A couple of discoveries

Splitting the chain

Following up on yesterday’s crankset replacement, I knew that I had to remove some chain links before going any further. In the process, I made a couple of discoveries.

Pulleys can't take up the slack
Pulleys can’t take up the slack

Because the new chainrings are four teeth smaller than the ones they replaced, that means the chain had four extra links. This showed in the rear derailleur, which wasn’t able to take up the extra slack when it was on the smallest cogs. In fact, the chain was rubbing against the wrong side of the pulleys. I was aware of the need to shorten the chain as part of the process, so I had the necessary tool and connecting pin on hand to shorten the chain.

Breaking and then connecting the chain
Breaking and then connecting the chain

First I had to push out two pins, removing four links. Then I used the same tool from the opposite direction to press in the new connecting link. Finally, with the jaws of the tool I snapped off the pilot portion of the connecting link. And that’s all there was to it.

Derailleur is happy with a shorter chain
Derailleur is happy with a shorter chain

Discovery No. 1: loose wheel

In order to get clearance for the chain tool, I had to remove the rear wheel. And that’s when I discovered it was already loose. That would account for what I thought was a brake centering problem. I’m not sure when or how this would have happened — the last time I had the wheel off was on the return from Kyoto – Nara – Osaka, and I’ve ridden the bike a lot since then with no sign the wheel was loose. I’m wondering now if someone has been monkeying with my bike in the garage of the condo, so it’s something that bears watching.

In any event, when I put the wheel back on I made sure the thruaxle was screwed in tightly, and then I readjusted the brake caliper (probably putting it back where it had been to start with). The wheel is now spinning freely with no drag or squeaking.

Discovery No. 2: protruding screw

Protruding screw vs chain
Protruding screw vs chain

With the chain sized correctly (and the wheel snugly in place), the shifting behaved more surely and quietly — at least at first. But once I got the chain up on the smallest cog in back, it wouldn’t come back down. Visual inspection quickly pointed out the culprit: the mounting screw for the pannier rack (installed yesterday) protrudes too far past the frame eyelet and gets in the way of the chain. I’m going to have to file or grind off the end of the screw, but for the moment I’ve just backed it out to provide clearance.

And with that, the job is mostly done. The front derailleur still needs some fine tuning, but it’s shifting better than it was when I finished up yesterday. And there’s more follow-up to do with grinding down a couple of screws, and cleaning and oiling the chain again. (And while I’m at it, Kuroko could use another bath … )

Finally, before I forget (again), here’s a screenshot from one of the videos about changing the bottom bracket bearings that was making me fear the worst:

Part of your soul dying
Part of your soul dying

Of course, he’s a got a carbon fiber frame there and Kuroko is steel, but still it wasn’t all that bad in the end.

Mechanical prep for a long ride

New crankset is in

After more than a month of gathering up various bits and tools, I was finally ready today to do some maintenance and upgrades on Kuroko. I’ve got a fairly ambitious ride coming up in less than three months, and I need to make sure everything will work together before sticking Kuroko into a bag and boarding the plane. So I brought Kuroko up the elevator to the Garage in the Sky, laid out the tools and rolled up my sleeves.

(This will be Part I, as there are still some accessories that haven’t arrived.)

The squeaky wheel

Caliper after re-centering
Caliper after re-centering

During my ride to Yokohama on Sunday with the Halfakid, Kuroko started squeaking. It just got worse as the ride progressed. (What would a ride with the Halfakid be without some sort of mechanical?) I was pretty sure it was coming from one of the wheels (there was no difference if I was pedaling or not), and I was hoping it was a brake issue rather than a hub bearing.

As soon as I got Kuroko in the work stand, I gave the wheels a spin and determined the problem was the back wheel. A quick look showed me that the disc caliper was off-center, causing one of the pads to drag against the disc.

I found a video explaining how to adjust the caliper, and it’s very straightforward: loosen the caliper bolts, squeeze the brake lever and then retighten the bolts while continuing to squeeze the brake lever. It probably took longer to find the right size hex wrench than to complete the job, and when I was done there was no more squeak!

Caliper bolts are under the dropout
Caliper bolts are under the dropout

Chip off the ol’ dropout

Touch-up paint
Touch-up paint

The next order of business was to touch up a paint chip that I found on the rear dropout (visible in the photo above). This must have happened the time Kuroko fell over after I’d propped her up against a rock while I was helping the Halfakid fix a puncture.

Fortunately, I got a couple of bottles of touch-up paint with the bike. I just wiped the chipped area down, waited for it to dry, shook the bottle and had at it. The results aren’t perfect, but it’s better than leaving that bare metal to rust.

There are a few other places with minor scratches in the paint, but none of them seem to go through to the bare metal. If I find any are starting to show a glimmer (or worse, actual rust) then I’ll just get out the paint bottle again.

Just like putting on nail polish
Just like putting on nail polish
Could be smoother
Could be smoother

Nice rack!

While I was waiting for the paint to dry, I started assembling the pannier rack. I’m hoping that the pair of panniers I have already will be sufficient for our two-week trip. (I’m planning on packing light, but will still be carrying a tent, sleeping bag and mattress, along with cooking gear and a couple of changes of clothes.)

Assembled rack ready for mounting
Assembled rack ready for mounting

A little grease on each bolt
A little grease on each bolt

Fitting the rack took a bit of persuasion. It’s a very light but sturdy rack from tubus, made from tubular steel, so it took a bit of effort to bow the stays. But in the end everything came right.

Kuroko shows off her new pannier rack
Kuroko shows off her new pannier rack

My existing saddle bag fits over the rack, but I may want to put a tent or sleeping bag up there. We’ll see when it’s closer to the tour — I plan to take at least one fully loaded ride from home as a shakedown before boarding the plane. In the meantime, I’ll be adding a taillight to the rear of the rack, so if the saddlebag has to come off I’ll still be well lit.

Saddlebag just clears the rack
Saddlebag just clears the rack

Getting cranky

I saved the most challenging part for last: replacing the crankset. I need lower gearing to get Kuroko up the steeper hills, and having 10kg or more of luggage on the back is only going to make that more of a challenge. I’d already replaced the rear cassette and shifter and gone nearly as far as I can with that. So the remaining option was to go to smaller chainrings, and that means replacing the entire crankset.

I wrote last month about the replacement I’d found, and how it meant replacing the bottom bracket as well. Since then I’ve been reviewing the instructions and gathering up tools while waiting for the crankset to arrive. I’ve also had to gather up my courage, since (as the videos at that link point out) it would possible to screw things up pretty badly if I wasn’t careful.

I’m glad I remembered from the start to remove the pedals, as this wasn’t mentioned in the videos.

First step: remove the pedals
First step: remove the pedals

There’s a special tool to remove the dust cap from the left crank, and then a couple of hex bolts have to be loosened.

Removing the dust capRemoving the dust cap
Removing the dust cap and loosening the crank

With the left crank off, the rest of the crankset just slides out from the bottom bracket (after removing the chain), although it did require a bit of “persuasion” courtesy of the mallet.

A view through the bearings
A view through the bearings

The next part was one of the tricky bits. The press-fit bearings need to be hammered out of the bottom bracket housing, and here’s where the videos warned that I could ruin my frame if I wasn’t careful. There’s a special tool just for this one purpose which slides through from the opposite side and then expands against the inner face of the bearing. With a few raps from the mallet, the bearing eased out of the frame. And then once again for the opposite bearing. In the end, it took a lot less effort than the videos had led me to expect.

Removing the bearings via gentle persuasion
Removing the bearings via gentle persuasion

Below are all the parts and tools after the job was done. In the center are the crankset and dustcap, along with the tool required to remove the dustcap. The crankset bearings at bottom center cannot be reused (although they seemed to come out without any damage). The tool at bottom right is the one used to hammer out the bearings. (I’m keeping the pedals — they go on the new crank once it’s installed.)

Old and busted
Old and busted

With the bearings out, I cleaned up the bottom bracket housing. I was a bit surprised at the amount of rust, most of which seems to be from the screw that holds the cable guides on the outside of the housing. (Note that screw: we’ll be coming back to it.) I used bicycle chain degreaser to clean it up as much as I could.

Bottom bracket, before and after cleaning
Bottom bracket, before and after cleaning

After I’d given the degreaser a chance to do its work, I continued by inserting the new bearings. There’s another special tool to press the bearings in while making sure they’re going in absolutely straight and flush with the faces of the bottom bracket housing. As always, a liberal application of grease eased the job.

Pressing the new bearings in
Pressing the new bearings in

Before I could fit the new bearings in, though, I had to back out that screw! It’s at least 5mm longer than it needs to be. I’m going to have to file or grind off the end, but for now I’ve just left it sticking out a bit.

The offending screw
The offending screw

New bearings in place
New bearings in place

With the new bearings in, the left crank and axle slide into place (with a little grease and a little more persuasion). I checked twice that I had the proper washers and spacers on the correct sides before fitting the crank in.

Easing the left crank in place
Easing the left crank in place

Finally, the moment I’d been waiting months to see: fitting the right crank over the axle splines and tightening it up with a torque wrench. I was glad to have the torque wrench for this because the job required a lot less force than I would have expected. I’m sure I would have over-tightened it if I had just gone by feel.

Torquing the right crank on
Torquing the right crank on

And with that, the job was done — or nearly so. Of course, I had to add on the pedals. Then the derailleur needed to be lowered into place to match the smaller chainrings. I still have some adjustment to do to make the shifting effortless and to prevent the derailleur needlessly rubbing the chain. Once that’s done, all that remains is a shakedown ride to make sure all is in order.

New crankset is in
New crankset is in

Yokohama in the sun

View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge

The Halfakid was ready to go this morning, and Nana had fixed up a mess o’ onigiri, so I didn’t have much choice about riding. Plus the weather was very clear — cold in the morning but warming up as we went. I was hoping to see some cherry blossoms today, particularly along the Tama river, but it’s a week early for that.

A mess o' onigiri
A mess o’ onigiri

For a change I decided to return to Yokohama, which we last visited in early December. On that occasion Tomo joined us, and it was cold and rainy. When we reached the lookout point at Minatonomieruoka Park, we were all freezing and eager to get back on our bikes to generate some heat.

Today, although it started out slightly colder than it had been in December, the sun was shining in blue skies and we were soon working up a sweat.

Blue skies over the Tama river
Blue skies over the Tama river

We were familiar with the route this time, and we knew it was simply a matter of fighting through the traffic (and traffic lights) on a long, flat stretch until the destination. There, just before Minatonomieruoka Park, the road rises suddenly and steeply, and we were muttering various colorful nicknames for the hill as we approached. As it turned out, the Halfakid road right up to the top, while I made it about halfway, and dismounted and walked up from exactly the same point I had back in December.

View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge
View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge

The payoff for the climb, though, is the great view from the top overlooking Yokohama Bay. We sat under the pavilion there and ate the onigiri so thoughtfully prepared by Nana this morning. We didn’t dawdle, though, as we planned a slight addition to the course this time around: once back over the Tama river in Tokyo, we turned downriver to Haneda and the peace shrine.

Blossoms -- of a sort -- at Haneda
Blossoms — of a sort — at Haneda

(It was after I’d taken the photo and posted it on Instagram that the Halfakid pointed out these are fake blossoms. Someone has wound a plastic garland around the tree.)

Haneda Peace Shrine on a sunny day
Haneda Peace Shrine on a sunny day

There we ate the last of the onigiri and discussed our resting points on the way home. I messaged Nana that I would be about another two hours.

Not long after we left Haneda, we encountered a bit of crosswind. I was already feeling the kilometers traveled in my thighs, and the Halfakid took this opportunity to rocket past and leave me in the dust. As I soldiered onwards I watched his yellow windbreaker receding in the distance. Soon he was out of sight, and I was busy contending with pedestrians and other cyclists on the path. I didn’t see him again until we reached the agreed-upon rest stop.

From this point it’s mostly flat until we reach Futako, where we leave the path and climb in traffic up out of the river valley. I wasn’t sure about the climb with my tired thighs, but when we got to it I was able to keep the bike moving upwards, albeit slowly. Once again, the Halfakid rocketed past me, although I noticed that he too was slowing as he reached the top of the hill.

Yokohama in under 7
Yokohama in under 7

I dropped the Halfakid at his home and continued to grind my way homewards. In the end I made it home in just under seven hours since I’d set out. This was an improvement of a few minutes over the total elapsed time in December, when we hadn’t included the Haneda jaunt.

all flat but too many traffic light
all flat but too many traffic light

After getting home and soaking in the tub, I reviewed the ride in Strava. The segment above caught my eye as the name perfectly describes the conditions there where Daiichi Keihin turns into Minato Mirai. (And before you comment on my speed through that segment, understand it’s one of the few where I’m in the top 1,000. So I must be timing the lights pretty well, if nothing else.)

Haneda half day

Kuroko with Kawazuzakura

I had a few constraints on my ride time today. First, Nana reminded me we’re having dinner at 5:30, and then the forecast called for rain in the afternoon despite it being a bright, sunny day. (There’s been no rain yet and the forecast has been revised.) So I decided on a quick jaunt down the Tama river to Haneda.

Nikuman, still hot
Nikuman, still hot

The weather really was clear and beautiful, with a bit of wind. There were a lot of children out playing little league baseball on the riverbanks. I lost count of the number of times a kid in a baseball uniform would swerve his bike right in front of me because he was busy watching the game down on the riverbank instead of where he was going. With the great weather, there was also a huge number of joggers and people out for a stroll and toddlers on pushbikes to watch out for on the path.

Nana hadn’t made rice last night, so instead of onigiri I stopped at a convenience store a few kilometers before the end of the river and bought a couple of nikuman and a Snickers.

Haneda Peace Shrine
Haneda Peace Shrine

Despite the obstacles, I made it to Haneda in less than two hours. It was warming up by this time and I was really sweating. I found a bit of shade to sit in while I ate the nikuman and sent photos to Nana.

Kuroko waits while I eat
Kuroko waits while I eat

On the ride back I had a tailwind, so I made better time. Say what you will about middle-aged men chasing lost youth, but I did several 4-minute miles today … The biggest challenge again was avoiding the strollers and weekend riders, as well as knots of people stopped with their bikes held right across the middle of the path. I even came across a large group of seniors walking behind a banner and massing across the path from side to side. I slowed to a crawl as I rang my bell and called out, “Excuse me, excuse me … ”

That’s just complaining, though, as it was a beautiful day and I really made good time, returning home less than four hours after setting out. The kawazuzakura blossoms are nearing their end, but it’s a couple of weeks yet before we’ll see the regular cherry blossoms. I could see the buds burgeoning on quite a few trees as I raced by. I’ll need to come back when they’re in bloom (and the path will be even more crowded).

Kuroko with Kawazuzakura
Kuroko with Kawazuzakura

Haneda half day
Haneda half day

Tour de Tohoko 2019 preview

Pulling away from the start line

The routes and entry information for Tour de Tohoku 2019 have been announced. There’s been some reorganization: all rides are on Sunday now, and they’ve done away with the route I rode in 2018. I’m pretty sure I’ll be going for the Kitakami Fondo, a similar distance to last year’s ride but a bit less climbing.

100km Kitakami Fondo
170km Minami Sanriku course

Nana pointed out there’s another option for me: the 170km Minami Sanriku route. It’s essentially the same course as the Kitakami Fondo, but follows up the coastline a bit further to make a full century ride (and some change).

I’d consider the ride — the Halfakid and I are working up to a century before I fly off to England for Lejog — but for the time limit imposed, and the fear I’d be holding up the really good riders who will no doubt be signing up for this journey. Plus it’s set to start at 6:15 a.m. … Let’s not be ridiculous!

Entry for the event is set to start on April 17 at 8 p.m. I’ve written the Halfakid, Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn to ask who will be joining me this year. From last year’s experience, I know that I should book the hotel and the bike transport as soon as I’ve confirmed attendees, and not wait for the result of the entrance lottery. (I can always cancel if I lose the lottery.) Meanwhile, I’ve just received word from Seino transport that they won’t accept my bike in the bag that I bought for the event last year. I haven’t determined yet if they’ll accept the more professional bag I bought for Lejog, or if I’ll need to rent one of their shipping boxes. (Another alternative is that the Halfakid and I could rent a van and drive all the way, but I would not look forward to the drive home after the 100km ride!)

The bicycle is in the bag but it doesn't fit
For starters, I should have taken the pedals off first

Last year, Nana and her mother came along to the event simply to stay in the spa hotel and eat their way around the Oshika peninsula. Nana told me tonight that she’ll come along only if none of the other riders I invite will join me.

The members of Group B-12 posing after the ride
Group B-12 at the finish

A little more …

Sakura and Tokyo Tower

The forecast for this weekend was for fair and warm on Saturday and rain on Sunday. (It now looks as if it may not rain until Sunday evening.) So I contacted the Halfakid to let him know I’d be riding on Saturday, barring a change in the forecast, and he said he’d be at karate a.k.a beating up the neighborhood kids. So OK, a solo ride. I started thinking about routes and ride times, and settled on my favorite Tokyo Landmarks tour, with an option to add on some extra kilometers if the mood struck me.

Despite the projected high of 15C, it was a paltry 6C when I finally set out about 8:30, and so of course I had to dress for that. The black jacket I received from The Bro is nice and warm (black is not really my color, but it goes nicely with Kuroko), and on a mild day like today in the sun, it gets very warm very quickly. I was sweating within 5km.

Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery
Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery

The first stop is Meiji Jingu. There was something up today: the roads were lined with barriers and there was a plethora of baton-wavers in evidence. As I took the picture I said good morning to a couple of the baton-wavers and asked what was up. “Formula 1,” one replied. “In Tokyo? I hadn’t heard … ” I sent off a message to Nana asking about it and she replied with a virtual shrug. By the time I got to my next photo spot, though, she’d tracked it down. The Red Bull Showrun Tokyo is just a parade lap around Meiji Jingu, sponsored by the local Aston Martin dealer.

I continued on. There are a few climbs following this, the first one leading to Akasaka Palace (Geihinkan, the State Guest House). I felt strong, as if I had a motor pulling me up the hills. I imagined leaving the Halfakid in my dust (which is easy to do — imagine, that is — when he’s not around to put the lie to that). Following Akasaka Palace, there’s a sweeping downhill where I encountered the first road construction of the day, and I tucked in behind a line of cars. Thankfully, given the downhill, I had no trouble keeping up with traffic. This is followed by a short but rather intense climb at Akasaka and then another sweeping downhill bringing me to Kokkai, the Japanese Diet.

Kokkai
Kokkai

There’s more up-down after that, taking me past the Cabinet office and through government ministry territory, and then another short, rather intense climb to Roppongi. This is followed by an equally intense downhill, elbow-to-elbow with traffic, before finally bringing me to Shiba Koen, my first real stop of the ride. Swilling water, I took a few minutes to investigate the cherry blossoms. A little more … although the trees in this park are not the proper cherry trees (at least not the ones that were already beginning to bloom) as any Japanese will quickly inform you.

Sakura and Tokyo Tower
Sakura and Tokyo Tower … a little more!

No mask!
No mask!

With beautiful weather in March comes a lot of pollen, and today was proof of that. I’m not sure how much pollen four dots is, except it’s too freakin’ much! I was OK while riding, but my nose was running constantly and at each stop I was using eye drops. I’d meant to wear a mask for today’s ride, and had even discussed with my mate about the interaction between mask and sunglasses, and in the end I’d set off without one. Neither Garmin nor Strava tracks mucus output, but I’m pretty sure today was a Personal Best.

Too freakin' much pollen!
Too freakin’ much pollen!

After Shiba Koen it’s all flat and fast (apart from the traffic signals) past Hibiya Park to the Imperial Palace. On Sundays the palace grounds are closed to motor vehicles, but on Saturdays I have to contend with the traffic in addition to the joggers.

Imperial Palace
Imperial Palace

Leaving the palace behind I head into the financial district and take in the Bank of Tokyo (refurbishment is nearly complete) and the neo-Gothic Mitsui Sumitomo Bank, in addition to the main Mitsukoshi Department Store and others. From there it’s a right turn and then a long slog through traffic towards Tsukiji. Along the way I pass by Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple noted for its South Asia-influenced architecture.

At Tsukiji I turn left and cross the Sumida river, first via the Kachidoki Bridge and then taller Harumi Ohashi bridge. I felt very strong today climbing the Harumi, but according to Strava it was only my third-best time. The Harumi takes me to Toyosu, where I find the only cycle path on this route. There was a lot of pedestrian traffic today in the run from the bottom of the Harumi bridge to the Toyosu fish market. At last I passed it by and then the vista opens up to the Rainbow Bridge.

Rainbow Bridge on a clear day
Rainbow Bridge on a clear day

The Rainbow Bridge heralds my arrival to Tokyo Big Sight, Tokyo’s convention center, and a chance to stop for some carbohydrates. Today I opted for beef bowl (followed by a Snickers bar).

Gyudon three-point set
Gyudon three-point set

Tokyo Big Sight is more or less the halfway point of this ride, but it does seem like I’ve taken in more than half the landmarks by this point. After lunch it’s a long, long slog in traffic up the Arakawa towards Tokyo Skytree (passing Tomioka Hachiman Shrine along the way, reputed to be the the birthplace of sumo — although at least one other shrine makes the same claim). This leg of the ride is noted for traffic signals, with a stop and wait every couple of hundred meters.

Tokyo Skytree looms over the Arakawa
Tokyo Skytree looms over the Arakawa

At Tokyo Skytree I turn back across the Arakawa and am now truly on the homeward leg. I messaged Nana that I had decided against seeking out additional kilometers and was following the usual path home, and she messaged back that the wind was starting to pick up. After a quick pitstop, I turn right and pass by Asakusa Senso-ji, perhaps Japan’s most famous temple and the site of the Halfakid’s puncture on the inaugural ride of his new bike.

After a couple more kilometers of city riding in heavy traffic, it’s a sharp left and up an equally sharp hill over the tracks. At the top of the hill there was a barrier for motor vehicles. I asked a lady cop if it was OK for me to proceed and she said, “Sure, fine. But there are a lot of people, so take care.” I promised to be good. I rounded a corner and there was the throng she’d warned me about. A pavilion had been set up and a priest was making some sort of dedication in front of the massed audience and media. I dismounted and tried to prevent my cleats clicking on the pavement as I pushed Kuroko along behind the crowd. (I wasn’t entirely successful.) But I was soon past the crowd and turning towards Ueno Park. A few twists and turns, a fast downhill (and more road work), and then a climb up to Tokyo University. Again, I felt good and strong on the climb, which isn’t always the case.

From Tokyo University it’s a long, fast downhill to Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. Incidentally, here I also pass the cemetery where we visit Nana’s father. (She chose the location because he was a big Giants fan.) The traffic here is fast and one lane is always taken by parked cars, so it’s a bit scary and when I get the chance I like to get through it while the following traffic is waiting at a red light.

Tayasumon gate at Budokan
Tayasumon gate at Budokan

After Tokyo Dome, the final landmark is Budokan, halfway up the Kudanzaka climb. As there’s no break in the railing here, I need to climb all the way to the top and then coast back downhill on the sidewalk to reach Budokan. I took a couple of snaps, gulped some water, and let Nana know I would be home in half an hour.

Chidorigafuchi
Chidorigafuchi

After Budokan, it’s just a bit more up-down and then a whole lotta traffic to get home. Along Shinjuku Avenue I was overtaken by four members of the Meisei University cycling team. (Meisei is a private university established in 1964 in Hino, so they had a ways to go to get home.) I overtook them again at a red light, where their team rules forbade them crossing even though the pedestrian crossing light was green. (My team rules have no such injunction.) I got a couple of lights ahead of them after this, but they caught me again and then left me behind at Yotsuya Sanchome, where a red light really means a red light. For some unfathomable reason they seemed to have less of an issue than I with the crosswind, which was gathering steam by this point.

Finally I was in Shinjuku and still feeling strong. I zipped up the bridge over the tracks by Shinjuku Bus Terminal and flew down the opposite side. I took advantage of a red light to cross into Nishi Shinjuku a couple of blocks earlier than I usually do, and bypassed the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings. At last I turned towards home — and straight into the teeth of the wind. I was glad it was downhill at this point, and after another couple of lights I was wheeling into the plaza in front of our building. I messaged Nana that I was home, at 1:24 (beating my estimate by six minutes).

Must be round

Alex Rims TA20

It was the rear hub totally seizing up that convinced the Halfakid it was time to retire Ol’ Paint in favor of a new bike. The mechanic we stumbled across that early Saturday morning did a very good job of cleaning and repacking the bearings, but he noted that the cups were probably damaged and he wouldn’t guarantee the hubs lasting much longer. So any rehabilitation is going to include new hubs.

While I’m considering replacement hubs, I have to think about the rims, too. They’re pretty deeply scored. The cheap V-brakes that Ol’ Paint came with seemed to have a genius for trapping whatever road grit was about and grinding it into the rim faces. And as replacing the hubs means rebuilding the wheels anyway, I started looking for rims that would fit and not break the bank.

Ol’ Paint is parked in front of the Halfakid’s apartment now, sans pedals, so I spent some time searching my usual online suppliers without having a look at what was on the bike. I knew the basic size I was looking for: 26-inch rims for rim brakes. The size is apparently common in many parts of the world, but was never a popular one in the US. And now V-brakes have been largely replaced by discs, so what 26-inch rims I was finding did not have brake faces.

Araya TM-840F
Araya TM-840F

After more than an hour of searching I came across a set of wheels with Shimano hubs and Araya rims that fit the spec. I was so relieved at finding something that I nearly hit the order button. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was the width, and I decided to check what’s on Ol’ Paint before pulling the trigger. So when I went riding with the Halfakid on the weekend, I took a moment to record the rim size and to have a look at the frame clearance.

Alex Rims DM18
Alex Rims DM18

I was glad I waited: not only did the rims clearly indicate their dimensions, but they showed the maker’s URL. Alex Rims is still very much in existence and offers a few varieties in the desired size, with rim brakes. Better still, the rims are readily available in Japan at prices corresponding to those in the US. So now I was looking at a new question: Did I want to pay a bit more to get these undoubtedly higher quality rims, and did I want to build my own wheels?

There are plenty of clear online guides for building wheels, and in fact I relaced a pair back in my college days. I even have a spoke wrench. The question is not in the lacing itself but in the subsequent truing. Patrick’s guide makes it sound easy, if somewhat time-consuming. But I remember having been pretty bad at this back in the day. Do I want to try it now, when I’m older and bit more patient? Or do I want to find a builder who can set me up for a reasonable fee?

Room to spare
Room to spare

Anyway, while I was checking out Ol’ Paint’s existing rims, I checked the clearance and there seems to be plenty (at least, so long as I don’t mount fenders). This gives me more flexibility as there are other rim sizes that differ only a bit from Ol’ Paint’s 26 inches. Choosing a 650B or 700C could give me a much wider range of rims to choose from.

While I was pondering whether I wanted to roll my own, I decided to search for a spoke length calculator. That brought me to Pro Wheel Builder. Their calculator includes not just rim sizes and lacing patterns, but a database of specific rims and hubs (as well as a disclaimer about the results). While I was poking about their site I started to wonder what it would cost to have them build a set of wheels for Ol’ Paint (and if they have rims of the required specs). And the answer is: they would pretty much fit the bill. They do ship to Japan, but the result is on the high end of what I was hoping to pay for replacement wheels for Ol’ Paint. More than double the cheap Araya wheels from the sketchy maker I’d first found. On the other hand, the cost of the wheelset pair (front and rear) would be about the same as I just paid for a front wheel only with a built-in generator for Kuroko. (That story is still to come.)

Meanwhile, I decided to have another go at finding a wheel builder closer to home. I’m getting a few hits, but they seem to be geared towards the upper end of the market (as are the replacement wheels in the shop where I bought Kuroko): Japanese bike enthusiasts aren’t shy about forking over the green stuff, and people looking to replace their wheels are nearly always looking to move up.

  • Wicked has a line of hand-built wheels starting at roughly what I originally paid for Ol’ Paint, entire.
  • ChrisKing takes that as a starting point and quickly goes up to what I paid for Kuroko, new.
  • Sim Works handles the ChrisKing line as well as some much more reasonable Velocity rims, but bless me if I can find the button to add items to the cart!
  • There’s Pax Project. Short of ringing them up, I couldn’t determine from the site if they had quite the size I’m looking for. Regardless, their prices start somewhat above what it would cost to order from Pro Wheel Builder, including the international shipping.
  • Circles has the Velocity Cliffhanger, a nice looking rim that fits the spec and at a good price. They’re for a bit wider tire than I’ve had on Ol’ Paint, but the clearance might be there to go wide.
  • Finally, WTB has the Frequency Team, a perfect match. From the reviews, they’re a bit heavy but they’re bulletproof. WTB also has tires, rim tape and reasonable seats (Ol’ Paint’s original WTB saddle is torn), as well as this 100% cotton long-sleeved T.
Pax Project
Pax Project

March something something something Lion

Hamura Round Trip

The Halfakid joined me yesterday for a brisk run up the river. The moment we turned upriver, March starting living up to its reputation. “Good thing it’s not windy,” I joked, “because that would suck.”

There was nothing for it but to keep our heads tucked down and our legs spinning. The Halfakid decided to suck my wheel for a while. Then when we got to a spot where he was sure of the directions (just keep following the path), he zipped ahead. I could see him about 500m ahead of me, sucking someone else’s wheel.

Despite the wind, my 5km splits were still coming in under 15 minutes, so I was making pretty good time. Whenever the path passed through the shelter of a grove of trees I would pick up my pace. Unfortunately, there aren’t many spots like that on the course.

The final run up to the end of the course is pretty exposed and has a couple of fairly steep switchbacks, and this is where I posted my first 5km over 15 minutes. The Halfakid was waiting for me at the water fountain at the end. “Why are you so slow,” I asked him as I wheeled to a stop. “You getting old?”

Tamagawa Brothers at Hamura
Tamagawa Brothers at Hamura

We sat down in the shade of the pavilion and ate all of the onigiri that Nana had prepared for us. We had a brief rest but didn’t dawdle too long; now that we were stopped, the wind was cooling us off quickly.

A headwind on the way upriver is a tailwind on the way back home, or mostly so. At times it was a crosswind. But we were making much better time now. On the way up, I’d been struggling to keep the pace above 20km/h and topping out about 24km/h. On the way back, I was keeping the pace about 28km/h, with bursts up to as much as 38km/h. Even in crosswinds, I wasn’t falling below 24km/h. Still, the Halfakid was racing ahead. I nearly caught up with him at one traffic light, but it changed while I was still on the wrong side of the traffic. And that was the last I saw of him until the next rest stop.

Just desserts
Just desserts

On the way home we’d agreed to turn off the path before reaching Futako. It shaves about 5km off the trip, but puts us into traffic for the final 16km (vs 12km when we continue to Futako), including a couple of climbs where we’re elbow-to-elbow with buses and delivery trucks and cement mixers and whatnot. Traffic was backing up and we played cat-and-mouse with a Ferrari Daytona for a few traffic lights before finally leaving it in our dust. I left the Halfakid at a convenience store and continued on home without stopping to give Nana a progress report. In the city the wind was less of a factor and I was making pretty good time. At the same time, I was feeling the distance in my thighs and looking forward to a hot shower. In the end, I arrived home a full hour before I’d predicted — which gave me a little time to relax before I had to start cleaning up for the party.

I ended up paying for the ride in a big way, though. All that wind meant lots of pollen, and I hadn’t bothered with a mask. As the evening wore on my nose got more and more stuffy, and it got harder and harder to keep my red eyes open. I was glad in the end when Nana and our friends at the party insisted I go to bed.

March Gran Fondo
March Gran Fondo

And with that, my first ride in March, I completed this month’s Strava challenge!