Saturday, April 16, 2016

The controversial Oppy of 2016.

Sadly due to work commitments and a distinct lack of fitness I wasn't able to take part in the Fleche Opperman All Day Trial this year. It's an event I greatly enjoy, having completed it in 2015,  2013,  2011,  2009, 2008 and 2007. Missing out was a shame but there is always next year. Besides, the chaps of the Lancefield Lairs said they struck a fair bit of wind out on the road so I most probably would have struggled a little - something that's not much fun on a 24-hour event, if riding a bike for the better part of 24 hours can ever be described as 'fun'.

The 'Oppy' has been attracting a lot more interest from people outside the Audax fraternity in recent years. I've noticed in some places (including - surprisingly - the Audax website) the event is being referred to as the Opperman 24-hour Time Trial which makes it sound a lot more like a race or a competitive event than it actually is. 

For the sake of those who haven't heard of it, the object of the Oppy is to ride as far as you can in 24 hours. Teams start from wherever they like and ride towards a central point - for example Geelong in Victoria or Wagga in NSW. The rules are pretty simple, requiring a team of three to five bicycles, a designated route and controls and so on. You have to cover at least 360km and complete at least on the road 25km in the last couple of hours. It's based on the Fleche Velicio run by the famous Audax Club Parisien. Similar events are held all over the world. It's sometimes described as a rally, where riders meet at a central point and celebrate their achievements together. 

On the road in the 2015 Oppy.
This year a couple of gun teams decided to have a go at the distance record for the event after a few have been a few unsuccessful attempts in recent years. The men's mark was set about 20 years ago, in circumstances which are still occasionally discussed in incredulous tones: the team left a struggling member behind in pursuit of their goal, something that for many Audax riders would be unthinkable. 

For the first four or five years I rode the Oppy, I didn't even know there was a record. Audax is a bit uncompetitive and unconcerned with records like that. At any rate, it's not really an official Australian record. It's just the furthest anyone has ridden in an Oppy. A 24-hour road team time trial would be carried out under completely different rules and conditions and presumably by a club that wasn't dedicated solely to non-competitive cycling.

Anyhow the roadies came and saw and conquered. The men managed 800km, the women I believe made it 600km. Both were rides were grand athletic achievements. 

Sadly though, both teams broke the rules in achieving their records. After complaints, both were disqualified by the Audax hierarchy for receiving support between controls. An email to members read in part: "The rides undertaken by both teams were incredible feats of endurance cycling, however they were outside the rules of Audax".

The breaches don't really amount to cheating, in the sense that little the advantages gained were likely only small in the scheme of things but they were breaches nonetheless and a departure from the spirit of the event. It's the first time in my decade-long involvement with the club that I've heard of anyone being disqualified from the event or any event really. It is a shame but the rules are simple and clear and well-known to anyone who has done more than one or two rides. 

Watching events unfold, I found myself bemused by the the hyper-competitive and high-profile nature of the attempts. With my tongue slightly in my cheek I wrote elsewhere: "There is no prize in cycling quite as sweet as snatching a win from a bunch of beardoes in their sixties on steel bikes who didn't even know they were racing." But it's true of Audax in general, it's not a race and finishing times are barely recorded and certainly not remembered or exalted except in very rare circumstances. 'Winning' the Oppy is a bit like winning Around the Bay in a Day or the Gong Ride. It's missing the point and the spirit of the event.

Oppy team comes out of the long night.
But I suppose there's plenty of people around to miss the point. I've noticed in recent years the growth of the "lycra mob" in cycling: a large pool of folk who look like a lot like racers and spend a lot of money on their bikes and gear but don't race. The number of outlets for racing haven't diminished in that time but I suspect the proportion of serious cyclists who actually do much racing has fallen quite steeply. I've been surprised by the growth of the sportive ride and of Strava, which promote an unusual kind of unsanctioned and almost meaningless competition among cyclists for prizes not worth having - generally the esteem of others online or occasionally in real life. It has been lamented by others, most recently in this piece by Tom Marriage.

For me, the spirit of Audax is the lone rider out on the road, who battles the night and the wind and the rain and that little voice inside that says 'you can't' and challenges themselves and fails or triumphs almost unseen and unnoticed. The very word Audax means audacious. It is someone on a journey and if the only person they end up impressing is themselves then that is all that counts. The external validation sometimes hard to detect aside from the odd medal or distance award or pat on the back at the finish. That is the spirit of the Audax, and of the Oppy. 

1200km so far this year.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Never thought I'd do that!

There's nothing much that disrupts the course of an ordinary life like a trip to Antarctica. A quick glance at this blog reveals I haven't made an update since October, in part because of preparations for this summer's trip south.

Antarctica is a terrific and fearsome place, but that's a story for another blog. One of the highlights of a couple of months in the frozen white hell was spotting a bike on the disused runway at the French station Dumont D'Urville.

Apparently the base has a few for getting around on the gravel tracks between the icy bits. Despite the fact it was minus eight and blowing about thirty knots and wearing bulky full cold weather gear which makes cycling ungainly at best, I managed to knock out a couple of kilometres and promptly ticked 'ride a bike in Antarctica' off my bucket list.

393km so far this year.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Cycling Japan

The rain, when it came, started on the outskirts of Kyoto. A few spots, barely enough for a raincoat, and the only inclement weather of our 1
2-day tour of Japan. Our luck with the weather was emblematic of a fantastic trip.

It is about 650km from Izumi in Kagoshima prefecture to Kyoto if you join the dots of the cities we passed through on the route, although more like 580km allowing for twists and turns and subtracting the odd ferry or bus transfer. Along the way the beauty of Japan reveals itself in dozens of subtle and enchanting ways.

The trip, Japan Highlights by Japan Biking is billed as “pure indulgence for the senses and happily our experience well and truly lived up to the advertising. There were equally-matched highlights for me: the riding, the scenery, the food and the accommodation. Its hard to have a bad time riding moderate distances on an unladen bike, so the first was a bit of a given. Less expected though was the stunning quality, the delightful routes, the variety of the food and the wonderful accommodation

Our group met in the small southern town of Izumi, where our guide, Thomas Holvoet, lives. We had hired a pair of hybrid bikes rather than bring our own, so Thomas quickly fitted the pedals and saddles wed brought from home and after a quick test ride and a few adjustments we were ready to go. After an afternoon spent around the hotel our tour group met for an initial briefing. Our riding companions for the next week and a bit would be some friends from Tasmania and a group of seven - six from California and a Brazilian woman who had done several similar trips together. They had mostly bought their own flash matching Richey Titanium Break-Away travel bikes. 

We met and chatted over the first of many fine meals to come over the following days. Early the next morning we started off with some gentle stretching as Thomas chanted us through our routine with a count of one to ten in Japanese, then at last we were on the road for a gentle tour of Izumi and its samurai neighbourhood before turning north in earnest.  It quickly became apparent the care with which Thomas had prepared our route. We rode on quiet roads and paths, through small quiet neighbourhoods and lush green rice fields. There was little traffic and the small climbs of the first day were rewarded with lovely coastal views. Thomas rode with us, leading sometimes, following at others. Several of the group were equipped with GPS devices he had supplied, making route finding easier - although we always seemed to go better with Thomas at the helm weaving our way through the twists and turns. 

Before too long we were greeted by the sight of our support van and the wonderful Mida-san to provide us with refreshments. The day was warm, so the break was welcome. Coastal views and some not too demanding ups and downs followed with a cracking roadhouse lunch of noodles along the way. Our goal for the night was a hundred-year-old Hinagu Onsen Ryokan. This delightful old-style Japanese inn was typical of the lovely places we stayed over the 13 nights of our trip - an absolute delight with crisp cotton yukata gowns awaiting our trip to the spring-fed outdoor onsen where the grime and cares of the days riding were quickly scrubbed and soaked away before a few beers and dinner.

The rhythm of the following days wasngreatly different. We started our mornings with a tasty and varied Japanese breakfast, which always included some form of pickle and miso soup and rice, often accompanied by fish and dried seaweed and other delicacies. Then the road opened before us, through the small plots of rice nearing autumnal harvest and the compact Japanese homes along the way. The drivers we did encounter were almost invariably courteous and gave us plenty of room in passing.

There was some spectacular scenery and some challenging climbs in the surprisingly warm temperatures. My favourite was the ride across the caldera near Mt Aso on narrow farm paths that ran through verdant fields stretching right to the edge of the old crater. Then there was the descents - and we had a few - which wound down roads sometimes scarcely wide enough for a single vehicle, twisting and turning downward seemingly forever, repaying in spades the hard work of the preceding climbs. 

And the climbs? I enjoyed the challenge as the road rose up, often finding myself at the summit before Id expected and ready for the cool run down. The GoPro video camera I had mounted on my handlebars worked overtime capturing some of the long downhill runs through tall bamboo groves and forests and I often found myself at the back of the group with the sag wagon sometimes not too far away because Id stopped and taken too many photos, if there is such a thing as too many photos in a land of such great scenic beauty.

Contrary to what I might have thought at the outset, our little group stuck together quite well on the road. The impetus among the faster riders to speed off into the distance was less than one might have thought and it was generally the case that we were only a few minutes apart at most breaks - a little longer at the end of substantial climbs. One of the great things about cycling is the egalitarian nature of most bunches and we were no eception we whiled away the miles chatting about this and that as one companion or another drew alongside. I spent a bit of time off the back of the bunch too, enjoying the spectacle as it rolled by in quiet solitude. And so the towns of Kyushu passed under our wheels. After Kumamoto and a visit to the castle, we rode into the magnificent caldera of the Mt Aso volcano - although some small eruptions prevented us getting as close to the volcano as we would have liked.

Some more climbing, and some delightful riding on quiet country paths took us to the town of Yufuin, where we were treated to a fantastic meal and once again delightful accommodation. After Yufuin came a generally downhill run with a break for spectacular views before a series of switchbacks deposited us in Beppu, a tourist town of hot springs where we enjoyed a lunch cooked over the steam venting from far below the earth.

Thee only drawback to being on a guided trip is that the caravan must move on. I would have liked to have spent another day or two in Beppu, tourist trap though I suspected it to be, but the ferry trip across to Yawatahama proved to be a nice break to the rhythm followed by an enjoyable climb out of town on a quiet hillside road. 

We were now on the island of Shikoku and stayed the night in the delightful town of Uchiko, where the moon festival was in full swing. Rather than being accommodated just out of the centre of town as we were expecting we were right in the thick of things and we were able to enjoy strolling through the festival and its many attractions and take in a late night visit to the town's rather impressive lying Buddha.

Onward once more, over a couple of 300m climbs before reaching Matsuyama - which is famed for its public baths fed by hot springs. After a warm day in the saddle I was keen to dive in the shower, but was greatly entertained by the stories of those who had ventured across the road and braved the baths. Everyone seemed to have a different tale of how things had gone wrong, from forgotten tickets to forgotten soap or some hilarious breach of etiquette which had them retreating behind a cloud of apologies. The own itself was charming, no less so for the custom of Japanese people frequenting the baths to promenade in their yukata, which we had become quite accustomed to wearing around our accommodation.

After a rest day and a transfer by bus to Tokushima, we took a ferry to Wakayama on Honshu island. There followed a long, but most enjoyable climb - despite the heat - out of town and onward up Mt Koyasan. The final few kilometers were a bit of a push, but we arrived in the cool heights of Koyasan to soak in the astonishing culture of the temple and the monastery where we stayed and delighted in a terrific vegetarian meal. After breakfast the following morning we enjoyed a thrilling descent before a flat ride into the town of Nara, where we fed the delightful deer and stayed in the middle of the town's lovely park. Another highlight.

Our trip was now drawing to a close and while the ride to Kyoto was flat and fast and enjoyable, I was a little sad that we couldn't go on for a few more days at least. We had at least the city tour the following day to take in some of the sites of Japan's ancient capital before a final meal as a group and farewells the following morning.  

It was a magnificent trip, as promised a real taste of Japan - just long enough to feel immersed in the country's gentle and ancient culture, but also short enough to leave me keen to return and again travel by bicycle through this fascinating and alluring destination. Thanks to Thomas for delivering an unforgettable trip, just like he promised.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cycling Fukuoka.

I'm probably preaching to the converted, but travelling by bike has to be one of the best ways of sightseeing. In a car, things zip by too fast, and walking is a slow and laborious way to get around. We're in Japan for a 12-day cycling tour in the south of the country. I'd allowed a couple of extra days either side so as not to be too rushed and we found ourselves in Fukuoka. Wanting to make the most of our stay I booked us in with the good folk from Fukuoka Bike Tour for a half-day adventure to get the cobwebs out of our legs.

There were only two of us booked on the Saturday morning trip, and we met our guides -Takaya Seri and Makoto Tanaka  outside their office just before 9am. A quick orientation and we were off along the footpaths and back lanes of Fukuoka. 

Cleaning our hands before entering a temple.

What a trip it was. Within a few hundred metres were were visiting a magnificent temple, then another and soon we were at the city's fish markets where we sampled some of the wares including some delicious seaweed from one of the suppliers. I was worried how we would go in the traffic of a crowded Japanese city, but our route wound its way through narrow streets and lanes which we would never have had a chance of finding on our own. 

At the fish markets.
After the fish markets we passed through one of the city's big parks and rode down to the waterfront. Fukuoka has a beautiful seaside area with a lovely promenade and the fresh sea breeze cooled us down as we watched an expert fisherman land Spanish Mackerel one after the other.

After a ride through the docklands, it was time for lunch and we stopped at a very busy ramen restaurant popular with locals. Ordering was via vending machine and people were seated at tables as seats became available. The turnover was frantic. The pork ramen noodles were very tasty, particularly with the addition of ginger and ground sesame seeds. It was an experience we would certainly have missed without our wonderful guides.

Delicious pork ramen noodles.

The highlight of the trip for me was seeing the ancient wall build in the 13th century to repel the Mongol invaders. Fukuoka has an amazing history, in part as a trading hub because of its proximity to China and Korea, a proximity which also brought invading hordes. What was also astonishing was how far the waterfront has moved in 700 years. These walls were on the seashore when built, now they are several kilometres inland. 

Remains of the old city wall.
After lunch it was time to head back into town. A final stop at a famous local cake shop topped off a most excellent day. Japan is a great place to ride a bike. My first impressions are of careful and considerate motorists and good facilities for people on two wheels. 
If you find yourself in Fukuoka and have some free time, I can highly recommend this excellent tour.

3500km so far this year.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Keep it simple.

A spring weekend, no need for anything too epic. Good weather and good mates equals good times. We're lucky to have such superb cycling country on our doorstep and there's still plenty more to explore.

On the road looking towards a snow-capped Mt Weld.

Glovers Bluff Lookout.

On the way to the Airwalk.

Hugh takes the safe route on one of the suspension bridges near the airwalk.

In the magnificent tall forests along Edwards Road.

Nearing our destination.

No cars, great scenery, doesn't get any better.

Descending from Glovers Bluff.

Heading down towards the Airwalk.

Video highlights:

3355km so far this year.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Cleaning a bike.

Cleaning a bike is one of those tasks I really don't put much thought into. Generally I give the frame a touch up with a rag once a week or so and lube the chain when needed. A few rainy rides have left the Niner looking more than a little bit muddy and since it was sititng in the back of the car when I visited the car wash today I decided to get my money's worth.

There's a couple of schools of thought on bike cleaning. There's the damp-cloth-wipedown brigade and the 'hose it off' school. I suspect the former is typical of most roadies and the latter of mountain bikers. In this case - a medium dirty bike - 60 seconds with a pressure washer saved me a lot of work.

Whether you're using a garden hose or a pressure washer like the one I used at a commercial car wash it's ok - and often far better - to spray your bike clean when it's caked with mud. There's just a couple of things you'll want to keep in mind.

Firstly, make sure you remove anything that doesn't like getting wet. Erring on the side of caution, this would include most cheap lights and certainly any electronic gear like Garmins or other GPS devices and the like, which will do just fine in a rain shower but might not fare too well if they cop a high pressure blast. If you have a Brooks or other leather saddle, or leather handlebar tape, you will want to make sure that they're covered or otherwise spared. (I have no experience with electronic shifting ensembles, so ask your local bike shop.)

The other tip is that high-pressure water doesn't do the grease in bearings any favours, so don't go directing the spray at hubs or bottom brackets. (If there's a choice, skip the soapier settings.) One easy way of avoiding the most vulnerable areas is to give the most of frame a going over from the sides, keeping away from the hubs and BB shell and finishing the job by doing the hubs and BB areas from the front and rear. The Niner has full-length internal cable housings so I wasn't too worried about getting water in them, which is another potential problem. In most cases it's also best to steer clear of your handlebar tape too if you're planning to ride too soon after the wash because most modern types are nice and spongy and take a while to dry out.

I didn't have anything with me to wipe the bike down today, but fortunately they're pretty robust beasts. I bounced the Niner a couple of times to shake off the excess water. Before I ride tomorrow I'll wipe down the chain and relube it and the pivot points on my dérailleurs and we're good to go again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Randonneuring in China

Having been to China a few times and done a spot of cycling there, I'm a keen follower of how the sport of randonneuring is developing there. Randonneurs of China have a great Facebook group which Hans Ngo keeps bubbling away. Having organised a small outpost of audax in Australia, it's hard to imaging the challenges of being the front man for a rapidly expanding sport in a nation of more than one billion people. Hans had caught the eye of the mainstream media, theres's a lovely writeup on the club in the California Magazine. Highly recommended. I hope to do a ride there one day.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


I'm having a play with different ways of presenting stories. Here's a little collection of images I've put together of some of my favourite gravel riding photos from the last few years. Most of them have had an outing on this blog, but it's never a bad time for a 'best of' album.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bracken Ridge.

Home through the rain.
Thanks to a lingering cough, which I suspected wasn't going to be helped by a day riding in the rain in near-zero temperatures, I decided to sit this one out. Given I didn't have much else to do I decided to follow the guys along in the car and get some photos.

The first climb out of Glen Huon.
The circuit is a classic loop from Huonville, out towards Judbury then up the steep climb of Bermuda Road. It's a particularly steep pinch to begin with, although it levels out for some temporary relief before heading up again on even rougher roads. Once up the top there's a fire trail down towards the bridge across the Huon River near the Ta Ann veneer mill.

Nearing the top.
I shadowed the group of five who had set out for the ride despite the dire weather forecast, leapfrogging them with my iphone camera for a bit and then with a fancy SLR one of the riders had brought with him - which made my task more fun and his a little lighter.

I had to drive a longer loop around possibly the best bit of the ride, which is the descent of Bracken Ridge. By all accounts it was a bit of a stretch for road bikes in the wet today.

Once over the Huon River Bridge, the return journey is a pretty nice ride most days, with the possible exception of the climb up the back side of Denison Hill. The forecast snow held off and while the temperature was low and it rained intermittently nobody seemed to be complaining too much. Out loud anyhow.

It's not hard to be reminded why we like riding these roads so much and why gravel bikes are enjoying such popularity at the moment. I saw about three cars in 60+ kilometres. We basically had the road to ourselves.

Once Denison Hill is crossed, the finish is in sight. True it's 20km back to Hounville but the worst of the climbs are over, which is a welcome development for tired legs.

After a few more photos shelters by the tailgate of the car, I left the guys in peace to complete the ride. Despite the weather and the mud it looks like everyone had a fun time.

2827km so far this year.