Coming up short

Partially assembled bicycle in workstand on balcony

José dropped by yesterday to help with the upgrade to Di2 shifting. While I was awaiting his arrival, I took stock of the parts I’d assembled for the job and had a surprise with some last-minute purchases. And the delivery driver stopped in with my latest present to myself.

The Brooks Titanium saddle is a bit of a treat. I’m still looking for ways to ease saddle soreness, and a lot of people swear by the Brooks (including Fearless Leader Joe).

As for the surprises, I’d done some last minute shopping last week in preparation for the work. I’d suddenly panicked at the thought I was missing a couple of essential tools for the conversion to hydraulic brakes: a brake bleed kit and a cut & set tool. Then as I was laying out the parts yesterday morning I found … I’d already purchased them.

The second disc set tool arrived while we were working. It’s a rather pricey hydraulic barb tool from Park Tool, so I’m going to see if I can return it unopened.

Getting it straight

During last week’s teardown, I had trouble removing the rear wheel from the frame. Kuroko had tipped over while posing for a photo the day before, and I was concerned that I’d bent the frame. Closer inspection revealed that the derailleur hanger was bent. So I got a derailleur alignment tool (the purplish thing in the gallery above), and when José arrived we started by spending some time getting the derailleur hanger straightened and aligned again. (I forgot to get an “after” photo until we’d already installed the new rear derailleur.)

The next order of business was the rear brake caliper and its rounded bolt heads. I’d bought a drill and extractor bits. Try as we might, though, we couldn’t get the bits to bite into the remaining material. It was José doing the work here, so it wasn’t for lack of force. We’re going to have to drill out the bolts. Unfortunately, I hadn’t got any drill bits, so we’ll try again next weekend when José brings his bits.

Cranky bastard

The final bit of prep work was to remove the crankset and bottom bracket. In part this was to inspect whether we could route any of the new cabling through the bottom bracket shell (in the end, no), but also I was taking this opportunity to replace the bottom bracket after I’d accidentally pulled out the seals.

The crankset came off with no trouble, but we had quite a time hammering out the bearings. It doesn’t help that the Shimano tool for this falls to pieces (literally!) at every possible chance. Fortunately José is far less fumble-fingered than me when it comes to putting it all back together. But the real challenge turned out to be the rust, which was holding the bearing shells fast. It took an inordinate amount of hammering to get the bearings moving.

I’ve done what I can to clean up the rust and prevent it coming back — spraying the BB shell with WD-40 and coating the new BB with lots of grease. But I’d done that last time as well, so …

Final cleaning before the real work begins

With the bicycle now as stripped down as we were able to get it, I hosed off some remaining dirt and then we went at the frame with some polishing compound. The wind on the Workshop in the Sky was piercingly cold, so we had incentive to put a lot of energy into the polishing. The frame cleaned up as well as can be expected. There’s some paint chipping on the left rear triangle I’ll need to touch up, and at some point I want to remove the chainstay guard, clean the chainstay again and replace the guard.

Threading the needle

Enough with the preliminaries, already! Our first step for installing the new hardware was to route the hydraulic brake lines and Di2 cables through the frameset and fork. I’d left the original brake cable housing in place for this step. We attached a Park Tool internal cable routing line to the rear brake cable housing and pulled it through the frame, removing the cable housing and leaving the routing line in its place. Then we attached a hydraulic line to the routing line, and taped a Di2 cable to the hydraulic line, and pulled them both through the frameset.

The whole thing was a lot less effort than I’d expected. I’d pulled out the grommets in the frame and cut the opening wider to allow for the Di2 cable, but then I had trouble getting the grommets to go back in the frame. I think I’ll cut each one once from center to edge, and that should make the job easier.

The second hydraulic line went into the fork for the front wheel. This was very straightforward.

A junction box too far

Our next job was to mount the shift levers on the handlebars and start plugging in the electronic cables. The rubber hood levers are much more flexible than the Shimano 105 units I’m replacing, which made getting at the mounting screws very easy. The cables from the shift levers come together at a junction box which straps on below the handlebar stem, and that connects with the single cable we’d pulled through the frame from near the bottom bracket.

The cables plugged in easily enough using the supplied tool, but we immediately discovered they were too short. I’d measured everything using a tape measure before ordering, and I thought I’d allowed enough slack. But when it came to putting it all together, everything came up short: the cables from the shift levers to the junction box, from the front junction box through the frame to the second junction box, for the battery and for both derailleurs. Every single cable was too short for the job.

The final issue turned out to be a missing bit for the battery mount. I’d thought the mount would screw directly on the water bottle bosses, but it turns out there’s another piece needed to bring those together.

Shivering in the cold but not discouraged, we did what we could for the day: install the new bottom bracket and crankset, and attach the new derailleurs front and rear.

I’ve got a week now to come up with some new cables of the desired length (but not too long!) and the missing bit for the battery mount. If the latter is hard to come by (a lot of these bits have been on back order for quite some time) I’ll try to work out something with zip ties until I can get the proper part.

Oh, yeah. And we still need to get that brake caliper off.

Strip show

Stripped bicycle frame in workstand

I had a day off work today. Between the balky derailleur trimming yesterday and the inclement weather this morning, it was a perfect day to kick off the Switching to Glide project.

Silhouette of bicycle on balcony against foggy, rainy backdrop
Inclement weather

Kuroko was waiting patiently as always, blissfully unaware of what was about to transpire.

Bicycle and helmet on balcony
Unsuspecting victim

I started by removing the bags and tire pump, and then the hardware from the handlebars: the bell and the mounts for the headlight, Garmin GPS and GoPro camera.

I decided a bath was the next order of business. It’s been a while since I’ve given Kuroko a proper washing up.

I had to take a break at the next step to remind myself which direction the pedals are threaded. (It’s right-hand thread for the drive side, left-hand thread for the opposite.) Then a moment’s work to break the chain (after digging the chain tool out of the toolbox).

I finished up the preliminaries by removing the handlebar tape. It’s very nice tape, but there are a few cuts already so I won’t be reusing it.

After that it was time to put Kuroko into the workstand and get serious: remove the wheels, cut the brake and derailleur cables, and remove the derailleurs.

I removed the front brake caliper, but the rear is waiting until I can extract the bolts.

Measure twice …

Before removing the shift levers from the handlebar, I took a moment to mark the position using a paint pen. This will make it easier to mount the new levers and match the position.

I pulled the brake cables through next. The shifter cables are a bit more challenging to get to, so I first removed each lever from the handlebars, and then peeled back the rubber hood to give better access to the cable head. I left the cable housings in place for now because I’ll be using them to guide the new bits into place: the derailleur wires and the hydraulic hoses for the brakes.

With all that done, I was left with two separate piles: items for disposal (cables and bar tape), and items that will be reused or be put into the spares box.

And then it was lunchtime. I’d made good progress. Once I’ve extracted the bolts and removed the rear brake caliper, I’ll take off the crankset as well and then give the frame a thorough cleaning and polishing. There are some paint chips to touch up, too. I’m trying to decide if I want to spray the inside of the frame with WD-40 or something similar to prevent further rust. (I’m only concerned the WD-40 might eat away at hydraulic brake lines and Di2 cables.)

Stripped bicycle frame in workstand
Mostly naked bike

I’ve got some extractor bits which I bought when I was refurbishing Ol’ Paint, to get out a couple of broken water bottle cage bolts. (I ended up drilling them out.) I’d done that at the office workshop, but here I am in the Workshop in the Sky. I need a power drill (and to overcome my qualms that using one might disturb the neighbors).

Cordless drill and attachments
Should do the trick

I spent some time yesterday afternoon searching for a drill on Amazon. My choice was between no-name cheap jobs and more expensive brands I’ve actually heard of. This one fell in the middle. (I’m sure it’s just a rebranded Chinese unit, but I feel more secure when it’s backed by a Japanese company.) Amazon said it was available for next-day delivery, so I assumed it would show up this evening, possibly after dinner. In fact, the driver showed up during lunch.

OK, so I have the drill and … where are the extractors? I spent more than an hour today emptying out the toolbox, searching through closets, even checking the suitcase where I’ve stashed some items — twice. No sign of them (or of the tap and die set I got at the same time). I’ll have a look at the office tomorrow, and if I still haven’t found anything I’ll get a new set. I’m sure the moment I’ve ordered the replacement, the first set will show up somewhere.

Calling the rainman’s bluff

Ginkgo trees at Meiji Jingu Gaien

Today’s forecast was cool and overcast, with rain in the evening. I took my time getting ready for the ride, and I checked the weather again before setting out about 9:30. The rain was now forecast for mid-afternoon. I figured I’d be fine as the Tokyo Landmarks ride is usually just four hours and change — I should be home well before the rain started.

The temperature was just 12C when I set out. I’d opted for an undershirt and my now-infamous manga jersey, but still in shorts, with medium socks. It was the perfect choice for the day. I wasn’t too warm for the ride, as I’d feared I’d be.

I was absolutely not prepared for the huge crowds of people who turned out in such blah weather for the yellow ginkgo leaves at Meiji Jingu Gaien. I had to negotiate both auto traffic and pedestrians. I took my time, and I stopped more often than usual on this route to snap the sights.

I’d just finished propping Kuroko up at the Imperial Palace moat and stepped away to take the snap when … Crash! She tumbled over splat on the sidewalk. Fortunately there were no joggers passing at the moment, and I righted her and got the photo. Soon after, though, I noticed some gear chatter — but only in one gear, the one I usually start on.

I was worried the fall had bent the rear derailleur, and I had a look when I stopped for a lunch of Nana’s world-famous onigiri at Tokyo Big Sight. But I eventually realized it was the front derailleur — the trim wasn’t working as expected. For the past couple of rides I’ve had trouble getting the derailleur to trim outwards (necessary when riding the smaller cogs on back), but now it wasn’t trimming inwards, towards the center of the bike (for the larger cogs).

It wasn’t a big issue for the remainder of the ride. The derailleurs were both still functioning and I had no trouble shifting. Sometimes there would be some chatter, but only in that one gear. At other times, I completed a full climb in the troublesome gear without any noise.

I’ve already got a replacement for the derailleur — an electronic shifter as a part of the Switching to Glide project. I decided rather than sort out whatever issue today’s fall caused, I’m going to get started on the conversion. I have the day off tomorrow, and it really will be raining. I’ll start by stripping down the bike and trying to extract the stuck bolts on the rear brake caliper.

I’d had my shades on since the sun had peeked out when I got to Shiba Koen about 10:30, but by the time I’d reached Tokyo Big Sight the skies were getting darker and gloomier. I put my shades away and started wondering if I really would get home before the heavens opened up.

GPS record of cycle route
Calling the rainman’s bluff

I wasn’t pushing hard today. My only deadline was to get home before the rain started, which I did. (It started raining just before dinner.) I stopped more than usual to take snaps. I only skipped two sights: Rainbow Bridge was just too gloomy, and I thought that Asakusa would be too crowded despite the grey skies.

My ride time was 3h6m, for an average moving speed of 19.4km/h. It wasn’t the fastest I’ve done this ride, but I wasn’t trying for a record. The climbs all posed no more than the usual challenge. I did get a personal best on Shinjuku Dori on the way to Yotsuya as I was racing home in the gloom with my lights on.

More than a single day, then

Chain wear guide inserted into bicycle chain, showing 50% wear

Despite beautiful weather today I’m sitting at home as our new TV cabinet is being set up. The day is not a complete write-off, though, as I brought Kuroko up to the Workshop in the Sky to check out a couple of things prior to embarking on the Switching to Glide upgrade project.

The first was straightforward. I’m going to need to break the chain to fit the new derailleurs, so I wanted to know if it was worth it to reuse the same chain or if this would be a good chance to replace it. I haven’t been having any shifting issues indicating chain wear. But a quick check with the wear indicator shows 50%. Normally I would still use the chain another 1,000-2,000km, but there’s really no reason now not to replace it during the upgrade. Chains are in stock and not expensive.

It’s a poor workman who blames his tools

The next bit is more of an issue. When I swapped wheels a while back, I wasn’t able to loosen the rear brake caliper to adjust it. I was working with regular hex keys, and the more force I applied to the bolts, the rounder I was making the heads.

Multiple tool sets on wooden floor
Quality tools

I bought a set of Park Tool hex sockets and a breaker bar to give it another try. The first step was to get the frame at an angle that would give me a good shot at the bolts. Alas, the quality hex socket and breaker bar combination was for nought — the heads are already quite rounded.

Next steps

I’m going to have to try to extract the bolts, and if that doesn’t work, drill them out or hacksaw them off. As they’ll be unusable after that, I’ll hold off until we’re ready to take on the body of the work. (The replacement caliper has its own bolts.) Regardless, this makes it likely the conversion will take more than one day, even if there are no further hiccups along the way.


Bicycles leaning against hedge in front of dry fountain

The forecast was perfect for riding yesterday, and José had agreed to meet at Futako at 8. But I got a message from him at 3 a.m. saying he might not be able to get up in time. I was up at 5:30 but took my time getting ready to ride, and let Nana sleep in. Finally I got a text from José at 6:30 saying he was up and could ride. I replied that we could meet at 8:30, and I woke up Nana so she could get busy making onigiri.

As I was mounting up to depart, I got a shock: I’d neglected to charge up the Garmin. It was at 46% battery, making it rather iffy for lasting through the ride. I knew I wouldn’t need the navigation, but did want to record my kilometers. I took out my phone and fired up the Strava app just in case, and then set out for Futako. I arrived about 8:15, and I only had to wait about 6 minutes for José to make his appearance.

We’d set a goal of returning home by 2 p.m., which limited our destinations. After a hasty conference we decided on Hamura. We set off upstream with me occasionally glancing over my shoulder to make sure the Kid was still with me, particularly after I’d cleared clumps of joggers or slower-moving cyclists. Finally, with less than 2km to go before we reached our first rest point, I realized the person I was seeing over my shoulder wasn’t José. I stopped and looked back, and about 30 seconds later he appeared. I mounted up again and we were once more on our way.

Bicycles leaning against hedge in front of dry fountain
Once he’d finally caught up …

At our first stop, José asked if I was riding faster than usual. I’d checked my speed a couple of times, and it was on the higher end of what I typically go in the absence of a tailwind or long downhill stretch, but no more than that. The truth was the Kid’s three hours of sleep just weren’t enough. He had some caffeine and sugar in the form of a black coffee and a café au lait from the park vending machine and that helped a lot as he had no further difficulty keeping up with me for the remainder of the ride.

Quite the mechanical

We continued to make good time up the river. There was a slight crosswind, but nothing to keep us back. Meanwhile, Fujisan was a constant companion off to our left.

Just a few kilometers before Hamura, and with a group of riders following us through a switchback, I felt my right-hand grip wobble. As I came out of the switchback and began accelerating and shifting, I confirmed it: The right-hand lever was working loose from the handlebar. If it came off that would make things dicey. As it was, I continued on while shifting my hand up onto the bars to avoid putting more pressure on the lever.

Nana had given us two onigiri each — delicious asari onigiri — and José had already finished both, while I had one in reserve. That wasn’t enough for lunch, so we stopped after a couple of kilometers at a convenience store to supplement our goodies. And there I peeled back the hood on the loose lever while José tightened it using the multitool.

Bicycle against railing overlooking river
Hamura once again

We reached Hamura just before 11. We’d continued making good time on the road, but we’d taken our time at the rest stops on the way. Mindful that we wanted to be home by 2, we ate up and rested just a few minutes before setting off downriver.

Selfie of two cyclists with statue of Tamagawa Brothers in the background
Trying not to look like a perv this time

The wind was still across the path on the way back, but a bit more from the front at times. I felt I was lagging compared to my earlier pace, but when I checked the Garmin (would the battery hold out?) I was still setting a stiff pace.

We reached the Keiokaku Velodrome about 12:40 and I heard the Garmin beep. It was asking if it should go into battery saving mode. I tapped the checkmark to OK it, and the display shut off.

At this point we still had 10km to reach Futako, putting our goal of 1 p.m. (in order to get home by 2) in doubt. We filled our water bottles and soldiered on. My thighs were starting to ache. I was doing OK, but after each small climb on the way it would take me a bit longer to get back up to speed. Meanwhile the Garmin continued to register the 5km splits.

José and I parted ways at Rte 246. I didn’t note the time (it was about 1:16, according to the faithful Garmin), but continued on into Futako. When I reached the top of the climb out of the Tamagawa valley, I stopped for another rest at a tiny park there and messaged Nana. It was 1:26, and I told her I’d be home about 2:30-3. I set out once again for home, really feeling the effort in my thighs. But I did manage to clear the next light, which almost never happens.

With a hair over 5km remaining in my ride, the Garmin beeped twice but the screen did not light up. “That’s it,” I thought. “Good thing I’ve got the Strava running.” But at the next light I tapped the screen and it lit up. The beeps had been Nana messaging me that she was off to the sauna. And then with just 1km remaining it happened again: a single beep, but no screen image. I ignored it as I turned for the sweeping downhill past Central Park. I made the light at the bottom (again, that rarely happens) and pulled into the tower’s plaza to dismount.

I immediately hit the save button the Garmin, and it woke up and saved the ride. It even transferred the route to my phone. I checked and it showed 5% battery remaining.

Meanwhile, the beep I’d heard in the last kilometer was José messaging me that he’d arrived safely home, at 2:08. I replied I was home as well, as of 2:12. In the end we hadn’t missed our goal by much despite the half-hour delay in setting out in the morning.

GPS record of bicycle ride

I’d done nearly 108km in 6h35m, which is not bad overall. The Garmin put my moving time at 4h55m, for a 21.9km/h average. That’s just less than my fastest time for this route: I’d averaged 22.1km/h in June 2017, on Ol’ Paint, with a total elapsed time of 6h11m.

Paint vs delivery trucks

There’s not much else to note about the ride except for the delivery trucks parking in the bike lanes. Over the past 7 years or so, Tokyo has painted blue chevrons along the side of many roads to indicate bike lanes, and in some cases a full meter-wide stripe of blue paint — with accompanying markings. Naturally, it’s still legal to park (or at least stand for up to 5 minutes) where these lanes are marked. A couple of times stood out on my way home from Futako as delivery trucks passed me just to put on their signal and pull over to park in front of me. In one case the truck had barely cleared Kuroko’s front wheel when he put the signal on and pulled over.

Tokyo could learn a few things from Houston in this regard.

Starting to come together

Battery and holder on wooden desk
Brand new pair of roller skates
Battery in holder on wooden desk
… brand new key

I have most of the parts now for the big upgrade. I ordered a battery and charger, and I got two batteries but no charger. Waiting for that now, and some of the cables.

(Shown above: external battery and holder. The holder fits in place of one of the water bottle cages. Fortunately, Kuroko is blessed with a multitude of water bottle locations.)

Kanreki ride

Selfie of two cyclists in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers

It’s been nearly a month since my last ride with the Halfakid. I had a week off while he was working, and then I was traveling with Nana two weekends in a row. Meanwhile, the Kid had his second vaccine and was ready to flex his wings. We huddled over the plans for this weekend, and he readily agreed to the Three Rivers Ride.

I’d last done this ride a month ago, and I did a pretty aggressive time: 5h49m moving time and 7h15m total elapsed time. In my few goes round this route, I’ve always left the Iruma river course and cut through traffic to Kawagoe old town. This time I decided to stay on the Iruma course as it rounds Kawagoe to the north and east, and finally joins up with the Arakawa. It would add a few kilometers to the overall ride, but spare me 15km or so of riding in traffic.

Still life with cycles and fountain
Still life with cycles and fountain

The Kid agreed to meet in Futako at 8 a.m. and we lost no time heading up the Tamagawa cycling course. We arrived in Hamura, the end of the course, at 10, less than three hours after I’d left home. We were making good time, but paused here to wolf down some of Nana’s world-famous onigiri.

Cycles leaning against railing with river in background
Selfie of two cyclists in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers
Two-shot with Tamagawa Bros

Into traffic

From Hamura we turned into traffic as we entered Saitama and traveled overland to meet up with the Iruma river course. I’d warned the Halfakid in dire terms about the condition of the pavement on a 5km downhill, where we’d hit a rough spot in the middle of a shaded corner at speeds of up to 50km/h. The moment came and went and the Kid told me he’d expected much worse from my description. Meanwhile, the cars trying to pass us as we were doing 50 in a 40 zone presented a much greater safety challenge.


As soon as we passed beyond the course I’d previously ridden, we got into a bit of bad navigation (courtesy of your humble narrator, and a very liberal definition of “cycling course”). Considering the amount of terra incognita, though, we did not spend a lot of time searching around for the right way to go. A bit further on, we encountered construction, but we soon routed around it. The Garmin fortunately updated quickly, and finally guided us back to the path just as the construction ended.

Not long after that, we came round the northwest corner of the course where the Iruma river joins the Arakawa. I was back on familiar footing. We paused for a brief rest with water and cheese before continuing.

The wind!

The wind had been against us all day, almost as if the gods had bet against us, but never in a very aggressive way. I’d told the Halfakid that I’ve never had a favourable wind on this upper reach of the Arakawa, and today was no exception. It was gentle enough for the first handful of kilometers, but didn’t disappoint in the final 10km. At our final rest about 6km before we left the river course, the Halfakid ate the final onigiri and we continued onward with our energy refreshed and the wind much abated.

I remarked that I felt as if I was really sucking, the wind holding me back, and the Halfakid replied that our time was about normal. Garmin trumps perception. We weren’t making bad time overall, but the wind was making a slog of it.

Two cycles in front of the Arakawa river course sign
The now-famous sign

When we reached the familiar sign, we hurried on to the nearest convenience store to recharge with Snickers bars and a fresh bottle of water.

Selfie of cyclist in manga jerset
Alcohol may have been involved

From the Arakawa back home was neither faster nor slower than normal (although it felt slower as I was tired). My right thigh was cramping, but I ignored it and pedaled onwards. The Halfakid was provoking me by laughing about my new jersey, as he had been all day, in a good-natured way. I’ve been the source of enough embarrassment in his life that he’s quite inured to it by now.

I missed the final turn to our tower and spent a couple of minutes faffing about back streets. The tower is the tallest thing around and so hard to miss, but few of the streets lead directly to it. At last I pulled up outside our building, just a few minutes before I’d promised Nana I’d be home.

The shadows were lengthening and the Kid had another 30km to go before home. He set off double-time, and got there after just another 1h20m, quite a good time in traffic. I’d done 135km for the day and was exhausted, but he’d made a century of it at just over 161km.

GPS record of cycle ride
Kanreki ride

I’ll be 60 tomorrow. That’s the meaning of “kanreki” — 60th birthday. I’m apparently not dead yet. Compared with the very similar ride a month ago (when I’d passed through Kawagoe’s old town), this route was an additional 9km. The riding time was nearly 30 minutes longer, while the total elapsed time was an additional hour. That works out: the average speed based on moving time for both rides was identical, while we’d easily spent an additional half hour today in rest breaks and faff.

Lots o’ boxes

Four boxes labeled Shimano GRX on hardwood floor

I returned from a weekend road (shinkansen) trip to find a box with no fewer than nine items inside to add to the Switching to Glide Kuroko upgrade project.

Various bicycle parts and tools (in boxes) on wooden floor
Whole lotta miscellaneous

In the miscellaneous bits we have the following:

  • ParkTool IR-1.2, cables and magnets for routing various bits internal to the frame
  • Shimano Di2 junction box, one of two required for the project
  • Shimano band adapter, to clamp the front derailleur to the seat tube
  • Shimano hydraulic brake bleed kit
  • Shimano disc brake hose cut and set tool
Shimano GRX bicycle components shown in open display boxes on wooden floor
The big reveal

Next up, among the sexy bits:

  • Front disc caliper (hydraulic)
  • Front derailleur
  • Rear derailleur
  • Rear disc caliper (hydraulic)

What next?

There’s something very basic missing from all the above: the battery! The typical Shimano battery, hidden within the seat tube, is on backorder until February 2022. So I need to decide if I want to wait until then to complete the upgrade, or go with an external battery for now and upgrade to the internal when it becomes available.

A related question is the second junction box, located near the bottom bracket. There’s an internal model, and I won’t know if Kuroko’s frame has space for it until I remove the bottom bracket (already slated for replacement). The alternative is an external model which pairs nicely with the external battery solution, but for me is and always will be a bit of a bodge (exposing, as it does, all the delicate electrical connections to the worst the elements have to offer).