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.

Takao - Shiroyama Saturday Spin

On Saturday I took a short (~95km) trip with Jerome and Didier in not-too-hot but stiflingly humid weather.   We started late, amid heavy traffic, and needed to return early. At Takao, an overheating Jerome took a dip in the Asagawa.

Many passersby chuckled.  A few applauded.
Orange cosmos hide the Parlee Altum-R and Gokiso wheels.
Fun to ride a zippy road bike after lots of randonneuring the past month! 
Then we took Machida Kaido and did the climb to Shiroyama Dam, finally a route without traffic on the climb and descent.  Then back to town via the "tank road" and Onekan. As Jerome warned from a recent trip, two-thirds of the length of the "tank road" was mobbed with zombies staring at smartphones playing "pokemon go".
I pinch flatted near the bottom of the last descent on Onekan going over a big gap at the beginning of the last bridge ... Too late I realized that I had high rim wheels, short/mid-length valves on my spare tubes and no valve extender.  I patched my flat tube ... and made it another 4~5 kms.  There followed a number of attempts at a fix, none successful, and in the end I rode a few kms on the flat tube with JJ and DD to Seo Cycles north of Komae, got a valve extender, and was able to ride home.

I cannot wait for cooler, dry weather. But Sunday and Monday has been rainy, and the next week looks like more of the same.

18 September 2016

Cycling in Seattle in September

Lake Washington -- from Warren Magnuson Park boat launch ramp
I recently spent a week in Seattle, at and around the University of Washington. I must say that I was impressed with the support that Seattle offers for cycling, in many ways similar to that seen in Portland, its neighbor to the South. My past experience with Seattle, featuring Interstate 5 traffic jams, a big city downtown, and a couple of seemingly endless local trips out to the suburbs during rush hour, had led me to think that Seattle might not be a good place to be a cyclist. I stand corrected.
Typical I-5 traffic approaching Seattle from the South 730AM one morning.
The first revelation was the bike share program -- lime-ish green bikes sponsored by Alaska Airlines, in contrast to Portland's orange Nike-sponsored bikes and New York's Citigroup bikes. These bikes have been around much longer than Portland's, and the racks I saw -- one just a block from my hotel -- had many open slots with bikes out for use (or repair).
Bike share station in the University District
The second revelation was on the SIR brevet.  I could not discern much leaving town starting from 6AM Saturday and heading out to the South/Southeast along the shore of Lake Washington. Of course, at that hour, there was almost no traffic.
On a trail near Renton southeast of Seattle. Gravel surface here.
But coming back into town along the paved Burke-Gilman trail was really great. This route brought us more than 25 kms from the edge of town all the way past the University, all on a dedicated trail. Most of the way it was relatively wide, smooth and fast. Somehow in a very hilly city, it managed to avoid any steep grades -- understandable where it is a former railroad bed.  Of course, the hard-core SIR members on the "gravel grinder" included a number of folks who ride everywhere, in city as well as out.

Then on Tuesday at the university, I noticed some nice support for cyclists - parking with a roof, bike storage lockers, pumps and repair tools available, convenient parking. This is summarized at the UW bikeshare website, which notes that UW is a "Bicycle Friendly University", the only one in Washington, America's most bicycle friendly state! And on a ferry trip to Bainbridge Island for dinner at a friend's places, I could see many spandex-clad cyclists, taking the ferry on an intermodal ferry/bicycle commute.
At least there is a roof over your bike when it rains.
No need to bring wrenches on a daily commute
$140 a year according to the UW bikeshare website.  Lots of other support.

The beauty of Seattle's skyline from the ferry -- photos do not do it justice. Magical on a calm, warm evening.

Next, mid-week, I took a ride on the Bantam Oregon randonneur bike into town to visit a high school friend who lives between Seattle Center and downtown.  Most of the way I was in a bike lane or otherwise a well-travelled commuter route.  Very nice.

The next day I took a quick exercise ride back out to the North and East of the University District.  I thought I would find Burke-Gilman, but somehow missed it and ended up at Warren Magnuson Park. Eventually I found the trail and took in on a very fast return trip.

Appropriate sculpture for Boeing's town - airplane stabilizers as sculpture at Magnuson Park.

Rain always close, even when you can see blue sky.
If Portland is Beervana, Seattle is coffee paradise. The city is home to Starbucks, of course, but also Tully's and Seattle's Best, among myriad others.
All-in-all, a very bikeable city, even if fenders and good rain gear needed most of the year!
Mt. Rainier from my hotel -- finally shows itself fully near end of the week!

09 September 2016

The Spectacular SIR Summer "Gravel Grinder" 600k!

This was the most that Mt. Rainer showed itself during the entire 2 day circumnavigation. ... big tease of a mountain!
The Seattle International Randonneurs' "Summer 600" ride around Mt. Rainier was held this past weekend.  When I first mentioned the idea of joining to Vincent last month, he warned me that this one looked pretty tough.
Sure, there were 6400 meters of climbing, heading up over Paradise on the south side of Mt. Rainier, then back down, then up over Cayuse Pass and Chinook Pass on the east side of Mt. Rainier, then the much lower Ellensburg and Snoqualmie Passes on the return trip.  But 6400 meters of climbing over a 600k brevet (actually, 615k for this route) ... is really not so extraordinary when compared to our rides in Japan.  Jerome and I did a "regular" 600k event back in 2012 or 2013 with Kanagawa Audax that had over 7500 meters of elevation gain.  And my first 600k brevet ever in Japan back in 2010 had at least as much climbing as this one.
Route of the SIR Summer 600, from RidewithGPS
But Vinny was not referring to the climbing.  No, he was thinking of the road conditions.  The route we would travel includes over 150 kms of gravel/dirt surfaced roads and trails, including some very nasty "washboard" sections that will rattle your bones and shake loose your teeth fillings.  I had never ridden any kind of distance on dirt/gravel.  Maybe 10kms on one of the roads near Yabitsu Pass was the most I could recall.  And that was slow going, with cyclocross tires.
The pre-ride report by Mark Vande Kamp pretty much confirmed that this was an incredible, and incredibly difficult, route.  In fact, I really don't need to give a full description of the event since the SIR pre-ride report says it all. As Mark summed it up:
  • "we saw volcanoes, glaciers, rivers, rain forests, dry pine forests, shrub-steppe, and sub-alpine environments. We saw an orange moon rise over the ridge. We rode in the silent pre-dawn darkness and saw the pink light on the hills. We had a big 600k experience.
Wow, that sounded attractive to me.
On the other hand, riding 600km on smooth roads is a lot easier than riding it on gravel. This I can now state with confidence.
As Mark also noted:
  • "we felt heat-stress, cramps, sleepiness, muscle fatigue, hunger, thirst, hand pain, butt pain, neck pain, nausea, and general discomfort."
Given this report, it was no surprise that only around 15 riders showed up at the start, as Vinny described it, some of the "hard core" of the SIR membership.
In my case, the description of the pre-ride pretty much matched my experience.  I had no real heat-stress or cramps, and no nausea.  But the stiff, constant headwinds from Ellensburg to Hyak were an added challenge late in the event.
On an early unpaved but very smooth stretch Saturday morning between Renton and Black Diamond heading out of Seattle.
Of course, there is an enormous amount of energy absorbed when your wheel slips or gravel slides as you try to push forward. And there is more energy loss as you bump up and down on the surface. And the general rolling resistance is higher.  The two longest unpaved sections were maybe 20kms of awful road between Naches and Ellensburg, and then a very long stretch (60kms?) on the "Iron Horse Trail" over Snoqualmie Pass -- a barely perceptible, gradual climb followed by a slightly steeper (1 or 2%!) descent, then a section on the Snoqualmie Valley trail.  If these had all been paved roads, I am pretty sure I could have completed the ride 3-4 hours faster, or more. The section between Naches and Ellensburg would have taken probably 90 minutes less. And the 100kms on the Iron Horse Trail would have been a breeze.
I was grateful that, even if I had not actually ridden such long gravel stretches before, I have READ about them in Jan Heine's Bicycle Quarterly. And Hahn Rossman, who works with Jan and had been at the 2014 Japan fleche closing party in Kamakura, was on the staff at this event.  Audax really is a small world, and you can see the same people at various events around the globe if you just travel a bit!
Typical stretch of road on the climb to Ellensburg Pass -- average, with a few stretches much worse than this.
Typical stretch (except add washboard) on the descent from Ellensburg Pass.
The SIR organizers/staff for the ride (Ryan, Hahn, Steve ... any others who I missed?) did a great job -- Ryan Hamilton's house served as the start/goal, with a nice place to sit in the side yard/patio (and enjoy a beer) after we wrapped up.  And the overnight control at Naches offered some hot food (and a beer) upon arrival, safe bike storage, coffee and another bite before heading out, and an actual hotel room bed (or part of a bed, for one or two who ended up sharing) to get a few hours of sleep.
The organizers also kindly warned us that the time deadlines on the return leg would be difficult, and that we really should leave Naches around 4AM to make sure to get to the Ellensburg control by the 8:28AM cut off.  That's right, four-and-a-half hours for a segment that is only 56 kms and includes only 600~650 meters of elevation gain, and finishes with a nice downhill? It sounds crazy, and I took it with a grain of salt, not leaving the Naches control until maybe 4:20.  I arrived at Ellensburg with 8 minutes to spare.  One flat tire and I would not have made it.
Heading out of Seattle, Nigel and Cheryl on the tandem down from BC
Vinny early on, riding his 650Bx42 tire titanium brevet machine.  I did not see him between maybe km 140 and the finish.  He left Naches at 3AM and was many hours ahead at the finish, as expected.
Riding gravel requires different equipment selection.  I was very glad to have the Oregon Randonneur bike with 700x30 Grand Bois tires still in good condition and inflated to 70~75psi (I let out a bit of air at Naches so was probably at 60~65psi on the return).  I made it through the entire event with no, that's right zero, flat tires or tubes.  The only rider who completed the event on a road bike with 700x23mm tires, Mitch, had 3 flats and finished after me, despite being a much faster rider.  I might have been even happier if I had had a bike equipped with 650B x 42mm tires.  Vincent and others on 650Bx42 could ride the gravel with more confidence, more speed and less slippage. 

The Oregon randonneur with a 3-bottle set up and no fenders again.
I made good time as far as the 128km Eatonville control, remembering some of the route from Cascade 1200.  I struggled between Eatonville and Longmire, fatigue setting in and lack of sleep in the prior few days of transit/early wake-up catching up with me. 
A U.S. convenience store - typically attached to a gasoline station.
This one, in Black Diamond, did have hot breakfast biscuit sandwiches (non-McD egg mcmuffins).
Typical of the roads between Black Diamond and Eatonville

Looking back toward Ohop Lake between Electron/Clay City and Eatonville
The last 15kms to Longmire followed a national forest road.  This was dirt -- or more accurately mud -- at least at the beginning.  There was a local fellow standing beside his parked car at the entrance as I rode by.  He asked "are you heading to Longmire"?  "Yep".  "Well, you must be going the right way because I've seen 4 others come by. Good luck."  The "good luck" was delivered with a kind of skeptical "you must be crazy to head up this road" sense to it.  

Pre-modern gasoline stand at Longmire, in Rainier National Park, where we rejoined the main road to Paradise.
Anyway, my fatigue did not lift at Longmire, where I ended up taking only a short rest and filling my water bottles and chatting a bit with John and Shiggy, two of the other riders.  800+ meters of climbing left from Longmire to Paradise.  In my condition I figured the only way would be to divide it up into shorter segments, with short rests.  I did so, 200 meters elevation gain at a time, and made it to Paradise after 5PM, but still more than 2 hours ahead of the deadline.
On the climb to Paradise

Paradise!  But still a bit more climbing left to the visitor center/control
The section of the ride between Paradise and Cayuse Pass was spectacular.  I have never been (or at least do not remember) traveling this SE side of Mt. Rainier.  The old growth forest was beautiful, the roads were not crowded.  I want to go back. 
Looking South across a meadow at Paradise

Old growth forest on the SE side of Rainier, just past
"Grove of the Patriarchs. I almost expected to see an Ewok, or a Sasquatch, or at least a black bear.
The road toward Cayuse Pass, Washington Rte 123
Looking back at Rainier -- barely visible
Descending to the East on the SE side of Rainier
And I felt recovered enough to climb to Cayuse and Chinook without any major problems.  I was far back in the pack at this point, but at Paradise, Ryan had told me there were still 4 riders behind me.  And even though Shiggy had gone ahead, I could see John's tail-light at various points on the climb to Cayuse, and caught up with him before Chinook.  We started the descent together, and eventually I went ahead, feeling full of energy and enjoying the tailwind.  We were together again at the control in Cliffdell, where we entered the bar and enjoyed some country music while getting some (non-alcoholic) refreshment.  John needed food, so I pressed on and was at Naches at 12:50AM, fed, showered and in bed by 1:30AM for a 4AM wakeup.
Pink morning clouds before 6AM on Sunday 

We saw a lot of beautiful sky, clouds, and stars on this brevet
The second day was all about time management.  8 minutes to spare at Ellensburg (km 397.3), then a miserable headwind from Ellensburg to Cle Elum (made much easier by Hugh, as we traded pulls until I ran out of gas at some point and he did most of the pulling).  Then the long gravel slog over the Iron Horse Trail (see pre-ride report for details on conditions -- I would only add that the deep gravel around various gates along the trail made it all much harder.  I got to the North Bend control (km 533.8) with 10 minutes to spare, following Jeff the last few kms.
Yakima River between Ellensburg and Cle Elum. Miserable headwinds here.

A few miles outside of Ellensburg

I only snapped one photo at the west exit to the tunnel at Snoqualmie Pass.  Not a moment to waste.
The tunnel was over 4 kms long, and unlit, with an uneven floor and some dripping water from the ceiling.
I passed a few cyclists and at least 30 walkers inside.
From North Bend, it looked like there was plenty of time to get to the Woodinville control, and I joined (and then passed) 3 riders - John, Hugh and Jeff - on the trail after North Bend, so it would be easy, right?  Then I noticed that it was almost 30 kilometers from the Woodinville control to the finish, but Woodinville closed at 916PM, while the finish deadline was 10PM.  Only 44 minutes for 27.6 kms? No way!  Yes way.  The course was 616.2 kms in length, but the time deadline was 40 hours -- standard for any 600km brevet.  So the last 16.2 kms did not get any time allocation.  Fortunately, I was able to get to Woodinville around 825PM, after dark now, but with plenty of time for the last 27.6kms. 
My Garmin died, and my mind was confused.  As I continued beyond the Woodinville control I looked at my cue sheet for navigation and pulled out my phone and tried to load the ridewithgps route. I would need it with no cyclecomputer or measure of distances. It looked as if I was supposed to join yet another trail in Woodinville.  I was fumbling around in the dark, grabbing some food from my bag and trying to figure it out when John, Jeff and Hugh came by, across the street.  
I hopped on the train and rode with them all the way to the finish.  This last 25 kms was reminiscent of the end of the Cascade 1200, when we rode in a nice group at a relaxed pace from the last control, near the "lanterne rouge" position.  
3+ kms later that we joined the trail I had been looking for -- the Burke Gilman Trail.  This trail is PAVED, and WIDE, and includes underpasses for busy intersections, and it took us all the way to the Univ. of Washington Campus and beyond, over 20 kilometers of easy, relatively flat riding, much of it along the NW shore of Lake Washington.  I was thinking "if I ever live in Seattle, this is an area where I could live and easily get into town - at least to the university - by bicycle."  At one point, Hugh reminded John, our pace-maker, that we could not be TOO relaxed, since we had slowed to around 15kph, and had only one hour to go the remaining almost 15 kms.  We sped up.  Jeff zoomed off ahead.
And so, as we rolled up to Ryan's house at 9:46PM Sunday, with 14 minutes to spare, then sat down and enjoyed the post-ride beer and some nice food, Randonesia had already begun to set in.
Then it was back to my hotel and off to sleep.  A deep, deep, satisfying 9 hour sleep, followed by a short day of activity then another deep, deep long sleep of 10+ hours on Monday night.  And more long sleep on Tuesday night.
Thank you, SIR, for a great 600k experience.