Solo Hamura Ride

Tama River runs high

I set out hopefully early Sunday morning with a saddlebag full of onigiri freshly made by Nana and a date with the Halfakid to ride up the Tamagawa to the end of the cycle course — notwithstanding the forecast for a high of 36C.

The first hitch of the day came when I pulled up outside the Halfakid’s apartment and messaged him I was ready. “Let me call a rain check on today I’m super hung over,” was his reply.

Another rest spot in the shade
Another rest spot in the shade

OK, so … soldiering onwards without Wimpy McWimperson, I decided this would be a good chance to put Kuroko through her paces, and perhaps set a new 40km record (my current personal best 40km having been set last year on the same course with Ol’ Paint). My enthusiasm was curbed only by the heat and knowing that I’d be better off pacing myself than pushing. As soon as I hit the river trail I settled into a sustainable pace. I was pleased to see (and feel) that my typical 25km/h pace — pushing my limit on Ol’ Paint — was an easy, loping cruise on Kuroko. Better still, when I stopped for a break it was to eat a rice ball and take on water, and not because I needed to get feeling back into numb fingers. In other words, my new bike was working out to expectation.

At a small shrine in the shadow of the Keio Oval cycle track, I had a break and filled my water bottles. I wasn’t in a hurry, and easily spent more than 10 minutes where I’d typically only take three. Some retired gents were gassing among themselves on a nearby bench, and I was just about to mount up when one of them addressed me.

Old Guy:
Hot, ain’t it?
Guy Jean:
Sure is hot!
How far you going today?
Up to Fussa.
In this heat? Far, ain’t it?
I’m good for it. I’m drinking a lot of water and taking it easy.
Second Old Guy (pointing to Kuroko):
Is that one o’ them there electric bikes?
GJ (pointing to thighs):
No, the engine is here!

I’d also been curious how the lower-pressure, larger tires would feel over some particularly nasty speed bumps on the Tamagawa course. I was pleased with the results: the teeth-rattling, helmet-loosening bumps (meant to draw riders’ attention to pedestrian crossings) were reduced to mere bothersome inconveniences (unfortunately not entirely soaked up in marshmallow-like pillowing). It’s a testament to this wheel-and-tire combination that it offers this level of comfort while at the same time delivering superior rolling resistance.

The dreaded bonk

The bonk
The bonk

Things continued in this fashion, with me posting 12-13 minute 5km splits one after the other, until I was just 5km short of the goal. Suddenly my “engine” failed. Just turning the crank around, and around again, felt like climbing a literal wall. I knew there was a downhill section leading into a park ahead and so I pressed on to that, coasted down into the shade of a tree, and nearly fell off the bike. It was all I could do to drag myself up against the trunk of the tree, fetch a couple of rice balls out of the saddlebag, and gulp down some water. This happened to me before, not long ago, when I was making a circle of the Tokyo landmarks and on a similarly hot day. Had I jinxed myself bragging to the retired gents?

After a couple of rice balls and half a liter of water, and rest of 10 minutes or so, I felt a bit better. I put my shoes back on, mounted up, and decided to see if I was still good for the goal. The next bit was a flat, gravel path through the remainder of the park where I’d stopped, and I rode it at a pace I’ve never dared in the past. Kuroko really is something at handling uneven pavement and gravel! After that there are a few ups and downs, and some uneven pavement, but it’s mostly flat until the end. I steamed into Hamura with a 5km split of just over 15 minutes, meaning only slightly off a 20km/h pace.

She'll do the Hamura run in 12 parsecs
She’ll do the Hamura run in 12 parsecs

And now I knew that I needed rest. I parked Kuroko in the shade and found a shaded bench for myself. Ate all of the remaining rice balls except for one. Drained my water bottles, filled them, and drained them again. Catnapped. In all, I spent an hour recuperating in Hamura, where I usually spend 20 minutes.

But at the end of the hour, I knew it was time to get on my way home. I felt good right off the bat, but not at my peak. I started picturing how long I could go before needing a break, and then revising that estimate as each kilometer rolled by. I was making good time, but my endurance was shattered. I still needed frequent stops just to drink water and recover, even if the water was ambient temperature and not cold. But I was sure of one thing: I was going to stop at the cycle-friendly café and have a damn soft cream!

A damn soft cream at the cycle café
A damn soft cream at the cycle café

And that turned out to be what the doctor ordered. From the café it’s about 6km to little shrine where I’d had the conversation with the retired gents. When I returned, possibly five or six hours later, the fellows had all smoked up and gone home, and in their place was a university track and field team fresh from some practice miles on the river. The young men were washing themselves up in the public water fountain, making groups plans for the evening — very noisily — and wishing each other well.

From that point it’s 24-25km to home, and I was feeling almost like new. I’m sure the combined energy of the onigiri and the soft cream was seeping into my bloodstream. I didn’t have a lot of extra oomph to put into the climbs, but I was averaging my usual pace and I was, indeed, making the climbs and not dismounting to push the bike up them.

Battery dies just before the good part
Battery dies just before the good part

My last rest stop is at the top of a 4% grade that lasts half a kilometer. The water from the fountain was tepid rather than cold, but I filled one bottle. I messaged Nana that I would be about an hour, and with an audible “ヨシッ!” I was on my way. By this time it was late afternoon and I figured I no longer needed the face mask to protect me from the sun, but I also could feel in my thighs that I didn’t have the oomph on tap that I might want. With that in mind, I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself rolling into the home bike park in just 40 minutes — not a record time from that last pit stop but damn near. Pity that the battery on the Garmin had crapped out just before I had left the cycling course for that 4% climb up to the final rest stop!


Possibly not related to the day’s effort, but I am an old man. As I was putting Kuroko into her stable for the night, I twisted my knee. It wasn’t really bad or painful, but I could feel it was just a bit out of place and I took some care in hobbling from the parking space to the elevator. And then, once back home and showered up, I somehow managed to cross my big toe under its neighbor as I was drying off and getting on the scale. (I’d lost more than 1kg on the day, but that was mostly sweating it out.) I know some people can cross their toes at will, but I’ve never been able to do this, and it was a painful and somewhat frightening 30 seconds or so until the big toe realized it was sitting in the wrong seat at the big dinner table and got itself sorted out without any further help from me.

More directly connected to the day’s ride, I had some lasting finger numbness — ring finger, both hands. Overall, as noted above, Kuroko is much better about the finger numbness, and I don’t have to stop every 15-20 minutes just to work the feeling back into my hands. But I think that the time I spent with my hands on the “tops” in order to take the stress off my neck — where my wrists are bent and elbows turned out — is the cause of this. When I’m riding on the brake hoods I do get some soreness after a time in the palms of my hands, but no numbness in the fingers.

So how about that Vuelta, eh?

It’s now two days since I completed the ride (105km with a total elapsed time of 9 1/2 hours — the usual is under 7 hours). There’s some technical issue that’s preventing me watching video of La Vuelta a España via the website I’m paying monthly for … It took me some time to figure out I can get the minute-by-minute from the official site as well as from Cycling News. Let’s hope that my delay in realizing this is more due to the fact I’m really, totally busy this month than to the birth generation I belong to.

First commute on Kuroko

Kuroko first commute

Yesterday was my first chance to commute to work on Kuroko, my lovely new ride. It dawned a bit grey but looking quite suitable for riding. Until I checked the weather forecast, that is: gale force wind warnings! I stepped out onto the balcony. Yes, it was a bit windy, but I didn’t think it would much of a problem.

As soon as I mounted up, I knew I’d made the right decision. The wind was manageable, and it’s less of a factor given my bent-over position on Kuroko. In fact the riding felt so good that instead of going straight to the office when I got to Futakotamagawa, I descended nearly to the river and then climbed back up — just out of sheer exuberance.

On Futakotamagawa Climb, a brief Strava segment of 260m with an 11m rise (and covering only half the actual climb), I posted a personal best of 58s for an average of 16.4km/h and a maximum of 18.4km/h. I’ve done this same segment once before on Kuroko as part of the Haneda round-trip. On that occasion, coming to the climb after about 50km in the saddle instead of today’s 12km, I averaged 13.8km/h.

If you’re climbing hills for fun, you’re doing OK.

Joe Lejog

I can’t exactly compare this part of the commute with earlier efforts as the hill climb at the end adds almost 1km to the total, but the 37:55 looks pretty good compared to the 37:39 I clocked the last time I did the ride on Ol’ Paint (sans hill climb and extra 1km). So it looks like I did a bit better overall, and that’s reflected in the 1km/h gain over the 20.3km/h average that I racked up on the previous occasion. The total elapsed time was also similar, 42:06 yesterday vs 42:28 previously.

For the ride home I managed to ignore the lure of the hill, so I have a heads-up comparison of Kuroko vs Ol’ Paint: nearly a two-minute improvement at 33:18 compared to 35:10. On the other hand I assume the total elapsed time was more influenced by traffic (and possibly train crossings) as it came to 38:57 yesterday compared to 44:48 previously.

But more importantly than those numbers, I arrived home feeling fresh and wishing I had further to go — not a bad way to end a day of work!

Messin’ with the Kid

Father and son at Haneda Peace Shrine

One of my goals in getting a new bike was to pass along Ol’ Paint to my son, and we accomplished that yesterday with a father-son ride along my usual Haneda round-trip route.

Extended Haneda ride
Extended Haneda ride

The lad showed up early on Saturday and I gave him a few pointers as we prepped for the ride. We hit the road and I only had to hold back a little bit for him to keep up. I also had to keep in mind for some of my traffic shenanigans that I wasn’t riding solo — no point in me racing to beat a light if he’s not going to be there with me.

We got to the river course with only one — rather dramatic — wipe-out. On the bridge over the river, next to a line of idling cars, he hit the front brake only and went (as my father would put it) ass end over teakettle. Nothing hurt in the end except a little pride. It took a minute to untangle himself and right the bike, and then were on our way again.

Yeah, I used to do that sort of thing when I was young, too. Wipe out and come up smiling, that is …

Ol' Paint, meet Kuroko
Ol’ Paint, meet Kuroko

As the boy’s a bit taller than his father, we wanted to raise the seat. Ol’ Paint has a quick-release seat clamp, so during a rest break we released it and gave the saddle a yank. Nothing.

Taking a break in the shade
A break in the shade

Another yank, holding the rear wheel down.

More nothing.

I braced the bike by the handlebars and the Kid grabbed the saddle horn and gave it a few whacks from side to side.

無理 (nothing).

OK, well, the shop where I bought the bike is right near the point where the cycle path joins the roadway, so we decided to stop there on the way back and ask the mechanic for a hand.

At Haneda we paid our usual visit to the Peace Shrine before sitting down in the shade to a lunch of handmade onigiri.

On the way back upstream, as we stopped to fill our water bottles and discuss our options, we decided we could go a bit farther than our original plan. I considered our progress to that point and the heat, and picked out a spot a bit upstream on the Kawasaki side as our second goal of the day. We saddled up and took off. Less than a kilometer later, there was another rider overtaking and saying something to me. I thought he was just being unusually polite in letting me know he was passing, but he was telling me in English that I’d left my bag at the last rest stop!

I turned around and cycled back together with my Good Samaritan, chatting in English about the heat, to where his wife was waiting and holding my bag. (I’m glad to say there wasn’t anything important in it. My ID and keys were in the cockpit bag atop Kuroko’s top tube. I’d only brought along the backpack to hold the onigiri.) I thanked the two of them profusely and then rejoined the Kid on our way upstream.

That trick where you prop the bike up by its pedal
That trick where you prop the bike up by its pedal

I knew where the quiet little park with the stream was, all right, but what I didn’t know was where we could find water fountains to fill our bottles on the Kawasaki side. The lack of fountains was compounded by one of the flies in the ointment of my new bike: We’d had to replace my insulated water bottles with something smaller to allow the frame to accommodate two. The salesbloke found a couple that fit, and in a color to match the frame. But in the heat of the day Saturday, the water was warm by the time I wanted to drink it.

On our way back from the park, we stopped at a recreation facility near a little shrine by the river. They had restrooms, but there was no water fountain. We continued on our way and after a couple of more kilometers came to a convenience store. I bought two liters of water, cold, and between the two of us we drank nearly a liter on the spot. After filling our bottles with the remainder, we resumed our trek.

As we leave the cycling course and the river behind us, there’s a bit of a climb to get back into traffic. (It’s a 4% grade for 500m, meaning a climb of 20m.) This has always been something of a challenge (particularly after, by this point, more than 60km of riding). I was eager to see how it would go with Kuroko, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the result. Where I typically struggle along at 9-11km/h (with lots of thigh burn) on Ol’ Paint, I was bettering 13km/h and not raising much more of a sweat than the day’s heat demanded. It was almost as if I had a motor hidden in my frame.

Once I was home and having a shower and cool drink, I thought about it. Yes, I know my new bike is smoother rolling and has better gearing. But that shouldn’t make so much of a difference in climbing ability. And the impression was matched by other situations where I needed power. I just felt I have a lot more on tap when I ride Kuroko.

And then it hit me: I’m bent over the bars a lot more than on Ol’ Paint. The picture above with the two bikes facing each other shows the difference in bar height. And being bent over means that I’m using my big fat gluteal muscles a lot more than when I’m sitting upright.

I have an engine, but it’s in my body.

Fabian Cancellara

Strava confirmed my impression with a personal best on the middle portion of the climb with an average speed of 13.8km/h.

Meanwhile, I waited for the lad at the small park at the top of the hill, and we set out together for the bike shop. The mechanic gave the seat a try (I think he didn’t even try as hard as we had), and then sprayed the area with penetrating oil. “Ride it for a week like that. If the seat starts to move, then we can get it out. If not, it has to go to a framebuilder to be extracted.”

It’s not much farther from there to the Kid’s apartment, and as he locked up Ol’ Paint at her new home he said to me, “Until next week.”