I rode a 115-120 km loop over Iriyama Pass / Bonbori Rindo.  All-in-all a nice ride. The pictures tell the story.
The route.  117.5 kms total.  Iriyama Pass / Bonbori Rindo is close to town.
so a good option for a half-day ride.
Blue sky! Familiar territory, but looks quite nice today.

Jerome's cockpit. The phone got a few more cracks in the glass today.
The view in the mirror ... best from other angles.

At the 7/11 at Tokura, Itsukaichi. The sky crowded out the traffic in my mind.

Jerome reaches Iriyama Pass.

A really nice place to change a flat tire on a beautiful day.
Just over Iriyama Pass heading south toward Jimba Kaido.
The sign reads "hou-an-rin" -- Protected forest for water resources.

We take this road back to Jimba Kaido and toward town.
Lots of water in every stream after the rains of September.

30 September 2016

Rapha Brevet Collection?

Randonneuring, Audax, Brevets.

These words bring to mind activity that historically has been near the low end of the cycling style spectrum.

I can remember the first time I saw a group of randonneurs on a brevet in Japan. I had just climbed up the South side of Yamanakako on Route 138 and was on the early part of the descent toward Gotemba on a very long hill. I saw a ragged line of cyclists grinding up the hill on the other side of the road, stretched out in small groups and singles. Their bikes were covered with odd stuff - large seat bags, congested cockpits full of lights, oversized GPS units, etc. Not the clean lines of a stylish road bike.  And no Rapha clothing, nor Assos.  Odd shaped bikes - some road, some mountain, some folding, all looking a bit grimy.

From a road cyclist's perspective (not to mention a non-cyclist's perspective), a randonneur is a bit of an odd duck. Someone who rides in the dark, in the wet, and on a heavier, slower bike. The mental image is of an eccentric Brit (imagine an old Monty Python skit) standing at a crossing in the middle of some fields, fumbling with a compass, cue sheet and light in the dark.

This is all changing, gradually.

Of course, there are plenty of beautiful bikes on Audax events, though a beautiful Audax bike is likely to have a Brooks leather saddle and gorgeous steel frame rather than being a light carbon speed machine.  Even a few beautiful people (?).  And yes, there is Rapha clothing, and some Assos, Q36.5, and other stylish gear.  The mythology of Audax -- the ultra long distances under sometime extreme conditions -- has found a broader fanbase in recent years. with Rapha features on PBP etc showing that it is an acceptable part of the Rapha mood video-defined, "genuine" hard man cyclist lifestyle. And if the comparison is Audax touring vs. "fully loaded" touring vs. mountain bike touring, then Audax is fast, sleek and stylish!

The latest proof?  This Rapha advertisement that was linked to an email in my inbox this morning.

No, as the accompanying mood-setting video shows, these folks are not actually riding an Audax event.  Just riding trails and roughing it in the South Tyrol / Dolomites to explore the area around the Messmer Mountains Museum, where we stayed on the pavement during the Giro delle Dolomiti last year.

I want to go back.

24 September 2016

Women in Iran Protest new ban on Cycling

WSJ reports this protest to a Sept 10 2016 religious order in Iran that bans women cycling!
A ban on women cycling?  Outrageous.
Let's not forget that bicycles played a significant role in the emancipation of women in the early 20th century in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
The reason for the ban?  Women cycling "attract men's attention" and "expose society to sedition". Yes, as to the first, and a good thing, too.

19 September 2016

New Cycle Shops and Concepts Good and Bad

In Tokyo, the cycle shops open, and they close.
I mostly ignore it, since I do not have enough business to patronize even the ones I feel commitment to (Positivo, C Speed).  And by all accounts it is not an easy business.
But I could barely ignore the brand new shiny store on Komazawa Dori as I rode by Komazawa Park last week. At night the store was dark but some shiny new Trek road bikes were in double decker display in each window, suspended in space. Very impressive. The name looked like Cloro bicycles, but I guess the "C" was just a wavy cloud at one end of the logo. LORO Bicycles.

I finally went by the other afternoon on Friday, during business hours.  I needed a spare spoke and thought it would be a way to at least take a look inside and see the place.

It is a 100% Trek shop.  Trek. Bontrager (Trek components).  Maybe even some Gary Fisher (Trek MTB brand). More of the same. Nothing original. I asked about getting a spoke. They said they would need to do a special order.  I declined and walked out.

Really a disappointment if this is the future of cycle retailing. No reason for me to go back, ever. About the same as the Trek concept store at Roppongi Hils ... unless I get a flat tire right outside the door during business hours and lack a spare tube. And I have still not forgiven Trek for the Lance years.
The same afternoon, I was in Aoyama (where I did actually pick up a single 260mm spoke at Nalshima Frend, though only a temp fix since it does not match the wheel).  On "Killer Dori" just after leaving Nalshima, I passed the shop that, last I recall, was a Bridgestone "Anchor" concept store, showing off bikes but not selling much, if anything.

It is still a Bridgestone store, but no longer promoting the "Anchor" brand (which is in plenty of cycle shops in Japan, sponsors a UCI Continental team). The new concept (well, new to me, not sure how long it has been around) is called Ratio & C.

This is a very attractive store, at least at first glance. They sell coffee, latte, etc. and have space to hang out. They offer two Anchor "Neocot" steel frames, with a WIDE range of customization possible.

This is very style-focused bicycle shop, but the gear looked rideable for getting around Tokyo, and much higher quality than "Tokyo Bike" or similar style-focused shops.
For example, in addition to the standard Bridgestone saddle, they offer 7 other types, including Fizik Arione, Brooks Cambium C17 (and women's version) and a Moca Kashimax.  They offer a Nitto S65 seatpost in black or silver (the same as I have on my Randonneur bike).
Portland Design Works option for the hand grips.
Kashimax keirin style saddle (not for my anatomy)
And they offer the two Neocot frames in 24 colors, so you can get one and not have another similar one in the bike parking lot.
This is a concept that actually looks like it fits the market (central western Tokyo) and the times, and will end up with people having bikes they really enjoy.