Selfie of two smiling cyclists in helmets, shades and cycling jerseys. In the background, a large steel girder bridge stretches across a blue river.

Windy and Flat

I have a big ride coming up with José next weekend, and he hasn’t been getting in a lot of miles on the bike. So we took advantage of today’s weather — mild and sunny — to get in a ride. I told José I’d meet him at his flat at 8 and we left it at that.

When we met up I gave him a few options: Kawagoe, Disneyland and Tokyo Landmarks. He left it up to me so I said Kawagoe, but we’re going to have a bit of wind.

We made it to the Arakawa without incident, after a convenience store stop for breakfast (second breakfast in my case). But as soon as we started up the river, we were struggling directly into a headwind. After a few kilometers I said we might revise our plans as we go. Then we came into a long stretch of joggers, little league baseball players, and finally tents and cars and all the attendant traffic. Apparently the Red Cross and the fire department were having some sort of event.

Tokyo Skytree, a soaring cylindrical steel girder structure, rises through the center of the picture, against a blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds.
Tokyo Skytree

As we continued on I realized Kawagoe would be a huge effort. So I scaled back my expectations, thinking we could make it to Iwabuchi or even Towa bridge (where I usually join the Arakawa when I go directly from my home). As it happened, we had a brief rest at the top of Iwabuchi water gate and then decided to turn around and head downriver.

A wide river runs from the bottom of the picture to the middle, reflecting the sun off waves. The river bank curves from the left to the center, covered in green grass and trees. Some buildings perch on the right bank.
Sumida River from Iwabuchi water gate

At this point I’d already ridden 33km. Considering our options for a full ride, I decided we’d ride down to the river mouth, cross over and have lunch at the park there, and then join up with the route that brings us to Tokyo Gate Bridge. In the past when I’ve gone to Tokyo Gate Bridge it was via Tokyo Disneyland, but I knew we’d have enough distance in the bag without Disneyland this time.

The wind was with us as we flew downstream. I could feel we were making very good time, and yet I did not set a lot of PRs during this leg of the ride (showing no doubt I’ve ridden downstream with an even stronger tailwind in the past). When we got to the Red Cross/fire department event, uniformed firemen with bullhorns were demanding that riders dismount and walk. Frankly, they were making quite a nuisance. With some reluctance I dismounted and walked the better part of a kilometer. And yet I still averaged slightly over 20km/h for the 5km segment that included the walk time.

The next 5km segment, with no firemen and a minimum of road furniture, passed in just 10 minutes 46 seconds, for an average of 28km/h. Soon after that we were on the bridge over the Arakawa and stopped in the shade to eat some of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. Unfortunately, there were more than a few mosquitos waiting for us at the picnic bench in the park, and we gobbled down our onigiri and mounted up again as quickly as possible.

Here’s where the flat part comes in

We were soon down at the entrance to the bay, and quickly made our way across Rte 357 to recross the Arakawa en route to Wakasu Seaside Park. When we reached Tokyo Gate Bridge, a foursome on cycles was there ahead of us, propping up their bikes in our favored spot, taking endless selfies. We used the restroom and bought water from the vending machine as we waited, and finally gave up, taking a selfie without the bikes. We mounted up and continued on …

As we passed through a pedestrian-filled area of the park, I heard an exclamation from José. I didn’t think anything of it until I’d covered another kilometer and turned around to look: no José. I pedaled slowly back to the place I’d heard the exclamation and there was José, already in the process of fixing a flat. (He wouldn’t have got far without me, as he hadn’t brought a pump!)

It didn’t take long to replace the innertube after determining there was no unwanted debris stuck in the tire tread. I assembled the pump and handed it to José and then we had a debate about the pressure. He squeezed the tire with his thumb after about 40psi and thought it was sufficient, but I prevailed on him to take it up to 60. The tires are rated for 100psi, and 40 is just not enough to keep them from bottoming on bumps in the pavement, which is very likely what had happened.

We mounted up again and continued on our way. As we went we discussed options for José to replace all the rubber before our big ride next weekend. It was obvious his tires were deteriorating, as much from age as from wear. After some back-and-forth, we decided that José would follow me home, stopping at the bicycle shop on the way for all new rubber: tires and tubes.

We sat down on the benches at Chidorigafuchi and finished the onigiri along with treats from a nearby convenience store. I updated Nana on our position and expected return time, and we continued onwards towards Shinjuku. I could tell by this point that José was suffering as he wasn’t keeping up, particularly on the climbs, where he is usually much stronger than I.

When we got to the bicycle shop I had thought to wait outside with the bikes while José went in to make the purchases, but he urged me to accompany him. So we carried our bikes down the stairs and hung them on hooks in the shop’s entryway. José quickly selected innertubes and a new water bottle, and then we had a bit of a wait trying to get a salesman’s attention for the tires. As soon as we’d done that, though, José quickly made a selection, choosing tires to match his new water bottle.

We spent a few more minutes admiring the Bianchi cycles on display before paying up and continuing on our way.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Windy and Flat

I turned Garmie off when we entered the bike shop. I turned it back on again for the 3km ride home, but it shut itself off again for some reason.

From home to the bike shop we covered 91km, with a very strong wind alternately holding us back and pushing us along. On a moving time of 4:33:36, I did a very respectable and totally unexpected 20.0km/h.

We arrived home at 2:40, and I spent a couple of minutes parking my bike before leading José to the freight elevator so we could bring his bike up to the Workshop in the Sky. Nana’s mother was visiting and we spent a few minutes chatting, eating potato chips and enjoying a cold beer (me, not José, who still had some riding to do), before I said we had to get the bike fixed so José could get home before dark.

José’s lightweight bike has narrow, 23mm tires, and they are quite a tight fit on the Shimano rims. We had a much harder time, at home in nearly ideal conditions (as near as the narrow Workshop in the Sky allows), removing the old tire from the rim than we’d had at the side of the cycling path earlier in the day. José wrestled the new tire on the rim and it was a real struggle. He reused the innertube, which was the one he’d just installed about two-and-a-half hours earlier, and then he a further fight getting the remaining tire bead on the rim.

We put the pump on the valve and started pumping and — nothing. We took a couple of minutes to make sure the pump head was seated properly on the valve, but that wasn’t the issue. We could see the new tire was expanding, and then immediately contracting again. Only one possible conclusion: we’d pinched the tube during the installation!

That of course meant fighting one side of the tire back off the rim, removing the bad innertube, and inserting one of the new ones. This time I remembered I have a large ziplock full of talcum powder on the floor of the workshop, and we used that to coat the new innertube with powder before the next attempt. José wrestled the tire onto the rim and we both held our breath as we attached the pump: Hosanna! The innertube was holding and the tire was filling.

We filled the tire to 60psi, bounced it a bit, and checked the bead all the way around on both sides. It looked good, so we took it up to 80psi and left it.

The rear tire was more of the same. We reused the innertube (leaving one new one as a spare for next weekend), and I coated the innertube with talcum before we tried to force the tire on the rim. We had a good, unpunctured tire again in less time than the first one took.

At some point in this process I had a good look at the tires we were replacing. I’d already noted they were aging and pitted, and now I found a spot where José had worn nearly through the thread. It was just as well we were replacing all the rubber at this point.

Our final bit of maintenance was to give the chain, rear derailleur and cogs a long-overdue cleaning and lube. Soon, José was running through the gears, enjoying The Silence of the Cogs.

Evening was fast approaching at this point. I made José accept the loan of a taillight, over his objections, and accompanied him on the elevator ride to the ground floor to make sure it was blinking before he set out (and, incidentally, to capture a photo of him with his spiffy new hoops).

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