26 November 2012

Stelvio Dreams

Some great photography of cycling on the Stelvio in early winter.  See


And for a recent 1 minute video of cycling the Stelvio in winter (hat tip to www.mamil.cc ).


Playing on the Stelvio from Jered Gruber on Vimeo.

The electronica music in the video starts the heart pumping, makes me want to get on the bike and find a climb!

Some great photography of cycling on the Stelvio in early winter, by the same photographer ... same trip, presumably.  See


Then there is cycling the Stelvio via fixed gear ... how many tires were consumed in this descent?

SEABASE vs STELVIO from YUHZIMI Ltd. on Vimeo.

Or for a set of instagram effect-style photos of the Stelvio, see:


Almost as good as this photo of Juliane and David J. climbing the Stelvio end of June 2009.

I won't get back there this summer.  ...   Maybe 2014?

25 November 2012


Stephen was in town again this weekend from Hong Kong, and Jerome joined him Saturday evening at his place in Ikusabata, west of Oume.  The weather was spectacular -- clear and crisp, with the autumn colors near peak.
Jerome takes photos on the Nokogiri descent
I left home around 7:20AM Sunday and tried to make decent time without working too hard, getting to Stephen's a little after 9:30AM.  Jerome had gone on a major convenience store run and gathered breakfast items, which we ate on the porch in the sunlight.  It was cold even in the sun, with a breeze and perspiration on my jersey chilled after a few minutes resting.
More from the grotto/water hole on the Nokogiri South side descent
We rode up to Yoshino Kaido to Kori, then further up via Okutama Kaido to Okutama Station and, a few minutes beyond, to the left hand entrance to the climb.  It was great to finally get off the main road and away from the tourists.
At the top of Nokogiri, Stephen is ready for more. ... plenty of warm layers.
The road is in better condition than the last time I did this climb, in January 2011, 22 months ago.   And the cool weather was perfect.  I climbed without any photo stops, but also without any effort to push hard ... and still managed to shave 2 1/2 minutes off my prior best time.  Cool weather and better road conditions make a difference.  On the descent, we stopped at the small water hole just after the short tunnel ... for more photos.
Cover photo for next year's "Men of Positivo Espresso" calendar?

Warm layers ... but could use some full finger gloves.
Jerome came to the rescue and lent a pair.

This is why we ride on side roads into the mountains.

We went down the South side and together as far as Itsukaichi, where I headed for home.  140 kilometers, one big climb, and home before 3PM.

21 November 2012

Bike Craft -- wheels 00008 and 00009

A rainy Saturday, and I was still recovering from a cold so gave up on my plan for a longer Sunday ride.  I built up two wheels, number 00008 and 00009, using the last two of my SP Dynamo hubs. One is a Velocity A23 hub, with Sapim CX Ray spokes (32 x 3 cross), and with the PV-8 hub.  It is identical to my 2012 Brevet wheel, except for the PV-8 instead of an SV-8.  I will see if I can notice any difference, in drag or output, and will keep it in reserve or find it a good home.

The other is made with a 50mm carbon clincher rim from GS Astuto, an SD-8 (disk brake version) and an Avid BB-7 road disk rotor.  Also 32x3 cross CX Ray spokes.   32 spokes is overkill with this deep a rim for a front wheel.  I will install a GS Astuto cyclocross fork with disk mount on the Yamabushi, with this wheel, and try the setup on 2013 Brevets in Japan.  The speed of a deep carbon rim, the ease of a clincher, no worries about the rim as a braking surface, and an opportunity to experiment with a quality mechanical disk brake -- supposedly allowing for more nuanced braking.  I cannot wait to try it.
Super Brevet wheel

I picked up a great Pillar spoke wrench at GS Astuto along with the rim and fork -- really helps to build wheels with speed and confidence.  Like night and day.

18 November 2012

L'Eroica 2012

L'Eroica 2012

Juliane and I cannot remember when or why we decided to ride the L'Eroica. It was about a year ago and, I think, inspired by some of the articles I read when I bought my first vintage bike. So the first question must be, "why buy a vintage bike?" I'm afraid, the answer is far from simple. Something to do with the blend of science, craftsmanship and art that produced wonderfully responsive hand-built frames in the 50's, 60's and 70's, many from small workshops at the back of the shop. Frames, for example, built by unique characters like the irascible Major Nichols - who would throw potential customers out of his shop if he didn't like 'the cut of their jib', Claude Butler, who built some of the best frames in the country before his slide into alcoholism, and the Major Brothers, who were building frames for off-road 'rough stuff' many decades before anyone thought of a mountain bike. All of this a million miles from modern factory produced carbon and alloy frames all available on e-bay for a couple of hundred quid if you spot something that others miss.

As our bike and frame collection grew it was inevitable that we would have to go to the premier vintage bike event in the World. L'Eroica started 15 years ago with a handful of riders campaigning against the ever advancing tarmac that was gobbling up apace the 'strade bianche' - unmade gravel and dust roads so typical of the Tuscan countryside. And the roads that many of Italy's most famous riders learnt their trade on - honing bike handling skills on the unstable surfaces and building stamina on the undulating terrain.

Impetuously, flights and hotels were booked and on-line entries made for the 205 km long course before really doing too much research into what was involved. It soon was evident that we had taken on a significant challenge. The long course has close to 4000m of climbing and about 100 km on gravelled 'strade bianche'. Much of the climbing (and descending) is off road, 10%, 15% even some 20% up and down. We noticed that vintage bikes have vintage brakes!

Originally we had planned to ride two e-bay purchases - a beautiful 1952 Holdsworth Cyclone (cost 150 pounds) and a Carlton clubman from the 60's (100 pounds). The Holdsworth is a joy to ride, the Carlton isn't. The 'cyclone' was a top of the range frame - lightweight, responsive - weighing in as a built up bike at around 11kg. The Carlton seems to built of scaffolding poles and recycled u-boat parts with the frame alone close to 11kg... Luckily though, we received a very timely wedding present in the shape of the 1970's Claude Butler 'majestic' that has been hanging up in Dad's garage for years. The majestic was a touring bike rather than a lightweight racer. However touring gears and generally good condition made it a clear favourite over the Carlton.

Thursday 5th October was departure day. Bikes packed in travel boxes and carrying a couple of backpacks, we took the train to Gatwick for our flight to Pisa. After an overnight stay in Pisa we unpacked the bikes and took the train to Sienna for lunch in the famous town square before riding to our hotel close to the event HQ in Gaiole. On the train we met, Oscar from Tijuana, the first ever Mexican to ride the event. He had a beautiful Swiss, all chrome framed, bike that he had bought out of a skip for 10 pounds from a house clearance. It wasn't difficult to spot cyclists making their way to the event - down tube gear shifters are a give away! I cannot describe the event any better than this account from a fellow rider: http://www.cyclingtips.com.au/2012/10/leroica/. This is the official website and here is a bit of data:

For us the day itself was both the hardest we have had on a bike and the best. The combination of old bikes and equipment on surfaces that can be truly awful and very steep coupled with the terrain make the long course a true test of resolve and fitness. We were very pleased to finish in twelve and a half hours. The good humour and genuine friendliness of all the other riders made the whole day a joy. Compared to other big events we have ridden like the week long Transalp race, L'Eroica doesn't have a high concentration of the obsessed racers trying to grind each other into the road. L'Eroica is about the bikes and the people who appreciate them and have the heart to ride them.

We saw riders labouring on fixed wheel bikes from the 1920's, we saw French, Italian and Spanish bikes. We rode with Italians singing 'Felicita'. We rode with Englishmen singing 'ten green bottles'. At the feed stops we ate local delicacies, salami, ham, cheese, local bread and cakes. We drank local red wine poured by volunteers in period costume. At the last stop we even had sweet 'vin santo' served with cantuccini biscuits!

We talked with Bob from Bristol on his Hetchins, Tim from Birmingham on his Major Nichols, Gene from New York on his Gios Torino, and many, many others. We stopped to see if Oscar from Mexico needed a hand when we saw him stopped by the side of the road. Everyone was friendly and helpful.
Luckily you don't have to torture yourself over 200 km. Three shorter rides are also offered, so no excuses not to give it a go.

We'll be back - David Jacob

12 November 2012

Riding the Rindo on Fat Tires

On Saturday morning, I finally took the slick tires off my steel-framed cyclocross bike (the "Yamabushi") and tried out the Continental 700x35 "speed" tread cyclocross tires.  They roll with much less resistance than the Ritchey CX tires I got last Spring, which have big knobby grips for going through mud.

On Sunday, I rode out to Lake Miyagase, climbed the closed forest road between Route 64 and Route 70, and headed home.  The ride was around 140 kms, and I think my average speed for the day was only 1~2 kph slower than on road bike tires, making this setup a reasonable trade-off for the ability to ride on gravel and hit the occasional rock without slicing a tire or hearing that awful hissing sound of air escaping.

The weather was cool, around 10 degrees celsius / 50 fahrenheit for much of the ride, and in the countryside traffic was very sparse, weekend fall foliage crowd scared off by the forecast of rain for the afternoon and gradually darkening clouds.  I made it back at 3PM, just as the first drops started.
Continental "Speed" Cyclocross tires, on A23 rims, Chris King classic hubs, and 32 spokes 3X pattern, with the drive side DT Competition and non-drive side DT Revolution.  So far, so good.
On the way back in along Onekan, I came across Gunnar and his wife, Nami, and rode with them for a few kilometers.  Gunnar is still basking in the glory of his victory last week at Hotaka.  He said it was the first time Nami has ridden Onekan ... but she seems able to take the rollers at a good clip, and will no doubt be leaving the rest of us in the dust in no time.

Rindo Entrance off of Route 64 just down the hill South of Miyagase-ko

On the rindo, no traffic, and no people until I came across 2 hikers quite close to the exit at Route 70. 

The road was relatively clear at first, but eventually I came across leaf-covered sections, which made it difficult to see the randomly strewn rocks and some huge potholes, requiring a slow pace.  I was glad to have the fat tires.

The fall foliage is out ... and would be blazing on a sunny day.

At Tsukui-ko, I took the eastern bridge for the first time in several years, instead of the west-end bridge that connects to the forest road along the North shore.  I do not even remember there being a pedestrian span--on the right-hand side.

08 November 2012

Wiggins hit by car while training near home -- full recovery expected

Ouch.  Here is an early report.  Happens even to the best of cyclists.

06 November 2012

Ti Travel Bike -- 10 Orders Needed

Tim Smith of GS Astuto mentioned to me on Sunday that he is looking to get at least 10 customers so he can place an order for the model of Ti frame with SandS couplers I got as a test case.  There will be a selection of sizes that should work for 95% of body types and sizes.

It is a great frame (or complete bike) and a great bargain.

If you want to travel with your Titanium bike next summer, now is the time to contact Tim.

For the review of my frame, see Ti Travel Bike and Bike in a (small) Box.

05 November 2012

Tsuru Toge Again!

An overdue post from a ride 2 weeks ago.  Stephen C. was back in town, and Jerome visited his place in Oume, staying out there Saturday evening.  Didier and I headed out to meet them for a Sunday ride, in spectacular riding weather.

We rode fast to make the 10AM rendezvous point, at Kori between Oume and Okutama-ko.  Stephen had already headed up toward Okutama-ko, wanting a head start.  I took a quick rest and continued on toward him, while Didier and Jerome wanted a bit more time at Kori.

I waited for them at the far end of Okutama-ko, the bridge where Route 139 leaves Route 411.  There was way too much traffic on Route 411 for me to want to climb Yanagisawa Pass, again.  But Stephen was still farther up the road, already at Tabayama.  We tracked him down by mobile phone (lucky) and agreed he would come over Imagawa Pass to meet us.  We would go via Route 139/Kosuge and climb toward Imagawa Pass from the south side.

We met Stephen near the top, descended back to Kosuge ... with me getting a flat near the bottom as my rims overheated from constant braking.  Imagawa is deceptive.  It looks like a beautiful forest road -- kind of like the nicest sections of Sasago Pass.

But it is all over 10%, much of it 13-15% in grade.  I made the mistake of stopping for some photos, and needed to walk at least 50 meters up the hill to a slightly wider road area before I could remount.

We climbed from Kosuge again to the base of Matsuhime, but Didier and I decided that we would only get back to Tokyo if we instead went via Tsuru Pass, down Route 18/33 to Uenohara.  Jerome and Stephen climbed with us to the top, then headed back down to Okutama and Oume -- they would ride again the next day.

At the top, as we said farewell, I could not help noticing the power lines that blocked the view to the South.  I used to think of these as visual pollution.  Now that I am trying to develop some solar power projects, I think "6.6kV, high voltage line, appropriate for interconnection of projects up to 2MW peak output."
And when I look at the pole at the top of the pass, I think "automatic load balancer; is there any place nearby that would be a decent solar project site?"  (In this case, ... no.)
Anyway, we said our farewells and Didier and I headed for home, quickly.  It was over 180 kms for me, and about 200 for Didier, at a good pace.  I felt strong most of the way, as if I am getting some benefit from regular rides over the prior month, plus commuting more in town on bike than I was during the summer heat.
On the way from Tsuru Pass toward Uenohara.  A beautiful road!

Looking back toward Tsuru/Tawa Passes, as a nearby resident approaches.

Cycle Mode 2012 - Makuhari Messe

I have not been to Cycle Mode -- the closest thing Japan has to EuroBike or InterBike --  in a number of years ...  usually it conflicts with some great riding weather, and there is nothing new under the sun, or very little.  And I have heard grumbling from exhibitors -- it takes a lot of time, effort and money, and in Japan the show does not seem to translate into sales for most companies.

But after missing it for a few years, and getting more interested in "the industry", I thought I should attend.

This year Trek, Giant and Specialized were noticeably absent, though Pinarello, Colnago, Chesini, De Rosa and other Italian brands were there.  Cervelo had a small display.  Shimano was there, of course, and Campy Japan.  I did not see SRAM.  Presumably whether someone participates has a lot to do with the specific importer/distributor relationships and whether companies feel they can avoid the show without it damaging their business and prospects.  It is a "command performance" for major Japanese brands, and for some others trying to expand here.

There were a few highlights for me.

1.  Chesini.  Of course, stopping by the Chesini booth, to see Hiroshi Koyama, and also meet Mr. Chesini and his daughter (in law?) visiting from Verona.  Hiroshi has been actively promoting the Chesini brand in Japan via C Speed.  It is a small brand, but has a long history, back to 1925, and its bikes have some world championship victories to their credit.  Chesini is to Verona what Sambi is to Ravenna?  But more so.

2.  Gokiso Hubs.  Are these the best hubs in existence?  Tim Smith (GS Astuto) and David Marx (RGT Enterprises) are big fans, and they come highly reviewed.  As I was leaving, I saw Tim Smith just entering the show.  He was headed over to say hello to Kondo-san at Gokiso.  David Marx was home in Nagoya, but told me he loves his Gokiso hubs and that I should check them out.

At the well-manned booth, I was given a demonstration of how perfectly balanced and responsive a wheel can be -- to the point where adding a plastic valve cap would be enough weight to start the wheel rotating.  And they explained how the hubs are designed to avoid damage to the internals, especially the bearings, in both installation and with a suspension to protect from impacts while riding.  They start with ball bearings designed for aerospace applications.

But the cost is a bit much for a mere mortal like me (around $3000 for a set retail).  Great for a show bike, or for Alberto Contador.  Difficult for me to justify.  And as my instructor said at my UBI framebuilding course in February, "we are not flying these things to the moon" ... Bicycles really do not require aerospace precision.

3.  Randonneur bikes at Grand Bois.  I must be getting older.  Or maybe it is just that I have lost what remained of my interest in bike racing following the Lance Armstrong USADA report.  Instead of checking out the latest racing models from Pinarello and the latest in carbon deep wheels, I found myself drawn to the Grand Bois booth.  Grand Bois is a brand of classic and retro bikes and components developed by I's Bicycles in Kyoto.  I think Jan Heine/Compass Bikes handle their products in the U.S.  They had a classic Rene Herse bike from way back (1950s?) on display.

Grand Bois hubs -- retro styling, but modern internals and the convenience of QR skewers.
4.  Different bikes, New bikes.  There were plenty of folding bikes, some belt drives, some wooden handmade bikes, and a modern looking design with the front and rear lights integrated into the top tube ... nice fashion accessory, though not sure I could see myself riding it.  The folders and the belt drive looked like the wheel bases were too short for me.

Strida, the only belt drive model I saw ... though there were probably more. (You need a monostay, like this, or a notch in one side of the seat stays, to fit a belt drive onto a bike).  A UK brand, apparently.

Vanmoof bike with Philips front and rear lights integrated in the top tube.
Internal gear Sturmey Archer rear hub.  Dynamo front hub, both with drum brakes.

5.  Handmade bicycles.  Cycle Mode now has a special area for framebuilders, and around 8 to 10 of them had their wares on display.  There was also a stage set up for a presentation by the builders.  Of courser, Cherubim had a display.  It was not crowded, so I took the chance to say hello to Shin-ichi Konno, one of the most celebrated framebuilders of his generation and winner of the NAHBS "best in show" award twice in recent years.  And there was a display for a new vocational school -- Tokyo College of Cycle Design, that opened this year.
Cherubim's take on the classic racer.  With a more modern tandem below.

Konno-san and the NAHBS winning bike, plus some beautiful lugs on the headtubes/fork crowns in the foreground.

The stem on Cherubim's sleek, modern version of a racer.  Nothing but Campy in the entire booth.  
Nagasawa-san, the Keirin builder, was there.  As were others.  I liked a bike on display by a Kyoto-based woman framebuilder, Yuka Kitajima.  It was a touring bike with the racks designed for carrying food and drink to a picnic -- wine glasses, tabasco sauce etc. on board.  The steel frame had some very nice etching, and the front rack/fender support was hollow for storage of a spare spoke.  Not that practical, but fun.
The distinctive Nagasawa logo ... Blogger seems to want to show it upside down.

Etching on Yuka Kitajima's steel framed pizza picnic bike.

Spare spoke fits inside the fender attachment.
I rode my bike about 20 kms to Hacchobori, then put it in the bag and hopped the Keiyo Line the rest of the way out -- a fast way to get to Makuhari.  On the way home, I rode the entire way.  It was about 50 kms, taking Route 14 most of the way from Makuhari into Tokyo.  I needed to hunt a bit for a decent route as I got closer to Tokyo, but it was tolerable, and good for future reference.  ... since I might even go back to Cycle Mode next year.