Disc brakes on my Bike Friday (part II)

As I explained here almost two years ago, I have had the front brake of my Bike Friday replaced with a disk brake, an upgrade that involved installing a new fork with disk brake tabs. Now I’m having the same upgrade done one the rear:

I needed to replace the rear wheel anyway because after 37,000 km its rim was worn out. The aluminium of the brake surfaces was already worn past the wear markers. I decided, this was a good time to switch not only the rim but the brake too. With disc brakes, a well built rim will basically last forever. The brake wear will be on the rotor, but that is a cheaper part that can be replaced without the need for a full wheel rebuild. But more importantly, disc brakes are much more effective in the rain, where they are more predictable. I was reminded of that fact again when I descended a winding 20 km from Mt Norikura in the rain last month.

Originally I thought I could get IS disc tabs at the rear by simply swapping the rear triangle, which is a separate hinged part of the folding bike frame, but as it turns out Bike Friday needs to build the main tube and its hinge together with the rear triangle to ensure they will be properly aligned.

I went ahead and placed an order. A couple of weeks later the new main tube and rear triangle arrived. Tokyo Bike Friday dealer ehicle will be swapping all other parts from the existing bike to the new hinged section that has the disc tabs.

I bought a second Shimano BR-CX77 disc brake calliper. I still had a 140 mm centerlock rotor that I had bought two years ago as well as the matching IS adapter. The smaller rotor should be sufficient at the rear, especially with the smaller 20″ wheels. Heat dissipation should be less of a problem for a rear brake, which normally doesn’t have to work as hard as a front brake. I never had any heat problems with the 160 mm rotor at the front.

GS Astuto, my favourite wheel builder, built me a new rear wheel based on the Shimano Deore FH-M615 rear hub and an AlexRims DA22 rim (same as originally came with the bike). The disc brake wheel uses an O.L.D. (Over Locknut Dimension) of 135 mm, but the existing rim brake rear triangle uses 130 mm. Therefore installing the new wheel in the existing frame before the Norikura ride required some effort, but it worked OK. With the new rear triangle that issue will go away.

Once the conversion will be complete, I’ll actually have a spare main tube and rear triangle, a spare fork, two spare rim brakes and two spare hubs. The only frame parts missing to a complete non-disc brake frame will be the steerer and the folding seat tube 🙂 Nevertheless, doing it this way will have been worth it.

Instead of buying a new bicycle, I could first try out at the front what difference a disc brake would make, making only the minimal investment. I never had to send my bike back to the US for a few weeks for an upgrade or pay shipping costs either way. I only lost the use of the bike for a short period for each of the upgrade steps.

I’m looking forward to riding my upgraded bike this weekend, when the work will be complete! 🙂

Disc brake pad and rotor wear

It looks like I get about 6,000 km of useful life out of the disc brake pads on the front of my main bicycle. That’s about 9 months for me (I ride all year round, about 8,000 to 10,000 km per year).

Two years ago I switched my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket to a disc brake on the front by replacing the fork and the front wheel. 1 1/2 years ago I received my Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer (NFE), a low trail randonneur bike with disc brakes. 9 Months ago I switched the NFE from TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes with metallic pads to Shimano hydraulic brakes with resin pads. These pads had now worn out, see picture above.

Along with the brake pads I also replaced the front rotor, as the old one had worn quite thin.

Most of the 7,000 km that I had done on the TRP Spyre brakes I had been using metallic pads, as the factory resin pads wore extremely rapidly: I had to keep adjusting the brakes after each Saturday long ride (typically 130-200 km). The metallic pads needed less attention but were very noisy in the rain.

My experience with the Shimano BR-RS785 brakes was much better. As hydraulic brakes their pads were self adjusting. There weren’t any noise issues. Wear is quite acceptable: One set of resin pads every 9 months is not too bad and I expect the new brake rotor will last even longer than 13,000 km / 20 months now that I am only using resin pads. On top of that the modulation on the hydros is great and they need very little effort. I could not be happier!

It is good to have real-life figures from actual use as to how quickly parts will wear on the bike so you can do preventive maintenance. It is better to replace a worn out pad at home when you know that it will be due for replacement soon, rather than finding out on a mountain descent that suddenly you’ve got nothing left to stop you! 🙁

Likewise, I regularly replace shifter cables (about once a year), before they wear out enough to break inside the brifters during a ride away from home, as happened twice to me before I learnt that lesson.

In the past I have been quite easygoing about replacing worn out bicycle chains, but a chain that has “stretched” will wear out your chain rings or cassette more quickly. Chains do decrease in robustness with increasing numbers of gears (from 8 speed to 11 speed) as they increasingly become narrower, so I will probably be replacing my 11 speed chain annually too.

BRM520 300 km Mt Fuji

There is one cycling event I have ridden every year since I started long distance cycling five years ago, the 300 km brevet around Mt Fuji organised by AJ Nishitokyo. It was my introduction to randonneuring in 2012. This year I rode it for the sixth time, with unexpected results.

For the first four years I rode my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, a folding road bike with 20″ (ETRTO 451) wheels. Last year I used my new adventure bike, the Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer, 650B randonneur bike with disk brakes. Most of my cycling friends expected the bigger wheels would make a big difference on the completion time: The event has a 20 hour time limit and I had always struggled to stay under the limit. The last two years on the Bike Friday I had finished with 11 minutes and 15 minutes spare. The first time on my NFE I finished in 19h 45m again – the same time to the minute as a year before! The Bike Friday really has been a great bike for me and if I had not been fast on it, that wasn’t because of the bike but because of the engine! 😉

Because this event starts at 22:00 at night, with the first 6 1/2 hours of riding through the night, getting enough sleep upfront is essential. I tried to avoid staying up much after midnight for the week before the ride and took short daytime naps on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday afternoon I went to bed at 15:00, planning to sleep until 18:00, but mostly rested. I don’t think I slept more than about the last hour.

I left home at 18:50 to cycle the 28 km to the start in Machida and was intending to ride home after the event too. So that’s 56 km on top of the 304 km of the event itself. I took it very easy, knowing I’d have plenty of time.

I bought bananas at a convenience store a few km before the start. The reception at a park near the Cherubim bike shop in Machida opened at 21:00. I saw many new faces, including younger riders.

It had been warm and sunny all day and the forecast for Sunday was the same, so I didn’t even wear a windbreaker at the start. Only for the early morning descent from Gotemba to Numazu did I bring my nylon rain pants, because that was going to be the coldest time of the night, before sunrise and going downhill for about 25 km.

The briefing started at 21:30. There aren’t any changes to the course from the year before, but temperatures would be quite different as last year’s event had been run about 8 weeks earlier in the year. Knowing it would get hot on the long climb on the opposite side of Mt Fuji, I decided to build up a decent time buffer until the morning, when it was still cool, so I would not risk overheating as much later in the day.

After the security inspection we started. The route to the untimed checkpoint in front of some public toilets in Enoshima (38.6 km), where we had to collect a signature on the brevet card from staff members, was pretty urban, with streetlights, cars and traffic lights all along. I made good time and arrived before midnight. It helped that I didn’t have to stop to take off a layer.

There was a large group motorbikes near the checkpoint. I came across groups of bikers throughout the ride, including several encounters with Bōsōzoku clubs making a racket on their two stroke bikes and weaving about on the road.

About half of the 35 km route from Enoshima to PC1 at Odawara I was drafting other cyclists, similar to last year. The Nitto Randonneur bars make it much easier to use my drops to get into a more aerodynamic position to save energy. I arrived at PC1 at 01:26, with 86 minutes spare, 5 minutes more than last year.

After Odawara the route starts climbing until it levels out at an elevation of about 400 m around Gotemba. I was still riding mostly with other cyclists. In Gotemba I put on my wind breaker and nylon pants for the descent. I rode down to Numazu with another cyclist, separated only temporarily when I stopped to take a shot of the first Mt Fuji view around 04:00, still about half an hour before sunrise. A waning moon hung in the eastern sky. It reminded me that we’re only three months away from the total solar eclipse in the western US on Aug 21, 2017.

Though I was yawning at times, I felt no urge to take a nap and continued on to Fuji city, maintaining my pace. I only stopped for a few quick photos of Fuji in the early morning light.

I counted down the distance to the Fujikawa bridge, where the road turns away the coast. I used the public toilets near the Tomei expressway entrance, so I could avoid queuing at PC2, only a couple of km up the road.

I tried to take pictures of Mt Fuji from the south-west, but the sun was behind it and the air was too hazy.

I made it to PC2 by 06:56, 132 minutes ahead of closing time. This was 26 minutes earlier than the year before.

It was still early in the morning, but it was already getting warm. From here it was about 36 km uphill, from close to sea level to about 1100 m. Some of the road was shaded under trees, but most of it was exposed to the sun.

Having done this brevet before, I knew this part of the ride was both rewarding for its views of Mt Fuji and green landscapes, but also tough for the relentlessly climbing road where I was pedaling in the heat. I had also done it on a rainy day, with only a few degrees above freezing, that wasn’t much fun either.

Until the climbing started I had consoled myself that even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the elevation (adiabatic cooling) would somehow make it bearable. Somebody forgot to pass that message to my Navi2coach GPS, whose thermometer displayed as high as 39 C at one point.

The air may have been cooler over the meadows and forests I was passing, but the south-tilted dark asphalt of the prefectural road 71 soaked up just as much sunshine at elevation as it would have at sea level. I was like riding on top of a barbecue. I stopped a couple of times for views and pictures and that made it easier to continue.

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I made it to the top around 10:30 and pulled into a parking area and view point overlooking Motosuko (Lake Motosu).

I took a couple of pictures, ate a banana and got back on the bike again. After a bit of rolling terrain the road descended. The forest surrounding it is called Aokigahara (青木ヶ原), also known as the Suicide Forest for the number of people who picked it to take their own lives there.

At the bottom of the descent, the minor road joined major Rt139, which is usually crowded with cars. Some of it’s surface is very rough, especially around Fujiyoshia. This is where the wide tires of my NFE really helped. They give me the confidence to descend faster even where the road surface is far from perfect.

After Fujiyoshida came a 25 km fast descent down to Tsuru. I didn’t have to pedal much and trusted my tires to deal with the bumps and cracks at speed, with several other cyclists in trail, none of whom ever tried to overtake me until after the road leveled out. It was till before noon and heating up more and more.

At 12:20 three of us pulled into PC3 at Tsuru. That was 92 minutes ahead of closing time. I knew I had previous made here with only 35 minutes spare. I was now 47 minutes ahead of last year’s result. But it was still going to get hotter for another hour or more from here.

The final 66 km from Tsuru to Machida were the hottest part of the ride. I used my lightest gear a lot, climbing slowly to avoid overheating. I am not usually someone who worries much about heat stroke. I drink sufficient water and keep the effort down when I feel it’s getting too hot out there, but this time I was starting to worry. Three or four of us stayed together more or less continually for the last leg of the trip, nobody willing to go any faster in this heat. I counted down the distances to the top of each climb.

Finally we made it to Doushi road (National route 413), for a lengthy descent. we stopped at a convenience store where AJ Nishitokyo staff met with us. Some ice cream cooled me down a bit. Based on the remaining distance it looked like I could finish before 17:00, with more than an hours pare. That would be my best result ever.

I felt relieved when I crossed the last major bridge, where I crossed back into the urban area of Sagamihara and counted down the final kilometers to Machida.

At 16:51 I pulled up in front of the Cherubim bike shop, together with one of the other participants. I had finished 54 minutes faster than in 2015 and 2016.

I’m very happy to have made it safely. I thanked the AJ Nishitokyo staff. As always they took good care of everyone. The route is difficult, but rewarding. I often incorporate large parts of it into other long distance rides that I do privately.

As to why I finished so much quicker this year, I am not sure. Looking at the elapsed times between PCs both years, I gained 21 minutes between PC1-PC2, another 21 minutes between PC2-PC3 and 7 minutes even from the last PC to the goal, in the heat. So I was pretty consistently faster. The first 73 km to PC1 is where I gained the least relative to last year (5 minutes), probably because I was already working hard there last year. Overall I took about a 100 photographs on both rides, so it wasn’t that I stopped less for pictures.

Perhaps my two recent rides of the Oume temple loop, with 2500-2700 m of elevation gain on 180+ km of cycling each time, helped prepare me for the amount of climbing 🙂 Whatever it was, I’m happy!

Oh, and I did ride 28 km back to Tokyo after the brevet, tired and sleepy, but I made it safely. I won’t be able to ride AJ Nishitokyo’s 400 km brevet this year due to business trips and I’m not sure yet if I’ll attempt the 600 km brevet in September again – I have DNF’ed (did not finish) it three times so far. Finishing it is a bit like riding a 400 km brevet, then finish this 300 km brevet starting from the bottom of the big climb at PC2… Pretty insane!

What I enjoy about these brevets is not just the scenery and the challenge, but also the camaraderie and shared love of cycling among randonneurs. We all have this same passion.

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

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

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

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

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

The night before the event

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

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

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

At the start

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

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

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

Via Doshi to Yamanakako

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yamanakako with Fuji-san:

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

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

Motosuko to Minami Alps

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

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

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

Minami Alps (Yamanashi) views of Mt Fuji:

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

Heading into the night

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

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

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

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

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

Odawara to Machida

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

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

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

Why tubeless with sealant is better

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the finish line

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

AJ NishiTokyo staff checking brevet card and receipts:

Taking shelter from the drizzle at the finish:

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Cherry Blossom Explorer

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

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

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

A few things were different though:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cherry blossoms around there were beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRM326 NishiTokyo – 360 km around Mt Fuji on my NFE

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

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

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

Preparation

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

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

To Enoshima and Odawara

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

Gotemba, Fuji city and PC2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The west side of Mt Fuji

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

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

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

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

Fujiyoshia, Tsuru, Akiyama

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing the ride

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

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

Summary and outlook

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

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

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

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

BRM227 NishiTokyo 200 in Izu on the Elephant NFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The area around Dogashima is particularly picturesque.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomin no worries

“It’s going to rain on Saturday,” somebody on the adjacent table mentioned. “Oh really? I’ve been looking forward to rain for weeks, to be able to test my disc brakes!” I blurted out and the room suddenly went silent. Everybody was giving me a look that made it perfectly clear that this wasn’t the sort of comment that will win you popularity contests at a monthly bike meeting.

But it was true. The lack of reliable braking in the rain was the main reason why I had swapped the cantilever brake on the front fork of my Bike Friday for a disc brake (after upgrading to a new fork). Since then I hadn’t had the chance to test the new brake under the atrocious conditions I had wanted it for. I finally wanted to know how much difference the new brake would make.

So when the rainy forecast for Saturday remained unchanged by Friday afternoon, I announced to my wife that I was going to do a rainy ride the next day. The forecast was for light rain in the morning and heavier rain in the afternoon and evening, with 12 mm falling during daytime. Temperatures were supposed to be in the 12-16 C range.

“I’ll do the ride because I can,” I told my wife. I don’t ride in the rain because it was so much fun (usually it isn’t, even though atmospheric views and the resulting pictures often make up for some of the inconveniences), but because I don’t want to let the weather scare me. A lot of aspects of randonneuring can be intimidating, such as the distances or the amount of climbing or riding at night or sleep deprivation on 20+ hour rides. Much of the challenge of randonneuring is mental, i.e. having the confidence that you can do the ride despite all the challenges. The only way to build and maintain that confidence is to keep doing challenging rides.

When I sign up for brevet rides, I don’t know in advance what the weather will be like on the day. If it rains, I’ll still show up for the ride — it’s only water 😉

This year on the Easter weekend I had done a 400 km two day ride by myself in near constant drizzle for much of the ride. The year before I had done a 300 km brevet around Mt Fuji, with rain for the first 150 km.

I own two different rain jackets, a pair of nylon pants and various gloves. My friend Jose once told me, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes!” Over the years I have built some experience in how to deal with wet and cold weather on bike rides.

My goal was Tomin no mori (“Tokyo citizens’ forest”), a hiking trail head in the mountains west of Musashiitsukaichi station. To me the the real gateway to cycling in the mountains in Japan is not Mt Takao on the western edge of Tokyo but Tomin no mori. It’s not the steepest route, at up to 8-10 % on the steeper part of the final 10 km, but at 26 km from the station it is long and remote enough to test you and at about 1000 m elevation high enough for the temperatures to significantly change from below. If you have made this climb, you will be ready for any surfaced mountain road anywhere in Japan.

I started the ride around 08:00 wearing my rain jacket. After a while I could feel my knees getting colder and wetter from the drizzle, so I put on my nylon pants. On the way to Musashiitsukaichi (49 km from home) I stopped twice for coffee and food. After another break at a Familymart I headed up the mountain valley.

Normally the road to Tomin no mori is popular with cyclists, motorcyclists and boy racers in souped-up cars, especially on the weekend. Almost every time I cycle up there I come across the sound of an ambulance or police car rushing to an accident site. This weekend was different. I didn’t see any other bicycles or motorbikes. A guard at some road works told me he had seen maybe four other bicycles the whole day.

I loved the momiji (Japanese maple) leaves in green, yellow and red and the steaming clouds hanging over the forests.

Three km from the top I passed a water fall. Even though the temperature was dropping, I felt warmer and warmer as I was working hard on the climb. I knew the descent would be much colder.

Finally I reached the entrance to the trail head. I parked the bicycle and ordered sansai (mountain vegetable) pizza with coffee.

The rain had picked up while I had my meal, just as predicted by the forecast for the later afternoon and evening.

When I started the ride, I had considered three route options: 1) to Tomin no mori and back down again. 2) to Kazahari toge, the pass a few km above Tomin no mori and back and 3) over the pass and down to Lake Okutama, then downhill to Oume and down the Tamagawa for maximum distance. As I headed out I quickly decided that 1) was the only sensible option, given the real risk of hypothermia with my rain soaked shoes, gloves and sweaty clothes under the rain gear. I wasn’t even wearing a long sleeved jersey under my jacket and had brought no extra layers or dry clothes to change into.

The first 10 km of descending down towards Musashiitsukaichi were the coldest because it was so steep, I couldn’t really pedal to generate heat. After the route flattened out a bit I could work more and the chill eased off, though with wet feet and gloves it never became all that warm.

The disc brake was OK but had too much travel. I found the brake levers hit the drops before the brake was fully engaged. What had happened was that during the previous weeks I had done several mountain rides which had worn the pads and I had not readjusted the brakes to compensate. It was only when I got back to the Familymart that I got out my Allen keys and adjusted the inner pad to remove the excess play in the system that the brake started working as it should. I wish I had done that before the ride.

I had one nasty experience about 15 km from home: At one level crossing the road crossed the rails not at a right angle but diagonally and just as I was wondering how the gap would play with my tyres, the wheels went out under me as they slipped on the wet steel. I landed hard on my left knee and elbow. Though my rain jacket was OK, my nylon pants were torn at the knee and I had some abrasions on my skin. Next time I have to cross rails like that in the rain, I’ll walk the bike…

I got home without further incident after 150 km with 1200 m of elevation gain in the rain.

Next time I’ll do a ride like this I’ll bring along an extra layer for the cold descent and maybe a pair of dry socks and gloves as well. I’ll treat wet railway crossings with even more respect than metal sewer lids and any metal grates, because all of them are accidents waiting to happen.

I managed to keep my phone dry with a plastic cover, protected my camera in my breast pocket and kept the spare battery and USB cable for recharging the GPS out of the rain with strategically placed plastic bags.

I am still looking for a good way to keep my feet dry in the rain. I tried Bicycle Line shoe covers, but the largest size available was too small for my shoe size.

Also I need to figure out why despite mudguards at the front and the rear I end up with dirt water being sprayed onto the seat post bag and my back. Really, I need to find myself a better pair of mudguards, but there isn’t much choice for the 20 inch ETRTO 451 wheels of my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket.

Despite the accident and notwithstanding the coldest part of the descent, I wasn’t too uncomfortable for most of the ride and am glad to have seen the autumn foliage views around Hinohara village.

Disc Brake on my Bike Friday

Today I visited Bike Friday dealer ehicle in Shinjuku, Tokyo to have a disc brake installed on the new fork that Bike Friday has made for my 4 year old bike. I had bought the Shimano BR-CX77 calliper second-hand from a friend. This conversion will make for much more consistent braking on rainy brevets or on wet shopping rides.

There was one small issue but it was quickly solved by ehicle. My friend had also given me a SM-MA-F160P/S adapter for fitting a post mount calliper like the BR-CX77 to an IS tab front fork with a 160 mm rotor. That’s exactly what I had on the Bike Friday. However, it did not fit together, the calliper sat too far out from the adapter. Comparing with the setup of a disc-equipped Bike Friday Silk in the shop we found that its Avid BB7 calliper was mated to a Shimano SM-MA-F180P/S, which is meant for a 180 mm rotor at the front or 160 mm at the rear (F180P/S = R160P/S). The adapter I got from my friend was for use with a 160 mm rotor at the front or 140 mm at the rear (F160P/S = R140P/S).

The use of a 160 mm rotor with an F180 adapter (i.e. R160) on the Silk fork suggests that the IS tab to axle distance on the BF fork is the same as on a standard rear setup. This means it takes a 180 mm front adapter for a 160 mm rotor or a 160 mm front adapter for a 140 mm rotor. This is very interesting, since Shimano doesn’t make 140 mm front P/S adapters: Using Shimano parts, you can’t normally use a 140 mm rotor at the front with an IS tab fork, but with Bike Friday’s setup you can because the spacing is like at the rear, where Shimano does support 140 mm rotors with IS tabs. The only thing you give up by using rear spacing at the front is the ability to use 203 mm rotors, but the fork doesn’t have enough clearance for those anyway and they’re not needed on a 20″ wheel bike. The smaller wheel means that a smaller rotor can match or beat a bigger rotor on a 700C wheel on stopping power, though heat dissipation for long descents still depends on rotor size.

Anyway, a cheap 180 mm Shimano adapter instead of the 160 mm one that I had brought along solved the issue and I could use the new brake with the 160 mm rotor on the new fork. The B&M dynamo headlight moved from the brake bolt in the fork crown to its own bolt in the same place. ehicle installed a longer brake cable for me to accommodate the different brake location.

I love the new brake, both its stopping power and modulation. It should make a huge difference on rainy rides, where I have always been uncomfortable with rim brakes, in particular on brevets where I don’t know what the weather will be like on the day when I sign up for an event. I’ve done one 300 km brevet where it was raining for 150 km.

I’d like to thank ehicle for their friendly and efficient service and recommend them to anyone interested in or already riding a Bike Friday 🙂

The last brevet of the season

BRM926 AJ NishiTokyo 200 km Kintaro on September 26 was the last brevet of the year for me, even though the Japanese Randonneuring season runs until October: I won’t able to attend AJ NishiTokyo’s West Izu brevet on October 17 due to business travel.

I had not prepared particularly well for BRM926. After a heat wave in early August we had lots of rain, then one of my brothers visited from Germany, then I traveled to the US again. I did not really get to do as much cycling as usual. So far I had not experienced any DNF (Did Not Finish) on any of my 200 km brevets, but I was a bit worried that this could be the first time on this very hilly course.

I got up at 03:45. In the front car of the first train heading out to Machida I met two other participants. In front of the station I unpacked the bike in the rain and rode out to the start (5 km) with one of the other guys. On the way the rain stopped and I took off and packed away my rain gear before the ride briefing. A week before the event, the weather forecast had predicted rain, but as the week progressed it gradually improved.

The day started off cool and never got too hot, but mostly staid dry. Around higher elevations, especially after going over a pass or through a tunnel through a mountain range we encountered slight drizzle again (really, we were just riding through clouds). The strongest was crossing from the Yamanakako side of Kagosaka Toge to the Gotemba side. But the drizzle always stopped when elevation dropped and we got out of the clouds again.

The course had three convenience store check points (point de contrôle, PC) roughly 60 km apart, as well as one quiz point and one manned but untimed check point. It headed from Machida via route 35/Akiyama to Tsuru and from there up to Kawaguchiko. After circling the lake it headed past Yamanako, over to the Ashigara mountains to a barbecue site called Yuhi no Taki (evening light waterfall) and back to Machida.

After the Akiyama road with the first big climb near the Maglev track I reached PC1 at Tsuru with only about 15 minutes spare before control closing time. That set the tone for the day.

I was continually chasing the next closing time, thinking I’d probably make it but could never be too sure until I reached it. At the top of a mountain I would always find myself behind the minimum average speed of 15 km/h from the start, but on the next descent I’d gain just enough distance in a short time that I was a little bit ahead of the minimum at the next PC again. Most of the time I cycled alone, but I came across the same three or four cyclists again and again.

At Lake Kawaguchiko I couldn’t see Mt Fuji because it was too cloudy. Given the forecast, I hadn’t expected to see it.

The highest point was Kagosaka Toge, about 1100 m. From there the road dropped over 700 m, which is a pretty long descent. PC2 at the bottom was a grocery store, where I arrived just 12 minutes before control closing time. I bought bananas and climbed up Ashigara Toge (6 km).

On the other side I descended 6 km, then climbed a valley to a barbecue place which was a manned checkpoint (untimed). Staff had prepared grilled seafood and meat. They had saved some Frankfurter sausage and chicken for me, which I ate only 13 minutes before they had to clear out of the place. Then I descended to Oi-Matsuda and across a mix of rolling hills and busy urban roads back to Machida.

PC3 felt like the biggest challenge as traffic and traffic lights got denser, with the hills still unrelenting. I arrived at PC3 with 14 minutes spare. Two other cyclists arrived 3 and 5 minutes later, as I was preparing to head off again. Due to the overall 200 km time limit being 10 minutes longer than the 15 km/h equivalent time limit of all intermediate controls, I gained more breathing space at the final PC and could take it relatively easy for the remaining 26 km, which had yet more hills and traffic. It was then that I could stop worrying about time. I arrived at the goal 20 minutes before control closing time, with the other two guys following soon.

From there it was an untimed 5 km back to the reception site, the Cherubim bike shop in Machida. Three cyclists behind me also completed. Quite a few others DNF’ed (dropped out) due to various problems, including mechanical problems (a broken front derailleur, a ripped off rear derailleur after a crash, etc). We relaxed, celebrated and talked.

After the AJ NishiTokyo staff tidied up we took a group picture. I then cycled home from Cherubim to Setagaya. I got back at 23:30 with 242 km recorded on Strava and close to 2900 m of climbing, including the return ride.

The next day I felt a bit sore, but not too bad. The adrenaline of an event lets you do amazing things. My brevet speeds are always significantly higher than my personal ride times because there is always a ticking clock and/or other riders to chase. Knowing I can achieve goals in brevets that I don’t normally achieve on my own encourages me to become more ambitious and aim higher.