Kuroko needs a little more work before she’s ready for the crankset and bottom bracket replacement, so today I prepared the new crankset with a chainring swap. The default chainring was 46 teeth, and I wanted to change this to 44 teeth to reduce the gap between the two chainrings.
The Sugino crankset was available with the 44T chainring, but at double the price. By buying the standard 46T crankset and a separate 44T chainring, I saved myself half the difference.
The bolts took a T30 and were surprisingly hard to break loose. Upon reflection, they’re probably held in with Loctite (and not coated with grease, as would be my first inclination).
I need a special tool, which will arrive tomorrow, to fully tighten the bolts. I’ll probably need to remove the inner chainring to do that, as well. (It would be a great Catch-22 if I then needed to remove the larger chainring to fully tighten the smaller one … )
I’m expecting other bits and bobs tomorrow to finish the removal of Kuroko’s existing crankset and bottom bracket. But I won’t know until I’ve tried if I can get the job done in time for the weekend.
Yesterday the weather was beautiful, warm with blue skies. Unfortunately I had other things to do. Today was very mild, but the skies were grey and occasionally threatening. I’m happy to report I only noticed a drop or two of rain as I was riding, and later the sun peeked out from the clouds. At the same time, though, the wind picked up considerably. Near the finish I was nearly blown out of my lane! Fortunately the car following me at that point was keeping its distance.
I made good time through Meiji Jingu, past the State Guest House (Geihinkan) and Akasaka. In fact I set a personal best climbing up from Akasaka Mitsuke to Uchibori Dori, although a part of that was making all the lights green. I made my first rest stop at Shiba Koen, and it was around here that the threat of rain was the greatest.
I’ve never seen the Imperial Palace grounds as empty as they were today, although I’m not usually down here on a weekday. I’ve never been able to get Kuroko in this shot in the past because the sidewalk has always been full of joggers.
Turning east from the palace, I was greeted by the welcome sight of the Bank of Japan, finally done with its renewal and all the walls and barriers down.
I stopped for an early lunch of Nana’s famous onigiri at Tokyo Big Sight. I was surprised to see groups of pre-schoolers out in the park, socially mingling as if there’d been no announcement from the governor asking us to avoid unnecessary gatherings.
After crossing over the Sumida River with Tokyo Sky Tree in the background, I stopped near a baseball field in the park and refilled my water bottle from a tap in a public restroom. Usually I’d avoid that but any port in a storm … I’d no sooner finished than I realized how foolish I was being. It’s exactly the sort of tap that people would be rinsing their hands at, and it’s designed so you can’t avoid touching the spout where the water comes out. I poured out the water immediately, and then stopped at the next vending machine and bought some bottled water. I filled my other water bottle with that, and didn’t touch the first water bottle until I got home — Nana sprayed it thoroughly with disinfectant.
My last stop of the day was at Chidorigafuchi and Budokan. Here the crowds were thick as people turned out despite the grey skies and governmental pronouncements to enjoy the cherry blossoms.
When I got home and synced my GPS, I saw that I’d gotten my 400km badge for the month.
Strava didn’t include the 26km ride where the Garmin wasn’t recording, of course. The Garmin site (where I entered the ride manually) has me at 476km.
The day dawned clear and warm, and the Halfakid and I decided to visit Otarumi Touge, a mountain pass near Mt Takao, for the first time this year. I rode up to the pass at least three times last year, but I’ve never reached the top without stopping for a breather. (The Halfakid goes right to the top each time.) Although I’m in far from my best shape, I thought that Kuroko’s latest and greatest low gearing might just prove the answer to my climbing woes.
From the moment we hit the Tamagawa river basin, we were fighting a strong crosswind. I tucked my head down and soldiered on, and the Halfakid tucked in behind me. While I was riding often three or four gears lower than I normally would for this path, we were still averaging just above 20km/h. I vowed that I wouldn’t call it quits but keep pressing on, no matter how low the gear, as long as we were making progress.
We were a bit fearful when it came time to leave the Tamagawa and turn towards the Aso river, because we’d be facing straight into the wind. After crossing the initial bridge, however, we found that — if anything — the going was a bit easier. We were soon enjoying the views of sakura blooming alongside the cycling path.
At this point I was wondering if the wind would be hindering us on our climb up to Otarumi Touge. We wouldn’t know until we reached Takaosan Guchi — the train station at the foot of Mt Takao — at the earliest. The only thing for it, as before, was to keep my head tucked down and keep my pedals turning.
Here’s the part where the flats come in
Unfortunately, fate had other plans in store for us. I heard the Halfakid calling for me and I pulled up to a stop. He had a flat. We pushed our bikes up against the leeward side of a public restroom and took stock. The Halfakid was concerned he didn’t have a spare inner tube (mine are a different size), but it turned out he did. With my coaching, he removed the flatted inner tube and checked the tire and rim by feel for any foreign objects. Finding none, he inserted the new inner tube and worked the tire back over the rim. After reinflating the tire with my pump, we were back on the road after having lost perhaps 20 minutes.
If that were the end of it, we might still have reached the top of Otarumi Touge and made it home in time for a hot bath and dinner. I’m sorry to report, though, that I failed to finish securing the tire pump to my bike after the fix. It dropped off with a clank as I passed a jogger under a bridge several kilometers later. The Halfakid stopped and picked it up and brought it up to me at a walk. It was easy enough to secure the pump, but the reason the Halfakid was walking was he had another flat! And it was the same tire — the rear.
At this point we decided professional help was in order. (We could have patched the inner tube and continued on, but it might have only bought us another kilometer or two.) The Halfakid looked up nearby bicycle shops on his phone and we set out walking.
The first shop was just an 8-minute walk, but that turned out to be 8 minutes wasted. When we rounded the corner and found the little corrugated tin hut in the middle of a parking lot, we knew it wasn’t what we were looking for. Nevertheless, the Halfakid gamely engaged the worker in a series of questions. She’d never heard of tire sizes in anything but inches (the Halfakid’s are 700C). And when he asked if she knew of a nearby bike shop that could help with a proper “road bike,” her answer was at once meaningless and unintelligible. We thanked her for her time, checked the smartphone for directions once again, and set out.
A pair of familiar faces
On our way to the second shop, much further away and partly retracing our steps, we came across a family restaurant and sat down to a deeply needed repast of calories. Thus refreshed, we continued on towards our local cycling Mecca. And as we passed the final intersection, we both thought it seemed very familiar. Yes, we’d returned to the very shop that had repaired Ol’ Paint for us more than a year ago when the Halfakid was riding her on our way to the same destination — our first attempt on the Otarumi Touge pass.
If the mechanic remembered us, he gave no hint. He was having a very busy morning of it and we had to wait for him to finish up a repair for another customer before he could assist us (and several more customers entered the store as he was helping us). The Halfakid described the problem to him and he set to work. After removing the inner tube, he immediately did what we hadn’t done: inflate the tube to find the source of the leak. And within moments he was pointing out a spot on the wheel where the rim tape was crooked, leaving one of the spoke nipple holes partly uncovered. The inner tube had failed after coming into contact with the sharp edge of the spoke hole.
The mechanic removed the faulty rim strip and installed fresh rim tape, then patched the inner tube. He had the bike ready to go in almost less time that it takes to describe the issue. We asked him for a spare inner tube and left the shop $25 poorer and a lot happier.
Unfortunately we’d used up too much time fixing two flats, including the time spent eating lunch and walking to the shop. There wasn’t enough time left in the day for us to take on Otarumi Touge. We turned our bikes back towards Tokyo and were spurred along by a strong tailwind. As we rejoined the Tamagawa, the wind occasionally came across the path and slowed us a bit, but overall it was giving us a firm push homewards. Before long I was handing the new spare inner tube to the Halfakid at the door to his apartment and setting off for the remaining 8km to home.
In total I rode 84.24km today in just over four hours for an average of 20.88km/h.
I’ve been planning a ride with friends this summer in Ohio, but I haven’t booked anything yet given the current state of travel and restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. In case things fall through, I’d like to have a back-up plan.
The Ring-Ring Road includes several courses, most originating from Tsuchiura, a small city in Ibaraki Prefecture about 80km from Tokyo. Given the proximity I thought it would be possible to spend a day biking up to the starting point. But when I reviewed the route on Google Street View, it was clear it would be some very unsavory cycling: lots of traffic and very little scenery (but at least mostly flat). When I spoke with coworkers yesterday about the idea, one said she was from the area. Her cousin had ridden from Tokyo up to Ibaraki several years ago, and the experience was so bad he decided to leave his bike there and take a train home. (He collected the bike later by car.)
So if we go this route (if my friends are interested in joining, that is), the most likely course of action would be to rent a car to carry our bikes up to Tsuchiura. Depending on the size of the entourage this time, some people may need to go by train.
This 44km course runs on a former railway right-of-way, so it’s flat and straight through rice fields. Given the length and the lack of attractions at the terminus, we’d ride it round-trip in one day to bring us back to our starting point in Tsuchiura.
Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course
The lake circuit course is 127km of small roads and cycle paths around Japan’s second-largest lake. The circuit winds around a bit more than the railroad course, but it’s just about as flat. As with Biwako (Japan’s largest lake and the third of the three national cycle routes), the directions are easy: just keep the lake to your left and you’re good. (When the Three Gaijin-teers did Biwako back in 2014, we went clockwise around so we kept the lake to our right. But the principle is the same.)
A portion of the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course features in this month’s episode of Cycle Around Japan, an NHK series.
For the moment, the likelihood of us going on this route depends on the coronoavirus situation (at least as much as we’ll know if it by mid-April) and the availability of onsen at Tsuchiura. But I’m thinking one day to drive up with the bikes. Day 2 would be the ride around the lake, and Day 3 the shorter railroad route. We’d have the option of returning home at the end of Day 3, or staying another night at the spa (assuming we find one).
I’ll also see if Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn would like to come along. Ol’ Paint’s restoration should be complete by then, insh’allah, so I can offer one of them a ride. And there are rental bikes available at Tsuchiura. If FLJ and the Halfakid decide these courses are too tame, then they might like to take a day to follow in Michael’s tracks and cycle up Mt Tsukuba.
I was off to a late start this morning as I waited for Nana to wake up, but mostly I was watching the weather and hoping for the temperature to come up a bit. It was just 2C when I first checked, and when I finally set off about 9:20 a.m., it had risen to 6C.
For a while it seemed my fears were unfounded, as I was hot and sweating quite a bit by the time I reached Futako at 10. Soon after, though, a large black cloud blanketed the sky. It looked like I was in for quite a rain, but that never materialized. The temperature, though — at least as I was experiencing it in the fierce wind — plummeted.
I’d carefully checked the wind forecast before leaving home, and saw a mild 2-4m/s. It seems that someone forgot to inform 風神, though. As soon as I reached Tamagawa I was battered by headwinds, and my average speed soon dropped below my target of 20km/h.
I didn’t let the conditions bother me, though (so long as it didn’t rain!). My goal for the day wasn’t to set any personal bests but just to complete 100km. This is a distance I reach on a regular basis, but hadn’t done so yet this year. I was content to push on even at a reduced speed, as long as I was making reasonable progress.
Spring is in the air?
Signs of spring were everywhere, despite the chilling wind: from children playing with soap bubbles in the park to buds on a cherry tree.
There were several detours along the way, including a couple left over from last year’s typhoon. In the case of one, a major bridge is being rebuilt, and the usual path passes right underneath. Another has no such major construction going on, but it may require some major repair work regardless. In addition to the typhoon reconstruction, there was a new detour around some riparian works.
After 10 or more kilometers upstream along the river, the wind tapered off (or perhaps just changed direction to become a tailwind), and I was soon making good progress despite the detours. I took a brief rest at the 20km mark and ate a Snickers bar, and then at the 36km mark for an onigiri (a store-bought one — alas, Nana did not make any rice before going to bed last night).
In the final stretch towards the goal, I was treated to the sight of the early-blooming Kawazuzakura.
The cycling course had been full of picnicking families, little league baseball teams and joggers. When I got to Hamura, though, the park was nearly empty. There were just a couple of other cyclists in addition to me. As I enjoyed my lunch of convenience store onigiri, an older couple strolled in to enjoy a picnic lunch.
I ate quickly. With the cloudy sky and the wind, I was chilling off from the moment I had stopped pedaling. I took just a few moments to enjoy the view of the river before mounting up for the return trip.
Maybe get a blister on your thumb
On the return I was making good progress, although I continued to battle the wind at points. My winter gloves and tights — good quality Pearl Izumi wear — aren’t padded quite as well as their summer counterparts, and I was taking more frequent breaks to relieve the pressure on my hands. I noticed a couple of small blisters on the heal of my thumb. In addition, the pressure of my weight on the saddle forced me to take more rest stops as the Perineum Falcon took its toll.
Again it was a case of not setting records but continuing towards the goal as I fought off headwinds and numbing fatigue. As I approaching Futako once more, I decided to try a steeper route up out of the river valley, despite my fatigue, as a test of the lower gearing I’d spent so much time and effort to achieve. As I struggled up the 16% grade, I confirmed I’d succeeded in making an easier time for myself with Kuroko’s modifications.
At the top of the rise I rested and checked the time. I’d told Nana I would be home by 4, and I was just a bit behind that schedule. I messaged that I would be home by 4:30 and set out through the city traffic. Despite the fact I was coming up on 100km for the day, I was not far off my typical commuting pace for the end of the ride. I pulled up beside our tower at 4:11 and messaged Nana that I was home.
According to the GPS, as expected, I had not set any records for the day. But I hadn’t done badly, either. I’d beat my target of 20km/h and gotten home well before the sunset.
I checked the mailbox when I got home from work today and found a delivery notice from the post office. I checked the time on the notice: 16:32. And then the time on my phone: 16:39. I’d just missed him. (I’d stopped on the way home to shop for toilet paper, and I’m happy to report I got some.)
As soon as I’d changed and made myself a drink, I got onto the Japan Post website to reschedule the delivery. To my surprise, I was able to reschedule it for the same evening! I chose the 18:00-20:00 timeslot and sat back and waited.
The postman rang from the delivery entrance just two minutes before Nana walked in the door with her grocery shopping. A few minutes after that, our doorbell rang and there was the man, dripping wet from the rain, with my package.
These may be the last bits I need for Ol’ Paint’s rebirth — Jagwire cables. They’re not the top of the line (and neither is Ol’ Paint), but I think the carbon silver color will contrast nicely with the new paint.
(I still need to pick out a water bottle … or two.)
Japan Post is scaling back service considerably in the face of a labor shortage. I have to say I’m really spoiled by this kind of service, and I’ll miss it terribly when it’s gone. (Maybe I can work there after I retire … )
Following yesterday’s tune-up I was really hoping for a mechanical-free ride today. Things didn’t go exactly as planned, but I nearly got my wish.
As usual after a maintenance session, I carried Kuroko from the Workshop in the Sky to the elevator and hence down to the bicycle parking in the basement. From there I take a special bicycle elevator up to the ground floor. Today, there was a security guard waiting for me at the ground floor. He said I’m not supposed to take my bicycle on the regular elevator from our 33F aerie down to the basement: I should use the freight elevator. That’s fine — preferable, even — but the freight elevator is always locked. So he told me I should call the disaster preparedness center (aka the security office) when I want to transport my bike, and they’ll unlock the freight elevator for me.
All well and good, but a rather inauspicious start to the ride today.
Preliminaries out of the way, I loaded up my Tokyo Landmarks route on the Garmin and set out. The sky was grey and threatening, but there wasn’t much rain and it wasn’t too cold. I had my fingers crossed (not literally) for a nice, relaxing ride without having to invoke Rule #9.
The front shifter did give me a couple of bad boy moments, pretty much right off the bat, but I was able to employ the workaround I’d discovered yesterday to get up onto the larger chainring when I needed it. I’m going to have to have a good look at the shifter and try to sort this out on a permanent basis. (I can start with the one that I previously removed from Kuroko.)
Other than that the ride went smoothly, and I reached Meiji Jingu Gaien almost before I knew it.
The better part of valor?
From the park my route winds around to take me past Akasaka Palace and then through Akasaka Mitsuke to the Imperial Palace and Diet Building. I got into traffic here and went up onto the sidewalk to get around the construction that was causing all the congestion.
After some brisk climbing, I passed through Roppongi and descended to Shiba Koen, where I took a break to take stock and top up my water bottle. I sent a photo to Nana to let her know my progress, and she told me that the weather was getting worse. I weighed my options for a couple of moments and decided to return home rather than try to complete the route and get caught in a sudden rain.
Heading back the way I came, I didn’t bother to try to turn off the Garmin navigation. So it was beeping every few seconds to let me know I was off course and telling me to turn make a U-turn. Fortunately I knew the route home quite well. Turn onto Gaien Higashi and pass Roppongi and then Midtown until I’m back at Meiji Jingu, and from there retrace my route home.
Along the way there was no change in the weather, and I arrived home without having experienced more than a scattering of drops all day. I pulled up to the tower entrance and pushed the button on the Garmin to save my ride, then pulled out my phone to let Nana know I was home.
Up the elevator (after having left Kuroko in the basement parking) and into the shower. When I cleaned up and dressed, I went to the Garmin site and discovered … I hadn’t recorded the ride! I thought the Garmin had been behaving differently, but I put it down to a recent software update. (And it was giving me navigation the entire time.) So after heaving a sigh, I set out to recreate my jaunt via MapMyRide, and I came up with a grand total of 26km for the day.
In sum, I was pleased with Kuroko’s performance, although I’m determined to do something about that front shifter in the long term. The burgeoning rain did not materialize by the end of my ride, and in fact the weather cleared up somewhat by the time I got home. With my luck, if I hadn’t turned around the heavens might have opened up.
I’m working from home today and taking advantage of the slow trickle of work e-mail to get some bike maintenance done. (It’s a beautiful day and I’d love to be out on the bike, but I’ve already had one phone call from the boss asking where I was … )
The first order of business was sorting out the balky front shifter. On my commuting ride yesterday, the front derailleur got stuck on the smaller chainring and wouldn’t shift up to the larger one. This has happened before, and the problem has survived through a replacement of the shift lever, the derailleur and at least two cables. (I’ve even got another cable on order in case that turns out to be the problem.)
I started by peeling back the shifter hood to make sure the mushroom head at the end of the cable was thoroughly seated inside the shifter pulley. It’s difficult to see in the photo (and as I was staring at it in the sunlight on the workshop in the sky), but the cable end is right where it’s supposed to be.
Next I made sure the derailleur was not sticking. I could move it easily by hand, and if I pulled the cable manually then I could shift the chainrings with no problem.
I took a break at that point and did some searching. My Googlefu failed me this time as I found a number of videos explaining how to solve the opposite problem to the one I had: when the shifter is stuck on the larger chainring. In that case it’s usually dirt and dried grease inside the shift lever, and the solution is to give it a thorough flushing out and lubrication.
Mystified, I returned to the balcony and loosened the shift lever from the handlebar and retightened it, then pulled the hood back into position. After making sure the hood was not interfering with the lever operation, I worked both levers a few times while pushing and pulling the cable manually. And I got it moving again. I ran through several dozen shifts from small chainring to large and back again, and everything was fine. Once it was all in working order, I spent another couple of minutes fine-tuning the adjustment of the front and rear derailleurs. While the bike is on the stand, at least, I’m satisfied.
You realize your travails do little to encourage others of us to take up your hobby …
Having replaced virtually every bit in the shifting mechanism, I’m left with a few possibilities:
There’s a problem with the cable housing (the one bit I haven’t replaced because it would involve rewraping the handlebars, and I want to avoid that for now) or the shift lever is binding against the cable housing.
There’s an issue with Shimano shift levers that I’m not seeing others reporting.
Kuroko is haunted, or hates my guts for some reason (or possibly just has a perverse sense of humor).
As always, there’s the possibility I just don’t know what I’m doing.
At any rate, I’m planning an undemanding ride at a relaxed pace tomorrow, so we’ll see how it goes.
I haven’t bought any new toys in weeks
With the necessary maintenance out of the way, my final job today was to replace the pedals. The current pedals are working fine (although they’re scuffed from use), but they are designed to work with either cycling cleats or regular shoes. I never ride Kuroko wearing anything but my cleats — even just for the office commute — and sometimes when I’m starting off I get the wrong side of the pedal and it takes me a few tries to get properly clipped in.
I saw these Shimano XTR pedals and they caught my eye: The same combination of cleat and platform that I’m used to, but with cleat mechanisms on both sides. As a bonus, they’re slightly lighter than the pedals I’m replacing.
It only took me a minute to remove the old pedals with my Park Tool pedal wrench and then clean up the crank.
I wasn’t making any progress installing the new pedals with the wrench, and then I realized the nut is not attached to the spindle. I got out an 8mm hex wrench and that did the trick. I just have to remember now to take an 8mm wrench when I’m traveling and have removed Kuroko’s pedals for delivery (and probably bring the 6mm as well if I’m serving as mechanic for the group, as most pedals use the 6).
I’m looking forward to giving these a try tomorrow, and hoping I’ve heard the last of the derailleur issues.
Update: I am not alone!
Not long after posting this, the following video appeared on my YouTube home page (demonstrating that YouTube and Google are indeed linked):
If I have more trouble with the front shifter I may give this a try. (Or I may have a look at the parts indicated to see if they’ve bent.)
(And I’m not jealous that David L has superior Googlefu. At least not much … )
I’ve now had this problem with two series of Shimano 105 shifters, while the Halfakid and Tomo both use Shimano 105 and haven’t had any trouble. (To be fair, Tomo rarely uses the front shifter.) I don’t know if other Shimano series — Ultegra, GRX — have the same issue.
After nearly a month passed since my last ride, I finally got back in the saddle this morning. In the meantime I’ve been busy, including a three-day trip to Kyushu, but the main thing keeping me off the bike was pain in my right knee.
After a few weeks of nursing the knee (including hobbling around Nagasaki and Kumamoto on a cane), I felt it was recovered enough to attempt the bike this morning. We’re on reduced hours at the office (a misguided effort to allow us to avoid the crowds on the trains during the coronavirus outbreak), so I was able to depart at a civilized 9 a.m. instead of 6:30 as I’d have to do normally.
My commute is all in traffic but it’s mostly flat. At just over 12km, it’s just far enough to make it worth riding. On a good day, in fact, I can cut about 10 minutes off what it would take me to get to the office by train.
Today, though, I was not in a rush. I was taking my time and spinning the pedals — not pushing hard — to avoid stress on the knee. And it came through with flying colors.
Surprisingly, traffic was heavier than I’m used to on this route. It’s possible that many people who are “working from home” are in fact out and about. But the additional traffic was a good reminder to take it at an easy pace and just get myself to the office.
In like a lion
When it was time to leave the office for home, I discovered I’d forgotten my house key. Nana was in a client meeting, so I had to cool my heels for a couple of hours at the office before setting off. I was fine — the bike has lights and they were charged up. The wind was, if anything, even stronger on the return, and at times I was fighting to stay upright and not to be blown into the path of traffic.
Our December mileage is identical!
With all the caveats, it was good to be back on two wheels. I discovered the derailleurs need even more adjustment following the latest upgrade, but I assume it’s nothing I can’t handle. (The possibility remains that I have no idea what I’m doing, as well … ) Overall, I was glad to post some March miles. Let’s see how much more I can get in before the lamb runs out at the end of the month.