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Gettin’ some culture into Da Kid

Selfie of two cyclists in front of sign for Arakawa cycling course

I’ve ridden with José up and down the Arakawa river a number of times, including a three-rivers ride where we started way up in Saitama and cycled all the way down the Arakawa. But he hasn’t been to Koedo in Kawagoe (at least not by bike). This was our goal three weeks ago, when we met at Nihonbashi and rode directly east via Eitai Dori, but that turned out to be a bridge too far.

Bicycle leaning against railing with moat and Imperial Palace turrent in background
Early morning start

Today we met at José’s flat and took a more northerly route to the Arakawa, shedding dozens of kilometers off the route. As is usual on the Arakawa, the wind was changeable but often against us. We also encountered a detour not far from our goal which was distinctly not cycle-friendly. But we persevered, and we reached Koedo shortly before noon. The early start today helped very much in this regard.

As expected, the historical Koedo district was very crowded on a weekend with gorgeous weather. We bided our time in traffic as we cruised up and down the famous road lined with 17th-Century and later warehouses. The road in front of the Toki no Kane bell tower was surprisingly uncrowded, but that didn’t prevent me totally muffing the selfie.

Badly composed selfie of two cyclists with Kawagoe bell tower in background
It’s the famous bell tower. Trust me.

Now to get home

On the way out of town, we stopped at a convenience store to supplement the world-famous onigiri prepared fresh by Nana this morning, and then found a shaded table at the park. I worked out a detour which would avoid the cycle-unfriendly construction detour, and we headed back.

I was feeling good on the return trip and told José I would accompany him back to home, the way we had come in the morning. The wind was easier going on the return, and I’d already let Nana know not to expect me before 4 or 5 p.m. But just 5km later, as we were approaching the sign that marks the spot where I usually enter the river corridor, I had second thoughts. I felt basically OK, with just a bit of hand numbness and no saddle sores or other fatigue. But the attraction of taking the short route home, vs. the original route which would add another 25km or so, was too appealing. And so soon I was dragging José up the levee for a final couple of photos before saying farewell for the day.

I was just shy of the 100km mark where we parted, and I still had a bit of energy to see me over the wavy ride home along Yamate Dori. I stopped under the shade of an overpass to gulp down the last of the convenience store sweets and water. I checked the time: just after 2 p.m. So I messaged Nana I would be home by 3:30 and set off into traffic. Not much to relate about that, but I was still turning PRs — and 2nds and 3rds — at this point, and I made it home before 3.

GPS record of cycle route
Gettin’ some culture into Da Kid

As mentioned, I’d saved about 25km by taking the direct route home rather than seeing José off at his doorstop. With a moving time of 5 hours 37 minutes and 37 seconds, I had an average moving speed of 20.0km/h on the nose. José was a bit unsure of his way home but he got there, just a few minutes after I’d arrived home, and at a nearly identical distance of 112.40km.

Add a loop at the end to make 100

Bicycle in foreground against fence with kagura of imperial palace and moat behind

We planned an easy ride today with José and Tomo to Tokyo Disneyland. When Tomo dropped out, I messaged José:

Let’s stretch a bit and head for Kawagoe.

Guy Jean

I usually get to Arakawa by taking Yamate Dori from just near my flat, a very straight shot. This morning the plan was to meet José at Nihonbashi and take Eitai Dori out to Arakawa. I figured this might add 20-30km to the usual ride of 86-87km.

Slight miscalculation

After the meet-up at Nihonbashi we rode to Arakawa without incident. Once on the river, though, we were battling the wind. We joked about whether it would change heading and we would be facing a headwind on the return leg as well. We soldiered onwards, with me suffering from the wind much more than José.

I’d forgotten again what I already knew, and had been reminded of when supporting José’s marathon effort: Eitai Dori joins the Arakawa cycling course at the 1km mark, while the place I usually join at the Toda Bridge is at the 26km mark. So in addition to whatever extra kilometers I put in reaching Arakawa via Nihonbashi, I had an extra 25km (50km round trip) to reach Kawagoe!

The wind eventually eased up as we traveled further upstream, and our speed increased accordingly. But we were still looking at reaching Kawagoe at 1 p.m. at the earliest, and then having a longer-than-usual return trip.

It was José who cried “Uncle!” in the end. In addition to not having been on the bike for a number of months, he has a huge client meeting tomorrow for which he’s totally responsible — everything from the agenda to the lunch. He didn’t want to face that while being totally exhausted from a bike ride with dad. We cycled along without forcing the pace until a natural return spot suggested itself: Asaka Weir.

After a brief stop we turned and headed back downstream. The wind was more with us than against now, but we were already tired and that was obvious. I was also having issues with finger numbness, so we were stopping every 5km to rest instead of 10-15km. Meanwhile we were being passed at speed by pacelines of club members on carbon fibre bikes and wearing matching kit.

Back in traffic

We finally reached Eitai Dori and re-entered Tokyo traffic about 1:35 p.m. We immediately stopped at a convenience store for cold water, Pokari, ice cream and other treats. We didn’t feel any need to hurry as we enjoyed our treats and cooled off. I drank off half the Pokari bottle before turning to the ice cream, and felt all the better for it.

At this point my question was whether I’d post 100km for the day. I’d already realized I’d made a miscalculation on reaching Kawagoe, but I didn’t concern myself at figuring out what the total would have been — I just wanted a fondo for the day. After José finished a protein bar (and he offered me one several times), we mounted up again and headed straight into Tokyo. We soon passed a sign showing we were just 5km from Nihonbashi. José is lucky — he’s just a few minutes from home at this point. But I didn’t mind that I have longer to go as I was still looking forward to booking 100km for the day.

I made it up Kudanzaka with more in reserve than I was expecting. I had a headache at this point from the pressure on my neck and shoulders, and I took a couple of minutes to relax and stretch out. I’d reached Budokan about 2:50 p.m., so I messaged Nana (and thanks for the great onigiri again!) I’d be home about 4.

I was really flagging at this point — I’d posted several personal bests for the day, but they were all long before we reached the turn-around point. Nevertheless, I was determined to get my 100km. As I entered Shinjuku, I flipped Garmie from navigation to stats, and I noted as I passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings that I was going to be just that bit shy of the goal. So at the end, within a block of my home, I turned the other direction and made a short lap around Central Park. That did the trick, and I finally rolled into the tower plaza just seconds after Garmie beeped to let me know I’d cleared the 100km goal for the day.

Cyclist in pink jersey balancing bike while waiting for the light to change
My dude making a track stand waiting for the traffic signal
GPS record of cycle ride
Add a loop at the end to make 100

We weren’t in any hurry today and the record certainly reflects that. Breaks were frequent and at times unabashedly prolonged. Based on a ride time of 4:52:21, though, the average speed was a respectable 20.6km/h.

I had a bath after getting home and have been relaxing since then, and the headache is scarcely bothering me.

Return of the Furry Onigiri

Onigiri wrapped in kombu with a bite taken out, showing umeboshi center

Typhoon 11 kept us guessing about the weather right up to the last moment. José and I finally agreed at 7:40 a.m. to ride. José wanted to start out with an easy one as it’s been five months since he’s been on his bike, and we settled on Haneda even though I’d just been there two weekends ago.

When Nana heard that José was coming along for the ride, she prepared some konbu onigiri, because she knows he likes them. Thus laden, I brought Kuroko up to street level to await José’s arrival. In doing so, I noticed the front tire had gone soft again, even though I’d just pumped it up an hour previously. And so I was reinflating the tire when José arrived.

The ride went smoothly overall. I was expecting it to remain overcast all day and so didn’t use any sunscreen (but I did have my UV mask and sleeves). I should know not to trust the forecast (and also keep in mind that I can burn even under full cloud cover).

José was taking it easy, hanging back enough that at times he’d get caught by a traffic signal that I’d passed through. He’d always catch up with me by the next light. When we got to Futako I joked that the last time I’d kicked his ass this badly was when he’d been riding a bike with seized wheel bearings.

Once on the river, José picked up the pace so that he was always just over my shoulder when I looked — except when I was beating my way up a switchback. When we stopped to drink some water, José realized he hadn’t washed out his bottle since his last ride, and in fact there was still water in it. He quickly emptied it in the drain and rinsed it before filling it again.

We had a bit of crosswind as we continued, a few puddles, and more than a few pedestrians and cyclists who weren’t being careful how they shared the path.

Surprise on arrival

The shrine at Haneda was just where we’d left it, but José immediately spotted an addition: a miniature shrine complete with a memorial post, torii (sheltering its own, even smaller torii), and Buddha in a pebble garden. After getting our snapshots, we retired to the shade to polish off the onigiri. We dawdled more than necessary in the park — we were making good time while riding, but weren’t racing the clock overall.

Onigiri wrapped in kombu with a bite taken out, showing umeboshi center
Return of the Furry Onigiri

On the way home we had some crosswind again, and possibly some help from a tailwind. When the path allowed it, José rode beside me and we chatted as we cycled along. As we approached Futako I told him I’d been thinking of riding back via the St. Antonio climb — which takes us abruptly up out of the Tamagawa valley at a gradient touching on 16% — but I wasn’t feeling it now, with 50km under my belt. José replied he wasn’t feeling the need for any climbing at all.

But when we reached our usual climb, a more moderate 4-5% over a slightly longer stretch, he rocketed ahead to wait for me at the top. His time was within seconds of my personal record for the climb (although more than 20 seconds off his own PR), while I dawdled along and arrived more than half a minute later. We had another relaxing pause at the park at the top of the climb and ate the ice cream I’d bought from a convenience store at the foot of the hill.

Steady on

I checked the time and let Nana know I’d be home in an hour, give or take. José seemed reluctant to mount up again, but we were soon back in traffic. There was enough traffic now that we had to wait two light cycles in Yoga as a few cars dribbled through, turning left, during each cycle. Again, José was lagging behind between lights, knowing he would catch up with me at the next red. I warned him at one light that I was going to sprint to make the next light on time, and he was there with me.

We split up at the corner of Central Park, and he continued on his way as I turned downhill towards home, arriving a good 10 minutes before I’d told Nana I would.

GPS record of cycle route
Return of the Furry Onigiri

Mechanicals

In addition to the leaky front tire, the rear brake continues to squeal. It’s annoying enough that José suggested we stop at a bike shop to have it looked at. Instead, I’ve brought Kuroko home and up to the Workshop in the Sky, where I can try to sort her out next weekend (with rain in the forecast).

Meanwhile, I passed another milestone on the ride, unawares:

Screenshot of distance tile with legend Kuroko (Bombtrack) 12,007.4km
We’ve been together four years and 12,000km

Finally getting my 右前

Bicycle on balcony overlooking city

Ever since Ol’ Paint was reborn as Dionysus, I’ve been wanting to reverse the brake levers. My preference is for 右前, meaning the right lever pulls the front brake. Ol’ Paint was set up this way, as is Kuroko. Among other things, in a country where I ride on the left, it means I can use the rear brake while I’m signaling with my right hand.

I’ve written about this at length before, when I discovered it was an insufficiently curled noodle (or elbow) that prevented me setting up Dionysus as I preferred from the start. Had I realized at the time, I would have saved the old one as there was nothing wrong with it. But finally, after much searching, I found a noodle with a bit more bend.

Brake noodles and associated bits on a black work table
Those two on the right

It’s easy to see the difference with the new noodle set next to the previous one.

Rolling up the sleeves

Figuratively, of course. It’s too hot for riding today at 35C, so I gathered up my parts and tools in the Workshop in the Sky. I had some flexible noodles in case the new one wasn’t curled enough, and I had replacement brake cables. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to use the existing cable housing or if I would need longer runs.

After laying out the parts I cut the old cables and removed them from the bike. The rear cable can be cleaned up and used again as a spare for the front, but the front is now cut too short to use again.

After that I test fit the cable housings with the new noodle, making sure they didn’t bind as i turned the bars from side to side. Once I was sure it all looked OK, I inserted the new cables, cut them to length, and tightened and adjusted the brakes. I’ll probably adjust them more after the first ride or two, but for now they seem fine.

Surprising discovery

While I was tightening the rear brake cable, I discovered a bit of wire embedded in the rear tire. I’m lucky it didn’t penetrate the tread and puncture the inner tube.

Small bent wire on table between brake noodles
Pesky bit of wire

Being honest about my shortcomings

The other thing I took stock of today was the amount of rust coming through the paint. It’s just been two years since the debut ride following the repaint. There’s been a scratch or two in that time, but mostly what I’m seeing is rust coming up through the paint even where there’s been no damage.

I think it’s likely that the frame wasn’t clean enough before I started painting, or there was some flaw in the technique.

So I’m thinking now about what to do. I’ll most likely paint again, perhaps with locally sourced 2K paint. I’ll try to wire-wheel the whole thing this time around, hoping to make short work of what was a months-long project last time, and find some acetone to clean up with before starting to paint. Finally, I’ll look for some matte clear coat to go with the base color.

All that is for another day, though. For now I’ll use some rust converter on the spots.

Bicycle on balcony overlooking city
My work here is finished

I could have done a lot more today, but I was satisfied with getting the brakes routed. I didn’t wash the bike (although it really needs it), but I gave the chain a thorough cleaning and oiling.

Haneda: le Grand Retour

The weather forecast was very changeable leading into the weekend, but it looked like the temperature would not rise above 32C, which has been pretty much my limit these past few years. When I checked the evening before, the forecast for Saturday was overcast but with little chance of rain, so I contacted José and asked if he was up for a ride. He replied that he’d already made plans to visit the gym.

On Saturday morning, the forecast was for rain in the afternoon — or not, depending on who you wanted to believe. I discarded my plan to ride to Kawagoe (a destination I’d selected with José in mind anyway) and set out for Haneda with some onigiri from Nana in my bag. I’d last visited Haneda in April, before the heat turned on, and had trouble with the tire sealant on that occasion.

I’d debated whether I needed to wear sleeves or indeed sunblock, but within 15 minutes of setting out, the sun was shining through the overcast skies. It continued to shine brightly enough to cast shadows for about 80% of the time I was riding.

The going was smooth as soon as I cleared the traffic and joined the Tamagawa cycling course, but I wasn’t feeling any power. My thighs felt like limp linguine after even the modest 5-6m climbs up the levee. I soldiered on though and reached Haneda at 10 a.m. after having set out a bit after 8, so I was making good time despite my low energy levels.

I had a good 25-minute break at Haneda and ate two onigiri after wrapping them in special nori paper I’d received as a gift from the sushi master. It wasn’t yet 10:30 when I mounted up for the ride home.

The ride back was more of the same: I felt weak but I was making good time by the clock. I had a bit of numbness in my hands and while my bottom was resting heavily on the saddle, I wasn’t experiencing any of the soreness which has been an issue in the past. When I got to Futako I climbed out of the valley more slowly than usual, but I was never in doubt of making it to the top.

Bicycle leaning against shrubs with trees in the background
12km to go

At 11:25 I messaged Nana that I’d reached Nikotama and was eating the last onigiri. It was hot now — 32C — and I was running low on water. I didn’t want to dawdle, so at 11:35 I messaged Nana I would be home by 1.

There’s little more to relate about the ride home. I was slower on the modest rises than usual. There was some construction and a few sprinkles of rain. I didn’t have as much trouble with the drivers as I’d had near Marukobashi. I rolled into the plaza at 12:26 and messaged Nana I was home.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Le Grand Retour

Ride time was 3:00:17 for an average moving speed of 21.0km/h.

That’s two sorted

Bicycle pump mounted near crank

Following yesterday’s big redo on Kuroko, this morning I mounted the rear tire and took her for a little spin around the block. It’s been nearly a month since I was on this bike, and after a week of commuting with Dionysus, it took me a moment to adjust. “Why is the saddle like this?” I thought as I mounted up. And then a moment later, “Oh, right … “

It was just a spin around the block, but everything is right with the bike. There’s just a bit of brake squeal from the rear, but I hope that is just things settling in after all the work involving the brake yesterday.

Bicycle leaning against railing, casting a shadow
Me ‘n’ my shadow

Next!

Starting with my ride home from work on Thursday, Dionysus was making some kind of rattling sound when I pedaled, specifically when I pushed down with my right leg. I checked the crankset for play and there was none. The noise continued during Friday’s commute. So this morning after taking Kuroko around the block, I brought Dionysus up to the Workshop in the Sky for a looking over.

The first thing I did was to fill up both tires. I’d noticed the rear getting low on Thursday, and so I’d pumped it up with the hand pump before riding home. Both tires were still a bit low this morning so I topped them up.

That done, I turned my attention to the crankset. Again, no sign of play. I was just thinking of removing the chain to see how freely the crankset was turning when I noticed something.

Bicycle pump mounted near crank
A bit more than a whisker, then

I’d put the hand pump back in the mount crookedly, and the left crank was knocking against the pump head. When I pedaled down on the right, the left crank was coming up and tapping the pump.

That took all of two seconds to fix. (I took the photo above after I fixed it.)

Following the fix I took Dionysus around the block and all was well — all except the impatient driver who honked at me, I guess expecting me to pull over to let him pass. I was in the center of the lane to clear a parked car, and I pulled over once I got past that obstacle. The driver took his time overtaking me after that, and I caught up with him again at the next two lights.

Both bikes could use a washing up and chain cleaning / oiling, but Nana has laundry hanging on the balcony today, so that’s going to wait.

Delayed gratification

Bicycle in stand in silhouette on cluttered balcony

It’s been eight months since I pulled both a hydraulic brake line and Di2 shifter cable through Kuroko’s downtube and attempted to cut out the existing grommets with a knife to accommodate two cables in the place of one. This was just one step in the Shifting to Glide project, but it was a significant one because it meant the longest Di2 cable (950mm, in the end) was routed internally and I didn’t have to tape it to the outside of the frame (which is what we ended up doing for the cable from the junction box below to the crankset to the rear derailleur).

I was sort of able to cram the existing grommet back into the frame at the top of the tube after hacking it away with a knife, but the result was far from aesthetically pleasing — to say nothing of the lack of waterproofing. At the bottom, where the cables exit the frame just ahead of the bottom bracket and hence are most exposed to splashing, I’d given up. The grommet was left dangling there, both cables running through it but not even close to where it was supposed to be plugging a hole in the frame.

I searched quite a while and found some two-holed grommets that seemed the right shape and size, but that was some months ago. I’ve been delayed completing the project by:

  • the enormity of the work, which would include redoing the rear brake line and the handlebar tape, and
  • the fact I’d lost a part for the tool needed to redo the rear brake line.

A couple of weeks ago I emptied out the storage box on the Workshop in the Sky (for the second time) and found the missing bit: the mandrel for the disc brake hose cut & set tool. So I’ve just been waiting since then for the opportunity to get the work done. The faffing about with tires last week and earlier today was just me trying to avoid biting the bullet on this job.

Starting at the rear

I already had rear wheel out to remove the inner tube and clean up the old tape, so I started at the rear brake. I removed the brake pads and inserted a block to prevent the disc pistons from popping out of place. This would prevent the brake pads from coming into contact with brake fluid as I removed and then replaced the brake line, and subsequently bled the brakes.

(When I installed the hydraulic brakes the first time around, I did it with the brake pads in place with no issue — but I was tempting fate with my naïveté.)

Next I cut off the end of the brake line, with the barb and olive that seal the line when it’s bolted into place, so I could remove the bolt and fit the line through the grommet. Both the hydraulic line and the Di2 shifter cable fit through their separate holes in the grommet easily enough, but the grommet was just a tad too large to squeeze into the opening in the frame. The grommet looks like soft, squeezable rubber, but it’s not. It’s a tough resin with very little give.

So I had no option but to trim the grommet down to size with a craft knife. I’m glad I had on a 3M glove for this part of the process — I’d have cut my fingers more than once otherwise. As I had the protection, the carving up bit went without a hitch, and on the next fitting I was able to push the grommet into the frame with enough force required to make me confident it won’t just pop out the next time I ride over a bump.

Yes, there’s tape

With the rear done, it was time to repeat the process on the front. Before I could get to the brake line, I had to remove the handlebar tape, which meant cutting through some finishing tape and black electrician’s tape and then unwrapping the actual handlebar tape. It came off easily enough.

Ojisan with a wrench

Easily half my anxiety about this job was in the next step: loosening the bolt holding the brake line in the Di2 shifter. During the initial installation, I’d coached as José tightened these bolts to the correct approximate torque. And then the following day, I was looking at the bolts (left and right shifters) and noticed they had flanges, and the flanges were a couple of millimeters shy of fitting snug against the shifters. So against all common sense (and not bothering to take a minute to check for pictures or diagrams on the internet), I took a wrench and tightened the living stew out of those bolts until the flanges were flush.

Some time back, a local bicycle repair shop I follow wrote an impassioned post about the dangers of an ojisan with a wrench after having a number of customers bring in bikes for repair. The customers would say, “I was having a little trouble with the bike, and then an ojisan said he was familiar with bikes and would help me. And now the problem is much bigger.” And after realizing how I’d over-tightened those bolts, I was afraid I was the ojisan with a wrench (not for the first time, I assure you).

After removing the handlebar tape and pulling back the brake hood, I took a wrench to the bolt in question: it loosened readily and gave no signs of having damaged threads. Imagine my relief!

The upper grommet fit in nicely after I’d trimmed it with the craft knife as I’d done for the lower grommet. Then I used the cut & set tool to put a new barb in the brake line, making use of the mandrel whose disappearance had delayed this project.

That done, I sleeved the brake line and Di2 cable together through some heat shrink wrap for a professional finish. Now, I’m not saying I bought a heat gun just for this one job, but I’m not saying I didn’t, either. (I placed an old work glove behind the shrink wrap to protect the Di2 junction box from the heat.) I’m mostly pleased with the result, although I can’t say that every time I ride Kuroko I won’t obsess over that little blip in the place the two pieces of shrink wrap overlap.

With everything back in place, I used electrician’s tape to secure the lines to the handlebars again. With the changes in the brake line length, the re-taping and the heat shrink, the brake line interfered with the clapper for the bell. After sweating this out for a moment, I rotated the bell so the clapper was clear of the brake line. (I prefer this more horizontal arrangement. The position of the brake line previously prevented the bell ringing when the clapper was in this position. So it’s a win.)

Bleeding to death

I rewrapped the handlebar tape next. I was a bit worried the tape would have lost its sticky power with the unwrapping, but it went fine. I’ve got electrician’s black tape holding it at the top now instead of the decorative tape, but I can live with that.

The final step was to bleed the rear brake. Inevitably, some fluid had dripped out during this job. I got out the bleed kit and topped up the syringe with fresh fluid. It took a bit of time squeezing the brake lever and pressing more hydraulic fluid into the system, but I was soon happy with the result. I tightened the bleed valve on the caliper (not overtightening!) and put the screw back in the brake lever, then removed the block and put the wheel back in the frame.

Happy with that — so far

With the wheel — sans tire — in the bike, I ran through the gears and hit the brake a few times. No problem with the gears at all, while the brake firmed up after one initial pull where nothing happened.

Bicycle in stand in silhouette on cluttered balcony
Silhouette of done

And that’s where things stand now. I’ll have a go at the rear tire tomorrow and (one way or another) take Kuroko for a spin around the block. (It will still be too hot for a full ride.) Here’s hoping I don’t discover any issues on the road that didn’t crop up in the stand.

Aha!

hand holding bicycle rim, showing latex residue in the spoke holes

With another weekend that’s too hot for cycling, I returned to the maintenance I began last weekend, before I found I had the wrong size rim tape.

I took a few minutes to clean off the glue residue left by the old rim tape, and then applied a layer of new tape. Remembering that the WTB tires are a loose fit, and the fact the tire wouldn’t mount despite my efforts last week, I made it a double layer. The first layer went down smoothly. There were a few bubbles in the second layer, but only in the center where they won’t matter.

I fetched the tire off the bike stand where I’d left it hanging and then filled up the bucket with a fresh load of soapy water. And just as I was about to start I realized I’d skipped a step: I needed to put the valve in before mounting the tire!

Bicycle wheel viewed from the edge, showing fresh rim tape
Double trouble

Getting the tire on the rim went smoothly. I pumped up the charging tank to 140psi, soaped up the tire, and …

A finer class of bubbles

That’s actually about the fourth effort there. It was so tantalizingly close each time. The bubbles were much finer than I was seeing last week, showing that the tire bead was in fact closer to fitting on the rim. I could hear some creaking noises as the tired bead crept closer to the rim’s edge. But there were no loud pops to let me know it had seated, and the tire was getting no closer to being properly mounted than before.

Either two layers of tape was a bridge too far, or the tire is just too old. In any case I decided to put this one aside for now, and I moved on to another wheel.

Getting to the Aha! moment now

Kuroko has been in the bike stand since last weekend for no particular reason. So she was all set for me to remove the rear wheel and try for a tubeless conversion. I’ve been riding with an inner tube in the rear since this infamous moment. So, hot off my success with the WTB tire, I decided to have a go at getting this one back to tubeless.

hand holding bicycle rim, showing latex residue in the spoke holes
Gunk in the holes

It took a few minutes to remove the tire, mostly because the leftover latex had glued the inner tube to the inside of tread. Then while pulling the tire free of the rim, the rim tape started pulling off as well. That was a sign of the trouble.

The rim tape wasn’t pulling off all the way around — it still put up a lot of fight in various places, but I eventually had it off. And then I had a ready visual indication of the issue: latex residue in the spoke holes. This shows the rim tape was leaking: latex shouldn’t find its way here otherwise.

I cleaned up the rim as well as I could and left it to sit in the heat of the balcony to dry for a couple of hours before I try new tape. And as I was setting it aside, I thought, “That rim feels narrower than the other one. In fact, it looks narrower.”

I have four rims from the same company: Hunt Wheels. Three of them have an internal width of 20mm, and one is 25mm. Two of the wheels came with the bike, and then I ordered a dynamo front wheel for Lejog. Finally, I ordered the fourth wheel to replace the one that kept breaking spokes after I’d put the chain into the spokes in the episode that nearly ended my Lejog ride. I’ve just gone through my order history with Hunt, and it’s that last one that’s the 25mm.

Work continues

All this faffing about with tires is just me putting off the real maintenance. I’m off to brave the heat in the Workshop in the Sky once again.

Unprepared

Two bicycle wheels, one without a tire, leaning against a balcony railing

It’s too hot to go riding today, so I decided to take care of some bicycle maintenance I’ve been putting off. But I was unprepared … for the heat.

Since I had a blowout on the rear tire a few months ago, the wheel has been sitting in the Workshop in the Sky while I’ve been thinking about what to do (and riding another wheelset in the meantime). Rather than buy a new tire just yet, I decided to remount the WTB 47mm tires that Kuroko originally came with (although they were mounted with tubes originally). I’ve got four of these sitting around, including one I bought as a spare for Lejog that has never been used.

I was also unprepared for multiple, fruitless attempts at getting the tires to seat. By the second attempt, I was wondering if the rubber had dried too much since I last used these tires. By the fourth or fifth attempt, I could see that all the air was escaping pretty evenly around the rim and decided I’d better re-tape the rim before I suffered coronary seizure from all the pump action.

Yet another thing I wasn’t prepared for

Figuring I’d clean up the rim and add two or three new layers of tape, I pulled off the original tape. It came off easily and in one piece. I opened the package of the new tape and got a bit of a shock: it’s noticeably narrower than the tape that came from the factory. I have 20m of 21mm tape (probably enough for five rims double-wrapped), and the factory tape is 25-26mm.

So I ordered some 25mm tape and it will arrive tomorrow. Then I thought for a moment about whether to continue with the rest of the maintenance — i.e., the real goal of the day.

And given the heat, I decided to wash up and have a cold one.

Two different widths of tape held between thumb and finger
One of these things is not like the other

More failure

Montage: bicycle on path overlooking road sign for Otarumi Passs and view from Otarumi Pass

On Saturday, with overcast skies and a high just shy of 30C in the forecast, I set out once again for Mt. Takao. I got moving about 45 minutes earlier than on my previous effort, and that made a big difference throughout the day. I was able to take my time working up the Tamagawa and the Asakawa, to preserve my energy for the climb.

Another important difference was that Nana had got up early, knowing I was riding, and prepared four of her world-famous onigiri. I reached the turn-off to Asakawa about 10 a.m. and stopped to eat a couple. And then it was 11 by the time I reached Asakawa Riverside Lawn Square, the last rest before Takaosan, where I stopped to eat the remaining two onigiri.

This is where the failure starts

I’d been riding with a tube in the rear tire since the ill-fated visit to Tōgaku-in, the azalea temple, but on the weekend previous to this ride I’d removed the tube and got the tire sealed again as tubeless. I’d pumped it up again before setting out, but when I hit the road (possibly 40 minutes later) I soon had to stop and top it up again. I hoped that the sealant would work into whatever was leaking during the day’s ride, but now, 40km into the ride, I had to inflate it once again.

OK, I thought to myself, I’m going to stop once again before climbing up to the pass. If it needs air again at that point, I’d better give up and put a tube back in it.

At Takaosan Guchi the tire still felt firm, and I continued on my merry way up the mountain. I didn’t feel overly strong and was still conserving my energy — early on I came across a jogger and we were neck-and-neck for longer than I care to admit. And then just as the climb was about to begin, I realized I needed to stop and pump up the rear again. As I was filling the tire, the jogger passed me.

A lot of climbing ensued

With the tire up to pressure, I continued on, and I wasn’t shy about moving to lower gears. Slow and steady, the tortoise and not the hare, and all that rot. A number of cars and trucks passed me by and for the most part gave me room. A few cyclists as well, and those with breath to spare exchanged greetings with me.

All through the first kilometer or so, I’d been feeling it was easy going and I was sure to get to the top in one go, this time! And I would caution myself not to count chickens before the same had hatched, and so on, as I still had quite a bit to go. When my pace is between 6 and 9km/h, my imagination is outpacing my progress by a good deal, and I need to just focus on the next few meters ahead of me: is there debris, or speed strips? How is the traffic? But yes, I’ll get past that magnet spot! I’m going strong! Well, steady at least …

A good, long rest

I reached the magnet spot — where I usually am compelled to stop and catch my breath — determined to keep on powering past regardless of the agony in my lungs and thighs. And it wasn’t too bad at the beginning of the magnet, where the shoulder is broad and inviting. But by the time I reached the end of that stretch, my speed had slowed noticeably, and the road narrowed over a short bridge, and there was a large truck hanging just behind me, the driver patient enough to wait for me but not to drop back and give me room. In fact I was terrified to glance over my shoulder to check on the truck’s position, fearing I’d swerve or even tumble.

I just cleared the bridge when another truck driver, descending in the opposite direction, stopped and flashed his lights. The truck behind me passed with plenty of room to spare, followed by a car or two that had been waiting behind. And I struggled on to the next bit of shoulder and pulled over and nearly tumbled from the bike.

I remained there a good long time, catching my breath, letting my heart’s hammering slow and feeling the weariness draining from my thighs. I spent a good five minutes there recovering, greeting a couple of cyclists as they passed — one making good progress and another struggling along just a bit better than I had been going.

Portion of bicycle wheel with bike pump attached, toe of cycling shoe, with leaves and berries
Once again for good measure

And as I was stopped and resting, I checked the rear pressure again. Not optimal. I topped it up before continuing on my way.

As rested as I could be at this point, with more than 50km under my belt including more than 4km of climbing, I continued on my way. The gradient for the final 500m is considerably less than the 11% seen at the magnet (the grey line in the illustration), and with five minutes’ rest under my belt, I had no difficulty pressing on to the top.

Route guide showing distance and elevation of climb
Grade at the magnet

Descent into chaos

I had another breather at the top while I enjoyed the view. But I was descending from this point, so I didn’t have to have a complete rest. I checked the tire and once again pumped it up. It was a cause for worry at this point — if it lost pressure on the descent, the tire might roll off on a corner and chuck me onto the pavement at speed, possibly in front of a following vehicle!

I gave the tire a squeeze and decided I’d be OK for the descent. After all, it would pass quickly …

I waited for a break in the weekend traffic and set off on the descent. Within moments I was catching up with the traffic ahead. I braked, partly out of concern for the rear tire and partly to remain safely behind the vehicles I was in danger of overtaking. Meanwhile there was no one behind me, so I had the full width of the lane to play with on the twisting downhill.

Strava gave me a PR for the first half of the descent from the mountain pass, but I have serious doubts about this. I was on the brakes the entire time, while in the past I’ve ridden right back down to Takaosan Guchi without so much as touching the brakes. The Garmin put my maximum speed at 50km/h during the descent, which I do find reasonable.

As the road flattened out and traffic thickened somewhat into Takaosan, I knew I had to stop and take care of the rear. I could feel it not only shimmying under the turning forces, but starting to thrum against the pavement, indicating it was near the giving point. I stopped in an unused parking spot just off the road, unseated one tire bead and mopped up the sealant with the tissues in my cockpit bag. I pushed the valve out of the rim and stowed it in my bag, and the put in the spare tube I always carry. Re-seated the tire and pumped it up again.

I’ve had some practice with this fix. Garmie says it only took me three minutes. From that point on, I didn’t have any more tire trouble.

Rest and fuel

I got back to Takaosan Guchi almost exactly an hour after I’d left it. After the congratulatory photo (above), I continued on to the rest spot at a convenience store and bought some snacks to fuel up with (as well as some water to refill my depleted bottles).

As I sat at the picnic table under an umbrella, a couple of younger riders put their bikes in the stand next to mine. I saw them looking at Kuroko and pointing out some of the components to each other: “Cool!”, “Yeah!” I waited to see if they would acknowledge me, in which case I’d speak to them about my cool bike, but they never did. Chalk that one up to either Japanese reserve or young adult shyness.

Fairly well recharged, I mounted up and continued on my way home. The gradient up the Asakawa is only a percent or two, but the return is always considerably easier. I made very good time on the way downriver, despite the occasional headwind, and with no worries about the soundness of my rear tire. I was able to enjoy the sight of children splashing in the river, then further on smiled and waited patiently while a family walking on the path reined in their errant toddler so I could pass safely.

Homeward

I rejoined the Tamagawa at 2:35, three and a half hours after I’d left it. I stopped at a bench in the shade and rested a few minutes, sipping water. I’d sorted out the tire issue, and the climbs were behind me. What remained was a fight against fatigue, saddle soreness and numbness in my hands. With luck, I could continue on for 15km stretches between rests. If I needed more frequent breaks, there was no harm in that apart from a later finish. And I was still well on schedule to beat the sunset.

I crossed the bridge and continued downstream on the Tamagawa, fighting the occasional headwind, shaking the feeling back into my hands from time to time, and continued the 13km to the park in Komae without stop (apart from a traffic light or two).

After resting in the park in Komae, relaxing and in no hurry, I checked the time. It was nearly 3:30, so I messaged Nana I’d be home about 4:30. And then set out in traffic, knowing my legs were toast and I still had a couple of hills to negotiate before reaching home.

As expected, I had almost no power on the modest hills on Setagaya Avenue, but I had enough to get over the top of each one while traffic worked its way around me. I played cat and mouse with another couple of cyclists and more than one scooter rider. A driver in a Mercedes seemed incensed that he should be asked to share the road with little unwashed me, but (thanks to traffic and lights) I soon left him behind.

GPS record of cycling route
More failure

I got home without further incident, a few minutes before the deadline I’d given Nana. It was a good ride, not setting any records but reaching the goal, and getting back without unwarranted drama. Based on a moving time of 5 hours 43 minutes, the average moving speed was 20.0km/h, which I consider good even absent a mountain climb in the middle. The difference between that and the total elapsed time certainly reflects the lack of urgency I felt at each rest stop.

To bless or not to bless?

I’d feel a lot worse about that pun except that Specialized unabashedly markets their tubeless technology under the moniker 2bliss.

Anyway, this is far from the first issue I’ve had directly as a result of tubeless tires. Should I persevere in pursuit of the no-puncture grail, or give it up as a bad job now and revert to tubes in tires? It’s all a learning process for me, and at this point I can still see progress: the right tire and rim combo, good prep with the tape (which may be the culprit in this case), and the right sealant. Long story short, I’ve got patience for about one more go in me at this point.

And to my friends who point out that the masochism in pursuit of some ill-defined velominati goal is itself the goal, my only response is: nolo contendere.