Three Rivers, Three Prefectures

GPS route of cycle ride

This is a ride I’ve been meaning to do for a while: up the Tamagawa, across the top of Tokyo (which actually puts me in Saitama), and then back down the Arakawa. As I learned when I set out to map it, this course runs along another river in Saitama, the Irumagawa.

When I told Nana I’d planned to do 125km, she was sceptical. I said I’ve ridden that distance and further any number of times in the past, and she pointed out I haven’t done more than 100km in quite some time. That set me to looking through my records, and the last time I did was in January, when I rode the entire length of the Tamagawa course in both directions for a total of 143.5km.

Looking at that ride and a couple of others of nearly 100km, I figured I could do this new route in 8 or 9 hours. So, with an 8 a.m. start, I should be home by 4 or 5 p.m., allowing some time for faffing on a new route.

Tamagawa

Bicycle leaning against wooden fence
Kuroko takes a break to let her tires cool

I reached the Tamagawa before 9 a.m. after a 15km jaunt through city traffic. The weather was cool and the skies overcast, despite the forecast for a sunny day with a high of 30C. I decided not to complain about the shortfall in the temperature department, and after a brief rest continued on up the river.

It was smooth sailing the whole way. If there was any wind, it was at my back, and there was little competition in terms of wandering pedestrians on the course. I stopped for my first of Nana’s world-famous onigiri at Persimmon Park, and then reached Hamura less than an hour later, well before 11. I took a break here and ate two more onigiri in the shade.

Bicycle leaning against fence with river weir in background
Kuroko pining for the waters

Selfie of cyclist in helmet in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers
Me ‘n’ my Tamagawa Bros

In fact on my way up the Tamagawa on this occasion I’d remained in Tokyo the entire time, just waving at Kanagawa Prefecture across the river. But when I do this route again I intend to go via Futako (meeting up with the Halfakid there), and the way upstream from there crosses briefly into Kanagawa before returning to Tokyo.

Irumagawa

I left the cycling course at Hamura and turned east, into traffic. There was a bit of climbing here, on roads that had looked completely level on Street View, but nothing I couldn’t handle. After a fast descent, I turned off the roads onto a path I’d found on Google Maps, and this turned out to be a mistake. It had sections of broken gravel, the kind mountain bikers look for rather than smooth path, and there were some stairs. Judging from the looks I got from a few people, I’d overlooked a sign forbidding cyclists on this path (or at least requesting riders to dismount). But most people were friendly.

Maybe I should have taken a clue from the fact this path wasn’t on Street View. But there are whole neighborhoods in this area that aren’t covered, so …

Next came more traffic, narrow streets absolutely clogged with vehicles. There was a long queue up a short rise with a traffic light at the top, and after cooling my heels through a couple of cycles of the signal, I mounted up the sidewalk and jumped to the front of the line. After that the Garmin faithfully guided me to the next cycling course, the Sayama-Kawagoe Cycling Road, which runs alongside the Irumagawa. This turned out to be smooth and well-maintained (the course, although the same might be said of the river), if a bit narrower than the Tamagawa and Arakawa courses (ditto). I was glad to be out of the traffic and not picking my way between cabbage-sized rocks, but I did have to bide my time for pedestrians and other cyclists on occasion.

Kawagoe

The cycling road brought me into the city of Kawagoe, although not right up to the doorstep of my goal, which was Koedo (the old town). I did some more faffing about here through back streets and more waiting in traffic on narrow streets. On one particularly long stretch of narrow, two-lane road, the cars would follow behind me looking for their opportunity to pass, only to end up just in front of me, following the car I’d previously been following.

Selfie of biker in helmet, mask and sunglasses in front of bell tower
Chimes of the times

Eventually I reached Old Town, only to find it packed with tourists. What pandemic? At least everyone was masked. I followed a line of traffic down the main road and pulled off the side for a picture with the iconic Toki-no-kane bell tower.

After working my way through the remainder of the tourist-lined road, I made quick progress to a convenience store for a bottle of water and some sweets, and then onwards to the Kawagoe Sports Park. Sitting on moss in the shade of a tree, I ate the last of the onigiri and most of the treats I’d bought. It was after 1 p.m. when I got up to continue the ride.

Arakawa

I’m well familiar with this path now after a couple of previous visits to Kawagoe, and I was glad to be back on the course after a lot of riding in traffic. The fly in my ointment was a headwind, which only seemed to get stronger as I made my way downstream. The skies were much sunnier than in the morning and the temperature near the promised 30C, and I was getting a headache from squinting in the sun and wind despite my shades.

What could I do with these conditions? Take more frequent breaks, drink lots of water, and then shift to a lower gear and keep going. The wind eased up for the last couple of kilometers and I finally reached my favorite signpost at Todabashi.

Bicycle leaning against sign marking Arakawa river
It’s back into traffic from here

Back home

I found some shade under the Todabashi and took stock of my situation. It was 2:40 and I had a bit more than 13km to go, all in heavy traffic. The Garmin was predicting I’d be home in 40 minutes or so, but I was exhausted from battling the sun and wind. I messaged Nana that I’d be home about 4, but warned I might be a bit later as I was tired and taking it easy. And then I mounted up and headed into the traffic.

I felt better almost immediately as I was no longer fighting a headwind. I’d worried I didn’t have enough energy for the coming climb, a long, gentle rise, but I had no trouble with it once I got started. (I was passed by a younger, fitter couple on their bikes, but fair play.) As I progressed my confidence returned. I was still tired and I had a headache, but I knew I’d be getting home. I took my time on the few remaining hills on Yamate Dori, waited out each traffic light, and drank the last of my water. I was glad I had very little trouble from the traffic.

And at last! After mounting up the last rise to Nakano Sakaue, I coasted gratefully back down the other side and turned towards home. I saved the ride on the Garmin and messaged Nana at 3:33 that I was home.

GPS route of cycle ride
Three Rivers, Three Prefectures

Success

Despite the headwind on the Arakawa (and I’ve been out there in worse) and the faffing about on the new sections in Saitama, the ride was a success. I’d come in at 7 hours 35 minutes elapsed time, beating my estimate, and there were zero mechanicals. My new rear wheel performed flawlessly in its debut, and the angry bees sound of the ratchet is a welcome metal touch. The little knobbies on the tires make a whirring sound on smooth pavement, but they were a welcome addition when I was working my way over the moon crater near Iruma.

Detail of rear bicycle hub
Metal

I’ve already revised my GPS route, including Futako and avoiding the rocky path at Iruma and some of the back streets in Kawagoe. I’m looking forward to riding this one again.

Long-awaited wheel swap

Bicycle on balcony in evening light

Tubeless faff

I recently saw a video in which a cycling blogger (with far more viewers than I have) described tubeless tires as “a bit of a faff,” and then went on to say how many thorns he’d had in his tires over the past year, and how it wasn’t an issue because he was riding tubeless and they’d sealed up the holes without any fuss.

So how’s that working out for you?

Since going tubeless (against the recommendation of the shop where I bought Kuroko), I’ve had a months-long fight with weeping sidewalls, culminating in an under-pressure tire rolling off the rim in a low-speed turn, and another failure where a broken spoke poked through the rim tape, creating a hole in a location that was nearly impossible for the sealant to deal with. But no flats as such.

That run came to an end on Saturday’s ride, where my rear tire had a pinhole (literally too small to see with any certainty) that the sealant wouldn’t reliably seal up. I’d gone over some broken glass on the previous ride, and counted myself lucky when nothing happened. It turns out I was counting chickens, and amusingly, the front tire (which had an innertube at the time) came through with shining colors.

Quittin’ time?

Given the expense and effort I’ve put into converting to tubeless, and the demonstrated results, I was considering giving up on the idea — much as I enjoy the masochistic thrill of repeated expense and wrenching to elevate myself among the Velominati. And then I recalled that I have a pair of wheels, tubeless tires ready-mounted, awaiting me in the Workshop in the Sky. I could simply swap out the current wheels and then fix up the tubeless issues at my leisure.

Sunday was sunny and warm, and hence perfect weather for bicycle maintenance following a day of riding through puddles and rain (particularly when one’s partner has misinterpreted one’s stated wishes and made plans for the day with good weather rather than the day with rain in the forecast). I’d already brought Kuroko to the Workshop in the Sky in anticipation following Saturday’s ride.

Well, that didn’t go as expected

My first step after removing the leaky rear tire was to do what I’d balked at Saturday on the pedestrian walk of Rokugo Bridge: put a dart into the hole. I suspected that part of the reason the sealant wasn’t fixing the pinhole was there wasn’t enough sealant left in the tire. So I removed the valve core to top up the sealant, reinserted the core, and pumped up the tire. As soon as I rotated the tire so the hole was pointing downwards, the sealant came streaming out — from a hole so small I couldn’t reliably locate it on the tread. And the stream didn’t stop until the sealant was spent and the air had run out of the tire.

Although I still had no idea why the sealant wouldn’t close up such a small hole (I couldn’t see any glass shard in the puncture), I decided to proceed with the dart. This is a braided strand coated with sticky stuff. I have what amounts to a glorified ice pick to drive into the hole in the tire and twist, leaving the strand in place when I remove the pick.

From the moment I started this I had second thoughts. The diameter of the dart was much larger than the pinhole in the tire. By putting this plug in the tire I’d just be making things worse, right? I took a deep breath and pushed the dart into the tire. And pushed. And hammered with the flat of my hand. At last the dart went in, creating (as predicted) a much larger hole than the one I was trying to fix. I gave the dart a twist or two before withdrawing it, leaving the plug in place.

Once again, I removed the valve core to top up the sealant in the tire, then replaced the core and pumped up the tire. I could hear the air hissing out through the hole I’d made. I quickly rotated the tire so the plug would be down, and the sealant would cover the newly enlarged hole.

That fixed the problem straight away, right?

Detail of bicycle tire with plug leaking sealant into drain
You be the judge

About those spare wheels …

Thinking that my operation was a total failure, I turned my attention to the spare wheelset sitting in the Workshop, with new tires already mounted tubeless and holding air like nobody’s business. The rear wheel of this set is one I’d rebuilt with a DT Swiss hub and have yet to try. Following the rebuild I’d managed to extract the loose nipple (great line for a bar on a Friday evening), and since then the wheel has just been awaiting my convenience.

To complete the spare wheelset, I needed to transfer the cogs (or buy a new set), and add disc brake rotors (ditto). I spent some time scrubbing up the cogs to get them all nice and shiny, and then mounted them on the new DT Swiss hub. I’d bought some spangly new rotors a while ago, and they’ve just been sitting on the floor by my desk since then.

Shimano disc brake rotors in the package
Really going upscale on this build

The rotors popped on without issue and the new wheelset was ready. Before putting them on, I gave Kuroko a thorough washing down, removing all the mud from the puddles I’d splashed through on Saturday. Finally, I took the tube from the front wheel (the one I was now removing from Kuroko) and remounted the tire as tubeless. I got it on the first go this time. (I’d put in the tube after returning from Shimanami Kaido, when I’d let the air out of the tires to fit them in the carry bag.)

Spin test

So now that I’ve finally got that slick DT Swiss hub on the bike, how does it sound?

Cleaning up for the day

Before calling the day a wrap, I spent a little time cleaning up the Workshop in the Sky, rinsing away the spilled (or jetted) latex sealant, and folding up some of the previously used tires that have been sitting around loose on the floor. I was pleased with the results.

Folded gumwall bicycle tires lined up on an air conditioner compressor
Getting ones tires in a row
Bicycle in stand on balcony, with spare wheelset in background
A bit more space in the Workshop

Finally, I checked the newly spare wheelset to see how the plug (rear) and tubeless conversion (front) were taking. To my surprise, the rear tire was still fully pressurized (at least as far as the thumb test could determine), while the front had lost about half its pressure. I reinflated the front and did the sealant dance with it, and soon found it had been leaking around the valve hole in the rim. I gave it some addition swirls, wiped away the leaked sealant, and checked if it was still losing air. It seemed to be OK. I set both wheels aside to let the sealant set for a couple of days before topping them up again.

I call that a success

It was a challenging day of bike maintenance, but I think I was well rewarded for my efforts. There’s a lot of rain in the forecast for next weekend, so I’m not sure how soon I’ll be testing out Kuroko’s new wheelset.

Bicycle on balcony in evening light
Sunset Kuroko with new wheels

Minato no Mieru Oka Koen Get!!

Yokohama Bay Bridge

The weather was iffy on Saturday — cloudy with a chance of rain. But Nana and I had plans for Sunday, so I could risk it or just stay home all weekend. I decided to risk it. I took my time getting ready for the ride, and hadn’t really chosen a destination until Nana had finished making the onigiri.

I hadn’t been to Yokohama in some time, and I wanted to see how I’d do against the final climb, a steep 9% scramble over 270m to gain a total of 25m, with a rewarding view of Yokohama Bay from the top. Having decided that, I got my preparations under way. When I was pumping up Kuroko’s tires prior to departure, I noticed a spot of latex sealant emerging on the back tire. I didn’t think anything about it at the time.

So far, so good

The weather held as I rode through the city to Futako Tamagawa, and then down the Tamagawa. The wind was changeable, but never really holding me back. One good thing about the cloudy skies was the relative lack of pedestrian competition for the cycling course. I had one brief stop along the Tamagawa before reaching the bridge that took me across the river and into Kanagawa Prefecture. After a couple of kilometers, I stopped at a park in Motoki and had the first onigiri — a really huge mentaiko onigiri that probably counted as two.

From there it was just one long, straight slog through 15km of urban traffic. At some point I started feeling a vibration through the pedals and seat when I was putting the power down. After determining the vibration coincided with the pedal cadence (and not, for example, wheel rotation), I started wondering if the bottom bracket bearings were going. Kuroko does have a habit of eating bottom brackets, although things have been good in the year since converting to the Sugino (and a bottom bracket that matched the original spec, rather than the subpar solution I’d hit on previously).

Apart from the vibration, an almost crunchy feeling that made me feel certain it was a bearing issue, things were going smoothly. The sun came out from behind the clouds for a bit as I approached Yokohama, and I made an effort to keep my UV mask over my big nose.

And then … sweet success!

I passed through the Minato Mirai neighborhood of Yokohama more smoothly than anticipated — traffic was low for a Saturday, and I was having good luck with the lights. I was sitting at the intersection under the Yamashitacho interchange before I knew it, wondering about the upcoming climb. I’ve made it more than halfway up at least half a dozen times, only to run out of steam when the goal was in sight. Would today be any different?

At the final intersection before the climb, I paused and waited for all the traffic to go ahead of me. I didn’t want to have to worry about traffic overtaking me during the climb. Then, as the light changed, I set off. I didn’t charge the hill but took my time up the approach, shifting down rapidly and before the effort increased. In moments, I was inching forward, content to take my time, working my way slowly (if a bit shakily) up the narrow and winding road.

My breathing became audible as I neared the spot where I often give up: a small café on the left with some appealing ice cream on offer (but it’s a dog café). I glanced up at the remaining few meters and it occurred to me that I was going to make it!

Stupid bus

Just as I realized that, I was passed by a city bus, and then a car. Within a few more seconds, I saw what a problem this was going to make: while stopping for the traffic light at the top of the hill, the bus had pulled close enough to the curb to block my way. With less than a second to choose my course of action, I decided I was going to continue my climb on the sidewalk. I glanced up towards the intersection and saw a couple of pedestrians, but they moved aside as I mounted onto the cobbles. The slope was already far gentler than its 16% maximum, and I passed the bus in a matter of seconds and then was back in the street, arriving at the stop light at last!

Cue Rocky Theme

I’d done it! I waited a few seconds at the red light, allowing pedestrians to cross as I gasped for air. Then I turned into Minato no Mieru Oka Koen (Harbor View Park), parked Kuroko and took a snap before sitting down to enjoy a couple more well-earned onigiri.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

After wolfing down the onigiri and posting my accomplishment on social media, I had a close look at Kuroko. No sign of looseness in the wheel hubs or bottom bracket. As far as I could see, the rear derailleur was in good alignment. No obvious issues. Mystified, I mounted up for the return trip.

Descent into hell

Well, into Yokohama, anyway. The speed on the descent back down Yatozaka (the hill I’d just conquered) is limited by the need to retain control in the blind curve and the sharp stop at the bottom. According to the Garmin, I only hit about 35km/h at this point. (Strava reports that the king of this particular mountain has climbed it at an unbelievable 36.9km/h!) Threading my way through traffic, I passed Yokohama Chinatown and headed back towards Tamagawa. All was going well except for that unexplained thrumming when I put some effort into the pedals.

The real hell here is the 15km of totally urban riding from Minato Mirai back to the bridge over the Tamagawa. I was making slightly better time on the way home, perhaps thanks to a tailwind.

So you had a flat …

Bicycle leaning against bridge abutment topped by small statue of boat
Checking tire pressure at Rokugo Bridge

On reaching the bridge, I mounted a curb to the pedestrian ramp. And there I felt the rear rim come down on the curb, albeit gently. I dismounted to push Kuroko up the ramp to the bridge, and there stopped and gave the rear tire a squeeze. It was definitely low! It took me just a couple of minutes to pump the tire back up to full (as measured by my hyper-accurate thumb) and I noted once again that a bubble of latex sealant was forming on the tread. I thought for a moment about putting a barb into the pinhole, and then voted against it. I put my barb away, and then I was on my way again.

And, just like that … the vibration was gone! I couldn’t believe it. At the earliest opportunity I put all I had into the pedals and … smooth as sake. Do you mean to tell me that all this crunching and vibration was a low rear tire? A pinhole leak that for some reason the sealant isn’t … erm, sealing?

Apparently so. On both counts. Over the next 15km I confirmed that (a) the vibration was gone when the tire was at full pressure, and (b) the tire was leaking, and coming down from perhaps 40psi to around 20psi before holding steady at that. I suppose the good news was that the tire wasn’t going completely flat, or unseating from the rim.

Over the river and up the hill

My way upstream on the Tamagawa brings me back into Kanagawa at Marukobashi, and then finally into Tokyo at Futagobashi. But as I was making good time, and I don’t like the narrow, crowded sidewalk at Futagobashi, I continued on another kilometer or so to bring me to the 246 bridge over the Tamagawa. Here there’s much less pedestrian traffic, and at the foot of the bridge on the Futako side there’s ample space to stop and top up a leaky tire. And to get a half-liter of chilled water from a vending machine.

Having crossed the river at this point, my path up out of the Tamagawa valley was quite a bit steeper than the one I usually take — nearly as challenging as the climb at Yokohama. I’d been up this hill in one go on several occasions, though, and approached it with confidence. Once again, I dropped into my granniest of granny gears well before needing it, and I was at the top (albeit once again gasping for breath) before I knew it.

A little rain among friends

From the top of the valley at Tamagawa, it’s less than an hour to home — all in traffic. I messaged Nana when to expect me, and set out in good spirits. I was nearly halfway there when the vibration started up once again (letting me know the rear tire was losing pressure as before), and then I felt a sprinkle or two on my arms and face. Within moments it was raining. I’d already taken off my shades and put on my lights out of regard for the cloudy skies, so there was nothing to do but continue onwards. The rain was never particularly heavy and did let up after only five or ten minutes, and it failed to get me as wet as I’d got splashing through puddles on the Tamagawa cycling course. There was nothing more of note on the way home apart from the tour bus driver who decided he needed to be ahead of me at the red light and in the process nearly forced me off the road.

The rain was a (not so) distant memory as I wheeled into the plaza in front of our tower, dismounted, and wheeled Kuroko into the freight elevator for a visit to the Workshop in the Sky.

GPS record of cycle ride
Minato no Mieru Oka Koen Get

Long time no Kawasaki Daishi

Main Hall of Kawasaki Daishi

Maintenance before the start

Before I could ride today, I had to take care of a couple of small mechanical issues that arose during last week’s ride to Takaosan: some adjustment of the rear derailleur, and a strange noise that cropped up late in the ride. So my first step was to bring Kuroko up to the Workshop in the Sky and have a look.

Detail of bicycle casette and rear drop-out showing protruding bolt head
You again!

As soon as I got the bike into the stand, I could see the problem: one of the bolts that I’d just installed and tightened a week ago was sticking out far enough to rub against the chain and derailleur. I’ve been dealing with this issue as long as I’ve had Kuroko, and this past week I’ve been trying to get in touch with the manufacturer (with no success).

(The larger, silver bolt sticking out on the opposite side is for the pannier rack, which is currently not installed. If I screw the bolt all the way in without the rack, it interferes with the derailleur. I’ve had no issue with it sticking out, and the fit is tight enough that it’s not going anywhere — unlike with the derailleur hanger bolts.)

Loctite, pliers, hex wrench, bolt and nuts on floor
Nuts to that!

The bolts I installed a week ago stick through to the other side of the derailleur hanger, so that gives me enough thread to fit nuts on the end of each one. Even with the wheel removed, it’s a very tight fit for my fat fingers, but in the end I was able to get a nut on each bolt, with Loctite, and tighten it down.

Detail of rear derailleur mounting showing four nuts on bolt ends
That should hold?

That done, it was just a matter of a minute or two to adjust the rear derailleur cable tension, and that took care of the shifting issue. I ran through the gears a few times until I was satisfied everything was working. The final bit of pre-flight maintenance was to check the disk brake pads (all fine) and the tire pressure (added a few PSI to the rear).

Just a short one today

Between the delay for the maintenance (I didn’t want to start too early in the morning because the neighbor’s dog starts barking if I make noise out in the Workshop in the Sky) and an iffy tummy in the morning, I decided on a short ride today. I set out down the Tamagawa towards Haneda. As soon as I started riding I felt strong. I stopped after about 22km for the first of Nana’s world famous onigiri, and was soon back on the bike.

As I passed under Gas Bashi, I noticed there was a newly paved path down at the foot of the levee. I usually ride on the top of the levee here, but I worked my way down to the new pathway. Very smooth, wide pavement. The section of the cycling course this replaces isn’t the one most in need of maintenance currently, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Soon after, Haneda hove into view, with Kawasaki Daishi Bridge just in front of it. When I saw the bridge and recalled the name, I realized I hadn’t been to visit Kawasaki Daishi itself in a couple of years at least. I quickly changed my plans and turned off the cycling course for the bridge.

Kawasaki Daishi

I knew all I had to do was cross over the bridge into Kawasaki, continue along the main road for a bit and then turn right. The question, after all this time, was where to turn. I turned just one intersection early and ended up faffing about for a bit before finally consulting Google Maps. As often happens in these circumstances, I’d passed quite near my goal twice before finally getting on the right heading.

Portion of GPS record showing rider wandering about, lost
Faffing about

Once back on course, I recognized the way immediately. Soon I was walking Kuroko down the row of sweets shops leading up to the main gate, listening to the candy makers hammering their knives against the cutting boards to attract business.

Row of candy shops and octogonal five-story pagoda
Row of candy shops and octogonal five-story pagoda

The bike rack was just where I remembered it, and I locked up Kuroko while I took a brief stroll inside the temple for some snaps.

Main gate and pagoda
Main gate and pagoda

Giant lantern in the main gate
Giant lantern in the main gate

Main Hall of Kawasaki Daishi
Main Hall of Kawasaki Daishi

Two of the Four Heavenly Kings guarding the main gate
Two of the Four Heavenly Kings guarding the main gate

Lunch and return

After retrieving Kuroko from the bike stand, I continued on a few dozen meters to the large park nearby, where I sat down in the shade of a large tree and enjoyed more mentaiko onigiri.

Bicycle leaning against large tree trunk
Thank you, tree, for holding my bike

After lunch I didn’t have any trouble making my way back across the bridge and picking up the cycling course on my way home. I still felt strong and was pushing the pedals at every opportunity. I’d switched the Garmin to navigation view while flailing about in search of Kawasaki Daishi, and I left it that way on my return. I determined not to worry about my pace but just to keep pedaling. The tactic certainly worked as I spent less time paying attention to the Garmin and more on where I was going (especially because I knew the route well).

Back at Nikotama, I crossed the river into Tokyo and climbed up out of the Tamagawa valley. At the top I took a brief rest in a park, sipped some water, and messaged Nana that I would be home in about an hour. I made good time through traffic after that and was home after only 45 minutes.

GPS record of cycle route
Long time no Kawasaki Daishi

Trouble-free ride

I’m very pleased to note there were no mechanical issues on today’s ride following my morning maintenance. The shifting was flawless for the whole ride. And when I parked Kuroko in the basement I checked the derailleur hanger once again, and all the nuts and bolts were snug.

Refused at the gate

Optimistic start

Cyclist's red jersey and black shorts
All-new kit

I finally got on the bike on Day 3 of a three-day weekend. On Saturday I was suffering from a tummy ailment, and yesterday we had lots of “guerilla weather,” including a number of tornadoes.

This morning the skies were blue, with fluffy white clouds. While Nana whipped up a batch of her world-famous onigiri, I got dressed in my new kit, repping Wales big-time.

It was just 15C when I set out, and I worried I might actually be cold in the summer jersey. It was a bit cool in the shade, but when I was moving I generated enough heat. And in the sun, no problem.

Road shenanigans

The ride down to the river went nearly without incident. I was next to a city bus at a stoplight and decided to get out ahead of him. When the light changed I popped a wheelie for a brief moment before getting my steed back under control and putting my effort into moving forward.

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It’s not as though I’m Fabio Wibmer — I’d just put the bike in too low a gear when pulling up to the light. I usually start from the large chainring, with the second-largest cog. In this position, the front derailleur should be trimmed, which takes a light press on the shifting paddle. But I’d pressed too hard in my haste, and shifted to the small chainring on the front. The result was all sorts of leverage compared to what I was expecting.

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The only other thing of note was a driver who absolutely had to get past me before slamming on the brakes and turning left, cutting me off. In other words, a typical day’s riding.

A beautiful day — with some wind

Small shrine nestled in trees
Short shrine stop

As soon as I got to the river, I was battling a cross-wind. Someone was using the park bench where I usually have my first break, so I continued on until I reached the small shrine near Keio Oval, the keirin racetrack. There I had a short break and ate some fruit jello.

Back on the cycle course, I was making good time up the Tamagawa despite the wind. As expected on a holiday with good weather, there were a lot of joggers, strollers and amateur cyclists to negotiate. (Not that I’m a pro … but I know how to stay out of other people’s way when I ride.)

Upwind on the Asagawa

I knew I’d be in trouble when I branched off the Tamagawa for the Asagawa — I was turning into the wind. It was actually fine for the first 5km or so, and the wind was clearing the air, providing a fine view of Fujisan at the end of the winding river.

Fujisan over the Asakawa

Blurry digitally zoomed image of Fujsan behind apartment buildings
High quality zoom Fuji

But for the next 10km or so, I was truly heading directly upwind. I had enough power that my speed stayed just below 20km/h, but it should have been 25 or better. I continued on, not knowing if I’d be able to climb Otarumi Touge or just reach Takaosan, but knowing I was enjoying the ride and wasn’t ready to pack it in yet.

Takaosan Guchi

After a couple of onigiri stops, I reached Takaosan. There were not as many cyclists as I’d expected. (There was a young amateur on the sidewalk beside me who eventually made better time by cruising through stoplights, etc.) I was thinking how to proceed. There was a small derailleur problem on the rear, where it would try to jump up a gear for one specific cog, and I thought about stopping at the usual convenience store. The bike stands there would let me easily run through the gears as I adjusted the cable tension.

But I took stock of my situation, including the aching in my thighs from the battle upwind, and the remaining onigiri and Snickers bar in my bag (meaning I didn’t have to stop for supplies). I looked at the sky, and saw a threat of a rerun of yesterday’s guerilla rain. And so I decided to visit Takaosan Guchi, get a photo or two, and start on my way home. In the end I’d still get 100km, my overriding goal for the day.

Selfie of cyclist in shades and mask in front of cable car entrance for Takaosan
Rain starting at Takaosan Guchi

Photo montage of statue of flying squirrel and waterfall in shrine
Flying squirrel and shrine

Right on schedule, the rain started as I arrived at Takaosan Guchi, wending my way on foot through surprising crowds (considering we’re under an emergency declaration). I took a moment for a selfie and then to photograph a nearby shrine, then made my way back to the road to return home.

Ride with the wind

On my way home I was riding not only downstream (and hence slightly downhill), but also with the wind. I was flying, regularly going above 30km/h with hardly any effort, and posted a few 5km times at 11 minutes or better. I left behind the few sprinkles of rain I’d encountered at Takaosan and the sun emerged again from the clouds. Aside from an encounter or two with pedestrians and other cyclists, it seemed that hardly any time passed before I was back at the Tamagawa and pulling into a park for the final onigiri. I checked the time and messaged Nana that I would be home about 3:30.

Living for the city

With 15km to go, I was back in city traffic. Usually it’s a struggle at this point, both to scale the few remaining climbs (such as they are) on the way home and to keep up my average pace in the face of traffic. Today, despite thick traffic, I watched in disbelief as my average pace actually improved from the high 15s to more than 16km/h. I can only imagine that the holiday-timed lights were with me, and I was able to work my way beside a lot of the thickest of the traffic. Also, I made pretty good time up those climbs despite the aching of my thighs.

I messaged Nana that I was home and descended to the cycle parking. In addition to the shifting problem mentioned, there was some noise on the way home that I haven’t yet identified. But I was too tired to deal with bringing Kuroko up the elevator just then. I parked her in the basement. The moment I dismounted, my thighs and one calf cramped. I walked the cramps off, got into the elevator, and then started the bath as soon as I got in the door.

I’m exhausted, totally done in, but I love it.

GPS record of cycle ride
Refused at the gate

Mitigated success

Bicycle wheel and tubeless tire with bottle of sealant, valve tool and tire levers

Stormy weather

We had strong winds, lighting and even tornadoes last night. (None of the latter right around here, but what seemed like continual alerts on the television starting about dinnertime and continuing into the evening.) This morning dawned calmer, but with some freaky weather still in the forecast.

With questionable weather in the offing and sunny skies promised for tomorrow, I decided to continue with bike maintenance today, including some that I’ve been putting off for a while.

This is the mitigated part

I’ve been riding Kuroko with mismatched tires since I tried to fix a leaky valve stem in early April and then couldn’t get the tire to reseat. After a number of tries I just swapped out my spare front wheel, which already had a sealed tire. That’s been going well, but I want to get back on my slicks for everyday riding. I tried yesterday a couple of more times to get the tire seated, to no avail. So today I cut my losses — I put an inner tube in the tire, inflated it, and then swapped it back in place of the spare. Matchy-matchy.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll try again to remove the inner tube and see if I can get the tire to seal without it. I’ve had luck in the past doing this — using an inner tube for a while on a tire that won’t seat — and I know other bikers who say the same thing.

On to the success!

One task that’s been on the back burner for more than a month now is to remove the loose nipple that I left rattling around inside the rear rim when I rebuilt the wheel. I didn’t remember the nipple was in there until I had the tire mounted and filled with sealant, and since then I’ve been putting off dealing with the mess of removing the tire and cleaning up the spilled sealant so I could (I hoped!) rattle the loose nipple out through the valve hole. (I’m also reluctant to unseat any tubeless tire that’s sealed well.)

It didn’t take long to get the tire off and clean up the sealant. After wiping the rim clean I sat down with it and started shaking it, hoping to rattle the nipple out. After a couple of minutes of trying, I cleaned up some ragged edges of rim tape around the valve hole. I shook and rattled some more, with no luck. I tried putting a hex key in the valve hole to snag the nipple as it went rattling past. I tried a very small hex key with some tape wrapped around it, sticky side out. Same result.

Sealant-coated spoke nipple on ground with detail of bicycle wheel in background
The culprit

Finally, as I was trying to clear another edge of rim tape from the valve hole, I pulled off a larger section of tape than I’d planned. I shrugged and continued pulling off the tape until I had the rim completely clean. Then I picked up the wheel again, and almost the moment I began shaking it, the nipple fell out onto the floor of the Workshop in the Sky.

Excited by this success, I grabbed a paper towel and used it to remove the remaining latex residue around the rim. Then I got out the truing stand to hold the wheel while I taped it up again.

Photo montage of bicycle wheel in truing stand, detail of valve in rim
Tape on, valve in

Luck was with me today as I had just enough rim tape to get the job done. (I have another roll in a different color, just in case.)

Tape roll at end of the tape, with scissors
End of the roll

With the rim freshly cleaned and taped, and the valve in place, it was time for the moment of truth: would the tire seat up again? I charged up the reservoir on the tire pump, removed the valve core and attached the pump head. There was a prolonged whoosh, and then the tire bead edged up onto the rim. I was about to make sure it had seated all the way around when the tire emitted a series of loud pops, confirming that it had sealed fully.

No fuss, no soapy water — just a seated tire.

Tire pump with gauge attached to bicycle wheel
First try

As always, at that point I rushed to get the latex sealant into the tire through the valve, install the valve core, and then inflate the tire a final time. As I swirled the latex around inside the inflated tire, I initially heard just a small leak, but this was sealed up in a moment.

Bicycle wheel and tubeless tire with bottle of sealant, valve tool and tire levers
Airtight

Prepped and ready

Now that my two spare wheels are ready to roll (and I’ve got new brake discs waiting for them both), I can proceed with the plans I have for them. Those plans depend on whether Kuroko’s rear drop-out continues to make trouble. Amusingly, while I was looking up posts related to this one, I came across a photo I’d taken after my return from Shimanami Kaido, and it clearly shows that the bolts are loose.

Photo montage showing bicycle derailleur before and after cleaning
I didn’t notice this at the time

In the meantime, Kuroko is ready for tomorrow’s sunshine, with nicely matched tires full of air.

Bicycle leaning against corner of balcony
Ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll

Finally, as I was cleaning up after today’s project, a squall rose up and confirmed my decision not to ride today.

Cityscape in a rain squall
Decision justified

New tag: Mechanical

I’ve come up with a new tag for posts that will help visitors to this site decide if they want to take up this hobby before they’ve invested a lot of time and money: Mechanical.

Not what I was expecting

Photo montage showing bolts holding modular drop-out in Bicycle frame, with derailleur and cogs

During my last ride on Kuroko, I experienced a sudden grinding noise from the drivetrain, perhaps the crankset. I brought Kuroko to the Workshop in the Sky on my return home, planning on a complete drivetrain cleaning and inspection. I expected to find perhaps a worn chain or failing bottom bracket bearings — something Kuroko has had an appetite for in the past.

Detail of bicycle rear derailleur and modular drop-out separated from frame
That’s … not supposed to happen

After setting up the new repair stand, I got busy cleaning the chain. With that out of the way, I decided to clean up the teeth on the chainring and jockey wheels, and then have a go at the sprockets on the rear wheel.

As always, I loosened and removed the thru-axle, and then tugged the rear derailleur out of the way so I could free the rear wheel from the dropouts. And that’s when the unexpected happened: the derailleur dropped from the frame and dangled in midair from the shifter cable.

At first glance I thought the derailleur hanger had broken — a not unheard-of occurrence. But a closer look showed something even more unusual: the modular rear dropout had separated from the frame. Further inspection showed only one of four bolts remaining in the frame.

These bolts have loosened and fallen out before. I had an issue with the thru-axle gradually loosening until I realized these bolts were loose, after my return from England. I’d had to buy some replacements then and still had some spares on hand, I’m glad to say.

Photo montage of small bolts and plastic container of a variety of bolts
Lone survivor

I tried the same size bolt again, but it wouldn’t hold. I ended up using some bolts that were half again as long. They stick out the opposite side. They don’t interfere with anything, the chain or the derailleur. It just looks a bit naff. But if they hold the thing in place, I’m happy.

Photo montage showing bolts holding modular drop-out in Bicycle frame, with derailleur and cogs
Screwed right

With that taken care of at the chain oiled, I ran the derailleurs through their paces. On the new workstand at least, the shifting works flawlessly and there’s no noise from the bottom bracket. Finally, I checked the chain for wear (it has nearly 3,000km on it since the last replacement), but it’s all in spec still.

Detail of bicycle chain with chain wear guide applied
No wear detected

What portents for the future?

As this is a repeat failure, I’d like to find a more permanent fix. I’m going to try to contact the maker and ask for a replacement drop-out/derailleur hanger, as well as some spare bolts. If I can get those, I’ll use a thicker Loctite than the standard Blue 242: maybe the Red 271. The bolts shouldn’t be taking a lot of force — the clamping force of the thru-axle against the hub holds everything in place and should be taking the brunt of the load. At the same time, the bolts may need to be removed if the derailleur hanger ever breaks (which can happen).

If I can’t get a response out of the maker, or I do but this doesn’t resolve the issue, then I may have to resort to more drastic measures.

New bike stand

Bicycle in stand on balcony with cityscape in background

I can’t really claim there was any pressing need to replace my bicycle stand, which I’ve been using for a couple of years now in the Workshop in the Sky. Its shortcomings are more annoyances than fatal flaws. For starters, the folding action is very stiff and requires a couple of minutes of wrestling each time. As a result, I don’t fold it up often (although I should whenever it’s not in use, so it won’t block the emergency kick-through panel at the end of the balcony).

More importantly, as I don’t have a lot of seatpost sticking out above the frame — my legs are not so long, and neither Kuroko nor Dionysus has a sloping top tube — the saddle nose would interfere with the crank to tighten the clamp. This made for some awkward two-handed lift-tighten-clamp operations, sometimes repeatedly before the bike was secure enough to work on.

Enter the Park Tool PCS-10.2

I’d been watching bike restorers on YouTube with their Park Tool stands with some envy. The small handle on the clamp would surely clear Kuroko’s saddle, I thought, and the swing handle’s stepless adjustment would be useful. (The previous stand has a usable system with a good number of steps, but of course there were those times when I wanted a position just between two adjacent steps.)

Photo montage of Park Tool repair stand box, with lid closed and with lid open showing packed parts
Home Mechanic Repair Stand — some assembly required

I finally bit the bullet and bought the Park Tool Home Mechanic Repair Stand, after confirming the Halfakid would take my old stand. The box was delivered on Monday, four days ahead of schedule, and I arrived home from work to find it sitting in the foyer. I dragged it into the dining room and removed the outer packaging, and then let it sit there until I had some time to put it together.

Today’s the day

Bicycle repair stand parts and instruction sheet on hardwood floor
Not looking too bad

I’d originally planned to ride today, but an iffy tummy made me change plans. Kuroko needed looking after anyways, so it was a good opportunity to get the new stand assembled. There were just a few big pieces in the packaging and a number of smaller bits (and a lot of plastic and cardboard packaging). The list of parts on the instruction sheet seemed to indicate a lot of the parts were missing, but I soon realized that a lot of the assembly was already done, and this accounted for the missing parts.

Screws, bolts and related hardware on cardboard sheet
Fewer parts than expected

Out with the old and …

Assembly was not difficult. I was working in the dining room so I had to be careful not to ding or scratch the wood flooring. The most difficult part was matching up the part numbers in the instructions with the diagram. Before I knew it I had a completed work stand.

Photo montage comparing to bicycle repair stands
They look like dinosaurs

Of course, the old stand is covered with grime after a couple of years out on the Workshop in the Sky with no protection. I cleaned it up before packing it up for the Halfakid.

Photo montage of folded bicycle repair stand, before and after washing
Washed, folded and ironed

It doesn’t quite fit into the box that the Park Tool stand came in (at least not without further disassembly).

Bicycle repair stand box, not fully closed on floor next to vertical blinds
Same box, different lighting

Debut

With those bits out of the way, it was time for the Park Tool PCS-10.2’s debut. (And yes, I confess to having cleaned up the Workshop in the Sky for this photo shoot.)

Photo montage of folded blue bike stand, and erected stand with bicycle
Blue debut

The new stand is massive, compared to the old one, meaning it should be a lot more stable. The folding action is very smooth (so far — let’s see after it’s covered in a couple of years’ worth of grime). And best of all, the crank handle to clamp the bike in the stand clears the saddle nose.

Bicycle in stand on balcony with cityscape in background
Satisfied