Riding in Circles: a Pilgrimage to Nagoya

Facade of Circles, Nagoya, Japan

Facade of Circles, Nagoya, Japan

It’s been almost three months since my visit to Nagoya. I have been letting a lot of memories from the trip sink in deeper so that I may better process them for writing this post. I had a good time there. I need to get it on paper. It’s time…

I was over in Japan on what some may call business. It was a vacation from my regular job but I was traveling for a specific reasons completely unrelated to cycling. Japan is a great place to visit. It’s so different from the States and there’s lots of awesome stuff to see. But I had been there for a while and none of what I was doing was keeping me near a bicycle. I decided that a dedicated side trip to a particular bike shop was in order. After all, I have been following some of these shops for years now on social media, and through the travels and articles of others.

One such shop was Circles in Nagoya. I had finally been able to set aside a full day to travel from Kyoto where I was staying to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. I had a rental car and it took us about 2 hours to travel the 130 km (about 80 miles) to make the journey. Travel by car in Japan is a lot slower than here in the US. The speed limits on the highways are a lot lower (80km/h or about 50mph), and there are toll booths everywhere. The drive was beautiful but expensive. But it was a pilgrimage of sorts. After about 30 dollars’ worth of tolls, we made it to Nagoya hungry and excited.

Let me  take a moment to explain something here: For a lot of people, there are always places that they feel drawn to. For some, there are religious destinations, for others, national parks or mountains to climb. In all cases, the importance of the destination is relative to the person’s personal experience. Cycling is a lifestyle, in all the forms and disciplines that it manifests itself. For me, it’s visiting other bike shops. Whether I stumble across one, or make it a point to go, it’s a compulsion.

So we arrived in Nagoya. A few minutes of finding the shop and parking a few blocks away, we arrived at a place that, honestly, I never thought I would get to.
Before we ventured inside, I took a few pictures of the facade. As I pressed the shutter button on my phone for the tenth or twentieth time, I realized that I should eat. I didn’t want to go into Circles on an empty stomach, risking passing out from all the excitement. So we went to Early Birds Breakfast which occupies the opposite corner and adjoins Circles’ repair shop. The small cafe and Circles have a mutually beneficial relationship with both businesses promoting each other. Cyclists love for coffee and breakfast food helps too, of course. Having had nothing but Japanese food (big surprise) for two weeks, it was an easy decision to set upon some western-style breakfast food. After loading up on coffee and sausages, we went into the bike shop.

Display window of Circles, Nagoya, Japan

Display window of Circles, Nagoya, Japan

Upon first impression, Circles is like many bike shops in Japan. Specializing in road, bikepacking, adventure cycling and commuting, it is stuffed with bikes and accessories, with every corner being used to effectively draw your eye towards whatever is there. The shelving and racks are all wood and done in sort of a DIY style that makes you feel like you are in your best friend’s very well-organized garage. The atmosphere is warm and friendly. Even though the space is filled with things I have seen before, I can’t help moving from shelf to shelf, staring and taking everything in. The ceiling was crammed with all sorts of frames from Surly, Fairdale, and All-City. And that was just the bottom floor.

Circles is organized into two floors, each with a separate purpose. The street level has complete bikes, frames and components. The repair shop and most bike sales take place there. Even though it is awesome, it is the regular shop. The [place where if you were stopping in for tubes, tires, a rack, or even a complete bike. The upstairs, on the other hand, is the high-end custom shop. There you can get your premium bike builds and all the primo kit you could ever want. The ceiling in there was crammed full of Chris King Cielo frames (more than I have ever seen in one place). There, the shelves were stocked with messenger bags, bike packing supplies and winter cycling apparel.

It was upstairs that I met one of the store managers, Shige. Being the only foreigners in the shop at the time, he walked right up and greeted us in English. Unlike some other bike shops I have been to in the past, you could tell that the staffers at Circles really love bicycles. They seem to treat everyone, no matter what kind of cycling they are into, exactly the same. As I looked around, I noticed that every staff member was really into the conversations they were having with their customers. I could chalk that up to Japanese retail culture (sometimes a breath of fresh air compared to the States), but I think it was more than that. These folks really enjoyed their jobs.

Since I was a little different (my glorious mustache tends to set me apart in Asia), Shige didn’t hesitate to make me feel like I belonged. I think he genuinely wanted to know why I chose Circles as a destination as if he had no idea that this shop wasn’t at all popular. He seemed very happy that after I told him I came to Nagoya just to see his shop. Just as I was about to ask him if there was more to all of this, he suggested I stop for lunch at the Pine Fields Market in another part of the city. I paid for the only thing I could think to buy there, a Circles 10th Anniversary edition Chris King headset and we said our goodbyes to Shige and his crew.

Front of Culture Club, Nagoya, Japan

Front of Culture Club, Nagoya, Japan

We arrived at Circles’ other operation, a DIY bike shop called Culture Club. It shares a space with the market and, interestingly enough, SimWorks headquarters, which is a smaller office on the upper floor. This shop was something that I wish we had here in Santa Barbara. Imagine a space where you can get new and used bike parts to build your dream bike. It is not a warehouse full of a bunch of dirty old frames and parts. It is a well-organized bike shop where a person can get excited about building something that they could never get off the shelf. Used parts were sorted and labeled in a way that made them look new. If I wanted a 9-speed Ultegra rear derailleur, I would find it it a bin, close to the 9-speed STI shifters. The staff at Culture Club, like Circles, was very friendly and seemed very interested in the projects of their customers.

Pine Fields Market, Nagoya, Japan

Pine Fields Market, Nagoya, Japan

It was about that time where we had to leave to get back to Kyoto. Before we did, we went around the back of the shop to have a bite to eat at the Pine Fields Market. The coffee was good and the baked goods were even better. Like at the main store, these two businesses are mutually beneficial. It’s a sort of co-op atmosphere. The staff, again no surprise, was awesome. But it was winter and there were reports that it may snow. Being from Southern California, I was worried about driving back to Kyoto without snow tires on the rental car. So we left Nagoya 3 p.m. to hit the road.

The drive back was filled with my friends and I talking about nothing but bikes. There was talk of starting my own shop with a similar style to Circles. But it soon became clear that Circles couldn’t exist anywhere else. Other bikes shops can try, but it the people that work there and the customers who buy there define that shop. One cannot exist without the other. But that doesn’t mean I cannot apply some of the things I learned from my short visit should I ever try. If you want a genuinely awesome bike shop experience, I urge you to do the same and look up Circles next time you find yourself within a hundred miles of Nagoya. It’s worth the 30 bucks in highway tolls.

Surly Straggler: A Cyclocross Experiment

Surly Straggler 1x11 Ultegra to XTR via Tanpan.

Surly Straggler 1×11 Ultegra to XTR via Tanpan.

I spoke to Captain Obvious and he told me (confidentially) that cyclocross is kind of a big deal. I was loath to believe him as I usually don’t trust people with ridiculous names. But a quick look at sites like the Radavist convinced me. It’s everywhere!

Cyclocross has been around since the early 20th century. It was a niche category with niche bike builds (usually totally custom) and a little-understood reason for why anyone would want to ride a drop-bar bicycle in the mud. As it turns out, human beings, especially cyclist humans, are filthy creatures. They love getting all dirty and holding it up as a badge of honor. Remember that guy who drove his 4×4 to get groceries with his truck all covered in mud from the last time it rained? The same theory applies to cyclocross. It’s just plain rad, is what it is. There’s nothing like getting all tricked out in some amazing, colorful kit, then getting it all muddy. Entropy is awesome. As humans and cyclists, we’re damn good at it.

So in response to getting older and wanting to be more awesome, I decided to build a cyclocross bike…only build one that would get me more points in the rad department. Though not a pure cyclocross frame, the Surly Straggler seemed to fit the bill for my needs. I love steel and Surly makes some pretty nice frames with disc tabs. I decided to do a frame-up compete build from scratch, including lacing my own wheels. So strap in and get ready, I about to attempt to blow your mind…

After acquiring a mint-colored 54cm Surly Straggler frame from my shop, I set to work building the wheels. Since I wanted to get a nice colorway going, I thought lacing red anodized White Industries XMR 6-bolt disc hubs to WTB Frequency Team CX hoops would look pretty neat-o. DT Swiss 2.0/1.8 Revolution spokes? Don’t mind if I do.

Disc brakes are always fun, but I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to hydraulic disc setups. I am still not comfy with the whole bleeding and olive and barb thing. Besides, cables are easy to maintain and can be fixed in the field. So I took a look at the new Paul Components Klampers and decided that the cool factor was too high for me to ignore. After much truing of the wheel and bolting on of the discs, I had a rolling frame.

Next was the drive train: I could have gone the traditional 2-by route and got myself a Ultegra or CX-specific setup. But I wanted to go deeper. I wanted the ability to climb, race, and haul heavy loads (like myself, for instance). I chose an Ultegra-to-XTR-via-Tanpan setup. Didn’t get all that? Well I wanted STI shifters, a single chainring, and the ability to run a 40-tooth cog. The only thing I could see that works well enough is the Wolftooth Components Tanpan cable pull adjuster. Now, with a Wolftooth 39-tooth narrow-wide chanring attached to my Ultegra crankset and connected to an 11-40 cassette lovingly cradled by an XTR 11-speed derailleur, I could get as rad as I want.

Combine all this with Salsa Cowbell 2 Handlebars,  Thompson stem and seat post, Chris King Headset, Brooks Cambium C15 saddle, Raceface Atlas pedals (until I get used to the ride), and S-Works Renegade 29 x 1.8 tires, I am now ready for some serious dirt assault. It’s entropy time!

Partial build list (costs MSRP or sale in US Dollars at the time of posting). Please order from and support your LBS (local bike shop) unless link provided below:

  • Surly Straggler 54 cm frame – approx. $500.
  • WTB XMR 6-bolt disc hubs – Front: $189, rear, $379.
  • WTB 32-hole Frequency i19 Team CX rims – $79.95 x 2.
  • Shimano Ultegra 6800 Crankset – $169.99 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano Ultegra 6800 2×11 shifters – $196.49 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano XT M8000 11-speed 11-40 tooth cassette – $59.95 from Chain Reaction.
  • Shimano ICE-Tech SM-RT86 6-bolt rotors (160 mm) – $32.00 x 2
  • Paul Components Klamper short pull disc brake calipers – $175.00 x 2
  • Wolftooth Components 39-tooth Chainring for 110 BCD 4-bolt Shimano cranks – $78.95. Get direct.
  • Wolftooth Components Tanpan inline pull adjuster – $39.95. Get direct.
  • Shimano XTR M9000 Shadow Plus Medium Cage rear derailleur – $149.99 from Chain Reaction.
  • Thomson Elite X4 70mm MTB stem (31.6 clamp) – $99.99
  • Thomson Elite 27.2 seat post – $99.95
  • Chris King Red Sotto Voce 1-1/8 Threadless Headset – $149.99
  • Brooks Cambium C15 saddle – $175.00
  • S-Works Renegade 29 x 1.8 tires – $59.95 x 2
  • Salsa Cowbell 2 handlebars – $50.00
  • Salsa Lip Lock seat post clamp (30.0 clamp) – $22.00
  • Raceface Atlas pedals – $150.00

Ride it!

Stormtrooper: Surly Long Haul Trucker

Surly Long Haul Trucker Retro MTB

Surly Long Haul Trucker Retro MTB

(See gallery below for more images!)

I have what some would say would be an unhealthy obsession with steel-framed bikes. The fact that pedaling a heavier bike makes you exercise harder leaves that point moot. Recently, nostalgia got the best of me. I decided that I wanted to convert my Surly Long Haul Trucker to an all-around short-distance commuter and trail bike. The Surly Long Haul Trucker is one of those steel-framed bikes known for its strength and versatility. Indeed, anyone who buys one can take advantage of a good all-around geometry and the ability to customize the bike for almost any need. The Long Haul, or LHT, comes in two wheel sizes 26″ and 700c (in 56cm frames and above). I decided to take a look at the bike and see what I could create.

Being a rather untall fellow with shortish legs, I my Surly is 52cm frame (only available in 26″ wheels). I figured, for versatility’s sake, that this bike in 26″ would allow me the best range of customization. I could make a world tourer, a single speed commuter or a rigid trail bike. Having grown up in the 80s in Southern California, a rigid trail bike was what everyone had if they didn’t have a road bike or a beach cruiser. I can’t stand riding a beach cruiser, and since I have a Surly road-ish bike already, I opted to build myself a retro-inspired mountain bike á la 1982 Specialized.

A fiend of mine was sporting the above-mentioned Specialized with these nifty bullmoose handle bars by Nitto. I knew that Rivendell sold them but only in a threaded headset version. Since the Stormtrooper (as opposed to Stumpjumper…that’s what I am calling the LHT these days) had a threadless headset, I was at a loss. Thanks to the all-powerful Google Machine, I happened upon Fairweather which had a Surly LHT pictured with some threadless Nitto bullmoose bars! Being only around $80.00 US, I ordered the bars immediately. The next step was to re-route the shifting and braking.

Anyone who wants to get a lot of really nice aluminum components milled right here in the good ol’ USA, look no further than Paul Components. These guys make some of the nicest parts out there. Their braking components are second to none. I have their cantis on two other bikes and plan to put them on this bike as well. What I was really after was the thumbies. I took the Dura Ace bar end shifters and adapted them for use on the straight bullmoose bar and violá! Old Skool Stormtrooper in effect!

One of Surly’s most famous decals says “Fatties Fit Fine” and you will find it on the chainstays of most of their bikes. Indeed, the specs for the max tire width on the LHT according to Surly is 2.1″, although I think that a 2.25″ could be wedged in there as long as it has smaller knobs. I opted for the classic gumwalled Duro tires in 26 x 2.1. They hearken back to a time when there were only a few types of MTB tire available, and it was not uncommon to see a dude flying down the street with giant-knobbed tires buzzing like a 4×4. So these fit the bill. It already comes with a Shimano LX triple drivetrain which I left stock because retroness.

So I’m all set. I will keep you updated on the progress. I plan to install some Paul brakes and cable hangers and new pedals (undecided). Rundown of parts and costs after the gallery.

Build list:

  • Bike: 2014 Surly Long Haul Trucker – Smog Silver MSRP $1,350.00
  • Handlebars: Nitto B903 Threadless Bullmoose bars. $78.00 (buy here)
  • Brake Levers: Paul Components Canti Levers. $128.00/pair (buy here)
  • Shifting: Paul Components Thumbies. $74.00/pair (buy here)*
  • Tires: Duro Gumwall MTB, can be found on eBay for about $19.99 per tire.

*Does not include bar-end shiters. Use the stock Dura Ace that come with the LHT.

 

Hugh (and Wednesday Bike Pron Vol. 8)

Trying out a bicycle photo gallery! This is Hugh. He rolled into Santa Barbara a little while ago and I just about fell over when I saw his bike. Rivendell Bicycle Works. Well what can I say? For me, and many others, it is the ultimate in handmade bicycle nirvana. Based, headquartered and just being plain awesome in Walnut Creek, CA, Rivendell sells just about everything you would need for cycling before you die. These frames are hand built. An entire bicycle can be had with all sorts of awesome stuff like Paul Components levers and brakes, Soma tires, they even do quite a bit of 650B randonneur-style stuff. If you have the scratch, the cabbage in your pocket, the green to invest, I say do it. Look at this! It’s a daily rider and he’s hauling water and things!