Kawagoe the Long Way ‘Round

Close selfie of two people in bicycle helmets and sunglasses. One is wearing a black mask.

José agreed to join Sunday’s ride for the first time in quite a while. I suggested Kawagoe, knowing it would be a nice, flat stretch, although I underestimated the distance from José’s flat somewhat.

I’d racked up 80km of commuting during the week, including an unexpected office visit on Saturday. When I hit the road Sunday morning, my thighs felt tired. I stretched them out by taking the hilly route through Akasaka en route to meet José.

After the meet-up we turned northeast, roughly paralleling the Sumida river to take us to Arakawa. We stopped at a convenience store for drinks and snacks just before reaching the river.

Once on the Arakawa cycling course, we headed upstream towards our goal. We soon were wading into the midst of a marathon, carefully picking our way around the runners and giving them the widest berth that the path allowed. Once clear of them I kept the pace moderate, mindful of the distance we’d be covering. But I don’t think either of us realized the extent of the help we were getting from a tailwind — at the end of the ride, Strava showed a number of personal bests for this section of the ride (many of them overlapping).

Along the way I’d been telling José how I’d worked out a very nice detour around the construction near the end of the course. He really didn’t get the gist of my brilliant explanation, though, until we arrived at the detour and he saw how directly it led to the Kawagoe sports park.

After a brief stop we continued on into Kawagoe towards Koedo. When we reached the last big intersection, the traffic was backed up quite a ways. That was an omen for what we were to find in Koedo: lots and lots of traffic and people turned out in the good weather to enjoy the sights. We worked our way directly to Toki no Kane to get the money shot, and then we worked our way back out of town.

Close selfie of two people in bicycle helmets and sunglasses. One is wearing a black mask. A tall wooden tower rises into a cloudy blue sky in the background.
One shot with Toki no Kane

A pause for lunch, and then …

We stopped at the park for a feast of Nana’s world-famous onigiri, with the addition of some convenience store goods. José was so delighted with the umeboshi-and-kombu onigiri that his face was dancing as he ate it. Meanwhile, a bug was making a similar feast of my ankle.

On our way back out of town it was clear we’d be heading into the wind as we returned downriver, and that was borne out from the moment we saddled up. We were struggling for every painful kilometer. According to the Garmin when I checked, we were going pretty directly into a 27km/h headwind. The PRs of our upstream ride were a distant memory, and I begged for more frequent breaks to rest my aching hands and backside.

As we neared the spot where we’d entered the cycling course, I asked José if he knew the way home from there or if I should ask Garmie to guide us. He said he knew the way, although not the same way we’d come. I gave him his head and he guided me on a much truer path alongside the Sumida river, passing by Tokyo Skytree and Asakusa to bring us to Nihonbashi. We said our goodbyes there and I continued on my way.

I sent Nana a photo so she’d know where I was, and soon followed up with two more from Budokan.

A bicycle leaning against a bridge abutment topped by a decorative lamppost featuring a lion holding a ship's wheel, a gargoyle and other embellishments.
Nihonbashi from the other side

After a brief visit to Budokan, I stopped at the top of Kudanzaka and got a fresh bottle of water to wash down the last onigiri. It was 4:30. I’d originally told Nana I’d be home at 2-3, not thinking how many kilometers I would add to my usual Kawagoe ride by visiting Ginza along the way. I’d already updated her that I wouldn’t be home until 5, and now I messaged I’d be home by 5:30 at the earliest. As usual I’d left myself a margin for error. I neared the homestead shortly after 5. Garmie said I was a few hundred meters shy of 130km, so I circled twice around the block. The other measure I was keeping an eye on was total elapsed time — could I bring it in under 9 hours? I passed the 130km mark, rolled up to the tower, and stopped the clock with 30 seconds to spare.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Kawagoe the Long Way ‘Round

I was pleased with my overall time despite the absolute struggle nearly the entire way back down the Arakawa. On a moving time of 6:40:43, I averaged 19.5km/h. The ride brings me to 473km in May. There’s a possibility we’ll have a break in the rain on Wednesday, which would allow me to nudge the monthly total over the 500km mark.

Detox Fondo

Bicycle leaning against hedge. The hedge circles a fountain, which is spouting in the background. At the far side of the fountain, a family dabbles in the water.

We’ve been eating out — and drinking — far too much this past week. I wasn’t sure I’d be in shape to ride today, but it’s the only chance for a few days so I decided to go for it. I wanted to get in a 100km fondo. Given my weakened feeble fragile overall state, I thought it best to have a go on my fallback, the ride on the Tamagawa up to Hamura and back. It’s 100km, it’s flat, it’s relatively traffic-free — it’s perfect for the occasion.

It was nearly 11 when we got home last night after our private nijikai, and Nana hadn’t prepared the rice. So no world-famous onigiri for me. I stopped at a convenience store in Futako and loaded up on carbohydrates. While I was in the store the sky clouded over completely, so by the time I was on the trail I was wondering if it would rain (despite the forecast for dry weather). I made it to the first stopping point without any precipitation and stopped to enjoy a yogurt drink.

The restrooms at the park were closed for maintenance, so I stopped again a few kilometers later at a smaller park with larger restrooms, for a much improved restroom-park ratio. After that I was on the open road with the wind in my hair, my cares behind me, the light of good fortune bursting from my brow … anyway, I was progressing upstream again. There was a dicey moment or two getting past a slow-moving group ride, with the leader riding side-by-side with a curious ojisan, chatting along and not concerned with the hazard they were creating for overtaking riders.

I next stopped at the usual park roughly 15km from the goal to eat the rest of my convenience store goodies. There were a number of riders of all stripes spread across the park’s various benches and tables, so it’s no surprise a fellow rider joined me at my picnic table after a couple of minutes. We greeted each other and then ate and rested in silence. I was soon on the road again, still heading upstream.

The next park brought some muddy paths strewn with blackberries. Sorry for the extra laundry challenges, Nana! I was feeling good but still not quite satisfied despite my recent fuel stop. I checked the time and realized it approaching noon, and so my stomach was anticipating a proper lunch. I stopped at another convenience store just a few kilometers from the end of the cycling course to stock up on more carbohydrates.

When I set out in the morning, I’d made some silly remark to Nana about being home by 2:30 or 3. I’d made a late enough start that it was already after noon when I arrived at Hamura, and about 1 when I set off for home. With a belly full of carbohydrates I had energy, but I also had a burgeoning headache — a result of the bright sunshine now breaking through the cloud cover and the jarring from broken pavement. So I continued on at a good clip, but with more frequent breaks than usual.

As I reached the original resting point at the fountain, I had a choice. I could leave the cycling course and strike off in city traffic towards home, as has been my preference recently, or I could continue on the course to Futako and from there homewards — a slightly longer course. I took stock of my condition: good legs, numbing hands, an increasingly sharp pain behind my left eye. I was also getting rather sore from sitting on my asperger for so many hours. Then I considered the two routes. Both of course involve riding home through city traffic, but the route from Futako is quite a bit more forgiving in this respect — Setagaya Ave. is just traffic and lights and lots of both the whole way.

I consulted Garmie, and to my surprise it looked like the Futako route would only be an additional kilometer or two, with a few kilometers left on the cycling course and then a somewhat shorter route through traffic. (I’m going to have to have a good look on the map for this, because the figures don’t seem to add up. The Futako route should be about 5-6km longer, but it doesn’t work out that way.)

At any rate, it was already 3, and now (with the Futako route) I had another 20-21 kilometers to go, with 13km in traffic. I messaged Nana that I should be home about 4:30 and set out again. I had smooth sailing on the remainder of the cycling route to Futako, and a slow but steady climb out of the Tamagawa valley once I reached Futako. I checked the time again: it had taken me exactly 30 minutes on the 8km from my previous stop to this one, which left me an hour to make the deadline I’d told Nana. I messaged that I was in Futako and on my way, and set out on the last bit in traffic.

No rain!

And there’s not much more to add. The sun had emerged — in force, at times — and erased any fear of rain. I had good legs to get me home, despite the growing pain in my hands and backside (and forehead). I’d topped up the water along the way and so had a ready supply. Traffic was not horrible. I made it home and messaged Nana, 10 minutes before the time I’d told her to expect me.

And I was exhausted.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Detox Fondo

It’s far from my best time on the route, but with a moving time of 5:22:54, I averaged 19.9km/h. After hitting the shower I relaxed in my den and took another body inventory. The headache was abating, gods be praised. But my back was aching, as was my right hip. My hands were still feeling the effects of the pressure, while my bottom was recovering nicely.

When I tried to stir from my chair, it was a slow and painful business.

Now, after dinner, I’m feeling somewhat better. My head is fine. The hip is moving freely and I can stand or sit with ease. I’m still exhausted. I’ve been thinking about longer rides this year, particularly multi-day rides, and I’m wondering if I’ve allowed myself to get too out of shape to realize my goals.

It’s something I should sleep on.

Today’s ride netted me the Gran Fondo badge for a single ride of 100km, plus the May Cycling Challenge for riding at least 200km for the month.

Bonkers update

Detail of bicycle tire on carpeted floor. The tire has a tan sidewall, on which the words BILLY BONKERS appear in large, black capital letters.

I’ve put just less than 500km on Dionysus since switching to the big fat Billy Bonkers tires. They’ve been great the whole time (after I adjusted to how much more effort they take to accelerate than the narrow, light Contis they replaced), and they make the bumpier sections of my commute much more comfortable than previously.

During yesterday’s commute I felt I was fighting the bike more than usual. I didn’t know whether this was my fat old poorly rested body holding me back or something else. I also noticed, though, that the tires were feeling more spongy than usual. Maybe it was time to check the pressure.

Montage: two GPS records of bicycle rides, side by side
Fatty Arbuckle and the Skid Row Skivvers

Before setting out this morning, I checked the tires with a digital gauge, and they’d both fallen to about 25psi. I used the hand pump to bring them up to 30, something that only took about a minute per tire.

The difference was immediately noticeable. The sponginess was gone, and the bike felt quite a bit more responsive. I’m not sure if the commute numbers will reflect that, as they tend to be more the result of traffic and lights than my output. But in any case I know now how often I need to check the pressure (not nearly as often as when I was running tubeless on Kuroko, but once every couple of weeks would be a good idea).

Montage: two GPS records of bicycle rides, side by side
Cab Calloway and the Jumpin’ Jive

Looking at those rides on the same page like that reminds me: I was really haulin’ ashes on my way home last night — all the while fighting those soft tires. Tonight I was taking it easier and being more judicious about certain traffic situations.

Detail of bicycle tire on carpeted floor. The tire has a tan sidewall, on which the words BILLY BONKERS appear in large, black capital letters.
Bonkers update

I had a rainy commute back in March that left the rear tire covered in black streaks of grime, and I haven’t given the bike a bath since then (although I’ve cleaned and lubed the chain). I’ll have to find the charging cable for the Kärcher and get to it.

Weight limit

Screenshot of Mastodon post: Greg Knauss @gknauss@mastodon.social
OK, I know I'm a little heavy, but that's just mean.

The image is mostly blue sky with a few clouds. In the center are two signs stacked vertically. The top says "Weight limit 4 tons". The bottom has an icon of a bicycle and says "Bike Path". The signs are attached to a railing which runs diagonally from the bottom right corner to the middle of the left.
Weight limit

I suited up to ride yesterday morning. Once again I started with the idea of a long ride, 130km or more, and by the time I was ready to go out the door I’d cut that goal in half.

As as I was preparing for le départ, Nana was watching the hanging bug repeller swinging back and forth in the wind on the balcony. “Be careful,” she warned. “It’s windy!”

Yeah yeah yeah …

When I rolled my bicycle out of the elevator onto the sidewalk, I was hit by the full force of the wind. I could hardly hold the bike steady while I donned my bandana and gloves.

It took me less than a minute to change my mind. With my helmet still dangling from the handlebars and clutching one glove in my hand, I wheeled Kuroko back inside and parked her in the garage. Back up to the flat to shower off the sunblock and chamois cream.

After an hour or so it looked like the wind might be abating, but then Nana started reading to me the list of trains that had been delayed or stopped by the strong winds. Decision validated.

A fragment of your life

Bicycle leaning against stone pillar at end of bridge, with a sculpture of a boat atop the pillar. A river is visible in the background to the right, and stairs to the left.

I set out early this morning (although about 20 minutes later than planned) in hopes of riding 100km, and thus bringing my monthly total to 600km. I’ve only done this twice before — once being Lejog of course.

The weather seemed perfect for it: mild, sunny, some clouds. But I was disabused of this the moment I mounted up. The wind was strong. Very strong, and gusty. At times I was fighting for control of the bike, at other times I was soldiering into the wind at little more than a jogging pace.

I stopped at my usual resting spot on the Tamagawa and propped Kuroko against a tree. I didn’t have any problem at the time. But when I stopped a few kilometers later for an early onigiri, I’d no sooner propped Kuroko against a post than she was blown over. I ended up wedging her between the post and a tree trunk, and clasped my helmet between my legs to prevent it doing a Mary Poppins.

After the brief break I continued on, dreading the moment I turned on Rte 15 into the teeth of the gale. It wasn’t as bad though as riding on the river had been, but the wind was still holding me back from making much progress.

I finally reached Minato Mirai in Yokohama three hours after setting out. With my thighs feeling the effects of the 100km of commuting I did this week in addition to the fight through the wind to reach Minato Mirai, I didn’t expect to be able to climb up the hill to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen (Harbor View Park) in one go, and in this I was not disappointed. If anything, I was pleasantly surprised how far up the hill I made it before dismounting and continuing on foot.

After eating a couple more onigiri, I mounted up for the ride back to Tamagawa. I clearly was benefiting from a tailwind at this point, and ended up within a couple of seconds of my PR for the long stretch in traffic.

I’d racked up about 60km by the time I reached the Tamagawa, and I knew I’d need more if I wanted to reach 100. Before turning for home, I set out downstream and into the wind again. Within 15 minutes I arrived at Haneda, where I sat down to eat the last onigiri. It was shortly after 1 p.m. when I started back upstream.

The wind was now changeable, but it was helping me along for the most part. I stopped again at the usual rest spot (same as the first one of the day), checked with Garmie and did some mental calculation. By the time I got to Futako I’d be at about 80km, and if I just rode straight home from there I’d still be about 5-6km shy of 100.


I briefly considered some loops around Shinjuku to bring the total up at the end, and then I had an inspiration: I could stay on the river past Futako until I reached the bridge for Setagaya Avenue, then return home via Komae — the same route home I usually take after riding to Hamura. That should give me the elusive 5km I was seeking out.

As it happened I clocked 80km shortly before reaching Futako, as I’d figured, and I continued on the cycle course. After a few more kilometers I came to a 7-11 and stopped for water and a candy bar. Thus fortified, I continued. Everything was going fine until I reached Tama Aqueduct to find an enormous festival sprawling over the river bank and up to the cycle course. I slowed to a crawl, ringing my bell repeatedly as I inched my way through the festival-goers. It took a couple of minutes to make it through to the bridge.

Once back over the river and in Tokyo, I stopped a light and messaged Nana that I’d be home in about an hour. As it happened, I beat my estimate by one minute, comfortably over my 100km goal.

GPS record of cycle ride
A fragment of your life

On a moving time of 5:21:17, I averaged 19.3km/h. I’m happy given the extreme wind and the fact I was more concerned with distance than speed.

As mentioned, part of my motivation for going 100km was to bring my total for April up to 600km — of which 238.72km was commuting. In the process I netted a number of badges from Strava and Garmin.

Scoundrels and knaves

Over the course of the day, I felt I’d had more than my share of drivers passing me only to immediately put on their signal and cut me off. But the worst offense came in the first 10km of the day. I was coming to an intersection where I wanted to turn right. The car ahead of me was also turning right, so I felt I’d be safe following him through the intersection. I checked over my shoulder and noted a blue car about 20-30m behind. I put out my hand and pulled into the right part of the lane, just behind the right-turning car, to wait for the intersection to clear.

As a car passed in the opposite direction I heard a blaring horn and a screech of brakes. I glanced over my shoulder to see the blue car that had been behind me was now fully in the opposite lane, facing head-on into the traffic. Had the driver been trying to get ahead of me into the queue, when there was clearly no room to pull back in line?

The intersection cleared and I followed the car ahead of me through the right turn. A moment later the blue car followed me through the turn. Noticing it was the same car behind me, I pulled over to the curb and let them pass.

It all happened too quickly for me to become frightened or angry. I’m glad to say my traffic interactions for the rest of the day were less exciting, if sometimes more exasperating.

Finally, I need to be more careful about applying sunblock to my hands at the gap between the sleeve and glove, and the gap where the glove closure is.

Sunday afternoon

Bicycle, viewed from slightly above and the front, leaning against glass banister with cityscape showing far below through the glass. In the bottom left, the corner of a workbench with a blue dish can be seen.

Following yesterday’s issues with the tire valve, I brought Kuroko up to the Workshop in the Sky. Mostly I wanted to clean and oil the chain, which I did without fanfare. But I also wanted to resolve the issues with the inner tube’s valve and the pump.

I’d pumped up the inner tube itself yesterday afternoon following the ride, and it still seemed to be holding air. (The pressure readings aren’t really meaningful when the tube isn’t installed in a tire on a rim.) I tested it today with the pump head, to see if I could attach the pump head, pump in some air, and then remove the pump head without also removing the valve core. The first try was a failure, but then I screwed in the valve core tightly using the proper Parktool valve core tool (VC-1), and after that there was no trouble. I let the air out of the inner tube and folded it to store in my saddle bag as a spare.

I’m still thinking about long-term strategies, and if I want to replace the pump, and if I want to try tubeless again (and as a part of that if I want to try different rims). And balancing all this with the consideration that I just like spending money on the bike and changing things, and I really shouldn’t do that just for the sake of spending money and changing things.

For now I’ve ordered a couple of new inner tubes. I packed the inner tube and tools back in the saddle bag, put the bag and the pump back on the bike, and she’s ready to roll the next time I want to ride. (Next weekend is not looking promising.)

Bicycle, viewed from slightly above and the front, leaning against glass banister with cityscape showing far below through the glass. In the bottom left, the corner of a workbench with a blue dish can be seen.
Ready to roll

A lie propagated by Big Cloud

Selfie of cyclist wearing a helmet and glasses in front of a vermilion Japanese torii. The sky behind the torii is uniformly grey.

With a forecast of sun and 0% chance of rain, with a high of 20C, I was planning for a nice long ride. I’d set the alarm clock and told Nana I was leaving at 8 sharp.

I woke up to completely overcast skies and a chilly, howling wind. I immediately revised my plans, figuring I’d go to Yokohama, and I turned off the alarm to let Nana sleep in.

A weather forecast for 4/22 showing a sun icon, a high of 20C and low of 13, with 0% chance of rain.
Not seeing any clouds

Meanwhile, lethargy set in. Just sitting at my desk, I was getting cold. Nana woke at 8 and got busy making her world-famous onigiri. I said I would leave at 9:30, but in fact it was 9:45 before I got on the road.

What, again?

By the time I reached Futako Tamagawa, I felt the bike was dragging. Was something rubbing? Then I noticed that when I went over any bumps in the road, the rear tire was feeling soft — pillowy, even. By the time I crossed Futako Bridge into Kanagawa, I was feeling the thrumming while I pedaled that indicated a soft rear tire. I stopped just under the far end of the bridge and got out the pump.

I soon had the tire pumped up to what seemed an equal pressure to the front tire according to the Thumb-o-Meter™. But then when I tried to unscrew the pump head from the valve, the valve core came with it, along with an enormous WHOOSH! of air escaping from the valve stem now that there was nothing to hold it back.

Huh. So the pump head screws onto the valve core, not the valve body. And the valve core is loose. I removed it from the pump head and tightened it back into the valve core as best I could. Screwed on the pump head again and pumped it up. And when I delicately removed the pump head … same result.

At some point in the process of trying again (… and again) a good Samaritan in the form of an ojisan on a beautiful classic steel bicycle stopped to help me. I assured him I was fine and I had a spare just in case. But it soon became obvious he was just as eager to speak English as to help a fellow cyclist in trouble. By now I was on the third or fourth try to pump up the tire again, and I realized if I just left the pump head attached to the valve, it might hold air. I removed the pump, leaving the head attached, and … it seemed to be holding.

My good Samaritan however was not satisfied. He was very curious about my bike, and noted I was using Di2 shifters. I proudly informed him I’d upgraded it myself from 一〇五 (105). And then he noticed — horrors! — the unused water bottle bolts on my seat tube were not fully tightened. He quickly opened his waist pouch and produced a multitool, and proceeded to tighten up the unused bolts. He let me know he’d lost a bolt by leaving it in the same condition. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’ve left the bolts like that since I moved the second water bottle below the downtube during the Switching to Glide conversion, a year and a half ago. Finally, after checking the tightness of the bolts on the rear rack, he was satisfied.

Meanwhile I’d been looking at his red racer. It’s a real classic steel framed bike with Campagnolo components and a matching red bidon. The tires were the narrowest tubulars I’ve ever seen — I doubt I could balance a dime flat across the tread. He said he bought the bike in 1976, and I noted I was in high school then.

Another change in plans

The tire seemed to be holding pressure, with the pump head screwed on the valve. I set off again and then checked the time: it was already 11. Soon after that, it began to sprinkle, very lightly. With the delay, the threat of rain and a burgeoning headache, I decided to revise my plans. Instead of Yokohama I’d just go to Haneda and back. I could to that in the pouring rain with a migraine, if need be.

Flowers and politicians

The cycling path was lined with azaleas in bloom and many small purple-and-white blossoms — almost as numerous as the sound trucks of politicians soliciting votes in tomorrow’s local elections. I appreciated the former and did my best to ignore the latter as I continued down the river and into the wind. It was a stiff wind, but very steady, which made it easy for me to adjust my cadence and continue. I stopped at my usual resting spot and had a banana, then continued.

The wind held up. I came to an area which had had a detour on my last visit. The construction was finished and the path was vastly improved. Where it had been a narrow path with broken pavement and blind curves, thanks to rampant vegetation, it was now broad and smooth — and naked. I wondered if they might have kept some of the shrubbery while still improving the overall safety and usability.

And I continued downstream, into the wind. I passed a 5km milestone at 15 minutes on the nose — a 20km/h average. So the wind was not holding me back excessively. I reminded myself to watch for pedestrians and other cyclists, rather than Garmie, as I neared my goal.

Still not seeing any sun

At Haneda I made quick work of Nana’s world-famous onigiri (mentaiko). As soon as I mounted up for the return, though, I felt the rear tire had gone soft again. I stopped at the nearest spot that would put me out of traffic and pumped up the tire again. The pump was being flaky and in the process of trying again (and again!) I smashed a finger between the pump handle and body.

No mind. I soon had the tire back up to pressure and continued on my way.

From Haneda back to Futako is roughly 17km. The wind was helping me now, mostly. I stopped at a restroom. Before continuing I gave Kuroko’s back wheel a couple of bounces — still firm. I continued along upstream.

Before 2km had passed, though, I felt the thrumming again in time with my pedal strokes. That’s it — the rear is losing air again. I’d already passed the rest area at Gas Bashi, so I decided to tough it out until I reached the rest area under the Kawazuzakura around the 14km mark (measured from Haneda). The thrumming from the rear tire became increasingly pronounced, and I eased up on the pedals a bit, but I reached the rest area without any further complications.

It took just over 15 minutes to replace the inner tube with the spare and get that inflated and back on the bike. For the first time since reaching Futako in the morning, I was confident Kuroko would see me home in one piece. I messaged Nana that I was on my way again and mounted up for the scant few kilometers that would bring me back to Futako.

Slight return

It was nearly 2 p.m. when I reached Futako, following more than the usual amount of faff with pedestrians and other bikers getting across Futako Bridge. I had just a brief rest at the top of the climb and messaged Nana that I’d be home about 3. I remembered to turn on the taillight as it was still dark and cloudy, and then set out in traffic. There’s nothing really to note about the ride from that point except that it involved the usual amount of interaction with stupid drivers.

I had just about 7km remaining when I reached the light at the top of Umegaoka Itchome. There was another rider waiting at the light before me. From the appearance — street clothes including a trench coat, riding a mama chari — I thought this was someone I wanted to get ahead of. But the road after the light is very narrow. Fortunately I was able to overtake them at the next light without any risk. But then as we came downhill into a series of intersections, they went up on the sidewalk ahead of me and through the red light. Finally, they came back onto the street just ahead of me, only to move back to the sidewalk less than 20 meters later.

And as they moved back onto the sidewalk, their tire caught on the slight lip between the road surface and the ramp up to the sidewalk. Over they went, flat down on the sidewalk! I came to an abrupt stop, and signaled for the car behind me to stop. “Are you OK?” The answer came quickly as they — a woman, I could see now — struggled to her feet. “Yes, I’m all right.”

I continued on my way, remembering that I’d done the same thing on Ol’ Paint several years ago, not 100m from that same spot — although at considerably higher speed. On that occasion I’d limped home and Nana had walked in while I was trying to clean up all the blood from my scraped knee and elbow.

I’m happy to report there was nothing more exciting for the remainder of my ride home.

GPS record of bicycle ride
A lie propagated by Big Cloud

I was definitely not pushing today. In addition to the soft rear tire, I was struggling into the wind on the way down the Tamagawa. I’m not convinced I won it all back on the way upstream. Based on a moving time of 3:21:37, I averaged 19.0km/h. Neither stunning nor exceptionally slow.

Addendum: Yes, yes there is

Bicycle innertube on cardboard box with valve inserted into multitool
Yes there is

“But wait!” I hear you ask. “Isn’t there a valve core wrench on your multitool? Couldn’t you have saved yourself a lot of effort, and protected Kuroko from the threat of damage from riding under-inflated tires?”

It occurred to me from the start, before the Good Samaritan stopped to help me under Futako Bridge. I can’t exactly say why I failed to check at the time, except to say that I sometimes make stunningly poor decisions while riding — something Fearless Leader Joe can certainly attest to.

Not long after arriving home, and having a beer (and another, and another … ) and falling asleep in the bath, and waking up again and getting dressed, I checked the multitool against the delinquent valve core. It took a few tries, but there is indeed an attachment for this purpose. It’s part of the chain tool, as it happens.

I spent some time with bicycle pump reviews to find something that wouldn’t leave me in the lurch like the Panaracer pump left me today. More than one review favored the Topeak that I originally got with Kuroko (and still have). My problem with that pump is it often would fail to seal properly on the valve, leaving me huffing and puffing while I pumped air into … the air. I’ve found what I think will be the replacement. It has the same weakness as the Panaracer — the pump head screws onto the valve core, meaning that it could unscrew the core on release. But it has a valve core tool incorporated into the head, meaning I can tighten the valve core first, then inflate the tire. It’s lighter and more compact, and includes a digital pressure gauge that all the reviews say is very accurate. The only downside now is finding the pump and its mount (it will attach to my unused bidon bolts) in Japan. It doesn’t help that various vendors interpret the name of the pump in different ways.

Parting shot

It’s actually 22 April in Japan now but …

Screenshot of Garmin cycle navi with legend "Riding on Rte. 420" (in Japanese)
Riding on 420

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At last the stars aligned and I had my first ride on Dionysus since putting the front tire on the right way round. I can’t say I noticed any difference in the ride.

I’d spent some time sorting out the brakes. The rear is much improved and both brakes perform adequately — good enough for an emergency skid to a stop. The feel has improved a bit, but the brake noodles are the limiting factor. As I rethreaded the cables through the noodles last weekend I could feel how much resistance they added.

I don’t know if this could be further improved. I’m already using polymer coated cables, and the noodles have low-friction liners. The rear is a Shimano, so I don’t think quality is a question. Premium cable maker Jagwire has noodles in a couple of angles, as well as flexible ones, but they don’t make any particular claim about their performance (and don’t even specify if they’re lined). I doubt it’s worth the cost to find out.

I’m probably just spoiled now that I have hydraulic brakes on Kuroko. The difference is nothing short of astonishing.

The final area of attention is the chain and derailleur. The chain is a bit quieter following the cleaning and lube job, but it’s still noisy compared to the original. I like the way this chain looks, but I think when it’s time to replace it I’ll go back to the stock chain. The price is very similar. As for the derailleur, it’s still not quite dialed in to perfection. I’m going to have another look at it before the ride home this evening.

OK maybe just the one

GPS record of bicycle ride, titled Genki

I had a bit of a late start this morning, and the Garmie didn’t wake up for a couple of hundred meters. My thighs felt good, and I made some traffic lights and missed others (as always). On a moving time of 37:26, I averaged 20.6km/h.

Getting the tire on the right way round

Detail of bicycle tire from above showing the tread pattern. The turquoise fork crown can be seen in the left side of the picture. The brake cable emerges from the middle right, diagonally down to the center, where it loops and then passes vertically up nearly in the center of the image.

The forecast has been for rain all weekend, so I glumly concluded it would be a good chance for some bicycle maintenance. When I woke up this morning the forecast was improving — just a slight chance of rain in the afternoon — but when I looked out the window it was grey and misty.

I’ve been waiting for a chance to do some maintenance on Dionysus ever since I put the fat tires on. As soon as I had finished I noticed I’d put on the front tire with the tread in the opposite direction from the rear. It’s not terribly important (and I wasn’t sure at the time which was the “preferred” direction), but it’s the kind of little detail that’s going to bother me until I fix it.

I also wanted to see if I could get the brake cables working with a bit less binding, and remove some of the squishiness in the rear brake cable. Finally, the chain has been making some noise and so I wanted to have a look at that as well.

Getting the tire off wasn’t difficult at all. I put the wheel in the truing stand and gave a few tweaks. It was in good shape to start with. I didn’t have too much trouble getting the tire back on after that — and after checking twice that I was doing it in the right direction. In the process I discovered the rotation marking I’d looked in vain for during the initial tire swap — it’s rather subdued considering the bold typography on the rest of the tire. I did spend a minute fighting with the inner tube, which seemed determined to get pinched between the tire and rim. But it all came right soon enough.

After putting the front wheel back on the bike, I removed the front brake cable and gave it a thin coating of grease. It was more trouble getting the cable back on than it should have been, but it’s all good now.

Room for improvement

I didn’t have to do anything with the rear tire, but I removed the wheel from the bike anyway to have it out of the way while I worked on the brake cable. This wasn’t really necessary, but I did put the wheel in the truing stand and dial in a bit of improvement. (At this stage it’s fractions of a millimeter.)

I noticed when I installed the brakes as part of the tire swap that the cable wasn’t going smoothly into the noodle. Part of the trouble here is the Jagwire carbon silver brake housing: it looks great, but it’s very difficult to cut the woven fibres flush with the end of the cable. (It’s easy to see them sticking out the end in the before picture, above.) I wasn’t sure if I wanted a shorter cable or a longer one to smooth out the transition, or if a shorter noodle would help.

I started by cutting about 5mm from the housing, and then spending some time with a knife to trim the fibres. It all came together in the end, although it involved more than a bit of mashing the cable housing into the noodle and swearing. I also applied grease to this end of the cable, but didn’t bother with the other end.

The result feels firmer with the bike on the stand. I’ll undoubtedly ride to work at least once this week and then I’ll have a better idea if this has helped any.


View of cityscape beneath dark clouds. The area under the clouds to the left is yellow and forbidding. To the right the sky is bluer, and the cloud in the center of the image is brightly lit by the sun from above.
Stormy weather

While I was working in the Workshop in the Sky, the sky grew darker and darker. Suddenly I heard a peal of thunder, and then the rain was coming down in sheets. Nana was at the sauna, so I hoped it would blow over quickly and she wouldn’t get a drenching on the way home.

It rained about 15 minutes, just long enough for me to forward a picture to a friend who’d been asking if I was riding today and to say the weather was validating my decision to be lazy and stay home. After my work with the brakes I had a few more things to take care of: cleaning and oiling the chain (and making sure it was seated properly on the narrow-wide chainring), adjusting the derailleur and then checking the tire pressure — the rear needed some air.

I checked the sky again while I was cleaning up and putting the tools away, and it looked like things were improving. I was just being lazy — a 15-minute soaking shouldn’t stop me enjoying a nice long ride with good weather overall.

Cityscape with sun sparkling off the rooftops. The sky is very cloudy, but sunlight is piercing the cloud cover in multiple locations
Yeah, I was just being a wuss

And then the moment I sat down in front of my laptop, I saw this:

Tornado advisory for Tokyo (in Japanese) warning of risk of sudden heavy rain, strong winds and hail. There is a map below the text of the Tokyo area, with Tokyo outlined in red and Tornado Alert Information in red letters next to a tornado icon.

In addition to the tornado alert, the weather advisory warns of sudden heavy rains, strong wind and hail. (There’s also a message for farmers to be on alert for potential crop damage, but I’m not sure what they could do if the hailstones started raining down from on high.)

We haven’t had any tornadoes (yet!), but there have been two more sudden squalls as I’ve been typing this.

Turquoise bicycle with tan sidewalls backlit on balcony with glass banister. Some buildings are visible far below through the glass.
Money shot

The sun was bright enough during the money shot to make for shadows and a dark, backlit subject. Le sigh … And now the tornado warning is over and the sun is shining very brightly.

Unfortunately, there’s video

Selfie of biker in helmet, shades and black mask in front of cobbled walkway with people leading to entrance to cable car, a two story building with a large glass-fronted gable.

With the office closed for Good Friday, I had a three-day weekend. It rained the first two days, but Sunday was warm and sunny. I headed up the Tamagawa, having to shout my way through a gaggle of middle school boys more interested in chatting and texting than they were in watching where they were riding. They overtook me again soon afterwards (“We’ll show that ojisan!”) only to immediately slow down and spread themselves across the path once again. It took more than one shouted warning to get through them a second time, with the leader in particular having his nose glued to his phone.

Almost immediately after that I passed under a bridge and then circled back to cross over to the Asakawa. After less than 1km I stopped for a break under some stunning yaezakura trees.

With the blossoms and the great weather, my biggest challenge over the next 20km was dodging joggers and pedestrians, as well as a few cyclists (though none as rude as the boys on the Tamagawa had been). I must have seen at least two dozen egrets wading in the river along the way, and occasionally I would hear one of them calling out. After nearly 3 hours and 45km of riding, I stopped under some more yaezakura trees to gulp down a couple of Nana’s world-famous onigiri before proceeding.

Takaosan Guchi

The next stop was Takaosan Guchi, the entrance to the cable car up Mt. Takao. Given the gorgeous weekend weather, I was expecting quite a crowd here. I was pleasantly surprised to find the place half-empty (by local standards). I did have to wait for a number of pedestrians on my way back to the main road.

Selfie of biker in helmet, shades and black mask in front of cobbled walkway with people leading to entrance to cable car, a two story building with a large glass-fronted gable.
Takaosan Guchi

From Takaosan Guchi it was onwards and upwards to Otarumi pass. I felt basically good but not very powerful. From the start I had no doubt I’d reach the top, but it was an open question how long I’d take to achieve the goal. I quickly dropped down Kuroko’s generous gears to conserve my energy, and was soon poking along in the lowest gear. I was breathing easily and my legs felt fine.

This continued on for some time, in light traffic. At one switchback a truck had pulled off in the layby and was to all appearances abandoned (although in truth the driver was probably just having a nap).

Riderless bicycle photographed from behind, with two taillights lit, leaning against a railing on a concrete sidewalk overlooking a twisting roadway between fences and trees. A sign above the roadway reads in Japanese 'Otarumi Pass - Elevation 392m' The sign also has a row of hills in green against a blue background.
Lighting up for Otarumi

In the last kilometer, the going got tough — as it is wont to do. The slope increases to 10% as I round a bend and the magnets lie ahead. I got past the first one, feeling it in my thighs with every stroke of the pedals. “It’s just another 700 meters!” I told my thighs, willing myself forward. I made it to the second of the magnets before pulling over, and I nearly tumbled to a stop. I shakily dismounted and spent a good four minutes recovering my breath.

At last I mounted up again, waiting for a good break in traffic, and continued on my way. I passed the bus stop — just 300m to go! I rounded the last bend and saw the pedestrian overpass with “Otarumi Touge” written on the side, and then I was over and coasting down into Kanagawa Prefecture.

I pulled up quickly at the site of a former ramen shop, where Fujisan was visible through the trees on the left. Satisfied, I turned and slowly pedaled the few meters back to the top, where I took photos and shared them with Nana and friends.

About the video

I was musing while I rested at the top of the ride that I could easily lie and say I’d made it in one go. Unfortunately, there’s video — I had my GoPro on the whole time. On the other hand, I haven’t yet edited and posted the results to YouTube, so for now it’s just between us, OK?

I’d intended to put my windbreaker on before descending, but of course I forgot this little detail when the time came. I pulled onto the road just after a young, stronger rider passed, and I kept with him. Of course! — I was descending. At times — mostly on straights — I would gain on him as we both coasted. Kuroko excels at coasting downhill. In the switchbacks though he was more fearless than I and would win back whatever ground I had gained. In one switchback in particular I lost my nerve and came down hard on the brakes. But other than that I made very good time, and as the descent leveled out I put some power into it. The results paid off in the end as I set a PR for the descent at an average of 44km/h. (I was surprised at the PR, as I’m pretty sure I’ve done the descent in the past without touching the brakes.)

Bicycle on flagstones, leaning against wooded railing, with park and decorative waterfall in background.
Last rest

I stopped at a convenience store back in Takaosan to tank up on carbohydrates and inform Nana that all was fine and I was on my way home. The ride back downriver (both rivers) was uneventful, and mostly with the wind at my back.

At the last rest stop I checked the time. I’d told Nana on setting out I’d be home around 3, and it was already a few minutes past that. I quickly messaged I’d be home about 4:20, and assured her I was fine — just taking a bit longer than I expected. From there it was in traffic, with all that implies. I took my time spinning up the few remaining climbs in my lower gears, and finally coasted to a stop at 4:10.

GPS record of cycle ride
Unfortunately there’s video

I was hoping first of all to reach the top of Otarumi pass, and secondly to ride more than 100km. Both of those goals safely in the bag, my final goal was to keep the total ride time within reason. As I got closer to home I could see I was creeping up towards eight hours, and so it was my goal to bring it in at less than that. Finally, as I’d told Nana I’d be home by 4:20, it was a point of honor to not only meet but to beat that expectation.

As I coasted up to the foot of the tower I could see I’d done better than 114.5km. Ride around the block once or twice and bring it up to 115? At that point I’d met my distance goal, and just as I was considering whether to ride around the block, the one traffic light turned red. That decided me, and I went for my final goal of cutting the time short.

On a moving time of 6:02:17 (oh! so close!) I averaged 19.0km/h for the day.

With one ride I completed two Strava challenges — Gran Fondo (a ride of 100km or more) and April Cycling Challenge (200km for the month). In fact I’m now at 304km with half a month yet to go.