Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year 2013

Hi Everybody

Well 2013 has almost ended and here in Niigata most people are inside watching the end of year TV special , drinking and eating and keeping warm. This year has been rather interesting for me and the bicycle shop has been busy, Fat tyre bikes are becoming more popular and on my last day of work this year I sold the top model fat tyre bike from Surly the Moonlander , Niigata is certainly the place for Fat Tyre bikes as we get a lot of snow every year. I just sold my van the other day as going car free has been a goal of mine now for quite some time so finally I did it and am very happy to be able to cycle everywhere now and not rely on having a car. I hope all of you had a great 2012 and I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year for 2013 where ever you are and of course happy cycling. The picture below is one of my favorites which was taken on a one day ride through the mountains of Sanpoku in Nov 2009

Friday, 28 December 2012

The ideal all season bike !

Good question I hear you ask ?, what is the ideal all season bike, well it depends of course where you live, what kind of weather you get and how often you cycle. As mentioned in a previous post I am now totally car free so no more car related payments nor being stuck in a traffic jam - those days are finished thank god !. If you live somewhere like me you will have to put up with a mix of weather, Niigata has about one month of rain ( rain season ) , August is very hot and humid which is unsafe for long distance riding and recently winter with heavy snow and ice is almost 4 months long - so in reality we have about 5 - 6 months of crap weather !. But it is possible to commute to work every single day of the year if you take care and ride a suitable bike to handle the changes in weather. At present as many riders will know I am riding a 2012 Kona Jake cyclo cross bike, I love it and it has never let me down whilst riding in all weathers and once winter is finished I can take of the 700 x 35c cross race tyres and fit some slicks and I have a quick road bike with cantilever brakes and 30 gears !, Yes that's right I have a 10 speed cluster on the year with a triple up front, in reality you do not often need that many gears but if you were to use this bike for touring or trying to outrun someone on a lightweight road bike those extra high gears will serve you well for sure. On my daily commute I never use the outer chain ring so have taken it off for winter to make cleaning a lot easier. Recently I found a photo of what may be the ideal all season bike.

A surly cross check with a sturmey archer 3 speed rear hub, easily held in place in the rear drop outs and with down tube shifter mounts you can fit a sturmey archer 3 speed changer easily. Of course if you do not like having your shifters on the down tube there are a few other options as well which are -

Bar end shifter
Seat post mount - might look a bit weird while changing gears e.g what are you grabbing between your legs !
Handle bar mount - Sturmey archer make one
Handle bar mount using a Dixna open clamp mount - I can sell you one of these if you need one
Stem mount - another Dixna product
Retroshift CX1 - the Goats at retroshift tell me it is possible to fit a 3 speed shifter to their CX1
Trad Sturmey 3 speed bar trigger

So as you can see there are plenty of options for mounting a 3 speed lever to your cross check frame, why a Surly cross check, its one of the few reasonably priced production frames on the market with down tube shifter bosses , you can run it geared, single speed or fixed and best of all FFF - Fatties Fit Fine yes that's right you can fit up to 700 x 45c tyres - how many cross bikes have enough space for such wide tyres - not many I can tell you and in snow wide tyres and low gears are what you really need. The reasoning for the Sturmey Archer hub is quite simple as the gears are contained inside out of the way of the muck, dirt & slush so you only need to worry about maintaining your chain, what could be more easy and if you run your cables up to the top tube using Sturmey archer clamp on guides you will have a trouble free all season bike that with the right tyres can go through snow, mud & slush and still keep up on a road ride when the weather is nice with narrow tyres.

Anyhow pictured in this post is the photo I found of a Surly cross Check with a 3 speed rear hub which I am sure the owner enjoys riding very much

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

1950s Royal Enfeild bicycle

Yes that is right , Royal Enfeild also used to make bicycles. Most people who know the name Royal Enfeild will think of their motorcycles namely the famous Bullet which is still being made but now in India not the UK. Royal Enfeild did make a line of roadsters and a few sports bikes at their factory in Redditch before they along with several other well known makes were brought up by a larger company and dissolved . A while back my mate Brian expressed interest in owning a classic British made bicycle, this most likely came about whilst riding with me on my 1947 Humber Sports bike so I said I think I can obtain something in your size for a good deal as I had traded the bicycle pictured in this posting with another New Zealand collector many years ago and on inquiring about it he said he still had it and would be keen to swap it for some other bicycles. In the end it cost me 2 complete classic bicycles and an early 1920s track racing frame , but I had the Enfeild once again and it was recently brought to Japan as part of my baggage allowance on Air NZ.

The big is quite large 58cm center to top and is currently fitted out with a set of Cyclo Benelux gears, although they are very nice , they are not that durable for long rides so most likely this bike will end up a 3 speed with a new set of 700c wheels instead of the damaged chrome 27 inch rims that are currently on it. That will make it far more reliable and a lot safer to ride . It should look great once finished with a Carradice saddle bag and Bluemels mudguards , the perfect bike for a nice long ride in the countryside . Pictured below are a few photos of it in its current condition.

Car free at last !

For some time now I have been wanting to be car free again - why you ask ?. Well to tell the truth there are so many reasons why people decide not to have cars or to give up their car and only rely on walking , public transport or cycling. In reality cycling is by far the best option as you can choose when and were you want to go and do not have to rely on a local bus schedule which in winter where I live is very unreliable to say the least. If you have the appropriate bicycle you can indeed ride all year even in winter if you also have good waterproof clothing . On my daily 8km commute  into the center of Niigata city I often pass a line of 40 plus cars stuck in a traffic jam , most likely they are saying look at that silly bugger riding in the snow when its  - 2 deg . But as I am cycling I am warm and I will get to my destination before them taking some side streets and when I do arrive at work I do not have to pay for parking plus I am keeping fit at the same time. In my personal view a real cyclist is someone who uses their bicycle daily , no matter what time of the year in snow , rain or shine. So last Sunday I sold my small Suzuki Every van to a workmate and am now car free again. If you really want to save money get rid of your car and cycle everyday - it is possible so why not give it a go !

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Winter is here !

Just last Sat my new panaracer Buster X 700 x 35 cross tyres arrived, just in time as my Maxxis mud busters were bald and would have been useless in snow. The very next day I awoke to 15cm or so of fresh snow so the new tyres good a good test whilst riding into the city. They work pretty well and offer plently of grip as well.

 Just before I went off to NZ, I replaced the cables on my 2012 Kona Jake and found out that the right hand barrel adjuster had broken and believe me it was a real mission to try and retrieve the remainder of the thread which was stuck inside the alloy down tube shift  mount. It was really my fault for not checking it sooner and putting some grease on it to stop it corroding during my winter commute with rain, snow and salted roads. In saying that I feel that there is a slight design fault with the 2012 Kona Jake , the shifter mounts should have been positioned further  down the alloy down tube to give them a better routing for the cables & outers. The problem is the head tube on the Jake is rather fat which in turn pushes the cables out at an odd angle . Apart from that I really like bike but with the new Kona Jake 2013 model the gear cables are internally routed through the frame so I guess it was not only I that thought the Jake frame had a problem !.

Because of that I am now considering changing my fame to something like the Surly Cross Check , with braze on down tube mounts, no issues with cable routing on that frame and it can take a huge 700 x 45 c cross tyre perfect for off road adventures or winter commuting, change out the fat tyres to something smaller and you have a road bike with cantilever brakes.

Pictured in this post are my new panaracer buster x cross tyres and my custom made Sag frame bag, my sister in NZ sewed this together for me from a well used Sag med sized messenger bag , it perfect for winter commuting and now I do not need a backpack which is really nice !

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Cycle Lanes in New Zealand

Hi Everyone

I have just returned to Japan after a visit home to New Zealand, so many things have changed since I was last in NZ after all it has been 6 years since I was home. Bicycle shops are booming, there is another kickboard / scooter boom thanks mainly to the Australian brand MGP and almost every kid rides a scooter to school . The schools have had to build scooter racks to keep the playground tidy and shops can not keep up with the demand for scooters and custom parts. One thing that really impressed me was the cycle lanes, they are everywhere making it safe for cyclists to commute to school or work. The photos in this post were taken in Napier City in the North Island of New Zealand and show the parking lane for cars on the left then a wide cycle lane ( 1.5mtrs ) and then the traffic lane . Everybody seems to follow the rules and I spoke to many cyclists who said the system works very well. Not all cycle lanes in NZ look like this as it depends on the total width of the road but every road has at least 1 mtr for cyclists to ride safely.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Japanese cycle tourist - Yusuke Ishida

A week or two back I met a Japanese cycle tourist called Yusuke Ishida who was in Niigata city for an  event sponsored by a local English school called Speak Up . He is a famous cycle tourist in Japan and cycled around the world by bicycle for many years and to fund his passion for cycling adventures he has published many books and when not touring in some far off country he travels around Japan promoting his books and giving talks on his adventures. Even when I was teaching English I saw the posters advertising his slide show and thought they looked interesting but due to work commitments I never had the chance to attend. One of the events he held whilst in Niigata city was a short group ride in the city and I was asked to go to the Minato tunnel park and show off one of our fat tyre bikes - The Surly Pugsly . It was my 1st real chance to take it on a longer ride and enjoyed the spin along the seaside bike path with a short detour to the top of a small hill in a local park, that bike can climb really well with is super fat tyres and low gearing. Pictured below is the Pugsly  at the top of the hill over looking the sea of Japan .

At Minato tunnel I met up with the owner of Speak Up English school and Ishida san and gave the crowd of cyclists a brief description of the bicycle and the type of surfaces you can ride it on e.g sand, snow etc . Many of the riders jumped at the chance to take a spin of the Surly and loved it. There was a large grassy area at the park that was perfect for a test ride. 

Pictured below is Ishida san and I with the Pugsly and it would be the perfect bike if he intends to cross Australia , others have already used fat tyre bicycles to cross some of the interior deserts of Australia with good success. Although I loved riding it I think I will stick to my cyclo cross bike , but if you are looking for a bike that can go anywhere get one. A quick search on Youtube with give you a good idea of what these bicycles are capable of and the amazing places they can be ridden unlike normal bicycles. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Kona Jake 2013 review

Well as I have owned the 2012 model of the Kona Jake for almost a year now and love it for my daily commute plus I have done a couple of longer road rides of 100km , it really is a great all round bike that lets you go anywhere. On a recent Sunday shop ride I took a short cut along a very rough 4WD track that was full of large puddles and mud with no problems at all. As I live in Niigata I also ride it in - 2 deg snowstorms and have cycled in snow almost up to the hubs and the Jake has never let me down yet.

Just recently the new 2013 Jake arrived at my shop which is pictured at the top of this post with the 2012 model below it for comparison. Basically it is the same frame although the seat stays have been flattened and the chain stays where they join the BB are deeper as well and the Shimano 105 rear mech is gone being replaced by Tiraga instead . The most noticeable difference apart from the colour of course is the addition of disc brakes , I think disc brakes are fine as they offer better stopping power and there is of course less maintenance involved ( ie. cleaning your rims after riding in the rain etc ) but I wish they had put a better quality disc brake on the Jake. The bike comes equipped with Tektro Lyra brakes which only offer a very basic adjustment from side to side and you can not tilt the mount to get perfect alignment of the rotor, once set up they work quite well, but if it was my bike the 1st thing I would change apart from the cheap pedals would be a better quality mechanical disc brake. Also for 2013 the tires are more of a road tire than a cyclo cross tire so if you fancy a bit of off road riding or a winter commute swap the tires out for something with more grip and save the new tires for summer. It rides very well and with a few basic changes would be a great bike but at the same price as the 2012 model it is a really good deal considering the added features.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Cycle Mode 2012

As I had not been to the annual bicycle industry trade show Cycle Mode for 2 years I decided to attend this year so took an early bullet train down to Tokyo passing through the newly renovated Tokyo station bustling with early morning commuters and hopped on the train bound for the shows venue Makuhari Messe which is just a few stops past Disney Land. I had to stand all the way until most customers got off at Disney Land ( I am so glad I do not live in Tokyo ). Anyhow I arrived at Cycle Mode early and the line for bicycle shop owners and staff was sill rather short, not so for the general public as already thousands were lined up waiting for their chance to test ride or just look at the latest in bicycle designs. I had a lit of our suppliers to visit plus I was also on the lookout for new products that would be suitable for our store. The 1st main hall contained many of the large makers such as Colnago , Gios etc, at present the main brand of road bikes I sell are Cinelli and recently Orbea which have great deals on 2013 bicycles with Cinelli dropping the price of their road bikes which will now be equip with Shimano instead of Campy. While some people might not like this if you have always wanted a Cinelli road bike 2013 is the year to get one. While Cinelli does not attend Cycle Mode I received a new catalog from them yesterday showing their products for 2013. This year most most makers have cut their single speed/ fixie lines as that boom is now over in Japan and as ever road bikes are most popular but cyclo cross bikes are very popular now as well. Japan has started to hold more high profile cyclo cross races so there has been a big interest in the type bicycle. As I ride a 2012 Kona Jake I can easily see why they are the perfect all year round bicycle, slick tyres for the summer and nice fat off road tyres for the winter months and now many of them come with disc brakes as well.

 One of my favorite bikes at the show was Soma Fabrications Trademans Cargo bike , A fantastic design based on the old delivery bicycles of long ago - 26 inch wheel in the rear with a 20 inch wheel up front and disc brake mounts with a nice sturdy platform at the front for mounting a large basket of any type. This is available as a frame set only but gives you the option of making your very own custom cargo bike. The upper portion of the frame would be perfect for mounting a sign board as well. If I buy another bike this will be it !.

Apart from the bikes above there were lots of new colors like the bright yellow Surly pugsly pictured below and some interesting frame designs from some of the smaller builders and even a few classic road racers as well. If you have never been to a bicycle industry trade show check it out as they are a lot of fun as most makers also have a test ride bike as well. At Cycle Mode there is a large indoor test track which proved very popular , where else can you test ride so many new bicycles at one time. If I was not so busy I would have loved to test ride a few new bikes myself, instead I ended up walking the aisles loaded with new catalogs and my camera - 2013 looks to be quite exciting !

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Furumachi Bicycle event Oct 28th

For those riders who did not stay up all night partying at The Local we held a Sunday morning ride starting from the bike shop at 8am. The original plan was to do an 82km ride out along the coast and head inland to the Mt village of Yahiko but as the weather looked suspect I decided on a new route and headed to Sakata lagoon instead, on riding out of the city we could see in the distance some approaching rain clouds but as we were only riding out 20 km to the lagoon I thought we should be ok. There was a good mix of riders and bicycles and on arriving at the lagoon some riders headed off to the local bakery for a late breakfast while others enjoyed the view of the lagoon. At that point we thought about pressing on to the village of Yahiko but upon checking out the weather on somebody's smart phone we could see the rain was rapidly approaching from the sea and heading towards us. My cycling pal Brian was acting as lead guide for the day and quickly came up with a slightly extended course  which went around the lagoon and over a small hill ( not so small for some riders on their fixies ) and then headed back towards Niigata city on the popular coast road. On the return leg of the ride we encountered some rain but everybody had waterproof jackets with them so it was not a big problem. On arriving back at my bicycle shop we had cycled about 50 km and for some of the newer cyclists in our group this was the longest ride they had ever done. I plan to hold a 50 - 60km Sunday morning tour about once a month next year as everybody had such a great time. Pictured below are a few photos from our 1st ever shop ride.

Furumachi Bicycle event Oct 27th

Just last weekend my shop held a 2 day event and on the Sat an alley cat  ( stamp rally ) was held with about 15 riders taking part. This type of event gets people out on their bike no matter what type of bicycle they ride , single speed, mini velo, road bike, cyclocross , mtb, city bike etc and they get to explore the city and have to locate various check points and answer some questions. Everybody had a great time and the final check point was at The Local a kiwi owned bar in the center of the city where a DJ was playing and we handed out some great spot prizes kindly donated by Knog the maker of bicycle accessories such as Blinder lights etc . The after party turned out to be a rather big night as the bar was also holding their annual Halloween party with a live band , free dinner and finished in the early hours of Sunday morning. Pictured in this post are a few photos that were taken on Sat

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Shibata to Takitani campground - part 4

After a nice ride in the dark in the dimly lit tunnel you head back down hill to the village of Takidani and the next village up the valley called Takidani shinden before a quick short decent to the Takitani campground which has some great facilities for camping, picnics or you could even spend the night in one of their log cabins. After speaking with the manager he asked if I wanted to take a look inside one that could slept 4 adults for the cost of 5000 yen a night, which in Japan is a bargain accommodation deal with many places charging double that amount per night !. I hope some time to spend the night at the campground as it is close to Niigata city but right in the middle of the mountains with fantastic scenery. After leaving the campground it's another short but steep climb across the Kajikawa river and back up to join route  335 that heads downhill towards the village of Akadani and route 14 which heads back towards the cycle road for the return leg of the ride.  Just before the village of Akadani I stopped at a roadside fresh water spring to refill my camelback with much needed fresh mountain spring water.  The total riding time was 3hr 10mins and the distance was 45km which was perfect in such hot weather.

Shibata to Takitani campground - part 3

The road surrounding the lake is really nice and there are almost no cars except for the odd fisherman, hiker or rock climber which is mostly on the weekends. As you can see from the lake level in the photos it's very low and the only decent flow into the lake at present is by a small mountain creek at the head of the lake . There is also a nice well maintained camping area near the head of the lake and on my way around the lake I came across a large group of monkeys eating by the roadside. I parked the bike up against the bank and creep forward to take some closer shots. There were several large monkeys and some babies so I didn't venture too close in case the mothers weren't happy to see me. I imagine the mothers would be very protective of their offspring and have been known to attack humans on rare occasions , but I did manage a few photos of them looking for food. After that I headed on around the lake until I came to a tunnel which leads down hill towards the village of Takitani back on the Kajikawa river .

Shibata to Takitani campground - part 2

After leaving the surrounding rice fields on the  outskirts of Shibata the cycle road starts to hug the mountainside and slowly winds it's way up hill passing through several small villages along the way. The cycle road bisects the main road in several places so care is needed at each crossing and barriers are placed at angles to deter the cyclists from speeding across without looking. The slight uphill is very pleasant in the shade of the trees and overlooks the Kajikawa river most of the way. Along the cycle road are several toilets and rest areas and it's not long before you reach the end. Across from the end of the cycle road is a shop with several vending machines perfect for the thirsty cyclist. From here you can contuine along the main road towards the hill top village of Akadani or take a left and head down across the Kajikawa river and up a short but steep climb to the Uchinokura dam which was constructed in 1973.At present the lake level is very low but has a great sealed road circumnavigating the lake. The view from the steep climb towards the lake offers great views of the village across the river.