Achievement Unlocked!

Selfie of biker in helmet and shades in front of Japanese torii

After a hiatus of two weeks, I braved the cold yesterday with a brief jaunt down the Tamagawa.

I had three goals in mind for the day’s ride:

  • Don’t set any records
  • Have fun while getting some kilometers under the tires
  • Avoid freezing my fruits off

The first one was a near thing. Thanks in part to what was probably a stiff tailwind, I made good time from Maruko Bridge down to the Otorii for a 2nd place on my personal best time.

The last point was never in question. Although it was very chilly on the Workshop in the Sky before I set off, it was about 5C with hardly any wind when Kuroko and I emerged from the elevator at the ground floor. I’d only been riding in the sun for a couple of minutes before I was sweating in my double black winter jerseys, heat tech undershirt, black tights and winter socks.

As long as I remained in the sun and out of the wind, that was the case. Arriving at Futako, I unzipped the outer jersey more than half-way. But there were times in the shade or when I turned into the wind that I was glad for all the layers I was wearing.


With the dry winter weather and reduced traffic on the cycling course, I encountered a few “mawari dori” (detours) around construction — three or four at least. They were well marked but I did have to read some directions on the fly. On one, the path was separated between pedestrians and cyclists. Then on the next one, it was pedestrians and cyclists to the left, cars to the right. The sign for this latter one was partially blocked and I found myself in the car lane (the first character is the same for “car” and “bicycle”: 自). I was fine because there wasn’t any traffic, but when I got to the end I had to back-track a bit and get around a barrier to get back on the cycling course.

A quick break

I didn’t have any onigiri — Nana had asked the night before if she should prepare the rice, but I told her not to bother as I wasn’t sure I’d be riding. So I had a brief rest at Haneda before heading back up the river.

Bicycle parked near ice patch
I told you it was cold

I was immediately heading into the wind, expending a lot more effort to move than I had on the way downstream. I mentally shrugged and kept riding — it’s not as though I could get home by continuing downwind.

I’d only gone about 5km when my empty stomach announced itself:


It’s true I could struggle my way home on an empty stomach, but I’d be pretty miserable when I arrived: hungry, cold and exhausted. Instead I continued as far as my usual rest stop and then visited the nearby convenience store for a quick top-up. I might have added 30 minutes to my total ride time in this way, but the warm food in my stomach went a long way towards making the remaining ride enjoyable rather than a mere slog to get home.

At my final rest in a small park at the top of the climb out of the Tama river valley, I had a quick peek at the Garmin. The battery level for my electronic shifters hadn’t budged.

From there I made it home well before the 3 p.m. target I’d given Nana. The ride wasn’t very long, but my thighs were telling me they’d done a full day’s work. And I’d met all my goals for the ride. Strava even tells me I’m trending faster over this course, although I have no idea how that happened.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Achievement Unlocked!

A couple of more achievements: I’ve cycled more than 4,000km this year, and I’ve racked up more than 10,000km on Kuroko since new.

Gear sense

Detail of bicycle seatstay with Di2 Bluetooth attachment

The past weekend would have been fine for riding. Cold, but with clear skies. A threat of wind on Saturday that never really materialized, after a ferociously windy Friday. Unfortunately I had other commitments on Sunday.

So instead of riding Saturday, I decided to upgrade my recent upgrade — so recent I’ve only had one ride on the bike since adding the electronic shifting (and hydraulic brakes). Shimano’s Bluetooth unit allows the Di2 shifting system to communicate with the Garmin GPS device, allowing me to see things like current gear selection and battery level.

Adding the sensor to the bike just took a couple of minutes. I already had the required additional wire from the first go, when all the wires I’d bought were too short. Then connecting to the Garmin was a doddle. (I took the last screenshot just now, stepping out on the balcony to wake up the Di2 system, which explains the night mode.)

The number of teeth shown front and rear (“Front Gears” and “Rear Gears” in the middle shot, and “Gear Combo” in the last shot) isn’t correct, but everything else should be. (I’ve just now input the correct values after noticing this, but I can’t be bothered at the moment to create new screenshots.)

What advantages does that bring ie having that information on your Garmin

Fearless Leader Joe

It’s just another toy, really

It would be nice to have the current gear selection pop up on the Garmin whenever I’m switching gears (but not otherwise). As Fearless Leader Joe noted, I usually have a good idea about where I am on the gears, and it’s not critical to know the exact gear. The exception is when I’m braking to stop: I want to start up in the large chainring on front and the No. 2 cog on the back — the combo shown in the screenshot above (except it’s actually 44-30). But it’s easy enough for me to shift all the way to the largest cog and then up one.

The real benefit is the read-out of the battery level. Without the Bluetooth add-on giving me a precise percentage, I just have to interpret the LED on the front junction box: 0%, 25%, 50%, 100%. And I have to press the button each time to read the LEDs. The Garmin read-out is a huge improvement on that. (Of course, I still have to remember to check the charge before it’s time to get on the bike and ride — as FLJ’s brother can attest.)

As a finishing touch, I added a couple of wire guides to the seatstay to keep those expensive Di2 wires out of the gears and spokes. (Took the photo before adding the guides, naturally … )

Glide, Switched

Bicycle with Tokyo Disney Resort sign in background

Apart from a quick spin around the block late yesterday afternoon, today was my first ride since upgrading Kuroko to electronic shifting and hydraulic brakes. And everything about today’s ride confirmed what I’d noticed during that brief jaunt. Shifting is effortless and flawless. Braking is very smooth, requiring very little force. And the Brooks saddle is still slippery and makes me feel a bit insecure as I slide around atop it.

It was a delight to start off up Yamate Dori and not have to think about trimming the derailleurs, just shifting to the gear I need. I soon learned that before each stop I just need to hold the downshift lever as I spin the pedals, and when I don’t feel any more shifting (there’s a small disturbance in the Force the chain with each shift), then I shift up once to end up in my favorite starting gear. The trouble-free experience allows me to focus more on traffic and the road in front of me.


When I reached the Arakawa I took a moment to adjust the saddle. It had been slightly nose-down, so that I was constantly pushing myself back up on the saddle. After raising up the nose a bit, the experience was much improved. I was still sliding around, but not constantly sliding towards the nose of the saddle. The pressure on my hands was greatly reduced.

I won’t have to worry about puddles today. It hasn’t rained in days and days …

Guy Jean


Arakawa cycling course

There are still a few tidying-up chores to do following Kuroko’s upgrade, and one of those is to get the grommets back into the frame where the brake cable and front shifter wire enter and exit the downtube. I didn’t want to waste more time than I had already before setting off on the ride this morning, and I figured it wouldn’t be a problem as the roads were sure to be dry. The Arakawa had other ideas … I avoided the puddles where I could, and plowed on through where it was unavoidable. I saw several riders on expensive Italian bikes gingerly tip-toeing through the latter parts. I didn’t spray them with my rooster tail — not intentionally, anyway.

Detail of bicycle showing muddy splashes
Some splashing was unavoidable

Given my late start, I arrived at the mouth of the river about 12:20. The smart thing to have done would be to stop for lunch before continuing, but I didn’t want to interrupt the flow. I rode on and arrived at Tokyo Disney Resort about 1 p.m., and sat down for lunch (purchased from a handy convenience store) about 1:20. As can be imagined, I was ravenous!

Easy rider

After lunch I set off home at a more relaxed pace. I bobbled a couple of wickets on the ramp down from the bridge over the Arakawa, but apart from that had no issues. I knew I was behind schedule for my goal of returning home by 3 p.m., but I didn’t feel any real reason to rush. I was surprised after arriving home (at 3:15) to find I’d posted good time on this leg, including a couple of personal records.

Unadulterated pleasure

GPS record of cycle route
Glide, Switched

My first full ride experience following the upgrade matched my impressions from my short jaunt yesterday. Shifting was swift and effortless. Gear chatter was noticeable only by its absence — I managed to get a brief amount while shifting to the largest cog while climbing up a pedestrian overpass, less than a second all told. As I moved up and down the cogs I heard the reassuring “ZZzzzt- ZZzzzt!” of the front derailleur trimming to match the chain’s deflection.

The only bobbled shifts were rider error. I got a double-shift early in the day when a bump in the road just as I was shifting caused me to double-tap the lever. A bit later, flying down the Arakawa, my fingers had become numb, making it difficult to separate the upshift and downshift paddles from each other. Correcting for this — downshifting under load — was handled without fanfare. Likewise, if I got caught at an unexpected stop in a high gear, then downshifting as I started again was accomplished without any noise or protest.

The brakes were amazing. Fantastic. Superb. Can’t say enough good about how they silently went about their job, requiring much less effort than the cable-operated calipers I’ve been using for three years.

That leaves the saddle. After I corrected the tilt, things were much better, but I’m still sliding around quite a bit more than I’d like. I am holding out hope this will improve with age (and the shorts I was wearing today — Fearless Leader Joe’s favorites — have a very slick fabric). I may be tempted to speed the process with sandpaper or even a file if it doesn’t happen soon, though.


Bicycle on balcony after completion of maintenance

At last, a job that I predicted — tongue in cheek — would possibly get done in a day has come to fruition. And after only three weekends of work. I finally took Kuroko to the office this morning and drilled out the bolts holding in the rear brake caliper, clearing the way to finish the Switching to Glide project.

Out, damn bolts!

My previous attempts to remove the rear caliper bolts via a breaker bar and drilling came to naught, leaving the bolts more rounded out than ever and just as stuck. So this morning I did what I should have done from the start: take off Kuroko’s wheels for easy transport, chuck her in the back of a car and take her in to the office workshop. There I set to work with a very powerful drill. (There was also an angle grinder on hand if it came to that, but I’m glad to report it wasn’t needed in the end.)

Whether it was the higher-powered drill or a different bit, I was soon making a little pile of metal shavings. After just a couple of minutes of drilling, the first bolt snapped. It wasn’t threaded into the frame, just the caliper (which I’m replacing anyway), so that was one done as far as I was concerned.

The second bolt put up more of a fight, and after a couple of minutes more drilling, the end of the drill bit snapped off. There was another bit the same size in the workshop, but the first bit was now wedged into the bolt, so I was trying to drill through a drill bit. That wasn’t working. But when I grasped the caliper and twisted, it moved fairly easily. I couldn’t just spin it around, but I was able to work it back and forth while holding the bolt head with pliers until it at last unscrewed completely.

And with that, the removal was done. I put the bike back into the bag and the bag into the car, and headed home. Unfortunately it was about the worst time of day to try to drive across Tokyo: lunchtime on a Saturday. It took quite a bit longer to get home than the GPS had at first predicted.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

Back in the workshop in the sky, I put Kuroko into the workstand and got the parts together for the day’s work. The bolts that came with the new caliper were too long — ridiculously so. Fortunately I’d kept the bolts from the old caliper (the front one, not the ones I’d destroyed with the drill), and they are much shorter. A few millimeters too short, probably, but they are long enough to serve until I find a better length.

With the new caliper in place, I cut the hydraulic line to length and added the various bits and bobs needed to screw one end to the brake lever and the other to the caliper. Adding the hydraulic fluid and bleeding the line was a bit more of a challenge this time around — the line is longer and has a horizontal run, and I was working alone. But I got the job done.

Got it on tape

After bleeding the brakes and reinstalling the chain and rear derailleur (I’d taken it off to prevent damage during transport and drilling), I mounted the swank Brooks saddle. And that left the job I’ve been looking forward to / dreading since before I began this project: retaping the handlebars.

I bought the Supacaz tape probably a year ago when I noticed some tears in Kuroko’s original tape. Since then I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to make the switch. The Switching to Glide project was the perfect opportunity since I needed to remove the handlebar tape anyway as I swapped out steel cables for hydraulic and electronic lines.

The taping job went more quickly than I expected. The results aren’t perfect but they’re good enough for me. If the tape lasts a couple of years I’ll be happy, and I’ll have more experience the next time around.

Supacaz handlebar tape in box
Seeing stars

Ta daaaa!

Bicycle on balcony after completion of maintenance
Ready to rock ‘n’ roll

It has been a warm and pleasant day, and the Workshop in the Sky has been a lot more hospitable than it was when José and I were threading the Di2 wires through the frameset. But the sunlight was fading fast by the time the handlebar tape was done. I quickly chucked Kuroko on the scale and was pleased with the result. Unfortunately I didn’t get the weight before the project began, so I don’t have a direct comparison, but in the stripped-down state — no bags, lights or other attachments than a couple of water bottle cages and an omamori, she comes in well under 11kg.

I raced to change into cycling gear — just what I needed for a quick spin around the block before I ran out of sunlight. Out of the elevator with Kuroko, and then mount up and ride.

Some adjustment needed

The first experience of electronic shifting and hydraulic braking was — how to put it?


Wow. Just wow.

With any change of drivetrain, seating position, etc., some adjustment is usually required. With the Switch to Glide, the adjustment required is in my habits. I’m used to a certain amount of pressure on the shift levers, and a certain amount of travel to make a change. Now both pressure and travel are minimal. The gears just shift. It’s very quick, it’s sure, and it’s almost silent. I can hear the high-speed motor in the front derailleur when it shifts or when it trims in response to a change on the rear, but I can’t hear the rear derailleur at all (at least not in traffic).

Braking, meanwhile, is a delight. Very smooth, very positive, and with lots of modulation on tap. There’s no squealing with the new pads. (I’m using the same brake discs as previously.)

A 10-minute spin around the block is not enough to make a judgment on the new saddle, but the first impression is it’s very slippery. I’m used to having to lift my butt off the saddle to adjust my position, and now I’ll have to get used to trying to sit still in one place. I’m guessing with time this will settle down a bit.

Worth it?

Fujisan in the sunset

Every penny of it. Every moment of cursing the stuck bolts. Every additional order when I’d bought electrical cables that were too short or a battery mount that didn’t include … the mount part. (I did send back the extra hydraulic brake tool that I ended up not needing and I got a refund.) The electronic shifting is just that good. And the hydraulic braking — I’ll never go back (he says now, before he encounters any issues like contaminated brake pads, bleed issues, etc.).

Of course it would have been cheaper to have bought a bike with electronic shifting from the start. At the time, though, that would have been a luxury (I’d just bought a flat). And it should be obvious, as with the Ol’ Paint make-over, that I enjoy doing the mechanical work as much as I enjoy riding the result.

Closer, closer

Partially assembled bicycle on balcony

Today marked our third try at converting Kuroko to electronic shifting, and we made a lot of progress. We’re only held back at this point by the bolts of the rear brake caliper, which refuse to let go.

Clean up your act

While I was waiting for José to appear, I took off the cogs and started scrubbing them. The chain lube I use for wet conditions (i.e., does not rinse away at the first hint of rain) really sticks to the gears and doesn’t want to let go.

Bicycle cog set coated with greasy dirt from use
Greasy gears

Using some degreaser and a lot of elbow grease, I’d cleaned up about half the cogs before José arrived.

Stuck, stuck … stuck

The first order of business was to remove the rear brake caliper, which has been frozen in place from the beginning of the project. We tried a second set of bolt extractors to no avail, and then some drill bits (same). We just weren’t getting a bite into the metal.

The upgrade project was blocked at this point: the Di2 shifters have hydraulic brakes, so we have to get the old, cable-operated, calipers off the bike. Despite this set-back, I was determined to get as much done today as we could. In particular, I wanted to see the derailleurs in operation.


The next order of business was to wire up the battery, shifters and derailleurs. Following the debacle of short connection cables last weekend, I’d ordered up some longer Di2 wiring. We quickly pulled a new cable through the downtube to connect the front junction box to the rear, and replaced the shifter wires with slightly longer bits.

I’d got a battery mount to sit below the water bottle mount, and that went on with a minimum of fuss. The remaining bit was the cable for the rear derailleur. There are ports in the chainstay to run a cable internally, but we quickly determined that there is not enough clearance for the Di2 connectors to pass through. We had to settle for external routing of the rear derailleur cable. Fortunately, I’d thought ahead (for a change) and bought the cable guides to stick the cable to the bottom of the chainstay.

And … magic!

Front derailleur

Rear derailleur

I was half expecting the derailleurs not to work right out of the box — partly because I’d cobbled together this solution from disparate sellers (although it’s all Shimano in the end) and partly because this was my first experience of electronic shifting. But in fact the moment it was all wired up … the shifting worked!

It was a few minutes’ work after that to put the cogs (half cleaned, half greasy) back on the rear wheel, and put that back on the bike. Then cut the new chain to length and adjust the derailleurs. It all went well apart from pressing the pin into the new chain to fit the length. We got the pin only partially in at first, and in the process bent one of the links. It’s working OK now, but I’ll probably get a couple of replacement pins and swap out that link (and its neighbours) before taking this show on the road.

Stop in the name of love

With the derailleurs settled in as well as can be expected, we turned our attention to the front brake caliper — the one we could do something about. It was easy enough to attach the new caliper to the fork, and I quickly determined we had the right orientation. (There’s a reversible bracket which allows for different diameter brake discs.)

After that it was all new to me. I’ve seen a number of videos on bleeding hydraulic brakes, although they tend to be generic rather than focusing on specific models, and I’ve heard the horror stories of hydraulic brakes gone wrong. We had our share of reversals and false starts, considering this is all new to us, but in the end we got there. The instructions didn’t specify which retaining bolt went into the brake levers and which into the calipers (and they are different), so I got that wrong on the first go but sorted it on the second try. (There weren’t any other options … )

When it came time to add the brake fluid and bleed the system, it turned out the reservoir cup from the first system I’d ordered was the wrong size. But the second set had the right item, and it all came together. Again, considering this was something I’d never done before, it went quite smoothly. We had just a minimum amount of brake fluid scattered about the workshop, but in less time that it takes to tell, I had a working front brake!

Fast stop

Compared to the cable-operated disc brakes that came with Kuroko from the factory, these are much easier to apply, much smoother, and have a lot more power. I’ve often read that hydraulic brakes are superior to cable, but this was my first experience. I can only say that the reports I’ve read don’t tell the full story — get hydraulic brakes!

Where do we go from here?

Partially assembled bicycle on balcony
Getting there

The only sticking point now is the rear brake caliper, held on by rounded-off, drilled-out bolts (as it has been from the start). It’s a cable-operated caliper, and so not compatible with the Shimano GRX levers, which are hydraulic. We’ve failed to remove the bolts using extractors and drill bits. I tried a hacksaw today, but after a couple of minutes it became clear I was removing as much material from the frame (a no-no) as the caliper and its retaining bolts.

Next weekend I’ll chuck the bike into the back of a car and take it to the workshop at my office. There I can try a high-powered drill, a grinder … whatever it takes. If I can’t get satisfaction there, maybe it’s time to replace the frameset as well.

Assuming I succeed in removing the brake caliper (at last!), all that remains is to install and bleed the new caliper, tape up the handlebars and (pièce de résistance) add the new saddle.