Sunday, 30 October 2016

Japan Part 1 - Tokyo

This is the first part of our honeymoon travelogue (travelblogue?) of our Japan adventures. Thank you so much to everyone for your overly generous wedding present contributions to our Japan fund, you helped make it a truly memorable experience. Read on...


I don't mind long haul flights too much. When you subscribe to the provided passivation of in flight movies, a couple of glasses of red wine and surprisingly nice airline food it does ease the transition between time zones. It was slightly thwarted on this journey due to a problem with the central entertainment computer having a hissy fit and only having four films available, three of which were the new Star Trek reboot. Since I'd seen most of these before I elected for headphones, Dreadzone, book and sleep. Louise ploughed through them with the occasional "hang on, haven't we watched this one before? Isn't this the one with whats-his-name in?"

That other staple of plane travel is the gust of air that meets you as you exit the fuselage that gives an indication of what lies ahead. In this case, going from an air conditioned plane to 25C and humid was a shot across the bows.


First order of business was to pick up the best bit of paper of the holiday, our three week JR Pass allowing us almost unrestricted travel on the national rail network - only the super super express bullet trains were off limits. This wasn't too bad as we found the normal ones more than quick enough!

We certainly picked the best way to get from Haneda aiport into the centre of Tokyo... altogether now "Monorail, Monorail, MONORAIL!"


"In Japan when you are on a train you can sit at the front well not at the very front but right behind the driver and you can see all the way down the track and if you have a hat like me you can pretend you are the driver too and make the train noises and I want to be a train driver when I grow up." - James Pawson, age 36 3/4.


Not surprisingly you've got to be quick to bag the very front seat as the hardcore tourists and train fans get there first. The views are great as you approach Hammamatsucho train station with the track passing over bridges over bits of the bay and winding its way between skyscrapers. A good way to break you in gently.

Engineering aside: the monorail track itself is made from cast concrete sections joined together with what looks like partly flexible steel joints, perhaps for earthquake resistance. They've even implemented points systems by increasing the articulation of the joints over certain sections and bolting some beefy hydraulics to them.

Feeling a bit spaced out,we found ourselves a small department store cafe overlooking Yurachuko station for a coffee and sat for a while watching the Shinkansen trains coming and going - they are huge. It was so warm that we hardly noticed the drizzle when we were outside.



Our hotel was in Ginza, one of the major shopping districts in Tokyo. We took a wander around the Mitsukoshi department store, an amazing feat of endurance walking around the cookware section without buying one of the beautiful steel knives or copper pans.

That night we met up with Louise's friend Yoko for dinner. They knew each other from meeting in New Zealand during Louise's travels several year's previously. She surprised us with some lovely presents including an onsen towel each which came in handy several times during the trip. I especially like the koi carp design on mine and shall certainly treasure it.

The restaurant was fab, with lots of small private rooms that had a low lintelled sliding door and tatami matting floor - a shoes off job. Specialising in yuba and tofu we had a really good course menu dinner. Welcome since we hadn't eaten for a while! The table had a large box of soya milk heating in the middle which slowly skinned over. This firm skin (yuba) was picked out using chopsticks and eaten with soy sauce - tasty!



We were pretty bushed so didn't stay out too late. Nevertheless it was great to meet Yoko and talk about her and our travels. We'll have to try and spend longer together next time we meet.

No rest for the wicked. To abuse our body clocks even further we set our alarms for 4am to try and get down to the Tsukiji fish market in time for the daily tuna auction. However it had already finished by the time we got there! We pottered around the market itself enjoying the cooler morning air and watching everyone set up their stalls and shops before heading back to the hotel for a bit more shut eye.


Up and about and a breakfast of minced pork filled steamed buns (drooling at the memory) and off to Ueno to have a wander around the Tokyo National Museum. With so much history to go at it is hard to select representative objects for display but there were many Important Cultural Properties on show. The art on show was impressive as was the samurai armour. No photos in the many of the galleries unfortunately.


Side note - umbrellas. Everyone in Tokyo seems to own an umbrella, to the extent that large public buildings have umbrella racks outside, with each slot having a numbered key so you can lock your brolly up like a bike. More clever thinking!

The subway to Asakusa was delayed due to a power cut so we investigated the bustling Ueno market instead. Refreshed by market stall pineapple against the heat and humidity we caught the now running subway to Asakusa.



Asakusa is famous for the Senso-ji temple with it's large paper lantern equipped gate on the approach, the Kaminarimon. There's also a large market selling bits of street food and lots of tourist bits and bats. We were also "interviewed" by several groups of Japanese schoolchildren from Nagano who were there on a practising-their-English field trip. They gave us some origami birds to say thank you :)





We were also interviewed by a proper camera crew who were making a TV show about what Tokyo and Japan need to do to improve the city for the Olympics. About the only suggestion that we could think to make was a few more litter bins; they are like rocking horse poo and yet there is pretty much zero litter as everyone takes their rubbish home with them. Lousie did a good piece to camera about how safe it felt in Tokyo. No idea if we made the cut or not.



Sitting around at the temple in the twilight was most pleasant, with the hordes of schoolchildren being rounded up (very well behaved) and the stallholders pulling the shutters down. It made for a nice contrast against the crazy busy previous couple of hours and became peaceful and reflective instead.


We were a bit fried with jet lag again at this point so we had an emergency coffee before heading back to the hotel via the convenience store for some take out tea. I managed to ask where the chopsticks were in Japanese so all the language CD listening was worth it ;) Even the corner shop take out food is well prepared and blooming tasty.

Wednesday came and we headed out on the train to Harajuku on the other side of Tokyo to see the Meiji Jingu shrine where the soul of the Emperor Meiji and his consort are interred. Meiji reigned from 1867 when the Shogun was deposed to 1912 and oversaw a great deal of the modernisation of Japan including the opening up to Western trade. Befitting the soul of the Emperor it is an impressive building, however much of it was closed as it was being re-roofed. The torii gates are made from huge tree trunks and tower over the path with many offerings of bound sake barrels, wine and written prayers from the many visitors.







Next, to the reputedly hedonistic Shinjuku. It proved to be very calm (and mostly closed) on a weekday lunchtime. So we headed back to Asakusa to explore some more of the area, including the Asahi beer tower and golden... whatever it is on the building next to it.



The Beer Tower even looks like a pint in the daylight with its gold windows. Thankfully it is not all show and it houses a bar on the 24th floor with a rather good view and an excellent glass of Asahi Black.




Shibuya, famous for the "crazy crossing", the intersection where everyone crosses in all directions at once is just as nuts on the ground as the videos suggest. With all the neon and clear umbrellas it felt like we were in Bladerunner.



Most amusing incident of the evening went to the 6 guys who pulled up at the crossing all driving go-karts and dressed as the characters from Super Mario. They drove off too quickly for us to get a photo and thankfully no one dropped a banana skin otherwise it would have been chaos. A restorative pasty and juice later and we were back at the hotel, packing for the next leg of our adventures.


Tokyo is too big to cover in a couple of days, even a few weeks, but we certainly experienced a good range from crazy busy to peaceful, from new and shiny-shiny to old and traditional.




* dramatic voice *

Next time on the Japanese adventures of James and Louise in Japan.... Miyajima and Hiroshima





Monday, 19 September 2016

Gig Report: Beehoover @ Chunk, Leeds

or "Dad goes to a noisy metal gig"

Beehoover, a 2 piece German rock outfit, are one of my favourite bands at the moment with powerful riffs, great drumming, intelligent and surreal lyrics. As soon as I saw they were on a 10 day UK tour including Leeds I booked my ticket (only a fiver!) without a moment wasted. I knew Ben would be up for it as he shares an eclectic musical taste although his headbanging was restricted by virtue of a neck brace from a cycling accident.

Chunk is a fairly new Leeds music venue (by the sounds of it) with a DIY collective ethic. Sitting in an unassuming building next to a petrol station on Meanwood Road the room for the gig was fairly small. A slow cooker full of chilli and some not expensive tins of beer in the mini fridge in the corner reinforced the DIY side of things. Everyone was very friendly and there was a good atmosphere.

Bronzed

First band on were Bronzed, noisy, pretty tight, enthusiastic, shouty and with a drummer who gave it his all. A short set but one which you needed to draw breath after.

Girl Sweat

Next, after much setting up, plugging in and turning knobs was Girl Sweat. Very chaotic, a bit too loud (muchos compression) and powered by Buckfast tonic wine. A slow build up with densely layered sounds reaching a quite cacophonous peak. Will check out some of his other stuff but I would very much like to control the volume! 

Got chatting to a guy outside the venue, Chris, who put us on to a band called Bilge Pump, another noisy Leeds outfit who I'm going to have to check out. He also mentioned a singer called Karen Dalton who has also gone on the list. There was some quality Stoner Rock being played between the acts on tonight.

Unwave

Starting off sounding almost slightly discordant, Unwave quickly turned out to be really good with the lead guitarist rocking a 12 string for the entire set. Not sure who they reminded me of but a really good set.

Main event time.

Beehoover

Charging straight out of the blocks with the first track from their latest album Primitive Powers everyone was getting into the swing of things quickly. Thankfully, they played my favourite track "Stanislav Petrov" (after the Russian military officer who thoughtfully avoided all out nuclear war) and I may have danced quite a lot, looking like some loony dad who's got a pass out for the night. "Embers" from the new album was another highlight, it's soft intro putting you 

For a two piece band (bass/vocals, drums) they produce a veritable wall of sound. Ingmar rocks forwards (don't cockle! I can hear my mum saying) on his beer crate seat, throwing his arms at the FX pedals and Claus' arms seem to move in a blur around the drums.

It was a (too) short a set, I'd have loved for them to play for twice as long. I really need to go to more gigs, and will keep an ear out for what's happening at Chunk.

We chatted to Ingmar and Claus afterwards, they were both really cool guys. Claus spent a year at Huddersfield uni on the Mech Eng course whilst I was studying electronics there. I talked to Ingmar about why he wrote lyrics in English rather than German - "I think I'd piss myself if I read some of the lyrics in German!". Beehoover is a "hobby band" according to Ingmar, they both have full time jobs and live in different parts of Germany meeting in the studio for occasional rehearsals and communicating over the internet with ideas flying backwards and forwards. "It wouldn't be as true if it was full time, there would be too much pressure to perform" he said. I'm glad they have that artistic integrity, especially if they keep turning out such great music.

Tired and on a schoolnight, I took my leave from them and, with ringing ears and a sore back from too much grade 2 Dad-headbanging, I wound my way home through country lanes with their latest album on the car stereo.

Quietly.






Further Listening

Heavy Zooo - includes Stanislav Petrov


Primitive Powers - the new album, really good

All their stuff is available on Bandcamp







Saturday, 3 September 2016

Married :)

It's been quiet on the blog front mainly because it has been a busy few months. Most notably, Louise and I tied the knot in June, a wonderful day in the presence of our dear friends.






A couple of months later, we had a big celebration garden party for friends and family. Much hog roast was eaten and many drinks were drunk. Appropriately, we had a wonderful cheese wedding cake.



I'm a very lucky man :)











Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Sturmey Archer AW3 Gear Hub Strip and Rebuild

I've been having fun rebuilding the internal gear hub on my commuter bike.


Meet "Frank The Tank".


He is called Frank the Tank because he's a Frankenstein of new and second hand bike parts from lots of places and because he's no lightweight ;) I built him up from parts scavenged from five different donor bikes and a few new parts too.

He's based on an old Raleigh steel frame that someone had stripped and powder coated in white for a project before losing interest and selling it on eBay. Unfortunately the elegant white 1" threaded fork that came with it used the old 26TPI thread standard and I couldn't find a replacement headset for it at a reasonable price so a new black fork was chosen. He's been built to be an all weather, low service reliable bike for commuting and shopping.

Part of the reliability / simplicity was to choose an internal gear hub. Three speeds is just enough for the hills around here and fully built rear wheels with Sturmey Archer AW3 gear hubs are available on the internet for quite reasonable prices. Sure the rims are heavy but they've stayed true despite the abuse!


I've used him on my commute to work for a couple of years now in all weathers and, having survived two winters of commuting, it was time for a strip down and clean, including the gear hub. What started as a quick "I'll just regrease the bearings and adjust the cones" turned into a full on strip, clean and re-oil and re-grease of the entire hub with me learning a lot about it on the way!


Sturmey Archer hubs

I've been generally very impressed with the quality of the AW3 hub. Everything is nicely machined and has stood up to 2000 miles of abuse with zero maintenance and hardly any adjustment. The history of Sturmey Archer is well documented on the Sturmey Archer Heritage site with old engineering drawings and adverts. There's even a Dutch picture from 1958 showing how the 3 speed mechanism works.

Advert for the Sturmey Archer / Raleigh 3 speed hub
Yorkshire Post, 1903. (C) Sturmey Archer Heritage
It is particularly impressive that the predecessor to the Type AW hub that I own was originally designed in 1914. Externally there is very little difference and internally there only appear to be minor changes between the 1914 version and the modern version. Most satisfactory.

L: 1914-1916 Type A hub
R: 1936-2001 Type AW3 hub

There's an amusing anecdote on the continuing production of Sturmey Archer hubs by the Taiwanese firm Sun Race on (all hail) Sheldon Brown's website
I heard an interesting anecdote from a Sturmey-Archer veteran employee, now with SunRace/Sturmey-Archer:
Back in the day, sometimes a batch of internal parts would be just a bit out of tolerance, maybe a bit too small, or a bit too large, whatever. The production people would take a sample to the engineering department, where a grey-haired engineer would check it out and often say "Well, it is a bit out of spec, but not really enough to cause failure, so let's let it go."
SunRace didn't have those engineers who had grown up with Sturmey-Archer in their blood, so when they found a batch of out-of-spec parts, they would say "That's out of spec! Melt it down, and make new ones, and do it right this time!"


Strip, Clean and Rebuild

Any numbers in brackets refer to the component in the exploded diagram / parts list.

Removing the screw in ball ring (13) was the hardest part of the process. This part has a series of inner ramps that the drive assembly (15) pawls engage in. So me standing on the pedals for the last umpteen hundred miles meant it was tighter than Gary Barlow's wallet. It looked like it needed a special tool to remove so I cut out a section of 3mm aluminium plate to fit the dents around the rim. However it was that fast in place that it just chewed up the plate when I attempted to use it to unscrew it.

I had considered using a screwdriver and a hammer to drift it round but thought that was excessive until I did some internet research and found a couple of pages and a video that all recommended doing that very thing. The official instructions say to either use a C-spanner or a hammer and punch! Sure enough it loosened it off nicely, the hardened steel of the ball ring shrugging off any damage from the much softer steel of my largest, cheapest flat bladed screwdriver.

Unfortunately the time between initial disassembly and me managing to get the ball ring off meant that I'd forgotten the order of the parts so far. So I just dumped them all into a big tub full of hot soapy water, gave them a clean and a dry and then tried to figure out which bit went where.

There was precious little oil in the hub and only a small amount of good grease. There was a fair amount of crufty horrible grease on the gear ring assembly and the drive pawls and the grease in the bearings was pretty much non existent. Definitely due a service then!

AW3 hub internals, cleaned and disorganised!
With a bit of tinkering and a pale ale or two I figured out what went where. I was most impressed with the solid feel of the hub as I rebuilt it and the engineering processes that must have gone in to developing and making it. The axle (27) is a nicely machined part with a slot for the gear selector / axle key (28) and a coaxial hole down one end for the selector chain (32).

The fiddliest part of the build is assembling the gear ring assembly (9) and the associated pawls and pawl springs. The springs are really fine and I've dropped them at least three times and had to go hunting on the floor for them conducting a finger tip search with a flashlight and a magnet.



I'd had a few goes at fitting everything together and eventually figured it out before getting all the parts laid out in order.


The assembly from here is a dry run prior to things being greased and oiled for the final assembly.






All fine up to this point but this is where I went wrong. The black plastic dust cap is meant to be fitted after the drive mechanism and cone have been screwed on. Otherwise when you tighten the cone it tries to compress the dust cap between the cone and the bearings and the whole thing seizes up. To my credit, I got this far without referring to the manual or the diagrams! Maybe I should have referred to it sooner ;)



The next thing to do was to grease it all up using white lithium grease throughout. Mistake. Error. Redo From Start+++++. Putting grease on the freewheel or drive mechanism pawls just causes them to stick to their carrier and not click back into place - the main function of a pawl. As a result it took about 5 seconds for the freewheel or the drive mechanism to click into place. Cue a re-strip and re-clean, applying nothing but light cycle oil to all of the internal components and grease to all three bearing races. Much better!



Putting it back on the bike

Upon reassembly the freewheel seemed to jam so my first thoughts were that I'd put some pawls in the wrong way round also I couldn't figure out why tightening the cones didn't stop a significant amount of wobble at the rim.

This was when, after looking at the exploded diagram that I figured out that I'd put the dust cap on in between the bearing surfaces rather than covering the drive mechanism. Idiot. I'd also put the non drive side spacer washer (25) on the outside of the lock nut and not the inside (minor error).

Lastly I realised I'd lost the non drive side axle nut so had to order a new one from the eBay store of Hopkinson Cycles in Horbury. More idiocy on my part.

I corrected these issues, had the usual round of faffing around trying to adjust the cone bearings so that they were juuuuuuust right and presto! the wheel was back in and working properly. Nice sharp clicks from the drive and freewheel pawls, smooth changing of the gears, lovely. I'll feed it some oil down the changer hole so it has something to be getting on with and away we go  :)


Further Frank-ing About

I also took the time to fit the proper diameter seatpost. I'd been using a 1" seatpost with some shims made from a coke can which meant a real fiddle adjusting saddle position, the very thing that had caused me a bit of knee pain beforehand.

After measuring up I ordered a 27.0mm seatpost (not the conventional 27.2 of modern bikes) from eBay and a nicer brown saddle I'd taken off the tandem, which is much more in keeping with the look of the bike.


I also improved the pannier mounting, removing the crappy looking P-clips and replacing it with a much nicer piece of threaded rod and some nuts between the original rack mount brackets. This moved the mounting point inboard to suit the rack I've got and it tidies up the frame too.



This means that Frank is ready for the next 2000 miles of urban pottering, commuting, shopping and general practicality.