Otarumi Touge Loop

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I’ve been wanting to test out Kuroko’s new lower gearing as achieved by a replacement crankset, and so today the Halfakid and I planned to revisit Otarumi Touge, a mountain pass near Mt Takao. Unfortunately when it came time to set out, the Halfakid informed me he’d spent too much time in the sun at a barbecue yesterday, and so I set out solo.

Since replacing the crankset I’ve been meaning to adjust the front derailleur. I’d gotten it to the point where it would shift just fine, but it would make some noise on the larger chainring because it was rubbing the chain. So before setting out this morning I (once again) tightened up the derailleur cable, and then I spent some quality time with the barrel adjuster fine-tuning the cable tension. I revisited this a couple of times during today’s ride, including while I was riding, and I’m finally satisfied with it.

When the Halfakid and I last visited Otarumi Touge, we got to the top of the mountain pass, rested for a bit, and then did a U-turn and headed home. But the map I’d copied for this route went on from the top of the pass and made a loop through Kanagawa Prefecture before returning to the Tama River (and hence home). So my goal for today was to do the loop instead of the U-turn. It meant an additional 10km (the reason we hadn’t done the loop previously was we’d ridden in January, and daylight is at a premium), but it turns out that was not the only surprise in store for me.

Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin
Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin

Right from the start I was feeling strong, and I quickly made my way up the Tama River. Just before reaching the point where I need to cross the river and start working towards Mt Takao, I stopped in a park near the cycling course to enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous asari onigiri.

Yaezakura at the rest stop
Yaezakura at the rest stop

Asakawa Comfortable Road
Asakawa Comfortable Road

Crossing over the Tamagawa, I followed a branch known as Asakawa and soon I found myself spinning along the Asakawa Comfortable Road (although I prefer to think of it as the Lollygagging Turtle Way). I wasn’t sure what kind of progress I was making along here, but when I returned home and checked Strava I found I was posting personal records all along the way.

Not long after stopping for the photo, unfortunately, I ran through a thick cloud of gnats. As they pinged against my helmet and sunglasses it sounded like a handful of gravel thrown against a tin sheet, and I spent the next few minutes fishing gnats out of my ears (despite the bandana which covers them) and wiping them from my eyes (again, despite the sunglasses). A little further on, I turned down a switchback to a gravel path and nearly lost it on the turn. In the end I regained my balance and traction just as I managed to get my foot out of the cleat. And then a few dozen meters later on, I realized that I didn’t need to take the gravel path after all.

After a bit of pedestrian traffic and requisite kids running across my path without checking for traffic, I came into the second leg of the Asakawa route to find the river lined with yaezakura, and a full-fledged koinobori festival in progress.

Yaezakura lining the cycle path
Yaezakura lining the cycle path

Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons
Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons

Before long I found myself at Takaosanguchi, the entrance to Mt Takao, and stopped for some fine dining chez 7-11 (although mostly featuring Nana’s remaining onigiri). A group of five riders joined me here for a brief rest, and I shared with them the remainder of the 2-liter bottle of water I’d purchased. Although I set out first, they soon passed me by as I stopped right after the lunch rest at the cable car entrance for Mt Takao (and they continued to pull away — I didn’t see them again).

Mt Takao cable car entrance
Mt Takao cable car entrance

Up, up, up!
Up, up, up!

From that point on the climbing begins in earnest. It’s not very steep (despite the appearance in the profile above), but it is relentless. It just keeps going up for about 4.5km at an average grade of 6%. When we first made it up the mountain in January, we weren’t sure about the remaining distance and I stopped to rest a couple of times — the last time within 50m of the top.

This time around I was doing a lot of math in my head from the GPS measurements, and for some reason I bobbled things. I did make use of the new, lowest gear, and was going along pretty well in that. When I reached what I’d calculated as perhaps the halfway point (recognizing that it was further along than the first stop I’d made in January), I stopped for a rest. This turned out to be a mistake: in the first case, because once I mounted up again my thighs (until then doing OK) were like jelly. And in the second case, because I turned out to be less than 400m from the top. Crawling along with wobbly thighs, I soon recognized my error and pushed on to the top.

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge
Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I took a brief rest here and then continued onward (and downhill!) into Kanagawa Prefecture. There were some gorgeous views overlooking the Sagami River valley, but as they were all flashing past at 50km/h, I didn’t stop for photos.

And then I entered terra incognita, at least as far as places I’d ridden before. I was kind of expecting a nice, fast descent and then a flat ride back to Tamagawa (as when we’d taken a U-turn at the top), but in fact there was still a whole lot of “up-down, up-down” to go. I passed some beautiful scenery along the way, including the Sagami Dam, but I had to stop once again to rest on a rather steepish uphill, even though I could see the top from the point where I needed to take a break.

Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam
Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam

At this point, I was playing a mental game with myself which turned out to be a mistake. I was telling myself it was a very short ride back to the Tama River, and so I didn’t stop to rest along the way (apart from traffic lights and the time I stopped mid-climb). In fact, it was 35km to get back to the Tama River and pick up my usual course. By the time I got there, I was exhausted, hungry and sore. I stopped in the park with the yaezakura and had a candy bar and a nice, 20-minute rest. I contacted Nana to let her know I had another 30km to go, and so not to expect me for another two hours or more. Although I’d been averaging more than 22km/h up to this point (with some rapid descents making up for my slow-poke climbing style), once I got back on the Tama River I was fighting a headwind. And I was just …

The next 5km were just murder. My butt and hands hurt, I’d been nursing a cramp in my right thigh, I was fighting a headwind, and out of nowhere the crank started making a clicking noise. I was seriously considering finding someplace to leave Kuroko for the night and taking the train home. But when I reached the next rest point, a little shrine with a major restroom in the shadow of Keiokaku Velodrome, and had a break and refilled my water bottle, I felt reinvigorated. Maybe the candy bar I’d eaten earlier was kicking in.

At any rate, I soldiered on. I thought I was taking it easy now, but I discovered when I arrived home that I’d still set a couple more personal bests. The crank continued making noise like a pair of maracas, and I was worried about the damage I was doing. Whenever I had the chance I would coast instead of pedaling.

Final rest spot
Final rest spot

From the final scheduled rest spot, I continued on. Even my butt felt better at this point. I wonder what was in that candy bar after all! At this point I was feeling tired but not bad overall — although I continued to be worried about the knocking noise coming from the crank. I used various tricks to make sure the noise wasn’t coming from the gears, chain, shoes, rack, etc. But meanwhile I continued looking forward to the end of my ride, a nice, hot bath, and a delicious cold beer!

Made it, in the end, 8 hours 7 minutes after I’d set out. That was a better time than our previous effort: although it was 10km less and rather less climbing (in fact, today involved an additional 500m or 70%), we’d taken 8 hours 15 minutes on that occasion (probably because we spent a lot of time at the summit).

Looking back from today’s ride post-bath and beer, I’m pleased overall. The new gearing will be a big help when it comes to Lejog (although I haven’t yet tried any climbs with laden panniers!). Today I climbed nearly as much as during last year’s Tour de Tohoku (which came in 25km shorter), where I’d spent a lot of time pushing Kuroko uphill. There’s obviously a new issue to sort out with the crankset (probably in the bottom bracket), but I’ve finally got the derailleur adjusted properly. The only real downsides to today’s ride were the Halfakid not making it and the obvious bonk I’d experienced when I determined to keep going until I got back to Tamagawa, rather than stop, rest and have a snack where I was.

Confirmation bias

It never fails: whenever there are kids (about kindergarten through upper elementary) walking or playing along my bike route, whether it’s a cycling course or a public street, they’ll look and see me coming, wait, and then … suddenly dash across my path the moment I’m within lethal range.

This is probably an example of confirmation bias. I’m sure there are times I encounter children on my rides where they don’t behave like this.

In fact, it’s clearly confirmation bias, because I can note at least two frequently occurring situations which don’t match this pattern; to wit:

  • There are times children dash across directly in front of me without having first waited until I get within range; and
  • There are numerous adults who start across the street or path in front of me, turn and see me coming, and … continue to step right in front of me.
Morning and evening commute
Morning and evening commute

Meanwhile, I didn’t go seeking out hill climbs during today’s commute. But on the plus side, there were no mechanicals, either. (The front derailleur still needs to be adjusted, but it’s working fine.)

Satisfied!

Morning and evening commute

Today was my first time back on the bike following the loose crankset incident. I spent a relaxing weekend and made sure this time the crankset was on and snugged down to the manufacturer’s specification.

The result was very satisfying. The bike shifts surely, and there’s a noticeable difference in climbing ability. There’s still a bit of adjusting to do with the front derailleur as there’s some chain noise in the upper gears, but everything is basically working. With the lower tooth count on the front, I shift onto the larger chainring sooner than previously, but that’s expected. The only surprise from the new mech is if, like me, you’re kind of shocked that there were no surprises.

There’s a moderate rise near my office, on the order of 4%-5% over 300m to climb out of the Tama River valley, that’s a regular feature of my rides. Usually it’s after a long ride along the banks of the Tamagawa that I encounter this climb on the way home. I previously would ride it in my lowest or second-lowest gear, averaging about 11-13km/h. And I’d arrive huffing and puffing at the top, and pull over for a rest before the final leg homeward.

This morning, to test my new gearing, I took on the hill en route to the office. I put Kuroko into her new lowest gear and wound steadily up the rise at 9-10km/h. I arrived at the top without any huffing and puffing, and generally felt I could have kept climbing at that rate for some time.

With that simple test out of the way, I determined on the ride home this evening for a bit more of a challenge. The Halfakid previously introduced me to another route up that same hill, on the other side of the tracks, that’s quite a bit steeper. Roughly the same rise but over a much shorter distance. I’ve been up it twice before, and arrived at the top feeling like I was ready to die.

Personal Best on the St. Antonio Climb
Personal Best on the St. Antonio Climb

Right after leaving the office, I aimed Kuroko at the St. Antonio Climb, named for a nearby monastery. As mentioned, it’s a short climb, with an average rise of 8%. Notably, there’s a 100m section that averages 15%, with a brief run exceeding 16%. A perfect test for new climbing gears.

I had a few pedestrians to deal with at the approach to the climb, but I was soon in the thick of it and dropped Kuroko onto the largest cog. I was soldiering along at 7-8km/h and my thighs were groaning with the effort. I made the top, more readily than I had previously, I imagined. And I didn’t feel like I was dying — although I’m sure I sounded like a cardiac arrest was imminent.

It wasn’t until I arrived home and synced up my GPS that I learned I’d made a personal best on the St. Antonio Climb, with an average speed of 11.8km/h. So that’s all to the good, although I’m not sure yet what this means in terms of possible 9%-10% grades over multiple kilometers. A bit closer to home, Otarumi Touge beckons for a return match.

You knew there’d be a mechanical, didn’t you?

Within a couple of kilometers of having finished the St. Antonio Climb, I started having an issue with my left cleat. It just wasn’t engaging smoothly, and after a few more attempts it stopped engaging at all. Something would catch on something, so I didn’t have to worry about my foot sliding about on the pedal, but if I tried pulling on it my foot would come right off. As I could still ride and was making good time, I didn’t bother to stop to have a look. By the time I got home, though, the shoe wouldn’t even sit flat on the pedal.

I put Kuroko into her berth and had a quick look at the pedals. Nothing seemed amiss. I took the elevator up to our flat and as I walked along the carpeted hallway it was immediately obvious what the problem was: the left cleat was loose from the shoe. Once I got home and took it off, I could see one of the bolts had pulled out. So I guess that shows I was using a bit more force than usual on my St. Antonio climb. Fortunately, I have a few spares. I’ll check all the cleat bolts while I’m at it.

Loose crankset

I set out this morning in beautiful, warm weather under partly sunny skies for the first ride with Kuroko’s new crankset. I didn’t get far, though, before it became clear something was wrong. I could feel a slight hitch in a certain part of the pedal stroke, and the front derailleur wasn’t happy. First I’d hear chain noise on the big chainring, and then the big chainring would be fine and I’d hear noise on the smaller chainring.

I got through my first climb of the route, and am satisfied with the new low climbing gear. I can’t wait to give it a try on a really serious climb. (Well, maybe I can … ) But meanwhile, just after the climb I turned left and that brought me to Meiji Jingu, my first stop on the route. Here I encountered a barricade, so I dismounted and found: a group ride in progress.

Group ride station at Meiji Jingu
Group ride station at Meiji Jingu

(I’ve had a quick search on Google and I can’t find any information. I suppose I could have asked one of the riders while I was there … )

Meanwhile, I took the usual photo with the portrait gallery in the background and then pulled Kuroko into the shade. I did my best to check the derailleur settings and then I gave each pedal a tug up and down and side to side. As soon as I pulled on the right side, it was clear: the crankset was loose! I’m not sure why, because I definitely tightened it to the manufacturer’s recommended 41nm. (I even bought a torque wrench for the purpose.)

Kuroko at Meiji Jingu
Kuroko at Meiji Jingu

More to the point, I need a 10mm hex to tighten the crank, and I didn’t have one with me. I had briefly thought this morning to include the torque wrench and socket in my bag along with Nana’s onigiri, just in case, but I’d immediately decided it wasn’t worth the effort. It was only now, that I had a definite need, that I recalled I have a 10mm hex key that I easily could have carried for just such an emergency.

Anyway, no use crying over spilled milk. I was still close to home and so it was best that I turn around immediately. (I suppose I could have asked some of the riders at the group event if anyone had a 10mm hex … I didn’t see a mechanics booth, though.) I messaged Nana that I was on my way home and started back, pedaling more gingerly than I had on my way out. (A group of riders from the event followed me out of Meiji Jingu.) On the way home, I could definitely feel the crank was loose, and I did my best not to bear down with too much pressure.

I got home without incident. I brought Kuroko up to the Garage in the Sky and tightened the crankset once again with the torque wrench. It seems to be on firmly. I spent more time readjusting the front derailleur, and it’s working well — at least on the stand. I’ll have to make sure to bring the 10mm wrench along next time I ride.

It’s a pity now that Nana has to wash my riding clothes after just a half-hour jaunt. On the bright side, I’ll be able to vacuum and mop so she won’t have to.

Grinding the bastards down

Grease on screw threads prior to inserting in bicycle bottom bracket

As reported in my earlier posts Mechanical prep for a long ride and A couple of discoveries, following some upgrades to Kuroko I had two screws that were too long. In the first case, the screw holding the cable guide onto the bottom bracket was interfering with the new crankset, and in the second the screw that fixes the pannier rack to the rear dropout was preventing the chain from moving on and off the smallest sprocket.

I thought briefly about asking to the use the custodian’s workshop at my office to file down the screws, but I quickly realized I could fit a small vise onto the storage box I keep all my bike goodies in. So I got a very small vise and set of files from Amazon, for a lot less money than I expected.

Diamond file setMini vise
Diamond files and mini vise

The files were probably a mistake. A wider file would have made it easier to work on the screws without slipping off (and potentially damaging the threads), and a coarser file would have made shorter work of the job. As it was I feel like I was progressing up to several microns per minute. The good news is that the result was a very fine powder of metal drifting down onto the vise which I was able to blow or brush away and not have to worry further about. (It’s probably in my lungs now, right? It’s in my lungs, isn’t it? Oh, dear … )

Filing the end of a screw held in a vise
Slow progress with the diamond file

I’d started with visions of taking five or 10 minutes to grind about 5mm off the end of each screw. After more than 20 minutes of work (including breaks to stretch my legs) and multiple trial fittings, I declared myself done with the first screw when it fit snugly into place without interfering with the spinning of the crankset.

The offending screwCable guide screw in place
Cable guide screw before and after the filing

I have to confess that with each trial fitting, I was worried about cross-threading the screw and damaging the bike frame — particularly as I was just filing the screw flat and then dressing the end a bit, not taking care that the threads ended in a nice taper. But the screw went into the bottom bracket cleanly, and I added a bit of grease. I hope it won’t rust as much now as it had been previously.

Using a hex key to measure the protruding screw on a bicycleStacked hex keys to measure the progress
Using hex keys to measure the progress

The pannier rack screw in particular was hard to thread in for fitting. It wasn’t until I’d reached this point that it occurred to me that an extra washer would be an easier solution to the problem. I checked among my leftover bits, but I didn’t have another washer of the appropriate size. Keep filing! I’m happy to report that the rack screw was a bit softer than the cable guide screw and so the filing went a bit more quickly. (This almost made up for the rounded head on the screw, which made it harder to secure in the vise.) According to my hex key measurement method, I needed to get about 4mm to make the screw flush with the frame eyelet. But in the end I took off just enough to make sure the chain could move on and off the smallest cog without any interference. Another dab of grease and a last fight to thread the screw into the eyelet without cross-threading, and I was done.

Protruding screw vs chainPannier rack screw protruding from eyelet next to bicycle sprocket
Pannier rack screw before and after filing

Prepping a Wheel

Kuroko with a new generator hub

I had a couple of spare hours this morning while the sun was shining and the day warming up, so it was time to prep the new front wheel. For the upcoming Lejog ride, I want a generator hub that will let me not only have lighting on demand, but also recharge my phone and GPS as I’m riding. The top-rated generator in the business is SON, and I was lucky to find that the maker of Kuroko’s original (highly rated) wheels offered the same model with a SON generator hub.

The wheel arrived very quickly, about three days after I’d ordered it, but the promised accessories were missing. I contacted Hunt and they quickly agreed to send them along. Meanwhile I’d bought a brake disc to match the original, as well as a rim strip, innertube and tire. I waited a couple of weeks for the accessories to arrive, and it was only then that I made a discovery or two:

  • The SON hub takes a centerlock disc, and the disc I’d purchased was a 6-bolt model (matching the existing disc)
  • The accessories included an adapter to use a 6-bolt disc with the centerlock hub, but didn’t include the locking ring (or the wrench necessary to secure that)
Rim strip
Rim strip

So everything was delayed another day or two while I got all the missing bits. In the end I got an adapter kit very reasonably which included the adapter, screws, washer and locking ring for the price of the locking ring itself.

While I was waiting for the last bits to arrive, I got the wheel out of the box, pulled off the protective vinyl and installed the rim strip. It went on very easily (easier than rim tape), and it only took me two tries to get the hole aligned with the valve hole in the rim.

Rim tape installed and aligned
Rim tape installed and aligned

Once the (final) additional bits had arrived, I set everything out and made a few trial fittings. This is when I discovered I was better off going with the adapter and related parts I’d bought than the ones provided by Hunt: the set I’d bought included countersunk bolts which cleared the locking ring. I set the wheel on one of the cardboard inserts from the box it had arrived in to protect the floor and got started.

Disc and adapterAdapter installed on hub
[L] Disc and adapter [R] Adapter on hub

No grease on these bolts — we don’t want grease getting on the brake pads. Instead, they come coated with Locktite.

Washer and bolts in placeWe don't need no torque wrench!
We don’t need no stinkin’ torque wrench!

With the adapter snugged down and the washer in place, the last step was to add the locking ring and tighten it using the wrench designed just for this one purpose.

Tightening the locking ring
Tightening the locking ring

If I could walk that way …

WTB tire and Conti tube
WTB tire and Conti tube

With the brake disc now ready, I turned my attention to installing the innertube and tire. In fact, these rims and tires can be run tubeless, but when I asked the shop to set Kuroko up that way originally, I got an earful of very rapid but polite Japanese to the effect that I would be in big trouble when I had a puncture and was 50km from civilization. I’ll be carrying a spare tire on Lejog, and now that I’ve verified the Conti is the right size tube, I’ll be carrying a few of those as well.

In the past I’ve always prepped tubes by smearing a bit of talcum powder on them by hand, but yesterday I watched a video from a professional mechanic who recommended putting some talcum in a vinyl bag with the tube and giving them a good shaking, so that’s what I did.

Tube in bag with talcum
Tube in bag with talcum

Pretty well coated with talcum
Pretty well coated with talcum

With the tube prepped, I worked one bead of the tire over the rim, taking care to align the label with the valve hole. (It’s not just the mark of a pro: it makes it easier to find the valve.) The tire worked onto the rim pretty easily when I kept in mind the pro’s advice to knead the tire towards the center of the rim and in the direction of the remaining portion of the bead that needs to be gotten over the lip.

That accomplished, I pumped a bit of air into the tube and placed it inside the tire, starting with the valve and working around.

One bead on the rim, and innertube in place
One bead on the rim, and innertube in place

(I may have gone a bit overboard on the talcum, but at least that doesn’t hurt anything — right, J&J?)

All that remained was to work the final bead over the rim, kneading the tire, checking that it was well placed on the rim, and pushing towards the remaining portion. It was on before I knew it, and then I checked it was seated properly and filled up the tube. Done!

Filling the tire
Filling the tire

In the process, of course, I tightened the nut that holds the valve against the rim. I discarded the valve cap that came with the tube and used one of the aluminum ones I purchased to match Kuroko.

Kuroko with a new generator hub
Kuroko with a new generator hub

I’m still waiting on a couple of bits — regulating socket and battery for charging accessories — before I install the generator lights. Meanwhile, by getting the wheel out of the house I’ve reduced the goodie pile by a substantial amount. Most of what remains, besides the generator lights, is spares and tire patching kits — and a few tools I haven’t settled in yet. Anyway, Nana should be pleased with the change.

Schwag pile before installation
Schwag pile before installation

Lights, spares and patching kits
After: lights, spares and patching kits