Back in the saddle again

Bicycle in front of condo entrance

Today I’m happy to report the end (or nearly so) of the saga of Kuroko’s drivetrain upgrade. I had three goals in the upgrade:

  • A further improvement in climbing, from a larger rear cassette
  • Sorting out an issue with a sticking front shifter
  • And performing another (and hopefully last for some time) bottom bracket replacement
Removing the shift lever with a hex key
Removing the shift lever with a hex key

I began working on Dec. 1 and things immediately went sideways as I decided that I needed to replace the shift/brake levers in addition to everything else, to sort out the sticking shifter. I still recall vividly the half-hour wasted with a bike store employee who didn’t seem to understand a bike could have cable-operated disc brakes. With the time wasted, all I accomplished that day was installing the new levers.

Loosening the crankset bolt with a socket wrench
Loosening the crankset

Things went on hold then until Jan. 4, in part owing to a vacation and the New Year’s holiday. The Halfakid dropped in to lend a hand with new cables, installing the new derailleurs, and finally, attempting to replace the bottom bracket. We were able to remove the old (er … the one I installed in September last year) bottom bracket without much trouble, but when we tried to install the new one, of a different make and style, we discovered we needed a different tool.

Bottom bracket pressed halfway into shell
Half-way there

I finally got the tool and completed the bottom bracket installation on Jan. 11. Which brings us to today.

Replacing screws in a rear bicycle dropout
New screws for the dropout

The first thing I did was to replace the dropout screws I’d installed earlier this month with some better-fitting ones. These new screws fit more snugly and flush, and I remembered to use Loctite and not grease when I screwed them in.

Using a torque wrench to tighten a rear derailleur
Tightening the rear derailleur

That done, I needed to reinstall the new rear derailleur. I’d given the Halfakid the wrong orientation when I coached him on the install earlier this month, and it was immediately obvious when I wasn’t able to fit the rear wheel in place. A few long, hard stares at the instructions showed me the error of my ways, and all was soon good. The cable housing is a bit long, but I decided to tackle that another time.

Derailleur, wheel and cable
Derailleur, wheel and cable

Bicycle drivetrain with new chain sized to fit
Getting the length right

With the front and rear derailleurs installed, I had to cut the new chain to length and install it. I’m glad that I was taking my time at this point and checking everything twice, because I nearly forgot to run the chain through the rear derailleur before pressing in the final rivet. (Sizing the chain is done without running the chain through the derailleur.) I’m glad I noticed in time.

Bicycle in stand showing new derailleurs and chain
Drivetrain done and done

Finally it was time to adjust the brakes and derailleurs. The instructions for the new derailleurs are quite a bit more complicated — in part I followed the instructions, and in part I let tuition guide me. I played for some time with tension of the rear derailleur cable in particular. When I was finally satisfied, it was time for a shakedown ride!

Bicycle with helmet overlooking city
Ready to roll

Given the hour (and the fact I’m still overcoming a cough) I just went for a quick spin around the block. It was very satisfying to be back on the bike after a hiatus of two months. The new drivetrain is working well, although I didn’t encounter any hills steep enough to allow me to test out the new low gear. The rear derailleur is good but not yet in perfect adjustment, while the front is making a bit of noise on the larger chainring. Just a couple of tweaks needed and all should be good. And I need to remember to tighten up the front brake just a hair more while I’m at it.

Bicycle in front of condo entrance
Back home again

I’ll probably commute once or twice this week, and meanwhile I’ll hope for good weather on the weekend for the first proper ride of 2020!

Light at the end of the bottom bracket

Bottom bracket pressed halfway into shell
Park Tool HHP-2 on a shipping box
This thing is massive

Last weekend, the Halfakid and I were stymied in our attempt to insert a new bottom bracket by the lack of the proper tool. I ordered the tool from Amazon in the US and today I picked up where we left off. Unfortunately the Halfakid was not available to continue to help me today.

The Park Tool HHP-2 arrived on Thursday, and it is massive! I’ve seen it used in a number of bicycle assembly and maintenance videos, but I was just not prepared for how large and heavy it is. According to Amazon, it’s 3kg, but it feels closer to 10kg. By contrast, my Shimano bottom bracket tool is less than half a kilogram.

Bottom bracket, bottom bracket press and tool next to bicycle frame
Checking that I have everything

I spent a few minutes going over the instructions again before committing myself to the job. It seemed straightforward enough, but there are certain details to keep in mind — such as the fact it’s made to go in from the non-drive side only.

Bottom bracket pressed halfway into shell
Half-way there

I took a deep breath and made the plunge. The initial resistance was higher than I’d experienced with the previous bearings from FSA, but they had a plastic shell and this bbinfinite model is aluminum. After checking the alignment once again, I bore down on the handles and soon the thing was half-way done.

When the bottom bracket reached the opposite end of the shell, the big Park Tool press bottomed out: it just wouldn’t go any further. After I’d finished the job I realized that the two cup guides had come into contact in the middle. I should have reversed one so it would be pressing on the larger flange from outside the shell. At the time, though, I just removed the Park Tool press and continued with my Shimano press.

Bottom bracket partially inserted in bike frame, with tools and pressBottom bracket fully inserted in bike frame, with tools and press
Nearly there … and it’s done

After withdrawing the bearing press, the next step was to grease up the spindle and press it into the bearings. bbinfinite’s guide suggests putting the spindle in the freezer for half an hour to ease the job, but it wasn’t necessary — perhaps because it had scarcely reached 10C when I was doing this. At any rate, I was able to get the spindle in with just a couple of slaps with the flat of my hand against the crank. This was a good sign, as I’d always had to use a mallet with the FSA bearings.

Greased spindle ready to insert into bottom bracket
Greased spindle ready to insert into bottom bracket

Tightening bicycle crank with a torque wrench
Torquing the crank into place

Crank installed on left side of bike with proper spacing
Spacing looks OK

The final step was to put some more grease on the spindle and tighten on the crank and chainrings with a torque wrench. With the wrench I’ve got it’s a challenge to get the recommended 41NM, but I can always manage by putting my weight into it. With both cranks on (and pointing in opposite directions) I checked the clearance on the left crank. The wave washer should be slightly compressed, not fully, and it looked good to me.

Finally, the moment had come for a test spin! I gave it a few turns, and it’s smoother than it had been with the FSA bearings. It doesn’t run forever: just a couple of turns and it stops. But it’s definitely more free than before. There’s a clicking noise (not a grinding noise as the FSA bearings had been making) which I think is the aluminum collar inside the shell between the two bearings. I hope that with a few hundred kilometers the crankset will smooth out even more and the clicking will sort itself out.

Test spin with bbinfinite bottom bracket

How much longer must this go on?

So what remains to be done before Kuroko is ready to ride again? A number of smaller things: I’ve found some screws which will probably be a better fit for the rear drop-out, so I’ll put those in. I need to cut the new chain to length and install that. Finally, I need to adjust the brakes and the new derailleurs. I hope I can find time next weekend for that, and that the Halfakid can help out again. After all, he’s been waiting patiently for the first ride of 2020.


Detail of dropout with missing screws

Yesterday when we were putting a new rear derailleur on Kuroko we discovered that some of the screws for the modular dropout were missing — in fact, most of them were missing. And from the looks of the recesses in the frame, one of them has been missing at least since my ride in England.

I hadn’t paid enough attention to the dropouts before to realize they were modular, much less that they were held in by screws. A quick inspection showed that the other side was fine: all present and accounted for, and nice and snug. On the drive side, just one screw remaining, and holding in by a single thread. It has me wondering if this contributed to the earlier issue of the thru axle coming loose on a regular basis. And I’m sure a wiggly dropout would contribute to sloppy shifting.

A variety of similar screws
A variety of similar screws

Regardless, it would be unsafe to ride Kuroko in this condition. I needed replacements. I tried searching online for information, but nothing was forthcoming. So today I took the remaining screw and set out for the bike store. The clerk there was able to find something similar for me, but he was concerned the head shape was different and wouldn’t sell it to me.

Instead I went to Tokyu Hands and bought screws in three similar sizes, thinking that one would be a sure winner. Amusingly, the three varieties of screws at Tokyu Hands (not known for its bargain prices) cost pretty much the same as the one screw at the bike store.

Modular dropout in place with replacement screws
Good enough?

The first screw type I tried was a pretty good fit. Not perfect: the head is a bit round and stands out just slightly from the frame surface. But I think it’s good enough. If there’s a clearance issue I’ll cut down the 16mm screws to fit as they’ve got flat heads. Meanwhile, I put Loctite on the screws and tightened them up.

So who’s to blame?

Rear bicycle wheel and derailleur
Wheel and derailleur back in place

Obviously having a dropout fall off while I’m on a ride is a safety issue. I’m lucky it didn’t happen on one of the English canal paths or halfway around the Tour de Tohoku. How could this have come to pass?

I don’t really know where the blame lies. There’s not really a good reason to use a modular dropout on a production frame unless you use the same frame for a variety of models, some with thru axles and some with quick release. But given that’s what we have here, were the screws driven in by the maker or the bike shop that assembled it for me? I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing the maker.

The final possibility is that I damaged the screws when I had the derailleur go into the spokes on that fateful day in England. I can’t completely rule that out. I do know that I was having the issue with the thru axle loosening up before that time.

Regardless of where the finger points, I now have something to add to my pre-ride checklist, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to carry spares on longer rides (particularly given they weigh next to nothing).

Kuroko maintenance continues

Loosening the crankset bolt with a socket wrench

Today, with the help of the Halfakid, I picked up where I’d left off the maintenance of Kuroko, begun more than a month ago!

At that time I decided I would replace the bottom bracket (again) as the bearings (just four or five months old at this point) were making a bit of noise, and the crank was not turning very freely.

Sad bottom bracket

I’ve had the replacement bottom bracket sitting in my den for months now, waiting for the right moment to install it. As I’ve already been through two sets of bearings from the maker of the crankset, FSA, I decided this time to give a different solution a try.

bbinfinite bottom bracket and tool
bbinfinite bottom bracket and tool

Today was cold and grey (while the last two days have been sunny and mild), and we both put on an extra layer before venturing out into the wind on the balcony. But we took the plunge. I quickly located the correct socket size and handed it to the Halfakid to loosen the crankset.

Loosening the crankset bolt with a socket wrench
Loosening the crankset

It took him a good few tries! He was obviously using more force than I’d used putting the crankset on, and it wasn’t budging. So we decided to take a break and look up the threading information to make sure we weren’t trying to turn it the wrong way. (Many threaded bottom brackets use a left-hand thread on the drive side, and I needed a sanity check to make sure the same wasn’t also true of the crankset.)

Reassured we were torquing in the proper direction, we returned to the balcony and then, with just a couple of more tries, the crank finally loosened. We had it off in a minute and then hammered the bearings out of the bottom bracket shell.

Screw in vice and grinding tool
The loud part — grinding down the screw

The new bottom bracket has a full aluminum shell, so we needed to grind down the screw that holds the cable guide to the outside of the bottom bracket shell. This took a few minutes with the help of the Dremel and a grinding wheel. It was pretty noisy, but (for a change) we didn’t bother the neighbor’s dog with our cacophony.

Bottom bracket shell showing protruding screwBottom bracket shell with screw ground down flush
Grinding down the screw until it’s flush

We were finally ready to install the new bottom bracket! We took a few minutes indoors to warm up while I went over the instructions once more, then once more again. We had all the tools and parts, and were ready to get the job done! So we thought. We got no more than a minute into the operation when we realized that my bottom bracket bearing press wasn’t long enough for the job. It’s made for bearings that are separate, and so doesn’t have the reach to go the whole way through first the integrated bearing set and then the bike’s BB shell.

Time for another break under the heater while I looked up the recommended BB tool. It’s not cheap. Amazon showed several sellers that could deliver it with a minimum wait of 10 days. Rakuten had a seller willing to take the order but without any commitment to a delivery date. I decided to check with the local bike shop before ordering.

Man in a hoodie manipulating a bicycle shift lever
Getting the cable out

With the bottom bracket fix on hold, we turned our attention to the parts we could take care today: replacing the rear derailleur and associated shift lever. We cut the cables for the existing rear derailleur and front brake and loosened the lever from the handlebars. We had a time of it trying to get the shift cable out of the lever, and in the end decided we didn’t actually need to get that done while standing in the cold wind.

The new cables threaded into the new shift lever a lot more easily than the old ones had come out, so we quickly mounted the new lever to the handlebar. Next we spent a couple of minutes trimming and adjusting the front brake. We didn’t get it perfect today, but that’s OK because I’ll check all the adjustments again once I’ve got the crankset back on.

Removing the sprocket with a sprocket tool and chain whip
Out with the old

Replacing the rear cassette was another job that turned out to be more difficult than expected. As I’d put the existing cassette on and used less than my full strength tightening it, I figured the Halfakid could remove it in a second. But, as with the crankset bolt, it turned out to be a lot more tight than expected. He finally got it turning after several tries and different positions to increase leverage.

With the old cassette off, we then fought with the packing of the new cassette. The sprockets were mounted on a plastic insert to hold them in place, and I spent some time trying to force out the insert or cut through it. Finally the Halfakid found out which way we needed to tug at the insert and then it popped out in a second. After that, the new cogs went onto the freehub in a minute, and with the application of a bit of grease, the Halfakid gave the cassette lockring a good tightening. (I doubt I’ll be able to get it off again without his help.

Bicycle wheel with shiny new cassette
In with the new

The final step for the day was mounting the new rear derailleur and attaching the shifting cable. But in the process we were in a for another shock, and this one a nasty one. While we were mounting the derailleur I noticed a loose screw on the inside of the dropout. A closer inspection showed that it was the only screw remaining of an original four meant to hold the dropout to the frame, and it was hanging by a single thread! The Halfakid tightened it up, but reported that it wouldn’t seat in and stop turning. So that might mean the frame threads are stripped. In any case, I have to figure out what size screw it is and find three replacements before I can ride the bike again. Meanwhile, the dropout certainly is loose, and this probably contributed to shifting issues I’ve had in the past.

I don’t know at what point the other screws were lost. It certainly points to a quality control issue, but I don’t know if it’s the manufacturer or the shop where I bought Kuroko — I rather suspect the former.

Between the bearing press being too short and the dropout screws missing, Kuroko is probably going to be laid up for at least another week. I’ll have to put of my first ride of the New Year for a while yet.

Secret weapon

Bicycle frame in vice with paint largely stripped off
Roloc easy strip disc in a power drill
Secret weapon

Last weekend I got back in the workshop with Ol’ Paint. After a couple of months of wearing myself thin (not really — but I may have given myself a case of pitcher’s elbow) trying to sand the paint off, I decided it was time to break out the secret weapon. The Duropeak Roloc Easy Strip Discs made a tough job quite a bit easier.

It wasn’t all touch-a-button-and-done, even with the power drill. It required a bit of force, so I mounted first the fork and then the frame in a vise for the work. (For the frame I clamped a wooden dowel in the vise and then mounted the seat tube over that.) Even so, I think that an extra pair of hands would have made the job easier. It needed two hands on the drill, and at times I was using one hand to hold the fork or frame in place. I ended up wedging the frame against a conveniently located drill press. (If this were the sort of thing I’d be doing on a regular basis, I’d have a proper frame stand with clamp set up for it. As it is, I need my frame stand at home for Kuroko’s drivetrain upgrade.)

Bicycle frame in vise with paint partially stripped
As far as I’d got by hand

Other things I lack at the workshop are a proper video camera and tripod (as well as lights and an assistant), so what follows are just a bunch of before-and-after shots.

Bicycle fork mounted in vise before drill stripper
Fork before
Bicycle fork mounted in vise after drill stripper
Fork after

I spent a good long while on the fork, with its crannies and curves, and am pretty pleased with the results: not 100% paint-free, but much closer than before.

Bicycle frame in vise with paint stripped from top tube
Cleaning up the top tube

Seat post and top tube juncture before stripping
Seat post and top tube juncture before

Seat post and top tube juncture after stripping
Seat post and top tube juncture after

Detail of down tube showing swirl marks from paint stripper
Detail showing swirl marks

Detail of chainstay stripped of paint
That’s a clean chainstay

Bicycle frame in vise with most paint stripped off
Two secret weapons later

Creating false expectations

Rebuilding Ol’ Paint is inspired by watching the work of countless restorers, most recently the paintwork of Velove Bicycles.

Having said that, Ol’ Paint’s new paintwork is going to be very simple: a single coat of semi-matte. No primer, no filler, no stencils … and certainly no fade.

Replacing a shifter

Removing the shift lever with a hex key

As mentioned previously, I’m upgrading Kuroko’s drivetrain to make climbing somewhat easier and to sort out a front shifter that sticks from time to time. I’d gotten as far last weekend as mounting the new front derailleur and was in the process of attaching the cable when I realized that the shift lever was the reason for the sticking. So off I went to the bike shop to buy a pair of replacement levers.

(There’s a separate story about the half hour I wasted there with an employee who apparently didn’t realize that some bikes have cable-operated disc brakes. Once I got someone else to help me, I had the right goods in under five minutes.)

Shimano 105 shift / brake levers in the box
In the box

I knew what I had to do to replace the levers, but it all took a bit longer than expected. In the process, I replaced the shifter cable and brake cable, but only the inners.

Shimano brake lever pulled back, showing head of brake cable
Mushroom head on the brake cable

I snipped the end off the brake cable and pushed the cable through the housing, then squeezed the brake lever to pull it all the way through.

With the brake cable out, I peeled the hood over the lever to access the shifter cable. This is the one I’d just installed last weekend when I realized I wanted to replace the lever. As I hadn’t yet fastened it down or put a cable end on it, it was just a matter of pushing it through the housing until the cable head was sticking out, and then pulling that through.

Shifter cable sticking out the side of the lever
The shifter cable comes out the side

With the cables out, there’s only a single hex-head bolt holding the shifter onto the handlebar.

Removing the lever with a hex wrench
Hexing it

Old lever (L) and new lever (R)
Old lever (L) and new lever (R)

Handlebar with shift/brake lever removed, showing mounting post
Cable housing and mounting post

Because I’m not replacing the cable housings, I didn’t have to remove the handlebar tape and rewrap it when I was finished — so long as I took some care in the process. It was a bit of fiddling around to make sure both the brake and shifter cable housings got slotted into the correct location before I could screw down the hex bolt for the new lever.

The brake cable went back in without any trouble. I was a bit concerned because this is the one cable that’s routed internally, through the downtube. It looked like the housing passed all the way through, so I wouldn’t have to fish around inside the frame for the cable end when I reinserted it. But I wasn’t sure until I tried.

I was in luck. The brake cable went right in and through the housing all the way to the rear disc, where it was soon sticking out just where it was expected to be. I fastened down the pinch bolt, cut off the excess cable and crimped a cable end on it. Then it just took a minute or two to adjust the brake.

Composite photo showing brake cable feeding in through the brake lever (above) and emerging from the housing at the rear disc brake (below)
Inserting the new brake cable

New Shimano shift lever fitted to handlebar
Shift lever in place in time to ride off into the sunset

I had a bit more exercise getting the shifter cable in. The hood needs to pulled well forward for this, and the shift lever needs to be in the right position before the cable head will slot in properly. It took a few tries, and I ended up unscrewing the lever from the handlebars once to get the cable threaded properly into the housing. But once it was in, it all went together in a moment. I pulled the hood back into place and stood back to admire my work in the setting sun.

This drivetrain upgrade project should have been a one-day job, but I’m now on my second weekend and still barely getting started. I’m glad I’m able to find and sort out problems as I go. As a final measure today, I gave the crankset a spin with the chain off. There’s some bearing noise and the crank will only turn around once on its own. So I’ll probably replace the bottom bracket bearings while I’m doing this upgrade, and get it all over with in one go. (Hoping that this is the last time I’ll have to replace the BB.)

Taking stock

Bicycle drivetrain

It’s taking longer than I expected to strip the old paint off Ol’ Paint. Meanwhile I decided it’s time to take stock of all the parts to make sure nothing is missing (and in the meantime to clean up my study).

Bicycle wheel with tubes and tires in the box
Wheel and tires

First up are the new wheels for Ol’ Paint.

  1. Rims Alexrims DM18 26″ x 32H
  2. Hubs Shimano Deore HB-M6000 (front) and Shimano Deore FH-M6000 (rear)
  3. Spokes DT Swiss Pro
  4. Tubes Conti Tube Tour 26 Slim
  5. Tires Continental GrandPrix 28mm
Bicycle drivetrain

For the drivetrain I’m going with SRAM Apex 1, despite its reliance on what some have called The Worst Crankset in the World.

  1. Crankset SRAM AM FC Apex 1 GXP 170 42T
  2. Cassette sprocket SRAM PG1130 11SP 11-42T
  3. Rear derailleur SRAM AM RD Apex 1 1X11SP long cage
  4. Bottom bracket SRAM AM BB GXP Team English
  5. Chain SRAM PC1110
  6. Trigger shifter SRAM AM SL Apex Trigger 11SP
Bicycle saddle, seat post, pedals, handlbar, stem and grips
Everything else

For the rest, I went with a mix of things I’ve tried or seen elsewhere, and then the Shimano Pro line for the remainder.

  1. Saddle WTB Volt Pro Cromoly
  2. Seatpost Pro LT
  3. QR skewer brand X
  4. Pedals Xpedo XMX24MC
  5. Handlebar Pro LT
  6. Stem Pro LT
  7. Top cap FSA
  8. Bar end grips Lifeline
  9. Brake levers Shimano Deore BL-T610
  10. V-brakes Shimano Deore BR-T610

The Xpedo pedals (and that’s probably the most unfortunate brand name in cycling, if not of all time) are really too nice for this bike, but I saw them on Fearless Leader Joe’s hand-built Chapman bike and fell in love with their looks.

Bicycle drivetrain components
Kuroko drivetrain

Last up is yet another drivetrain upgrade for Kuroko. The 34T large sprocket will drop my lowest climbing ratio yet again, from 25 gear inches to 23 or a reduction of 6%. (Compared to the original low of 32 gear inches, it’s a 27% reduction.) The change requires a swap of the rear derailleur to a newer model, and while I’m at it I may as well swap the front to match. With all new bits (except the crankset, of course), replacing the chain is a no-brainer even though it’s not really required. It might be a good time to swap out the bottom bracket as well for the fully integrated model from bbinfinite, but at the moment the existing bearings are working fine. (And if it ain’t broke … )

  1. Front derailleur Shimano 105 FD-R7000-B
  2. Chain Shimano 105 HG-X11
  3. Cassette sprocket Shimano CS-HG700-11 11-34T
  4. Rear derailleur Shimano 105 RD-R7000-GS
  5. Bottom bracket bbinfinite BB86-PF-RD

Now it’s all just awaiting a rainy day for me to tackle the project. Hmm … wonder if we’ve had any of those recently.

Another quick run to Hamura

Kuroko at the Hamura Intake Weir

The day dawned cool and partly cloudy. Checking the forecast, with a projected high of 19C, I was almost ready to set off wearing shorts and a long-sleeved T under a wind breaker. But Kuroko was on the balcony following a gear adjustment yesterday, and when I went out to stuff things into the saddle pack I was struck by a blast of cold wind. So I quickly modified my plans and dug out my winter riding tights and thermal undershirt.

The Halfakid and I had planned to meet at 8 a.m. to get in a quick 100km today. But we’d been out last night with our respective main squeezes, and so needed a bit more time to get rolling this morning. I was finally ready, with fresh onigiri courtesy of Nana, just before 8:30, and rolled up to the Halfakid’s flat at precisely 9 a.m.

Mechanicals — none of them mine

The Halfakid had lost a bar end plug previously, and I’d bought him a replacement set. He wanted to take care of those this morning, as well as replacing his bell with one that I’d given up on — I kept breaking it, but he’d managed to resurrect it. So we spent about 20 minutes putting those bits in their places.

The Halfakid had also lost a cleat screw on our previous ride to Miura Kaigan. I’d forgotten about this and failed to bring the spare I have at home. So instead we decided to stop at a bike shop along the course.

I wanted to get in 100km today but I had a deadline: Nana and I were meeting an overseas guest at 5:30 to go to dinner. So to make a quick and easy 100km, I had to cycle up the Tamagawa from Futako to the end of the course at Hamura. This is usually no big deal, but today we were battling a headwind, and I knew that we were bound to encounter some of the detours around damage resulting from Typhoon No. 19, the same as I had discovered on my ride last month.

Fujisan in the distance
Fujisan in the distance

Once on the trail, and battling a fairly stiff headwind, I managed to keep a steady 21-22km/h pace. The Halfakid, riding close behind my rear wheel, said he wasn’t feeling any headwind. I was tempted to tell him to get in front and pull. But after our first rest stop, when we got back on the cycling course, he took off ahead and was soon out of sight. I concentrated on keeping my pace steady, and even stopped en route to take a quick snap of Fujisan off in the distance.

Midway between the first and second rest stops, I was greeted by a bizarre procession coming in the opposite direction: a man on a bicycle, with two children out front in seats on a kind of platform hanging off the frame in front of the front wheel. As he passed I saw two more children in a trailer on the back. And with this load he was climbing out of the switchback! He was followed by a woman (presumably the children’s mother) on a more conventional bike, laden front and rear with full panniers.

Finally I caught up with the Halfakid where he was waiting for me just 1km or so before the bike shop where we’d agreed to stop for the replacement cleats. We got there 10 minutes before opening time and so took advantage of a couple of Nana’s onigiri while we waited. Once the shop opened we quickly found the needed bits and were on the road again to our usual rest stop, where the Halfakid swapped in the new cleats and made sure they were good and tight.

Back on the course, we soon came to more detours around typhoon damage. At a lengthy detour where we were forced to leave the path and head into traffic, I managed to carve out a clearer route this time than I had a month ago, passing a familiar shrine along the way as a landmark. With just 10km to go until our turnaround point, I was eyeing the average speed as reported by the GPS: a hair over 21km/h.

The course took us into a park with just 3km yet to go, and there was a large event going on. Suddenly we were dodging children and careless adults strolling along the path. We had to proceed with some caution, and we both made good use of our bike bells.

I kept the steady pace going up to the end, with the Halfakid content to sit in my slipstream. We rolled into Hamura and broke out the remaining onigiri for lunch.

Selfie with statue of the Tamagawa Brothers
Tamagawa Bros

After lunch we headed home with the breeze to our backs. While the tailwind did not provide a completely unmixed benefit, with occasional stiff gusts blowing us sideways across the path, it did grant an overall boost that we deigned to accept. Our 5km splits dropped from nearly 15 minutes on the outbound leg to less than 11 minutes, or nearly 30km/h.

I pressed the advantage the wind was giving us, urging the average speed on the GPS up from 21km/h to 22. Of course at this point we already had 65km under our belt, so even multiple successive kilometers at 30km/h translated to barely a nudge on the gauge. With the Halfakid hard on my rear wheel the entire way, I managed to coax the GPS up to 22.4km/h by the time we returned to Futako.

A 50m climb will affect your average speed more than 30km of good, straight and level pavement with a tailwind.

At this point it was a matter of hanging on to gains we’d made. Crossing the Futako bridge, dodging pedestrians and cyclists in the opposite direction, always takes a toll. Then it’s city traffic and signals until we reach the climb out of the river valley. With the effort I’d put into racing downwind along the river, I was content now to drop to my lowest gear and wend my way slowly up the hill. When I reached the park at the top, the GPS read 22.1.

After a brief rest I filled one water bottle halfway and we set out across the city. I try not to keep one eye on the meter as I ride through traffic, but I could tell it was going to be a challenge to keep up my average through the congestion and lights. When I dropped off the Halfakid at his home I was squarely on 22.0km/h. There’s a long, flat stretch immediately after that, but I knew it was followed by a brief climb, a succession of lights, and then a pedestrian-choked shopping road with a train crossing in the middle. Even as I pushed my weary legs to do more, I had to temper my speed to the conditions.

I came out the narrow back streets onto a large boulevard with 21.9km/h on the clock. Timing the lights, I pressed my speed up towards 30km/h again. There’s a downhill next where I can really get some speed up if I time the lights carefully.

When I pulled into the home stretch, with 3km to go, I’d been seeing the meter flicker between 21.9 and 22.0km/h. I knew that a busy intersection could pull me back down across the mark, as could being caught behind a bus. As I pulled up to the Yamate Avenue crossing, I watched the meter dip down to 21.9. I was determined to make the most of the remaining straight run towards Central Park, and then the long descent to home. And then — the light in the middle of the descent turned red. I had no choice but to stop and wait it out.

Finally the light changed and I raced ahead of the traffic. There are delivery vans pulled away from the curb here, cross intersections, and faster traffic coming past my opposite shoulder, so I had to pay attention to the traffic and not the GPS. But when I pulled up at the light at the bottom of the descent, the clock said 22.0km/h. I hit the save button and wheeled Kuroko toward the basement parking.

GPS record of Hamura Round Trip
Hamura Round Trip

Compared to the same ride a month ago, I’d finished more than 13 minutes quicker. The total elapsed time, though, was half an hour longer, owing in part to about 40 minutes spent taking care of the Halfakid’s mechanicals. As for Kuroko, there was no hint of trouble this time around. Shifting in particular was a dream (following my maintenance on Saturday), often happening in total silence or with a single, satisfying tick as the chain flicked from one sprocket to another.

Shimanami Kaido gets National Cycle Route status

Cycling Shimanami 2020

Shimanami Kaido, the island-hopping cycle route from Onomichi in Hiroshima to Imabari in Ehime, has been named a National Cycle Route.

Pictogram map of the Cycling Road
Pictogram map of the Cycling Road

The Halfakid and I cycled the route in April 2018. We got lucky with the weather and hit peak cherry blossom season. The course was not challenging, with well-marked roads and gentle climbs to the bridges along the route. It will probably have been the last time I’ll ever drop the Halfakid on a climb, too. Our nemesis proved to be the unforgiving saddles on the rental bikes, though.

Omishima Bridge
Omishima Bridge

Cycling Shimanami 2020 is a group event that will be held Oct. 25. I’m not sure I’ll join, although the Halfakid would like to do the ride again (on our own bikes this time) and Tomo would like to join. Ideally we’d like to do the ride as a two-day event, there and back with an overnight onsen stay. The group event is a single day, and although the 140km round trip is one of the course choices, that might be a bit over the top. On the other hand, I’d love to have those sensu in the photo at top.

National Cycle Route
National Cycle Route

Shimanami Kaido cycling road is the third national cycle route — the others are Tsukuba-Kasumigaura ring-ring road and Biwaichi. Tsukuba-Kasumigaura looks like it would be a fun two-day ride. Alternatively, as the start is about 80km from here, it could be a three- or four-day ride setting out from home. Fearless Leader Joe, Sanborn and I did Biwaichi — circumnavigating Lake Biwa near Kyoto — five years ago. It’s another ride I’d love to do again, although getting the bike there and back is always a challenge.

Shore of Lake Biwa at sunset
Lake Biwa at sunset

Speedy Haneda ride

I’ve had a stuffy nose and raw throat the past few days, so I spent a couple of hours this morning debating whether I really wanted to ride today. In the end, the beautiful weather convinced me. It was still about 12 degrees while I was preparing to ride, but the temperature was warming and I took my jacket off before I even reached the river.

Biker and pedestrians on the cycling course under a tree
Beautiful day for it

I was fighting a crosswind on the way down the river, but I put my hands on the drops and pedaled on. I picked up a follower for the final 8km or so, but when I reached my destination he had disappeared.

Bicycle under a tree with helmet on a rock
Lunch spot in the shade

I reached Haneda just before noon, meaning I’d spent less than two hours getting there. I sat down to a meal of Nana’s world-famous onigiri and wondered if I’d be able to maintain the same pace on the return trip. Having started out at a leisurely pace, thinking that I might have a cold, I was now contemplating a sub-4 hour ride.

For the return upriver, the wind was a bit more on my side. The GPS was showing that I was averaging more than 22km/h, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep that up all the way home.

By the time I reached Futagobashi, the bridge across the Tamagawa river at Futako, I’d racked up 48km at an average of 22.6km/h. But crossing the bridge means dodging pedestrians, and the lane gets very narrow and tricky at the far end. Following that there’s a good climb up out of the river valley. When I reached the park at the top of the climb, I’d gone 50km and my average had dropped to 22.2km/h. The challenge then was to maintain that in the remaining 12km of urban riding to get home.

Inspired by the goal I’d set myself, I pushed harder whenever I had the chance, and begrudged the stretches of road where I had to be wary of cross traffic. I probably glanced at my GPS just a bit more than I should have been doing. And when I got caught behind a bus on the final stretch before home, I impatiently looked for an opportunity to pass it.

That chance finally came, and I flew down the last hill towards home. At the bottom of the hill I stopped the clock, and there it was: 22.2km/h.

By keeping up the pace, in the end I’d done 62km in 2 hours 48 minutes of riding. Furthermore, my total elapsed time was well under 4 hours at 3 hours 50 minutes. When I’d left home at 10 this morning I told Nana I’d be back between 2 and 3 p.m. She said, “Probably closer to 3, right?” I agreed. But in fact I was home just a whisker before 2.

GPS record of Haneda round trip ride
Haneda Round Trip in less than 3 hours