Meant to be longer

Red Japanese shrine torii under cloudly blue skies with river in foreground

I’ve been planning a ride down to Enoshima, which I don’t think I’ve ever visited, with a return via the Daibutsu at Kamakura and then Yokohama. In all about 135km (and some climbing). I estimate 9+ hours for the ride, and so planned to set out about 7:30 so I could be home by 5.

That was the plan. I was up in plenty of time to get going, and Nana had even awoken by herself to get the onigiri ready for the ride. But a stomach ailment kept me in the house for another 2 1/2 hours. As I set out just before 10 a.m., I knew I’d have to take a shorter ride today. I could also feel I didn’t have my usual energy, perhaps as a result of the tummy bug.

My new goal was down the Tamagawa to Haneda, and then to visit a park a bit upstream from Futako on the Kanagawa side that I haven’t seen in several years. Finally, home. That should have given me a ride of 85-90km.

Windy

Looking out the window of our flat, I wasn’t sure I would need my shades, or even sunblock. The moment I began riding, though, the sun came out strong and bright. The blue sky was filled with fluffy white clouds, so the sun was coming and going frequently.

When I got to the Tamagawa, the wind was rather strong. I wasn’t riding directly into it for most of the way, but it was slowing me a bit. That was the only thing slowing me down, apart from traffic. The river course is flat and my lack of energy wasn’t a real issue. I reached Haneda without any problems, and sat down to finish off all three of the onigiri that Nana had prepared for me.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, shades and black mask in front of vermilion Japanese shrine torii
Haneda Peace Shrine (Former Anamori Inari Shrine)

Bicycle leaning against tree in rock garden
A place in the shade for eating onigiri

Cramps

Not long before my stop for lunch and coincident with a stretch of direct headwind for a few kilometers, I felt cramping in both calves. I kept going and rode it out. After lunch, though my calves were fine, I had cramping in my thighs. It didn’t prevent me riding or even slow me down, but it added an unwelcome note of pain to the ride.

I made better time back upstream, with the wind more at my back, but by the time I reached Futako I’d given up the plan to visit the park further upstream. If I’d had a particular goal to reach before the end of the day, I could have ignored the pain and continued. As it was, I didn’t see any reason to prolong things. I crossed the river at Futako and took a short break at the top of the climb before continuing on home.

I made better time back through the city, sheltered from the wind and with the promise of a cold one waiting for me at home.

My dear Alphonse

I made mention of traffic: I’ve had some encounters recently. Last week on my commute home, I waited behind a line of cars at a traffic light and proceeded with them when the light turned green.

Just as I reached the intersection, a driver coming from the other direction turned right (Americans, think: turned left) just in front of me, forcing me to brake.

Oh no, after me!

Later that same ride, making pretty good speed on a four-lane boulevard, I saw a parked car ahead of me. I checked over my shoulder and there was a car there. I slowed and waited for him to pass and … he slowed and kept pace with me. A couple of seconds later he was beside me, still pacing me, but not moving fully into the next lane to give me room to pass the parked car. We both finally came to a stop a couple of meters from the parked car, and I gestured for the driver to go ahead, which he did (again, without moving fully into the adjacent lane). I realized he was expecting me to go around the parked car without checking for traffic (it happens a lot) and was preparing to brake when I cut him off.

As he passed, I saw he had a shoshinsha mark on the car, so he was a new driver. It looked like he was getting coaching from an older man in the passenger seat, so I think Papa was probably at fault this time. Overall, not really an example of the “after me” syndrome, but it stuck in my head.

The following morning, again on my commute, I moved out into the middle of the lane to go around a bus that had stopped to take on passengers. Just as I overtook the rear of the bus, the driver put on the turn signal and pulled out, cutting me off. He saw me and stopped after he’d already blocked my passage and I’d been forced to come to a stop to avoid a collision. Oh no, after me!

Professional drivers are supposed to be trained to watch for things like this.

This morning on my way down to the river, a driver of a large truck on a cross street waited for the van ahead of me to pass and then pulled across the intersection, forcing me to stop. Both the street I was on and the cross street he was following were narrow, and I had to wait a good 45 seconds or so for him to clear the intersection.

Just a few dozen meters further on, a car came out of a cross street just ahead of me, forcing me once again to brake. The driver turned onto the road I was riding, went a couple of dozen meters, and then came to a full stop while waiting for the next intersection to clear before turning right. Oh no, after me!

There were a few more examples like that today, and then there were the other cyclists. I was waiting for a light and then just as it changed, a woman on a mamachari tried to pass me on the right and turn left, cutting me off. I’d moved off the moment the light changed and so we both came to a stop in the middle of the intersection, narrowly avoiding collision.

A few kilometers further on, I had a similar encounter with two guys on bicycles. This time when the light changed, one shot past me on the left and another on the right, both nearly hitting me as I moved off. I overtook them both within a couple of dozen meters and left them for dead.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Meant to be longer

On a bright note, I managed to wear my UV cut mask the entire ride. The wind helped by keeping my glasses from fogging. It wasn’t too hot today. The real challenge will be to keep it on when the temperature is in the 30s.

One before the rain

Selfie of cyclist in mask, sunglasses and helmet with torii and flagpost, with flag and streamers flapping in wind

I’d planned to cycle at least 100km today, and perhaps go as far as 140. I was starting to get ready at 8 a.m. when Nana said, “You’re not going riding, are you? It’s going to rain.”

Oh.

Well, I have plenty to do around the house. I relaxed for a bit and then started thinking about the housework.

Then around 10 a.m., Nana said, “According to Yahoo, it won’t rain until late afternoon or this evening.”

Oh.

I decided to make it a short ride, and started getting ready. I chose Haneda for the destination, and the decided to travel light. No GoPro. Get out the door.

Well, maybe not that light …

After putting my smartphone and wallet in the cockpit bag and putting the water bottles in their cages, etc., I started wheeling Kuroko towards the elevators. And then I realized I’d forgotten the Garmin. That’s OK, I don’t need help with the navigation, and I can use the Strava app on my phone to track the ride.

The ride to the river was uneventful except for one driver on a one-way street who was a bit upset that I wouldn’t just pull over and let him pass. I could hear him revving his engine behind me, and then he honked. I didn’t let him bother me. Not long after his honking, we got into pedestrian traffic and parked vehicles on the road, and I was able to race ahead while Mr. Horny was stuck.

On the river, there was no wind at first and I made good time heading downstream. There were a lot of pedestrians out, and the little leaguers and tennis players on their bikes — returning home after the game or match — were riding three or four abreast and typically not looking where they were going. A couple of them got shirty when I called out for them to watch out.

After the first brief break for water, with about 10km to go to Haneda, the wind started picking up. It wasn’t bothering me for the most part: a crosswind that was probably coming more from behind than ahead. I was keeping up a good pace and watching out for children on scooters.

Bit of a breeze

By the time I got to Haneda, the wind was blowing pretty strongly…

Selfie of cyclist in mask, sunglasses and helmet with torii and flagpost, with flag and streamers flapping in wind
What wind?

Bicycle leaning against Covid warning sign underneath tree in park
Lunch spot in the shade

I made a quick lunch of two onigiri (store-bought; Nana had not made any rice) and was soon on my way back home. Heading upstream, at times I was fighting the crosswind and at times it was helping me along. I felt good and knew I was making pretty good time, so I was keeping my breaks short. I was thinking of an alternate route home: there’s another bridge just about 1km beyond Futagobashi that leads to a 16% climb out of the valley, which is good practice for me. (My usual climb is 4-6%.)

Reconsider that decision

I’d pumped my tires up to about 45psi before departing, compared to my usual 50-60psi. The ride was noticeably more comfortable — of course the tires can’t do a thing about the big breaks in the pavement, but they were smoothing over the smaller stuff. More importantly, there was no feeling that the tires were underinflated or getting squirmy under my weight.

That’s all to the good. The bad came about 1km before Futagobashi (the bridge where I usually cross the Tamagawa on my way home). Suddenly Kuroko was making a grinding, crunching noise. I immediately eased up my pace, and then went through my usual checklist. No noise when I wasn’t pedaling. The noise seemed to coincide with the cadence of my pedaling, not anything else. The noise was present whether I used the larger or smaller chainring.

Things were pointing to the bottom bracket bearings or a loose crank. Less likely to be mangled chainring teeth as the noise was occurring on both chainrings. Kuroko has had a bearing habit, when she was sporting the ill-advised FSA crankset. Since I switched to the Sugino (and the bearing size Kuroko had been designed for) things have been smooth sailing. Has Kuroko reverted to her old ways?

So, a change of plans: rather than challenge that 16% grade, I reverted to my usual route home. After crossing the Tamagawa and just before starting the climb, I stopped and gave the crankset a good manual check, pulling up and pushing down on each pedal. No sign of looseness that I could detect. I shrugged and mounted up again, and climbed the hill without a further sound (well, none from Kuroko).

At the top of the hill I took a break in my usual spot and messaged Nana that I would be home within an hour. I was still making good time, and if my little mechanical could hold its nose for a few minutes, I’d be home well before the time I’d given Nana.

The traffic was smoother on the way home, for the most part, and Kuroko was silent — for the most part. I could still hear a bit of ticking from time to time as I sped homewards, but nothing like the crunching I’d heard along the Tamagawa cycling course.

I got home a full half-hour before I’d predicted, and brought Kuroko up to the Workshop in the Sky. I’m going to have a look at everything when I get a chance: chain wear, cleaning and lube (if not worn), bearing wear, crankset tightness, chainring and sprocket tooth wear, even the saddle (which has recently developed a slight rocking). In the meantime, I can ride Dionysus to the office and back.

GPS record of bicycle ride
One before the rain

I knew that I would now

Bicycle, helmet and water bottles on and among decorative rocks in park

I didn’t go far today, just the usual run down to Haneda and back. The weather was really nice, with bright, hazy skies and not much wind. With such nice weather on a weekend, though, there were a lot of careless people out on the Tamagawa cycling course. I had to stay alert.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and UV mask in front of Japanese shrine
Still life with mask and torii

I made the effort today to keep my mask on for most of the ride. This was more for the UV blocking than Covid protection. (It’s not really necessary to mask for that while riding as I don’t ride near other people.) I only had to lower it on occasion when my sunglasses would fog up, usually at a stop. On the other hand, it was only about 17C at most today. It will be a different proposition when it’s 30C this summer.

Purple and white blossoms against field of green leaves
Even our weeds are beautiful

I was making good time today and felt strong — certainly better than I have since coming down with pneumonia last month. Even the few short climbs on the way home didn’t phase me. I did have to come to a screeching halt when passing through a small shopping area and a young boy biking in the opposite direction wasn’t watching where he was going. I shouted out to him and he looked round at the last second. He braked hard and just bumped into my front tire. I tried to smile and said, “Eyes front, fellah.” His father (who had already passed me safely) called out an apology. No harm done, I’m glad to report.

GPS record of cycle ride
I knew that I would now

I didn’t have any mechanical trouble during the ride. I’ve been fighting with the front tire since returning from Shimanami Kaido. I’ve replaced the valve but it continued to leak, so I added more rim tape around the valve, and now I can’t get the tire to reseat. Rather than fiddle with it further today, I just pumped up the tire on my spare front wheel — the one with the dynamo hub that I used for Lejog. I recently put a new tire on this, the same make as my usual tires but with a bit of a knobby tread. So with that on the front on the usual slick on the rear, I had a semi-mullet set-up.

The tire with the tread makes a bit more road noise than the slick. I’m sure it is fractionally less efficient, and ditto the dynamo hub, which is also a bit heavier (but wasn’t under load today). But apart from the additional noise — just scarcely enough to be noticeable, honestly — I didn’t notice much difference. The slick tends to hunt over lines in the pavement (particularly ones parallel to the direction of travel), while the tire with tread doesn’t. I think my strength and well-being today overshadowed any minute loss of performance this set-up entails.

I’ve got kawazuzakura on a cloudy day

A bicycle leaning against one tree in a row of kawazuzakura trees

I don’t have a lot to say about today’s ride. I’ve been thinking about a new route that includes both Tamagawa and Arakawa. But the short version of that ride clocks in at 125km, and as Nana pointed out this morning, I should have got going before 9 a.m. if I’d planned to make that kind of distance.

So I set out with just “Tamagawa” as a destination, and along the way remembered I hadn’t seen the kawazuzakura yet this year. These are an early blooming variety of sakura, with dense, intensely pink clusters of petals. So I decided that was the first order of business.

I was making good time until I hit the river, and there I was heading into the wind. I just kept shifting down to keep my cadence up, rather than trying to power my way into the wind. I realized at this point I didn’t have my legs today, and similes involving the strength of kittens came to mind.

Masked biker selfie in front of row of kawazuzakura trees
Pink as you wanna be!

The kawazuzakura were in full bloom — in fact a bit past it, as the green leaves were vying with the pink blossoms. Some joggers and cyclists were stopping for photos, like me, but others were simply passing by. I should have come last week, when the skies were blue.

Masked biker selfie in front of Japanese shrine torii
Masks for peace

I continued fighting the wind all the way down the river to Haneda Peace Shrine. I’d set the GPS on navigation mode, so I wouldn’t be constantly checking it for stats, but I did sneak a peek now and again. I’d been making 16-18km/h into the wind, whereas I typically make 25-30km/h on this stretch. After grabbing the photo at the shrine, I had a lunch of Nana’s world-famous onigiri and then messaged her I was on my way home.

There’s not a lot to report about the ride home. The wind was more or less with me at this point and I was making much better time. At Futako I had a brief rest and ate the last onigiri. After consulting the time, I messaged Nana that I would be home by 2 p.m.

When I ride to and from Tamagawa or my office, I pass by Blue Lug, a bike shop specializing in custom and made-to-order bike builds. I was ahead of the schedule I’d given Nana at this point, so I decided to finally stop in and have a look. I was not disappointed: If they don’t have it (or can’t order it for you), it’s likely you don’t need it. I’ll make an effort in future to buy things through them rather than Amazon. And maybe I’ll stop in the café

Despite my brief stop for window-shopping, I still arrived home well before the time I’d given Nana. I messaged her that I was home and then walked Kuroko to her berth in the basement. Bath and beer awaited.

GPS record of cycle route
Non-suprising stats

Tamagawa all the way

Selfie of cyclist in helmet and shades in front of torii and Japanese flag

I contacted the Halfakid last week to let him know I’d be biking on Saturday, and he responded that he and Kare no Tomo were planning on riding the length of the Tamagawa cycling course. We arranged to meet at Futako Tamagawa at 8 a.m.

Fujisan sunrise
It’s another Fujisan sunrise

The day dawned clear and cold, at -2C with some wind. I set out with a bag full of Nana’s world-famous onigiri just after 7 a.m. for the meet-up. I stopped briefly at the office to take care of something I’d forgotten on Friday. I messaged the Halfakid as I left the office, and saw a message from him that they were running about 10 minutes late. Perfect.

Bicycle leaning against wall next to cycling course
Nikotama waiting

I was glad that our meeting place was in bright sunshine. With my black jacket, tights and shoes, I spent a few minutes warming in the sun while I waited.

Cyclist inflating tires while another rider looks on
Air in the tires

The Halfakid showed up soon enough with Tomo in tow and asked to borrow my tire pump, and he topped up his tires as she looked on. We spent just a couple of minutes discussing which way to set out and then we were off, headed upstream and into the wind with me in the lead, followed closely by Tomo and the Halfakid bringing up the rear.

When we got to Tamasuido Bridge I was looking to see if we could proceed straight onto the bridge. But construction had narrowed the path to the point that two cycles would have difficulty passing each other, so instead we turned and went under the bridge, coming back to it from the opposite side. Soon we were across (after stopping in the middle to enjoy the view of Fujisan). Tomo missed a turn and I back-tracked to find them. The Halfakid (who is as familiar with the route as I am) had caught up to her and they were coming back to meet me. From there it was one traffic light and another turn and then we were having our first break at Nishigawara Park.

Everyone was happy with the pace, so we set out again with Persimmon Park as our next stopping point. With a continuing strong headwind, our pace held at a steady 20-21km/h. We passed through a group of runners practicing along the course, probably a high school track team. At Persimmon Park I broke out the onigiri, and Tomo (who had skipped breakfast), pronounced them delicious.

Statue of the Tamagawa Brothers in front of pines
Tamagawa Brothers mask failure

It remained a struggle in the final 15km upstream to Hamura, with occasional glimpses of Fujisan between the buildings, trees and mountains across the Tamagawa from us. We didn’t encounter too many other bikers or pedestrians — perhaps the cold and wind was keeping others from the path. I gave a hand signal to my followers to warn them of the tree roots pushing up through the paved path, and then we descended to the gravel pathway through the park that had been closed for more than a year following typhoon damage. Nice to have it open again, and the gravel is smoother than it’s ever been.

Hamura was sunny, but the wind was bitingly cold. We arrived on the dot of 11, which is early — not because we were making good time, but because we’d set out earlier than usual. We sat in the sun (I usually choose the shade here) for warmth and wolfed down the remaining onigiri. No one wanted to wait any longer in the cold, so we turned around and started back downstream.

At last, some help from the wind

As soon as we turned around, the wind started helping us. We’d been making 20-21km/h on the way upstream, and were now easily going 25-30. I was able to sit up to take pressure off my hands and let the wind push against my back. The cold remained, though, and as soon as we got back to Persimmon Park I got a hot café au lait from the vending machine there.

Bicycle leaning against shrub in front of dry fountain full of leaves
Cheery fountain

We returned to Nishigawara Park at 1 p.m. As we were resting I set out the next steps: cross over Tamasuido Bridge once again into Kanagawa, and from there it’s 7-8km to Futako. Another 3-4km after Futako is a resting place with benches and kawazuzakara (although it’s still too early for blossoms). When I returned from the restroom, though, Tomo said she’d had enough. We rode together back to Futako and there said our farewells for the day.

I continued alone downstream, and kept on past the kawazuzakura rest point. The wind became very changeable: it was with me at times, and other times I was riding into it for stretches of multiple kilometers. My power was flagging, to the point where when faced with the choice between waiting at a light or passing under it via a switchback, I decided to wait rather than climb up the opposite side of the switchback.

At Rokugodote, I left the path for a nearby convenience store, where I bought some much-needed food and a bottle of hot ocha. The last time I’d stopped here it had been on the way home from Yokohama with the Halfakid in 30C-plus weather, and I’d lain down in the parking lot behind the bicycle stands out of exhaustion. (Note to owners: place could really use a couple of benches.)

Thus refreshed, I continued on my way downstream to Haneda. I encountered more traffic here — cyclists and pedestrians — than I had all day, but still not as much as would be on a typically sunny weekend. I finally reached Haneda at 2:30 p.m. I usually stop here for a rest and lunch, but as I’d just topped up in Rokugodote, this time I just got my photo and started back upstream.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet and shades in front of torii and Japanese flag
Haneda Peace Shrine

The final grind

The wind remained mixed on the way back upstream. My goal was to get home about 5, before it got too dark, and I seemed to be ahead of that. I was comparing my pace, though, to the time I usually make when I just ride to Haneda and back. Obviously, I wasn’t making the same time now. I got to Futagobashi and joined the throngs of cyclists and pedestrians crossing the river in Futako. The narrow sidewalk was densely crowded and I nearly got into a jam. A hard application of the brakes and some quick footwork got me through.

I wondered if I would have the energy for the half-kilometer climb out of the Tamagawa valley. I did, but only after dropping to my lowest-of-the-low gears. I checked the time, drank some water, and messaged Nana that I would be home about 5 — feeling pretty confident that I would beat that estimate yet. I turned on the lights, stashed my sunglasses, and set off for the final 12km home.

It was getting fairly dark by the time I reached Kannana, with about 5km to go. I took a shortcut after that, through some denser pedestrian traffic but avoiding a bit of up-down on Inokashira Ave. With 3km to go I was struggling, but visions of a hot bath and a cold beer propelled me forward. The final sweeping downhill past Central Park sped me the last few hundred meters and I was home. I saved my ride on the Garmin, took off my gloves, helmet and glasses and put on my mask. Then I messaged Nana I was home: 4:48 p.m.

It was a great ride, and I was exhausted. The bike behaved beautifully. The new stem meant no neck and shoulder fatigue (which was good as I had a stiff neck all day from sleeping in a bad position), and the tubeless tires were perfect, with no sign of air leakage.

GPS record of cycle ride
Tamagawa all the way

Strava reminds me I last did this ride on 27 Jan. 2019, two years ago, together with the Halfakid. On that occasion I managed a slightly better pace, with six minutes less riding time despite somehow also clocking in an additional 3km. I’ve done the same route prior to that as well, but in the summer when the days are both longer and warmer.

初走り

Selfie of biker wearing sunglasses and a bandana in front of a Japanese shrine torii

First ride of the New Year

The forecast was for clear skies with little to no wind today, with a high of 10C, so it seemed a good chance for 初走り, the first ride of the New Year. It took some doing for me to get going in the morning, though, as the temperature was a shiver-inducing 0C when I first checked. When I finally started preparing, I reminded myself to put on the heat tech undershirt before my usual long-sleeved T and winter cycling jacket.

I hadn’t let Nana know clearly that I’d be riding today, so I stopped at a convenience store in Nikotama for an onigiri and some other noshes, before proceeding down the Tamagawa. The tires were making a new and different sound against the pavement following yesterday’s tubeless conversion, and with the lack of wind I was soon making good time downstream.

The cycling path downstream of Futagobashi on the Kanagawa side has been widened further, with smooth new pavement. There’s now only about half a kilometer remaining to widen from the bridge down to the rest point with all the kawazu-zakura. (Glares in [former] taxpayer at Setagaya Ward.)

Landscape with buildings and Fujisan in the distance
It’s there, really!

With the clear, still air, Fujisan was clearly visible in the distance. The wind picked up a bit as I approached Tokyo Bay, but it didn’t slow me down as much as the pedestrians and other bikers out pottering about in the nice New Year’s holiday weather. All along the playing fields by the river, people were flying kites — a New Year’s tradition.

Selfie of biker wearing sunglasses and a bandana in front of a Japanese shrine torii
A man and his torii

Haneda Peace Shrine was right where I left it. There were a number of cyclists there and we all took turns politely to get our photos. That done, I sat down on a rock under a tree to enjoy my convenience store lunch.

Bicycle leaning against a tree
Ready for the ride home

Miniature Japanese shrine objects with full-size torii in the background
Recent addition to the shrine

The ride home was even smoother, for the most part. What little wind there was pushed me homeward. The challenge became dodging the others sharing the path: two children in quick succession who were weaving their bikes from one edge of the path to the other while their father looked wordlessly on. A couple riding in the opposite direction who turned across the path immediately in front of me: the man without a glance in my direction, the woman (with a child on the back of her bike) after seeing me but proceeding anyway. The middle-aged woman who, on hearing my bell, crossed from the left edge of the path to the right just in front of me. Several children playing a game of counting down and then dashing across the path, ignoring my bell and in one case nearly broadsiding me.

I saw all these obstacles in advance, slowed (or stopped when necessary) and waited for the right moment before proceeding.

I felt I was making good time despite the moving hazards. As I neared Futagobashi, where I leave the path and head back into city traffic, I was checking the total elapsed time on the GPS. I had just passed 3 hours. Would I make it home within 4? I didn’t let this goal hasten my pace as I dodged the pedestrians on the bridge’s narrow sidewalk, and I waited patiently for the traffic light at the other end. Soon I was climbing the hill out of the Tamagawa valley, not making record time but keeping up a steady pace.

I sat down for my usual brief rest at the top of the hill. I checked the time and messaged Nana that I would by home by 3 o’clock (trusting that I would be quite a bit earlier than that). I was feeling the day’s ride in my thighs and was glad the climbs remaining were brief. With a final slug of water from the bidon, I set off home through the traffic. I continued to make good time, and the ride was uneventful apart from the driver who hung back behind me as I checked twice on his position, and then decided to pass me the moment I put out my hand and moved around the parked vehicle in my lane.

Things were getting close in the final 3 kilometers. With an effort, I peeled my eyes away from the GPS and concentrated on the traffic. I had luck with the lights and a long downhill with no traffic. I rolled into the plaza and hit the save button. In the end: not a record time by any means, but within 4 hours total elapsed time. I was satisfied.

Distinct lack of mechanicals

The first thing I did this morning in preparation was to check the air pressure in the tires. The front was nice and firm, but the rear was completely without pressure. I filled it up and hoped it would hold for the duration of the ride. It did.

I wasn’t very impressed with the factory rim job way they’d laid down the rim tape at the factory on the rear wheel when I received it. If the tire loses pressure again, I’ll replace the rim tape and see if that seals the deal.

Everything else went swimmingly. The new stem, which raises the handlebar about 3cm, was just what the doctor ordered. My neck and shoulders came through the ride unscathed. Ditto the recent saddle adjustment and its effect on my nethers. There was virtually no sound from the disc brakes, and the troublesome front derailleur shifted flawlessly all day. If things continue like this, I’ll have to invent excuses to work on the bike. (Not to worry: I’ve got several in mind already.)

GPS record of bicycle ride
Hatsu Hashiri

Hot (and wet) (and windy) Haneda

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

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

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

I want to talk to the manager

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

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

Decision point

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

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

You can only get soaked through once*

Fearless Leader Joe

* Once per ride, Guy Jean hastens to clarify

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

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

Now do it the other way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A decent pace

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

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

Haneda and maintenance

Selfie of two cyclists in front of Haneda peace shrine torii gate

Today the Halfakid had to be home by noon (for a virtual nomikai, as it turns out), so that pretty much ruled out all destinations apart from Haneda. I left home at a quarter to 8 and soon met up with the Halfakid. He was ready to go (for a change) and we were soon zipping through traffic on our way to the Tamagawa cycling course.

The weather was very warm and somewhat windy. It was nice when the wind was with us, of course, but at other times we had difficulty keeping our average speed up. The crowds on the paths presented another challenge. We didn’t encounter as many people overall as we did on last Sunday’s charge up to Otarumi Touge, but I think we ran over came across more father-son groups, with five- and six-year-olds zig-zagging across the path in front of us while Papa’s attention was on a passing jogger.

Selfie of two cyclists in front of Haneda peace shrine torii gate
Just me ‘n’ Thomas De Gendt chillin’ at Haneda

Despite these obstacles (and a detour caused by construction on the path) we made good time to Haneda, arriving in less than 90 minutes. We had an early lunch of Nana’s world-famous onigiri, with the Halfakid wolfing down three in less time than it took me to eat two. We were soon up again and on our way home, alternately being helped and hindered by the wind as we dodged pedestrians and slower bikers.

At the only climb of note on the course, rising up out of the Tamagawa valley and Futako Tamagawa, the Halfakid rocketed past while I shifted to progressively lower gears. When I caught up with him at the top of the grade 500m later, he said he hadn’t shifted down at all — just powered through it. We rested briefly before continuing home in traffic. I dropped the Halfakid off at his apartment at 11:30.

Cleaning and adjusting

Tomorrow we have rain in the forecast, so I thought this is a good chance to do some cleaning and adjusting. Koroko’s shifting performance has been error-free since I installed the Sugino crankset and matching bottom bracket. The front disc has been making a grinding noise during braking, though, so I thought it might be time to replace the brake pads. (I just replaced them in July last year, following the Lejog attempt.

Bicycle fork without wheel; disk brake pad inspection
Wheel off and brakepads out

It just took a minute or two to get Kuroko into the workstand and remove the front wheel, and another minute to get the brake pads out. The pads have plenty of thickness left, so obviously this is not the problem. I decided to put the pads back in, clean the brakes and adjust them.

Spray brake cleaner over bicycle brake disc; brake lever secured with rubber band
Disc brake cleaning and adjusting

The brake cleaner warns to use it in a well-ventilated area, and they are not kidding! Anyone who has wasted a childhood gluing together plastic model kits will be familiar with the smell, and the cleaner has it in a very concentrated dose. Fortunately the Workshop in the Sky is open to the air and the fumes cleared quickly. After spraying it’s just a matter of waiting a minute or two for the cleaner to evaporate, then wiping the disc with a clean shop cloth. After that I put the wheel back on the bike and adjusted the brake. I got a thick rubber band to hold the brake lever while I adjust the brakes, and this worked out well. Since I was already cleaning and adjusting the front brake, I did the back as well for good measure.

Finally, I loosened and readjusted the new crankset. It’s been working fine, but now that I’ve got nearly 200km on it I’m sure it’s had a chance to bed in a bit. Once I’d done that I gave it a couple of test spins, and sure enough I’m getting an additional revolution or two of the cranks now than when it was new.

GPS route of Haneda round trip ride
Haneda with the scion

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.