*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Saturday 31 December 2011

Bicycle Winter Tires, etc.

It kind of depends on what you mean by 'winter'.  On the West Coast, you think it means rain, so I am not speaking with you; here in Tokyo it is the driest riding of the year.  I am talking about winter that gets snow, in cities where it is more or less well cleared.  In Toronto, I keep my fixed gear on its standard tires in the winter, because there are plenty of days without ice or snow.  Other days I can't keep rubber down that way, and I have experimented with all three of the following options, except the last.

Studded Tires

I don't like them.  They do what they are meant to do, but they are noisy on pavement and slow.  Also play hell on any tiles or linoleum where you might store the bike.

Wide Tires at Lower Pressure
I have had best luck with cyclocross tires at a lower than normal pressure, for more surface area.  What usually took me down on normal tires was turning the front wheel and finding no friction.  Nobs on the sides of the tires will get you some in hardpack snow, or under a thin layer of light snow, just before you go down, usually.  I prefer the centre to be about as smooth as in this picture, because you don't need more to go straight.

'Fat-Bike' Tires
Have not tried these, but so want to!  Besides needing a fat-tire specific frame, they'd be slow on the road too, but that's not what you get them for.  You want them if you live in a place like Toronto: the snow is not reliable enough to get nordic skis, the city park paths are not ploughed for regular bikes, and the roads are poorly ploughed for days at time.  Boo hoo, that ain't going to stop these tires!  Bonus: nothing can stop you summer, either.

Wait!  How many bikes is that?
You're not going to try switching tires or wheel-sets on the same bike, depending on the weather.  Tried it: too much trouble.  I won't tell you how to spend your money on how many bikes either.  I will tell you what I'd do.
- One bike: have the cyclocross tires on it, as they are most multi-purpose.
- Two bikes: that bike, and one with normal tires for dry days; or with the fat-tires if you have a lot of snow, or good trails!
- Three bikes: one each fat, cyclocross and normal!

I should credit this blog's post, for the inspiration.

Other Thoughts:

Drivetrain - I hate 'singlespeed', but love fixed.  Either saves tonnes of trouble in the winter.  On the other hand, I run derailleurs on one bike through the winter and have had little trouble with moderate care.  Forget STI shifters with warm gloves.  Old style bar-cons work fine.

Fenders - Yes, of course.  Means you can forget a frame with tight clearances, unless you want to kluge something, as I have done.  Much like this.  Done similar on my Kona Paddy Wagon, but will be buying the right bike when I go back to Toronto.

Lights - Another post, here.

Pedals - From experience, clipless pedals are only for dry days.  Days with snow and ice means you'll need to 'dab' with your feet, and quickly: studded wide platform pedals.  Some go for plastic, because it does not conduct the cold so badly.  I just wear thicker soled boots those days, with winter insoles.

Clothing - Everybody has a post on this.  I can summarize my approach: layers, wool inside, 'soft-shell' outside, neoprene shoe-covers, pay real money for gloves, and consider goggles.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

New find: Japanese urban realism (fugly)

I found a very cool Japan blog today.  I have a great blog roll in my right-hand column, and recommend a look at each item on it: with the caveat that some should not be opened at work, or by the moralistic, because I believe you're adult enough to do your own censorship, or not.  I won't say the blog is the best, or better than others, but will say it's an original.


A lot like the excellent 'Spike Japan', minus the essays: Japanese decay of the built-environment. Lots of windblown concrete, rebar, and rust.

I'm interested in real-world urbanism, and you-and-I-who've-lived-here know that is what most of what we've lived in here looks like.  Not like this.

Bite me, JNTO.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Add it to my list! (Things I can't buy, so I can feed my family).

In the spirit of a cross-bike, which can ride anything like a road; or a snow-bike, which can ride anything like a trail; how about a 'river-tour' kayak, which can paddle anything like water?  It's the Pyranha Fusion RT.
'It's a kayak', so what?  Look, when I'm back in Toronto, what do I get for a solo boat?  A sea-kayak?  Sure, but I have to drive to Georgian Bay for anything scenic, and sea-kayaking in good weather is, let's face it, much more boring and slower than sailing (if cheaper), which you can do on any water you can sea-kayak on (and carry more drink).  A canoe?  Another person's usually not worth the baggage.  A play-boat?  Rapids are fun, but what if you don't want to rabbit up and down the same riffle all weekend, but want to camp on the way?  No, this boat can go all of those places, and play in surf on Lake Ontario nearer home.

Sure, it's a shade slower than a sea-kayak and carries less, but is easier to roll and manoeuvre, and cheaper and shorter to get on your car or store.  Yes, it is not nimble enough for class 5 water... but I'm a father now, eh?  Not as good for surfing as a board, no shit, and there's no warm water in Canada, either.  How does it track?  Retractable skeg!

Monday 26 December 2011

Why isn't there a cross-bike in your future?

In the old days a road bike took fenders, wider tires and was made of steel.  The reasons had to do with poor roads and bad weather, which most of us still come across.  Road bikes nowadays are geared for racers*, and not for duffers or tourists like me.  If you want a bike to commute on, randonneur on, or tour on: you don't want a racing bike, because you can't build it well for all conditions; you don't need an overbuilt touring bike, because it will encourage you to carry too much baggage: you need a CX bike**, or something much like it.

Yes, I know you could get a hand-built bike for randonneuring, or you could get a semi-custom build-up from a good local bike shop, Rivendell or Velo-Orange or such... but who has that kind of money for each of several bikes they have.  Besides, you're not reading my advice if you are in that deep.  This is advice for people like me who want to pay the least for the most, and get a bike they won't regret paying for.  You want canti-brakes, because you can fit any tire under them, with fenders.  You want steel, because it is the cheapest way to get a comfortably riding frame.  You want geometry a touch more relaxed than a modern racing bike, but not so slow as a touring bike.  You don't want a carbon fork, because you cannot modify or attach anything to it.  You may want rack braze-ons, though I have eschewed racks for frame bags, seat bags and a handlebar bag mounted off my steerer with a strong (aluminum) accessory holder.

I prefer fixed-gear for commuting, because I do not like to have to shift in traffic, among other reasons.  Here are some options:
Fuji Feather CX
All~City Nature Boy

Sometimes you need gears after all.  Here are those options:
Gary Fisher Lane
Bianchi Volpe
Masi CX
Masi CX Uno
Salsa Casseroll (actually a rando bike)
Surly Cross Check
All~City Space Horse (also rando?)

You take any one of these bikes, strip off the chain-guard/bash-ring, throw on fenders and 28mm road tires, and you have a great all-purpose road bike.  Take off the fenders and put the cyclocross tires back on and you can race in that, if that's your idea of fun.  Use the fenders and as wide a tire as you can under them, and you have a third-world road touring bike.

For some real travel fun, you could get the Dahon Tournado, with a Richey Break Away frame, but I think it's a bit overbuilt; for about the same you could build up your own ride around a Ritchey Break Away Cross frame.  As the Break Away, or S&S coupler, premium is $500+, you have to ask yourself how many airline bicycle-baggage-fees you're likely to save.  This is not a quick folder for commuting.

*Literally over-geared, and on compact-double cranks impossible to decrease without a change-out: the easier way is a bigger cassette.  Some have a high bottom-bracket, moving your point of balance higher than you want: most don't.

No, I will not meet your friend visiting Tokyo...

... unless they are Japanese.

No, my story's not as interesting as the one in the picture, which would at least give me something to 'dine out on' for the decades I've got left.  I wouldn't even tell the story if it was not so common: Gaijin wastes my time.

A mutual friend of twenty years asks me to meet up with this compatriot when he visits here.  As a favour to her, of course, but it's not like most people are interesting, so I do not especially anticipate it.  However, he asks for some advice travelling here and there, by email, and I am glad to spend some time giving him what information and opinions I have so he can make the best of it.

This morning, Boxing Day, we were meant to meet in Shimokitazawa just before lunch, which is a fifty minute ride from where I live.  I get there; he's not.  I text him, because it's not hard for a noob to get lost in a Japanese train station, and I get a response that he's slept in, and an apology.  I have no time for apologies, giving them or receiving them.  They are something both Japanese and Canadians do more often than brush their teeth.  And as a 'lapsed Catholic', I don't believe in forgiveness... but I still believe in penance: 'Rem non spem querit amicus'*.  If I'd done it to him, I'd be telling him dinner was on my tab.  If not for his sake, but for the value of the friendship with our mutual friend.

So I can tell him all of that.  I can tell him that a Japanese person would have made the appointment hung-over or not, which he likely was.  I could point out that Japanese do not forget appointments, which is another possibility for him, and this largely endears their other compulsive behaviours.  Except, I'm never going to see this guy again, and westerners will never listen to anything that attacks the myth of their own self-importance.  He asked if we can meet later, at the end of his rambling apology.  My answer: 'no'.

I'm a married guy with a kid, been sick for two days, and not in a mood to be dicked around.  I don't know if he got the laconic answer because I couldn't be bothered (except I am writing all this...), I want to keep the mutual friend, or I'm just too tired, but better he got the short than the long answer.

*Deeds, not promises, make friendship. - Seneca
That is the full value of a year of university Latin.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Ἀντισθένης wants a 'fat bottomed' bike!

I have never had a mountain bike in my stable, and want one when I go back to Canada.  Three reasons: I had great fun renting one, the learning curve was not hard after urban fixed-gear riding; I want to be able to ride around Toronto without always fearing fuck-witted drivers; and I do not want snow-packed trails to stop me a third of the year.

Going to be hard to justify a third new bike!  You see, when I leave Japan I am going to try to sell the fixed-gear commuter, and leave the road bike for riding on family visits*, meaning I need to replace both of those in Canada (not sure of the road bike, I so distrust Ontario drivers and even more in the 'burbs and rural).  So the third (or second) bike is the off-road bike.  I'm a tall guy, and I am used to big wheels, so a 29er is it.  Also I would not go full-suspension, eschew hydraulics, prefer steel, and even prefer full rigid.  Some of that is luddite, but some of it makes sense for a winter/summer do it all machine: a fat bike.  What's that?!  You put enormous tires on a 26er, making the diameter the same as a 29er, having about half the suspension of an FS bike, but far fewer moving parts, and a tonne of float.  Goes over all but light snow, which we don't get near Toronto, and rolls over any damned trail.

In the past two years the number of fat-bike frames and complete bikes have exploded, and I will not list them all, but the cheapest/easiest options are the three series of complete bikes made by QPB:

Surly Pugsley Series

Salsa Mukluk Series

Surly Moonlander (overkill!!)

*Because the humidity's too evil to try to run for training around Tokyo in the summer.

Sunday 18 December 2011

'Peak oil': so what?

You ever heard that canard that 'peak oil' would save us from ourselves?  It won't.  No, I'm here to wipe that smug off your bike-riding face.
- climate change is real, and even if you do not believe it is (like my 'bad-faith' oil-company relative) it still makes no sense to shit in your own sandbox
- speaking of sandboxes, that's why the Albertan Canadian Government has ditched the 'Kyoto Accord', that even China's committed to
- if oil is worth more, you're going to do more and more stupid things to get it, like drill in the Russian Arctic
- there's lots of coal to burn yet, or to turn into gasoline like Britain resorted to in WWII
- humans will burn anything: even the mud under their feet when they've used up the trees.
No, there are only a few ways to get us out of destroying the only biosphere we'll ever get:
- our extinction, from which surviving species will diversify and renew a different biosphere
- our near extinction, from any of many human threats, from war to disease
- much cheaper clean fuels, and better use of water, and of land (the least likely to work)
- much more expensive use of resources by having all 'externalities' built into the price (no, this is the least likely)
It should also be said that if we did not fight wars (40% of world GDP) nor allow our rentier classes to hold most of the wealth, we'd have much less than half the problem we have now.  I know what we should burn!

The most likely scenario is the one that has faced all high-input empires: structural collapse due to resource depletion, followed by a collapse of population, followed by a millennial delay for forests and soils to rebound, followed by a repeat of the cycle.

Addendum: the Alberta scum ruining running my country into the ground have got even more stupid - they want Canadians to boycott Chiquita Bananas for boycotting tar-sand oil.  The 'astroturf' oil-industry organization behind this is called 'EthicalOil.org', of course.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Blog-splitting: 'Everybody Hates a Tourist'.

Not removing any posts from this blog, but I am going to split my output: this blog, and one better focused on cycling.  Left and right columns are still under construction.  There's nothing new on it: just the posts from this blog that have 'cycling' as a label.  That way when I comment on cycling blogs, readers don't get traumatized by coming here; and instead of posting reasonable cycling information here to get ignored, I can put it over there... to be ignored.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

A hell of a way to exercise 'sovereignty'.

Canada the first nation to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol.
 Hmmm... You think it's because 'our' government was bought and sold in Alberta?
Well done Canada, for making these two countries look classy!

China (what could the grey be?)


Friday 9 December 2011

So you think Japanese are conformist.

What makes you think your culture's not?

I came home early from a party tonight, because I was enervated by the predictability of the foreign staff, who outnumber the local Japanese. In fact, the most interesting staff were those from a certain SE Asian Catholic archipelago-nation, who try much less hard to be 'individual' and come off the better for it.

The Anglophone staff are going to talk about: how much they drank, or where they are going on vacation, or (if women) how nobody will date them in Tokyo, or how crazy the Japanese are (matter of perspective).  Not a tenth of them have an idea of their own, or even from a book rather than a TV show.

Walked out on good drink and food, and much younger women of various complexions, and am having more fun typing this.  God, I am turning into a curmudgeon.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Bike lighting, with emphasis on winter and tail lights

'Biking in a Big City' has put up a great post comparing AAA taillights.  I have comments below that post, but I'll expend on them here.  Note that all good lights now are LED, since they are bright and use little power; HID, incandescent and halogen are finished.

There are several questions that want answering about your bike lighting needs:
- urban or rural riding (city needs brighter)?
- how much night-riding are you really going to do?
- what are you willing to spend?
- what are the coldest temperatures you're going to ride in?

If you are an urban, fair-weather, short trip cyclist, your needs are simple: get a Planet Bike Turbo for the rear, and something with a white LED for the front.  The PB Turbo even shows in sunlight, so run it if your route takes you through shadow or bad drivers: that is, anywhere.  This set-up is cheap, reliable and removable: to avoid theft or to use on more than one bike.  How bright is the Turbo?  Bright!  View the pictures and video at 'Biking in a Big City' to see.

I use both PB lights shown on the post at 'Biking in a Big City' on steady for urban night riding: flash is too annoying. Also nice the two PB lights use the same mount, which is nearly the same mount that the PB Sport Spot headlight uses.  A very interchangeable system.  The Sport Spot can also be headband or helmet mounted, but it is a be-seen light, so not bright enough to light up a road.

But what are you going to do about winter, if you ride in it?  My experience matches the classic handbook, “Mountaineering, the Freedom of the Hills”: alkaline batteries crap out before 0C, and NiMH rechargeables not much later.  I have run regular batteries, NiCd and NiMH rechargeables, and lithium, down to -30C. Lithium have the best tolerance to cold, then in order of best to worst: NiMH, NiCd and regular. At -30C you can only rely on lithium for taillights, but I have had a headlight lithium power pack mounted on my frame get too cold to put out power.  Flashing also works better than steady in that cold. Perhaps because the batteries cannot put out the power for steady.  More money than lithium batteries, a dynamo, or batteries kept inside your clothing (usually a headlamp), is the best set up for winter.  A good dynamo, like the Schmidt SON shown below, or the cheaper Shimano ones, can drive about 300 lumens at speed.  Both dynamos, and keeping working batteries in pockets, are impractical for tail lights, but practical for front lights.

For randonneuring or other rural night riding, any tail light on flash should be good enough to be seen, or on steady not to dazzle other cyclists. I’d use the Turbo for randonneuring, because a pair of AAA lithium batteries would get you through the night.

Then there is Reelight.  No batteries.  A ghetto-dynamo: powered off of spoke-mounted magnets.  Only a be-seen light, but clever.  Never tried them myself.  Hmm... wonder why nobody's made a more powerful version so you could just use one of these to drive a front light, rather than have to use a dynamo hub?  Oh, they have, but even the manky 'Magtenlight' is putting out only 100 lumens.  I want triple.

*With 'HID' on this post I kept getting spam commercial comments.  Comments on this post closed because of it.  Not even about bike HID, but for cars.  Damn, design a better spam-bot, assholes.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Ignorance is 'blue-balls'.

Hey religious bigots, the 'separation of church and state' stops the state taking your gay children from homes where you victimize them, even by them having to hide their identity. It also allows you to say to them that all the accurate sex-education they get is wrong, and to try to keep your children from being sexual adolescents and to try to stop them having sex: instead leading to a higher teen pregnancy rate among American evangelicals than the rest of the American population; and higher than the lowest rate, in sex-positive Holland.  It should not allow you to fuck up the education my kid gets in school, but though politicians and the public are pussies and give in to you, it will not fuck up the education he'll get in my home.

You haven't done enough damage to my HS years you need to mess with my kid's?  Catholic girls that would let you do anything at all to them, except what would help a poor teenage boy get off?  I admit life-long issues with trusting females' coupling motives, kilts and stockings, thanks to you freaks.

Just because you've no idea how to get each other off is no reason to make the rest of us as miserable.

'SAD' Kenyan runner in Alaska

Sounds like this poor bastard got Seasonal Affective Disorder, and went out for the fateful run to help it, consciously or not.  Anyone else think it's a dumbassed idea to give a scholarship to someone from the 1st parallel at the 61st parallel?  Maybe someone should have thought about the consequences of that after his buddy committed suicide?  You wouldn't look into contributing factors?  A few lamps couldn't have hurt.

As for me, it's only my morning bike rides that gets me out of bed through the winter, at the 43rd and 35th parallels.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Japan: wise the fuck up.

So little has changed since I first visited Japan in '93, except it's shabbier.  I like the place, but fuck...
My brother tried to shop for a gift for the hybrid using Amazon Japan's and Rakuten's English pages, on my following advice:
You can use Amazon Japan, or the J. equivalent: Rakuten. Both have English websites, though they do tend to give you a J. page before billing.
Which prompted the reply I expected:
So, we looked at Amazon and Rakuten, in a vain attempt to buy him something locally, but gave up quickly...
To which I answered:
I don't know what it is with Japan's English customer service and marketing... They mean well, but have the wrong people at the front desk, or IT. The fluent staff member who was abroad in school or university is never put there, instead someone who took some English classes within Japan. Little better in twenty years. Why should they have a seamless English website for Amazon or Rakuten? It's only millions of dollars lost when people sign out in frustration. It's not like English is the international default language...
But if you want to hear me go on how lame Japan is at ESL, for its economic status, look at those links in this sentence.  Too bad they have not realized twenty years after 'The Bubble' that: those days are never coming back, and nobody will do business on your peculiar terms anymore.

This post is about what has not changed in the eighteen years since I first came:
- The status of women is still the worst in modern nations, apart from Korea (but they do everything like Japan, a few decades later).  Not like Japanese women take it anymore, nor will they rebel openly: instead they screw foreigners or nobody at all (see marriage and birth rates).  We wouldn't want to accuse Japanese society of passive-aggression, of course.
- Pedestrians still can't walk.  How can a whole society not know how to walk?!  How do they even get to work doddering around in shoes sized for an older sibling?  You're not going to grow into them, at fifty.
- Middle aged men still care more about their cars than their daughter's virtue.  I've seen Japanese men go apeshit after cutting me off, when I punched a body panel.  Found inside their daughter's wet groin?  They'd just leave the room or take video.
- More subway lines in Tokyo; no more room than before.  Despite a job shortage.  Don't understand this.  Are people dressing for work and riding aimlessly?
- Absurd real estate prices have still not collapsed enough from 'The Bubble'.  Business centre or not, given the size, shite economy and (lack of) quality, prices should be lower than even a third-tier city like Toronto.
- Domestic hotels cannot get their act together for native or foreign guests, even after half of them have gone bankrupt since 'The Bubble', as it is a better deal to go to Hawaii, Whistler or Guam.  Pricing per person?  Still?
- Still cannot get a decent breakfast (read British or American), even in a proper hotel.
- Still surprised that non-Japanese can speak it.  Even if they have lived here a decade.  Even if they speak it as poorly as me.  Even though they watch 'pet-Gaijin' on TV every night.
- Still hire from 'elite universities'.  Even though all Japanese know nobody studies at university, and the only way to give up life enough to get in is be autistic.  Even though no research comes out of Japan unless it is related to sex-bots.  Even though the rest of the world is kicking your ass.
- Spend a fortune on the sex trade, but no time on how to date each other.  It's not hard to make a Japanese girlfriend happy (a wife on the other hand...).
- Men still look like girls, and yet are homophobic.

I could do this all day.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Masao Yoshida, stone-cold hero.

The head of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant... told workers to disregard Tepco's order to stop injecting seawater into a reactor soon after the crisis erupted in March [saving Japan's ass!], according to government and other sources.
Read the rest here.

PM Kan admitted in an interview that the discussion about a full evacuation of Tokyo had begun.  Yoshida and the Tokyo Hyper Rescue Squad (with balls that big, you can call yourself whatever the fuck you want!) made this avoidable.  Tokyo is Japan: the rest are regions.  The rest can be nice, but government, business, entertainment... all of it is centred in Tokyo.  After a two-decade recession this country could not have picked itself up after that kind of a beat down.  Japan would have a N.Korean economy, because everyone with options would get out, leaving only the monolingual and ancient.

Here's the subtext:
- most Japanese cannot crisis-manage even if their own life is on the line (Fukushima, not changing their codes or tactics for all of WWII...)
- Japan elevates the most studied, not the most capable
- there is no sense of civic-responsibility individually, corporately, or in bureaucracies
- the power company did not communicate accurately to the bureaucracy, which did not communicate accurately to the Prime Minister's Office
- the power company was willing to put all of Tohoku and Kanto (Tokyo) at risk to try to save one plant already near the end of its working life, already damaged beyond repair
- none of the brass were on sight, at risk, or to asses the situation
- the power company CEO was missing for the first several days of the crisis
- personal connections are how anything gets done (Yoshida was a graduate of the same university as then PM Kan)
- the power company is all over the place about what kind of radiation sickness he has
- the tool in charge of the power company's nuclear plants is taking over for Yoshida instead of gouging out his own eyes

Yoshida stood against all of that and did the right thing.  Whether or not his illness is related to radiation, there is no reward large enough.  In jest, Socrates wanted Athens to pay for his meals.  I'd be happy for my taxes to go towards a sinecure for him, and every single member of his family, for a few generations.  After all, how many centuries would it have taken for ten prefectures to become inhabitable again?

Favourite Posts

I'd be flattered if readers would look at my favourite posts, 'Read my best', in the left column.  Most recent are at the top, but the earlier ones at the bottom have had the fewest readers, from when this blog had an even smaller following than now.  I'll be adding more to this later, with more recent at the top once more.