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Rainy maintenance day

Freshly washed bicycle on balcony overlooking cityscape

With typhoons battering western Japan and on-and-off rain in Tokyo, today was a good day for some maintenance. I had a few things I wanted to accomplish today:

  • Seal the weeping sidewalls
  • Replace the squeaky brake pads
  • Wash my dirty bike

Those darn weeping sidewalls

Bicycle wheel and tire pump showing zero pressure
Doesn’t even move the needle

Ever since I finally succeeded in converting Kuroko to tubeless, she’s been plagued by weeping sidewalls. I pump the tires up to 50-60psi, and within a few hours they’re at 20 or lower. This morning the tires felt firm enough to roll Kuroko up from the basement garage to the elevator on 1F, but when I got the pump on there wasn’t even enough pressure to move the needle.

With the wheels off the bike, I shook and swirled them around a bit to listen for the sloshing of liquid sealant inside. Once I confirmed there was plenty of sealant, I pumped each tire up to 50psi. Immediately I heard leaking from pinholes in the sidewalls. By holding the wheels flat and swirling them from side to side, I was able to slosh the sealant over the pinholes and the hissing immediately stopped. Beads of fresh sealant appeared where it was filling up the pinholes.

White blobs of sealant on a beige bicycle tire sidewall
White blobs o’ goodness

As I’ve got Dionysus now for commuting (if there are any non-rainy days this week), the earliest I’ll be riding Kuroko is next weekend. So I’ll keep her on the balcony this week and try to repeat the inflate-and-swirl procedure at least once a day to try to finally put an end to the weeping.

I should have been doing this during the three weeks of August that I didn’t ride at all …

Those darn howling discs

The brakes have been a lot quieter since my unintentional ride in the rain, but there’s still been the occasional squeal. Although the brake pads had plenty of wear left in them, I decided to switch (back) to resin (organic) pads, which are much less prone to squealing.

Package of bicycle disc brake pads and hex wrench set
Keep it down, will ya?

I’ve changed the pads on a couple of occasions before, first when I returned home from Lejog, so I know the routine. It’s quite easy to remove the retaining pin and push out the old pads.

Bicycle disk brake caliper
At least they’re all right-hand thread

Old and new disc brake pads with retaining pin and hex wrench
The old and the new

There was some odd wear on the lower corners of the outboard rear pad. After a couple of minutes of thought I realized it was probably caused by me not being careful enough to line up the disc when I’m putting the wheel back in place. I’ll have to take more care in future. (I’m usually concentrating on the opposite side, getting the chain on the cogs and getting the derailleur out of the way.)

Hand holding a disc brake pad with lower edges worn away
That’s an odd place for wear

It took just a few more seconds to insert the new pads, and then I spent a couple of minutes adjusting the brakes. On the stand, they’re silent. It will be a few days at least before I can get the pads bedded in and then we’ll see about the noise situation.

Clean up your act

Close-up of mud-spattered bicycle crankset
Once again, filth

I know some people like to wash their bicycles after every ride, but that’s just a bit mendokusai for me. I last washed Kuroko on Aug. 1, following the Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road ride (on which occasion I also added latex sealant to the tires). And then on the very next day, I rode through some puddles on my way to Disneyland.

Montage: detail of mud-spattered bicycle
Dirt and grime

Kuroko sat like that in the basement parking for three weeks and then I rode her as is to Yokohama and back last weekend. But today, with the bicycle already up in the Workshop in the Sky, I didn’t have any excuse. In fact, the pressure washer was already filled up with water. So I got out the spray cleanser and brushes and went to work.

Bicycle covered in soapy water
Rub-a-dub-dub

I think I did a bit better job than usual this time. Pretty pleased with the results. I also scrubbed the saddlebag, which mostly protects my back from the mud flung up by the rear wheel.

Freshly washed bicycle on balcony overlooking cityscape
Slightly cleaner Kuroko

I actually forgot one important step until I started writing this blog: cleaning and oiling the chain. I got out on the balcony after lunch and took care of that.

Not perfect yet

There are still a couple of things to take care of. The issue with the front shifter is back, and with a vengeance. This would have been another great project for last month when I basically wasn’t cycling (but I was extremely busy). And there’s a tear in the handlebar tape which isn’t really a problem at all, but I’ll probably redo the tape when I get around to fixing the front shifter.

Bonus handyman content

Several months ago, Nana dropped one of the cooking pots and dented it. The pot was still perfectly usable, except that the lid no longer fit.

Dented pot
Dented pot

Cooking pot after hammering out dent
Looking better

I’ve been meaning to get to it for some time. So today after I’d finished with Kuroko, I wrapped a cloth around the mallet and gave the pot a few good whacks. It actually bends far more easily than I’d expected, and in the end, after testing the fit against the lid, I ended up giving it a couple of taps in the opposite direction.

The result is pleasing: the lid is a good fit once again. In fact, when I showed the pot to Nana she didn’t realize what I’d done until I put the lid on it and showed her how it fit.

Mallet head wrapped in cloth
Blunting the impact

Cooking pot with lid
A good fit once again

(I know — I need to clean up that lid a lot better!)

He’s a … phenomenon!

Nice to see Greg has a sense of humour about it.

Hot! Hot! Hot! Yokohama!

Yokohama Bay Bridge as seen from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen

Every year it’s the same damn thing

The forecast high yesterday was 35C, so I knew I couldn’t go on a full-fledged ride. Ten years ago I could ride in 35C weather and everything was fine so long as I didn’t push myself too hard, and I made sure I drank enough water. But starting two years ago, on a hot, sunny day, I experienced very sudden and very severe bonk. On that first occasion, it was all I could do to roll downhill and tumble off the bike into the shade of a friendly tree. After resting more than 10 minutes and drinking a lot of water, I ate a couple of onigiri and then I could continue. It was only after the ride that it occurred to me this wasn’t the bonk — it was my body refusing to push on in the heat.

I experienced the same thing again last year at similar temperatures and again on a sunny day. The same sudden loss of power, and a slow, partial recovery after a break in the shade with lots of cold water and something to eat.

Each time I told myself I’d learned a lesson: Don’t ride when the temperature is higher than, oh, perhaps 32C. And each summer I tell myself, “It will be OK this time. I’ll set out early and I’ll get home before the heat really comes on.” And then I set myself a schedule which makes that impossible.

And yesterday was another case in point: I figured if I left by 8 a.m. and only went as far as Haneda, I could be home before noon. And then for some reason I figured if I could ride to Haneda, I could ride to Yokohama. It’s not all that much farther to go, the view from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen is great, and I hadn’t been there in a while. The Halfakid agreed to join me and so the schedule was set.

It’s already near the limit

When I set out from home yesterday morning at 8:10, my phone told me it was already 31C. Hmm … that’s about my limit, right? Maybe I should change plans and just go to Haneda. But I put the Yokohama route on the GPS (I don’t really need the navigation — I know this route) and set off to meet up with the Halfakid. He was waiting for me, all ready to go except for pumping up his tires a bit. My tires also were in need of air, even though I’d filled them just an hour before starting the ride. (See the Weeping Sidewalls.) So we were getting even more exercise than we’d bargained for as we pumped our tires up. At least we were standing in the shade!

Cruising down the Tamagawa

Soon we were cruising down the Tamagawa cycling course with a tailwind to help us along. The sun was very strong and I was thinking I should have worn my UV mask (which I’ve been going without this year, for no particularly good reason). The temperature was rising steadily, but we didn’t feel bad so long as we were moving. The path was crowded and the Halfakid fell slightly behind at times as we wove in and out between other cyclists and joggers. We continued on until we came to our usual rest spot in the shade.

Asphalt canyon

Once again I considered whether I should change our plans and only go as far as Haneda. I was starting to feel fatigue from the heat, but nothing extreme yet. We mounted up and continued along, making good time, and were soon crossing the bridge over the Tamagawa into Kawasaki. From here we continue on Route 15 nearly all the way to our goal, about 16km on. It’s a straight shot, but it’s all in traffic and it’s a veritable asphalt canyon. There’s no hiding from the sun and the temperature soars. We found ourselves stopping scores of meters back from the traffic lights if we could rest in the shade while we waited.

At a small park about 5km after the bridge we stopped for an onigiri and some water as we sat in the shade. I felt recharged. Then it was back into the asphalt canyon. The road is straight and flat, and so the heat was our only real opponent (and the occasional driver who ignored our hand signals as we maneuvered around parked cars and other obstacles). We rolled through Yokohama and passed the entrance to Chinatown before stopping at a convenience store to supplement our onigiri lunch.

While the Halfakid shopped for cold water and coffee, I leaned against a railing in the shade. I knew the heat was getting me — it was 34C at this point. I’d have preferred sitting down but there wasn’t really any place for that. I just had to wait, and when the Halfakid emerged with some cold bottled water I accepted it gratefully. I drank perhaps 300ml or more despite knowing we’d soon be climbing our way up to our goal in the park.

I’ll beat that climb someday

The final 300m to Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen is a rise of 29m, just shy of a 10% average. The steepest bit is 13%. It’s not the world’s longest climb, but it is on a twisty road with fast traffic, so I can’t zigzag my way up. And it comes at the end of a 40km ride just to get to the start. Anyway, long story short, I have yet to reach the top in a single go. (No such worries for the Halfakid, who just rockets past me before waiting at the top.) I usually get about halfway up before giving up just after the steepest bit. This time, with the heat sapping my power, I gave up a good 15m before my usual spot. And from there it was all I could do to push Kuroko the rest of the way up the hill. I really just wanted to stop where I was and have a rest, on the narrow sidewalk with no shade.

Yokohama Bay Bridge as seen from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen
Yokohama Bay Bridge

View from the top

The reason we stop at this particular park (apart from things like restrooms, a water fountain and park benches) is the view over Yokohama Bay that the brief climb affords us. We were lucky in that I quickly found an available bench (there aren’t many), and we sat in the shade and quickly finished the remaining onigiri.

Ship in Yokohama Bay seen through trees
Ahoy!

The difference between theory and practice

As we ate and rested, we joked about how quickly we could get back home. After all, it’s just about 40km and we were averaging better than 20km/h despite my stroll up the final climb. In reality, we’d taken three-and-a-half hours to reach the park even though we’d been riding just about two hours by this point. The difference reflected both the long breaks we’d been taking and the stop-and-go traffic we’d had along Route 15 and through Yokohama. I’d told Nana before leaving home that I’d be back around 3, and I realized that this was now unlikely.

Smoother sailing, at least at first

We set off home, flying down the hill from the park, and found our way back out of Yokohama much smoother going than coming in. We were hitting far fewer red lights. But we were soon back on the asphalt canyon of Route 15. My speed was still a hair over 20km/h, but I was wondering how long I could keep that up. We agreed we’d stop for rest and refreshments when we crossed the bridge back in Tokyo, but I was starting to feel I wouldn’t make it. The only thing that kept me going was the lack of shady parks along the route. (I suspected I could quickly find more than a few just a block or two off the main road, but I was playing a mind game with myself to keep going.) I felt quite weak but I was still keeping pretty good speed so long as the road was flat and straight and I wasn’t fighting a headwind.

We came at last to the bridge without incident. We usually ride up the pedestrian ramp to the bridge — it’s very gentle — but there was another cyclist coming down it as we approached, and I didn’t trust myself not to wobble into him in my current state. So we dismounted and pushed our bikes up the ramp. I knew I was taking my time up the ramp but I didn’t realize how slowly I was going until another cyclist passed by me while pushing his bike up at a much faster pace.

Ice cream!

The bridge is nice and flat, and we dawdled across it. At the far (Tokyo) end, there’s a spiral ramp down to street level which lands us nearly at the door of the convenience store. I sat down on the asphalt pavement in the shade by the bicycle stand and worked at an ice cream sandwich and a lot of cold, cold water. I had a good long rest here, and updated Nana on our status.

Back on the Tamagawa cycling course, my mantra was to just keep moving and not to worry about my average speed. (OK, I did keep stealing glances at the GPS and fretting that I’d fallen below 20km/h, but I didn’t try to get the speed back up.) A scant 4km after the convenience store, we arrived back at the site of our first rest stop of the day, and I pulled in for a brief stop. More water and a few precious minutes in the shade. The Halfakid and I discussed whether it would be easier to go on the road, in traffic, than on the bike path. The bike path would give us a couple of switchbacks to climb — the one at Marukobashi is rather substantial. The road is fast and smooth, by contrast, but there’s a tunnel a few hundred meters long just before coming into Futako. There are probably ways around the tunnel, but I wasn’t feeling adventurous. We continued on the path.

And when we came to a shaded rest area another 4km further on, I stopped again. I had enough water left to get me to Futako, and we discussed whether to buy more water before the climb at Futako or after. The Halfakid said he was fine for water, so I decided to stop at a convenience store or vending machine at the foot of the climb. I’d need to carry the water up the climb, but I’d have it right when I needed it at the top. We set off again for the final 4km drag to Futako, and again I just concentrated on keeping moving rather than looking at my speed. I’d switched down to my smaller chainring at this point, usually only used for climbing, and I just stayed on it. I could get up to just over 20km/h (given a tailwind) without having to move to the larger chainring, so I stayed with it.

The dreaded climb

Of course we eventually reached Futagobashi and crossed the Tamagawa for the final time into Futako. At the foot of the climb I told the Halfakid to go ahead while I stopped at a vending machine. I drank some of the water on the spot and then poured the rest into my water bottle. And with that I was off up the climb (much gentler than the one in Yokohama at a 4% average). I just dropped to my lowest gear as soon as possible and took my time up the hill.

GPS details of ride from Tokyo to Yokohama
Hot! Hot! Hot! Yokohama!

While we rested at the top of the hill, I checked the time and made some mental calculations. The Halfakid was still fine — he’d charged right on up the hill. I was feeling somewhat better. The temperature had probably started to fall, and even though I was in the city now there was more shade. I messaged Nana that I would probably be home between 4 and 4:15, and we set out on the last leg. It’s only 5km (in traffic) to the Halfakid’s flat, and we soon reached it. After a fist bump he carried his bike in through the door and I sat down on the step for a couple more minutes of rest before continuing.

The final 8km home went well (apart from a few idiot drivers, as usual). I modified my course slightly at the end, swapping a straight, fast-moving and heavily trafficked road with a bit of climbing for a back road with some pedestrian traffic and numerous cross streets. This route takes me right by the train station, but I was resting in shade while waiting for the traffic light. At last I reached Chuo Koen and the final downhill to home. I usually crank up the speed here to see how fast I can get it (depending on traffic), but this time I was content just to coast down the hill. I got enough speed even so (32km/h) that I hardly had to pedal to reach the goal. I stopped the clock at 4:08 p.m., within the time that I’d told Nana.

You could even say it glows

After having a shower, I noticed in the mirror that my nose was bright red. I’d used SPF70 sun cream, but I really ought to be wearing the UV mask (or just not biking) in this sort of weather. Nana was calling me “Rudolph.”

While my symptoms during the ride fall well short of heat exhaustion, I still think that I shouldn’t ride under these conditions. I’ll need to either stick to my resolution to leave early and return early, or simply not ride when the forecast is saying it’s a bad idea.

Apart from the weeping sidewalls of my lightweight tires, mechanicals were minor. The disc brakes squealed very faintly on a couple of occasions. I’ve ordered resin brake pads to replace the metallic ones I’m using, and that should take care of it. I also had a return of the problem with the front shift lever, but I know now how to deal with that on the fly. It’s an annoyance, and one I’m considering a couple of alternatives to fix.

I wanna go to Disneyland!

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign

I told the Halfakid last night I wanted to ride the Arakawa to Disneyland today, something not too strenuous in light of the heat. And make an early start so we could be home before the worst of the heat came down on us. Unfortunately, this morning he said he couldn’t join me, so I set out solo.

Bicycle
Clean and tuned

Before setting out, I filled up the tires again and gave them a good swirling to help the latex sealant cover the entire inner tire surface. I also adjusted the brakes and brake levers. And I stuffed some of Nana’s world-famous onigiri in the bag.

Bicycle leaning on sign for Arakawa
Welcome to the Arakawa Cycling Road

The first 13km of riding are in traffic. That’s about the same distance to reach Tamagawa, my usual stomping grounds on Tokyo’s western boarder, but it seems farther to get to Arakawa because it’s nearly all on Yamate Dori, a major artery with lots of traffic. Fortunately this morning the traffic wasn’t bad and most of the drivers were behaving.

I found myself pacing a much stronger rider, catching up with him time and again at the traffic lights. I’m sure without the red lights he’d have left me far behind. As it was, we were together more than 3km before he finally got a light ahead of me, and that’s the last I saw of him.

I didn’t realize at the time I was making very good progress and setting a string of personal bests for this leg of the ride. I didn’t feel particularly strong and wasn’t putting the hammer down. In fact, I remember saving my energy, knowing I was just at the start of the day’s ride.

Possible tailwind benefit

Once I got to Arakawa and started on the path downriver, I knew I was making good time. Now I did feel stronger, and I could see I was putting down 5km splits at 25km/h or better. (My best today was more than 28km/h.) I was feeling some crosswind, but overall I think I was benefiting from a tailwind. That’s not unusual for this part of the course — my personal records here were all with a very strong tailwind that put me over 30km/h for long stretches.

In contrast to the Kasumigaura rides last week, I felt comfortable in the saddle and with my hands on the handlebar. I realized that my posture is different when I’m pushing than when I’m relaxing. The core of my body is held firmer and that takes some of the weight off my hands. Obviously this is not a conscious process or I’d be doing it during a relaxing ride as well. Anyway, I took my first break after 15km of riding down the Arakawa (and a string of riders who had been pacing me to that point went on ahead), and I felt completely fine.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Shinsuna, with river and bridge in background
At the mouth of Tokyo Bay

River, bridge, and blue sky with fluffy white clouds
Last bridge before Tokyo Bay

Backtracking from Shinsuna to the previous bridge, I immediately felt the strength of the wind that had propelled me downriver. Climbing up the ramp to the bridge, I again felt I had no power. But Strava tells me I made my third-best time on this portion.

The run from there to the entrance to Tokyo Disney Resort went smoothly. There were lots of other bikers as well as pedestrians, and not all were good at following the rules of the road. When it got congested I bided my time, waited for my opening and then blasted past all the hoi polloi. From Tokyo Sea Life Park onwards, where it’s all up and down pedestrian ways over roads and bridges, I was nearly alone (after waiting for one mamachari descending from a pedestrian bridge in the ascending lane).

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign
Yes, this is actually what I meant

I’d made good time getting to Disneyland, arriving before 11 a.m. after having set out at 8:16. My average speed up to this point was 24km/h, with the downwind leg of the Arakawa offsetting the ups and downs of the pedestrian walks I crossed to reach the Disneyland entrance. After taking this snap, I reversed course until I was back at the bridge. Before crossing back into Koto Ward, I turned right into a small park where I could enjoy Nana’s onigiri in blissful solitude.

Homeward bound

From the park, it’s a fairly straight shot home, past first Nihonbashi and then Kudanzaka and Chidorigafuchi — less than 20km total. It was still before noon when I finished the onigiri, and I wondered if I’d make it home before 1 p.m. Traffic wasn’t too bad through the city — apart from one idiot who tried to pass me before pulling into the left turn lane, only to find out I was there and there were two cars ahead of me. I passed up the chance to stop at Nihonbashi for a photo (I’ve got plenty of them) and continued on to Otemachi, the Imperial Palace and Kudanzaka. I made pretty good time up Kudanzaka, around 12km/h, and stopped at the top to get some water from a convenience store before settling down at Chidorigafuchi to enjoy the last of Nana’s onigiri.

Bicycle leaning against railing in front of Chidorigafuchi
Last rest stop: Chidorigafuchi

The final 8km or so to home was still in city traffic, and the traffic was still not too heavy. Whenever I had to move over to get around a parked car, there was always room for me to do so. I knew my average speed up to this point was more than 22km/h, and I was eager to keep it up over the final stretch towards home. In the end I pulled up to our tower at just a few minutes past 1 p.m., with my average speed safely above the 22 mark.

GPS map of cycle route for Arakawa and Disneyland
I wanna go to Disneyland

Mechanicals

No mechanicals to report for Kuroko. The tires are holding air a little better after my work yesterday, and there’s almost no squealing from the brakes following the adjustment the morning. The shifters are working flawlessly.

The only issue I’m having is with my sunglasses. One of the lenses had fallen out when I got them out of the pouch this morning, and I spent a few minutes getting it back into place. This is happening when increasing frequency, so I guess it’s time to get new shades. I’m lucky that it happens when the shades are in their pouch. It hasn’t happened during a ride — yet!

Close-up of bicycle crank area showing splattered mud
Return of the mud splatters

Muddy cycling shoes
Hardly my Sunday best

There was no rain today — just mostly sunny, partly cloudy, skies, hot and humid. But there were puddles across the Arakawa Cycling Road. I’m so glad I spent some time cleaning up Kuroko and my shoes just yesterday.

Post-ride clean-up

Close-up of bicycle crankset area showing mud spattering

We splashed through a few muddy puddles during the Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road ride, so Kuroko was in desperate need of a bath. I also wanted to get more sealant into the tires to stop the slow seeping of air.

Bicycle tire gauge showing less than 20psi
Less than 20psi

Just four days after filling the tires up to 45psi, they were down to less than 20. In fact, as I discovered in Itako, they would lose that much in just five or six hours.

Tubeless tire, sealant and sealant injector
A bit messy

I’d got a hypo for the sealant with a valve that is supposed to let me add the sealant without removing the tire valve. But I couldn’t get it to work out, and the result was a bit of a mess (as can be seen). So I removed the valve from the hypo and the valve from the tire, and things were pretty straightforward after that. I tried to give each tire about 90ml, but when I poured the sealant into the top of the hypo it just flowed right through into the tire. So anyway, I added a lot more to each tire.

I wanted to get a picture of using the hypo to add the sealant through the valve, but — have I mentioned this yet? — the process is a bit messy. Besides, despite my considerable achievements over the years, I still have only two hands.

Close-up of tubeless tire on rim showing line of sealant
Thin white line

Close-up of tubeless tire on rim showing line of sealant
Thin white blobs, actually

After reinflating the tires to 60psi, I immediately heard the hissing of air escaping. After spinning the tires around for a few seconds, the hissing stopped and beads of white latex appeared where the tires were seated on the rims.

Small beads of latex on the sidewalls
Small beads of latex on the sidewalls

After a bit more spinning, I noticed small beads of latex seeping through the sidewalls, sealing up the tiny holes there. I’d heard these tires were known for the weeping sidewalls, so it’s good to see the sealant doing the job here.

Splish splash

Close-up of bicycle crankset area showing mud spattering
Filth

With the tires sorted, it was time to do something about the grime. Before breaking out the cleanser and brushes, though, I decided to record some of the mud for posterity.

Close-up of muddy bicycle wheel
Grime story

Close-up of bicycle showing muddy downtube, water bottle and wheel
Cleanliness is next to impossible

Close-up of mud-spattered bicycle derailleurClose-up of mud spattered bicycle derailleur
Here … and here

After a few minutes with the cleanser, brushes and sprayer, the bike was looking a lot better (if not quite perfect).

Close-up of bicycle crankset after cleaning
Let it shine, shine, shine

Chain cleaner in operation on bicycle chain
New chain cleaner

I got a new chain cleaner because the clasp on the previous one wasn’t holding together any more. This Park Tool beauty works a lot better, with a lot less spitting of the degreaser.

Finally, I didn’t forget to clean my shoes!

Mud-begrimed cycling shoes
Shoes before

Spraying water on bicycle shoes
Getting a good hosing down

Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road

Two cyclists posing in front of Kashima Jingu Nishi no Ichino Torii

Last weekend after some rather elaborate planning, we loaded the bikes into a rental van and set off for Ibaraki Prefecture and the Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road. I’d originally planned a couple of rides using Kasumigaura as a home base, but it turns out there are no onsen there to relax in after the ride. After a bit of searching I came up with Itako as a base, with two rides — Kitaura and Kasumigaura — using that as a launching spot.

It was a long weekend, with holidays on Thursday and Friday. We decided to beat the rush, though, arriving at the hotel on Sunday and doing the shorter of the two rides — Kitaura — and then staying through Tuesday. This turned out to be the winning plan. When we arrived (after enduring a couple of deluges of rain on the way) it seemed we were the only guests at the hotel. There was plenty of parking space, and we set about decamping the bikes and changing into our riding gear.

Two cyclists assembling a bike against the backdrop of a van
Assembling Tomo’s bike

Tomo had packed her bike into a travel bag in order to meet us at the car rental agency near home, and so we need to assemble it — simply a matter of putting the wheels back on and making sure all was in order. Meanwhile, the Halfakid had ridden his bike to our flat in the morning (in pouring rain, it should be noted) and so no assembly was required. On the other hand, we noticed that his headset was loose. As I coached him through the process of tightening it up, it became apparent that the tightening bolt had been only finger-tight.

Two riders tightening a bicycle headset while an onlooker with bag looks on
Fixing a loose headset while Nana’s mother supervises

Three cyclists in helmets and masks posing at start of ride.
And they’re off!

With the mechanicals sorted (or so we thought) and the course loaded in the Garmin, we set out to circumnavigate Kitaura. Within 1km, though, it became apparent that Kuroko’s tires were too soft. I’d just filled them in the morning before setting out in the rental van, mindful that they were still seeping air following the conversion to tubeless tires. Here we were, a scant five hours later, with the tires below 30psi. I quickly pumped them up again to 45psi, at which pressure they’re nice and firm, but I worried if they would hold the pressure through two days of riding.

Two cyclists posing in front of Kashima Jingu Nishi no Ichino Torii
Kashima Jingu Nishi no Ichino Torii

We made good time under mostly sunny skies, at first, and came to our first break at Kashima Jingu on the eastern shore of Kitaura lake. Our progress at this point was neither outstanding nor worryingly slow, but just right. Soon after this stop, though, the sky turned dark under the shadow of an enormous cloud with a black underbelly, and we worried about the weather we might encounter. For the most part, the weather held, and we soon outpaced the big scary cloud.

We continued on in hot, steamy, occasionally windy weather, until we came to a convenience store in the middle of nowhere (but not far off the path) and stopped for a lunch of Nana’s world-famous onigiri supplemented by convenience store treats such as ice cream to beat the heat.

Well, a little bit of rain after all

We felt a few sprinkles as we stood outside the convenience store scarfing onigiri, but the rain didn’t really start until we’d rounded the top of the lake and began the trek home. In the end, it could have been worse. We had about 15 minutes of steady rain, and that not heavy enough to soak us through. Just enough to legitimately say it had rained.

Close-up of bicycle bottom bracket spattered with mud
Some muddy bits

The rain added to the puddles we’d encountered in the stretches of gravel path. For whatever reason (the Halfakid suggested unscrupulous contractors), there were often gaps in the pavement at each inlet onto the lake, with a stretch of 100-150m of gravel, usually featuring more than a few potholes filled with muddy water. I was fine with my fat gravel tires, but Tomo and the Halfakid had a bit more challenge on their skinnies.

Rainbow above a lake
End of the 40-day rainy season — promise!

We took a rest in a pavilion just as the rain was letting up, and then continued on without issue (although sometimes into the wind) until we found ourselves back at the hotel. We were about half an hour behind our predicted time overall, but still in plenty of time to relax in the bath before dinner.

Kitaura Route
Kitaura Route

Same shit, different lake

Cyclists wave at camera as they set off on road next to river
Au revoir!

On Monday morning we set off immediately after breakfast with the goal of circumnavigating Kasumigaura, a longer route of about 135km total. Mindful of Tomo’s struggles in the wind around Kitaura, we were keeping in mind a number of contingencies. The first was to take the only shortcut available, across the Kasumigaura Ohashi (bridge). Eyeballing Google Maps in the morning, we estimated this might shave 20km off the total. And we resolved to have a break every 5km, and to turn back whenever Tomo said she’d had enough.

Protected fishing area at edge of lake
A day of promise

The going was smooth, although the wind remained an issue at times. There were no gravel sections separating the bike path from the proper road as at Kitaura. We came across Kasumigaura Ohashi just a couple of kilometers after Google Maps had told us to expect it, and stopped for a brief palaver.

Cyclists pose in front of Kasumigaura Bridge
Kasumigaura Ohashi

We had a few options at this point (apart from attempting the entire 135km route): continue on our selected path, and then turn back when we’d had enough; or crossing the bridge, and hence cutting perhaps 20km off the route, but still trying to circle the lake (and alternatively still turning back when we were tired). Tomo suggested that the Halfakid and I continue on the original route, while she crossed the bridge, knowing we would catch up with her at some point. But I said we should stick together. In the end we crossed the bridge, lopping off the northeastern lobe of the lake, and picked up the path again.

The going remained smooth, with perhaps a bit less fighting the wind. We continued to stop every 5km to rest our hands and backsides for a couple of minutes before continuing on. I was starting to feel hungry, but — thinking it was still about 10 a.m. — I didn’t say anything to the others. At the next rest break I handed out snacks I’d bought at the convenience store in the morning: baum kuchen. As she nibbled on her cake, Tomo said she was starving. I checked the time and it was already past 11:30. So we consulted Google Maps and found a convenience store just another 8km ahead, nearly to Tsuchiura. The Halfakid guided us from the path towards the shop, but we found that all the direct routes were little more than gravel-and-mud ruts for farm vehicles to pass between the fields. We eventually found paved roads, adding another kilometer to the distance traveled to get lunch.

GPS route of Kasumigaura cycle ride
Kasumigaura Route

After lunch we had another consultation. Thinking we’d shaved off around 20km by crossing Kasumigaura Ohashi, it looked like we were facing at least 65km remaining if we continued around the lake vs 45km if we turned around. Tomo didn’t take long to decide: let’s take the shorter route home! And so we doubled back.

Having made our choice we stuck with it, although it was soon obvious that Tomo was feeling quite a bit stronger after having had some food. Our average pace increased from 15km/h to nearly 20. (It’s also possible we were benefiting from a tailwind at this point.) There’s also the psychological “We’re heading home!” factor that I first saw in Tomo at the Tour de Tohoku last year, when she kicked it up to 30km/h in the final stretch. In this case, though, we still brought it back to 15km/h during the stretches where we faced a headwind.

In the final 5km, the Halfakid announced his intention to go ahead and continue past the hotel to reach a round 100km. He shot past us and was soon a dwindling red speck in the distance. I remained with Tomo, pacing her through the remaining kilometers, and we pulled up to the hotel just half an hour later than our original estimate. I touched fists with her and then said, “Actually, I … ” and she finished for me: “You want to do 100km too.” So I sped off after the Halfakid.

In the final 9km (4.5km out and back) I turned up the heat and was soon averaging 25km/h and going as high as 28. It felt good to stretch out and bear down, and I knew I could keep the pace up for the paltry few kilometers remaining. With less than 2km to go before my final return to the hotel, the Garmin beeped with a message from the Halfakid: “Where’s Guy?” Followed by a response from Nana: “Oops.” Fortunately the Garmin lets me reply (choose from a list of canned replies) without stopping, so I messaged, “Be home soon.” And then there I was, rolling up to the Halfakid who was waiting in front of the hotel for me, 101km on the clock.

What mechanicals?

Our two days of riding were blissfully trouble-free. After we assembled Tomo’s bike and tightened the Halfakid’s headset on the first day, our only issue was the slow seeping of air from my not-quite-yet-sealed tubeless tires. I took care of that in a couple of minutes at the start of each ride, and then once again on the way home during day 2.

Egrets, I’ve had a few

All along both courses we were treated Sunday and Monday to the sight of egrets — sometimes in pairs — in the rice paddies, occasionally taking wing as we sped by. Unfortunately I was never quick enough with the smartphone to catch one.

The only other (r)egret of the ride came when I checked the course again after returning home to Tokyo. By taking the Kasumigaura bridge on the second day, we’d actually shortened the route by 30km rather than our estimate of 20km. Which meant we’d have had just about the same distance to go by pressing onwards around the lake rather than doubling back as we did. Well, it gives us a reason to return to the Ring-Ring Road at a future date.

Ride Between the Raindrops

Bicycle in front of Imperial Palace moat and building

It’s two weeks since my last ride, and what’s come in between is a nearly unbroken string of rainy days. The initial forecast for today had been for rain as well, but this morning the rain cleared off and the forecast turned to sunny. The Halfakid was not available to ride, so I pumped up Kuroko’s tires, slathered on some chamois cream and sunblock, and set out solo.

What the hell am I doing?

Bicycle in front of fountain at Meiji Jingu Gaien
Meiji Jingu Gaien

It didn’t take long (probably the first climb of note, up to Akasaka Palace) for my thighs to remind me we haven’t been out in two weeks. “See here, chap,” they said. “Just what do you think you’re up to?” That climb is followed by a sharp descent, then another good climb. I reminded myself that I don’t enjoy fixing up bicycles just to satisfy my hardware fetish (a lot of other machines could do this) but that I actually enjoy riding. After that I settled down and enjoyed the ride (and put the climbing behind me for a couple of dozen kilometers).

Tokyo Tower viewed through foliageTokyo Skytree with bicycle on bridge over Arakawa in foreground
The Two Towers

My first real stop came at Shiba Park, overlooked by Tokyo Tower, where I filled up my water bottle and sent some photos to Nana. I didn’t stay long, though, and was soon on my way back across town to Hibiya Park and the Imperial Palace.

Bicycle in front of Imperial Palace moat and building
Kuroko at the Imperial Palace

There were lots of police out today — sometimes it seemed there was one or two on every corner. A lot of them were not wearing masks (neither was I). I obeyed the traffic laws and they ignored me.

Hunger games

From the Imperial Palace out to Tokyo Big Sight, the sun shone strongly and the temperature started climbing. I was getting hungry — it was past noon and I’d eaten breakfast about 6 a.m. The closer I got to Tokyo Bay, the stronger the wind got. But I continued on, motivated by the promise of a convenience store for lunch once I reached Big Sight.

Rainbow Bridge
Breezy Rainbow Bridge

Pigeons and sparrows flocking on flagstones
Nobody move or the burrito gets it

The moment I sat down in the shade with my lunch, I was besieged by a gaggle of beggars. I ignored them and savored every last bite before continuing onwards.

At this point I had roughly 30km done and the same amount to go to get back home. Most of the way back it’s flat, but I could feel my energy ebbing with the heat. Crossing the Arakawa in front of Tokyo Skytree, I was soon climbing up towards Ueno Park and then Tokyo University. There were dozens of firetrucks lining the climb up to the university and an acrid smell of smoke in the air. As I slowly crawled up the hill, a large firetruck passed me on its way home, so I guess I missed most of the excitement.

I hear screaming

It’s a long downhill past Tokyo Dome and the Korakuen amusement park, where I could easily hear the roller coaster riders failing to scream inside their hearts. (Nana says it’s just as well she can’t watch the Giants play at Tokyo Dome, because there’s no way she could stop herself shouting during the game.) Despite my fatigue and having waited for a red light at the foot of the downhill, I still made good time past Tokyo Dome: within 3 seconds of my PR on this segment.

Bicycle against railing overlooking Chidorigafuchi moat
Chidorigafuchi

At Kudanzaka, I put Kuroko down into her lowest gear and just inched my way up the hill. At the top I took a photo of Kuroko posing in front of Chidorigafuchi, and then sat on a park bench in the shade and listened to a white-haired gent playing harmonica to a group of admirers. I checked my water bottle (half full, still cool) and messaged Nana that I would be home in 30 to 45 minutes. I left as other musicians were arriving to join the harp player.

The ride home is flat — after a couple of small climbs immediately after Yasukuni Shrine — and was uneventful (apart from the usual deal with taxis speeding up to pass me and then slamming on the brakes as they cut back into my lane). Instead of turning to pass in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings as I usually do, I continued on beside them and then came around the opposite end of Central Park. I hit 43km/h on the descent back towards our condo tower, but I’d arrived just short of 60km total. I did a couple of laps around the block to bring the clock up over the mark and then brought her home.

Mechanicals? What mechanicals?

GPS route of cycle ride around central Tokyo
Ride between the raindrops

Apart from my fatigue (probably heat-induced), there were no mechanicals of note. I’d had to inflate the tires at the start of the ride, but they were fine after that. There were no issues at all with the shifter and cogs, no chain mangling, and nary a peep from the bottom bracket. The front brake gave out little squeaks on occasion, but there was no return of the Howling Discs. (Could be that they only perform in the rain.)

Having said that, I now need to anoint a broken spoke on the altar of the Mechanical Gods, and their leader, Booker T.

Sorting the bidons

Profile of bicycle with mismatched bidons against garage wall

During a recent bit of maintenance, I rearranged the bidons on Kuroko, moving one from the seat tube to under the drop tube in order to free up some space in the main triangle. As I noted at the time, the bidon under the drop tube is subject to having a lot more mud and grit splashed into the mouth, and I would be looking for solutions to the problem.

Bicycle in profile with matched but uncovered bidons against garage wall
Kuroko’s unprotected bidons

One of the challenges in fitting Kuroko for water bottles is that her frame is quite small. Not only is the main triangle a tight fit, but there’s very little clearance between the front wheel and the drop tube, even with the new, slightly narrower tires. In fact, at low speeds in tight corners, I have to be careful that my toes don’t bump into the front tire.

Rogues’ gallery

Four grey water bottles, two shorter ones and two longer ones with covered mouths
Two of these things are not like the others

In my quest to find bidons with covered mouths — but without increasing the height — I soon came across the CamelBak Dirt series. They looked ideal: bottles in the same size as what I’ve got on Kuroko, but with covered mouths. I checked the capacity carefully to make sure of the match: 21 oz. Amazon had them in stock in black (dark grey), and so I soon had a matched pair winging its way to my house.

As the picture makes clear, though, the new bottles are significantly taller than the current ones. What I overlooked in my eagerness is the fact the Dirt series are insulated. Normally, this is a good thing. Kuroko’s non-insulated, dark grey bottles quickly heat up on sunny days to the point the water is not refreshing; in fact it’s warmer than body temperature! Unfortunately, as the picture clearly shows, the insulated bottles must be larger on the outside to achieve the same capacity (and CamelBak does not offer a smaller capacity).

Taking a deep breath

Twin bidons on a bicycle frame, with the lower bidon touching the front tire
That’ll be a “no” from me

There was nothing for it but to try the fit. And, as expected (once I saw the larger bottle size), there’s just not enough room under the drop tube — much as I like the look.

So how about putting one of the new lids, with the covered mouth, onto the current bottle? That works just fine. Running with mismatched bottles, on the other hand — sacrilege!

Profile of bicycle with mismatched bidons against garage wall
Sacrilege!

This would also imply drinking from the lower bottle first, at least on hot, sunny days, before the water warms up. The insulated bottle above should remain cool for a couple of hours longer at least.

Choices

And so now I’m faced with a number of choices:

  • Ignore the derision of the Velominati and continue with mismatched bidons.
  • Swap the lid for the other bidon as well and have matched, non-insulated bidons with protected mouths.
  • Move the spare bidon to the fork (plenty of mounting points, but resulting in asymmetry — unless I mount a third bidon … ) or a handlebar mount.
  • Move the tire pump to another location, thus freeing up space in the main triangle for two insulated, “Dirt” series bidons.

I’m sure other options will occur to me as I allow this thought to fester …

Hot (and wet) (and windy) Haneda

Selfie in cycling helmet in front of Haneda peace shrine in the rain

I hadn’t planned on riding today because the forecast was for rain. But when I checked again this morning, the forecast showed little chance of rain before late afternoon. Nana checked Yahoo and agreed — it should be OK to get in a quick ride.

Before I set out, I had to refill Kuroko’s new tubeless tires. It’s been less than two weeks since they were seated and they’re still not fully sealed. Unfortunately, the Garmin doesn’t count the calories I expended with the portable tire pump before the ride began.

I want to talk to the manager

I got through the city down to the Tama River without incident, feeling good if quite hot. It was just shy of 30C at this point. But as I was crossing over the river into Kanagawa, I felt a couple of drops of rain. Well, no big deal. I’m not going to let a few drops of rain slow me down.

By the time I reached 15km the rain was coming down pretty steadily. I still had hopes it might pass over quickly — after all, the real rain isn’t supposed to come until late afternoon. But then before I hit the 20km mark, the rain was driving down in the wind (a headwind that was already cutting into my progress), nearly blinding me despite my shades.

Decision point

Wet bicycle leaning against tree on a rainy day
Brief shelter out of the rain

At this point I could turn around and head for home, or ignore the rain and continue onwards. At 20km I’m about one-third of the way into the ride. If I turned around I’d have another 20km before I got home, while if I continued it would be another 40km. Either way, I’d arrive home soaking wet.

You can only get soaked through once*

Fearless Leader Joe

* Once per ride, Guy Jean hastens to clarify

As I’ve already established during the Biwako ride, and confirmed in England (although not as thoroughly as FLJ confirmed in Scotland), I am not made of sugar. Since I was going to be just as wet either way, I decided to continue the ride. This wasn’t an intentional invocation of Rule No. 9, as the forecast had been for overcast skies with rain later in the day, but I feel good about the fact I didn’t turn tail at the first few raindrops. The only impact the rain made on my plans was to make me take things a bit easier, cut my rest stops short, and cancel my plan to stop for a snack at a convenience store along the way.

Instead I continued pushing on through the rain (which at least slacked off enough it wasn’t being driven into my eyes). Kuroko’s brakes set up a howling each time I used them, higher pitched on the 140mm rear disc than the 160mm front, but they worked fine. The bell on the other hand was muted by the raindrops which clung to it, so the Howling Discs (a great band name the rights to which I freely grant to the first comer) served the double purpose of warning people I was coming and slowing me down before I ran over oblivious pedestrians and little leaguers on bikes.

Now do it the other way

Selfie in cycling helmet in front of Haneda peace shrine in the rain
Are we having fun yet?

Despite the rain and the headwind (and the crowds of joggers, dog walkers and slower bikers on the path), I reached Haneda in pretty good time. I didn’t want to sit there long in the rain, and I didn’t have any of Nana’s world famous onigiri to eat (as we’d thought last night that I wouldn’t be riding today), so I messaged Nana that I was on my way home and set out again after a very brief rest.

The going on the way home was a bit easier as I had a tailwind, and the rain had brought the temperature down from nearly 30C to a steady and livable 21C. On the other hand, a lot of the little league games were breaking up and so the paths were crowded with gaggles of boys on bikes with baseball bats hanging out to the side and no conception of the rules of the road.

I had a very brief stop shortly after the 40km mark, and messaged Nana that I had another 20-25km to go. But by the time I’d climbed up the hill at Nikotama and stopped for the last rest of the day, the rain made it impossible for me to send another message to let Nana know I was OK and on schedule. The phone is waterproof, but there were too many raindrops on the touchscreen and it just wasn’t detecting my finger taps. And so after a very brief rest I continued on my way home.

I had my lights on for visibility in traffic as I worked my way back through the city. Fortunately, traffic was not heavy. I came to the little shopping street / train crossing where Kuroko had thrown her chain on the previous occasion, but this time there was no trouble at all when I did the same upshift at the same location. The mechanical gods smiled on us today.

I continued on home, keeping the pace up but taking care of the conditions. The new tires handled the job with aplomb. The ride was comfortable, the performance of the tires was fantastic, and there was never once a hint of lost traction on the wet (and sometimes muddy) streets.

Soon I was on my final descent. I kept the speed low at first, mindful of the visibility and difficulty in braking, but then put the pedal(s) down when the lights changed in my favor. I soon rolled up to a stop at the foot of our tower and shut everything down.

A decent pace

GPS route of round-trip ride to Haneda
That’s not a bad time at all

I didn’t set any PRs today, but I did keep up a decent pace overall. Not shown in the results is the really good total elapsed time of 3 hours 34 minutes — aided by all those minimal breaks — which may be a record for me on this route.