Get the Facebook “See translation” button back

I used to get a “See translation” link when browsing Facebook posts of my Japanese friends, but at some point that went away. I would still see it offered on languages such as Dutch, Swedish or Spanish though. It turns out that Facebook didn’t give me the “See translation” link for Japanese posts because in my language settings I had included Japanese along with English, French and German. I speak it, but unlike my other languages I can’t necessarily read it.

Having lived in Japan for many years I do speak Japanese well enough to talk to friends and family, to go to the bank, to travel and go shopping. I deal with officials at the city office or to renew my driver’s license, no problem. However, I do not do too well with written Japanese and its almost 2000 Kanji characters, so I’m still relying on translation tools for that. It was actually easy to re-enable the option in Facebook.

In Facebook, click on the triangle to the right of the padlock. Click on “Settings” in the drop-down menu. Click on “Language” on the left. Click on “Edit” next to “Which languages do you understand?”. Remove any languages that you still want to get a “See translation” option for. Click “Save changes”. Now view a Facebook post in that language and you should see the “See translation” option displayed below it 🙂

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Are Not The Future

On my bicycle ride last Saturday I passed a service station near Hachioji in western Tokyo that is being set up as a hydrogen station for fuel cell cars. Japan is in the process of setting up such infrastructure to support a small fleet fuel cell vehicles such as the Toyota Mirai (its name means “future” in Japanese).

For decades, hydrogen has been touted as an alternative fuel for transport once we move beyond fossil fuels. The idea was that it can be made in essentially unlimited amounts from water using electricity from solar, wind or nuclear power (from either fission or fusion reactors). The only tailpipe emission would be water, which goes back into nature.

Unlike electric cars, which have limited range compared to fossil fuel cars, hydrogen cars can be refilled fairly quickly, like conventional cars, giving them a longer operating range. Car manufacturers have experimented with both internal combustion engines (ICE) running on hydrogen and fuel cell stacks that produce electricity to drive a traction motor. Both liquefied and compressed hydrogen has been tested for storage.

Here is a Honda fuel cell car I photographed on Yakushima in 2009:

It’s been a long road for hydrogen cars so far. Hydrogen fuel cells were already providing electricity for spacecrafts in the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 70s. With the launch of production cars and hydrogen fuel stations opening now in Japan, the US and Europe it seems the technology is finally getting ready for prime time. However, the reality is quite different.

Arguably the biggest challenge for hydrogen cars now is not the difficulty of bringing down the cost of fuel cells or improving their longevity or getting refueling infrastructure set up, but the spread of hybrid and electric cars. Thanks to laptops and mobile devices there has been a huge market for new battery technology and this technology crossed over into the automotive industry. The battery packs of the Tesla Roadster were assembled from the same industry standard “18650” Li-ion cells that are the building blocks of laptop batteries.

Li-ion batteries have been rapidly falling in price year after year, allowing bigger battery packs to be built that improved range. A car like the Nissan Leaf that is rated for a range of 135 to 172 km (depending on the model) would cover the daily distances of most people on most days without recharging during daytime. Not only are prices falling and range is increasing, the cars can also harness the existing electricity grid for infrastructure. A charging station is a fraction of the price of a hydrogen filling station.

Here in Japan I find many charging stations in convenience store parking lots, at restaurants, in malls and at car dealerships – just about anywhere but at gasoline stations, which is where the few hydrogen stations are being installed.

After the tsunami and nuclear meltdown hit Japan in March 2011, some people here viewed electric cars and their claimed ecological benefits with suspicion: The Nissan Leaf may not have a tail pipe, but didn’t its electricity come from nuclear power stations? This criticism is not entirely justified, because electricity can be produced in many different ways, including wind, sun and geothermal. Car batteries of parked cars are actually quite a good match for the somewhat intermittent output of wind and solar, because they could act as a buffer to absorb excess generating capacity while feeding power back into the grid when demand peaks. If cars were charged mostly when load is low (for example, at night) then no new power stations or transmission lines would have to be built to accommodate them within the existing distribution network.

The dark secret of hydrogen is that, if produced from water and electricity through electrolysis, it is actually a very inefficient energy carrier. To produce the hydrogen needed to power a fuel cell car for 100 km consumes about three times as much electricity as it takes to charge the batteries of an electric car to cover the same distance. That’s mostly because there are far greater energy losses in both electrolysis and in fuel cells than there are in charging and discharging a battery. On top of that, even fuel cells still costing about $100,000 are not powerful enough to handle peak loads in a car, so during low engine load the fuel cell is run at constant output to charge a small battery, which then supplies boost power during peak load. This means a fuel cell car suffers the relative small charge/discharge losses of a battery-electric car on top of the much bigger losses in electrolysis and fuel cells that only a hydrogen car has.

What this 3x difference in energy efficiency means is that if we were to replace fossil-fueled cars with hydrogen-fueled cars running on renewable energy, we would have to install three times more solar panels and build three times as many wind turbines as it would take to charge the same number of electric cars. Who would pay for that and why?

Even if the power source was nuclear, we would be producing three times as much nuclear waste to power hydrogen cars than to power battery-electric cars — waste that will be around for thousands of years. That makes no sense at all.

So why are hydrogen fuel cell car still being promoted then? Maybe 20-30 years ago research into hydrogen cars made sense, as insurance in case other alternatives to petroleum didn’t work out, but today the facts are clear: The hydrogen economy is nothing but a boondoggle. It is being pursued for political reasons.

Electrolysis of water is not how industrial hydrogen is being produced. The number one source for it is a process called steam reformation of natural gas (which in Japan is mostly imported as LNG). Steam reformation releases carbon dioxide and contributes to man-made global warming. By opting for hydrogen fuel cell cars over electric cars, we’re helping to keep the oil industry in business. That you find hydrogen on the forecourt of gas stations that are mostly selling gasoline and diesel now is not a coincidence. Hydrogen is not the “fuel of the future”, it’s a fossil fuel in new clothes.

Due to the inefficiency of the hydrogen production it would actually make more sense from both a cost and environmental point of view to burn the natural gas in highly efficient combined cycle power stations (gas turbines coupled with a steam turbine) feeding into the grid to charge electric cars instead of producing hydrogen for fuel cell cars from natural gas.

Even if hydrolysis is terribly inefficient, by maximizing demand for electricity it can provide a political fig leaf for restarting and expanding nuclear power in Japan. Both the “nuclear fuel cycle” involving Fast Breeder Reactors and the promise of nuclear fusion that is always another 30-50 years away were sold partly as a power source for a future “hydrogen economy”.

While I’m sorry that my tax money is being used to subsidize hydrogen cars, I don’t think it will ever take off in the market. Electric cars came up from behind and overtook fuel cell cars. The price of batteries is falling rapidly year after year, driven by massive investment in research and development by three independent powerful industries: IT/mobile, automotive and the power companies. The hydrogen dream won’t die overnight. I expect the fuel cell car project will drag on through inertia, perhaps until there will be more battery electric cars than fossil fueled cars in Japan and then will be cancelled.

Elephant Bikes NFE Goes 11 Speed (with OX601D and hydraulic brakes)

It’s been almost 8 months since I started riding my Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer (NFE). See the original build report here. Since then I have made several significant changes. Here is my bike as I was taking a box full of bike parts to GS Astuto, my local bike shop, to do the upgrade:

In May I switched from Compass Babyshoe Pass EL tyres with Schwalbe tubes to regular Compass Babyshoe Pass (non-EL) set up tubeless. In November I switched back to the original setup. Basically, it wasn’t worth the hassle. The front tyre started leaking through its side walls and no amount of sealant added would stop the leakage. The valves got pretty badly clogged by sealant foam injected through the valve. And finally I found that when switching back to the BSP EL tyres remounting them was trivially easy, quite unlike my experience when I had the first puncture, probably because I had since learnt how to properly mount a tyre on tubeless ready rims (hint: push the beads towards the centre channel of the rim to create enough slack).

The second change was to get rid of the Honcho Turtle 58 mudguards and replacing the with SKS plastic mudguards. The Honcho mudguards were beautiful, made from hammered aluminium. They gave the bike a classic look that drew many admiring glances. Trouble is, they were too tight. Even though they were advertised for 650B tyres as wide as 42 mm, I would not recommend them for anything beyond 38 mm. If either the mudguard or the wheel was not exactly centered I would sometimes get wheel rub, which really scared me: I do not want the mudguard to wear through the tyre sidewall.

I bought some SKS Bluemels (SKS-K-BM65-26-21-235) for 5700 yen instead. These 65 mm wide mudguards are designed for 26″ MTB wheels with tyre withs of 2.1-2.35 inches, but they work great for 650B. There’s plenty of clearance with 42 mm tyres and I may even get away with 47 m if wanted to go that way. The only difficult part of the installation was trimming the fairly beefy steel stays to the appropriate length.

The third change was the biggest: I replaced the crank set, chain, cassette, derailleurs, shifters and brakes. I had been unhappy with the shift quality on my TD-2 touring triple, which was nothing like what I was used to from my Shimano 5703 triple. I ended up with dropped chains, chains that slide between the middle and the inner ring, upshifts and downshifts that overshoot, upshifts that require immediate counter-trimming, etc. I don’t know if the culprit were the chain rings or if it was the front derailleur, but I finally decided to replace the triple with a Sugino “Compact Plus” small double. I could have stayed with a 10 speed setup, but I wasn’t so happy with my TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes either. If I switched to 11 speed I had the option of installing Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. So that’s what I ended up doing.

The new crank set is a Sugino OX601D. It is very similar to its more upmarket siblings, the OX801D and OX901D, which basically work exactly the same, but look more refined and come with different chain ring options. It’s a two piece crank (the old triple was a square taper three piece design), much like modern Shimano cranks. With both a 110 m and 74 mm bolt circle, it can fit an outer of 40-50T and an inner of 24-36T. Inner rings of 42T-32T are 74 mm BCD (Sugino bolt set B) while 34-36 use share the 110 mm BCD with the outer ring (Sugino bolt set A). The crank set offers a narrow Q-factor of 145 mm and a standard double chainline of 43.5 mm. I am using a Sugino PE110S-42T as my outer and a Sugino 74J-26T as my inner. Combined with a rear cassette of 11-32 I get gearing all the way from 21 to 100 gear inches. That means climbing as slow as 6 km/h at 60 rpm in the lowest gear or descending as fast as 47 km/h at 100 rpm and all without huge cadence jumps on rear shifts.

I went for ST-RS685 shifters, which are Ultegra grade. The 105-level ST-RS505 would have worked too. For the rear derailleur I went with the medium cage Ultegra RD-6800 GS — 105 RD-5800 GS would have been fine too. The new front derailleur is a FD-CX70, Shimano’s 10 speed Ultegra grade top-pull cyclocross derailleur. Shimano does not yet offer a top-pull derailleur for 11 speed road groups, but the 10 speed part works fine. There’s supposed to be a difference in cable pull, but it doesn’t really matter.

The new shifters and cables shift lighter than the previous Ultegra 6700 ones. The front shift is just as trouble free as on my Shimano 105 triple on my Bike Friday. Since the distance in gear ratios on the double front rings is wider than with the triple, I need to countershift three clicks instead of one on a front shift, but that’s easy.

I love the new disc brakes. The BR-RS785 calipers offer very light action with great modulation and plenty of bite when you mean business. On top of that they are self-adjusting. I basically won’t have to touch them until the pads wear out.

PayPal malware social engineering

I instantly got very suspicious when I received this from PayPal today:

Hello [my name here],

Colin Neal would like to be paid through PayPal.

Note from Colin Neal: Good afternoon. There was a pay of 200$ from my wallet on your wallet , as if I bought smth from you on Ebay. But I didn’t do this. It must be a mistake. Write me on kcsystems1@gmail,com i’ll send you the copy of invoice. Sorry to disturb you.

Details

Request Date: November 29, 2016
Requested Amount: $200.00 USD
Your Email Address: [my PayPal email address]

Click the button below to send Colin Neal your payment and see the details of this money request.

[ Pay now! ]

Of course I did not click on the “Pay Now!” button, but looking at the email header, the mail was actually sent via PayPal’s mail servers!

I logged into PayPal from scratch on another machine by typing in the PayPal domain name and verified that there was indeed a money request for $200 in my PayPal account. However, it came from a random looking Gmail address, “pvbkrngkjqo@gmail.com” and not the address I was told to contact. Even more suspicious than the first email!

So I fired off an email from another mail account (not my PayPal mail account) to “kcsystems1@gmail.com” and explained that I had not received any funds and that this must be a scam. But as suggested in the initial message, they then sent me a link to an “invoice”:

Good afternoon. This is a copy of invoice.
https://paypal.com/user/files/paypalInvoice_000092419298377.doc

Looking forward your reply. Thanks.

Looking at the actual target of the link, it pointed at a completely different location:

http://myotaku.com.my/system/helper/json/paypalInvoice_000092419298377.doc

When I downloaded it using a secure tool and submitted it to VirusTotal.com, six of the tools consulted detected it as malware:

AVware LooksLike.Macro.Malware.k (v) 20161130
Avast VBA:Downloader-DSH [Trj] 20161130
Fortinet WM/Agent.CBW!tr 20161130
Qihoo-360 virus.office.gen.85 20161130
Symantec W97M.Downloader 20161130
VIPRE LooksLike.Macro.Malware.k (v) 20161130

This scam uses a clever bit of social engineering. The original email comes from a real PayPal server, a trusted source and it doesn’t include any malicious links or attachments.

By getting you to initiate contact with the malware scammer, the subsequent reply with its malicious link will arrive from an email address that you have previously contacted, which will subject that email to less severe filtering. This makes it more likely the malicious link goes through.

Always be alert to how scammers set up mail exchanges where malware will only arrive after several steps specifically designed to defeat filtering. For example, they may contact you first to ask for a quote and then email you what is supposed to be an order, but is really malware.

Donald Trump’s most outrageous statement

There has been no shortage of outrageous statements by Republican candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential election campaign. However, the one that shocked me most was this boast about the loyalty of his supporters:

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, ok? It’s, like, incredible.” (Donald Trump, 23-Jan-2016)

The statement says something about both Trump and his supporters.

It would never occur to most people to even think about murdering someone, let alone boasting about the hypothetical ability to get away with murder — not because murder is illegal, but because killing is wrong. It’s one of the most basic moral rules in any society. That this doesn’t apply to Trump is revealing. He doesn’t have this moral compass that most people at any layer of society have. He’s the ultimate narcissist who would do anything that he thinks benefits him, from stiffing his contractors to “grabbing (women) by the pussy”. That makes him totally unsuitable for the most powerful position on the planet.

Trump has said many things that would have sunk the campaigns of ordinary politicians, but this is not politics as usual any more. For a certain segment of voters, the fact that he does not behave like a regular politician is the very reason they vote for him. Decades of rabid propaganda and conspiracy theories on talk radio by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and on Fox News have established an alternate reality for them where the system is totally broken and has to be trashed before it can be rebuilt from scratch. In this alternate reality crime is at an all-time high, rather than 50% below what it was under President Reagan as it actually is. Facts don’t matter.

These people are scared and prepared take their chances, almost regardless of the evidence. In reality, Trump has no solution for them. He will not bring back the lost industrial jobs that largely went to computers rather than to Mexico. His anti-trade policies would send the economy into a tail spin and his budget proposals would drown the country in debt. His victory would have foreign dictators cheering and would encourage imitators in other countries.

When Hitler came to power in my homeland in 1933, he did not win a majority in free elections, but he managed to get enough support from other parties and politicians who feared a communist revolution more than they disliked the Nazis. Most of Hitler’s plans that he executed so brutally once firmly in power, from “Lebensraum im Osten” (living space to the east, i.e. the invasion of Poland and the Soviet Union) to the mass murder of Jews had already been openly announced in “Mein Kampf” a decade before the Nazi takeover, but people on the right did not care too much about that. They were happy as long as Hitler was going to smash the communists.

Likewise, most of what Trump says doesn’t really matter to his followers, as long as he is the anti-Obama. No other Republican candidate was as different from Obama as Trump is. People voting for Trump despite his glaringly obvious character flaws are willing to write him a blank check, the same way the German Reichstag gave Hitler a blank check when it signed the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz) that effectively gave him unlimited powers and put parliament out of business.

Even if, as most of the world hopes, voters will manage to stop Trump this coming Tuesday, this alone will not end the problem. His voters and their alternate reality views will still be there. They will impact the political culture for years to come. The Republican party and its media circus has nurtured an ever more toxic political base that it now has trouble controlling. In some ways it reminds me of the jihadists the US supported in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1970s/80s against the Soviet Union, which now have become the West’s enemy #1.

Unfortunately, even if the most unqualified US presidential candidate ever is defeated at the polls it will take a long time for the US to recover from the political poison the Republicans have been brewing for decades in order to secure power to further the interests of the top 1%.

Nexus 6P Flashing Charge Icon

Recently the USB-C quick charger that came with my Huawei Nexus 6P appeared to stop working. I normally leave the phone charging over night, but one morning I found its battery charge was low and it hadn’t been charging. When I disconnected and reconnected it to the cable (which is reversible with USB-C connectors on both ends), the lightning bolt inside the battery charge indicator kept blinking (flashing on and off), rather than being solid on as it normally would while the device is charging.

Disconnecting and reconnecting the device or unplugging and reconnecting the charger to the wall socket made no difference whatsoever. Reversing the cable direction did not help either.

My only way to still charge the phone was to use a USB-A to USB-C cable that draws power from a PC USB socket, which is a much slower way to charge the phone. So I decided that the charger must have failed after less than a year of use. I already started looking for USB-C quick chargers on Amazon (they exist but are much more pricey than USB-A chargers), but didn’t order one yet.

Today I decided to Google for the problem and found others who had the exact same issue. It turned out that simply powering down the phone and powering it up again will fix the problem: Yepp, it will charge again!

I’m not sure what the fundamental issue is, but it seems I won’t have to rush out and buy a new charger (which wouldn’t have helped anyway!), as the issue is on the phone side.

If a simple phone reboot fixes it and it doesn’t happen too often, I guess I can live with that. The Nexus 6P has worked great for me so far.

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! 🙂