zondag 27 september 2009

Jasmine tea...

Friday evenings…spaghetti; Saturday evenings…gyoza…this has been pretty much the fixed menu at my place for many years. Last evening, however, instead of an extra glass of beer, I drank lots of jasmine tea believing this is some kind of herb tea…big mistake! Until well past 3:00 this morning, I simply couldn’t get to sleep turning constantly around in bed instead. When the alarm went off at 5:15 a.m. to get dressed for the VLAAMS asaren, I simply couldn’t get out of bed! I swear that I will never again drink jasmine tea late in the evening.

I left home at 9:00 instead three hours behind normal schedule. On my way to Itsukachi, I crossed Saruto-san first and 10 minutes later Nagashi-san…then at the Itsukaichi T-junction I ran into Ichiro-san! All of them were on their way home following a fast ride up Kobu tunnel, so told me an exhausted-looking Ichiro-san. Then down on the other side of Ozawa-toge, I spotted Jerome checking his map on the roadside. Jerome told me he was already on his way home having crested Yamabushi-toge together with David L. who continued to ride to….Karuizawa!! I suspect David is seriously training for the Paris-Brest-Paris Brevet Classic.

Today I tried a small loop: R395 -> Amamezashi-toge(天目指峠)-> Nenogongen -> Haraichiba-Naguri-sen with a fair amount of tough climbing. I really like this little loop, there is no traffic at all and it is just cut for half-a-day of serious hillclimbing. On my way down from Nenogongen, an incredible fast and daredevil downhiller overtook me. I was in no kamikaze mood though this morning and let him go!
Back home, I took some extra time to clean the oil-splattered white PBO spokes on my back Spinergy wheel…next time I will oil my chain less generously.

zaterdag 26 september 2009

So jung und morgenschon

Joined TCC's Hotaka Training (HT)ride today together with Beeren's Nishibe-san. Hiroshi had decided not to join this time...the route was "too mountaineous" to his liking after a very tough week at work. We met Sergey, Thomas, Peter and Philip in front of Itsukaichi Station and left towards Kobu tunnel as soon as the last person hastily gobbled down breakfast at the station bakery. Going up Kobu tunnel, the order of the freshest legs became soon obvious...Sergey closely followed by myself, then Thomas and Peter in his unusual and high-cadenced cyclocross style followed by Philip and Nishibe-san.

Not far down where R.33 hits Koshu Kaido at Uenohara, Sergey turned right, guiding us onto a "brand-new" road. R.30 runs mostly parallel to Koshu Kaido and has very, very little traffic on it in comparison - a fantastic little country road indeed with lots of ups and downs culminating in Inume-toge 犬目峠. From the peak, a long and curvy but still quite fast descent follows down to Torisawa 鳥沢 on Koshu Kaido again. I wonder why I have never tried this little country road before! Although it was still before noontime, we all stopped at the supermarket near Saruhashi for snacks and drinks. I showed my mates where to get the free huge icecubes!

20 minutes later, we were all back in the saddle again riding in one group until that beautiful Schubert tune "Heidenroslein" started to play over the speaker system all over the valley to mark noontime. Somehow this gentle melody fired me up and I took over the lead from Sergey and Thomas pushing and pulling heavy gears in outer chainwheel. Thomas was calling out ..."just like Eddy Merckx, look at those gears!" With my national pride now in jeopardy, I had no choice but to continue and try pushing them heavy gears all the way to the top of Matsuhime! After a while, I got joined again by Sergey who was spinning his lightest artillery...two different riding styles side by side for a couple kilometers until I had to let Sergey go but not without threatening to overtake him in accordeon fashion. Both of us decided to descend to Lake Okutama using the "Primitive Village" shortcut. I parted from Sergey at the bridge leading to Tomin-no-mori and completed the rest of today's 200km ride solo.

Back home, I showered and took off this time to CyclePoint O-Vest to inspect my new X-Fire frame and deliver the various parts for Nishitani-san to assemble. I was told that I am getting the very last frame on stock in Japan even though this is supposed to be the 2010 model! To borrow Hiroshi's words, the 24-ton carbon frame tubes feel like "plastic water conduit pipes" very thick especially around the BB. The broad-layered carbon weaving looks very cool. For the time being, I'm having a normal compact crank (50/34T) and not a typical cyclocross crankset (46/36T) installed as well as normal Shimano cleat pedals instead of "eggbeaters". Eventually I intend to enter cyclocross races (Saitama) and will start saving for those special parts! Except for the white RIDLEY logo, the overall look of my X-Fire will be black...should go well with Positivo Espresso's orange.

dinsdag 22 september 2009

An Ankintan Silver Week

安近短 ANKINTAN...Yasui, Chikai, Mijikai (Cheap, Nearby, Short)...3 little kanjis perfectly summarizing the Zeitgeist of this year's Silver Week. Most people prefer to spend their vacation in inexpensive places not too far away from home and for only a brief time reflecting the ongoing economic depression.

Last Sunday morning, I participated in the first leg of the VLAAMS asaren up and down Wada-toge. In the afternoon, my wife and I decided to stay close to home and re-visit the garden terrace restaurant near Shomaru-toge. We used to stay in one of the log-houses above the restaurant with the kids many years ago until the place closed down following the Seibu scandal. Earlier this year the place had re-opened however the "Genghis Khan" mutton barbecue the kids loved so much has been replaced by "authentic" Italian cuisine! We were welcomed by an very hospitable elderly consierge who turned out to be not of Italian but of Dutch and German ancestry... It was a beautiful evening and we enjoyed reading on the terrace while witnessing a splendid sunset.

My better half and I were quite hungry and filled with happiness fancying sumptuous Italian dishes and wine. Alas, as soon as we took our seat, the BGM instantly ruined the atmosphere... a short tape with sad and cheap film soundtracks starting with the theme song of The Godfather in repeat mode... To make the Italian experience even more complete, one can even order a bottle of "Don Corleone" wine! OK, the pizza was OK. The waitress was polite/cute. The view from the terrace was fine. Bread for breakfast was plenty. Hence the verdict:

★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ ... 4 stars out of 10 (won't be going again).

The next day, we both went hiking...the classic 11.9km-long Shomaru ~ Izugatake ~ Nenogongen ~ Agano Station trail. It was much tougher than I remembered and some areas involved real rock climbing. With Crayon Shin-chan fresh in our minds, we carefully crested the narrow mountain passes, trying to stay away from the ravines as far as we could. The top of Izugatake was very crowded with fully-fledged hikers, portable cooking stoves, cowbells and what else. The trail went on towards Nenogongen was rocky, broken or useless stairways, roots and stumps of cedar trees making one contantly stumble. While ascending was quite manageable, I had a tough time descending and my knees started to hurt after 3 or 4 hours before we finally reached Nenogongen.

We said our prayers to the local deity known for its powers to heal illnesses of the lower half of the body, the feet in particular. Inside the shrine was a huge red high-heeled shoe...probably to soothe the aching feet of Showa-era cabaret girls. Lots of straw waraji sandals and other footwear but guess what else I saw? Pairs of cycling shoes!! Right, this is where aspiring Keirin cyclists come to pray for a pair of powerful legs and "offer" their used cycling shoes. Next time, instead of throwing mine out with the garbage, I'll make it a point to bring them to Nenogongen!

A little before 15:00, we reached Asami Chaya 浅見茶屋, a three-generation old restaurant specializing in handmade teuchi udon noodles 1.8km down at the bottom of the hiking path. Although I had stuffed myself with 4 manjus for lunch at Nenogongen, I was starving! We were greeted by the owner and his family, mother and son (in law?) kneading the wheat flour and father and daughter serving the guests. What a charming little restaurant...usually I'm not a great fan of udon but here I found myself munching on the most delicious noodles I ever had in my life! Everything in this little restaurant is of great taste, very very "oshare" with attention to small details like the dewy drops on a red laquerware plate...beautiful and exquisite utensils and... a Mozart violin concerto playing in the Japanese-style bathroom! This has got to be the taste of the owner's daughter (in law?). My wife and I were so delighted we ordered some dessert too... homemade vanilla icecream with adzuki beans, kanten and brown sugar syrup...delicious!

ASAMI CHAYA: ★★★★★★★★★★ 10 stars!!

This morning I woke up with soreness in both legs and could hardly walk the stairs. Once I mounted my bike and started to pedal though, my thigh muscles were no longer aching...very funny. I took my Neocot into Saitama again where I explored some more forestry roads in the Hanno area.

zaterdag 19 september 2009

VLAAMS Asaren Tozawa, Komine...

Lot's of folks joining this morning's V練!We took the Onekan approach to Itsukaichi and it was (as usual) Saruto-san who did all the pulling on the flats. Getting nearer to Takao, the roads started to more congested...no wonder today marks the beginning of "Silver Week," a succession of National Holidays that occurs only once every 6 years. With all the traffic, our group got split up and after a while Nagashi-san and myself found out it was just the two of us. Today's ride plan was to get into Saitama via Itsukaichi and "Umechan" so Nagashi-san and I decided to go full speed ahead direction Itsukaichi. The rather unfamiliar route was quite hilly and we first crested "Tozawa-toge". A little further we took a right turn to crest "Komine-toge" where one must pass a gate on both extremities. I remember having ridden this small mountain pass four or five years ago with Laurent and Alex. Like back then, the road was covered with fallen branches and leaves but still quite rideable. In no time we had reached Itsukaichi where we decided to wait for the rest of the troupe to arrive. Just as we had given up hope for a reunion and after a brief toilet break, Nagashi-san spotted a train of 4 riders pulled by Saruto-san. We didn't stay together much longer though as one by one fell off to honor their respective "mongens". Soon it was only me and Yamazaki-san and we decided to add "Haraitibanaguri" to today's menu! This mountain ridge is always such a pleasure and a fresh breeze was blowing. Near the top we took a couple pictures. Near Umechan, we ran into BURUBE racers! I searched around and sure there was David L. of Positivo Espresso going strongly on his first BREVET around Fujisan via Yanagisawa-toge! Don't know if David recognized me though. Before parting, we both visited one of VLAAMS' approved bakery shops, entering through the backdoor! "Poire," "Chocolat"...plenty of delicious pastries and a nice cup of espresso! Later, in the evening, it was time to part for good with my tandem. I took some time to clean the beast one more time, put some oil here and there and take one last ride...many, many fantastic memories! The tandem will from now on serve as a camera/film vehicle of Mike's Half-Fast Cycling Team.

maandag 14 september 2009


Yesterday's Asahi Shimbun carried an article entitled "Kosoku Jitensha matta!" or "Calling a Stop to High-speed Bicycles" on the Tamasai. Apparently there was a fatal cyclist-pedestrian collision accident in June. Fuchu City is planning to step up anti-speed measures along the "Kaze-no-Michi" zone (roughly between Koremasa ~ Sekido). Some dubious measures include erasing the center line (??), increasing the number of so-called "image humps" (イメージ・ハンプ) and caution signboards ("Beware of Speeding Cyclists"??) . Since last year, I have been staying away from the Tamasai as much as possible by crossing the Tamagawa and making detours along the Onekan or using the roadway beneath. It has become too risky; this is no longer a cycling road !  Just how many people know that the official name of this riverside road was changed 8 years ago from "Tamagawa Cycling Road" to "Tamagawa Pedestrianized Road" (「歩行者優先の道」)??

zondag 13 september 2009

230km Yanagisawa Loop

Gorgeous September day! Enjoyed a long day cycling with exactly 7:30 hours spent in the Brooks saddle, the highlight being the magnificent Enzan downhill. Average 25.0km/h / Max 72.7 km/h (at the usual Tsuru-toge downhill). The entire loop is here.

zaterdag 12 september 2009

V練 to Anakawa-rindo & Lake Shiroyama !

With plenty of rain predicted later in the day, we decided to do a brief & brisk (サクっと)training session: the rule today was to use 50×16 (for me 52×16) as the lightest gear ratio! No matter how steep the hill, small chainwheel or sprocket cogs higher than 16 not allowed, interdit (I did cheat more than once though!)
With each hill, I found myself abandoned by the rest in no time. Today's VLAAMS members included all of the faster climbers and I was no match for them at all! I really ought to work on my acceleration skills. Only on the longer Anakawa rindo (about 1km), I was able to stay in front and grind my way up to the last gate. It was somewhat comforting to find out my stamina is still intact!
We took a rest at the vending machines bordering on Lake Shiroyama. For me this was the first time to cycle up to this lake although I did not actually get to see it. The lake is located a little above Lake Tsukui. We rode back direction Tamasai along stretches of the Onekan and Yaen-dori. Only the last 5 km it started to drizzle and I was home by 9:30. Cleaned the bike, took a long shower and had a few cups of coffee with chicory while watching the rain pour down. Tomorrow should be sunny.

donderdag 10 september 2009


Accidentally came across some old photographs taken more than fifteen or so years ago wearing the outfit of the most successful Belgian team at that time.
The lime-green aluminum Giant CADEX 2 was my first "road racer" since I came to Japan. In retrospect, I really liked those down tube gear levers and I am now wondering if it would be possible to have similar shifters fixed onto the down tube of my neocot Anchor...
I remember paying 110,000 yen for this Giant but I only rode it for two years exclusively along the Tamasai (which was much less crowded in those days!). Much poorer housing conditions at the time meant that I had to leave my Giant outdoors...cables started to rust, body weight continued to raise and I somehow lost interest in road racing...
The other two pictures were probably taken around the same time (same outfit) with my visiting younger brother 10 years my junior and sporting exceedingly fashionable shades (they were!). Back then, my brother's athletic phsyique (update: 174 cm / 58 kg - now 70 kg!) came near to that of a pro hillclimber while I was in a different class all together! Be that as it may be, for two or three August days, we simply terrorized the entire Tamasai at breakneck speeds even and especially against strong headwinds; no road racer was fast enough for us!
I continued to ride this tandem with my wife until she became too scared and/or too occupied with child rearing. For many years now, this tandem has been slowly rusting inside a piece of tarp in our backyard. I guess it would still be perfectly ride-able if the chains and wires are replaced but devoid of a decicated stoker, I simply see no point in doing so. I suppose this dear tandem is now ripe for the junk yard / scrap dealer unless - and I welcome anybody - someone is interested in inheriting this piece of metal from me!

zondag 6 september 2009

Kuroyama Santaki

Left home around 9:00 having slept long and enjoyed a good breakfast with plenty of coffee. As I rode along the Tamagawa and towards Itsukaichi, I crossed two different delegations of the VLAAMS asaren...as usual they were so aborbed in their training that they weren't looking sideways although I tried to greet them. Today was another perfect sunny day, hot but not that humid and a fresh breeze blowing. I decided to connect Haraitibanaguri with Kaburi-toge but I missed the left turn-off leading to Higashi-Agano and ended up riding quite a distance along the unpleasant 299 where I crossed Stephen in full Positivo Espresso uniform! I also tried to look for David L. and other PE riders but they must have gotten far ahead of me. Near the top of Ka(o)buri-toge, I proceeded along the right side of the Y-turn towards Kuroyama in Ogosemachi. There are 3 waterfalls here: one male, one female and one tengu-taki as well as an onsen spa. I relied on my Garmin for the rest of the ride homewards. Today again I only saw orange cosmos flowers!