New arrival: Kuroko

Bombtrack Audax - Kuroko

My new baby arrived, and we had our first shake-down ride today. Kuroko, a Bombtrack Audax, is quite a change from Ol’ Paint and is going to take some adjusting, but I’m seriously in love.

We spent more time than I’d thought necessary at the bike shop, but the service was excellent. They moved the pedals from Ol’ Paint to the new mount for me, went over operation and maintenance tips, adjusted the saddle height, and helped me inspect for scratches or chips in the paint. (There were none.) Added the police registration tag. And spent some time working with the bottle cages to get two bottles to fit — the main triangle is rather smaller than Ol’ Paint’s, which is apparent when they’re side by side.

Kuroko at the shop
Kuroko at the shop

(Calling her “Kuroko” is a bit of a laugh as she’s gloss black with accents of grey and orange, while Ol’ Paint is matte black everywhere — everywhere she isn’t rust … )

Kuroko shake-down
Kuroko shake-down

The drop handlebars are a very welcome change. We only did 20km today (in part because it took two hours to get out of the bike shop), but I didn’t have even a hint of the finger numbness I get with Ol’ Paint. I did stop for a rest after 10km, but after gulping down some water I was fine. I didn’t feel I needed the stop.

How about the ride? I’m more bent over, like I used to ride when I was a younger man, and I need to get used to it again. But she pedals faster than Ol’ Paint, almost effortlessly. The gear spacing is closer, which adds to the impression. And she’s a lot more responsive. If I fail to shift down before stopping and then need to power back up to speed, Kuroko comes along willingly and I’m soon back on top of the gear without feeling I’ve done myself in. And when I’m coasting, there’s that excellent heavy metal ratcheting sound from the freewheel.

Zojoji and Tokyo Tower
Zojoji and Tokyo Tower

She’s much happier to climb, too. There was one brutal incline on the way home, a hill I usually avoid, and I rose smoothly to the top with a couple of gears in reserve. I may need to swap the cassette for one with bigger cogs on the low end before we go on a loaded tour. Meanwhile, I’ve got a month to decide if I can do the Tour de Tohoku with the existing gearing.

The tires are large — bulbous. I’ve been reading reviews about how comfortable they are, and this was borne out in today’s ride. Together with the drop bars, they should allow me to ride farther without have to stop and rest my hands. I had questions about the performance of such larger tires, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue. In every regard — accelerating, climbing and flat-out straights — Kuroko is a better performer than Ol’ Paint ever was. As evidence, Mr Garmin tells me I hit 50km/h on a downhill today, and I was holding it back because of the traffic. Ol’ Paint would top out at about 45 and feel less stable above 40 than Kuroko was at 50.

Kuroko at Meiji Jingu Gaien
Kuroko at Meiji Jingu Gaien

Now I can’t wait to get out and put Kuroko through her paces!

Farewell, Ol’ Paint

Ol' Paint at Chidorigafuchi

Today I braved 35C heat and put in nearly 60km in what is probably my last ride on Ol’ Paint, my faithful steed of the last nine years.

I bought Ol’ Paint, a Marin Muirwoods, at a shop near my office in 2009. When I bought her, she’d been on display there for a year or more. I’d had my eye on her that whole time. I knew she was my size. And my assumption then was that most of my riding would be my daily commute (then about 5km one-way, now 12.5km).

Ol' Paint at the Imperial Palace
Ol’ Paint at the Imperial Palace

About that I was wrong. It didn’t take long until I was regularly riding up and down the Tamagawa cycling path every weekend. It did take a while for me to explore that route to both ends (which I do regularly now) and even longer before I branched out on other rides: to Yokohama, to Tokyo Disneyland on the Arakawa cycling path, and around the center of Tokyo to see various landmarks.

Ol’ Paint has been a faithful companion for all those rides. And yet, she’s optimised for the original purpose I’d bought her for: city commuting. On longer tours, I suffer from hand numbness as a result of the flat handlebars (and my weight). And that’s the reason I’m saying goodbye now.

Farewell route: Tokyo Landmarks
Not shown: Additional 3 hours of rest

I thought a while about what to do for the farewell ride. Last night I was completely convinced I’d do the entire Tamagawa cycling course round trip (about 140km). This morning as I was preparing for the ride and considering the heat, I decided to do a more realistic spin around the Tokyo Landmarks. It’s a ride we’ve enjoyed together many times, and I knew there were several spots where I could rest out of the sun and enjoy rice balls provided by Nana.

As it is, the heat nearly got the best of me. I pushed Ol’ Paint up the Kudanzaka, which I have always in the past cycled up, to come to a rest by Budokan and Chidorigafuchi. It was all I could do to stand. I’m glad to say I still had two of Nana’s rice balls, and I sat in the shade to eat them. I followed that with a stop at a convenience store to purchase a liter of bottled water. Thus refreshed, I had the energy to complete the ride and make a triumphal return home.

Farewell, Ol’ Paint

Wimped out

I made a cycling date today with a goal of 100km in mind, but as I was leaving home for the rendezvous, I got a message from my cycling buddy: Flat tire! “Too bad,” I wrote back. “We’ll have a great ride next time.”

I was still determined to get in the 100km ride, despite the heat. From the start I felt I didn’t have my legs — probably a combination of the heat, a bit of wind, and the fact I’m a lazy slug and haven’t been on the bike in two weeks.

Hot summer ride
Hot summer ride

Despite the feeling in my thighs, and knowing that I was a gear lower in many places than usual, I was surprised to see Mr Garmin reporting that, if anything, I was going a bit faster than usual. I determined to grasp objective reality and soldiered on.

When I stopped to rest, I was sweating like a pig. Given the high today of 34C, that’s a good thing. I drank plenty of water. Took off my shoes to stretch my toes. Checked in with Nana to let her know I hadn’t been run over. I took a nice long break and finished off a half liter of water before setting out again.

Just as I was preparing to depart, another cyclist came along and sat on the bench beside me. “Hot, isn’t it?” I said. He grunted in reply, a bit surprised I’d addressed him in Japanese. I put on my shoes, my shades, my mask and bandana, and finally the helmet. I pushed Ol’ Paint back onto the pavement and mounted up.

And right away, I knew something was wrong. Pain in my right knee, and more than a little of it. It felt like a charlie horse, on the inside of the knee and a bit above the joint. I pushed with the left and tried not to push with the right as I followed through. It was such an odd thing — I hadn’t had a bit of pain before the rest, and I certainly didn’t twist my knee while I was resting.

I continued on, concentrating power in my left leg (which is the stronger one, anyway), and after some way the pain in the right eased up. I was able to put some power on the right, and I felt I could keep on going.

But it would come back. Every time I had to stop for a traffic light, or slow for speed bumps or pedestrians on the path, I’d feel the same charlie horse above the right knee as I tried to accelerate back to my normal speed. Worrisome. I’ve got a torn meniscus in that knee, diagnosed several years ago, and this was something different. But still I knew that I shouldn’t just ignore the pain.

As this was going on, I was stopping to rest every 5km-8km. Much more frequently than usual as I try to make it at least 10km before a break. But I had numbness in my hands and my toes, and I needed to drink — a lot! At these temperatures and in strong sunlight, I’m well aware that the biggest danger is not that of my thighs blowing up.

Finally, I stopped at the 30km mark and ate some rice balls. Nana had whipped up an enormous batch, meant to feed both me and my riding buddy. I found I was ravenous — not a surprise as it was more than 5 hours after breakfast by this point. I sat on a park bench out of the sun and drank water and devoured rice ball after rice ball (nicely kept warm in my black bag by the hot sun).

Rice ball by Nana
Rice ball by Nana

I took stock of my situation: I had a slight headache, and there was definitely something up with my knee. I was fighting the heat, but I was pretty confident I was OK with that so long as I didn’t over-exert myself. (I’ve done more than 100km at these temperatures before.) But, putting it all together (and not having a riding buddy to disappoint), I decided it was best to turn back. Same routine with the mask and bandana, etc., and then I was on the road.

Surprisingly, I felt fresher and faster the moment I’d decided to return home (although, yes, I went through the same warm-up with the tender knee for the first few kilometers). I’d let Nana know I was on the way back, and the next time I stopped to rest my hands and refill my water bottles, she’d responded, “Already?” (I hadn’t told her about the knee and the headache, because I didn’t want her to worry.)

Someone else's dream bike at the rest stop
Someone else’s dream bike at the rest stop

I was deliberately taking it easy on the way home, and yet Mr Garmin continued to report that I was beating my usual target of 15 minutes/5km (which means 20km/hour). In particular on the lead-up to the bridge over Tamagawa, and continuing halfway across the arch, I was on the smallest chainring. It’s true that I might have had some assistance from the wind at this point: I was just concentrating on making it to the next rest area before the numbness in my fingers and toes dictated a stop.

In the end, I made it home in one piece. I was definitely in a lower gear than usual whenever force on the pedals was required. I took an extra lap around the apartment tower at the end to bring it up to an even 60km, and then brought Ol’ Paint down the ramp to the parking area. I texted Nana that I was home as I gasped for breath and … sweated.

In the end, I maintained better than 15 minutes/5km for every segment except for the climb where I turn off the river path and ascend back up into traffic. My usual pace, overall, despite the knee pain. After I showered up, Nana and I went to the drug store and bought an anti-inflammatory (the same one prescribed by the knee doc).

And meanwhile, my riding buddy was able to get the tire to keep some air. But she’s agreed to have the thing professionally serviced in preparation for the next outing.

Closing in on Krasnoyarsk

Jenny having a puncture fixed

Jenny Graham is more than halfway across Asia and closing in on 4,000 miles (currently 6,400km), as well as Krasnoyarsk. She’s suffered 8 punctures to date, but is still smiling.

Jenny set out on 16 June to attempt to set a women’s record of 110 days around the world, unsupported. She’s crossed five time zones already, and is in the process of conquering her eighth country, probably seeing more of Russia in the process then I’m ever likely to. Next on the list is Mongolia, after a swing around the southern horn of Lake Baikal.

Follow Jenny’s astounding progress on Track Leaders.


Vedangi, who hopes to one-up Jenny with an around-the-world effort of 100 days, is having visa trouble with (of all places) Canada. We wish her the best as we really want to see her make this effort! Plus we can’t wait to see photos of that ISEN All Seasons Bike in action!

Meanwhile meanwhile, Jasmijn Muller, Duracell Bunny on a Bike, has accepted the inexorable and put off her attempt on the women’s lejog record until more favorable weather, probably in September.

Game on for Tour de Tohoku!

Tour de Tohoku jersey

I got my mail confirmation for the Tour de Tohoku. I’m ecstatic! I never win lotteries.

Lots to do now. Need to book the hotel: Nana and her mother are coming along for the trip, although I couldn’t talk Nana into working as a volunteer on the route (much less joining me). I also need to figure out how to transport the bike up and back (as well as which bike — watch this space!).

(I have until Sunday to confirm my spot and order the jersey.)