Gnat knock-out

Selfie of cyclist in front of Toki no Kane bell tower in Kawagoe

I’d planned a longer ride today, but woke up to fog. And Nana, maker of the onigiri, was dead to the world. So I changed my plans and spent a leisurely morning getting ready for the ride.

The road was wet from the overnight rain when I set out, and I picked up a lot of grit on my way up Yamate Dori to the river. By the time I got to the Arakawa, though, the pavement was largely dry.

There were still a few puddles on the Arakawa cycling course, but not as bad as yesterday. I splashed right through whatever came my way, and didn’t see the dilettante on his beautiful Anchor.

I’d put the GPS on navigation, although I knew the way, just so I wouldn’t be checking the stats every 30 seconds. I settled into a comfortable pace, not willing to use up all my energy early in the ride.

And then I cruised through a cloud of gnats. This was an occurrence I was destined to repeat several times during the ride, and it took me a couple of goes to realize my UV-block mask is equally effective at allowing me to breathe without having to worry about ingesting gnats.

Bicycle in tall grass leaning against sign for Arakawa
Opposite direction

There are several stretches along the river where I come off the course into traffic, for example to get by bridges for which there’s no switchback. At one longer stretch where the course degrades into uneven gravel and I come down by a golf school, there’s been road construction every previous time I’ve come this way. Now the construction is finally finished and today I was able to plow straight on. Further on, at the final spot where I pass under a highway before rejoining the course, the bollards have been modified and made considerably less obnoxious. (This is in contrast to other locations further downstream, where the bollards have gotten more difficult to negotiate.)

Lunch first

I reached Kawagoe Sports Park about 10:50, and stopped to have a couple of onigiri before continuing. I was already ravenous. The park was full of seniors playing croquet and younger folks fooling around at soccer. I parked Kuroko under a tree, but the ground looked soft (if not outright wet), so I ate standing up.

Kawagoe was crowded, but perhaps thanks to the threatening weather, not nearly as crowded as on previous visits. I loped along the old town and only stopped for a photo of the signature Toki no Kane. Soon I was on my way back to the park for another onigiri (and the Snickers and bottled water I’d picked up at a convenience store along the way).

I’d been fooling with the rear derailleur adjusters again all morning and managed to get the shifting all mixed up. I’d sorted that out long before leaving the cycling course for Kawagoe, but the derailleur was still having issues staying on the largest cog in back (lowest gear). I only use this gear on steeper switchbacks on this course, but when I need it, I really, really need it.

After filling up I had a close look at the derailleur. Everything seemed right except for that reluctance to stay in the lowest gear. Mindful of the Stafford debacle, I used the multitool to back off the lower limit screw one turn. That proved to be the key to it all. I rode a few hundred meters in gear and proclaimed it fixed. This was borne out on my return to the cycling course, via a rather steep, half-paved footpath overgrown with weeds.

Crosswinds and rain

On the way back, the sky was still grey from horizon to horizon. Despite this I put on my shades for a bit. Even grey, a broad, sunlit sky can be bright enough to give me a headache.

I was soon fighting a crosswind. Instead of trying to power through it, I just clicked down a gear and kept spinning. I was concentrating at this stage on keeping my shoulders square and head up — the opposite of aerodynamic optimization, but the best for avoiding cramping in my neck and shoulders.

Given that I was just trying to keep comfortable for the long haul in the face of a crosswind, I was shocked to learn after the ride that I’d racked up a string of personal bests on my way back downriver. I know I’m often fighting a headwind at this point, but I didn’t realize today was the first time I wasn’t riding straight into the wind.

After climbing back up to the cycling course at the top of the levy by the golf school, I stopped to drink some water and check the distance remaining: 21km. The next stop would be the “space ship” — officially, the Asaka Water Gate.

Asaka water gate
Asaka space ship

On my way out in the morning, I saw someone stunting a control-line airplane here. How many years does that take you back? On the return trip, with rain drops splashing around, a couple of guys were loading their radio-controlled sailplanes into their vans.

Bicycle leaning against a bridge abutment
Out of the rain

The rain started just before I reached the space ship and continued until I reached Todabashi — the bridge where I leave the cycling course for the traffic of Yamate Dori to take me home.

Just like yesterday, the rain was not heavy and I was not soaked through. The pavement and my tires remained dry. I was more splashed with mud from the few puddles I’d encountered earlier than from the rain now falling from the sky. I just shrugged and pulled close the zipper on my cockpit bag, and hoped it wouldn’t get any worse.

When I reached Todabashi, I left the course and parked Kuroko under the bridge. The rain was light enough that I sat in the open, on some stairs leading to the walk under the bridge, to have the last of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. That done, I mounted up without any hesitation and headed back into traffic.

Silent running

There’s not much to report about the ride home after departing the river course. I left the rain behind me, as hoped. Traffic was heavy, as usual. I kept my head up and watched carefully for traffic. Much to my surprise, I racked up more personal bests. I really was not pushing, I promise!

Kuroko was behaving perfectly. Not a sound from the shifting, and never a missed shift. (There was a bit of front brake squealing, and I may need to replace the pads there sooner rather than later.)

It’s National “Race-Ahead-of-the-Cyclist-Just-to-Turn-Left” Day

Guy Jean

At some point I picked up a friend: an older (well, he had more grey hair) gent on a classic bike with a full mechanical groupset and rim brakes. He was behind me for several lights, and then passed me on a climb. After that I would catch up with him at each light. He was slow off the mark — would take his time clipping into the pedals and checking for traffic, and then he would zoom ahead. It was not always at the next light that I caught up to him, but given the traffic conditions, I would eventually end up waiting behind him at a light.

When we neared Nakano Sakaue, he zoomed ahead on the climb, as expected. When I neared the top, though, he was nowhere to be seen. Then I spotted him — on the sidewalk. Figuring he knew better than I did, I followed him. He did indeed know better — we passed all the cars waiting to turn left at the light, crossed at the pedestrian cross walk, and came out the other side, perhaps one light cycle ahead. I bade him a virtual farewell at the foot of the next descent as I turned towards the goal.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Gnat knock-out

As mentioned, I wasn’t pushing today. I was consciously holding power in reserve to get me through the ride. Apart from the scattered raindrops, I was fighting a crosswind both up and back down the river. I was shocked when I arrived home to find the string of personal bests, and uncounted 2nds and 3rds, lurking in wait for me on Strava.

Three in a row

GPS record of three consecutive days of bicycle riding
Three days in a row

Including the commute on Friday, that gives me three days in a row of biking. That hasn’t happened — apart from three consecutive days of commuting in June — since I was in England in June 2019. The forecast is promising for tomorrow, so let’s see how I feel when I wake up.

Bit of a damp ending

Bicycle leaning against tree in park

The forecast for today was for a small chance of rain in the morning, and then a greater chance of rain in the afternoon. I already had a commitment in the afternoon, so a morning ride was the perfect thing.

I was thinking at first that the traffic on Yamate Dori was sparse, but it all caught up with me after Nakano. It wasn’t horrible, though.

A stronger rider passed me at a crossing with the improbable name of 千早. As we waited together at a light, I thought of asking him where he was going (Arakawa, same as me, most likely), but then I thought, “Anyway, he’s at least 1,000 times faster than I am.”

It wasn’t long before I was climbing up the levee of the Arakawa. I arrived before 8:30, which is probably a record for me.

There was a marathon running on the Arakawa cycling course, but I’d arrived early enough to avoid the thick of it. I passed a group huddle of volunteers in hi-viz jackets having a pre-race confab.

The wind was with me as I sped down the river, and I set a couple of personal bests. I was making good time, averaging more than 25km/h. I was passed by a gent on a beautiful classic steel-framed Anchor in violet fading to midnight blue, with an all-silver, all-mechanical groupset. But when we encountered a few puddles along the way, he slowed to a crawl to avoid splashing his gorgeous bike, while I plowed on through. We played cat-and-mouse in this way for the rest of the course downstream on the Arakawa, and I saw him at one point trying to bunny-hop a small puddle.

Bicycle leaning against sign in front of river, with bridge in background
Where Arakawa meets Tokyo Bay

Lunch in the shade

It was just 10 a.m. when I reached the point where the river empties in Tokyo Bay, but it was time for some of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. (I’d had breakfast at 5 a.m.) Given my time constraint and the threat of rain, I wouldn’t be going on to Tokyo Disneyland, but I still crossed over the Arakawa to reach our favorite lunch spot, an isolated park with benches in the shade that are never occupied. I wolfed down a couple of mentaiko onigiri and was back on the road in less than 20 minutes.

Bicycle leaning against tree in park
A bike. And a tree.

I’d no sooner crossed back over the Arakawa then I felt a few drops of rain. “Now?” I thought. I was answered by the pinging of a raindrop off my helmet. But as I proceeded along Eitai Dori, the rain held off. I didn’t feel any more drops until I reached the Imperial Palace, and then it started to rain steadily when I reached Budokan.

Bicycle propped against bannister between trees overlooking moat
Raindrops keep fallin’ …

From the time on, it continued to rain, but it was not heavy at all. Not nearly enough for a Rule #9 invocation — I’ve suffered through more rain on a sunny day in England. The pavement was dry, and my tires were, too. I wasn’t soaked through or cold in the least. I continued on towards home, back in heavy traffic now on Shinjuku Dori. There were policemen standing on every corner at Yotsuya Yonchome (more corners than you’d think are necessary at that particular intersection), so I was careful to behave and let pedestrians go first.

Finally as I reached the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings in Nishi Shinjuku, it was well and truly raining. By which I mean a steady rain, but again, not a heavy, drenching rain. I was still far from soaked through as I spun downhill towards home.

GPS image of Budokan
Budokan on the navi

A good time was had by all

I came in at 3 hours, 40 minutes for a hair over 60km — a very good time, and I wasn’t particularly pressing hard. It’s true I was benefiting from a tailwind down the Arakawa — before I stopped for onigiri my average speed was more than 20km/h, even including the traffic stops and breaks. Based on a moving time of less than 2 hours 45 minutes, my average speed for the day was 22.5km/h.

There were no mechanicals of note. The tires were holding the pressure well. They were at 30psi in the morning, after Kuroko had sat 20 days in the parking garage since the last top-up. I inflated them to 45psi for the day’s ride. I continued to fiddle with the barrel adjuster for the rear derailleur all day because I thought the shifts were on the loud side, but it’s very subjective whether I had any positive effect. I didn’t miss a single shift or have any problem with the chain jumping off a cog.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Bit of a damp ending

Heat abandon

Bicycle propped against a tree

I had network maintenance to perform at the office this morning, while no one else was around. The forecast was for a hot, partly sunny day, so I decided to ride Dionysus to the office. Once the maintenance was done, I’d check the temperature forecast and decide whether to continue riding or go straight home.

Cat just visible resting in the shade under a bus
Beating the heat

The ride to the office was uneventful. When I got to the office I immediately noticed a sign that we were in a for a hot one — a stray cat was taking shelter under one of the buses.

The network maintenance went as expected: following the vendor’s recommendation did not resolve the problem (I didn’t expect it to, but I knew I wouldn’t get any further help from the vendor until I’d taken this step) — it just took a bit longer than expected. I’d predicted half an hour to restart the network, but it was a good 45 minutes before some of the edge switches were back in action. In the meantime, I’d identified and fixed an unrelated network issue: the firewall wasn’t working, which is kind of important as it meant there was no internet.

She’s a hot one

With the network back in operation, I checked the temperature forecast again. It looked like it wouldn’t get to 33C or more until after 1 p.m., which would give me time to get down to Haneda and back before things really got nasty. I had my UV sleeves and mask, and my (newly repaired) sunglasses, so I should be all set.

Heading downriver, things were going well. Dionysus was behaving perfectly, the wind wasn’t too strong nor the cycling course too crowded. My fingers started going numb after about 5km (a big part of the reason I usually ride Kuroko rather than Dionysus when I’m not just commuting) and I was looking forward to the next rest stop in the shade. Crossing over the Tama River on the Maruko Bashi, I came up on two fitter-looking riders on really high-spec bikes. The one in the rear had what looked like a titanium frame, and I recognized the hornets-nest buzz of the DT Swiss rear hub. The one in the lead had a carbon-fibre full road racer with SRAM electronic shifting. I passed them after a switchback under the shinkansen rail, but they overtook me less than 2km later when I stopped for a break, and I didn’t see them again.

Bicycle propped against a tree
Dionysus takes a break from the heat

Not long after the first break, I realized it was getting hotter more quickly than I’d expected. I decided to stop and take stock at a place about 7km before the end of the course, where there was a park bench in the shade. I sat down to a feast of Nana’s world-famous onigiri about 10:20 a.m. and checked the temperature, the time and the distance. If I finished eating quickly and headed home, I should arrive just about noon. Plan!

Easy rider

On the way back up-river, I just kept spinning my pedals, not putting much power into it. But with the wind at my back, I still managed stretches of 30km/h when the course was flat and traffic-free. I stopped again briefly at the first rest area for water and to get some feeling back in my fingers before continuing.

Dionysus is 2kg lighter than Kuroko, and the smaller wheels — while nearly the same weight as Kuroko’s beefier rollers — accelerate more smartly. (Dionysus has a 40T steel sprocket in the rear, compared to a maximum of 34T for Kuroko, so that offsets the lighter rims. And the equal weight doesn’t extend to the tires: Dionysus’s Continental Grand Prix are at least 60g lighter per tire than Kuroko’s cushier Panaracer Gravel Kings.)

On the downside, Dionysus transmits every slightest imperfection in the roadway right up to the rider’s spine and wrists. And her agility is nice for dicing with traffic, but can be wearying on longer rides compared with Kuroko’s stability. Finally, the straight handlebars quickly bring on the finger numbness mentioned above, while I can ride on Kuroko’s drop bars for hours on end. (Well, I do tend to take breaks still every half hour or so. But that’s after a good 10km, while it’s 5km for Dionysus.)

Coming back into Futako, I was feeling the heat. Still spinning, I was just moving the bike forward and really feeling from my thighs that I didn’t have any energy to push with. When it came to the brief climb out of the river valley, I just dropped immediately to my lowest cog (that big 40T jobbie, for a 1:1 ratio) and crawled my way up. In the end I reached the top at not quite double my PR for the climb.

Dash (?) through traffic

It was about 11:10 when I reached the small park at the top of the Futako climb, and I messaged Nana I’d be home by 12:30 (giving myself some leeway). The temperature had already reached 32C, my self-proclaimed limit based on the heat bonk I’ve experienced over the past few years.

Screen captures from GPS device
Numbers freakout

Numbers freaks will sympathize with the chagrin I felt waiting at lights just shy of the 5km breaks. The truth is while I was laughing at the first one, above, I set my second-best time on the following segment. As for the latter one, I was already in traffic on my way home in the heat, and having to wait two-and-a-half minutes while just 0.5km shy of a 5km break drew no more than a wan smile. I was waiting in the shade, and I just didn’t give a damn.

For all my taking it easy and just spinning and not pushing against the weariness in my thighs, I got home from the park in just about 50 minutes, which is pretty typical. I stopped the clock at 12:07, just a hair after my unspoken goal of noon, and rolled Dionysus into the shade of the underground parking before messaging Nana I was home.

GPS records of bicycle rides
Heat abandon

By the numbers

For the two ride segments combined, I did 54.36km in 2:40:03 (3:21:51 elapsed time, not counting the 90-minute stop at the office), for an average of 20.38km/h.

Roadkill

Selfie of two cyclists in front of Haneda peace shrine

With heat, rain and typhoons, I’ve been off the bike for more than a month. The forecast for today looked good, so I asked the Halfakid to join me. He agreed to a short ride, so long as we could be back by 10, and that pretty much left Haneda as our only workable destination.

Atrophy begins at 60

When I first mounted up shortly after 6 this morning, my body said, “What is this thing between your legs?” Particularly surprising as it usually has no objections. I felt pressure at first in the same location I suffered a bad saddle sore in England, but after shifting my position everything was OK. Within a couple of kilometers I was back on form, although I was taking things pretty easy.

I arrived at Futako on the dot of 7 to find a message from the Halfakid saying he’d left home at 6:30. It typically takes him more than half an hour to reach Futako, but he arrived within three minutes, while I was still fiddling with my derailleur. His Strava record now shows a string of PRs for that portion of the ride.

We made a quick jaunt down to Haneda, although when we stopped for a rest along the way, neither of us was in a particular hurry to get moving again. The day was overcast but with no threat of rain, and the path was dry — at least until we reached a familiar point under a bridge:

After that we made good time, and I set a PR of 30km/h over a stretch of 2km as we approached Haneda.

Selfie of two cyclists in front of Haneda peace shrine
You two again?

We reached Haneda about 8 a.m. Often I’m just setting out at that time! After resting and chatting for about 20 minutes, we mounted up for the return ride.

Revenge of the puddle

I was a bit slower on the way back upstream and we fought a crosswind. The puddle was right where we’d left it — if anything deeper than it had been a month ago. The Halfakid took to the gravel to bypass the puddle this time.

After that we were fighting our way through gaggles of little leaguers who ignored our warning bells and shouts. Steady on — we got through them. We took another, even longer break, before continuing. Coming back into Futako, I could feel the aching of my thighs even before getting to the climb.

From Futako I got home without much incident. A couple of drivers cut me off, but I was watching for them.

About that derailleur

I was having trouble with a couple of mid-range gears first thing in the morning. The derailleur would keep jumping off one, and was making a bit of noise on the adjacent one. I’d just swapped out the wheels and I’d adjusted the derailleur as part of that, but evidently I’d not got it quite right. While waiting for the Halfakid at Futako I added in some tension via the barrel adjusters. That helped — the derailleur was staying in the selected gear, but it there was still some chattering on the mid-range gears, and shifts were a bit clumsy and noisy.

Finally, during a long straight stretch on the way home, I backed off the tension about one-quarter of a turn, and that sorted everything out. The gears were silent, the shifts crisp and quiet.

The tires held pressure the whole ride. I’d pumped them up before the start, the first time in the two weeks since I’d remounted the front, and in the meantime the front had held more pressure than the rear. Happy.

The only other sort-of mechanical thing was the food pouch I added yesterday. I put a water bottle in it today to give it a try. It held the bottle without any noticeable wobbling, but it didn’t make it any easier for me to drink on the fly than having the bottle in the regular bottle cage. Meanwhile, the pouch got in the way of riding on the tops, and one strap kept working up against the bell and muffling it. It did keep the bottle clean while I was splashing through the puddle, but apart from that it doesn’t really solve any problems while creating a couple more. I removed it at the end of the ride and it will go in the parts bin for now.

DOA

From Futako I’d messaged Nana that I would be home by 11. I rolled into the courtyard and messaged at 10:37 that I was home. I was starving and thirsty, my thighs and butt were aching, and my energy level was negative. After parking the bike, showering and wolfing down a lunch of fried rice (and after a lengthy chat with Fearless Leader Joe), I laid down for a nap and nearly didn’t get up again.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Roadkill

One before the thunderstorm

Selfie of two cyclists in helmets and masks in front of Japanese shrine torii

It’s rainy season in Japan, and more often than not there’s no chance to ride unless you’re willing to brave the elements. Today was a brief respite in the rain, but with a deadline: thunderstorms were in the forecast starting at 3 p.m.

I’d gone to sleep with a forecast of a small chance of rain only, so I was thinking perhaps we’d ride today to Takao-san or maybe — for a new destination — Enoshima.

Then I woke up this morning to this:

Rain-enshrouded cityscape
Not looking very sunny at 5 a.m.

Before I had a chance to check the forecast, I already had a message from the Halfakid: thunderstorms from 3 p.m. OK, with that deadline, Enoshima was out. Takao-san was doable, but iffy. The only safe bet, really, was Haneda.

Nana was up (with no more than the usual amount of prompting) not long after 6 a.m., rustling up a mess o’ onigiri, and I was on the road at 7 to meet the Halfakid at Nikotama at 8. The traffic was neither lighter nor heavier than usual, and I arrived on the river near the appointed time. By the time I’d taken a photo of my location and posted it to the Halfakid, he was there, waving at me from under the bridge. I donned my UV-block sleeves and he daubed on some sunscreen, and we set off down stream.

Ripping the Halfakid’s legs off

The Halfakid has taken up golfing in a big way, and as such hasn’t been on the bike since we did Shimanami Kaido. We made pretty good time downstream, despite the weeds growing over the cycling course, and at the first rest break he asked if we were making exceptionally good progress, or if he just was sucking. The truth was he was a bit slow on the uptake, accelerating from a stop or climbing what little hills there are along the way, but overall he was right behind me every time I checked over my shoulder.

We reached Haneda in good time and sat down to a feast of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. In the time it took me to relate to the Halfakid my upgrade plans for Kuroko, and to make my way through half my first onigiri, he’d finished off three.

Selfie of two cyclists in helmets and masks in front of Japanese shrine torii
Give us all your money

More of the same

The way back was just more of the same. The wind was a bit more mixed, and the long puddle across the path we’d encountered on the way down was even longer and deeper. The temperature was rising, but when I checked the time it wasn’t yet 11 a.m. This was all to the good, as we were racing not only the forecast for thundershowers but also the burgeoning heat.

We continued to make good time upstream, and it was still before 11 when I messaged Nana that I’d reached Nikotama and should be home before noon. I was feeling the heat by this time — it was already 32C, which is about my limit — but I made passable time on the way home, not pushing overly hard, and rolled up to the courtyard before 11:30.

GPS record of cycle ride
One before the thunderstorm

Still waiting

It’s early evening as I write this. Dinner is done and Nana is watching baseball on the television. There’s no sign yet of the forecast thunderstorms, or even of rain.

I don’t mind.

Hot and still

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort fountain

Saturday was our last promised rain-free day for more than a week, so I was up early and on the road with a saddlebag full of onigiri. I wanted to be home in plenty of time for our dinner plans, but I was also feeling it wasn’t a day for big challenges.

It was nearly 24C when I set out at 8 a.m., with a promised high of 28-30. My goal for the day, apart from getting in some easy kilometers, was to keep my UV-block mask on. It was a windless day, so this immediately presented a challenge as my sunglasses began to fog up at each traffic light. I was fine when I was moving, but the moment I stopped it became a race between the cycle of lights and my breath clouding up my lenses.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Arakawa cycling course
My favorite Arakawa sign

I’m happy to report that I arrived at the Arakawa without incident. (I did pull my mask down at the lights where it was making a problem, but then pulled it up again before I began moving.) For the next hour, foggy lenses were the furthest thing from my mind as I spun my way 25km downstream. Without pushing myself, I was averaging 26-27km/h on the flat, broad pavement. That’s a good enough speed that I wondered if I had the wind at my back, but the tall grasses along the path were standing straight and still. I stopped once at my usual spot in the shade to rest my hands and drink some water.

There were lots of other bicyclists and runners on the path, and of course the baseball fields were overrun by little-leaguers, but I didn’t encounter any marathons, for a nice change.

Bicycle leaning against sign with river and bridge in background
Shinsuna, at the mouth of the bay

I arrived at Shinsuna at 10 a.m. and made a note of the time. I wanted to see how long it would take me to get from there to Disneyland and then back to the river. In November when Fearless Leader Joe accompanied me to this spot, I’d estimated an hour. We decided on that occasion not to continue on the Disney jaunt to ensure that FLJ could get back to Saitama before the sunset. On this ride, though, I knew I was well ahead of schedule.

Rickety-tickety

I’d been hearing a quiet ticking noise on my way down the river, and by the time I arrived at Shinsuna I’d figured it was time to check the spokes on the new rear wheel. I gave them all a squeeze and sure enough I located one that had quite a bit more give in it than all its neighbors. I gave it a few turns with the multitool and checked the wheel for roundness. It all seemed good, so I continued back to the bridge that takes me across the river and on towards Disneyland.

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort fountain
I wanted to jump in
Bicycle leaning against tree in park
East of Eden

It was 10:30 when I arrived at Tokyo Disney Resort, and considerably hotter than it had been when I left home. I was also getting hungry. On my way back to a park by the river, I was hallucinating about the onigiri in my saddlebag. I took a shortcut back to the river and arrived at the park at 10:45. I tucked right in to the onigiri and finished all three in less than 15 minutes, putting me back on the road at 11 with just a few swallows of water left in my bottles.

Routine

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and mask with Nihonbashi decorative lamppost in background
Nihonbashi

Crossing the bridge back into Tokyo just brought me into traffic, and lots of it. It’s a long stretch on Eitai Dori but nothing really challenging. Some idiot in his BMW honked at me when I switched lanes to go around a parked car, after checking for traffic and making a hand signal — he had another full lane to go around me, but just wanted to demonstrate what a spoiled child he was. Nothing more of note happened as I continued on, first to Nihonbashi and then up Kudanzaka to Budokan.

Tayasumon Gate with construction barrier
Tayasumon Gate: Closed
Bicycle leaning against railing with Chidorigafuchi in background
Chidorigafuchi

At Chidorigafuchi I sipped the last of my water and posted the requisite pictures before continuing on my way. I arrived home just four and a half hours after having set out, hot and tired and ready for a shower and cold drink.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Hot and still

Meant to be longer

Red Japanese shrine torii under cloudly blue skies with river in foreground

I’ve been planning a ride down to Enoshima, which I don’t think I’ve ever visited, with a return via the Daibutsu at Kamakura and then Yokohama. In all about 135km (and some climbing). I estimate 9+ hours for the ride, and so planned to set out about 7:30 so I could be home by 5.

That was the plan. I was up in plenty of time to get going, and Nana had even awoken by herself to get the onigiri ready for the ride. But a stomach ailment kept me in the house for another 2 1/2 hours. As I set out just before 10 a.m., I knew I’d have to take a shorter ride today. I could also feel I didn’t have my usual energy, perhaps as a result of the tummy bug.

My new goal was down the Tamagawa to Haneda, and then to visit a park a bit upstream from Futako on the Kanagawa side that I haven’t seen in several years. Finally, home. That should have given me a ride of 85-90km.

Windy

Looking out the window of our flat, I wasn’t sure I would need my shades, or even sunblock. The moment I began riding, though, the sun came out strong and bright. The blue sky was filled with fluffy white clouds, so the sun was coming and going frequently.

When I got to the Tamagawa, the wind was rather strong. I wasn’t riding directly into it for most of the way, but it was slowing me a bit. That was the only thing slowing me down, apart from traffic. The river course is flat and my lack of energy wasn’t a real issue. I reached Haneda without any problems, and sat down to finish off all three of the onigiri that Nana had prepared for me.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, shades and black mask in front of vermilion Japanese shrine torii
Haneda Peace Shrine (Former Anamori Inari Shrine)

Bicycle leaning against tree in rock garden
A place in the shade for eating onigiri

Cramps

Not long before my stop for lunch and coincident with a stretch of direct headwind for a few kilometers, I felt cramping in both calves. I kept going and rode it out. After lunch, though my calves were fine, I had cramping in my thighs. It didn’t prevent me riding or even slow me down, but it added an unwelcome note of pain to the ride.

I made better time back upstream, with the wind more at my back, but by the time I reached Futako I’d given up the plan to visit the park further upstream. If I’d had a particular goal to reach before the end of the day, I could have ignored the pain and continued. As it was, I didn’t see any reason to prolong things. I crossed the river at Futako and took a short break at the top of the climb before continuing on home.

I made better time back through the city, sheltered from the wind and with the promise of a cold one waiting for me at home.

My dear Alphonse

I made mention of traffic: I’ve had some encounters recently. Last week on my commute home, I waited behind a line of cars at a traffic light and proceeded with them when the light turned green.

Just as I reached the intersection, a driver coming from the other direction turned right (Americans, think: turned left) just in front of me, forcing me to brake.

Oh no, after me!

Later that same ride, making pretty good speed on a four-lane boulevard, I saw a parked car ahead of me. I checked over my shoulder and there was a car there. I slowed and waited for him to pass and … he slowed and kept pace with me. A couple of seconds later he was beside me, still pacing me, but not moving fully into the next lane to give me room to pass the parked car. We both finally came to a stop a couple of meters from the parked car, and I gestured for the driver to go ahead, which he did (again, without moving fully into the adjacent lane). I realized he was expecting me to go around the parked car without checking for traffic (it happens a lot) and was preparing to brake when I cut him off.

As he passed, I saw he had a shoshinsha mark on the car, so he was a new driver. It looked like he was getting coaching from an older man in the passenger seat, so I think Papa was probably at fault this time. Overall, not really an example of the “after me” syndrome, but it stuck in my head.

The following morning, again on my commute, I moved out into the middle of the lane to go around a bus that had stopped to take on passengers. Just as I overtook the rear of the bus, the driver put on the turn signal and pulled out, cutting me off. He saw me and stopped after he’d already blocked my passage and I’d been forced to come to a stop to avoid a collision. Oh no, after me!

Professional drivers are supposed to be trained to watch for things like this.

This morning on my way down to the river, a driver of a large truck on a cross street waited for the van ahead of me to pass and then pulled across the intersection, forcing me to stop. Both the street I was on and the cross street he was following were narrow, and I had to wait a good 45 seconds or so for him to clear the intersection.

Just a few dozen meters further on, a car came out of a cross street just ahead of me, forcing me once again to brake. The driver turned onto the road I was riding, went a couple of dozen meters, and then came to a full stop while waiting for the next intersection to clear before turning right. Oh no, after me!

There were a few more examples like that today, and then there were the other cyclists. I was waiting for a light and then just as it changed, a woman on a mamachari tried to pass me on the right and turn left, cutting me off. I’d moved off the moment the light changed and so we both came to a stop in the middle of the intersection, narrowly avoiding collision.

A few kilometers further on, I had a similar encounter with two guys on bicycles. This time when the light changed, one shot past me on the left and another on the right, both nearly hitting me as I moved off. I overtook them both within a couple of dozen meters and left them for dead.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Meant to be longer

On a bright note, I managed to wear my UV cut mask the entire ride. The wind helped by keeping my glasses from fogging. It wasn’t too hot today. The real challenge will be to keep it on when the temperature is in the 30s.

Three Rivers, Three Prefectures

GPS route of cycle ride

This is a ride I’ve been meaning to do for a while: up the Tamagawa, across the top of Tokyo (which actually puts me in Saitama), and then back down the Arakawa. As I learned when I set out to map it, this course runs along another river in Saitama, the Irumagawa.

When I told Nana I’d planned to do 125km, she was sceptical. I said I’ve ridden that distance and further any number of times in the past, and she pointed out I haven’t done more than 100km in quite some time. That set me to looking through my records, and the last time I did was in January, when I rode the entire length of the Tamagawa course in both directions for a total of 143.5km.

Looking at that ride and a couple of others of nearly 100km, I figured I could do this new route in 8 or 9 hours. So, with an 8 a.m. start, I should be home by 4 or 5 p.m., allowing some time for faffing on a new route.

Tamagawa

Bicycle leaning against wooden fence
Kuroko takes a break to let her tires cool

I reached the Tamagawa before 9 a.m. after a 15km jaunt through city traffic. The weather was cool and the skies overcast, despite the forecast for a sunny day with a high of 30C. I decided not to complain about the shortfall in the temperature department, and after a brief rest continued on up the river.

It was smooth sailing the whole way. If there was any wind, it was at my back, and there was little competition in terms of wandering pedestrians on the course. I stopped for my first of Nana’s world-famous onigiri at Persimmon Park, and then reached Hamura less than an hour later, well before 11. I took a break here and ate two more onigiri in the shade.

Bicycle leaning against fence with river weir in background
Kuroko pining for the waters

Selfie of cyclist in helmet in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers
Me ‘n’ my Tamagawa Bros

In fact on my way up the Tamagawa on this occasion I’d remained in Tokyo the entire time, just waving at Kanagawa Prefecture across the river. But when I do this route again I intend to go via Futako (meeting up with the Halfakid there), and the way upstream from there crosses briefly into Kanagawa before returning to Tokyo.

Irumagawa

I left the cycling course at Hamura and turned east, into traffic. There was a bit of climbing here, on roads that had looked completely level on Street View, but nothing I couldn’t handle. After a fast descent, I turned off the roads onto a path I’d found on Google Maps, and this turned out to be a mistake. It had sections of broken gravel, the kind mountain bikers look for rather than smooth path, and there were some stairs. Judging from the looks I got from a few people, I’d overlooked a sign forbidding cyclists on this path (or at least requesting riders to dismount). But most people were friendly.

Maybe I should have taken a clue from the fact this path wasn’t on Street View. But there are whole neighborhoods in this area that aren’t covered, so …

Next came more traffic, narrow streets absolutely clogged with vehicles. There was a long queue up a short rise with a traffic light at the top, and after cooling my heels through a couple of cycles of the signal, I mounted up the sidewalk and jumped to the front of the line. After that the Garmin faithfully guided me to the next cycling course, the Sayama-Kawagoe Cycling Road, which runs alongside the Irumagawa. This turned out to be smooth and well-maintained (the course, although the same might be said of the river), if a bit narrower than the Tamagawa and Arakawa courses (ditto). I was glad to be out of the traffic and not picking my way between cabbage-sized rocks, but I did have to bide my time for pedestrians and other cyclists on occasion.

Kawagoe

The cycling road brought me into the city of Kawagoe, although not right up to the doorstep of my goal, which was Koedo (the old town). I did some more faffing about here through back streets and more waiting in traffic on narrow streets. On one particularly long stretch of narrow, two-lane road, the cars would follow behind me looking for their opportunity to pass, only to end up just in front of me, following the car I’d previously been following.

Selfie of biker in helmet, mask and sunglasses in front of bell tower
Chimes of the times

Eventually I reached Old Town, only to find it packed with tourists. What pandemic? At least everyone was masked. I followed a line of traffic down the main road and pulled off the side for a picture with the iconic Toki-no-kane bell tower.

After working my way through the remainder of the tourist-lined road, I made quick progress to a convenience store for a bottle of water and some sweets, and then onwards to the Kawagoe Sports Park. Sitting on moss in the shade of a tree, I ate the last of the onigiri and most of the treats I’d bought. It was after 1 p.m. when I got up to continue the ride.

Arakawa

I’m well familiar with this path now after a couple of previous visits to Kawagoe, and I was glad to be back on the course after a lot of riding in traffic. The fly in my ointment was a headwind, which only seemed to get stronger as I made my way downstream. The skies were much sunnier than in the morning and the temperature near the promised 30C, and I was getting a headache from squinting in the sun and wind despite my shades.

What could I do with these conditions? Take more frequent breaks, drink lots of water, and then shift to a lower gear and keep going. The wind eased up for the last couple of kilometers and I finally reached my favorite signpost at Todabashi.

Bicycle leaning against sign marking Arakawa river
It’s back into traffic from here

Back home

I found some shade under the Todabashi and took stock of my situation. It was 2:40 and I had a bit more than 13km to go, all in heavy traffic. The Garmin was predicting I’d be home in 40 minutes or so, but I was exhausted from battling the sun and wind. I messaged Nana that I’d be home about 4, but warned I might be a bit later as I was tired and taking it easy. And then I mounted up and headed into the traffic.

I felt better almost immediately as I was no longer fighting a headwind. I’d worried I didn’t have enough energy for the coming climb, a long, gentle rise, but I had no trouble with it once I got started. (I was passed by a younger, fitter couple on their bikes, but fair play.) As I progressed my confidence returned. I was still tired and I had a headache, but I knew I’d be getting home. I took my time on the few remaining hills on Yamate Dori, waited out each traffic light, and drank the last of my water. I was glad I had very little trouble from the traffic.

And at last! After mounting up the last rise to Nakano Sakaue, I coasted gratefully back down the other side and turned towards home. I saved the ride on the Garmin and messaged Nana at 3:33 that I was home.

GPS route of cycle ride
Three Rivers, Three Prefectures

Success

Despite the headwind on the Arakawa (and I’ve been out there in worse) and the faffing about on the new sections in Saitama, the ride was a success. I’d come in at 7 hours 35 minutes elapsed time, beating my estimate, and there were zero mechanicals. My new rear wheel performed flawlessly in its debut, and the angry bees sound of the ratchet is a welcome metal touch. The little knobbies on the tires make a whirring sound on smooth pavement, but they were a welcome addition when I was working my way over the moon crater near Iruma.

Detail of rear bicycle hub
Metal

I’ve already revised my GPS route, including Futako and avoiding the rocky path at Iruma and some of the back streets in Kawagoe. I’m looking forward to riding this one again.

Minato no Mieru Oka Koen Get!!

Yokohama Bay Bridge

The weather was iffy on Saturday — cloudy with a chance of rain. But Nana and I had plans for Sunday, so I could risk it or just stay home all weekend. I decided to risk it. I took my time getting ready for the ride, and hadn’t really chosen a destination until Nana had finished making the onigiri.

I hadn’t been to Yokohama in some time, and I wanted to see how I’d do against the final climb, a steep 9% scramble over 270m to gain a total of 25m, with a rewarding view of Yokohama Bay from the top. Having decided that, I got my preparations under way. When I was pumping up Kuroko’s tires prior to departure, I noticed a spot of latex sealant emerging on the back tire. I didn’t think anything about it at the time.

So far, so good

The weather held as I rode through the city to Futako Tamagawa, and then down the Tamagawa. The wind was changeable, but never really holding me back. One good thing about the cloudy skies was the relative lack of pedestrian competition for the cycling course. I had one brief stop along the Tamagawa before reaching the bridge that took me across the river and into Kanagawa Prefecture. After a couple of kilometers, I stopped at a park in Motoki and had the first onigiri — a really huge mentaiko onigiri that probably counted as two.

From there it was just one long, straight slog through 15km of urban traffic. At some point I started feeling a vibration through the pedals and seat when I was putting the power down. After determining the vibration coincided with the pedal cadence (and not, for example, wheel rotation), I started wondering if the bottom bracket bearings were going. Kuroko does have a habit of eating bottom brackets, although things have been good in the year since converting to the Sugino (and a bottom bracket that matched the original spec, rather than the subpar solution I’d hit on previously).

Apart from the vibration, an almost crunchy feeling that made me feel certain it was a bearing issue, things were going smoothly. The sun came out from behind the clouds for a bit as I approached Yokohama, and I made an effort to keep my UV mask over my big nose.

And then … sweet success!

I passed through the Minato Mirai neighborhood of Yokohama more smoothly than anticipated — traffic was low for a Saturday, and I was having good luck with the lights. I was sitting at the intersection under the Yamashitacho interchange before I knew it, wondering about the upcoming climb. I’ve made it more than halfway up at least half a dozen times, only to run out of steam when the goal was in sight. Would today be any different?

At the final intersection before the climb, I paused and waited for all the traffic to go ahead of me. I didn’t want to have to worry about traffic overtaking me during the climb. Then, as the light changed, I set off. I didn’t charge the hill but took my time up the approach, shifting down rapidly and before the effort increased. In moments, I was inching forward, content to take my time, working my way slowly (if a bit shakily) up the narrow and winding road.

My breathing became audible as I neared the spot where I often give up: a small café on the left with some appealing ice cream on offer (but it’s a dog café). I glanced up at the remaining few meters and it occurred to me that I was going to make it!

Stupid bus

Just as I realized that, I was passed by a city bus, and then a car. Within a few more seconds, I saw what a problem this was going to make: while stopping for the traffic light at the top of the hill, the bus had pulled close enough to the curb to block my way. With less than a second to choose my course of action, I decided I was going to continue my climb on the sidewalk. I glanced up towards the intersection and saw a couple of pedestrians, but they moved aside as I mounted onto the cobbles. The slope was already far gentler than its 16% maximum, and I passed the bus in a matter of seconds and then was back in the street, arriving at the stop light at last!

Cue Rocky Theme

I’d done it! I waited a few seconds at the red light, allowing pedestrians to cross as I gasped for air. Then I turned into Minato no Mieru Oka Koen (Harbor View Park), parked Kuroko and took a snap before sitting down to enjoy a couple more well-earned onigiri.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

After wolfing down the onigiri and posting my accomplishment on social media, I had a close look at Kuroko. No sign of looseness in the wheel hubs or bottom bracket. As far as I could see, the rear derailleur was in good alignment. No obvious issues. Mystified, I mounted up for the return trip.

Descent into hell

Well, into Yokohama, anyway. The speed on the descent back down Yatozaka (the hill I’d just conquered) is limited by the need to retain control in the blind curve and the sharp stop at the bottom. According to the Garmin, I only hit about 35km/h at this point. (Strava reports that the king of this particular mountain has climbed it at an unbelievable 36.9km/h!) Threading my way through traffic, I passed Yokohama Chinatown and headed back towards Tamagawa. All was going well except for that unexplained thrumming when I put some effort into the pedals.

The real hell here is the 15km of totally urban riding from Minato Mirai back to the bridge over the Tamagawa. I was making slightly better time on the way home, perhaps thanks to a tailwind.

So you had a flat …

Bicycle leaning against bridge abutment topped by small statue of boat
Checking tire pressure at Rokugo Bridge

On reaching the bridge, I mounted a curb to the pedestrian ramp. And there I felt the rear rim come down on the curb, albeit gently. I dismounted to push Kuroko up the ramp to the bridge, and there stopped and gave the rear tire a squeeze. It was definitely low! It took me just a couple of minutes to pump the tire back up to full (as measured by my hyper-accurate thumb) and I noted once again that a bubble of latex sealant was forming on the tread. I thought for a moment about putting a barb into the pinhole, and then voted against it. I put my barb away, and then I was on my way again.

And, just like that … the vibration was gone! I couldn’t believe it. At the earliest opportunity I put all I had into the pedals and … smooth as sake. Do you mean to tell me that all this crunching and vibration was a low rear tire? A pinhole leak that for some reason the sealant isn’t … erm, sealing?

Apparently so. On both counts. Over the next 15km I confirmed that (a) the vibration was gone when the tire was at full pressure, and (b) the tire was leaking, and coming down from perhaps 40psi to around 20psi before holding steady at that. I suppose the good news was that the tire wasn’t going completely flat, or unseating from the rim.

Over the river and up the hill

My way upstream on the Tamagawa brings me back into Kanagawa at Marukobashi, and then finally into Tokyo at Futagobashi. But as I was making good time, and I don’t like the narrow, crowded sidewalk at Futagobashi, I continued on another kilometer or so to bring me to the 246 bridge over the Tamagawa. Here there’s much less pedestrian traffic, and at the foot of the bridge on the Futako side there’s ample space to stop and top up a leaky tire. And to get a half-liter of chilled water from a vending machine.

Having crossed the river at this point, my path up out of the Tamagawa valley was quite a bit steeper than the one I usually take — nearly as challenging as the climb at Yokohama. I’d been up this hill in one go on several occasions, though, and approached it with confidence. Once again, I dropped into my granniest of granny gears well before needing it, and I was at the top (albeit once again gasping for breath) before I knew it.

A little rain among friends

From the top of the valley at Tamagawa, it’s less than an hour to home — all in traffic. I messaged Nana when to expect me, and set out in good spirits. I was nearly halfway there when the vibration started up once again (letting me know the rear tire was losing pressure as before), and then I felt a sprinkle or two on my arms and face. Within moments it was raining. I’d already taken off my shades and put on my lights out of regard for the cloudy skies, so there was nothing to do but continue onwards. The rain was never particularly heavy and did let up after only five or ten minutes, and it failed to get me as wet as I’d got splashing through puddles on the Tamagawa cycling course. There was nothing more of note on the way home apart from the tour bus driver who decided he needed to be ahead of me at the red light and in the process nearly forced me off the road.

The rain was a (not so) distant memory as I wheeled into the plaza in front of our tower, dismounted, and wheeled Kuroko into the freight elevator for a visit to the Workshop in the Sky.

GPS record of cycle ride
Minato no Mieru Oka Koen Get

Long time no Kawasaki Daishi

Main Hall of Kawasaki Daishi

Maintenance before the start

Before I could ride today, I had to take care of a couple of small mechanical issues that arose during last week’s ride to Takaosan: some adjustment of the rear derailleur, and a strange noise that cropped up late in the ride. So my first step was to bring Kuroko up to the Workshop in the Sky and have a look.

Detail of bicycle casette and rear drop-out showing protruding bolt head
You again!

As soon as I got the bike into the stand, I could see the problem: one of the bolts that I’d just installed and tightened a week ago was sticking out far enough to rub against the chain and derailleur. I’ve been dealing with this issue as long as I’ve had Kuroko, and this past week I’ve been trying to get in touch with the manufacturer (with no success).

(The larger, silver bolt sticking out on the opposite side is for the pannier rack, which is currently not installed. If I screw the bolt all the way in without the rack, it interferes with the derailleur. I’ve had no issue with it sticking out, and the fit is tight enough that it’s not going anywhere — unlike with the derailleur hanger bolts.)

Loctite, pliers, hex wrench, bolt and nuts on floor
Nuts to that!

The bolts I installed a week ago stick through to the other side of the derailleur hanger, so that gives me enough thread to fit nuts on the end of each one. Even with the wheel removed, it’s a very tight fit for my fat fingers, but in the end I was able to get a nut on each bolt, with Loctite, and tighten it down.

Detail of rear derailleur mounting showing four nuts on bolt ends
That should hold?

That done, it was just a matter of a minute or two to adjust the rear derailleur cable tension, and that took care of the shifting issue. I ran through the gears a few times until I was satisfied everything was working. The final bit of pre-flight maintenance was to check the disk brake pads (all fine) and the tire pressure (added a few PSI to the rear).

Just a short one today

Between the delay for the maintenance (I didn’t want to start too early in the morning because the neighbor’s dog starts barking if I make noise out in the Workshop in the Sky) and an iffy tummy in the morning, I decided on a short ride today. I set out down the Tamagawa towards Haneda. As soon as I started riding I felt strong. I stopped after about 22km for the first of Nana’s world famous onigiri, and was soon back on the bike.

As I passed under Gas Bashi, I noticed there was a newly paved path down at the foot of the levee. I usually ride on the top of the levee here, but I worked my way down to the new pathway. Very smooth, wide pavement. The section of the cycling course this replaces isn’t the one most in need of maintenance currently, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Soon after, Haneda hove into view, with Kawasaki Daishi Bridge just in front of it. When I saw the bridge and recalled the name, I realized I hadn’t been to visit Kawasaki Daishi itself in a couple of years at least. I quickly changed my plans and turned off the cycling course for the bridge.

Kawasaki Daishi

I knew all I had to do was cross over the bridge into Kawasaki, continue along the main road for a bit and then turn right. The question, after all this time, was where to turn. I turned just one intersection early and ended up faffing about for a bit before finally consulting Google Maps. As often happens in these circumstances, I’d passed quite near my goal twice before finally getting on the right heading.

Portion of GPS record showing rider wandering about, lost
Faffing about

Once back on course, I recognized the way immediately. Soon I was walking Kuroko down the row of sweets shops leading up to the main gate, listening to the candy makers hammering their knives against the cutting boards to attract business.

Row of candy shops and octogonal five-story pagoda
Row of candy shops and octogonal five-story pagoda

The bike rack was just where I remembered it, and I locked up Kuroko while I took a brief stroll inside the temple for some snaps.

Main gate and pagoda
Main gate and pagoda

Giant lantern in the main gate
Giant lantern in the main gate

Main Hall of Kawasaki Daishi
Main Hall of Kawasaki Daishi

Two of the Four Heavenly Kings guarding the main gate
Two of the Four Heavenly Kings guarding the main gate

Lunch and return

After retrieving Kuroko from the bike stand, I continued on a few dozen meters to the large park nearby, where I sat down in the shade of a large tree and enjoyed more mentaiko onigiri.

Bicycle leaning against large tree trunk
Thank you, tree, for holding my bike

After lunch I didn’t have any trouble making my way back across the bridge and picking up the cycling course on my way home. I still felt strong and was pushing the pedals at every opportunity. I’d switched the Garmin to navigation view while flailing about in search of Kawasaki Daishi, and I left it that way on my return. I determined not to worry about my pace but just to keep pedaling. The tactic certainly worked as I spent less time paying attention to the Garmin and more on where I was going (especially because I knew the route well).

Back at Nikotama, I crossed the river into Tokyo and climbed up out of the Tamagawa valley. At the top I took a brief rest in a park, sipped some water, and messaged Nana that I would be home in about an hour. I made good time through traffic after that and was home after only 45 minutes.

GPS record of cycle route
Long time no Kawasaki Daishi

Trouble-free ride

I’m very pleased to note there were no mechanical issues on today’s ride following my morning maintenance. The shifting was flawless for the whole ride. And when I parked Kuroko in the basement I checked the derailleur hanger once again, and all the nuts and bolts were snug.