The struggle is real

Bike bag zipper open showing shop towel over bike chain and wheel

I’m spending my day off work on important tasks like getting a clean bill of heath from the doctor and packing up Kuroko in the carry bag for an upcoming trip.

Bicycle in stand with extra wheels in background
Four tires, one wheel drive

Kuroko of course is right where I’d left her after sorting out the slow leak in the rear tire. Before disturbing her rest, though, I reviewed my notes from a previous use of this bag: Yes, I needed to remove the pedals. No, I didn’t have to remove the handlebars, and it was better if I didn’t, but it makes things very tight.

Cycle bag laid out flat on floor
This should be easy, right?

After getting the bag from the closet, I had a go at the pedals. It’s easier when both wheels are on the bike, but I thought I might be able to get the job done with Kuroko in the stand as she was. I was fine, once I remembered which hand was my right hand (for the drive-side pedal), and that the non-drive-side pedal is left-hand threaded.

Hex wrench, pedals and work gloves on paper towel
Bigger wrench helps

I have a pulley I took off a dummy hub I almost never use, and it’s the perfect thing to keep some tension on the chain and derailleur when I’ve got the rear wheel off the bike for transport.

Bicycle rear thruaxle with dummy hub
It’s not just the balcony that needs cleaning

And just like that, the pedals were off and the dummy hub on. The next step was to lower the saddle, which was tricky as the bike was held in the stand by the seat post. With the saddle down, it was just a matter of persuading the bike into the bag.

Bike bag zipper open showing shop towel over bike chain and wheel
Can I zip it up?

Based on my previous experience with the bag, I let most of the air out of the tires. I’m a little concerned this will allow the beads to unseat and I won’t be able to reinflate them when we arrive at our destination. In the worst case, I’ve got spare inner tubes I can put in to get the bike rolling.

Even with the tires deflated and the seat pushed all the way down — and despite the fact it’s a small frame — it’s still a tight fit in the bag. It took some pulling to get the zipper done up. But it’s all done now and I can concentrate on packing the rest of the things I’m going to carry for trip.

Bike in bag propped up in corner
And you can stay there and think about what you’ve done

Gettin’ the hang of this

Using a syringe to add latex sealant to a bicycle tire

Hot on the heels of Thursday’s success in tracking down and fixing a slow leak, I returned to the balcony this cloudy but mild Saturday morning to see if I could mount the final tire — the spare front wheel that I’d had no luck with a couple of weeks ago.

Checking tire pressure with digital gauge
New toy

I’ve been out on the balcony a few times since Thursday to give the newly fixed tire a squeeze and a few bounces. This morning I decided to give my new toy a try. The pressure showed nearly 52psi, satisfyingly close to the 60psi I’d inflated the tire to when I was finished on Thursday.

Bicycle tire pump gauge
Sanity check

Just as a sanity check, I attached the tire pump. The reading was in fair agreement, particularly considering that attaching the tire pump usually results in a small loss of air.

That done, I put that wheel to one side and pulled out the spare front wheel, the one with the dynamo hub. This has been sitting with the tire on but not sealed since I first tried to mount it two weeks ago. It’s also the one I scavenged the valve from for Thursday’s fix, so the first order of business was to insert a new valve.

Bicycle tire, valve core and valve core tool
New valve in, core removed

With the valve in and the core removed, I pumped up the air reservoir, soaped up the tire and rim, and attached the pump head. The first go just resulted in a lot of air whooshing out of the pump and through the valve, and there wasn’t even enough bubbling anywhere to give me something to investigate. So I just charged up the pump once again and soaped up the tire, and let it rip. This time there was progress. The tire didn’t pop onto the rim, but it held the air for a few seconds, expanding all around the circumference. Large soap bubbles appeared all around the rim, showing that we were close to a seal.

Third time’s a charm — nearly

Soapy bicycle tire with pump attached
Charming lack of bubbles

On the third try (pump up reservoir, lather up tire all around the rim), there was a satisfying Pop! Success! I quickly worked to add sealant to the tire.

Using a syringe to add latex sealant to a bicycle tire
Latex infusion

At that point I thought I was good, and so inserted the valve core and pumped up the tire — or tried to.

Digital pressure gauge with bicycle wheel in background
High and tight

I could quickly see I wasn’t getting anywhere. So once again I removed the core, charged up the reservoir and gave it the business. This time I was rewarded with a couple of very sharp Pops!

Elated, I once again inserted the valve core and pumped up the tire. It was holding air this time. By the time I got up to about 40psi, I could hear some leaking. So I removed the pump head and picked the tire up to swirl the sealant around inside. After a few seconds of swirling, the hissing of leaking air stopped, and I resumed pumping up the tire to 60psi (or thereabouts).

As always, I finished up the job with more swirling of the sealant, a few bounces of the tire on the balcony floor, and a close inspection of the bead all the way around to make sure it’s evenly seated. Done!

Four for four

I’m now four for four on tubeless tires seated to Kuroko’s wheels — the main set and the spares. I have plans for the spares, which have a somewhat more aggressive tread pattern than the slicks on the main wheels, but they’re not quite ripe. In the meantime, I picked up the spare rear, the one I’d seated the tire on two weeks ago. It was noticeably soft, and yet was holding air. I decided to top it up again and call it a day.

Digital tire pressure gauge
A wee bit low

Bicycle in stand with extra wheels in background
Four tires, one wheel drive

(I have more time today. I could probably clean up some of those old tires … )

Rotten to the core

Bicycle wheel with tire pump attached

Here we go again

Overall Kuroko’s new Panaracer tires have been a huge improvement over the René Herse skins with their weeping sidewalls. But a few days after I first got the GravelKings on, I noticed the rear had a slow leak. It would be fine for the course of a ride, but over a couple of days it would lose most of its pressure. If I left the bike sitting for a week, it would be totally flat.

I’ve let it go for a few weeks because I was fine with topping the tire up before each ride, but I knew that I wanted to sort it out sometime. As this afternoon was warm and wind-free, and I had some free time on my hands, I knew this was the perfect chance for some maintenance.

Bicycle tire resting on bucket of water
Not quite what I envisaged

The time-tested method for finding a slow leak is to inflate the tire and immerse it in water. I pumped the tire up to its limit, filled the bucket to the brim with water, and … the result was laughably unlike what I had envisaged. I suppose I could use the bathtub, but I could imagine Nana’s reaction when I carried the wheel into the bathroom, even after I promised to clean the tub when I was done. Instead, I filled the bucket with soap suds and used a brush to lather the suds all around the tire where it meets the rim.

Soap bubbes emerging from bike tire valve

I inspected the rim carefully all around the bead on both sides of the tire. I didn’t find what I was looking for, and so I lathered up the tire again and had another look. Around and around and … nothing! I set the tire on the floor and pondered my next step. The bathtub suggestion kept peeking its head out from the corners of my thoughts. And then I saw it! Bubbles forming around the valve core!

I took off the valve cap, lathered up the valve again and watched: no mistake, the valve was the source of the leak.

With the source of the leak identified, I quickly loosened the valve core to inspect it. (Note to self: Let the air out of the tire first next time.) There was a bit of grime and latex sealant stuck to it, so I spent some time cleaning it up until it was spotless. I also tried to clean out the valve stem with some twisted paper towel. Then I reinserted the core in the valve and filled the tire.

Once again, the soap bubbles betrayed the leaky valve. I used the tool to make sure the valve core was in as tight as it would go, but it made no difference. The bubbling continued to grow as the air continued to leak.

OK, I have a spare

In order to replace the valve, I needed to remove the tire — at least partly. I worked the tire levers with care to avoid spilling the latex sealant inside the tire. I was mostly successful. Of course a little seeped out onto the rim, but it cleaned up quickly with some paper towel. And I only needed to remove one side to get the valve out.

Bicycle tire half removed from rim showing liquid latex sealant inside
Not a huge amount left

There was not quite as much sealant left inside the tire as I imagined. This allowed me to work without creating a huge mess, but I think I should probably add some more before I get a puncture.

I’m sure if I were to search through the parts bin I could come up with several spare valves, but the first thing that came to mind was the one I’ve got on the spare front wheel, which has been sitting unused on the balcony since my return from England nearly two years ago now. I’d put a new valve in a couple of weeks ago in preparation for mounting a new tire, but as I haven’t seated the new tire yet, it was a moment’s work to get the valve out and insert it into this rim.

Tire levers, tire valve and valve core
The new core (top) and the bad old valve (center left)

With the new valve in place, it was the work of a minute to get the tire back on the rim, wipe up the leaking latex, and prepare for inflation.


I charged up the air reservoir, connected the pump head and turned the tap. Immediately the tire gave a satisfying Pop! Two more, louder Pops! followed in quick succession as the tire seated itself on the rim. I hastily removed the pump, screwed in the valve core, and then inflated the tire once again. In about a minute I was lathering up the new valve and looking for leaks.

Bicycle tire with large soap bubble behind valve
OK now it’s leaking in a new spot

Immediately I noticed some bubbling around the valve, but this time from a new location. With the old valve, the bubbles had been forming around the valve core at the end of the stem. This time the bubbles were coming from the base, where the valve emerged from the rim.

Bicycle tire with small soap bubbles around valve

I picked up the wheel and swirled it around, allowing the sealant to coat the interior in every possible location. After a few seconds of swirling, I set the wheel down and once again lathered up the valve. This time no new bubbles formed. I waited a minute or two, reapplied the soapy water and watched: no new bubbles!

I’m not going anywhere the next couple of days. I’m going to check the tire again tomorrow. If it’s low again I’ll remove the valve core and add some sealant (which I forgot to do in my haste after the tire inflated with the new valve) and try once again. Regardless, I’m confident Kuroko will be better off now that I’ve disposed of that rotten old valve core.

Laughing (to keep from crying)

Soap bubbles show air escaping from bicycle tire

The day dawned cloudy and wet, but by noon it was warm with hints of sunshine. I decided to have a go at mounting the tire on my newly rebuilt wheel.

Box of Schwalbe Doc Blue Professional tire sealant
Always the last place you look

I found the bottle of tire sealant right away, just where I expected to find it in the tool box. But it was nearly empty. I knew I’d bought another bottle, and so I started looking for it. I looked, and I looked, and … I took everything out of the toolbox, and didn’t find any sign of it. Then I remembered that I kept a number of bicycle things in a box in my den, as well as in an empty suitcase. The sealant was not in the box, and it was not in the suitcase.

I returned to the toolbox, and emptied it all out again. Nothing. It was a real head-scratcher. I was putting everything back in the toolbox, rearranging a few things as I went, and I was about to stick a small box back into a stack of boxes when I realized I didn’t know what was in the box. Wouldn’t you know it … I’d been looking for a black plastic bottle all along, and I hadn’t removed it from the box.

Bicycle wheel with tire pump attached to valve
Charged up for the first attempt

With all the necessary bits in order, I filled a pan with soapy water which I brushed all around the tire bead. I charged up the air reservoir to 120psi, attached the head to the valve and let it go. A lot of hissing, a lot of soap bubbles, but not much luck. The bead was near to seating but it was leaking all the way around.

Bicycle wheel and valve core tool
Valve core out

While I was resting up from the attempt, I looked around at the items I’d prepared, and I realized I hadn’t removed the valve core before trying. That was a moment’s work, and then I pumped up the reservoir again and soaped up the tire bead once more. This time when I opened the valve there was a lot of bubbling and then … it held. I hadn’t heard a loud pop when the beads seated, but the tire was holding some air.

Soap bubbles show air escaping from bicycle tire
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

I worked quickly then, superstitious that if I didn’t finish the job quickly, the seal wouldn’t hold. I removed the pump head and added sealant in through the valve. Then I replaced the valve core and inflated the tire again. This time I was rewarded with a couple of loud pops … the beads were fully seated.

Using a syringe to add sealant to a bicycle tireBicycle tire leaning against balcony railing
Sealant in, air in

Done! I swirled the sealant around the newly inflated tire to allow it to reach all areas of the bead. Nothing left to do but check that the beads were seated evenly.

Here’s where the crying part comes in

As part of seating a newly installed tire, I like to bounce it sharply against the ground a few times as I rotate it. While I was doing this I thought I heard something loose. I picked up the wheel and shook it. Something rattled. Not the sound of the latex sealant sloshing around, but a definite rattle.

The realization dawned on me with horror. When I removed the most recent broken spoke, I’d dropped the spoke nipple inside the rim. I had spent some time trying to rattle it out and then gave up, figuring I’d take care of it when I was ready to rebuild the wheel. Then, a couple of months later when all the parts were ready and I had time to set out on the rebuild, I’d shaken the rim to get the nipple out, and there was nothing. I remember at the time I’d shaken the rim more than a little bit and given it a few slaps, but there was no rattle. I’d shrugged my shoulders, figuring the nipple had fallen out by luck when I’d stuck the rim out on the balcony.

There was not a peep from the lost nipple the entire time I rebuilt and trued the wheel. But now it’s back. And it definitely needs to come out. With luck I’ll be able to get it out via the valve hole and not have to remove all the rim tape. But it’s going to be a mess with all that latex to deal with.

If I have any luck, the tire will go on more easily the second time around.


Rather than deal with the loose nipple right away, I decided to put the wheel aside again and have a go at mounting the other tire on the spare front wheel. I’d already prepped the rim with fresh tape and a valve, and I spent a couple of minutes wrestling the new tire into place.

Bicycle tire halfway mounted on rimBicycle wheel covered in soapy water and attached to pump
Soaped and ready

I gave the new tire the ol’ college try. Each time it seemed like it was about to get seated, but I was just blowing bubbles.

Soap bubbles showing air escaping from bicycle tire
Blowing bubbles

The tire is still a bit mishappen from having been folded up in the packaging, so it might be easier to let it sit for a week and then give it another try. These are spare wheels, after all, so there’s no real rush to get the job done.

Papa’s got a brand new bag

My last bit of maintenance for the day was to replace the cockpit bag on Kuroko. There’s nothing really wrong with the current bag except it doesn’t leave enough room in front of the saddle when I dismount. Nothing dangerous, just makes things a bit tight. The new bag is a few centimeters shorter, which should make a world of difference.

Detail of cockpit bag on bicycle
Fat Wally’s gotta go

Detail of cockpit bag on bicycle
Sukoshi more room in the crutch

I took everything out of the old bag — tissues, alcohol wipes, tire patches, minitool and omamori — and put it all in the new bag. With all that, my phone just fit. I’m not sure if my wallet will fit in as well. I’ve got a ride planned tomorrow and we’ll see if the change is worthwhile.

Not winning any design awards

Edge view of homemade cardboard box showing unintentional rhomboid shape

Today’s project is not related to cycling. I needed a box to send a small gift overseas, so I decided to fabricate one myself from an empty beer carton.

Montage of hand-drawn plans for cardboard box and empty beer carton
Initial plan vs beer carton

Diagram on beer carton showing use as a dispenser
Folds and perforations

I had a pretty good idea how I wanted to go about it, but I searched for some plans as a reference. After measuring the gift I made a rough sketch.

Unfortunately for my plans, the beer carton has a number of unexpected folds and half-perforated lines, to make it easy to use as a dispenser and to fold up for recycling. I realized I’d be better off making the box lid as a separate piece, and then I tried to line up the plans along the existing folds and perforations as much as possible.

Among my challenges were a complete lack of any kind of straightedge or cutting surface. (I guess these aren’t required in bicycle maintenance.) I used the edge of one of the cut-offs of the carton to draw lines, and I used the edge of my desk to make the folds. I scribed shallow grooves along some of the folds, but these ended up going nearly through the material when the fold was made, so I had to tape them up carefully to hold the whole thing together.

Montage of measuring, marking, cutting and folding cardboard
Making do with the tools at hand

After taping up the box bottom, I made a trial fit. I was pleased with the results.

Montage of taping up a cardboard box and trying the contents for the fit
Taping and fitting

No one was more surprised than I when the box lid fit on the first go!

Montage of hand-cut cardboard box lid and trial fitting
Robert Gair spinning in his grave

In the end I was very satisfied with my handiwork, even though (as stated at the outset) it’s unlikely to win any design awards. The fit was good enough there was no need of any packing inside.

Edge view of homemade cardboard box showing unintentional rhomboid shape
Not winning any design awards

Now let’s see if it survives the international post!

Project No. 2

Cartridge water filter in plastic wrapper
March is filter changing month

The other thing on my to-do list this weekend was to replace the water filter for the kitchen sink. We were very pleased to learn our new flat came with a built-in filter that only needs to be replaced once a year. We no longer have to fool around with Brita replacements and remembering to top up the pitcher and waiting for the filtration.

We pick up the order form from the lobby desk and fax it in (yes! This is Japan!), and a few days later the box arrives. And then it’s just a matter of moving the things out of the way under the kitchen sink to make the swap.

Smaller, lighter, more stable

Cockpit bag and musette on desk in front of laptop keyboard

The Fedex man brought my latest goodies today, a cockpit bag and a musette. I already have a cockpit bag, but this one is smaller to leave more room for my … more room when I dismount.

My phone juuuust fits in the bag. The true challenge will be when I put in the multitool, tissues, omamori, keys … It’s going to be a squeeze, but I expect it will be worth the effort.

Very lightweight musette
Very lightweight musette

I’ve also already got a musette, a canvas one that came as an entry prize for the Bike Tokyo event. I use it to carry my water bottles and Nana’s world-famous onigiri from our flat down to the bike garage (where I stow the bottles on the bike and the onigiri in the saddle bag).

This one, in addition to being lightweight and having a slightly larger capacity, closes with magic tape. It also has a stabilizer strap so it won’t slip around in front and tangle with my legs if I ride with it. As you can see above, it packs into a tiny case that can be strapped onto the bike frame.

The burning question

I know after seeing these photos, everyone is going to have the same question: does the musette fit back in that tiny case? Well … almost.

Musette refolded into pouch, on wooden desk
This is on the second try

The forecast is currently for rain on the weekend, so it may be a couple of weeks before these bags get their trial by fire.

Hub replacement

Bicycle hub, rim and spokes on a newspaper, ready for assembly

This poor wheel has seen a litany of mechanicals in its two-and-a-half-year life, and it’s all my fault. The trouble started several hundred kilometers into an ill-starred Lejog ride, when the rear derailleur got stuck in the four lowest cogs. In my haste to get the gears shifting again, I backed out the limit screws. There’s a reason I shouldn’t have done it, and sure enough, an hour or so later I ended up putting the chain into the spokes. The result was several broken and mangled spokes, and some galling of the hub flange. I’m still grateful to Ben the Amazing Wandering Bicycle Mechanic for showing up late in the evening with a truck full of tools and getting me back on the road.

Mechanic truing wheel on bike in parking lot
Ben’s mobile bike repair

Since that seminal mechanical, the following ignoble history of broken spokes has plagued the wheel:

That was the spoke that broke the camel’s back. After checking prices for a replacement hub and all 32 28 spokes, I bought a new rear wheel (and, incidentally, new tires). The new wheel and tires are working fine and I’m very pleased with the result.

But that rim with its broken spoke has remained sitting on the balcony, where I can see it every morning through the bedroom window. I kept looking at it, and the spare front wheel (the one with the dynamo hub that I bought for Lejog) and thinking how neat it would be to have a spare set of wheels. Just for … reasons. And so (even though it doesn’t make economic sense), I finally ordered a replacement hub and spokes. (Yes, and nipples.)

Step 1: Disassembly

Bicycle wheel on newspaper-covered floor
Wheel beginning

I realized I had to remove the rim tape first in order to remove the nipples. The tape put up more of a fight than I expected. That’s a good thing, because the tape has one job and it’s sticking to it!

Bicycle wheel with discarded rim tape and cutter on newspaper-covered floor
The rim tape put up a fight

To prevent the nipples from falling inside the rim as I removed them, I used my time-honored technique of threading a spare spoke in through the opposite end.

Montage showing the use of a spare spoke to remove nipples from a bicycle wheel
A spare spoke is an invaluable tool

I started with the drive side and removed all the nipples first. When I’d created some space, I started pulling out loose spokes.

Bicycle wheel with removed spokes and nipples on newspaper-covered floor
Making progress on the drive side

Some clown got the spoke wrench on crooked when he replaced a broken spoke a while back. The nipple was rounded off, and subsequent efforts to remove it with a pair of pliers resulted in a broken nipple! I saved this spoke for last, and then pushed it through the rim until I could get at the hex head on the nipple with the pliers. It took some work but I finally removed it.

Bicycle rim and hub with single spoke and broken nipple
Monkey with a spoke wrench

And with that, the disassembly is done. I kept the bits for the drive side (which I’d previously replaced) separate from the non-drive side (which are original), and I sequestered the broken nipple and corresponding spoke.

Parts for a bicycle wheel, including rim, hub, spokes and nipples, as well as gloves and tools
Bicycle wheel (some assembly required)

I still need to clean the old latex and tape residue off the rim before the rebuilding starts.

Bicycle rim with dried latex and tape residue
Some gunk remains

With all the spokes removed, the damage to the hub flange from the earlier spoke breakage is evident.

Bicycle hub showing damaged flange
Not supposed to be shiny

I haven’t decided yet what to do with the hub. I can reuse the freewheel body, and possibly the bearings. It will be a challenge to find some use for the remaining naked hub — it’s the wrong shape to make a novelty drink coaster.

Damaged bicycle hub on newspaper
This ol’ hub

Step 2: Reassembly

Nearly a month has passed since I disassembled the wheel. The hub, spokes and nipples arrived from Germany, but the package was torn and some nipples were missing. I’d ordered 30 (to have a couple of spares) and received 19. It took a week to get a response from the vendor, but they finally asked if I could get the replacement nipples locally, and they’d refund me the difference. I could and did — 100 nipples, in fact, with next-day delivery. I told the vendor of course they didn’t have to pay for 100, and they ended up refunding me 5 euros.

I got the replacement nipples on Jan. 26, and since then I’ve just been waiting for the right opportunity to get started.

Bicycle hub, rim and spokes on a newspaper, ready for assembly
Taking stock

A friend asked what the difference was between a wheel with 28 spokes and one with 32, and of course the answer is four spokes. Anyway, it’s a trade-off between strength and weight. His question made me curious enough to see what difference four spokes and nipples would make.

Four spokes and nipples on a scale
Answer: not a lot

That hardly seems worth the difference, especially when you consider that an extra four holes in the rim and hub will mean the difference is even less.

Before starting I had a brief refresher, particularly on the significance of the key spoke:

With that under my belt, I quickly set to work.

Hand holding a bicycle hub with a few spokes inserted
Key spoke at top right

Partially assembled bicycle wheel on a newspaper
The first seven

Bicycle rim held on edge to view the hub logo through the valve hole
Hub logo through the valve hole — the mark of a pro

The work proceeded quickly after that. I’d ordered slightly thicker spokes and laced them cross three (each spoke crosses three others between the hub and rim), rather than the original cross two, for extra strength. But once I got all the spokes in place, it was clear I’d made a miscalculation: the spokes were too long.

Bicycle wheel before spokes are tightened
Sam, you made the spokes too long

I could recalculate the spoke length and order new spokes, or I could try cross four (even stronger!) and see if the length worked out. Either way, I had to tear down the wheel again and start over.

Bicycle wheel disassembled
Back to the drawing board

I decided to give cross four a try. It was a fight to get the spokes in the right position without tangling their heads together in the hub flange, but I got there in the end.

Wheel newly laced before spokes are tightened
That’s more like it

Newly assembled wheel with tightened spokes
After 10 minutes with a spoke key

The final step in building a wheel is truing it. This is a repetitive process of tightening the spokes, checking the roundness of the wheel and the position of the rim between the hub ends, and checking the spoke tension. It is far more art than science (although I’ve seen videos of high-speed machines with high-tech measuring tools at a factory), and it helps to stop every so often and stress the spokes manually to get them to seat in. But we got there in the end.

Tight and true

Along the way, the monkey reappeared and rounded off another nipple. I’m happy to say it was easier this time to get the damaged nipple off, and I was able to replace it without having to disassemble the wheel yet again.

A pristine bicycle nipple next to a damaged one
Before and after monkey

With the wheel tight and true, I topped off the reassembly with fresh rim tape and a new valve.

Montage of bicycle wheel in truing stand
Taped and valved

Another day

The wheel is ready now for a brake disc, cassette and tire. I’m saving those steps for another day as it’s dark and cold out on the Workshop in the Sky, and it might be a bit of a fight to get the tubeless tire to mount. As this wheel is meant for a spare anyway, there’s no hurry.

Clean up and prep

Bicycle on balcony overlooking city

The weather was clear today, but cold and windy. I spent the time cleaning up and prepping both bikes.

When I last rode Kuroko, I noticed that my shiny clean cogs had turned black. I must have gone a bit overboard with the chain lube. So I had some cleaning to do. In addition to that, I’ve finally received the GoPro I ordered a month ago (thanks to my mother’s generous Christmas present), and so I wanted to mount that to the handlebars.

Photo montage showing various accessories on bicycle handlebars
Getting crowded up front

I’ve already got a lot going on Kuroko’s handlebars — light, bell and GPS — and space is at a premium. When I get around to retaping the bars, I’ll try to leave a bit more space. It was a tight squeeze and took a couple of trial fittings, but it just worked out in the end. (I may yet discover that this placement causes binding of the various cables during turns.)

Photo montage showing bicycle cogs before and after cleaning
From black to silver

The cogs weren’t as dirty as they look — it’s mostly just excess lube plus some road grit. I didn’t bother removing the cogs to clean them, but just used some degreaser and a brush, followed by a hosing down. I’m well pleased with the results.


I returned the clean and newly outfitted Kuroko to the basement parking and returned with Dionysus. I’ve only ridden Dionysus once since lending her to Fearless Leader Joe for his Saitama sojourn, and I noticed a catch in the crankset. Just a little bump, once on each pedal stroke.

I spent less than a minute verifying that the pedals were snug in the cranks, and the cranks on the spindle. So that left the spindle and bearings. At this point it could be loose bearings or worn-out bearings. And seeing there’s less than 1,500km since the bike was rebuilt, I was hoping for just loose.

The first order of business was removing the cranks. I found the correct size wrench, got some leverage and put my weight into it. There was the slightest of turns, and then nothing. Before putting too much force into the thing and damaging it, I decided to review the instructions and some videos. Notably, there are some left-hand threads among bottom brackets and pedals, and I wanted to make sure I was turning the right way on the crank. Vagueness abounds in the instructions and videos available (“left,” “right,” “clockwise,” etc. are fairly meaningless concepts in this regard as they all rely on one’s point of view), but I soon found a video that confirmed (a) it’s a right-hand thread, and (b) it might take quite a bit of force at first.

So reassured, I returned the bike. Following a suggestion from the video, I took a minute to remove the self-extracting screw and add a touch of grease between it and the crank bolt. Then I put the screw back in and really gave it my all. And after a couple of efforts, the bolt finally gave.

Hex wrench with broken handle
That’s not all that gave

As happens with these events, I mashed a knuckle against the chainstay when the bolt gave, and the wrench went flying. I was in for quite a surprise when I picked up the wrench: the handle had snapped clean through. I wasn’t even putting any force into the handle itself — this is the result of the flexing of the wrench under the load.

Photo montage of bicycle crankset disassembly
Everything is all right

After that, the crank came off easily enough, and it took just a mild tap with a mallet to free the spindle from the bottom bracket. I spent a moment examining the splines where the crank mounts on the spindle, and everything was fine. There was even enough grease, and it was still clean, so I decided it didn’t need any more.

Detail of bicycle bottom bracket with bearing slightly backed out
Just finger tight

With the crankset out, I turned my attention to the bottom bracket. I decided to loosen up each bearing and reseat it before reinserting the crankset. To my great surprise, the bearing on the crank side was scarcely more than finger-tight. That in itself might explain the catch I was feeling in the crank. After making sure the threads were clean, I tightened the bearing to the recommended torque. The non-drive-side bearing was similarly easy to break loose — just more than finger tight. Well, I hope that’s the extent of the problem.

With the bearings both tightened to the recommended spec, I spun the bearings with my fingers. I didn’t detect any roughness (but I can’t really put any load on with my fingers). I put the spindle back in, checking if there was any misalignment between the two bearings. The spindle went in straight, without any twisting or effort. I tightened it up again and gave it a spin.

Spin test after adjustment

The results were satisfactory. I won’t be sure, though, until the next ride — whenever that will be. Tomorrow I’ll be on Kuroko.

Pump replacement

Bicycle frame showing placement of tire pump and water bottle

I’ve been having more and more difficulty getting the Topeak pump head to seal well on the valve. I thought it might be the tubeless valves I’ve recently put on Kuroko, but we’ve had the same issue with the Halfakid’s bike, and then Halfakid no Tomo. The pump head will seem to be sealed to the valve, but then no air will get into the tire.

Sometimes it’s clear the tire valve isn’t opening to allow the air in — there’s lots of resistance to the pump and no whoosh of air. Other times the air just whooshes out around the valve instead of going into it.

Then after multiple attempts to get the pump head on the valve correctly, it will start to fill the tire — only to pop off the valve before the job is half done.

I got fed up after bruising the palm of my hand filling up Halfakid no Tomo’s tires at the start of our Otarumi Touge ride last week, and decided to look around for something else. It didn’t take me long to come across the Panaracer Mini Floor Pump. It’s the same maker as the GravelKing tires I recently put on Kuroko, as well as the tire levers I’d bought when I wasn’t happy with the ones included with my Topeak minitool. Panaracer makes tires and not much else — they should make a good pump, right?

Rainy cityscape
A good day for bicycle maintenance

We’d originally planned a two-day ride this weekend, but the forecast turned to rain and we decided to postpone. As I wheeled Kuroko out onto the Workshop in the Sky, I was glad that we’d chosen to heed the forecast. In addition to the rain, it was cold and windy.

Valve adapter on wheel and bicycle tire pump
Secure, two-step operation

The Panaracer pump works differently from the Topeak, and I wanted to make sure it worked well before taking the plunge. After removing the valve cap and opening the valve, I screwed the adapter onto the valve stem. Then I put the pump head on the adapter and closed the lock. I gave the pump a few strokes, and all the air went easily and securely into the tire. Sold!

Adapter storage in pump head lock
Adapter storage in pump head lock lever

When it’s not in use, the adapter fits snugly into a recess in the pump head locking lever, and there’s a tough elastic band to hold it securely. (The pump head also has adapters for Dunlop valves and the usual fittings for filling footballs and beach balls, but I’m not interested in these.)

Bicycle pump on scale
Slim Jim

Bicycle pump on scale
Beefy boy

As usual when I’m replacing parts I compared the weight. The Panaracer was slightly heavier than the Topeak, and it was the same story with the clamps that hold them to the frame. The total difference was a scarcely noticeable 27g.

Two bicycle pumps on black background
New vs old

The Panaracer is slightly shorter overall, with a larger diameter. The handle fit my hand more comfortably, and the stroke was easier. On the downside, there’s no pressure gauge.

Bicycle frame tube showing tire pump bracket
This has to go

Comparisons done, it was time to make the switch. It just took a moment to cut through the glorified zip ties holding the Topeak bracket to Kuroko’s top tube. The Panaracer bracket goes on easily with a single screw. The fit is fairly snug but allows for a bit of wiggle. I might redo it with a piece of old inner tube to prevent any movement or scratching of the paint. As it is, there’s some dirt there showing where the zip ties were previously — I hope it will wash off.

Bicycle frame showing placement of tire pump and water bottle
Checking the water bottle clearance

With the new pump in place, the last step was to check the clearance for the water bottle. No problem!