31 December 2017

Early December Nishi Izu

Views of Mt Fuji for many, many kilometers from Nishi Izu coastline

The last week of the year has been taken up with many short rides, more time along the Tamagawa than any point in the past year. But I did get one spectacular ride in December a bit farther afield, in Nishi Izu from Mishima down to Matsuzaki, then via Jaishi Toge (that's "snake rock pass" -- sounds like a place out of a western!), Minami Izu and Shimoda. A classic Positivo Espresso route on a perfect late autumn/early winter day, but a road I have not taken since an early 2015 brutally tough 400km Randonneurs Tokyo brevet.

An early shinkansen to Mishima and a long train ride back from Shimoda. Next time I may stay the night and ride back ... or do a different loop and return via Shuzenji.

Next time I will experiment with better route between Mishima Station and the coastline....

Nishi Izu has plenty of climbing. Nothing more than a few hundred meters tall, but it adds up!

According to Strava 2900 meters elevation gain. In fact? Less, but still probably close to 2000.

There were so many beautiful vistas it was difficult not to stop every few minutes, and now it is difficult to select among photos.

A cold morning at the start ... but warmed up gradually with the sunlight

Bike leaning, mikan at the bottom of the staircase
One of many small working harbors

More Fuji

I wish I had had room in my rucksack for some mikan and kiwi fruit!

One of the earlier towns heading down the coast ... I think Heda
The climbs do have their rewards!

Toi Onsen Footbath

At Toi Onsen

More and more

Sun is getting lower ... at Dougashima

More Dougashima

Sometimes a video tells the story better, even a few seconds.

Here either route leads to Minami Izu and Shimoda. Both involve climbing. I went straight.

Jaishi is a bit lonely without the collapsed Positivo Espresso members, as in the traditional photo
Another foot spa, another bike leaning. This one at Minami Izu.
This is where Steve R. and I warmed up after official closing but before they drained the water back in early 2015.
And it is at the base of a hill where there was a site for one of my company's solar PV projects.

I will not wait 2 1/2 years before my next visit!

03 December 2017

Late Afternoon Tsukui - Strange Guests at the Colombian Drug Lord's House

Jerome and I had a great midweek ride Wednesday , and I had other commitments yesterday and this morning (searching for and buying a new car takes time), so I headed out at a relaxed pace, after 130PM, and found myself pointing toward familiar routes -- Komazawa Dori past Komazawa Olympic Park, Onekansen then the Tank Road and finally around the North shore of Lake Tsukui, where I arrived just around dusk.

Komazawa Park

Komazawa Dori at Komazawa Park. Ginkgo trees.

On the short climb around the North side of Lake Tsukui

After some photos of the beautiful view from the road's high point, I headed toward the forest road. But after stopping several times to admire the view, it was nearly dark when I got to the last house -- the Spanish style place Positivo Espresso members have always referred to as the Colombian Drug Lord house (or sometimes "Casa del Pablo Escobar").
I noticed a dark figure scaling the side of the house, along a cable duct, with remarkable dexterity and power. A rival gang? An anti-narco special force?  A second, then a third figure climbed a nearby tree and JUMPED onto the edge of the roof. On a closer look, it was a roving band of monkeys!

The monkeys were not quiet, jumping and stomping around. I can only imagine what it would have felt like inside, if anyone had been home!

In any event, the sun fell, the moon rose, and I headed back for Tokyo. In all a bit over 110 kms, and leaves me with a wee bit of energy to get ready for the week ahead.

30 October 2017

Rene Herse 3-person tandem on display

At the Bicycle Culture Center near Meguro Station.

22 October 2017

10th Consecutive Day of Rain = Time for a Rain Gear Review!

Outside Segafredo coffee in Shimokitazawa, in my rain gear!
Today marks (by one friend's count) the 10th consecutive day of at least some rain in Tokyo. We have had drenching rain, cold rain, warm rain, sprinkles, misty small droplets, and more.  Rain last weekend put the kabosh on Jerome's erstwhile attempt at SR600 Nihon Alps.

I have tried to put the best spin on things and have continued to ride my bicycle all over town on my commute and for other meetings and errands. (On short rides, in all but the heaviest rain, with decent rain gear and the right footwear, it is manageable. Every once in awhile, I arrive soaking wet, even after removing my rain gear.)

Overnight tonight we are expecting a typhoon. It has been raining in Tokyo most of the past 36+ hours -- the past 12 hours' relatively heavy but not cold rain, and it should rain straight through until the typhoon passes early Monday. Despite this "extremely large, strong" typhoon being a relatively fast moving storm, accelerating as it moves toward the Japanese archipelago, the Tokyo area is forecast to get up to 200mm (8 inches) of rain, while areas along the coast to the west of Tokyo should get even more rain.

Today's weekly Sunday morning Tokyo Cranks ride was cancelled due to rain, replaced with a morning coffee get together at the Segafredo shop a few hundred meters north of Shimo Kitazawa station.

Of course, I rode to and from ShimoKita for the coffee. I did not see a single other cyclist out on the trip over, and only one or two on the return trip. But it was not a bad ride. The roads are LESS slippery after several days of rain than after the first rain in days or weeks. The oily discharge from autos and trucks has mostly washed away after a day or two. And the wind was not strong.

Some thoughts on the rain gear I have used recently:

1. Showers Pass cycling rain jacket.

This is very good rain protection. Nicely roomy, longer sleeves than my other cycling rain shells, plenty of adjustment on the wrist velcro closing tabs. The only issues are that in Tokyo much of the time this jacket is too hot, with sweat on the inside becoming a major issue.  No reason to wear a rain shell if you are dripping wet anyway on the inside! The past week has been cool enough so this is not a problem. Another issue is that the version I have has no hood, and a relatively large opening around the neck. Again, not a problem on a commute, but not ideal for a ride of many hours in the rain.

2. Rain Legs

These rain "chaps" are a life saver. Light weight, easy to roll up and carry around the waist, easy to take on and off. For maybe 15% of the bulk of rain pants, you block 85% of the water that would hit your legs.  And with rain pants, sweat on the inside is always an issue, but not with these unless in extreme heat.

3. X3 clip on rain fender.

This is my favorite brand of clip on fender. It is easy to adjust. I like the MTB version that is a bit wider, since it continues to work even if it gets a wee bit off center. No, a clip on fender is not ideal, it will not keep the rain off your bike frame or grit off of your drivetrain, but it does keep your backside dry.

4. Cycling cap inside helmet.

The past week I have worn a cap with visor -- baseball cap or cycling cap -- inside my helmet. I find this is much more effective for maximizing eyesight than glasses would be in the rain. Glasses fog up.

5. Sealskinz (USA) gloves

These are good, but seem to have lost water resistance over the five plus years (10?) I have used them.

6. Sealskinz (USA) socks.

If I recall correctly, the "sealskinz" brand has different ownership/control in the US and the UK/Europe. These waterproof socks will retain a lot of water once it seeps in the top. They keep my feet dry the first 15-20 minutes of a soaking ride.

7. Shimano MTB style shoes. The shoes I am wearing in the photo actually do pretty well at keeping my feet dry (unlike some others) ... for the first 30 minutes of a soaking ride.

None of these will keep you fully dry if you ride in a rainstorm. But they will make a huge difference on a shorter trip, and welp make the rain tolerable, even fun. And they can make a huge difference in allowing you to ride in rain in the city and actually show up to meetings looking presesentable.

21 September 2017

Cycling in Portland - Better and Better

The new bicycle/pedestrian bridge.
I was back in Portland for awhile to visit family at the end of August and earlier this month. Cycling there just gets better and better. I found this trip that it was MUCH easier to shuttle between the place I was staying and downtown Portland via bicycle than by car. The Trolley Trail and Springwater Corridor Trail have transformed in my view the areas of Sellwood, Milwaukie and Oak Grove. And the Tillicum Crossing bridge (light rail, bikes and pedestrians only) is great. They have an LED display that shows cyclist crossings so far this year, and on the current day.

Downtown obscured by the Ross Island Bridge (and Marquam Bridge) from the bike trail

In Milwaukie looking across at Lake Oswego

Oaks Bottom with spectacular purple flowering grasses

Its a wildlife refuge!

19 September 2017

Vol de Nuit (Night Flight)

SR600 Nihon Alps - Second Try!

I recently reread Le Petit Prince by Antoine St.-Exupéry. Of course, St.-Exupéry was a pilot in the early days of aviation, and the narrator of that, his most famous work, is a downed pilot in the desert.

But St.-Exupéry's real existential masterpiece about flying is Vol de Nuit (Night Flight).

Some people look askance at me when I mention that I will do a long ride during, or through, the night.

I say: read Vol de Nuit.

I will never fly a primitive small plane over the Andes at night, but cycling the Akiba Kaido at night may be as close as I get.

A 2016 review of this 1931 novel in The Guardian explains some of its magic. Fabien, the pilot, tells his wife, "It's great leaving at night. You pull the throttle control, face south, and 10 seconds later you turn the landscape round and head north. The city has become just part of the seabed."

Indeed, that was the feeling as I headed onto the climb to Fuefuki Pass out of Chino. Only a few minutes (it took more than 10 seconds, but not MUCH more), through a short tunnel and onto the first turn -- in the dark I turned the landscape around -- and I was alone, the lights fading into the distance. In 15 minutes, Chino and Suwa were ... just part of the seabed.
The Shoreline of Lake Suwa and the lights of its southern Chino-side shore visible below as I climb into the sky
After I emerged the next morning at the Kagura hot spring on the Tōyamagawa, I met a Nagoya motorcyclist. He told me he was afraid to ride his motorbike on Akiba Kaido at night. What if you have an accident, and no one is around? What if a wild animal shows up? A sudden storm?

I laughed. Japan really is a "village society". Of course he would feel uneasy alone at night on this highway. I think many Japanese would feel uneasy alone in the woods, just as many who, as I, hiked and camped in the Oregon cascades as a child, who celebrate and thrive in wilderness, would relish it.

I have ridden Akiba Kaido twice before, I know that you really DO need to watch for deer around Oo-shika (大鹿--the town of "Big Deer") and on the entire descent after Bunkui Pass. And I know that, for the cyclist, Jizo Pass is not a pass, just a signpost in the middle of the climb up to Shirabiso Kogen. I even know where the road is rough or sudden turns dangerous. So, to paraphase Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian: what could be more conducive to reverie than the solitude and majestic spectacle of riding Akiba Kaido at night?
My bike rests at Bunkui Pass, a Japanese "power spot"
Last time I tried the SR600 Nihon Alps, in August 2014, the rain started at the first pass, Fuefuki. It was a downpour by the time I got to Bunkui and beyond.

This time, I saw spectacular stars--Orion, Casseopeia, a bit of the Milky Way--all the way until I was most of the way up the climb to Shirabiso Kogen. A quarter moon appeared over the eastern ridgetop when I was about two-thirds of the way through the night.

I rode Fujimi Pass (970 meters), Fuefuki Pass (1250 meters), Bunkui Pass (1428 meters), Jizo Pass (1314 meters), and Shirabiso pass (1833 meters).
Time for a short rest, but another 600 meters elevation gain ahead!
And solitude! From the beginning of the climb to Bunkui Pass--10 kms before its crest--to Shirabiso, I was passed by only ONE car. I met deer, yes; stray cats, yes; I heard odd whistling animals somewhere in the woods, yes. People and cars, no.

But the rain did come, eventually. A few drops on the last minutes of the climb to Shirabiso after 430AM, then a steady, hard, cold pour. I had been riding in summer gear pretty much, enjoying cool weather and only sweating on the climbs. Suddenly, I was at 1833 meters (over 6000 ft) elevation, in 5 degrees C (40 F) weather and rapidly getting soaked. I knew that I would get no help at the hotel further along the ridge (tried that in 2014), and that the descent to follow was technical, slow, and dangerous. I put on all my gear -- arm and leg warmers, rain gloves, cap, jacket and rain chaps. It was not enough to last for long, with damp sweat already from the climb and hard rain. I immediately set off, picking the fastest, best route I knew off the mountain. In places I could ride under thick green trees, on dry pavement, but then would emerge into a blast of cold water from the heavens.
Shirabiso Pass ... STILL not the top of the climb. 80 meters elevation more aheadl
At the bottom of the hill, I knew I was no longer in danger of hypothermia. It was at least 6-7 degrees C warmer here, and my gear had served its purpose, barely.

I rode further down Route 152 until I found a bus stop with a roof. I could not think clearly there and was not warming, so I went further to another bus stop. This one had walls and a tight sealed door, a sign indicating a box for hikers heading into the mountains above to drop off their route plans upon departure, and it was warm and snug inside.

I quickly figured out that this was just the first band of what would be a major rainstorm, followed by wind, as Typhoon 18 moved up the Japanese archipelago. I had hoped to get a largely dry Saturday and another 170 kms, to Gero Onsen before the rain would start. But it was already here, and would not cease.

So I researched the local onsen, found the Kagura Onsen down the road, enjoyed a nice foot bath until opening time, then a real bath, then lunch, a ride to Hiraoka on the Iida Line, and one of the slowest trains ever to Toyohashi (3 hours), then a shinkansen home.
These free foot baths are not uncommon at hot springs in Japan. They can be life savers as warm feet
spread a glow throughout the body when cold and wet.

It took me multiple tries before everything lined up perfectly and I rode a successful SR600 Fuji in May of 2015, in beautiful, perfect conditions. The SR600 Nihon Alps is harder: bigger mountains, more remote, hotter valleys, and the main climb not even accessible until June. So I am not surprised at a second failure.

This time, as last, the weather made it extremely difficult. Last time impossible, with roads closed and evacuations; this time ... I abandoned too soon to know for sure, but likely impossible. It will not be my last attempt. But next time I will only go with an excellent weather forecast!
The weather just after my return to Tokyo. Still another day of rain ahead in Nagano.
The course is spectacular, with the start at Kobuchizawa, then a climb out of Chino and onto the Akiba Kaido, the passes west of Iida, Norikura, and then Tateshina/Yatsugatake. It remains on my bucket list.

07 September 2017

Private Bike Share companies in Seattle

Last year September in Seattle, the public bike share program, sponsored by Alaska Airlines, was prominent. But it did not do well, and went under since that visit.

This year, there are NEW lime green bikes in evidence. These are private bike share companies, like the ones that sprung up in China last year. There are over 1000 bikes in Seattle already by 2 companies, and no doubt more on the way. Lime Bike launched at the end of July, joining Spin. The bikes are similar, distinguished by their colors more than functions.

I rode MY bike to a lunch today at the Pioneer Square neighborhood at the South end of downtown Seattle, and could see these bikes parked in random locations. Like Uber, a user finds a bike by checking her mobile phone app.

The question remains, are there enough people in Seattle who want to ride a bike but do not already have their own bike within easy reach?

31 July 2017

NYC - 450,000 bike trips per day

Nice article in the NY Times today online about cycling in NYC. Quite a difference from 20 years ago.

23 July 2017

Matsuhime Pass, ahead of the heat

View from near the top of the climb to Matsuhime Pass, looking back down the valley toward Saruhashi
Today Jerome and I wanted to ride, but the heat has been awful. I decided that I would be on a 613AM train from Musashi Mizunoguchi, arriving at Saruhashi at 746AM, meaning I would need to leave home before 545AM.  Jerome wanted to join, but was planning to go later ... but take an express from Shinjuku to Otsuki. I told him he could catch me on the climb. I missed the 613AM train, and ended up at Saruhashi around 815AM. ... and Jerome only 15 minutes or so behind when he started from Otsuki.

The strategy worked really nicely. We met at the top, and enjoyed the last 2/3 of the ride together. The heat was bearable, much more shaded roadway on the South side of Matsuhime than I remembered, a slight breeze, and little traffic (and no traffic at all on the "old road" to Matsuhime Pass, now that Matsuhime Tunnel is open and the old road is closed off on the South approach to the Pass--but still accessible for ingenious cyclists).
Leaving Saruhashi ... but this is not the famous bridge.

Beautiful empty road! Route 139.

Many types of flowers along Route 139

One of the stretches of Route 139 that has not yet been widened. Eventually it should all be 2 lanes, as most of it is.

Approaching Fukashiro Dam.

Hydrangea at the dam in the small rest area.

The reservoir is almost empty. Only generating 124kWs!
(I checked online and my Hiroshima solar project was over 450kWs at the same time Saturday morning 

Turn left just before the LONG Matsuhime Tunnel ... Then go around the locked fence and through several shorter, completely unlighted tunnels.

On the climb. Much more shade than I remember. I took it slow and easy ...

We came from down there. Up, Up, Up!
The bus driver must have been asleep somewhere in the back of this bus. No sign of activity... 

At Matsuhime Pass

Jerome arrives. Wonder why the included English on this one? ... if only they had done so where we entered below, we would have been on notice ...

On Yamanashi Rte 18 after Tsuru Pass, traditional stop for water/rest on the left.

No one is taking care of the gateball court this year. The elderly are now too few and old for gateball!

More hydrangea!
A cold beer and cold udon for recovery at a place in Uenohara complete with bike bar/rack

At Uenohara for the trip back to town. Girls in yukata for summer festivals?
The ride was only 60kms, with around 1700 meters of climbing. Plus another 10kms or so in town getting to/from the trains (and with a stop at C Speed to chat with Hiroshi). I feel as if I have "acclimated" a bit to the heat and humidity for this year, but also as if over the next month my rides will involve early starts and rinko transits to skip the miserably hot slog from and back to town and start nearer climbs that will take me to pleasantly cooler elevation.
Maybe I have reached the point MOB did, where I will no longer have the patience for a slog along the Tamagawa and through the sprawl of Tokyo suburbs? Maybe I will be a regular rinko bag user? Okay, I WILL be a regular rinko bag user, especially after I complete a planned move closer to the middle of Tokyo for the Fall.