Hot (and wet) (and windy) Haneda

Selfie in cycling helmet in front of Haneda peace shrine in the rain

I hadn’t planned on riding today because the forecast was for rain. But when I checked again this morning, the forecast showed little chance of rain before late afternoon. Nana checked Yahoo and agreed — it should be OK to get in a quick ride.

Before I set out, I had to refill Kuroko’s new tubeless tires. It’s been less than two weeks since they were seated and they’re still not fully sealed. Unfortunately, the Garmin doesn’t count the calories I expended with the portable tire pump before the ride began.

I want to talk to the manager

I got through the city down to the Tama River without incident, feeling good if quite hot. It was just shy of 30C at this point. But as I was crossing over the river into Kanagawa, I felt a couple of drops of rain. Well, no big deal. I’m not going to let a few drops of rain slow me down.

By the time I reached 15km the rain was coming down pretty steadily. I still had hopes it might pass over quickly — after all, the real rain isn’t supposed to come until late afternoon. But then before I hit the 20km mark, the rain was driving down in the wind (a headwind that was already cutting into my progress), nearly blinding me despite my shades.

Decision point

Wet bicycle leaning against tree on a rainy day
Brief shelter out of the rain

At this point I could turn around and head for home, or ignore the rain and continue onwards. At 20km I’m about one-third of the way into the ride. If I turned around I’d have another 20km before I got home, while if I continued it would be another 40km. Either way, I’d arrive home soaking wet.

You can only get soaked through once*

Fearless Leader Joe

* Once per ride, Guy Jean hastens to clarify

As I’ve already established during the Biwako ride, and confirmed in England (although not as thoroughly as FLJ confirmed in Scotland), I am not made of sugar. Since I was going to be just as wet either way, I decided to continue the ride. This wasn’t an intentional invocation of Rule No. 9, as the forecast had been for overcast skies with rain later in the day, but I feel good about the fact I didn’t turn tail at the first few raindrops. The only impact the rain made on my plans was to make me take things a bit easier, cut my rest stops short, and cancel my plan to stop for a snack at a convenience store along the way.

Instead I continued pushing on through the rain (which at least slacked off enough it wasn’t being driven into my eyes). Kuroko’s brakes set up a howling each time I used them, higher pitched on the 140mm rear disc than the 160mm front, but they worked fine. The bell on the other hand was muted by the raindrops which clung to it, so the Howling Discs (a great band name the rights to which I freely grant to the first comer) served the double purpose of warning people I was coming and slowing me down before I ran over oblivious pedestrians and little leaguers on bikes.

Now do it the other way

Selfie in cycling helmet in front of Haneda peace shrine in the rain
Are we having fun yet?

Despite the rain and the headwind (and the crowds of joggers, dog walkers and slower bikers on the path), I reached Haneda in pretty good time. I didn’t want to sit there long in the rain, and I didn’t have any of Nana’s world famous onigiri to eat (as we’d thought last night that I wouldn’t be riding today), so I messaged Nana that I was on my way home and set out again after a very brief rest.

The going on the way home was a bit easier as I had a tailwind, and the rain had brought the temperature down from nearly 30C to a steady and livable 21C. On the other hand, a lot of the little league games were breaking up and so the paths were crowded with gaggles of boys on bikes with baseball bats hanging out to the side and no conception of the rules of the road.

I had a very brief stop shortly after the 40km mark, and messaged Nana that I had another 20-25km to go. But by the time I’d climbed up the hill at Nikotama and stopped for the last rest of the day, the rain made it impossible for me to send another message to let Nana know I was OK and on schedule. The phone is waterproof, but there were too many raindrops on the touchscreen and it just wasn’t detecting my finger taps. And so after a very brief rest I continued on my way home.

I had my lights on for visibility in traffic as I worked my way back through the city. Fortunately, traffic was not heavy. I came to the little shopping street / train crossing where Kuroko had thrown her chain on the previous occasion, but this time there was no trouble at all when I did the same upshift at the same location. The mechanical gods smiled on us today.

I continued on home, keeping the pace up but taking care of the conditions. The new tires handled the job with aplomb. The ride was comfortable, the performance of the tires was fantastic, and there was never once a hint of lost traction on the wet (and sometimes muddy) streets.

Soon I was on my final descent. I kept the speed low at first, mindful of the visibility and difficulty in braking, but then put the pedal(s) down when the lights changed in my favor. I soon rolled up to a stop at the foot of our tower and shut everything down.

A decent pace

GPS route of round-trip ride to Haneda
That’s not a bad time at all

I didn’t set any PRs today, but I did keep up a decent pace overall. Not shown in the results is the really good total elapsed time of 3 hours 34 minutes — aided by all those minimal breaks — which may be a record for me on this route.

Shorter brake arms, more stop

Shimano and Tektro V-brakes side-by-side, showing difference in length
Tools, bicycle parts and work gloves laid out in order
All my ducks in a row

Since completing Dionysus in late May, I’ve been trying to improve her soft braking power. (Everything else is working well.) I’ve increased the spring tension (which only affects the feel) and adjusted the pads to be as close to the rims as possible without rubbing. But there’s just not quite enough stopping power. It’s OK in normal riding, but it’s not up to the task of emergency braking (and possibly steep downhills).

After doing some research on it, I realized the problem was the long arms of the Deore V-brakes I’d installed. There’s nothing wrong with the brakes themselves in terms of quality, and they offer lots of tire clearance (plenty of room for fenders if I were so inclined). But with Dionysus’s 26-inch rims, the brake pads are quite near the pivot point, so there’s just not enough travel to bring the pads firmly enough against the rim for sure stopping.

Shimano and Tektro V-brakes side-by-side, showing difference in length
The long and the short of it

I did some looking around and found some shorter V-brakes from Shimano and Tektro. Tektro had the shortest arms among the brakes that were readily available. The brand is widely used and the price was very reasonable.

Bicycle rear V-brake with plenty of clearance
Dionysus already needs a bath!

Bicycle front V-brake showing plenty of clearance
The technical term is “gaposis”

It’s readily apparent the brakes have enough room to accommodate larger rims and tires, as well as fenders if need be. But with the brake pads so close to the pivot point, the long arms just don’t offer enough travel. Shorter arms will make for increased travel of the brake pads given the same amount of cable pull.

Loosening V-brake cable pinch bolt with a hex wrench
Trying not to break anything here

The new brakes came with all new hardware, including fixing bolts and noodles (the curved silver tube that guides the brake cable into the top of the V-brake). The new fixing bolts were considerably longer than the ones on the bike. It was no problem on the front, but on the rear one of them wouldn’t go all the way in. So I just kept the original bolts on the rear.

Tektro fixing bolts (L) and Deore (R)
Tektro fixing bolts (L) and Deore (R)

The Tektro noodles were much smaller than the Deore, and I thought the Deore were a better fit for this bike, so I kept them as well. Finally, the Tektro brake pads are much shorter. For now I’m going to keep them. If they’re not up to the job I’ll try the Deore ones or look for some aftermarket pads.

A knotted rubber band sets the toe-in
A knotted rubber band sets the toe-in

The replacement went smoothly apart from these small details. I found the rubber band I’d put in the toolbox for just this purpose — to help set the toe-in of the brake pads to prevent grabbing and squealing — and it worked great. I had a couple of minutes fumbling with the front to get the cable in the pinch bolt while holding the brake arms squeezed shut, but it all worked out in the end.

New V-brake installed on rear of bike
Back is done

Bicycle front V-brake in the process of installation
Prepping the front

The final steps were adjusting the brakes and trimming the cables to length before capping the ends. Before I started this job today, I’d gone to the bike shop and picked up a couple of new brake cables in case I needed longer cables after the swap. But as it turns out I trimmed 1-2cm from each existing cable. So the new cables will go into the spares box, along with the Deore brakes.

New V-brake installed on front of bike
Front is done

We’ve got a storm headed our way today, and rain in the forecast for the next week. So I’m not sure how soon I’ll be testing out the new brakes. On the workstand they’re great.

Another new chain

Chain breaker applied to bicycle chain, with crankset and wheel in background

When I was just 6km from home last week after having ridden more than 100km, my chain derailled on a shift up to the larger chainring. It was easy enough to get the chain back on, but then it was skipping gears on the back for the rest of the ride home.

Bent chain link shown against background of bicycle crank and wheel
That’s just twisted

Subsequent inspection showed a bent link in the chain, which is why the gears kept slipping. I’ve got less than 1,500km on this chain, having replaced it at the end of January, but I decided to go for a new one (not least because it would be too short after I removed the offending link).

Chain breaker applied to bicycle chain, with crankset and wheel in background
Unchain my heart

With my pro chain tool, it just took a moment yesterday to drive out a rivet and break the chain. I selected a point that was a couple of links to one side of the twisted link. With the chain off the bike, I moved a couple of links to the other side of the twist and popped out another rivet. That left me with a short section of useless chain (maybe OK for decoration) and a much longer section that is fine as a spare.

Segment of bicycle chain with twisted link
Too short for a bracelet

Bath time!

Pink spray bottle of bike cleaner and yellow portable power washer
Bike washing overkill

With the chain off I decided to give Kuroko a washing up before proceeding. I’ve had the power sprayer and bike cleaner for some months but haven’t used them yet. (At least not for the bike — I used the sprayer to wash the screens on the balcony windows.) The sprayer puts out a nice, gentle fan of water that’s perfect for this. In just a few minutes I had Kuroko gleaming.

Bicycle glistening with water drops on balcony overlooking city
Splish splash

Back to the chain

Chain tool, chain and gloves
Chain tool, chain and gloves

With the bike newly clean, I gloved up and measured the chain for fit, taking off a few links to get just the right size. I threaded it through the derailleurs and used the chain tool to insert the connecting rivet. After snapping off the connecting rivet’s pilot, I gave the cranks a few spins. All perfect, and that was the end of bicycle maintenance for the day.

Newly installed bicycle chain with wheel in background
On the straight and narrow

Follow through

Lower half of bike on workstand, showing drivetrain
The “Biggie Smalls” chain position

Today I spent some time adjusting the front and rear derailleurs, as well as the rear brake. The shifting is very smooth now (on the workstand, anyway) and I’ve made sure the chain won’t come off again.

Bicycle on balcony overlooking city
Just asking for trouble

I wanted to try one more thing before finishing for the day. Kuroko’s main triangle is small, and it’s very crowded with two water bottles and a tire pump. I moved one of the bottles to the underside of the downtube, and shifted the other bottle a bit lower in the triangle. It looks like a close fit between the front tire and the lower bottle — and it is — but there’s enough of a gap there’s no danger of hitting.

For those wondering about drinking out of a bottle that’s going to be spattered in mud and road grime, there are a couple of solutions. One is to cover the lower bottle’s nipple with something — a finger cut off from a rubber glove, for example. A second option is not to drink from this bottle, but to use it to refill the main bottle when that’s been emptied. I was also thinking of getting a bottle with a full cover for the nipple, but it doesn’t look like there’s enough room for that.

Gasping for air

While I was preparing Kuroko for that last picture, I noticed the front tire had almost no air left in it. (It’s not noticeable when the bike is on the workstand.) This isn’t a real surprise as I’ve only ridden Kuroko once since finally converting the tires to tubeless, so the latex hasn’t had a good chance to work its way into all the leaking areas. The tire beads were still sealed to the rim, so it was no problem pumping the tire up full again. I took the wheel off after that and gave it some swirling to get the latex distributed all around again inside the tire. Then I pumped up the rear tire again, although it was already holding quite a bit more air.

If the front goes down just as far in another week, I’ll add some more latex. But in the meantime I’ll try to find a day without rain when I can go for another ride.

Otarumi Touge in the heat

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance

I hoped yesterday to get in a longer ride, and at the same time to make another assault on Otarumi Touge, the 392m mountain pass near Tokyo’s famous Mt Takao. I’d told the Halfakid I’d be leaving home at 8 a.m., and actually departed at 8:20 — not a bad start for me.

First mechanical: the Garmin

I had an issue with the Garmin right away: after I started it up and selected the course, it showed it was “Acquiring Satellites” and it stayed there. I waited a couple of minutes and then set out anyway, figuring it would catch up soon enough. In fact it took more than 7km — when I’d nearly reached the Halfakid’s flat — before it declared it was ready.

Scheduled maintenance

The Halfakid was just coming out of his flat when I rolled up. Before we set out, though, he wanted to install the new bike bell I’d recently got him. That took just a few minutes — the fastener was in an awkward position and we just had the multitool that I carry on every ride. That done, we spent a few more minutes pumping up his tires front and back. I’ve got an old floor pump sitting on my balcony that I’ve been meaning to give to him, but there hasn’t really been a good chance to bring it as it’s awkward to carry. So we used the portable pump that I carry on Kuroko.

More Garmin trouble

We set out together and I soon noticed that although the Garmin was tracking our location, it wasn’t recording the ride. I pushed the start button once again and it began recording. But then it reported we’d taken 40 minutes to do our first 5km. As we were maintaining a consistent pace above 20km/h at this point, it should have recorded less than 15 minutes. I have no idea what went wrong, but after that it settled down and recorded the rest of the ride with its usual accurracy.

(Just now as I’m writing this, the next day, I’m trying to restart the Garmin and it’s hanging on reboot. After many, many tries and forced restarts, I was finally able to get it to start up by turning off my phone, which is connected to the Garmin via Bluetooth.)

Going tubeless

Bicycle leaning against wooden railing over looking dry park pond
Kuroko sporting her new tires

This was my first ride since converting Kuroko to tubeless tires, and I was eager to see how they would perform. In just the first couple of kilometers I noticed a rythmic ticking noise coming from the front tire. Of course I immediately worried something was wrong and stopped to have a look. In fact it was just a couple of tiny pebbles that had been picked up by the excess latex that I’d left on the tread. I brushed them off and kept going, and within another couple of kilometers most of that latex had worn off as I’d expected.

The tires roll very smoothly, and they’re noticeably a bit narrower than the ones they replaced. I’d love to report that Kuroko felt a lot lighter and faster as a result. But the truth is I’ve been riding Dionysus for the past few weeks, so most of my reaction was to the difference in riding position, handling, etc., between the two bikes. I’m sure the lighter, narrower tires helped, particularly when we got to the climbing. Overall, the tires performed flawlessly and there have been no issues with them.

Crowded and hot

It was a hot and cloudy day with little wind. There wasn’t any bright sunshine, so we were a bit surprised when we came to our usual resting spot how crowded it was. A gaggle of seniors was playing croquet in the open gravel lot, with only a few in masks, and the tennis courts were packed.

We crossed the Tamagawa and headed upstream along the Asakawa. Immediately I saw another rider in a Tour de Tohoko jersey. I wondered if I would catch him and have a brief chat. “Oh yeah, I’ve done that, too!” But he was soon putting the distance on us as I felt my energy ebbing. I was hungry, and I’ve learned from experience that by the time I feel hungry while biking, I’m already fading fast. I wasn’t doing as badly as I did in early May when the Halfakid and I included this route as a leg in our first century ride, keeping the speed near 20km/h. When we reach our first rest stop I had one of Nana’s world-famous onigiri for energy, while the Halfakid had two, and then we continued onwards to Takaosan.

Greetings from France

At Takaosan, our usual picnic table spot by the FamilyMart was completely taken over by a baseball team (with no masks in sight). We chose instead to go to the nearby 7-11. We still didn’t get a place to sit, but it was a lot less crowded. I finished up the onigiri here and got an ice cream bar as well to help cool down. While we were resting, another cyclist approached us. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Tokyo,” the Halfakid replied, while I said, “United States.” We asked him where he was from and he said France. He didn’t have a lot to say after that, just mentioned there was more traffic than he expected. “We usually come on Sundays.” He was with two other bikers, both Japanese. I asked if he was going up the climb and he said no, they’d just come out this far and were going back.

We got our helmets and gloves back on and exchanged a “Good luck!” with our French friend, and started up the climb.

Litany of excuses follows

Even with a belly full of onigiri and ice cream, I knew I didn’t have my usual energy. The Halfakid, following patiently behind me, could see it, too. He kept up a string of encouragement and jokes as we started up the climb. I was dropping down the gears faster than usual, keeping my cadence up. In addition to the feeling of low energy, I had a headache. It may have been lack of sleep the night before (less than five hours’ worth), the fact I didn’t put on my sunglasses until after we’d stopped in Takaosan, my delay in stopping to eat when I was feeling hungry, or maybe a combination of these things. But I was determined to keep going.

I continued dropping gears. I went down to my lowest combo far earlier than I had on the previous attempt on this climb (and I did get into the lowest gear this time). The Halfakid meanwhile was contemplating in all seriousness whether he could make the top without down-shifting at all. On our previous assault he’d remained sur la plaque (on the larger chainring) about three-quarters of the way up, albeit unintentionally. I was still spinning, trying to keep my usual cadence of about 90rpm, which translates into roughly 9km/h in this gear, when the Halfakid said “See ya!” and rocketed past me.

The climb continued. Despite my listlessness, I was making progress. I tried not to stare at the Garmin, and at each switchback I’d say to myself that was another half a kilometer done, and encouraged myself that I could continue yet one more half a kilometer.

How to create a magnet

I knew I was nearing about the three-quarter point of the climb, still spinning and yet quite fatigued. I crossed over Annai River (which happens several times on the way up to the pass) and there it was! The point where I always give up and take a rest. It’s not just chance: on a switchback mountain road it’s only safe to stop in select spots. Good visibility in both directions, and a nice bit of shoulder so I’m out of traffic. In this case there’s a guardrail over the river, and immediately after that a broad shoulder (and a nice concrete wall to lean against). I noted the location — Nishi Kanba Bridge — and the distance. I’ve been stopping in this exact spot every time I’ve climbed this route, and in doing so I’ve made it into a psychological magnet. I see that and immediately my legs say, “Yay! It’s time to rest!”

So my goal for the next time up this mountain (which may not be until fall now with summer’s heat upon us) will be to get past this point. If I’ve broken that psychological barrier, will I be able to continue on to the top?

I’ve done this climb often enough that I recognize a number of features. After having a rest and setting off again from Nishi Kanba Bridge, I knew I was closing in on the goal. I passed the bus stop and again noted the distance, and I kept going. (I did make one or two more stops after Nishi Kanba, but the bus stop is not a good place for it.) An older Japanese man with long white hair flowing from under his helmet passed me speeding downhill, standing on his pedals, and shouted out a cheerful “Konnichi ha!” I smiled and waved and kept spinning.

Goal!

Somewhat cloudy view from Otarumi Touge
Somewhat cloudy view from Otarumi Touge

At last I reached the final turn, the one that I know from experience hides the peak just around its shoulder. Sometimes I stop right here for a photo, but this time I noted the distance and then continued on, rolling down the final couple of dozen meters to the spot we always choose to rest and drink water and enjoy the view. The Halfakid of course was waiting for me there, resting at a park bench. “Look at what gear I finished in,” he said, and I checked his bike and shook my head. He’d ridden up to the top in 50/19, or about 1.75m forward for each rotation of his cranks. Meanwhile I’d struggled up in 30/34, or about 0.58m for each rotation.

Adding it up

Or subtracting. The “magnet” bridge where I alway stop is just 640m from the top (distance — it’s another 20m or so of elevation). The bus stop is just 300m from the goal. It remains to be seen whether this knowledge is enough to inspire me to make it in one go on my next attempt.

Rapid descent

After we’d rested and drained our water bottles, we mounted up for the descent. I was fighting an irrational fear on the way down that my new tires would somehow roll off the rims during hard cornering, but I soon put that behind me as I caught up to the Halfakid. I didn’t try to pass him but was content to follow 5-10m behind. There was a car behind me as well, but apparently I was keeping up enough speed that the driver didn’t feel the need to pass me (and wasn’t crowding me, I’m happy to say). Mr Garmin reports that I hit a top speed of 49km/h, which seems about right. Strava, amusingly, from the same data put me at 60.5. Strava also gave me a PR on the descent, of which I’m sceptical as I was on the brakes a good part of this time, while on occasion in the past I’ve stayed off the brakes and let the speed build up as it will.

Additional refreshment

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance
Takaosan Guchi

We stopped at Takaosan Guchi for our usual trophy photo and then continued on to the FamilyMart. The baseball team had moved on and so we grabbed a picnic table. A quick survey of the convenience store resulted in a shock, though: no Snickers bars! We got some very juicy and tender fried chicken and some chocolate covered almonds and relaxed as we topped up our water bottles.

Continuing back down the Asakawa, I was feeling every bump through my spine up into the base of my skull. The tires are supple and do a good job of soaking up bumps, but the headache had left me very sensitive. I was still making good time, tooling along downriver at 30km/h, but each jounce made me wince.

As we approached the confluence with the Tamagawa we came into a headwind. I slowed my pace a bit and again the Halfakid zoomed ahead. I let him go and soldiered on at a cadence that felt comfortable to me. I was looking forward to crossing the river (“back into Tokyo,” as I think of it, although this entire route is within Tokyo — aside from the few dozen meters we go past the top of Otarumi) and having another rest, even if the seniors were still playing croquet. The wind let up for a bit and the Halfakid was waiting for me just before the bridge, and we rose up over the Tamagawa and found our resting spot with a nice bench. I messaged Nana that I was about 30km from home, but I didn’t give her an ETA just yet.

We followed the Tamagawa about 12km downstream before having a last rest and turning east into Tokyo traffic. I knew we had a bit of a rise coming up. It’s only a 2% grade for just over 1km, but when I’m tired it’s a challenge in its own right. At this point I’d ridden just about 100km, and I’d been up and down a mountain and … I somehow found the energy to get up that grade. We had our usual ins and outs with traffic, and then I was saying farewell to the Halfakid and messaging Nana that I would be home within about 50 minutes. (I always pad out this estimate so she won’t worry if I fall behind a bit.)

And that should be the end of the story

It’s not.

After leaving the Halfakid at his flat, I continued on for the remaining 8km to home. I soon came to the train crossing at Higashi Matsubara: a narrow road, with an abrupt climb up to the crossing and for a few dozen meters beyond. I shifted to the small chainring and made my way up without incident. But then, over the top and with the slightest of dips leading into the next flat, I shifted back to the large chainring –and the chain came off.

I was very lucky that the chain came off over the larger chainring, leaving it looping about the right crankarm, and not into the spokes as it had done during Lejog. I dismounted and had the chain back on the chainring in a matter of seconds (after unwinding it from the rear derailleur where it had twisted itself). Fortunately, I keep alcohol wipes in my bag and I cleaned my hands with one before continuing on my way.

I continued home without incident, but I noticed that every so often the rear was skipping. It seemed like the chain was trying to shift into a higher gear. I fiddled with the shifter paddles a bit each time and continued on my way. This is usually a sign of having the cable tension too tight, and if I’d been any farther from home (less than 5km at this point) I might have stopped and tried to fiddle with it. As it was I resolved to just put up with it until I was home.

And I got there without further incident. I didn’t try to set any records on the final downhill because of the traffic. And then when I reached the tower, the Garmin was showing just shy of 105km, so I looped once around the block to bring it up over the 105 mark.

GPS route of cycle ride from Shinjuku to Otarumi Touge
Otarumi Touge Hot!

This afternoon I stepped out into the Workshop in the Sky to have a good look at Kuroko and sort out why the chain had derailled, and why it was acting up after that. The first thing I noticed was the derailleur looked like it had bent. I wasn’t really sure how much it was bent, or if I could bend it back (it’s best to replace it if it really is bent), but I gave it a try. After a couple of firm shoves I was happy with the result.

Bent jocket wheel cageJockey wheel cage straight
Jockey wheel assembly before and after a couple of swift shoves

That done, I cleaned the chain prior to giving it a good inspection. I was a bit shocked by how black the degreaser came out after the cleaning — the chain hadn’t looked bad to me previously. I put the rear wheel back in and set about adjusting the derailleur. And in the process, I discovered the real culprit.

Bicycle chain with bent link encirled
The real culprit

One link of the chain was bent during the derailment. If I was on the road and miles from home, I’d whip out my multitool and shorten the chain a couple of links. As it is, I’ll be commuting on Dionysus tomorrow, and it’s going to rain the rest of the week. The replacement chain is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. Once I’ve installed that and adjusted the front and rear derailleurs, I’ll be able to see if the rear mech is fine as is or also needs to be replaced. (It’s not all that expensive, but I’m hoping it’s not so fragile that I need to replace it after a simple derailment.)

Try, try (try try try) again

Bicycle on balcony with newly installed tubeless tires

I purchased Kuroko with the goal of having a bike that wasn’t necessarily the fastest performer, but that would be comfortable for many hours in the saddle, day after day. In particular I had Lejog in mind, anticipating I’d be on the road for 13 or 14 straight days with at most one rest day.

Kuroko was a part of what was at the time an emerging trend: gravel bikes. While in my callow youth I sought out the narrowest possible tires (23mm), run at high pressure for efficiency and damn the comfort, Kuroko was equipped with the opposite: 48mm tires, run at 50psi at most and preferrably lower. When I researched this new trend, I was assured that the wider tires were both more efficient (although I’m sceptical about this) and more comfortable, and that the larger volume would reduce or eliminate the dreaded pinch flat (when the wheel strikes an abrupt edge, pinching the tube against the rim and causing a flat), which in fact Fearless Leader Joe experienced on Day 2 of Lejog.

These new tires also featured a new technology. They were tubeless, or at least tubeless-ready (meaning they could be set up as tubeless if one so desired). Instead of a tube, the tires are mounted directly on the rim, and a small measure of liquid latex is added (usually 60-120ml). The latex will gather around any leak or small puncture and harden, creating a seal.

I was excited about this new technology, and when I ordered the bicycle I requested that it be set up as tubeless. A day or two after I placed the order, though, I got a call from a rather direct-speaking Japanese (he was a mechanic and not a salesperson). He spent 10 minutes or so telling me what an inconvenience a tubeless tire was going to be for me, running through the full list of shortcomings of the new technology. While he didn’t right out say he wouldn’t set the bike up that way (he was Japanese, after all), the message was clear. And so Kuroko was delivered with standard bicycle innertubes inside her tubeless-ready tires. (I’ve since learned that particular shop is “allergic to tubeless” — they won’t even sell accessories related to tubeless tires such as rim tape and latex.)

And that’s how she rode through the breadth of England during our Lejog ride. I suffered two flats along the way and either swapped out the tube or patched it on the spot. (I’d brought along a spare tire — they’re foldable — but it wasn’t required.) By all indications, both punctures would have been no problem with a tubeless tire: pull out the offending nail and let the latex do its work.

Renewed inspiration

Luggage scale showing weight of bicycle
A bit chonky

I’d had it in mind since then to convert Kuroko to tubeless. I’d done quite a bit of bicycle mechanical work in the meantime, so this should be a walk in the park. I had a number of excellent videos to follow as well, and they all made it seem quite easy.

I bought the latex and the rim tape, as well as a tire pump with a compression chamber to allow me to inflate the tire in a single big burst. Thus equipped, I gave it a go and … no go. The tire wouldn’t seal to the rim. I tried it again. And again. And again and … I didn’t keep count but I’m sure on that first go I tried more than 20 times before giving up.

In the meantime, I’d been busy rehabilitating Ol’ Paint. And when that project finally came to fruition and I put the newly rechristened Dionysus on the scale, she came in at a very surprising 9kg! This was all serendipity, as I hadn’t specifically been working to make a lightweight bike. The wheels I’d built up, though, while not being tubeless, were quite light without being particularly expensive.

I contrasted that 9kg weight with the measurement I’d made when preparing Kuroko for Lejog: a hefty 13kg. Granted, at the time Kuroko had been decked out with a rear rack, pump, a generator hub on front, etc. I decided to strip Kuroko down to the essentials — no lights, no bags, no pump — to make a fair comparison. The result was 11.2kg (as you can see above).

I think we can do better than that!

I had no doubt that most of the weight difference was in the wheels (although Dionysus is a 1x, and so has some advantage in terms of fewer parts, such as lacking a front derailleur and having only one chainring). So I set out to get the lightest possible tires without sacrificing on the comfort or performance. (Kuroko’s existing tires were very comfortable and very smooth-rolling.) I quickly hit upon René Herse’s Babyshoe Pass tires: 42mm wide and quite a bit lighter (and rather more expensive) than the WTB Horizon tires I’d been using. I placed my order and watched for the delivery with salivary glands fully activated.

Comparison of bicycle tire and tube weight on scale
Horizon vs Babyshoe Pass

When the new tires arrived the first thing I did was to get them on the scale to compare with the WTB Horizon. I also weighed an innertube as this wouldn’t be included with the new tire. So I was looking at a weight savings of 390g per wheel? Perhaps not quite, as the tubeless tire requires a separate valve as well as somewhere around 100g of liquid latex. But that could still add up to a half kilogram of weight savings for the two tires.

There must be some sort of trick

With the new tires in hand, I took advantage of a visit by the Halfakid to attempt the installation. After all, I needed someone to pump up the tires. And again. And again … We tried several times, and used both of Calvin Jones’s recommended techniques, but we were no closer to having our beautiful tubeless tires installed. I was starting to think that all those videos I’d seen where the tires pop into place with no effort — particularly the dream builds where they just use a standard hand pump — were mocking me.

39th time is a charm

Today I was “working from home” and had nice weather, as well as a ride in prospect for tomorrow, so I decided to give it another go. I spent some time with the preparation: I removed the tire and tube, as well as the rim tape, and then cleaned the rim with brake cleaner, making sure to get any residual latex from previous attempts out of the bead area where the new tire would seal. Then I put the wheel on the truing stand for a quick check. In the case of the front wheel, no truing was required. For the rear, though, I’d replaced all the drive-side spokes following the big chain disaster of Stafford, and at the time I didn’t have a truing stand so I just trued the wheel up in the bike frame. As a result I found that while it was fairly round, it was off-center by more than 1mm. It took less than 10 minutes to sort that out, though.

With the wheels clean and true, I installed new rim tape, this time using 21mm tape from DT Swiss. (I’ve tried tape in the past from several makers and in several widths.) I spent a few minutes working out any bubbles and making sure the tape was down smooth and firm.

And then it was time for the newest attempt. I knew the routine by now: tire levers, latex, valve core tool, tire pump. I prepared a dish of soapy water and spent some time cleaning all the old latex from the previous attempts with this tire (at least on the bead area).

Latex sealant, tire levers and thru axle
People get ready

With the tire on the rim and the valve core removed — and lots of soapy water around the bead area for lubrication and to spot any leaks — I charged up the compression chamber to 120psi. I connected the pump head to the valve and held my breath as I released the pressure. And … succeess! In just seconds I was rewarded with a couple of resounding pop! pop! noises as the tire bead seated on the rim.

Adding sealant through a bike valve and inserting the valve core
Sealant in, valve core in

I didn’t let my excitement stop me from immediately removing the pump (which let all the air out), pouring in some latex through the coreless valve, and then screwing tight the valve core. That done, and after rolling the wheel around in my hands to spread the latex throughout the inner surface, I pumped the tire up again, this time to 50psi. The tire quickly inflated and held the pressure.

Newly inflated bicycle tire leaned against balcony column next to dishpan of soapy water
One tubless tire, inflated

Bicycle tire tread showing excess latex
Leftover latex

With the tire inflated, I inspected the bead all the way around on both sides to make sure it was even and fully seated. It was. I noticed some hardened latex on the tread that was left over from my previous attempts, but I let it be. It won’t hurt anything and it will probably wear away with the first couple of weeks of riding.

Weighting a wheel before and after tubeless conversion
230g slimming diet

Right after that I put the wheel on the scale: For the total wheel (tire, brake disc, etc.) the weight had dropped more than 230g. I was pleased as can be.

I’d love to say that the rear tire also went on at the first go, but it wasn’t to be. For the first few tries, the air just whooshed into the tire and then out around the bead, pretty much all the way around the time. I was treated to the sight of soap bubbles forming around the bead with each go. I’d do my best to work the tire into the rim, add more soapy water and try again. And listen as the air hissed out each time.

Finally after six or eight tries, I was ready to give up for the day. I pumped the compression chamber up to 120psi, put the pump head on the valve, and opened the tap. And listened … the tire was puffing up, and I wasn’t hearing all the air escaping. But there was no pop! I was just thinking it was another failure and was about to shut off the flow when, as the pressure dropped past the 40psi mark, there it was: pop! and then pop! Not as loud or sharp as for the front wheel, but enough. In my excitement to get the valve core in and inflate the tire again, I nearly forget to add the latex. But I got it done, and when that was done and I inserted the valve core, the tire was holding air. I’d done it, at long last.

Luggage scale showing bicycle weight
The diet is working

Bicycle on balcony with newly installed tubeless tires
Satisfied

The shocking result

I was so pleased I’d finally accomplished the conversion that I nearly forgot the comparison with Dionysus. In the end, Kuroko’s front wheel is just 120g heavier than Dionysus’s much slimmer (28mm) one (1,410g vs 1,289), while Kuroko’s rear wheel is actually 5% lighter (1,890g vs 1,992g)! It’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, though, as Kuroko’s wheels include the brake disc (which Dionysus lacks), while Dionysus’s wheels include the innertube. Finally, Dionysus’s much larger rear sprockets (maximum of 42T vs 34T) contribute to the weight there.

So what did I do differently this time?

I sure wish I knew. It would give me a confidence I still don’t have that I’d be able to remount a tire on the go if the need arose. Some combination of the care I took in cleaning the rim, renewing the rim tape and using soapy water all the way around seems to have done the trick. Meanwhile I learned that the second technique in Calvin Jones’s tutorial — removing the valve core and seating the tire on the rim before adding the latex — makes a lot less mess.

Done?

That’s not quite the end of the story. With tubeless tires I have to remove the old latex once or twice a year and add new. (I’ve used up a 500ml bottle to reach this point, so I ordered a new one. And Amazon reminded me I’d bought the first one in July 2019. So it’s taken me nearly a year to accomplish this.)

In addition to that, apparently this brand of tire is infamous for leaking a bit during the first two weeks or so of use. The sidewalls are so thin that they seep air until the latex has a chance to seal them up completely. So I need to check the tire pressure before each ride, and make sure I carry my pump with me at all times.

Disaster strikes

Description and map of Lake Kasumigaura Area

With travel restrictions looming back in March, I wrote that my Ohio plans might be canceled. As a back-up plan, I chose the Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road and floated the idea among my usual cycling friends.

Now we find ourselves in June, going on July, and the Ohio trip is definitely out. I started looking more carefully into the Tsukuba situation, and the first speed bump I encountered as the lack of onsen. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a long soak in a hot tub — even in the summer — at the end of a long ride, and a nice onsen will offer that as well as a fantastic meal.

I looked again at the official site, and soon arrived upon Plan B: the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course and the Kitaura Area Circuit Course are both near the town of Itago, and I soon located several likely onsen in Itago to serve as a base for both rides. So the new schedule will be to drive up as early as possible Sunday morning and cycle the shorter Kitaura route. Monday will be spent circling Kasumigaura, and we’ll return to Tokyo on Tuesday.

At Nana’s urging, and with her help, we’ve booked an onsen in Itako, Ibaragi, at the end of July, and a large van to carry both bicycles and passengers. The Halfakid and Tomo are in, so it will be three bikes and five or six people in the van.

Here’s where the disaster part comes in

I knew that I had a route map for the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course, but I didn’t have one for the Kitaura Area Circuit Course. The course maps available from the site are more descriptive than they are effective route guides.

But I knew that the Japanese version of the site included full route maps served by Yahoo’s excellent LatLongLab. So I started looking around in Japanese.

And I looked.

And I looked …

At last I remembered that I’d posted the LatLongLab routes previously, so I went back to that original post to see if it would offer me any clues. But when I clicked on that route … Disaster:

Screenshot of Yahoo page stating that LatLongLab is closed
LatLongLab is closed

LatLongLab is closed as of 31 March 2020. All the data and images have been deleted.

A huge blow, and a small consolation

The loss of LatLongLab is a huge blow to the cycling community in Japan. The organized rides I’ve participated in — Tour de Tohoku, Bike Tokyo — have used this, and I’ve taken advantage of a number of other routes that cyclists have posted there. The small consolation for Kasumigaura is that both routes are very straightforward: just keep the lake on the left (or on the right, if going around clockwise).

It’s a good thing I’m checking now, a month before the event. I have plenty of time to plot out the routes and load them into the GPS.

Commuting with Dionysus

Bicycle posed against statue in park

I’ve commuted to work twice now with Dionysus, on Friday and again today. I had a couple of issues Friday morning. First, I hadn’t tightened up the seatpost properly after adjusting the brakes, and the saddle kept sliding down. I ended up feeling like I was pedaling with my knees up about my ears. But I finally got that sorted out.

The second issue was the derailleur needing extra coaxing on the upshifts, and on a particular gear being very noisy and occasionally jumping to another gear. I realized that when I’d reseated the wheel, I’d changed the relationship between the cogs and the derailleur. I checked it after getting to the office: the high and low limits were fine, but the B adjuster — the gap between the largest cog and the top jockey pulley — had increased. And it turns out this derailleur is very sensitive to this adjustment. With that out of the way, the ride home Friday evening was pure pleasure.

Bicycle posed against statue in park
Dionysus money shot

This morning everything went well (apart from the traffic, which was heavy and held up by construction in various places). The derailleur worked exceptionally. The thumb shifter makes quite a loud clicking sound, but that’s OK. The larger gap between gears (compared to Kuroko’s 2X set-up) is noticeable, but not objectionable on my basically flat commute. The lack of cleats means I don’t have to worry about clipping and unclipping. But the trade-off for this is totally uncontrolled foot placement, and at times I found my right heal striking the chainstay (which has a chain protector on it, so no harm). I have to point my toes in a bit, and it sometimes takes a try or three to get the placement right.

I had extra time when I neared the office, so I decided to ride downhill into Nikotama and then back up the hill to office. In doing so I ran the full range of gears. On the downhill I worked up into the smallest cog and topped out at 45km/h (while probably spinning in the 120-150rpm range). On the way back uphill I shifted down into the largest cog and maintained 9-10km/h while still spinning at my usual rate of about 90rpm. I’m guessing that I can go as low as about 6km/h if I drop to 50-60rpm, but that’s really grinding for me.

Meanwhile, the light wheels and 28mm tires mean Dionysus accelearates quickly and climbs well, compared to Kuroko. On the other hand, the tires transmit every bump and ripple of the pavement — even paint stripes. By contrast, Kuroko’s high-volume tires (at half the pressure) soak up the minor irregularities and make for a much more comfortable ride for the long haul. One thing I learned on the way home this evening is that I have to watch out for drain grates in the gutters with Dionysus, while Kuroko rolls over these with aplomb. There’s no danger of the wheel going into the grate on Dionysus, but the experience is a lot more unsettling and potentially could result in an unscheduled “gravity check.”

GPS files of commuting ride
Second commute

Overall I’m extremely pleased with how Dionysus has turned out, and the experiment with 1X gearing is a success overall. Very suited to commuting, so I only have one shifter to work with and don’t have to think about what gear I’m in at any given moment. But not the best solution for all-day tours where the closer spacing of a good 2X set-up results in finer control.

Everything is not quite perfect yet. The brakes are still a bit soft, especially in the rear. The tension is good following the adjustment, but the stopping power could be improved. The problem is with the smaller wheels — the brake pads are at the lower end of the V-brakes, giving the smallest leverage advantage. They just don’t have a lot of travel at this location. In order to get the best braking advantage, I’m going to have to adjust them very close to the rims, which means the rims will have to be perfectly true and centered. (They’re damn good as it is — we’re talking about sub-millimeter improvement.) I also need to check if I’ve got extra play in the rear brake cable following the new cut during the recent adjustment. The alternative would be to find V-brakes with shorter arms, meaning the same pull on the levers would result in a greater displacement of the pads. Which is a very geeky bike thing that I wasn’t aware of until well after I’d bought the brakes. Shimano doesn’t offer any but Tektro has some options. Alternatively, I could go to a nice pair of Tektro cantilever brakes, if they are available.

Having an adjustment

Bicycle V-brake (rear)

During the debut ride of Dionysus (née Ol’ Paint), I felt that the brakes needed more tension. They were working fine, but there was too little effort required on the lever pull (and hence a rather weak return when the brakes are released). So I decided to increase the spring tension on the brakes.

It didn’t take long to tighten up the springs and readjust the brakes. But when I went to return Dionysus to the parking garage I noticed I’d left the rear brake undone. “That’s funny,” I thought. “I’m pretty sure I finished that.” So I did up the brake, and right away it was dragging too much. I tried to adjust it on the spot in the garage, but I found another issue while I was doing that: the cable housing was too short. So I undid the brake again and brought Dionysus back to the Workshop in the Sky.

Bicycle V-brake in released position (rear)
Brake unplugged

I cut a new length of cable housing, erring on the side of having it a bit too long this time.

Brake cable housing, cable cutter and other tools
Original housing (R) and new housing (C)

With the new housing in place, I had the cable back in place and trimmed to length, and then the brakes adjusted, all in a matter of minutes. In the process I found the rear wheel wasn’t quite seated squarely in the drop-outs. So that’s something I’ll need to keep an eye on going forward whenever I’ve got the wheel out for maintenance.

One last thing I hoped to get to today was the chain stay protector. It’s already starting to peel up at the end. I bought some clear vinyl tape to wrap around both ends. But inspecting it today, I found that the derailleur cable is just at the same spot but on the underside of the frame. So I’ll have to either cut the tape very cleverly, or perhaps trim back the cable guard to a point where I can wrap tape around the end without it interfering with the cable stay.

Bicycle chain stay with protector plastic lifting up at the end
Pro chain stay guard already failing tos stick to the point

Lejog pictures and places: Tourist

Tourist

From Day 9 through Day 13, I was playing tourist while Fearless Leader Joe continued on solo. He didn’t take many photos, and anyway, that’s his story to tell. I just wanted to include one image of Crask Inn, which FLJ would have passed on Day 12. I found it by tracing the route on Google Street View, and it’s the only thing for miles around. When I asked FLJ if he remembered it, he replied, “Of course!” And then regaled me with stories of what he’d eaten and whom he’d met there.

Crask Inn

(I hadn’t followed that far north as I had to turn around and drive back to London to get Kuroko packed up for the flight home.)

My tourist photos of Carlisle and Scotland are available on Flickr:

"The Cathedral," the still room at Glenmorangie
Carlisle and Scotland

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