With typhoons battering western Japan and on-and-off rain in Tokyo, today was a good day for some maintenance. I had a few things I wanted to accomplish today:
Seal the weeping sidewalls
Replace the squeaky brake pads
Wash my dirty bike
Those darn weeping sidewalls
Ever since I finally succeeded in converting Kuroko to tubeless, she’s been plagued by weeping sidewalls. I pump the tires up to 50-60psi, and within a few hours they’re at 20 or lower. This morning the tires felt firm enough to roll Kuroko up from the basement garage to the elevator on 1F, but when I got the pump on there wasn’t even enough pressure to move the needle.
With the wheels off the bike, I shook and swirled them around a bit to listen for the sloshing of liquid sealant inside. Once I confirmed there was plenty of sealant, I pumped each tire up to 50psi. Immediately I heard leaking from pinholes in the sidewalls. By holding the wheels flat and swirling them from side to side, I was able to slosh the sealant over the pinholes and the hissing immediately stopped. Beads of fresh sealant appeared where it was filling up the pinholes.
As I’ve got Dionysus now for commuting (if there are any non-rainy days this week), the earliest I’ll be riding Kuroko is next weekend. So I’ll keep her on the balcony this week and try to repeat the inflate-and-swirl procedure at least once a day to try to finally put an end to the weeping.
I should have been doing this during the three weeks of August that I didn’t ride at all …
Those darn howling discs
The brakes have been a lot quieter since my unintentional ride in the rain, but there’s still been the occasional squeal. Although the brake pads had plenty of wear left in them, I decided to switch (back) to resin (organic) pads, which are much less prone to squealing.
I’ve changed the pads on a couple of occasions before, first when I returned home from Lejog, so I know the routine. It’s quite easy to remove the retaining pin and push out the old pads.
There was some odd wear on the lower corners of the outboard rear pad. After a couple of minutes of thought I realized it was probably caused by me not being careful enough to line up the disc when I’m putting the wheel back in place. I’ll have to take more care in future. (I’m usually concentrating on the opposite side, getting the chain on the cogs and getting the derailleur out of the way.)
It took just a few more seconds to insert the new pads, and then I spent a couple of minutes adjusting the brakes. On the stand, they’re silent. It will be a few days at least before I can get the pads bedded in and then we’ll see about the noise situation.
Kuroko sat like that in the basement parking for three weeks and then I rode her as is to Yokohama and back last weekend. But today, with the bicycle already up in the Workshop in the Sky, I didn’t have any excuse. In fact, the pressure washer was already filled up with water. So I got out the spray cleanser and brushes and went to work.
I think I did a bit better job than usual this time. Pretty pleased with the results. I also scrubbed the saddlebag, which mostly protects my back from the mud flung up by the rear wheel.
I actually forgot one important step until I started writing this blog: cleaning and oiling the chain. I got out on the balcony after lunch and took care of that.
Not perfect yet
There are still a couple of things to take care of. The issue with the front shifter is back, and with a vengeance. This would have been another great project for last month when I basically wasn’t cycling (but I was extremely busy). And there’s a tear in the handlebar tape which isn’t really a problem at all, but I’ll probably redo the tape when I get around to fixing the front shifter.
Bonus handyman content
Several months ago, Nana dropped one of the cooking pots and dented it. The pot was still perfectly usable, except that the lid no longer fit.
I’ve been meaning to get to it for some time. So today after I’d finished with Kuroko, I wrapped a cloth around the mallet and gave the pot a few good whacks. It actually bends far more easily than I’d expected, and in the end, after testing the fit against the lid, I ended up giving it a couple of taps in the opposite direction.
The result is pleasing: the lid is a good fit once again. In fact, when I showed the pot to Nana she didn’t realize what I’d done until I put the lid on it and showed her how it fit.
(I know — I need to clean up that lid a lot better!)
Just four days after filling the tires up to 45psi, they were down to less than 20. In fact, as I discovered in Itako, they would lose that much in just five or six hours.
I’d got a hypo for the sealant with a valve that is supposed to let me add the sealant without removing the tire valve. But I couldn’t get it to work out, and the result was a bit of a mess (as can be seen). So I removed the valve from the hypo and the valve from the tire, and things were pretty straightforward after that. I tried to give each tire about 90ml, but when I poured the sealant into the top of the hypo it just flowed right through into the tire. So anyway, I added a lot more to each tire.
I wanted to get a picture of using the hypo to add the sealant through the valve, but — have I mentioned this yet? — the process is a bit messy. Besides, despite my considerable achievements over the years, I still have only two hands.
After reinflating the tires to 60psi, I immediately heard the hissing of air escaping. After spinning the tires around for a few seconds, the hissing stopped and beads of white latex appeared where the tires were seated on the rims.
After a bit more spinning, I noticed small beads of latex seeping through the sidewalls, sealing up the tiny holes there. I’d heard these tires were known for the weeping sidewalls, so it’s good to see the sealant doing the job here.
With the tires sorted, it was time to do something about the grime. Before breaking out the cleanser and brushes, though, I decided to record some of the mud for posterity.
After a few minutes with the cleanser, brushes and sprayer, the bike was looking a lot better (if not quite perfect).
I got a new chain cleaner because the clasp on the previous one wasn’t holding together any more. This Park Tool beauty works a lot better, with a lot less spitting of the degreaser.
During a recent bit of maintenance, I rearranged the bidons on Kuroko, moving one from the seat tube to under the drop tube in order to free up some space in the main triangle. As I noted at the time, the bidon under the drop tube is subject to having a lot more mud and grit splashed into the mouth, and I would be looking for solutions to the problem.
One of the challenges in fitting Kuroko for water bottles is that her frame is quite small. Not only is the main triangle a tight fit, but there’s very little clearance between the front wheel and the drop tube, even with the new, slightly narrower tires. In fact, at low speeds in tight corners, I have to be careful that my toes don’t bump into the front tire.
In my quest to find bidons with covered mouths — but without increasing the height — I soon came across the CamelBak Dirt series. They looked ideal: bottles in the same size as what I’ve got on Kuroko, but with covered mouths. I checked the capacity carefully to make sure of the match: 21 oz. Amazon had them in stock in black (dark grey), and so I soon had a matched pair winging its way to my house.
As the picture makes clear, though, the new bottles are significantly taller than the current ones. What I overlooked in my eagerness is the fact the Dirt series are insulated. Normally, this is a good thing. Kuroko’s non-insulated, dark grey bottles quickly heat up on sunny days to the point the water is not refreshing; in fact it’s warmer than body temperature! Unfortunately, as the picture clearly shows, the insulated bottles must be larger on the outside to achieve the same capacity (and CamelBak does not offer a smaller capacity).
Taking a deep breath
There was nothing for it but to try the fit. And, as expected (once I saw the larger bottle size), there’s just not enough room under the drop tube — much as I like the look.
So how about putting one of the new lids, with the covered mouth, onto the current bottle? That works just fine. Running with mismatched bottles, on the other hand — sacrilege!
This would also imply drinking from the lower bottle first, at least on hot, sunny days, before the water warms up. The insulated bottle above should remain cool for a couple of hours longer at least.
And so now I’m faced with a number of choices:
Ignore the derision of the Velominati and continue with mismatched bidons.
Swap the lid for the other bidon as well and have matched, non-insulated bidons with protected mouths.
Move the spare bidon to the fork (plenty of mounting points, but resulting in asymmetry — unless I mount a third bidon … ) or a handlebar mount.
Move the tire pump to another location, thus freeing up space in the main triangle for two insulated, “Dirt” series bidons.
I’m sure other options will occur to me as I allow this thought to fester …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Back to the chain
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
I cut a new length of cable housing, erring on the side of having it a bit too long this time.
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.
We had beautiful weather today for the debut of Dionysus, née Ol’ Paint, born from Zeus’s thigh. For the first ride I didn’t want anything too challenging, nor did I want to stray far from civilization (in case of mechanicals), and so I chose my standard Tokyo Landmarks route. And I’m happy to say that apart from some adjusting, everything went smoothly.
In preparation for the ride, I got my cycling omamori out of Kuroko’s bag and attached it to the handlebars. I’m sure we were being watched over for today’s ride.
With the prep done, I chucked the bike over the railing of the Workshop in the Sky. Fortunately, there’s a reflecting pond immediately below. Well, actually 33 stories down … (OK, so actually we called the building management to let us use the freight elevator.) Then I had to wait about half an hour for the Halfakid to join me, despite the fact he’d said he was on his way more than half an hour previously. Anyway, we met up, set the GPS, and started on our way.
As soon as I mounted up, I was struck by how squirrelly the steering is. This has always been the case. The Marin Miurwoods is a city bike, with a steep head angle and small, 26-inch wheels, to allow rapid maneuvering in traffic. As a part of the rebuild, I’ve given Dionysus narrower handlebars, which only exaggerate this tendency. (Narrower bars means the same amount of hand movement results in more turning of the wheel.) By contrast, Kuroko’s steering is stable and easy. So I realized I’d need to pay constant attention to the steering. It’s not a fault, as such (it’s by design), but it’s a strong contrast.
We soon came to our first stop of the day at Meiji Jingu Gaien. While I was taking photos, the Halfakid was lathering on sunblock. The sun was strong and bright today, the skies blue and full of fluffy white clouds. Traffic was light but certainly not non-existent.
After Gaien, our course takes us to the state guesthouse (Akasaka Palace), then a sweeping downhill to Akasaka Mitsuke, and then the first real climb of the day up to Nagatacho. Here I encountered a problem with the derailleur, which just didn’t want to stay in the lowest three gears. It kept trying to jump back upwards. I made it to the top of the climb, but when we got to the palace moat at Sakuradamon, I called a short break while I increased the tension in the shifter cable.
The adjustment did the trick as we came to another climb shortly thereafter, up to Roppongi, and I was able to keep in the lower gears this time around.
Following a brief stop in a park to top up our water bottles, we soon came to the Imperial Palace. Again, traffic was light, but it was far from a ghost town. Many cyclists and joggers were out, and perhaps half were not wearing masks (as we did not).
The wind picked up as we passed through the financial district and headed past the Tsukiji fish market (now closed) and out towards Tokyo Big Sight. Dionysus was behaving perfectly, responding nimbly to my touch and accelerating quickly. I’ve always had an issue with finger numbness after spending more than half an hour on Ol’ Paint, but there was none of that today. The narrower handlebars are doing the job. I did get some fatigue in my wrists, though, so I know that Kuroko (with her drop bars) will still be my choice for longer rides and tours.
Harumi Bridge over the Sumida River is one of the longer climbs on this ride. While the Halfakid rocketed past me, I dropped into successively lower gears. This time Dionysus stuck to the gear I’d chosen, and I caught up with the Halfakid at the top of the bridge’s arch in short order.
Following our lunch of Nana’s world-famous onigiri, we paralleled the Sumida River upstream (although mostly in traffic, with lots of red lights) until we reached Sakura Bridge, with Tokyo Skytree in the background. We were both fine on remaining water and so continued on.
The course then passes near Sensoji, the famous Asakusa Shrine, although not directly in front of it. We continued in traffic until Ueno, where we climbed a steep bridge over the rail lines to reach Ueno Park. Then another big climb to reach Todai, the famous Tokyo University. From there it’s a sweeping downhill to Tokyo Dome (where we didn’t stop to take pictures) and then after a few more turns and traffic lights, the climb up Kudanzaka to Budokan and the gorgeous Chidorigafuchi moat. (Sad to say all the cherry blossoms have passed for another year.)
After Budokan it’s more up and down through Hanzomon and Kojimachi, and then all traffic back through Yotsuya and Shinjuku to home. I bid goodbye to the Halfakid at the corner and rolled into our building half an hour before I’d told Nana I would be home. (The Halfakid went on to circle around Komazawa Olympic Park and ride down to Tamagawa and back, racking up 100km total.)
Happy with that
There were no mechanicals today aside from the shifter cable adjustment — soon taken care of — and a little tightening of the brakes. That’s an astoundingly good first ride. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Dionysus has a very different character from Kuroko (and somewhat different from Ol’ Paint, for that matter). The tires are very narrow and the wheels light, which makes for fast acceleration and easy climbing (a bit more easy, anyway). The steering, as noted, is twitchy, although it’s soon got used to. The seating is rather more upright than Kuroko, obviously, and for me at least is going to be less comfortable in the long haul. But for what I intend this bike for — commuting, perhaps the occasional climb, and a bike to lend to guests — it’s perfect. For my usual weekend rides and longer tours, I’ll be sticking with Kuroko.