Sunday, November 27, 2016

New bike day



Not for me, but for Nicole. A new Fuji adventure bike. Here's to many adventures in the days and months to come.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Chasing ghosts for self-amusement



The quiet roads of the Huon Valley.

I'm not a terribly competitive cyclist, which is probably a good thing given my general lack of application to anything resembling a training regime and the odd sorts of bikes I get around on. But  even the least competitive among us has the odd stretch of road where were like to have the occasional lash. In the age of Strava, the impetus to ride - and sometimes to ride fast - is one which seems to hit the best of us from time to time.

Given I'm not the fastest of riders, my personal collection of KOMs on Strava consists mainly of places so far off the beaten path that nobody else has thought to ride them. A good example of this is the Airwalk to Southwood segment which is an absolute cracker of a ride but doesn't get a mass of two-wheeled traffic.

Closer to home there's the loop from Judbury, near where I live, in to Huonville, the closest town. There's a road either side of the river, so it can be done as an out-and-back or as a loop. My favourite way is to head into town on the tarmac on the south side of the river and coming back on the unsealed North Huon Road. The circuit is about 27km.

A couple of years back my mate Ben and I used to ride this circuit most nights, starting from near his place in town and doing the anti-clockwise in the preferred manner. Since we these were mostly after-work jaunts and we tend to chat a lot we seldom got much of a speed up, generally getting around in about one hour and five minutes. Now and again we'd inadvertently have a lash and would come close to breaking the hour, most memorably one night when Ben stopped to look at fish from the Huonville bridge when I was more intent on the PB. Noticing he wasn't behind me, I doubled back to find him leaning over the bridge staring into the water below.

Although I ride this way most weekends, I usually break my trip for a coffee at the lovely Summer Kitchen Bakery on the way home. Yesterday I had a tailwind on the way in and was feeling pretty good when I stopped for coffee, noticing later that my moving time for the whole circuit was one hour and one minute. I wondered whether I might be in good enough shape to be able to knock off the elusive goal at last.

This morning I wandered up to the shed. My trusty Bianchi - the only road bike I have - has been loaned to my wife, who needed it for a group ride she has been on and to my surprise the fit wasn't too bad on her. So this morning I raised the seat and put the longer stem back on and prepared to see what I had in my legs, which were a little weary after yesterday's dash.

I've been losing a bit of weight lately so the plan in my mind was to set a bit of a mark to challenge later on so see it dropping a few kilograms (and maybe a new bike I'm planning as a reward) makes a difference. It was about 11 degrees when I set out, just a hint of wind and a little rain. I'm not much of a time-trialler, so the tempo was intended to be more of a brisk ride than an all-out effort. I decided to try to put in my best effort on the uphills and flats and use the downhills to recover, trying to exceed a 27km/h average. None of the hills are too steep or long, given there's only 160m of climbing over the entire ride, but rather a series of gentle ups and downs which are perfect for effort and recovery.

By about half-way, I realised I might just be able to knock the old mark off as long as I didn't blow up. I knew the key was getting to the bakery at about 16km close to the half hour point and I was in the ballpark. There's a couple of slightly longer hills on the way back which were set to challenge my momentum but I knew the last 6km is pretty easy to do in about 12 minutes when the road is in good condition so it was a matter of getting to there by the 48 minute mark and not much later. And I was close.

I didn't really want to ride to bursting point, so I focussed on sitting above 30km/h and avoiding hitting any big potholes along the smooth and surprisingly dry 5km dirt section into Judbury. As the dirt gives way to tarmac although tiring, I was doing even better than I thought and hit the 1km to go with three minutes remaining and a downhill run to the finish. It was an easy roll and it was done. The old mark was gone - beaten by a solid minute.

Given how long this silly milestone has lurked in the back of my head, I'm chuffed at beating it - although I was also a little surprised at how easy it was in the end. Time now to set a new goal and see how that goes. Maybe 55 minutes is possible.

2497km so far this year.











Tuesday, September 13, 2016

North Bruny circuit

Every ride is the same, every ride is different. After a couple of months without much cycling I really needed the familiarity and the novelty of this delightful circuit. The scenery is already magical and the roads don't see many cars, particularly if you pick your times well. Weather and the mood and the riding companion are the variables. Go alone, go with some mates, this ride never disappoints.



I had planned to do the circuit alone. A combination of events had left me with a morning to fill. Ben said he'd come along, and then Hugh, and Stuart decided to put a few more miles in his legs before a riding trip to Japan. That's a good group, four, though a good day out can always be had with a few more or less. 

Mornings are always chilly at the ferry terminal so there's some decisions to be made about what to wear. I skip the raincoat, for once that's the right call. Stripped of the winter lights and generator, the bike feels light. The first few kilometres are uphill so it's no easy start but the distance starts flying by. It's a ride of ups and downs and from the hilltops there are great views. We spread out and regroup, never in too much of a hurry to stop and enjoy the glimpses of hidden bays and beaches and more distant coastlines. I give my camera to Ben and he snaps some photos of me churning up the big climb. 



We stop for coffee at Dennes Point. The weather is mild. There's no wind, it's not cold, but it's still early enough in spring that there aren't any tourists about. We have the cafe to almost to ourselves. There's an old border collie ties up outside, waiting patiently for this owner, who is in no hurry either.

The road ahead is more up and down but there's something funny about riding on Bruny: the hills are never too long or too steep. Again some stops for views and photos. An echinda hunkers down into the roadside verge as we pass. A couple of cars come by, slowly, with a wave. 



The timing of the ferries home makes the 44km circuit a bit more interesting. On previous rides there's always been a couple of detours and a distinct lack of urgency. But today with a 9am departure, the 12.30 ferry looks like the shot, if we come up short the next is at 2pm, which is a bit too long a wait. Even though it looks light we throw in one last diversion for the sheer scenic value.

For some reason I'm feeling better than I deserve to today. I'm feeling better in the hills than I thought, not fast but at least smooth. Even the last climb, which I always find tough, seems easier than I remember. We have ten minutes to spare before the boat back to the mainland. 




It's six bucks for a bike, out and back to Bruny Island. I reckon it's the best six bucks I spent last week. 




2424km so far this year.


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.