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.

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

Really bright, fairly windy

Selfie of biker in helmet and shades in front of red torii

I had to fit my riding today in between a doctor’s visit in the morning (just a meds refill) and a dinner date in the evening. The Halfakid was unavailable — we’re looking at riding tomorrow but the weather may have other ideas. And Nana hadn’t made any onigiri. So I just rode down to Haneda and back, which has become my default ride.

Butterfly on a red spider lily
Butterfly on a red spider lily

Spider lily
Spider lily

Before I started the ride, Nana and I walked through Shinjuku’s Central Park, and we found some spider lilies. The weather was fair and the sun very bright, and this continued as I set out on my bike. I stopped at a convenience store for onigiri and then continued down the Tamagawa towards Haneda. I was making good time, but definitely fighting the wind. Then when I got to the picnic areas around Maruko Bashi, I had to contend with picnickers walking abreast on the path and ignoring my bell and warning shouts.

With my late start, it was noon when I reached the next rest stop. I had some water and a little snack and considered whether to go ahead and eat my lunch. But then I decided it was just another 10km to Haneda, and I would tough it out. After the next bend in the river, the wind let up a bit, and I arrived in Haneda less than half an hour later.

Tourist boat passing under bridge
Whistleblower

Tourist boat in front of Haneda Peace Shrine
Tourist boat in front of Haneda Peace Shrine

Just as I was sitting down to eat I heard a whistleblower — er, a boat horn — so I got up to investigate.

I rested about half an hour at Haneda, in the shade, and ate the onigiri and remaining snacks. As I was resting the sky clouded up, so I didn’t bother to put on my mask for the return trip.

On the way home the wind was often helping me, and so I picked up the pace. When I got to the climb at Futako I though I was going strong, but Strava did not give me a trophy so I must have done better on other occasions.

With the climb behind me I focused on improving my average speed, and I did get it up a couple of ticks as I worked my way through the traffic on the way home. (No one tell Nana how I ride to improve my speed in traffic … )

Route map of Tokyo-Haneda ride
Tokyo – Haneda solo

Mt Fuji in sunset and clouds
Surprise visitor

When I arrived home, after I had a shower, I discovered a surprise visitor out on the balcony.

Mechanicals

Following my recent time spent adjusting the derailleurs, shifting was butter-smooth, almost dreamy. I was very pleased with that. The front disc, on the other hand, has been squealing since the return from the Tour de Tohoko, so during my lunch break I adjusted the front caliper. Blessed silence after that.

The only concern now is the bottom bracket bearings. Yes, I just replaced them at the beginning of this month, and yes, they’re already making noise. I’ve done some research and discovered that when I changed the crankset it meant a reduction in bearing size from 7mm to 4mm. It’s a much stiffer spindle on the crankset, at 30mm, but the change in bearings may have been ill-advised. I’m weighing now whether to seek out other bearing providers (and they aren’t cheap), or to go to a different crankset with a 24mm spindle.

Hot, sweaty and flat

Two cyclists in front of Haneda Peace Shrine

We chose to ride to Haneda today, a short ride, because of the brutal heat and the fact I hadn’t verified everything was working OK with Kuroko. By the time I’d reached the Halfakid’s apartment, I knew that I had to tighten up some of the spokes in the rear wheel following the spoke replacement job. But aside from that and the rear derailleur needing some adjustment, Kuroko seems to be in good shape. I’ve got a replacement bottom bracket on order, but if it ain’t broke then I ain’t gonna fix it.

The Halfakid encountered a bit more pressing of a mechanical with a flat on the rear. I had a pump and he had a spare innertube and some tire levers, so it didn’t take us long to get back on the road.

Cyclist with bike upside-down, removing the rear wheelCyclist inserting innertube into bicycle wheel
Removing the wheel and inserting a new innertube

The flat gave us a good excuse to have a rest in the shade and drink some water. Despite the fact we’d loaded our water bottles with ice, just 45 minutes after leaving home the water was already warm. After sorting out the flat we stopped after another 5km to refill our bottles before continuing on the final stretch to Haneda. We were riding into the wind and we could both feel it fighting us. For a while the Halfakid let me slipstream him, and it made quite a difference.

Two cyclists in front of Haneda Peace Shrine
Haneda Peace Shrine in the brutal sunshine

At Haneda we sat in the shade to eat onigiri and drink cold water from a vending machine. According to my phone it was 35C, making it hotter than my last ride two weeks ago. This was precisely the reason we wanted to take it easy!

The ride home was hot and sweaty, but with the wind. The difference in speed was as much as 6-7km/h over the ride down into the wind. My rear derailleur was making more noise, but I judged it would get me home without trouble. We came to the climb out of the Tama River valley, 20m up at a bit more than 4%, and even the Halfakid said he was dying. But he was up the hill long before I was and waited for me in the little park at the top. From there the ride home in traffic was uneventful.

Haneda Round Trip route
Haneda Round Trip route

The peak temperature was not as high as my last ride, but the average was higher. The vertical drops in temperature indicate when we were sitting in the shade: to fix the flat tire and to have the onigiri.

Temperature profile
Stinking hot

Finally, Mr Gouty Toe was aching moderately all day. Not being gouty, but just reminding me that certain lifestyle choices have consequences.

Haneda half day

Kuroko with Kawazuzakura

I had a few constraints on my ride time today. First, Nana reminded me we’re having dinner at 5:30, and then the forecast called for rain in the afternoon despite it being a bright, sunny day. (There’s been no rain yet and the forecast has been revised.) So I decided on a quick jaunt down the Tama river to Haneda.

Nikuman, still hot
Nikuman, still hot

The weather really was clear and beautiful, with a bit of wind. There were a lot of children out playing little league baseball on the riverbanks. I lost count of the number of times a kid in a baseball uniform would swerve his bike right in front of me because he was busy watching the game down on the riverbank instead of where he was going. With the great weather, there was also a huge number of joggers and people out for a stroll and toddlers on pushbikes to watch out for on the path.

Nana hadn’t made rice last night, so instead of onigiri I stopped at a convenience store a few kilometers before the end of the river and bought a couple of nikuman and a Snickers.

Haneda Peace Shrine
Haneda Peace Shrine

Despite the obstacles, I made it to Haneda in less than two hours. It was warming up by this time and I was really sweating. I found a bit of shade to sit in while I ate the nikuman and sent photos to Nana.

Kuroko waits while I eat
Kuroko waits while I eat

On the ride back I had a tailwind, so I made better time. Say what you will about middle-aged men chasing lost youth, but I did several 4-minute miles today … The biggest challenge again was avoiding the strollers and weekend riders, as well as knots of people stopped with their bikes held right across the middle of the path. I even came across a large group of seniors walking behind a banner and massing across the path from side to side. I slowed to a crawl as I rang my bell and called out, “Excuse me, excuse me … ”

That’s just complaining, though, as it was a beautiful day and I really made good time, returning home less than four hours after setting out. The kawazuzakura blossoms are nearing their end, but it’s a couple of weeks yet before we’ll see the regular cherry blossoms. I could see the buds burgeoning on quite a few trees as I raced by. I’ll need to come back when they’re in bloom (and the path will be even more crowded).

Kuroko with Kawazuzakura
Kuroko with Kawazuzakura

Haneda half day
Haneda half day