Following the completion last weekend of Kuroko’s drivetrain upgrade, I finally set out Saturday on my first ride of the New Year. It’s a bit late for my first ride of the year — last year I did it on Jan. 6, with the Halfakid going for the first ride on his new bike. This year the Halfakid wasn’t available, but at least I was getting a Chinese New Year ride in.
The day dawned grey, but not too cold: the forecast high was 13C. It was chilly enough though when I stepped out on the windy balcony to do some fine-tuning of Kuroko’s new derailleurs before setting out with a double-handful of Nana’s famous onigiri. It took me a couple of minutes to convince the Garmin that we were riding — perhaps the two-month hiatus had affected it as much as it had me — and then I was in cruising mode.
The new drivetrain was performing flawlessly. There was no noise apart from the snk, snk of gear changes (and of course the ratcheting of the freehub). Shifts were swift and sure. The bottom bracket was free of play and not making any grinding noises.
As my pace increased I reached a gear where there was a little bit of rattle. “I’ll have to have another look at that,” I thought. I glanced down and discovered I was on the ninth gear and the lightbulb lit: The derailleur was fine, but it was time for me to move to the larger chainring. With the larger cogs on the cassette, I have to move onto the larger chainring at a lower speed than I’d previously done. As soon as I made the shift, we were back to the Silence of the Cogs.
I spent the first part of the ride, in city traffic, getting used to moving up to the larger chainring when I reached cruising speed. I’ll be shifting the front a lot more often this way, so it’s good the front derailleur was also working flawlessly.
The bike was working far better than I was, as the two-month break from cycling and the Christmas and New Year’s partying have taken their toll. I was sure I wasn’t going to set any records, but I just kept grinding. When I neared my office, I took a slight detour to make the climb there (the one I usually have on the way home) to try out my new lowest gear. It worked a charm as I slowly but surely made my way up the hill, and I arrived at the top feeling a lot fresher than I usually do there.
I can hear the steel pipes sing
I stopped at the workshop to spend another hour stripping the old paint off Ol’ Paint. I don’t have any photos of this because I’d forgotten to charge my phone. I spent a few minutes finding a charger in the office and left my phone to charge as I headed to the workshop. I noticed today that when I applied the spinning scouring pad to Ol’ Paint’s steel tubes, they would sound like organ pipes — at least the three main tubes with their open ends did. I spent about an hour at it, and I think I’ve reached the limit of what I can do with the regular power drill. I’ll have to pick up again next week with the Dremel.
On the road again
Paint stripping done for the day, I ate a couple of onigiri, changed back into my riding clothes, and headed down the Tamagawa cycling course. Finally away from traffic, I could listen to the new drivetrain clearly and appreciate the Silence of the Cogs. It was really a delight. I took a short break for water and then continued on my way to Haneda. I came across a detour on the path and ended up in traffic for less than half a kilometer (I’d missed the sign directing cyclists to the new path), and then it was full steam ahead. I had a bit of headwind but not enough to seriously crimp my style, and soon Kuroko and I were basking in the — erm — partial sunlight at Haneda.
The return trip was more silent running. I had the wind to my back now and was making good time. I hadn’t had a single missed shift all day. And then, on a switchback with jogging baseball players to dodge, I mixed up my gear levers, shifting the wrong way and then immediately back again. I heard a crunch from the drivetrain and then the shift completed and I continued on my way.
But all was not well in Cog City. The chain was making some noise on the rear cogs and occasionally trying to jump to a higher cog. This is usually an indication of the wrong cable tension, so I was fiddling with the barrel adjuster as I rode. I tried tighter and I tried looser, but the results were the same: more or less noise, but never silent and always with the occasional grab for a higher gear.
I stopped at a rest area. All the benches were full of other bikers — what looked like a large cycling club. I found a spot where I could lean Kuroko against a fence post and set down my bag and helmet to take a look.
Remembering that I’d had an issue with loose and missing dropout screws, I checked the rear wheel and thru axle for play: nothing. Lifting the rear wheel off the ground, I slowly ran through all the gears, first in one direction and then the other. The shifting was working as designed. I checked the alignment of the derailleur to make sure it was squarely under the cog: perfect.
And then I saw it: a broken chain link. Wow.
I’ve never had this issue before. I knew from reading other cycling adventures that I could use a chain tool to remove the broken link and rejoin the remaining chain. Depending on how many links I had to remove, I might not be able to access the lowest gear or two, but I should be able to get home. I got out my multitool and started fiddling with the chain tool. In the process I discovered that the pin was still in the chain at the site of the broken link (that’s why I was able to keep riding as far as I had), but I wasn’t able to line up the chain plates again to try to force it back into place. I also discovered in the process that I couldn’t use the chain tool as it was: it requires a second tool to actually turn the screw. (And you can believe I tried to turn it by hand, but no dice.)
After poking and prodding at it for a few minutes (and meanwhile the cycling club had mounted up and ridden on), I decided to try to limp home with it. There’s a bike shop I know at Futako Tamagawa (the store where I bought Ol’ Paint) and I trust the mechanic there a lot. So I put away the tool, picked up my bag and helmet and continued gingerly on my way. Unfortunately, within half a kilometer I heard the chain fall to the pavement and felt the cranks spinning with no resistance. The chain had finally broken completely, probably assisted by my efforts to work things back into place.
My options at this point were to try again with the tool (erm, same problem with needing another tool to use the tool), lock up Kuroko to some handy fence and catch a taxi, or walk. I was about 4km from the Futako bike shop. There might have been a closer bike store and I knew from experience (when Ol’ Paint’s rear hub locked up on the Halfakid) that I could probably find one via Google Maps. But I figured a 4km walk wouldn’t kill me, and I really do like the mechanic at the Futako shop.
So I messaged Nana to say that I was OK, that the chain had broken, and that it would be at least an hour by the time I reached the shop and got the chain fixed.
I picked up the chain and started walking. (I figured I couldn’t reuse the chain — except on a bike that took a shorter one — but I didn’t want to leave it on the path for it to tangle in another cyclist’s wheels, or throw it into the grass where it would be a danger to the workers who cut the grass.) I left the Garmin on to see how far I was walking.
Ahead of me I could see the red bridge across the Tamagawa that is Daisan Keihin (one of the highways between Tokyo and Yokohama). It didn’t look far, but I walked and walked and it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. A glance at the Garmin told me I was walking about 5-6km/h. Surely this is not an endless trek across the wastelands of the Sahara! My cleats ground against the pavement and I continued onward, finally passing under the red bridge.
And now just another two kilometers to Futagobashi, the bridge that will take me back across the river at Futako Tamagawa. I checked my phone for a response from Nana, and there was nothing. A few minutes later the Garmin informed me the phone was dangerously low on battery. I resolved not to use it again until I’d reached the bike shop.
Finally, across Futagobashi on the pedestrian walkway. This gets very narrow at the end, and I had to be careful to let others pass me without hooking them with my handlebars. Then it’s a climb up the hill — the same one I’d practiced in the morning with my low gear — and at last I was wheeling my bike through the shop door.
The mechanic looked up from where he was working on another bike behind the counter. “What’s up?” In answer I held up the broken chain in my hand. “Wow, bad luck! How many cogs on your cassette?” “Eleven.” “Oh no! I don’t have that kind!”
He was very apologetic as he held the shop door for me, but of course he’d done nothing wrong. His shop specializes in BMX, so it’s natural he didn’t have this chain in the store. I only felt badly for him because that’s twice in a row now where I’ve asked him for help and he wasn’t able to, although he remains willing to try despite the fact that I didn’t buy Kuroko from his store. So he’s not making a lot of money off me these days.
At this point I was less than 1km from the office, so I headed there. Part of the way was even downhill, so I mounted up and let Kuroko coast along those parts. At the office I locked Kuroko up and put the rain cover over the cockpit bag. I threw the broken chain into the pile of computer discards, and messaged Nana that I would be coming home by train. Luckily I had a change of clothes in my backpack (which I’d worn to the workshop when I was spending quality time with Ol’ Paint), and I keep a pair of street shoes under my desk. The phone still had a 10% charge, not enough for me to read Twitter all the way home, so I picked out a book to read from my bookshelf.
Before I left, I ordered a replacement chain, and that will arrive today. I’ll review the videos on sizing and installing a chain, and take the new chain and my proper chain tool to the office tomorrow.
In the end I’d walked more than 5km, which made for an amusing 5km split and overall average speed.