09 April 2017

Wet Sunday coffee ride

Not really a day for cycling, just a quick trip to Starbucks in Seijo with the Tokyo Cranks. One more chance to catch some Sakura as the rain starts to bring down the petals.

Saturday Sakura Ride

Jerome and I planned a Saturday ride. We were going to get an early start ... but rain overnight pushed our schedule back from 730AM to 920AM. Still, once we headed NW we soon found dry pavement. And we found nearly full sakura blooms. We went to the Mitake-san tram station and back. 118kms. Not bad for a half-day ride with plenty of sakura along the way!

Reflective bar tape

I just put some Shimano "PRO" reflective bar tape on the bike I want to try commuting on -- my old Canyon frame, which has a ding on the left side of the downtube, but seems to be still structurally okay ... so I can ride it in the city without getting worked up about other dings. The reflective tape works!
In indirect light, the tape looks normal:

26 March 2017

Mallorca, Mallorca! Paradise

Last week I visited Positivistas David and Juliane on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca, where they are hard at work on the 18th century (and earlier) farmhouse and "finca" (estate) that is their new home and the future P.E. Mallorca clubhouse. Stephen C. came over from London for the weekend to join us on a number of rides and catch a Saturday feast (whole pig roasted in "el horno", the wood-fired stone/brick lined oven). We missed MOB, Jerome and other friends, but had a wonderful week!
I had never been to Mallorca before. Of course, I was curious since I knew that MOB and Stephen go regularly, and David and Juliane have decided to make it their home. But I had not really been paying attention. I knew that it is a major beach vacation destination, so I guess I was expecting a kind of beach-town environment for spring break. I did not actually read the press asking, is this the greatest destination in the world for cycling? What I found was thus a bit of a surprise -- a real Mediterranean gem, with beautiful villages like Tuscany and Provence, a real European city in Palma (whose old town Juliane guided me through one morning, on foot), perfect weather  -- cool nights, warm days, spectacular stars -- and LOTS of really great cycling routes.

For cycling the island is a bit small to have the kind of "epic" rides one finds in some places -- the climbs are generally not that long (the longest we did was about 700 meters of elevation gain, and the entire island is only 3640 square km -- maybe 70~75 kms long and 60km across at the widest points.  The most interesting rides tend to involve the mountainous area the runs along the northern 25% of the island, but we also rode across the plain and rolling hills to Randa and up the climb of an isolated mountain toward the South, to the Santuria de Cura, and it was lovely.
Deià. Wow.
On many roads there were more road cyclists than cars. Most routes were very low traffic, and high cyclist. What cars there were were very careful -- no doubt they EXPECTED to see a cyclist coming at them as they rounded each corner. It makes a huge difference.

Anyway, I do not have time to report at length, but will give a bit of info on our rides, and post a few photos. Please believe me when I say that EVERY cyclist -- not just those from Germany, Netherlands and the UK, should get at least one, and hopefully many, trips to Mallorca!

All the rides were 50-100 kms in length, and none over 2000 meters of elevation gain. And the pace was usually relaxed (the return from Randa and a few of the climbs being the exceptions), with plenty of photo and coffee stops, and energy left to enjoy the rest of the day off-bike. But the cumulative effect was that I left Mallorce feeling rested and in much better condition than I arrived.

1. Ride #1. Loop from Esporles past La Granga museum, then over a climb to Puigpuyent, then a second climb to Galilea, then Es Capdella, Calvia, Etabliments, and back. 51kms and 920 meters elevation gain according to Strava. Beautiful!

2. Ride #2.  From Capinet to Selva, Caimari, up to Col de Sa Bataia, then along MA-10 and down Port de Sa Calobra, ... and back. Sa Calobra -- one of the iconic climbs of cycling, and the earlier climb from Caimari also fantastic.  80 kms and 2000m of climbing.

3. Ride #3.  From Pollença to Cap Formentor -- a spectacular jutting peninsula on the NE corner of the island. This is listed by many as one of the best 2-3 hour bicycle rides in the world.  51 kms and 1030 meters of climbing.

4. Ride #4.  The first loop again, but this time in the opposite (clockwise) direction. And an important mid-ride stop.
Top of the last climb

Mid-ride stop in Puigpunyent.
5.  Ride #5.  From Esporles to Randa and up the hill to Santuria de Cura, via Santa Maria del Carni and Algaida and back. 96 kms and only 806 meters of elevation gain, though it felt like more on the approach route we took to, and climb following, Randa.

6. Ride #6.  Loop from Esporles to Bunyola, over the old road pass to Sóller, back along the hilly North coast to Deià, Valldemossa and over a short climb and down to Esporles. 67kms and 1400 meters of elevation gain. Really incredible to have this ride on the doorstep!

Glorious Yakushima!

The rain clears just as I arrive. Road still damp!

A few weeks back, in February, I had the pleasure of a long cycling weekend in Yakushima, visiting Positivista Graham and his wife Shoko at their guesthouse, Cafe and Cottage Davis. A beautiful environment, delicious food, good weather and a relaxing time. Shoko's cooking is one of the highlights of the trip, and we were treated like royalty. 

I highly recommend this as a trip for other cyclists, and just people who want to get away from Tokyo and enjoy the "slow life" for a few days, Japanese style in a beautiful environment.

On the road from Miyanoura to Anbo after the Hillclimb

Looking up the Anbogawa (Anbo River) from Anbo

Further upstream from a high bridge over the Anbogawa
I got to Yakushima via a Skymark flight from Tokyo (Haneda) to Kagoshima, then a high speed (hydrofoil) ferry of just over 2 hours from a ferry terminal in downtown Kagoshima. Skymark is very inexpensive, if booked in advance. There also are flights for the connection from Kagoshima to Yakushima -- with the airport just north of Anbo, the nearest ferry port to the Cottage. But apparently these flights (turboprop) do not take bicycles as oversized luggage -- check ahead before booking -- so you should either take the hydrofoil, or ship your bike separately (via Yamato takkyubin, for example--painless within Japan).
The coastline just below Cottage Davis

Delicious breakfasts ... the first course here.

David M. and I joined the Yakushima Eco-Cycling hill climb event on Saturday. As hill climbs go, it was short (under 8kms) and not so steep. The next day, we rode around the island, not as part of the "official" Eco-Cycling ride, but on a different, later schedule, and starting from Cottage Davis.  We caught the "official" ride on the west side of the island and could see some people from the hill climb. We left the main route and climbed, and climbed, to take a forest road "rindo" along the SW corner of the island. David M. suggested they really could hold the hill climb on this rindo.  It was not much of an exaggeration.
After a successful hill climb, on the way down.
Is that a wee bit of left over snow on the north face at the mountaintop?

Mavic support car ... overkill for an event with fewer than 100 participants! But cool anyway.
I am told that it rains a lot in Yakushima. And why not -- it has pretty much the same weather as Kagoshima area of Kyushu, except more exposed to the ocean. But I arrived just after a rain shower stopped, and enjoyed sunshine my entire visit. So I would need to say that the weather was perfect and we had a wonderful trip. Some of you may have seen some of these photos on Facebook, but for others ...
Rindo high along the South coast of the island
Beautiful banyan tree on the WSW side of the island
I rest under a banyan tree.

The west side of Yakushima - looking south from the main wilderness area of the coast.
A beach on the North side where sea turtles nest -- come on onshore in March usually
The north side of the island.
We could see several nearby islands, two with white smoke/steam emerging from volcanos!
Yakushima, it seems, has not been volcanically active at all in modern times.
Probably the #1 destination for Yakushima visitors is to climb up to one of the highest points in the center of the island to see the "Jomon-sugi", a fur tree that is thousands of years old. You pretty much need to reserve a day for this trip, with a start early in the morning. You cannot get there by bicycle. We did not have a full day available to visit the "Jomon-sugi" this time, and had plenty of fun with the banyan trees and other younger sugi we did see in the forests, ... but what a perfect excuse for a return trip, as if one were needed!
The fur tree forests of Yakushima. Completely different than the post-war new growth near Tokyo!
(for one thing - I did not feel any allergies from these.)

200km Attack Annaka Brevet with Jerome - March 5

Even though I rode a 200km brevet at the beginning of January, I traveled without bike to visit my parents in February, and did not ride much. So by end of February I felt as if I was not in the same shape as past years, especially 2015 when I trained hard for the SR600, Dolomites and PBP. And I have gained weight over the winter. Maybe I am just getting older?

Anyway, with the return of more cycling-friendly weather, I felt I really needed to get out more, enjoy riding, and to put in some work. So at the last minute, Jerome and I secured entry into a 200km Saitama Audax brevet on March 5. The route went from a start near Ogose, over Sadamine Pass, then out via Nagatoro to Fujioka and eventually west to Annaka, with a turn-around point just before the climb to Karuizawa.  Going back the route skipped Sadamine and instead did a few much smaller climbs. According to Strava we climbed 2900 meters on the day --in truth probably less, but it was by no means a flat course.
Mostly familiar routes, except for the portion between the Start/Goal and Nagatoro.
According to Strava around 2900 meters elevation gain.

On the descent from Sadamine Pass

The weather was not bad, a bit colder than anticipated at the start but we warmed up on the climb and completed before the cold of night. On the other hand, the sun was weak, behind thin clouds and haze. And it was fur-tree pollen and dust-from-Asia and field ploughing season also -- my teeth always feel covered in grime and my nose clogged after a ride this time of year. So somehow not the most welcoming of environments.

On the return leg, in Gunma. In this photo it looks flat. It was not. 
Mt. Asama blows off steam. Seen from Gunma.

With this, my weekend in Yakushima and week in Mallorca, and a series of decent training rides in April, I can hope to be ready for the Isabella Byrd 1500km "heaven week" series over Golden Week.