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So, I’m in Japan again for a little cycling trip. I arrived two days ago, had a somewhat casual day yesterday and the first real day of cycling today. It’s the earliest I’ve ever done a cycling trip. It’s cold..

No matter how much I improve, every time I go on a cycling trip something goes wrong. I’m getting better and better at managing it though. I use wheel spacers so my frame doesn’t bend. I pack everything nicely so my gears don’t get messed up. I remember how my derailleur works so I don’t get confused trying to untangle my chain when it doesn’t need untangling.. Ok, some of these things are pretty stupid. Somehow it only ever occurs to me after it goes wrong that it could go wrong, though. Anyway, the hardest lessons are the best, and none of these things are likely to occur again. Instead, I get new and exciting problems that I don’t know about yet.

First problem: two days ago I built the bike without any issues whatsoever. Since my plane arrived early and I couldn’t check in to my hotel yet I had plenty of time to build the bike to my liking. I spent some extra time fine-tuning the brakes to make sure they’re as tight as can be without hitting the wheels. Then, yesterday, I set off on my fully loaded bike and suddenly noticed that the ‘handrest’ bit on my handlebar, the bit that houses the lower brakes, was bent inwards. It’s happened before after transport, and it’s gotten so loose that I can easily bend it back, which I’ve done during past cycling trips without issue. I only noticed it while I was cycling, so I bent it while continuing to cycle. As soon as I bent it I came to a sudden stop. Turns out I had tuned the brakes so tightly that bending the bit that houses the brakes caused it to overtighten. I made the brakes a bit looser to compensate, but now every time I brake the handrest bit bends inwards..

For as long as I can remember I wear either two or three layers on my upper body when cycling: an underlayer to keep me warm and a layer over that to not look like an idiot. Sometimes in really hot weather I get the stupid idea of not using my underlayer, and every time I don’t wear it, I regret it. I suspect it’s a consequence of my ever-present belly fat that my belly gets really really cold when exercising. As such it seems that I need more layers than most people to feel comfortable. So when other people are wearing their one spandexy cycling layer I’m wearing two layers and a thin coat on top. I’ve had a really crappy Nike anti-rain/wind coat for ages. It’s not meant for cycling at all but it’s exactly the right combination of airy plus warm that I need. I finally decided to buy a proper wind-stopping cycling layer for cold weather, with super magical properties that let it wick the sweat away, let air through while still stopping air etc. etc. It’s terrible. I’m still cold when I wear it as a second layer, and it’s way too hot to wear in combination with my crappy Nike coat. I’ve tried it for two days now and it’s just not as good as my usual 2-3 layers. At least not for me. Experiment failed.

Another mishap happened to me today. I was cycling along as usual when I suddenly noticed my front left pannier hanging on only one hinge. This happens every once in a while if I hit a pothole or ramp too hard, so I stopped to re-hang it. But that’s when I noticed that the little hook that normally connects the pannier to the rack had just completely snapped off. I’m not entirely surprised by this: the hooks normally connect with two pins to the pannier and one had already broken off. I’ve had those panniers for 10 years. I guess it’s time for some new ones when I get back. In any case, I did some McGyvering with tie wraps to tie it to the rack, and it seems to be holding on for now.

 Every time I start cycling again after not having been on a proper ride in months, I simply forget how to cycle right. I just don’t naturally know how to pick the right pace. I always pick a gear or a cadence that’s too high and then I tire myself out. I have to make that mistake a few times at the beginning of every time until I eventually find my rhythm back. Today was the day where that kicked me in the ass in the worst possible way. Tomorrow is the designated ‘tough’ day, with a route that’ll go through the mountains and is longer than today. Today was supposed to be a relatively easy ride, but I managed to tire myself out long before lunch time, to the point where my muscles were pretty much useless and I could only go at really slow speeds. There’s probably several things that contributed to this, mainly me underestimating the nasty headwind I had all day and picking the wrong pace, but there are some issues with my bike as well. I noticed after about an hour in that the front brakes were hitting the front wheel again, so I had to loosen them up a little more. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to stop the wheel almost immediately when lifting up in the air and giving it a whirl. Another thing that may or may not have contributed to my crap performance today is that the chain is full of gunk and needs some fresh lube. I shrugged it off yesterday because the bike seemed fine then, but that was a much shorter ride. Today I passed a single bike shop, selling old lady bicycles. When I asked if I could borrow or buy some chain spray the guy told me he didn’t have any. I think my jaw literally dropped in real life. How in the bloody hell can a bicycle shop not have chain spray? I asked him again to make sure he heard me correctly, but he insisted he didn’t have any. Now, given that this was in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, and I interrupted the guy while he was talking to some other guy, combined with the fact that my appearance is very foreign and his appearance was very cantankerous, I suspect he simply didn’t want to help me. So he either sucks at operating a bike shop or else he’s an asshole. Meh.

The morning cycle had tired me out so much that I took two really long breaks to give my muscles a chance to recover. The first didn’t do too much but after the second break I felt a little bit better. Before that I really felt as if my legs were just going to shake and give up. The only time they’ve ever done that was when cycling to the Fuji five lakes area on the first day of my first solo cycling trip. I thought I was more prepared now, but I guess not. After the second break it was no longer freezing cold, the wind had died down a bit and I had switched from the crappy cycling overlayer to my good old windcoat, which made me feel a lot better. Cold, wind and bad gear is not a good combination.

When I finally arrived at my destination, a lovely little town right at the end of a valley where the two mountain ranges meet, I did not expect to find a giant shopping mall with a 100-yen shop. It took away from the quaintness but also gave me an opportunity to buy chain spray and fake handlebar tape (roll of bandage tape).

Tomorrow it’s off into the mountains. It doesn’t actually seem too bad in terms of height or inclines based on Google Earth, but it is a long ride. I did finally manage to get a hotel for tomorrow, but it wasn’t easy. Might be an interesting story tomorrow.

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