400!

Bicycle leaning against tree in park

With today’s commute, I’ve brought my monthly total up to 408km — above 400km for the first time since May.

Bar chart of distance cycled per month
Highest point since May

High temperatures and rainy weather cut into my riding in the intervening months, which is not surprising in light of Japan’s climate and typhoon activity. What’s interesting about my breaking through the 400km mark this month is that the lion’s share of the riding was from commuting. I cycled to and from work no less than 10 times this month (out of 22 working days), for 259.52km or 63.5% of the total.

Also of note: I didn’t achieve a fondo (metric century) this month, which makes the 400km total all the more surprising.

In fact, the only rides I did which were not commutes were both on the same weekend: a ride down the Arakawa on Sept. 11 and then the opposite direction, up the Arakawa to Kawagoe, on Sept. 12.

The upshot is I’ve spent far more time on Dionysus this month than Kuroko.

Calendar of bicycle ride records
No rides before the 7th

We’d planned to ride to Nanasawa Onsen on Sept. 18-19, but a typhoon put paid to that. (We ended up going by car.) And Sept. 25-26 was another road trip, this time to Tateshina in Nagano.

(The forecast for tomorrow is for rain, so I already know I won’t be improving on this month’s statistics.)

Summary of monthly riding statistics
No idea when all that climbing happened

So what’s the big deal?

It’s true that 400km is a rather arbitrary number. But Strava offers a badge at 400km/month, and I register for it each month even if I don’t think I’m going to get there (as in July and August).

Strava 400km badge
400km badge

I’ll just note in this context that 400km is about three days’ riding for Fearless Leader Joe … (We actually did 400km in days 2-4 of Lejog, and north of 370km/3 days in days 4-7.)

Strava used to have an 800km badge, but I haven’t seen it recently. The next level up now is 1,200km.

The things I’ve seen, son

I could tell you stories

A partial list of things I’ve seen and encountered during my now-regular commuting routine:

  • A scooter rider who must have been told he resembled John Banner, because he wore a German military-style helmet (and did indeed look quite a bit like Sergeant Schultz as a result)
  • じゃんじゃんおじさん (Jingle-Jangle Uncle), a middle-aged man in bright, clownish apparel (including a sign with this appellation) and sporting signboards spelling out the evils of littering, who was picking up empty cans and other litter
  • Rain on a day with a forecast of 0% probability of precipitation
  • An Uber Eats rider rounding an intersection corner into the bike lane, without pausing to check if someone else was already in the bike lane
    (To be fair, a lot of Japanese cyclists do this — but I expect a bit better of those who cycle for a living)
  • More than a few drivers of German sports cars who sidle up to the curb at stop lights, preventing cyclists from advancing in the cycling lane
  • A line of traffic more than a kilometer long at a location where I’m used to encountering three or four vehicles waiting at the light
  • A monster-tired bike with an outsized gold rear hub which turned out to be an electric motor — something to keep in mind for the day my legs give out (although I doubt those tires will fit in the bicycle parking racks at home)
  • No end of boorish behavior by motorists

The rattle of ice cubes in the bidon doth not a mechanical make

Perpetual reminder to self

Where to next?

October is typically a sweet spot for cycling, so long as the typhoons hold off. Sunday is looking nice so I’m planning to dust off Kuroko then. I have a long weekend at the end of the month that I usually use for rides — such as Okutama or Miura Kaigan — but this year we’ve got yet another road trip planned.

Gnat knock-out

Selfie of cyclist in front of Toki no Kane bell tower in Kawagoe

I’d planned a longer ride today, but woke up to fog. And Nana, maker of the onigiri, was dead to the world. So I changed my plans and spent a leisurely morning getting ready for the ride.

The road was wet from the overnight rain when I set out, and I picked up a lot of grit on my way up Yamate Dori to the river. By the time I got to the Arakawa, though, the pavement was largely dry.

There were still a few puddles on the Arakawa cycling course, but not as bad as yesterday. I splashed right through whatever came my way, and didn’t see the dilettante on his beautiful Anchor.

I’d put the GPS on navigation, although I knew the way, just so I wouldn’t be checking the stats every 30 seconds. I settled into a comfortable pace, not willing to use up all my energy early in the ride.

And then I cruised through a cloud of gnats. This was an occurrence I was destined to repeat several times during the ride, and it took me a couple of goes to realize my UV-block mask is equally effective at allowing me to breathe without having to worry about ingesting gnats.

Bicycle in tall grass leaning against sign for Arakawa
Opposite direction

There are several stretches along the river where I come off the course into traffic, for example to get by bridges for which there’s no switchback. At one longer stretch where the course degrades into uneven gravel and I come down by a golf school, there’s been road construction every previous time I’ve come this way. Now the construction is finally finished and today I was able to plow straight on. Further on, at the final spot where I pass under a highway before rejoining the course, the bollards have been modified and made considerably less obnoxious. (This is in contrast to other locations further downstream, where the bollards have gotten more difficult to negotiate.)

Lunch first

I reached Kawagoe Sports Park about 10:50, and stopped to have a couple of onigiri before continuing. I was already ravenous. The park was full of seniors playing croquet and younger folks fooling around at soccer. I parked Kuroko under a tree, but the ground looked soft (if not outright wet), so I ate standing up.

Kawagoe was crowded, but perhaps thanks to the threatening weather, not nearly as crowded as on previous visits. I loped along the old town and only stopped for a photo of the signature Toki no Kane. Soon I was on my way back to the park for another onigiri (and the Snickers and bottled water I’d picked up at a convenience store along the way).

I’d been fooling with the rear derailleur adjusters again all morning and managed to get the shifting all mixed up. I’d sorted that out long before leaving the cycling course for Kawagoe, but the derailleur was still having issues staying on the largest cog in back (lowest gear). I only use this gear on steeper switchbacks on this course, but when I need it, I really, really need it.

After filling up I had a close look at the derailleur. Everything seemed right except for that reluctance to stay in the lowest gear. Mindful of the Stafford debacle, I used the multitool to back off the lower limit screw one turn. That proved to be the key to it all. I rode a few hundred meters in gear and proclaimed it fixed. This was borne out on my return to the cycling course, via a rather steep, half-paved footpath overgrown with weeds.

Crosswinds and rain

On the way back, the sky was still grey from horizon to horizon. Despite this I put on my shades for a bit. Even grey, a broad, sunlit sky can be bright enough to give me a headache.

I was soon fighting a crosswind. Instead of trying to power through it, I just clicked down a gear and kept spinning. I was concentrating at this stage on keeping my shoulders square and head up — the opposite of aerodynamic optimization, but the best for avoiding cramping in my neck and shoulders.

Given that I was just trying to keep comfortable for the long haul in the face of a crosswind, I was shocked to learn after the ride that I’d racked up a string of personal bests on my way back downriver. I know I’m often fighting a headwind at this point, but I didn’t realize today was the first time I wasn’t riding straight into the wind.

After climbing back up to the cycling course at the top of the levy by the golf school, I stopped to drink some water and check the distance remaining: 21km. The next stop would be the “space ship” — officially, the Asaka Water Gate.

Asaka water gate
Asaka space ship

On my way out in the morning, I saw someone stunting a control-line airplane here. How many years does that take you back? On the return trip, with rain drops splashing around, a couple of guys were loading their radio-controlled sailplanes into their vans.

Bicycle leaning against a bridge abutment
Out of the rain

The rain started just before I reached the space ship and continued until I reached Todabashi — the bridge where I leave the cycling course for the traffic of Yamate Dori to take me home.

Just like yesterday, the rain was not heavy and I was not soaked through. The pavement and my tires remained dry. I was more splashed with mud from the few puddles I’d encountered earlier than from the rain now falling from the sky. I just shrugged and pulled close the zipper on my cockpit bag, and hoped it wouldn’t get any worse.

When I reached Todabashi, I left the course and parked Kuroko under the bridge. The rain was light enough that I sat in the open, on some stairs leading to the walk under the bridge, to have the last of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. That done, I mounted up without any hesitation and headed back into traffic.

Silent running

There’s not much to report about the ride home after departing the river course. I left the rain behind me, as hoped. Traffic was heavy, as usual. I kept my head up and watched carefully for traffic. Much to my surprise, I racked up more personal bests. I really was not pushing, I promise!

Kuroko was behaving perfectly. Not a sound from the shifting, and never a missed shift. (There was a bit of front brake squealing, and I may need to replace the pads there sooner rather than later.)

It’s National “Race-Ahead-of-the-Cyclist-Just-to-Turn-Left” Day

Guy Jean

At some point I picked up a friend: an older (well, he had more grey hair) gent on a classic bike with a full mechanical groupset and rim brakes. He was behind me for several lights, and then passed me on a climb. After that I would catch up with him at each light. He was slow off the mark — would take his time clipping into the pedals and checking for traffic, and then he would zoom ahead. It was not always at the next light that I caught up to him, but given the traffic conditions, I would eventually end up waiting behind him at a light.

When we neared Nakano Sakaue, he zoomed ahead on the climb, as expected. When I neared the top, though, he was nowhere to be seen. Then I spotted him — on the sidewalk. Figuring he knew better than I did, I followed him. He did indeed know better — we passed all the cars waiting to turn left at the light, crossed at the pedestrian cross walk, and came out the other side, perhaps one light cycle ahead. I bade him a virtual farewell at the foot of the next descent as I turned towards the goal.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Gnat knock-out

As mentioned, I wasn’t pushing today. I was consciously holding power in reserve to get me through the ride. Apart from the scattered raindrops, I was fighting a crosswind both up and back down the river. I was shocked when I arrived home to find the string of personal bests, and uncounted 2nds and 3rds, lurking in wait for me on Strava.

Three in a row

GPS record of three consecutive days of bicycle riding
Three days in a row

Including the commute on Friday, that gives me three days in a row of biking. That hasn’t happened — apart from three consecutive days of commuting in June — since I was in England in June 2019. The forecast is promising for tomorrow, so let’s see how I feel when I wake up.

Bit of a damp ending

Bicycle leaning against tree in park

The forecast for today was for a small chance of rain in the morning, and then a greater chance of rain in the afternoon. I already had a commitment in the afternoon, so a morning ride was the perfect thing.

I was thinking at first that the traffic on Yamate Dori was sparse, but it all caught up with me after Nakano. It wasn’t horrible, though.

A stronger rider passed me at a crossing with the improbable name of 千早. As we waited together at a light, I thought of asking him where he was going (Arakawa, same as me, most likely), but then I thought, “Anyway, he’s at least 1,000 times faster than I am.”

It wasn’t long before I was climbing up the levee of the Arakawa. I arrived before 8:30, which is probably a record for me.

There was a marathon running on the Arakawa cycling course, but I’d arrived early enough to avoid the thick of it. I passed a group huddle of volunteers in hi-viz jackets having a pre-race confab.

The wind was with me as I sped down the river, and I set a couple of personal bests. I was making good time, averaging more than 25km/h. I was passed by a gent on a beautiful classic steel-framed Anchor in violet fading to midnight blue, with an all-silver, all-mechanical groupset. But when we encountered a few puddles along the way, he slowed to a crawl to avoid splashing his gorgeous bike, while I plowed on through. We played cat-and-mouse in this way for the rest of the course downstream on the Arakawa, and I saw him at one point trying to bunny-hop a small puddle.

Bicycle leaning against sign in front of river, with bridge in background
Where Arakawa meets Tokyo Bay

Lunch in the shade

It was just 10 a.m. when I reached the point where the river empties in Tokyo Bay, but it was time for some of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. (I’d had breakfast at 5 a.m.) Given my time constraint and the threat of rain, I wouldn’t be going on to Tokyo Disneyland, but I still crossed over the Arakawa to reach our favorite lunch spot, an isolated park with benches in the shade that are never occupied. I wolfed down a couple of mentaiko onigiri and was back on the road in less than 20 minutes.

Bicycle leaning against tree in park
A bike. And a tree.

I’d no sooner crossed back over the Arakawa then I felt a few drops of rain. “Now?” I thought. I was answered by the pinging of a raindrop off my helmet. But as I proceeded along Eitai Dori, the rain held off. I didn’t feel any more drops until I reached the Imperial Palace, and then it started to rain steadily when I reached Budokan.

Bicycle propped against bannister between trees overlooking moat
Raindrops keep fallin’ …

From the time on, it continued to rain, but it was not heavy at all. Not nearly enough for a Rule #9 invocation — I’ve suffered through more rain on a sunny day in England. The pavement was dry, and my tires were, too. I wasn’t soaked through or cold in the least. I continued on towards home, back in heavy traffic now on Shinjuku Dori. There were policemen standing on every corner at Yotsuya Yonchome (more corners than you’d think are necessary at that particular intersection), so I was careful to behave and let pedestrians go first.

Finally as I reached the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings in Nishi Shinjuku, it was well and truly raining. By which I mean a steady rain, but again, not a heavy, drenching rain. I was still far from soaked through as I spun downhill towards home.

GPS image of Budokan
Budokan on the navi

A good time was had by all

I came in at 3 hours, 40 minutes for a hair over 60km — a very good time, and I wasn’t particularly pressing hard. It’s true I was benefiting from a tailwind down the Arakawa — before I stopped for onigiri my average speed was more than 20km/h, even including the traffic stops and breaks. Based on a moving time of less than 2 hours 45 minutes, my average speed for the day was 22.5km/h.

There were no mechanicals of note. The tires were holding the pressure well. They were at 30psi in the morning, after Kuroko had sat 20 days in the parking garage since the last top-up. I inflated them to 45psi for the day’s ride. I continued to fiddle with the barrel adjuster for the rear derailleur all day because I thought the shifts were on the loud side, but it’s very subjective whether I had any positive effect. I didn’t miss a single shift or have any problem with the chain jumping off a cog.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Bit of a damp ending