December Century

Bicycle leaning against railing with palace moat and kagura in background

It was 4C when I set out this morning, and I was worried that I would need another layer in addition to the undershirt and winter jersey I was wearing. I needn’t have worried — I was working up a sweat within a couple of kilometers.

After getting a bit turned around at the Imperial Palace, I was soon waiting for José at Nihonbashi. We didn’t have any firm goal in mind — I’d said, “Let’s just ride up Arakawa until we’re tired,” and he’d agreed.

There was a slight headwind when we reached the river, and we didn’t press hard. We soon came to a checkpoint where the police were assisting Girl Scouts in handing out safety brochures and tchotchkes to cyclists. I gamely accepted the pouch, only to have to stop to stow it in my bag so I could continue riding.

We went along upstream, stopping every 10km or so for a brief rest. Just before 11 we stopped to eat a couple of Nana’s world famous onigiri. I’d covered 40km by this time, and I vowed to reach 50 before we turned around. José was feeling the effects of multiple hours spent at the gym yesterday, and a lingering back injury (for which cycling is not a recommending remedy).

Water gate with otherworldly appearance
UFO gate

As luck would have it, the GPS chimed the 50km mark the moment I drew abreast of the Asaka Weir, and we paused to rest our hands and backsides before turning for home. I remember commenting to José that it was the Arakawa, and we could count on the wind being changeable if nothing else on our return journey.

We continued downstream, still stopping every 10km or so to rest. With about 10km to go before we left the river course, we stopped to have the last of the onigiri. We were glad to discover when we resumed our ride downstream that the gauntlet of Girl Scouts had disappeared.

Our final rest stop was a convenience store just a kilometer or two after we left the cycling course, where José treated me to a giant Kit Kat and I washed it down with a bottled latte. The skies had darkened considerably although it was just after 1 p.m., and I turned on my lights before we continued in city traffic.

We parted ways at Nihonbashi, where we’d met five hours previously, after a celebratory selfie. I continued on alone towards the Imperial Palace and around clockwise until I reached Kudanzaka and paused for a last break at Tayasumon and Chidorigafuchi. After that it was simply a matter of plugging on along Shinjuku Avenue in Sunday afternoon traffic.

I rolled into the tower courtyard a bit after 3 p.m. and stopped the Garmie only to discover I was still 170m short of 100km. I resumed the ride and just did a lap down the path and back up the road to bring me once again to the tower entrance, and the Garmie beeped to let me know I’d completed 100km. I shut it off and garaged the bike, then headed upstairs to start the bath and enjoy a cold beer.

GPS record of cycle ride
December Century

We’d taken it easy all day, so I was surprised on returning home to find a string of personal bests up and down the Arakawa, including personal records for the entire length in each direction. José had a similar string of personal bests for the day.

Based on a moving time of 4:49:23, I recorded an average moving speed of 20.7 km/h, which is certainly impressive given the fact I was just taking it easy most of the day.

Finally, with 100km in the bag today, I notched up more than 13,000km on Kuroko since the inaugural ride on 29 July 2018.

Screen shot showing legend "Kuroko -- 13,021.6km"
Kuroko milestone

Never replicate a successful experiment

Statue of flying squirrel with fall leaves in the background

I had a slow start this morning. I’d have been content to just sit at home quietly all day, except for the knowledge it will be raining the next two days. We have plans for next weekend, so if I wanted to get out on the bike, it would have to be today.

Nana had made onigiri, so I was duty-bound to ride. I set out shortly after 9 a.m. to see if I could reproduce my recent triumph on Otarumi Touge. I actually had no idea if I would make it in one go, and so my only goal was to get to the top, as usual. Nonetheless, I set an easy pace to conserve my energy for the final push to the top.

I didn’t stop long at the small park by the Tamagawa, but as I was leaving, the park worker who was sweeping up leaves called out to me, “Where you going?” “Takao-san,” I replied. “OK, take care!” I was amused by his choice of words, which are typically said to someone who is sick. But my native guides assure me the phrase indeed means “Take care” and not “Get well soon.”

With my late start, it was nearly 11 when I reached the bridge over the Tamagawa that leads to the branching of the Asakawa. I stopped for a couple of much-needed onigiri. When I continued on up the Asakawa, it was often against the wind. At some point along here, I lost sight of Fujisan, which had been visible earlier as I’d been working my way up the Tamagawa.

My next stop was just before 12, at another branching of the Asakawa, this time with the Minami Asakawa in Hachioji. I ate the remaining onigiri and checked in with Nana before proceeding.

Not long after that, I ran into a festival along the riverbank. I dismounted and pressed on through the crowd as quickly as I could with my bike beside me — which wasn’t very quickly at all. I made a mental note to see if there was a parallel street which would allow me to avoid the festival on my return.

Avoiding the magnets

As soon as I’d made my way through the festival throng, I was on the city streets of Takao, working my way along past long lines of cars. With the gorgeous weather and the prospect of rain tomorrow, everyone had turned out today to see the fall colors on Tokyo’s favorite mountain.

Soon enough I was past the holiday traffic. I stopped at the freeway interchange to turn on my taillights, knowing that the mountain switchbacks would be in shadow. And then I set out up the climb, feeling good and trying not to push the pace too early in the game.

Familiar as I am with the climb, I was surprised again and again at how long it was taking me to reach certain landmarks. Again and again as I rounded a curve, I thought I’d reach Lover’s Lane — which marks the start of the real climbing — only to find it was still further on. Realizing this was just a function of impatience, I counseled calm for myself and slowed my pace further before continuing.

And again, past Lover’s Lane (my name for the stretch of love hotels halfway from Takao to the top of the pass), I kept looking for my magnet spot around each curve. Not yet! When it came I recognized it ahead of time — and kept pressing onwards. Following that is the second magnet, the place I usually stop if I’ve cleared the first magnet. I was tiring by this time, but I kept up my resolve, knowing that I had succeeded before and could again.

And then, with the next landmark in sight — the bus stop, a scant 300m from the goal — my lungs blew up. I’d been doing OK up to that point, but I was suddenly gasping for breath, gulping down air without having a chance to exhale between gasps. I might have been able to push on through it, but there was a small bend from which I could see traffic in each direction, and I stopped to catch my breath.

My breathing was soon under control again, and I mounted up and continued on my way. I was heartened by the fact my thighs still felt great. I had no more trouble reaching the top — and was very thankful when I had.

Bicycle leaning against wooden fence overlooking road, with sign marking Otarumi Touge over the road
And I’m not going any higher!

After the obligatory snap and a short breather while I appreciated my surroundings, I mounted up for the ride back. Soon I was speeding back down the mountain, touching 50km/h where I’d moments before been struggling at 6km/h. During the descent the wind whistling through my helmet often makes me think a car is right behind me. Today, more than halfway down the mountain, I was passed by another cyclist, in much better aerodynamic form.

That’s a crowd

It was so crowded when I returned to Takaosan Guchi that I just pressed through the crowd to get a selfie before continuing on. (I should have left the bike parked by the road, instead of pushing it through the crowd.) I paused soon after at a convenience store to refuel and then I was on my way again, back through town towards the Asakawa. A couple of groups leaving the festival area reminded me just in time to divert around it, and that went smoothly. Then I was flying down the Asakawa once again, en route to the Tamagawa and home.

I had a very pleasant surprise before reaching the Tamagawa. There’s a section of the Asakawa where I usually see an egret or two, and it was no exception on my way upriver today. But on my return the egrets were flocking, and I watched in amazement as at least 30 circled over the river, returning to the trees on the opposite bank only to lift off again to soar in circles over the river once more.

Egrets in flight in blue skies with puffy white clouds over trees and river
Cycling the Asakawa leads to more egrets

I’d foolishly told Nana in the morning that I’d be home about 3, and yet it was 2:30 when I reached the Tamagawa once more and stopped for a break. I had just a mouthful of water left and no food. I decided to have a look for a convenience store when I got back to the usual park that is the final resting point before heading back into city traffic — the same park where the worker had asked me in the morning whither I was bound. I let Nana know I would be home after 4, most likely, and then set out once again downstream on the Tamagawa.

I was tired and sore at this point. At times the wind was against me and I felt I was crawling. At other times I stretched out and picked up the pace. I’d had a bit of saddle soreness during the ride, and tried shifting about on the saddle and adjusting my posture to ease the pressure. (Spoiler: it’s more to do with the posture than anything, so the secret is to maintain the correct posture in a variety of riding conditions.)

I reached the park without seeing any convenience stores, although I’d passed several vending machines where I could have stopped for water. After passing through Komae and turning on to Rte 3 towards Setagaya, I stopped at a convenience store at last. I hastily wolfed down a sandwich and filled up my water bottle. I checked the time: about 3:40. I messaged Nana I would be home about 4:30, checked that my lights were on, and set off for the final leg in traffic.

GPS record of cycle route
Never replicate a successful experiment

There’s not much to report about the ride home. The usual mix of rude drivers, parked vehicles and city buses. With traffic holding me back a bit more than expected, I was still more than 2km from home when 4:30 ticked by. I decided to keep pressing onwards rather than stop to let Nana know I was still on the way. I reached Central Park and raced downhill towards the goal. A red light, and then the final stretch … and a taxi driver made a U-turn in front of me and came to a stop in the middle of the lane to take on a fare. At 40km/h, I checked over my shoulder that I had enough clearance over the white Mercedes following me as I merged into the fast lane, got safely around the taxi, and then I was home. I messaged Nana at 4:37 that I’d arrived, and then took my time parking the bike and picking up the newspaper on my way up to the flat.

In sum, I really enjoyed the ride. I’m not bothered by the fact I didn’t make it to the top in one go again. I’m sure there will be other occasions — it wasn’t just a fluke. Meanwhile today, I didn’t run over any snakes again, or toddlers toddling about the path while mum’s attention is elsewhere, nor obaasan looking in one direction while they steer their shopping bikes in another, nor ojiisan just being ojiisan in the middle of the path — but not through lack of opportunity!

With a moving time of 5:56:37, the average moving speed was 19.1km/h. According to Strava that’s near my lower limit for this route, and yet I posted a string of 2nd and 3rd personal records all along the route, both on the way up the mountain and the way back.

Enoshima and Back

Selfie of two cyclists in helmets in front of Ryugu style train station at Katase-Enoshima

After weeks of planning and then days and days of anxiously watching the weather forecast, the Enoshima weekend came off without a hitch.

Enoshima is a popular vacation destination not far from Tokyo. The most straightforward route is heavily trafficked, so I was pleased to find a route which followed some cycling courses along rivers, at the cost of a few dozen kilometers. This turned out to be a good choice, with very low traffic and very pleasant views along the way.

Cycling course along river with buildings in background
Tsurumigawa view

It was all virgin territory to me, but José used to live around here and had run a marathon along a portion of the route, and so he was calling out various locations as we arrived.

Around 1 p.m. we crossed from Tsurumigawa to Sakai river. En route we stopped for lunch at a convenience store (supplementing the mass of onigiri supplied by Nana), and climbed the only real summit of the day, in a fair bit of traffic. But we were soon on our way down the Sakai river, albeit dealing with construction at various locations. At one long stretch of countryside with nothing of note in view, I ordered José to switch bikes with me so he could experience the Di2 shifting and hydraulic brakes.

His overriding reaction was how much heavier Kuroko was than his own bike. I can’t fault him for that: my immediate reaction to switching bikes was how much lighter his bike was than Kuroko! Part of this was that he was carrying his gear in his backpack, while I had more than adequately packed for the trip in a pannier attached to Kuroko’s rack. But another part of this was that Kuroko is at least 2kg heavier than his bike, and a good half of that is in the wheels.

A heavy beast

And there are reasons for that. I’m in a position (at this late stage of life) where I could easily buy a very lightweight racer. But I bought Kuroko specifically to allow me to carry a lot of gear comfortably over long distances — Lejog was the specific goal at the time of purchase. So Kuroko has a steel frame with lots of mounting points for luggage racks. And she has generous clearance for wide, comfortable tires. She came with 48mm tires, but I’m currently riding her with 42mm.

Apart from the weight differences, for the short distance we rode after switching bikes (less than 1km), José said he did appreciate Kuroko’s smooth shifting and braking. But he noted he wouldn’t be spending the money to upgrade to Di2 anytime soon.

Enoshima sunset

The shadows were already lengthening along the river before we reached Fujisawa. We had to leave the river for a couple of kilometers to get around the city hall and a large city park, but then it was back to the river course for the final few kilometers into Enoshima. There was still plenty of light when we arrived, but by the time we’d fought through the pedestrian crowds to check into the hotel and then changed clothes and walked down to the bridge leading to the island, the sun was setting.

Believe it or not, it took us a moment to realize that Fujisan was visible. Unfortunately I only had my phone with me for photos, as the view was remarkable. And from Enoshima most of Fujisan is visible (unlike from my flat, where the bottom half is obstructed by a mountain range just to the west of Tokyo). As the sun set we hurried on to the onsen, where we could still see Fujisan in the twilight through the bath windows.

We stopped at a convenience store on the way back to the hotel for snacks and libations. But when dinner arrived in our hotel room, we were floored — it was a lot of food! We were too full by the end to even think about the snacks, and by 9 p.m. we were both asleep in the glow of our respective screens. I managed to turn the light off before conking out completely.

Alternate route

I was awake at 5 a.m. on Sunday, quietly arranging my gear, watching the eastern sky lighten and finding the remote for the TV to check the weather forecast. We’d watched for more than a week as the forecast changed from solid rain, to clear, and then back again to rain in the afternoon. José had agreed to the ride on condition that if it was raining we return the way we came — on the cycling courses along the river.

My plan was instead to ride a few kilometers along the coast to Kamakura, and see the Grand Buddha there before heading back in mostly urban traffic to Yokohama, and hence homeward. As the TV confirmed the most recent forecast of rain in the latter half of the afternoon, the die was cast. As the clock ticked towards 7 a.m., I turned the room light on low and started making a bit more noise until José awoke, after which he quickly agreed to the plan.

It was more cloudy and a bit cooler as we set out Sunday morning along the shore of Sagami Bay. The wind was brisk but not slowing us down greatly, and the view was fantastic.

After just a few kilometers we turned inland and soon passed a sign for the Grand Buddha. José and I were here when he was in Boy Scouts, although he doesn’t remember that occasion at all, and I have been more recently with Nana. Unsure of the weather as yet, we paid the entrance fee, snapped the selfie and soon hurried on our way.

Following narrow roads around the back of the Kotoku-in temple (where the Grand Buddha is enshrined), we turned onto a paved road up to the Kamegayatsuzaka Kiridoshi Pass, where the 43m vault at gradients ranging from 14% to 20% proved too much for us both, and we got off and pushed. After descending back into quasi-urban traffic, and playing cat-and-mouse with a couple of metro buses, we puffed our way up a rise of similar height, but only single-digit gradients. I was glad for the brief respite of a traffic light a dozen or so (vertical) meters from the peak.

Yokohama in the wind

From there it was mostly flat (actually a very gradual descent), but still largely exurb rubbish riding to Yokohama. We arrived just about 10 a.m. and turned towards our favorite scenic view: Minato no Mieru Oka Koen (Harbour View Park). The climb up to the park is a more modest 29m rise with gradients peaking at about 13%. I’ve made it twice in the past without stopping, although my most recent effort was hampered by a badly spaced rear sprocket.

Alas, on this occasion I couldn’t blame it on the sprockets, which performed flawlessly. But the combination of being on the second day of the ride (rather than a fresh start) and the weight of the gear in the pannier was just too much for me. I stopped short of the spot where I typically give up, and dismounted. As I was pushing Kuroko upwards, I was passed by a middle-aged man on a folding bike, who shouted laughing encouragement as he powered on by. I pushed a dozen meters or so before mounting up again and arriving at the top puffing like the little engine that couldn’t.

After a brief rest at the top, and a chat with the gent on the folding bike about the distance and hilliness from Enoshima (Me: There’s a lot of up/down. Him: It’s not very hilly, is it?) we descended back into Yokohama and stopped at the nearest convenience store for an early lunch.

The wind, which had been bedeviling us for kilometers along the approach into Yokohama, was giving us the full blast here. We ate our goods standing in front of the convenience store, one hand on our bikes (which were leaning against trees) to stop them blowing over.

Drag back to Tokyo

From Yokohama back to Tokyo on Rte 15, it’s just a long, flat, straight drag in traffic with lots of lights. With the absence of scenery, certain place names get attention and stick in our minds, like 子安通り (Koyasu Dori: Cheap children avenue). The timing of the lights probably has a greater effect on progress than anything else along this 15km slog, but José and I both posted personal records on this occasion, which probably indicates the wind was with us for this portion of the ride. I remember remarking to José after a beep from the Garmie that we’d just done 5km in less than 15 minutes, which is kind of remarkable in traffic (much less so on a cycling route without traffic lights).

Back on home turf

Tired as we were, and sore as we were from the pounding of the broken pavement of Rte 15, we reached the Rokugo Bridge over the Tama River sooner than expected, about 11:30. After another brief rest outside a convenience store there, José and I parted ways. It’s a very straight go along Rte 15 to home for him, while I have a handful of kilometers to go northish along the Tama River before turning east again towards Shinjuku.

Along the river course, I was fighting the wind once again. After a brief stop at Gas Bashi (a landmark on our ride out the previous day), the wind was with me for a glorious 2km or so. But when I crossed the Maruko Bashi back into Kanagawa, it was into the teeth of the gale. I struggled along at scarcely more than a walking pace. Fortunately when I rejoined the cycling path and headed upstream again, it wasn’t quite so drastic. My biggest concern was a pack of schoolboys riding three to four abreast.

After working my way past a clot of loud, large Westerners on Futagobashi and then rubbing my pannier against a utility pole as I edged past a BMW (but without tearing the bag off the bike, as I had done on the very first day of Lejog), I was soon at the familiar little park at the top of the climb out of the Tamagawa valley. I marked the time at 12:30, and messaged Nana that I would be home by 2. The urban traffic was nothing out of the ordinary, and I finally eased my weary bones home at the dot of 1:30.

On Saturday, with our late start, the riding time was 4:29:05 for a moving average of 19.0km/h. The total ride time of less than six hours was more than an hour short of what I’d been predicting. On Sunday I recorded a moving time of 3:47:34 for a moving average of 19.4km/h, with an elapsed time of less than 5 hours 20 minutes. José, with his shortcut home, was preparing his bath while I was having a breather at the park in Futako.

In all it was a very enjoyable ride. We didn’t visit the shrines on Enoshima because of our late arrival, and José said there are three, and they are sisters, and they get jealous if we don’t visit all three. So that will be a future visit with a proper camera and lots of time. Of the two routes we used, the first day’s route along the river corridors was definitely more enjoyable. We both agreed we’d do this ride again at the drop of a hat. But perhaps the next time we’ll visit Kamakura in the morning and then reverse course to take the river corridors back home (which would bring it to about a metric century).

Finally, it would be well within reasonable limits to do Enoshima as a day ride: just over a century on the river corridors and considerably less via the Yokohama route (and perhaps even less via the most direct route possible). But that would leave no time for enjoying the sights at the destination. Still, I have to consider this the next time I set out to do a century, as it will still be quite a bit more fresh than the usual Tamagawa route.

Amazing act of planning ahead

Bicycle kit, helmet, water bottles and bright yellow pannier piled together on dark wooden floor

José and I have a ride this weekend that has been some weeks in the planning. The forecast has been changing daily, but as I write this it looks like it will be sunny and fair on Saturday, with a good chance of rain later in the day on Sunday. Nana says we’ll be fine on the return as long as we set out early.

Nana has also made a reservation for Korean barbecue tomorrow, which implies a fair amount of shochu consumption. In light of that, and much to my surprise, I’ve begun preparations tonight. I’ve packed a full complement of civvies, plus a change of essentials for the second day of riding; charging cables; the hotel information; my vaccination record; and some basic toiletries. And a rain jacket, just in case.

Yokohama solo

Yokohama Bay Bridge

I set out this morning in sunny but cool weather towards Yokohama, which I’d had to give up on last weekend when I learned the Yokohama marathon was running the same day.

It was a chilly 9C when I started preparing for the ride, but by the time Nana had got out of bed and started making onigiri, the temperature had risen to 12C. As I set off I started to wonder if I’d overdressed with my long-sleeve jersey given the forecast high of 18C. But I found even when the temperature had risen to its peak, the long-sleeve jersey was still welcome in the shade and wind.

My goal for the day was to see how much I could chip away at the total elapsed time for the ride, rather than the average moving speed. So I wasn’t putting the pedal down at every opportunity, but rather keeping track of the number of breaks I took, and making sure not to dawdle so long as my bum and hands didn’t need any extra rest time.

There was a brisk crosswind when I reached the river. I didn’t fight it — it wasn’t helping, but it wasn’t holding me back much.

Cycle course with detour signs and arrows at fork in path
What would the Tamagawa cycling course be without detours?

The wind ceased to be an issue when I joined up with Rte. 15 into Yokohama, so I could concentrate on traffic and traffic lights for the remaining 15km to the goal.

Self-inflicted wound

As I neared Yatozaka, one question was foremost in my mind: would I climb the hill in a single go? I’ve managed it twice in the past, but have suffered a large number of failures along the way. I made the turn and started the climb easily, then quickly shifted to the smaller chainring, and then down, and down, spinning all the way.

… and then, ker-chunk! The chain slipped up in to the second cog. I hit the shifter again and it immediately returned to the largest cog. And after another four or five crank revolutions: ker-chunk! again! I continued on up the hill this way, feeling the chain slip to the smaller cog every few revolutions, and quickly hitting the shifter to bring it back to the largest cog.

I continued in this fashion until well past the dog café. But then — ker-chunck! — it was just too much and I dismounted and pushed the bike up the couple of dozen remaining meters. I resolved to rest and enjoy the view, and then have a look at the rear derailleur situation.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

The view from the garden at the top was fine. It was warm and not too windy. I worked my way through the two remaining onigiri, watching with mild alarm as a little girl playing on the banister nearly knocked Kuroko over. (Her grandfather warned her off just in the nick of time.)

Onigiri time over, I had a look at the rear derailleur. On the largest cog, the derailleur was severely misaligned. I was surprised it could shift onto the largest cog at all. I tried backing off the limit screw with my multitool (mindful of the extreme consequences of doing this during Lejog), to no avail. It wasn’t the limit screw — the cogs were in the wrong place.

It was only then I remembered that during yesterday’s cleaning and lube job, I’d left out the spacer. It’s a very thin spacer, but it goes on the hub before any of the cogs, and it pushes them outward just that single, important millimeter.

Realizing there was nothing I could do until I got home (and knowing I didn’t need this gear again for the remainder of the ride), I put the limit screw back to where it had been and mounted up for the ride home.

Long, steady crawl

It’s a lot of traffic and even more stop lights on the way back from Yokohama to the Tamagawa river. I concentrated more on timing the lights than on bursts of speed, with some limited success. On more than one occasion, a driver turning right from the opposite direction would creep forward as I entered the intersection, and I got more aggressive about shouting “Hold!” and raising my hand in a “Stop!” gesture. A couple had the grace to look abashed, but the more normal reaction was to pretend not to see me (which is the whole point — making sure they’ve seen me and aren’t going to hit the gas just as I’m crossing in front of them).

At the top of the climb out of Futako, I took a minimal break, drinking some water and messaging Nana that I’d be home “about 3.” From there it was the usual dance with traffic on the way home. At one point I checked my elapsed time at 5 hours 15 minutes. OK — if I can only finish in less than 45 minutes! I was already about 10 minutes out of Futako, so it was quite likely, but not the sure thing.

As I neared home I was able to snake my way past quite a bit of backed-up traffic in places. The situation around Sasazuka was far less crowded than is often the case, and I pedaled smoothly along. At last I was in the final run towards Nishi Shinjuku, and there was nothing to do but pedal and try to game the lights. At last I sped downhill past central park, and for a wonder made the light at the bottom. I remained in the highest gear for the remaining flat 300m or so to reach our tower, and then shut off the Garmin and messaged Nana I was home.

22 May 2116 Oct. 216 March 226 Nov. 22
Distance (km)87.9987.6087.9288.14
Moving time (h:mm:ss)4:26:004:08:594:28:434:18:51
Total elapsed time (h:mm:ss)5:57:485:50:596:35:385:47:46
Average moving speed (km/h)19.821.119.620.4
Performance comparison for Yokohama round trip

Compared to the three previous runs down to Yokohama, my average moving speed was on the high side. I’d been solo on 22 May 2021, with with José for the next two rides, with a lot of faffing on the most recent ride on a cold March morning. And today, solo and with only a slight mechanical, I’d indeed put in the shortest total elapsed time, acing my goal for the day.

GPS record of cycle route
Yokohama solo

I arrived home just before 3 o’clock, and after a quick shower, hustled out to the Workshop in the Sky to attend to the day’s mechanical. In a few minutes I had the wheel off and the sprockets removed from the wheel, and sure enough, the spacer was missing. Fortunately I knew exactly where it was. The sprockets went back on quickly, and then it was 10 minutes in the stand while I sorted out the shifter adjustments. Fingers crossed I won’t have any issues on next weekend’s ride. (And the forecast is improving!)

From the depths of the toolbox

Bicycle with bright yellow panniers on balcony with cityscape in background

I’m taking advantage of a three-day weekend to do some cleaning and light maintenance in preparation for a short tour next weekend. (For which the forecast is now rain, but I digress … )

Kuroko hasn’t been washed in quite a while, and I decided this was time to remove all the gunk and residue from the wet lube I’ve been using and switch to a general-use lube. Following my experience making the same switch with Dionysus, I knew my job would be a lot easier if I left the cogs soaking overnight in degreaser. And that really did the trick.

After the overnight soak it took just a few minutes with a stiff brush to remove all the gunk and grime, leaving me with (mostly) shiny cogs. I applied fresh grease to the hub and locknut, and then spent a couple of minutes fitting it all together again. Then it was back on the bike for some derailleur adjustment and the application of the new lube.

Getting ready to tour

For the overnight tour next weekend, I decided to use the panniers — one at least — rather than a backpack. While the gears were soaking yesterday I mounted the rack which has been sitting on the balcony since … with a start I realized it’s been since I returned from England three years ago. Today, after giving the bike a very quick washing, I dug up the panniers from the very bottom of the toolbox where they’ve been all this time. Unlike the rack (which has had to brave the elements), they look fresh, almost new.

I wasn’t sure if the saddlebag would fit over the rack. It’s not really necessary if I have the panniers, although it is convenient. It was a near thing, but it fits without rubbing (at least when it’s not crammed full), and that’s a good thing because I can use the saddlebag without having to remove the rack on rides when I’m not using the panniers (most days).

I’ve got plans for some longer rides again in the future, and a few more modifications to Kuroko in preparation. But for now, this will be perfect for an overnight trip.

Slow lap around Tokyo

I didn’t post last weekend’s short ride with José. I’d been thinking about riding to Yokohama until I realized the marathon was running the same day, and right over a good portion of our route. After considering the options, I decided the tour of the Tokyo landmarks was more appealing than another jaunt on the Tamagawa cycling course.

We didn’t press hard, and we took our time over lunch at Big Sight. We parted ways at Budokan, which is just a short sprint from José’s flat. Based on a riding time of 3:14:27, I averaged 18.9km/h. The ride brought my total for October to 518km, a level I haven’t broached since May.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Great day for a slow lap

Checking the weather forecast for next weekend on a daily basis now with fingers crossed!

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.