Our Lord and Master Strava

Hydrangea just beginning to blossom

I get questions about inconsistencies in Strava data, probably because I’m not only the gear maven but also the most versed in trigonometry in my circle of riding friends. And some of the biggest inconsistencies involve elevation data.

Elevation data is rubbish. The base data is rubbish: unless an elevation has been confirmed by human surveyors, you can’t trust it. And then elevation as determined by GPS — is rubbish. Your GPS device can determine your location with signals from just two or three satellites, but for elevation to be meaningful it needs a minimum of four satellites. And it’s still wildly inaccurate.

PR and KOM

After my morning commute, I had a couple of very surprising results which drove home the above points.

montage of Strava profiles of overlapping segments
Our Lord and Master Strava

When I arrived at the office (and convinced Garmie to sync) I was stunned to find a KOM and a PR for essentially the same segment — the first climb of the day, a gradual rise along the western edge of Chuo Koen (Central Park). The top shows my custom segment (which explains why I have a KOM — no competition) and the bottom a public segment.

Close inspection shows that my custom segment gives the elevation gain as 9m, for a 2.8% average, while the public segment at bottom has an elevation gain of 15m, for 4.7%.

Now here’s the point — and try to stay with me here — the custom segment at top wholly contains the public segment below. Yet the the elevation data shows a 66.7% greater climb in the wholly contained segment.

As I was saying: rubbish.

(And far from being KOM, in the public rankings I’m just barely in the top 50%. Where I belong. Depending on the segment, I tend to be in the top 10%-50% … )

Baling wire and chewing gum

GPS record of morning and evening bicycle commute
Just making ’em up as I go

In (perhaps) totally unrelated news, the weather has been very good so far this week — excellent commuting weather. I didn’t ride Monday and Tuesday as I was coming off a 135km weekend ride, but I couldn’t resist the good conditions today.

Apart from the PR on the first little rise this morning (which I totally didn’t expect — I just felt like I was cruising, neither fast nor slow), I had another amusing result after my ride home.

Strava refused to match my ride with any of the 4-5 segments that are usually included in this route. When I prompted Strava to match one — a short but steep climb at the start of my commute home — it showed me the overlap between the public segment and my “as ridden” data, and refused to accept they were overlapping.

All the above is not really the fault of the GPS unit I’m using. Similar results (and discrepancies) can be found with any of the major brands. We’re triangulating* from an altitude of 20,200km to a base of a handful of meters using a device that weighs a few hundred grams, fits in the hand and has a battery life of 20 hours. When you’ve got a singing pig, you don’t complain that it’s occasionally off-key.

* A lot of people far more intelligent (and possibly less drunk) than I am have put an awful lot of effort into making GPS work, and my hat’s off to them. And I freely and humbly offer my apologies for the horrible over-simplified hash I’ve made of how the damn thing really works.

And the living is easy

Hydrangea just beginning to blossom
Almost summer

Meanwhile, it’s almost summer. The weather looks good for a ride this weekend, and rainy season is on the horizon after that. I hope to get the riding in while it’s good. Following the 135km effort last weekend, I’ve surpassed 400km for the month for the first time since October 2021, and I’m on track to go more than 500km

Tama-Iruma-Arakawa

Barrier on cycle path with signs giving details of construction work

After yesterday’s gully-washing rain, it dawned cloudy this morning, with mixed weather forecasts. When Nana woke up, though, she said there was no chance of rain.

I was determined to ride the three rivers, which I’d originally done with José for my kanreki. It’s also the ride I’d set out to do during Golden Week, but came up short on juju on that occasion after getting a late start.

I didn’t get going much earlier this morning, after dawdling in front of my laptop for several hours. But once on the road I felt better than I had on that previous occasion, if not quite as strong as I had on my last visit to Kawagoe.

bicycle leaning on hedge with fountain in background
First rest

Nana had not made onigiri, so I stopped in Futako and bought two mentaiko and one grilled salmon. But when I stopped about 10:30 in Persimmon Park for my first food break of the day, they were terrible. Just awful. Even now, writing about them, I want to retch. Nana has spoiled me with her world-famous onigiri. I forced myself to finish one mentaiko and the salmon so I would have energy for the ride.

I’d had the first glimmer of sunshine about 10 a.m., and the sky continued to brighten as I rode up the Tamagawa. The pavement was mostly dry, but there were some puddles. I followed the example of another rider in a park near Shibasaki and rode up into the grass to avoid the puddles on the cycling course.

As I approached Hamura, I stopped at another convenience store near the cycling course to stock up for lunch — but avoided getting any more onigiri. I rolled into Hamura about 11:40 and quickly delved into my saddlebag for my lunch.

Irumagawa

I’d traveled 54km by this point, but Garmie said I had another 81km to go. I really should have set out an hour earlier! I wolfed down my lunch of sausage rolls, cheese and yogurt drink, and saddled up again at 11:45 to continue on my way.

My legs were OK at this point, but not really strong for climbing. One of the toughest climbs of the day (which is not setting the bar very high) came just a few kilometers after the Hamura break and I was content to just keep shifting to successively lower gears and keep spinning. It got me up the hill.

A few kilometers later, the course turns northwest and runs through a sparsely populated area. The pavement here is really awful. I was glad to see the first part of the street had been redone since I last visited, but nothing had been done with the worst stretch, which continues for a couple of kilometers. Fortunately no one was following me at this point, and I could ride in the center of the lane, where the pavement is least broken.

The bad pavement is followed by a bit of climbing, and then some very rapid descending. I typically hit about 50km/h without even trying on this stretch, and today was no exception. But despite the speed limit of 40, a number of drivers tried to crowd me off the road as they passed.

After a few more kilometers of exurb riding, I arrived at the bridge over the Irumagawa. I stopped at a convenience store here and ate an apple pastry before continuing.

The Irumagawa cycling course winds through numerous family oriented parks, and I have to be more alert than ever for children suddenly stepping into the path, or grandparents wandering into my way while having eyes only for their little darlings. There are also a number of road crossings which are marked for the cyclist to stop, rather than the motor vehicles.

Detour ahead

When José and I rode this route in November, we encountered a substantial detour around Kakusen, which continued until Shimooyashiki, where we crossed the Irumagawa on a single-lane bridge. I was hoping that the construction would be completed, but it was not to be. I had to leave the cycling course at the same spot. Unfortunately today my optimism continued to get me into trouble, and I tried to rejoin the path before I should have.

The path was fine, but just as I got to a bridge that I wanted to traverse, there was a barrier. I actually came up from behind that sign on the left, above. My goal was just a few meters ahead, and the pavement was unobstructed, so I lifted Kuroko over the barrier and continued.

Before I went on my way, though, I noted the sign said that the project was to be finished April 28, Reiwa 4. It’s May 22, so … ?

The second barrier came just a few kilometers later, and was only 250m before the course I needed to take to a single-lane bridge over the Irumagawa. I could easily see that many had come before me and simply gone around the barrier, and so I did, too.

When we came this way in November, José and I had gone down into the road before this point, and we came back to the path just as it turned towards the single-lane bridge, so we avoided this.

Ka-chunk!

Bicycle leaning against barrier on cycle path
Ka-chunk!

The only real issue of note on today’s ride came between the two barriers above, as I was traversing a well-trafficked bridge. The pedestrian / cycle walk on this particular bridge is a good 40cm or so above the roadway, and the transitions are rather abrupt. My mind was wandering as I came to the first one and *ka-chunk!* the front wheel suddenly dropped 40cm. The tire and wheel readily took the impact, but the handlebars rotated downwards in the stem with an audible squeak.

I’ve been riding with the handlebars tilted upwards for a couple of months now, and liking it. In particular, it’s taken the pressure off the sore spot in my nether regions that has been the cause of issues in the past. And now, suddenly, the bars weren’t just back to horizontal — they were drooping!

I stopped at the end of the bridge and wielded the multitool and got the bars tipped upwards once again.

Rice paddies and mountains
Rice paddies and mountains

Not long after clearing the last cycling path obstruction, I was rounding the northeast corner of the ride, past Kawagoe and heading downstream on the Arakawa proper. I’d been fighting headwinds up the Tamagawa and occasionally as I crossed the Irumagawa, and I was dreading this section of the Arakawa, where I always have a headwind. But today, much to my surprise, Fujin was smiling. The wind had died completely, leaving me to string up a run of PRs heading downstream on the Arakawa despite my advanced state of fatigue.

I passed a few clots of day cyclists out enjoying the good weather, plus one rider I was surprised to be passing: an old guy like me, but fit, in full regalia on a classic steel framed bike with full Campagnolo groupset.

My hands and backside were both a challenge at this point, turning sore or numb by degrees, and I was taking breaks more frequently than usual to cater to them.

I noticed someone near one of the rice paddies, spinning round like a shot-putter to launch his free-flight glider into the air. Not the same bloke I’d seen last week, and still several kilometers upstream from that spot.

Bicycle leaning on sign for Arakawa cycling course
My ol’ pal Arakawa

I arrived at the UFO gate and dismounted, eager to rest my hands and to eat the last custard cream pastry to fuel my remaining kilometers. Garmie was showing 21km remaining in my ride, with a finish somewhere between 4:30 and 5, so I messaged Nana that I would be home about 5, according to Garmie.

The few remaining kilometers along the river went by smoothly. When I arrived at the turn-off into traffic, I was out of water, so stopped to get some from a vending machine. I got sweat in my eyes and spent a minute wiping the salt off my forehead and temples with my glove before continuing.

The ride home through traffic was uneventful. I could spin along just fine, but my thighs were challenged by the few remaining bumps along the way. I was glad to be stopped by a traffic light midway up the longish climb out of the river valley, as it gave me a chance to recover.

At some point along the ride home, I was overtaken by the white-haired gent on the classic steel bike I’d passed on the river. He was much better in tune to the timing of the lights than I was, and left me sitting at a red at the foot of a bridge over a railroad. A few other cyclists who were unable to keep up with me on the flats passed me when the road turned upwards. I didn’t mind. I checked the navi and ascertained I’d be just over 135km for the day, and I was happy with that. I swept down the final hill from Nakano Sakaue on Yamate Dori and turned towards home. I let Nana know at 4:35 that I was back, well ahead of the 5 p.m. that I’d told her the Garmie had forecast.

GPS record of cycling route
Tama-Iruma-Arakawa

In the end I made pretty good time. My moving time was 6h21m44s, for an average of 21.3km/h. When I did the route in November with José, the moving time was 6h17m24s, for 21.5km/h. I was feeling a bit more energetic at the time, and no doubt also trying to make a good showing for José.

By contrast, my total elapsed time today was 8h10m50s, compared to 8h16m49s previously. Taking into account the difference in rolling time, that means an improvement of 10m19s in faff time (or pfaffenminuten in the original German). I’m sure some of this was a matter of having done the route before and hence knowing where to go, and the rest was the result of traveling alone and not having any reason to dawdle during the breaks.

Uber Guy

Water gate with otherworldly appearance

I was granted a three-day weekend by my office, but in the midst of a six-day stretch of rain. (But it’s not yet officially rainy season so … ?) The gods condescended to allow for a Sunday that — while not actually actively sunny — was bereft of genuine precipitation. In short, an ideal day for riding.

Nana and I had spent the last weekend exploring the delights of scenic Chichibu (via car). Naturally, during our visit, we’d picked up a variety of omiyage, including several jars of delicious miso with a rather short expiration: the end of this month. So it fell to me to bike-kyubin the jar of miso to one of our friends, who doesn’t get out much these days owing to age and health.

How to fool the Garmie

I’d spent some time last night with Google Maps and Street View to work out the best route to our friend’s house, and from there to Kannana (No. 7 ring road) and hence to Arakawa for a visit to my usual haunt: Kawagoe. I had no trouble navigating to the friend’s house, and quickly handed over the bundle of miso. (He was clearly lonely and would have liked me to stay and talk, and I’m embarrassed to say I refused and said I must be on my way.)

GPS record of ride and intended route
Faffing about as Garmie gets its knickers in a twist (red lines are programmed route)

From there, though, Garmie soon got its knickers in a twist. The neighborhood has many narrow lanes, closely spaced. Garmie was lagging a bit, and so by the time it was telling me to turn, I’d already passed the spot. The first time was fine — I could reckon the way I needed to go. The second time was a palace of mirrors. Garmie kept telling me to turn this way and that, and to backtrack, and I could see it wasn’t keeping up with my current location. I finally proceeded by dead reckoning. I knew I needed to get across the tracks, past the station, and thence back to Kannana. Once I decided to follow my nose, I was soon back on track, and shortly thereafter, Garmie caught up with me.

Koko wa doko?

Once I got back to Kannana, it was simply a matter of following the road until I got to Arakawa. The spot where I met my friend to hand over the miso was northwest of my usual route, so I figured I’d end up upstream of my usual starting point. It took me a few kilometers along the Arakawa cycling course to realize I was in fact several kilometers downstream from that point. I’d crossed my usual route several kilometers previous without noticing.

GPS record of cycling route, with numbers added to show progression
Figure 8

I hadn’t counted on the fact that Kannana crossed my usual route from home to Arakawa, and didn’t notice it while plotting the route. It usually takes me about 13km to get from home to the river — with the cross and the time spent riding upriver back to my usual starting point, I’d already done 25km. On the plus side, it meant I was on track to record 100km for the day.

Heading upstream, I felt unusually powerful. My thighs felt good, and a couple of swipes on Garmie confirmed I was making good time. (I admit: the wind may have been involved.) I didn’t suffer as much from finger numbness as I had on the previous ride, although this may well have been the result of more frequent breaks.

Water gate with otherworldly appearance
UFO gate

It didn’t take long to reach the UFO water gate. On the freshly mown lawn in middle right, above, some old-timers were practicing vertical 8’s, wing-overs and loops with their control-line model airplanes. I enjoyed a convenience store hotdog as I watched, and then headed upstream again. I still felt strong (or maybe the wind was just with me).

I arrived in Kawagoe in good time, less than an hour and a half from the Arakawa landmark sign. I stopped in a park to enjoy another hotdog before continuing. It was a good idea: when I reached Koedo it was jam-packed with pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and it took some time for me to navigate the length of the street and stop for the usual photo. In the process I dodged no fewer than three attempts at vehicular homicide on my life.

It was another fight to get back out of the center of action (one of the homicide attempts came at this point). I stopped at a convenience store for more noshes and then repaired to the local park for a feedbag.

Selfie of biker in helmet, sunglasses and mask in front of bell tower
Toki no Kane

Into the wind

After such a powerful ride upstream, I was concerned my return would be hampered by the wind. I received confirmation of this the moment I mounted up again atop the Arakawa levee. But it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I tucked my head into the wind and pressed on. At a narrow wicket intended to keep the scooters off the path, I encountered a couple of bikers: one, a big, strong, wide-shouldered biker on a carbon-fiber frame with cleated shoes; and his buddy, in jeans on a cheap mass-market steel frame. Once we’d cleared the wicket and the construction following that, the biker sped past me while his friend lagged behind. A few kilometers later I found the proper cyclist waiting by the side of the road for his non-biker buddy to catch up.

The wind continued against me, but not strongly enough to cause a serious obstruction to progress. I’d wondered if I’d given Nana an optimistic estimate for my return, but after 10km or more it became clear I’d been pessimistic.

At a stoplight a pair of Japanese riders pulled up behind me, chatting loudly. When the light changed they soon passed me without so much as a nod in my direction. I kept pedaling. I stopped again at the UFO gate to give my hands a rest and check on my progress: I was ahead of the estimate I’d given Nana. On the field in front of me, the control line stunters had called it quits and a solitary free-flight enthusiast was chucking his glider into the air and recording the results in a large leather-bound volume.

Ahead of schedule

I arrived back at the sign for the Arakawa cycling course well ahead of the schedule I’d given Nana. I checked my water bottles: not as much as I’d like, but enough to get me home without stopping for a refill. My thighs were in a similar condition. So I messaged Nana I’d be home about 3:30 and set out.

Not long after entering city traffic, there’s a long, slow slog uphill out of the Arakawa valley. It’s less than 1km long, and never tops 4 percent, and Fearless Leader Joe will recall it. I kept Kuroko in her large chainring for the climb, but it took all I had.

The remainder of the ride home was the same: I wasn’t dead, but my thighs had already had enough. It was time to trade pushing for spinning. In front of Itabashi ward office, I noticed a Japanese schoolboy in his school training jacket and pants. He passed me on his cheap bike, smartphone in hand, while I was dawdling between two adjacent traffic lights. We played cat and mouse for several kilometers as he ran red lights, always looking at his smartphone, while I waited my turn. I lost track of him somewhere around Nakai.

That’s a century!

GPS record of bicycle ride
Uber Guy

With the unintentional figure 8 I’d made early in the ride, I calculated that I was on course for 100km or more on the ride. As I got closer to home (and the water level in my bottle grew inexorably lower), this goal drew tighter and tighter. I resolved that I would do laps around Central Park until I met the goal (said laps being flat), but in the end they weren’t required.

The wind had certainly helped on my way upriver: according to Strava I set no fewer than 22 PRs. Interestingly, one of those was on the first segment back downriver after leaving Kawagoe. I got a couple of second places as I left the river and joined traffic (before the long, slow drag uphill), so I feel pleased with the ride overall. I was also happy with the lack of mechanicals.

Golden Week Wrap

Bicycle leaning against railing overlooking river weir

I set out yesterday morning with the intention of completing the Three Rivers ride, which I’d last done just before my birthday in November. But I was facing a couple of big challenges. First, I’d set out nearly and hour and a half later than I had in November. And then, as soon as I was on the Tamagawa (the first of the three rivers), it became apparent I didn’t have the juju. I could ride along on the flat at a good pace, but even the 3m switchbacks up and down the levee were taking it out of me — it would take me another half a kilometer to get back up to speed.

May flowers
May flowers

I had the option of riding just the Tamagawa and then turning around when I reached Hamura. This is the same ride I did three weeks ago when I had a sudden blowout in the rear tire, which I finally resolved by swapping out the wheels for my spare set.

Anyway, I kept pedaling, and after making some progress I got a respite from the headwind I’d been fighting. I decided to see what time I reached Hamura and make a decision on that basis. I reached the Persimmon Park about 10:30 and sat down to enjoy a couple of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. I had 15km left to get to Hamura, so it wasn’t unreasonable to hope to reach there about 11:15-11:30.

Or it wouldn’t have been, but I took my time over the onigiri and had a nice little rest. And when I set out again, I was faced not only with a few switchbacks but also increasing finger numbness. I’d already eaten two of the three onigiri that Nana had packed for me, so I stopped at a convenience store a few kilometers before Hamura and bought a hot dog, a creme-filled taiyaki, an iced latté and a Snickers bar. The brief stop gave me a chance to get some feeling back in my fingers.

We (don’t) got the power

With all the dawdling, I reached Hamura at 11:50. I’d told Nana when I set out that I’d be home about 5, but I was now looking at 6 if I continued around the Three Rivers, with a 12km slog home along Yamate Dori during rush hour. It didn’t take me long to decide against continuing, but before sitting down to enjoy my lunch I thought I’d go just a couple of kilometers further to pay a visit at Aso Shrine, dedicated to bicycle safety.

The shrine was established in 601 by Empress Suiko, and built in 933 by Taira no Masakado. The first torii on the southern entrance is the upstream limit of the Tamagawa cycling course, and the shrine has become a pilgrimage for cyclists to buy the amulets for safety.

After paying my respects, I returned to Hamura to rest and enjoy my lunch. There was a fellow on the next bench with binoculars watching the swallows flitting over the river, while overhead several large US military cargo planes practiced maneuvers. I finished lunch about 12:30, messaged Nana that I was on my way home, and set off downstream and into the wind.

The going wasn’t bad, but I was still plagued by finger numbness. I stopped after just 10km for a brief rest, then again at Persimmon Park just 5km further on. My next stop was at a bike shop near the river bank another handful of kilometers further, where I picked up a couple of spare innertubes.

Fumble-fingers

While I was locking up Kuroko at a bike stand in front of the shop, I paused Garmie and slipped it into my jersey pocket so I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone taking it. And as I did so, Garmie chirped a cheerful beep. What … ? He’d interpreted being put in my pocket as an invitation to end and save the ride, so when I stowed my purchases and set out again, I had to start a new ride. It was no big deal as I ended up recording all the kilometers ridden, but it meant Strava wouldn’t credit me with a Grand Fondo — 100km in a single ride.

I was still fighting the headwind on the way downriver, and taking frequent breaks to rest and restore the feeling in my fingers. I finally left the river course at a small park full of screaming children, where I ate the last of the onigiri. I checked the time — 2:35 — and messaged Nana that I should be home by 4.

The last 15km were out of the wind but in traffic. Someone forgot to tell all the drivers that it wasn’t yet rush hour. There are a couple of hills to surmount that I’d been dreading, but I was pleased to discover when it was time that I had my juju — perhaps thanks to Nana’s onigiri. I rolled down the final hill by central park and did a lap around the building to bring the ride up to 30km before dismounting. I messaged Nana that I was home at 3:33.

Putting the numbers together, the ride was 105.55km. The total elapsed time was 7 hours. (The figures from the Garmie tot up to 6 hours 50 minutes 51 seconds, which tells me I was in the bike shop for just over 8 minutes.) The moving time totals 5 hours 8 minutes 20 seconds, for an average of just over 20.5km/h.

I soaked in the bath to ease the aching in my thighs, and then over dinner was treated to a fantastic fireworks display out on the Workshop in the Sky.

Fireworks

Twice in a row?

Azaleas surrounding Japanese temple building

Following a tempest of rain Friday night, Saturday dawned bright and clear. It looked like a great day for a ride (and my only chance this weekend), so I quickly prepped Kuroko, fresh off not one but two days of maintenance, and set out.

I wasn’t up for a lengthy jaunt, but I did want to try something new. Every year at this season a friend posts photos from Tōgaku-in, the azalea temple in Kawasaki. It’s not even 5km from Futako Tamagawa, where I join the Tamagawa cycling course when I ride, so I had plotted the route for the Garmie.

I’m still getting used to having the handlebars raised on Kuroko, and it took me a few kilometers to get over the feeling I was riding too high and didn’t have control. Once I adjusted, I was riding with confidence again. Soon I was rolling across Futagobashi and then I briefly stopped to select the course for Tōgaku-in on the Garmie.

A sadist’s idea of a cycling course

It’s pretty straightforward from Futako to Tōgaku-in, but the roads are narrow and heavily trafficked, with intersections every couple of hundred meters. The course passes by two train stations, a railroad crossing and the ward office.

The temple was worth the fight in traffic. I was probably about a week late to see the best of the azaleas, but it was still a very nice addition to the day’s ride. After spending a few minutes to enjoy the sites, I mounted up again and set off back to the river.

Into the wind

The moment I got to the river I was riding into the wind. It was quite a stiff breeze. I didn’t fight it too hard, but just slowed my pace a bit. I was still making better progress than most of the riders I encountered.

The cycling course was rather crowded. It seemed that every Tokyoite who hadn’t gone to Hawaii for Golden Week was out strolling on the course, with one or two toddlers zig-zagging across the path of oncoming cyclists.

I was getting hungry, so when I stopped at the usual rest spot about 11km from the end, I ate half my lunch before continuing on my way.

Pigeon perched on bicycle handlebar under tree
Unexpected lunchtime visitor

In addition to the wind, I knew I’d encounter some puddles following the previous night’s rain. I was not disappointed in this, but they were smaller than I expected. I’d been seeing flooded baseball fields and driving ranges for more than 10km, so I was expecting the worst.

I pressed on into the wind, dodging toddlers and other cyclists, until I arrived at Haneda. I’d been noticing some odd vibration the last few kilometers, so after finishing my lunch I checked the rear wheel for trueness. It was nice and straight. I shrugged my shoulders and mounted up for the ride home, after letting Nana know I was on the way.

Don’t overlook the obvious

It was easier going on the way back upriver, with the wind behind me for the most part. The vibration continued, and after a few kilometers it started getting more noticeable. I realized it went away when I wasn’t pedaling — was something wrong with the drivetrain?

Finally, with the vibration getting rapidly worse with each passing meter, it dawned on me: the rear tire was running low. In fact it was nearly flat. I quickly stopped at the side of the path and pumped the tire up again. I gave it a couple of turns, making sure there were no punctures and I couldn’t hear any air leaking, and then mounted up again. But I hadn’t gone more that 50m when the tire was flat again.

I was less than 1km from my first lunch spot (where the pigeon was perched on my handlebar), where I could sit in the shade as I worked on the tire. So rather than risk damaging the rim on a flat tire, I walked the bike until I’d reached the spot.

I removed the wheel, thinking I’d have to put in the innertube (I’m glad I remembered to pack it after having removed it from the other wheel!). But before going through that bother, I tried once again to pump up the tire as it was. And it seemed to be holding this time. I did the latex dance, swirling the sealant around inside the tire so that it would coat everything. I bounced the wheel repeatedly on the ground and checked the bead to make sure it was seated everywhere.

In all I spent about 5 minutes making sure the tire was holding pressure. And it was. At last I replaced the wheel in the bike, glad that I didn’t have any trouble with the hub falling apart as it had on the previous occasion. I mounted up and was off again, riding with the wind, and no odd vibrations. Each time I went over a curb or hit a seam in the pavement, I felt a reassuring jolt that let me know the tire was holding pressure.

Bicycle leaning against azaleas
Kuroko among the azaleas

I reached the little park at the top of the climb out of the Tamagawa valley, the last rest stop on the way home. I gave the rear tire a pinch and decided to add a bit more air. Then I noted the time — with the walk of nearly 1km and the time spent sorting out the tire, it was later than I’d expected. I messaged Nana that I would be home about 3:15 and set off. I had no further issues aside from the usual traffic, and rolled up to a stop at our tower just before 3.

GPS record of cycling route
Twice in a row?

With the time spent walking and fixing the flat, the average speed suffered. Based on the moving time of 3 hours 58 minutes, the average moving speed was a bit better at 18.4km/h.

The Garmie behaved throughout the ride, not dropping any segments. The regularly updated weather information confirmed what I was experiencing with the wind. And the legend it shows me when I’m on a road without a name (very common in Japan) always amuses me.

Finally, yesterday’s ride netted me Garmin’s Golden Week Badge for 2022. And I’ve just given Kuroko’s tire a pinch this morning (Sunday), and it’s holding up well.

Koi nobori "rising carp" with 2022 legend
Golden Week Badge

Bolts and Polish

Freshly washed bike on balcony

I went to the bike shop yesterday and got some M5x18 bolts to replace the shorter ones that had stripped out of Kuroko’s rear brake caliper. These turned out to be a perfect fit, and I soon had a working rear brake once again.

Bicycle rear wheel with clean gears
Semi-clean

With the brake sorted, I ran the derailleur through its paces. There was some wobble in the very smallest cog, so I removed the wheel and undid the lock ring. I decided to give all the gears a bit of a cleaning as I was having a hard time seeing the numbers engraved on one or two. (Cogs go on with the engraved side facing outwards.)

I didn’t get all the grime off, but the lion’s share of it. (The wet chain lube I’m using, which doesn’t come off in the rain, ensures the gears will soon be black again.)

Once the cogs were all back together and the wheel mounted in the bike, the derailleur shifted flawlessly. I returned my attention to the front brake, which was still rubbing a bit after the wheel swap. In this case I removed the brake pads and used a tire lever to compress the pistons, before assembling it all again. That did the trick.

Cleaning up my act

I’d had trouble wrestling the wheel back into the frame while fixing the flat on the most recent ride, and my greasy fingerprints all over the frame were evidence of the struggle. I decided to give Kuroko a bath, culminating in a chain clean-and-lube job. And now she’s ready for the next adventure.

Freshly washed bike on balcony
Shiny and ready

The Ol’ Switcheroo

Detail of bicycle tire showing gash in tread

I’m working from home today and the weather is glorious. I don’t know when the urge to play hooky has been so strong.

Telling the monkey on my back to chill, I took advantage of the warm sun to deal with the flat that happened on the way home from Hamura on the last ride.

I’ve seen people with similar gashes in their tires stitch them up with needle and thread and continue using them — at least until they get a chance to replace them. But I figured I have no need for such extreme measures when I already have a spare set of wheels with perfectly good tires. Just need to freshen them up and pop them on the bike and I should be good to go.

That was the theory

I built up these wheels a year ago and used them only a few months before swapping them out again. I intend to use them long-term, particularly for multi-day rides, but I have a little more work to do before I switch to a dynamo light full-time. Until then, the slick tires I’ve been using offer a bit more efficiency.

But given these were set up a year ago, and before I realized I was using crap sealant, I knew I had to replace the sealant before putting these on Kuroko again. The tires have been sitting for months and so had almost no pressure, and it was just a moment’s work to unseat one bead. As expected, the sealant inside was totally done for. I spent a couple of minutes sopping up the liquid with paper towels, and wiping up some of the hardened latex. (I didn’t bother trying to remove it all, though.)

I poured in a healthy dollop of fresh sealant — the good stuff, this time — probably a bit more than absolutely necessary. And then worked the bead back on the rim by hand.

And then I wondered: I’ve seen a lot of videos of people inflating tubeless tires using just a normal hand pump. It’s never worked for me. I’ve had trouble even using the Joe Blow with the holding tank. But this time I was working with ideal circumstances: one bead was already seated, and the tire had already been in place on the rim for a year. Surely … ? I attached the Joe Blow but instead of charging up the holding tank I just started pumping air right into the tire. And … Pop! Pop! Pop! The tire seated almost immediately.

I pumped the tire up to the max 60psi and then swirled it around to distribute the new sealant. I bounced it a couple of times on the workshop floor and then inspected the bead all the way around to make sure it was seated: it was perfect.

I followed up with the front tire, and it was exactly the same routine. I was a bit less certain about getting it to seat, but it eventually did after just a few more pumps than the rear had required.

Gearing up

The cogs came off the “old” wheel without much fuss. I nearly got them on the “new” wheel at a single go, but then I muffed it and had to spend some time carefully aligning individual cogs and spacers. Nothing out of the ordinary. I got them on the hub nice and tight, and then it was a moment’s work to get the wheels mounted on the bike.

The wheels were rubbing the brakes a bit, which isn’t unexpected. I decided to adjust the brakes and check the shifting next.

Where theory meets practice

Adjusting the brakes means loosening the calipers, holding the brake lever down (I use a thick rubber band for this purpose) and then tightening the calipers again. I started with the rear, and my first thought was a bit of surprise that the bolts were already fairly loose.

My surprise turned to dismay as I found myself tightening the bolts against no resistance. After a couple of attempts, one of the bolts dropped out of the frame. A close inspection revealed the truth: there were a couple of threads of silver metal around the bolt threads. In other words, the bolt was stripped out of the caliper.

When I rebuilt Kuroko with Di2 shifters and hydraulic brakes, the bolts I’d used for the rear caliper were a bit short — in fact they were engaged by only a couple of threads. Obviously that wasn’t enough, and I knew it at the time. It’s been on my mental list since then to replace them with more suitable bolts. And that time has come. With luck, only the first couple of threads of the caliper have been stripped, and there’s lots of good thread left to engage when I get some bolts of the proper length.

Adjusting the front brake went easily enough, but there’s still just a bit of rubbing after I was done. No doubt these discs are a bit wider than the well-used ones they’re replacing. I’ll take care of that once I’ve sorted out the rear caliper.

It’s binning time!

Detail of bicycle tire showing gash in tread
Where it all started

With all that out of the way (and Kuroko still in the stand), I turned my attention to the gashed tire that started all this. It was, indeed, still gashed. It didn’t take long to let the air out of the innertube and then strip the tire off the rim. The wheel gets stored in the Workshop in the Sky until I’m ready for it again. I wiped the remaining latex off the innertube and hung it over the workstand to dry: it can be used as a spare again.

As for the tire …

Used bicycle tire, folded
Dispose responsibly

Every time something like this happens, my buddy points out what a rotten PR flak I’d make for cycling as a hobby.

Ill-Starred Century

Cyclist in mask, helmet and sunglasses in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers

I spent most of the day yesterday helping José install floor covering in his new flat, followed by far too much delicious pizza and fries for dinner. I got a lot of sleep last night, but my thighs were still tender this morning. It took 20km or more just to work out the cramps and stiffness.

With the thighs back in action (if not entirely fresh), the ride up to Hamura was routine. I wanted to get in 100km without making too much effort, and to be home before the forecast rain in the evening. Nana hadn’t prepared rice to make onigiri, so I was left to my own devices (i.e., convenience stores) for lunch and snacks.

With those caveats in mind, the progression up to Hamura went without a hitch. There’s a rough bit of pavement in a dip just 2km from the end, and I went over that with an unexpected *crack!* which may or may not have had something to do with events yet to come.

Following my convenience store lunch at Hamura, I messaged Nana I was on the way home. But I got no more than half-dozen kilometers before there was a loud *pop!* followed by a bit of fish-tailing. I brought Kuroko to a halt and assessed the damage: there was a flat, and it didn’t look like the sealant was going to fix things.

I got Kuroko off the cycle path to assess the damage. There was a large tear in the tread, leaving a flap of tread separated from the tire casing. I pulled at what I thought was a some foreign matter, only to discover it was a shred torn from the casing.

It was pretty clear the from the extent of the damage that the sealant couldn’t be expected to patch the leak. But I gave it a try anyway, pumping air into the tire while swirling the sealant around the affected area. No dice.

OK, this is why I carry tire irons and an innertube (in addition to spare sealant and tubeless plugs). I quickly had the wheel off the bike (good thing I made sure I could get the wheel off after the Di2 upgrade) and removed the tire. After making sure there was nothing still sticking into the tread (glass, wire, etc.), I mopped up the remaining sealant and set about inserting an innertube.

The innertube went in easily enough (although with all the sealant leaking everywhere, there was a lot of dirt and gravel trying to get in along with the innertube), and I was soon inflating the tire. There were a few satsifying *pops!* as the tire seated back on the rim.

This mechanical is just getting started

At that point I should have just been able to put the wheel back in the frame, with a bit of wrestling to make sure the chain was taking the proper route around the cogs and the rear disc was nestled in the caliper. Instead, the wheel went in far too easily, and kept going right past the mark!

What the … ? That’s never happened before. I pulled the wheel out and had a look, and then another look: The end cap was missing from the drive side, and as a result the entire spindle was pushing out the non-drive side.

I quickly found the drive side end cap where it had fallen on the ground and pressed it back in place. That’s all it should take, really. But I spent the next 20 minutes or so wrestling to get the wheel back into the frame, with the chain around the cogs, the disc in between the pads in the caliper, and both end caps in place between the rear dropouts. I’ve never had an end cap pop off before and now it just wouldn’t stay in place.

Finally, after lots of swearing and many repeated tries, it all came together again. But what a hassle! If you look at the last couple of photos in the gallery above, you might spot more than a few greasy handprints on the rear tire and the bike frame itself. I was carrying tissues, but no alcohol wipes, and the tissues did little to clean up my greasy hands.

At last, with the wheel back in the bike, I took a few deep breaths and mounted up again.

Bicycle against park wooden railing with deocrative waterfall in background
Final stretch

The innertube held despite the large gash in the tread. (The casing was still largely intact.) I was still going a bit gingerly, as I was concerned there was some damage to the hub and I worried the innertube might not hold. Plus my thighs were really setting up a howl of protest to the abuse they’d been taking for two days in a row. When I got going fast on smooth pavement, I could feel a bump … bump … bump, which I assumed was the flap of torn tread and nothing else.

I’d planned on returning via Futako Tamagawa, the same course as I’d set out on in the morning, but a consultation with the Garmin showed I could take the shortcut home from Komae and still get in my 100km goal. On the plus side, I’d shave off about 5km from the total and get home that much sooner, before the tire gave up or the hub came apart. On the minus side, I’d be in heavier traffic, so any issues might expose me to a greater risk.

It wasn’t really a choice. I stopped briefly at a park in Komae, had a Snickers bar, and messaged Nana that I’d be home within the hour.

I happy to report there were no further issues on the way home. I didn’t press it on the final downhill as I was still worried about the tire coming apart. Nevertheless I reached 40km/h without trying.

GPS record of cycle ride
Ill-starred century

The flat took me less than 20 minutes to fix, but with the hub issue the total repair added 40 minutes to the total ride time. I did beat the rain — apart from a few sprinkles in the morning with the sun shining and a couple more as I neared home. I wasn’t expecting to make good time overall, and the total elapsed time of nearly 7 hours for the ride is something of an anti-record. But a moving time of 5 hours 3 minutes netted a respectable 20.6km/h. I’ve done better on this route, but I’ve also done considerably worse.

I got home a good 17 minutes before the time I’d given Nana to expect me, and took my time parking Kuroko and gathering up the various bits and bobs before getting the elevator up to the flat. Once home, I spent a good amount of time washing all the dirty grease off my hands before attempting anything else, and then relaxed in the bath for half an hour. When I emerged, Nana took one look at me and asked if I was OK. I assured her I was fine, just dead. Very, very dead.

Some Love for Dionysus

Bicycle in stand on balcony

I’ve started commuting on the bike again the past couple of weeks (although certainly not every day). It’s been good to get back on Dionysus and fight with traffic again rather than being squashed with the other commuters in the train.

But Dionysus had been sitting unloved in the bicycle parking for a couple of months at least, and hasn’t had any cleaning or adjusting for several months before that. While she was fine overall (after I pumped up the tires before the first ride), there were a couple of small issues. The shifting wasn’t quite as precise as it should be, with a little chatter in a couple of gears and a tendency to come off the lowest gear at the worst possible moment while climbing. (She would just pop into the next lowest gear, and an additional push on the thumb lever would put things back where they should be.)

I have the day off work today, but courtesy of Typhoon I, it’s rainy and cold — the perfect day to get Dionysus up on the racks. I started by cleaning and oiling the chain and inspecting it for wear: it’s still got lots of life yet.

Then I started fiddling with the adjustments, starting with the B limit as there seemed to be quite a bit of extra space. Then the low limit screw and the cable tension. Finally a touch-up with the high limit screw, and a bit more tension adjustment. I think things are where they should be now, but the proof will be in the next couple of rides.

The brakes were an easier go: I just needed to tighten up the cables. One of the cable ends came off during the process, but I have spares on hand. I was able to get the pads in quite close to the wheels as they’re still very true. (The rear is slightly egg-shaped, but that doesn’t affect the rim-to-pad clearance. I’ll take care of that another time.) Now — on the stand, at least — the brakes aren’t rubbing the rims, and they come on quite firmly with just a few millimeters’ pull of the levers.

Bicycle on balcony overlooking city
Could use a bath still

She could still use a bath — another thing that will wait for a warmer day — but for now she’s ready for the next sunny day’s commute. (Hard telling from the forecast when that might be.)