With a forecast of sun and 0% chance of rain, with a high of 20C, I was planning for a nice long ride. I’d set the alarm clock and told Nana I was leaving at 8 sharp.
I woke up to completely overcast skies and a chilly, howling wind. I immediately revised my plans, figuring I’d go to Yokohama, and I turned off the alarm to let Nana sleep in.
Meanwhile, lethargy set in. Just sitting at my desk, I was getting cold. Nana woke at 8 and got busy making her world-famous onigiri. I said I would leave at 9:30, but in fact it was 9:45 before I got on the road.
By the time I reached Futako Tamagawa, I felt the bike was dragging. Was something rubbing? Then I noticed that when I went over any bumps in the road, the rear tire was feeling soft — pillowy, even. By the time I crossed Futako Bridge into Kanagawa, I was feeling the thrumming while I pedaled that indicated a soft rear tire. I stopped just under the far end of the bridge and got out the pump.
I soon had the tire pumped up to what seemed an equal pressure to the front tire according to the Thumb-o-Meter™. But then when I tried to unscrew the pump head from the valve, the valve core came with it, along with an enormous WHOOSH! of air escaping from the valve stem now that there was nothing to hold it back.
Huh. So the pump head screws onto the valve core, not the valve body. And the valve core is loose. I removed it from the pump head and tightened it back into the valve core as best I could. Screwed on the pump head again and pumped it up. And when I delicately removed the pump head … same result.
At some point in the process of trying again (… and again) a good Samaritan in the form of an ojisan on a beautiful classic steel bicycle stopped to help me. I assured him I was fine and I had a spare just in case. But it soon became obvious he was just as eager to speak English as to help a fellow cyclist in trouble. By now I was on the third or fourth try to pump up the tire again, and I realized if I just left the pump head attached to the valve, it might hold air. I removed the pump, leaving the head attached, and … it seemed to be holding.
My good Samaritan however was not satisfied. He was very curious about my bike, and noted I was using Di2 shifters. I proudly informed him I’d upgraded it myself from 一〇五 (105). And then he noticed — horrors! — the unused water bottle bolts on my seat tube were not fully tightened. He quickly opened his waist pouch and produced a multitool, and proceeded to tighten up the unused bolts. He let me know he’d lost a bolt by leaving it in the same condition. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’ve left the bolts like that since I moved the second water bottle below the downtube during the Switching to Glide conversion, a year and a half ago. Finally, after checking the tightness of the bolts on the rear rack, he was satisfied.
Meanwhile I’d been looking at his red racer. It’s a real classic steel framed bike with Campagnolo components and a matching red bidon. The tires were the narrowest tubulars I’ve ever seen — I doubt I could balance a dime flat across the tread. He said he bought the bike in 1976, and I noted I was in high school then.
Another change in plans
The tire seemed to be holding pressure, with the pump head screwed on the valve. I set off again and then checked the time: it was already 11. Soon after that, it began to sprinkle, very lightly. With the delay, the threat of rain and a burgeoning headache, I decided to revise my plans. Instead of Yokohama I’d just go to Haneda and back. I could to that in the pouring rain with a migraine, if need be.
Flowers and politicians
The cycling path was lined with azaleas in bloom and many small purple-and-white blossoms — almost as numerous as the sound trucks of politicians soliciting votes in tomorrow’s local elections. I appreciated the former and did my best to ignore the latter as I continued down the river and into the wind. It was a stiff wind, but very steady, which made it easy for me to adjust my cadence and continue. I stopped at my usual resting spot and had a banana, then continued.
The wind held up. I came to an area which had had a detour on my last visit. The construction was finished and the path was vastly improved. Where it had been a narrow path with broken pavement and blind curves, thanks to rampant vegetation, it was now broad and smooth — and naked. I wondered if they might have kept some of the shrubbery while still improving the overall safety and usability.
And I continued downstream, into the wind. I passed a 5km milestone at 15 minutes on the nose — a 20km/h average. So the wind was not holding me back excessively. I reminded myself to watch for pedestrians and other cyclists, rather than Garmie, as I neared my goal.
Still not seeing any sun
At Haneda I made quick work of Nana’s world-famous onigiri (mentaiko). As soon as I mounted up for the return, though, I felt the rear tire had gone soft again. I stopped at the nearest spot that would put me out of traffic and pumped up the tire again. The pump was being flaky and in the process of trying again (and again!) I smashed a finger between the pump handle and body.
No mind. I soon had the tire back up to pressure and continued on my way.
From Haneda back to Futako is roughly 17km. The wind was helping me now, mostly. I stopped at a restroom. Before continuing I gave Kuroko’s back wheel a couple of bounces — still firm. I continued along upstream.
Before 2km had passed, though, I felt the thrumming again in time with my pedal strokes. That’s it — the rear is losing air again. I’d already passed the rest area at Gas Bashi, so I decided to tough it out until I reached the rest area under the Kawazuzakura around the 14km mark (measured from Haneda). The thrumming from the rear tire became increasingly pronounced, and I eased up on the pedals a bit, but I reached the rest area without any further complications.
It took just over 15 minutes to replace the inner tube with the spare and get that inflated and back on the bike. For the first time since reaching Futako in the morning, I was confident Kuroko would see me home in one piece. I messaged Nana that I was on my way again and mounted up for the scant few kilometers that would bring me back to Futako.
It was nearly 2 p.m. when I reached Futako, following more than the usual amount of faff with pedestrians and other bikers getting across Futako Bridge. I had just a brief rest at the top of the climb and messaged Nana that I’d be home about 3. I remembered to turn on the taillight as it was still dark and cloudy, and then set out in traffic. There’s nothing really to note about the ride from that point except that it involved the usual amount of interaction with stupid drivers.
I had just about 7km remaining when I reached the light at the top of Umegaoka Itchome. There was another rider waiting at the light before me. From the appearance — street clothes including a trench coat, riding a mama chari — I thought this was someone I wanted to get ahead of. But the road after the light is very narrow. Fortunately I was able to overtake them at the next light without any risk. But then as we came downhill into a series of intersections, they went up on the sidewalk ahead of me and through the red light. Finally, they came back onto the street just ahead of me, only to move back to the sidewalk less than 20 meters later.
And as they moved back onto the sidewalk, their tire caught on the slight lip between the road surface and the ramp up to the sidewalk. Over they went, flat down on the sidewalk! I came to an abrupt stop, and signaled for the car behind me to stop. “Are you OK?” The answer came quickly as they — a woman, I could see now — struggled to her feet. “Yes, I’m all right.”
I continued on my way, remembering that I’d done the same thing on Ol’ Paint several years ago, not 100m from that same spot — although at considerably higher speed. On that occasion I’d limped home and Nana had walked in while I was trying to clean up all the blood from my scraped knee and elbow.
I’m happy to report there was nothing more exciting for the remainder of my ride home.
I was definitely not pushing today. In addition to the soft rear tire, I was struggling into the wind on the way down the Tamagawa. I’m not convinced I won it all back on the way upstream. Based on a moving time of 3:21:37, I averaged 19.0km/h. Neither stunning nor exceptionally slow.
Addendum: Yes, yes there is
“But wait!” I hear you ask. “Isn’t there a valve core wrench on your multitool? Couldn’t you have saved yourself a lot of effort, and protected Kuroko from the threat of damage from riding under-inflated tires?”
It occurred to me from the start, before the Good Samaritan stopped to help me under Futako Bridge. I can’t exactly say why I failed to check at the time, except to say that I sometimes make stunningly poor decisions while riding — something Fearless Leader Joe can certainly attest to.
Not long after arriving home, and having a beer (and another, and another … ) and falling asleep in the bath, and waking up again and getting dressed, I checked the multitool against the delinquent valve core. It took a few tries, but there is indeed an attachment for this purpose. It’s part of the chain tool, as it happens.
I spent some time with bicycle pump reviews to find something that wouldn’t leave me in the lurch like the Panaracer pump left me today. More than one review favored the Topeak that I originally got with Kuroko (and still have). My problem with that pump is it often would fail to seal properly on the valve, leaving me huffing and puffing while I pumped air into … the air. I’ve found what I think will be the replacement. It has the same weakness as the Panaracer — the pump head screws onto the valve core, meaning that it could unscrew the core on release. But it has a valve core tool incorporated into the head, meaning I can tighten the valve core first, then inflate the tire. It’s lighter and more compact, and includes a digital pressure gauge that all the reviews say is very accurate. The only downside now is finding the pump and its mount (it will attach to my unused bidon bolts) in Japan. It doesn’t help that various vendors interpret the name of the pump in different ways.
It’s actually 22 April in Japan now but …