Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To Single, Dingle, Twingle, or...?

Single Speed owners who want gearing options that don't require a derailleur may choose to "dingle" (or is it "twingle"?).

Dingling involves riding two rear wheels, necessitating a front fork wide enough to accomodate the second rear- the Salsa Fargo V2 fork, for instance.

Then there's the Shimano Alfine internally- geared hub, available as an 8 or 11-speed, thumb-shifter and cable the only requirements. The Alfine's a bit hefty, weighing in at over 1.6 kg for the 8 (1.7 for the 11), but aren't 8 (or 11) gears better than 1, particularly in an event such as the Tour Divide, with its significant elevation changes, long, flat stretches, and so on?

Such a question naturally elicits nearly as many views as there are riders. See here, too, for Tour Divide finisher Cjell Money's views on the relative merits of singling and dingling (though not Alfingling). His blog is all over the course, so the relevant sections may be a little hard to locate, but a peruse of the whole post provides no little entertainment. 

Of course, the above modifications come at the cost of simplicityand weight and produce a machine that ceases to be single-speed.

At present I am disposed to leaving the dingling and Alfingling to others. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Shumatsu Cycling, Vol. 1

Mountains of the Echigo Range seen in the distance.

Sheaves of rice drying.

Persimmon ripening.  Remember when golf driver heads were made from the wood?  I'm no botanist, but I believe the yellow flowers are goldenrod.

A taiko drummaker's workshop. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shumatsu Cycling, Vol. 1

My son's baseball team lost its game against the Shibata school, a disappointing but not wholly surprising result, as the opponents attend a school that has represented Niigata  prefecture at the national baseball championships a total of 7 times and are at present managed by an intimidating individual in whom the samurai spirit, or bushido, is very much alive.

The defeat failed to dampen my spirits for long, however, for there awaited me a glorious afternoon of cycling, forming the second chapter of shumatsu cycling.

Some curious sights were in store on the way out of town:


and this.


From Shibata I cycled in the direction of Murasugi, a spa village that will be the destination of a bike shop ride planned for Nov. 2,  to do a bit of recce into eating establishments in the area. The route hugs the base of mountains 800 meters at their highest, the terrain presenting no climbs unmanageable on a 32x13 set-up.

Murasugi has been a hot spring destination for over 1200 years.  The village council might want to consider replacing the welcome sign.

Chouseikan-. the exterior view doesn't do it justice. See here for stunning photos taken inside.

Refreshing spring water to refill the Platypus.

Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar) line the entrance to Kansuiro Spa.

Shumatsu (Weekend) Cycling, Vol. 1

On a recent Sunday I set off for Shibata (新発田市), a city some 30k northeast of Niigata (新潟市) in the Kaetsu region of the prefecture. My son's high school baseball team had a game there against a local school, and as I rarely pass on an opportunity to visit this quaint locale,  I was doubly glad, trebly in fact, for the weather was glorious, surely one of the last (the last?) mild days in Niigata this year before the onset of winter.


Shibata was a castle town during the Edo era (1603-1867), and the city has done a fine job of restoring the structure, completing the project in 2004. The original 60,000 stone castle was built in 1654 but was destroyed by fire a few years later.  In its present form the castle dates to 1679.    

Castle towns throughout the country tended to act as centers of culture, usually imitating Japan's greatest such center, Kyoto. Thus it is that one will often find such towns dotted with temples and imposing residential compounds. An example of the latter, Shimizu-en, is shown below.

Shimizu-en was comlpeted in 1693 and has been designated a National Cultural Treasure.  The above building, unique in Japan for its combination of purpose and architectural style, was a kind of dormitory for low-ranking warriors who received instruction in the way of the samurai, or bushido, while in residence.

High-ranking samurai lived in detached houses, of which that below is an example.

Hokoji, a temple about 400 years old, is one of several in the area in Shibata known as teramachi, or "temple district".

The visitor's center just up the street was definitely worth a stop.


  Especially nice was the selection of locally-grown veg, the succulent asparagus in particular, as I
  discovered that evening.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Oct 5 Day bike packing tour

Hi Everybody

Don here with a report on my 5 day bike packing tour, I just arrived back in Niigata City last night at 5.30pm after 5 days on the road exploring Niigata & Fukushima. In total I did about 433km over the 5 days, that may not sound like that much but considering the roads I traveled over and the altitude gained  they were some of the hardest days I have ever done touring in my life. To make it even tougher all that was done on a 2013 Kona Unit single speed 29 inch MTB , fully loaded with bike packing bags. The last day was the longest with a run from the city of Aizu Wakumatsu via Kitakata and back into Niigata city which took 11 hours of almost non stop cycling with a total distance of 153km !. If you want to check out my full 5 day report head over to my blog at

Pictured in this post are a few photos taken along the route

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bike Parking

My curent school has quite an impressive parking garage for bikes, split-level, enclosed on 3 sides.


Mama-chari Drivetrains

In addition to chain-driven mama-chari (Japanese general commuter and town bikes), there are belt and shaft-powered models, as shown below.  Interestingly, Tour Divide 2012 overall winner, Kiwi Ollie Whalley, rode a Gates carbon belt equipped bike to victory.


Biking to School in Japan

Nearly all of the 730 students at my school commute by bike.  They ride a standard Japanese bicycle colloquially called a mama-chari.

The machine comes fitted with a basket, fenders, the mandatory front headlight (in this case a dynamo-powered model with a low-light sensor), and lock (fixed to the seatstays and visible just above the helmet. This model, by Panasonic (yes, the electronics maker), is belt-driven with a 3-speed Shimano Nexus hub. A very practical bike.  Junior high students who ride to school are required to wear a helmet, unlike high schoolers.   

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Path Less Pedaled

The good folks at have done an impressive job of promoting and advocating cycling, particularly in the state of Oregon which, with their help (and that of many others), has launched the Oregon Scenic Bikeways program, the first of its kind in the US. It's inspiring to see cyclists, local residents, and elected officials teaming up on this project, one with so many benefits and no downside. 

I live in Japan, where millions pedal to work, to school, to the supermarket- where, in short, for many people, and for various reasons, the bicycle is the preferred method of transport.  But as regards bicycle advocacy and cycling infrastructure, Japan is still riding with training wheels. We are woefully behind in the creation of cycle lanes and paths, for instance. Further, I can attest that the attitude of not a few Japanese motorists towards cyclists is "force 'em off the streets"; no "share the road" campaign has been held in Niigata City (pop. 800,000) in the 14 years I've lived here.    


Blue Mountain Century Scenic Bikeway

A nice video from the Oregon Scenic Bikeways series.