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Just over a year ago, I acquired a bicycle – a Surly Karate Monkey (http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=1547). Stock standard, the bike is a single-speed. In other words, it has only one gear. This is not conducive to the most efficient cycle touring in the world, so I splashed out and changed to a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub (IGH).
As you can see, there one cog on the outside, and all the gears, in the form of, literally, gears, are on the inside of the hub shell. The beauty of this setup is that a bicycle with an IGH essentially becomes maintenance free (when one compares with a typical derailleur setup, where you have to clean multiple oily cogs quite often).
IGH’s do need maintenance every now and then, though. I’ve heard of some going for three years before being opened up, and the insides looking like new, but after one year, mine was starting to act up a little; a little more friction than usual, and it was sometimes taking a full half-rotation of the pedals in order for the drive to engage after free-wheeling. I live in Sapporo, Japan, and even though this is the land of Shimano, IGH-equipped bikes are extremely rare here, so there was little to no chance of having the hub serviced locally. Therefore,Â I decided it was time to pull the thing to bits and have a gander.
The most useful resource for learning about how to pull a Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub to bits was this video below.
Other resources included Nick Foster’s very recent post, of course Muddymole’s post, Ian’s page about the Nexus hub and adding an oil port (similar to the Alfine, but with less sealing), Lachlan Hurst’s post, wisdom from Ecovelo, bike mechanic Sam Larson, Thad at the Golden Wrench and his experiences, Aaron’s Bicycle Repair’s great resource, Sheldon Brown’s advice on lubrication for IGH’s, and last but not least, Hubstripping.com’s page on the Alfine 8-speed hub.
In any case, armed with the right knowledge, and some new tools (I needed a 15mm cone spanner and a centerlock sprocket sans-pin) I got to work.
First off is the Shimano Centerlock disk brake rotor. For this, you need a centerlock/cassette tool without the quick-release pinÂ (so it will go over the solid axle of the Alfine hub). The item number on my Shimano tool was TL-FW30.
Once that was off, I was able to access the locknut and cone. Using a 15mm cone spanner and adjustable spanner, I removed the cone.
With these removed, the wheel is flipped over and the drive side bits and bobs removed. This includes the shifting accessories which allow access to a small snap-on plastic cover, which is concealing the snap-ring that holds the cog on. This plastic cover can be pried off by hand very easily.
Next is the snap-ring. A small flat-head screw driver does this job well. Keep your free hand over the snap-ring – when it finally comes loose, it will spring off forcefully.
Once you have the snap-ring and cog off, a metal dustguard and plastic ring needs to be removed. The plastic ring provides access to the knobby ‘grip’ of the main screw-on dust-cap, which holds the guts of the hub in.
Some people have reported being able to screw open the dustcap by hand (it screws open clockwise, which is opposite to normal), but I had to take to it with a screwdriver to loosen it a little. Once the dustcap comes free, the whole hub shell will fall away from the insides.
On my hub, I noticed right away that water had entered the hub at some stage. I do vaguely remember the non-drive side cone being loose at one stage, and suspect that this was theÂ culprit. If the cone is on properly, then the rubber seal should prevent any water from getting in. The rusty residue was not too bad though, and wiped off easily. After cleaning the hub shell, however, there were some visible blemishes on the bearing race, but no noticeable pitting.
To remove the drive-side bearing cage, the hub needs to be split into two pieces. This is achieved by removing the snap-ring at the non-drive side of the unit.
The whole axle unit slides out of the main ring gear unit in two bits (explosion drawing here). There was no visible rust residue inside, so that was reassuring. I cleaned up the drive-side bearing cage, re-greased it, and put the two pieces back together. This is done by lining up the tab on the ring gear unit, and the groove in the axle unit. Even when the tab and groove are lined up, however, the gears need to be rotated around a little to get the ring gear unit to mate to the axle unit (this can take a while to get right).
Everything back together, with snap-ring re-installed, the whole lot gets dunked in auto transmission fluid. Mine was just normal, service station (gas station) ATF, using a 2 litre PET bottle as a dunking container.
I left it in for about 5 minutes, and then let it drain for about 10 minutes while I was re-greasing the insides of the hub casing.
The innards then went back into the hub shell, the various dust covers put back on, the cog and snap-ring (which can be infuriating to get on) and the gear-shifting accessories. And then I took it all to bits again. No joke. I had put the drive-side bearing cage on the wrong way around. The picture above shows it in the correct orientation. That was not a happy moment when I had realised I had put it on wrong…
In all, it took me about 45 minutes plus another 20 minutes to rectify the bearing cage issue. Next time it will take around 30 minutes, I would say. That’ll probably be in another 12-18 months time.
Without the oil bath, the hub just has grease inside it. This means there is quite a lot of friction. For example, when back-pedalingÂ the bike Â on a workstand, the back wheel will start to rotate backwards. With the oil bath, however, backpedaling does not affect the back wheel. I didn’t notice any difference in gear changing; that is as smooth as ever.
About a month ago (July 31st), four chaps from Surly (the bicycle maker) visited Sapporo. They brought with them the hallowed new bike of theirs, the Krampus. I joined them along with a group from Sam’s Bike on a blat around some hills in Sapporo.
The guy above getting a lot of air on a bicycle with 29+ wheels (700c 50mm wide rims with 3.0 tyres) is Surly engineer Thor. It is nice that the Surly lot are bike nerds at heart.
The route for their visit in Sapporo was along a mountain bike trail which includes riding along a smooth-rock bottomed stream. This was at theÂ Rarumanai Nature Park mountain bike trail near Sapporo (goo.gl/maps/LZQo4).
It was always going to be a hard decision as to whether I would cycle all the way home to Sapporo in one go today, or split the distance into two days. In the end, I did it in one day. The reason being that it was raining. Cats and dogs almost all day. Even if I ended up arriving in Sapporo late, at least I knew there was a hot shower and comfy bed waiting for me.
Mercifully, the camp manager had allowed me to pitch my tent inside the amenities block, which kept me out of the light rain during the night. When I got up at 4am, the weather was cloudy, but only a very light misty rain.
By the time I was ready to leave at 5am, it was pouring rain. I considered staying one more night at the campground, since the forecast was for good weather tomorrow. But there was not any suitable covered communal areas in the campground to spend the day. So I just went for it, figuring the rain would either pass, or I would pass through it and out the other side if I got going.
By lunchtime I had cycled for about 5 hours, and my fingers looked like prunes. The rain just did not let up.
Lake Katsuragawa was the first I saw of clearer skies.
Â All the rivers and lakes in the area were pure dirt brown. Today was not the only day they had seen rain recently.
In the end I followed Route 452 for what felt like en eternity through the rain. Generally bleak scenery and close forest made for some generally uninspiring riding. Although the inner little boy in me delighted in charging through the deepest puddles I could find on the side of the road.
The last 3 hours or so of today’s ride was conducted on pure determination. My legs had no power left in them, and my butt, despite the padded bike shorts and cushy Selle An-Atomica saddle, was getting chaffed and sore. During the last hour of the ride, I was being passed by grannies on their mama-chari.
I got home and promptly had that hot shower. It was bliss.
After the shower, I did a tally of how many bears had been found on the 16-day bear hunt cycle tour in bear-infested Hokkaido. The grand total came to 0. Nada. We did see approximately 3 stuffed bears, 24 bear warning signs, and took part in one bear safety lecture. We could have tried harder, I guess. We could have slept wild wrapped in honey-glazed bacon strips. We could have washed our stinky socks more often (I hear that bears don’t like stinky socks). Perhaps we’ll have better luck next year*.
Distance: 151.4km | Time on bike: 9h 04m | Average speed: 16.7km/h | Bears: 0
Financials: Food:Â 1,736yen
* It bears noting that our hiking pals, Leon, Ric, and Matt, did meet a bear up in the wilds of Shiretoko National Park. While from our experience it seems highly unlikely that you’d meet a bear cycle touring in Hokkaido, hiking is a different matter.
Big day and lots of climbing. That seems to summarise today quite nicely. But in reality, the first 80km or so was mostly downhill, and mostly on a beautiful cycling path following the Ishikari River. Once again I was warned of bears, but saw no sign of them. Except this sign *guffaw*.
The landscape here is rugged. Mostly unrestrained.
And where it has been tamed by human intervention, the results are not at all unpleasant. It seems that north of Sounkyo, the main agricultural staple is rice.
The Ishikari River cycle path quite conveniently injected me into the guts of Asahikawa City – the second biggest city in Hokkaido. I quickly found my way out of the city, and headed towards Biei. Unfortunately, I had to spend close to an hour with bumper-to-bumper car traffic before I could sneak off into the hills again.
Â The hills I am talking about are those that Route 452 cuts its way through. Or at least mostlyÂ cuts its way though. Route 452 is about 150km long, but has one section that is not open to traffic. I thought this might mean that a sneaky cyclist might be able to cycle through said closed road. With that in mind, I headed towards the ‘road-closed’ sign on my map.
Once off the main drag, I was again in farming-land. Road-side stalls (with honestly-boxes) abounded, with tomatoes, zucchini (courgettes), and potatoes in season. I dropped in on a couple and bought some massive tomatoes, munching on them as I grinded up the uphills.
Among the stalls was also this one below. They’re sellingÂ rhinoceros beetles. Big, fat, gorgeous beetles, as big as your thumb.
And no, they’re not for eating. They are for playing with and holding and poking and having. The lower sign in the photo below says: The beetles burrow into the dirt. Dig around and look for them.
Views at the tops of the small rises in the road were Hokkaido farmland through-and-through.
Soon enough I came to the road-block on Route 452 indicated on my map. I was excited to see pavement beyond the gate, so I carried on through. To my dismay, however, the road ended completely and utterly 2km beyond the gate. There was nothing but forest. Not even a foot-track. At least the 8km or so back the way I came was downhill.
This did, however, open up the excuse to do the gravel section of Route 70, which connects Biei and Ashibetsu. The gate, by the way, is for the winter, when the road is closed due to snow.
The gravel road climbing was fine, except for the horrid horse-flies. Wikipedia tells me that there are lots of different kinds of horse-flies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse-fly), but I think the ones here in Hokkaido (abu – ã¢ã) are similar to ‘clegs’, in the sense that they ‘fly quietly and bite with little warning’. I have been wearing a 150-weight Icebreaker merino longsleeve top during this trip, and the flies can bite through it. This means that the horrible blighters can fly quietly onto my back as I am slowly inching up a pass, and bite me before I even know they are there. Mercifully, they don’t seem to like colder temperatures, so the higher one gets up a pass, the fewer of them there are.
The gravel on this route was a little looser than previous days, but the extra float of the wide Big Apple tyres helped to no end.
I finally arrived in Ashibetsu at around 5:30pm. I opted for the upclass Ashibetsu Kenmin Center Autocamp, because I wanted to do some laundry. I was expecting to have to pay 1,350yen, but as a cyclist, they charged me off-season daycamper rates (470yen). The only catch was that it was 8km up a hill. At least I would have a downhill to start the day tomorrow…
Distance: 159km | Time on bike: 8h 44m | Average speed: 18.2km/h | Bears: 0
Financials: Food:Â 3,746yen | Accommodation:Â 470yen | Laundry:Â 700yen
Today I felt like I was in my element. Yesterday, in Kitami, I had bought a motorcyclists’ route map book for Hokkaido, which shows in some detail the various off-road and/or dirt roads routes which criss-cross the island. I’ve always found the unpaved back roads (anywhere I’ve been in the world) to be the most fulfilling (despite the extra struggle). So right off the bat today, I got off the busy, noisy Route 39, and hopped over to the next valley over to the south.
It was a stiff climb for early in the morning (I had left at 5:15am), and it was raining on and off again. I was just hoping the weather would fine up enough eventually to dry out my soggy tent which I had packed up in the rain.
After hurtling down from the top of the Onneyu Pass, I found myself genuinely taken aback at the different world I found myself in. It was literally like I had stepped into an alternate reality. Quiet, sleepy fields of wheat. Grain silos. Mist hanging around the low hills. Just incredible. What a change this was from the bustling chaos of Route 39, just one valley across. It really isÂ worth taking the road less travelled.
The valley I was now traveling north on, was the Oketo Valley. At the head of the valley, there was the Kanoko Dam, which holds back Lake Oketo.
From here I followed Route 1050 to its terminus, right at the end of the lake. Here, the paved road gave way to smooth gravel, and an 11km climb up to Shoboku Pass.
About half way up, a car approached and stopped next to me. The driver mentioned that it was a long way to the top of the pass. He obviously figured it would take me all day to get there, so he handed me a bunch of four bananas. In the end, despite carrying a couple of rice balls in addition to extra snacks, I would arrive at the top with only one banana left, having devoured all the snacks I had with me.
The top of the pass was met with glorious sunshine. I promptly found a clear area to spread out all of my wet gear, and spent 40 minutes basking in the sun.
From here it was only a few hundred meters to the top of the pass (972m).
The descent was thrilling. I dropped the pressure in my balloon-like Schwalbe Big Apple 2.35 tyres, and laced to a pair of 47mm wide Kris Holm mountain rims, the 29er wheels made the gravel road feel like buttery asphalt. Loverly.
The descent spat me out onto Route 273. I knew that this route would require me to cycle up another big road pass, but I did not know at that point that it was the highest road pass in Hokkaido: the Mikuni Pass (1139m).
At this point, the weather was just magnificent.
At the top of the pass was a gaggle of university cycle club members. Replete with compulsory communal cooking pot.
They told me that it was all downhill from here, down to a free campsite in Sounkyo, a small village nestled in a tight valley further down. It wasn’t entirely downhill, however, and after a good deal of climbing already today, the small ups and downs on the way to Sounkyo got a little repetitive.
Distance: 110.6km | Time on bike: 7h 11m | Average speed: 15.7km/h | Bears: 0
Financials: Food:Â 3,746yen | Accommodation:Â 0yen
What is this? The bear hunt continues? Yes, yes it does.
Haidee had pressing work to do in Sapporo, but I decided that the work I had to do could wait, so I would cycle the 350km or so back to Sapporo on my own. So after sending Haidee off on the 6:30am train, I was on the road solo.
Haidee probably had the right idea though; it rained on and off for the entire day. Accordingly, the photo below was the only one I managed to take all day.
The rather endearing looking contraption is an onion picker. It picks onions. Which are in abundance along the valley between Abashiri and Kitami, and beyond.
The mission for today was to get to the free Onneyu Tsutsuji Campground. I got there just in time for an onsen and to cook dinner, before the skies opened. It rained for most of the night.
Distance: 96.3km | Time on bike: 4h 53m | Average speed: 19.7km/h | Bears: 0
Financials: Food:Â 2,000yen | Accommodation:Â 0yen | Onsen:Â 600yen
This was our last day on the road together for this bear hunt in the Shiretoko region, home to more bears per square kilometer than anywhere else in Japan. We saw not hide nor tail of one. We saw plenty of warnings of bears. But no actual bears. Not even bear poop. This was our last day to see if we could catch one.
We said our farewells to Okaasan, Leon, Ric and Matt, and got on the road, feeling very grateful for some quality time with friends and the lovely hospitality of okaasan.
And what a sweet road it was. At 6:00 in the morning, it was free of automobile traffic, and the birds were up and singing.
Apart from one last gasping small pass, most of the day was downhill or flat.
This meant that we managed a solid 80km on our last day. Even if there were bears to be found, we probably wouldn’t have seen them.
So we rolled into Abashiri in the early afternoon, and thus ended our 12 day Bear Hunt in Shiretoko. Not a sign of bears on the roads or in campgrounds.
We checked into our accommodation for the night, and readied to depart by train back to Sapporo the next morning.
Distance: 81.6km | Time on bikes: 4h 49m | Average speed: 16.8km/h | Bears: 0
Financials: Food:Â 4,821yen | Accommodation:Â 6,980yen
The Â hiking troupe had planned for today to be a rest day, so we decided it was a great chance to take the day off too. The day began with an open-air hot spring down the road from okaasan’sÂ place, and only about 1m from the lake’s edge. Originally built as a private onsen by the mayor of Teshikaga, it is now open to the public.
Later in the morning we all bundled into Leon’s car and visited the well-known (evidenced by hordes of tourists) Suna-yu Onsen. Basically this is a 300m stretch of lake-side beach where anyone with a pair of hands (orÂ preferablyÂ a shovel) can dig into the sand and make their own hotspring pit.
Leon, being un-intimidated by the chilly weather and chillier lake, jumped into the lake for a swim.
The next stop was a nearby sulfur-spewing mountain-side. Complete with un-roped-off steam vents, spewing ultra hot steam out of the ground. What is a man to do with such novelty but to throw his hat onto the hole to see if it will make the hat fly up into the air?
It didn’t work, evaporating my giddy curiosity into pained embarrassment when I almost burned myself retrieving the hat from the scalding hole.
Today it rained. Like cats and dogs it rained. We waited out much of it inside the Teshikaga Public Library, where we both did some work on some distance study we are doing at the moment.
When we left the library, it started raining again. Not that that is all together bad. Cycling in the rain is actually quite a lot of fun, in a strangely sadistic way. It is the camping in the rain (with no guarantee of drying the tent out before leaving the next day) that tends to be tough work, and something I generally try to avoid where ever possible. In this case, we managed to avoid camping in the rain by availing ourselves of the services of a “Rider’s House”. Riders’ houses are small, cheapÂ accommodations, at the most charging 1,000yen per person for a night, and are specifically aimed at non-automobile travelers (motorcyclists,Â bicyclists,Â walkers etc). Some are even free. Ours was 1000yen, and included a free drive to the local onsen, and cheap meals. We even got our own room to ourselves (usually you’re sharing a room with multiple others).
They are a great place to meet interesting characters. One guy was traveling around taking photos. He spent about 45 minutes showing us his photos. They were actually very good.
Distance: 44.2km | Time on bikes: 2h 47m | Average speed: 15.8km/h | Bears: 0
Financials: Food:Â 6,231yen | Accommodation:Â 2,000yen | Onsen: 400yen