Posts

One before the thunderstorm

Selfie of two cyclists in helmets and masks in front of Japanese shrine torii

It’s rainy season in Japan, and more often than not there’s no chance to ride unless you’re willing to brave the elements. Today was a brief respite in the rain, but with a deadline: thunderstorms were in the forecast starting at 3 p.m.

I’d gone to sleep with a forecast of a small chance of rain only, so I was thinking perhaps we’d ride today to Takao-san or maybe — for a new destination — Enoshima.

Then I woke up this morning to this:

Rain-enshrouded cityscape
Not looking very sunny at 5 a.m.

Before I had a chance to check the forecast, I already had a message from the Halfakid: thunderstorms from 3 p.m. OK, with that deadline, Enoshima was out. Takao-san was doable, but iffy. The only safe bet, really, was Haneda.

Nana was up (with no more than the usual amount of prompting) not long after 6 a.m., rustling up a mess o’ onigiri, and I was on the road at 7 to meet the Halfakid at Nikotama at 8. The traffic was neither lighter nor heavier than usual, and I arrived on the river near the appointed time. By the time I’d taken a photo of my location and posted it to the Halfakid, he was there, waving at me from under the bridge. I donned my UV-block sleeves and he daubed on some sunscreen, and we set off down stream.

Ripping the Halfakid’s legs off

The Halfakid has taken up golfing in a big way, and as such hasn’t been on the bike since we did Shimanami Kaido. We made pretty good time downstream, despite the weeds growing over the cycling course, and at the first rest break he asked if we were making exceptionally good progress, or if he just was sucking. The truth was he was a bit slow on the uptake, accelerating from a stop or climbing what little hills there are along the way, but overall he was right behind me every time I checked over my shoulder.

We reached Haneda in good time and sat down to a feast of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. In the time it took me to relate to the Halfakid my upgrade plans for Kuroko, and to make my way through half my first onigiri, he’d finished off three.

Selfie of two cyclists in helmets and masks in front of Japanese shrine torii
Give us all your money

More of the same

The way back was just more of the same. The wind was a bit more mixed, and the long puddle across the path we’d encountered on the way down was even longer and deeper. The temperature was rising, but when I checked the time it wasn’t yet 11 a.m. This was all to the good, as we were racing not only the forecast for thundershowers but also the burgeoning heat.

We continued to make good time upstream, and it was still before 11 when I messaged Nana that I’d reached Nikotama and should be home before noon. I was feeling the heat by this time — it was already 32C, which is about my limit — but I made passable time on the way home, not pushing overly hard, and rolled up to the courtyard before 11:30.

GPS record of cycle ride

Still waiting

It’s early evening as I write this. Dinner is done and Nana is watching baseball on the television. There’s no sign yet of the forecast thunderstorms, or even of rain.

I don’t mind.

Change your sealant!

Latex sealant seeping from pinhole in bicycle tire

With rain in the forecast for today (although it has yet to materialize) I thought it would be a good chance to try my new Stan’s sealant to see if I could get any better result than the poor showing I’d had from the previous stuff.

I gave the new bottle of sealant a good shaking and then removed the seal. I prepped the tire — the one with the pinhole that’s turned into a nightmare — by unseating one side and using paper towels to mop up the remaining sealant there.

Once that was cleaned up, I poured in a like amount of new sealant, reseated the bead, and gave it a blast with the tire pump. The tire seated immediately, and air started leaking from the hole in the tread. I quickly rotated the wheel until the hole was pointing downwards. There was a brief spray of latex and then it held.

Detail of bicycle tire showing sealant leaking from hole, and sealant bottle
Stan the Man!

After reinserting the valve core I pumped up the tire once again. As the pressure increased, there was another brief spray and then it sealed again. There was a further spray when I reached 40psi, and at that point after making sure the latex was sealing and set the tire aside. I’ll keep the hole pointed down and let it sit for at least 24 hours, and at that point I’ll try getting it up to 60psi. If that holds for a couple of days, I’ll consider it a usable tire once again.

Latex sealant seeping from pinhole in bicycle tire
That’s holding!

Rinse, repeat

With the rear holding, I turned my attention to the front. This is the one with the small leak at the base of the valve. I followed the same steps as with the rear and it all went smoothly. This time when I pumped up the tire after changing the sealant, I didn’t even hear any hissing of air. It was only after I finished inflating the tire that I noticed a small dribble of sealant.

Detail of bicycle tire vavle showing dribbles of sealant
Simply doing its job

I finished by inflating the tire to 60psi and swirling the sealant around inside. As with the rear, I’ve set it aside and will check again tomorrow to make sure it’s holding.

The tension is palpable

With the leaky tires taken care of, I turned my attention to the ticking spokes I’d noticed on yesterday’s ride. I got the wheel off the bike and into the truing stand, and then I measured all the spokes with the tension gauge. There were a few on the non-drive side that were lacking in tension, which was probably the result of the spokes seating in during the first few hundred kilometers of riding.

Measuring bicycle spoke tension with a gauge
Tense situation

I went around the spokes and tightened each one a bit at a time until they were all up to snuff, and then I spent some time retruing the wheel. Once I was happy with the trueness, I measured all the spoke tensions once again.

As a final step, I put the wheel back on the bike and then cleaned and oiled the chain. The next time there’s a gap in the rainy weather we’ll be ready to roll.

Hot and still

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort fountain

Saturday was our last promised rain-free day for more than a week, so I was up early and on the road with a saddlebag full of onigiri. I wanted to be home in plenty of time for our dinner plans, but I was also feeling it wasn’t a day for big challenges.

It was nearly 24C when I set out at 8 a.m., with a promised high of 28-30. My goal for the day, apart from getting in some easy kilometers, was to keep my UV-block mask on. It was a windless day, so this immediately presented a challenge as my sunglasses began to fog up at each traffic light. I was fine when I was moving, but the moment I stopped it became a race between the cycle of lights and my breath clouding up my lenses.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Arakawa cycling course
My favorite Arakawa sign

I’m happy to report that I arrived at the Arakawa without incident. (I did pull my mask down at the lights where it was making a problem, but then pulled it up again before I began moving.) For the next hour, foggy lenses were the furthest thing from my mind as I spun my way 25km downstream. Without pushing myself, I was averaging 26-27km/h on the flat, broad pavement. That’s a good enough speed that I wondered if I had the wind at my back, but the tall grasses along the path were standing straight and still. I stopped once at my usual spot in the shade to rest my hands and drink some water.

There were lots of other bicyclists and runners on the path, and of course the baseball fields were overrun by little-leaguers, but I didn’t encounter any marathons, for a nice change.

Bicycle leaning against sign with river and bridge in background
Shinsuna, at the mouth of the bay

I arrived at Shinsuna at 10 a.m. and made a note of the time. I wanted to see how long it would take me to get from there to Disneyland and then back to the river. In November when Fearless Leader Joe accompanied me to this spot, I’d estimated an hour. We decided on that occasion not to continue on the Disney jaunt to ensure that FLJ could get back to Saitama before the sunset. On this ride, though, I knew I was well ahead of schedule.

Rickety-tickety

I’d been hearing a quiet ticking noise on my way down the river, and by the time I arrived at Shinsuna I’d figured it was time to check the spokes on the new rear wheel. I gave them all a squeeze and sure enough I located one that had quite a bit more give in it than all its neighbors. I gave it a few turns with the multitool and checked the wheel for roundness. It all seemed good, so I continued back to the bridge that takes me across the river and on towards Disneyland.

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort fountain
I wanted to jump in
Bicycle leaning against tree in park
East of Eden

It was 10:30 when I arrived at Tokyo Disney Resort, and considerably hotter than it had been when I left home. I was also getting hungry. On my way back to a park by the river, I was hallucinating about the onigiri in my saddlebag. I took a shortcut back to the river and arrived at the park at 10:45. I tucked right in to the onigiri and finished all three in less than 15 minutes, putting me back on the road at 11 with just a few swallows of water left in my bottles.

Routine

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and mask with Nihonbashi decorative lamppost in background
Nihonbashi

Crossing the bridge back into Tokyo just brought me into traffic, and lots of it. It’s a long stretch on Eitai Dori but nothing really challenging. Some idiot in his BMW honked at me when I switched lanes to go around a parked car, after checking for traffic and making a hand signal — he had another full lane to go around me, but just wanted to demonstrate what a spoiled child he was. Nothing more of note happened as I continued on, first to Nihonbashi and then up Kudanzaka to Budokan.

Tayasumon Gate with construction barrier
Tayasumon Gate: Closed
Bicycle leaning against railing with Chidorigafuchi in background
Chidorigafuchi

At Chidorigafuchi I sipped the last of my water and posted the requisite pictures before continuing on my way. I arrived home just four and a half hours after having set out, hot and tired and ready for a shower and cold drink.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Hot and still

Tool abuse

Two scredrivers, one broken

My Wera Kraftform Micro driver set has been incomplete since I broke the largest screwdriver while using it as a chisel and pry bar. Fortunately, I was able to buy a replacement for just the one broken driver, and at a price that reflected a proportionate cost to the total set price.

I promise to treat it better this time.

(Meanwhile, in a fit of alcohol-inspired Amazon diving, I’ve purchased the entire set again new. Rather than go through the hassle of returning it, I’m going to pass it along to the Halfakid. But ssshhh! It’s a surprise!)

The little sealant that could … n’t

With rain in the forecast today (although it’s since turned out to be fairly nice weather) I decided to have another go at the tiny leak on my rear tire. This is for the wheelset that is now my spare since I swapped the wheels almost a month ago. And that swap was prompted by this same leak, which vexed me on my recent ride to Yokohama.

The leak was originally a little pinhole caused in all likelihood by a bit of glass I ran over. It was a gradual enough leak that I didn’t notice it when I filled up the tires, but it would cause the rear to lose enough air over the course of an hour’s riding that the rear would be noticeably soft.

In other words, exactly the sort of leak that sealant should be able to fix up.

Man up and fix it

To date I’ve tried the following fixes, with identical results:

  • Adding more sealant, swirling it around and reinflating the tire
  • Putting a plug in the hole, adding more sealant, etc.
  • Leaving it sit for a couple of weeks and then trying again
Bicycle tire separated from rim, with tire boot on inner surface
Tire firmly booted

When I first picked up the tire in the Workshop in the Sky this afternoon, I was surprised to find it was holding a good amount of pressure. Not fully firm, but perhaps about 20psi at a guess. By contrast, the front tire (with a slow leak around the valve) was utterly flat.

Starting with the rear, I pumped up the tire as it was. Everything went fine until about 45psi, and then suddenly the hole opened up beneath the plug and all the air came whooshing out.

Right, then. Obviously this is not working. So I got my tire levers and unseated one bead. Pulled out the plug — it came out quite easily, which is not a good sign. And then I cleaned the inner surface of the tire and applied a tire boot. I pressed it on good and firmly all around. Then I reseated the tire, made sure there was enough sealant in it, and put on the pump.

The tire inflated immediately, popping onto the rim snappily, but the hole continued to leak as before. The boot had had no effect. I quickly tried to snap a photo of the sealant jetting out of the tire under pressure, but it was finished by the time I grabbed my phone.

This obviously wasn’t getting me anywhere. The hole in the tire was much larger than before, owing to the plug, but it is still well below the size at which it should be a challenge for the sealant.

Detail of bicycle tire against wall with sealant leaking on floor
That’s … supposed to be in the tire

Now it’s just getting stupid

I decided to fight another day. I cleaned up the spilled sealant and put the tire aside. Then I turned my attention to the front. It’s got a tiny leak around the base of the valve. It probably means I should retape the rim, but again, this should be well within the ability of the sealant to fix. I shook the tire to verify that I could hear sealant sloshing inside, and then I pumped it up. As expected, I heard a hissing noise from the valve.

I picked up the tire and swirled it around, shaking it back and forth to get the sealant in the valve area. After a moment, a small pool of sealant emerged around the valve. Air bubbled through the sealant. I shook and swirled a bit more, expecting that at any moment the sealant would take hold and the leaking would stop.

And … no dice. No matter how I shook and swirled, the air continued to hiss out from the base of the valve.

Disgusted, I put away my tools and washed up, thinking the while.

Change the sealant!

Is it possible my sealant is just crap? It’s from Schwalbe, a top tire maker. If they don’t know latex, who does?

Anyway, I decided to have a look, and I quickly came across this review of tire sealants. I’d expected Stan’s to be at the top, but a careful reading of the text showed this is not the typical Stan’s but a special formulation. The surprise in the test results (in which they poked holes in a tire and timed how long it took to seal) was that Schwalbe came in 4th place. That and reading that it’s in fact made by Stan’s (but isn’t the special sauce recipe that took first place in this test).

My bottle of Doc Blue is almost empty anyway, after all my tubeless travails. I’ve ordered a bottle of the Stan’s Race Sealant, and a couple of spare valves for good measure. I also found a 140ml pouch of sealant, perfect for carrying in the saddle bag in case a big leak causes a huge sealant loss on a ride. It’s Muc-Off, not Stan’s, but I ordered a couple anyway.

The goodies will arrive tomorrow, but it may be next weekend before I have a chance to give it all another go.

Meant to be longer

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

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

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

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

Windy

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

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

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

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

Cramps

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

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

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

My dear Alphonse

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

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

Oh no, after me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GPS record of bicycle ride
Meant to be longer

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

Musing about brakes

New V-brake installed on front of bike

I’ve been commuting by bike a couple of times a week recently, and it’s been bothering me that Dionysus’s front brake is connected to the left lever when it should be the right.

GPS record of cycle route
Morning commute

In the US and various parts of Europe, this is the norm, whereas in England the front brake is usually the right lever. I’ve seen various explanations for this but one stands out for me: most hand signals — particularly slowing or stopping — are done with the right hand when you’re riding on the left. And when you’re braking with one hand, you want the brake in question to be the rear (so you don’t apply too much pressure on the front and pitch yourself over the handlebars).

I even have a mnemonic for this in Japanese: 右前 (right-front). Kuroko is set up this way.

So how did we get here?

When the Halfakid and I rebuilt Ol’ Paint and rebirthed her as Dionysus, I was all set to make her migi-mae. I was sure that’s how things had been previously. And yet when we started routing the cables, it just didn’t work out. Oh, we could have run the cable from the right lever to the front brake, but it would have been far from elegant. The length of cable involved and the size of the loop required raised questions of whether I’d end up snagging something while riding. So we just shrugged our shoulders and set her up with the opposite breaking: 左前 hidari-mae (left-front) if you will.

Bicycle front wheel, brake and fork
Cabled and crimped

It was fine and it worked, although I subsequently replaced the brakes with a set with shorter lever arms to get more braking power. But with my increase in commuting via Dionysus these days, it’s been bothering me more and more.

Looking for solutions in all the wrong places

I started looking for solutions, and the first thing that occurred to me was to replace the V-brakes with cantilevers, where the cable attaches at the center and so the cable run will be the same from either lever. These were exotic items when I was getting serious about biking in the 1970s, de rigueur on mountain bikes and serious touring bikes in the 1990s, and fading from sight by the 2010s. In fact, I’d looked for them when I rebuilt Ol’ Paint: there’s a cantilever brake from the same maker as the shifter / derailleur combo I used, but it was generally unavailable at the time.

SRAM Shorty Ultimate brake
SRAM Shorty Ultimate brake

So what next?

After today’s commute I started getting curious: I felt so sure the Ol’ Paint had been migi-mae, despite having V-brakes. What happened? And was there a way to get back to that — short of converting to canties? I finally got curious enough to dig through the archive to see what the set-up had been before the rebuild.

Ol' Paint before the work began
Ol’ Paint before the work began

Monocle emoji

Detail of front of bike showing cable routing for front brake
That’s migi-mae!

Ol’ Paint was clearly migi-mae, which is what my memory had been nagging me. So why did the cabling become so awkward during the rebuild that we abandoned that idea?. A closer look at the before-and-after photos revealed the truth: the noodle! The original noodle (which I recall having had the shop replace once when the cable was binding) has a far greater curve than the replacement. So if I can find a new noodle [insert joke here] with a similar curvature to the original, I should be able to revert to my favored migi-mae without converting Dionysus to cantilever brakes (which I still think are a more elegant solution, but are apparently a lot more finicky to adjust).

Just one more thing (Columbo-cigar-and-trenchcoat)

While I was comparing the before-and-after photos, I couldn’t help but notice that the original V-brake lever arms were a similar length to the Shimano Deore brakes that I’d first installed during the rebuild, but which didn’t give me enough braking power. I’m very pleased with the shorter Tektros which solved the issue for me, but now it’s a mystery (which shall endure, as far as I’m concerned) why the Deores didn’t cut the muster (or mustard, for the illiterate).

Meanwhile, as for me and my Workshop in the Sky, we’ll be looking for a more bendy noodle and checking if we have enough cable housing to accommodate a re-routing.

Three Rivers, Three Prefectures

GPS route of cycle ride

This is a ride I’ve been meaning to do for a while: up the Tamagawa, across the top of Tokyo (which actually puts me in Saitama), and then back down the Arakawa. As I learned when I set out to map it, this course runs along another river in Saitama, the Irumagawa.

When I told Nana I’d planned to do 125km, she was sceptical. I said I’ve ridden that distance and further any number of times in the past, and she pointed out I haven’t done more than 100km in quite some time. That set me to looking through my records, and the last time I did was in January, when I rode the entire length of the Tamagawa course in both directions for a total of 143.5km.

Looking at that ride and a couple of others of nearly 100km, I figured I could do this new route in 8 or 9 hours. So, with an 8 a.m. start, I should be home by 4 or 5 p.m., allowing some time for faffing on a new route.

Tamagawa

Bicycle leaning against wooden fence
Kuroko takes a break to let her tires cool

I reached the Tamagawa before 9 a.m. after a 15km jaunt through city traffic. The weather was cool and the skies overcast, despite the forecast for a sunny day with a high of 30C. I decided not to complain about the shortfall in the temperature department, and after a brief rest continued on up the river.

It was smooth sailing the whole way. If there was any wind, it was at my back, and there was little competition in terms of wandering pedestrians on the course. I stopped for my first of Nana’s world-famous onigiri at Persimmon Park, and then reached Hamura less than an hour later, well before 11. I took a break here and ate two more onigiri in the shade.

Bicycle leaning against fence with river weir in background
Kuroko pining for the waters

Selfie of cyclist in helmet in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers
Me ‘n’ my Tamagawa Bros

In fact on my way up the Tamagawa on this occasion I’d remained in Tokyo the entire time, just waving at Kanagawa Prefecture across the river. But when I do this route again I intend to go via Futako (meeting up with the Halfakid there), and the way upstream from there crosses briefly into Kanagawa before returning to Tokyo.

Irumagawa

I left the cycling course at Hamura and turned east, into traffic. There was a bit of climbing here, on roads that had looked completely level on Street View, but nothing I couldn’t handle. After a fast descent, I turned off the roads onto a path I’d found on Google Maps, and this turned out to be a mistake. It had sections of broken gravel, the kind mountain bikers look for rather than smooth path, and there were some stairs. Judging from the looks I got from a few people, I’d overlooked a sign forbidding cyclists on this path (or at least requesting riders to dismount). But most people were friendly.

Maybe I should have taken a clue from the fact this path wasn’t on Street View. But there are whole neighborhoods in this area that aren’t covered, so …

Next came more traffic, narrow streets absolutely clogged with vehicles. There was a long queue up a short rise with a traffic light at the top, and after cooling my heels through a couple of cycles of the signal, I mounted up the sidewalk and jumped to the front of the line. After that the Garmin faithfully guided me to the next cycling course, the Sayama-Kawagoe Cycling Road, which runs alongside the Irumagawa. This turned out to be smooth and well-maintained (the course, although the same might be said of the river), if a bit narrower than the Tamagawa and Arakawa courses (ditto). I was glad to be out of the traffic and not picking my way between cabbage-sized rocks, but I did have to bide my time for pedestrians and other cyclists on occasion.

Kawagoe

The cycling road brought me into the city of Kawagoe, although not right up to the doorstep of my goal, which was Koedo (the old town). I did some more faffing about here through back streets and more waiting in traffic on narrow streets. On one particularly long stretch of narrow, two-lane road, the cars would follow behind me looking for their opportunity to pass, only to end up just in front of me, following the car I’d previously been following.

Selfie of biker in helmet, mask and sunglasses in front of bell tower
Chimes of the times

Eventually I reached Old Town, only to find it packed with tourists. What pandemic? At least everyone was masked. I followed a line of traffic down the main road and pulled off the side for a picture with the iconic Toki-no-kane bell tower.

After working my way through the remainder of the tourist-lined road, I made quick progress to a convenience store for a bottle of water and some sweets, and then onwards to the Kawagoe Sports Park. Sitting on moss in the shade of a tree, I ate the last of the onigiri and most of the treats I’d bought. It was after 1 p.m. when I got up to continue the ride.

Arakawa

I’m well familiar with this path now after a couple of previous visits to Kawagoe, and I was glad to be back on the course after a lot of riding in traffic. The fly in my ointment was a headwind, which only seemed to get stronger as I made my way downstream. The skies were much sunnier than in the morning and the temperature near the promised 30C, and I was getting a headache from squinting in the sun and wind despite my shades.

What could I do with these conditions? Take more frequent breaks, drink lots of water, and then shift to a lower gear and keep going. The wind eased up for the last couple of kilometers and I finally reached my favorite signpost at Todabashi.

Bicycle leaning against sign marking Arakawa river
It’s back into traffic from here

Back home

I found some shade under the Todabashi and took stock of my situation. It was 2:40 and I had a bit more than 13km to go, all in heavy traffic. The Garmin was predicting I’d be home in 40 minutes or so, but I was exhausted from battling the sun and wind. I messaged Nana that I’d be home about 4, but warned I might be a bit later as I was tired and taking it easy. And then I mounted up and headed into the traffic.

I felt better almost immediately as I was no longer fighting a headwind. I’d worried I didn’t have enough energy for the coming climb, a long, gentle rise, but I had no trouble with it once I got started. (I was passed by a younger, fitter couple on their bikes, but fair play.) As I progressed my confidence returned. I was still tired and I had a headache, but I knew I’d be getting home. I took my time on the few remaining hills on Yamate Dori, waited out each traffic light, and drank the last of my water. I was glad I had very little trouble from the traffic.

And at last! After mounting up the last rise to Nakano Sakaue, I coasted gratefully back down the other side and turned towards home. I saved the ride on the Garmin and messaged Nana at 3:33 that I was home.

GPS route of cycle ride
Three Rivers, Three Prefectures

Success

Despite the headwind on the Arakawa (and I’ve been out there in worse) and the faffing about on the new sections in Saitama, the ride was a success. I’d come in at 7 hours 35 minutes elapsed time, beating my estimate, and there were zero mechanicals. My new rear wheel performed flawlessly in its debut, and the angry bees sound of the ratchet is a welcome metal touch. The little knobbies on the tires make a whirring sound on smooth pavement, but they were a welcome addition when I was working my way over the moon crater near Iruma.

Detail of rear bicycle hub
Metal

I’ve already revised my GPS route, including Futako and avoiding the rocky path at Iruma and some of the back streets in Kawagoe. I’m looking forward to riding this one again.

Long-awaited wheel swap

Bicycle on balcony in evening light

Tubeless faff

I recently saw a video in which a cycling blogger (with far more viewers than I have) described tubeless tires as “a bit of a faff,” and then went on to say how many thorns he’d had in his tires over the past year, and how it wasn’t an issue because he was riding tubeless and they’d sealed up the holes without any fuss.

So how’s that working out for you?

Since going tubeless (against the recommendation of the shop where I bought Kuroko), I’ve had a months-long fight with weeping sidewalls, culminating in an under-pressure tire rolling off the rim in a low-speed turn, and another failure where a broken spoke poked through the rim tape, creating a hole in a location that was nearly impossible for the sealant to deal with. But no flats as such.

That run came to an end on Saturday’s ride, where my rear tire had a pinhole (literally too small to see with any certainty) that the sealant wouldn’t reliably seal up. I’d gone over some broken glass on the previous ride, and counted myself lucky when nothing happened. It turns out I was counting chickens, and amusingly, the front tire (which had an innertube at the time) came through with shining colors.

Quittin’ time?

Given the expense and effort I’ve put into converting to tubeless, and the demonstrated results, I was considering giving up on the idea — much as I enjoy the masochistic thrill of repeated expense and wrenching to elevate myself among the Velominati. And then I recalled that I have a pair of wheels, tubeless tires ready-mounted, awaiting me in the Workshop in the Sky. I could simply swap out the current wheels and then fix up the tubeless issues at my leisure.

Sunday was sunny and warm, and hence perfect weather for bicycle maintenance following a day of riding through puddles and rain (particularly when one’s partner has misinterpreted one’s stated wishes and made plans for the day with good weather rather than the day with rain in the forecast). I’d already brought Kuroko to the Workshop in the Sky in anticipation following Saturday’s ride.

Well, that didn’t go as expected

My first step after removing the leaky rear tire was to do what I’d balked at Saturday on the pedestrian walk of Rokugo Bridge: put a dart into the hole. I suspected that part of the reason the sealant wasn’t fixing the pinhole was there wasn’t enough sealant left in the tire. So I removed the valve core to top up the sealant, reinserted the core, and pumped up the tire. As soon as I rotated the tire so the hole was pointing downwards, the sealant came streaming out — from a hole so small I couldn’t reliably locate it on the tread. And the stream didn’t stop until the sealant was spent and the air had run out of the tire.

Although I still had no idea why the sealant wouldn’t close up such a small hole (I couldn’t see any glass shard in the puncture), I decided to proceed with the dart. This is a braided strand coated with sticky stuff. I have what amounts to a glorified ice pick to drive into the hole in the tire and twist, leaving the strand in place when I remove the pick.

From the moment I started this I had second thoughts. The diameter of the dart was much larger than the pinhole in the tire. By putting this plug in the tire I’d just be making things worse, right? I took a deep breath and pushed the dart into the tire. And pushed. And hammered with the flat of my hand. At last the dart went in, creating (as predicted) a much larger hole than the one I was trying to fix. I gave the dart a twist or two before withdrawing it, leaving the plug in place.

Once again, I removed the valve core to top up the sealant in the tire, then replaced the core and pumped up the tire. I could hear the air hissing out through the hole I’d made. I quickly rotated the tire so the plug would be down, and the sealant would cover the newly enlarged hole.

That fixed the problem straight away, right?

Detail of bicycle tire with plug leaking sealant into drain
You be the judge

About those spare wheels …

Thinking that my operation was a total failure, I turned my attention to the spare wheelset sitting in the Workshop, with new tires already mounted tubeless and holding air like nobody’s business. The rear wheel of this set is one I’d rebuilt with a DT Swiss hub and have yet to try. Following the rebuild I’d managed to extract the loose nipple (great line for a bar on a Friday evening), and since then the wheel has just been awaiting my convenience.

To complete the spare wheelset, I needed to transfer the cogs (or buy a new set), and add disc brake rotors (ditto). I spent some time scrubbing up the cogs to get them all nice and shiny, and then mounted them on the new DT Swiss hub. I’d bought some spangly new rotors a while ago, and they’ve just been sitting on the floor by my desk since then.

Shimano disc brake rotors in the package
Really going upscale on this build

The rotors popped on without issue and the new wheelset was ready. Before putting them on, I gave Kuroko a thorough washing down, removing all the mud from the puddles I’d splashed through on Saturday. Finally, I took the tube from the front wheel (the one I was now removing from Kuroko) and remounted the tire as tubeless. I got it on the first go this time. (I’d put in the tube after returning from Shimanami Kaido, when I’d let the air out of the tires to fit them in the carry bag.)

Spin test

So now that I’ve finally got that slick DT Swiss hub on the bike, how does it sound?

Cleaning up for the day

Before calling the day a wrap, I spent a little time cleaning up the Workshop in the Sky, rinsing away the spilled (or jetted) latex sealant, and folding up some of the previously used tires that have been sitting around loose on the floor. I was pleased with the results.

Folded gumwall bicycle tires lined up on an air conditioner compressor
Getting ones tires in a row

Bicycle in stand on balcony, with spare wheelset in background
A bit more space in the Workshop

Finally, I checked the newly spare wheelset to see how the plug (rear) and tubeless conversion (front) were taking. To my surprise, the rear tire was still fully pressurized (at least as far as the thumb test could determine), while the front had lost about half its pressure. I reinflated the front and did the sealant dance with it, and soon found it had been leaking around the valve hole in the rim. I gave it some addition swirls, wiped away the leaked sealant, and checked if it was still losing air. It seemed to be OK. I set both wheels aside to let the sealant set for a couple of days before topping them up again.

I call that a success

It was a challenging day of bike maintenance, but I think I was well rewarded for my efforts. There’s a lot of rain in the forecast for next weekend, so I’m not sure how soon I’ll be testing out Kuroko’s new wheelset.

Bicycle on balcony in evening light
Sunset Kuroko with new wheels

Minato no Mieru Oka Koen Get!!

Yokohama Bay Bridge

The weather was iffy on Saturday — cloudy with a chance of rain. But Nana and I had plans for Sunday, so I could risk it or just stay home all weekend. I decided to risk it. I took my time getting ready for the ride, and hadn’t really chosen a destination until Nana had finished making the onigiri.

I hadn’t been to Yokohama in some time, and I wanted to see how I’d do against the final climb, a steep 9% scramble over 270m to gain a total of 25m, with a rewarding view of Yokohama Bay from the top. Having decided that, I got my preparations under way. When I was pumping up Kuroko’s tires prior to departure, I noticed a spot of latex sealant emerging on the back tire. I didn’t think anything about it at the time.

So far, so good

The weather held as I rode through the city to Futako Tamagawa, and then down the Tamagawa. The wind was changeable, but never really holding me back. One good thing about the cloudy skies was the relative lack of pedestrian competition for the cycling course. I had one brief stop along the Tamagawa before reaching the bridge that took me across the river and into Kanagawa Prefecture. After a couple of kilometers, I stopped at a park in Motoki and had the first onigiri — a really huge mentaiko onigiri that probably counted as two.

From there it was just one long, straight slog through 15km of urban traffic. At some point I started feeling a vibration through the pedals and seat when I was putting the power down. After determining the vibration coincided with the pedal cadence (and not, for example, wheel rotation), I started wondering if the bottom bracket bearings were going. Kuroko does have a habit of eating bottom brackets, although things have been good in the year since converting to the Sugino (and a bottom bracket that matched the original spec, rather than the subpar solution I’d hit on previously).

Apart from the vibration, an almost crunchy feeling that made me feel certain it was a bearing issue, things were going smoothly. The sun came out from behind the clouds for a bit as I approached Yokohama, and I made an effort to keep my UV mask over my big nose.

And then … sweet success!

I passed through the Minato Mirai neighborhood of Yokohama more smoothly than anticipated — traffic was low for a Saturday, and I was having good luck with the lights. I was sitting at the intersection under the Yamashitacho interchange before I knew it, wondering about the upcoming climb. I’ve made it more than halfway up at least half a dozen times, only to run out of steam when the goal was in sight. Would today be any different?

At the final intersection before the climb, I paused and waited for all the traffic to go ahead of me. I didn’t want to have to worry about traffic overtaking me during the climb. Then, as the light changed, I set off. I didn’t charge the hill but took my time up the approach, shifting down rapidly and before the effort increased. In moments, I was inching forward, content to take my time, working my way slowly (if a bit shakily) up the narrow and winding road.

My breathing became audible as I neared the spot where I often give up: a small café on the left with some appealing ice cream on offer (but it’s a dog café). I glanced up at the remaining few meters and it occurred to me that I was going to make it!

Stupid bus

Just as I realized that, I was passed by a city bus, and then a car. Within a few more seconds, I saw what a problem this was going to make: while stopping for the traffic light at the top of the hill, the bus had pulled close enough to the curb to block my way. With less than a second to choose my course of action, I decided I was going to continue my climb on the sidewalk. I glanced up towards the intersection and saw a couple of pedestrians, but they moved aside as I mounted onto the cobbles. The slope was already far gentler than its 16% maximum, and I passed the bus in a matter of seconds and then was back in the street, arriving at the stop light at last!

Cue Rocky Theme

I’d done it! I waited a few seconds at the red light, allowing pedestrians to cross as I gasped for air. Then I turned into Minato no Mieru Oka Koen (Harbor View Park), parked Kuroko and took a snap before sitting down to enjoy a couple more well-earned onigiri.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

After wolfing down the onigiri and posting my accomplishment on social media, I had a close look at Kuroko. No sign of looseness in the wheel hubs or bottom bracket. As far as I could see, the rear derailleur was in good alignment. No obvious issues. Mystified, I mounted up for the return trip.

Descent into hell

Well, into Yokohama, anyway. The speed on the descent back down Yatozaka (the hill I’d just conquered) is limited by the need to retain control in the blind curve and the sharp stop at the bottom. According to the Garmin, I only hit about 35km/h at this point. (Strava reports that the king of this particular mountain has climbed it at an unbelievable 36.9km/h!) Threading my way through traffic, I passed Yokohama Chinatown and headed back towards Tamagawa. All was going well except for that unexplained thrumming when I put some effort into the pedals.

The real hell here is the 15km of totally urban riding from Minato Mirai back to the bridge over the Tamagawa. I was making slightly better time on the way home, perhaps thanks to a tailwind.

So you had a flat …

Bicycle leaning against bridge abutment topped by small statue of boat
Checking tire pressure at Rokugo Bridge

On reaching the bridge, I mounted a curb to the pedestrian ramp. And there I felt the rear rim come down on the curb, albeit gently. I dismounted to push Kuroko up the ramp to the bridge, and there stopped and gave the rear tire a squeeze. It was definitely low! It took me just a couple of minutes to pump the tire back up to full (as measured by my hyper-accurate thumb) and I noted once again that a bubble of latex sealant was forming on the tread. I thought for a moment about putting a barb into the pinhole, and then voted against it. I put my barb away, and then I was on my way again.

And, just like that … the vibration was gone! I couldn’t believe it. At the earliest opportunity I put all I had into the pedals and … smooth as sake. Do you mean to tell me that all this crunching and vibration was a low rear tire? A pinhole leak that for some reason the sealant isn’t … erm, sealing?

Apparently so. On both counts. Over the next 15km I confirmed that (a) the vibration was gone when the tire was at full pressure, and (b) the tire was leaking, and coming down from perhaps 40psi to around 20psi before holding steady at that. I suppose the good news was that the tire wasn’t going completely flat, or unseating from the rim.

Over the river and up the hill

My way upstream on the Tamagawa brings me back into Kanagawa at Marukobashi, and then finally into Tokyo at Futagobashi. But as I was making good time, and I don’t like the narrow, crowded sidewalk at Futagobashi, I continued on another kilometer or so to bring me to the 246 bridge over the Tamagawa. Here there’s much less pedestrian traffic, and at the foot of the bridge on the Futako side there’s ample space to stop and top up a leaky tire. And to get a half-liter of chilled water from a vending machine.

Having crossed the river at this point, my path up out of the Tamagawa valley was quite a bit steeper than the one I usually take — nearly as challenging as the climb at Yokohama. I’d been up this hill in one go on several occasions, though, and approached it with confidence. Once again, I dropped into my granniest of granny gears well before needing it, and I was at the top (albeit once again gasping for breath) before I knew it.

A little rain among friends

From the top of the valley at Tamagawa, it’s less than an hour to home — all in traffic. I messaged Nana when to expect me, and set out in good spirits. I was nearly halfway there when the vibration started up once again (letting me know the rear tire was losing pressure as before), and then I felt a sprinkle or two on my arms and face. Within moments it was raining. I’d already taken off my shades and put on my lights out of regard for the cloudy skies, so there was nothing to do but continue onwards. The rain was never particularly heavy and did let up after only five or ten minutes, and it failed to get me as wet as I’d got splashing through puddles on the Tamagawa cycling course. There was nothing more of note on the way home apart from the tour bus driver who decided he needed to be ahead of me at the red light and in the process nearly forced me off the road.

The rain was a (not so) distant memory as I wheeled into the plaza in front of our tower, dismounted, and wheeled Kuroko into the freight elevator for a visit to the Workshop in the Sky.

GPS record of cycle ride
Minato no Mieru Oka Koen Get