Cycling to the Nippara Limestone Caves

On Saturday I visited the Nippara limestone caves near Lake Okutama. A distance of over 200 km and temperatures as high as 33 C (91 F) in the high humidity of Tokyo summers didn’t make for an easy ride, but I got up at 04:15 and left home sat 05:10 to get up into the mountains as early as possible. The first 80 km took me from near sea level to around 1100 m at Kazahari Toge overlooking the lake.

On the way I met up with two friends in front of Musashiitsukaichi train station who were heading to a different destination. We chatted for half an hour and then rode 10 km together until where our ways parted at the Hinohara t-junction.

On the climb to the pass I came across three English cyclists. We met again at the Tomin no Mori trail head at 900 m, where I stopped for a break with coffee, ice cream and sansai (mountain vegetable) pizza. We talked about favourite routes and other bike related stuff. It turned out that one of them had participated in Race Across America (RAAM) in a team twice!

From the pass it was a great descent for about 12 km down to the lake. The water level is extremely low this year as the winter snow had been weak and the rainy season in June/July, though it lasted much longer than usual, did very little to top up the reservoirs. It was the same at a dam in Chichibu the previous weakend. Droughts are very unusual for Japan, but unless the typhoon season brings more rain than usual we may be heading for one 🙁

I followed the road around the lake shore towards Okutama station. It’s a route I normally avoid, in fact I normally climb back up again to Kazahari Toge to catch some evening views from high up. But this time I was interested in the Nippara caves that I had seen on the map when I checked out the area for hiking to the shrine on Mt Mitake with my wife a week ago. According to the signs the caves were 12 km from the station, up a remote valley. Okutama station is the end of its railway line. It hosts the last convenience store for many km as you head out this way from Tokyo.

When I came out from a public restroom at the station where I had refilled both my bidons from the tap, a local was admiring my Elephant NFE leaning against the wall. He commented how unusual it was to see a Randonneur bike with disk brakes and asked if he could take a picture. I explained that I was doing a lot of long distance riding and the weather was not always predictable, so being able to brake reliably in the rain was important to me. I asked what the road to Nippara was like. He said it was very narrow and I should be careful, there was not much space for cars to pass and there might be dump trucks too, but at least it was mostly flat. I thanked him, got some food and drinks at that last convenience store and headed up the road.

Flat the route wasn’t, but 275 m of elevation gain over 12 km wasn’t too steep. There was one long tunnel (1100 m), but with a wide side walk for pedestrians and cyclists. The sides of the valley were extremely steep, with the boulder strewn river often far below the road. It was very picturesque. In the last village with its bus stop I saw many hikers returning from the cave. There was a big queue of cars waiting for space in the limited size car park, which I could pass on my bicycle.


I put on my wind breaker against the chill inside the cave. Admission was 700 yen (about US$7). It was 11 C (52 F) inside and what I first mistook for steam on the river in front of the entrance (was there a volcanic hot spring nearby?) turned out to be fog from the mix of cold cave air with the outside moist summer air.

Though the stalagmites and stalactites were not as impressive as in some of caves in the Bavarian Jura region where I come from or in the “Franconian Switzerland” region near Nuremberg, the cave has also been venerated as a Shinto shrine since the early Edo period (~1600-1868), with various religious statues visited by pilgrims from afar deep inside the cave. I explored the corridors, rooms and tall stairs for about half an hour before I re-emerged into the daylight.

I was glad the return back to Okutama was mostly downhill, same about the road from there to Oume station. From there it was another 3 hours or so of mostly flat urban roads back to my home in Tokyo.

My total came to over 200 km (125 mi) with 1700 m (5600 ft) of climbing. This makes August my 48th month in a row with at least one century ride a month.

The Joy of Six Hundred (revisited)

The Elephant NFE at the start

I’m back from my longest ride of the year, BRM604, a 600 km randonneuring event from Machida to Lake Suwa (Suwako) in Nagano and back. Had I successfully completed it under the 40 hour time limit I would have made Super Randonneur (SR), the feat of completing brevet distances of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km in one season. As it were I dropped out after the halfway point and cycled back to Tokyo at my own pace. The total came to 580 km with 4561 m of elevation gain. This makes June my 46th month in a row with at least one ride of 160 km or more.

In 2013 AJ NishiTokyo organized a trial run for a new 600 km brevet course (2013BRMpre921) which I joined. You can read the report I wrote about it here. Not even having successfully completed a 400 km brevet at the time, it was not entirely surprising that I DNF’ed (Did Not Finish) that ride. The experience did not discourage me from trying again in 2014 (2014BRM621) and 2015 (2015BRM530).

I did complete 400 km rides in both 2015 and 2016, the latter on my new Elephant NFE randonneur bike. With more experience I planned better this year, but in many ways the outcome was remarkably similar to that very first attempt.

On my first attempt my biggest problem was the huge spread in temperatures between daytime in Shizuoka and night time in Nagano. In 2014 I cycled a lot of the distance in the rain.

This year I prepared by wearing or carrying clothes for hot, cold and wet weather including shorts and trousers, short and long underwear, a wind breaker, a rain jacket and full fingered gloves.

I also addressed the sleep deprivation by getting as much sleep as possible upfront. I avoided staying up late several days before the event. On Friday I checked into a hotel in Sagamihara at 19:00, with lights out by 20:00 to get up at 03:00 for the 05:00 start from Machida. With all the extra clothes I found my bike quite heavy on the Onekansen climbs to Machida. My legs did not feel in shape. I finished my early convenience store dinner in my hotel room and went to bed as early as I could.

At the ride reception

Takeru Daijo's bike

There were 38 people at the start. A couple more had signed up but chose not to start, perhaps due to the weather forecast, which included a high chance of rain on the second day. This is already the tsuyu season (rainy season), with hydrangeas in full bloom everywhere.

Hydrangeas in bloom

On the way to Enoshima, most participants already passed me. I was the last but one participant to get his brevet card signed at the untimed check point in Enoshima. I reasoned that at a 600 km brevet perhaps the mix is biased more towards the stronger sort of rider than it is at shorter distances.

Enoshima manned check

Unlike at the 300 km Mt Fuji brevet in March that takes the same route as far as Odawara I had very little chance of drafting anyone on the flattish first part. Still, I was over an hour ahead of schedule by then, based on the 15 km/h average used for checkpoint closing times. I took very few pictures and did not even stop for gorgeous Fuji views all the way from Enoshima to Odawara, as I wanted to put as much time as possible into the “time bank”. I knew I would need it for the big climbs and for having any chance at sleep later in the ride.

Atami castle

The weather started out as clear and sunny, getting pretty warm early on. Not until the afternoon did it get overcast and a bit cooler. I ended up drinking plenty of water throughout the ride, both when it was hot and later when temperatures dropped.

Once the coastal road started getting hilly as we crossed into Izu I could not really extend my time savings much, but at least the heat did not wear me out and I felt better than on the ride out to Machida the night before. I enjoyed the fast descent towards Shuzenji after the pass on Rt12 from the coast at Ito. Descending was definitely a strength for the Elephant NFE, as its wide 650B tyres float over uneven roads. At PC1, a Lawson conbini 141 km from the start I was about 1:15 ahead of the cutoff time, which is not a great amount, but not terrible either.

Near Shuzenji, Izu

From here to PC2, a Ministop conbini in Fujikawa 184 km from the start, the road was mostly flat so I was hoping to increase my time buffer. From Mishima to Fuji city the road is urban. The sky had become overcast and Mt Fuji was fully obscured by dense clouds. I was counting down distance to the river crossing, where the route turns away from the coast and becomes rural again. By PC2 my time buffer had only increased to about 1:20.

Railway bridge under construction

The next check point was 74 km after that was PC3, a Lawson in Minami Alps. The route became hilly, following the Minobu railway line before joining Rt52 and other flat roads again. It was more or less the same as the 400 km brevet, except clockwise around Mt Fuji instead of counterclockwise.

Evening approached in Yamanashi and with it a slow drizzle started. I put on my wind breaker and continued.

Between Izu and PC3 I only came across two other cyclists still on the same part of the course, meeting or leapfrogging each other at conbini stops.

When I rolled up to PC3 after 22:00, I was down to a single hour spare before cutoff time. The summit near Fujimi before Suwako was about 40 km away, almost all of it uphill.

Standing outside the Lawson in the rain, I made a phone call to the organiser, Mr H. at PC4 at Suwako. I told him where I was and how little time buffer I had left. I figured I might not make it to PC4 by the cut-off time and did not want to keep him waiting there, but he reassured me he would wait until the closing time and I should go for it.

I changed into my long underwear, winter trousers and rain jacket and headed towards Suwako. With the minimal time buffer, even if I made the next PC, I wouldn’t have much time to sleep before the next PCs. I figured I needed to be at PC6 at least 2 hours before closing time. From there it was a 30 km climb to a pass above Lake Motosu (Motosuko), which was the part I least liked about the 300 km AJ NishiTokyo brevet. Without that time buffer I couldn’t make it to PC7 at Yamanakako. So realistically, there was no chance I would complete the 600 and make SR this year. But I could still go for it and do better near Suwako than I had done the first time, to avenge my defeat by the cold temperatures then.

By this time the roads were pretty deserted, except for the occasional truck roaring past. The rain was pretty steady. The temperature was down to 13 C. getting closer to Fujimi, I came across cyclists heading the other way, already past the halfway point and we waved or shouted encouragement at each other.

I arrived at PC4 with half an hour spare. Mr H. was sitting outside with one other cyclist. I bought food and drinks and got my receipt, then sat with them and talked. I said I was going to head on to PC5, which I had never made it to before. After the rest, Mr H. started packing up his chairs while the other cyclist and I headed back on the road.

It was now over 23 hours since I had got up and the need to get some sleep was starting to catch up with me. I did better sleep-wise than at any previous attempt, but once I climbed to Fujimi toge it became pretty clear I needed a nap. I couldn’t find any conbini with a cafe corner with chairs inside, so I stretched out right in front of another one in the parking lot, still sheltered by the roof of the building, with my spare clothes bag as a pillow. When I woke up again I felt better and headed on.

I then decided to give up PC5 and head back to Tokyo the same way I had done in 2013. Without a train option, my return would extend into Monday morning anyway, so it made sense to keep the route as direct as possible.

Passing a whisky distillery

From Fujimi to Minami Alps the route was almost exclusively downhill. My TRP Spyre disk brakes with sintered pads were effective in the rain but boy, are they noisy when wet! I hope I didn’t wake up any sleeping locals.

Anticipating the longest/fastest/most expensive underground (subway) in the world - the Chuo Maglev train

For the first time on any of my rides that passed through Minami Alps city I could not see Mt Fuji from the Yamanashi side — it was too cloudy.

As I headed south on Rt52 (Minobu michi) the views were very atmospheric: Low clouds on the mountains and steam rising from the forests.

I crossed the Fujikawa bridge for Rt9. The road heads up a rural valley, then climbs to a tunnel over to the adjacent valley to join Rt300 (Motosu michi).

The rain appeared to stop and I swapped my rain jacket for the wind breaker, but it soon resumed again.

By then sitting on the saddle got painful, as my bottom felt pretty sore now. Throughout the ride I had stood up as much as possible to give it some relief, but it didn’t help much.

Motosu climb

I also got sleepy again. Not quite halfway up the 650 m elevation gain from the base of the climb I decided to take another nap. I picked a small spot only about a meter from the road, where the guard rails formed an angle away from the road. A car would basically have to be crashing through them to hit me here. Again the spare clothes bag formed an excellent pillow.

The view from Motosu michi

The higher I climbed, the better the views got and the rain did eventually stop. I made a lot less progress than I had anticipated, especially with the nap, but I felt much better for it. Without any time limits I could take my time for pictures and to enjoy the views. I had enough bananas and water. If it wasn’t for my difficulty of sitting, it would have been great.

The 1000 yen shot

Finally I got to the tunnel that took me over to the lake shore. As I exited it, a stunning view of almost cloudless, almost snow free Mt Fuji behind Motosuko awaited me. I stopped for pictures. This is the scenic view depicted on the 1000 yen banknote, except that by June Mt Fuji has less snow on it than on that image.

An Elephant at Motosko

The road along the lake shore too me back to the main road to Kawaguchiko and Fujiyoshia, Rt139. On the climb I had already noted some difficulties cleating in with my right shoe. Not long after I got on Rt139 I encountered the opposite problem: I couldn’t disengage the foot from the SPD pedal. In the end I had to slip out of the shoe and stood by the road side in my sock, inspecting the pedal mechanism. It turned out that one of the two bolts attaching the cleat to the sole of the shoe had come undone. Consequently the cleat stayed locked to the pedal even when the shoe was twisted sideways to disengage it. Fortunately the loose bold had not dropped out yet, as the cleat mechanism of the pedal still held it in place. I got out my Allen keys, undid the other bolt and checked out all the parts. Then I but both bolts in place again, carefully matching the layout on my left shoe, whose bolt tension I also checked. After that I could ride on without problems.

Near Kawaguchiko I met Sebastian, a cyclotourist from Chile who had been riding from Fukuoka in Kyushu towards Tokyo. He greatly enjoyed his cycling experience in Japan. he was going to stay at a camp site near Mt Fuji for the night before heading on towards Tokyo the next day. We discussed routes and cycling in general in Japan.

Sebastian from Chile

The major roads around Kawaguchiko are in a notoriously bad state, but to my surprise I found that one major section heading into town had recently been renovated with smooth new asphalt. Hopefully the other direction and other parts will follow soon.

Maybe it was due to the rain in the morning, but instead of the bad traffic jams around Rt139 that I’m used to the roads were virtually empty — unheard of on a Sunday afternoon. I think traffic was the most quiet of any of my trips around the Fuji Five Lakes area. It was really enjoyable. Oh, and those Mt Fuji views! It only got better 🙂

After the climb from Fujiyoshida towards Yamanakako I could coast downhill a bit. At the traffic light on the lake shore I crossed over to the cycling path that runs around the east side of the lake. The sky was blue, Mt Fuji sat there in the evening light like on a picture postcard, the air was fresh and I had the cycling path virtually to myself. It was like the heavens were trying to make up for soaking us with rain the night before and the morning.

Mt Fuji sunset

I cycled to the convenience store next to the turnoff for Rt413 (Doshi michi) and took a break there. I enjoyed some coffee and warm food, then changed into warmer clothes again for the night ride on Doshi michi. The pass to Doshi was actually at the highest elevation of the entire course.

The climb from the lake to the pass felt steep as I got closer to the top, but it’s relatively short. After that comes a long fast descent to Doshi village and beyond. Again I felt very confident with the NFE’s tyres and brakes.

Beyond Doshi the road keeps going up and down, so I had to work again. During the daytime the nice views of the mountain valley will distract you, so somehow at night the road feels steeper and comes across as more work to ride on. Eventually I crossed from Yamanashi into Kanagawa prefecture and into Sagamihara.

Near the Rt76 intersection I stopped again for some sleep. I lied down for almost an hour. When I woke up again, I felt pretty disoriented, almost as bad as on that first 600 km ride. I felt like I was in a dream and had to force myself to accept that, no, this was reality. I couldn’t just go back to sleep and wake up at home — I was really out here in the mountains where it was cold and night time and I really had to cycle every single meter home to Setagaya before I could sleep in a warm bed.

Another thing the sleep deprivation does to me is that the “people detector”, the part of our brain that helps us pick out humans and their faces from all kinds of surroundings (something developed by evolution to help us survive in dangerous environments), seemed turned up to high gain or had its “false positive” filter turned off. Many a tree by the roadside started to look like a person standing there. It was really weird, but not the first time I experienced that.

At least that wasn’t dangerous and it didn’t scare me. On the other hand I was pretty determined that, should I get sleepy again I would not struggle on drowsy and risk falling asleep on the bike. I would stop wherever necessary and sleep some more. As it turned out I could make it home all the way to Tokyo with that Sagamihara nap.

It was a little after 04:00 on Monday morning when I finally reached my front door. The birds were already singing and it was only half an hour to sunrise, some 48 hours after I had arrived at the start for the registration desk and the safety briefing before the ride.

I took my bags off the bike, changed out of my cycling clothes, took a shower and went to bed. I did not get up again until 7 hours later, at noon 🙂

What worked and what didn’t

I had very few issues with my equipment. There wasn’t anything I was really missing, though some items could have been replaced with something more suited to the job.

My camera, my phones, navigation using a GPX breadcrumb trail on the Navi2Coach and Google MyMaps on the phone, charging my device on the ride — all these things worked flawlessly like on other rides before.

I had no issues with the tubeless setup of the Compass Babyshoe Pass tyres. I just added a bit of air on the second day (the third day since I left home), over 400 km into the ride.

My feeding routine worked too – about half my calories came from bananas, the rest split between liquid food (cocoa, sweetened milk tea) and various breads. I brought along figs, raisins and nuts and finished all of those.

I have a Swift Ozette XL randonneuring bag on order, which is supposed to arrive later this month. With that I wouldn’t have to split items between my small front bag, a clothes sack and a drawstring rucksack I mostly kept on top of the front bag. Chances are, I also wouldn’t have dropped my wallet on the road once (I quickly retrieved it) or have dropped a bunch of bananas another time (ditto). The Ozette XL will be very welcome.

The cleat failure on my Shimano SH-M088LE shoes could have been prevented with maintenance, but honest – who ever checks bolt tension on cycling shoes? Well, not me at least. The left shoe is gradually tearing up, perhaps as a late result of damaged suffered in a crash last November. In case case it looks like I’ll have to order a new pair soon, after something like two years and 20,000 km.

The flaky performance of the Wahoo speed and cadence sensor on this ride came as a disappointment. I’ve already taken it off the bike and instead installed the Garmin magnetless speed and cadence sensor set, which has been getting good reviews. This was one of the cases where trying to save money ended up costing even more money.

I didn’t used to have problems with my Brooks saddles, but I do now. Neither the current saddle on my Bike Friday nor on my NFE works as well as the first Brooks I had. I don’t know if it’s me getting older or if the saddles have changed, but we don’t get along as well as we used to.

The rain wear bag that I used to hold other spare clothes besides the rain wear itself turned out not to be rain proof. Duh, stupid me for making that assumption! Next time I’ll wrap my warm trousers into a separate bag, if I carry it like that. Riding in damp clothes made the night time ride a bit chillier. I’m happy with my Polaris rain jacket, but still looking for better rain trousers and some covers to keep my shoes drier. I could also do with a mudflap on the front mudguard to reduce water splashing onto the shoes when I ride through puddles.

My Honjo Turtle 58 mudguards worked OK, but the clearance is very tight on the front wheel. I’m still not 100% happy about that. I may still switch to something wider.

Things I could do with near my stem (but the Ozette may partly take care of that):

1) A battery holder for recharging the GPS and phone with a short cable. Keeping the battery in the front bag worked but required careful positioning of the battery to make the cable reach where it needed to.

2) A rainproof camera holder to make it quick to take pictures. I used two small pockets inside the front back, but it took a bit too much fiddling to reach for the camera and the Nexus 6P phone for pictures.

3) Some kind of food holder (for bananas, trail mix, etc) on the handlebar.

Not ready for Paris-Brest-Paris yet!

Having struggled even with 300 km brevets, being able to finish a 400 km one last year was kind of unexpected. But this year I was able to repeat that feat, completing 3 out of 4 events necessary for SR status, or for qualifying for Paris-Prest-Paris in 2019 (if I do the 200-300-400-600 then).

Right now, finishing a 600 under the time limit seems as remote from finishing a 400 as the 400 looked after finishing a 200 km years ago. I reckon I would have to somehow make it to Suwako at least two hours earlier to have any chance of finishing the event. That means I’d have to ride about 2 km/h faster on average through the first half of event, and the difference would have to be even greater in the second half compared to my post-DNF ride home. How likely is that? It doesn’t sound totally impossible, but it is still a big step.

Ultimately, I know I enjoy untimed events more than brevets, with the chance to take pictures, to enjoy different kinds of food, with leisure to talk to people you meet on the road.

But brevets also add a challenge and are a chance to meet other cyclists with different levels of experience. They take me further away from Tokyo.

Being able to participate in PBP is gradually becoming a bucket list idea for me, something unique I would like to try once in a lifetime, just like this 600 km is something crazy I only do once a year. Though partly through the ride I swore to myself I wouldn’t do this again, I am sure I will be back again next year and give it a good try again.

Removing “Suggested for you” category from Google News

In November 2014 Google added a “Suggested for you” category to Google News which includes articles on topics that it thinks are of interest to you.

Now, Google has some pretty smart algorithms for rating websites with content that people are searching for to give you the most relevant information, but even 18 months after this particular feature was launched in Google News I find its results pretty poor. They merely distract from news items I am really interested in.

For example, if you search for the lyrics of a song by a particular artist because a family member asks you to then you’re likely to be seeing articles about that artist popup in your feed daily for weeks and months…

The solution is easy:

  • Open Google News while you’re logged in to Google
  • Click on the “Personalize” button on the top right
  • Look for a “Suggested for you” category with a slider next to it.
  • Move the mouse to that category and click the trash can that appears next to the slider
  • Save the changes

Should you ever want to restore the category, you can click “Personalize” and “Reset” to undo all personalization.

Compass Babyshoe Pass tyres tubeless on my Elephant NFE

Last Saturday I converted my Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer (NFE) to tubeless. My main motivation was the puncture I had suffered 16 km from the goal of BRM423, a 400 km brevet I rode last month.

While a tubeless setup with sealant will not prevent all punctures, it will handle most of them. Only when a cut is too large will I have to still install a spare tube into the tyre as I also would with a puncture in a non-tubeless (standard) setup.

For the first 2,500+ km I had been running my NFE on Compass Babyshoe Pass Extralight (BSP EL) 650bx42 tyres. They are wonderfully supple, with very low rolling resistance, but their sidewalls are really thin.

The existing BSP EL tyres weren’t showing much wear yet. I am confident they would last well beyond 5,000 km, maybe as much as 10,000 km

Neither the BSP EL nor the standard BSP is certified for tubeless use by Compass. So far only the most recently released Compass tyres are officially tubeless compatible:

  • 26″ x 54 – Rat Trap Pass
  • 26? x 1.25 – Elk Pass
  • 650Bx48 – Switchback Hill Pass
  • 700Cx35 – Bon Jon Pass

However, other Compass customers had successfully used the Babyshoe Pass and even the Grand Bois Hetre tubeless, with varying results depending on the sealant used and the type of tyre.

Veteran NFE owner Fred Blasdel reported that even the BSP EL survived for thousands of rough miles off-road for him before he finally shredded a sidewall on some rocks. He found the standard BSP more suitable, as the slightly more robust sidewalls lend the tyre more support during cornering without having to resort to high pressures. In Fred’s opinion, having tubeless-compatible rims is a more critical element than having tubeless compatible tyre. This makes sense: It’s the high shoulders of tubeless-compatible rims that ensure a tyre can not easily come off the rim if deflated. The tubeless specific bead shape of tubeless compatible tyres will help to seal air inside, but if you’re using sealant then ultimately the sealant will take care of that.

In any case, I’m relatively light weight at under 70 kg / 155 lbs, so I will never have to run the tyres at anywhere near 4 bar / 60 psi, the maximum pressures specified for Compass tires when run tubeless. Consequently I’m not particularly worried about blowing the tyres off the rims just because their bead is not tubeless-optimized.

So I went ahead and ordered some tyres from Compass, including two pairs of standard BSP tyres: one to install and one as a spare spare set if the first set gets damaged or wears out. The non-EL version is supposed to be slightly less supple, but losing the tube should compensate for that.

Installing the tyres tubeless

I took the bike to Tim at GS Astuto, my wheel builder here in Tokyo.

First we removed the tyres, tubes (Schwalbe) and rim tape (Tioga). Then Tim installed the Effetto Mariposa Caffélatex tubeless tape and tubeless valve set and mounted the tyres. As expected the beads would not seat with a floor pump alone, the air would simply escape without popping the tyre if there was no sealant.

Tim removed the valve core and injected 50 ml of Caffélatex sealant into the tyre and reinstalled the valve core. After that he hooked up a can of Caffélatex Espresso to the valve and started spraying from the can. These cans rapidly fill the tube with latex foam, providing sealant and gas at the same time. The tyre started bleeding foam around the beads which he smeared around to help seal. After the 75 ml can was used up, I switched to the floor pump and started pumping like mad.

On the first tyre we inflated, the bead popped into place from the spray can alone. While it still foamed it finally sealed after some manual pumping. I inflated the tyre up to 4.1 bar / 60 psi, the maximum permitted for tubeless use. On the second tyre, after we finished spraying I could not keep up with pumping because by then my arms were too exhausted. Tim took over and finished the job. We spun the wheels around vertically and horizontally to distribute the sealant and to expose the sidewalls to it.

I was glad to see that both tyres held their pressure, without leaks. Soon after that I rode home 10 km without any problems. I left the tyres inflated at the maximum pressure over night to help seal the tyres.

As for just getting the tyre on to the rim, it was really much easier to install without tube than with tube. However, for a major puncture or tyre damage that the sealant won’t take care of on its own, I will still have to install a tube since installing a spare tyre tubeless is simply not practical by the roadside i.e. without access to a compressor, pressurized sealant cans or sufficient CO2.

The proof of the pudding

I left the Elephant NFE on the bike rack for 48 hours, just spinning the wheels around once or twice a day. I didn’t ride on Sunday but went out with family.

On Monday, before I took the bike out for a ride I checked the pressure to see how well the tyres are holding air. Pressure had dropped from 4+ bar / 60+ psi to about 3.5 bar / 42 psi, which is more than enough.

I could not see any sealant bleeding through anywhere on the tyres, though the valves were a bit sticky. I opened and closed them a few times to clean them. I also loosened the retaining nut on the valve, so I would be able to remove the valve with my fingers if I ever had to install a tube. Tim had tightened it very well.

I dropped the pressure further to 2.7 bar front / 3.0 bar rear before heading out for a 50+ km ride to Onekansen (tank road), one one my favourite sub-3 hour exercise loops. I came back with a few personal records on Strava and the best times in 3 years on several other climbs.

The Babyshoe Pass tubeless is fantastic! 🙂

BRM423 400 km on the Elephant NFE (Mt Fuji Big Loop)

I have finished a 400 km brevet, repeating last year’s success, after an unsuccessful initial attempt in 2014. BRM423 NishiTokyo 400 km Fuji Big Loop (BRM423西東京400km富士大回り) was my third brevet on my new Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer (NFE), after a 200 km brevet in Izu and a 300 km one around Mt Fuji. Previously I rode all my brevets on my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket.

Like most brevets by AJ NishiTokyo this brevet starts and finishes in Machida. It heads out towards Lake Yamanakako via Doshi road, then via Lake Motosuko to Minami Alps City. From there it turns down to the coast at Fuji City, crosses Izu peninsula via Shuzenji to Ito on the east coast and back up to Machida via Odawara. Altogether it visits four prefectures (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Yamanashi and Shizuoka).

This year it was a little too late for cherry blossom season even in the cooler mountain regions, but there are plenty of purple Wisteria (藤, fuji) in full bloom everywhere.

After my pre-ride of the course two weeks earlier I considered going back to the Bike Friday for its ease of taking it on a train should I not finish the ride. The week before the event I had a very busy schedule, taking friends from overseas to Meiji shrine, Asakusa, Kamakura, Mt Takao and the Tsukiji fish market among other places. Lots of walking and hiking and not quite enough sleep. However, after a final dinner on Thursday we said farewell and I slept in on Friday morning. I went for the NFE after all, to be able to compare it with last year’s ride. If I got sleepy some place in Izu I would simply find a place to sleep and cycle home at my own pace.

The night before the event

I left home around 18:30 on Friday as I had booked a room at the Tokyoko Inn in Sagamihara, about 2 km from the start. I first set off in cycling shorts, but after about a km turned around and got changed into long uniqlo trousers and also packed a pair of regular shorts. In my luggage were long johns and long sleeved underwear as well as a light wind breaker and my rain wear.

With all that gear I was covered for the full range of temperatures and weather conditions I might encounter. I even brought full fingered gloves, which I never needed, nor did I use the warm underwear. The rain wear I ended up only wearing briefly.

The rooms at the Tokyoko Inn are not luxurious but clean and functional and offer all the basic necessities. In my room I finished my conbini (convenience store) dinner and went to bed around 21:40. I slept reasonably well until my alarm woke me up at 05:20. After a shower and simple breakfast I got changed into my shorts, expecting I would not need trousers during daytime until at least Yamanakako. I was right – it was quite warm during the day, even up near Mt Fuji. While almost everybody at the start wore leg warmers or long lycra trousers, I was perfectly comfortable in my uniqlo shorts.

At the start

I got to the reception desk in front of the Cherubim bike shop fairly late, when people had already started moving on to the start point to get ready for the briefing. After getting my brevet card and saying hello to friends and taking some pictures, I also headed over. One cyclist showed up on his BD-1 folding bike.

At the briefing we were reminded of the risks of our sport: A few years ago a participant had badly crashed on the Rt300 descent from Motosuko and had to be airlifted by helicopter to the nearest hospital. “If you need a helicopter, please try to stay alive until the hospital in Kofu”, joked one of the staff members and reminded us that the ride isn’t over until we have safely reached our own front door.

After the briefing the safety check started (lights, reflective jacket, bell) and then we were off.

Via Doshi to Yamanakako

The weather forecast for Saturday was mostly cloudy, with some scattered rain during the night and on Sunday, which is pretty much how it played out.

Up until Doshi village most of the cherry blossoms were gone already, replaced by fresh seasonal green everywhere.

About 50 km from Machida we came across the quiz checkpoint and I took a picture of a poster on a particular drinks vending machine to prove that I had been there.

I bought some milk tea and had a banana or two, before heading on after the break.

I worked pretty hard up Doshi road to the village and made good time. This year I never fell behind the minimum average (15 km/h) counted from the start, unlike last year, where I was in deficit by the time I got to Yamanakako and only regained enough time on the biggest descent (from Motosuko to PC1) to stay 20 minutes ahead of cut-off time at PC1, 125 km from the start. This year I was an extra hour (1 hour 20 minutes) ahead at PC1 instead!

I could recover on the descent after the pass between Doshi and Yamanakako and it wasn’t as cold as when I rode it two weeks ago. Partly that was because I arrived much earlier in the day.

Yamanakako with Fuji-san:

The cherry blossom season at Yamanakako starts a lot later than in Tokyo:

After the lake we joined the main road, which always tends to be busy, but at least initially we could enjoy more descending. Then after the Fuji Q Highland theme park the road quality deteriorates and stays poor for a long time, but there’s no real alternative if you want to make good time.

Motosuko to Minami Alps

Motosuko is where you could find the Fuji view shown on the 1000 yen note, but often it’s obscured by clouds:

After the tunnel behind the lake (before which staff reminded us to switch on our lights) I started the descent. I did not even put on a wind breaker because it still wasn’t too cold. Last year this had been the coldest part of the brevet route. I could descend much faster than on my pre-ride two weeks earlier, where I had arrived here after sunset, but not wanting to try out Japanese helicopter rides I was still careful.

After PC1 the road was mostly flat for the next 27 km to PC3 in Minami Alps. We ended up with a good tailwind, which is always a pleasure. I chatted to a local road cyclist about our event and he took my picture. Around 15:30 I got to PC2, 151 km into the course, now almost 1:30 ahead of cut-off time – 1:10 faster than last year!

Minami Alps (Yamanashi) views of Mt Fuji:

Though I was concerned about facing a head wind on the way back from Minami Alps, this part of the route has a long downhill section, so the wind doesn’t really bother you because gravity takes care of it and your legs still recover.

Heading into the night

From Kajikazawa the route joins major Rt52 along the Fuji river. We shared the roads with lots of cars, trucks and buses until we got to the Rt300 bridge near Minobu, where we crossed over to the east bank to follow the Minobu railway line. Riding in the dark now I was starting to feel a little bit tired, but not too bad yet. At PC3 in Shibakawa I was now over two hours ahead of cut-off time. I rewarded myself with some fried chicken, a walnut bread stick and some cocoa.

It had started drizzling and I finally put on my rain wear, but soon found it too uncomfortable. The mesh inside the trousers was rubbing against my skin as I was still wearing my uniqlo shorts underneath. Also, the saddle felt very uncomfortable with this combination. So I found another conbini and changed into my regular trousers and my uniqlo windbreaker instead. Neither was as waterproof as the rain wear, but infinitely more comfortable and sufficient for the slight drizzle that kept coming and going.

About 4 hours after I had stopped at PC3 I arrived at PC4 near Shuzenji in Izu, after a long urban ride through Fuji City and Numazu towards the centre of the peninsula. Still almost two hours ahead, I treated myself to a cup of coffee and a bun with Wiener sausage. From here to the end of the ride I would see more and more people taking naps, but I did not join them yet.

I climbed about 8 km to the pass on Rt12 over to Ito. This was in the wee hours of the morning, so none of us could admire the beautiful views I had seen here two weeks earlier. The long descent to Ito was very welcome, giving me a chance to rest before the four major climbs along the coastal road to Odawara.

Near Atami I finally did lie down for a turbo-nap of only 10 minutes on the wet asphalt of a conbini. I set my alarm so as not to oversleep, rested my head on the rain wear bag as a pillow and dozed off. Next to me two other participants were sleeping. I found cyclists sleeping by the road side again and again as I was making my way to Odawara and on to PC5 near Fujizawa (90 km from PC4). A few breaks with coffee and food helped to keep me going. I knew I had a decent time buffer and was happy to eat into it to make the pace more comfortable.

Odawara to Machida

After Odawara the road flattened out but also got busier with Sunday morning traffic. At 06:24 I finally rolled up in front of the Circle-K store that served as the final control, PC5 – exactly one hour before closing time. I had 3:36 to cover the final 36 km, which I means I could make it with an average speed of no more than 10 km/h. With traffic lights I usually average around 18 km/h in central Tokyo. So I should have been fine.

My shoes and socks were wet from water from puddles that had splashed up. I was tired but only 36 km away from the goal, which is almost nothing if you’ve already done 10 times as much, right?

I struggled on, checking the time and remaining distance on the GPS regularly. I did another conbini stop for the toilet and food. The rain got worse.

Why tubeless with sealant is better

When the light turned green at the Rt246 intersection, I started up but noticed a funny wobble. I came to a halt on the opposite side and looked back – my rear tyre was complete flat. I had suffered a puncture! This was 16 km from the finish line.

I knew how hard both Shintaro and Tim had struggled when they mounted the tyres on my rims, so I wasn’t looking forward to the repair, but it was my only chance. A quick check found a glass shard of 3-4 mm embedded in the tread of the rear tyre and I pulled it out. I had two spare tubes with me, one in the front bag, one under the saddle, so theoretically I should have been able to recover from the problem, as long as I didn’t run out of time.

My fingers got greasy from the chain when removing the rear wheel, but that was a minor inconvenience. I got out my tool kit and tried prying the tyre off the rim using the plastic tyre levers. On the Bike Friday I could have done this by hand and the whole job would have taken no more than 10 minutes, but with the tubeless-ready Velocity Blunt SL rims the tyre beads are firmly seated and do not come off easily. It seemed like I would almost break the tyre levers before the beads would move. I just didn’t have the right technique.

I tried and tried and had almost given up when I finally managed to work my way into loosening it from one point and from there around the whole circumference. I could then remove the punctured tube. I installed the spare tube and slightly inflated it so it would hold its position, then began the equally tricky part of getting the bead to slide back over the rim, without puncturing the tube or tearing up the side walls. Then get the wheel back in, with the rotor sliding into the brake caliper and the cassette engaging the chain and derailleur. Somehow after some wiggling and more grease on my fingers everything came back into place again. Then inflate the new tube and hope it doesn’t explode from being pinched somewhere. I knew I wasn’t giving the tyre much pressure but the only pump I had was a mini pump I bought 4 1/2 years ago for my Bike Friday with its much less voluminous tyres.

I checked the time when I thought I had just enough air to risk going back on the road – 09:09, only 51 minutes left before 10:00. I collected all my bits and rode off.

I lost time at many red lights. It was only when I got down to about 3 km from the finish that I got confidence I would still make it.

At the finish line

In the end I rolled up in front of the Cherubim bike shop at 09:56, 4 minutes before event closing time. I think I had been the last person still on the course, as I didn’t see anybody else arrive after me. Everybody had been waiting for me. It was a great relief to have made it after all. This was my first puncture in any of the brevets I have done since 2012.

AJ NishiTokyo staff checking brevet card and receipts:

Taking shelter from the drizzle at the finish:

After the event closed, everybody helped breaking down the reception desk and tent and packed things up. We posed for a group photograph, said goodbye until the next event and we headed home.

Some 15 km after Machida I slept for another half an hour on a park bench by the side of the Tamagawa river, before I could complete my ride home: The ride is not over until you arrive safely at your front door! 🙂

Conclusions

First of all, my thanks to AJ NishiTokyo for this great event 🙂 Everybody got home safely, whether they DNF’ed or completed. It’s a great course and we were mostly lucky with the weather.

Like at the brevets in Izu (200 km) and the Fuji 300 km I was very happy with the Elephant NFE. It works very well for me. I make good time on it. Carrying luggage on the front carrier is surprisingly aerodynamic, as it shields the rider from wind and everything is always within easy reach. I’m planning on getting a bigger front bag though.

The difficulty of changing tubes with my current rim / tyre combination compared to the Bike Friday is a bit of an Achilles heel for this bike. I will have to rethink that. One option would be to move to a completely tubeless setup with sealant, which would at least take care of minor punctures, but I will have to see what tyres will work for that and what rim tape, valves and sealant to use.

The Bike Friday will gets its pump back and the NFE will get its own bigger pump.

I will also look for different rain pants. I have a very good Polaris rain jacket, but the trousers from a set I recently bought at a home center to replace a pair torn in a crash in November did not work well enough for long rides.

I don’t have any brevets scheduled for May, but in early June I’m signed up for BRM604 NishiTokyo 600 km Lake Suwa. I will again be riding it on the Elephant NFE and the experience gained from the last three brevets should help. Finishing a 600 km ride in 40 hours is still a long shot for me, but I’ll give it another try and even if I fail, I’ll see great countryside, meet nice people and bring home beautiful pictures 🙂

National Cherry Blossom Explorer

With my biggest ride of the year so far, I am now up to 44 months of at least one century ride (160+ km) per month.

Last April I for the first time managed to complete a 400 km brevet under the 27 hour time limit. It was 2015BRM418, a 400 km loop around Mt Fuji with AJ NishiTokyo (BRM418西東京400km富士大回り). I think it greatly helped that two weeks before the event I pre-rode the course at my own pace. Having done the same course on a rainy Easter weekend made the actual event seem a lot less intimidating than it would have been otherwise.

In the process I got to see a lot of beautiful cherry blossoms across four prefectures of Japan (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Yamanashi and Shizuoka). So I thought, I’m signed up for this year’s AJ NishiTokyo 400 km and it’s this time of the year, why not do the same crazy thing again? 🙂

A few things were different though:

1) I decided not to do the full 400 km brevet route plus almost another 60 km to get to the start and home again from the finish. I cut out about 50 km in the middle (PC1 to PC2 and back to where the courses passes near PC1 again), getting me closer to 400 km instead of last year’s 460 km mammoth ride.

2) I didn’t start to prepare for the ride until a little before midnight on Friday. I originally wanted to ride from Sunday to Monday, but then had to move it up a day. Consequently I only slept a bit over 5 hours before the ride, which is not good. I ended up getting very sleepy, more about that later.

3) On the upside, it didn’t rain, which helped. I still wore my rain gear, but only for the cold at times.

4) I did the ride on my new bike, the Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer, on which I had already completed 200 km and 300 km brevets in February and March. I don’t have a rinko bag for the Elephant NFE, so aborting the ride and taking the train home like I did after my DNF (Did Not Finish) in 2014 was not an option, as it would have been with my folding road bike, the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket.

I left home around 07:30 and cycled to the starting point in Machida 28 km from here. From there I followed the course through Sagamihara to Doshi road, up a mountain valley towards Lake Yamanakako near Mt Fuji.

While the cherry blossoms were well past their prime down in the Kanto plain, the higher up I got the fresher or even immature they still looked.

Before I reached Doshi village they seemed to be in full bloom (“mankai” in Japanese).

I stopped for coffee and cake at the Doshi Road Station (どうし道の駅, Doshi Michi no Eki).

At the top of valley, on the final climb to the pass the cherry trees either had no blossoms at all yet or just a few blossoms with the rest of the branch still as buds.

It was markedly cooler once I got out of the tunnel before the descent to the lake. Soon I saw my first views of a big Mt Fuji. I was lucky and it was mostly unobscured. I stopped for pictures several times, on the way to the lake and then on the bike path along the lake shore.

From the west side of Lake Yamanakako I joined major Rt138/139 that would take me to Lake Motosuko. I had some food at a convenience store and put on more clothes again. Rt139 near Fujiyoshida and Kawaguchiko is not only busy but also very rough and really could do with resurfacing, but at least the wide tyres of the NFE took the edge off the bone-rattling ride of the crumbling, patched-up and pot-holed asphalt.

I passed many cars as the road went downhill towards Kawaguchiko, then it started climbing again towards Lake Saiko, before finally descending again near Lake Motosuko.

By the time I reached the turn-off to Motosuko, the sun hat set and it was rapidly getting dark. I took a few more pictures at the deserted lake in the fading evening light before entering the tunnel. On the steep descent on Rt300 I kept the speed down, not wanting to take any chances misjudging a corner in the darkness. Finally I got to the turn-off to another climb and tunnel over to an adjacent valley. From there the route went downhill again all the way to PC1.

Looking at my time, I decided to cross the Fujikawa river here and head down Rt52 after a food stop. Traffic wasn’t too bad. Eventually the course crossed over to the left bank of the river again, where Rt300 joins Rt52. It followed the Minobu railway line down to Shibakawa. I remembered this part of the route as more hilly from last year’s ride than I experienced it on this ride. From PC3 it wasn’t that far from the coast in Fuji city, but I started yawning more and more. I was about 200 km from home by then.

I was very glad to cross the Fujikawa river and turn east, towards Mishima. I did OK on the urban stretch along the coast and until I entered Izu. The closer I go to Shuzenji, the more I felt the night time cold and the tiredness. When I finally arrived at PC4 in Shuzenji in the interior of Izu around 05:00, I got a cup of coffee and took a one hour nap outside, leaning against a wall.

After I woke up again, I got back on the bike and started climbing Rt12 to the pass over to Ito. The sun was up by then and I enjoyed the early morning views.

The cherry blossoms around there were beautiful.

The long descent down to the coast in Ito gave me some recovery time, but there were still another four climbs over the next 30 km to Odawara, until the coastal road finally flattened out. Near the fake Atami castle I found some trees with piles of dry leaves underneath, which invited me to lie down again.

I used my rain gear bag as a pillow and rested on a futon of dried leaves, only metres from the busy coastal road and its weekend traffic. An hour later I woke up again, refreshed enough to ride home.

In Odawara I stopped for cherry blossom pictures at the castle moat.

Near Hiratsuka I turned off the brevet course to seek the shortest possible route home. While Rt45 was indeed much shorter than the randonnee route, it was also quite hilly, especially the half closer to Tokyo and it was not a nice road, with lots of cars. In the end it even merges into Rt246, probably my least favourite cycling road in Kanagawa prefecture. Still, it got me home before 17:00 on Sunday afternoon. My wife was glad to see me return safely and that’s always a good thing 🙂

I probably would have enjoyed the ride more if I hadn’t started with the ambition of staying close to brevet speeds. I would have slept earlier and longer and would have had more fun on the last part. Still, I ended up with close to 400 km and 3800 m of elevation gain with many, many beautiful views. The night time part of the ride would have been easier with warmer clothes too. I was over-estimating how warm it would stay after dark.

I am seriously considering trying the Bike Friday again for the brevet ride. It would make it easier to cut the ride short and take the train home, should I lose the battle against sleep. I love both my National Forest Explorer and my Bike Friday, one for its comfort, the other for its versatility. They are both great bikes and Japan is a great country to ride them in.

BRM326 NishiTokyo – 360 km around Mt Fuji on my NFE

My first introduction to Randonneuring was a 300 km ride around Mt Fuji with AJ NishiTokyo on my Bike Friday in May 2012 (2012BRM519). It starts at 22:00 on a Saturday night, with a 20 hour time limit for a finish by 18:00 on Sunday. This ride offers so much variety. If the weather is good you get to see Mt Fuji from almost all directions, with a foreground that ranges from industrial factories to dairy pastures (and smells that match the image). Temperatures can vary as much as 20 degrees C during the ride. Lighting changes from midnight to noon, sunrise to sunset. The course includes multiple 30 km climbs and 20 km continuous descents, with elevations from sea level to over 1100 m.

This Fuji loop is the one brevet I have done every year since then, though it felt very different each time. In 2013 we got gorgeous views of Mt Fuji (2013BRM518). The next year it rained continuously for the first 150 km (2014BRM419). In 2015 I was joined by my son Shintaro, for whom it was his first brevet too (2015BRM328). For 2016 I switched to my new Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer (2016BRM326).

Last year, when I still rode the brevet on my Bike Friday, Shintaro and I took the train to Machida. Since I don’t have a rinko bag for my Elephant NFE, I decided to ride out to Machida for the start and also to ride back from the finish after the event. This brought the total to around 360 km with 3300 m of elevation gain.

Preparation

My intention was to get a couple of hours of sleep on Saturday afternoon before heading out to Machida, but I was still messing around with batteries for cameras, lights and USB power (for the phone and GPS) and then trying to install a Wahoo speed/cadence sensor delivered that morning when I was already supposed to be in bed. I ran out of time on the speed sensor and took it off the bike again. When I finally did lie down for an hour, I found I couldn’t go to sleep so I ended up only resting with my eyes closed. Note to myself: If you start on a Saturday night, make sure you finish this stuff by Friday night!

I left home around 18:30 and headed to Machida at an easy pace. At a convenience store not far from the start I bought a bunch of bananas and had some food and rest before I headed to the registration. I made a mental note to add 28.5 km to the cue sheet distances for my GPS distance count, as this was how much I already cycled.

To Enoshima and Odawara

At the start I met many friends, some of whom I meet at almost every AJ NishiTokyo brevet. I loaded up the route on the GPS and after the briefing and safety inspection we headed off. The first 39 km down to Enoshima are mostly flat and there are always other cyclists to ride with. Once I stopped at a convenience store to use the toilet, but back on the road another group of randonneurs soon showed up. We got to Enoshima before midnight and had our brevet cards signed by a staff member. In most previous years I mostly rode alone from Enoshima to Odawara, but this year I had no problem riding with other people all the way to PC1 (point de contrôle 1 = check point #1), 73 km from the start / 102 km from home, where we arrived about 01:30 in the morning.

Gotemba, Fuji city and PC2

From here to Gotemba I mostly rode by myself, as I’m a slow climber. The road gains about 450 m of elevation over 30 km. There is relatively traffic as locals are in bed and long distance traffic uses the parallel running Rt246 or Tomei expressway. It felt great when the climb finally leveled off near Gotemba and I stopped to get changed.

Knowing from experience how cold the early morning descent towards Numazu can be, I had brought sufficient layers. I was wearing long johns under my warm uniqlo lined trousers, plus four layers at the top: heattech underwear, Half-Fast Cycling long sleeve jersey, Bicycle Line winter jacket, uniqlo wind breaker. I wrapped a towel around my head and fixed it in place with the helmet chin straps, which kept my ears, cheeks and the chin toasty warm. The 7-11 knitted smartphone gloves are the warmest I have, more comfortable than my Bicycle Line winter gloves. I felt totally comfortable over the next 20+ km, as I was charging down towards the coast at 30 km/h and more with several other cyclists in trail.

Once the road flattened out I had to take off a layer and my towel so I wouldn’t over heat. Then I chased behind another passing randonneur and drafted him until a few km before the Fujikawa bridge. The morning was beautiful as the sun came out, with the moon still in the sky on the other side.

I could see snow on the peaks of the Japanese Southern Alps to the west.

Mount Fuji was visible to the north, but initially only its base could be seen while the top was obscured by clouds. Gradually the clouds thinned and the still wintry top was revealed.

I briefly stopped for food at a convenience store. I couldn’t really afford to take time for a sit-down breakfast at a restaurant. When you’re a slow cyclist like me you have to minimize time off the bike to still make time limits, particularly when you also take time to take pictures!

Finally I crossed the Fujikawa river and turned away from the coast, riding together with another randonneur until PC2 (167 km from the start / 195 km from home).

The west side of Mt Fuji

This was around 7:20, so I was about 1:45 ahead of cutoff time, but the biggest climb still lay ahead. From PC2 to the viewpoint above Lake Motosu-ko the road climbed relentlessly for over 30 km and I would burn up much of that cushion as my speed would drop below the 15 km average that cutoff times are based on. I would remind myself of beautiful view of the lake that lay ahead, plus the easy descent towards Kawaguchiko and then a long and fast one on the main road down to Tsuru, where PC3 was located. I would reclaim a lot of time again on those descents.

But the real treat on the climb are the Fuji views and the quiet back country. Especially at the higher end the road passes many dairy farms so the eyes wander over green meadows, blue skies and white snow on the slopes of Mt Fuji.

It was around 11:00 when I finally reached the car park at the viewpoint, around 200 km from the start and 228 km from home, to admire the view of Lake Motosu-ko.

The car park was completely deserted. This time it was warm and sunny, unlike in 2014 when it had rained throughout the night and we had to descend from here in wet clothes and shoes and only a few degrees above freezing.

Fujiyoshia, Tsuru, Akiyama

The descent down to the main Rt139 felt relatively short now that it was warm and dry. Rt139 is not the greatest road, its surface rough and worn and there are many cars but the wide 650B tyres of the NFE absorbed the worst of the roughness and traffic was lighter than at other times I had taken it.

In Fujiyoshida I met another cyclist and together we started the descent down towards Tsuru. This is a fast downhill and fun, even though it’s still a bad road with too much traffic.

I had recovered a little on the descent, but still my legs were feeling worn out and it was getting more and more difficult to sit on the saddle, unlike on the Izu brevet, where I was happy until the end.

I made it to PC3 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff. Knowing I had previously completed with half an hour spare at this point, I felt fairly confident I could finish the remaining 66 km under the time limit.

I got more food, ate a bit and refilled my bottles, then headed off towards the Akiyama climb on Rt35, the biggest remaining climb. It passes by the Maglev test track and is followed by about 10 km of mostly descending. I like the villages and rural scenery around there, even if I couldn’t quite enjoy it as much with my sore legs and bottom. I was also starting to yawn every now and then as the effects of adrenalin wore off and lack of sleep started catching up with me. Still, it was nothing like on my first ride of this course. So I just kept turning the pedals, up and down the hills, and counted down the km and remaining minutes until I got closer and closer to Machida.

Finishing the ride

On the last few km before the finish a car turning left totally ignored me going straight and cut me off, but I managed to avoid it. I rode together with three other cyclists and we pulled up together in front of the Cherubim bike shop 15 minutes before the 18:00 closing time.

After having my brevet card and receipts checked, I relaxed with other cyclists and staff and waited for the remaining participants to return safely before course closing time. Then I cycled back to Tokyo, stopping at one conbini for a cup of coffee and a short 15 minute nap on a chair, since I was really getting sleepy by now. I got home safely, took a shower and went to bed.

Summary and outlook

It was an amazing experience again. We were very lucky with the weather. I loved getting good views of Mt Fuji again.

I’m happy with my result and very happy with my bike. Considering that unlike last year I didn’t sleep the afternoon before the ride and that I didn’t take a train to Machida but cycled to the start I didn’t make it easy for myself, but still achieved what I had set out to do.

I know on the climb to the Motosu-ko viewpoint and also from PC3 to Machida I had worked much harder last year, to make sure Shintaro and I would not exceed the time limit (DNF). This year I took it easier on those climbs. I think I could afford to do that because I had done well on the flat and downhill sections to Odawara (PC1) and from Gotemba to PC2, which was made much easier by the Elephant NFE and its superior comfort from the wider 650B tyres.

Next up will be BRM423 400 km around Mt Fuji, again with AJ NishiTokyo. Last year was the first time I completed that, in 26:01 (59 minutes under the limit) by not sleeping at all. I think I’ll try that plan again this year. It will hinge on getting enough sleep upfront, but otherwise I think I’m well prepared for the next adventure.

BRM227 NishiTokyo 200 in Izu on the Elephant NFE

BRM227 NishiTokyo 200 km “Shiokatsuo” (BRM227西東京200kmしおかつお下賀茂コース) on 2016-02-27 was my first brevet of the new year and also the first on my new bicycle, the Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer (Elephant NFE).

Having cycled relatively little in January and February I was worried about my fitness level. Also, since building up the NFE from a frame+fork set at the beginning of the month I hadn’t put much distance on it yet. Until the day before the ride I was still undecided whether to go back to my proven Bike Friday (BF), on which I have done about 35,000 km so far or go for it on the new bike.

I had done similar brevets on the west coast of Izu peninsula with AJ NishiTokyo in 2013 and 2014. For 2016, a choice of the either the 2013 (Shimogamo) or 2014 (Matsuzaki) route was offered. I went for the Shimogamo route, even though it’s supposed to have about 400 m more elevation gain. The Matsuzaki course (which I may try again next year) doesn’t reach down as far south and contains more out-and-back stretches instead of loops.

I had reserved a room at the Tokoyo Inn at Mishima station, across the street from the event start, so I wouldn’t have to drive two hours before the event.

On Friday I visited Tim at GS Astuto to have the spokes of the wheels he built for the NFE retensioned after 275 km of running in period. Tim helpfully also adjusted my disk brakes and tightened up my left crank which got rid of clicking noises while pedaling. That gave me the confidence to go for the NFE for the event. Thank you, Tim! 🙂

On Saturday morning I was up early, checking the view outside. The sky looked completely clear. I changed into my cycling gear, grabbed a cup of coffee and some bread rolls at the hotel breakfast buffet and headed over to the coin parking where I had left the NFE in the back of the Prius.

A few minutes later I rolled up to the start in front of Mishima station. The new bike got a lot of attention from fellow randonneurs. You don’t actually see a lot of “randonneur” bikes at Japanese randoneuring events and the combination of modern disc brakes with old school Honjo fenders and a Brooks saddle made the elephant an even rarer beast.

After the course briefing we pushed the bikes to the opposite end of the station for the safety check (lights, bell, reflective vest? Check!) and off we went.

The initial speed was even more moderate than usual at brevet starts. A large group of us hung together on the mostly flat 30 km or so until the first (untimed) check point. I saw my first views of Mt Fuji but didn’t want to stop for pictures to stay with the group.

At the 7-Eleven I took off my winter jacket and the full fingered gloves. I did not need to put either back on for the rest of the ride, as I was always warm enough. I put the jacket into a plastic bag and strapped it to the back of the saddle. We were about 25 minutes ahead of minimum speed.

From here the road climbed for a couple of km to a mountain pass, followed by a long and fast descent to Toi onsen on the coast. I felt much more confident descending at high speed than I would have been on the Bike Friday. The wider Compass Babyshoe Pass EL tyres provide so much traction and absorb most road bumps effortlessly.

At the coast we got some Fuji views and I stopped for some pictures. On the way down to Matsuzaki the road passed through numerous tunnels and over many climbs and descents. The tunnels interrupted GPS reception and since I don’t have a wheel speed sensor installed yet, my displayed km count started falling further and further behind actual distance covered. I knew Strava would fill in the gaps on uploads, but I had to guess by how much to adjust the current number to estimate how far it was to the next control.

The area around Dogashima is particularly picturesque.

I was glad it didn’t get quite as warm as when I rode it in 2014. With my warm underwear I still sweated on the climbs, but I didn’t get quite as as dehydrated as then.

After Matsuzaki the course turned away from the coast to avoid the picturesque but narrow and busy coastal road around Iwachi onsen. We climbed up a very steep and narrow backroad, past some farmhouses and Shitake mushroom plantations in the woods.

I rode alone most of the time, but came across the same fellow cyclists over and over as we all stopped at different times to get food, take pictures or for physiological breaks.

I was making good progress and felt increasingly confident about how I’d do in the brevet. By the time I got close to PC1 almost 100 km from the start and only about 15 km short of Shimoda on the southern tip of the peninsula, I was about 45 minutes ahead of minimum speed.

Still, I kept all stops as short as possible and didn’t even allow myself any hot coffee, which takes too long to sip. My choice of drink was mostly chocolate milk, along with my staple food of bananas.

The loop at the southern end of the course had been reversed from the first time I rode the Shimogamo course, to reduce the need to cycle into a coastal headwind.

As I headed back up to Matsuzaki it was not as clear any more as in the morning. I ended up not seeing any more Fuji views in the afternoon, even in the northwestern corner of the peninsula. The sun was getting low as I passed through Dogashima again, then through Toi, where I stocked up on food at the last convenience stores before the sparsely populated NW corner.

Compared to my earlier rides I was feeling a lot less fatigued, even though the NFE is no lighter than the Bike Friday.

Much of the last 40 km before PC2 was very windy, with strong gusts gripping the bikes, but the NFE with its low trail fork is not very sensitive to that (same for the BF) and I felt safe at all times. The low trail fork also makes it easier to make quick corrections to avoid pot holes, sewer covers, etc.

Darkness fell and we descended from the last big hill at the NW corner. I followed close behind another rider, with the Lumotec dynamo light flooding the road with light. We kept a pretty good pace for the next 15 km and rolled up to the Ministop at the edge of civilization at almost the same time. I was about 50 minutes ahead of cutoff time, with only 13 km to go. In a 200 km brevet you gain an extra 10 minutes of time after the last PC: The cut-off time for all PCs is based on their distance from the start divided by 15 km/h, but the overall limit is 13 1/2 hours, not 13 1/3 hours as it would be with a strict 15 km/h minimum speed. So basically I had 2 hours to cover the final 13 km — I could take it easy for the urban ride back to Mishima.

When I finally did buy a cup of coffee at the 7-Eleven near Mishima station that served as the goal, it was 20:00, exactly an hour from course closing time: My first NFE brevet was my fastest Izu brevet ever. And somehow I had still managed to take 101 photographs since the morning 🙂

While I enjoyed my coffee, a few fellow riders rolled up to the conbini. After they had also bought food and drinks and kept the receipts, we cycled back to the Toyoko Inn together, 3 km from the goal, where the reception desk was for the receipt check to confirm we had properly completed the ride.

I really had a great day. I had started the ride still worried if this might be the first ever 200 km brevet that I might not finish under the time limit, but instead I improved my best time and felt great doing so. The cooler temperatures definitely helped, but so did the comfortable ride of the NFE.

I am looking forward to my next brevet, BRM326 NishiTokyo 300 km Mt Fuji, on the same course around Mt Fuji that had served as a my first introduction to randonneuring in May 2012. Meanwhile I still love my Bike Friday and enjoy every km I ride on it. For courses involving train trips it probably will still be my #1 choice, as it’s easier to pack into a small package and it is still my go-to bike for rides around town.

“EU Business Register” spammers

Here is some spam sent to one of my mailboxes recently:

Hello,

In order to have your company inserted in the EU Business Register for 2016/2017, please print, complete and submit the attached form (PDF file) to the following address:

EU BUSINESS REGISTER
P.O. BOX 34
3700 AA ZEIST
THE NETHERLANDS

Fax: +31 30 310 0126

You can also attach the completed form in a reply to this email.

Updating is free of charge!

A very deceptive offer, because even though updates may well be free (as stated), the offer itself is not: A careful reading of the small print in the attached PDF revealed it to be a solicitation for a three year subscription at 995 EUR per year, automatically renewing unless cancelled two months in advance. So filling and signing the form would cost you at least 2985 EUR.

A quick Google search showed that these guys are already known to Spamhaus, who think that they’re from Romania.

Porting iptables to ip6tables

A couple of days ago I received an email notification by the Berkeley Security Notifications Team that a Linux server of mine had less restrictive firewall rules for IPv6 than it had for IPv4. This prompted me to update my ip6tables settings on that host to make it is as secure via IPv6 as it was for IPv4.

If you have a dual stack server with IPv4 A records and IPv6 AAAA records published in DNS, you should have it protected with firewall rules on both protocols. Even if you only publish A records and not AAAA ones, you should secure IPv6 access because its address may leak to potential attackers in other ways.

The ip6tables tool is installed as part of iptables on recent distributions, but you need to set up one set of rules for each protocol. They’re independent of each other. A (not very secure) default ip6tables configuration might look like this:

# Generated by ip6tables-save v1.4.21 on Thu Sep 24 11:17:56 2015
*filter
:INPUT ACCEPT [0:0]
:FORWARD ACCEPT [0:0]
:OUTPUT ACCEPT [1456:118498]
-A INPUT -m state –state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p ipv6-icmp -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p tcp -m state –state NEW -m tcp –dport 22 -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -j REJECT –reject-with icmp6-adm-prohibited
-A FORWARD -j REJECT –reject-with icmp6-adm-prohibited
COMMIT
# Completed on Thu Sep 24 11:17:56 2015

It’s relatively easy to port additional settings from iptables to ip6tables (e.g. in /etc/sysconfig/iptables and /etc/sysconfig/ip6tables for CentOS).

Below are some of the changes needed when porting common entries. As you can see, some names are replaced with those of IPv6 equivalents. Any IP addresses and CIDRs for ip6tables need to be written in IPv6 notation.

To easily port over IPv4 addresses, simply prefix them with “::ffff:”. If they’re followed by a bit count such as /24 (the routing prefix size), add 96 to that number (IPv6 addresses are 128 bits each versus 32 bits for IPv4). Add equivalent rules for the corresponding native IPv6 addresses as needed.

  1. Accept ping from any source:

    IPv4:

    -A INPUT -p icmp -j ACCEPT

    IPv6:

    -A INPUT -p ipv6-icmp -j ACCEPT

  2. Accept connection from white-listed address:

    IPv4:

    -A SSH-IN -s 123.45.67.89/32 -j ACCEPT

    IPv6:

    -A SSH-IN -s ::ffff:123.45.67.89/128 -j ACCEPT
    -A SSH-IN -s 2345:abcd:678:42::/64 -j ACCEPT

  3. Rule to block access (after all the exceptions):

    IPv4:

    -A INPUT -j REJECT –reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
    -A FORWARD -j REJECT –reject-with icmp-host-prohibited

    IPV6:

    -A INPUT -j REJECT –reject-with icmp6-adm-prohibited
    -A FORWARD -j REJECT –reject-with icmp6-adm-prohibited