Windy and flat(s)

Sakura on the Aso river

The day dawned clear and warm, and the Halfakid and I decided to visit Otarumi Touge, a mountain pass near Mt Takao, for the first time this year. I rode up to the pass at least three times last year, but I’ve never reached the top without stopping for a breather. (The Halfakid goes right to the top each time.) Although I’m in far from my best shape, I thought that Kuroko’s latest and greatest low gearing might just prove the answer to my climbing woes.

From the moment we hit the Tamagawa river basin, we were fighting a strong crosswind. I tucked my head down and soldiered on, and the Halfakid tucked in behind me. While I was riding often three or four gears lower than I normally would for this path, we were still averaging just above 20km/h. I vowed that I wouldn’t call it quits but keep pressing on, no matter how low the gear, as long as we were making progress.

We were a bit fearful when it came time to leave the Tamagawa and turn towards the Aso river, because we’d be facing straight into the wind. After crossing the initial bridge, however, we found that — if anything — the going was a bit easier. We were soon enjoying the views of sakura blooming alongside the cycling path.

Sakura on the Aso river
Sakura on the Aso river

At this point I was wondering if the wind would be hindering us on our climb up to Otarumi Touge. We wouldn’t know until we reached Takaosan Guchi — the train station at the foot of Mt Takao — at the earliest. The only thing for it, as before, was to keep my head tucked down and keep my pedals turning.

Here’s the part where the flats come in

Unfortunately, fate had other plans in store for us. I heard the Halfakid calling for me and I pulled up to a stop. He had a flat. We pushed our bikes up against the leeward side of a public restroom and took stock. The Halfakid was concerned he didn’t have a spare inner tube (mine are a different size), but it turned out he did. With my coaching, he removed the flatted inner tube and checked the tire and rim by feel for any foreign objects. Finding none, he inserted the new inner tube and worked the tire back over the rim. After reinflating the tire with my pump, we were back on the road after having lost perhaps 20 minutes.

If that were the end of it, we might still have reached the top of Otarumi Touge and made it home in time for a hot bath and dinner. I’m sorry to report, though, that I failed to finish securing the tire pump to my bike after the fix. It dropped off with a clank as I passed a jogger under a bridge several kilometers later. The Halfakid stopped and picked it up and brought it up to me at a walk. It was easy enough to secure the pump, but the reason the Halfakid was walking was he had another flat! And it was the same tire — the rear.

At this point we decided professional help was in order. (We could have patched the inner tube and continued on, but it might have only bought us another kilometer or two.) The Halfakid looked up nearby bicycle shops on his phone and we set out walking.

The first shop was just an 8-minute walk, but that turned out to be 8 minutes wasted. When we rounded the corner and found the little corrugated tin hut in the middle of a parking lot, we knew it wasn’t what we were looking for. Nevertheless, the Halfakid gamely engaged the worker in a series of questions. She’d never heard of tire sizes in anything but inches (the Halfakid’s are 700C). And when he asked if she knew of a nearby bike shop that could help with a proper “road bike,” her answer was at once meaningless and unintelligible. We thanked her for her time, checked the smartphone for directions once again, and set out.

A pair of familiar faces

On our way to the second shop, much further away and partly retracing our steps, we came across a family restaurant and sat down to a deeply needed repast of calories. Thus refreshed, we continued on towards our local cycling Mecca. And as we passed the final intersection, we both thought it seemed very familiar. Yes, we’d returned to the very shop that had repaired Ol’ Paint for us more than a year ago when the Halfakid was riding her on our way to the same destination — our first attempt on the Otarumi Touge pass.

Sports Bike Mechanic sign
Sports Bike Mechanic — the only reliable mechanic in Hachioji?

If the mechanic remembered us, he gave no hint. He was having a very busy morning of it and we had to wait for him to finish up a repair for another customer before he could assist us (and several more customers entered the store as he was helping us). The Halfakid described the problem to him and he set to work. After removing the inner tube, he immediately did what we hadn’t done: inflate the tube to find the source of the leak. And within moments he was pointing out a spot on the wheel where the rim tape was crooked, leaving one of the spoke nipple holes partly uncovered. The inner tube had failed after coming into contact with the sharp edge of the spoke hole.

The mechanic removed the faulty rim strip and installed fresh rim tape, then patched the inner tube. He had the bike ready to go in almost less time that it takes to describe the issue. We asked him for a spare inner tube and left the shop $25 poorer and a lot happier.

Unfortunately we’d used up too much time fixing two flats, including the time spent eating lunch and walking to the shop. There wasn’t enough time left in the day for us to take on Otarumi Touge. We turned our bikes back towards Tokyo and were spurred along by a strong tailwind. As we rejoined the Tamagawa, the wind occasionally came across the path and slowed us a bit, but overall it was giving us a firm push homewards. Before long I was handing the new spare inner tube to the Halfakid at the door to his apartment and setting off for the remaining 8km to home.

GPS files for the route from Shinjuku to Hachioji and back
A tale of two ride segments

In total I rode 84.24km today in just over four hours for an average of 20.88km/h.

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