Posts

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.

Kawagoe on a beautiful day

Kurazukuri style warehouse with famous Kurazukuri and Toki-no-Kane bell tower in background

I visited Kawagoe more than five years ago with Nana and her family. We went by train that time, and it took so long to get there I didn’t realize how close it was until I accompanied Fearless Leader Joe when he borrowed Dionysus for a stay in Saitama. I was very surprised to find after heading a few kilometers upstream on the Arakawa that we were passing into Kawagoe!

But, as they say, there’s Kawagoe and then there’s Kawagoe … We didn’t see any of Koedo (the Old Town) on that ride. And when FLJ subsequently had business dealings in Kawagoe, he didn’t even realize Koedo existed! But it all got me to thinking. In the intervening months I plotted a course that would take me from home to Futako Tamagawa, up the Tamagawa to Hamura, and then overland to Kawagoe (and of course passing through Koedo!) before returning down the Arakawa to home: a total of 125km.

Bicycle in front of cycling course sign for Arakawa
Kuroko at the Toda Bridge

Today I did something a bit less ambitious: from home, up the Arakawa to Kawagoe and back would be just 85km, and largely flat. I set off just before 9 a.m. after dealing with an unexpected mechanical, and was soon making good progress on Yamate Dori and Nakasendo Way towards the Arakawa.

Upon reaching the river I turned upstream, into uncharted territory for me. (When we delivered Dionysus in November, we’d crossed the Toda Bridge and continued on the opposite riverbank.) I’d plotted everything out on Google Maps and Street View (where available), but it wasn’t always clear what was a rideable path and what wasn’t.

Night and day

It was such a pleasure to be back on Kuroko after yesterday’s jaunt on Dionysus. The drop bars, the high-volume tires to soak up the bumps — a pillowy promenade after a rocky road.

Worn and rutted path uphill between fields of grass
That’s a path, according to Google

And after less than an hour’s riding along the river, following the Garmin and the other cyclists, I came to a section where the path was blocked off. I descended from the levee to the parallel street, as I’d seen a couple of other bikers do, and from there I kept looking for an opportunity to get back to the cycling course at the top of the levee. I was a bit premature — I ended up cycling a few hundred meters of gravel before giving up and returning to the street level!

And the route was complicated by road construction and detours. Thank goodness Japanese baton-waving construction workers don’t get bashful in the presence of foreigners and struggle to speak English. The fellow I encountered just called out, “Keep going that way until you get to the white sign, then turn right!” The directions were perfect.

In the end I joined up with paved cycle path atop the levee less than 1km before I was due to turn off and set across farmland towards Kawagoe proper. Unfortunately, Google Maps in this territory doesn’t have cycling directions, and the walking directions led me to a decidedly non-cycle friendly route down from the path. I made a mental note to look for an alternative on the way home.

Kawagoe

Once off the path, it was just a few kilometers through farmland before joining up with a main route into the city. Before I knew it, I was turning into Koedo and the Kurazukuri no Machinami — the warehouse district.

Photo montage of old style Japanese kurazukuri warehouses
Kurazukuri no Machinami

Photo montage of old style Japanese kurazukuri warehouses
Kurazukuri no Machinami

Among the old-style warehouses there’s another sight not to be missed: the 19th Century Toki-no-Kane (“Bell of Time”) bell tower.

Photo montage of famous Kawagoe bell tower Toki-no-Kane
Toki-no-Kane

Lunch!

By the time I’d finished photographing Koedo, it was nearly noon. There are many restaurants and take-out counters in Koedo offering a variety of tantalizing Japanese dishes, but I was fully stocked with Nana’s world-famous onigiri. I quickly back-tracked to a sakura-adorned park near the Arakawa and gobbled down four at one go — surely a record for me!

The route home along the Arakawa was an easy one, particularly now that I knew which parts of the cycle path existed only in Google’s imagination. The road along the levee was quite narrow in bits, but I was soon back up on paved cycle course heaven! Unfortunately that only continued for a few hundred meters before it was back down into the streets and construction and detours, but this time I knew where I was going and when I would be back on the cycle course.

On the return I was fighting the wind a bit — either it was calm on my way upstream or I was unwittingly benefiting from a tailwind — but it didn’t hold me back much. It took just an hour and 17 minutes from the time I left the park to return to my favorite signpost marking the point where I leave the Arakawa cycling path for the welcoming arms of Tokyo city traffic.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and UV mask in front of sign for Arakawa cycling course
Masked against the sun

I’d applied my regular sunblock on my face before leaving the house in the morning, but not the extra super stuff. I was expecting weather more or less like yesterday’s overcast skies, but it turned out to be quite a bit more sunny. Fortunately I was wearing my UV mask and pulled that up over my nose when the sun got strong (even when I wasn’t in the presence of others). Whenever I felt it was getting uncomfortable and wanted to pull it off, I reminded myself it’s not all that hot yet, and I need to get in the habit of wearing the mask even if it’s 30C.

Racing traffic towards home

I know the route from the river back home well, and I don’t let myself get excited about the traffic whizzing past my elbow. It’s a major artery the whole way, but there’s a good margin left for cyclists for the most part. I only had a couple of times going around a parked car, with my hand out to indicate I was coming over, where a driver didn’t feel he needed to give me room. It was on this same route back in November that Fearless Leader Joe put his hand out to indicate he was coming around a parked car only to touch the bumper of a car coming up fast behind him!

GPS record of bike ride
Kawagoe on a beautiful day

In the end I got home at 2:30, just five and a half hours after setting out, after telling Nana I’d be home about 5! I made good progress today, aided by the largely flat course.

Mechanical

Ah, what would a Guy Jean post be with a mechanical? Since my return from Shimanami Kaido, the front tire has been losing air slowly. I’d fill it up and leave it a day or two, and find it nearly flat.

This morning I figured I’d fill it up and it would be OK for the day’s ride. I was in for quite a surprise — I’d no sooner filled the tire than it began audibly leaking and visibly going soft. The reason was soon apparent as latex sealant sprouted around the valve.

Detail of bicycle tire with latex sealant leaking from valve
That’ll be a leaky valve right there

I’d had the same issue with the rear tire just a couple of weeks before, and had quickly fixed it by replacing the valve with a high-quality unit from Schwalbe. In that case, the leak had been from the valve core itself, while this time it was clearly from the base, where the valve emerges from the rim.

I quickly thought: I could futz around with the valve as it is and try to get the base to seal up again. Or I could simply replace it — I had another Schwalbe on hand. I immediately decided for the replacement.

Detail of bicycle wheel with tire lever pulling tire away from valve area
Peeling the tire back

Bicycle tire valves, old and new
Old ‘n’ busted — you know the routine

The new valve held the pressure immediately. After inflating the tire again (with a number of satisfactory popping noises as the tire seated on the rim), I could still hear a bit of hissing, but not from the valve area. I swirled the tire around to get the sealant to the leaking area, and the sound soon stopped.

Tire pump with gauge showing inflated pressure; bicycle wheel in background
That’ll hold?

Unfortunately I proved to be a bit optimistic in my evaluation of the fix: I stopped a couple of times during the day’s ride to top up the pressure in the front. I’m happy to say though that we didn’t reach the extreme of having the tire roll off the rim and burp out all the sealant, as happened on the Arakawa back in November (albeit with a different set of tires).

The forecast is for rain tomorrow, and I’ve got Kuroko up in the Workshop in the Sky. I’ll get this leak sorted or know the reason why.

Once more around the park, driver

Bicycle in front of moat with fading cherry blossoms

With a late start this morning and a longer ride planned for tomorrow, I was in the mood for a shorter ride today. Between my two typical short courses — Haneda and the Tokyo Landmarks — I chose the latter.

Bicycle leaning on hedge in front of fountain
Meiji Jingu Gaien

Tokyo Tower looming over trees and flowers in foreground
Tokyo Tower and Shiba Park

The skies were grey when I departed, with the forecast for more of the same all day. It may not be the most cheery weather, but it makes it less likely I’ll get a sunburn. For most of the day, my shades remained in my bag.

I hadn’t given Nana a clear answer yesterday on whether I’d be biking today, so she didn’t make any onigiri.

Imperial Palace moat and outbuildings
Imperial Palace moat and outbuildings

Cherry blossoms overhanging the Imperial Palace moat
Imperial Palace moat

I’m not able to eff why I decided to ride Dionysus today. Kuroko should be fine to ride following the shifter cable replacement, and I’m planning on riding her tomorrow. But I made the right choice today. My pace was easygoing — not to say lackadaisical — and we had fun.

Rainbow bridge across bay with cloudy skies above
Grey Rainbow Bridge

Tokyo Skytree from Sakura Bridge with bicycle in foreground
Tokyo Skytree

At Tokyo Big Sight I stopped to get lunch from a convenience store. Unfortunately it was 12:15 on a weekday, and the shop was packed with people. I had to wait for people to move to get what I was after, and then waited in quite a long queue to get to the register. Fortunately, the workers were fast and efficient, and I didn’t wait very long.

Hungry as I was, my eyes may have been bigger than my stomach. When I set out again after eating, I was feeling a bit leaden. Within a handful of kilometers the feeling passed. I still don’t feel as strong as normal, and I don’t know if that’s a lingering effect of pneumonia, or just the effect of having missed nearly a month of cycling. At any rate, I continued on at a comfortable pace.

Dionysus didn’t give any trouble. I raised the seat slightly at the beginning of the ride and that seems to have been a good choice. The main water bottle bracket — the one on the down tube — was a bit loose, but that was quickly remedied with the minitool. After about 50km my left wrist got tired. I was riding in traffic all day so I didn’t want to ride on the horns, which takes my hands away from the brake levers. So I just rested the wrist at every opportunity (such as the multitude of traffic lights).

Bicycle in front of moat with fading cherry blossoms
Chidorigafuchi just after the cherry blossoms

Although the skies looked like rain all day, we didn’t have any — true to the forecast. When I got to Budokan I messaged Nana that I’d be home in about an hour. In the end I made it in half that.

GPS record of cycle ride
Once more around the park, driver

Shimanami Kaido videos

Here are two videos from the second day of our Shimanami Kaido excursion.


Maybe no commuting this week

Cityscape obscured by clouds and haze
Cloudy? Foggy? No, it’s …

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about commuting via Dionysus this week, but each morning when I get up it looks like rain. Yesterday I could hardly see a thing out the window.

It turns out only some of what I’m seeing is clouds. There’s a big helping of yellow sand from the Gobi Desert out there as well — the stuff we saw in pictures from Beijing last week.

Shimanami Kaido reprise

Four cyclists and one bike on a bridge
Weather forecast showing high chance of rain for two days
Not promising

About a month ago, Fearless Leader Joe and I were discussing rides we’d like to do and he mentioned he wanted to ride Shimanami Kaido. The Halfakid and I did this one back in 2018 on rental bikes. We did the route in one direction only that time, opting to take the ferry back from Imabari after the hard plastic rental bike saddles had done a number on our backsides. So we’ve been wanting to get our revenge since that time.

Within a few days, we’d agreed on the dates. I booked the shinkansen for the Halfakid and myself (Joe and Sanborn would be driving), and Nana found a nice onsen hotel within reasonable riding distance of the end of the route in Imabari. (There are apparently no onsen in Imabari proper — at least none we’ve been able to track down.)

As we prepared for the ride and counted the days, I started checking the weather forecast for Onomichi. With 10 days to go, it was showing a more than 70% chance of rain both days. I checked every day thereafter and we crossed our collective fingers as the forecast slowly improved.

I had another bit of excitement in the interim: Nana and I woke up one morning with fevers and coughs. We were eventually diagnosed with pneumonia. With antibiotics and a lot of rest, I quickly recovered. But I wasn’t really confident I’d be able to make the trip until about 10 days before the start.

Photo montage of backpack with bicycle helmet and bike transport bag stowed behind a row of shinkansen seats
Packed and ready

I had a spare travel bag for the Halfakid, a real rough-and-ready rinko-style bag, while Kuroko got her usual pampered treatment in the padded bag. It was my first time taking this bag on the shinkansen. I’d reserved the seats with luggage space, and the bag stuck out a bit into the aisle. No one complained about it, though. (When the Halfakid boarded at Shin Yokohama, he stuffed his bike in behind and partly atop this — I didn’t get a photo.) After three-and-a-half hours on the bullet train, we switched to a local and arrived in Onomichi on schedule, four hours after I’d departed from Tokyo Station.

Close-up of bicycle tire showing sealant leaking at rim
The latex scare

We’d had a message from Fearless Leader Joe that he and Sanborn (blues name: Sambone) had arrived an hour ahead of schedule, but there was no sign of them at the station. The Halfakid and I set about unpacking and assembling our bikes, and then changing into our riding gear. I’d deflated my tires to help them fit in the travel bag, and the front in particular had leaked some sealant along the rim. I was a bit concerned it might not seal again when I pumped it up, but there was no trouble. The errant duo arrived just as we’d finished, and FLJ gathered up our bike bags to stow in his car. He returned, pushing his beautiful Chapman bike — he’d had to remove the handlebar to fit it in the back of his car, and he wanted my help to get it back on the bike. That took just a minute or two, and then I fitted a new pannier to the rear rack for him as well. (What happened to the bags I put on the bike in England, Joe?)

Cherry tree in bloom
The outlook quickly improved

We started a bit after 11, which was later than we’d hoped. But we were in luck with the weather. It had been raining in the morning, but the sun was beginning to shine as we took the ferry from Onomichi Port to Mukaishima. I started the Garmin and we set out on the first few, flat kilometers. As soon as we got to the first climb, though, an easy 3% grade up to the 1,270m Innoshima Bridge, the others raced past me as I slowed to a crawl. I’d let them know that there was a good spot for photos at the entrance to the bridge, and that’s where I found them waiting when I eventually got to the top.

Two cyclists chatting with bridge in background
Skinny guys get there first

That set the pattern for the rest of the day. As the weather continued to improve, allowing us to enjoy the views across the Seto Inland Sea, the lads would follow me on the flats and let me set the pace. But when it came to the climbing, they would rocket ahead as I shifted progressively downward and took my sweet time. The lead-up to each bridge is a gradual and winding 3%, but the climb up to Miyakubo Pass on Oshima is a long stretch at 5-6%. Four years ago, the Halfakid took a long breather halfway up this climb, but this time he was far ahead of me as I soldiered onwards and upwards.

Pink, red and white blossoming trees on a hillside
More blossoms

As the day wore on my energy decreased and each new climb seemed longer and harder. I was very pleased when I recognized the spiral ramp leading up to the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, the last of the day. The others stopped at the top of the ramp to chat but I continued immediately across the 4km-long bridge, doing my best to enjoy the view as I anticipated the spiral descent down the opposite side.

Japanese castle wall and turret rising over moat
Imabari Castle

At the foot of the off-ramp we departed from the Shimanami Kaido route and continued along the sea into Imabari. I’d selected this route to avoid traffic going into the city, and it was a success. In the end we only had a couple of kilometers of city traffic to negotiate before arriving at Imabari Castle shortly before 5 p.m.

We took a brief rest at the castle, finished our snacks and called the hotel to let them know to expect us about 6 p.m. On the plot of the route from the castle to the hotel it showed a steady climb, just 1-2% along most of the distance, but with an upward flip to 5-6% at the end. In my tired state I wondered if I’d really be able to make it in an hour. As the shadows were lengthening, I put on my bright yellow windbreaker and turned on my taillights before setting out.

The climb turned out to be so gradual for the most part that it was hardly noticeable. When we’d gone a few kilometers out of the city, we saw road markings for a cycle route to our goal: Nibukawa Onsen. We soon came to a decision point when the road markings said to continue straight ahead while the route I’d set in the Garmin was telling us to turn. We voted to go with the Garmin and it turned out to be a good choice. My route took us through some lovely rural farm country, and I could hear Joe and Sanborn discussing what a great, scenic ride it was.

I stopped for a final breather on a bridge over a small waterfall on the Nibukawa, just where our route joined up with the road markings again. The Garmin showed 1.5km remaining, so I put all I had into it and powered my way up the final steep portion. We soon rolled through a gateway and found the hotel just a few dozen meters on, surrounded by cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossoms
View from the hotel parking lot

The hotel staffer greeted us and opened up a spacious garage with bike racks inside. This was a welcome development! We checked into our room and headed immediately for the baths, knowing our bicycles were securely out of the elements.

Place setting for dinner with Japanese artwork and writing
Place setting for dinner

The baths — indoors and out — were relaxing and refreshing after the day’s ride, but they weren’t quite warm enough to fully satisfy us. Dinner on the other hand was sumptuous, with a variety of delicious dishes. There was so much food, in fact, that I wasn’t able to finish it all (something that rarely happens, particularly after a 90km ride).

GPS record of cycle route
Did not die

Day 2

We got a much better start for our return, departing at 8:21 after a delicious but not quite filling breakfast. I’d set a somewhat different route at the start, staying away from Imabari Castle and shaving off a couple of kilometers. But there were a couple of steeper climbs before getting to the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, and for the first time on this adventure I stopped for a rest midway up one of the longer rises. The day was warming up quickly, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, by the time we reached the bridge’s spiral entrance ramp. I made it up to the top without having to stop for a rest, and soon we were speeding our way across the 4km span.

Park bench showing the waypoints of the Shimanami Kaido
Park bench showing the waypoints of the Shimanami Kaido

We stopped at a convenient park on the opposite end of the bridge. We wanted to buy water from the vending machine, and I wanted to confirm a mechanical that had been brewing from the previous day: my rear derailleur wouldn’t shift up past about the middle of the sprockets. I pulled back the shift lever hood to expose the cable, and the Halfakid confirmed my suspicions with his eagle eyes: the shift cable was fraying.

This was the same issue that hit me in the middle of Lejog, and ended with me putting the chain into the spokes, breaking several. I knew from that experience not to try to mess with the derailleur adjusting screws. Because I still had full use of the lower half of the sprockets — the ones I need for climbing — I just shrugged and hoped the cable wouldn’t break completely before the end of the ride. Without the use of the higher gears, it just meant I’d coast more on downhills instead of pedaling to increase my speed.

View of the Seto Inland Sea
View of the Seto Inland Sea

Four cyclists and one bike on a bridge
Four cyclists, one bike

With our early start, we covered much more distance before lunch than we had the previous day. In fact, we ended up in the same location at lunchtime, with just 30km left to ride. We looked about for a different restaurant and chanced upon a very nice place serving anago. We dallied an hour over lunch before heading out into the bright sunshine once again.

Tatara Bridge
Tatara Bridge

In the afternoon we had just 30km left to go, and Miyakubo Pass was behind us. There were just a couple of brief climbs remaining. The entrance to Innoshima Bridge is marked by an enormous dinosaur statue and a steeply rising road. I paused to catch my breath and drink some water before continuing up the more forgiving cycle path.

Cartoon map of the cycling road
Very near the end

The others were waiting for me by the cherry blossoms on the opposite end of the bridge — which had been our first stop the previous day. They continued to chat cheerfully as I drank more water and took a snap of the blossoms.

Cherry tree blossoming
The tree at the end of the bridge

We descended from the bridge onto Mukaishima, our last island of the day, with less than 10km to go. Sadly, the wind — which had been with us most of the day — suddenly was in our faces. I pressed on the best I could manage, and the others followed close behind. (Sanborn later told me he’d been drafting so close behind that he hadn’t even noticed the headwind. I should have made him lead at this point.) Traffic picked up as we neared the ferry port, and the signs along the edge of the road counted down the kilometers for us. We finally made the last turn towards the port and rolled up to a stop, exhausted (at least I was) and triumphant.

Bicycle leaning against tile wall
Back at Onomichi station, preparing to pack up

We cooled our heels waiting for the ferry, and then crossed to the station. We arrived just before 3:30, which left us plenty of time to pack up the bikes, change our clothes and sit down for a coffee and some baked goods before our train departure at 5:14. And although Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn had a long drive ahead, they remained with us until we boarded the train.

Two people carrying bicycles in bags waving from train platform
Until next time!

The ride home was uneventful except for the fact there was no food or drink service on the shinkansen, as a coronavirus prevention measure. We’d bought snacks at Fukuyama to eat on the way, but I’d been expecting to get a cold beer once the train was in motion.

GPS record of cycle route
Continuation of failure to expire

Before I get to the gory details of fixing the shifter cable, here are a couple of resources for Shimanami Kaido that I referred to while writing this post:

Mechanicals

We had no flats, and my tires continued to hold air despite having leaked some sealant when I deflated them for the travel. Which brings us to the shifter cable. Saturday morning I unpacked Kuroko, putting the frame in the bike stand, and I checked my stock of cables: three brake cables and one shifter cable.

Four bicycle cables in Shimano blue packaging
That’s it on the left

After making sure I had what I needed, I cut the end off the cable and pushed it back through the housing towards the shifter.

Cutting shift cable at the rear derailleur with wire cutters
The first cut is the deepest

Frayed cable sticking out the side of a shift lever
The damage is done

With the shifter hood pulled back and the cable pulled free, the damage was apparent. I was a bit worried I’d have trouble freeing the mushroom head from the shifter, as I did the last time when the cable had snapped, but there was no problem. As I had plans to see the cherry blossoms in the afternoon with Nana and her mother, I left the bike in the stand at this point and cleaned up.

Bicycle chain cleaner held in gloved hand
This is the way we clean the chain

On Sunday, rather than jump right in at replacing the cable, I decided to clean the chain and rear sprockets first. They were certainly due for a good scrubbing.

Photo montage showing bicycle sprockets before and after cleaning
Not perfect, but a huge improvement

Shift lever with hood pulled back to show cable insertion
Mushroom in its slot

I threaded the new cable through the shift lever and the cable housings with very little trouble. I wanted to make sure that the mushroom head was fully captured by the rotating slot in the shift lever, because that had been troublesome the last time I replaced the cable. Holding the free end of the cable in tension with my left hand, I worked the shift lever back and forth a few times while watching through the tiny opening in the side of the lever. Finally I was satisfied that the mushroom was fully engaged, and I continued threading the other end of the cable through the remaining slots and housing.

At this point I noticed how dirty the rear derailleur was, so I spent a few minutes cleaning up the jockey wheels. While I was at it, I had a go at cleaning the chainrings as well.

Photo montage showing bicycle derailleur before and after cleaning
That’s dirty!

Finally, I cinched the pinch bolt tight against the cable. I ran through all the gears a few times as I adjusted the tension via the barrel adjuster. It just took a couple of twists before I was happy with the performance. I tightened the pinch bolt a bit more and cut the cable to length. I wasn’t able to find a cable end immediately — I ended up stealing one from one of the brake cable packages.

Bicycle showing detail of rear derailleur
Ready for adjustment

Rear derailleur with cable end on shifter cable
The finishing touch

After a last run through the gears, I reached for the front wheel to put it back in the fork, only to find it was flat. I’d pumped it up Saturday morning when I unpacked the bike and propped it up against the wall of the Workshop in the Sky, and here it was flat again just a day later. I pumped it up again and this time I could clearly hear the air hissing from the bead, not far from the valve. I swirled the tire around, hoping to get some sealant into the leaking area, but nothing changed.

I finally realized there might not be any more sealant left after all the leaking. With a sigh I let the remaining air out of the tire and removed the valve core. Using the syringe, I poured in a generous helping of sealant. I charged the tire pump reservoir up to 120psi, attached the pump head to the valve and let it fly. The gauge quickly dropped as the air rushed into the tire, but then it slowed and finally held at 40psi.

I listened once again and didn’t hear any leaking. I took the pump head off the valve (letting all the remaining air escape) and screwed in the valve core. Then I pumped up the tire to 60psi a final time. After closing the valve I swirled the tire some more while listening for leaks. Nothing. Satisfied, I put the wheel back in the fork and let Kuroko down off the stand.

Very little remained to do. I put the pedals back on after applying some fresh grease to the threads and remembering which way to turn them. I loosened the seat post clamp and retightened it to the correct torque. Finally I replaced everything I’d removed, either for packing or for the repair: the tire pump, the saddlebag, the lights.

Bicycle leaning against glass balcony railing
Done and done

Prognosis

I’m two for two now on fraying the rear shifter cable after traveling with Kuroko in a bag. While the Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro that I used for Lejog is different from the Ostrich OS-500 I used this time, and the placement of handlebar and fork in particular is very different, both involve turning and twisting that is potentially putting some stress on the shifter cable. On the other hand, I’ve used the Ostrich before — for the 2018 Tour de Tohoku and the Kyoto-Nara-Osaka ride the same year without any trouble. Searching for “broken shifter cable” brought up a number of hits, including this blog, but no particular mention of travel bags.

I’ve learned that Shimano shifters in particular are prone to fraying and breakage, with some riders reporting getting as few as 1,000km out of a single cable. Inspecting the cables for incipient wear can be tricky given the tiny access port available — even the Halfakid with his young eyes had difficulty making sure of the fraying when we stopped en route. So to avoid this sort of mechanical again (or to mitigate for it), I’m left with a few options:

  • Replace the cable periodically, even if there’s no sign of wear. (Signs include resistance to shifting or frequent need to reindex the gears.)
  • Carry a spare cable and the tools needed to replace the cable in the field.
  • Embrace the uncertainty as just one more quirk of the cycling life, like ridiculous padded lycra shorts.
  • Convert to electronic shifting — something I’ve been considering for other reasons, but it’s quite expensive.
  • Switch to a single-speed bike.
  • Replace my Shimano groupset with SRAM (which by all accounts is not subject to this same issue) — also rather expensive and not something I’m inclined to do. (Dionysus is on a SRAM 1x set-up, and I’m completely happy with that.)
  • Go to another gearing system, like the Rohloff Speedhub on Fearless Leader Joe’s Chapman bike. Not only is the Speedhub expensive and heavy, but I’d need a whole new bike.
  • Sell off the bike and take up darts.

I’m going to ponder these options for a while before coming up with a plan of action.

The struggle is real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gettin’ the hang of this

Using a syringe to add latex sealant to a bicycle tire

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

Checking tire pressure with digital gauge
New toy

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

Bicycle tire pump gauge
Sanity check

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

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

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

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

Third time’s a charm — nearly

Soapy bicycle tire with pump attached
Charming lack of bubbles

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

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

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

Digital pressure gauge with bicycle wheel in background
High and tight

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

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

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

Four for four

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

Digital tire pressure gauge
A wee bit low

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

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

Rotten to the core

Bicycle wheel with tire pump attached

Here we go again

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

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

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

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

Soap bubbes emerging from bike tire valve
J’Accuse…!

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

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

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

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

OK, I have a spare

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satisfied!

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

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

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

Bicycle tire with small soap bubbles around valve
Satisfied!

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

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

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

Laughing (to keep from crying)

Soap bubbles show air escaping from bicycle tire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycle wheel and valve core tool
Valve core out

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where the crying part comes in

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

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

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

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

Onwards!

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

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

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

Soap bubbles showing air escaping from bicycle tire
Blowing bubbles

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

Papa’s got a brand new bag

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

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

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

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