Saturday, October 31, 2009

Casual riding in Kawasaki

Tamagawa cycling

So, I made it to Japan safely, to the city of Kawasaki to be specific. Kawasaki is the city directly West of the capitol of Tokyo. Last night, I was quite jet lagged and tired, so that I didn't even open my computer before I fell asleep. Today I managed to open the computer and partially catch up on stuff though I'm still jet lagged and quite sleepy as I write this. What follows might be a bit incoherent, but I am going to try and write a post before sleepiness gets the better of me.

unclaimed bicycles

The place where Kao is currently living is sort of a dense apartment high rise. Kind of like those public housing buildings in NYC, but is private. Bicycle parking for residents is limited and requires a minimal fee which has to be paid annually and bikes without proper registration stickers will be rounded up like the bikes in the picture above and will be disposed of if they are not claimed by the owner.

bicycle parking

This is part of the parking space for Kao's building.

Kao's mamachari

and this is Kao's mamachari bike in its designated parking spot. Not very secure by American standards, but just the O-lock on the rear wheel is security enough.

The fee for a single bike per household is very cheap, but a second spot is much more expensive. Luckily I have a folding bike which can be stored indoor without taking much space while I'm gone.

My Dahon
(my Dahon folded up)

My Dahon
(Dahon unfolded)

It's not a bike with the best riding characteristics, but it's just fine for riding slowly weaving through pedestrian and car traffic. Riding around in small city strrets here can be quite chaotic where you are fighting space with cars and also sometimes you ride on sidewalks to avoid obstacles (like parked motorcycles) on the street.

Tamagawa cycling

Today was a super nice day, so we decided to go ride to Tamagawa (Tama River) which is the river that runs between Tokyo and Kawasaki.

Tamagawa cycling

This is a very popular cycling route that runs along river and there were lots of people out riding bikes, walking or running. It is a lovely path that runs on the top of the riverbank overlooking the river. My only complaint is that the path is rather narrow, so that you kind of have to slow down when you pass someone.

Tamagawa cycling

It is a fun place to ride though if you're not in a hurry which we weren't. It's nice to take a break on the river bed and watch people go by. It's a good spot for people watching as people there seem quite different than people in crowded city streets.

Tamagawa cycling

This was a very short outing today, but I'm sure we'll go on longer rides while I'm here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

To Japan!

Higashiyama Trail

It's nearing the end of the year again and as I have been spending most of my recent ends of the year in Japan, I am going over there to my home country once again.

It's kind of a long story with us being married, but living in different countries the major part of the year. When I moved to Portland, our plan was for Kao to move here and live together, but we have not been able to get her a visa or residency, so only temporary stays were possible. We have decided instead that it would be best for me to move back to Japan. Even though I am fully Japanese, I have spent more than half my life in the US and only short stays in Japan as an adult, so moving back entirely will certainly be a challenge. I am not making the move just yet, but we will be looking for a new place to live while I'm there and if we're successful, I will make the move after I've come back to Portland.

Anyway, I am looking forward to being back in Japan for the first time since we've started this blog, so I will certainly be on the lookout for good blog material with keen eyes.

In the last post, I wrote about my new saddle and I would've liked to have given a full review before I left, but I haven't been able to go on any rides of any substantial distance, so I am not quite ready for that. However, I have been riding it daily around town for short rides and I can tell you that it feels better with each ride. I made a position adjustment after that post and brought the saddle more forward which seemed strange at first, but surprising more comfortable. Making that tiny adjustment made it seem like the handlebars were positioned differently even though they weren't. Road bike positioning is so finicky. But, I am feeling more and more comfortable with each ride. Too bad I won't be taking the bike with me to Japan. I'll have a little Dahon folding bike which isn't a bad bike for what it is, but it's definitely not a bike for speed or distance.

Next time I post, I will be in Japan. I will be there until the new year.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

more "Special" with An-Atomica

I have been calling my bike "Special K" on this blog as it is a Specialized bike and the K is for my name Kinya. But, I have to admit that it isn't really all that special. It's a gray mediocre aluminum frame road bike. I am not unhappy with it, but there are plenty of other more special bikes to be seen on the blogosphere. If I had the money to spend, I might get a custom bike or something more "special", but for the time being, I have this bike and I am going to make the most of it.

I have made a small modification to Special K which might make it a tiny bit more special than before.

It has a new saddle.

Brooks saddles seem to be the popular choice of saddles these days, but this is a Selle An-Atomica saddle and not a Brooks. I had been considering a new saddle for some time because for short rides the Specialized saddle that came with the bike is just fine, but on longer rides, it becomes more and more uncomfortable and takes away from what would otherwise be very enjoyable experience.

(the Specialized saddle, a bit scratched up)

So, I have been looking for a new saddle. The first saddle I thought of was Selle San Marco Rolls, which was the best saddle I had when I raced. I looked it up online to see how much it's going for these days and I was shocked. It's now become a "classic", but to me it seemed unreasonably expensive. I remember the first after market saddle I ever bought which was a Selle Italia Turbo and it cost only about $25. The Rolls was a bit more, but much cheaper than what it costs today. So, I couldn't bring myself to buy a Rolls for so much more than what I paid for before. Meanwhile I'd been reading raving reviews of the Selle An-Atomica over at Eco Velo. It was a different kind of saddle than what I've been used to, but it sounded just like something I was looking for. It has a big slit in the middle, but otherwise it's leather and very good looking. I also like the fact that, like good leather boots, it can last a longtime if you take care of it and it's even repairable if needed.

So, I decided to go for it and ordered one and it came yesterday. It's quite an expenditure for me, so I'm really hoping I will like it.

I put it on and rode it around town a little bit today. I made the mistake of not measuring everything I needed before I took off the old saddle, so I couldn't replicate the exact position I had before. So, I wasn't exactly comfortable on it today, but it's a lot more adjustable than most saddles with a tension bolt in the front. I need to play around with it and also it'll have to be broken in, but I really hope that it turns out to be a good investment.

This is how the bike looks with my Minnehaha Utility Pannier bag which I ride with most of the time. It has a thin leather belt strip in the center. It's a different color of leather than the saddle though. I think getting leather bar tape or tape of that color would probably make the bike look even better, but I'm going to hold off on that until the bar tape I have now is worn out or torn.

I will keep making adjustments to the saddle to dial it in and I hope I will soon write a raving review of it here.

I would like to note, I have not received any compensation or items from Selle An-Atomica nor any company for that matter. I wouldn't mind if companies gave me things that I think I can make good use of, but I don't think this blog really has enough readership yet for that to happen. Of course, if I did receive gifts, I would say so and give my honest opinion about the product.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ride to Sauvie Island

Sauvie Island

I rode to Sauvie Island this past Sunday.

Sauvie Island is the island located North of Portland where the Columbia and Willamette rivers meet. I had been thinking of riding there ever since I heard about people riding there when the Flaming Lips were in town to shoot a music video. I didn't go on that ride, but it had been in the back of my mind as a destination for a ride.

I hadn't been going on long rides as much lately and I felt like I needed a nice long ride both for the mind and the body. I got a late start though and it was around 3pm when I left. That's a pretty late start to go on a long ride this time of the year and also I wasn't so sure about my fitness, so I was prepared to cut the ride short if I felt like it was getting late or if I felt I was over extending myself.

View Larger Map

I've embedded the route map for those of you who want to ride there. It's a pretty simple route really. I was a bit anxious about the beginning part on Willamette Blvd probably as that was the part that came at the end of Bridge Pedal when I was super tired and also it's where I often encounter other people riding and I get drawn into riding faster. I didn't want to ride too fast and tire myself out before I even made it across the river. The weather was cool, but not cold and it was just right for riding, but I only saw a handful of other people riding, so I didn't get drawn into any kind of competitiveness. I think it's sort of hard wired in my brain from my competitive days to try to ride at a fast pace. I often find myself wanting a gear between 2 gears I have available; the higher gear requires more power and the lower gear feels too light. In such situation, I usually tend to ride the higher gear and push the pace, but often it's difficult to keep the effort and I wear myself out in the process. This kind of riding is good if I'm trying to ride myself into shape, but at this time of the year, I just want to ride easy and enjoy it. So, I kind of had to tell myself that it's OK to ride the low gear and not go fast. Anyway, so I rode easy and was able to make it across the St. Johns Bridge without wearing myself out.

St. Johns Bridge

After St. Johns Bridge was new territory for me. I wasn't sure about the traffic situation there, but knowing that the Flaming Lips crew rode there was reassuring. It wasn't exactly cycling heaven with enough cars whizzing by and the bike lanes being mostly quite minimal, but it wasn't too bad. It was a good bit of mostly uninterrupted riding and I eventually made it to the bridge to Sauvie Island.

Sauvie Island

I rode onto Sauvie Island, but I didn't really know anything about the place, so I didn't know what to expect. It did have a more relaxed atmosphere than the highway I just rode on and it seemed like people who drove there came mostly for recreation. There were a number of signs for pumpkins on sale. I didn't know where to go, so after a bit, I decided to stop and rest on a riverbank. It wasn't a pristine grass riverbank, but full of wild weeds. I kind of like plants growing wildly rather than plants tended to by humans. I sat there and took in what turned out to be pretty nice scenery and took a few pictures.

Sauvie Island

Sauvie Island

However, my moment of solitude was suddenly interrupted by a power boat pulling a water skier doing tricks and blasting hip-hop. It was so unexpected and I thought about how much energy and technology is involved in this form of recreation. I have experienced water skiing one Summer at a Summer camp and I recalled the experience and the sensation of it. It's quite a thrilling and fun sport as I recall it, but I can't imagine acquiring all the necessary equipment to do it. After the lovely encounter, I got back on the road and rode further into the island. I saw a sign for a park and I followed it, but it was more of a yard. I rested there anyway and ate the apple I brought and then I rode home.

I don't know if I'll ride there again, but if I did, I would like to explore the island much more. It's quite a large piece of land with a very large lake, so I'm sure it has a lot more to offer than what I saw.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seattle Trip! (guest post by APAK)

Hello Cyclebreezers!

We are Aaron + Ayumi aka. APAK! We make art together and live in lovely, green, and bike friendly Portland, Oregon, our friend Kinya asked if we’d like to guest blog about our train/bike trip and art show in Seattle, hope you enjoy it. It was really easy to take our bikes on the train and only cost $5 extra to reserve a spot for each of our bikes. It took a little less than 3 hours to get there by Amtrak and was a peaceful scenic ride.

We arrived in downtown Seattle. It would normally be only about a 20 minute ride from the station to the gallery but it was our first time in Seattle so we took a few wrong turns and went up and down some humongous hills before we got there an hour later, but it was fun to get lost and explore a little. We got to ride by the impressive Central Library by Rem Koolhaas...

The gallery is near Pike Place fish market where we ate fish sandwiches and clam chowder for lunch...

and delicious russian pastries at “Piroshky Piroshky” for dessert...

Our show was at a cute little toy shop called Schmancy. We did some paintings and felted woolen dolls.

The next day we rode the “Burke-Gilman Trail” from the University District to Golden Gardens beach in Ballard on Puget Sound. Our friend and rad artist Kinoko showed us the way. It took about an hour or so and was a scenic lovely ride.

Lots of people were out enjoying the sun and sand but not many swimmers because Puget Sound is really frickin cold....

We found a dead jelly fish washed ashore...

We really wanted to eat some of this seaweed but decided not to...

We had lots of fun biking around Seattle and it was quite easy to get around thanks to the bike lanes and map. It was the first time we’ve explored a new city by bike and now it’s our favorite way to get around while intimately experiencing a new place for the first time. We hope to bike around other cities in the future.

Thanks Aaron & Ayumi for the lovely post! I didn't know that taking a bike on Amtrak was so easy and cheap. I think I would do the same if I go to Seattle. Be sure to check out Apak's site and their Etsy shop.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Custom bike makers of Japan

After seeing the bikes at the Oregon Manifest Constructor's Design Challenge last week, my mind has been on custom built bikes quite a bit and I started looking online to see what the current state of custom frame building in Japan is like.

I found that there is an annual event called the Handmade Bicycle Fair which takes place at the Bicycle Culture Center. (read about Kao's visit there)

I looked at this page in Japanese text and followed links to check out the participating frame builders. There are about 20 different participants and it would take too long to talk about each one, so I'll write about ones that seemed the most interesting.


I don't know too much about Level, but I think they are well established with providing frames for Keirin (Japanese pro track cycling) racers. I think they are also popular with the fixie riders. I noticed a Level fixie on Candy Cranks flickr pics from their trip to Tokyo.


Hirose seems to have the widest range of bikes of all the makers with everything from children's bikes, mixte town bike to tandem touring models. Their site seems to have the most pictures as well although, they nor any of the builders are using flickr like their US counterparts, so it's hard to see the details of the bikes. Their town bikes are pretty nice and remind me of A.N.T. bikes a bit.


Cherubim is one frame builder I'd heard of before and also maybe the most popular Japanese builder in the US as well. Cherubim exhibited at the 2009 North American Handmade Bicycle Show and won 2 awards for the best track bike and President Walker's choice.This time trial bike that Cherubim showed there may actually not be competition worthy, but it is one of the most radical looking bikes I've ever seen.


Ravanello didn't show at the Handmade Bicycle Fair, but I had often come across their name in Japanese bike magazines. They seem to be more oriented with road racing rather than track racing like most other builders in Japan. They look very reminiscent of European road bikes.

Overall, I get the impression that, the custom frame building isn't quite as popular as it is here in Portland and the US. It's probably not a hip alternative line of work, but rather work that they have been been doing regardless of popularity. Their websites weren't quite informative enough for me to really get a good idea of their bikes and there were other builders who didn't have a website to begin with. What I noticed though is that the prices of frames seemed a lot cheaper than what frames go for here. Even with the current dollar yen exchange rate (yen has gotten more expensive), it still might be a bargain. And maybe there is much less of a wait as well. I read on one builder's site that a frame will be finished in 4 weeks! I had thought both the price and the wait for getting a custom frame made was too much especially here in Portland, but I'm starting to think that maybe there is a custom bike in my future. I will definitely look more into it next time I'm in Japan (end of this month). One thing to keep in mind for people who might be seriously interested in getting a frame made by one of these builders is that, I think they are used to making bikes for the Japanese, so if your physique is drastically different from that of the average Japanese person, these builders may not be quite right for you.

It seems there are more and more people riding bikes in Japan and a lot of them are buying expensive mass manufactured bikes, but I don't think most people know about custom frame building or think of it as an option when they are considering a new bike. It would be cool to see it become more popular as I think there aren't many things quite as special as a custom built bike especially for you. I've never owned one myself, so I can only imagine though. As you may know, the Japanese are quite good at making things, so if custom frame building becomes more popular in Japan, I can imagine they will take the craft and take it to the next level.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ride to Vancouver and the CRC

No, I didn't ride to Vancouver, Canada. It wouldn't be impossible, but that would take many days and quite a lot of pedaling. The Vancouver I went to is Vancouver, Washington which lies just North of Portland across the Columbia River. I'd been meaning to ride there for quite a long time ever since I saw a BTA (Bicycle Transportation Alliance) listing of a ride from Portland to Vancouver. That ride was canceled because not enough people signed up, but the idea of riding there had been in the back of my mind ever since.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

Fall has definitely arrived to Portland and so I felt it's time to take a different approach to riding. The long rides I'd been doing all Summer had been somewhat effort oriented. While I always like going to places I haven't yet been to, I tend to challenge myself with the effort involved. But now that it's cooler and I'm wearing jeans and longsleeves, riding hard and sweating under the clothes doesn't seem so appealing. So, I thought I will ride nice and slow and do more sight seeing while I'm at it. Riding to Vancouver seemed like a good idea as it is fairly close distance wise, but from what I'd gathered the way there is fairly complicated, so I wouldn't be able to ride uninterrupted. Perfect.

I looked up and found this I-5 Bridge map (pdf) online. It definitely looks a bit complicated spanning 2 pages. I studied the map and made print outs just in case.

I got underway and rode casually. I had ridden part of the way before when I rode on the Columbia Slough Trail, but this time I kept going North rather than turning onto the trail. I came to a stop sign, turned right and then proceeded to make my first wrong turn onto what turned out to be a freeway on-ramp. I realised my mistake quickly and turned around. What I thought was a street on the map turned out to be a sort of a parking lot adjacent to a park (Delta Park). After going through this lot, I got lost again and had to backtrack to find this not very visible path that lead to the bike lane on the first bridge across the river.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

This was right after the river, but as you can see it's just a continuation of the freeway and not so much a bridge. That's the I-5 (Interstate freeway) on the left. Not the most pleasant place with fast moving cars nearby, but the bike lane was plenty wide. This bridge took me to Hayden Island which is a small island on the Columbia River with big box stores that cater only to cars. The bike path ended and I had to go through the island to get to the bike path of the Interstate Bridge (That seems to be the name of the bridge as far as I can tell) I got lost a couple more times here, but the map print outs I'd brought saved me each time.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

Here's the path leading to the bridge. As you can see, it's pretty old and a bit narrow.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

and this is what the path on the bridge looks like. This is actually a picture of the other side I took on my way back, but it's quite narrow and has the beams of the bridge taking up a lot of space. You can look at the picture at the top to get the idea of the path with my bike as size reference. The bridge is pretty old and shakes quite a bit under the load of the fast interstate car traffic. I felt the path was a bit too narrow for comfort especially as I wear glasses and I think I perceive objects as being closer than they actually are. Luckily I didn't encounter a single person on a bike or on foot the entire way across the bridge, so I was able to ride across without a problem. The path is definitely not wide enough to accommodate a commuting bike traffic though.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

Anyhow, I did make it to Vancouver, to another state. I was a bit pleased I was able to ride my bike to a different state. Going to California or Idaho would be a serious undertaking, but luckily Washington is just across the river. I didn't have any plans after I got to Vancouver, so I followed the direction of the sign that pointed to downtown. I quickly came to a park and then what looked like a farmers market. I missed my neighborhood's farmers market in coming here, so I decided to take a look. There were a lot of apples and fruits, but not much fresh vegetables. I'm not sure that was because of the time of the year or if fresh vegetables was harder to sell than fruits that could be stored longer. I bought some apples and a cup of very watery coffee.

After that, I rode back in the direction of the river.

IMG_5233Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

There was a park and a trail there and from there I could see the entire Interstate Bridge. It seems to have a sort of an undulating profile.

Then I rode East on the riverfront trail where there was a beach below. There were some geese there. Canadian geese, I think.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

and further East there were some river front cafes or restaurant.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

It wasn't quite thriving, but it looked like a nice spot to drink coffee or have brunch. It makes sense to me to have business there and I think it would be nice if Portland did the same on their side of the river shore.

After that, I made my way back to Portland. I didn't get lost like I did before, but still the route was confusing. It would be great if the PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation) could work on that. Just putting up a few direction signs for starters would help.

The CRC in the title of this post refers to "Columbia River Crossing". It's the name given to the huge project that aims to improve the transportation infrastructure around this I-5 crossing of the river. It is quite a controversial project here in Portland and Vancouver. It started out as something that could accommodate not only cars, but pedestrians, bicycles and even light rail trains. I don't know every detail of the project, but it seems the latest proposed plan of the project has become a lot more car-centric (12 lanes for cars!) and much less accommodating for everything else. The BTA who had a representative on the project board pulled out as they no longer thought them being there made a difference and they decided to seek other means to deal with this issue. I've also heard that they've already spent a huge sum of tax payers money with just planning. So, you can see why the locals might be quite upset. I've seen a "Stop the CRC!" campaign booth a bunch of times at various bike related events. I think a member of the Sprockettes wears a "Stop the CRC!" arm band at their shows.

From what I saw riding the route, I think there are somethings that could be improved; more clear bike route for sure, but I think the Interstate Bridge is getting quite old and needs major makeover or built anew. A 12 lane bridge is totally unnecessary though in my opinion. I think this proposal came up because the bridges as they are now cause huge traffic congestion, but I think a huge public project such as this needs to think of its use well into the future and I think we will be driving much less than we do today 10-20 years from now. I won't go into the whole issue of Peak Oil and what will happen as the global oil production starts to decline, but I think we should be a little more conscious of how we spend our wealth and resources while we still have them.

I tried to envision the sort of infrastructure I would make if it was up to me. I think I would make super highways for bikes in between cities and along the route, there could be shops and services that cater to the bike riding people. They could offer discount for anyone who rides a bicycle thus encouraging people to ride bikes there. In the US, cities and suburbs have been built around automotive transportation and Japan has built cities and towns around the train system, but it would be cool to see town planning based on bicycles and pedestrians. I think that's been done in the Netherlands, but it would be cool to see how US or other countries do that.