My Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer

I have ordered a second bike, an Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer (Elephant NFE). I wanted something with enough clearance for wider tyres and mudguards as well as disc brakes. I was looking for a light and lively frame for fast, comfortable rides (not planning any heavy duty touring). Lots of cyclocross (CX) bikes would have fit that bill, but none have low trail geometry like classic French randonneurs or my Bike Friday. Elephant Bike’s unique low trail disk fork is really what attracted me. The frame set is hand-made by bike builder Glen Copus in Spokane, WA.

The virtue of versatility
The Elephant NFE is probably one of the most versatile bikes around. I like versatile: My current Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, on which I’ve done about 30,000 km in less than 4 years, has served me well for anything from grocery shopping at the supermarket to 600 km randonées in the mountains of Japan. Road bikes optimized for racing on the other hand do well at exactly one purpose, racing. That’s something I’m not really interested in.

In an interview with Bicycle Times, Jan Heine (Bicycle Quarterly) contrasted the versatility of cars with more restricted designs on modern road bikes:

You buy a Porsche today, you can take it to the racetrack if you want and at the same time it’s fully equipped to drive to the office, you can get groceries on the way home, you can even take your girlfriend or wife to a resort, you can do all those functions in one car. On a racing bike, where are you going to put the groceries?

My idea of cycling is mostly one day touring. I ride to see places. I also love to take pictures of the places I visit. I often use the bike for distances that many people would use cars for, unless I have passengers. I don’t want to be restricted to daytime riding or clear skies or smooth roads or only part of the year. This goes back a long time: The first bike I bought as a 17 year old had mudguards and a rear rack. During one 5 month stretch in high school I put as much as 7500 km on it, including one solo ride of 220 km.

These days my threshold for a long ride is 160 km, a “century” distance. I don’t want to carry more luggage than I need in 24 hours, but but when you ride a whole day and go from sea level to half way up Mt Fuji and back, you need more stuff than fits in jersey pockets. I dislike heavy backpacks on a long ride. Therefore my idea of the ideal bike is not a race machine but a general purpose tool. My Bike Friday comes pretty close.

One thing I didn’t like about my current bike was brake performance in the rain. In June 2013 I rode home from the epic “Otsuki 4.5″ mountain loop when I got caught in a massive downpour on top of Matsuhime (1,240 m). The Matsuhime descent in the rain on a 15% grade with wet rim brakes was no fun at all. Also I’ve had too many white-knuckle moments braking in traffic in the rain, when the calliper brakes first have to wipe the water off the rims before they they start biting on the next rotation. Disc brakes work in any weather and that settles it for me.

The search for another bike
Three and a half years ago I bought my first road bike in many years, a Bike Friday Pocket Rocket. This drop-bar road bike has 20″ wheels and folds small enough to pack into a regular size suitcase. I’ve been very happy with it, riding it through all seasons and putting three times more distance on it than I put on my car (a 2008 Prius). For both 2013 and 2014 I averaged more than 750 km per month and that’s even without a commute (I work from home). In March 2012 I signed up for a 300 km brevet three months later, then did three training rides of about 200 km for it. It was the first of many brevets. Except for August 2012 I have done at least one ride of 160 km or more every calendar month since March 2012 (a 33 month run from September 2012 to May 2015). In September 2013 I rode 574 km when trying my first 600 km brevet while in April 2015 I successfully completed a 400 km brevet.

Over these years, many people have suggested to me that I would find it easier to complete brevets or to keep up with other cyclists in group rides if I were to ride a 700C bike instead of my Bike Friday. I beg to disagree. The Bike Friday has actually been more comfortable than many conventional road bikes. Especially with 20 x 1 3/8″ (ETRTO 37-451) tyres at lower pressure, the bike vibrates less then narrow 23 mm road tyres pumped up to maximum pressure. The dynamo hub lighting, mud guards, Brooks saddle and the smart phone holder for easy navigation all help with long rides at all hours in any weather. It has been an extremely versatile and practical bike.

I have tried the 700C carbon road bikes of my wife and my son. I also tried a titanium bike lent to me by my friend Tim of GS Astuto. Yes, these big wheeled bikes roll more smoothly over speed bumps and other surface irregularities and they were lighter, which helped on many hills, but their gearing is also much higher, which is tough on really steep climbs. Due to the smaller wheels of my bike, the gearing of my road triple (50/39/30 chain rings + 11-28T cassette) works out more like that of a mountain bike (44/32/22 + 11-28T). The lightest gear of my son’s carbon road bike with compact crank is almost 50% heavier than my lightest gear. It’s actually heavier than the lightest gear on the middle chain ring of my Bike Friday triple.

Heavy gears are not only a problem when I get tired towards the end of a 13 hour ride. I also find that when I grind higher gears with more torque at lower cadences I may go faster, but I often pay for it with knee pain afterwards. I don’t really want to take any chances with my knees, as I intend to keep on riding into old age. Knee pain has been the reason I stopped running. I don’t want it to end my cycling.

I found the gear range of 22-92 gear inches on my Bike Friday perfect for me. I don’t need any gears for pedalling faster than 45 km/h, as on a long ride I rarely even do as much as 30 km/h on the flat. However I will often encounter steep hills that I can only crawl up at 6 km/h. Low gearing lets me do that at 60 rpm while still seated and my knees will thank me for it.

So while I was looking for possible new bikes with disc brakes or other nice features, the question of how to keep my low gearing prevented me from going for most off-the-shelf bikes. I would have to start from a frame set and add components that will work for me.

Low trail geometry
I had noticed that the steering on my Bike Friday felt different from 700C road bikes and put it down to the difference in mass of the wheels. The steering of the Bike Friday felt quick, but at the same time it didn’t seem affected as much by sudden gusts of wind from the side. To me it felt like the Bike Friday was easy to control via the handle bar input whereas the big bikes responded more to the rider shifting his weight around. I started reading about Jan Heine and his rediscovery of mid-century French randonneur bikes with low trail geometries, which work well for front-mounted loads. Their steering was supposed to feel like that. Then I found out that the Bike Friday, by virtue of its short fork, also had low trail geometry. That made me very curious about low trail road bikes.

As if finding a road bike with low gearing that was neither a heavy touring bike nor like a mountain bike wasn’t difficult enough, I started looking around if anyone made a bike with low trail geometry that also offered disc brakes, my primary reason to look beyond the Bike Friday. For months I didn’t come across anything. Many low-trail proponents are also sceptics with regards to certain bicycle innovations. For example, Jan Heine still uses a 5-speed freewheel like I did in the 1970s and doesn’t use integrated shifters (e.g. Shimano STI).

A couple of months ago I came across an article by Alex Wetmore (http://alexwetmore.org/?p=1173) in which he discribed a custom-built low-trail fork with traditional bend but with disc brakes. Then a couple of weeks ago I came across a mention of a 650B bike with disc brakes in a comment posted on Jan Heine’s blog (https://janheine.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/the-enduro-allroad-bike/), called the Elephant NFE. I googled the bike. The fork in the first picture I came across looked exactly like the one I had seen on Alex Wetmore’s blog. That was because builder Glen Copus based it on Alex’ proven design.

The next day I sent an email to John Speare of Elephant Bikes. He told me they were going to do another production run in a couple of weeks. A week later I got an email that they were taking orders now. It was an easy decision: There is no other bike like it. I sent my deposit the next day. I will probably get the frame and fork in August and hopefully start riding the bike in September.

Planning the build
I still haven’t decided how to get my low gears, but it will have to work with Shimano STI so I can shift and brake from the same hand position for urban riding. The choice is between a compact plus double crank (e.g. 42/26), a touring triple (e.g. 46/34/24) or a a road triple with large cassette (e.g. the new Tiagra 4703). Either of those will give me the gears I need.

The plan is to build up the NFE with a dynamo hub (Shutter Precision PL-8), a Brooks saddle (B17), a porteur front rack with a bag and some supple, wide 650B tyres such as the 42 mm wide Compass Babyshoe Pass EL.

A front rack gives easy access to items you need during rides without having to dismount. Since the weight rests on the normally much more lightly loaded front wheel it doesn’t require beefing up the whole frame as in typical touring bikes. Thus you get both load carrying ability and a light, fast frame – a perfect combination.

Stay tuned for the first ride reports later this year :)

400 km in 26 hours on a Bike Friday

On April 18/19 I rode the BRM418 Fuji Omawari (“Fuji Big Loop”) 400 km brevet by AJ NishiTokyo. It was part of my quest to complete 200-300-400-600 km brevets in one year for the Super Randonneur title. Those four are also needed to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris this August, which I’m not seriously planning for.

The course had a 27 hour time limit, from 07:00 on Saturday to 10:00 on Sunday. The total elevation gain of the course is about 3700 m over an official distance of 402.4 km. There were five check points (PC1-5, point de contrôle), all of them convenience stores from which we needed to get receipts, plus one quiz check point halfway to PC1.

As for most AJ NishiTokyo events the start and finish were at the Cherubim bike shop in Machida. From there the course heads out via Doshi michi (Rt413) to Yamanako (Lake Yamanaka), past Motosuko (Lake Motosu) to Minami Alps city, then down to the coast, across Izu to Ito, Atami, Odawara and back to Machida.

Though it might look like most of the climbing was in the first quarter because of the highest elevation there, there is more total elevation gain yet to come after the big descent from the Fuji five lake area.

I had tried this event last year but around the half-way point started to fade badly from lack of sleep . There was no way I could make the remaining control closing times. Even after sleeping some time I decided not to cycle all the way back but to take the train from Odawara station, so I didn’t even do the full distance.

To prevent a repeat of this outcome I decided to:
1) get more sleep upfront and
2) not to bring a rinko bag on the ride :-)

I also rode the complete course as a personal ride without time limit two weeks before the event, Tokyo to Tokyo (460+ km total). This gave me a better feel for the course, for how my body would react and what clothes would be appropriate this season. And it worked!

On Friday night I checked into a cheap hotel near Machida so I would have a quiet early night and wouldn’t have to take the bike on the first train in the morning to make it to the registration desk by 06:00, before the briefing at 06:30. At 5000 yen the hotel was cheap, but the supposedly non-smoking room reeked of cigarette smoke. It was hot and stuffy too, so I woke up several times. Unfortunately the similarly priced but much nicer Toyoko Inn in Sagamihara where I had staid before BRM110 in January was full…

Saturday morning started out sunny, but I had packed my rain gear in case of rain on Sunday and as an extra layer if it got too cold at night. I never needed it during the ride: A wind breaker was enough for the cold and it didn’t start drizzling until Sunday afternoon.

On the way to the start I bought some bananas for breakfast. At the briefing we were told about some course changes in the latest version of the cue sheet, then a safety check and we were off. I think I was the only one at the start without leg warmers.

Doshi michi has a lot of ups and downs before it reaches the 1114 m pass before Yamanakako, so you actually climb something like 1700 m up to that point and we also faced head winds. I think I was passed by almost all participants by the time I reached the lake.

Unlike at the ride two weeks earlier Fuji was visible this time.

I was wearing my shorts and no wind breaker. For that it was chilly, especially at Motosuko which was covered in low clouds with only 7 degrees C according to a road side display. The coldest point of the ride was not before sunrise in Izu but at noon at Motosuko.

Due to the amount of climbing I was running about 20 minutes behind the minimum average speed for PC closing times by then. Not coincidentally though, PC1 had been placed after a long fast descent at much lower elevation, so we could make up a lot of lost time. It was extremely windy on the steep Rt300 descent the other side of the Motosuko tunnel, but temperatures also got much milder again.

I made it to PC1 (a Seven 11 at 125 km) 20 minutes before closing time, then on to PC2 (a Lawson) in Minami Alps at 152 km, also with only 20 minutes spare.

After PC2 came a long downhill stretch, which was great for recovery. The Yamanashi side of Mt Fuji staid in full view for a long time.

As the sun set we joined Rt52 towards the coast, a fast flat road with a fair amount of traffic.

I passed a few other cyclists before we got to the hilly section leading to PC3 (a Circle K at Shibakawa, 217 km). This is where it started to get difficult last year, but not this time: After riding this section in the rain after midnight two weeks earlier, it felt downright comfortable in evening hours in the dry.

I was wondering where I would get really sleepy. I didn’t think I was so well prepared after that hotel stay, but my pace didn’t drop. At the Ministop that served as PC4 in Izu (km 275) I found myself an hour ahead of closing time. Several others took a nap at the conbini. I was too excited to nap and had a cup of coffee instead.

In the dark on the pass over to the east coast of Izu I startled a small deer and later some racoon-like animal, but nothing scary.

There are four climbs on the coastal road before Odawara, each one several km long. I didn’t take any pictures in the early dawn. It was cool and overcast, not clear and warm as when I passed there last year:

Near Atami I stopped for my third cup of coffee at a conbini as I was feeling sleepy, when an accident happened outside. A group of Randonneurs who were part of a different event had passed and one of them had his front wheel caught in a gap in a sewer grate. He had landed head first on the road, cracked his helmet and probably broke his nose. When I got there he was lying flat on his back on the side walk, with a handkerchief covering his face, not moving but conscious. There was blood on the road. His friends had called an ambulance which soon arrived. The other cyclists then asked us to continue. That situation kind of woke me up again. Ours is a dangerous sport indeed! Drafting in a group does have aerodynamic benefits, but only the lead man gets an unobstructed view of the road ahead.

I made it to the last big climb before Odawara as the sun came up and knew I was looking good on time. There were several other randonneurs that I kept seeing as we stopped at different times but were basically at a similar pace. At PC5 (366 km) I knew I could make it to Machida even if I only averaged 15 km/h, with only 36 km and no real hills to go in light Sunday morning traffic.

“You’re riding 400 km on THAT?” asked a female cyclist, pointing at my Bike Friday as I was having milk tea and sandwiches outside the last conbini. The people who see me regularly at AJ NishiTokyo events are no longer surprised that I do these long distance rides on a road bike with small wheels that happens to fold, but many others still find it hard to believe you don’t have to pedal more. Thankfully somebody back in the 1880s invented something called the “safety bicycle” with gears and a chain, a novel design that broke the 1 pedal revolution = 1 wheel revolution link of the “ordinary bicycle” that had preceded it. So I can assure them that on a 400 km ride I don’t need to pedal any more than somebody riding the same event on a 700C bike and the relative position of the contact points (seat, pedals, handle bar) is the same too.

I got to Machida with a big grin on my face, rolling up in front of Cherubim at 09:01, 59 minutes before the 10:00 closing time. I had my brevet card checked, showed my receipts and the quiz point photograph, then sat down for refreshments and a chat. More cyclists arrived, one or two at a time. The very last one still on the course literally made it at the last minute, arriving at 09:59 to general cheers :-)

My next brevet will be BRM530 to Suwako (Lake Suwa in Nagano) and back, a 600 km ride. Going without sleep for its entire 40 hour time limit won’t be an option there, but I’ll try to prepare well. I’ve cycled most of the route in 2013 and 2014 already.

A couple of days before the brevet I ordered N+1, an Elephant Bikes NFE frame set. It’s basically a low trail geometry randonneur bike with disc brakes. Production will start next month and I should receive it in August.

So this autumn I’ll probably be doing the “Kintaro” (Ashigara) and “Shiokatsuo” (West Izu) 200 km brevets on new 650B wheels with a dynamo hub and discs that Tim (GS Astuto) will be building for the new green bike.

Domains hijacked by fake brand spammers

Spammer who set up fake websites offering brand name products to sell counterfeit merchandise or to steal credit card details of would-be buyers often hack third party websites to host ads and shopping websites on them.

On top of that we’ve also come across many cases of them taking over control of existing domains, whose names then don’t make any mention of the brands being offered.

For example the domain “itelekom.net”, which currently hosts a site selling Nike shoes, has been around since 2004 and apparently was previously owned by a telecommunications company in Nigeria. Looking up its current ownership using WHOIS, it still has a 2004 creation date but appears to be owned by someone in China:

[CODE]Domain Name: ITELEKOM.NET
Registry Domain ID: 119763324_DOMAIN_NET-VRSN
Registrar WHOIS Server: whois.godaddy.com
Registrar URL: http://www.godaddy.com
Update Date: 2014-06-22T11:19:59Z
Creation Date: 2004-05-11T08:50:26Z
Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2015-05-11T08:50:26Z
Registrar: GoDaddy.com, LLC
Registrar IANA ID: 146
Registrar Abuse Contact Email: abuse@godaddy.com
Registrar Abuse Contact Phone: +1.480-624-2505
Domain Status: clientTransferProhibited http://www.icann.org/epp#clientTransferProhibited
Domain Status: clientUpdateProhibited http://www.icann.org/epp#clientUpdateProhibited
Domain Status: clientRenewProhibited http://www.icann.org/epp#clientRenewProhibited
Domain Status: clientDeleteProhibited http://www.icann.org/epp#clientDeleteProhibited
Registry Registrant ID:
Registrant Name: gina zipperian
Registrant Organization:
Registrant Street: pu tian
Registrant Street: fu jian
Registrant City: fujian
Registrant State/Province: jiao wei
Registrant Postal Code: 351253
Registrant Country: China
Registrant Phone: +86.15860339007
Registrant Phone Ext:
Registrant Fax:
Registrant Fax Ext:
Registrant Email: 157505829@qq.com
Registry Admin ID:
Admin Name: gina zipperian
Admin Organization:
Admin Street: pu tian
Admin Street: fu jian
Admin City: fujian
Admin State/Province: jiao wei
Admin Postal Code: 351253
Admin Country: China
Admin Phone: +86.15860339007
Admin Phone Ext:
Admin Fax:
Admin Fax Ext:
Admin Email: 157505829@qq.com
Registry Tech ID:
Tech Name: gina zipperian
Tech Organization:
Tech Street: pu tian
Tech Street: fu jian
Tech City: fujian
Tech State/Province: jiao wei
Tech Postal Code: 351253
Tech Country: China
Tech Phone: +86.15860339007
Tech Phone Ext:
Tech Fax:
Tech Fax Ext:
Tech Email: 157505829@qq.com
Name Server: NS47.DOMAINCONTROL.COM
Name Server: NS48.DOMAINCONTROL.COM
DNSSEC: unsigned
URL of the ICANN WHOIS Data Problem Reporting System: http://wdprs.internic.net/[/CODE]

We suspect that that phishing and malware were used to enable a domain transfer away from the legitimate owners to the scammers. Having to reinstall your PC to get rid of a malware infestation is one thing. Losing an established domain that you spent years promoting on the web is another.

Protecting yourself from phishing and malware is more important than ever.

OTC:TLPY – Pump and Dump Spam

Beware of any stock that’s advertised via spam!

Here is an example of spam flogging the latest stock to avoid:

Hi Kids,

Ok.. the wait is over TLPY is here!

OUR BIGGEST MONSTER PICK EVER – TLPY!

I will be sending you the TLPY video over the weekend. Along with my usual report. I just wanted to give this to you super quick before the MASSES get it on Monday!

All the best in the markets and stay tuned Sunday at 7PM EST for my TLPY video and report!

I believe TLPY is going to be EPIC! BUY TLPY TODAY!

Happy Trading,
Mike
Co-Editor
www.StockTips.com

The only person making money in spammed stocks are the ones sending the spam or paying the spammer, who will manage to offload overpriced illiquid stocks onto unsuspecting buyers who fall for the scam.

“Free Audio Editor 2014″ adware spam

Every now and then I check comments stuck in the spam filter of my blog. Mostly I find spam postings advertising fake brand merchandise, with the odd bit of SEO spam thrown in. Today I found a link to a site selling a product called “Free Audio Editor 2014″ (free-audio-editor dot com), which as it turns out is also available at download.cnet.com. Why would a free product be advertised via blog spams, I wondered. What would they gain?

So I downloaded a copy and uploaded it to virustotal.com for checking for malware. As it turns out 11 out of 57 products that analysed it didn’t like it:

AVware InstallCore (fs) 20150307
Avira Adware/InstallCore.A.367 20150307
Baidu-International Adware.Win32.InstallCore.XA 20150306
Comodo Application.Win32.InstallCore.AEK 20150306
DrWeb Trojan.InstallCore.151 20150306
ESET-NOD32 a variant of Win32/InstallCore.XA potentially unwanted 20150307
K7AntiVirus Unwanted-Program ( 004a9d5f1 ) 20150306
K7GW Unwanted-Program ( 004a9d5f1 ) 20150306
Norman InstallCore.CERT 20150306
VBA32 Malware-Cryptor.InstallCore.gen 20150306
VIPRE InstallCore (fs) 20150307

The results suggest that this product may be adware.

I would never install software on my PC that was advertised via spam. If you’re looking for a free audio file editor, I recommend Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/), which is open source and works great.

A Ride With A View

Woody Allen once remarked that showing up is 80 percent of life. One of my passions is taking pictures while out on bicycle rides and from my experiences there, I can’t help but agree with him: If you want nice pictures, you got to show up where and when you take them. Over the years I have returned with some great shots that I could share with friends and people on the WWW, but owning a decent camera and knowing how to compose a shot are useless unless you put yourself in a position where great shots can actually happen.

Specifically that means:

  • being in the right place at the right time,
  • bringing your camera and
  • actually taking a picture of something.

That may sound trivial, but many cyclists I know either limit where and when they take pictures, don’t carry a camera or pass too many nice views without bothering to stop for a picture.

A bicycle is almost the ideal means of getting around to take pictures. It combines the wide reach of motor vehicles with the close-up view of pedestrians. On a bike you can easily cover 100-200 km in a day, much more than on foot, but still at a pace where you can see things in detail. Once you see something interesting it’s very easy to stop (or turn back a bit if you’ve passed it already), unlike in a car.

So my first advice is to go out and explore. Roam around and seek out new places. I particularly like mountains because of how far you can see from high up, or from how far away you can see them, as well as the coast line.

It’s not just about where but also when: Some of the best shots presented themselves in the early morning or at sunset, where the light is warm and soft. Get up early and don’t be afraid to return after dark. My bike has a powerful dynamo hub-powered headlight and I often complete rides several hours after sunset.

Nothing brings out colours more than bright sunlight. Don’t miss clear, sunny days if you want to capture views autumn leaves, flowers or distant mountains.

Don’t be put off by a chance of rain. While overcast skies may dull colours, sunlight breaking through clouds or evening light after rain can be wonderfully atmospheric.

I always carry two cameras on my rides, sometimes three. I also carry charged spare batteries. Most cyclists these days probably carry a camera-equipped mobile phone, but I only use mine for immediate sharing on a ride (e.g. in WhatsApp) or as a backup. If I shoot the same image with both the phone and the camera I will rarely make any use of the shots taken on the phone, besides sending some to friends before I return.

My main camera is a Canon S100 which is compact enough to fit into a jersey pocket. I normally keep it in my handle bar bag, within easy reach when I stop. Recently I have also been travelling with a DSLR (Nikon D3300) that I carry in my Ortlieb seat post bag. Both the Canon and Nikon provide much superior image quality compared to my Samsung phone.

Last but not least, you need to take the time to stop. This is one reason why I enjoy riding either by myself or with other slow-ish cyclists. If in doubt, stop for a shot. And if it’s worth taking a shot, try a couple of slightly different ones and later pick the one you like best. It’s a simple matter of what your priorities are. To me enjoying views is more important than maintaining some average speed or Strava ranking or whatever. If I go for as much as 100 km without taking a picture, something must have badly gone wrong 😉

Here are some of my favourites from the last three years.

Sensible gearing for non-racing road bikes

The vast majority of cyclists who ride road bikes never compete in bicycle races. Nevertheless, the gearing of the bikes they ride is optimized for racing and not for the kind of cycling the bikes are actually used for.

Typical road bikes come with a double chain ring at the front, with a 50/34T or 52/36T (compact double) or 53/39T combination. The cassette at the rear will come with a smallest sprocket of 11 or 12T, with the large sprocket ranging anywhere from 23T to 30T. A highest gear of 52×12 or 50×11 is essentially useless to the vast majority of cyclists. Crank sets of 46/30T, 44/28T, 42/26T or 40/24T would make more sense for most cyclists who are using a double.

A typical trained amateur can sustain an output of about 3 W per kg of body weight for one hour. At 70 kg that’s about 210 W, enough to sustain 35 km/h for that hour. That’s about the 4th tallest gear on a 700C road bike (50×14 at 80 cadence). Higher gears are only usable for very short sprints during races or downhill or while drafting behind others.

Those high gears do make sense in races. Pro athletes can sustain 5-6 W per kg of body weight for an hour and much more for a few minutes or seconds, such as a sprint finish in which they may hit speeds in excess of 60 km/h.

During road races cyclists ride in a large bunch known as the peloton that provides considerable aerodynamic benefits. While the peloton at the Tour de France will cruise for half a day at speeds of around 45 km/h, few cyclists I know will cruise faster than 30-35 km/h in group rides, less than that when they ride longer distances or individually. On rides of more than 100 km on my own I will spend very little time exceeding 25-28 km/h on flat terrain.

When Eddie Merckx set his famous 1 hour record, he used a 52×14 gear combination, which is 18% shorter (i.e. lighter) than 50×11. His average cadence was 102 rpm. At 50×11 it would be 83 rpm. Even with a typical cyclocross top gear of 46-11, his average speed corresponds to a cadence no higher than 90 rpm. So why does Shimano sell heavier gears for amateur cyclist use than Eddie Merckx used when he was at his peak? That isn’t what they need at all.

People buy bicycles not just because they enjoy riding them, but also for status. That’s how they are marketed. Road bikes that look similar to what the pros ride command higher prices and are more profitable. Selling racing-optimized components to non-racers is a way of getting customers to spend more money on things to be seen with rather than on things to use.

One downside of the high, racing-oriented gearing are unnecessarily high lowest gears. With a 20-speed bike you shouldn’t have to get out of the saddle and stand on the pedals to be able to make it up a steep hill. If you can’t maintain a cadence of 70 rpm, your current gear is too tall. Same if you have to get off and walk or if your legs cramp up. A large outer chain ring that makes the smaller sprockets on your cassette unusable also forces you to sooner switch to the inner chain ring on slight climbs or to drop cadence to avoid front switches.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Lower gearing can be achieved via smaller chain rings at the front, larger cassettes at the rear, smaller wheels or a combination thereof. Yet road cyclists are offered few of these options. Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo, the big three bicycle component makers, provide very little choice when it comes to derailleur geared road bikes. Still, there are some options.

Let’s take a look at them.

Mountain Bike Cranks

Mountain bikes and trekking bikes are available with double and triple chain rings, with large rings as small as 36T and small rings as small as 22T. For example, the Deore XT FC-T781-S is available as a 44-32-24, which provides low enough gearing for grades of 14% and more and high enough gears for 30+ km/h cruising. MTB cranks are readily available and affordable.

One problem is that MTB cranks have a wide Q factor (pedal-to-pedal distance), which some cyclists have a problem with. Also, their chain line is wider than that of a road double or triple, which can cause problems when trying to use a road derailleur as it may not reach out far enough. Shimano MTB front derailleurs on the other hand are not compatible with Shimano road shifters because of different pull ratios and MTB shifters are not designed to be used on drop bars.

If you are able to make the MTB crank chain line work OK with road shifters and don’t have problems with the wider Q factor, good for you!

Road Cranks With Large Cassettes

Shimano road cranks use a 130 mm bolt circle diameter (BCD) for the outer ring and 110 mm for the inner ring, which limits the smallest inner ring to 34T. Your only option of getting a lower lowest gear is a bigger cassette. Cassettes are limited by what number of teeth your rear derailleur (RD) can handle. Medium and long cage RDs handle bigger cogs as well as bigger differences between the small and large gears than do short cage RDs. A 9 or 10 speed road RD can also be replaced with a 9 speed MTB RD for more capacity, as they are pull compatible. This allows cassettes up to 36T. The drawback of bigger cassettes is extra weight and less closely spaced gears that require bigger cadence changes when changing gears.

Cyclocross Bikes (CX)

Cyclocross bikes usually come with 46+36T cranks, which avoid the big jumps in chain ring size of road compacts (10 vs. 16T difference). The 46T is more usable than a 50 or 52, but because of the 110 mm BCD of both rings, no inner chain ring smaller than 34T can be installed. So with a CX crank, larger cassettes are the only option for lower gearing, just like with road cranks.

Road Triples

Typical road triples offer 50-39-30T combinations, but manufacturers have gradually been getting rid of them. SRAM completely stopped making road triples. Except for their MTB group sets, they only sell doubles now. Shimano dropped the triple option for Dura Ace with 7900. Next in line was Ultegra, where 6703 was the last triple, followed by 11 speed double 6800. Finally it was 105’s turn, which went to 11 speed double-only when 5800 came out. Now Tiagra 4603 is the only group still offering a triple. Older 105 5703 and Ultegra 6703 parts are still available, but not on new bikes. None of the electronic shifting group sets from any manufacturer, such as Shimano Di2, support triple. Ultegra 6770 support 10 speed doubles, while Ultegra 6870 supports 11 speed doubles.

With both the 105 and Ultegra triples the small chain ring uses a 74mm BCD and can be replaced with smaller 74mm BCD rings down to 28T, 26T and even 24T, for example the TA Zelito range. This is not possible on the current Tiagra 4603, where the inner is bolted to the middle ring.

Some people remove the 50T of road triples and change the middle to a different size, to convert the road triple into a “compact plus” double such as 44+28T or 42+26T. Having only two chain rings then, this can even be combined with an electronic FD. I have heard from at least one person who uses Di2 with a 105 5700 triple-derived 44+28T double.

Triple cranks are still made by several other players besides the big three. One of the most well known and respected is Sugino. For 9 speed there is their XD-2, which is good value. You can get in 46/36/24T. For 10 speed there is the Alpina 2 triple, which can be a bit hard to find with the right ring sizes. The 110/74 mm BCD means the inner can go as low as 24T while the middle can be no smaller than 34T (technically, 33T but nobody uses those).

If you’re using STI shifters then ramped and pinned rings work best for the middle and outer rings. Some purists still use down tube shifters or bar end shifters, which will work with any rings, but having used STI I simply can’t go back to the 1970s for shifting. The ability to use both the brakes and the shifters from the hand position in which I spend most of my riding is invaluable, especially when riding in populated areas.

Compact Plus Doubles

Sugino also makes doubles using 110/74 mm BCD that allow you to use inner rings smaller than the 34T limit of typical road and cyclocross doubles. The Sugino OX801D, which Sugino calls a “compact plus” does not suffer the 34T limit for the inner ring. It combines the chain line and narrow Q factor of a double with the ability to use smaller inners of a triple.

A trekking bike-oriented variant, the ZX801D aka ZX110 OX801D can be had with smaller rings from 44/28T down to 40/24T. It’s chain line is MTB-like and it uses spaces when used with a 68 mm bottom bracket. Both the OX801D and the ZX801D are compatible with 9 and 10 speed drive trains, with modern ramped and pinned chain rings for STI compatibility.

Internal Geared Hubs (IGH)

Just like single speed bikes, hub geared bikes are relatively flexible in their gearing because there is only a single sprocket at the front and the rear, the selection of which moves the internally available gear range up or down as needed.

The Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 gives you 14 equally spaced gears covering a total range of 526%. It is robust, low maintenance and efficient. On the other hand it’s very costly, fairly heavy and not compatible with drop handle bars or with electronic shifting. It’s a good match for high end touring bikes.

A cheaper alternative to the Speedhub is the Alfine 8 speed and 11 speed by Shimano. The Alfine 8 offers a gear range of 308% while the Alfine 11 covers 409%. A good touring bike should have a gear range of 450% or more. There the Alfine 8 falls short, while the 11 comes close. From what I hear, something as simple as fixing a puncture can be quite unpleasant with the Alfine.

Alfine IGH can now be combined with electronic shifting. For the mechanical version there are the Shimano STI-like Versa brifters.

The Alfine models are more expensive and heavier than derailleur gears but neither as expensive nor as efficient as the Rohloff Speedhub. Pick your poison!

Smaller wheels

When I bought my Bike Friday, a road bike with 20″ wheels that will fold, the low gearing was almost by accident. Yes, I did specify it as a triple (50/39/30T with 11-28T cassette), but the smaller wheels (451 mm vs/. 622 mm on a 700C) make for 33% lighter gears on top of that. That means my road triple gearing works more like a MTB 44-32-24 than triple setups available for 700C road bikes. That suits me fine. I can still pedal downhill at 45 km/h in my top gear if I feel like it, but I can also climb the steepest climbs at 6 km/h at 60 rpm.

It was only when I started looking at what kind of gearing I would need to maintain my comfortable climbing ability on a 700C or 650B that I realized what a blessing the smaller wheel size can be for gearing options.

The triple has also worked well for me. Because the middle ring has significant range overlap with both adjacent rings, the jumps either way are easy (about 30%), which encourages you not to postpone front shifts and to always use the most suitable ring. On flat roads I mostly ride in the big rings, except where it’s busy and I may have to stop a lot, or if I’m tired or facing a head wind. The middle works for almost anything when I’m not in a hurry and not on steep hills. On wet roads I’m more likely to encounter traction problems with the rear wheel before running out of gears on the inner. I use the inner with the lighter half of the cassette and never feel guilty about dropping into it, because it keeps my cadence high enough. In a car you wouldn’t think twice about reving the engine to go up a steep mountain, so why not on a bike?

I may not be a fast climber, but I have never suffered from leg cramps or walked up a mountain road because it was too steep. Having sensible gearing is part of the reason.

Further reading:

A 242 km January bike ride

On January 10 I rode my first brevet of 2015, “BRM110 Miura peninsula 200 km” by AJ NishiTokyo. The 204 km course started and finished in Machida while the middle portion followed the Kanagawa coastline around Miura peninsula. Total elevation gain was a little over 900 m, far less than the more typical 2000-3000m in other AJ NishiTokyo 200 km events. It was also far less windy on the Miura coast than on most of my winter rides there. There were about 70 participants and I rode with others for most of the route.

The previous evening I cycled to a cheap business hotel near the start (Toyoko Inn in Fuchinobe) and went to bed early. I got up at 04:00, left at 05:00 and attended the pre-ride briefing at 05:40.

With the clear night sky, temperatures were close to freezing when we set off at 06:00, almost an hour before sunrise. The dawn was pretty along the Tamagawa, but when the sun rose it was right in our faces, which must have made it challenging for cars and trucks passing us.

After 40 km we left the river and turned onto major Rt15. We reached PC1 (Point de Controle #1, in this case a convenience store) at km 43. Here are some bikes of fellow participants, ranging from a custom built Japanese Cherubim bike with Rohloff Speedhub to a mamachari (shopping bike). Most cyclists at Japanese brevets ride regular carbon or aluminium frame road bikes.

My next stop was at Yamashita koen in Yokohama. From there to near the Yokosuka naval base the road has many traffic lights so even though it’s mostly flat, you can’t maintain a fast pace. The real scenic peninsula starts south of Yokosuka. I love the views across Tokyo bay to Boso peninsula on the opposite side. You can see many boats, from container ships to oil tankers to LNG tankers, on their way to and from Tokyo, Kawasaki and Yokohama.

After 119 km I reached PC2 in Misaki, where I got my brevet card signed by a staff member (at PC1 and PC3 we needed to collect shopping receipts).

Heading north from there towards Zushi and and Kamakura on the west coast of the peninsula I was treated to one stunning Mt Fuji view after another. January is really the best time for them, because the air is so dry. At other times of the year the mountain is often obscured by clouds, even if you could see far enough.

Here are some guys preparing a bonfire for a shrine festival:

Near Chigasaki we turned away from the coast and soon reached PC3 near Samukawa (km 168). I was told I was #38, so around the middle of the field. With only 36 km to go to the finish and 1 1/2 hours ahead of cut-off time I felt really good. Furthermore, I still had over an hour of daylight. I had worked really hard for the first three hours, then dropped the pace a bit but overall made good time. So I enjoyed my first cup of coffee of the day, then headed on.

Another participant decided to follow me and my GPS to save himself navigating by his paper maps and notes. Once we got closer to the finish and he found himself in familiar territory he decided to drop off the back while I continued at my pace. I arrived at the finish at 18:06, 12 hour and 6 minutes from the start, which is my best 200 km time ever.

After handing in my brevet card and having my receipts checked I hung out with other finishers with food and drinks, chatting for a while. Then I headed on, riding another 30 km back to Setagaya/Tokyo in the dark. My winter gloves turned out too cold from the sweat, so I stopped at another convenience store to defrost my hands and pick up some cheap knit gloves for the ride home. Strava reported a total of 242 km for the day.

That makes January my 29th consecutive month with at least one Century ride (160+ km).

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Koyo, three toge and a curry

With my nephew’s visit over and a sunny weekend forecast, I wanted to ride some distance again, which I finally did yesterday (196 km with 2234 m of climbing).

On Saturday night I set my alarm for 04:30, still undecided between 4-5 courses. Though I had planned to leave for wherever by 05:30, I didn’t actually head out until an hour later, having checked work email etc. (flexibility is one of the things I like about riding on my own). By the time I was ready to roll I had more or less settled on a clockwise Tsuru toge loop.

RideWithGPS:

I had done a similar ride before, but not during the autumn leaves season, and heading out via Wada toge instead of Musashiitsukaichi and the Route 33 tunnel from Hinohara that I took on Sunday.

It felt like the first winter ride of the season for me: Cold air, a constant need to keep warm, but clear skies and many Fuji views to make up for that:

Within about 10 minutes of leaving home, the temperature readout of the navi2coach GPS dropped to 8 C. I was wearing uniqlo long johns and underwear under my long sleeve TCC kit, plus my Bicycle Line “Eternity” winter jacket, winter gloves and my nylon rain pants as an extra layer to keep the legs warm. Somewhere on the Tamagawa I took off the winter jacket and rain pants and switched to the half gloves as the morning sun raised temperatures above 10 C.

When I wanted to load up the map for @Half-Fast Mike’s excellent Akigawa route from Rt16 to Musashiitsukaichi on Google Maps, I was surprised to get a “No My Maps found” error. Google Maps 7.x.x came out a year and a half ago without the “My Maps” feature. You could keep using it by disabling automatic updates and sticking with 6.x.x, but Google recently announced they would drop support for it, which has now happened. Alas, I’ll finally have to find an alternative for following courses on Android on long rides.

The assistance wasn’t really needed, as I remembered enough from previous rides to get all the way to Musashiitsukaichi without making one wrong turn. I stopped at the new Familiymart one km before the 7-11, as somebody had recently mentioned it favourably. They have a cafe corner with chairs, with wall sockets for charging mobile gadgets. So I could enjoy my caffeine and second breakfast sitting down with a view of the blue sky outside from a place with room temperature :-)

Somewhere around Hinohara I came across a Harley-Davidson enthusiasts’ get together. I took some pictures, was asked where I’m from and was offered to have my picture taken:

The climb up to the tunnel on Rt33 towards Uenohara was not as long or steep as I remembered it, perhaps because I wasn’t climbing in summer. This is where I passed the first of only two cyclists on the whole 196 km ride who were slower than me (the other one was on the climb from Okutama-ko to Kazahari-toge).

Route 18 to Kosuge village is only 23 km from the junction beyond the tunnel, but it was a very long 23 km, especially the last third. But it was also very pretty and old fashioned.

Old fire fighting pump:

After the repeated climbs and descents to Kosuge village, I knew I was at the half way point. Only one climb to go, even though it was the biggest one. I changed back into my winter jacket for the descent to Okutama. It was only 12 C now and mid-afternoon. I felt tired from the climbing, but it was hard to enjoy the descent to the lake with the chilly air. I was actually looking forward to the next climb to get warm again.

The roads between Hinohara and Okutama-ko are still a playground for weekend racers, by car and by motorbike.

As almost every weekend there was a police speed trap in the forest near Hinohara. On the climb from the lake I passed two police vans with more than half a dozen bikers standing around. On the descent past Tomin no Mori two police cars, then a fire truck and finally an ambulance came up the mountain. I passed two or three spots with flowers by the road side where someone must have died. I think the road gets closed at night to minimize accidents after dark (and related need for emergency vehicle trips).

The 16 km climb from the lake to the summit with over 600 m of elevation gain seemed easier then Rt18, not only because it’s fewer km, but also because it doesn’t go up and down, so you can always feel you’re working towards a known goal, elevation-wise.

I got to the top around sunset:

With only 6 C at the top and the sun gone, the descent towards Musashiitsukaichi was long and cold. I wore every piece of fabric I was carrying, but it still wasn’t enough. Finally I made it to the same Familymart where I had had breakfast and grabbed more food and coffee to warm up.

After some rest I decided to miss the scenic Akigawa backroute and simply followed boring Rt7 back towards the Tamagawa. Fortunately it wasn’t too busy that time of the day.

I got back to Setagaya a little before 22:00 and dropped into a local Nepalese restaurant for a curry and naan take-away. Needless to say, I slept really well that night :-)

====

(*) Koyo = autumn leaves (viewing)
Toge = mountain summit