With just less than a month to go before Lejog, I’m testing out as much of the gear as I can to make sure there are no surprises on the road. I’d added a rear rack to Kuroko back in March, but I hadn’t yet tried it with the panniers (saddlebags, for you non-cycling folk).
I bought the panniers for the London to Paris ride in May 2016, when I was using a borrowed bike, and that’s the only time so far I have used them. (For shorter rides like Kyoto-Osaka-Nara, I’ve just used a backpack.) So it was time to make sure the bags fit Kuroko’s spiffy new rack.
The fit was a bit more troublesome than it might appear in the photo above. The clasps at the top of each bag lock securely onto the rack, but the T-shaped toggle at the bottom doesn’t really hold securely. It might be less of an issue when the bags are fully loaded — I just put a token load in today — but there were a couple of times when the bottom bit came free of the rack, allowing the bag to swing a bit.
I was concerned with Kuroko’s short wheelbase that heel clearance might be an issue, but there’s no problem. I occasionally rub my heel or calf against a bag when pushing off from a stop, but once I’m clipped in there’s plenty of clearance. Kuroko handles a bit less nimbly with the bags on. Very stable, but she’s slightly less inclined to turn. It kind of feels like she’s on rails. By the end of today’s ride, though, I’d quite gotten used to it.
Meanwhile, I concentrated on mounting and dismounting, riding with panniers and cleats (I hadn’t worn cleats on London to Paris), and making sure I didn’t try to squeeze between vehicles as much with my wider rear end. Overall, no problem. One thing I learned on London to Paris was to step over the bike first, then get one foot on the pedal, and then push off and get the other foot up. Without panniers, I often just throw a leg over the saddle and push off and get both feet cleated up in one easy motion.
Apart from that, I was just concentrating on having a nice ride and staying safe in a really incredible amount of traffic. I was making good time without trying to push too hard. I knew that I couldn’t accelerate like usual with the added weight of the panniers (and token load), but I was eager to test out the difference in climbing. The Tokyo Landmarks route features a few stiff climbs. I’m glad to report that I never needed to drop into the lowest gear, so I have a bit of reserve for when I’m carrying a full load.
The day was forecast partly cloudy and warm, and it mostly didn’t disappoint. I was covered in sunscreen and wearing a UV-cut mask (which I hate, but the doc tells me it’s for the best). So I was a bit surprised when an enormous black cloud blanketed half the sky and it began to rain. I was lucky — it just sprinkled for about 20 minutes before letting up. I’d already decided I was going to press on even if it really started to rain (anything short of an out-and-out typhoon, that is), because it would be good practice for English weather. As it was, the sun was soon streaming through the clouds again and I was pulling my mask back up over my nose and cheekbones.
I was really glad with how smoothly Kuroko was performing in light of the recent raft of mechanicals. I tightened up the brake cables a bit when I stopped for a snack, and they’re perfect now. The only fly in the ointment is just a bit of squealing from the discs (which was happening before the adjustment as well), but it’s such a paltry amount it probably wouldn’t even be worth taxing it.
After the break there’s a long straight stretch with a lot of traffic lights. I was doing well overall on traffic lights today, particularly by getting greens on all the lights at the foot of the climbs. I can’t recall another time that has happened. But I’m always eager to get to the end of this particular stretch, which culminates with a view of Tokyo Skytree from a bridge over the Sumida river.
The river crossing marks the turn from north back towards the west and home — via Ueno Park, Tokyo University, Tokyo Dome and Budokan — and roughly the final third of the ride. I was a bit behind my expected time at this point, but not enough to worry. I passed right through the midst of an enormous matsuri at Asakusa on the way. (Nana had warned me about this, and about the expected crowd.)
The final landmark / snack point of the ride is Budokan, with the placid green waters of Chidorigafuchi and the bending cherry trees. There was some construction going on today, and a large crowd of concert-goers. I didn’t have any difficulty climbing Kudanzaka to reach Budokan, although I did get a red light at the foot of the climb this once.
Today’s shakedown ride with the panniers was a roaring success, although the paltry few sprinkles we had and my use of a UV-cut mask may not reflect the conditions we encounter in Merry Olde England — to say nothing of Scotland. Now I’m just waiting on one last bit of gear to install the generator hub and matching lights to test those out as well.