We arrived at the western tip of Honshu, tonight we take the ferry to South Korea. We'll ride the 4 rivers path from Busan to Seoul. I think it'll be the calm before the storm (aka China). I'll make a bit of an initial review of bike and gear in case is of interest. Otherwise just jump to the pics.
Japan's been great. It has everything we needed: beautiful landscapes, an endless catalogue of mountain climbs to stiffen our legs, michi-no-ekis and airconditioned supermarkets where we can get some respite from the heat, good food, and a liberating feeling of safety. So good to be able to walk inside a cafe without having to take turns in the sun watching the bike.
Bike-wise I couldn't be happier. I'm really impressed with it, especially climbing. We have a large amount of kit, as you can prob tell from the pics. I estimate 5-6kgs average on each pannier, plus another 2-3kgs on framebag and the same on porteur bag. We make for a combined crew of 135kg approx, so all in the tandem must be carrying about 170-180kg (plus its own weight, between 15-20kg).
We climb +15% grades VERY slowly. Slower than walking pace, surely. At these moments there is a lot of torque being applied, we pedal slowly but hard, and the frame gives us an assured impression of being transfering 100% of our (meagre) effort into movement. There's no squealing or flexing, just a solid feel.
I'm also pleased we went for 29ers. There's a lot of obstacles and urban furniture on the shoulders here, as well as ramps, grills, water drains and rails we ride over daily. The bottom bracket is very high, which gives us good clearance. On a tandem this is particularly nice because of the long wheelbase, when we need to negotiate ramps the high bb helps the timing belt clearing the ground.
The drawback is that I'm REALLY on the tip of my toes when we stop, meaning a lot of weight balanced precariously. It can get uncomfortable. I find myself dismounting more often on this bike than on previous tandems we owned. I also know smaller wheels would be stronger, but up to now the Cliffhanger + DT Swiss seems to be holding up very well. We went airbound the other day, I failed to spot a big bump behind some shrubs, and we just took off, both wheels off the ground for a second. Landing was bumpy but that was it, wheels remained true, panniers in place, stoker too :)
Brakes are awesome. We descended 1000m in less than 10km, a road with 51 hairpins outside Nagano, in 35ºC, without major issues. Out of precaution I stopped halfway to let them cool, I squeezed some water in them and they were sizzling (should I not do that?). I was aprehensive about how hot they were, but the bite was still there and I had full braking force — I felt like stopping because we ended up behind a truck that was descending very slow, so I had to drag the brakes for a while instead of letting the bike roll and breaking hard for short periods. I've been taking extra care on steep descents, as these are my first cable discs and there's no fallback system, but the bite and power in them is amazing.
The baskets and porteur bag are also something we're happy with. The porteur bag is the simplest possible design, one large compartment plus one outside pocket. We found this more useful than a bag full of pockets and divisions, it's great to carry around like a shopping bag and comes in and out very quickly without velcro straps or anything like that. Super practical and simple.
We leave our tent, footprint, etc on the rear framebag, so if we're not camping we just leave it on the parked bike. If we're camping, the framebag stays on the bike because it's empty. So the framebags are not coming on and off all the time.
Rohloff is obviously great, and combined with carbon belt it's just SO practical and hassle-free. But there are two things that I'm not too impressed with: the gear changes are agricultural compared to Shimano and Campagnolo kits I used before. More annoyingly, I'm finding the shifter too stiff. When my hands are sweaty, it's downright difficult to shift. At times I end the day with a painful hand from shifting. There must be some adjustment I can make, for now I took to wearing gloves but they smell so bad!
Couplers = amazing. Just amazing.
Jones bars = good. Maybe I'd be happier with the wider ones
Rear view mirror = so good
Cap under hat = great to soak in water and keep cool
Sunblock + mosquitoes + sweat + sand = not impressed
SMP trk, stoker = win
Brooks B17, captain = ok