Hors de Combat

It will probably be a few weeks yet before I’m ready to ride again, so now is a good time to look at what didn’t work out this time, and what could be improved.

DNF

In the “Did Not Finish” category I’ll look at things that just didn’t do the job they were designed for.

Brooks C15
Brooks C15

First up is the saddle, of course. I’ve had trouble with saddle sores in the past. My first solution was to upgrade to a Brooks C15 saddle, and then to get some good gel shorts. These things helped, but obviously not enough. I suffered more than a little fatigue this trip, but in the end it was the saddle sores which kept me from completing. Meanwhile, FLJ had no difficulties with his brand-new Brooks B17 titanium despite having no break-in time at all.

Exposure Redeye taillight
Exposure Redeye taillight

My Exposure Revo dynamo light performed flawlessly, sometimes still glowing more than an hour after we’d finished a day’s ride. The only shortcomings were a lack of a switch (I had to unplug it when it wasn’t in use and cover the power ports with the included dust caps) and no way to quickly tell which cable was which (main power or taillight). The piggybacked Redeye taillight, though, gave out almost immediately and remained hors de combat for the rest of the ride. I haven’t yet had a chance to determine if it’s a connectivity problem (possibly a port clogged by mud or a broken cable), a lightbulb failure or something else. The light has a two-year warranty, so presumably I’ll be able to get a replacement if needed.

Pannier held on by bungee
Pannier held on by bungee

Finally, the Mont Bell panniers, which previously saw me through a London-to-Paris ride, threw in the towel at the first opportunity. On the second day of riding I clipped a low barrier, breaking one of the two clips at the top which secure the pannier to the rack. I’m glad we had bungee cords on hand, and after a bit of fiddling I was able to come up with an arrangement which held the bag securely enough to continue riding. At the earliest opportunity I replaced the bags with a new set of Ortliebs in bright yellow, and these performed flawlessly. (On the other hand, I haven’t tried ramming them into any barriers. Yet.)

(The Mont Bell’s clips seem to be replaceable, but I couldn’t find any replacements in time for our resupply point on this trip. I’m happier with the Ortliebs, which also have replaceable clips. Meanwhile, I’ve left the unbroken Mont Bell pannier in London for FLJ or his son to use if they’re so inclined.)

Life on the canal
Your faithful correspondent

The most fundamental bit of gear that didn’t hold up under the stress was none other than your 58-year-old correspondent. Of all the prep I’d done for the trip, I failed to lose any weight in advance. And while I put in quite a few kilometers in the months leading up to the event, I didn’t have many days of back-to-back riding. As mentioned at the top, I’d already experienced some saddle soreness in one-day rides, and I failed to take that seriously enough before embarking on what was supposed to be 13 days of riding (with one planned rest day).

But I’ll be back … unlike some of the equipment listed above.

Also Ran

The “Also Ran” category covers things that worked, but not as well as they could have. In some cases I’ll be looking for alternatives before the next big ride. (NB: I’m not planning any two-week treks again anytime soon.)

Overseas travel charger
Overseas travel charger

The overseas travel charger comes with a variety of plugs to fit most destinations, and has four USB ports. That should allow it to charge multiple devices simultaneously. But it just didn’t deliver enough juice to charge my phone unless I turned the phone off and left it to charge overnight. It was a constant challenge for us to keep our phones (FLJ was using two) and the Garmin charged, particularly as some hotel and B&B rooms didn’t have many outlets. When I returned to FLJ’s London flat I was able to charge my phone in a couple of hours using his MacBook charger. So it’s likely that the voltage on the overseas travel charger is divided among its four ports, allowing it to deliver only one-quarter of the juice through each port. This is a lesson I’d learned in my day job with unpowered USB hubs, but I’d apparently forgotten.

Detail of bicycle frame showing attached pump
Topeak Road Morph G

The Topeak Road Morph G pump fits neatly to Kuroko’s small frame, includes a folding handle and foot pad, and features an inline gauge. It saw us through no fewer than four punctures, as well as the initial tire inflation after I removed Kuroko from the airline bag in London and reassembled her. The only shortcoming is the difficulty getting the pump head to secure to the valve such that the air is going into the tire. There were too many false starts where the air was just whistling around the valve, or where we were trying to force air into a valve that wasn’t open. I think the issue is the very small pump head, which doesn’t have sufficient depth for a secure attachment to the valve. I’m undecided about whether to seek out an alternative as the pump works well otherwise, and we were always able to get it to come through (albeit often after multiple tries).

Topeak Hexus II minitool
Topeak Hexus II minitool

I got the Topeak Hexus II in part for its included tire levers, but — as is often the case with such gimmicks — the levers turned out to be suboptimal. We were able to get our tires off to fix flats in every case with these levers, but they just didn’t work as well as a pair of dedicated tire levers would. I don’t think I need to replace this tool, which worked fine for everything else we used it for, but just augment it with a cheap set of purpose-made tire levers.

Shimano 105 rear derailleur
Shimano 105 rear derailleur

The Shimano 105 rear derailleur is usually a delight to use, providing swift, sure shifts with a complete lack of fuss and noise. But we had issues on this trip. The adjustment was off following the flight and reassembly of the bike in London (and it’s on me that I didn’t correct the issue before setting off). And after a couple of days in rain and mud, the pulleys were squeaking and I had to double-shift to get the result I wanted. Finally, after a long slog over a particularly muddy canal tow path, the derailleur stopped shifting up to the higher range. It was stuck on the four largest sprockets.

We dismounted at one of the canal locks and I played with the derailleur for a few minutes to get it working again. I backed out the adjustment screws, and I sprayed the unit with my water bottle to dislodge some of the mud that had built up in its workings. After that, the derailleur was shifting again — albeit by double-shifting and with no small amount of squeaking.

In backing out the adjustment screws, though, I’d made a fatal mistake: I’d loosened up the screw that prevents the chain from coming off the largest sprocket and into the spokes. It happened once shortly afterwards, and I made a mental note to correct it during our next stop. But I put it off, and in the end I got the chain into the spokes at speed (shifting down in preparation for a stop), breaking two spokes outright and mangling several others.

Mechanic truing wheel on bike in parking lot
Ben’s mobile bike repair

That might have been the end of the ride for me. I was able to twist the two broken spokes around their neighbors so Kuroko could limp along to the next town, but the wheel was out of true and rubbing against the frame. Meanwhile, the broken spoke ends were rattling around the hub, and there was a danger of a spoke going through the innertube was well. Fortunately, FLJ got on his phone and was able to locate a mobile cycle mechanic! Ben was able to come to our hotel not long after we limped in, and spent an hour in the darkening parking lot replacing three spokes, truing the wheel, adjusting the derailleur and cleaning and oiling the chain. In the end he charged a bargain £30 for his time, including the hour it took him to reach us and another hour to get back home when the job was done. (I slipped him an extra fiver so he could enjoy a cold one — after getting home, of course.)

After Ben’s attention, the derailleur never gave another moment’s trouble. Shifts were once again swift and sure, with no more noise coming from the drivetrain than the satisfying ratcheting sound of the freewheel. But until Ben arrived on the scene to save the day, my experience had been a rolling advertisement for the flawless (if heavy and expensive) Rohloff shifting mechanism on FLJ’s new bike.

WTB Horizon bicycle tire
WTB Horizon

The WTB Horizon tires that came with Kuroko (mounted on excellent Hunt wheels) are very good for road and gravel riding, with their smooth profile and generous volume. At one point of the tour when the going got particularly rough, I was able to let some of the pressure out for a more comfortable ride. And the tire is foldable, allowing me to carry a spare (which we didn’t need in the end).

The only shortcoming revealed itself when the path became particularly muddy — in fact, when the path was nothing but mud. With their smooth profile, the tires failed to get any purchase and the handling became treacherous. But this is not an issue with these tires as much as to say they’re not suited for all-out mud riding: something with a pronounced tread would be better in that situation. When the going was less muddy, I appreciated the Horizon’s smooth profile for the efficiency it gave.

Scratched!

I wondered during this ride if my legs or my lungs would be my downfall, but a different vulnerability got me in the end. After pedaling across England from Land’s End to Carlisle, just shy of both 900km and the Scottish boarder, I succumbed to saddle sores.

Peace officer and very tired cyclist
Peace officer helps out with a puncture

Along the way we’ve encountered horse trails, gravel paths, broken pavement, shoulderless motorways, actual fields of mud and grass, Matterhorns and glass-strewn pavements. We’ve fixed punctures and ducked into pubs to get out of the rain. We’ve even had to call in mobile service to deal with broken spokes.

Mechanic fixing bike in dark parking lot
Field repairs

When I told Fearless Leader Joe I couldn’t continue, we quickly agreed on a plan: he would take the Garmin and tire pump and continue solo, and I would rent a car and follow along, with Kuroko stashed in the back. It was a winning plan except for the fact it was Sunday – – no car rental shops were open. I ended up putting in nearly 60km more to find a place to stay in Carlisle where I would be near a car rental shop the next morning.

Cyclist standing by Welcome to Scotland sign
Welcome to Scotland

Meanwhile, as I enjoyed a long afternoon nap, Joe passed into Scotland, still pushing to get ahead of the game. He got in another 100km after lunch before stopping in Abington.

Red car seen through another car's rain-streaked windshield
Too much rain to drive

It turned out to be a very good thing Joe worked so hard yesterday, because today the weather conspired against us. There were just a few sprinkles in the morning, but by noon the rain was coming down so hard that I had to pull the car off the road and wait. I messaged Joe that he needed to take shelter, but there was no immediate answer.

Finally Joe got in touch. He’d waited out the worst in a pub near Edinburgh, and was now back on the road. We quickly decided on Perth as our resting stop, which still puts Joe ahead of schedule despite the rain stop.

And now here we are, waiting for our steak pie.

In transit, with bike

I flagged the first taxi I saw, and then the driver and I spent the next five minutes struggling to get the bike in. The bag was too wide for the trunk, so in the end we got it in the rear seat on a slant, with one window open.

On my return I’ll have to try and get one of those taxis that looks like a London cab.

At Shinjuku Bus Terminal I discovered my bus was leaving from 3F (instead of 4F as expected). It was a direct to Haneda International Terminal, without stopping at the domestic terminals. There were two of us aboard.

At Haneda I wasted 10 minutes struggling with the check-in kiosk. At first I had the wrong airline, and then it wasn’t reading my passport. When I finally entered all the info, it simply said it couldn’t check me in.

I sighed and got in line.

Once I got to the counter, everything went smoothly. The clerk measured the bike bag and said it was just within the limit. I was able to check my duffel bag as well, after removing the batteries, and there was no charge.

I followed a worker with my bike bag to the oversize luggage security check. There the workers cooperated to lift the rubber curtain on the X-ray machine to get the bag inside. It went through with about 1cm to spare.

If they put me on a 737, I’m bailing…

Welcome to Beijing

International transfer is still a question of finding some rather hidden signs. Parts of the process have been automated, and a very nice man helped me when the machine didn’t like my boarding pass.

After that it was still the line snaking behind a stairwell that I remember from three years ago. And then at security, a shock: they confiscated one of my batteries because the capacity was not shown. After I basically asked ‘Really?’ for the third time, I was led to a polite person who simply repeated the policy to me in English.

Bye-bye, battery. It wasn’t a cheap one, either. But I think I’ll be OK without it.

The signs before security did not say a thing about removing batteries from your bag, with the result that most bags had to be scanned repeatedly.

Air China airplane at gate with control tower and rising sun in background
Welcome to Beijing

All good things must come to an end, even nine-hour layovers in Beijing. Boarding for London next.

Oh, boy. Another A330. No elbow room.

Why?

We stopped in our favorite local sushi counter for a last meal of good Japanese food before I depart for England.

One nigiri serving
One nigiri serving

When Nana told the master I was off for two weeks of cycling in England and Scotland, he had only one question: Why?

Meanwhile, I noticed some familiar faces among the condiments.

Peanuts soy sauce
Peanuts soy sauce

And then a startling discovery!

Snoopy on soy sauce bottle, holding chopsticks in his left hand
Snoopy’s a lefty!

Last-minute prep

I’m departing tomorrow evening for London. It will take me 24 hours to get there (with a nine-hour layover in Beijing), and I’ll be there less than 24 hours before we set out for Penzance, and hence, Land’s End.

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking care of a lot of last-minute details. I had a regular doctor’s visit this morning for monitoring sleep apnea. On the way to the doctor’s office, I stopped in Starbucks to source some essential cycling nutrients.

Boxes of Starbucks origami drip coffee
Essential cycling nutrients

The apnea doc took just five minutes, and after that I visited my head doctor. I haven’t had any migraines since my last visit, but I was out of the anti-inflammatory pills he gives me to take instead of aspirin for regular headaches. These turn out to also be good for controlling swelling of the knee joints while biking, and I needed a quick top-up. Including the walking between doctors’ offices and waiting time, that took less than half an hour.

After returning home, I booked the airport limo. (This wasn’t a big deal as I’m traveling mid-afternoon on a weekday.) In addition, I started gathering up all the various bits of charger cables and USB connectors I’d collected to make sure the trip is a success.

Power adapters and USB connectors
Better connected than God

I also printed out all the flight schedules, bike taxi bookings, and the day-to-day routes and instructions (in case the GPS fails to perform). In one case the directions came to five sheets of paper, and that’s with printing on both sides at two pages per side. The result is a wodge of paper that could choke an ox.

Pages of printed maps and directions
Do we have enough printed pages yet?

I love this country!

One bit that’s been pending is installing the UK road maps onto the Garmin. I bought these more than a week ago, but when it came to installing there was always an error message. I searched on the error message text and followed all the instructions, but the result was always the same.

This evening, on arriving home from the office, I restarted my computer (again) and let it run some pending updates. After it restarted I plugged in the Garmin and immediately was greeted with a wizard to guide me through installing the maps. Zounds! The wizard reported I would need at least 12GB free, whether on the Garmin itself or a microSD card. I checked the Garmin and it was at 11.9GB free, so I figured I’d need an SD card. And where would I get one of those? As it turns out, from the 7-11 in the same building as our flat! As soon as I figured out how to insert the card into the Garmin, the map file began installing.

Garmin loading map file
Unfortunately, the process is not instantaneous

Detail of UK map
Detail of UK map

And here, several hours later, is the result.

With any luck, we’ll have no need of all the paper maps and directions I’ve printed out.

Cycling Osaka To Nara On Japan’s Steepest National Road

Jonny a.k.a. Backpackingman
Jonny a.k.a. Backpackingman

Jonny a.k.a. Backpackingman has had a go at Kuragari pass and writes about his exploit here.

Fearless Leader Joe, Sanborn and I took on this same mountain pass in November and lived to tell the tale with a few differences. First, we’d started from Kyoto and gone to Nara before joining Rte. 308 heading west, while Jonny started in Osaka and headed east. That means Jonny had a steeper walk/push up, but then a more navigable descent towards Nara. (The descent from Kuragari pass towards Osaka is too steep, too narrow and has too many switchbacks to work up any speed.)

Oh. And Jonny was riding a cheap city bike, a chari in the local patois, while we had a variety of mounts ranging from light-years beyond a chari all the way up to FLJ’s carbon-framed Jamis Renegade. (Of course, I was on Kuroko, but this was before I’d swapped out the crankset for better climbing ability. Not that it would have made much difference … )

Another difference is that Jonny was armed with the knowledge that Rte. 308 over Mt. Ikoma is Japan’s steepest national road. Had the three Gaijin-teers known this, we might have chosen a different route for our ride.

Always up for a challenge I said “screw it” and went for it.

Jonny

Watch below as Jonny pours water over the chari’s rear brake on the descent from Kuragari pass:

We didn’t have quite the same issues, although we had a steeper descent towards Osaka. On the other hand, FLJ had so much trouble with his rear wheel skidding on the descent that he was forced to walk, and Sanborn wore halfway through his (non-disk) brake pads.

Kyoto Nara Osaka route
Kyoto Nara Osaka route

I hope she’s not claustrophobic

The most important part of packing for Lejog is getting Kuroko ready for the trip. I didn’t think my Ostrich bag would provide enough protection for a flight, and so back in January I ordered the highly rated Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro. And it’s been sitting on the balcony under a tarp since then.

Fitting the tent on the bike rack
Fitting the tent on the bike rack

Today is my last non-work day before catching the flight, so I knew it was time to grapple with the task of getting Kuroko into her bag. Before starting, though, I wanted to check the fit of the tent on the rear rack. There’s no problem, although I’m glad I ordered the longer bungee cords. It’s likely the tent will block the dynamo taillight, though. (I’ve removed the light in this photo because the clamp for the bike stand would crush it.) Maybe when the panniers are on the bike I can have the tent off to one side.

Unveiling the Evoc bagInserting the stays into the bag
Unveiling the Evoc bag

With the tent question settled, it was time to get the Evoc bag out from under the tarp, roll up my sleeves, and see what it takes to get a bike in the bag. The first step turned out to be quite a challenge: fitting the stays into sleeves that had been tightly rolled up for five months and more.

Frame pad in place
Frame pad in place
Handlebar secured in frame pad
Handlebar secured in frame pad

All good things must come to an end, and after struggling with the stays and sleeves for a good 10 minutes, I turned my attention to prepping the bike. Putting the frame pad on meant removing the cockpit bag. I’m loathe to do this because I’ve lost skin to the velcro straps that secure the cockpit bag to the top tube, but it’s necessary in the case of the Evoc bag: the frame pad also holds the handlebar (which yes, must come off the steering tube). The good news is there’s no need to remove the seat — just loosen the clamp and lower it as far as it will go.

Between those two steps, though, I set the bike frame into the carrier. This entailed several operations:

  • Removing the wheels
  • Finding and inserting the proper fittings for the carrier
  • Adjusting the carrier mounts to the frame wheelbase
  • Securing the frame to the carrier with the thruaxles

Kuroko and the carrier
Kuroko and the carrier

All set! Carrier fitting done
All set! Carrier fitting done

Somehow I managed to get it all done without dropping Kuroko on her unguarded chainrings after removing the wheels. (For future reference, this prep can all be done before lowering the saddle, and hence with Kuroko still securely held in the bike stand.) This was the one part of the procedure that was not documented well. The manual stated which fittings suited which type of axle/spacing, but there was no mention of the fact that I should use my thruaxles to secure the frame, among other omissions. A few additional diagrams and words of explanation at this point would have been helpful.

Bike in Evoc bag and secured with straps
Bike in Evoc bag and secured with straps

I lifted Kuroko and carrier into the bag and spent a few minutes securing the whole get-up with various straps, velcro and otherwise. I took a couple of minutes to put on the greasy old chain cover I had originally bought to use with yet a different bag many years ago, when I took Ol’ Paint on the shinkansen to Kyoto for a ride around Lake Biwa.

Wheels go in their own pockets
Wheels go in their own pockets

At this point the job was largely done. There are separate pockets on the outside of the bag for each wheel. I let the air of of the tires before putting them in the pockets, because I’ve seen several recommendations for this. Apparently some airlines insist on it. (I can imagine a poorly maintained tire blowing in an unpressurized cargo compartment.) In the case of Kuroko’s fat tires, this probably also helps things fit without too much of a fight. Of course, I’ll have a pump along to top the tires up in London when I reassemble the bike.

And there we are. Kuroko fit with room to spare. I’m lucky that I take a small frame, because the pannier rack fit into the bag as it was — there’s no need for me to carry it separately and reattach it when I’m prepping Kuroko in London (although I should remember to bring along the requisite tool just in case some mid-ride tightening is required.)

Digital luggage scale
Digital luggage scale

I’d bought a cheap luggage scale to see how close to the limit this bag would be, and used it to weigh Kuroko before beginning today’s packing. With dynamo hub and lights, rear rack and cockpit bag, but without panniers and water bottles, Kuroko came in right about 13kg. Once everything was zipped up tight in the Evoc bag, though (having removed the cockpit bag and front light in the process), I discovered there’s nothing in the middle of the bag from which to hang it from the scale. All the handles are on the ends. So I used the tried-and-true method of weighing myself on the bathroom scale, with and without the bag, and subtracting the difference. And the answer is: 22kg. The videos I watched to help with packing this bag mention including other gear along with the bike, but they’re all based on the premise of sub-10kg carbon fibre bikes. As things stand, I’ll probably stick two empty water bottles and my helmet in the bag, and leave it at that.

Evoc pro cycle bag with bike inside

Final dimensions:

  • 150 x 86 x 43cm (l x h x w)
  • 22kg

Motivated by the approaching deadline

Camping cookware
Camping cookware

I’m flying in five days, and there are still a number of things to do to get ready. The forecast was for rain all day (although it’s just been overcast since an early morning rain tapered off), so I set my sights on finishing up a lot of prep work rather than riding. First I went to the bike shop to get some chain degreaser, and then met the Halfakid for lunch. On the way home, I stopped at a camping goods store for some dishes, which I’d neglected to get when I bought the tent and sleeping bag.

Shrink wrapping the dynamo contacts
Shrink wrapping the dynamo contacts

The first order of business was to finish installing the dynamo lights. The electrical wire was so fine that it slipped right out of the spade connectors no matter how hard I crimped. So I took them to the office and soldered the lot together. Today I added the heat-shrink wrap and then installed the cables on Kuroko. I’d also bought some velcro tape and I used that the secure the cable to the taillight.

Taillight shining
Let your taillight shine

With those installed and the front wheel swapped out for the dynamo hub (which has been sitting on the balcony since I put the tire on months ago) I gave it a few spins. Nothing. I checked the light to see if there was a power switch I was missing. More nothing. I watched the wheel spin around and realized the best I could do by spinning it with my hand was the equivalent of a few kilometers per hour.

So I took Kuroko off the stand and down the elevator for a test spin. Just a quick ride around the block. And I was pleased to see the light shining brightly the moment I got some speed up. It has a regulator built in, so it remained lit through an entire cycle of traffic lights. I dismounted to check the taillight and it was lit up, too. In fact, after I got home and brought the bike back up the elevator and out on the balcony again, the taillight was still shining.

Cleaning

The next order of business was cleaning the chain — hence the visit to the bike shop this morning. I got a gear brush also, so I spent a few minutes degreasing the chain and then cleaning up the pulleys and the rear cogs.

A clean chain

After letting the chain dry I put the back wheel on once again and oiled the chain and sprockets. Finally, I readjusted the rear derailleur and cable tension to get it shifting smoothly. Nearly ready to go.

Garmin external battery
Garmin external battery

The final order of business (before taking Kuroko all apart and stuffing her in the airport bag) was to mount the new external battery for the Garmin GPS. It just took a minute to remove the existing mounting adapter and insert the new one. It changes the way the Garmin goes on, though. Without the external battery, the unit mounts with a simple twist. Now there’s one lever to lock the Garmin into place and another for the second battery. On the upside, I’m supposed to get up to 40 hours of use this way. That will come in handy if we’re bunking down in tents overnight with no access to electricity.