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Beating the heat on the Arakawa

Kawaguchi, where the Arakawa meets Tokyo Bay

The Halfakid was out all night with his karate sensei, so I headed off solo this morning. My own energy was at an ebb and I knew it would be hot today, so I chose the Arakawa – Disney route: flat and not too long.

From the start, I knew Kuroko wasn’t happy. There was a bit of squealing coming from the rear brake, and the rear derailleur was playing up. I was even hearing some noise from the crankset, and was worried about a return of the bottom bracket issue that I thought I’d fixed. But I soon found there was no crankset noise when I was on the larger chainring, so I knew it must be something else.

Arrival at the Arakawa
Arrival at the Arakawa

Once on the cycle path of the Arakawa, I got fed up with the brake noise. I pulled off the path in the shade of a bridge and leaned Kuroko up against a pier. I was in the process of adjusting the rear disc caliper when I realized the rear wheel was loose. That explained everything! When I tightened it up and gave it a spin, the brake wasn’t squealing. I figured that would sort out the derailleur issue as well, and that proved to be correct.

This is the second time this has happened, and when I stopped later to lunch on Nana’s world-famous onigiri I searched for a solution. This Reddit thread came up. It sounds reasonable and I’ll give it try.

Meanwhile, the heat was getting to be a bit much. I found myself stopping more than usual when a shaded spot appeared — usually under a bridge.

In the shade of an overpass
In the shade of an overpass

Not the only one trying to get out of the heat
Not the only one trying to get out of the heat

After each break I felt refreshed (although the water in my bottles was already warm), and soon I found myself nearing Kawaguchi (the mouth of the river). In the last 5km towards Kawaguchi the wind turned around was coming from the front, so I lowered my gear and kept at it.

I thought at this point about skipping the Disney visit and turning for home, but I realized I wanted a place in the shade to eat the onigiri, and those were all on the Disney side. So I doubled back, crossed the river and made my way through the park, onto another path and across a final bridge to reach the Disney entrance.

Tokyo Disney Resort
Tokyo Disney Resort

When I got back to the park with some fresh water and Pokari, the picnic benches in the shade were taken. So instead I found a shaded spot that was strewn with fern needles and sat down there to eat onigiri (and a Snicker’s bar). I saw some sort of park officer on a bike and wondered if he would tell me to move, but he left me alone.

A spot in the shade
A spot in the shade

On the return trip I could feel the sun beating down. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a sunburn to show off at the office tomorrow despite my efforts to cover up and my use of sunscreen.

Nihonbashi
Nihonbashi

The police presence really picked up in Otemachi and around the Imperial Palace. Hmm … there must be something important going on. I made sure to obey the traffic laws to avoid a recurrence of the scolding I got last weekend.

Chidorigafuchi
Chidorigafuchi

There’s still a lot of construction going on around Budokan, but I was able to find a park bench in the shade near Chidorigafuchi to finish off the last onigiri and drain the remaining water from my bottles. I messaged Nana that I would be home soon and set off for the final stretch.

Arakawa - Disneyland in the heat
Arakawa – Disneyland in the heat

I was surprised to find on my arrival home that the GPS reported I’d clocked up several personal bests along the route. I hadn’t been pushing too hard, and I’d been taking lots of breaks. I also recall that on my last blast down the Arakawa I’d had the help of a strong tailwind. But I guess the GPS doesn’t lie …

The GPS also reported that the temperature varied between 27 and 38! I think the official high today was 31, not the 39 registered in Hokkaido, so I think the unit was picking up the reflection of the sun off the pavement.

I know it’s the drink talking, but …

I’m committed to repainting Ol’ Paint by myself (or perhaps with a the hand of a pro or two … ). But having seen this video, when it comes time to have Kuroko redone I can’t think of anyone better than Rob I’d prefer to do it.

For an artisan he’s amazingly voluble, and my overall feeling is when I meet him I’d just love to greet him in a bro hug …

All that said, I’m sure when push comes to shove and Kuroko needs a new coat of paint, I’ll just ride her down to Blue Lug and ask for their best.

Shut up, legs

Yokohama Bay Bridge

I set off with some trepidation for Yokohama this morning. I’d just done the Tokyo Landmarks ride yesterday, and I usually don’t ride two days in a row. But as I’ve got a big ride coming up with more than a couple of days in a row of riding, I thought it best to get some training in.

The moment I set out this morning, I started hearing from my thighs.

Thighs:
Way-way-wait! We did this yesterday!
Then after 20km:
*sigh* I guess we’re doing this. All right, just don’t expect any help in the climbs.

In fact the start of today’s ride was inauspicious in other regards as well. Within the first 20km, I was:

  • Lectured to by a police officer
  • Cut off by a driver overtaking me in an intersection, who definitely needed to beat me to the next light another 50m on
  • Ambushed by a kid who crossed the path and then suddenly reversed, stepped right in front of me and stopped

The cop thing happened like this: I was approaching an intersection where I wanted to turn right (Americans, think: turn left) and the light changed. So I used the crosswalk to cross right to the opposite side and wait for the light to change.

As soon as I’d done that, the baton-waving and whistle-blowing cop crossed over the crosswalk after me and said good morning in a polite tone. I pulled my mask off, hoping that revealing myself as a gaijin would put off whatever she was on about, but she was unfazed. I didn’t totally play the gaijin card by pretending not to understand Japanese; instead I returned her greeting.

Gesturing with her baton, she told me that the proper way for cyclists to turn right at a multi-lane intersection is to first proceed across the intersection to the opposite corner, and then wait for the light to change to proceed to the right.

Yes, that’s the law (and yes, I know this as a result of having passed my driver’s license). But seriously? To call me out because I took the first crosswalk instead of making the “two-point right turn”? I didn’t get uppity with her: I just agreed and thanked her, and when she told me to be careful I thanked her again. I still made the crossing when the light changed (and thus saved myself one cycle of the light, which had been my goal when making my move).

And I made sure to stop and wait at the next two lights, even though they were only for crosswalks (not cross streets) because I was still in her view (and I figure she could radio ahead to her colleagues and say, “Stop that asshole gaijin on the bike!”

The driver cutting me off at an intersection happened in full view of a police box, so I guess that says everything I need to know about my karma …

Kuroko resting in the shade
Kuroko resting in the shade

After 20-some kilometers I stopped to rest, and from that point onwards my legs were mostly OK. I still felt (as noted above) that I would not be up for any big climbing. I was also sure any personal bests today would be the result of a combination green lights and tailwinds.

As usual, after leaving the cycle path on the Dai-ichi Keihin towards Yokohama, it’s all just straight and flat and bad pavement and lots of traffic. I would ride this way more often but for the fact it’s a 10km stretch of this (and back again) with nothing to break the monotony except for the occasional pothole or rude driver cutting it too close.

Chukagai: Chinatown
Chukagai: Chinatown

As soon as I got to the Minato Mirai section of Yokohama, the traffic turned impossible. Buses up against the curb, preventing passing. Cars stopped in the middle of intersections and blocking progress. Idiots trying to change lanes without looking in hopes of leapfrogging the car ahead. (Wait: does that describe me?) Usually when we bike this we flash by the entrance of Chinatown to quickly to give it a second thought, but today I had time to take a photo at my leisure while I waited for the intersection to clear.

When I finally cleared this section and made it to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen, the park overlooking the harbor which is my goal for this ride, I messaged the Halfakid. “Yokohama is packed. It’s the kind of day that your grandmother would convince your grandfather we have to drive to Chinatown.”

Oh, and that climb up to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen from sea level? Forget it. I made it half way (which is what I usually do). The Halfakid can do it, but he wasn’t with me today.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

View from Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen
View from Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen

Sunken flower garden and Osaragi Jiro Memorial Museum
Sunken flower garden and Osaragi Jiro Memorial Museum

The park was packed. Usually I can get a seat on the observation deck in the shade, but today that was impossible. I explored a shaded walkway I hadn’t noticed before and came across a quiet park with benches in the shade, and sat down there to fill up on Nana’s world-famous onigiri (and a Snickers bar left over from yesterday’s ride).

Windmill near the Image of Maternal Love sculpture
Windmill near the Image of Maternal Love sculpture

A couple of people asked if they could share the bench, and I readily agreed. One older woman struck up a conversation with me, but she was one of those types who doesn’t really listen to the answers I supply to her questions. I relaxed, took my time eating the onigiri, and didn’t set out again until the sun had moved (earth had turned) so that the bench was no longer in the shade.

On the way home I was feeling capable but not strong. The traffic wasn’t quite as bad. I just kept moving, trying to beat the lights but not trying too hard to game them. I was very surprised to find after I got home that Strava had assigned me a PR for the entire stretch from Minato Mirai back to Tamagawa (and hence back into Tokyo).

Once back on the cycling path, I took advantage of the tailwind. The GPS was spazzing out with the directions, so I switched it to displaying my stats, and concentrated on increasing my average speed. By this point I’d already racked up more than 65km, so any gains required quite a long stretch at speeds exceeding the average, and were quickly undone by time spent in pedestrian traffic or climbing. Still, I managed to get it up a notch or two. (And after a few more kilometers, the GPS finally figured out which direction I was heading. No idea … )

Back to the Futako
Back to the Futako

When I leave the path, there’s a bit of a climb up out of the Tama River valley into the city. I wasn’t sure how my thighs were going to respond to this challenge. When the time came I just kept shifting down until I felt I could maintain the pace, and then I kept pedaling. I’m lucky that it’s not a very long climb. I had in mind as I was doing it, though, that on Day 10 of Lejog when we hit a 5% grade with full panniers, I’ll look back at this brief climb with nostalgia.

At the tiny park at the top of the hill, I drank most of my remaining water and messaged Nana that I would be home in an hour or so. There was nothing to do but mount up and make the best of it. In fact on the way home, I felt better — stronger — than I’d felt most of the day. I managed to notch up a couple of tenths on the average speed, and got home in less than 45 minutes (which is my usual time for that stretch when I’m commuting). I’d done the whole thing in 6 hours 36 minutes, which is not bad considering it was a Day 2 ride, and the amount of time I’d spent relaxing in the park and eating Nana’s onigiri. And that’s 172km in four days after nearly four weeks of nothing.

Tokyo - Yokohama
Tokyo – Yokohama

I’ll get the one in the turban

Chidorigafuchi

With just less than a month to go before Lejog, I’m testing out as much of the gear as I can to make sure there are no surprises on the road. I’d added a rear rack to Kuroko back in March, but I hadn’t yet tried it with the panniers (saddlebags, for you non-cycling folk).

I bought the panniers for the London to Paris ride in May 2016, when I was using a borrowed bike, and that’s the only time so far I have used them. (For shorter rides like Kyoto-Osaka-Nara, I’ve just used a backpack.) So it was time to make sure the bags fit Kuroko’s spiffy new rack.

Kuroko with panniers
Kuroko with panniers

The fit was a bit more troublesome than it might appear in the photo above. The clasps at the top of each bag lock securely onto the rack, but the T-shaped toggle at the bottom doesn’t really hold securely. It might be less of an issue when the bags are fully loaded — I just put a token load in today — but there were a couple of times when the bottom bit came free of the rack, allowing the bag to swing a bit.

Meiji Jingu GaienSpiffy new GPS
Spiffy new GPS leads straight to Meiji Jingu Gaien

I was concerned with Kuroko’s short wheelbase that heel clearance might be an issue, but there’s no problem. I occasionally rub my heel or calf against a bag when pushing off from a stop, but once I’m clipped in there’s plenty of clearance. Kuroko handles a bit less nimbly with the bags on. Very stable, but she’s slightly less inclined to turn. It kind of feels like she’s on rails. By the end of today’s ride, though, I’d quite gotten used to it.

Meanwhile, I concentrated on mounting and dismounting, riding with panniers and cleats (I hadn’t worn cleats on London to Paris), and making sure I didn’t try to squeeze between vehicles as much with my wider rear end. Overall, no problem. One thing I learned on London to Paris was to step over the bike first, then get one foot on the pedal, and then push off and get the other foot up. Without panniers, I often just throw a leg over the saddle and push off and get both feet cleated up in one easy motion.

Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower

Apart from that, I was just concentrating on having a nice ride and staying safe in a really incredible amount of traffic. I was making good time without trying to push too hard. I knew that I couldn’t accelerate like usual with the added weight of the panniers (and token load), but I was eager to test out the difference in climbing. The Tokyo Landmarks route features a few stiff climbs. I’m glad to report that I never needed to drop into the lowest gear, so I have a bit of reserve for when I’m carrying a full load.

The day was forecast partly cloudy and warm, and it mostly didn’t disappoint. I was covered in sunscreen and wearing a UV-cut mask (which I hate, but the doc tells me it’s for the best). So I was a bit surprised when an enormous black cloud blanketed half the sky and it began to rain. I was lucky — it just sprinkled for about 20 minutes before letting up. I’d already decided I was going to press on even if it really started to rain (anything short of an out-and-out typhoon, that is), because it would be good practice for English weather. As it was, the sun was soon streaming through the clouds again and I was pulling my mask back up over my nose and cheekbones.

Sunbeams over Rainbow Bridge
Sunbeams over Rainbow Bridge

I was really glad with how smoothly Kuroko was performing in light of the recent raft of mechanicals. I tightened up the brake cables a bit when I stopped for a snack, and they’re perfect now. The only fly in the ointment is just a bit of squealing from the discs (which was happening before the adjustment as well), but it’s such a paltry amount it probably wouldn’t even be worth taxing it.

Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree

After the break there’s a long straight stretch with a lot of traffic lights. I was doing well overall on traffic lights today, particularly by getting greens on all the lights at the foot of the climbs. I can’t recall another time that has happened. But I’m always eager to get to the end of this particular stretch, which culminates with a view of Tokyo Skytree from a bridge over the Sumida river.

The river crossing marks the turn from north back towards the west and home — via Ueno Park, Tokyo University, Tokyo Dome and Budokan — and roughly the final third of the ride. I was a bit behind my expected time at this point, but not enough to worry. I passed right through the midst of an enormous matsuri at Asakusa on the way. (Nana had warned me about this, and about the expected crowd.)

Sakurabashi
Sakurabashi

The final landmark / snack point of the ride is Budokan, with the placid green waters of Chidorigafuchi and the bending cherry trees. There was some construction going on today, and a large crowd of concert-goers. I didn’t have any difficulty climbing Kudanzaka to reach Budokan, although I did get a red light at the foot of the climb this once.

Chidorigafuchi
Chidorigafuchi

Gate to Budokan
Gate to Budokan

Today’s shakedown ride with the panniers was a roaring success, although the paltry few sprinkles we had and my use of a UV-cut mask may not reflect the conditions we encounter in Merry Olde England — to say nothing of Scotland. Now I’m just waiting on one last bit of gear to install the generator hub and matching lights to test those out as well.

Tokyo Landmarks course
Tokyo Landmarks course

Back in the saddle

I had my first ride in nearly four weeks today as Kuroko and I commuted. There were no mechanicals and everything went smoothly as I got used to a new Garmin GPS. It felt so good to be back on the bike that when I got to the office I made a little extra loop with a small hill climb thrown in just to stretch my legs. And at that, I still reached the office in 45 minutes.

Morning and evening course data
First ride in almost four weeks

Knock on wood

It was wonderful to have a ride, however brief and utilitarian, free from mechanicals. I’ve had a few recently. But the newly tightened bottom bracket was silent, and the bike is shifting smoothly with the new crankset.

It took me the first half kilometer or so to figure out how to start tracking with the new Garmin. It was displaying a “start recording” icon and I was tapping on that to no avail. Finally I found the button on the edge of the unit with the matching icon, and with a single push on that I was off and running (and tracking). I later realized — when I was waiting a light near the goal — that it wasn’t pausing the timer while I was stopped. And for some reason it was set to mark splits (“laps”) at 8.05km (5 miles), rather than the 5km I’ve been using up to now. I’ve just now spent a few minutes with the online guide and made a few adjustments to the settings.

The next step in preparation for the big ride will be to mount the panniers and go for a trial spin.

Happy!

New crankset is in

Kuroko has been idle the past couple of weeks following a challenging ride which brought out some noise from the bottom bracket. This was the new bottom bracket I’d installed to accommodate a new crankset.

I figured I needed to tighten up the bottom bracket a bit — the instructions just said to make sure the bearings were flush, and I’d done that — and for that I needed to remove the crankset. I gave it a try a few days later, but it seemed to be taking more effort than I thought it should. So rather than risk damaging a rather expensive group of parts, I decided to take it in to the shop and let them have a go at it.

The same, but more of it

My opportunity came today, a holiday for me but a working day for the rest of the country. I set out for the brief jaunt to the shop just after noon, when it opened. I had no difficulty describing the issue the mechanic, and his questions showed me that he understood me perfectly. But while he was happy to give me advice, there was a strong undertone that since I hadn’t bought the parts there and had done the work myself, he wouldn’t be willing to take it on. What he told me was that I’d been going about things in the right fashion, but I just needed to put more force into it. I was a bit put out by his refusal of the job, but he put it in the light of saving me money. I had no choice but to return home and up tools once again.

And he was right. Armed with the confidence that a pro had instructed me, I put more force into the wrench than I had been comfortable with at first. And with that, the crankset came right off. (I’d thought I had to remove the lock ring to get it off, and I didn’t have the tool for that. But he assured me that no, the lock ring had to be in place in order for me to get the crank off with the 10mm hex wrench I was using.) I had to apply some persuasion via the BFH to get the left crank out of the bearings, but I was expecting that.

FSA crankset in place
FSA crankset in place

Then I inserted the bottom bracket tool and tightened the bearings further than I had initially. The instructions were to just make sure the bearings were flush with the bracket housing, which I had done. There was no torque measurement for this. So I just used hand tools and — once again — more force than I would have been comfortable with otherwise. (I have ruined more than one threading in the past through excessive force, and I’m eager not to inflict the same on Kuroko.) I was able to turn the tool an extra half turn or so and then it was really like pushing against a wall, so I figured that was stop I was looking for.

The final step was to apply a bit of new grease to the left crank, reinsert it through the bearings, and then torque the right crank back into place. This all went like butter. Once it was back together, I gave it a few spins and I couldn’t hear any noise. In all, it took me about 10 minutes (15 minutes with the clean-up).

I had other plans for the afternoon, so with the job done, I only took a brief spin around the block. There’s lots of traffic around here so I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty confident the job is done right this time and there’s no noise coming from the bottom bracket. So hat’s off to the shop mechanic who wanted to save me some money and was willing to offer me lots of good advice so I could finish the job myself. (I suspect the shop has a policy against fixing customer mistakes or working on gear not bought there. More pity for them as the two mechanics were just chatting to each other with nothing else to do when I wheeled Kuroko in through the door.)

A little more shopping

The other plan I had on for this afternoon was to get down to Kanda and fill in some of my camping needs for the upcoming trip. I knew a store there with lots of camping goods from the time the Halfakid was in Boy Scouts. As it had been more than 10 years since I’d been there (except perhaps for some hiking boot laces a bit more recently), I checked online first to make sure the shop was still open and located where I’d left it. Check to both. And Nana agreed to come along, although we both knew she’d be bored with the whole thing.

We arrived at the main store a bit before 3 p.m. and looked about. There was a lot of skiing goods and hiking boots, but the sleeping bag selection was a bit thin and the variety of tents even poorer than I remembered. We spent a few minutes looking around and then going through their sleeping bags and sleeping pads to find the most suitable (i.e., the lightest). I was pretty happy with what I found and we took it the register and checked out in short order.

Tent and sleeping bag
Tent and sleeping bag

We’d only gone a few steps down the street when Mina noticed a branch store with the same logo at the next corner. And this was the shop we were looking for. A lot more camping and climbing gear. The sleeping bag and pad selection was pretty much the same, so I stuck with my purchases. But they did have somewhat more variety in tents. After looking quickly through their list of size, weight and features, we asked to see the smallest one-man tent. (Nana was a big help here, asking a nearby salesperson if the display model was the only kind of tent they had.) The salesperson readily agreed to set it up for us on the floor, and quickly had out a tarp and some sandbags for the job. Setting the tent up was a matter of three or four minutes, and it looked like something that I could do pretty quickly in the rain. (There are tents that go up more quickly, but they’re considerably heavier and don’t pack up as small.)

We watched the tent go up and I made mental notes, and then we tore it down together and again watched while the salesman packed it away. It’s something I’ll be doing on a daily basis quite soon, so I’m sure I’ll get to be pretty quick at it. Meanwhile, I’m glad of our comfortable bed (and my CPAP) at home.

Otarumi Touge Loop

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I’ve been wanting to test out Kuroko’s new lower gearing as achieved by a replacement crankset, and so today the Halfakid and I planned to revisit Otarumi Touge, a mountain pass near Mt Takao. Unfortunately when it came time to set out, the Halfakid informed me he’d spent too much time in the sun at a barbecue yesterday, and so I set out solo.

Since replacing the crankset I’ve been meaning to adjust the front derailleur. I’d gotten it to the point where it would shift just fine, but it would make some noise on the larger chainring because it was rubbing the chain. So before setting out this morning I (once again) tightened up the derailleur cable, and then I spent some quality time with the barrel adjuster fine-tuning the cable tension. I revisited this a couple of times during today’s ride, including while I was riding, and I’m finally satisfied with it.

When the Halfakid and I last visited Otarumi Touge, we got to the top of the mountain pass, rested for a bit, and then did a U-turn and headed home. But the map I’d copied for this route went on from the top of the pass and made a loop through Kanagawa Prefecture before returning to the Tama River (and hence home). So my goal for today was to do the loop instead of the U-turn. It meant an additional 10km (the reason we hadn’t done the loop previously was we’d ridden in January, and daylight is at a premium), but it turns out that was not the only surprise in store for me.

Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin
Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin

Right from the start I was feeling strong, and I quickly made my way up the Tama River. Just before reaching the point where I need to cross the river and start working towards Mt Takao, I stopped in a park near the cycling course to enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous asari onigiri.

Yaezakura at the rest stop
Yaezakura at the rest stop

Asakawa Comfortable Road
Asakawa Comfortable Road

Crossing over the Tamagawa, I followed a branch known as Asakawa and soon I found myself spinning along the Asakawa Comfortable Road (although I prefer to think of it as the Lollygagging Turtle Way). I wasn’t sure what kind of progress I was making along here, but when I returned home and checked Strava I found I was posting personal records all along the way.

Not long after stopping for the photo, unfortunately, I ran through a thick cloud of gnats. As they pinged against my helmet and sunglasses it sounded like a handful of gravel thrown against a tin sheet, and I spent the next few minutes fishing gnats out of my ears (despite the bandana which covers them) and wiping them from my eyes (again, despite the sunglasses). A little further on, I turned down a switchback to a gravel path and nearly lost it on the turn. In the end I regained my balance and traction just as I managed to get my foot out of the cleat. And then a few dozen meters later on, I realized that I didn’t need to take the gravel path after all.

After a bit of pedestrian traffic and requisite kids running across my path without checking for traffic, I came into the second leg of the Asakawa route to find the river lined with yaezakura, and a full-fledged koinobori festival in progress.

Yaezakura lining the cycle path
Yaezakura lining the cycle path

Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons
Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons

Before long I found myself at Takaosanguchi, the entrance to Mt Takao, and stopped for some fine dining chez 7-11 (although mostly featuring Nana’s remaining onigiri). A group of five riders joined me here for a brief rest, and I shared with them the remainder of the 2-liter bottle of water I’d purchased. Although I set out first, they soon passed me by as I stopped right after the lunch rest at the cable car entrance for Mt Takao (and they continued to pull away — I didn’t see them again).

Mt Takao cable car entrance
Mt Takao cable car entrance

Up, up, up!
Up, up, up!

From that point on the climbing begins in earnest. It’s not very steep (despite the appearance in the profile above), but it is relentless. It just keeps going up for about 4.5km at an average grade of 6%. When we first made it up the mountain in January, we weren’t sure about the remaining distance and I stopped to rest a couple of times — the last time within 50m of the top.

This time around I was doing a lot of math in my head from the GPS measurements, and for some reason I bobbled things. I did make use of the new, lowest gear, and was going along pretty well in that. When I reached what I’d calculated as perhaps the halfway point (recognizing that it was further along than the first stop I’d made in January), I stopped for a rest. This turned out to be a mistake: in the first case, because once I mounted up again my thighs (until then doing OK) were like jelly. And in the second case, because I turned out to be less than 400m from the top. Crawling along with wobbly thighs, I soon recognized my error and pushed on to the top.

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge
Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I took a brief rest here and then continued onward (and downhill!) into Kanagawa Prefecture. There were some gorgeous views overlooking the Sagami River valley, but as they were all flashing past at 50km/h, I didn’t stop for photos.

And then I entered terra incognita, at least as far as places I’d ridden before. I was kind of expecting a nice, fast descent and then a flat ride back to Tamagawa (as when we’d taken a U-turn at the top), but in fact there was still a whole lot of “up-down, up-down” to go. I passed some beautiful scenery along the way, including the Sagami Dam, but I had to stop once again to rest on a rather steepish uphill, even though I could see the top from the point where I needed to take a break.

Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam
Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam

At this point, I was playing a mental game with myself which turned out to be a mistake. I was telling myself it was a very short ride back to the Tama River, and so I didn’t stop to rest along the way (apart from traffic lights and the time I stopped mid-climb). In fact, it was 35km to get back to the Tama River and pick up my usual course. By the time I got there, I was exhausted, hungry and sore. I stopped in the park with the yaezakura and had a candy bar and a nice, 20-minute rest. I contacted Nana to let her know I had another 30km to go, and so not to expect me for another two hours or more. Although I’d been averaging more than 22km/h up to this point (with some rapid descents making up for my slow-poke climbing style), once I got back on the Tama River I was fighting a headwind. And I was just …

The next 5km were just murder. My butt and hands hurt, I’d been nursing a cramp in my right thigh, I was fighting a headwind, and out of nowhere the crank started making a clicking noise. I was seriously considering finding someplace to leave Kuroko for the night and taking the train home. But when I reached the next rest point, a little shrine with a major restroom in the shadow of Keiokaku Velodrome, and had a break and refilled my water bottle, I felt reinvigorated. Maybe the candy bar I’d eaten earlier was kicking in.

At any rate, I soldiered on. I thought I was taking it easy now, but I discovered when I arrived home that I’d still set a couple more personal bests. The crank continued making noise like a pair of maracas, and I was worried about the damage I was doing. Whenever I had the chance I would coast instead of pedaling.

Final rest spot
Final rest spot

From the final scheduled rest spot, I continued on. Even my butt felt better at this point. I wonder what was in that candy bar after all! At this point I was feeling tired but not bad overall — although I continued to be worried about the knocking noise coming from the crank. I used various tricks to make sure the noise wasn’t coming from the gears, chain, shoes, rack, etc. But meanwhile I continued looking forward to the end of my ride, a nice, hot bath, and a delicious cold beer!

Made it, in the end, 8 hours 7 minutes after I’d set out. That was a better time than our previous effort: although it was 10km less and rather less climbing (in fact, today involved an additional 500m or 70%), we’d taken 8 hours 15 minutes on that occasion (probably because we spent a lot of time at the summit).

Looking back from today’s ride post-bath and beer, I’m pleased overall. The new gearing will be a big help when it comes to Lejog (although I haven’t yet tried any climbs with laden panniers!). Today I climbed nearly as much as during last year’s Tour de Tohoku (which came in 25km shorter), where I’d spent a lot of time pushing Kuroko uphill. There’s obviously a new issue to sort out with the crankset (probably in the bottom bracket), but I’ve finally got the derailleur adjusted properly. The only real downsides to today’s ride were the Halfakid not making it and the obvious bonk I’d experienced when I determined to keep going until I got back to Tamagawa, rather than stop, rest and have a snack where I was.

Confirmation bias

It never fails: whenever there are kids (about kindergarten through upper elementary) walking or playing along my bike route, whether it’s a cycling course or a public street, they’ll look and see me coming, wait, and then … suddenly dash across my path the moment I’m within lethal range.

This is probably an example of confirmation bias. I’m sure there are times I encounter children on my rides where they don’t behave like this.

In fact, it’s clearly confirmation bias, because I can note at least two frequently occurring situations which don’t match this pattern; to wit:

  • There are times children dash across directly in front of me without having first waited until I get within range; and
  • There are numerous adults who start across the street or path in front of me, turn and see me coming, and … continue to step right in front of me.
Morning and evening commute
Morning and evening commute

Meanwhile, I didn’t go seeking out hill climbs during today’s commute. But on the plus side, there were no mechanicals, either. (The front derailleur still needs to be adjusted, but it’s working fine.)

Satisfied!

Morning and evening commute

Today was my first time back on the bike following the loose crankset incident. I spent a relaxing weekend and made sure this time the crankset was on and snugged down to the manufacturer’s specification.

The result was very satisfying. The bike shifts surely, and there’s a noticeable difference in climbing ability. There’s still a bit of adjusting to do with the front derailleur as there’s some chain noise in the upper gears, but everything is basically working. With the lower tooth count on the front, I shift onto the larger chainring sooner than previously, but that’s expected. The only surprise from the new mech is if, like me, you’re kind of shocked that there were no surprises.

There’s a moderate rise near my office, on the order of 4%-5% over 300m to climb out of the Tama River valley, that’s a regular feature of my rides. Usually it’s after a long ride along the banks of the Tamagawa that I encounter this climb on the way home. I previously would ride it in my lowest or second-lowest gear, averaging about 11-13km/h. And I’d arrive huffing and puffing at the top, and pull over for a rest before the final leg homeward.

This morning, to test my new gearing, I took on the hill en route to the office. I put Kuroko into her new lowest gear and wound steadily up the rise at 9-10km/h. I arrived at the top without any huffing and puffing, and generally felt I could have kept climbing at that rate for some time.

With that simple test out of the way, I determined on the ride home this evening for a bit more of a challenge. The Halfakid previously introduced me to another route up that same hill, on the other side of the tracks, that’s quite a bit steeper. Roughly the same rise but over a much shorter distance. I’ve been up it twice before, and arrived at the top feeling like I was ready to die.

Personal Best on the St. Antonio Climb
Personal Best on the St. Antonio Climb

Right after leaving the office, I aimed Kuroko at the St. Antonio Climb, named for a nearby monastery. As mentioned, it’s a short climb, with an average rise of 8%. Notably, there’s a 100m section that averages 15%, with a brief run exceeding 16%. A perfect test for new climbing gears.

I had a few pedestrians to deal with at the approach to the climb, but I was soon in the thick of it and dropped Kuroko onto the largest cog. I was soldiering along at 7-8km/h and my thighs were groaning with the effort. I made the top, more readily than I had previously, I imagined. And I didn’t feel like I was dying — although I’m sure I sounded like a cardiac arrest was imminent.

It wasn’t until I arrived home and synced up my GPS that I learned I’d made a personal best on the St. Antonio Climb, with an average speed of 11.8km/h. So that’s all to the good, although I’m not sure yet what this means in terms of possible 9%-10% grades over multiple kilometers. A bit closer to home, Otarumi Touge beckons for a return match.

You knew there’d be a mechanical, didn’t you?

Within a couple of kilometers of having finished the St. Antonio Climb, I started having an issue with my left cleat. It just wasn’t engaging smoothly, and after a few more attempts it stopped engaging at all. Something would catch on something, so I didn’t have to worry about my foot sliding about on the pedal, but if I tried pulling on it my foot would come right off. As I could still ride and was making good time, I didn’t bother to stop to have a look. By the time I got home, though, the shoe wouldn’t even sit flat on the pedal.

I put Kuroko into her berth and had a quick look at the pedals. Nothing seemed amiss. I took the elevator up to our flat and as I walked along the carpeted hallway it was immediately obvious what the problem was: the left cleat was loose from the shoe. Once I got home and took it off, I could see one of the bolts had pulled out. So I guess that shows I was using a bit more force than usual on my St. Antonio climb. Fortunately, I have a few spares. I’ll check all the cleat bolts while I’m at it.

Loose crankset

I set out this morning in beautiful, warm weather under partly sunny skies for the first ride with Kuroko’s new crankset. I didn’t get far, though, before it became clear something was wrong. I could feel a slight hitch in a certain part of the pedal stroke, and the front derailleur wasn’t happy. First I’d hear chain noise on the big chainring, and then the big chainring would be fine and I’d hear noise on the smaller chainring.

I got through my first climb of the route, and am satisfied with the new low climbing gear. I can’t wait to give it a try on a really serious climb. (Well, maybe I can … ) But meanwhile, just after the climb I turned left and that brought me to Meiji Jingu, my first stop on the route. Here I encountered a barricade, so I dismounted and found: a group ride in progress.

Group ride station at Meiji Jingu
Group ride station at Meiji Jingu

(I’ve had a quick search on Google and I can’t find any information. I suppose I could have asked one of the riders while I was there … )

Meanwhile, I took the usual photo with the portrait gallery in the background and then pulled Kuroko into the shade. I did my best to check the derailleur settings and then I gave each pedal a tug up and down and side to side. As soon as I pulled on the right side, it was clear: the crankset was loose! I’m not sure why, because I definitely tightened it to the manufacturer’s recommended 41nm. (I even bought a torque wrench for the purpose.)

Kuroko at Meiji Jingu
Kuroko at Meiji Jingu

More to the point, I need a 10mm hex to tighten the crank, and I didn’t have one with me. I had briefly thought this morning to include the torque wrench and socket in my bag along with Nana’s onigiri, just in case, but I’d immediately decided it wasn’t worth the effort. It was only now, that I had a definite need, that I recalled I have a 10mm hex key that I easily could have carried for just such an emergency.

Anyway, no use crying over spilled milk. I was still close to home and so it was best that I turn around immediately. (I suppose I could have asked some of the riders at the group event if anyone had a 10mm hex … I didn’t see a mechanics booth, though.) I messaged Nana that I was on my way home and started back, pedaling more gingerly than I had on my way out. (A group of riders from the event followed me out of Meiji Jingu.) On the way home, I could definitely feel the crank was loose, and I did my best not to bear down with too much pressure.

I got home without incident. I brought Kuroko up to the Garage in the Sky and tightened the crankset once again with the torque wrench. It seems to be on firmly. I spent more time readjusting the front derailleur, and it’s working well — at least on the stand. I’ll have to make sure to bring the 10mm wrench along next time I ride.

It’s a pity now that Nana has to wash my riding clothes after just a half-hour jaunt. On the bright side, I’ll be able to vacuum and mop so she won’t have to.