The electric bike

Last summer I decided to buy an electric bike conversion kit from Cyclotricity. They sell a 250W front wheel kit that doesn't require any major assembly or hacking into your bike, so I thought I'd give it a go. I'd like to think that I'm still as fit as I was ten years ago (because ten years ago I wasn't that fit either..) but I've definitely put on some weight since then.. Since my last major touring cycle I've probably put on as much as the weight of the touring luggage I used to carry, so it's as if any ride is a touring ride these days. Can't blame anyone but myself for that though.

The front wheel kit is pretty easy to install. The simplest version (the one that I got) comes with a battery, a controller box, a throttle (no pedal assist here, it's all manual control) and a front wheel that contains the motor, so in theory all you have to do is stick the bits on your bike without any disassembly other than taking the front wheel off. I did run into various difficulties though.

The first surprise was when attempting to put the new wheel onto my fork. It turns out the Surly Long Haul Trucker has some sticky-outy metal bits where the wheel connects with the fork, which is normally fine for almost any wheel because a normal wheel's wheel nuts are usually small enough to fit. But the motorized wheel's nuts were way too big, and I ended having to file large bits of my fork off so the wheel could fit. I'm pretty sure that the bits I filed off were decorative, but I really have no idea how it'll hold up in terms of structural integrity in the long term. The frame was already a write-off anyway since it was bent during a previous plane trip, so it makes for a nice experiment bike.

There were some other issues during mounting: the throttle unit doesn't fully break open, so if you want to put it into your handlebar you have to slide it on. This means having to remove the handlebar tape, brake/gear unit etc. I didn't like the idea of doing that right from the get-go, so I bought a handlebar extender instead, thinking it'd be useful for other purposes as well, like mountaing a smartphone holder and/or light unit. The one I got is way too wide though, and I'm not sure I'd buy it again. The controller unit goes underneath the frame in front of the rear wheel, and I again ran into mounting issues because the clamps provided were just a little bit too wide for my frame, and I ended up having to jury-rig that by wrapping the frame and the unit in tape to prevent the unit from jiggling around too much. It's all very ghetto, but it works.

My little bike shed is pictured below. I remember the days when I used to rent a 'studio' apartment that was a converted garage the size of this..

As you can see the cables are a bit of a mess. There's not really any way around this. I certainly could have tidied them up a bit better, but the way the package is set up is that you'll always end up with a bunch of connectors and wires that need to go somewhere. I can definitely see the value of a bicycle that has everything integrated in the frame.

I did a bunch of rides with it last year and I quite liked it. I hardly noticed the additional weight of the battery pack and wheel motor, probably because my touring bike is pretty heavy to begin with, and so am I. What I definitely did notice is the pull it provides on a hillclimb. The 'throttle' really only has one setting if you're going for the 250W model: on or off. I've cycled hillclimbs with up to a 10-12% gradient with this, and they are a piece of cake, even with a heavy bike and a heavy person on it. 250W is plenty to get up a hill at low speed with only a little human power added. If you're a hardcore cyclist and/or a glutton for punishment I'm sure it's hard to imagine 'cheating' by skipping the uphills, but for someone like me who's not in it for the performance, this is fantastic. Because of where I live I pretty much cannot avoid a 10% hillclimb if I want to go anywhere, and the motor just lets me 'skip' this without too much effort, or alternatively I can keep my speed up by adding my own power.

Before I bought this I did wonder if the front wheel unit would have enough grip when pushing, since the weight will be on the rear wheel, but so far I've not had a single issue. The front wheel motor is plenty grippy for every situation I've encountered.

What I like: it doesn't actually feel much heavier than usual, and I can skip any uphills that I don't want to do so I can preserve my strength to do longer rides.

What I don't like: the cables are an unavoidable mess, and I'm not really sure about the reliability. I did one longer ride last year where the motor kept cutting out on me despite the battery telling me it still had plenty of juice left. I couldn't reproduce that this year with a freshly charged battery, so I suspect it's not a case of faulty wiring or motor issues, but just the battery not being very accurate about its actual level. I need to do more rides to confirm that though. And even if it does fail: "escalators don't break down, they just turn into stairs". It's the same for an electric bike.

I still love cycling.

Posted in Cycling , UK

Life in the UK: Quarantine and Cycling

It's been a month now since I came back to the UK after my holiday in Egypt. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from my boss emphatically telling me, in case I hadn't checked my work email yet, not to come to work. I've been working from home for a month now, and it has been utterly fantastic. I'm definitely lucky and privileged here. Others will prefer more face-to-face human interaction, or have jobs or even lives that are at risk because of this. On a societal level this crisis is a terrible thing. But if I'm being perfectly honest: my quality of life has only improved since we went into quarantine.

The main thing I have gained is time. No more 1.5-hour commutes. That's 3 hours of my time back every day. Being able to spend that freely on things that I enjoy doing has made me feel so much better about myself. No more becoming frustrated at train delays or overcrowded and overheated train carriages. I just get to relax and enjoy the things I would do anyway even if there wasn't any lockdown. I'm actually getting a decent amount of sleep lately, and I feel like a different person because of it.

The lockdown in the UK means that everyone is supposed to only go out a maximum of one time a day, and only for buying essentials or for daily exercise. Based on what I've seen, that lockdown is only mildly enforced at the moment. Public places like parks are being locked down for cars, but there's still people who can walk or cycle there. I've seen footage of beaches being quiet as well, though I've not been there myself because lockdown. There's definitely more police patrols on the streets than usual, but I haven't seen any blatant disregard for the social distancing rules in my area (yet).

The most change in behavior I've seen is in supermarkets. There are now long queueing areas in front of the entrance, with a security guard waving people through one by one so as not to ever get too many people inside at the same time. And because of the social distancing the space between people in queues is massive, so the queues go on forever. People have been very civilized in respecting those rules, so far. I guess if the alternative is that you have to elbow your way in and risk getting too close to someone who might have 'the disease' (omg), that kind of helps in getting people to have. It's been a most civilized crisis so far.

About two weeks ago I went to the local (smaller) supermarket to pick up some things and happened to see a pack of toilet paper, which I took. My wife and I joked about the whole 'toilet paper shortage' meme after we got it, but I've not seen any toilet paper since. Though apparently it's available for ordering for online delivery. It's incredibly hard to get a delivery slot though. I managed to get one for a date two weeks from now, but online delivery opportunties are definitely scarce.

So there is that: a mild anxiety about availability of daily life products. Not having toilet paper I can live with, but I do feel that it's good to have some small supply of food. You never know if an event will occur that will cause society's infrastructure to have a hickup. Depending on the length of that hickup it might be nice to be able to bridge that gap by having a few weeks worth of food at home. It's very far from being an existential risk though, since there's still plenty of food in the shops. There is absolutely no reason to panic-buy.

Since the quarantine began I've been cycling almost every other day. It's starting to feel good again. I've been very out of shape. I just have trouble motivating myself to do any form of exercise after I finally make it home after a long working day. I'm not the type to go a gym either, so I've been very happy with the great weather we've been having lately, which has allowed me to cycle outside a lot. I'm starting to remember that feeling of not constantly feeling like you're dying at every hill. I think in time I'll be able to enjoy it again.

Cycling in the UK, or rather, in Hertfordshire has honestly not been good, comparing it to the other two countries I have cycled a lot in: Japan and the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a hard standard to beat given how much it caters to cyclists, but Japan also felt a lot nicer and safer. That probably has something to do with the area I lived in as well: in Japan I lived in a very flat area near the seaside and next to mountains, whereas Hertfordshire in the UK is just hilly everywhere. I've seen plenty of areas in Japan where they just blasted a hill to make a relatively flat road, and there were lots of tunnels, but that's not really a thing that Hertfordshire does. It's just up and down and up and down. Fine if you're fit, not fine if you're me.

People here are not used to cyclists. Pedestrians will happily cross a road without looking if they don't hear a car coming. And on paths that are supposedly cycling paths, like this path called Ebury Way near where I live, it's just uncomfortable. It's a dirt road with lots of bumps and ups and downs, with pedestrians everywhere, often walking side-by-side, oblivious to cyclists until you're right on top of them. There's a lot of people who walk their dog without a leash. The dogs don't quite get that it might not be the smartest thing to stand still in the middle of the path when they hear a bicycle approaching. I've had a bunch of near-misses with dogs on that path throughout the years, so all of that kind of means that I prefer the regular roads for cycling (at least when I'm back to my before-level of fitness). The only disadvantage about the regular roads is that they can get narrow and tend to be even more of a constant uphill/downhill. I definitely miss cycling in Japan and the Netherlands. It's just not the same in the UK.

Anyway, rant over, and it's a minor one. It's still great to be able to go out on my bicycle (while avoiding other people and not stopping at parks of course - respect the social isolation!) and be able to go wherever I want. Nature is beautiful this time of year, and there's hardly any cars on the road because of the quarantine, which makes this a perfect time to cycle. Time to get fit again!

There are certain aspects of life that are obviously better during this quarantine. I hope we can keep some of those aspects once this is all over.

Posted in Cycling , Daily Life , UK | Tagged ,

The cycle of change

I've done quite a few cycling trips, but three clearly stand out as the major ones: Tokyo to the southernmost point of Kyushu, Tokyo to the northernmost point of Hokkaido, and Kyushu back to Tokyo. As far as the Japanese coast line goes, the last bit that I haven't done yet is from the northernmost point of Hokkaido back to Tokyo via the east coast.

Next year is the ten year anniversary of that first trip, the one from Tokyo to Kyushu all by myself. Inevitably, I find myself thinking about my life in terms of "before the trip" and "after the trip", about what kind of person I was before, and what kind of person I was about to become. That first trip is the marker for the biggest change in my life. I moved back from Japan to Europe. One life ended, and another one began. I was young and naive and full of a hope and a freedom that I will never ever regain. The term 'cycling trip', to me, is about that feeling of youth and freedom. But it's a feeling I've gradually lost over time.

Europe taught me some harsh lessons about what it's like to actually be an adult. I really had just been playing around in Japan, and I was not quick to change my ways after moving to the UK. I landed a job with a lot of freedoms, and I used it to become the most physically fit that I ever was. By the time I took three months off for the second cycling trip, I was in my prime. I challenged myself by cycling routes that I'd never even have consided before. The second trip to the North of Hokkaido was definitely my best physical achievement. I was never 'not fat', but I was definitely fit.

Between the second and the third trip something changed. I started becoming a different person again. It became hard to think of cycling in the same way as before. After the first trip I had never experienced life in that way before, and there was nothing better to me. The second trip continued on that feeling, but at the same time my life back in the UK was starting to come together.

My moment of 'cracking' came during a smaller trip, a few years after the big trip north. I had taken a two-week holiday from my job to do a shorter cycle from Hiroshima to Kyushu, to repeat a few of my favorite bits from past cycling trips, and to fill in a bit of coastline I hadn't cycled yet. I was cycling along the coastline with a perfect blue sky, not too warm, not too cold. It was a nice, wide, road, with a cycling area to the side and not too much traffic. Mountains on one side, and some small islands visible along the Japanese inland sea. It should have been perfect. I should have been enjoying myself beyond belief. But all I could think of was: "Why am I not enjoying this?"

I didn't understand the feeling, or where it came from. I stopped by a convenience store, bought some food and sat on a seawall for quite some time, feeling unhappy and trying to make sense of my emotions. Whenever I think about my trips nowadays, it is that moment that stands out for me as the turning point, the point where I realized I was becoming someone else. I didn't understand or accept it at the time, and it vexed me for years. It kind of still does. I still want to be the person I was back when I undertook that first cycling trip, but I can't. I can never go back to that. My life experience won't let me.

That trip was in Autumn. The next spring, I quit my job and went cycling again, to do it properly this time. I figured that the previous trip left a bad feeling because I had a job to get back to. It's hard to reproduce the feeling of freedom if you're only on a two-week break, so so I thought at the time. The third 'I quit my job and I'm going cycling' trip went from Kyushu back to Tokyo. It started at the point where I left with a bad feeling the previous autumn, and I felt vindicated when I made it back to Tokyo along the northern coast. I still had it.

But my exit from my job was a soft exit, with the opportunity to come back, which I did. Soon I was living the same life as before the cycling trip, which is why in the long term I think about this third trip differently than the previous two. Every cycling trip I see my options in life decreasing. Every trip I get older, more settled down. And that's not a bad thing at all. I'm quite happy with the direction my life is going. I'm creating options in one area, but as a consequence, options in another area are disappearing. Cycling trips remind me of a freedom I can't ever have back, and that's why I started feeling bad when I think about cycling trips. More and more it feels like escaping from life rather than creating opportunities in life.

There's one more trip left before I can finally say that I've cycled all of the coast of Japan, and I'm dreading it more and more every year. I've chosen my life in the UK, so I won't get the sense of freedom I got from the first trip. I'm getting older every year, and I'm definitely past my physical prime, though I reckon I'll have no real trouble as long as I don't injure myself. I'm pretty good at not injuring myself. Lastly, the bit of the coast I didn't do yet is the coldest, longest, most desolate, un-Japanese part of all of Japan: the east and north coasts of Hokkaido. Long stretches of nothingness with cold temperatures and strong winds. None of it is what I like about Japan, and it feels like a chore to do it at this point.

2020 seemed like the perfect 'I quit my job and I'm going cycling' year. Exactly ten years after the first trip. A perfect opportunity to evaluate what I was then and what I am now. But the truth is: I do that all the time. It's not like I turn my brain off for ten years and then wake up and wonder where I am. I chose to come here and I was conscious for all of it, no excuses. I'm no longer the same person I was ten years ago, and the person I am now has different priorities. I wouldn't have grown as a person if that statement turned out not to be true.

The legendary fourth trip will have to wait a little longer. I've not given up, but I need to create the right opportunity for it. Life goals allowing, I intend to make this happen in the next five years.

Let's see what will happen in the next decade. 2020, bring it on.

Posted in Cycling , Thoughts

Closing thoughts

(Written on the 13th, scheduled with time delay.)

Right after I gave my bike to Kuroneko for airport delivery I was in shock. After one busy event after another, I had some free time to think. I sat down at a random 'park' (that is, a free bit of concrete) and after a while finally calmed down. I had anticipated this moment, because I thought that moment would clearly show how I felt about the impulsive decisions I had been making recently. Instead, what came was only a mild rationalization with no clear sway towards thinking it was a good or bad decision to go back early. My mind was still full of worry about the day's hotel and if I would be able to cancel all the next hotels without financial damage. The rest moment wasn't quite there yet.

I know very well that what I'm doing is a pretty weird thing, even for my doing. Impulsive booking a cycling trip, and then impulsively cancelling it and returning early for no tangible/external reason, not many people would do that. Of the small group of people that does touring cycling, an even smaller group does touring cycling alone, and even smaller group would plan (and unplan) a trip the same way I do. This does not bother me in one bit, but I can see that other people may have trouble understanding my motivations. Hell, I have trouble understanding my motivations. That's why I write blogposts like these.

Yesterday I awoke from the love hotel quite early. I never managed to turn the lights off and I left the outside door ajar just to cool the damn place down. It's an utterly terrible place to sleep. I'd even prefer a capsule hotel over a love hotel, but that's only because capsule hotels tend to be way cheaper. Anyway, I went for a short stroll through early morning Kochi (yes, I can say where I am now!) and walked towards the station. Not many people were awake yet on this Sunday morning. I considered taking a train back to Tokushima, which is where I came from when I took the ferry with my bike. But the connection between train stations and ferry ports seemed tedious so I got a train ticket instead. The Limited Express from Kochi to Okayama went along much of the same route that I had cycled the day before. It felt like rewinding the trip. Somehow, in retrospect, I still hadn't quite found my rest moment yet at this time.

Then I hopped on the Shinkansen to Osaka and did some shopping. Yodobashi is fantastic as always. I wanted new noise cancelling earphones since I lost some bits of my old ones on the flight in. Yodobashi provides. When it came to lunch I was deeply appalled though. Osaka station area is shockingly, disgustingly busy on a Sunday. Every restaurant had a queue of people waiting in front of it. I absolutely hate this. Queueing for food is just not my thing. I'm definitely not a city person. I also thought about finding a quiet cafe after lunch but that was clearly impossible as well. Yet somehow on my way back towards the station I found one place inside the station building that wasn't very busy, and I managed to have quite a decent curry there.

My final hotel is near the airport, and only a short train ride away from Osaka. And a bit of a walk, it turns out. Unfortunately my Google Pixel GPS chose exactly this moment to stop working, so I had to navigate the old-fashioned way. It wasn't much of an issue though. But at the end of the day (again, in retrospect), still no 'closure' moment about the trip.

The closure moment finally came today. I have a day free to do whatever I want since my flight is not until tomorrow, so I took a local train to Wakayama. I went on the train, put my new earphones in, put some music on and just sat back and enjoyed the scenery. That's when I realized: this moment is all I really wanted from this trip. One quiet, peaceful moment, to experience Japan the way I remember it, without any stress, or worries, or hurries. All I needed was one day.

That's when I knew I was comfortable with my decision. I knew what the way forward was. The way forward for me is not Japan, because I have been there before. You can never go back. There is only forward. You can never derive the same enjoyment from the same thing twice. It diminishes every time. That is why you must do new things. It may seem like common sense, or a thing you can make yourself realize just by thinking about it, but you can't. You really can't. You need to confront yourself with this reality somehow, otherwise it just doesn't hit home. For me, making an impulsive decision was the way to make me truly realize this. A lesson I learn in this way is a lesson I will never forget.

As an interlude and totally secondary reason, one very practical reason for feeling great about my decision is this: it's raining. It's a gray and miserable day today, and the area I'd be cycling in is even worse according to the weather report. Wind and rain are pointless hardships. At least when you're climbing a mountain you're suffering for a payoff, but there is no payoff for cycling in the wind and the rain for the whole day. All it does is make you feel more miserable.

That's the lesson of this for me: you can never go back, and repeating past experiences diminishes the value over time. You can compare it a bit to playing games: after you've leveled up sufficiently, you don't go back to the first level to hang around and repeat the same quests over and over again, right? There's always a next level, but the levels you've completed, they're done. They're fun to revisit after you've done them, but you'll never again feel the same challenge that you felt the first time you did it.

I imagine people will read the previous paragraph and think of it as something negative. I don't see it that way though. I'm quite stoically inclined, with a (healthy?) pince of nihilism added to the mix. It's just an unchangeable part of reality for me. I have tested my words on myself and by experimentation have confirmed that they are true, in so far as a statement about a state of mind can be true. So, not 'True' truth, but 'true for me'. I'm very happy about this, because I know it is something I can rely on. It helps me define meaning, so I no longer have to seek for it, or at least not as much as I used to when I first started doing cycling trips.

Tomorrow morning I fly back to the UK. I hope my bike will be at the airport, but now that I've rationalized my trip and my feelings about cycling I know I won't consider this trip a failure even if the bike doesn't make it or is damaged. It would be a minor setback compared to the mental clarity I found. That said, fingers crossed though. The trip's not over yet. But I'm on my way home.

Posted in Cycling , Thoughts


(Written on the morning of the 12th, set to autopublish on the 15th)

The truth is, after the cold but refreshing downhill from the last post, either before or after I went to the temple, I forget, I got a strange idea in my head and I couldn't let it go. It just kept sitting there and wouldn't move, and forced me to think about it. In my mind I imagined the steps I would need to take and the consequences it would have if it went either right or wrong. In the end, I figured it was worth doing a little investigating in real life to see if it was possible. After all, I still had plenty of time left in the day.

I decided to see if I could change my flight and go home early.

Why? Mainly because I wasn't really enjoying myself any more. I've got the "cycling in Japan" theme nailed. I can look at a map now and know exactly what kind of road I'll encounter. When I enter a new town I'll know exactly where the station is, where the hotels are, where the conbinis are, without even looking at a map. Everything is just hugely predictable, and, finally, unchallenging. I just am no longer getting out of these cycling trips what I was getting all those years ago when I first started.

Besides that main reason, two additional reasons that caused me to feel this way are that 1. this trip was pre-planned, and 2. it is genuinely cold and unpleasant outside if you're sweating like mad, which makes the random wandering-around kind of a non-thing for me. If your clothes are wet with sweat and there's a cold wind chilling you down then you don't feel like casually cycling around to see what's out there, you just want to get to a warm place as soon as possible. The pre-planned bit meant that I already knew exactly where I was going, and I knew that yesterday was both the most difficult and the most beautiful route of the trip, so the challenge kind of disappeared after that.

So, at Sukiya I put the first part of my plan into action: check if I can actually change the date on my return flight. I managed to check on my mobile phone on the wifi from the conbini next door. I could indeed change my flight! I didn't change it just yet, though.

I am 200 kilometers away from the airport. I needed to check how I would get back there if I'm not cycling back. The train would take me back there in a day, but as I expected and confirmed after checking, it would take quite a few transfers, and either a very long time or a little trip on the Shinkansen. I've learned from experience that the last thing I want to do is haul an ultra-heavy bike bag around from train to train, walking from platform to platform, going up and down stairs, passing through heavily populated stations.. That is something that would make for a very miserable day for me, so I preferred to avoid that option.

My preferred option, which I've used once before on a previous trip, is to bag the bike and send it via the Yamato Kuroneko delivery service straight to the airport. Kuroneko, for me at least, is not a sure bet. I do not have absolute confidence that they'll accept my bike as bagged, that they'll deliver it to the airport on time, and that they'll deliver it at a reasonable price. Everything changes when it comes to bikes. No one knows how to deal with it. To be fair, I've never had negative experiences with Kuroneko, but if I mess this up I'll lose my bicycle, so I needed to be absolutely sure that it was possible.

So I held off on changing my flight and first cycled onwards to Kochi, where I found a Kuroneko facility. A clueless guy tried to help me but gave up almost immediately and passed me on to a very helpful lady, who provided me with all the details I needed. It was indeed possible, could be delivered within 3 days if I gave the bike bag to them today, and although she didn't say directly I inferred that she wouldn't charge me an insane amount of money.

This was around 16:00/16:30, and I still hadn't changed my flight. So I excused myself from the Kuroneko and immediately went to the nearby conbini to get wifi so I could change my flight. I had to present my bike them before closing time at 18:30 so I was suddenly very rushed. But of all the luck in the world, in a giant city, this conbini did not have wifi! So I cycled onwards towards the station and the center in the hopes of finding a conbini, warcycling to find wifi. Not too far away I managed to find a Joyfull family restaurant which had an open wifi, so I hopped onto my phone to change the reservation. I could still make it.

But then the website broke! The Cathay Pacific site was very mobile-friendly, very easy to use and walked me right to the final step of changing the dates on my return flight, but then it errored saying I didn't put dates for my departure flight. Well, no shit, I already took that flight, can't change it now. I hoped it was perhaps a mobile site issue, so I grabbed my laptop and, in the parking lot of a family restaurant, tried to change my booking on my laptop. Again, no luck.

This was a good point to give up. I could simply cycle back to my hotel, never see Kuroneko again and continue on with the rest of the trip. But I felt annoyed that the Cathay site wouldn't let me change my booking even though it clearly allowed it, so I called them up. Still from the family restaurant parking lot. With my laptop resting on my bike. I connected immediately and the guy I spoke to helped me in record time to change my booking with no issues whatsoever. Excellent customer service. I'm flying back on the 14th.

Then I cycled, quite hurriedly, back to the Kuroneko building, where I started to take my bicycle apart. I'm getting better at this every time, but the rushed-ness of the situation caused me to dirty myself quite a lot. I sprayed a lot of chainspray on that chain in the morning, and it was making marks everywhere. I didn't do nearly as good of a job bagging it as on the way in, but hey, whatever. I'm going home. The friendly lady was still there and accepted my bike without issue, and only charged me 4400 yen. I'm pretty sure that the last time I used them the price was at least double. She also didn't check the weight. Perhaps they changed their policy, or I was overcharged last time, or it's just that the distance is less this time. In any case, I'm not complaining.

The sense of relief I got when my bike was finally accepted was amazing. I had a very good walk along various canals on the way back to my hotel, finally realizing what I had done. This trip started out as an impulsive thought made reality in only a day, and now I had undone the entire trip, also on an impulsive thought, also in only a day. That's probably not a good thing. Then again, the best way to learn is by making mistakes. At least, that's how I rationalized it as I was walking the many kilometers to the incredibly sleazy love hotel I wrote about last time.

I wasn't done yet though. I still had to cancel all my reservations and book a hotel for the next two nights. I managed to change my existing booking for the airport hotel and even ended up a little bit cheaper. All other hotels had free cancellation except one, and that one was kind enough to waive the fee. I've mentioned before how is fantastic, but it really is worth saying again. Everything can be done through the website and I was done with the whole process in only a few minutes. Way better than calling up hotel after hotel to get it done.

As of the moment of writing I am still in the love hotel. The door made a noise at midnight which scared the crap out of me because I thought it was going to unlock the room and let some random couple come in, but everything was quiet throughout the night. I never did manage to find out how to turn the lights off, though. What an inconvenient place.

I'm about to check out and head over to the station, where I'll take all those trains back to the airport. My plan is to stop over at Osaka on the way and buy some new noise-cancelling earphones, because I lost the rubbery bit on one of the earphones on my old ones, and I think it's time for something better anyway. No plans for tomorrow yet, but I think I'll go on walkabout somewhere and take some random photos.

I think I'm done with cycling trips for a while. At least until I find adequate motivation to do another one.

Posted in Cycling , Thoughts

The love hotel

As I mentioned before, all of my current cycling trip was pre-booked in advance, except one night. It's the only time I'm staying in a big-ish city, so I assumed that there would be loads of hotels available to choose from. But it was also a Saturday night and by the time I started booking my trip everything was sold out. I kept checking back on and Google maps but nothing became available, until a few days ago. One hotel, just added to, had some rooms available. It actually had rooms available before, but at insane prices. Now prices were reasonable. Still way higher than regular business hotels, but reasonable. The only catch: it's a love hotel.

I pondered a lot about whether or not I should reserve it. On the one hand I felt it wasn't in the spirit of my cycling trip to pre-book any accommodation that was above the bare-minimum business hotel level of service. The only available cheap business hotel was 30 miles away though. I considered booking that and going there by train and then back again to my parked bicycle in the morning, but that definitely wouldn't have been in the spirit of the cycling trip. In the end my fear of the rain and the cold won out, so I booked the love hotel.

I actually considered just winging it and maybe sitting at the steps of the train station looking like a poor lost foreigner wanting help and waiting for a good samaritan to show up and offer me to stay at their place. Given the kindness of Japanese people I actually suspect this would have worked, but that's also kind of the reason I didn't want to do it, since I'd be taking advantage of their kindness. I'm not a lost foreigner any more; I have the technological, linguistic and financial means to book a hotel on the fly no matter where I am. So, better to save that kindness for someone who really needs it. The other reason I ended up pre-booking is that I was still worried that it would rain. Not having an overnight plan sucks a lot more if you're drenched with rain and icy cold.

My only previous experience with a love hotel was indirectly via a story told by a (non-Japanese) friend, who actually got thrown out of a love hotel because he couldn't figure out how it worked and couldn't communicate what he wanted. I quite dreaded that this would happen to me. After almost 90 kilometers of cycling and some unintended extra exercise (more on that later) I really needed some uninterrupted sleep. So when I showed up at the reception desk I was mildly anxious. Fortunately the man at the reception was quite helpful and quickly helped me get set up. He even fixed the wifi for me, although it broke again soon after he left. But hey, I managed to get into my room and was left alone, so I was happy.

Except for the fact that the door wouldn't stop talking and wouldn't let me out. There's a little something I could have known had I investigated a bit first: once you're in the room, you have to pay to get out. Since I had booked the hotel on and was expecting to pay by card I was reluctant to use the machine at the door, since I kind of suspected that any overpayment on my part would end up not getting refunded. So I stayed in my room, which wasn't too bad, since the hotel provided a free welcome beverage (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) and a dinner menu to order from, delivered to the room. The door finally shut up as well so all was good.

The room itself was fairly decent. It was a bit as if a karaoke room and a regular hotel room had sex and squirted dildos and condoms everywhere. It was soundproof, had a PS2, karaoke machine, dildo vending machine and even the mini-fridge was vending-machine-style. You have to pay for everything. The view was excellent. You can tell the owners wanted to go for the premium kind of feel to make it feel nicer than a business hotel, but they went about in a really sleazy way so the end result somehow felt worse than a business hotel. If I wanted to impress a girl I'd never ever take her to a love hotel, unless my goal was to show her how messed up Japan is.

There were two major issues with the room, both of which I had to leave unsolved. The first was that the bloody lights didn't turn off. I looked all throughout the room, pressed every switch I could find, but the lights would not turn off. I guess that must have been on purpose. The other thing that annoyed me hugely was that the heating was set way too high and there was no way to turn it down. Again, I suspect that was on purpose. Helps to get people to take their clothes off, I guess. After dinner I was just so tired that none of these things even bothered me, and I fell asleep just like that, with the lights on in a room that was way too hot.

I was sound asleep in my bed when the door machine started talking to me again at 23:30. I didn't wake up fast enough to hear what it actually said but I was worried that it had unlocked the door. The last thing I want is for some horny couple to show up expecting the room to be available. I stayed awake in my now insanely hot room for a few minutes to see if anything would happen, but everything seemed fine. I assume the owner reserved the room for the whole night since I booked online. I solved my overheating problem the only way I could think of: I opened the balcony door just wide enough to get a pleasant temperature. The heating didn't seem to care anyway and was full open all the time. Still couldn't get the lights to turn off, though..

All in all it was a really strange experience. Japan is absolutely fantastic in being convenient. Everything you can imagine is convenient, and the way of thinking of making things convenient is embedded in everything they do. You could clearly tell that the love hotel was made with the concept of convenience in mind, yet somehow it executed that concept incredibly poorly. I really don't know how much of that is on purpose because of the cultural concept of what a love hotel is, or how much of it is just because of lack of thinking things through. I also don't know which of those options is worse. This is a country that has a 'play soothing sound' button on toilet seats so that other people don't hear you take a shit, so anything's possible really.

I could have done a late start on the following day and even could have gotten a free breakfast at the hotel, but I just felt like leaving early and getting on with the trip. Love hotels are definitely not for me. It'll do in an emergency, but it's pretty low on my list of places I would stay at.

Right, back to travelling. I'm still going through my backlog so I've got some fun blogposts coming up. Stay tuned.

Posted in Cycling , Japan

No wind means a great day

I'm still catching up on blogging because of lack of internet at my previous hotel and laziness on my part in sorting photos. Oh well, it's a short trip, I can afford to have a bit of backlog.

After my exhaustion on the first 'real' day of cycling I was mildly worried about the second, but the weather was on my side for the whole day, and it even got nice and warm during the afternoon. I woke up earlier than I intended to, I guess jet lag is catching up with me. I had planned to leave later so that the sun could warm things up a bit before departing, but I was deep inside a valley anyway so it wouldn't have made much difference. That said, it was about 3 degrees C when I set off and I could see my breath with every exhale. This time I was wearing the appropriate attire, and the wind was gone, so it actually felt way more comfortable than the day before.

Before setting off I had to do some maintenance. I used the bandage tape to wrap around my handlebars to make them a bit softer to the touch, since my hands had been receiving some damage already, even with padded cycle gloves. I suspect this is more of an issue on touring bikes with front panniers since there's more mass to turn with the handlebars, but honestly, that's the way I prefer it. The bike just feels horribly unbalanced with all the mass on the back. After the handlebar was dealt with I pumped up the tires, which had lost a lot of pressure after the first day - way more than I expected. I probably have slow punctures on both tires since they lost about half their pressure over the course of the day. That very likely contributed to me having a miserable time at the end of the day before. After pumping the tires I used the disposable toothbrush each hotel in Japan kindly provides to clean my chain and then gave it a little lubricant spray. I'm not sure how much this helped but when I set off I felt a lot more positive and excited than I did at the end of the day before.

My route took me along a road which, during the planning of the trip, I thought was a mountain pass, but as it turns out it was more of a valley between mountain ranges, and it followed a river almost all the way until the end. It was an extremely gentle incline, going up to about 400 meters over the course of 30-40 kilometers. There were some ups and downs but nothing major, and all in all the cycling part of today was way easier than the worst case scenario I had prepared myself for. And there was hardly any wind! I hate cycling in the cold if there's wind but without wind it was downright pleasant, and maybe even preferable over cycling in hot weather. Provided you have the right clothes, at least.

The scenery was amazing. Since it was a Saturday I was expecting tourist traffic, but there was hardly anyone anywhere. I guess it's still too cold for Japanese sensibilities. All the better for me, since it meant I had the valley road all to myself for most of the time. It was a pretty good road, too. It's likely part of a popular pilgrimage path, or at least I think that must have been the reason that the road nearly always had a wide pedestrian/cycle lane next to the main road, with hardly any bumps or ramps on it. Contrary to my usual stance on not cycling on the main road, this time I took advantage of the side path so I could stop frequently to take photos. Have I mentioned the scenery was amazing? The scenery was amazing.

The barometer in my cyclocomp was somewhat erratic today, which caused the elevation measurement to jump around a bit. It might actually because of varying air pressures in the valley, but I'm not sure. The only other times I've seen the altitude measurement go weird was during climbs in mountain passes, so it seems related.

After reaching the 'top' of the route after a very gentle climb spread out over dozens of kilometers, the way down was only several kilometers, and quite steep. After the first 200 meters or so I immediately stopped and had to reclothe myself because it was way too cold. More layers, better gloves, winter hat. Still no traffic. Awesome downhill. It's the ultimate payoff that rewards you for putting in all the effort to climb those heights. I went down so fast that my ears popped.

Back at sea level, now at the other side of the mountain range, it was a bit more windy, but very warm. I stopped at a conbini to take off some layers again and had a look at the map. I wasn't quite at my destination yet, and to be honest I wasn't much in a hurry to get there. The destination for the day was a city (bad) I had been to once before (bad), and that I couldn't find a decent hotel in in advance so I had to book a rather sleazy place because that was literally the only option available to me (bad). Instead, I wandered around a bit. Apparently the Japanese call this 'pottering'. It's yet another bastardization of an English word that is so ridiculous that only the Japanese could think of it.

I found a rather famous temple on my map only a few kilometers from where I was, so I took some random zig-zag roads to get there and had a look. There were a few tourists there, but only a handful. It's just ridiculously quiet everywhere and I'm not sure why. 

After the temple I wandered my way down towards a major road and managed to find a Sukiya for lunch. If the temple is the goal of the pilgrim then the Sukiya is the goal of the touring cyclist. .. to be honest I prefer Cocoichi over Sukiya lately. Sukiya's curry seems to have gotten a bit too bland for my taste.

Feeling refreshed after the food I had a casual cycle into the city, which was still quite a way away. I cycled on a main road, which was main enough to have a large wide foot-and-cycle-path next to it. Quite flat, and quite appropriate for 'pottering'. Nope, I still hate that word. Can't get myself to like it. I had some time to waste before the hotel would allow me to check in so I wandered around the town a bit. Lots of nice canals, and the usual family restaurants, conbinis, post offices, delivery services, etcetera. Good old Japan.

I wonder if by now you can guess where I'm cycling. I've given some fairly major hints in this post. I'll do the reveal after the trip is over. This post has gotten quite long so I'll save the bit about the love hotel for the next post. Spoiler alert: it wasn't great.

Posted in Cycling

Enter Title Here

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.

Posted in Cycling

Still going


There's something utterly fantastic about finishing up all your chores ('adulting'...) on a Saturday and then going cycling on a Sunday. Today was just perfect to pick up cycling again after a short break, and I definitely felt the cycler's high upon returning home. I've been keeping cycling on the exercise bike indoors. I was expecting myself to be weaker than I actually was today, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself actually overtaking some people on an uphill. Keeping in shape for the next trip. Still not sure when, but I'm already looking forward to it.

Posted in Cycling

Just do it


I never feel like going out for a cycle but I always feel better when I do.

Posted in Cycling , Photography