Fujisan and Sakura

A large cherry tree in full blossom stands in the left of the image, with a long branch sweeping low across the photo to the right. An asphalt path appears at bottom center and turns to the right at a stone bridge with white iron railings. There is a bicycle on the bridge.

I’ve been moaning about the fact I have a four-day weekend and the forecast is for rain the whole time. But the weather relented yesterday and I got a mostly rain-free ride, with the added benefit of sakura.

Snow-capped Fujisan appears blue and white under cloudy skies. A single puffy cloud hovers just above and to the left of the peak. Below the peak is a low line of mountains stretching across the width of the photo, with a band of low, white horizontal clouds in front.
Fujisan duotone

The day started out looking a bit bleak after the previous night’s rain, but we were graced with a view of Fujisan. I took my time getting ready for the ride as Nana prepared onigiri. A check of the forecast showed it was already a surprisingly warm 17C, with an expected high of 23. I dressed in shorts and a summer jersey, and didn’t bother with the sleeves. But with my history of sunburn even on overcast days, I took time to cover myself in sunblock.

I hadn’t been thinking about the sakura when I set out — I was just glad for the break in the weather and a chance to ride — but they were suddenly everywhere. The sky lightened up for a time as I rode upstream along the Tamagawa, and Fujisan appeared a brilliant white among fluffy clouds. I put off the urge to stop for a photo at each new sakura tree along the path, but kept in mind certain sections where I knew there would be rows of trees in bloom.

With an early start, I reached Hamura just after 11. With a goal of 100km for the day, I was still shy of 50km at this point, so after finishing Nana’s world-famous onigiri I continued on along the sakura-lined path until I reached Aso Shrine.

It seems the main tree at the shrine was not quite ready to put in an appearance, but this was made up for by the many sakura on the path to the shrine, including a magnificent shidarezakura.

… and a bit of rain

With my shrine visit over, I turned back towards home. I’d been toying with the idea of extending the ride a bit to visit Sakura Shinmachi and its famous sakura boulevard on the way back, depending on the weather and how tired I was. The clouds were gathering again as I rode back downstream, and I was feeling satisfied with the sakura I’d seen already. I was feeling good and avoiding saddle soreness and hand numbness via shifting about and taking frequent breaks. But I was also feeling tired. When I came to the park where it was time to make a decision, I checked the clock (1:40 p.m., 84km done) and decided to go straight home.

I was surprised by the amount of traffic on the way home, but soon realized I usually don’t take this route on weekdays. I bided my time behind a wide flat-bed rig until it came to stop at a long line of traffic at a light, leaving me enough room to slip past. I powered my way up the two slight rises on Setagaya avenue and set personal records. After that I’d blown all my energy and just kept up the pace on the flats and coasted on the downhills.

It started raining with 8-10km to go. I’d already turned on my lights, so I just removed my shades at the next traffic light and continued on. It wasn’t a hard rain — I’d gotten wetter riding through some puddles earlier in the day — and it soon stopped. The wind had picked up though and the temperature dropped as I continued homewards. Finally with just 1km to go the rain started up again. I happily rolled downhill to the tower and was pleased to hear Garmie chime that I’d completed 100km just as I rolled to a stop.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Fujisan and Sakura

I’d missed the goal of 6 hours that I’d told Nana, but I was happy with the progress considering all the traffic and the number of times I stopped to photograph the blossoms. With a moving time of 5:06:17, I averaged 19.6km/h. I’m at 398km for the month, so if the weather clears next week and I get in some commuting, I should be well over 400km for March.

Arakawa – Disney – Budokan

Bicycle leaning against sign saying "Shinsuna" in English and Japanese. In the background are a river and bridge, with a Ferris wheel visible behind the bridge. A cyclist clad in black is looking at his phone in the right of the photo.

I got an early start yesterday, on the road before 8 with a couple of Nana’s world-famous onigiri in the bag. It was not quite 10C when I set out, with a forecast high of 17, so I wore shorts and regular (fingerless) gloves together with a long-sleeved jersey. I was sweating long before the temperature reached its high, so the clothing choice was not too light for the conditions.

For the first four or five kilometers along Yamate Dori, working my way in traffic up to the Arakawa, I couldn’t stop thinking about the bath and beer when I would get home. It wasn’t long though before I put those thoughts out of my mind (never completely, of course) and started to really enjoy the riding.

There was very little wind and nothing really noticeable about the traffic — neither heavy nor light for this main artery, and no construction of note. I reached the Arakawa in less than an hour, as usual, and was soon heading downstream on the cycling path.

I was feeling good overall, warm in the sun, riding without pushing. My hands and backside were a little more sore than usual, and I shifted around on my seat and changed hand positions often so I could continue riding. I stopped in the shade with 11km to go to the mouth of the river, and ate the first onigiri while I shook the feeling back into my fingers.

Bicycle on grass leaning against an irregularly shaped sign. The sign has painted fireworks in white and pink against a dark blue background, all outlined in white. The word "Arakawa" can be made out very faintly in alphabetical letters and hiragana.
A bit more faded each time

On the bike again, I wasn’t too disappointed to be passed when I saw how much younger and fitter the rider was — and the fact he was riding one of these added salve to the burn. I decided to satisfy karma by rapidly overtaking a little league soccer team as they pedaled along to their practice field.

By the time I reached Shinsuna at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, I was ready for another onigiri. I sat near the water’s edge and watched as a small poodle barked at a few waterfowl placidly paddling their way about the river.

After crossing over the river, I ran into construction, with traffic diverted off the cycling course. I continued on the street, in traffic, until I came to a ramp up to an elevated way for pedestrians and cyclists which took me back to my usual route to Disney. A few cyclists passed by as I took a photo by the fountain, but I was the only one who had stopped for pictures.

On the return trip I was expecting the detour, and just stayed on the road until I got to the usual convenience store, where I stocked up on a couple of hot dogs to supplement the onigiri to eat as I sat under the plum blossoms in a small park near the bridge.

As I recrossed the Arakawa into Koto Ward, the sky clouded over and the weather turned cold and windy. I stopped at the top of the bridge to message Nana I was on my way home and that the weather was changing. While I stopped I decided to get a photo of the flower message at the side of the cycling course below.

In the traffic of Eitai Avenue, an older, more fit rider passed me on his racing bike. “Good for him,” I thought. But after a couple of lights I caught up with him and then passed him when a bus blocked him against a parked car. After another light or two he fell in behind me, content to let me set the pace, while I was motivated by his presence to put more effort into the ride. We continued on this way until we had nearly reached Nihonbashi, as he turned off just a light or two before.

From Nihonbashi it’s a short sprint to Kudanzaka, and then I took my time working up the hill to Tayasumon at Budokan. The sun had come out again while the older gent and I were sparring in traffic, before I reached Nihonbashi, and at Budokan I relaxed for a moment, warming my shoulders as I drank some water. I checked the time and messaged Nana that I would be home by 1:30. But I made good time with the lights and finally messaged her at 12:53 that I was home, barely half an hour after leaving Budokan.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Arakawa – Disney – Budokan

For the most part I’d taken it easy on the ride, relaxing and enjoying the good weather rather than pushing for time. With a moving time of 3:41:21, I’d averaged 19.6km/h while on the go.

Fixed in preflight

I dealt with the only mechanical issue, if it can be called that, on Saturday night before the ride began. Garmie has been increasingly reluctant to get moving in the mornings, and often 1-3km have gone by before he starts recording. I did some searching and came across this post on Garmin’s user boards, so I gave that a go. When it came time to depart Sunday morning, Garmie fired right up and found the satellites within a couple of seconds. It’s probably too early to say the issue is completely fixed, but that’s a promising first result.

Where is my comfort zone?

Bicycle on a balcony, leaning against a glass banister. Buildings are visible far below through the glass. The bicycle is a flat-bar model, turquoise, with fat tan-wall tires. The legend "Billy Bonkers" is visible on both tires.

After riding a grand total of zero kilometers since January 8, this morning the stars aligned and I commuted to the office on Dionysus, sporting her new Billy Bonkers skins.

With the change from the 28mm Conti slicks I shod Dionysus with on the upgrade from Ol’ Paint, I had three basic expectations:

  • More comfortable ride
  • A reduction in the steering sensitivity
  • A slight degradation of performance

Cutting to the chase, then, the ride was quite a bit more comfortable, particularly over broken pavement and assorted bumps. Where the ride was jarring on the Contis, it was downright cushiony with the Billy Bonkers. So mission accomplished as far as the upgrade is concerned.

The performance toll was more than I had expected. With the Contis, Dionysus was an agile, fast accelerator. Now she’s slower on the uptake than Kuroko, with her 42mm tires. The change was noticeable starting out this morning, and on the slight rises in the morning commute. By the evening return, I’d become used to the change and didn’t notice it quite as much. I was still putting more effort into getting off the line from stop lights, and quicker to shift down on whatever modest hills I encountered.

As for the steering, Ol’ Paint was twitchy. With the upgrade to Dionysus, with smaller tires and shorter handlebars, the handling nearly had a mind of its own: great for sudden maneuvering in traffic, not so good for keeping a line in traffic while your mind wandered. Significantly larger tires should tame this a bit, and there was a small change with the Bonkers. Easier to push the bike through the parking with my hand on the seat, and less likely for the wheel to flop over when I’m waiting at a traffic light and let go of the bars to have a sip of water.

Little things

The new water bottle cages are satisfyingly grippy, which was not really in my mind when I bought them — it was a libation-influenced purchasing decision. (For that matter, so were the Billy Bonkers … ) The previous cages, which I bought because the color was a near match for the paint, were a bit loosey-goosey. Never a problem while riding, but the bottle might fall out while I was carrying the bike upstairs to my office.

The brakes remain stiff, which is certainly down to the cables. I should have them out for cleaning and a bit of oil or grease. The braking performance was a worry with the return to the original, longer Deore units. It’s fine on the front. The rear is still a bit soft. I probably need to look at a smaller noodle on the rear, and recut the cable housing to achieve a straighter line.

Other than that, perfectly satisfied with the upgrade. People have noticed the change, and most approve.

New tires? I thought you got a new bike!


Garmie didn’t start recording until I was about 400m into the morning ride, and then skipped about the first 700m on the evening return. Based on a moving time of 38:04, I averaged 19.7km/h in the morning, and 37:47 for 19.3km/h on the return. These times are not out of line with historical records, which is probably evidence that the commute is more dependent on traffic lights than anything else.

初走り 2023

Bicycle propped against shrubbery with reflecting pond and Meiji Memorial Museum in background

For the first ride of the New Year, I had grandiose ideas about visiting a waterfall at the top of a 14km climb that begins 50km from home. As I was preparing this morning, I realized that the climb (and the return) would add at least 90 minutes to a ride that would already be about 7 hours. And it’s a bit ambitious to think I’m going to cap the first ride in a month with a long (if gradual) climb.

Instead I chose to make it an easygoing day with a lap around Tokyo, a route I last rode on October 30. And it turned out to be a good choice. The route features several short but somewhat stiff climbs (there are no fewer than 5 Cat 4 climbs according to Strava), and each one had me feeling it had been more than a year since I’d been on the bike, rather than just a month.

It was a cheerful, relaxed ride. The sun was warm and I only ran into crowds in Toyosu. I saw the Mario Cart tour at Ueno Park, where I have two strenuous climbs before the final go up Kudanzaka (at Budokan).

Based on a riding time of 3 hours 25 minutes, my moving average was 17.8km/h.

GPS record of bicycle ride
初走り 2023

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 counter-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!)

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.