Bringing Dionysus home

Montage of bicycles with Arakawa sign, and one cyclist

I met Fearless Leader Joe at Arakawa today to bring Dionysus home. I’d lent the bike to FLJ on Nov. 8 to keep him occupied while he’s in Saitama on business, and he’s since racked up more than 1,000km on her (while I’ve been pretty slack).

I didn’t blog about the ride up into Saitama with FLJ and another friend on that occasion, in part because I got home late and tired. It was mostly new territory for the three of us and we got a little lost on more than one turning, but it all worked out in the end and was a lot of fun. I said farewell to Joe and Dionysus some time after passing Kawagoe, and turned around for home as he headed onwards for another 25km or so (and got lost again) before reaching his berth for the night.

GPS route of cycle ride
À bientôt, Dionysus

Today was more straightforward. FLJ had limited time to return Dionysus to me, so we simply met at Arakawa and turned around for home again. The weather was glorious: About 14C, sunny to partly cloudy and very little wind. It’s too bad we couldn’t have gone for a longer ride. But it’s good to have Dionysus home again and ready to serve as my trusty commuting steed.

Montage of bicycles with Arakawa sign, and one cyclist
With Dionysus at Arakawa

GPS route of bike ride
Bringing Dionysus home

Ch-ch-ch-changes

In the weeks since my last ride, I’ve done some maintenance and improvements on Kuroko. First, following a spoke failure on that ride and flats on back-to-back rides, I’d replaced the rear wheel and both tires. I also tilted the saddle a little down in the front to take pressure off the perineum.

Today as I was waiting for FLJ to let me know he was on the way, I replaced the handlebar stem. I wanted a little more height in the handlebars to combat the stiff neck and shoulders I get after hours in the saddle. There’s no adjustment room in the fork — the steerer tube would need to be longer to allow me to mount the stem higher. So I found a stem that’s made to lower the handlebars a bit, and simply mounted it upside-down to get rise instead.

Straight and angled handlebar stems side-by-side
Zero degrees vs some rise

I wasn’t looking to achieve any weight savings with the swap, but it’s good to see I wasn’t adding to the weight.

Two handlebar stems on scale for weight comparison
Newer and lighter is better

Of course, before I could make those comparison photos, I had to remove the old stem. Loosen a few bolts, and done!

Bicycle handlebar stem with top cap removed
Just getting started

Montage of finger smearing grease on bicycle steerer tube, plus close-up of reassembled handlebar stem
Use *all* the grease

After applying grease to the steerer tube and loosening some bolts, the new stem fit on easily. I used a proper torque wrench to tighten everything to the recommended limit.

Use a torque wrench to tighten bolt on handlebar stem
Right tool for the job

I could have used three or four hands to get the handlebar into the new stem and get the bolts in and tightened up (after the proper application of grease once again), but just as I was on the verge of calling to Nana to help me, I got it worked out. I hadn’t thought until this moment that the extra rise in the handlebars might require longer brake and shifting cables, but in the end there was enough give and it all worked out.

Angled handlebar stem mounted upside-down to lift the bars
Looks a bit awkward

The result looks a bit awkward from the side, but the new stem lifts the handlebars about 30mm. When I’d ordered the stem I’d worried it wasn’t going to make much difference, and now I was worried it would be too much.

Detail of handlebar stem
Done

I had one more thing to do before the day’s ride: I’d used all my new inner tubes while swapping tires and now I didn’t have a spare. I cast about among the pile of discards on the balcony. The first one I found wouldn’t hold air at all. The second one was stuck tight inside an old tire — I believe it’s one of the tubes I used in England for Lejog. After some tugging I released it from the tire, and then I put some air in it. It held. So I dusted it with a generous amount of talcum powder and folded it up to stick in my saddle bag.

Folded bicycle inner tube dusted with talcum powder
Done and dusted

Proof of the pudding

Today’s ride was brief, less than 30km and just under two hours. (Fearless Leader Joe, starting from darkest Saitama, racked up 55km by the end.) The change to the saddle was immediately noted by my nethers. It remains to be seen whether it puts increased pressure on the sit bones, which was the issue that brought my Lejog effort to an unexpected halt. For today, all to the good.

For the handlebar change, a longer ride will be needed to determine if it’s having the desired effect. I can say already that the more upright riding position (which is going to take a bit of getting used to) takes some of the pressure off my hands, which is to the good. My neck position felt more relaxed and natural. But I’ll need a good long ride of six hours or more to see if the change is really effective.

I made one final change before the ride, and that is to the Garmin. I usually have it set to auto-pause, so that time spent at traffic lights, or sitting in a park eating onigiri, is not counted against my total or my average speed. What I’ve realized in going over old rides, though, is that it leaves me without a good indication of how long it took to get to a certain point of a ride. For example, what time of day it was when we stopped at that town with the delicious chili (and how long we spent enjoying it). With the change, my average speed drops dramatically. But that’s not so important to me. And I found today that by deciding I’m not going to worry about average speed, I spend a lot less time glancing at the Garmin — which is a good thing.

GPS route of bike ride
Bringing Dionysus home

(The Garmin website still tells me that I averaged 22.2km/h while in motion, which is satisfying. Strava meanwhile reports that I recorded a string of personal bests — 10 in all.)

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