More failure

Montage: bicycle on path overlooking road sign for Otarumi Passs and view from Otarumi Pass

On Saturday, with overcast skies and a high just shy of 30C in the forecast, I set out once again for Mt. Takao. I got moving about 45 minutes earlier than on my previous effort, and that made a big difference throughout the day. I was able to take my time working up the Tamagawa and the Asakawa, to preserve my energy for the climb.

Another important difference was that Nana had got up early, knowing I was riding, and prepared four of her world-famous onigiri. I reached the turn-off to Asakawa about 10 a.m. and stopped to eat a couple. And then it was 11 by the time I reached Asakawa Riverside Lawn Square, the last rest before Takaosan, where I stopped to eat the remaining two onigiri.

This is where the failure starts

I’d been riding with a tube in the rear tire since the ill-fated visit to Tōgaku-in, the azalea temple, but on the weekend previous to this ride I’d removed the tube and got the tire sealed again as tubeless. I’d pumped it up again before setting out, but when I hit the road (possibly 40 minutes later) I soon had to stop and top it up again. I hoped that the sealant would work into whatever was leaking during the day’s ride, but now, 40km into the ride, I had to inflate it once again.

OK, I thought to myself, I’m going to stop once again before climbing up to the pass. If it needs air again at that point, I’d better give up and put a tube back in it.

At Takaosan Guchi the tire still felt firm, and I continued on my merry way up the mountain. I didn’t feel overly strong and was still conserving my energy — early on I came across a jogger and we were neck-and-neck for longer than I care to admit. And then just as the climb was about to begin, I realized I needed to stop and pump up the rear again. As I was filling the tire, the jogger passed me.

A lot of climbing ensued

With the tire up to pressure, I continued on, and I wasn’t shy about moving to lower gears. Slow and steady, the tortoise and not the hare, and all that rot. A number of cars and trucks passed me by and for the most part gave me room. A few cyclists as well, and those with breath to spare exchanged greetings with me.

All through the first kilometer or so, I’d been feeling it was easy going and I was sure to get to the top in one go, this time! And I would caution myself not to count chickens before the same had hatched, and so on, as I still had quite a bit to go. When my pace is between 6 and 9km/h, my imagination is outpacing my progress by a good deal, and I need to just focus on the next few meters ahead of me: is there debris, or speed strips? How is the traffic? But yes, I’ll get past that magnet spot! I’m going strong! Well, steady at least …

A good, long rest

I reached the magnet spot — where I usually am compelled to stop and catch my breath — determined to keep on powering past regardless of the agony in my lungs and thighs. And it wasn’t too bad at the beginning of the magnet, where the shoulder is broad and inviting. But by the time I reached the end of that stretch, my speed had slowed noticeably, and the road narrowed over a short bridge, and there was a large truck hanging just behind me, the driver patient enough to wait for me but not to drop back and give me room. In fact I was terrified to glance over my shoulder to check on the truck’s position, fearing I’d swerve or even tumble.

I just cleared the bridge when another truck driver, descending in the opposite direction, stopped and flashed his lights. The truck behind me passed with plenty of room to spare, followed by a car or two that had been waiting behind. And I struggled on to the next bit of shoulder and pulled over and nearly tumbled from the bike.

I remained there a good long time, catching my breath, letting my heart’s hammering slow and feeling the weariness draining from my thighs. I spent a good five minutes there recovering, greeting a couple of cyclists as they passed — one making good progress and another struggling along just a bit better than I had been going.

Portion of bicycle wheel with bike pump attached, toe of cycling shoe, with leaves and berries
Once again for good measure

And as I was stopped and resting, I checked the rear pressure again. Not optimal. I topped it up before continuing on my way.

As rested as I could be at this point, with more than 50km under my belt including more than 4km of climbing, I continued on my way. The gradient for the final 500m is considerably less than the 11% seen at the magnet (the grey line in the illustration), and with five minutes’ rest under my belt, I had no difficulty pressing on to the top.

Route guide showing distance and elevation of climb
Grade at the magnet

Descent into chaos

I had another breather at the top while I enjoyed the view. But I was descending from this point, so I didn’t have to have a complete rest. I checked the tire and once again pumped it up. It was a cause for worry at this point — if it lost pressure on the descent, the tire might roll off on a corner and chuck me onto the pavement at speed, possibly in front of a following vehicle!

I gave the tire a squeeze and decided I’d be OK for the descent. After all, it would pass quickly …

I waited for a break in the weekend traffic and set off on the descent. Within moments I was catching up with the traffic ahead. I braked, partly out of concern for the rear tire and partly to remain safely behind the vehicles I was in danger of overtaking. Meanwhile there was no one behind me, so I had the full width of the lane to play with on the twisting downhill.

Strava gave me a PR for the first half of the descent from the mountain pass, but I have serious doubts about this. I was on the brakes the entire time, while in the past I’ve ridden right back down to Takaosan Guchi without so much as touching the brakes. The Garmin put my maximum speed at 50km/h during the descent, which I do find reasonable.

As the road flattened out and traffic thickened somewhat into Takaosan, I knew I had to stop and take care of the rear. I could feel it not only shimmying under the turning forces, but starting to thrum against the pavement, indicating it was near the giving point. I stopped in an unused parking spot just off the road, unseated one tire bead and mopped up the sealant with the tissues in my cockpit bag. I pushed the valve out of the rim and stowed it in my bag, and the put in the spare tube I always carry. Re-seated the tire and pumped it up again.

I’ve had some practice with this fix. Garmie says it only took me three minutes. From that point on, I didn’t have any more tire trouble.

Rest and fuel

I got back to Takaosan Guchi almost exactly an hour after I’d left it. After the congratulatory photo (above), I continued on to the rest spot at a convenience store and bought some snacks to fuel up with (as well as some water to refill my depleted bottles).

As I sat at the picnic table under an umbrella, a couple of younger riders put their bikes in the stand next to mine. I saw them looking at Kuroko and pointing out some of the components to each other: “Cool!”, “Yeah!” I waited to see if they would acknowledge me, in which case I’d speak to them about my cool bike, but they never did. Chalk that one up to either Japanese reserve or young adult shyness.

Fairly well recharged, I mounted up and continued on my way home. The gradient up the Asakawa is only a percent or two, but the return is always considerably easier. I made very good time on the way downriver, despite the occasional headwind, and with no worries about the soundness of my rear tire. I was able to enjoy the sight of children splashing in the river, then further on smiled and waited patiently while a family walking on the path reined in their errant toddler so I could pass safely.

Homeward

I rejoined the Tamagawa at 2:35, three and a half hours after I’d left it. I stopped at a bench in the shade and rested a few minutes, sipping water. I’d sorted out the tire issue, and the climbs were behind me. What remained was a fight against fatigue, saddle soreness and numbness in my hands. With luck, I could continue on for 15km stretches between rests. If I needed more frequent breaks, there was no harm in that apart from a later finish. And I was still well on schedule to beat the sunset.

I crossed the bridge and continued downstream on the Tamagawa, fighting the occasional headwind, shaking the feeling back into my hands from time to time, and continued the 13km to the park in Komae without stop (apart from a traffic light or two).

After resting in the park in Komae, relaxing and in no hurry, I checked the time. It was nearly 3:30, so I messaged Nana I’d be home about 4:30. And then set out in traffic, knowing my legs were toast and I still had a couple of hills to negotiate before reaching home.

As expected, I had almost no power on the modest hills on Setagaya Avenue, but I had enough to get over the top of each one while traffic worked its way around me. I played cat and mouse with another couple of cyclists and more than one scooter rider. A driver in a Mercedes seemed incensed that he should be asked to share the road with little unwashed me, but (thanks to traffic and lights) I soon left him behind.

GPS record of cycling route
More failure

I got home without further incident, a few minutes before the deadline I’d given Nana. It was a good ride, not setting any records but reaching the goal, and getting back without unwarranted drama. Based on a moving time of 5 hours 43 minutes, the average moving speed was 20.0km/h, which I consider good even absent a mountain climb in the middle. The difference between that and the total elapsed time certainly reflects the lack of urgency I felt at each rest stop.

To bless or not to bless?

I’d feel a lot worse about that pun except that Specialized unabashedly markets their tubeless technology under the moniker 2bliss.

Anyway, this is far from the first issue I’ve had directly as a result of tubeless tires. Should I persevere in pursuit of the no-puncture grail, or give it up as a bad job now and revert to tubes in tires? It’s all a learning process for me, and at this point I can still see progress: the right tire and rim combo, good prep with the tape (which may be the culprit in this case), and the right sealant. Long story short, I’ve got patience for about one more go in me at this point.

And to my friends who point out that the masochism in pursuit of some ill-defined velominati goal is itself the goal, my only response is: nolo contendere.

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