Bonkers update

Detail of bicycle tire on carpeted floor. The tire has a tan sidewall, on which the words BILLY BONKERS appear in large, black capital letters.

I’ve put just less than 500km on Dionysus since switching to the big fat Billy Bonkers tires. They’ve been great the whole time (after I adjusted to how much more effort they take to accelerate than the narrow, light Contis they replaced), and they make the bumpier sections of my commute much more comfortable than previously.

During yesterday’s commute I felt I was fighting the bike more than usual. I didn’t know whether this was my fat old poorly rested body holding me back or something else. I also noticed, though, that the tires were feeling more spongy than usual. Maybe it was time to check the pressure.

Montage: two GPS records of bicycle rides, side by side
Fatty Arbuckle and the Skid Row Skivvers

Before setting out this morning, I checked the tires with a digital gauge, and they’d both fallen to about 25psi. I used the hand pump to bring them up to 30, something that only took about a minute per tire.

The difference was immediately noticeable. The sponginess was gone, and the bike felt quite a bit more responsive. I’m not sure if the commute numbers will reflect that, as they tend to be more the result of traffic and lights than my output. But in any case I know now how often I need to check the pressure (not nearly as often as when I was running tubeless on Kuroko, but once every couple of weeks would be a good idea).

Montage: two GPS records of bicycle rides, side by side
Cab Calloway and the Jumpin’ Jive

Looking at those rides on the same page like that reminds me: I was really haulin’ ashes on my way home last night — all the while fighting those soft tires. Tonight I was taking it easier and being more judicious about certain traffic situations.

Detail of bicycle tire on carpeted floor. The tire has a tan sidewall, on which the words BILLY BONKERS appear in large, black capital letters.
Bonkers update

I had a rainy commute back in March that left the rear tire covered in black streaks of grime, and I haven’t given the bike a bath since then (although I’ve cleaned and lubed the chain). I’ll have to find the charging cable for the Kärcher and get to it.

Sunday afternoon

Bicycle, viewed from slightly above and the front, leaning against glass banister with cityscape showing far below through the glass. In the bottom left, the corner of a workbench with a blue dish can be seen.

Following yesterday’s issues with the tire valve, I brought Kuroko up to the Workshop in the Sky. Mostly I wanted to clean and oil the chain, which I did without fanfare. But I also wanted to resolve the issues with the inner tube’s valve and the pump.

I’d pumped up the inner tube itself yesterday afternoon following the ride, and it still seemed to be holding air. (The pressure readings aren’t really meaningful when the tube isn’t installed in a tire on a rim.) I tested it today with the pump head, to see if I could attach the pump head, pump in some air, and then remove the pump head without also removing the valve core. The first try was a failure, but then I screwed in the valve core tightly using the proper Parktool valve core tool (VC-1), and after that there was no trouble. I let the air out of the inner tube and folded it to store in my saddle bag as a spare.

I’m still thinking about long-term strategies, and if I want to replace the pump, and if I want to try tubeless again (and as a part of that if I want to try different rims). And balancing all this with the consideration that I just like spending money on the bike and changing things, and I really shouldn’t do that just for the sake of spending money and changing things.

For now I’ve ordered a couple of new inner tubes. I packed the inner tube and tools back in the saddle bag, put the bag and the pump back on the bike, and she’s ready to roll the next time I want to ride. (Next weekend is not looking promising.)

Bicycle, viewed from slightly above and the front, leaning against glass banister with cityscape showing far below through the glass. In the bottom left, the corner of a workbench with a blue dish can be seen.
Ready to roll

Getting the tire on the right way round

Detail of bicycle tire from above showing the tread pattern. The turquoise fork crown can be seen in the left side of the picture. The brake cable emerges from the middle right, diagonally down to the center, where it loops and then passes vertically up nearly in the center of the image.

The forecast has been for rain all weekend, so I glumly concluded it would be a good chance for some bicycle maintenance. When I woke up this morning the forecast was improving — just a slight chance of rain in the afternoon — but when I looked out the window it was grey and misty.

I’ve been waiting for a chance to do some maintenance on Dionysus ever since I put the fat tires on. As soon as I had finished I noticed I’d put on the front tire with the tread in the opposite direction from the rear. It’s not terribly important (and I wasn’t sure at the time which was the “preferred” direction), but it’s the kind of little detail that’s going to bother me until I fix it.

I also wanted to see if I could get the brake cables working with a bit less binding, and remove some of the squishiness in the rear brake cable. Finally, the chain has been making some noise and so I wanted to have a look at that as well.

Getting the tire off wasn’t difficult at all. I put the wheel in the truing stand and gave a few tweaks. It was in good shape to start with. I didn’t have too much trouble getting the tire back on after that — and after checking twice that I was doing it in the right direction. In the process I discovered the rotation marking I’d looked in vain for during the initial tire swap — it’s rather subdued considering the bold typography on the rest of the tire. I did spend a minute fighting with the inner tube, which seemed determined to get pinched between the tire and rim. But it all came right soon enough.

After putting the front wheel back on the bike, I removed the front brake cable and gave it a thin coating of grease. It was more trouble getting the cable back on than it should have been, but it’s all good now.

Room for improvement

I didn’t have to do anything with the rear tire, but I removed the wheel from the bike anyway to have it out of the way while I worked on the brake cable. This wasn’t really necessary, but I did put the wheel in the truing stand and dial in a bit of improvement. (At this stage it’s fractions of a millimeter.)

I noticed when I installed the brakes as part of the tire swap that the cable wasn’t going smoothly into the noodle. Part of the trouble here is the Jagwire carbon silver brake housing: it looks great, but it’s very difficult to cut the woven fibres flush with the end of the cable. (It’s easy to see them sticking out the end in the before picture, above.) I wasn’t sure if I wanted a shorter cable or a longer one to smooth out the transition, or if a shorter noodle would help.

I started by cutting about 5mm from the housing, and then spending some time with a knife to trim the fibres. It all came together in the end, although it involved more than a bit of mashing the cable housing into the noodle and swearing. I also applied grease to this end of the cable, but didn’t bother with the other end.

The result feels firmer with the bike on the stand. I’ll undoubtedly ride to work at least once this week and then I’ll have a better idea if this has helped any.


View of cityscape beneath dark clouds. The area under the clouds to the left is yellow and forbidding. To the right the sky is bluer, and the cloud in the center of the image is brightly lit by the sun from above.
Stormy weather

While I was working in the Workshop in the Sky, the sky grew darker and darker. Suddenly I heard a peal of thunder, and then the rain was coming down in sheets. Nana was at the sauna, so I hoped it would blow over quickly and she wouldn’t get a drenching on the way home.

It rained about 15 minutes, just long enough for me to forward a picture to a friend who’d been asking if I was riding today and to say the weather was validating my decision to be lazy and stay home. After my work with the brakes I had a few more things to take care of: cleaning and oiling the chain (and making sure it was seated properly on the narrow-wide chainring), adjusting the derailleur and then checking the tire pressure — the rear needed some air.

I checked the sky again while I was cleaning up and putting the tools away, and it looked like things were improving. I was just being lazy — a 15-minute soaking shouldn’t stop me enjoying a nice long ride with good weather overall.

Cityscape with sun sparkling off the rooftops. The sky is very cloudy, but sunlight is piercing the cloud cover in multiple locations
Yeah, I was just being a wuss

And then the moment I sat down in front of my laptop, I saw this:

Tornado advisory for Tokyo (in Japanese) warning of risk of sudden heavy rain, strong winds and hail. There is a map below the text of the Tokyo area, with Tokyo outlined in red and Tornado Alert Information in red letters next to a tornado icon.

In addition to the tornado alert, the weather advisory warns of sudden heavy rains, strong wind and hail. (There’s also a message for farmers to be on alert for potential crop damage, but I’m not sure what they could do if the hailstones started raining down from on high.)

We haven’t had any tornadoes (yet!), but there have been two more sudden squalls as I’ve been typing this.

Turquoise bicycle with tan sidewalls backlit on balcony with glass banister. Some buildings are visible far below through the glass.
Money shot

The sun was bright enough during the money shot to make for shadows and a dark, backlit subject. Le sigh … And now the tornado warning is over and the sun is shining very brightly.

Where is my comfort zone?

Bicycle on a balcony, leaning against a glass banister. Buildings are visible far below through the glass. The bicycle is a flat-bar model, turquoise, with fat tan-wall tires. The legend "Billy Bonkers" is visible on both tires.

After riding a grand total of zero kilometers since January 8, this morning the stars aligned and I commuted to the office on Dionysus, sporting her new Billy Bonkers skins.

With the change from the 28mm Conti slicks I shod Dionysus with on the upgrade from Ol’ Paint, I had three basic expectations:

  • More comfortable ride
  • A reduction in the steering sensitivity
  • A slight degradation of performance

Cutting to the chase, then, the ride was quite a bit more comfortable, particularly over broken pavement and assorted bumps. Where the ride was jarring on the Contis, it was downright cushiony with the Billy Bonkers. So mission accomplished as far as the upgrade is concerned.

The performance toll was more than I had expected. With the Contis, Dionysus was an agile, fast accelerator. Now she’s slower on the uptake than Kuroko, with her 42mm tires. The change was noticeable starting out this morning, and on the slight rises in the morning commute. By the evening return, I’d become used to the change and didn’t notice it quite as much. I was still putting more effort into getting off the line from stop lights, and quicker to shift down on whatever modest hills I encountered.

As for the steering, Ol’ Paint was twitchy. With the upgrade to Dionysus, with smaller tires and shorter handlebars, the handling nearly had a mind of its own: great for sudden maneuvering in traffic, not so good for keeping a line in traffic while your mind wandered. Significantly larger tires should tame this a bit, and there was a small change with the Bonkers. Easier to push the bike through the parking with my hand on the seat, and less likely for the wheel to flop over when I’m waiting at a traffic light and let go of the bars to have a sip of water.

Little things

The new water bottle cages are satisfyingly grippy, which was not really in my mind when I bought them — it was a libation-influenced purchasing decision. (For that matter, so were the Billy Bonkers … ) The previous cages, which I bought because the color was a near match for the paint, were a bit loosey-goosey. Never a problem while riding, but the bottle might fall out while I was carrying the bike upstairs to my office.

The brakes remain stiff, which is certainly down to the cables. I should have them out for cleaning and a bit of oil or grease. The braking performance was a worry with the return to the original, longer Deore units. It’s fine on the front. The rear is still a bit soft. I probably need to look at a smaller noodle on the rear, and recut the cable housing to achieve a straighter line.

Other than that, perfectly satisfied with the upgrade. People have noticed the change, and most approve.

New tires? I thought you got a new bike!


Garmie didn’t start recording until I was about 400m into the morning ride, and then skipped about the first 700m on the evening return. Based on a moving time of 38:04, I averaged 19.7km/h in the morning, and 37:47 for 19.3km/h on the return. These times are not out of line with historical records, which is probably evidence that the commute is more dependent on traffic lights than anything else.

Too short to satisfy

Detail of bicycle tire and valve. The valve is pointing downward from the 2 o'clock position. There is barely any gap between the black valve cap and the sliver nut securing the value to the hub. The hub is black and with a white "Mason X Hunt" logo which is upside-down from the viewer's perspective. The tire's sidewall is tan, with a logo partially shown in white. The logo says "King SK" in tan and "27.5x1.75 [650b]", "Made in Japan" and "TLC" in black.

The weather was beautiful today, sunny and warm, but I had prior commitments. Rather than ride, I took to opportunity to swap out the inner tubes on Kuroko, as she was already out on the Workshop in the Sky.

The existing inner tubes are holding air well, which is their main job. The concern I have is that their valves stems are too short. This is noticeable in the rear, where it’s not really a problem, but really sticks out on the front (erm … by not sticking out, if you see what I mean) where it makes it hard to secure the pump head when I want to top up the air.

Shirt sleeves

With the mercury at 16C, I stepped out onto the balcony in sweatpants and a short-sleeved T-shirt. Not bad at all. Within minutes I had Kuroko in the bike rack, the front wheel off, and I was deflating the tire to remove the inner tube.

The tire still has quite a bit of latex residue inside from when I was running it tubeless. This is not an issue, so I’ll most likely keep using this tire until it’s worn out. After removing the new inner tube from its packaging, I gave it a minute in the talcum powder shake shack to make sure it wouldn’t pinch during installation. As is my usual practice, I gave the inner tube just enough air to give it shape, and then mounted it together with the tire on the rim using my hands only. (The Billy Bonkers required just a bit of tire lever at the end to get them on last week.)

Once mounted, I quickly filled the tire to 60psi with a number of satisfying pops as the tire seated on the rim. After inspecting the seat all the way round both sides and bouncing the wheel on the balcony floor a few times, I let all the air out again before inflating it to the final 40psi.

The rear tire went nearly as quickly, with the derailleur just giving a moment’s delay getting the wheel in and out of the frame (or out and back in, actually). With the wheels mounted in the frame once again I gave them a spin, made sure there was no rubbing, and checked the brakes. All good.

Stop the clock!

I had the impression I was done in about 20 minutes, and well satisfied with my work. In fact it was about 40 minutes by the time I had Kuroko out of the stand and had refitted the saddlebag (which has to come off for the bicycle stand). Regardless, I was satisfied with the result: valve stems that are clearly long enough that I won’t have any issue with topping up the air pressure while on the road — and they’re matched.

The last photo above shows the old valve stem from the rear tire. The valve core is decidedly bent. That explains why it had got so difficult to open when I needed to boost the air in the tire (which added motivation for the tube swap).

Now with that done in addition to Dionysus’s fattening up, the question remains: when will I get these beauties back on the road?

The parking situation

Bicycles parked on a two-tier rack under a white ceiling.

I mentioned in my post about the fattening up of Dionysus that I’ve had to change my bicycle parking spaces. I’d had two adjacent spaces on a rack in the back corner of the parking garage. I liked this area because it was out of the main traffic (mostly people riding their bikes in and out), and there was less jostling of my bikes than there would be in the more popular spaces.

After several years in this building, though, management decided to remove the entire row of racks along the back wall to make room for larger bikes: mamachari (electric bikes with a child carrier or two) and fat-tire bikes. I was given a choice of remaining rack space to re-home both Dionysus and Kuroko.

I didn’t have to think twice: I wanted adjacent slots on the top row. I didn’t really mind where in the garage it was. The workers helping me tried to discourage me: You’ll have to lift your bikes up onto the rack and back down again. But I knew that with my babies up on the top row I wouldn’t have to worry about others bashing them about as they got their own bikes in and out of the racks.

I got lucky with two adjacent slots near the door and at one end of the rack. I can get Kuroko in and out without even extending the rack. But the question remained whether Dionysus would fit after upgrading to the Billy Bonkers. Had a turned her into a fat tire bike?

And the answer is: she just fits. I didn’t even have to work hard to get her into the rack. (Getting her out again is the next test.) Meanwhile another tight spot was revealed between the rear derailleur and the supporting bar of the rack. There’s clearance, but I’m going to have to get in the habit of shifting up into the smaller gears before parking the bike. (I usually do the opposite for an easy start.)

The final question will be whether Dionysus will fit in the rack in my office. We will know next week at the earliest.

Going Bonkers!

Bicycle on a balcony, leaning against a glass banister. Buildings are visible far below through the glass. The bicycle is a flat-bar model, turquoise, with fat tan-wall tires. The legend "Billy Bonkers" is visible on both tires.

We had two days of beautiful weather this weekend, sunny and mild with very little wind. Sadly, I was too busy to ride. But I found enough time Saturday afternoon to take the plunge on the tire replacement for Dionysus that I’ve been putting off for more than half a year.

I was given a push by the condo management, which made me change my parking space. (They’re replacing the previous bike rack there with accommodation for larger electric bikes and monster tire bikes.) So I had to change the parking sticker on the bike. I could have just put the new sticker over the old, but I have a heat gun and wanted to have a go at removing the old sticker before putting on the new one.

After bringing the bike up from the parking garage, I gathered all the needed bits near the balcony door. (As always, I’d forgotten a few things.) The old parking sticker came off in one piece after less than a minute with the heat gun, and it didn’t take any paint with it. Then I took off the water bottle cages, because I had some new ones to replace them with, and the bike was ready for a washing.

Dionysus is my commuter bike, and I tend not to ride when it’s raining, so she wasn’t covered in mud as Kuroko can get when I’m caught in the rain (or — more often — out splashing through puddles left on the cycling course after a recent rain). But there was plenty of road grit and grime to wash off.

This is the way we wash our … eh?

I was in for a couple of surprises with the washing. First, the pump on the spray bottle of cleaner didn’t work. The bottle still had a good 150ml or so of cleaner, but I pumped the spray head for more than a minute with no result. In the end I filled a wash bucket with warm water and poured the cleaner into that, then sloshed it onto the bike with a soft brush.

The second surprise came when it was time to rinse off the cleaner. I’d filled the water sprayer with warm water, but when I pressed the button I got less than a second of spray before the battery died. I’ve been asking for this one — I’ve been using the sprayer for months without ever thinking of recharging it. In fact, I don’t remember where I put the charging cord. In the meantime I had a soapy bicycle to rinse off, so I refilled the wash bucket with clean water and used a cheap towel to splash and wipe that over the bike until it was sparkling.

With the bike cleaned up and stripped down (at least of the bottle cages) I put it on the scale to get the weight before I made the tire swap. It came in at a surprising 10.88kg — I’d weighed Dionysus at the end of the restoration, and with a cheap luggage scale she was just 9kg. I took off the headlight and the GoPro mount and that brought the weight down to 10.74kg (but that picture didn’t come out).

That’s really bonkers!

When I rebuilt Ol’ Paint and christened her Dionysus, I’d opted for light, smooth-rolling 28mm tires. I have no complaints about their performance, and they still have some life left in them. But over some of the rougher pavement on my commute I’ve found myself wishing for wider, softer tires. And then I saw these on some YouTube of a mountain bike refurbishing and thought, “These are just the thing for Dionysus!” (Alcohol may have been involved.)

They’re quite a bit wider — almost double at a nominal 2.1 inches. In fact they measure at about 51mm on the bike, perhaps because the rims aren’t really meant for this width of tire. When I bought them I knew there was a lot of extra clearance in Dionysus’s frame, but I didn’t stop and think about things like brake clearance or the width of the bike rack in the parking garage.

As mentioned at the top, these tires have been sitting in the flat for half a year now. But it wasn’t until I started seriously thinking about the replacement last month that it occurred to me there might be an issue with brake clearance. I still have the Shimano Deore brakes I’d bought for the refurbishing, the ones I replaced soon after with shorter-armed Tektro brakes to get more stopping power. So I figured if need be I’d use those and if they didn’t have enough grab then I’d think of other solutions.

To work!

I started with the rear wheel. The narrow Continental tire came off without much hassle. I searched the Billy Bonker sidewalls in vain for a preferred direction of rotation, so I just took a guess and then spent some time trying to make sure the logo would center on the valve. I got the first bead on easily enough, then inserted the partially inflated inner tube. The second bead was more of a fight, and in the end I used a tire lever to finish the job. I learned along the way that I hadn’t cleaned the wheel nearly as well as I’d thought when I saw all the smudges my fingers had left on the new tan sidewall. (Fortunately it was on the non-drive side, so it doesn’t show in the photos.)

As I’d guessed, the tire fit just fine in the frame but the brakes didn’t have nearly enough clearance. I left the rear brake unhooked for the moment and continued work with the front wheel. I took a bit more care to keep the sidewalls looking nice, but in the process I mounted the tread in the opposite direction from the rear. I’m sure that will bother me enough that I’ll fix it at some point.

With the wheels back in the frame, I dug the Deore brakes out of the toolbox along with the needed tools — not forgetting the grease! It was easy enough to remove the old brakes. I’d installed reusable cable tips during the refurbish project so I removed these and carefully set them aside (and only dropped one in the dirty water in the gutter along the way).

After putting some grease on the brake posts, I took some time installing the new (old?) brakes. To get the spring in the right retaining hole, I had to loosen the brake pads and rotate them out of the way. Then I took care positioning the pads to make sure they closed on the center of the rim, without rubbing the fat tires.

After some adjustment, the front brake feels satisfyingly firm. The rear is a bit squishy. I probably need to redo the cable run from the top tube, around the seat post and into the noodle for the rear brake. I probably need a shorter noodle in the process. And I think the brake cables could probably use a bit of cleaning and lube as well. But all that is for another day.


The final weight of the bike, with the new bottle cages and the clamp for the pump, is a full 900g more than previously. That’s just about the advertised weight of the new tires, so I’m guessing that (in addition to the bottle cages, which weren’t included in the “before” weight) the larger inner tubes add a healthy share to the weight.

After the weigh-in I took Dionysus off the stand and carefully set up the money shot. The moment I sent it to Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn, they replied, “How does it ride?” It was after 4 p.m. when I finished the work. Still enough sunshine for a spin around the block, but I didn’t have the energy for it. I’ll try to get the motivation to commute by bike this week, and that may be all the riding I get in for a few days yet. One thing I’ll be eager to see is whether the fatter tires tame Dionysus’s squireliness.

For the moment I’m content with the new look.

Amazing act of planning ahead

Bicycle kit, helmet, water bottles and bright yellow pannier piled together on dark wooden floor

José and I have a ride this weekend that has been some weeks in the planning. The forecast has been changing daily, but as I write this it looks like it will be sunny and fair on Saturday, with a good chance of rain later in the day on Sunday. Nana says we’ll be fine on the return as long as we set out early.

Nana has also made a reservation for Korean barbecue tomorrow, which implies a fair amount of shochu consumption. In light of that, and much to my surprise, I’ve begun preparations tonight. I’ve packed a full complement of civvies, plus a change of essentials for the second day of riding; charging cables; the hotel information; my vaccination record; and some basic toiletries. And a rain jacket, just in case.

From the depths of the toolbox

Bicycle with bright yellow panniers on balcony with cityscape in background

I’m taking advantage of a three-day weekend to do some cleaning and light maintenance in preparation for a short tour next weekend. (For which the forecast is now rain, but I digress … )

Kuroko hasn’t been washed in quite a while, and I decided this was time to remove all the gunk and residue from the wet lube I’ve been using and switch to a general-use lube. Following my experience making the same switch with Dionysus, I knew my job would be a lot easier if I left the cogs soaking overnight in degreaser. And that really did the trick.

After the overnight soak it took just a few minutes with a stiff brush to remove all the gunk and grime, leaving me with (mostly) shiny cogs. I applied fresh grease to the hub and locknut, and then spent a couple of minutes fitting it all together again. Then it was back on the bike for some derailleur adjustment and the application of the new lube.

Getting ready to tour

For the overnight tour next weekend, I decided to use the panniers — one at least — rather than a backpack. While the gears were soaking yesterday I mounted the rack which has been sitting on the balcony since … with a start I realized it’s been since I returned from England three years ago. Today, after giving the bike a very quick washing, I dug up the panniers from the very bottom of the toolbox where they’ve been all this time. Unlike the rack (which has had to brave the elements), they look fresh, almost new.

I wasn’t sure if the saddlebag would fit over the rack. It’s not really necessary if I have the panniers, although it is convenient. It was a near thing, but it fits without rubbing (at least when it’s not crammed full), and that’s a good thing because I can use the saddlebag without having to remove the rack on rides when I’m not using the panniers (most days).

I’ve got plans for some longer rides again in the future, and a few more modifications to Kuroko in preparation. But for now, this will be perfect for an overnight trip.

Slow lap around Tokyo

I didn’t post last weekend’s short ride with José. I’d been thinking about riding to Yokohama until I realized the marathon was running the same day, and right over a good portion of our route. After considering the options, I decided the tour of the Tokyo landmarks was more appealing than another jaunt on the Tamagawa cycling course.

We didn’t press hard, and we took our time over lunch at Big Sight. We parted ways at Budokan, which is just a short sprint from José’s flat. Based on a riding time of 3:14:27, I averaged 18.9km/h. The ride brought my total for October to 518km, a level I haven’t broached since May.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Great day for a slow lap

Checking the weather forecast for next weekend on a daily basis now with fingers crossed!

Gummed up

Dionysus has been giving a bit of trouble shifting recently, particularly not being able to stay in the lowest gear, which is important when I’m working my way up the St. Antonio climb on the way home from the office.

I’d also noticed a flap of rubber hanging from the rear tire, and had torn it off on a recent ride. I have a new set of much wider tires ready to go on, and I’m basically waiting for these very good Contis to wear out.

I brought Dionysus up to the Workshop in the Sky on Saturday and had a close look. First, try as I might, I couldn’t find the spot on the rear tire where I’d torn off the hanging flap. There’s a bit of age cracking in the tread of both tires, but they’re both basically very sound. So I haven’t yet swapped out for the wider tires (which I’m not even sure are going to fit — they’re that much wider).

On the shifting issue, the first thing I did was put the chain gauge on. I wasn’t expecting significant wear as I’ve probably put on less than 3,000km since the great rebuild (and 1,000 of that was Fearless Leader Joe in a single month), but the gauge said the chain was half worn out. I decided it was best to replace it, and ordered a new chain. Rather than going with the stock SRAM part this time, I decided to give KMC a try. I’ve read good things about them, and I found a stylish chain at a slight discount to the SRAM price and available for immediate delivery.

After removing the old chain and using it as a guide to cut the new chain to length, I decided to clean up the rear cogs. I’ve been using a wet chain lube since returning from England, where my standard lube had washed off after the first encounter with rain, leaving me with a grinding, poorly shifting and dirty chain. The problem with the wet lube is it attracts every last speck of dirt and grime on the road, and it doesn’t let go.

I filled a bucket with water and degreaser and set to work on the gears with a stiff brush. And after a while, I found I wasn’t removing the caked-on gunk. It was hard to tell at times because the gears were coated black, and the gunk was blending in. But after some time spent scrubbing, I decided to leave the largest gears soaking in the degreaser solution for a day or two while I had a quick jaunt up a local mountain on my main squeeze, Kuroko.

As I scrubbed at the sprockets, silver teeth emerged in places. I had to check to make sure: they had originally been black. The coating has come off with wear. If they’d been silver, it meant I’d have a lot more scrubbing to do.

The sprockets that I’d left soaking in degreaser had come clean easily. The smaller sprockets that I hadn’t left to soak (because I’m an idiot) required a bit more attention with a shop towel soaked in degreaser. When I was satisfied, I rinsed all the cogs in clear water and then used degreaser to remove the packing grease from the new chain. I rinsed that as well and then left it all to dry on a newspaper.

Meanwhile I cleaned and regreased the freehub body. When everything had dried for a couple of hours in the sun, I put the cogs back on the freehub and tightened the lot down.

Detail of bicycle showing new chain
Shiny and new

It was a bit of a chore installing the new chain. There are a couple of specialist tools for this task which I don’t have: one which holds both ends of the chain together while I install the quick link, and another which tightens the quick link into place. Instead I struggled to hold the chain ends together while piecing the quick link together. It took a fair few tries before I got it right, and then I rotated the chain so the quick link was on the upper run, and stomped on the pedal to snap it tight.

I’ll be sure I have both those tools to hand before I try that operation again.

With the new chain in place, I still had to lubricate it and then readjust the rear derailleur. After studying some reviews, I got a new, all-purpose lube (meaning neither wet nor dry), and it went on smoothly.

The adjustment process was a bit more fraught. I spent some time balancing between having the chain securely in place on the lowest (largest) gear and yet having it shift smoothly and quietly while on the highest (smallest) gears. After several attempts and adjusting the limits, the B screw and the cable tension, I struck a compromise of sorts. I absolutely need the chain to be secure on the lowest gear for the St. Antonio climb and its ilk. I mostly use the mid-range gears and seldom work my way up into the highest gears. (Fearless Leader Joe, with his drastically slower cadence, may have some disagreement here.) So for the highest three gears, I was willing to accept some noise but still having reliable shifting.

I’m hoping that with some use, things will settle in a bit more. If not, it may be time to replace the rear cogs — although from the kilometers ridden I’d still say it’s too early.

The bike still needs a washing — Nana had laundry on the balcony today, including my riding clothes — and I want to get rust converter onto those bad rust spots until I have a chance for another repaint.