New Wheels

K and I have a pair of matching six speed bicycles. I bought mine first in 2005 and some months later, got a second one so we could take rides together. They worked well until February 2007, when the spokes started breaking. As the problem progressed, I was able to move some spokes around and use a spoke wrench to "tune" the wheels and keep them straight with fewer and fewer spokes. Finally, too many were gone and I had to put the bikes in storage. I have new stainless spokes to install now, but that will take some time, which I haven't had in abundance since we took up sailing. I will get those bikes back in order, since we have a pair of them and its fun to ride together.

Meanwhile, in January of 2008, I bought a Yamaha hybrid-electric bicycle which has been a good work horse for carrying loads of groceries, garden supplies, etc. from town some 12 km away. It became my main means of transportation, which is not what I intended. I do have one problem with it , which is that although one has to peddle - it isn't an all electric bike - it doesn't make me work hard enough. As a result I have gotten further out of shape since owning it. (I can't blame the bike for that entirely, but it certainly played a part). Since starting a new diet/exercise program I have lost about 5 lbs. As my main means of transport is the bicycle, a new bike is also in order. One which will give me more exercise and hopefully address some of the shortcomings of the six speed.

All along I have been looking for an ideal bike. The six speed has good points for my use - fenders to keep me clean and dry, rack for carrying items, and seat and handlebars that offer a comfortable heads up posture - .ie. a good city bike.

The drawbacks, aside from lousy spokes, are that it is heavy - about 35 lbs - and has a narrow gear range that limit speed and hill climbing ability. Not surprising in a city bike, which normally would be used for short commutes and errands. I do ride in the city, but I also ride ten to twelve kilometers to and from the city and sometimes up some fairly steep hills.

I didn't need a road bike either. I wanted a combination of the two. Fenders, rack, and comfortable posture, but lightweight and with a wide gear range. No one seemed to offer such a machine - until recently.

My new wheels are built by Raleigh (founded 1885 in Nottingham, England). This model, the Club Sport, is only offered in Japan. Nowadays, Raleigh bikes are no longer made in the UK - mine was built in Taiwan - but they are a very good quality machine with Brooks saddle (established 1866 and still made in England) Shimano gears, Shimano Altus shifter, Shimano brakes, Sugino aluminum crank, and Araya aluminum rims. The wheels are quick release type, which is handy if I need to repair a flat or want to put the bike in the back of the Honda Insight.

It features a nostalgic look that I like a lot, down to the old style pin striping and logos on the frame. It has my required fenders, kick stand, small front rack and a very comfortable handlebars with a posture that is in between the low drag head down road bike and the upright city bike.

As for the gears - it has 21 speeds with a much broader range than the old bike. The shifters are on the handlebars and very easy to use with clearly marked position indicators.

The weight is not as light as I would like in my dreams, but I'm sure a much lighter bike would cost a whole lot more money. Still, it is 5 lbs lighter than the old one.

I've added a Cateye speedometer, Cateye (ultra bright) tail light, and a headlight. I may add a small handlebar bag for such things as my camera if I can find one that both looks good and is affordable. For carrying items, the small rack on the front works OK, but most things will go in a backpack. [For major loads, I will still use the Yamaha which has a big rear rack, panniers, and front basket.]

I've only had the Raleigh for a week now, but so far I'm very happy with it.

Be safe out there. Happy bicycling.


Catch of the Day

Spectacular photos from National Geographic -Sperm Whales Feeding On Giant Squid

Five adults and one calf feeding on giant squid photographed by Tony Wu. He said, "It seemed as if the adult whales were trying to teach the baby to dive and also to eat squid."

Female sperm whale munches on 9 meter (30 foot) giant squid while calf swims close at her side.

The pictures were taken off of Japan's Bonin Islands - known here as the Ogasawara Group - which lie about 1000 km south of Tokyo.

Full article and more pics here: National Geographic


These Are The Times That Dry Men's Soles

Where were we last? Ah, yes. I was dissing the meteorologists at the Japan Meteorological Agency.

In the morning, the weather presenters on tee-vee were still predicting thundershowers, but looking out our window we saw a gray sky over a still lake. Ha! I knew it.

A dozen or more people were standing off shore casting fishing lines. Net fishermen were checking their nets. The air was still.

We met up in the dining room for breakfast - a buffet of Japanese and western style foods - and discussed our plans for the day. As the wind wasn't blowing and the hour still early, we walked along the shore for a bit.

After walking off breakfast, we checked out of the inn and headed for the harbor. As we set up the boat, the wind started to increase a tiny bit, but only to about 4 mph. We'd had a good breeze the day before, so this was OK . The main thing was, it wasn't raining. I assured Martin that it would not rain as he had no dry pants to change into now and needed to keep them that way for his long trip home in the afternoon. As we shoved off I felt something. Was that a raindrop? Nah! It wasn't going to rain.

We enjoyed the relatively placid water and leisurely pace. Still, there was enough wind to keep us moving along. It gave Martin a chance to see what it's like in calmer wind and take in more of the scenery.

There were fish jumping out of the water here and there. Suddenly, a small one of about 15 cm/6 inches in length, popped out of the water, flew right past Martin and landed inside the centerboard well! We could peer down and see it wiggling around, but had no way to reach it. By the time we docked it had escaped out the bottom. Wow. First fish caught aboard Bluesette! Congratulations, Martin. Sorry it got away.

After a time, Martin asked to have a go at the tiller. He had been in boats before, but not a sailing dinghy. We changed places and he took over helming while I handled the port jib sheet and main.

It's always tricky at first, learning to handle the tiller. Martin was surprised at how responsive the boat is and also how much one has to work at it. The wind came up a bit and we tried tacking a few times.

It was new experience to me in Bluesette to be handling the jib and not the tiller. Martin noticed the look on my face as I reoriented myself to the new position in the boat. It did seem strange.

Then, when coming about, Martin changed sides too quickly and we rolled precipitously. I popped the mainsheet from its cleat and things steadied down. My bad for not doing a better job at briefing the crew. We changed places again.

K pointed out some very dark clouds to the East and shortly we heard a rumble of thunder. And then - the rain began. As we had agreed ahead of time, we immediately headed for the harbor, which was downwind from our position. The cloud followed us, however, and soon was emptying its moisture on Bluesette. So much for staying dry. The weather bureau's revenge was at hand.

(do click on these two to see the rain on the water and the boat and us) ...
Martin did his best to shrug it off (like a true Viking)

K didn't look at all amused - was it something I said? Perhaps it was raining lemon juice?

Ah, well. Showers and dry clothes would fix this. (except for Martin, who now had nothing dry to change into). What to do... I recalled seeing a new laundromat that we passed on the route that leads home and which wasn't too far out of way. So we went there and in a matter of minutes Martin had dry pants. Never a dull moment when you sail on Bluesette!

Time for lunch...

With Martin's interest in food issues - like food security (Japan only grows 40% of it's own caloric intake), food safety and sustainability - we had been wanting to take him to a farm association run market and restaurant we discovered about four years ago called JA Ibaraki Pocket Farm Doki Doki Restaurant. K set the Insight's navi computer for "shortest route" to get to the restaurant. We were soon driving down very narrow, winding roads through farms. At one point a delivery truck pulled out ahead of us, but thankfully he was heading the same direction. Maybe we'll stick to the main road next time.

They feature locally grown produce and meats both in the market and the restaurant. The latter is an all you can eat affair. The building has a high open beamed dining room set in a forest with large picture windows to bring the outside in.

I took this picture on a previous visit to Doki Doki.

The food is displayed on a large wooden, two tiered table. Often, the dishes are labeled with a small sign with a picture of the farmer who provided the ingredients and a blurb from the chef who prepared it. The food is all very fresh as the amount of each dish put out is relatively small, so replaced often with a fresh batch or a different dish altogether. There are no chemical additives in the foods. The selection is amazing. You can read Martin's impressions here: Five Stars For The JA Ibaraki Pocket Farm Doki Doki Restaurant.

After lunch and a visit to the market there, it was time to move on. We were heading in the general direction of the bus terminal, but there was another stop we wished to make along the way.

Both Martin and I have some background in Buddhism, albeit different sects. There is a temple in rural part of Hokota City which is little known outside the area, but of some historical significance, so that was our next stop.

Muryouju-ji (ji means temple) is on a hill overlooking a valley of rice fields. The gate is a the top of a long flight of steps (pant pant wheeze).

Muryouju-ji was founded in 806 and later renovated by the monk, Shinran Shonin, who lived there for three years starting in 1221. Shinran was the founder of the Jodo Shinshu (true pure land) sect of Buddhism - presently the largest sect in Japan. (It is known in the USA as Hongwanji and Buddhist Church of America). The worship hall was replaced in the early 1600s with the building one sees today.

The bell tower was built around 725 and is rung 108 times on New Years eve. K gave it a go.

On a previous visit, the temple hall itself was closed. It underwent a complete renovation starting in 2000, which took four years. This day, we were lucky and the hall was open and we went inside. A woman joined us - possibly the minister's wife - and lit a candle for us so that we could offer incense. She also told some things about the temple and its unusually elaborate decor and some of the history of the sect.

Altar with a statue of Amida Buddha. The carved panels above - some brightly painted and others gold plated - were made by the same artist who made the carvings for the famous Toshogu Shrine in Nikko in 1617.

A protective dragon greets one at the entrance.

Recent renovations included a new thatched roof.

The tall tree is a ginko, which may have been planted by Shinran Shonin himself as it is over 700 years old. To the right is a stone "Domae" - treasure house.

Then it was time to repel the Viking invader take Martin to the bus terminal for his long journey home - happily, attired in dry clothing. We'll do it again. Next time, just for kicks, in sunny weather!