Another quick run to Hamura

Kuroko at the Hamura Intake Weir

The day dawned cool and partly cloudy. Checking the forecast, with a projected high of 19C, I was almost ready to set off wearing shorts and a long-sleeved T under a wind breaker. But Kuroko was on the balcony following a gear adjustment yesterday, and when I went out to stuff things into the saddle pack I was struck by a blast of cold wind. So I quickly modified my plans and dug out my winter riding tights and thermal undershirt.

The Halfakid and I had planned to meet at 8 a.m. to get in a quick 100km today. But we’d been out last night with our respective main squeezes, and so needed a bit more time to get rolling this morning. I was finally ready, with fresh onigiri courtesy of Nana, just before 8:30, and rolled up to the Halfakid’s flat at precisely 9 a.m.

Mechanicals — none of them mine

The Halfakid had lost a bar end plug previously, and I’d bought him a replacement set. He wanted to take care of those this morning, as well as replacing his bell with one that I’d given up on — I kept breaking it, but he’d managed to resurrect it. So we spent about 20 minutes putting those bits in their places.

The Halfakid had also lost a cleat screw on our previous ride to Miura Kaigan. I’d forgotten about this and failed to bring the spare I have at home. So instead we decided to stop at a bike shop along the course.

I wanted to get in 100km today but I had a deadline: Nana and I were meeting an overseas guest at 5:30 to go to dinner. So to make a quick and easy 100km, I had to cycle up the Tamagawa from Futako to the end of the course at Hamura. This is usually no big deal, but today we were battling a headwind, and I knew that we were bound to encounter some of the detours around damage resulting from Typhoon No. 19, the same as I had discovered on my ride last month.

Fujisan in the distance
Fujisan in the distance

Once on the trail, and battling a fairly stiff headwind, I managed to keep a steady 21-22km/h pace. The Halfakid, riding close behind my rear wheel, said he wasn’t feeling any headwind. I was tempted to tell him to get in front and pull. But after our first rest stop, when we got back on the cycling course, he took off ahead and was soon out of sight. I concentrated on keeping my pace steady, and even stopped en route to take a quick snap of Fujisan off in the distance.

Midway between the first and second rest stops, I was greeted by a bizarre procession coming in the opposite direction: a man on a bicycle, with two children out front in seats on a kind of platform hanging off the frame in front of the front wheel. As he passed I saw two more children in a trailer on the back. And with this load he was climbing out of the switchback! He was followed by a woman (presumably the children’s mother) on a more conventional bike, laden front and rear with full panniers.

Finally I caught up with the Halfakid where he was waiting for me just 1km or so before the bike shop where we’d agreed to stop for the replacement cleats. We got there 10 minutes before opening time and so took advantage of a couple of Nana’s onigiri while we waited. Once the shop opened we quickly found the needed bits and were on the road again to our usual rest stop, where the Halfakid swapped in the new cleats and made sure they were good and tight.

Back on the course, we soon came to more detours around typhoon damage. At a lengthy detour where we were forced to leave the path and head into traffic, I managed to carve out a clearer route this time than I had a month ago, passing a familiar shrine along the way as a landmark. With just 10km to go until our turnaround point, I was eyeing the average speed as reported by the GPS: a hair over 21km/h.

The course took us into a park with just 3km yet to go, and there was a large event going on. Suddenly we were dodging children and careless adults strolling along the path. We had to proceed with some caution, and we both made good use of our bike bells.

I kept the steady pace going up to the end, with the Halfakid content to sit in my slipstream. We rolled into Hamura and broke out the remaining onigiri for lunch.

Selfie with statue of the Tamagawa Brothers
Tamagawa Bros

After lunch we headed home with the breeze to our backs. While the tailwind did not provide a completely unmixed benefit, with occasional stiff gusts blowing us sideways across the path, it did grant an overall boost that we deigned to accept. Our 5km splits dropped from nearly 15 minutes on the outbound leg to less than 11 minutes, or nearly 30km/h.

I pressed the advantage the wind was giving us, urging the average speed on the GPS up from 21km/h to 22. Of course at this point we already had 65km under our belt, so even multiple successive kilometers at 30km/h translated to barely a nudge on the gauge. With the Halfakid hard on my rear wheel the entire way, I managed to coax the GPS up to 22.4km/h by the time we returned to Futako.

A 50m climb will affect your average speed more than 30km of good, straight and level pavement with a tailwind.

At this point it was a matter of hanging on to gains we’d made. Crossing the Futako bridge, dodging pedestrians and cyclists in the opposite direction, always takes a toll. Then it’s city traffic and signals until we reach the climb out of the river valley. With the effort I’d put into racing downwind along the river, I was content now to drop to my lowest gear and wend my way slowly up the hill. When I reached the park at the top, the GPS read 22.1.

After a brief rest I filled one water bottle halfway and we set out across the city. I try not to keep one eye on the meter as I ride through traffic, but I could tell it was going to be a challenge to keep up my average through the congestion and lights. When I dropped off the Halfakid at his home I was squarely on 22.0km/h. There’s a long, flat stretch immediately after that, but I knew it was followed by a brief climb, a succession of lights, and then a pedestrian-choked shopping road with a train crossing in the middle. Even as I pushed my weary legs to do more, I had to temper my speed to the conditions.

I came out the narrow back streets onto a large boulevard with 21.9km/h on the clock. Timing the lights, I pressed my speed up towards 30km/h again. There’s a downhill next where I can really get some speed up if I time the lights carefully.

When I pulled into the home stretch, with 3km to go, I’d been seeing the meter flicker between 21.9 and 22.0km/h. I knew that a busy intersection could pull me back down across the mark, as could being caught behind a bus. As I pulled up to the Yamate Avenue crossing, I watched the meter dip down to 21.9. I was determined to make the most of the remaining straight run towards Central Park, and then the long descent to home. And then — the light in the middle of the descent turned red. I had no choice but to stop and wait it out.

Finally the light changed and I raced ahead of the traffic. There are delivery vans pulled away from the curb here, cross intersections, and faster traffic coming past my opposite shoulder, so I had to pay attention to the traffic and not the GPS. But when I pulled up at the light at the bottom of the descent, the clock said 22.0km/h. I hit the save button and wheeled Kuroko toward the basement parking.

GPS record of Hamura Round Trip
Hamura Round Trip

Compared to the same ride a month ago, I’d finished more than 13 minutes quicker. The total elapsed time, though, was half an hour longer, owing in part to about 40 minutes spent taking care of the Halfakid’s mechanicals. As for Kuroko, there was no hint of trouble this time around. Shifting in particular was a dream (following my maintenance on Saturday), often happening in total silence or with a single, satisfying tick as the chain flicked from one sprocket to another.

Shimanami Kaido gets National Cycle Route status

サイクリングしまなみ2020
Cycling Shimanami 2020

Shimanami Kaido, the island-hopping cycle route from Onomichi in Hiroshima to Imabari in Ehime, has been named a National Cycle Route.

Pictogram map of the Cycling Road
Pictogram map of the Cycling Road

The Halfakid and I cycled the route in April 2018. We got lucky with the weather and hit peak cherry blossom season. The course was not challenging, with well-marked roads and gentle climbs to the bridges along the route. It will probably have been the last time I’ll ever drop the Halfakid on a climb, too. Our nemesis proved to be the unforgiving saddles on the rental bikes, though.

Omishima Bridge
Omishima Bridge

Cycling Shimanami 2020 is a group event that will be held Oct. 25. I’m not sure I’ll join, although the Halfakid would like to do the ride again (on our own bikes this time) and Tomo would like to join. Ideally we’d like to do the ride as a two-day event, there and back with an overnight onsen stay. The group event is a single day, and although the 140km round trip is one of the course choices, that might be a bit over the top. On the other hand, I’d love to have those sensu in the photo at top.

National Cycle Route
National Cycle Route

Shimanami Kaido cycling road is the third national cycle route — the others are Tsukuba-Kasumigaura ring-ring road and Biwaichi. Tsukuba-Kasumigaura looks like it would be a fun two-day ride. Alternatively, as the start is about 80km from here, it could be a three- or four-day ride setting out from home. Fearless Leader Joe, Sanborn and I did Biwaichi — circumnavigating Lake Biwa near Kyoto — five years ago. It’s another ride I’d love to do again, although getting the bike there and back is always a challenge.

Shore of Lake Biwa at sunset
Lake Biwa at sunset

Speedy Haneda ride

I’ve had a stuffy nose and raw throat the past few days, so I spent a couple of hours this morning debating whether I really wanted to ride today. In the end, the beautiful weather convinced me. It was still about 12 degrees while I was preparing to ride, but the temperature was warming and I took my jacket off before I even reached the river.

Biker and pedestrians on the cycling course under a tree
Beautiful day for it

I was fighting a crosswind on the way down the river, but I put my hands on the drops and pedaled on. I picked up a follower for the final 8km or so, but when I reached my destination he had disappeared.

Bicycle under a tree with helmet on a rock
Lunch spot in the shade

I reached Haneda just before noon, meaning I’d spent less than two hours getting there. I sat down to a meal of Nana’s world-famous onigiri and wondered if I’d be able to maintain the same pace on the return trip. Having started out at a leisurely pace, thinking that I might have a cold, I was now contemplating a sub-4 hour ride.

For the return upriver, the wind was a bit more on my side. The GPS was showing that I was averaging more than 22km/h, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep that up all the way home.

By the time I reached Futagobashi, the bridge across the Tamagawa river at Futako, I’d racked up 48km at an average of 22.6km/h. But crossing the bridge means dodging pedestrians, and the lane gets very narrow and tricky at the far end. Following that there’s a good climb up out of the river valley. When I reached the park at the top of the climb, I’d gone 50km and my average had dropped to 22.2km/h. The challenge then was to maintain that in the remaining 12km of urban riding to get home.

Inspired by the goal I’d set myself, I pushed harder whenever I had the chance, and begrudged the stretches of road where I had to be wary of cross traffic. I probably glanced at my GPS just a bit more than I should have been doing. And when I got caught behind a bus on the final stretch before home, I impatiently looked for an opportunity to pass it.

That chance finally came, and I flew down the last hill towards home. At the bottom of the hill I stopped the clock, and there it was: 22.2km/h.

By keeping up the pace, in the end I’d done 62km in 2 hours 48 minutes of riding. Furthermore, my total elapsed time was well under 4 hours at 3 hours 50 minutes. When I’d left home at 10 this morning I told Nana I’d be back between 2 and 3 p.m. She said, “Probably closer to 3, right?” I agreed. But in fact I was home just a whisker before 2.

GPS record of Haneda round trip ride
Haneda Round Trip in less than 3 hours

Miura Kaigan

Three cyclists wave before departing

This year instead of reprising our Okutama two-day adventure, we decided to try Miura Kaigan, past Yokohama and Yokosuka, near the tip of the Miura Peninsula.

The route was mostly flat, with some climbs (and lots of tunnels) in the final 10km. More importantly, though, it was almost all urban riding. The final 10, hilly, kilometers were more rural, but still not very scenic. It was just climb up to the tunnel, descend, climb up to the next tunnel. Tomo was taking her time on the climbs, but she was getting to the top every time, not having to resort to getting off and pushing.

When we finally arrived at our destination, there was a steep descent off the prefectural highway on a concrete road pock-marked with anti-skid features. We were all thinking the same thing: Tomorrow we have to climb back up this!

The hotel offered a nice view of the sunset over the sea, but I didn’t take any photos. After 80km of riding, we just wanted the bath and then dinner. After dinner we watched the latter half of the Rugby World Cup finals in our room.

Mechanicals

I had met the Halfakid in the morning and then we proceeded to the Tamagawa cycling course. The toll from Typhoon #19 was evident here as we passed great mounds of mud and dead vegetation that had been cleared from the playing fields along the river banks. The cycling course itself was covered with mud and dirt in places, and in a couple of places the switchbacks leading under bridges were blocked off and we had to route around them.

At our first rest stop, the Halfakid noticed he was missing a screw from one of his cleats. I have spares — in my flat. As we didn’t have any way of dealing with things on the spot, we just shrugged and continued on. The Halfakid was able to clip in, and we didn’t give it much more thought.

When we left the cycling course at Rokugodote to meet Tomo, though, the Halfakid wasn’t able to free his shoe from the cleat. He ended up unlacing the shoe so he could pull his foot out! Tomo pointed out a cycle shop not far from where we’d met, back in the direction she’d come from, and we made our way there.

The shop doesn’t handle cleats and they didn’t have a spare screw to match, but they were able to free the shoe from the clip. So the Halfakid just asked them to remove the cleat from the shoe, and he stuck that in his pocket and rode the rest of the way with only one cleat.

That was our only issue until the final 10km of the day, where I found that my front derailleur wasn’t behaving again. As we were mostly climbing at this point, and just coasting on the descents, I didn’t worry about it. In the morning I spent a few minutes adjusting the cable tension and all was right once more.

Day 2

Our return trip indeed started off with the go up the steep, pockmarked street leading to the prefectural highway. Tomo had announced her intention from the start to simply push up this climb, while the Halfakid and I were determined to give it a go. It turns out to be a rise of 19m over a run of just 250m, for an average of less than 8%. It certainly seemed steeper than that! The Halfakid — with the steepest gears among the three of us — made it straight to the top, while I made it over the steeper portion and then had to take a rest with just a couple of dozen meters to go. I rested until Tomo (pushing her bike) had nearly reached me, and then pressed on to the top.

Once at the top, the Halfakid realized he hadn’t turned on his Garmin before starting, and so his effort up this climb hadn’t been recorded. And with that, he turned on the Garmin, descended back to the bottom, and climbed it again!

Three cyclists wave before departing
Preparing to depart

After that, we were on our way. As luck would have it, the climbs up to the tunnels were more gentle on the way home than they had been the first day. As we also knew our way around by this point, and weren’t led off on wild goose chases by the route I’d programmed into the GPS, the ride home was smoother sailing. We felt we were making better time, but at the same time we were racing the threat of rain, which was coming up on us fast.

We got to Yokohama without incident and stopped to rest and snack in the same park where we’d had lunch the day before. On our way from the park through Yokohama’s Minato Mirai, I realized I hadn’t been taking any pictures this trip and so I fired off a couple of snaps as we were waiting at a traffic light.

Yokohama Landmark Tower
Landmark Tower

It’s a straight and very level ride from Yokohama back to Tokyo and we made very good time apart from the traffic lights. We had a brief break at Rokugodote and said goodbye to Tomo. From there we were back on the Tamagawa cycling course, and the Halfakid rocketed ahead in the race against the rain. I caught up with him half an hour later where he was waiting at the end of Futagobashi bridge, and we crossed together and climbed up out of the Tamagawa valley. We had our last rest at the top of the climb.

The ride home after that was uneventful. We all made it home before the rain. Although our average speed on the return trip was slightly lower than on Day 1, our overall elapsed time was half an hour less as we spent less time faffing about Yokohama lost, while the GPS was telling us one direction and our common sense was telling us another. (In the end, our common sense proved to be correct. This time.)

All in all, we had a fun ride that everyone enjoyed. At the same time, everyone said they’d prefer to go back to Okutama next year.

GPS routes to and from Miura Kaigan
Miura Kaigan