Tamagawa Course Round Trip

Just a little more to go: Haneda Peace Shrine

I often ride the Tamagawa Cycling Course, either for itself or as a launching point for another destination. For example, the Otarumi Touge, Okutama and Yokohama routes all use the Tamagawa course as a launching point.

When I’m riding the course for itself, though, I usually start at Futako Tamagawa and then choose either to ride upstream to Hamura (about 36km one-way) or downstream to Haneda (just under 20km). I’ve only ridden the entire course (round trip) on a couple of occasions, and the most recent was several years ago. Yet when the Halfakid mentioned after Otarumi Touge last weekend that he was eager to try some longer rides, I immediately hit on this.

Auspicious start: Fujisan sunrise
Auspicious start: Fujisan sunrise

Two problems immediately presented themselves: first, the ride is about 145km, so I usually undertake it during the summer when the days are much longer. And second, the forecast called for strong winds all day.

That's a lot of wind!
That’s a lot of wind!

I resolved to set out as early in the morning as possible, to make the most use of the available sunshine. I also decided to cut back on the number of rest stops and their duration: last week for Otarumi Touge we were only riding 60% of the time, with the rest taken up by rest stops. As for the wind … I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

9 a.m.: Ice in the fountain
9 a.m.: Ice in the fountain

As it happened, I got rolling about 7:30, or about half an hour after I’d planned. I met up with the Halfakid and we were soon flying downhill to Futako and turning upstream. When we stopped for our first rest just before 9 a.m., there was still ice in the fountain!

True to my resolution, we did not stop for long. We decided our next stop would be at Kaki Koen (the park with the persimmon vending machine), more than 15km upstream. At this point we were riding into a moderate headwind but still making good progress, averaging better than 20km/h. After a few kilometers the Halfakid decided he’d had enough of staring at my backside and took off on his own. At a few points during the following kilometers, he got so far ahead I lost sight of him.

Fujisan, our constant companion
Fujisan, our constant companion

All along the way we were treated to a clear view of Fujisan off to our left, courtesy of the strong winds we were battling. We’d resolved after Kaki Koen to continue on to the end of the cycling course at Hamura, another 15km, but now the wind really picked up force. We were struggling (at least I was) to maintain momentum into the teeth of a gale. It didn’t help that this portion of the course includes some of the worst paving, so we were gritting out teeth, rattling along and pushing against the headwind.

Mechanical

Rides with the Halfakid have become notable for the presence of mechanicals. (I’m sure I never had these problems while riding solo.) Today as I was pressing upstream against the wind, jouncing along the uneven pavement and doing my best to avoid pedestrians, it became evident that my bell was broken. Again. I’d already replaced it once, after I’d pulled back the hammer a little too enthusiastically. Then last week on our way to Takaosan, the hammer had got twisted around so that it no longer struck the bell. The Halfakid quickly twisted it back into position on that occasion and all was apparently well. Today, I got one good chime out of it and then it gave up the ghost. It’s a pity as it’s a gorgeous bell (the Halfakid had been contemplating getting one for himself) and the chime, when it works, sounds as clear and lovely as Snow White singing into a well.

Hamura intake weir
Hamura intake weir

Good things come to those who persevere, and after nearly an hour of pressing on from Kaki Koen we rolled into our first checkpoint at Hamura. We sat down in the sun to a meal of Nana’s famous onigiri: mentaiko and shake. I had two and the Halfakid had four all to himself. We took pictures and messaged friends and then set out again about 11:30, heading downstream to Haneda.

We had joked as we set out that with our new-found tailwind we’d get to Haneda within two hours. It was certainly much easier going, and faster. It had taken us an hour of hard pushing to reach Hamura from Kaki Koen, a distance of less than 16km, but the return was only 40 minutes (notwithstanding a short detour to avoid a marathon race in progress).

After Kaki Koen we were eager to keep up the momentum. The wind became a bit choppy, at times coming from the side instead of directly from the rear, but we continued to make strong progress. I noted at one point that we were sustaining 36-38km speeds, but then we hit a construction detour and after that some side winds. Still, our 5km time for that stretch was a record (for me) 9 minutes 50 seconds, or an average of 30.5km/h. (Later, after getting home, I saw a string of personal bests on Strava for this portion of the ride.)

Four hours later: no ice!
Four hours later: no ice!

We continued downstream, stopping only to rest our hands and our bottoms, and to refill our water bottles. A few kilometers before reaching Haneda we stopped at a convenience store to buy a second lunch. Not long after that we steamed into our second checkpoint of the day and laid down our bikes to take a photo as the wind blew the bell cord to and fro.

Just a little more to go: Haneda Peace Shrine
Just a little more to go: Haneda Peace Shrine

After finishing our second lunch, we knew it was time to face the music: once more into the wind as we headed back upstream to Futako. I’d already done 110km at this point and the distance and wind were taking their toll. At times I was making scarcely more headway than I had done the previous week while climbing up to a mountain pass. But I’m very familiar with this course, and I mentally tallied each waypoint as we passed it and continued to push myself towards home.

My relief was palpable as we reached Futagobashi and crossed back to the Tokyo side. One question remained: how much would we be fighting the wind on our climb out of the Tamagawa river valley? We dodged a bit of traffic and soon were heading up the brief climb. The Halfakid rocketed ahead, making the best use of his youth and his new, lightweight bicycle, and he was waiting placidly for me at the top of the hill when I came panting up a couple of minutes later. (I probably posted my slowest climb of this hill since getting Kuroko.)

I checked the time: a few minutes before 4 p.m. I know well the route home from here, and wind or no, exhausted as I felt, I was confident of my homeward pace. The Halfakid and I shared our visions of hot baths and cold beer, and I messaged Nana that I would be home before 5. We turned our lights on — the sky was still bright but the shadows were lengthening — and we set off. There’s another, shorter climb following this and I was pleased to find that I was equal to the task of surmounting it. Our biggest problem now was making sure our eagerness to get home didn’t translate into recklessness in traffic.

I left the Halfakid at a convenience store near his apartment and continued on alone. Only 8km to go! The Garmin, faithful record keeper to this point, immediately threw in the sponge as we were well past the 8-hour expected battery life. No mind: I had my phone tracking via Strava.

I was well and truly shagged by this point. I could make it up hills, but without much power in reserve. I was fine on the flats. After passing the No. 7 Ring Road I decided on an alternate route which traded a couple of modest climbs for a flatter course with lots more pedestrian traffic. I emerged into the home stretch, 3km to go, with lots of sunlight remaining. A left turn, a sweeping downhill with lots of speed, and a final traffic light before the goal. I messaged Nana that I’d arrived, well before the 5 p.m. I’d told her.

Strava's optimistic recording
Strava’s optimistic recording

Strava always gives me a few extra kilometers compared to Garmin. On the other hand, it counts the riding time differently as well. If the Garmin had had more juice it probably would have put my riding time at about 6 hours 22 minutes while Strava made it 7 hours. Strava also credits me with double the altitude gain, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t reach a maximum speed of 77.8km/h. (The Garmin gave me a more realistic max of 48km/h for today’s effort, compared with 62 on a mountain downhill during the Tour de Tohoku.)

One final stat, courtesy of the Garmin: I set a 40km record during today’s downwind run of 1:27:58, for an average of better than 27km/h. My previous 40km record was another downwind run, on the Arakawa river en route to Disneyland in December.

In the bag

Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro

There’s a lot of planning and a bit of purchasing to do in preparation for lejog in June. The first big purchase took a bit more effort than expected, including a lot of help from Nana: an Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro.

I already have a bike bag. I bought a nice padded bag for the Tour de Tohoku, and I used it again to ship Kuroko to and from Kyoto for the Kyoto – Nara – Osaka – Kyoto outing. The bag is adequate for domestic shipping (there was a bit of scuffing evident upon arrival in Tohoku, and the fork had been driven halfway out of the head tube) but I want more protection for international flying. Plus, for whatever reason, Kuroko just barely fits. It’s a struggle to get the zipper closed.

Ostrich OS-500

(I also have another bag from Ostrich, an unpadded model that rolls up like a sleeping bag for those times I’m carrying the bike with me on the train. I used it several years ago when I carried Ol’ Paint on the shinkansen for a circumnavigation of Lake Biwa.)

After reading a number of reviews, I decided on the Evoc Pro as the right balance between protection, portability and price. There was only one drawback: there were none to be had in Japan (unless I wanted to pay more than USD1,000 on Amazon for a grey-market import).

Enter Chain Reaction Cycles. They had a price that didn’t represent any jack-up over the exchange rate and shipping cost, and they have experience with the Japan market. So I placed my order and received confirmation of a 10-15 day delivery.

I wasn’t holding my breath or counting days, and so I was mildly surprised when Nana contacted me at the office on day to say I’d received a note from the customs bureau. “You owe some duty,” she said. When I got home and read the notification (at least the part that was in English) it said there was some information missing on the shipment. It didn’t say what information was missing, but noted that they’d send it back if they hadn’t heard from me within 30 days.

So I asked Nana if she could call the bureau for me and get the information while I was at the office the next day. She called them at 10 a.m. and soon contacted me: There was no invoice or receipt in the shipment. I needed to print out my receipt from Chain Reaction and fax it to the customs bureau. It took a couple of tries, but before long Nana messaged to me say they’d got the fax and everything was in order.

Evoc in the genkan
Evoc in the genkan

The bag arrived yesterday, again while I was at the office. Nana was on the phone with a headhunter when it arrived, and she had to pay the 10% import duty. (Apparently the customs officer hadn’t informed her on the phone what the duty would be. And yes, I paid her back.)

When we got home from dinner, there it was in the genkan. It’s big, even in its collapsed state. I unboxed it and we disposed of the box and wrapping. Too soon — I woke up this morning and realized we’d want to keep the bag on the balcony when I’m not using it, and we’d thrown away the vinyl bag it came packed in. But that’s not a big deal. I ordered a vinyl tarp from Amazon today for just over a dollar, and it will arrive on Sunday.

How is it? It takes some setting up, and I haven’t yet tried to fit Kuroko. I’ll need to practice a few times before the big event. Meanwhile, I’m glad to note that the manufacturer’s site shows it with some nice fat MTB tires, so there should be no problem with Kuroko’s 650B’s.

The bag when it's rolled for storage
The bag when it’s rolled for storage

Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro
Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro

Otarumi Touge

Otarumi Touge road marker

Otarumi Touge (Pass) is a popular cyclists’ destination near Mt. Takao at the border of Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture. Naturally, because it’s a mountain pass, getting there involves a bit of climbing. The Halfakid and I had attempted the route last November, but we lost an hour to a mechanical and I was on a tight deadline (dinner with friends that evening), so we turned back after reaching the foot of Mt. Takao.

This time, with the Kid on a new bike and me with no deadline (and fully charged lights), I was more confident of our ability to finish — particularly if the Halfakid didn’t flat along the route!

I set out at 7:30 to take full advantage of the daylight, and met the Kid at his place at 8. From there’s it’s a bit of a run in traffic down to the Tama River, but it’s largely downhill. It wasn’t long before we were cruising up the Tama cycling path. We passed a group of three in matching jerseys for a Setagaya cycling club, and before we knew it we were acting as their pacesetters — at least until the Halfakid took a wrong turning and I slowed my pace to wait for him to catch up again.

Brief rest before crossing
Brief rest before crossing

Just before crossing over the Tama River to continue our ride towards Mt. Takao, we stopped at a quiet park and had one of Nana’s famous onigiri.

Once over the bridge, we joined up the Asa River cycling course and were on the lookout for the wrong turning we’d made on our first outing in November. I nearly went the wrong way once again, but the Halfakid reeled me in and we were soon on our way.

As we’d only come this way once before, we were still learning the ins and outs of the Asa River course. Is it better to take that cycling path although it’s gravel, or stay on this narrow road against the traffic with broken pavement? Should we cross this bridge in the road or on the sidewalk? There were a couple of times I had to apologize to the Kid for sudden maneuvers made without hand signals.

The final stretch of cycling path into Takao is bumpy, broken and full of pedestrians out for a weekend stroll in the beautiful weather. We chanced across a local fire department staging a bonfire surmounted by a daruma — that place was lit! Not long after that we were climbing up from the path and back into traffic. But it’s not far from the end of the path into Takao proper.

Nana's famous onigiri
Nana’s famous onigiri

Once in Takao, we stopped at a convenience store we’d found in November that has picnic benches and parking for bicycles. We bought hot coffee and bottled water, and enjoyed some of Nana’s famous onigiri before our assault on the mountain. This time for the first time, she’d made onigiri with umeboshi, which is a favorite of the Kid.

Onwards! I had my Garmin plotting the course (which was basically: follow the road), but it doesn’t show how much further to go. From this point we were climbing for 6km up to the pass. The overall grade is not steep — a 5% average — but it just keeps going up, up and up! Strava lists the climb as a Category 3, with two segments: 7.62km at 3%, or just the last 3.61km at 5%. I was sure I could do it — it’s much more gradual than the run-up to the pass between Nara and Osaka — but perhaps not all at one gulp. I made it about halfway up before taking my first break and another half kilometer or more before the next break. After each stop, though, I mounted the bike and continued pedaling.

Upwards! The road didn’t exactly switch back, but it wended its way next to a small stream upwards to the pass, first in the chilly shadow of the mountain, then in the bright warm sunshine. We watched enviously as cyclists descended in the opposite direction, or occasionally passed us on the way up towards the pass. I should point out here that the Halfakid was going strong. Despite his much higher gearing, he could have stormed past me to the top at any point without having to stop for a break.

I took my final brief break at a narrow shoulder that would turn out to be within 50m of the goal. If only I’d continued around that last corner I’d have seen it was the end! But no matter — we made it. As we flashed under the sign marking the pass, I asked the Halfakid if it said what I thought. He replied that he wasn’t familiar with the kanji, but it said “mountain up-down.” (峠) “That will be touge: pass,” I replied, making a climbing and then descending motion with my hand.

Otarumi Touge: Tokyo side
Otarumi Touge: Tokyo side

Otarumi Touge: Kanagawa side
Otarumi Touge: Kanagawa side

Naturally, we rested at the top. There was a ramen restaurant with soft cream, but neither of us was hungry enough for a full meal at that point. We had water and more hot coffee, and I had a Snickers bar. We wandered around a bit and took photos.

View from Otarumi Touge, towards Kanagawa
View from Otarumi Touge, towards Kanagawa

We couldn’t dawdle too long, though. We knew that we’d only come half way, and needed to get back home again. We mounted up. Somehow, the trip from the pass back to Takao went much faster, and the only break I took was when I’d left the Halfakid so far behind that I couldn’t see him anymore. (This turned out to be the last time that this was true on this particular ride.) When we got back to Takaosanguchi, we stopped for a quick photo at the entrance to the cable car up the mountain.

Cable car entrance at Takaosan Guchi
Cable car entrance at Takaosanguchi

We stopped at the same convenience store again and stocked up on food, and then worked our way through the traffic back to the Asa River cycling course.

Naturally, on the way home, we were a bit more knackered. And yet when we came to straight, smooth cycling path, the Halfakid rocketed past me and on ahead. Now that he has his new bike, he has reserves beyond what I’m able to match. I didn’t try to hold him back: it’s good if he can stretch his thighs and calves knowing that I’ll catch up with him when he stops for a break at a turning point.

Last stop in a park
Last stop in a park

We crossed the Tama River in the homeward direction and stopped to eat all the goodies we’d bought at the convenience store in Takao. Then we rejoined the Tama cycling path: flat and straight as an arrow back towards home. It wasn’t too long before we came to the park we’d first stopped at in the morning, on our way to the Tama River.

From there we were retracing our path of the morning, except what was downhill then was uphill for us. Again, I think the Halfakid was holding a lot in reserve, but I was doing my best with my worn-out thighs. My only hope of staying ahead was via trickery, which I apparently employed via lack of hand signals as I sped through a right turn intersection on a yellow and left the Halfakid waiting for another cycle of the lights.

All good things must come to an end, including 100km-plus rides featuring a mountain pass at the midway point. I left the Halfakid at his apartment and messaged Nana I was on my way home. I was racing the Garmin’s battery, which was over the 8-hour mark at this point, while at the same time nursing my exhausted thighs. I alternated between coasting along, taking things easy, and thinking, “Hey, I got this!” and pushing the pedals to the metal.

Otarumi Touge round trip
Otarumi Touge round trip

(I’m not sure why the mountain profile isn’t symmetrical — we came back the same way we went up!)

We’ll definitely come back here. There’s a loop course which, instead of turning around at the pass, continues on into Kanagawa Prefecture and turns south before looping back towards the same bridge which takes us over the Tama River. It adds about 20km to the overall route, so we’ll save it for a bright, hot day a bit later in the year when the sun is hanging in the sky a couple of more hours.

Back home
Back home

Solo snow cycling

A bike, a tree, a grey sky

I was watching the forecast closely this weekend. At first we were expecting rain and possibly snow on Sunday, but gradually the forecast evolved towards rain Saturday night. That could mean icy roads Sunday morning, so I decided to ride today despite the cold and gloomy skies.

I’d only gotten as far as the Halfakid’s apartment, or 8km, when the sleet started. Tiny shards of ice stinging my face. I knew the temperature was above zero — more like 4C at this point — but I remembered Nana’s injunction to ride carefully, and I watched the road conditions closely.

(The Halfakid has other plans this weekend, but the route to Tama River still takes me past his apartment.)

The sleet only lasted a couple of kilometers, and I thought that wouldn’t be too bad. Then when I got down on the Tama River path, it started snowing. It was coming down pretty heavily at one point and the paths were getting wet and my tires were throwing up muddy sprays, but there was no indication things would get icy.

It made me laugh (well, not, you know … out loud or anything) because just this morning Nana had been bragging about how accurate the weather forecasts are in Japan compared to what we’d experienced in Ohio. (She was right, though: the forecasts in Ohio had been very unreliable.) Anyway, just as I had to overcome the notion it would be cold to get on my bike this morning, I overcame the urge to immediately turn around and head for home when faced with a little precipitation.

Record splits
Record splits

It turned out to be a good decision. The snow didn’t last long and the paths began to dry. I was benefiting from a tailwind and posted a couple of back-to-back 5km times which might be a personal best (at least since I started recording a year ago).

Given the excellent progress I was making, I reached Haneda Peace Shrine in just an hour and a half, and found it festooned with New Year’s decorations.

Haneda Peace Torii
Haneda Peace Torii

After taking the celebratory photo, I sat down on a rock to wolf down four of Nana’s famous onigiri. Mindful of the time (and supposing — correctly — I’d have a headwind on the way home), I didn’t linger but soon let Nana know I was mounting up for the ride home.

And was the return trip uneventful? Only if you discount the full-on rain. I’m glad to report that — as with the earlier precipitation — it didn’t last long. As I’d expected, I was riding into the wind now and I could see I’d shed about 6km/h off the top end. But I was mindful of another goal as I continued to push myself homewards: Could I beat 4 hours total elapsed time?

My 5km splits all remained well below 15 minutes. I was lucky crossing the Tamagawa-bashi that for once there was very little pedestrian traffic to hold me back. I got over the bridge and then up the subsequent half-kilometer climb to my final rest stop of the day and clocked my slowest split at 15:01. I gulped some water, checked the time and let Nana know I’d probably be home about 2:30.

Onwards! No surprises now. The weather was holding, there were only a couple of construction spots to clear, and the traffic wasn’t bad. (With the three-day weekend, a lot of people had probably gotten out of Tokyo.) I reminded myself on a couple of occasions that if I wanted to make record time getting home, I had to first get home …

At a traffic light I noticed a truck hauling beverages and the gate was unhooked on the left side. I pulled up beside the cab, waved to get the driver’s attention and then let him know what I’d seen. (He thanked me but he didn’t seem too bothered by the fact.) I was just 3km from home at this point and had a good feeling I was going to beat 4 hours.

The last turn brings me to a sweeping downhill by Shinjuku Central Park. There’s a T intersection partway down and I can usually get through it even if the light is red (while checking for pedestrians and traffic, of course). This time, no luck: a big truck was parked against the curb and a bus was pulled up right beside it. I decided to wait out the light rather try to hop up on the sidewalk and contend with pedestrians.

At last the light changed and then it was the final sprint to home. Saved my ride on the Garmin and walked Kuroko into the parking lot. Messaged Nana I was home. Got all my gear from the bike, stopped to check the mail. Finally got in the door and emptied my pockets. Plugged the Garmin into my computer. Total elapsed time: 3 hours 44 minutes. Pretty sure that’s a personal best on this route.

Personal best on Haneda round trip
Personal best on Haneda round trip

The Raleigh Superbe

This would have been very similar to the matched pair of bicycles my father bought for himself and my mother back in the late 1960s:

Raleigh Superbe
Raleigh Superbe, from raleighbikedealer.com

It’s all quite familiar: the green-and-white two-tone paint, Brooks leather saddle, color-matched rear rack, ineffectual silver pump, dynamo hub and rear Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub.

One extra not shown here would be the chrome bulb horn:

Bulb Horn
Bulb Horn (via Amazon)

In my preteens, for want of anything else, I rode my mother’s bike into the ground. I remember that the saddle in particular had given up any pretense at stiffness and just sagged like a wet towel on its frame.

A couple of years later I’d acquired what we called then a “banana bike,” something similar to but not quite as nice as this:

Schwinn Stingray Bike
Schwinn Stingray Bike

… which again had the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub, which in this case never worked properly and is the reason I continue to view Rohloff Speedhubs

with great suspicion.

(And it was another couple of years before I bought my first “proper” bike. I don’t remember now if it was a Raleigh or something else, but it had more in common with the bikes my friends and I ride today than with these chari … )

初走り: First Ride of the New Year

Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, Meiji Jingu Gaien

The first ride of the New Year is always something of a landmark event. In the past I’ve typically done my quick jaunt down the Tama river to Haneda, because I can have it done in four or five hours and so not be out in the cold so long. So that’s been something of a tradition.

This year, the Halfakid was eager to try out his new bike, and I was also thinking that to mark the New Year a visit to the Tokyo Landmarks might be appropriate. So we arranged to set off at 9 this morning. The forecast was for a not-unreasonable 8C and sunny, with a bit of wind, so I thought we’d have time to stop and photograph some of the landmarks along the way, a few of the sights we usually pass on the trot.

Akasaka Palace: State Guest House
Akasaka Palace: State Guest House

Akasaka Palace is one such place. It’s a fairly brisk climb up from Gaien and then there it is, all by itself, set far back from the street behind a wrought-iron gate. We stopped at the sidewalk in front of the gate and leaned our bikes against the wall. As I was preparing to take the photo, though, a guard informed me that we were not permitted to lean out bikes against the wall. Sure, dude. I asked the Kid to hold my bike and his while I grabbed the shot.

From there it’s a very fast downhill to Akasaka Mitsuke, followed by a steep climb up towards the Imperial Palace and Nagatacho. For once, we hit the light at the bottom of the hill green and so had a good head start on the climb that followed. We took this as an auspicious sign.

Kokkai: the National Diet
Kokkai: the National Diet

Next comes another attraction I usually speed by: the National Diet Building. The traffic around the entrance is usually fast and thick, and the edifice marks the beginning of the short, steep climbs of Nagatacho. We were curious to see how the Halfakid would handle the climbs on his new bike, as the gearing is much steeper than he’d become used to on Ol’ Paint. As it happens, though, the bike’s performance more than made up for this and he had no difficulty keeping pace with me through the climbs.

We stopped not much further on for a water break, and then again when we reached Hibiya Park to eat some of Nana’s famous onigiri and have something warm to drink. I had resolved to save one of the rice balls for later in the ride, but the mentaiko was too delicious and we finished them all on the spot.

Imperial Palace under cloudy skies
Imperial Palace under cloudy skies

By the time we’d finished eating, the sky had completely clouded over. We proceeded to the Imperial Palace under completely cloudy skies, and with the wind starting to pick up a bit. After stopping for a quick photo, we set our sights through the financial district to Toyosu and Tokyo Big Site, where we planned to stop for lunch.

The forecast was sunny

The gloom continued to gather as we raced eastwards towards the Sumida river. We were making good time, but we’d put away our sunglasses and were bracing for wind and possible cold weather.

Rainbow Bridge: Who turned off the sun?
Rainbow Bridge: Who turned off the sun?

Sumida river near Toyosu
Sumida river near Toyosu

We continued onwards to Tokyo Big Sight, where we locked up the bikes and took a break to enjoy hamburgers, fried chicken and fried potatoes. The fast food shop where we stopped had implemented self-service registers, and I’m glad to report I’m not the only one who took more than one try to complete the transaction. Fortunately the staffer waiting on me was very polite and patient.

Tomioka Hachimangu
Tomioka Hachimangu

After lunch our next destination was Tomioka Hachimangu. This is another landmark I typically pass on the fly, but I decided to stop today for a brief visit and photo. The shrine is famed as the birthplace of sumo. I decided that I would visit again soon, when I had time to devote to seeing all that was to be seen here.

Tokyo Skytree from Sumida River
Tokyo Skytree from Sumida River

From Tomioka we turned north and fought the traffic lights until we met up with the Sumida river again, and then Tokyo Skytree. At this point I was starting to wonder if we’d used up most of our spare time for photo taking, but we always stop for one of Skytree.

Our next stop was the famous Sensoji at Asakusa. Again, this is one I usually pass by, but I was aware it was just a few paces off the course. This time we flew past and I hastily signaled a turn and then climbed up on the sidewalk and reversed course. As I did so I heard the Halfakid calling for me. I stopped to see what he wanted. “I think I have a flat.”

Sensoji
Sensoji

We dismounted and confirmed the tire was flat. The Halfakid wanted to find someplace less crowded than Sensoji, so he looked up a nearby park on his phone. There I coached him through the process of removing the holed inner tube, inspecting the tire for foreign objects (none found) and inserting the new inner tube: real father-son bonding stuff. The whole process took us about half an hour, or around 45 minutes when combined with washing hands, eating Snickers bars and having a warm drink from the vending machine.

Puncture: fixed
Puncture: fixed

With that delay, we were really racing the encroaching clouds and setting sun. We passed by Ueno Park, Tokyo University and Tokyo Dome without stopping. Our last rest stop was one I never miss: Budokan and Chidorigafuchi (plus it’s at the top of a climb so I need to catch my breath). This is old stomping grounds for the Halfakid, who has actually competed in karate tournaments at Budokan.

Tayasu-mon Gate at Budokan
Tayasu-mon Gate at Budokan

Chidorigafuchi, looking cold and uninviting
Chidorigafuchi, looking cold and uninviting

From here it’s just a couple of hills and then flat all the way back to Shinjuku and home. We’d determined to stop at the bike shop there, to see if they would replace the flat inner tube under warranty. The Halfakid had purchased several additional warranties on the bike, and I recalled that one covered up to three flats per year. I handed him my point card and waited outside with Kuroko while he took his bike down the stairs into the shop to negotiate.

I didn’t have to wait long: he returned in less than 10 minutes. The verdict? The warranty covers the labor cost of fixing a flat, not the cost of the flat inner tube. We joked for a moment about being reimbursed for his labor, and then we turned towards home. At this point we were really fighting the winds, but they didn’t stop the Halfakid racing ahead of me when the traffic was clear to stretch his legs. Now that he has a smooth, lightweight ride, he’s going to need to get out without his father to see what he’s capable of.

It was just 4 p.m. when we got back to my tower condo, and the Halfakid took a moment to switch on his headlight before continuing on the remaining 8km to his apartment. By the time he reached home, I was relaxing in the tub with a beer.

New Year's Ride
New Year’s Ride

The Garmin’s battery died just before we reached Budokan. It’s just over 7km from there to home, so call it an even 60km for me, 76km for the Halfakid.

初走り: First Ride of the New Year