Shimanami Kaido reprise

Four cyclists and one bike on a bridge
Weather forecast showing high chance of rain for two days
Not promising

About a month ago, Fearless Leader Joe and I were discussing rides we’d like to do and he mentioned he wanted to ride Shimanami Kaido. The Halfakid and I did this one back in 2018 on rental bikes. We did the route in one direction only that time, opting to take the ferry back from Imabari after the hard plastic rental bike saddles had done a number on our backsides. So we’ve been wanting to get our revenge since that time.

Within a few days, we’d agreed on the dates. I booked the shinkansen for the Halfakid and myself (Joe and Sanborn would be driving), and Nana found a nice onsen hotel within reasonable riding distance of the end of the route in Imabari. (There are apparently no onsen in Imabari proper — at least none we’ve been able to track down.)

As we prepared for the ride and counted the days, I started checking the weather forecast for Onomichi. With 10 days to go, it was showing a more than 70% chance of rain both days. I checked every day thereafter and we crossed our collective fingers as the forecast slowly improved.

I had another bit of excitement in the interim: Nana and I woke up one morning with fevers and coughs. We were eventually diagnosed with pneumonia. With antibiotics and a lot of rest, I quickly recovered. But I wasn’t really confident I’d be able to make the trip until about 10 days before the start.

Photo montage of backpack with bicycle helmet and bike transport bag stowed behind a row of shinkansen seats
Packed and ready

I had a spare travel bag for the Halfakid, a real rough-and-ready rinko-style bag, while Kuroko got her usual pampered treatment in the padded bag. It was my first time taking this bag on the shinkansen. I’d reserved the seats with luggage space, and the bag stuck out a bit into the aisle. No one complained about it, though. (When the Halfakid boarded at Shin Yokohama, he stuffed his bike in behind and partly atop this — I didn’t get a photo.) After three-and-a-half hours on the bullet train, we switched to a local and arrived in Onomichi on schedule, four hours after I’d departed from Tokyo Station.

Close-up of bicycle tire showing sealant leaking at rim
The latex scare

We’d had a message from Fearless Leader Joe that he and Sanborn (blues name: Sambone) had arrived an hour ahead of schedule, but there was no sign of them at the station. The Halfakid and I set about unpacking and assembling our bikes, and then changing into our riding gear. I’d deflated my tires to help them fit in the travel bag, and the front in particular had leaked some sealant along the rim. I was a bit concerned it might not seal again when I pumped it up, but there was no trouble. The errant duo arrived just as we’d finished, and FLJ gathered up our bike bags to stow in his car. He returned, pushing his beautiful Chapman bike — he’d had to remove the handlebar to fit it in the back of his car, and he wanted my help to get it back on the bike. That took just a minute or two, and then I fitted a new pannier to the rear rack for him as well. (What happened to the bags I put on the bike in England, Joe?)

Cherry tree in bloom
The outlook quickly improved

We started a bit after 11, which was later than we’d hoped. But we were in luck with the weather. It had been raining in the morning, but the sun was beginning to shine as we took the ferry from Onomichi Port to Mukaishima. I started the Garmin and we set out on the first few, flat kilometers. As soon as we got to the first climb, though, an easy 3% grade up to the 1,270m Innoshima Bridge, the others raced past me as I slowed to a crawl. I’d let them know that there was a good spot for photos at the entrance to the bridge, and that’s where I found them waiting when I eventually got to the top.

Two cyclists chatting with bridge in background
Skinny guys get there first

That set the pattern for the rest of the day. As the weather continued to improve, allowing us to enjoy the views across the Seto Inland Sea, the lads would follow me on the flats and let me set the pace. But when it came to the climbing, they would rocket ahead as I shifted progressively downward and took my sweet time. The lead-up to each bridge is a gradual and winding 3%, but the climb up to Miyakubo Pass on Oshima is a long stretch at 5-6%. Four years ago, the Halfakid took a long breather halfway up this climb, but this time he was far ahead of me as I soldiered onwards and upwards.

Pink, red and white blossoming trees on a hillside
More blossoms

As the day wore on my energy decreased and each new climb seemed longer and harder. I was very pleased when I recognized the spiral ramp leading up to the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, the last of the day. The others stopped at the top of the ramp to chat but I continued immediately across the 4km-long bridge, doing my best to enjoy the view as I anticipated the spiral descent down the opposite side.

Japanese castle wall and turret rising over moat
Imabari Castle

At the foot of the off-ramp we departed from the Shimanami Kaido route and continued along the sea into Imabari. I’d selected this route to avoid traffic going into the city, and it was a success. In the end we only had a couple of kilometers of city traffic to negotiate before arriving at Imabari Castle shortly before 5 p.m.

We took a brief rest at the castle, finished our snacks and called the hotel to let them know to expect us about 6 p.m. On the plot of the route from the castle to the hotel it showed a steady climb, just 1-2% along most of the distance, but with an upward flip to 5-6% at the end. In my tired state I wondered if I’d really be able to make it in an hour. As the shadows were lengthening, I put on my bright yellow windbreaker and turned on my taillights before setting out.

The climb turned out to be so gradual for the most part that it was hardly noticeable. When we’d gone a few kilometers out of the city, we saw road markings for a cycle route to our goal: Nibukawa Onsen. We soon came to a decision point when the road markings said to continue straight ahead while the route I’d set in the Garmin was telling us to turn. We voted to go with the Garmin and it turned out to be a good choice. My route took us through some lovely rural farm country, and I could hear Joe and Sanborn discussing what a great, scenic ride it was.

I stopped for a final breather on a bridge over a small waterfall on the Nibukawa, just where our route joined up with the road markings again. The Garmin showed 1.5km remaining, so I put all I had into it and powered my way up the final steep portion. We soon rolled through a gateway and found the hotel just a few dozen meters on, surrounded by cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossoms
View from the hotel parking lot

The hotel staffer greeted us and opened up a spacious garage with bike racks inside. This was a welcome development! We checked into our room and headed immediately for the baths, knowing our bicycles were securely out of the elements.

Place setting for dinner with Japanese artwork and writing
Place setting for dinner

The baths — indoors and out — were relaxing and refreshing after the day’s ride, but they weren’t quite warm enough to fully satisfy us. Dinner on the other hand was sumptuous, with a variety of delicious dishes. There was so much food, in fact, that I wasn’t able to finish it all (something that rarely happens, particularly after a 90km ride).

GPS record of cycle route
Did not die

Day 2

We got a much better start for our return, departing at 8:21 after a delicious but not quite filling breakfast. I’d set a somewhat different route at the start, staying away from Imabari Castle and shaving off a couple of kilometers. But there were a couple of steeper climbs before getting to the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, and for the first time on this adventure I stopped for a rest midway up one of the longer rises. The day was warming up quickly, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, by the time we reached the bridge’s spiral entrance ramp. I made it up to the top without having to stop for a rest, and soon we were speeding our way across the 4km span.

Park bench showing the waypoints of the Shimanami Kaido
Park bench showing the waypoints of the Shimanami Kaido

We stopped at a convenient park on the opposite end of the bridge. We wanted to buy water from the vending machine, and I wanted to confirm a mechanical that had been brewing from the previous day: my rear derailleur wouldn’t shift up past about the middle of the sprockets. I pulled back the shift lever hood to expose the cable, and the Halfakid confirmed my suspicions with his eagle eyes: the shift cable was fraying.

This was the same issue that hit me in the middle of Lejog, and ended with me putting the chain into the spokes, breaking several. I knew from that experience not to try to mess with the derailleur adjusting screws. Because I still had full use of the lower half of the sprockets — the ones I need for climbing — I just shrugged and hoped the cable wouldn’t break completely before the end of the ride. Without the use of the higher gears, it just meant I’d coast more on downhills instead of pedaling to increase my speed.

View of the Seto Inland Sea
View of the Seto Inland Sea

Four cyclists and one bike on a bridge
Four cyclists, one bike

With our early start, we covered much more distance before lunch than we had the previous day. In fact, we ended up in the same location at lunchtime, with just 30km left to ride. We looked about for a different restaurant and chanced upon a very nice place serving anago. We dallied an hour over lunch before heading out into the bright sunshine once again.

Tatara Bridge
Tatara Bridge

In the afternoon we had just 30km left to go, and Miyakubo Pass was behind us. There were just a couple of brief climbs remaining. The entrance to Innoshima Bridge is marked by an enormous dinosaur statue and a steeply rising road. I paused to catch my breath and drink some water before continuing up the more forgiving cycle path.

Cartoon map of the cycling road
Very near the end

The others were waiting for me by the cherry blossoms on the opposite end of the bridge — which had been our first stop the previous day. They continued to chat cheerfully as I drank more water and took a snap of the blossoms.

Cherry tree blossoming
The tree at the end of the bridge

We descended from the bridge onto Mukaishima, our last island of the day, with less than 10km to go. Sadly, the wind — which had been with us most of the day — suddenly was in our faces. I pressed on the best I could manage, and the others followed close behind. (Sanborn later told me he’d been drafting so close behind that he hadn’t even noticed the headwind. I should have made him lead at this point.) Traffic picked up as we neared the ferry port, and the signs along the edge of the road counted down the kilometers for us. We finally made the last turn towards the port and rolled up to a stop, exhausted (at least I was) and triumphant.

Bicycle leaning against tile wall
Back at Onomichi station, preparing to pack up

We cooled our heels waiting for the ferry, and then crossed to the station. We arrived just before 3:30, which left us plenty of time to pack up the bikes, change our clothes and sit down for a coffee and some baked goods before our train departure at 5:14. And although Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn had a long drive ahead, they remained with us until we boarded the train.

Two people carrying bicycles in bags waving from train platform
Until next time!

The ride home was uneventful except for the fact there was no food or drink service on the shinkansen, as a coronavirus prevention measure. We’d bought snacks at Fukuyama to eat on the way, but I’d been expecting to get a cold beer once the train was in motion.

GPS record of cycle route
Continuation of failure to expire

Before I get to the gory details of fixing the shifter cable, here are a couple of resources for Shimanami Kaido that I referred to while writing this post:

Mechanicals

We had no flats, and my tires continued to hold air despite having leaked some sealant when I deflated them for the travel. Which brings us to the shifter cable. Saturday morning I unpacked Kuroko, putting the frame in the bike stand, and I checked my stock of cables: three brake cables and one shifter cable.

Four bicycle cables in Shimano blue packaging
That’s it on the left

After making sure I had what I needed, I cut the end off the cable and pushed it back through the housing towards the shifter.

Cutting shift cable at the rear derailleur with wire cutters
The first cut is the deepest

Frayed cable sticking out the side of a shift lever
The damage is done

With the shifter hood pulled back and the cable pulled free, the damage was apparent. I was a bit worried I’d have trouble freeing the mushroom head from the shifter, as I did the last time when the cable had snapped, but there was no problem. As I had plans to see the cherry blossoms in the afternoon with Nana and her mother, I left the bike in the stand at this point and cleaned up.

Bicycle chain cleaner held in gloved hand
This is the way we clean the chain

On Sunday, rather than jump right in at replacing the cable, I decided to clean the chain and rear sprockets first. They were certainly due for a good scrubbing.

Photo montage showing bicycle sprockets before and after cleaning
Not perfect, but a huge improvement

Shift lever with hood pulled back to show cable insertion
Mushroom in its slot

I threaded the new cable through the shift lever and the cable housings with very little trouble. I wanted to make sure that the mushroom head was fully captured by the rotating slot in the shift lever, because that had been troublesome the last time I replaced the cable. Holding the free end of the cable in tension with my left hand, I worked the shift lever back and forth a few times while watching through the tiny opening in the side of the lever. Finally I was satisfied that the mushroom was fully engaged, and I continued threading the other end of the cable through the remaining slots and housing.

At this point I noticed how dirty the rear derailleur was, so I spent a few minutes cleaning up the jockey wheels. While I was at it, I had a go at cleaning the chainrings as well.

Photo montage showing bicycle derailleur before and after cleaning
That’s dirty!

Finally, I cinched the pinch bolt tight against the cable. I ran through all the gears a few times as I adjusted the tension via the barrel adjuster. It just took a couple of twists before I was happy with the performance. I tightened the pinch bolt a bit more and cut the cable to length. I wasn’t able to find a cable end immediately — I ended up stealing one from one of the brake cable packages.

Bicycle showing detail of rear derailleur
Ready for adjustment

Rear derailleur with cable end on shifter cable
The finishing touch

After a last run through the gears, I reached for the front wheel to put it back in the fork, only to find it was flat. I’d pumped it up Saturday morning when I unpacked the bike and propped it up against the wall of the Workshop in the Sky, and here it was flat again just a day later. I pumped it up again and this time I could clearly hear the air hissing from the bead, not far from the valve. I swirled the tire around, hoping to get some sealant into the leaking area, but nothing changed.

I finally realized there might not be any more sealant left after all the leaking. With a sigh I let the remaining air out of the tire and removed the valve core. Using the syringe, I poured in a generous helping of sealant. I charged the tire pump reservoir up to 120psi, attached the pump head to the valve and let it fly. The gauge quickly dropped as the air rushed into the tire, but then it slowed and finally held at 40psi.

I listened once again and didn’t hear any leaking. I took the pump head off the valve (letting all the remaining air escape) and screwed in the valve core. Then I pumped up the tire to 60psi a final time. After closing the valve I swirled the tire some more while listening for leaks. Nothing. Satisfied, I put the wheel back in the fork and let Kuroko down off the stand.

Very little remained to do. I put the pedals back on after applying some fresh grease to the threads and remembering which way to turn them. I loosened the seat post clamp and retightened it to the correct torque. Finally I replaced everything I’d removed, either for packing or for the repair: the tire pump, the saddlebag, the lights.

Bicycle leaning against glass balcony railing
Done and done

Prognosis

I’m two for two now on fraying the rear shifter cable after traveling with Kuroko in a bag. While the Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro that I used for Lejog is different from the Ostrich OS-500 I used this time, and the placement of handlebar and fork in particular is very different, both involve turning and twisting that is potentially putting some stress on the shifter cable. On the other hand, I’ve used the Ostrich before — for the 2018 Tour de Tohoku and the Kyoto-Nara-Osaka ride the same year without any trouble. Searching for “broken shifter cable” brought up a number of hits, including this blog, but no particular mention of travel bags.

I’ve learned that Shimano shifters in particular are prone to fraying and breakage, with some riders reporting getting as few as 1,000km out of a single cable. Inspecting the cables for incipient wear can be tricky given the tiny access port available — even the Halfakid with his young eyes had difficulty making sure of the fraying when we stopped en route. So to avoid this sort of mechanical again (or to mitigate for it), I’m left with a few options:

  • Replace the cable periodically, even if there’s no sign of wear. (Signs include resistance to shifting or frequent need to reindex the gears.)
  • Carry a spare cable and the tools needed to replace the cable in the field.
  • Embrace the uncertainty as just one more quirk of the cycling life, like ridiculous padded lycra shorts.
  • Convert to electronic shifting — something I’ve been considering for other reasons, but it’s quite expensive.
  • Switch to a single-speed bike.
  • Replace my Shimano groupset with SRAM (which by all accounts is not subject to this same issue) — also rather expensive and not something I’m inclined to do. (Dionysus is on a SRAM 1x set-up, and I’m completely happy with that.)
  • Go to another gearing system, like the Rohloff Speedhub on Fearless Leader Joe’s Chapman bike. Not only is the Speedhub expensive and heavy, but I’d need a whole new bike.
  • Sell off the bike and take up darts.

I’m going to ponder these options for a while before coming up with a plan of action.

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