Selfie of three cyclists with vermilion Japanese bridge

I hit on this ride by searching for a good one- or two-day course that would not be too challenging but at the same time be enough to give us a sense of accomplishment. I’ve come up with a few two-day, there-and-back-again routes starting in Tokyo — last year we did Shirako Onsen about this time — but they inevitably are some combination of ugly exurb riding in traffic and fairly challenging climbs (once out of the city and into the mountains). José suggested we instead find a route where we drive outside of the exurb crap and then start riding where the conditions are a lot better. And hence with some searching about I came up with this route: Hamaichi, or once around lake Hamanako in Shizuoka Prefecture.

The course on Garmin

The ride looked pretty good on paper: 85km total, mostly flat but with a healthy dash of climbing; some traffic, but a lot of dedicated cycling / walking course and sparsely traveled rural roads. It had the makings of a good ride — if the weather cooperated.

Planning and execution

Hamanako is four hours or more from Tokyo by car, which is a lot of driving when added to a six hour (estimated) ride. So we decided to make it a three-day weekend: drive out (with sight-seeing) on Saturday, ride on Sunday, and drive back (with more sight-seeing) on Monday. The original plan was for José, me and Tomo as riders, with Nana and her mother coming along for the sight-seeing and onsen stay. José quickly decided he’d rather drive by himself (planning some other activities around the weekend that came to nought in the end), so I booked a van that would carry four passengers and two bicycles. Nana started casting about for the hotel, trying to find the best price for a place with good food and — most importantly — a nice bath for relaxing after the ride.

I spent some time going over the route, checking it as much as possible against Google Street View, familiarizing myself with the waypoints. As the days slipped by, Fearless Leader Joe expressed an interest in joining. As he had a shorter distance to drive, he said he would come just for the ride on Sunday. And then Tomo dropped out. That left us with three riders — the same number as originally planned.

Ten days prior to the ride, the forecast was for a very rainy day. We all watched and updated each other daily — sometimes twice daily — as the forecast slowly improved. Finally, our various sources locked into agreement: if not sunny and bright all day, at least no rain.

Chuck it in the back

I had planned to pack Kuroko in a travel bag for the trip, but had some difficulty removing the rear wheel. In the end I just wheeled her to the car rental agency and chucked her in the back of the van. There was ample room to lay the bike down on the load floor. I stuffed my backpack under the rear wheel to stop it squeaking against the bare metal side of the van with every little bump in the road, and it was fine. José rented a sub-compact, and wedged his bike in the rear by just folding the seat down. He had a nice carpeted space, so no worries about scratches.

FLJ pulled into the hotel parking about 8 a.m. on the day. It took us some time getting the bike out of the rack in the rear of the car, inserting the front wheel and clamping the handlebar back in place.

Three cyclists on gravel drive with palm trees
Departure from Arai Benten


We finally set out just before 9 a.m. It was about 4C and calm as we left the hotel, but as soon as we got into the open near the lake, the wind slowed our pace considerably. FLJ had warned me the evening before I left Tokyo that it could be quite windy, but the forecast I was checking had 1.5-2m/s — not much of a worry. Of course FLJ turned out to be right: It is a lake, and it’s at the edge of the ocean, and parts would be quite windy. It turned out the first bit was the worst, and the wind never overpowered us or gave us second thoughts about the ride.

Almost before we knew it, we’d reached Kanzanji about 16km into the ride, and stopped for a cup of coffee before continuing on.

The wind improved quite a bit after that, and after a brief climb we returned to the cycling course / pedestrian walk around the edge of the lake, enjoying the scenery as we went. We were nearing the 40km mark and looking forward to lunch when the Garmin directed us towards a fairly iffy-looking path, and we decided to remain on the road parallel to that instead.

Unfortunately, after a couple of kilometers, the road diverged from the lakeside and began to climb. We took a turn by a large gorilla statue and let the Garmin lead us back to the bike path — down what turned out to be a fairly steep descent through loose gravel, followed by a staircase (which fortunately had a ramp for the bikes). From there it was a couple of kilometers more of winding paved path — and weaving in and out of a number of older people out for a midday stroll — to our midpoint at the roadside station.

… which turned out to be closed.

5km from everything

While José checked Google Maps, Fearless Leader Joe asked the counter help at the way station. The answers were identical: We were about 5km from the nearest convenience store, in pretty much any direction we chose to travel (except out over the lake, I suppose). There was nothing for it but to shrug and continue on.

We’d actually ridden a bit more than 5km by the time we came to a convenience store. (We could have found one a bit earlier if we’d been willing to leave our course, but we decided another 2km was worth it to stay on our track.) We spent about 20 minutes gobbling down some much-needed energy and watching the skies grow more and more grey and feeling the wind get increasingly biting.

After a last mouthful of pork bun, I stashed my sunglasses in my cockpit bag and we continued on.

Now for the climbing!

FLJ had been asking me repeatedly when the climbing would come, and I kept replying it would be at the 60km mark. I knew it might be a bit sooner — I just remembered that when I was going over the course on Google Maps, at 60km we’d be up in the hills overlooking the lake. But I was sure that the climbing started immediately after the only tunnel on the course, and so told FLJ to keep that in mind.

In fact we passed through the tunnel and turned right into the hills at just the 55km mark. The first cut was the steepest, with a thankfully brief 10% grade lofting us 25m above the surf, followed by a more gentle rise to 55m, and then a dip before grinding further on up to reach 100m elevation. We stopped at several points along the way for photos of the scenery (and finally near the top just to catch my breath as the others went on ahead).

And down! and up! and down! and up!

The plateau at 100m lasted about 2km, and then we were flying downhill, the wind bringing tears to our eyes. For nearly the next 20km, we were descending into civilization (traffic, stop lights) and then climbing again into rural obscurity, before once again descending … and so on. On one gradual but longer uphill stretch, I stopped to catch my breath and José came to stop beside me. “Go on … I’m just … having a breather,” I gasped. Nor was I the only one suffering. José had worked his way down to his easiest gearing, a rare event for him. (At that it’s still quite a bit higher-geared than my lowest on Kuroko.) And he was weaving across the pavement at the steeper parts, trading gradient for distance.

Fearless Leader Joe, by contrast, continued on sitting ramrod-straight, elbows out, cadence barely above 20rpm, while still leaving us in the dust.

Race to the bottom

The final descent of the day didn’t look like much at first. But after a squirrelly chicane at the start, it was a long, uninterrupted straight drop, allowing us to build up as much speed as we liked. I tucked in my head and my elbows, and soon noticed I was passing the traffic on the adjacent highway. Mr Garmin reports I topped 58km/h here.

We turned under the highway and continued on the flat shore by the ocean until we were just 5km from home. Then it was back into traffic, but still smooth and flat. FLJ and I checked back over our shoulders when traffic allowed and saw José was trailing behind. We waited at the turnoff to the hotel, and when he came into view he waved us on ahead.

We reached the hotel just a couple hundred meters shy of 85km on our respective clocks, so FLJ and I continued on just enough to ensure we’d click past that mark as we turned back to the hotel. We found José there already changing by his car with his bike leaning up against a nearby tree.

Fantastic ride

GPS record of cycle route

Overall it was a fantastic ride. There was more climbing than I’d expected (and I probably had the best idea of the three of us from the start), but it was not as challenging as I’d feared. The wind was another bugbear that turned out less daunting in the end. Meanwhile we had a mostly trouble-free ride with well-paved, winding paths. The trafficked parts were not as scary as they looked — in fact the intersection where an over-eager driver nearly popped me was almost deserted. And finally, the views through it all were splendid, just amazing.

In all we took 5 hours 32 minutes to complete the ride, with 4 hours 20 minutes moving time for an average of 19.6km/h. We’d planned on getting back to the hotel by 3 p.m., and in fact made it back at 2:26. When I messaged Nana that we were back, her reply was, “Already?”

We will all certainly be back for another go, perhaps when it’s just a bit warmer.

Yesterday was nicer

Bicycle leaning on sign in front of National Stadium

I had my choice of days this weekend, one to bike and one to take care of housework and other things. The forecast was basically identical for both days: cold and clear, with little wind. I decided to do the housework and other things on Saturday and ride on Sunday.

And then Sunday dawned cold and grey, with a chance of rain in the late afternoon, and rather windier than it had been on Saturday.

(I’m actually writing this Monday evening, but “The day before yesterday was nicer” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)


Thus sapped of motivation, I cast about for rides I might do and fell back on my old standard of the Tokyo Landmarks ride. I did still want to get in some miles, given plans for a bigger ride next weekend. But as I reached my first landmark, Meiji Jingu Gaien, I had a thought: every time I do this ride I take the same photos. This time I’ll make an effort to take different snaps. I was driven by a photo I’d seen on Facebook of someone’s bike in front of the National Stadium, which I always pass without giving it a second thought.

I rode nearly all the way around the stadium before finding the sign. The gold medal mailbox was a bonus find.

My next stop is usually Shiba Koen, but this time I went just a little farther to Daitokuin, with Tokyo Tower in the background. The accompanying photo of Tokyo Skytree is from Asakusa, much further along in the ride.

I did ride past the Imperial Palace, as usual, but didn’t stop. Instead I snapped a photo of the Yomiuri Shimbun head office as I waited a a light, and then the Bank of Japan. Finally, I stopped near Tokyo Big Sight for lunch, as usual, and grabbed a shot with Hotel Trusty Tokyo Bayside in the background

The route takes me through Asakusa and quite close to the famous Sensoji temple. I usually skip it, but this time I made an exception. I’ve paired it here with Tomioka Hachimangu — reputed birthplace of sumo — which comes not long after Tokyo Big Sight on the ride.

At this point in the ride I was feeling the fatigue, and I took my time on the climbs around Ueno. I’d made myself a goal of finishing this brief ride in 4-5 hours, and checking the time and distance remaining, it was going to be a near thing.

Next up is the University of Tokyo, the main gate and the famous “Akamon” red gate.

The last stop on the ride, as always, was Budokan and Chidorigafuchi. While I’m a huge fan of the Tayasumon gate (which I always photograph), I’m less enamored of Budokan itself.

I sat down at a park overlooking the Chidorigafuchi moat and finished off a blueberry yogurt drink I’d bought near Tokyo Big Sight. After having a bit of water I checked the time and messaged Nana that I would be home about 2:30-3 p.m. (anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour). It had warmed up quite a bit from the 4C when I set out, but it was still a grey, dismal day. I wondered how much headwind I’d be facing in the remaining few kilometers.

I walked my bike back to the street from the park, cleats scraping on the paving stones. I mounted up, checked for traffic and I was off home. I lucked out on the timing of the lights over the next couple of dips near Hanzomon station, saving lots of momentum for the subsequent climbs.

As I turned on Shinjuku Avenue, I was passed by a young, fit bloke on a Pinarello Dogma — a cyclist’s dream lightweight carbon-fibre bike. At each slight rise in the road or race to the next light, he was up off his saddle, pumping away. And yet, traffic and lights being what they are, I would catch up at him at each subsequent red light. (I did breeze through a couple of T intersections and pedestrian crossings, while he was dutifully waiting out each light — as I should have been.) He did check over his shoulder at a couple of lights and I imagined to myself that he was surprised to find me there each time. I kept up with him much longer than I expected to, and we finally parted ways after he raced to the top of the climb at Shinjuku Eki Minami Guchi and left me waiting at the light at Nishishinjuku 1-chome.

GPS record of cycle ride
Yesterday was nicer

It’s all good. I wasn’t racing him — I was trying to come within my goal of 4-5 hours total elapsed time. I bypassed Tocho — the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings — because of the lights and continued on to the corner at Central Park, then raced downhill towards home. The light changed just as I reached the bottom of the hill and sped towards home, hitting the stop button as I rolled into the tower mansion plaza: 4 hours, 59 minutes, 35 seconds.

I’d made an effort on the ride to cut the breaks short or eliminate them, but this was offset by seeking out new photo opportunities, and sending those photos via various media on the fly — all of which contributed to the total time. Based on a riding time of 3 hours 23 minutes, I’d averaged 18.7km/h. That’s not a stunning time, but it’s not bad either for a ride that’s totally in traffic.

Eye on the weather

The ride planned for next weekend is a new one, and it should be a lot of fun. At the moment, one weather service is predicting sun and another the deluge. Watch this space.

Mikan metric

Bicycle leaning against railing over weir

We were shocked to wake up yesterday to non-stop tsunami warnings on the television, with a prominent “Run!” heading flashing over affected areas. But it soon became evident there was no danger for us here in Tokyo, and even the most-threatened areas of the Japan homeland would be facing nothing like the 2011 tsunami. We were soon holding our breath for news from Tonga — and in that we’re still waiting. What little we know is not encouraging, and we hope the world will join New Zealand soon in sending help to the small island nation.

But with no immediate threat and no way effective way to lend immediate assistance, there was nothing but cold weather to stop me having a nice ride on a very clear and fairly windless day. I quickly suited up in tights, heat tech undershirt and two winter jerseys, winter socks and gloves, face mask, bandana and shoe covers. I was loaded for bear.

I’d been dithering since early morning over the route, but in the end I decided I wanted an easy ride but with some distance: a metric century.

Not-so-cold start

Bicycle leaning against bush surrounding a dry fountain
Dry fountain

Google had led me to expect 1C at the start of the ride, but the Garmin put it at a more optimistic 4C. I could feel a bit of chill on my thighs through the tights, and ditto my fingers in the winter gloves, but was otherwise warm right off the bat. Once I started moving and burning some energy, I didn’t have any more trouble with the cold. The city traffic was as usual, apart from a long line of cars waiting to park at the department store at Futako, and I was soon taking a brief break at my usual spot at Nishigawara Park on my way up the Tamagawa.

Fruity, with hints of masochism

Between the new saddle and the thin chamois of my Pearly Zoomie tights, my backside has not been having an easy time on rides lately. From Nishigawara I usually like to continue on 15km to Persimmon Park, and typically I have no trouble apart from a bit of finger numbness near the end. This time I was shifting my butt around, trying to get a comfortable position, as well as taking my hands off the bars from time to time to shake out my fingers. I resolved to buy some persimmons from the eponymous vending machine by the park, only to find when I arrived that it was mikan that were now on offer.

Even better! I dropped my ¥100 coin and picked the largest mikan I could find. I posted the photo on Instagram and to some friends in chat, and quickly had their replies: “They look delicious!” and “They’re so big!”

It was already after 11 and I was feeling quite hungry. I didn’t want to start on the mikan and end up all sticky, so I decided I would be OK to continue on and eat when I reached Hamura. I estimated I would get there about noon or shortly thereafter, and I’d be in better shape than I was in December when I rode to Disneyland and didn’t eat until after 1 p.m.

And that’s how it worked out. After the break my bum was feeling a bit more accustomed to the saddle and I continued making good time. I got behind a family when emerging from a park about 4-5km from the goal, and resolved to bide my time through an underpass and then up a ramp leading to a cherry tree-lined path. At the top of the ramp the father — last rider in the group — failed to negotiate the bollards and came to an abrupt stop after touching a pedal, nearly toppling over backwards in the process. I was close behind, but quickly stopped, balancing on my pedals, and then passed by through the adjacent bollards. Soon after that, I was at the convenience store, stocking up on hot pork buns for my lunch. (Nana had failed to make rice, and so no onigiri for my ride.)

I reached Hamura with my pork buns slightly after noon. It didn’t take me long to finish eating, and then it was a balance between resting my tired body with the desire to get home before it become too dark. It was 12:30 when I struck out for home.

Into the wind

As is often the case, I’d assumed on my way upstream there was no wind. I soon realized my error on the return downstream. The wind wasn’t impossible, but it took a gear or two out of my pace — with the occasional gust demanding another gear or two downwards. I knew I could make it back to Persimmon Mikan Park before needing a break, but my tush was telling me otherwise.

From there it was a similar distance back to my usual break stop — the one with the dry fountain, and the last rest before Futako. I was fighting into the wind again, and soon I was dealing with a headache and cramping neck muscles in addition to my sore hands and bum. I realized I was hunching my shoulders against the wind and pulling my head in turtlewise. I made an effort to square my shoulders, straighten my neck and rest my hands on the tops of the handlebars, increasing my wind resistance but relaxing my entire body.

It helped. The other bit that helped was my decision to bypass Futako on my way home, diverting at Komae into the city on a more direct route. It would shave about 5km from my ride, but from my calculations I’d still clear 100km for the day.

Bicycle leaning agaisnt railing in park
Just 15km to go

Cross-town traffic

After Komae, the first couple of kilometers brought me even more directly into the wind. But as I was in traffic, I was naturally riding a bit slower and more upright regardless. I was tired, but the headache was easing. The more upright seating seems to suit the saddle also, and the pain in the tuchis dropped down a notch.

I had the Garmin set to show my route (which I knew well) rather than my stats, to prevent me checking it often while I should be looking out for traffic. But it was still beeping to let me know each time I completed another 5km. My spidey-sense was primed for the beep for 95km from the moment I passed the crossing that I knew was about 7km from home, and I was soon rewarded. At that point I relaxed a bit more, confident I’d reach 100km despite my shortcut.

At the next traffic light I knew I had about 6km to go. “So, about 20 minutes,” I told myself. I swiped the Garmin to check the stats. It was 2:52 p.m., so I was predicting I’d be home by 3:12. Somehow that seemed less realistic than saying I’d cover 6km in 20 minutes. I can do that without issue — on the flat, without traffic lights. And definitely without train crossings, I reminded myself as I was soon cooling my heels as I waited for a commuter train to clear the station and crossing.

I had the Garmin back on the map so I wouldn’t be racing the clock home. It was just as well as a driver wanted to play cat-and-mouse at 30km/h, only for me to catch him at the next light and replay it. I was happy for him to speed through a changing yellow while I braked to wait.

At last I was speeding downhill by Central Park towards the finish. The light at the bottom of the hill was green, for a change, and I only had to work my way around a large delivery van that had pulled almost fully into my lane from a cross street before I reached home.

I pressed the stop button on the Garmin and messaged Nana I was back. I hadn’t made my 20 minutes, but I was well ahead of the 3:30 I had told her I’d be home.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Mikan metric

Six hours and change total elapsed time isn’t bad for a century, and the Garmin put my riding time at 4 hours 50 minutes, for a moving average of 21.2km/h. So despite my bellyaching about the wind and the saddle, I’d made quite good time overall.


GPS record of cycle ride

First ride of 2022

Usually for my first ride of the New Year I’ll just run to Haneda and back, a ride I can get under 4 hours if I try. I can wait until 10 or later to start, when it’s warmer, and I’m not out in the cold for long.

This year I wanted to do something a bit longer, even if it meant braving the cold. And I’d just ridden to Haneda a few days ago. I figured Kawagoe would be 6 hours, even at a relaxed pace, and so I could leave as late as 9 a.m. and still be back by 3 in the afternoon, before the shadows got too long.

Then it was just a matter of working up my courage to get out in the cold air. Google was telling me it was 3C, and when I stepped out onto the Workshop in the Sky to fetch something, it certainly didn’t feel any warmer than that. But I knew it wouldn’t be as bad as I was imagining once I got under way, so I braced myself and got dressed.

Starting with a mechanical?

When I went to the basement parking to fetch Kuroko, the front tire felt soft. In fact, there was no air in it at all. I gave it a quick look over and spotted a few drops of sealant on the sidewall. I’d had no hint of trouble on my way to Haneda and back, and prior to that the tire had held its pressure for more than a month without issue.

I shrugged and pumped the tire up, gave it a squeeze and spun it around for a few seconds. Gave it another squeeze. It seemed to be holding. I mentally shrugged my shoulders, put away the pump and set out.

Into the wind

When I reached the Arakawa, I could see the path was nice and dry. But I could also feel that I’d be heading into a fairly strong wind. At this point I could have chickened out and headed downriver, towards Disneyland, but I plucked up my courage once again and turned upriver — and upwind.

It wasn’t too bad. The wind was very steady, so I wasn’t being buffeted about. I just wasn’t making the same speed as I usually would on the flat. When I took a moment to swipe the Gamin to the stats screen, I saw I was ticking along at 16-18km/h: not quite a third off my usual pace.

Bicycle leaning against decorative sign for the Arakawa cycling course
The real start of the ride

With such fine weather I expected to see a lot of people out on the path, and I was right in this. Not as many bikers as I’m used to, but some families out for a walk, or flying kites. At the first rest stop the path was crowded with cars (it’s one of the places where the path and roadway intertwine) and a whole bunch of baseball players jogging to warm up before practice.

A little later on I saw a boy standing on the edge of the path, holding something in his hand and looking across the path meaningfully. His father was relaxing a couple of steps away, watching unconcernedly. It was only as I came upon them I noticed the kite strings arching upwards across the path from the handle in the boy’s hand. Fortunately the kite was flying high enough that the strings didn’t take my head off.

The wind remained constant until I descended from the path into the Kawagoe sports park and then into Kawagoe itself.

Kawagoe Crowd

I don’t know why it failed to occur to me that thousands of others would think of Kawagoe as a destination on a public holiday with such fine weather. The park wasn’t very crowded, but as I continued on in towards town I was soon fighting through long lines of traffic. The commercial parking spots were turning a brisk trade. When I finally reached the main attraction, the crowds were so thick I hardly had room to walk with my bicycle.

Pandemic? What pandemic?

I can’t blame people for being idiots without pointing at myself first, of course. I hurriedly took a single selfie and headed back towards the park, stopping at a convenience store to pick up a couple of nikuman for lunch.

Slight return

I was quite lucky to find an empty picnic table at the park to enjoy my lunch. The weather remained beautiful for the ride home, except the wind was helping me along and the sun was in my eyes — enough to give me a headache despite my sunglasses. I pushed my helmet up in the back to bring it jauntily down over my right eyebrow to block the glare, and that helped.

It was just past noon and I had about 37km to go on the way home. I felt OK except for the bit where my backside rests on the saddle. After a few rides I’d got the new Brooks saddle adjusted to the perfect angle. But the saddle hasn’t been broken in any significant amount yet — it’s still as hard as a wooden bench. And my Pearly Zoomie winter cycling tights have a much thinner chamois pad than my usual fair-weather shorts. I was constantly shifting about on the saddle to try to move the pressure from one spot to another.

GPS record of cycle ride
初走り – New Year’s Ride 2022

I reached the point where I leave the cycling course for Tokyo traffic about 1:30, and stopped under the bridge to have a final Snickers bar. I had 15km to go, so I messaged Nana that I would be home before 3. I was feeling quite knackered at this point and I knew that I had a couple of challenging climbs on the way (well, challenging to an overweight old man with an aching backside, anyway). With that I set off into the traffic (and into the sun). In the end, without pushing hard at all, I rolled into home at 2:20, saved my ride on Garmin and messaged Nana that I was home.

The ride was a good start to the year, and left me totally knackered. There was no sign of leakage from the front tire all day, but I’ll be sure to check it before the next ride. I’m not sure what Garmin meant by “Up cycling” — was I supposed to find some gomi there to repurpose into a hot dog stand?

Finally, the Di2 battery was showing 80% at the end of the ride. I suspect it’s showing things in 10% increments. Anyway, this is after three rides. I’d expected better battery performance. Of course the Bluetooth unit drains a bit of power, and I may be seeing that. Or it may have to do with the first-generation battery I’ve got.

In any case, the battery performance is still fine, and I’m glad I have a free extra battery courtesy of Amazon. I’ll just need to make sure I’m covered before undertaking any extended rides.