Mikan metric

Bicycle leaning against railing over weir

We were shocked to wake up yesterday to non-stop tsunami warnings on the television, with a prominent “Run!” heading flashing over affected areas. But it soon became evident there was no danger for us here in Tokyo, and even the most-threatened areas of the Japan homeland would be facing nothing like the 2011 tsunami. We were soon holding our breath for news from Tonga — and in that we’re still waiting. What little we know is not encouraging, and we hope the world will join New Zealand soon in sending help to the small island nation.

But with no immediate threat and no way effective way to lend immediate assistance, there was nothing but cold weather to stop me having a nice ride on a very clear and fairly windless day. I quickly suited up in tights, heat tech undershirt and two winter jerseys, winter socks and gloves, face mask, bandana and shoe covers. I was loaded for bear.

I’d been dithering since early morning over the route, but in the end I decided I wanted an easy ride but with some distance: a metric century.

Not-so-cold start

Bicycle leaning against bush surrounding a dry fountain
Dry fountain

Google had led me to expect 1C at the start of the ride, but the Garmin put it at a more optimistic 4C. I could feel a bit of chill on my thighs through the tights, and ditto my fingers in the winter gloves, but was otherwise warm right off the bat. Once I started moving and burning some energy, I didn’t have any more trouble with the cold. The city traffic was as usual, apart from a long line of cars waiting to park at the department store at Futako, and I was soon taking a brief break at my usual spot at Nishigawara Park on my way up the Tamagawa.

Fruity, with hints of masochism

Between the new saddle and the thin chamois of my Pearly Zoomie tights, my backside has not been having an easy time on rides lately. From Nishigawara I usually like to continue on 15km to Persimmon Park, and typically I have no trouble apart from a bit of finger numbness near the end. This time I was shifting my butt around, trying to get a comfortable position, as well as taking my hands off the bars from time to time to shake out my fingers. I resolved to buy some persimmons from the eponymous vending machine by the park, only to find when I arrived that it was mikan that were now on offer.

Even better! I dropped my ¥100 coin and picked the largest mikan I could find. I posted the photo on Instagram and to some friends in chat, and quickly had their replies: “They look delicious!” and “They’re so big!”

It was already after 11 and I was feeling quite hungry. I didn’t want to start on the mikan and end up all sticky, so I decided I would be OK to continue on and eat when I reached Hamura. I estimated I would get there about noon or shortly thereafter, and I’d be in better shape than I was in December when I rode to Disneyland and didn’t eat until after 1 p.m.

And that’s how it worked out. After the break my bum was feeling a bit more accustomed to the saddle and I continued making good time. I got behind a family when emerging from a park about 4-5km from the goal, and resolved to bide my time through an underpass and then up a ramp leading to a cherry tree-lined path. At the top of the ramp the father — last rider in the group — failed to negotiate the bollards and came to an abrupt stop after touching a pedal, nearly toppling over backwards in the process. I was close behind, but quickly stopped, balancing on my pedals, and then passed by through the adjacent bollards. Soon after that, I was at the convenience store, stocking up on hot pork buns for my lunch. (Nana had failed to make rice, and so no onigiri for my ride.)

I reached Hamura with my pork buns slightly after noon. It didn’t take me long to finish eating, and then it was a balance between resting my tired body with the desire to get home before it become too dark. It was 12:30 when I struck out for home.

Into the wind

As is often the case, I’d assumed on my way upstream there was no wind. I soon realized my error on the return downstream. The wind wasn’t impossible, but it took a gear or two out of my pace — with the occasional gust demanding another gear or two downwards. I knew I could make it back to Persimmon Mikan Park before needing a break, but my tush was telling me otherwise.

From there it was a similar distance back to my usual break stop — the one with the dry fountain, and the last rest before Futako. I was fighting into the wind again, and soon I was dealing with a headache and cramping neck muscles in addition to my sore hands and bum. I realized I was hunching my shoulders against the wind and pulling my head in turtlewise. I made an effort to square my shoulders, straighten my neck and rest my hands on the tops of the handlebars, increasing my wind resistance but relaxing my entire body.

It helped. The other bit that helped was my decision to bypass Futako on my way home, diverting at Komae into the city on a more direct route. It would shave about 5km from my ride, but from my calculations I’d still clear 100km for the day.

Bicycle leaning agaisnt railing in park
Just 15km to go

Cross-town traffic

After Komae, the first couple of kilometers brought me even more directly into the wind. But as I was in traffic, I was naturally riding a bit slower and more upright regardless. I was tired, but the headache was easing. The more upright seating seems to suit the saddle also, and the pain in the tuchis dropped down a notch.

I had the Garmin set to show my route (which I knew well) rather than my stats, to prevent me checking it often while I should be looking out for traffic. But it was still beeping to let me know each time I completed another 5km. My spidey-sense was primed for the beep for 95km from the moment I passed the crossing that I knew was about 7km from home, and I was soon rewarded. At that point I relaxed a bit more, confident I’d reach 100km despite my shortcut.

At the next traffic light I knew I had about 6km to go. “So, about 20 minutes,” I told myself. I swiped the Garmin to check the stats. It was 2:52 p.m., so I was predicting I’d be home by 3:12. Somehow that seemed less realistic than saying I’d cover 6km in 20 minutes. I can do that without issue — on the flat, without traffic lights. And definitely without train crossings, I reminded myself as I was soon cooling my heels as I waited for a commuter train to clear the station and crossing.

I had the Garmin back on the map so I wouldn’t be racing the clock home. It was just as well as a driver wanted to play cat-and-mouse at 30km/h, only for me to catch him at the next light and replay it. I was happy for him to speed through a changing yellow while I braked to wait.

At last I was speeding downhill by Central Park towards the finish. The light at the bottom of the hill was green, for a change, and I only had to work my way around a large delivery van that had pulled almost fully into my lane from a cross street before I reached home.

I pressed the stop button on the Garmin and messaged Nana I was back. I hadn’t made my 20 minutes, but I was well ahead of the 3:30 I had told her I’d be home.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Mikan metric

Six hours and change total elapsed time isn’t bad for a century, and the Garmin put my riding time at 4 hours 50 minutes, for a moving average of 21.2km/h. So despite my bellyaching about the wind and the saddle, I’d made quite good time overall.

初走り2022

GPS record of cycle ride

First ride of 2022

Usually for my first ride of the New Year I’ll just run to Haneda and back, a ride I can get under 4 hours if I try. I can wait until 10 or later to start, when it’s warmer, and I’m not out in the cold for long.

This year I wanted to do something a bit longer, even if it meant braving the cold. And I’d just ridden to Haneda a few days ago. I figured Kawagoe would be 6 hours, even at a relaxed pace, and so I could leave as late as 9 a.m. and still be back by 3 in the afternoon, before the shadows got too long.

Then it was just a matter of working up my courage to get out in the cold air. Google was telling me it was 3C, and when I stepped out onto the Workshop in the Sky to fetch something, it certainly didn’t feel any warmer than that. But I knew it wouldn’t be as bad as I was imagining once I got under way, so I braced myself and got dressed.

Starting with a mechanical?

When I went to the basement parking to fetch Kuroko, the front tire felt soft. In fact, there was no air in it at all. I gave it a quick look over and spotted a few drops of sealant on the sidewall. I’d had no hint of trouble on my way to Haneda and back, and prior to that the tire had held its pressure for more than a month without issue.

I shrugged and pumped the tire up, gave it a squeeze and spun it around for a few seconds. Gave it another squeeze. It seemed to be holding. I mentally shrugged my shoulders, put away the pump and set out.

Into the wind

When I reached the Arakawa, I could see the path was nice and dry. But I could also feel that I’d be heading into a fairly strong wind. At this point I could have chickened out and headed downriver, towards Disneyland, but I plucked up my courage once again and turned upriver — and upwind.

It wasn’t too bad. The wind was very steady, so I wasn’t being buffeted about. I just wasn’t making the same speed as I usually would on the flat. When I took a moment to swipe the Gamin to the stats screen, I saw I was ticking along at 16-18km/h: not quite a third off my usual pace.

Bicycle leaning against decorative sign for the Arakawa cycling course
The real start of the ride

With such fine weather I expected to see a lot of people out on the path, and I was right in this. Not as many bikers as I’m used to, but some families out for a walk, or flying kites. At the first rest stop the path was crowded with cars (it’s one of the places where the path and roadway intertwine) and a whole bunch of baseball players jogging to warm up before practice.

A little later on I saw a boy standing on the edge of the path, holding something in his hand and looking across the path meaningfully. His father was relaxing a couple of steps away, watching unconcernedly. It was only as I came upon them I noticed the kite strings arching upwards across the path from the handle in the boy’s hand. Fortunately the kite was flying high enough that the strings didn’t take my head off.

The wind remained constant until I descended from the path into the Kawagoe sports park and then into Kawagoe itself.

Kawagoe Crowd

I don’t know why it failed to occur to me that thousands of others would think of Kawagoe as a destination on a public holiday with such fine weather. The park wasn’t very crowded, but as I continued on in towards town I was soon fighting through long lines of traffic. The commercial parking spots were turning a brisk trade. When I finally reached the main attraction, the crowds were so thick I hardly had room to walk with my bicycle.

Pandemic? What pandemic?

I can’t blame people for being idiots without pointing at myself first, of course. I hurriedly took a single selfie and headed back towards the park, stopping at a convenience store to pick up a couple of nikuman for lunch.

Slight return

I was quite lucky to find an empty picnic table at the park to enjoy my lunch. The weather remained beautiful for the ride home, except the wind was helping me along and the sun was in my eyes — enough to give me a headache despite my sunglasses. I pushed my helmet up in the back to bring it jauntily down over my right eyebrow to block the glare, and that helped.

It was just past noon and I had about 37km to go on the way home. I felt OK except for the bit where my backside rests on the saddle. After a few rides I’d got the new Brooks saddle adjusted to the perfect angle. But the saddle hasn’t been broken in any significant amount yet — it’s still as hard as a wooden bench. And my Pearly Zoomie winter cycling tights have a much thinner chamois pad than my usual fair-weather shorts. I was constantly shifting about on the saddle to try to move the pressure from one spot to another.

GPS record of cycle ride
初走り – New Year’s Ride 2022

I reached the point where I leave the cycling course for Tokyo traffic about 1:30, and stopped under the bridge to have a final Snickers bar. I had 15km to go, so I messaged Nana that I would be home before 3. I was feeling quite knackered at this point and I knew that I had a couple of challenging climbs on the way (well, challenging to an overweight old man with an aching backside, anyway). With that I set off into the traffic (and into the sun). In the end, without pushing hard at all, I rolled into home at 2:20, saved my ride on Garmin and messaged Nana that I was home.

The ride was a good start to the year, and left me totally knackered. There was no sign of leakage from the front tire all day, but I’ll be sure to check it before the next ride. I’m not sure what Garmin meant by “Up cycling” — was I supposed to find some gomi there to repurpose into a hot dog stand?

Finally, the Di2 battery was showing 80% at the end of the ride. I suspect it’s showing things in 10% increments. Anyway, this is after three rides. I’d expected better battery performance. Of course the Bluetooth unit drains a bit of power, and I may be seeing that. Or it may have to do with the first-generation battery I’ve got.

In any case, the battery performance is still fine, and I’m glad I have a free extra battery courtesy of Amazon. I’ll just need to make sure I’m covered before undertaking any extended rides.

Achievement Unlocked!

Selfie of biker in helmet and shades in front of Japanese torii

After a hiatus of two weeks, I braved the cold yesterday with a brief jaunt down the Tamagawa.

I had three goals in mind for the day’s ride:

  • Don’t set any records
  • Have fun while getting some kilometers under the tires
  • Avoid freezing my fruits off

The first one was a near thing. Thanks in part to what was probably a stiff tailwind, I made good time from Maruko Bridge down to the Otorii for a 2nd place on my personal best time.

The last point was never in question. Although it was very chilly on the Workshop in the Sky before I set off, it was about 5C with hardly any wind when Kuroko and I emerged from the elevator at the ground floor. I’d only been riding in the sun for a couple of minutes before I was sweating in my double black winter jerseys, heat tech undershirt, black tights and winter socks.

As long as I remained in the sun and out of the wind, that was the case. Arriving at Futako, I unzipped the outer jersey more than half-way. But there were times in the shade or when I turned into the wind that I was glad for all the layers I was wearing.

まわり通

With the dry winter weather and reduced traffic on the cycling course, I encountered a few “mawari dori” (detours) around construction — three or four at least. They were well marked but I did have to read some directions on the fly. On one, the path was separated between pedestrians and cyclists. Then on the next one, it was pedestrians and cyclists to the left, cars to the right. The sign for this latter one was partially blocked and I found myself in the car lane (the first character is the same for “car” and “bicycle”: 自). I was fine because there wasn’t any traffic, but when I got to the end I had to back-track a bit and get around a barrier to get back on the cycling course.

A quick break

I didn’t have any onigiri — Nana had asked the night before if she should prepare the rice, but I told her not to bother as I wasn’t sure I’d be riding. So I had a brief rest at Haneda before heading back up the river.

Bicycle parked near ice patch
I told you it was cold

I was immediately heading into the wind, expending a lot more effort to move than I had on the way downstream. I mentally shrugged and kept riding — it’s not as though I could get home by continuing downwind.

I’d only gone about 5km when my empty stomach announced itself:

*AHEM*

It’s true I could struggle my way home on an empty stomach, but I’d be pretty miserable when I arrived: hungry, cold and exhausted. Instead I continued as far as my usual rest stop and then visited the nearby convenience store for a quick top-up. I might have added 30 minutes to my total ride time in this way, but the warm food in my stomach went a long way towards making the remaining ride enjoyable rather than a mere slog to get home.

At my final rest in a small park at the top of the climb out of the Tama river valley, I had a quick peek at the Garmin. The battery level for my electronic shifters hadn’t budged.

From there I made it home well before the 3 p.m. target I’d given Nana. The ride wasn’t very long, but my thighs were telling me they’d done a full day’s work. And I’d met all my goals for the ride. Strava even tells me I’m trending faster over this course, although I have no idea how that happened.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Achievement Unlocked!

A couple of more achievements: I’ve cycled more than 4,000km this year, and I’ve racked up more than 10,000km on Kuroko since new.

Glide, Switched

Bicycle with Tokyo Disney Resort sign in background

Apart from a quick spin around the block late yesterday afternoon, today was my first ride since upgrading Kuroko to electronic shifting and hydraulic brakes. And everything about today’s ride confirmed what I’d noticed during that brief jaunt. Shifting is effortless and flawless. Braking is very smooth, requiring very little force. And the Brooks saddle is still slippery and makes me feel a bit insecure as I slide around atop it.

It was a delight to start off up Yamate Dori and not have to think about trimming the derailleurs, just shifting to the gear I need. I soon learned that before each stop I just need to hold the downshift lever as I spin the pedals, and when I don’t feel any more shifting (there’s a small disturbance in the Force the chain with each shift), then I shift up once to end up in my favorite starting gear. The trouble-free experience allows me to focus more on traffic and the road in front of me.

Arakawa

When I reached the Arakawa I took a moment to adjust the saddle. It had been slightly nose-down, so that I was constantly pushing myself back up on the saddle. After raising up the nose a bit, the experience was much improved. I was still sliding around, but not constantly sliding towards the nose of the saddle. The pressure on my hands was greatly reduced.

I won’t have to worry about puddles today. It hasn’t rained in days and days …

Guy Jean

*snicker!*

Arakawa cycling course

There are still a few tidying-up chores to do following Kuroko’s upgrade, and one of those is to get the grommets back into the frame where the brake cable and front shifter wire enter and exit the downtube. I didn’t want to waste more time than I had already before setting off on the ride this morning, and I figured it wouldn’t be a problem as the roads were sure to be dry. The Arakawa had other ideas … I avoided the puddles where I could, and plowed on through where it was unavoidable. I saw several riders on expensive Italian bikes gingerly tip-toeing through the latter parts. I didn’t spray them with my rooster tail — not intentionally, anyway.

Detail of bicycle showing muddy splashes
Some splashing was unavoidable

Given my late start, I arrived at the mouth of the river about 12:20. The smart thing to have done would be to stop for lunch before continuing, but I didn’t want to interrupt the flow. I rode on and arrived at Tokyo Disney Resort about 1 p.m., and sat down for lunch (purchased from a handy convenience store) about 1:20. As can be imagined, I was ravenous!

Easy rider

After lunch I set off home at a more relaxed pace. I bobbled a couple of wickets on the ramp down from the bridge over the Arakawa, but apart from that had no issues. I knew I was behind schedule for my goal of returning home by 3 p.m., but I didn’t feel any real reason to rush. I was surprised after arriving home (at 3:15) to find I’d posted good time on this leg, including a couple of personal records.

Unadulterated pleasure

GPS record of cycle route
Glide, Switched

My first full ride experience following the upgrade matched my impressions from my short jaunt yesterday. Shifting was swift and effortless. Gear chatter was noticeable only by its absence — I managed to get a brief amount while shifting to the largest cog while climbing up a pedestrian overpass, less than a second all told. As I moved up and down the cogs I heard the reassuring “ZZzzzt- ZZzzzt!” of the front derailleur trimming to match the chain’s deflection.

The only bobbled shifts were rider error. I got a double-shift early in the day when a bump in the road just as I was shifting caused me to double-tap the lever. A bit later, flying down the Arakawa, my fingers had become numb, making it difficult to separate the upshift and downshift paddles from each other. Correcting for this — downshifting under load — was handled without fanfare. Likewise, if I got caught at an unexpected stop in a high gear, then downshifting as I started again was accomplished without any noise or protest.

The brakes were amazing. Fantastic. Superb. Can’t say enough good about how they silently went about their job, requiring much less effort than the cable-operated calipers I’ve been using for three years.

That leaves the saddle. After I corrected the tilt, things were much better, but I’m still sliding around quite a bit more than I’d like. I am holding out hope this will improve with age (and the shorts I was wearing today — Fearless Leader Joe’s favorites — have a very slick fabric). I may be tempted to speed the process with sandpaper or even a file if it doesn’t happen soon, though.

Calling the rainman’s bluff

Ginkgo trees at Meiji Jingu Gaien

Today’s forecast was cool and overcast, with rain in the evening. I took my time getting ready for the ride, and I checked the weather again before setting out about 9:30. The rain was now forecast for mid-afternoon. I figured I’d be fine as the Tokyo Landmarks ride is usually just four hours and change — I should be home well before the rain started.

The temperature was just 12C when I set out. I’d opted for an undershirt and my now-infamous manga jersey, but still in shorts, with medium socks. It was the perfect choice for the day. I wasn’t too warm for the ride, as I’d feared I’d be.

I was absolutely not prepared for the huge crowds of people who turned out in such blah weather for the yellow ginkgo leaves at Meiji Jingu Gaien. I had to negotiate both auto traffic and pedestrians. I took my time, and I stopped more often than usual on this route to snap the sights.

I’d just finished propping Kuroko up at the Imperial Palace moat and stepped away to take the snap when … Crash! She tumbled over splat on the sidewalk. Fortunately there were no joggers passing at the moment, and I righted her and got the photo. Soon after, though, I noticed some gear chatter — but only in one gear, the one I usually start on.

I was worried the fall had bent the rear derailleur, and I had a look when I stopped for a lunch of Nana’s world-famous onigiri at Tokyo Big Sight. But I eventually realized it was the front derailleur — the trim wasn’t working as expected. For the past couple of rides I’ve had trouble getting the derailleur to trim outwards (necessary when riding the smaller cogs on back), but now it wasn’t trimming inwards, towards the center of the bike (for the larger cogs).

It wasn’t a big issue for the remainder of the ride. The derailleurs were both still functioning and I had no trouble shifting. Sometimes there would be some chatter, but only in that one gear. At other times, I completed a full climb in the troublesome gear without any noise.

I’ve already got a replacement for the derailleur — an electronic shifter as a part of the Switching to Glide project. I decided rather than sort out whatever issue today’s fall caused, I’m going to get started on the conversion. I have the day off tomorrow, and it really will be raining. I’ll start by stripping down the bike and trying to extract the stuck bolts on the rear brake caliper.

I’d had my shades on since the sun had peeked out when I got to Shiba Koen about 10:30, but by the time I’d reached Tokyo Big Sight the skies were getting darker and gloomier. I put my shades away and started wondering if I really would get home before the heavens opened up.

GPS record of cycle route
Calling the rainman’s bluff

I wasn’t pushing hard today. My only deadline was to get home before the rain started, which I did. (It started raining just before dinner.) I stopped more than usual to take snaps. I only skipped two sights: Rainbow Bridge was just too gloomy, and I thought that Asakusa would be too crowded despite the grey skies.

My ride time was 3h6m, for an average moving speed of 19.4km/h. It wasn’t the fastest I’ve done this ride, but I wasn’t trying for a record. The climbs all posed no more than the usual challenge. I did get a personal best on Shinjuku Dori on the way to Yotsuya as I was racing home in the gloom with my lights on.

Dum-dum

Bicycles leaning against hedge in front of dry fountain

The forecast was perfect for riding yesterday, and José had agreed to meet at Futako at 8. But I got a message from him at 3 a.m. saying he might not be able to get up in time. I was up at 5:30 but took my time getting ready to ride, and let Nana sleep in. Finally I got a text from José at 6:30 saying he was up and could ride. I replied that we could meet at 8:30, and I woke up Nana so she could get busy making onigiri.

As I was mounting up to depart, I got a shock: I’d neglected to charge up the Garmin. It was at 46% battery, making it rather iffy for lasting through the ride. I knew I wouldn’t need the navigation, but did want to record my kilometers. I took out my phone and fired up the Strava app just in case, and then set out for Futako. I arrived about 8:15, and I only had to wait about 6 minutes for José to make his appearance.

We’d set a goal of returning home by 2 p.m., which limited our destinations. After a hasty conference we decided on Hamura. We set off upstream with me occasionally glancing over my shoulder to make sure the Kid was still with me, particularly after I’d cleared clumps of joggers or slower-moving cyclists. Finally, with less than 2km to go before we reached our first rest point, I realized the person I was seeing over my shoulder wasn’t José. I stopped and looked back, and about 30 seconds later he appeared. I mounted up again and we were once more on our way.

Bicycles leaning against hedge in front of dry fountain
Once he’d finally caught up …

At our first stop, José asked if I was riding faster than usual. I’d checked my speed a couple of times, and it was on the higher end of what I typically go in the absence of a tailwind or long downhill stretch, but no more than that. The truth was the Kid’s three hours of sleep just weren’t enough. He had some caffeine and sugar in the form of a black coffee and a café au lait from the park vending machine and that helped a lot as he had no further difficulty keeping up with me for the remainder of the ride.

Quite the mechanical

We continued to make good time up the river. There was a slight crosswind, but nothing to keep us back. Meanwhile, Fujisan was a constant companion off to our left.

Just a few kilometers before Hamura, and with a group of riders following us through a switchback, I felt my right-hand grip wobble. As I came out of the switchback and began accelerating and shifting, I confirmed it: The right-hand lever was working loose from the handlebar. If it came off that would make things dicey. As it was, I continued on while shifting my hand up onto the bars to avoid putting more pressure on the lever.

Nana had given us two onigiri each — delicious asari onigiri — and José had already finished both, while I had one in reserve. That wasn’t enough for lunch, so we stopped after a couple of kilometers at a convenience store to supplement our goodies. And there I peeled back the hood on the loose lever while José tightened it using the multitool.

Bicycle against railing overlooking river
Hamura once again

We reached Hamura just before 11. We’d continued making good time on the road, but we’d taken our time at the rest stops on the way. Mindful that we wanted to be home by 2, we ate up and rested just a few minutes before setting off downriver.

Selfie of two cyclists with statue of Tamagawa Brothers in the background
Trying not to look like a perv this time

The wind was still across the path on the way back, but a bit more from the front at times. I felt I was lagging compared to my earlier pace, but when I checked the Garmin (would the battery hold out?) I was still setting a stiff pace.

We reached the Keiokaku Velodrome about 12:40 and I heard the Garmin beep. It was asking if it should go into battery saving mode. I tapped the checkmark to OK it, and the display shut off.

At this point we still had 10km to reach Futako, putting our goal of 1 p.m. (in order to get home by 2) in doubt. We filled our water bottles and soldiered on. My thighs were starting to ache. I was doing OK, but after each small climb on the way it would take me a bit longer to get back up to speed. Meanwhile the Garmin continued to register the 5km splits.

José and I parted ways at Rte 246. I didn’t note the time (it was about 1:16, according to the faithful Garmin), but continued on into Futako. When I reached the top of the climb out of the Tamagawa valley, I stopped for another rest at a tiny park there and messaged Nana. It was 1:26, and I told her I’d be home about 2:30-3. I set out once again for home, really feeling the effort in my thighs. But I did manage to clear the next light, which almost never happens.

With a hair over 5km remaining in my ride, the Garmin beeped twice but the screen did not light up. “That’s it,” I thought. “Good thing I’ve got the Strava running.” But at the next light I tapped the screen and it lit up. The beeps had been Nana messaging me that she was off to the sauna. And then with just 1km remaining it happened again: a single beep, but no screen image. I ignored it as I turned for the sweeping downhill past Central Park. I made the light at the bottom (again, that rarely happens) and pulled into the tower’s plaza to dismount.

I immediately hit the save button the Garmin, and it woke up and saved the ride. It even transferred the route to my phone. I checked and it showed 5% battery remaining.

Meanwhile, the beep I’d heard in the last kilometer was José messaging me that he’d arrived safely home, at 2:08. I replied I was home as well, as of 2:12. In the end we hadn’t missed our goal by much despite the half-hour delay in setting out in the morning.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Dum-dum

I’d done nearly 108km in 6h35m, which is not bad overall. The Garmin put my moving time at 4h55m, for a 21.9km/h average. That’s just less than my fastest time for this route: I’d averaged 22.1km/h in June 2017, on Ol’ Paint, with a total elapsed time of 6h11m.

Paint vs delivery trucks

There’s not much else to note about the ride except for the delivery trucks parking in the bike lanes. Over the past 7 years or so, Tokyo has painted blue chevrons along the side of many roads to indicate bike lanes, and in some cases a full meter-wide stripe of blue paint — with accompanying markings. Naturally, it’s still legal to park (or at least stand for up to 5 minutes) where these lanes are marked. A couple of times stood out on my way home from Futako as delivery trucks passed me just to put on their signal and pull over to park in front of me. In one case the truck had barely cleared Kuroko’s front wheel when he put the signal on and pulled over.

Tokyo could learn a few things from Houston in this regard.

Kanreki ride

Selfie of two cyclists in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers

It’s been nearly a month since my last ride with the Halfakid. I had a week off while he was working, and then I was traveling with Nana two weekends in a row. Meanwhile, the Kid had his second vaccine and was ready to flex his wings. We huddled over the plans for this weekend, and he readily agreed to the Three Rivers Ride.

I’d last done this ride a month ago, and I did a pretty aggressive time: 5h49m moving time and 7h15m total elapsed time. In my few goes round this route, I’ve always left the Iruma river course and cut through traffic to Kawagoe old town. This time I decided to stay on the Iruma course as it rounds Kawagoe to the north and east, and finally joins up with the Arakawa. It would add a few kilometers to the overall ride, but spare me 15km or so of riding in traffic.

Still life with cycles and fountain
Still life with cycles and fountain

The Kid agreed to meet in Futako at 8 a.m. and we lost no time heading up the Tamagawa cycling course. We arrived in Hamura, the end of the course, at 10, less than three hours after I’d left home. We were making good time, but paused here to wolf down some of Nana’s world-famous onigiri.

Cycles leaning against railing with river in background
Hamura
Selfie of two cyclists in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers
Two-shot with Tamagawa Bros

Into traffic

From Hamura we turned into traffic as we entered Saitama and traveled overland to meet up with the Iruma river course. I’d warned the Halfakid in dire terms about the condition of the pavement on a 5km downhill, where we’d hit a rough spot in the middle of a shaded corner at speeds of up to 50km/h. The moment came and went and the Kid told me he’d expected much worse from my description. Meanwhile, the cars trying to pass us as we were doing 50 in a 40 zone presented a much greater safety challenge.

Faff

As soon as we passed beyond the course I’d previously ridden, we got into a bit of bad navigation (courtesy of your humble narrator, and a very liberal definition of “cycling course”). Considering the amount of terra incognita, though, we did not spend a lot of time searching around for the right way to go. A bit further on, we encountered construction, but we soon routed around it. The Garmin fortunately updated quickly, and finally guided us back to the path just as the construction ended.

Not long after that, we came round the northwest corner of the course where the Iruma river joins the Arakawa. I was back on familiar footing. We paused for a brief rest with water and cheese before continuing.

The wind!

The wind had been against us all day, almost as if the gods had bet against us, but never in a very aggressive way. I’d told the Halfakid that I’ve never had a favourable wind on this upper reach of the Arakawa, and today was no exception. It was gentle enough for the first handful of kilometers, but didn’t disappoint in the final 10km. At our final rest about 6km before we left the river course, the Halfakid ate the final onigiri and we continued onward with our energy refreshed and the wind much abated.

I remarked that I felt as if I was really sucking, the wind holding me back, and the Halfakid replied that our time was about normal. Garmin trumps perception. We weren’t making bad time overall, but the wind was making a slog of it.

Two cycles in front of the Arakawa river course sign
The now-famous sign

When we reached the familiar sign, we hurried on to the nearest convenience store to recharge with Snickers bars and a fresh bottle of water.

Selfie of cyclist in manga jerset
Alcohol may have been involved

From the Arakawa back home was neither faster nor slower than normal (although it felt slower as I was tired). My right thigh was cramping, but I ignored it and pedaled onwards. The Halfakid was provoking me by laughing about my new jersey, as he had been all day, in a good-natured way. I’ve been the source of enough embarrassment in his life that he’s quite inured to it by now.

I missed the final turn to our tower and spent a couple of minutes faffing about back streets. The tower is the tallest thing around and so hard to miss, but few of the streets lead directly to it. At last I pulled up outside our building, just a few minutes before I’d promised Nana I’d be home.

The shadows were lengthening and the Kid had another 30kim to go before home. He set off double-time, and got there after just another 1h20m, quite a good time in traffic. I’d done 135km for the day and was exhausted, but he’d made a century of it at just over 161km.

GPS record of cycle ride
Kanreki ride

I’ll be 60 tomorrow. That’s the meaning of “kanreki” — 60th birthday. I’m apparently not dead yet. Compared with the very similar ride a month ago (when I’d passed through Kawagoe’s old town), this route was an additional 9km. The riding time was nearly 30 minutes longer, while the total elapsed time was an additional hour. That works out: the average speed based on moving time for both rides was identical, while we’d easily spent an additional half hour today in rest breaks and faff.

A big push!

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign

The day dawned clear and windy. Between the forecast for wind and some sneezing that started last night and continued this morning, I put off plans for a longer ride and decided to get out to the Arakawa and see which way the wind was blowing.

Fujisan capped with snow in pink early morning sunlight
Lovely start to the day

The ride in traffic to the Arakawa was uneventful. My thighs took some persuasion to get going, but were soon in their rhythm. The wind was gusting against me at times, so I just took it easy.

When I reached the Arakawa, the wind was very clearly blowing downriver. Well, OK! Downriver it is! I sped down the ramp from the top of the levee, splashed through some puddles and was on my way. And with the wind at my back (for the most part), I knew I was making good time without much effort.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Arakawa
Not tired of this

BFG

From the moment I hit the trail, a Big Friendly Giant was pushing me along. I racked up a 5km segment in 9m57s, and then another in 9m17s. Put together, that gave me 10km in 19m14s, for more than 31km/h average.

As the giant wind continued to push me along, I racked up some surprising numbers on Strava, including a 7.37km segment at 33.3km/h.

End of the line

Bicycle leaning against sign marking river mouth at Shinsuna
Back into the wind after this

In all, it took me 58 minutes to cover the 26.5km from my start on the Arakawa cycling road to the end at the Shinsuna River Station, averaging more than 27km/h for the run (including a brief rest stop). But after that I had to backtrack into the wind to the Kiyasunao Bridge to cross over the Arakawa to reach my true destination for the day.

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign
Kuroko goes to Disney

After snapping a quick picture for the blog, I made a leisurely pace getting back to the Kiyasunao Bridge, impelled forward only by my hunger. I reached the Seishincho North green space at 11:45 and promptly ate three of Nana’s world-famous onigiri.

Bicycle in front of ornate lamppost at Nihonbashi
Nihonbashi

Back across the bridge, I was in traffic on Eitai Avenue. The wind was gusty, but overall much abated from the giant’s hand that had pushed me down the river. I was thankful I wasn’t fighting my way back into the same wind that had propelled me to speeds of more than 40km/h on the flat!

I sent a photo from Nihonbashi to both Nana and Fearless Leader Joe. They both came back with the same response: You’re already in Nihonbashi? By the time FLJ’s response reached me, though, I was already sitting down outside Budokan for a final onigiri.

After finishing up the onigiri, I checked the time: 1:20. I messaged Nana that I’d be home by 2:30 and set off once more into traffic. I had to warm my thighs up again after the brief stop. I honestly didn’t know how long it would take to get home — I’ve always assumed about 45 minutes from Chidorigafuchi and have told Nana an hour. But as I rolled up to the tower and noted the time, I realized I’d done it in 30 minutes. (I’ll probably continue to give Nana an hour estimate, though.)

GPS record of cycle ride
A big push!

Garmin gave me a moving time of 3:20:58, for an average of 21.7km/h. Despite all the personal records set today, Strava reports my speed on this ride is trending downward. It’s certain that on other segments today I was taking it easy. My fastest time was in February 2019 when I averaged 24.3km/h in an even stronger wind and set a personal record for 40km of 1:24:35 (which I make to be 28.4km/h) in addition to a number of personal records on Strava segments along the Arakawa.

Today’s big push brought me a milestone: more than 10,000km on Kuroko since my first ride with her in July 2018. I know there are some who ride 10,000km in a single year, but I suspect most of them don’t have day jobs. At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.

Graphic showing 10,006km ridden on bicycle
Ten. Thousand. Kilometers.

Got it in … two

Cyclist selfie (in mask and helmet) in front of Takaosan cable car entrance

I’ve got the week off work, so I set off this morning in perfect weather — if a bit chilly. I wore my obnoxiously yellow windbreaker over my usual accoutrements, and that did the trick.

My goal today was twofold: get to the top of Otarumi Touge (in one go if possible) and then loop around lake Sagamiko and return through Kanagawa Prefecture. I’ve been up Otarumi Touge on a number of occasions, each time stopping for a rest at least once (and sometimes more often), but it seems I’ve only done the Sagamiko loop a couple of times, both in 2019 (if my Strava history is to be trusted). The last time was just a couple of weeks before the start of my Lejog adventure with Fearless Leader Joe.

Easy Rider start

Bicycle leaning against wooden railing in park with trees in background
First rest stop: Nishigawara Park

It’s 51km from home until the serious climbing starts from Takaosan Guchi. This morning I was determined to take it easy, hold my energy in reserve until arriving at the climb. I was successful in this, not pushing it in traffic. When I arrived on the Tamagawa cycling course, my average was slightly better than 20km/h. Perfect. Of course, my thighs were still a bit tender as today was just two days after the Yokohama ride in the rain with the Halfakid. But that’s something that another ride should just work through, right?

The weekday traffic on the Tamagawa cycling course wasn’t bad, particularly given the nice weather. At 9 a.m. I arrived at the Yotsuya tennis courts and had a couple of Nana’s world-famous onigiri to make sure I would have plenty of energy by the time I arrived in Takaosan Guchi. I continued on the Asakawa cycling course, a bit into the wind but not too bad, still conserving my energy. About 10km shy of Takaosan I stopped and had another onigiri, umeboshi this time.

It’s hurtin’ time

Cyclist selfie (in mask and helmet) in front of Takaosan cable car entrance
Takaosan cable car entrance

With the onigiri already in my belly, I didn’t have to stop at the usual convenience store at Takaosan Guchi. Instead I proceeded straight to the Takaosan cable car entrance for the usual selfie. Then, with the GoPro rolling, I started the climb. It all went well. I reminded myself to shift down before I felt any burning, and I continued to inch my way up the climb. It’s gradual, and I felt fine, and it

just

keeps

going.

The Garmin was giving me some sort of obnoxious misleading guidance, like “Continue on road after 2.1km” or something, when I know the climb is more than 4km long. And I really felt fine, spinning down in my lowest gear. Some of the pavement was new, which was nice, and they’d cleaned up the shoulder (where there is one), which is even nicer. Well, that lasted for half a kilometer or so.

And of course after I passed whatever imaginary navigation point the Garmin was nagging me about, the burn started. I kept going. “I can live with this,” I was thinking. “I got this. Just. Keep. Going.”

And then the incline ticks upwards, and with the switchbacks the shoulder disappears. And I came to the magnet. And then it’s not only the burning in the legs, but it’s seeing the next two curves ahead, steeper yet, and with no shoulders to stop if I can’t make it.

I stopped at the magnet. I made it a good, long rest. I wanted my thighs to be ready for more pedaling when I remounted. I watched some Japanese Self-Defense Force vehicles roll by. A few big delivery trucks and a couple of private vehicles. And then I mounted up and I rode the rest of the way to the top.

Bicycle leaning against railing with highway sign for Otarumi Pass in background
Otarumi Pass

Sweet gravity!

At the top I had a choice: turn back and return the way I came (my usual practice for Otarumi Touge), or (my initial plan for the day) continue down into Kanagawa Prefecture and loop around Lake Sagamiko before heading home. The latter choice offers a very swift descent and a beautiful loop around the lake, followed by a lot of exurb rubbish riding and a couple of bonus killer climbs.

At the top of the pass, I hit the water bottle and didn’t give it a second thought. At the first break in traffic I was back on Kuroko, on the wild descent into Sagamihara. I’ve only done this a couple of times before and so the switchbacks on the descent, while familiar in retrospect, were unknown quantities to me at the entry point. This was compounded by the speed strips placed across several of them. At speed, Kuroko would start to pogo over them, and I would drift from the inside of the curve towards the middle. (I’m sure if I were to complain about this to the proper authority, the answer would be it’s not a problem at the posted speed limit of 30 — and that is probably correct.)

As a result, I was hitting the brakes frequently on the way down from Otarumi Touge, and I think I may have worn through the brake pads — at least on the front. Tomorrow has rain in the forecast, and Kuroko is already safely in the Workshop in the Sky.

Not the end of the climbing

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with descending. The problem with coming off Otarumi Touge into Kanagawa Prefecture is it places me on the wrong side of the mountain range. I have to make my way back across into Tokyo. After a handful of leisurely kilometers around the idyllic lake, there’s suddenly a climb of 90m with a maximum rise of 12.8%, a moderate middle and then a kick up again near the top. I’d planned to take this the same as Otarumi: the slow and steady tortoise. But despite this strategy, and fresh off the Otarumi climb, I still needed a breather in the middle of the climb before continuing to the top.

The Garmin was reminding me during this climb that it was the second out of three for the day. I’d forgotten — willfully, perhaps — the last one. It’s a bit more gradual, but it does go on. And on. And on. There’s a convenience store halfway up on a flat stretch, and yes, it’s a familiar store for me. I stopped for a brief rest, a small café latte in a can, and a bottle of water.

Lots of exurb rubbish I won’t bore you with

From there on back to the Tamagawa, it’s essentially urban riding, just perhaps with the lights spaced out a bit more (and a bit more up-down yet to come). I started feeling hungry again during this portion. I kept looking at the Garmin and seeing, “Another 4km and then turn here for this or that,” and thinking that meant I was nearing the Tamagawa. I’d forgotten the lesson of my first ride around this circuit, which is: it’s a good 35km back to the river. Fortunately, the preloading of onigiri and the stop for a café latte were holding me pretty well.

Final stretch

With my memory working in retrospect — completing a segment and thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember that!” — I kept expecting to turn a corner and see the white towers and cables of the Fuchu Yotsuya Bridge. When it eventually hove into view and I pedaled across and into the tennis park for a final onigiri and some water, I was surprised to see it was still just 1:30. I messaged Nana that I was in Fuchu and had less than 30km to go, rested a couple of minutes and then was back on the bike. In the morning I had been taking it easy on my way upstream on the Tamagawa to preserve my energy. Now, more than four hours later, heading back downstream I was fighting the wind, balancing my progress against what little energy I had in reserve.

I reached the final rest spot (same as the first one of the day) at 2:15. I messaged Nana I would be home by 3:30, while hoping I would beat 3:15 and thus bring my ride time under 8 hours for the day. There’s not much to relate of the ride home through traffic except for the truck parked on a climb, forcing me around and in front of tailing traffic while I was doing just about 10km/h, and then starting off as I was drawing level with the cab of the truck! I shouted, “Dude!” The driver’s window was open and he shouted something in reply, but I didn’t catch if it was a swear word or an apology. In any case he let me overtake him and return to the curb before he passed me.

We were just 50m from a traffic light when this occurred, so I caught up with him as he waited for the red. I was able to pass and go on ahead when the light turned green, and I didn’t hear any more from that particular driver.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Got it in … two

With my strategy of deliberately taking it easy, today’s pace was down from the average: 19.8km/h moving speed, vs. more than 21km/h on the previous two occasions on the same route. On the other hand, I brought the ride in under 8 hours at 7:58:52. This compares with 8:10 on my first go and a whopping 9:30 on the second go as the Halfakid and I spent ages faffing about in the June sun at the top of Otarumi Touge.

In addition to putting me over 500km for the month (with the rest of the week off will I reach 600? 800?), today’s ride brought me unexpectedly closer to another milestone:

Graphic showing 9,933km ridden on bicycle
On the bubble

At the current pace, the next ride will put me over 10,000km.

Splish Splash Yokohama

Yokohama Bay Bridge

I left the house a bit after 7 in a mist of fine sprinkles, which I guess fit the forecast of a 20% chance of rain. By the time I reached Futako to meet up with the Halfakid, though, the sprinkling was heavy enough that rain was dripping from my helmet and nose. I think that counts for a Rule #9 invocation.

The sun made a token appearance as we zipped along the Tamagawa. In one respect the dripping weather was helping us: there weren’t a lot of other cyclists, joggers, children, etc., on the path, and we made good time.

Rain-spattered cycle computer and bike handlebars
Drip drop

The sun never really came out to stay, but at least we avoided further rain as we played cat-and-mouse with a couple of other groups of riders on the way into Yokohama. The Halfakid and I had been fretting all morning about Yatozaka, the final climb up to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen (Harbor View Park), but when the time came the sun shone and we both aced it with personal bests. I tortoised up in my lowest gear, while the Halfakid rabbited ahead. When I finally reached the top he confessed he’d gone to the largest cog in the back, but was still sur la plaque (on the larger chainring).

View from the top

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

We celebrated our success with a leisurely rest at the park as we devoured Nana’s world-famous onigiri. The skies remained overcast, but at least not raining, as we returned through city traffic to Tamagawa, but we encountered a few sprinkles on our arrival in Futako. There we parted ways as the Halfakid returned to Kanagawa Prefecture and I set my sights for home.

Bicycle parked in front of statue of Astro Boy
Atom at Futako

At Futako I had a second challenge: the St. Antonio climb. This is only a bit less of a challenge than Yatozaka, both in steepest gradient and total meters climbed. But after 75km of riding, I didn’t know if I still had the power to make the grade.

No worries in the end. I was 10 seconds off my personal best and gasping for air by the time I reached the top, but reach it I did. I didn’t even stop for a breather after that but continued on home. I left the sprinkling behind in Futako but not the traffic. The cars were out in force in the afternoon to make up for their scarcity in the morning. But I kept my wits about me and made it home, lights on, without incident.

Personal growth

I’d last done this ride on May 22, which was the first time I made it up Yatozaki in one go. Today my times were a bit better, both in ride time and total elapsed time. I wasn’t sure I was going to improve on the elapsed time as the Halfakid and I spent quite a bit of time faffing in Yokohama, but as I drew closer to home I could see I was going to beat 6 hours.

22 May16 Oct.
Distance (km)87.9987.60
Moving time (h:mm:ss)4:26:004:08:59
Total elapsed time (h:mm:ss)5:57:485:50:59
Average moving speed (km/h)19.821.1
Performance comparison for Yokohama round trip

So that gives me a couple of goals to shoot for: get the moving time under 4 hours (average 22km/h), and cut out quite a bit of the faff to get the elapsed time under 5 hours. The second goal might be the more realistic of the two.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Splish Splash Yokohama

Today’s ride puts me over 400km for the month, a goal I’d just squeaked through last month (and prior to that hadn’t achieved since May). I have the next week off work, but no more free weekends, so let’s see how far I get.