Leg-stretcher century

Selfie of biker in helmet in front of statue of Tamagawa Bros.

Not much to say about this ride except I’d set out with a more ambitious goal, but my thighs were out of gas following Thursday’s summit of Otarumi Touge. I did bounce back a bit after polishing off the last of Nana’s world famous onigiri, but I was also traveling slightly downhill at this point.

When I got back to the park where I joined Tamagawa, I realized I’d be a bit shy of the century mark if I went straight home, so I continued down the Tamagawa to Futako before turning home.

Based on a moving time of 5:11:53, my average moving speed was 19.9km/h. I’d been hoping for 20, with shorter rest breaks, but when I took the shape of my legs into account, I was just happy to get home with the century and a respectable moving speed.

Gummed up

Dionysus has been giving a bit of trouble shifting recently, particularly not being able to stay in the lowest gear, which is important when I’m working my way up the St. Antonio climb on the way home from the office.

I’d also noticed a flap of rubber hanging from the rear tire, and had torn it off on a recent ride. I have a new set of much wider tires ready to go on, and I’m basically waiting for these very good Contis to wear out.

I brought Dionysus up to the Workshop in the Sky on Saturday and had a close look. First, try as I might, I couldn’t find the spot on the rear tire where I’d torn off the hanging flap. There’s a bit of age cracking in the tread of both tires, but they’re both basically very sound. So I haven’t yet swapped out for the wider tires (which I’m not even sure are going to fit — they’re that much wider).

On the shifting issue, the first thing I did was put the chain gauge on. I wasn’t expecting significant wear as I’ve probably put on less than 3,000km since the great rebuild (and 1,000 of that was Fearless Leader Joe in a single month), but the gauge said the chain was half worn out. I decided it was best to replace it, and ordered a new chain. Rather than going with the stock SRAM part this time, I decided to give KMC a try. I’ve read good things about them, and I found a stylish chain at a slight discount to the SRAM price and available for immediate delivery.

After removing the old chain and using it as a guide to cut the new chain to length, I decided to clean up the rear cogs. I’ve been using a wet chain lube since returning from England, where my standard lube had washed off after the first encounter with rain, leaving me with a grinding, poorly shifting and dirty chain. The problem with the wet lube is it attracts every last speck of dirt and grime on the road, and it doesn’t let go.

I filled a bucket with water and degreaser and set to work on the gears with a stiff brush. And after a while, I found I wasn’t removing the caked-on gunk. It was hard to tell at times because the gears were coated black, and the gunk was blending in. But after some time spent scrubbing, I decided to leave the largest gears soaking in the degreaser solution for a day or two while I had a quick jaunt up a local mountain on my main squeeze, Kuroko.

As I scrubbed at the sprockets, silver teeth emerged in places. I had to check to make sure: they had originally been black. The coating has come off with wear. If they’d been silver, it meant I’d have a lot more scrubbing to do.

The sprockets that I’d left soaking in degreaser had come clean easily. The smaller sprockets that I hadn’t left to soak (because I’m an idiot) required a bit more attention with a shop towel soaked in degreaser. When I was satisfied, I rinsed all the cogs in clear water and then used degreaser to remove the packing grease from the new chain. I rinsed that as well and then left it all to dry on a newspaper.

Meanwhile I cleaned and regreased the freehub body. When everything had dried for a couple of hours in the sun, I put the cogs back on the freehub and tightened the lot down.

Detail of bicycle showing new chain
Shiny and new

It was a bit of a chore installing the new chain. There are a couple of specialist tools for this task which I don’t have: one which holds both ends of the chain together while I install the quick link, and another which tightens the quick link into place. Instead I struggled to hold the chain ends together while piecing the quick link together. It took a fair few tries before I got it right, and then I rotated the chain so the quick link was on the upper run, and stomped on the pedal to snap it tight.

I’ll be sure I have both those tools to hand before I try that operation again.

With the new chain in place, I still had to lubricate it and then readjust the rear derailleur. After studying some reviews, I got a new, all-purpose lube (meaning neither wet nor dry), and it went on smoothly.

The adjustment process was a bit more fraught. I spent some time balancing between having the chain securely in place on the lowest (largest) gear and yet having it shift smoothly and quietly while on the highest (smallest) gears. After several attempts and adjusting the limits, the B screw and the cable tension, I struck a compromise of sorts. I absolutely need the chain to be secure on the lowest gear for the St. Antonio climb and its ilk. I mostly use the mid-range gears and seldom work my way up into the highest gears. (Fearless Leader Joe, with his drastically slower cadence, may have some disagreement here.) So for the highest three gears, I was willing to accept some noise but still having reliable shifting.

I’m hoping that with some use, things will settle in a bit more. If not, it may be time to replace the rear cogs — although from the kilometers ridden I’d still say it’s too early.

The bike still needs a washing — Nana had laundry on the balcony today, including my riding clothes — and I want to get rust converter onto those bad rust spots until I have a chance for another repaint.

Got it in one!

Bicycle leaning against railing with road and sign for Otarumi Pass in background

I’ve climbed to Otarumi pass, near Mount Takao, more than half a dozen times since first attempting it more than three years ago. It’s not a difficult climb as these things go: depending on where you start counting, it’s a 4% average over 4km — or 3.6% over somewhat more than 5km. But I’m old and overweight, and I’ve had to stop each time on the way up, usually when it reaches a 10% gradient or so, even though it’s less than 1km from the top at that point.

I’ve written on more than one occasion in the past about the psychological magnet I’d created by stopping at the same point on each ascent. It was based on physical factors as much as psychological: just at the maximum grade, a safe resting point with a narrow, shoulder-less route ahead. And if I made it past that one, there was a similar spot a few hundred meters ahead with another shoulder-less climb in prospect.


This morning I set out with one goal in mind: to get to the top of Otarumi Touge. On each attempt, I hope I’ll make it without stopping, but today I had to be realistic: I haven’t been training or dieting, or even laying off the alcohol. I’ve just returned from a three-day holiday in Nara where I just ate and drank (oh, and hiked about a bit to see the sights). So I just determined to make it to the top, and along the way I did what I could to conserve my energy. This included missing running over a snake by a good centimeter, on the very same stretch of bike path where I did run over a snake a year ago.

When the climbing began in earnest at the highway interchange after Takaosan Guchi, I shift down and pedaled, and then shifted down again. I was soon on the small chainring and working my way down the gears. I started amusing myself by thinking I could make it to the top in one go and yet not beat my personal record, if stopping midway before continuing actually made for a shorter elapsed time.

It took longer than I expected to clear the last commercial zone of restaurants and love motels on the way up to the pass, and yet when I cleared them I did so almost without noticing. I can’t say I was feeling great, but I wasn’t feeling bad, either. I just kept going.

The next landmark on the way is the aforementioned magnet. The grade reaches 10% at this point and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling it. I looked ahead to the second magnet: a similar spot a couple of hundred meters along, after a bridge and before a similarly narrow spot on the climb. I knew I could clear it. With an effort of will, I was past the second magnet and into the switchback with no safe stopping point.

The bus stop

The next landmark was the bus stop. At the magnet it’s still another 700m before the top, but from the bus stop it’s only 300m. There was still a psychological barrier: lots of nice, safe places to stop before and after the bus stop where I didn’t have to worry about a truck driver swiping me off the road. But I also knew from experience that from the bus stop I just had to round that last corner and just … keep … pedaling! My breath was whistling through my nose and mouth at the point, but my thighs were good. If I could just … keep on pedaling … a few dozen more meters …

Made it!

And I was there, gliding under the sign marking Otarumi Touge, actually still just a bit uphill at this point, and then a few dozen meters downhill into Kanagawa Prefecture to the stopping point. I’d seen Fujisan in the morning and along the route, and was hoping to see her from the pass. Alas, it was not to be — perhaps because the café with the westward view had closed last year.

After taking a few congratulatory snaps, it was a quick descent back to Takaosan Guchi. I had every confidence in my bike at this point, but some recently added bump strips caused me to brake in the early curves. Nevertheless I reached a high of 52km/h on the descent and set a personal record.

Back in Takaosan, I took a couple of photos before speeding along to the convenience store for a quick feed before continuing on the way home.

From there it was just a matter of surviving until I got home. It helped that the route was slightly downhill — heading downriver, and at times at least, with the wind. My hands were aching more than my thighs at this point (my thighs ached more when I was at rest than when moving), and I was lucky to press on through a 15km stretch back down the Arakawa without a break until I reached the Tamagawa.

I wasn’t checking my pace as I continued down the Tamagawa. Following my success on the climb, I didn’t mind what sort of progress I was making so long as I was getting closer to home. I took my last break at the usual park where I leave Tamagawa, and ate the last of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. It was 2:30 when I was ready to ride again, so I messaged Nana I’d be home by 4 and turned on my taillights.

Traffic was as usual on the ride home through the city. I was fearing the two brief hills along the way, but I had no trouble getting over them. It wasn’t yet rush hour, so I had no difficulty with traffic backing up around Sasazuka. And with that, I was home by 3:30.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Got it in one

With a moving time of 5 hours 31 minutes 39 seconds, my average moving speed was 20.6km/h — a better pace than I was expecting as I’d taken it pretty easy most of the way to and from Takao. I’d set a number of personal records on the ride, mostly on overlapping segments for the climb up to Otarumi Touge. But I also got a PR on the descent, averaging 43.3km/h for more than 3km and topping out at 52. I stayed off the brakes through the descent except for a couple of curves where newly added speed strips made things a bit dicey. I also had a PR for an 18km segment back down the Asakawa and over the bridge at Tamagawa, all the way down to Koremasa.

The two PR segments above chart my climb up Otarumi Touge. The first starts at Takaosan Guchi. The second covers the same territory, just starting a bit later at the Highway 468 interchange, which is the last stoplight before the climb really begins.

The speed vs elevation chart from Garmin has the stop at the 468 interchange highlighted, and shows I didn’t stop from that point until I reached the pass at Otarumi Touge, 22 minutes 30 seconds later.

Beer with a head in a glass with Yebisu legend next to can of Bodoni craft beer
Congratulatory beverage

That’s me happy

It’s taken me three years and a few attempts to beat this climb, and I’m very pleased to have done it. I can’t really say what I did differently this time around apart from eating earlier in the ride, taking it easy, and particularly downshifting earlier once the climbing began. I know I’ll be back, and if I get more successes on this climb then I’ll have to start looking for the next challenge. In fact, I have a route in mind from home to Otsuki which takes this climb as a starting point and adds on a couple of even longer ones.

Kuroko behaved flawlessly for the entire ride. I still haven’t fixed the squeaky rear brake, but I’ve learned to compensate for it so I’m not screeching to a halt each time — except when I had to skid to stop to avoid killing a little girl who decided to dash across the street just as I was passing.

Quick Disney before the rain

Selfie of two cyclists in helmets, masks and shades in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign

I had to work Saturday to bring down the network for some electrical maintenance (and of course to bring it up again when the maintenance was done), and the weather was fine. The forecast for today had been for rain, so I thought the weekend was a wash. But since Friday afternoon, today’s forecast has been for rain in the afternoon. So I contacted José to see if he was available for a morning ride, and he said fine, so long as he was home by 2 p.m.

I said we’ll meet at 8 a.m. at Nihonbashi, meaning I’d leave at 7. I woke up this morning and poked Nana until she got up to make some of her world-famous onigiri, but I still didn’t have any acknowledgement from José before I left home. I finally got a thumb’s up from him when I was approaching the Imperial Palace. I sent him a photo from Sakurada so he would know I was near, and then from Nihonbashi at 7:48. Finally he replied about 7:58 that he was on the way.

Fortunately, he lives within a shout of Nihonbashi, and we were soon on our way to Tokyo Disney Resort.

A bridge too close

After the meet-up we continued east on Eitai Dori towards Arakawa and Tokyo Disney Resort. We stopped on the way at a convenience store so José could get a bottle of ocha for the ride and some breakfast, and I waited patiently while he enjoyed the sandwich and chocolate bar.

And then almost immediately we were climbing the bridge to cross the Arakawa. I started to realize I’d chosen almost too direct a route — I’d be lucky to get in 60km for the day, meaning 40km for José.

When we got into Kasai-Rinka park I missed the usual turning. We decided to continue on as I’ve been trying to work out a route through this portion that doesn’t have us tangling with major pedestrian traffic. Today was the jackpot: after a couple of brief cobbled sections were were back on course, and we’d gone around the lion’s share of the pedestrian traffic.

From there it was a cat-and-mouse game with a rider on an electric bike. We’d overtake him on the flats and then he’d outclimb us on the ramps up to the bridges over highways and the Kyu-Edo river.

We arrived quite early at Disneyland after a downwind blast down the Arakawa to Tokyo Bay. It was at this point I started to realize this was going to be a very short ride — I’d failed to consider I usually ride to Tokyo Disneyland by going north first to Arakawa, then down the riverside cycling course to the bridge. The direct route cut more than 20km off this roundabout way.

The next consideration was that we’d be reaching our usual lunch spot on the return before 10 a.m. I was hungry for the umeboshi onigiri Nana had made, but José had just had breakfast about 8:30. Would he be able to eat two onigiri by this point?

I needn’t have worried. We stopped at the usual convenience store and then the park, and José ploughed through his two konbu-encased onigiri long before I was finished.

Into the wind

When we got back to Arakawa we had a stiff headwind for the 2km or so we had to ride upriver. I was expecting this from the time we had been making on the downriver leg — you don’t really feel a tailwind unless it’s a gale, but we had been making very good time.

With lunch behind us, we crossed the Arakawa and continued west on Eitai Dori. We were mostly sheltered from the wind at this point, and the traffic was neither more nor less than expected. We continued to make good time.

We reached Nihonbashi at 10:37. I took off my jacket and bade José farewell, conscious that he’d be putting in far less than the 40km I’d originally projected for him. I continued on towards the Imperial Palace and Budokan, arriving at the latter about 11 a.m. after setting a personal record for the climb up Kundanzaka — due no doubt to my fresh condition after having ridden less than 40km to reach that spot.

I reached Budokan at 11 and messaged Nana I’d be home by 12. She replied she was just leaving for a hair appointment. I started off home and got mixed up with a taxi which raced ahead of me only to cut over two lanes at the next light to turn left, cutting me off. I avoided the taxi but was flustered enough to fail to recognize that was also my turn. I went along another block before turning and retracing my path.

Back on Shinjuku Avenue, I suddenly encountered a parade in Yotsuya. Bringing up the rear were the Highlanders — dozens of Japanese men in kilts playing the pipes. After overtaking them I was treated with the sounds and sights of multiple marching bands and twirling squads — all in the left-most lane that was my usual haunt. I had to keep one eye on the marchers and one on the traffic overtaking from behind as I continued on my way.

At Yotsuya 4-chome I decided to change tack and take a right turn. I’d been investigating various routes along this course and Google Maps had suggested this as an alternative to passing Shinjuku station at the south gate.

The alternative course brought me to Yasukuni avenue and hence to Shinjuku and Shinjuku station. It wasn’t really any less trafficked than my usual route through Shinjuku — in fact, there were more side streets where pedestrians or vehicles might suddenly leap in front of my path. And then once I’d passed the station, I got in the wrong lane and found myself turned back towards the station once again.

It was all easily sorted out, after waiting just an extra light or two. But the verdict was to continue using the route I’ve used until now, unless I find something better.

GPS record of cycle ride
Quick Disney before the rain

In the end, the forecast rain did not come before 5 p.m. Based on a moving time of 2 hours 37 minutes 29 seconds, I averaged 18.9km/h. Not a stunning speed, but I posted multiple PRs on the road from Shinjuku to the Imperial Palace in the morning, and then counterclockwise around the palace.

Gettin’ some culture into Da Kid

Selfie of two cyclists in front of sign for Arakawa cycling course

I’ve ridden with José up and down the Arakawa river a number of times, including a three-rivers ride where we started way up in Saitama and cycled all the way down the Arakawa. But he hasn’t been to Koedo in Kawagoe (at least not by bike). This was our goal three weeks ago, when we met at Nihonbashi and rode directly east via Eitai Dori, but that turned out to be a bridge too far.

Bicycle leaning against railing with moat and Imperial Palace turrent in background
Early morning start

Today we met at José’s flat and took a more northerly route to the Arakawa, shedding dozens of kilometers off the route. As is usual on the Arakawa, the wind was changeable but often against us. We also encountered a detour not far from our goal which was distinctly not cycle-friendly. But we persevered, and we reached Koedo shortly before noon. The early start today helped very much in this regard.

As expected, the historical Koedo district was very crowded on a weekend with gorgeous weather. We bided our time in traffic as we cruised up and down the famous road lined with 17th-Century and later warehouses. The road in front of the Toki no Kane bell tower was surprisingly uncrowded, but that didn’t prevent me totally muffing the selfie.

Badly composed selfie of two cyclists with Kawagoe bell tower in background
It’s the famous bell tower. Trust me.

Now to get home

On the way out of town, we stopped at a convenience store to supplement the world-famous onigiri prepared fresh by Nana this morning, and then found a shaded table at the park. I worked out a detour which would avoid the cycle-unfriendly construction detour, and we headed back.

I was feeling good on the return trip and told José I would accompany him back to home, the way we had come in the morning. The wind was easier going on the return, and I’d already let Nana know not to expect me before 4 or 5 p.m. But just 5km later, as we were approaching the sign that marks the spot where I usually enter the river corridor, I had second thoughts. I felt basically OK, with just a bit of hand numbness and no saddle sores or other fatigue. But the attraction of taking the short route home, vs. the original route which would add another 25km or so, was too appealing. And so soon I was dragging José up the levee for a final couple of photos before saying farewell for the day.

I was just shy of the 100km mark where we parted, and I still had a bit of energy to see me over the wavy ride home along Yamate Dori. I stopped under the shade of an overpass to gulp down the last of the convenience store sweets and water. I checked the time: just after 2 p.m. So I messaged Nana I would be home by 3:30 and set off into traffic. Not much to relate about that, but I was still turning PRs — and 2nds and 3rds — at this point, and I made it home before 3.

GPS record of cycle route
Gettin’ some culture into Da Kid

As mentioned, I’d saved about 25km by taking the direct route home rather than seeing José off at his doorstop. With a moving time of 5 hours 37 minutes and 37 seconds, I had an average moving speed of 20.0km/h on the nose. José was a bit unsure of his way home but he got there, just a few minutes after I’d arrived home, and at a nearly identical distance of 112.40km.