11 July 2019

Swim and Bike day - to Chichibu and Takasaki with Peter - SRAM Etap Fail

Hydrangeas still blooming in July along the slopes of Nariki-Kaido
Deep green with running water -- beautiful in every season.

Last weekend I could not get out on the bike. Rain, work on Saturday, and a barbecue for my students on Sunday (not work, but workplace-related), all prevented it.

So I looked forward to trying a mid-week ride. 

I had been talking about trying to ride with Peter W. I met Peter when he gave me a lift to and from the Fuji Hill Climb.  (I offered to drive or be driven ... just to cut down the number of cars going with the Tokyo Cranks and avoid sitting alone in traffic. Peter loves to drive, ... but he is the first to admit he would not make a good passenger, so the bikes went on top of his sportscar. I am more flexible in these things.) Peter has a flexible schedule mid-week.

Anyway, we settled on yesterday, Wednesday, to try to ride, and the weather forecast was for cool, cloudy, but dry -- as good as it gets near Tokyo in July, I think, though a bit of blue sky might have been nice also. 

I suggested 3 possible routes, all starting from Oume and ending in Karuizawa or Sakudaira. And I had told Onikata-san, the cyclocross racer I met on the way back from Karuizawa a few weeks ago, that if I got back to Gunma I would let her know and see if we could ride with her when in her home territory (she and her husband are in Annaka). She reported that she should be able to ride some in the afternoon.

After morning swim practice, I headed to Tokyo Station where I met Peter, and we boarded an 8:30 Chuo Line rapid train that would continue to Oume. The train starts at Tokyo Station and ends at Oume, so this assured we could fit our bikes even during rush hour, and get a seat the entire trip. Peter would rather have driven (did I mention he likes to drive?).  But we needed to go by train to Oume so we could come back a different route. Frankly, in Japan train offers much more "optionality" than car even if it can sometimes be slower. 
South entrance to Chuo Line platform, Tokyo Station 830AM weekday -- not so bad, though
now that I think about it, the sign does say "don't put luggage in front of here".
My first choice is to ride the entire trip, but if distance and time do not permit that,  I prefer train to car. My fast, minimal "rinko" preparation makes train easier, also -- 5 minutes and my bike is in or out of the rinko bag and ready to go. Again, Peter is more deliberate, and more careful, but it takes him much longer to pack or unpack his bike, even though it is a "rear wheel on" rinko bag (no grease on the hands from removing the back wheel, but takes much more space on the train).  
Takes a bit of time to get this bike ready out of the rinko.
Anyway, we were at Higashi Oume and on the road by 1015am. 
Another view -- always beautiful ... near the start of the Tokyo Hillclimb
We made decent time to the "Holy Fountain", where we had a quick water stop, then climbed Yamabushi and were at the top by Noon. 
The shrine of the holy fountain - fresh water before the climb
Arai Fudou-son shrine - the "holy fountain"
Peter is taller and thinner than me, and has a lighter carbon Specialized "S Works" Roubaix bicycle. But I am still a faster climber and waited 4-5 minutes at the top of Yamabushi. He is relatively new to road cycling, and if he rides regularly I expect he will at some point improve and get up the hills faster than I do, at least he will do so unless I lose some weight. Physics and the magic "power to weight ratio" make it highly likely. So for the time being I enjoy every hill that I summit ahead of him.
Elev 600m, or 608m, or 610m.
This sign serves as SR600 Fuji proof of passage ... only the framebadge is missing. 
Peter arrives at the top of Yamabushi ...
He grumbled about it being 30 meters lower than I had represented, as his Garmin still registered under 600m.
... Said he was "saving his energy for the last push".
I got way ahead again on the downhill, and I do not expect this will change. I drop like a rock and am descending well this year, picking my line carefully and trying to stay off the brakes--eager for Alpine descents. My knowledge of these roads, heavier weight, and Peter's upright riding position give me the advantage on the downhill.  Plus I had my mini aero bars on the bike, which pull in my shoulders and cut drag. Near the top of Yamabushi the pavement was wet and we were in mist from the clouds, but the lower part of the descent to Route 299 was dry, and once we joined 299 (this stretch aka the "ajisai kaido"), it was very fast all the way into Chichibu.

On the Fuji Hill Climb weekend Peter had brought all his own food -- a bit fanatical, I thought. Perhaps excused as a by-product of years living in China and Hong Kong, where food safety and quality can be an issue? I was glad that once we reached Chichibu he seemed eater to eat a regular meal, in fact said he preferred a sit down lunch. We went to an Italian place with good pizza and pasta, full of local ladies at Wednesday noon. The food was tasty and prices were reasonable--not a tourist stop.

From Chichibu the ride went downhill, figuratively and, mostly, literally. I was riding my SRAM Etap setup. I love this wireless electronic shifting. But last week I had a dead rear derailleur battery, way too premature. I figured the battery had a problem, or maybe I had done something to it. So I swapped out the battery for my spare. I put the same battery back in after recharging -- better check to make sure it was not my imagination. Sure enough, on Tuesday when I checked it was dead, so I used the spare battery. But that battery was ALSO dead when I left swimming to ride to Tokyo Station yesterday morning. Hmm. I almost went home ... would have missed the train, so instead decided to swap front and rear batteries and limit myself to a single chainring. Big ring, but I could temporarily change the batteries and use the small chainring on the Nariki Kaido climb and on Yamabushi.

Anyway, this worked fine until one of the sections a few km after Chichibu. The last battery died. I was stuck for the rest of the ride in a 50-23 gear. If you needed to pick one gear for the rest of this ride, it might have been 50-23 or 50-21 -- just enough to get over the last few hills until the climb to Usui Pass, and just big enough to make OK progress on the flats, even if I would "spin out" as soon as I exceeded 28-29kph.

With this gearing, Peter went ahead and soon had a few hundred meters lead on me. ... I could not tell him to turn left for one last hill that would have taken us to Oni-ishi and Fujioka. In the end, we just kept going down a valley to the Northeast and emerged to the flats of the north Kanto plain.

We contacted Onikata-san, whom we had planned to meet at Tomioka and ride with as far as Karuizawa. Instead we headed for Takasaki, a major station. She came by and we could at least get some coffee at a Starbucks. Annaka, Tomioka, Takasaki are all close and all her riding territory. She told us about her Sunday group rides -- typically they train on Jizo Touge, or Mt. Haruna, or a few other places. She said there was lots of repetition, always the same 3-4 routes. I guess I am envious, since living in Annaka puts you close to plenty of nice riding territory, far better than Tokyo. But to get variety you need to go a bit further afield. Or rinko, as we did. Her husband apparently was a serious bike racer -- won the Japanese national championship in his university days. And a friend of theirs runs a bike shop next to her hair salon in Annaka.
Post-coffee pre-train photo.
Anyway, it was a good, active weekday. Even though we could not make our goal of Karuizawa, I still rode 87km with good company, nice roads, and did one of the classic Kanto passes (plus I got in another 10km in town, and a morning 1800m swim).

Also, importantly, my etap failed BEFORE my Europe trip, with still time to put on a mechanical groupset -- better safe than sorry for PBP. Mark Thomas and Lois Springsteen, two winners of the "American Randonneur Award", both warned me off of electronic shifting systems for long events ... and I guess, despite my happy experience in Tasmania, they were probably right. I will submit a warranty claim for the SRAM rear derailleur, but meanwhile will likely be riding good old trusty mechanical shifting in France, cable splitter, spare cables and all.