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Tamagawa all the way

Selfie of cyclist in helmet and shades in front of torii and Japanese flag

I contacted the Halfakid last week to let him know I’d be biking on Saturday, and he responded that he and Kare no Tomo were planning on riding the length of the Tamagawa cycling course. We arranged to meet at Futako Tamagawa at 8 a.m.

Fujisan sunrise
It’s another Fujisan sunrise

The day dawned clear and cold, at -2C with some wind. I set out with a bag full of Nana’s world-famous onigiri just after 7 a.m. for the meet-up. I stopped briefly at the office to take care of something I’d forgotten on Friday. I messaged the Halfakid as I left the office, and saw a message from him that they were running about 10 minutes late. Perfect.

Bicycle leaning against wall next to cycling course
Nikotama waiting

I was glad that our meeting place was in bright sunshine. With my black jacket, tights and shoes, I spent a few minutes warming in the sun while I waited.

Cyclist inflating tires while another rider looks on
Air in the tires

The Halfakid showed up soon enough with Tomo in tow and asked to borrow my tire pump, and he topped up his tires as she looked on. We spent just a couple of minutes discussing which way to set out and then we were off, headed upstream and into the wind with me in the lead, followed closely by Tomo and the Halfakid bringing up the rear.

When we got to Tamasuido Bridge I was looking to see if we could proceed straight onto the bridge. But construction had narrowed the path to the point that two cycles would have difficulty passing each other, so instead we turned and went under the bridge, coming back to it from the opposite side. Soon we were across (after stopping in the middle to enjoy the view of Fujisan). Tomo missed a turn and I back-tracked to find them. The Halfakid (who is as familiar with the route as I am) had caught up to her and they were coming back to meet me. From there it was one traffic light and another turn and then we were having our first break at Nishigawara Park.

Everyone was happy with the pace, so we set out again with Persimmon Park as our next stopping point. With a continuing strong headwind, our pace held at a steady 20-21km/h. We passed through a group of runners practicing along the course, probably a high school track team. At Persimmon Park I broke out the onigiri, and Tomo (who had skipped breakfast), pronounced them delicious.

Statue of the Tamagawa Brothers in front of pines
Tamagawa Brothers mask failure

It remained a struggle in the final 15km upstream to Hamura, with occasional glimpses of Fujisan between the buildings, trees and mountains across the Tamagawa from us. We didn’t encounter too many other bikers or pedestrians — perhaps the cold and wind was keeping others from the path. I gave a hand signal to my followers to warn them of the tree roots pushing up through the paved path, and then we descended to the gravel pathway through the park that had been closed for more than a year following typhoon damage. Nice to have it open again, and the gravel is smoother than it’s ever been.

Hamura was sunny, but the wind was bitingly cold. We arrived on the dot of 11, which is early — not because we were making good time, but because we’d set out earlier than usual. We sat in the sun (I usually choose the shade here) for warmth and wolfed down the remaining onigiri. No one wanted to wait any longer in the cold, so we turned around and started back downstream.

At last, some help from the wind

As soon as we turned around, the wind started helping us. We’d been making 20-21km/h on the way upstream, and were now easily going 25-30. I was able to sit up to take pressure off my hands and let the wind push against my back. The cold remained, though, and as soon as we got back to Persimmon Park I got a hot café au lait from the vending machine there.

Bicycle leaning against shrub in front of dry fountain full of leaves
Cheery fountain

We returned to Nishigawara Park at 1 p.m. As we were resting I set out the next steps: cross over Tamasuido Bridge once again into Kanagawa, and from there it’s 7-8km to Futako. Another 3-4km after Futako is a resting place with benches and kawazuzakara (although it’s still too early for blossoms). When I returned from the restroom, though, Tomo said she’d had enough. We rode together back to Futako and there said our farewells for the day.

I continued alone downstream, and kept on past the kawazuzakura rest point. The wind became very changeable: it was with me at times, and other times I was riding into it for stretches of multiple kilometers. My power was flagging, to the point where when faced with the choice between waiting at a light or passing under it via a switchback, I decided to wait rather than climb up the opposite side of the switchback.

At Rokugodote, I left the path for a nearby convenience store, where I bought some much-needed food and a bottle of hot ocha. The last time I’d stopped here it had been on the way home from Yokohama with the Halfakid in 30C-plus weather, and I’d lain down in the parking lot behind the bicycle stands out of exhaustion. (Note to owners: place could really use a couple of benches.)

Thus refreshed, I continued on my way downstream to Haneda. I encountered more traffic here — cyclists and pedestrians — than I had all day, but still not as much as would be on a typically sunny weekend. I finally reached Haneda at 2:30 p.m. I usually stop here for a rest and lunch, but as I’d just topped up in Rokugodote, this time I just got my photo and started back upstream.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet and shades in front of torii and Japanese flag
Haneda Peace Shrine

The final grind

The wind remained mixed on the way back upstream. My goal was to get home about 5, before it got too dark, and I seemed to be ahead of that. I was comparing my pace, though, to the time I usually make when I just ride to Haneda and back. Obviously, I wasn’t making the same time now. I got to Futagobashi and joined the throngs of cyclists and pedestrians crossing the river in Futako. The narrow sidewalk was densely crowded and I nearly got into a jam. A hard application of the brakes and some quick footwork got me through.

I wondered if I would have the energy for the half-kilometer climb out of the Tamagawa valley. I did, but only after dropping to my lowest-of-the-low gears. I checked the time, drank some water, and messaged Nana that I would be home about 5 — feeling pretty confident that I would beat that estimate yet. I turned on the lights, stashed my sunglasses, and set off for the final 12km home.

It was getting fairly dark by the time I reached Kannana, with about 5km to go. I took a shortcut after that, through some denser pedestrian traffic but avoiding a bit of up-down on Inokashira Ave. With 3km to go I was struggling, but visions of a hot bath and a cold beer propelled me forward. The final sweeping downhill past Central Park sped me the last few hundred meters and I was home. I saved my ride on the Garmin, took off my gloves, helmet and glasses and put on my mask. Then I messaged Nana I was home: 4:48 p.m.

It was a great ride, and I was exhausted. The bike behaved beautifully. The new stem meant no neck and shoulder fatigue (which was good as I had a stiff neck all day from sleeping in a bad position), and the tubeless tires were perfect, with no sign of air leakage.

GPS record of cycle ride
Tamagawa all the way

Strava reminds me I last did this ride on 27 Jan. 2019, two years ago, together with the Halfakid. On that occasion I managed a slightly better pace, with six minutes less riding time despite somehow also clocking in an additional 3km. I’ve done the same route prior to that as well, but in the summer when the days are both longer and warmer.

Why ‘Dionysus’?

Bicycle posed against statue in park

A friend recently asked why I’d rechristened Ol’ Paint as Dionysus.

Is it just the pleasure thing, or do you feel like you’ve got the sword of Damocles hanging over your head as well?

Buck

So I responded with the explanation I had made on the occasion of her debut ride: “torn to pieces and reborn in the spring”.

I was reminded of the conversation when I stumbled across this beautiful image this evening:

Unfortunately, my Dionysus is far from immortal. There’s already a spot of rust on the seat tube that I need to attend to.

初走り

Selfie of biker wearing sunglasses and a bandana in front of a Japanese shrine torii

First ride of the New Year

The forecast was for clear skies with little to no wind today, with a high of 10C, so it seemed a good chance for 初走り, the first ride of the New Year. It took some doing for me to get going in the morning, though, as the temperature was a shiver-inducing 0C when I first checked. When I finally started preparing, I reminded myself to put on the heat tech undershirt before my usual long-sleeved T and winter cycling jacket.

I hadn’t let Nana know clearly that I’d be riding today, so I stopped at a convenience store in Nikotama for an onigiri and some other noshes, before proceeding down the Tamagawa. The tires were making a new and different sound against the pavement following yesterday’s tubeless conversion, and with the lack of wind I was soon making good time downstream.

The cycling path downstream of Futagobashi on the Kanagawa side has been widened further, with smooth new pavement. There’s now only about half a kilometer remaining to widen from the bridge down to the rest point with all the kawazu-zakura. (Glares in [former] taxpayer at Setagaya Ward.)

Landscape with buildings and Fujisan in the distance
It’s there, really!

With the clear, still air, Fujisan was clearly visible in the distance. The wind picked up a bit as I approached Tokyo Bay, but it didn’t slow me down as much as the pedestrians and other bikers out pottering about in the nice New Year’s holiday weather. All along the playing fields by the river, people were flying kites — a New Year’s tradition.

Selfie of biker wearing sunglasses and a bandana in front of a Japanese shrine torii
A man and his torii

Haneda Peace Shrine was right where I left it. There were a number of cyclists there and we all took turns politely to get our photos. That done, I sat down on a rock under a tree to enjoy my convenience store lunch.

Bicycle leaning against a tree
Ready for the ride home

Miniature Japanese shrine objects with full-size torii in the background
Recent addition to the shrine

The ride home was even smoother, for the most part. What little wind there was pushed me homeward. The challenge became dodging the others sharing the path: two children in quick succession who were weaving their bikes from one edge of the path to the other while their father looked wordlessly on. A couple riding in the opposite direction who turned across the path immediately in front of me: the man without a glance in my direction, the woman (with a child on the back of her bike) after seeing me but proceeding anyway. The middle-aged woman who, on hearing my bell, crossed from the left edge of the path to the right just in front of me. Several children playing a game of counting down and then dashing across the path, ignoring my bell and in one case nearly broadsiding me.

I saw all these obstacles in advance, slowed (or stopped when necessary) and waited for the right moment before proceeding.

I felt I was making good time despite the moving hazards. As I neared Futagobashi, where I leave the path and head back into city traffic, I was checking the total elapsed time on the GPS. I had just passed 3 hours. Would I make it home within 4? I didn’t let this goal hasten my pace as I dodged the pedestrians on the bridge’s narrow sidewalk, and I waited patiently for the traffic light at the other end. Soon I was climbing the hill out of the Tamagawa valley, not making record time but keeping up a steady pace.

I sat down for my usual brief rest at the top of the hill. I checked the time and messaged Nana that I would by home by 3 o’clock (trusting that I would be quite a bit earlier than that). I was feeling the day’s ride in my thighs and was glad the climbs remaining were brief. With a final slug of water from the bidon, I set off home through the traffic. I continued to make good time, and the ride was uneventful apart from the driver who hung back behind me as I checked twice on his position, and then decided to pass me the moment I put out my hand and moved around the parked vehicle in my lane.

Things were getting close in the final 3 kilometers. With an effort, I peeled my eyes away from the GPS and concentrated on the traffic. I had luck with the lights and a long downhill with no traffic. I rolled into the plaza and hit the save button. In the end: not a record time by any means, but within 4 hours total elapsed time. I was satisfied.

Distinct lack of mechanicals

The first thing I did this morning in preparation was to check the air pressure in the tires. The front was nice and firm, but the rear was completely without pressure. I filled it up and hoped it would hold for the duration of the ride. It did.

I wasn’t very impressed with the factory rim job way they’d laid down the rim tape at the factory on the rear wheel when I received it. If the tire loses pressure again, I’ll replace the rim tape and see if that seals the deal.

Everything else went swimmingly. The new stem, which raises the handlebar about 3cm, was just what the doctor ordered. My neck and shoulders came through the ride unscathed. Ditto the recent saddle adjustment and its effect on my nethers. There was virtually no sound from the disc brakes, and the troublesome front derailleur shifted flawlessly all day. If things continue like this, I’ll have to invent excuses to work on the bike. (Not to worry: I’ve got several in mind already.)

GPS record of bicycle ride
Hatsu Hashiri

Tubeless once more

Photo montage adding sealant to wheel and finished wheel with tire inflated

When I replaced Kuroko’s troublesome Babyshoe Pass tires recently with more readily available Panaracer rubber, I gave up getting the tires to mount tubelessly after a few tries and set them up with tubes. Today, I had sunny skies and windless conditions to give it another try.

Photo montage: removing the inner tube, inflating bicycle tire with pump
Tube out, air in

I’d read someone’s suggestion to use straps to cinch the tire to the rim to get it to seal, and I got some old-school toe straps to try it. This turned out to be a load of hooey contraindicated in my case: the tire beads sat closer to the rim without the straps. After giving it one try with the straps on, I removed them and the tire seated on the next try with a resounding “pop! pop!”

It was a bit more effort after that to get the latex sealant into the tire, insert the valve core and pump it up again. Amusingly, while my JoeBlow Booster pump worked great to seat the tires with the valve core removed, it wouldn’t let me get any air into the tire once I’d reinstalled the core. I ended up using an older pump I’ve had sitting around to finish the job.

Photo montage adding sealant to wheel and finished wheel with tire inflated
Sealant and done

For the rear tire, I didn’t bother with the toe straps, and it seated on the first try. I’m sure things went easier this time around because the tires have been on the rims for a month now, and I managed to leave one side fully seated while I removed the inner tube and inserted the tubeless valve. I had the same experience with the JoeBlow pump not sealing on the valve after the tire had seated, though.

All in all, it was a much smoother experience than my first go at tubeless tires. I think this is at least partly due to the tighter fit on the rim of the Panaracer Gravelkings compared to the Babyshoe Pass tires. (The Babyshoe Pass tires are still laying on the balcony where I left them after swapping them out last month, coiled up like shed snake skins. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll try to reuse them.)

Final analysis

I got the Babyshoe Pass tires for the large weight savings they gave me over Kuroko’s original WTB tires. So how do the Gravelkings stack up?

Photo montage of bicycle wheels on a scale showing their weight
Weight penalty

With the Gravelkings, the front wheel is 118g heavier than with the Babyshoe Pass, while the rear wheel is 38g heavier. I suspect part of that difference in the front is my finger on the scale — I couldn’t get the wheels to balance. (Real bike bloggers have a kind of cone on a flat base they use to get the wheels to balance on the scale.) If these are in fact 40-50g heavier, but stay on the rim and don’t lose air so they need to be refilled every day, then it will be well worth it.

I’ve got a big ride coming up later in the month, and I’m sure I’ll know after that whether this new tubeless set-up is going to be something I’ll stay with long-term. In the meantime, I’ve run low on sealant so I’ve ordered another bottle, in addition to a couple of spare valves (just in case).

Bringing Dionysus home

Montage of bicycles with Arakawa sign, and one cyclist

I met Fearless Leader Joe at Arakawa today to bring Dionysus home. I’d lent the bike to FLJ on Nov. 8 to keep him occupied while he’s in Saitama on business, and he’s since racked up more than 1,000km on her (while I’ve been pretty slack).

I didn’t blog about the ride up into Saitama with FLJ and another friend on that occasion, in part because I got home late and tired. It was mostly new territory for the three of us and we got a little lost on more than one turning, but it all worked out in the end and was a lot of fun. I said farewell to Joe and Dionysus some time after passing Kawagoe, and turned around for home as he headed onwards for another 25km or so (and got lost again) before reaching his berth for the night.

GPS route of cycle ride
À bientôt, Dionysus

Today was more straightforward. FLJ had limited time to return Dionysus to me, so we simply met at Arakawa and turned around for home again. The weather was glorious: About 14C, sunny to partly cloudy and very little wind. It’s too bad we couldn’t have gone for a longer ride. But it’s good to have Dionysus home again and ready to serve as my trusty commuting steed.

Montage of bicycles with Arakawa sign, and one cyclist
With Dionysus at Arakawa

GPS route of bike ride
Bringing Dionysus home

Ch-ch-ch-changes

In the weeks since my last ride, I’ve done some maintenance and improvements on Kuroko. First, following a spoke failure on that ride and flats on back-to-back rides, I’d replaced the rear wheel and both tires. I also tilted the saddle a little down in the front to take pressure off the perineum.

Today as I was waiting for FLJ to let me know he was on the way, I replaced the handlebar stem. I wanted a little more height in the handlebars to combat the stiff neck and shoulders I get after hours in the saddle. There’s no adjustment room in the fork — the steerer tube would need to be longer to allow me to mount the stem higher. So I found a stem that’s made to lower the handlebars a bit, and simply mounted it upside-down to get rise instead.

Straight and angled handlebar stems side-by-side
Zero degrees vs some rise

I wasn’t looking to achieve any weight savings with the swap, but it’s good to see I wasn’t adding to the weight.

Two handlebar stems on scale for weight comparison
Newer and lighter is better

Of course, before I could make those comparison photos, I had to remove the old stem. Loosen a few bolts, and done!

Bicycle handlebar stem with top cap removed
Just getting started

Montage of finger smearing grease on bicycle steerer tube, plus close-up of reassembled handlebar stem
Use *all* the grease

After applying grease to the steerer tube and loosening some bolts, the new stem fit on easily. I used a proper torque wrench to tighten everything to the recommended limit.

Use a torque wrench to tighten bolt on handlebar stem
Right tool for the job

I could have used three or four hands to get the handlebar into the new stem and get the bolts in and tightened up (after the proper application of grease once again), but just as I was on the verge of calling to Nana to help me, I got it worked out. I hadn’t thought until this moment that the extra rise in the handlebars might require longer brake and shifting cables, but in the end there was enough give and it all worked out.

Angled handlebar stem mounted upside-down to lift the bars
Looks a bit awkward

The result looks a bit awkward from the side, but the new stem lifts the handlebars about 30mm. When I’d ordered the stem I’d worried it wasn’t going to make much difference, and now I was worried it would be too much.

Detail of handlebar stem
Done

I had one more thing to do before the day’s ride: I’d used all my new inner tubes while swapping tires and now I didn’t have a spare. I cast about among the pile of discards on the balcony. The first one I found wouldn’t hold air at all. The second one was stuck tight inside an old tire — I believe it’s one of the tubes I used in England for Lejog. After some tugging I released it from the tire, and then I put some air in it. It held. So I dusted it with a generous amount of talcum powder and folded it up to stick in my saddle bag.

Folded bicycle inner tube dusted with talcum powder
Done and dusted

Proof of the pudding

Today’s ride was brief, less than 30km and just under two hours. (Fearless Leader Joe, starting from darkest Saitama, racked up 55km by the end.) The change to the saddle was immediately noted by my nethers. It remains to be seen whether it puts increased pressure on the sit bones, which was the issue that brought my Lejog effort to an unexpected halt. For today, all to the good.

For the handlebar change, a longer ride will be needed to determine if it’s having the desired effect. I can say already that the more upright riding position (which is going to take a bit of getting used to) takes some of the pressure off my hands, which is to the good. My neck position felt more relaxed and natural. But I’ll need a good long ride of six hours or more to see if the change is really effective.

I made one final change before the ride, and that is to the Garmin. I usually have it set to auto-pause, so that time spent at traffic lights, or sitting in a park eating onigiri, is not counted against my total or my average speed. What I’ve realized in going over old rides, though, is that it leaves me without a good indication of how long it took to get to a certain point of a ride. For example, what time of day it was when we stopped at that town with the delicious chili (and how long we spent enjoying it). With the change, my average speed drops dramatically. But that’s not so important to me. And I found today that by deciding I’m not going to worry about average speed, I spend a lot less time glancing at the Garmin — which is a good thing.

GPS route of bike ride
Bringing Dionysus home

(The Garmin website still tells me that I averaged 22.2km/h while in motion, which is satisfying. Strava meanwhile reports that I recorded a string of personal bests — 10 in all.)

Lejog in literature

Little did I expect when I picked up a graphic novel about the invention of the computer to find a strong parallel to my experience riding Land’s End to John o’ Groats. But there it is, in the source material included at the end of the book:

Are you at Ashley? And is it still convenient with all your other arrangements that I should join you there?—and will next Wednesday or next Thursday or any other day suit you: and shall I leave the iron-shod road at Thornton or at Bridgewater …

Charles Babbage, letter to Ada Lovelace dated September 9, 1843 (as quoted in The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, by Sydney Padua)

Ashley was Lord Lovelace’s manor at Porlock, and so Bridgewater (now Bridgwater) is the city where Fearless Leader Joe and I got mired shin-deep in mud and then ended up riding in circles in the rain in our attempt to get back on track.

Here’s hoping that when Babbage left the iron-shod road he was not similarly mired and turned about!

New wheel, new tires

bicycle on balcony overlooking city

Following two spectacular flats in as many weekends, I knew it was time for the René Herse tires to go — or at least to spend some time on the floor of the Workshop in the Sky while I thought about alternatives. Despite a lot of effort, I’d never really solved the issue of the weeping sidewalls. And then, a couple of weekends ago on a ride with Fearless Leader Joe, with the front tire very low on pressure, I suffered a “burp” as I rounded a sharp turn and the tire actually came off the rim with a splash of latex sealant. Last weekend, just as we were riding into Okutama Station, a spoke snapped and tore through the rim tape, rapidly deflating the tire.

Rear bicycle wheel with broken, twisted spoke
I don’t think it’s supposed to look like that

Rim tape torn by broken spoke
Rim tape torn by broken spoke

The remedy on the spot was the same in both cases: clean up the remaining sealant; remove the valve from the rim; insert an inner tube (thoughtfully stashed in my saddle bag in both cases); pump it up and then go on my way.

Man fixing a flat bicycle tire on a grassy patch in a turning on a cycle path
From tubeless to fully tubed

In neither case did the sealant do what it was supposed to: prevent the leaking air (or at least seal it up after the fact). At Okutama I wasted only a few seconds trying to reinflate the tire, hoping the sealant would do its job, before discovering the broken spoke.

After the burping incident, I ordered a pair of new tires: Panaracer GravelKing SS. These are very similar to the René Herse, including the weight. But none of the reviews I’ve seen have mentioned any issue with weeping sidewalls. Once they’re on, they’re on good.

Next, after the broken spoke incident, I decided it was time to replace the rear hub. This is the second broken spoke since I rebuilt the wheel following the infamous chain in the spokes incident during the ill-starred Lejog attempt. Although an inspection of the hub showed that none of the remaining damage was likely to cause spoke breakage, I decided I’d had enough. After checking prices and seeing it would cost me as much to buy a hub and spokes and do the job myself as to buy a new wheel, I ordered a replacement wheel from the maker.

bicycle hub with scarring from spoke breakage
Cosmetic hub damage

Bicycle rim and parts
Mason X Hunt

With the new wheel and new tires in hand, I set about the ol’ switcheroo. I tried setting up the new tires as tubeless, but after three attempts at getting the rear tire seated with no luck, I gave up for the moment and inserted the inner tube. Along the way I installed the brake disc and the cogs (after a thorough cleaning).

Bicycle wheel and tire pump charged up for inflationBicycle rear wheel with new tire, cleaned cogs and brake disc installed
From newly mounted tire to completed wheel

For the front, I simply replaced the René Herse tire with the Panaracer — no cogs or brake disc change required. After mounting the wheels back on the bike and adjusting the brakes, I was done for the day.

bicycle on balcony overlooking city
Kuroko’s new shoes

I haven’t given up on tubeless quite yet. Despite the very sticky, sloppy experience of the past two weekends, I’d like to try again with the new tires. It simply awaits a time when it’s a bit less cold and windy on the balcony and I have more patience for repeated attempts to get the tires to seat tubelessly.