zaterdag 30 augustus 2008

Rainy OHSMK-loop

Got out of bed at 7:30 this morning and with no intention to go out cycling I finished my breakfast: home-baked bread with speculoos spread, yoghurt & banana and some extra cups of coffee & chicory.

Looking out of the window & checking the sky, I saw some blue sky spots here and there…right after all ! * I thought and happily I got my bike ready. Left the house a little bit before 9:00. Patches of blue sky became broader and broader as I rode along the Asakawa cycling road. The Tamagawa and Asakawa rivers were flowing at a high level much faster than usual giving me the impression I was going at 40km/h!

Here and there under the bridges, though the passage was entirely flooded or mudded over. I crossed one point with my bottom bracket completely submerged; feet and brand-new 3-carbon layer Northwave shoes got there first wash!

In Hachioji, towards the end of the Asakawa CR, I saw three houses that had apparently suffered severe flood damage…water had clearly risen above floor level. From Thursday night through Friday morning, heavy rain had hit a wide area including Kanto, where mudslides in Hachioji had destroyed a house. This summer, a succession of sudden, torrential downpours (for which the Japanese media coined the – in my ears – weird-sounding word “guerilla downpours”.... somehow, just anything with a negative or unpleasant connotation, gets an English-sounding word in this country….) have concentrated in a number of locations around the country. Rapid increases in air temperature to more than 30C cause unstable atmospheric conditions accompanied by the formation of humongous cumulonimbus clouds (picture taken today as I approached Itsukaichi Station).

At the Takao 7/11, I bought a dorayaki and 2 daifukus to eat underway…I had by then made up my mind…the first OHSMK-loop of the weekend (for tomorrow, I had promised Philip of TCC to accompany him on the same ride covering Otarumi, Hinazuru, Suzugane, Matsuhime and Kazahari) it had to be!

As I rode through Akiyama-mura, I regretted I forgot to put on my sunscreen…blue sky everywhere even the minmin-zemi were having a concert! Yes…still summer, still August…autumn is still far away…those thoughts made me so happy!

Once I got through the Hinazuru-tunnel, the sky was clouding up again though and on my approach of Suzugane, the first raindrops started to fall. Most part of Suzugane-toge runs through a densely wooded area and the road surface was mostly dry until the top where I passed a tree that must have come down with all the torrential rain of recent.

After a pleasant descent down to Saruhashi, I filled up my bottle and got ready for the second-last climb of the day, Matsuhime-toge. To my surprise, the road was in a very good condition, no signs of havoc caused by the recent torrential rains.

Kazahari-toge came faster than I had thought, the downhill towards Kosuge and the bridge leading to Tomin-no-mori went very smooth. Near the top of Kazahari, it started to rain again; temperature was 18C and it did not feel cold, just pleasant and comfortable! Even the downhill to Itsukaichi was not chilly except for a few pockets of ice-cold air where small waterfalls are near the road.

It kept raining softly all the way to Itsukaichi where an “Aki-matsuri” was about to get into full swing…

Just before I hit Tamagawa, the road surface became dry again…I stopped and drained all the water out of my titanium frame…amazing how much water can creep inside! Fortunately titanium does not rust! The skies above Fuchu looked very threateningl…no, not another guerilla downpour please!

I did get a fair amount of rain inside my frame again by the time I reached home…I was completely drenched but didn’t care, I was ecstatic and utterly satisfied!

* Yesterday, on the Positivo Espresso blog I had written: After all the rain last evening, my gut feeling is that tomorrow (Saturday) will be a splendid sunny day)...the weatherforecasters chickens as they are - as of this hour of the day - just don't have the courage to admit it !!

For the record:
the complete OHSMK-loop (starting and ending at Sekidobashi) is exactly 190k
Average speed: 24.2 km/h
Max: 65.6 km/h
Time: 7:50

donderdag 28 augustus 2008

Just the shrieks for the old rich...

Came across this thought-provoking ad (Saxo Bank Group) in the August 2008 issue of FinanceAsia ....

“…Break away from the pack
... Join the winners ….
... We help you leave your competitors behind.”

cycling reaching out to high-net-worth individuals ?

And the road is coming to its end.
Now the damned have no time to make amends,
No purse of token fortunes stands in our way .

(David Bowie, “Cygnet Committee”)

zaterdag 23 augustus 2008

Another wet ride…

Atmospheric depression approaching from the south, cold air from the north…today’s ride started under overcast skies and temperatures felt more like October than August. I had arrived 20 minutes too early at Sekidobashi and just as I was trying to re-position my cleats, Travis, sparkling gold ring half hidden under his glove, showed up. We were soon joined by Kotaro, Deej, Thomas, Kenichi and Goro who made it just in time.

We decided to leave without Sergey and David after we waited another 5 minutes or so for them to turn up, figuring they most likely forfeited today’s outing due to the poor weather. David whose most reliable locomotive on crowded Tamagawa and Asakawa cycling roads was dearly missed, did however make a very brief appearance just as our troupe left the Takao 7/11 behind for a sprint up the Otarumi hill. On our way to Takao, it had been drizzling constantly and it didn’t look like the skies would clear up. It was unanimously decided to abandon today’s ambitious ride plan (for the occasion named “OHSMK-Loop,” an acronym standing for 5 more or less serious hills: Otarumi, Hinazuru, Suzugane, Matsuhime and Kazahari) and do a mini version (Otarumi + reverse Wada) instead.

With more than half of the Otarumi climb still remaining, I was already made the laterne rouge, no matter how hard I tried to hang on Thomas’ wheel. Since our last ride together in Kusatsu, Thomas has really metamorphosed into an awesome mountain killer. I wasn’t too happy with the position of the cleat on the right shoe forcing the tip of my foot inwards. As such, I was unable to exert a pulling force and make even rotations (here I am making up excuses for my poor performance again!).

With only 700 or so more meters left to the top, I found Goro, Deej and Thomas by the side of the road. Goro apparently had brushed his front wheel against Kenichi’s back wheel just when Kenichi had momentarily dropped speed trying to find a more aggressive gearing ratio. Goro was grimacing in pain holding his shoulder but in no time he took off again like an unstoppable rocket. As soon as we all cleared the summit of Otarumi, however, Goro decided to call it a day.

Kotaro took the lead always followed closely by Thomas. When it comes to descending in the rain, I’m a real sissy…in no time I was trailing far behind the rest. Ahead of Fujino, Kotaro took us on a marvelous little shortcut* leading to “ura-Wada”. This is where we parted from Deej who seemed very keen on attacking Wada from the opposite side.

The five of us (Kotaro, Thomas, Kenichi, me & Travis – mostly in this order) rode through Yuzurihara, also known as “the village of long life” (youthful appearance of the villagers attributed to a molecule called hyaluronic acid ( At the Kosuge turn-off, the usual road leading to the Kobu tunnels was closed for repair work forcing us to follow a narrow road through what seemed at first the front yard of local farmers. The narrow road went winding up and up very steeply – at two points the inclination must have been more than 20%! A very sweet shortcut though…must try this one again next time I pass through the area! Once through the Kobu tunnels, the descent towards Itsukaichi was superfast with Thomas setting a very strong pace. Following a brief rest at Itsukaichi Station, we headed to the final destination of the original ride plan: Ishikawa brewery! Thomas was not thirsty (??) though and continued his ride along Tamagawa homewards. In spite of the cool and wet weather, the beer tasted fantastic. After we each emptied a couple bottles with some smoked cheese, we parted from Kenichi who rode back to Ome.

Strangely enough, two bottles of beer seemed to have produced a very tonic effect on me, so much that I was at times staring in disbelief at my Cateye. In reality though, it was my right cleat which I finally managed to position in the right angle. It felt great to be able to rotate normally again + there was virtually no headwind at all for a change! I took my leave at Koremasa bridge bidding Travis and Kotaro farewell.

Today’s ride was much too short (116k) but I enjoyed every minute of it (average speed of 27.2 km/h!). Thanks a lot everyone! Next time, I’d like to do the “OHSMK-Loop,” hopefully again as a combined TCC, NFCC and Positivo Espresso team effort!

* Ura-Wada shortcut from R.20: Following the descent of Otarumi, with Sagamigawa 相模川 on your left side, take the first turn right after you pass the Fujinomachi 藤野町 Seven-Eleven. This turn is called Yoshinosho-mae 吉野小前

zondag 17 augustus 2008

Second Tokyo Hillclimb Nariki Stage

Still a bit jetlagged, I left home at 5:15 this morning heading for Stephen & Ryoko's new home in Ikusabata which happens to be very close to the race course of the "Second Tokyo Hillclimb Stage". Midway the Tamagawa CR, a misty rain started to fall and by the time I reached Ome, I was already completely soaked.

I don't remember at what time I arrived at Stephen's place but everyone was still sound asleep (sorry David for waking you up!). Around 7:00, Ryoko came down and fixed us big cups of good coffee, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon... With a constant and rather strong drizzle outside, nobody seemed in a race mood though and it took forever to cycle to the Nariki reception venue.

With all the rain, the organizers were lenient towards latecomers. We learned that the first stage had been cancelled; only the second and real race part was to be staged as planned. As we were lining up at the start line, I recognized Team NFCC jerseys...Kenichi, Jacques and Stephan who happened to be training in the neighborhood had thoughtfully dropped by to wish us (Michael and I) good luck.

The race pack was divided in several groups according to the "zekken" race number and leaving with 2-minute intervals. I started in front of my group and was riding up front for the first 700 or 800 meters until a rider calling my name overtook me....there was Yoshinori in full action wearing his Belgian National Champion jersey! I was so surprised, I could only mutter "Doumo, doumo!" I tried to follow but Yoshinori's pace was too fast for me. I continued in second position until #435 overtook me....this time I managed to stay in his wheel. Because the road surface was so slippery with mossy patches and metal ditch covers here and there, it was impossible to do much dancing, my favorite way of attacking hills. After a while, I passed Michael who had started 2 minutes ahead in a different group. Amazingly, Michael knew to tell me that I was in third position in my group!

I tried not to jump over #435 "Itchan" and kept myself hidden behind him all the way until a lady shouted "the finish line is now in sight, you're almost there!" That really fired me up and I launched an attack dancing and shifting two gears higher...Itchan, who had been breathing more heavily than me, did not follow allowing me to finish in second position with a comfortable margin. I was relieved and happy to see a tent with tasty pieces of watermelon!

RACE RESULT: 0:19:37 / 77th out of 403 starters / 9th in own age group (41~50) year, I'll try to shave off 2 minutes!

I soon found Yoshinori in the crowd and we had a nice conversation while descending the Nariki hill. Once down at the venue, I waited for the rest of the Positivo Espresso bunch to arrive. We decided to skip the "awards ceremony" and "return to base," Stephen & Ryoko's wonderful house tucked away in a small hamlet behind the Ikusabata Oohashi Bridge. The post-race & homewarming party was very cosy in spite of all the rain. I sampled some of the delicious dishes and enjoyed an excellent barbequed hamburger before I decided to brave the rain and head back home. I left around 15:00 and got home at 16:20.

This was my last day of summer vacation...wish there were a few more!

zaterdag 16 augustus 2008

Shomaru-toge...simply too hot

With tomorrow's "Second Tokyo Hillclimb Nariki Stage" race in mind, I decided to take a slow ride up to Shomaru-toge, along Nariki Kaido Rd.53. When I left home around 6:00, it was already hot out but still bearable. Tried to check out tomorrow's rendez-vous & post-race party spot down Ikusabata Oohashi bridge but did not manage to locate it. It was already terribly hot by then.

I crossed Ikusabata Station and slowly approached Shomaru-toge. Midway, I stopped by Arai-Fudo-no-Taki meisui to refill my bottle. A van was parked in front and an elderly couple took turns filling up what looked like more than 200 huge pet bottles! I guess they are the owners of a coffee shop using the famous water for preparing their coffee. Not far from the top, a electronic signboard had 24 degrees on it...definitely a lot cooler up high.

On my way back, I tried one more time to locate the place where the Positivo Espresso bunch will be passing the luck again.

My new Selle Italia SLR Kit Carbonio Flow"test saddle" I bought for only 120 euros earlier this week turned out to be very comfortable and cushy in spite of its lightness (125 gram) and flatness. I got a special deal on this saddle as it has the "test saddle" mark printed on had never been tested though.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's race but I'm afraid my shape is not so great after plenty of good Belgian food these past 8 days!

vrijdag 15 augustus 2008

Younger brother hooked / Bikepointer network

My brother, exactly 10 years my junior, decided to buy himself a serious road racer, which he did during my recent satogaeri visit to my parents' home near Brugge. After I had given him some basic advice and a couple visits to different bicycle shops, he chose a Bianchi triple-butted aluminum frame with front fork and chainstay in carbon; not your lightest bike but for the mostly flat and the many cobbled "pave" roads in and around Flanders, an excellent "entrance level" choice. Just looking at his physique, I believe my brother has all the potential to become a very strong rider if he continues to ride with consistency.

Earlier this week, on a sunny afternoon, I accompanied him for a short ride along the car-free canal trying to share some of the little things I learned myself the easy and the hard way over the past 3 years or so; when to shift, how to hold the handle, how to make even rotations...that kind of basic stuff. On our way back, we celebrated the new purchase with a nice, cool Jupiler beer from the tap at "De Roos," on the other side of the canal near Eeklo.

I was happily surprised to see the very high level of enthusiasm for cycling in Flanders. A special, dedicated network of rustic routes has been developed all over Flanders. Very handy route plans created through a system called "Bikepointer" can be purchased and stuck inside a water- and windproof case that can be easily mounted on the bike. These unique "Bikepointer" cards conveniently indicate the joints or "knotpoints" that correspond to actual signboards along the dedicated cycling roads so one knows exactly when and where to turn. I really like the low-tech aspect of this initiative and wonder if it can be introduced in Japan as well....

One of my last shots I took in Belgium....the North Sea seen from Knokke.

maandag 11 augustus 2008

Nieuwelingen Wielerwedstrijd in Lovendegem

Back in the land of my ancestors for 8 days, I took advantage of a sunny Sunday afternoon to take my father's GAZELLE out for a spin. I followed the Brieversweg from Sint-Kruis all the way to the bicycle-only road along the canal running direction Eeklo and Gent. A strong wind was blowing sideways almost in tailwind fashion and the heavy 8-speed GAZELLE ran very smoothly, so well-lubricated I overtook many road racers who looked at me in awe! After about 90 minutes on the saddle, I reached the little village of Lovendegem where a race for "Nieuwelingen" happened to be staged. I arrived just in time for the start signal at 15:00. Young and nervous riders wearing colorful outfits featuring local sponsors on highly professional bikes; a real joy to watch. On my way back against a very strong headwind, I got thirsty but there were none of those conveniently located vending machines or convenience stores like in Japan. On the other side of the canal over the bridge, I spotted a cafe called "Roos" where I gulped down a glas of Witte Hoegaarden (beer costs less than water in this country!). Thirty minutes later, I treated myself to some fresh farm ice scoop of pistache qnd another of speculoos (a new popular flavor it seems - the famous Lotus cookies now available in bread spread as well) for 2 euros.

maandag 4 augustus 2008

Well-done on Roast Mountain 焼山峠 !

Day One of the ambitious “Second Enzan-Odarumi Slowrun Classic,” took place under a scorching sun and only 3 out of the 5 riders actually made it to the little town of Enzan. The heat really took a toll on all of us. David (Wada) and Michael (Imagawa) took wise decisions when they were calling it quits.

Laurent would do the same the next morning, having exhausted almost all his energies and suffering from a sore butt (who wouldn’t on an AX Lightness saddle!) Nishibe-san had been grimacing in pain during the final ascent of Yanagisawa-toge. The lower part of his back was hurting and giving him a hell of a time.

Nevertheless, that evening of Day One, the remaining 3 warriors - joined by Irish Rover Stephen - spent a good time at BOSTON emptying one Guinness after another until the vat ran completely dry. Snow White (4 months pregnant!) happened to be out of town sparing us the ordeal of having to wash down her secret-recipe cocktails.

Day Two began with Laurent confiding that he had decided during his early morning onsen bath he would not take part in the Odarumi climb. Laurent had put up a great fight the previous day and so he was easily forgiven! We were joined by Hiroshi and his friend and this is how we were 5 riders again...fresh blood so to speak!

We left Laurent and Sasamotoya behind us a little after 8:00. The sun was already very fierce when we reached Makioka Village, the entrance point to Somaguchi Enzan Line (杣口塩山線R210). Here we met a friendly mountain-biker who introduced us to an alternative route leading to Odarumi…4 or 5 km longer but with almost no traffic.

The moment I heard “longer,” I proposed to everyone, “let’s go for this new route!” and before anyone could protest, I took the left turn leading to Tsuzumikawa-onsen (鼓川温泉). We soon found out to our chagrin that this route called Yakiyama-rindo(焼山林道) was completely devoid of shadow which is probably why it is named that way in the first place…”Roast Mountain”! Literally, none of us got through rare and I surely got roasted “bien cuit”!

A vending machine came to our rescue half way just before the wooded hills of Yakiyama-toge. We took our refreshments while waiting for Stephen to arrive. Stephen did arrive (still a bit "saignant"?) but instead of resting he continued to climb without stopping! We all took a long rest on top of Yakiyama-toge. From here, a brief downhill stretch would follow all the way to Yanagidaira (柳平)on Somaguchi-rindo, the route we had originally planned to take. This time Stephen looked more exhausted and he sounded unsure whether he would continue with us, take a longer rest or simply forfeit the rest of the ride. We left Stephen behind not without a guilty feeling.

With about 5 or 6 km left, we hit the densely wooded and flattish area and this is where I completely forgot this was supposed to be a “slowrun”…the flatness of the road felt so nice that I put the chain on the outer ring and continued “en danseuse”. I was accelerating and before I knew it, I had launched an attack…completely unintentionally! Pretty soon, everybody started to chase me, even some riders not belonging to our group. I really enjoyed that! Hiroshi’s friend overtook me after a while and escaped with another guy. Hiroshi got dropped (afterwards, we learned he got a serious hunger knock aggravated by muscle cramps) and I was climbing the last 3km all by myself. How beautiful the scenery was and how much I wanted to stop to photograph those impressive mountain formations opening up in front of me!

Then, with less than 300 meters left, I caught up with Hiroshi’s friend again and together we crossed the “finish line”. For the first time this summer, the rays of the sun felt pleasant. There was a fresh breeze on top just enough to lower our body temperature to a comfortable level. After our group was complete again, we began our descent of the Odarumi. After only 1km we ran into nobody less than Stephen about to reach the top by sheer willpower!

Hiroshi and his friend gave a nice demonstration of how to “jump” obstacles on the road. Incredible and beautiful to watch those daredevil antics of theirs…nothing (or too early) for me though! Down at Enzan, we passed a huge ramen establishment where we all took extra fillings. The thoughtful proprietress of Sasamotoya distributed towels to us upon our arrival and we all enjoyed a good soak in the onsen bath.

When we got out and were about to leave, Stephen had just arrived. I was very relieved to see him again…it meant no accidents for the two day event. I asked Stephen how he enjoyed the Odarumi climb and in his typical, nonchalant way, he smiled “COOL!!” (and that includes broiling on Yakiyama!).

zondag 3 augustus 2008


A photographic account


Futakotamagawa -> Sekidobashi -> Asakawa CR -> Takao 7/11 -> Wada-toge -> Yuzurihara -> Tawa-toge -> Tsuru-toge -> Imagawa-toge -> Yanagisawa-toge -> Enzan

Members: Michael (up to Imagawa-toge), Nishibe, Laurent, David (up to Wada-toge), Tom

DAY TWO - ENZAN ⇔ ODARUMI-TOGE (2,360 meters)

Course: Enzan (Sasamotoya) Left-side approach from Makioka (Kubodaira, 窪平)-> Tsuzumikawa-Onsen -> Yakiyama-toge -> Crystal Line -> Top -> Crystal Line -> Enzan

Members: Nishibe, Hiroshi, Hiroshi's friend, Stephen, Tom