Yesterday my skies were blue

Bicycle in front Japan Imperial Palace moat

Yesterday the weather was beautiful, warm with blue skies. Unfortunately I had other things to do. Today was very mild, but the skies were grey and occasionally threatening. I’m happy to report I only noticed a drop or two of rain as I was riding, and later the sun peeked out from the clouds. At the same time, though, the wind picked up considerably. Near the finish I was nearly blown out of my lane! Fortunately the car following me at that point was keeping its distance.

Japan Olympic Stadium
Japan Olympic Stadium

I made good time through Meiji Jingu, past the State Guest House (Geihinkan) and Akasaka. In fact I set a personal best climbing up from Akasaka Mitsuke to Uchibori Dori, although a part of that was making all the lights green. I made my first rest stop at Shiba Koen, and it was around here that the threat of rain was the greatest.

Cherry blossoms at Shiba Koen
Cherry blossoms at Shiba Koen

Peach blossoms
Peach blossoms

I’ve never seen the Imperial Palace grounds as empty as they were today, although I’m not usually down here on a weekday. I’ve never been able to get Kuroko in this shot in the past because the sidewalk has always been full of joggers.

Bicycle in front Japan Imperial Palace moat
Bicycle meets palace moat

Turning east from the palace, I was greeted by the welcome sight of the Bank of Japan, finally done with its renewal and all the walls and barriers down.

Nihonbashi cherry blossoms
Nihonbashi cherry blossoms

Bank of Japan
Bank of Japan

I stopped for an early lunch of Nana’s famous onigiri at Tokyo Big Sight. I was surprised to see groups of pre-schoolers out in the park, socially mingling as if there’d been no announcement from the governor asking us to avoid unnecessary gatherings.

Cycling path at Sumida River
Cycling path at Sumida River

Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Sky Tree

After crossing over the Sumida River with Tokyo Sky Tree in the background, I stopped near a baseball field in the park and refilled my water bottle from a tap in a public restroom. Usually I’d avoid that but any port in a storm … I’d no sooner finished than I realized how foolish I was being. It’s exactly the sort of tap that people would be rinsing their hands at, and it’s designed so you can’t avoid touching the spout where the water comes out. I poured out the water immediately, and then stopped at the next vending machine and bought some bottled water. I filled my other water bottle with that, and didn’t touch the first water bottle until I got home — Nana sprayed it thoroughly with disinfectant.

My last stop of the day was at Chidorigafuchi and Budokan. Here the crowds were thick as people turned out despite the grey skies and governmental pronouncements to enjoy the cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi
Cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi

Cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi
Cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi

Cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi
Cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi

When I got home and synced my GPS, I saw that I’d gotten my 400km badge for the month.

Strava badge for 400km
Strava badge for 400km

Strava didn’t include the 26km ride where the Garmin wasn’t recording, of course. The Garmin site (where I entered the ride manually) has me at 476km.

Tokyo Landmarks ride
Tokyo Landmarks ride

Windy and flat(s)

Sakura on the Aso river

The day dawned clear and warm, and the Halfakid and I decided to visit Otarumi Touge, a mountain pass near Mt Takao, for the first time this year. I rode up to the pass at least three times last year, but I’ve never reached the top without stopping for a breather. (The Halfakid goes right to the top each time.) Although I’m in far from my best shape, I thought that Kuroko’s latest and greatest low gearing might just prove the answer to my climbing woes.

From the moment we hit the Tamagawa river basin, we were fighting a strong crosswind. I tucked my head down and soldiered on, and the Halfakid tucked in behind me. While I was riding often three or four gears lower than I normally would for this path, we were still averaging just above 20km/h. I vowed that I wouldn’t call it quits but keep pressing on, no matter how low the gear, as long as we were making progress.

We were a bit fearful when it came time to leave the Tamagawa and turn towards the Aso river, because we’d be facing straight into the wind. After crossing the initial bridge, however, we found that — if anything — the going was a bit easier. We were soon enjoying the views of sakura blooming alongside the cycling path.

Sakura on the Aso river
Sakura on the Aso river

At this point I was wondering if the wind would be hindering us on our climb up to Otarumi Touge. We wouldn’t know until we reached Takaosan Guchi — the train station at the foot of Mt Takao — at the earliest. The only thing for it, as before, was to keep my head tucked down and keep my pedals turning.

Here’s the part where the flats come in

Unfortunately, fate had other plans in store for us. I heard the Halfakid calling for me and I pulled up to a stop. He had a flat. We pushed our bikes up against the leeward side of a public restroom and took stock. The Halfakid was concerned he didn’t have a spare inner tube (mine are a different size), but it turned out he did. With my coaching, he removed the flatted inner tube and checked the tire and rim by feel for any foreign objects. Finding none, he inserted the new inner tube and worked the tire back over the rim. After reinflating the tire with my pump, we were back on the road after having lost perhaps 20 minutes.

If that were the end of it, we might still have reached the top of Otarumi Touge and made it home in time for a hot bath and dinner. I’m sorry to report, though, that I failed to finish securing the tire pump to my bike after the fix. It dropped off with a clank as I passed a jogger under a bridge several kilometers later. The Halfakid stopped and picked it up and brought it up to me at a walk. It was easy enough to secure the pump, but the reason the Halfakid was walking was he had another flat! And it was the same tire — the rear.

At this point we decided professional help was in order. (We could have patched the inner tube and continued on, but it might have only bought us another kilometer or two.) The Halfakid looked up nearby bicycle shops on his phone and we set out walking.

The first shop was just an 8-minute walk, but that turned out to be 8 minutes wasted. When we rounded the corner and found the little corrugated tin hut in the middle of a parking lot, we knew it wasn’t what we were looking for. Nevertheless, the Halfakid gamely engaged the worker in a series of questions. She’d never heard of tire sizes in anything but inches (the Halfakid’s are 700C). And when he asked if she knew of a nearby bike shop that could help with a proper “road bike,” her answer was at once meaningless and unintelligible. We thanked her for her time, checked the smartphone for directions once again, and set out.

A pair of familiar faces

On our way to the second shop, much further away and partly retracing our steps, we came across a family restaurant and sat down to a deeply needed repast of calories. Thus refreshed, we continued on towards our local cycling Mecca. And as we passed the final intersection, we both thought it seemed very familiar. Yes, we’d returned to the very shop that had repaired Ol’ Paint for us more than a year ago when the Halfakid was riding her on our way to the same destination — our first attempt on the Otarumi Touge pass.

Sports Bike Mechanic sign
Sports Bike Mechanic — the only reliable mechanic in Hachioji?

If the mechanic remembered us, he gave no hint. He was having a very busy morning of it and we had to wait for him to finish up a repair for another customer before he could assist us (and several more customers entered the store as he was helping us). The Halfakid described the problem to him and he set to work. After removing the inner tube, he immediately did what we hadn’t done: inflate the tube to find the source of the leak. And within moments he was pointing out a spot on the wheel where the rim tape was crooked, leaving one of the spoke nipple holes partly uncovered. The inner tube had failed after coming into contact with the sharp edge of the spoke hole.

The mechanic removed the faulty rim strip and installed fresh rim tape, then patched the inner tube. He had the bike ready to go in almost less time that it takes to describe the issue. We asked him for a spare inner tube and left the shop $25 poorer and a lot happier.

Unfortunately we’d used up too much time fixing two flats, including the time spent eating lunch and walking to the shop. There wasn’t enough time left in the day for us to take on Otarumi Touge. We turned our bikes back towards Tokyo and were spurred along by a strong tailwind. As we rejoined the Tamagawa, the wind occasionally came across the path and slowed us a bit, but overall it was giving us a firm push homewards. Before long I was handing the new spare inner tube to the Halfakid at the door to his apartment and setting off for the remaining 8km to home.

GPS files for the route from Shinjuku to Hachioji and back
A tale of two ride segments

In total I rode 84.24km today in just over four hours for an average of 20.88km/h.

Someone forgot to tell 風神

I was off to a late start this morning as I waited for Nana to wake up, but mostly I was watching the weather and hoping for the temperature to come up a bit. It was just 2C when I first checked, and when I finally set off about 9:20 a.m., it had risen to 6C.

For a while it seemed my fears were unfounded, as I was hot and sweating quite a bit by the time I reached Futako at 10. Soon after, though, a large black cloud blanketed the sky. It looked like I was in for quite a rain, but that never materialized. The temperature, though — at least as I was experiencing it in the fierce wind — plummeted.

Windsock and flags flapping in the wind
Fujin, call your office

I’d carefully checked the wind forecast before leaving home, and saw a mild 2-4m/s. It seems that someone forgot to inform 風神, though. As soon as I reached Tamagawa I was battered by headwinds, and my average speed soon dropped below my target of 20km/h.

I didn’t let the conditions bother me, though (so long as it didn’t rain!). My goal for the day wasn’t to set any personal bests but just to complete 100km. This is a distance I reach on a regular basis, but hadn’t done so yet this year. I was content to push on even at a reduced speed, as long as I was making reasonable progress.

Spring is in the air?

Signs of spring were everywhere, despite the chilling wind: from children playing with soap bubbles in the park to buds on a cherry tree.

Round fountain in a park
At least the fountain wasn’t frozen over

Buds on the branch of a cherry tree
Soon

Detours

There were several detours along the way, including a couple left over from last year’s typhoon. In the case of one, a major bridge is being rebuilt, and the usual path passes right underneath. Another has no such major construction going on, but it may require some major repair work regardless. In addition to the typhoon reconstruction, there was a new detour around some riparian works.

Detour
Detour

After 10 or more kilometers upstream along the river, the wind tapered off (or perhaps just changed direction to become a tailwind), and I was soon making good progress despite the detours. I took a brief rest at the 20km mark and ate a Snickers bar, and then at the 36km mark for an onigiri (a store-bought one — alas, Nana did not make any rice before going to bed last night).

Kawazuzakura
Kawazuzakura

In the final stretch towards the goal, I was treated to the sight of the early-blooming Kawazuzakura.

Hamura

Selfie with statu of Tamagawa Brothers
With the Tamagawa Bros

The cycling course had been full of picnicking families, little league baseball teams and joggers. When I got to Hamura, though, the park was nearly empty. There were just a couple of other cyclists in addition to me. As I enjoyed my lunch of convenience store onigiri, an older couple strolled in to enjoy a picnic lunch.

I ate quickly. With the cloudy sky and the wind, I was chilling off from the moment I had stopped pedaling. I took just a few moments to enjoy the view of the river before mounting up for the return trip.

Kuroko and the Tamagawa
Kuroko and the Tamagawa

Hamura intake weir
Hamura intake weir

Maybe get a blister on your thumb

On the return I was making good progress, although I continued to battle the wind at points. My winter gloves and tights — good quality Pearl Izumi wear — aren’t padded quite as well as their summer counterparts, and I was taking more frequent breaks to relieve the pressure on my hands. I noticed a couple of small blisters on the heal of my thumb. In addition, the pressure of my weight on the saddle forced me to take more rest stops as the Perineum Falcon took its toll.

Bicycle saddle
Perineum Falcon

Again it was a case of not setting records but continuing towards the goal as I fought off headwinds and numbing fatigue. As I approaching Futako once more, I decided to try a steeper route up out of the river valley, despite my fatigue, as a test of the lower gearing I’d spent so much time and effort to achieve. As I struggled up the 16% grade, I confirmed I’d succeeded in making an easier time for myself with Kuroko’s modifications.

At the top of the rise I rested and checked the time. I’d told Nana I would be home by 4, and I was just a bit behind that schedule. I messaged that I would be home by 4:30 and set out through the city traffic. Despite the fact I was coming up on 100km for the day, I was not far off my typical commuting pace for the end of the ride. I pulled up beside our tower at 4:11 and messaged Nana that I was home.

GPS record of cycling course
Hamura via Futako

According to the GPS, as expected, I had not set any records for the day. But I hadn’t done badly, either. I’d beat my target of 20km/h and gotten home well before the sunset.

Sunset looking west from Tokyo
No Fujisan but still …

Discretion

Bicycle in front of Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, Meiji Jingu Gaien

Following yesterday’s tune-up I was really hoping for a mechanical-free ride today. Things didn’t go exactly as planned, but I nearly got my wish.

Busted

As usual after a maintenance session, I carried Kuroko from the Workshop in the Sky to the elevator and hence down to the bicycle parking in the basement. From there I take a special bicycle elevator up to the ground floor. Today, there was a security guard waiting for me at the ground floor. He said I’m not supposed to take my bicycle on the regular elevator from our 33F aerie down to the basement: I should use the freight elevator. That’s fine — preferable, even — but the freight elevator is always locked. So he told me I should call the disaster preparedness center (aka the security office) when I want to transport my bike, and they’ll unlock the freight elevator for me.

All well and good, but a rather inauspicious start to the ride today.

Iffy weather

Preliminaries out of the way, I loaded up my Tokyo Landmarks route on the Garmin and set out. The sky was grey and threatening, but there wasn’t much rain and it wasn’t too cold. I had my fingers crossed (not literally) for a nice, relaxing ride without having to invoke Rule #9.

The front shifter did give me a couple of bad boy moments, pretty much right off the bat, but I was able to employ the workaround I’d discovered yesterday to get up onto the larger chainring when I needed it. I’m going to have to have a good look at the shifter and try to sort this out on a permanent basis. (I can start with the one that I previously removed from Kuroko.)

Other than that the ride went smoothly, and I reached Meiji Jingu Gaien almost before I knew it.

Bicycle in front of Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, Meiji Jingu Gaien
Meiji Jingu Gaien

The better part of valor?

Tokyo Tower viewed through plum blossoms
Tokyo Tower with ume

From the park my route winds around to take me past Akasaka Palace and then through Akasaka Mitsuke to the Imperial Palace and Diet Building. I got into traffic here and went up onto the sidewalk to get around the construction that was causing all the congestion.

After some brisk climbing, I passed through Roppongi and descended to Shiba Koen, where I took a break to take stock and top up my water bottle. I sent a photo to Nana to let her know my progress, and she told me that the weather was getting worse. I weighed my options for a couple of moments and decided to return home rather than try to complete the route and get caught in a sudden rain.

Heading back the way I came, I didn’t bother to try to turn off the Garmin navigation. So it was beeping every few seconds to let me know I was off course and telling me to turn make a U-turn. Fortunately I knew the route home quite well. Turn onto Gaien Higashi and pass Roppongi and then Midtown until I’m back at Meiji Jingu, and from there retrace my route home.

Along the way there was no change in the weather, and I arrived home without having experienced more than a scattering of drops all day. I pulled up to the tower entrance and pushed the button on the Garmin to save my ride, then pulled out my phone to let Nana know I was home.

Up the elevator (after having left Kuroko in the basement parking) and into the shower. When I cleaned up and dressed, I went to the Garmin site and discovered … I hadn’t recorded the ride! I thought the Garmin had been behaving differently, but I put it down to a recent software update. (And it was giving me navigation the entire time.) So after heaving a sigh, I set out to recreate my jaunt via MapMyRide, and I came up with a grand total of 26km for the day.

Hand plotted route map of Tokyo
Today’s curtailed route

In sum, I was pleased with Kuroko’s performance, although I’m determined to do something about that front shifter in the long term. The burgeoning rain did not materialize by the end of my ride, and in fact the weather cleared up somewhat by the time I got home. With my luck, if I hadn’t turned around the heavens might have opened up.

I’m back in the saddle again

GPS records of commuting route

After nearly a month passed since my last ride, I finally got back in the saddle this morning. In the meantime I’ve been busy, including a three-day trip to Kyushu, but the main thing keeping me off the bike was pain in my right knee.

After a few weeks of nursing the knee (including hobbling around Nagasaki and Kumamoto on a cane), I felt it was recovered enough to attempt the bike this morning. We’re on reduced hours at the office (a misguided effort to allow us to avoid the crowds on the trains during the coronavirus outbreak), so I was able to depart at a civilized 9 a.m. instead of 6:30 as I’d have to do normally.

My commute is all in traffic but it’s mostly flat. At just over 12km, it’s just far enough to make it worth riding. On a good day, in fact, I can cut about 10 minutes off what it would take me to get to the office by train.

Today, though, I was not in a rush. I was taking my time and spinning the pedals — not pushing hard — to avoid stress on the knee. And it came through with flying colors.

Surprisingly, traffic was heavier than I’m used to on this route. It’s possible that many people who are “working from home” are in fact out and about. But the additional traffic was a good reminder to take it at an easy pace and just get myself to the office.

In like a lion

When it was time to leave the office for home, I discovered I’d forgotten my house key. Nana was in a client meeting, so I had to cool my heels for a couple of hours at the office before setting off. I was fine — the bike has lights and they were charged up. The wind was, if anything, even stronger on the return, and at times I was fighting to stay upright and not to be blown into the path of traffic.

Our December mileage is identical!

Buck

Chart of cycling distance over the past 6 months
Getting a March on

With all the caveats, it was good to be back on two wheels. I discovered the derailleurs need even more adjustment following the latest upgrade, but I assume it’s nothing I can’t handle. (The possibility remains that I have no idea what I’m doing, as well … ) Overall, I was glad to post some March miles. Let’s see how much more I can get in before the lamb runs out at the end of the month.

GPS records of commuting route
I’m back in the saddle again

Arakawa to Disneyland in the wind

Bicycle leaning against sign for Shinsuna River Station
Fujisan sunrise
Fujisan sunrise

Today dawned clear and cold, with a strong wind. Every time I stepped out on the balcony where Kuroko was waiting in the Garage in the Sky (for example to put on the water bottles or put Nana’s onigiri in the saddle bag) I had to wonder why we were riding today.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Arakawa
Two against nature – Arakawa

The Halfakid took his time getting out of bed and didn’t arrive until 10 a.m., by which time it had warmed up to … uh, 2C. Still, the temperature wasn’t our biggest worry, as the wind was still blowing hard and our destination for the day was Disneyland, at the mouth of the Arakawa. And when it comes to the Arakawa, the wind only blows in one of two directions: upriver or down.

After 14km of city traffic we arrived at the top of the levee and it still wasn’t clear which direction the wind was blowing. But as soon as we descended to the river it become obvious: we weren’t fighting the wind and we made very good time. A string of 30km/h 5km times rapidly followed. We were hampered only by riding through the midst of a marathon, and we had to take care not to collide with any runners or race officials. (I do pity the runners in today’s wind. They were running up and down the river, so at least half the way they were fighting the wind.)

Our best 5km segment flew by in 9 minutes 36 seconds, for an average of 31.2km/h, and at some point along the route I hit 40. When my phone is near, the GPS will display text messages as I receive them. So in addition to dodging the marathoners my attention was being diverted by Nana’s repeated updates about the postman not having arrived when expected.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Shinsuna River Station
Shinsuna River Station

Given our rapid progress, we paused only twice along the 26km river run: once for the restroom and once to answer Nana’s urgent messaging. The wind became a bit more mixed near the mouth of the river, but was still basically with us. We arrived at the end of the path at Shinsuna almost before we knew it.

From there we had to reverse course and beat against the wind back to the Kiyosunao Bridge. The ramp up to the bridge has obnoxious anti-scooter bollards, but we navigated them without incident. Up on the bridge itself, the wind was still basically with us. We were agreeing that the return would be into the teeth of the wind and hence a lot more effort.

Across the Arakawa we zipped downstream once again to the Kasai-Rinkai park. Here we had to navigate pedestrian ways and traffic, and finally more bollards at the ends of ramps which took us over most of the vehicle traffic. At last we descended the final ramp, took a couple of turnings and found ourselves at the goal.

Cyclist using phone in front of Tokyo Disney Resort fountain and sign
Checking in at the Tokyo Disney Resort

At this point it was about 12:30. We hadn’t stopped to snack on the way, and we were both starving! We beat a hasty retreat (as hasty as I could manage, because we were now fighting upriver and upwind) to a convenience store for hot coffee and fried chicken, and then to a park where we enjoyed Nana’s onigiri (in addition to the convenience store goodies).

Bicycle in front of decorative lantern at Nihonbashi
Nihonbashi

After our break we tackled the Kiyosunao Bridge in the homeward direction. As expected, we were riding into the wind. But it wasn’t as bad as we had feared. When we descended to street level and joined the traffic towards Nihonbashi, though, the wind came on with a vengeance. The Halfakid had once again donned his Uniqlo down jacket, and I didn’t blame him in the least (particularly because he was wearing fingerless, mesh-back cycling gloves!). The wind was strong enough to force me to shift down a gear or two at times, and when it let up I’d give it a minute or two before shifting back up as I expected the wind to renew its force in the meantime. I was rarely disappointed in this.

It had been more than a year since the Halfakid had come this way (I did it solo almost exactly a year ago, and he and I rode to Disneyland from another direction before that), so I had to remind him of the way home: first Nihonbashi, then the Imperial Palace, Kudanzaka (Budokan) and back through Shinjuku. As we progressed along (more and more slowly as we headed into the wind), he began to recall the details of the route.

Chidorigafuchi
Chidorigafuchi

Tayasumon Gate, Budokan
Tayasumon Gate, Budokan

There was some repair work going on at Budokan, but we didn’t let that stop us visiting our favorite photo spot before continuing homeward. We sped through the usual up-down between Yasukuni Shrine and Shinjuku Avenue, and arrived at Yotsuya Sanchome at the stroke of 3 p.m. — as announced by a large musical clock at the intersection. I’d told Nana I’d be home by 3 — when I was expecting the Halfakid to arrive earlier so we could set out about 9:30 a.m. — but I knew she was out and so didn’t bother to update her on our status. At any rate, we were now a good deal less than half an hour from home.

The remainder of the ride was the usual fighting in traffic, obeying the lights and trying to just establish a smooth pace. Before long we’d passed Shinjuku Bus Terminal, and then the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings, and finally were flying downhill towards my abode. I said my farewells to the Halfakid and turned right as he continued straight on for the remaining 8km to his apartment.

Silent (almost) Running

I was eager to see how Kuroko would behave following the recent fine tuning of the new drivetrain. I’m happy to report there were no mechanicals this trip (a rarity when I’m out with the Halfakid), and the derailleurs did their job with aplomb. There’s probably still a nip here and tuck there to do in terms of cable tension — which can be handled entirely through the barrel adjusters — and limiting screws. But overall I had no complaints.

When I arrived home and saved the ride on the Garmin, it uploaded the results via my phone before I’d even parked Kuroko. I knew we’d been making good progress with the wind down the Arakawa, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find I’d posted a new personal best for 40km of 1 hour 30 minutes (just shy of 27km/h). I collapsed into the bath with a cold beer and warm feeling of satisfaction.

GPS track of the Arakawa Disneyland route
Arakawa Disneyland route

More satisfaction: According to Garmin I’ve had Kuroko for 1 year 7 months now, and I’ve just passed 5,000km total with her.

Fujisan sunset
Fujisan sunset

Headwind home

Biker selfie with helmet and sunglasses in front of Japanese torii
Fujisan reflecting the light of sunrise
Clear skies and windy

Today dawned clear and windy, promising some good riding. Kuroko was still at the office following last week’s debacle with the chain and the midweek almost perfect recovery. I have access to the workshop at the office — where I’m stripping the paint off Ol’ Paint — until noon, so after Nana woke up and made some onigiri, I packed my riding clothes in my backpack and set out.

More shiny

Dremel tool with new and spent sanding discs
Dremel sanding discs

I’ve already done as much as I can with a full-sized drill and paint removing discs so I got some smaller sanding discs for my Dremel and worked with those today. They did a good job, and the smaller dimensions of both the discs and the Dremel tool allowed me to reach areas I couldn’t reach with the larger drill. Unfortunately, the sanding discs were disintegrating almost as quickly as I could put them in the chuck. Despite the short life, though, they were doing a good job of cleaning up the Ol’ Paint’s frame.

Top tube, seat tube and seat staysSeat tube and seat stays
Top tube, seat tube and seat stays

Top tube, seat tube and seat stays
Top tube, seat tube and seat stays

Spent Dremel sanding discs
And then there were none

Once all the sanding discs were wasted, I continued with a cylindrical grinding stone. As this was even smaller than the discs, it allowed me to reach into even tighter joints and crevices. By the time my noon deadline arrived, I had nearly finished cleaning up Ol’ Paint’s frame — at least as much of it as I can reach without investing even more into time and tools.

Practice makes perfect

With my access to the workshop done, I returned to my office to eat a couple of onigiri and to practice emergency chain repair with Kuroko’s chain — the one that broke last week — and my Topeak Hexus tool.

Breaking a chain with the Topeak Hexus II
Breaking a chain with the Topeak Hexus II

Now that I’ve seen the video, I know that one of the tire levers has a 4mm hex key to use with the chain tool. It took a couple of tries, but I was able to remove the bad links and rejoin the chain using one of the rivets that I’d pressed out of the chain.

Bicycle chain and tool on carpet
Never break the chain

With the preliminaries out of the way, I was finally ready to ride! It was already 1 p.m. and I was in Futako Tamagawa, so it was an easy choice to repeat last week’s ride (without last week’s disaster, I hoped!) to Haneda. I changed into my bike gear and stashed my street clothes in my backpack.

Kawazuzakura buds against a blue sky
Kawazuzakura — not yet

The bicycle was behaving and shifting well, although making a bit of noise. I fiddled with the shifter cable tension as I rode. Before I knew it, I’d reached the kawazuzakura trees at the first rest stop on the Tamagawa cycling course. From the looks of it, they have another week or two before they’ll be in bloom. At the picnic table, I ran Kuroko through her gears and made a couple of adjustments before continuing on.

From there it’s less than 5km to my usual rest spot, where I messaged Nana and took a few minutes to really sort out the gears. I knew at this point I’d resolved the chain and cable tension issues, and I set out with more confidence for the final 10km to Haneda.

Biker selfie with helmet and sunglasses in front of Japanese torii
Haneda Peace Shrine

My confidence was well founded, and before I knew it I was rolling into the Haneda Peace Shrine. The skies were blue, although the wind was up, and after taking a picture I sat down in the shade and ate another of Nana’s onigiri.

Headwind

The ride down to Haneda had gone smoothly and at a very good pace, so I was expecting a headwind on the way back home. In this I was not disappointed. While I’d been making 28-30km/h on the outward leg, I was now concentrating on keeping my pace above 20. For the most part I was succeeding. I wasn’t really willing to push too hard at this point because I knew I had nearly 30km to go and was fighting against a two-month riding hiatus.

Apart from the headwind, the only notable thing about the return was that the front derailleur was making noise, and lagging on the shift up to the larger chainring. Before I’d covered the 10km back to the usual rest stop, upshifts had become a no-go. At 20km/h this is not a big deal, and I kept on in the lower chainring until I rolled into the rest stop.

An inspection of the derailleur quickly revealed the issue: not enough tension in the shifter cable. I used the barrel adjuster to add tension until the derailleur was behaving properly once more, and set out into the wind once again.

Everything was going quite well at this point (apart from the obvious issues of me being old and fat and riding into the wind) and I spent an enjoyable hour working my way back to Futagobashi (the bridge over the Tamagawa at Futako Tamagawa). When I got to the bridge and dismounted to work my way through the pedestrian traffic there, I had a sudden and intense cramp in my right calf, and I had to lean against a bridge abutment for a moment before continuing. Once on my way, I took every opportunity to stretch the calf out fully, and that proved to be just what the doctor ordered.

At last I was on the climb out of the Tamagawa valley, the one that I always whinge about at this juncture. There’s a bit of construction going on not far from the foot of the hill, but the worker quickly waved me through and I was on my way up. Of course I was working my way downward through the gears, but I stopped two sprockets above the lowest as I made my way up at more than 10km/h. It wasn’t my fastest time up that particular climb, but neither was it the slowest.

After a brief stop in the park at the top of the hill where I filled my water bottle, I donned my riding jacket, removed my sunglasses and continued on. I’d messaged Nana that I would be home before 5, and I was confident I would make this deadline. Meanwhile, though, I’d turned on my lights as I knew that shadows would be lengthening by the time I reached Shinjuku.

Things went mostly smoothly on the way home, but the front derailleur began acting up again — in precisely the same fashion as previously. It finally dawned on me that the cable was slipping: the pinch bolt was too loose. As I was nearly home by this time and I was not exceeding 25km/h for the most part, I simply didn’t use the larger chainring. After the final swooping descent down to our tower condo, I rolled the bike into the parking space.

I checked the pinch bolt: Yes, it was not tight enough. I tightened it up and once again increased the tension in the shifter cable. In the bicycle parking, at least, the derailleur is working fine now.

GPS map of Haneda ride
Haneda ride

I didn’t set any records on this run, but that was as expected. The time I posted is quite an improvement over last week’s, when I ended up pushing the bike more than 5km. Along the same stretch today, into the wind, I was averaging more than four times my walking pace. All to the good.

Fujisan sunset with obscuring clouds
Fujisan sunset

On arriving home, after adjusting the shifter cable and locking up the bike, I relaxed in the tub with a beer. Clean and relaxed, I had a look out the balcony window in time to note the sun setting behind Fujisan.

The Halfakid is not available for riding tomorrow, and I have a few things on my list to take care of. I may yet go for a quick ride, but it’s not pressing at this point.

Meanwhile, here are some of Kuroko’s siblings in the wild:

Disaster strikes

Cyclist selfie in front of red torii

Following the completion last weekend of Kuroko’s drivetrain upgrade, I finally set out Saturday on my first ride of the New Year. It’s a bit late for my first ride of the year — last year I did it on Jan. 6, with the Halfakid going for the first ride on his new bike. This year the Halfakid wasn’t available, but at least I was getting a Chinese New Year ride in.

Silent Running

The day dawned grey, but not too cold: the forecast high was 13C. It was chilly enough though when I stepped out on the windy balcony to do some fine-tuning of Kuroko’s new derailleurs before setting out with a double-handful of Nana’s famous onigiri. It took me a couple of minutes to convince the Garmin that we were riding — perhaps the two-month hiatus had affected it as much as it had me — and then I was in cruising mode.

The new drivetrain was performing flawlessly. There was no noise apart from the snk, snk of gear changes (and of course the ratcheting of the freehub). Shifts were swift and sure. The bottom bracket was free of play and not making any grinding noises.

As my pace increased I reached a gear where there was a little bit of rattle. “I’ll have to have another look at that,” I thought. I glanced down and discovered I was on the ninth gear and the lightbulb lit: The derailleur was fine, but it was time for me to move to the larger chainring. With the larger cogs on the cassette, I have to move onto the larger chainring at a lower speed than I’d previously done. As soon as I made the shift, we were back to the Silence of the Cogs.

I spent the first part of the ride, in city traffic, getting used to moving up to the larger chainring when I reached cruising speed. I’ll be shifting the front a lot more often this way, so it’s good the front derailleur was also working flawlessly.

The bike was working far better than I was, as the two-month break from cycling and the Christmas and New Year’s partying have taken their toll. I was sure I wasn’t going to set any records, but I just kept grinding. When I neared my office, I took a slight detour to make the climb there (the one I usually have on the way home) to try out my new lowest gear. It worked a charm as I slowly but surely made my way up the hill, and I arrived at the top feeling a lot fresher than I usually do there.

I can hear the steel pipes sing

I stopped at the workshop to spend another hour stripping the old paint off Ol’ Paint. I don’t have any photos of this because I’d forgotten to charge my phone. I spent a few minutes finding a charger in the office and left my phone to charge as I headed to the workshop. I noticed today that when I applied the spinning scouring pad to Ol’ Paint’s steel tubes, they would sound like organ pipes — at least the three main tubes with their open ends did. I spent about an hour at it, and I think I’ve reached the limit of what I can do with the regular power drill. I’ll have to pick up again next week with the Dremel.

On the road again

Paint stripping done for the day, I ate a couple of onigiri, changed back into my riding clothes, and headed down the Tamagawa cycling course. Finally away from traffic, I could listen to the new drivetrain clearly and appreciate the Silence of the Cogs. It was really a delight. I took a short break for water and then continued on my way to Haneda. I came across a detour on the path and ended up in traffic for less than half a kilometer (I’d missed the sign directing cyclists to the new path), and then it was full steam ahead. I had a bit of headwind but not enough to seriously crimp my style, and soon Kuroko and I were basking in the — erm — partial sunlight at Haneda.

Bicycle
Kuroko shows off her new gear(s)

Selfie of man in cycling helmet silhouetted against a cloudy sky
Silhouette

I sat on a stone in my usual park facing the torii and finished the onigiri. Nana messaged me that she was on her way to the residents board meeting, and I replied that I was on my way home.

Haneda peace shrine torii and river bank repair works
Reconstruction after last year’s typhoon

Disaster strikes!

The return trip was more silent running. I had the wind to my back now and was making good time. I hadn’t had a single missed shift all day. And then, on a switchback with jogging baseball players to dodge, I mixed up my gear levers, shifting the wrong way and then immediately back again. I heard a crunch from the drivetrain and then the shift completed and I continued on my way.

But all was not well in Cog City. The chain was making some noise on the rear cogs and occasionally trying to jump to a higher cog. This is usually an indication of the wrong cable tension, so I was fiddling with the barrel adjuster as I rode. I tried tighter and I tried looser, but the results were the same: more or less noise, but never silent and always with the occasional grab for a higher gear.

I stopped at a rest area. All the benches were full of other bikers — what looked like a large cycling club. I found a spot where I could lean Kuroko against a fence post and set down my bag and helmet to take a look.

Remembering that I’d had an issue with loose and missing dropout screws, I checked the rear wheel and thru axle for play: nothing. Lifting the rear wheel off the ground, I slowly ran through all the gears, first in one direction and then the other. The shifting was working as designed. I checked the alignment of the derailleur to make sure it was squarely under the cog: perfect.

Cycle rear cassette and chain with broken link
Missing link

And then I saw it: a broken chain link. Wow.

I’ve never had this issue before. I knew from reading other cycling adventures that I could use a chain tool to remove the broken link and rejoin the remaining chain. Depending on how many links I had to remove, I might not be able to access the lowest gear or two, but I should be able to get home. I got out my multitool and started fiddling with the chain tool. In the process I discovered that the pin was still in the chain at the site of the broken link (that’s why I was able to keep riding as far as I had), but I wasn’t able to line up the chain plates again to try to force it back into place. I also discovered in the process that I couldn’t use the chain tool as it was: it requires a second tool to actually turn the screw. (And you can believe I tried to turn it by hand, but no dice.)

Topeak Hexus II minitool
That thing at the top

After poking and prodding at it for a few minutes (and meanwhile the cycling club had mounted up and ridden on), I decided to try to limp home with it. There’s a bike shop I know at Futako Tamagawa (the store where I bought Ol’ Paint) and I trust the mechanic there a lot. So I put away the tool, picked up my bag and helmet and continued gingerly on my way. Unfortunately, within half a kilometer I heard the chain fall to the pavement and felt the cranks spinning with no resistance. The chain had finally broken completely, probably assisted by my efforts to work things back into place.

My options at this point were to try again with the tool (erm, same problem with needing another tool to use the tool), lock up Kuroko to some handy fence and catch a taxi, or walk. I was about 4km from the Futako bike shop. There might have been a closer bike store and I knew from experience (when Ol’ Paint’s rear hub locked up on the Halfakid) that I could probably find one via Google Maps. But I figured a 4km walk wouldn’t kill me, and I really do like the mechanic at the Futako shop.

So I messaged Nana to say that I was OK, that the chain had broken, and that it would be at least an hour by the time I reached the shop and got the chain fixed.

I picked up the chain and started walking. (I figured I couldn’t reuse the chain — except on a bike that took a shorter one — but I didn’t want to leave it on the path for it to tangle in another cyclist’s wheels, or throw it into the grass where it would be a danger to the workers who cut the grass.) I left the Garmin on to see how far I was walking.

Ahead of me I could see the red bridge across the Tamagawa that is Daisan Keihin (one of the highways between Tokyo and Yokohama). It didn’t look far, but I walked and walked and it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. A glance at the Garmin told me I was walking about 5-6km/h. Surely this is not an endless trek across the wastelands of the Sahara! My cleats ground against the pavement and I continued onward, finally passing under the red bridge.

And now just another two kilometers to Futagobashi, the bridge that will take me back across the river at Futako Tamagawa. I checked my phone for a response from Nana, and there was nothing. A few minutes later the Garmin informed me the phone was dangerously low on battery. I resolved not to use it again until I’d reached the bike shop.

Finally, across Futagobashi on the pedestrian walkway. This gets very narrow at the end, and I had to be careful to let others pass me without hooking them with my handlebars. Then it’s a climb up the hill — the same one I’d practiced in the morning with my low gear — and at last I was wheeling my bike through the shop door.

The mechanic looked up from where he was working on another bike behind the counter. “What’s up?” In answer I held up the broken chain in my hand. “Wow, bad luck! How many cogs on your cassette?” “Eleven.” “Oh no! I don’t have that kind!”

He was very apologetic as he held the shop door for me, but of course he’d done nothing wrong. His shop specializes in BMX, so it’s natural he didn’t have this chain in the store. I only felt badly for him because that’s twice in a row now where I’ve asked him for help and he wasn’t able to, although he remains willing to try despite the fact that I didn’t buy Kuroko from his store. So he’s not making a lot of money off me these days.

At this point I was less than 1km from the office, so I headed there. Part of the way was even downhill, so I mounted up and let Kuroko coast along those parts. At the office I locked Kuroko up and put the rain cover over the cockpit bag. I threw the broken chain into the pile of computer discards, and messaged Nana that I would be coming home by train. Luckily I had a change of clothes in my backpack (which I’d worn to the workshop when I was spending quality time with Ol’ Paint), and I keep a pair of street shoes under my desk. The phone still had a 10% charge, not enough for me to read Twitter all the way home, so I picked out a book to read from my bookshelf.

Park Tool chain tool
Park Tool chain tool

Before I left, I ordered a replacement chain, and that will arrive today. I’ll review the videos on sizing and installing a chain, and take the new chain and my proper chain tool to the office tomorrow.

GPS record of cycle ride to Haneda
Ride, interrupted

In the end I’d walked more than 5km, which made for an amusing 5km split and overall average speed.

Another quick run to Hamura

Kuroko at the Hamura Intake Weir

The day dawned cool and partly cloudy. Checking the forecast, with a projected high of 19C, I was almost ready to set off wearing shorts and a long-sleeved T under a wind breaker. But Kuroko was on the balcony following a gear adjustment yesterday, and when I went out to stuff things into the saddle pack I was struck by a blast of cold wind. So I quickly modified my plans and dug out my winter riding tights and thermal undershirt.

The Halfakid and I had planned to meet at 8 a.m. to get in a quick 100km today. But we’d been out last night with our respective main squeezes, and so needed a bit more time to get rolling this morning. I was finally ready, with fresh onigiri courtesy of Nana, just before 8:30, and rolled up to the Halfakid’s flat at precisely 9 a.m.

Mechanicals — none of them mine

The Halfakid had lost a bar end plug previously, and I’d bought him a replacement set. He wanted to take care of those this morning, as well as replacing his bell with one that I’d given up on — I kept breaking it, but he’d managed to resurrect it. So we spent about 20 minutes putting those bits in their places.

The Halfakid had also lost a cleat screw on our previous ride to Miura Kaigan. I’d forgotten about this and failed to bring the spare I have at home. So instead we decided to stop at a bike shop along the course.

I wanted to get in 100km today but I had a deadline: Nana and I were meeting an overseas guest at 5:30 to go to dinner. So to make a quick and easy 100km, I had to cycle up the Tamagawa from Futako to the end of the course at Hamura. This is usually no big deal, but today we were battling a headwind, and I knew that we were bound to encounter some of the detours around damage resulting from Typhoon No. 19, the same as I had discovered on my ride last month.

Fujisan in the distance
Fujisan in the distance

Once on the trail, and battling a fairly stiff headwind, I managed to keep a steady 21-22km/h pace. The Halfakid, riding close behind my rear wheel, said he wasn’t feeling any headwind. I was tempted to tell him to get in front and pull. But after our first rest stop, when we got back on the cycling course, he took off ahead and was soon out of sight. I concentrated on keeping my pace steady, and even stopped en route to take a quick snap of Fujisan off in the distance.

Midway between the first and second rest stops, I was greeted by a bizarre procession coming in the opposite direction: a man on a bicycle, with two children out front in seats on a kind of platform hanging off the frame in front of the front wheel. As he passed I saw two more children in a trailer on the back. And with this load he was climbing out of the switchback! He was followed by a woman (presumably the children’s mother) on a more conventional bike, laden front and rear with full panniers.

Finally I caught up with the Halfakid where he was waiting for me just 1km or so before the bike shop where we’d agreed to stop for the replacement cleats. We got there 10 minutes before opening time and so took advantage of a couple of Nana’s onigiri while we waited. Once the shop opened we quickly found the needed bits and were on the road again to our usual rest stop, where the Halfakid swapped in the new cleats and made sure they were good and tight.

Back on the course, we soon came to more detours around typhoon damage. At a lengthy detour where we were forced to leave the path and head into traffic, I managed to carve out a clearer route this time than I had a month ago, passing a familiar shrine along the way as a landmark. With just 10km to go until our turnaround point, I was eyeing the average speed as reported by the GPS: a hair over 21km/h.

The course took us into a park with just 3km yet to go, and there was a large event going on. Suddenly we were dodging children and careless adults strolling along the path. We had to proceed with some caution, and we both made good use of our bike bells.

I kept the steady pace going up to the end, with the Halfakid content to sit in my slipstream. We rolled into Hamura and broke out the remaining onigiri for lunch.

Selfie with statue of the Tamagawa Brothers
Tamagawa Bros

After lunch we headed home with the breeze to our backs. While the tailwind did not provide a completely unmixed benefit, with occasional stiff gusts blowing us sideways across the path, it did grant an overall boost that we deigned to accept. Our 5km splits dropped from nearly 15 minutes on the outbound leg to less than 11 minutes, or nearly 30km/h.

I pressed the advantage the wind was giving us, urging the average speed on the GPS up from 21km/h to 22. Of course at this point we already had 65km under our belt, so even multiple successive kilometers at 30km/h translated to barely a nudge on the gauge. With the Halfakid hard on my rear wheel the entire way, I managed to coax the GPS up to 22.4km/h by the time we returned to Futako.

A 50m climb will affect your average speed more than 30km of good, straight and level pavement with a tailwind.

At this point it was a matter of hanging on to gains we’d made. Crossing the Futako bridge, dodging pedestrians and cyclists in the opposite direction, always takes a toll. Then it’s city traffic and signals until we reach the climb out of the river valley. With the effort I’d put into racing downwind along the river, I was content now to drop to my lowest gear and wend my way slowly up the hill. When I reached the park at the top, the GPS read 22.1.

After a brief rest I filled one water bottle halfway and we set out across the city. I try not to keep one eye on the meter as I ride through traffic, but I could tell it was going to be a challenge to keep up my average through the congestion and lights. When I dropped off the Halfakid at his home I was squarely on 22.0km/h. There’s a long, flat stretch immediately after that, but I knew it was followed by a brief climb, a succession of lights, and then a pedestrian-choked shopping road with a train crossing in the middle. Even as I pushed my weary legs to do more, I had to temper my speed to the conditions.

I came out the narrow back streets onto a large boulevard with 21.9km/h on the clock. Timing the lights, I pressed my speed up towards 30km/h again. There’s a downhill next where I can really get some speed up if I time the lights carefully.

When I pulled into the home stretch, with 3km to go, I’d been seeing the meter flicker between 21.9 and 22.0km/h. I knew that a busy intersection could pull me back down across the mark, as could being caught behind a bus. As I pulled up to the Yamate Avenue crossing, I watched the meter dip down to 21.9. I was determined to make the most of the remaining straight run towards Central Park, and then the long descent to home. And then — the light in the middle of the descent turned red. I had no choice but to stop and wait it out.

Finally the light changed and I raced ahead of the traffic. There are delivery vans pulled away from the curb here, cross intersections, and faster traffic coming past my opposite shoulder, so I had to pay attention to the traffic and not the GPS. But when I pulled up at the light at the bottom of the descent, the clock said 22.0km/h. I hit the save button and wheeled Kuroko toward the basement parking.

GPS record of Hamura Round Trip
Hamura Round Trip

Compared to the same ride a month ago, I’d finished more than 13 minutes quicker. The total elapsed time, though, was half an hour longer, owing in part to about 40 minutes spent taking care of the Halfakid’s mechanicals. As for Kuroko, there was no hint of trouble this time around. Shifting in particular was a dream (following my maintenance on Saturday), often happening in total silence or with a single, satisfying tick as the chain flicked from one sprocket to another.

Speedy Haneda ride

I’ve had a stuffy nose and raw throat the past few days, so I spent a couple of hours this morning debating whether I really wanted to ride today. In the end, the beautiful weather convinced me. It was still about 12 degrees while I was preparing to ride, but the temperature was warming and I took my jacket off before I even reached the river.

Biker and pedestrians on the cycling course under a tree
Beautiful day for it

I was fighting a crosswind on the way down the river, but I put my hands on the drops and pedaled on. I picked up a follower for the final 8km or so, but when I reached my destination he had disappeared.

Bicycle under a tree with helmet on a rock
Lunch spot in the shade

I reached Haneda just before noon, meaning I’d spent less than two hours getting there. I sat down to a meal of Nana’s world-famous onigiri and wondered if I’d be able to maintain the same pace on the return trip. Having started out at a leisurely pace, thinking that I might have a cold, I was now contemplating a sub-4 hour ride.

For the return upriver, the wind was a bit more on my side. The GPS was showing that I was averaging more than 22km/h, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep that up all the way home.

By the time I reached Futagobashi, the bridge across the Tamagawa river at Futako, I’d racked up 48km at an average of 22.6km/h. But crossing the bridge means dodging pedestrians, and the lane gets very narrow and tricky at the far end. Following that there’s a good climb up out of the river valley. When I reached the park at the top of the climb, I’d gone 50km and my average had dropped to 22.2km/h. The challenge then was to maintain that in the remaining 12km of urban riding to get home.

Inspired by the goal I’d set myself, I pushed harder whenever I had the chance, and begrudged the stretches of road where I had to be wary of cross traffic. I probably glanced at my GPS just a bit more than I should have been doing. And when I got caught behind a bus on the final stretch before home, I impatiently looked for an opportunity to pass it.

That chance finally came, and I flew down the last hill towards home. At the bottom of the hill I stopped the clock, and there it was: 22.2km/h.

By keeping up the pace, in the end I’d done 62km in 2 hours 48 minutes of riding. Furthermore, my total elapsed time was well under 4 hours at 3 hours 50 minutes. When I’d left home at 10 this morning I told Nana I’d be back between 2 and 3 p.m. She said, “Probably closer to 3, right?” I agreed. But in fact I was home just a whisker before 2.

GPS record of Haneda round trip ride
Haneda Round Trip in less than 3 hours