Another quick run to Hamura

Kuroko at the Hamura Intake Weir

The day dawned cool and partly cloudy. Checking the forecast, with a projected high of 19C, I was almost ready to set off wearing shorts and a long-sleeved T under a wind breaker. But Kuroko was on the balcony following a gear adjustment yesterday, and when I went out to stuff things into the saddle pack I was struck by a blast of cold wind. So I quickly modified my plans and dug out my winter riding tights and thermal undershirt.

The Halfakid and I had planned to meet at 8 a.m. to get in a quick 100km today. But we’d been out last night with our respective main squeezes, and so needed a bit more time to get rolling this morning. I was finally ready, with fresh onigiri courtesy of Nana, just before 8:30, and rolled up to the Halfakid’s flat at precisely 9 a.m.

Mechanicals — none of them mine

The Halfakid had lost a bar end plug previously, and I’d bought him a replacement set. He wanted to take care of those this morning, as well as replacing his bell with one that I’d given up on — I kept breaking it, but he’d managed to resurrect it. So we spent about 20 minutes putting those bits in their places.

The Halfakid had also lost a cleat screw on our previous ride to Miura Kaigan. I’d forgotten about this and failed to bring the spare I have at home. So instead we decided to stop at a bike shop along the course.

I wanted to get in 100km today but I had a deadline: Nana and I were meeting an overseas guest at 5:30 to go to dinner. So to make a quick and easy 100km, I had to cycle up the Tamagawa from Futako to the end of the course at Hamura. This is usually no big deal, but today we were battling a headwind, and I knew that we were bound to encounter some of the detours around damage resulting from Typhoon No. 19, the same as I had discovered on my ride last month.

Fujisan in the distance
Fujisan in the distance

Once on the trail, and battling a fairly stiff headwind, I managed to keep a steady 21-22km/h pace. The Halfakid, riding close behind my rear wheel, said he wasn’t feeling any headwind. I was tempted to tell him to get in front and pull. But after our first rest stop, when we got back on the cycling course, he took off ahead and was soon out of sight. I concentrated on keeping my pace steady, and even stopped en route to take a quick snap of Fujisan off in the distance.

Midway between the first and second rest stops, I was greeted by a bizarre procession coming in the opposite direction: a man on a bicycle, with two children out front in seats on a kind of platform hanging off the frame in front of the front wheel. As he passed I saw two more children in a trailer on the back. And with this load he was climbing out of the switchback! He was followed by a woman (presumably the children’s mother) on a more conventional bike, laden front and rear with full panniers.

Finally I caught up with the Halfakid where he was waiting for me just 1km or so before the bike shop where we’d agreed to stop for the replacement cleats. We got there 10 minutes before opening time and so took advantage of a couple of Nana’s onigiri while we waited. Once the shop opened we quickly found the needed bits and were on the road again to our usual rest stop, where the Halfakid swapped in the new cleats and made sure they were good and tight.

Back on the course, we soon came to more detours around typhoon damage. At a lengthy detour where we were forced to leave the path and head into traffic, I managed to carve out a clearer route this time than I had a month ago, passing a familiar shrine along the way as a landmark. With just 10km to go until our turnaround point, I was eyeing the average speed as reported by the GPS: a hair over 21km/h.

The course took us into a park with just 3km yet to go, and there was a large event going on. Suddenly we were dodging children and careless adults strolling along the path. We had to proceed with some caution, and we both made good use of our bike bells.

I kept the steady pace going up to the end, with the Halfakid content to sit in my slipstream. We rolled into Hamura and broke out the remaining onigiri for lunch.

Selfie with statue of the Tamagawa Brothers
Tamagawa Bros

After lunch we headed home with the breeze to our backs. While the tailwind did not provide a completely unmixed benefit, with occasional stiff gusts blowing us sideways across the path, it did grant an overall boost that we deigned to accept. Our 5km splits dropped from nearly 15 minutes on the outbound leg to less than 11 minutes, or nearly 30km/h.

I pressed the advantage the wind was giving us, urging the average speed on the GPS up from 21km/h to 22. Of course at this point we already had 65km under our belt, so even multiple successive kilometers at 30km/h translated to barely a nudge on the gauge. With the Halfakid hard on my rear wheel the entire way, I managed to coax the GPS up to 22.4km/h by the time we returned to Futako.

A 50m climb will affect your average speed more than 30km of good, straight and level pavement with a tailwind.

At this point it was a matter of hanging on to gains we’d made. Crossing the Futako bridge, dodging pedestrians and cyclists in the opposite direction, always takes a toll. Then it’s city traffic and signals until we reach the climb out of the river valley. With the effort I’d put into racing downwind along the river, I was content now to drop to my lowest gear and wend my way slowly up the hill. When I reached the park at the top, the GPS read 22.1.

After a brief rest I filled one water bottle halfway and we set out across the city. I try not to keep one eye on the meter as I ride through traffic, but I could tell it was going to be a challenge to keep up my average through the congestion and lights. When I dropped off the Halfakid at his home I was squarely on 22.0km/h. There’s a long, flat stretch immediately after that, but I knew it was followed by a brief climb, a succession of lights, and then a pedestrian-choked shopping road with a train crossing in the middle. Even as I pushed my weary legs to do more, I had to temper my speed to the conditions.

I came out the narrow back streets onto a large boulevard with 21.9km/h on the clock. Timing the lights, I pressed my speed up towards 30km/h again. There’s a downhill next where I can really get some speed up if I time the lights carefully.

When I pulled into the home stretch, with 3km to go, I’d been seeing the meter flicker between 21.9 and 22.0km/h. I knew that a busy intersection could pull me back down across the mark, as could being caught behind a bus. As I pulled up to the Yamate Avenue crossing, I watched the meter dip down to 21.9. I was determined to make the most of the remaining straight run towards Central Park, and then the long descent to home. And then — the light in the middle of the descent turned red. I had no choice but to stop and wait it out.

Finally the light changed and I raced ahead of the traffic. There are delivery vans pulled away from the curb here, cross intersections, and faster traffic coming past my opposite shoulder, so I had to pay attention to the traffic and not the GPS. But when I pulled up at the light at the bottom of the descent, the clock said 22.0km/h. I hit the save button and wheeled Kuroko toward the basement parking.

GPS record of Hamura Round Trip
Hamura Round Trip

Compared to the same ride a month ago, I’d finished more than 13 minutes quicker. The total elapsed time, though, was half an hour longer, owing in part to about 40 minutes spent taking care of the Halfakid’s mechanicals. As for Kuroko, there was no hint of trouble this time around. Shifting in particular was a dream (following my maintenance on Saturday), often happening in total silence or with a single, satisfying tick as the chain flicked from one sprocket to another.

Speedy Haneda ride

I’ve had a stuffy nose and raw throat the past few days, so I spent a couple of hours this morning debating whether I really wanted to ride today. In the end, the beautiful weather convinced me. It was still about 12 degrees while I was preparing to ride, but the temperature was warming and I took my jacket off before I even reached the river.

Biker and pedestrians on the cycling course under a tree
Beautiful day for it

I was fighting a crosswind on the way down the river, but I put my hands on the drops and pedaled on. I picked up a follower for the final 8km or so, but when I reached my destination he had disappeared.

Bicycle under a tree with helmet on a rock
Lunch spot in the shade

I reached Haneda just before noon, meaning I’d spent less than two hours getting there. I sat down to a meal of Nana’s world-famous onigiri and wondered if I’d be able to maintain the same pace on the return trip. Having started out at a leisurely pace, thinking that I might have a cold, I was now contemplating a sub-4 hour ride.

For the return upriver, the wind was a bit more on my side. The GPS was showing that I was averaging more than 22km/h, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep that up all the way home.

By the time I reached Futagobashi, the bridge across the Tamagawa river at Futako, I’d racked up 48km at an average of 22.6km/h. But crossing the bridge means dodging pedestrians, and the lane gets very narrow and tricky at the far end. Following that there’s a good climb up out of the river valley. When I reached the park at the top of the climb, I’d gone 50km and my average had dropped to 22.2km/h. The challenge then was to maintain that in the remaining 12km of urban riding to get home.

Inspired by the goal I’d set myself, I pushed harder whenever I had the chance, and begrudged the stretches of road where I had to be wary of cross traffic. I probably glanced at my GPS just a bit more than I should have been doing. And when I got caught behind a bus on the final stretch before home, I impatiently looked for an opportunity to pass it.

That chance finally came, and I flew down the last hill towards home. At the bottom of the hill I stopped the clock, and there it was: 22.2km/h.

By keeping up the pace, in the end I’d done 62km in 2 hours 48 minutes of riding. Furthermore, my total elapsed time was well under 4 hours at 3 hours 50 minutes. When I’d left home at 10 this morning I told Nana I’d be back between 2 and 3 p.m. She said, “Probably closer to 3, right?” I agreed. But in fact I was home just a whisker before 2.

GPS record of Haneda round trip ride
Haneda Round Trip in less than 3 hours

Miura Kaigan

Three cyclists wave before departing

This year instead of reprising our Okutama two-day adventure, we decided to try Miura Kaigan, past Yokohama and Yokosuka, near the tip of the Miura Peninsula.

The route was mostly flat, with some climbs (and lots of tunnels) in the final 10km. More importantly, though, it was almost all urban riding. The final 10, hilly, kilometers were more rural, but still not very scenic. It was just climb up to the tunnel, descend, climb up to the next tunnel. Tomo was taking her time on the climbs, but she was getting to the top every time, not having to resort to getting off and pushing.

When we finally arrived at our destination, there was a steep descent off the prefectural highway on a concrete road pock-marked with anti-skid features. We were all thinking the same thing: Tomorrow we have to climb back up this!

The hotel offered a nice view of the sunset over the sea, but I didn’t take any photos. After 80km of riding, we just wanted the bath and then dinner. After dinner we watched the latter half of the Rugby World Cup finals in our room.


I had met the Halfakid in the morning and then we proceeded to the Tamagawa cycling course. The toll from Typhoon #19 was evident here as we passed great mounds of mud and dead vegetation that had been cleared from the playing fields along the river banks. The cycling course itself was covered with mud and dirt in places, and in a couple of places the switchbacks leading under bridges were blocked off and we had to route around them.

At our first rest stop, the Halfakid noticed he was missing a screw from one of his cleats. I have spares — in my flat. As we didn’t have any way of dealing with things on the spot, we just shrugged and continued on. The Halfakid was able to clip in, and we didn’t give it much more thought.

When we left the cycling course at Rokugodote to meet Tomo, though, the Halfakid wasn’t able to free his shoe from the cleat. He ended up unlacing the shoe so he could pull his foot out! Tomo pointed out a cycle shop not far from where we’d met, back in the direction she’d come from, and we made our way there.

The shop doesn’t handle cleats and they didn’t have a spare screw to match, but they were able to free the shoe from the clip. So the Halfakid just asked them to remove the cleat from the shoe, and he stuck that in his pocket and rode the rest of the way with only one cleat.

That was our only issue until the final 10km of the day, where I found that my front derailleur wasn’t behaving again. As we were mostly climbing at this point, and just coasting on the descents, I didn’t worry about it. In the morning I spent a few minutes adjusting the cable tension and all was right once more.

Day 2

Our return trip indeed started off with the go up the steep, pockmarked street leading to the prefectural highway. Tomo had announced her intention from the start to simply push up this climb, while the Halfakid and I were determined to give it a go. It turns out to be a rise of 19m over a run of just 250m, for an average of less than 8%. It certainly seemed steeper than that! The Halfakid — with the steepest gears among the three of us — made it straight to the top, while I made it over the steeper portion and then had to take a rest with just a couple of dozen meters to go. I rested until Tomo (pushing her bike) had nearly reached me, and then pressed on to the top.

Once at the top, the Halfakid realized he hadn’t turned on his Garmin before starting, and so his effort up this climb hadn’t been recorded. And with that, he turned on the Garmin, descended back to the bottom, and climbed it again!

Three cyclists wave before departing
Preparing to depart

After that, we were on our way. As luck would have it, the climbs up to the tunnels were more gentle on the way home than they had been the first day. As we also knew our way around by this point, and weren’t led off on wild goose chases by the route I’d programmed into the GPS, the ride home was smoother sailing. We felt we were making better time, but at the same time we were racing the threat of rain, which was coming up on us fast.

We got to Yokohama without incident and stopped to rest and snack in the same park where we’d had lunch the day before. On our way from the park through Yokohama’s Minato Mirai, I realized I hadn’t been taking any pictures this trip and so I fired off a couple of snaps as we were waiting at a traffic light.

Yokohama Landmark Tower
Landmark Tower

It’s a straight and very level ride from Yokohama back to Tokyo and we made very good time apart from the traffic lights. We had a brief break at Rokugodote and said goodbye to Tomo. From there we were back on the Tamagawa cycling course, and the Halfakid rocketed ahead in the race against the rain. I caught up with him half an hour later where he was waiting at the end of Futagobashi bridge, and we crossed together and climbed up out of the Tamagawa valley. We had our last rest at the top of the climb.

The ride home after that was uneventful. We all made it home before the rain. Although our average speed on the return trip was slightly lower than on Day 1, our overall elapsed time was half an hour less as we spent less time faffing about Yokohama lost, while the GPS was telling us one direction and our common sense was telling us another. (In the end, our common sense proved to be correct. This time.)

All in all, we had a fun ride that everyone enjoyed. At the same time, everyone said they’d prefer to go back to Okutama next year.

GPS routes to and from Miura Kaigan
Miura Kaigan

Brief post-maintenance ride

Snow-capped Fujisan

Today dawned bright and clear, with Fujisan showing off the first snow of the season. I had the day off work, so it was a great chance to wash up Kuroko following the post-typhoon ride and to have a look at the front derailleur issue.

The clean-up was very straightforward. I made use of all the bike cleaning brushes I bought recently, and I cleaned and oiled the chain. Then I checked the shifting, and all seemed fine. I inspected the front derailleur and had a close look at the shifter cables where they run under the bottom bracket (and had been choked with mud during Monday’s ride). All normal.

Finally I pulled back the hood on the shift lever to inspect the cable head for fraying. The cable is in fine shape, but I found that the little plastic cover over the pulley to which the cable attaches had worked loose. It just took me a moment with the screwdriver to tighten it up again. It’s possible that this was getting in the way of the shift lever moving.

Once that was done, I wanted to have a ride to make sure all was in order. I didn’t have a lot of time — I could have done one of my two 60-65km routes, but that would be pushing the deadline as I had someplace to be this evening. So I set out on the Tokyo Landmarks ride with a shortcut in mind that would lop at least half the distance off.

Ginkgo trees line bouldevard at Meiji Jingu Gaien
Meiji Jingu Gaien

Tokyo tower rising over trees in park
Tokyo Tower
The emperor’s enthronement ceremony finished yesterday, but there were still policemen on every corner. At one stoplight I was choking in the fumes of three armored blue buses idling along the curb (and a VW minibus right ahead of me). I know the coppers had their minds on security more than anything, but I still took care to obey all the traffic laws and — as far as possible — avoid drawing attention to myself.

I was traveling light. I’d taken off the saddlebag and tire pump to clean Kuroko and hadn’t put them back on. I was also carrying only one water bottle. That probably adds up to about 1.5kg at most (including the spare innertube and bike lock that I carry in the saddlebag) so it doesn’t make a huge difference in performance. But Kuroko did feel more nimble and unencumbered with those bits left out.

Imperial Palace and moat
Imperial Palace


Usually when I go this route, after passing the Imperial Palace I turn off through the financial district and head southeast to Tsukiji and Tokyo Big Sight. Today I just kept on the street that follows the palace moat until I got to Kudanzaka and Budokan.

No mechanicals!

Sum Bum lotion and cream
Sum Bum lotion and cream

After the cleaning up and tightening of the little cover under the shifter hood, Kuroko behaved beautifully. Once or twice the shift lever stuck for a moment, but I just gave it a stronger flick and over it went. I’ll have another look to make sure there’s nothing binding.

I also remembered to put on sunscreen today. I was only out for two hours, but the sunshine was very bright. I recently got some heavy-duty lotion and cream from the US, and I used that on my face and neck today (with my usual local stuff on my arms and legs). It seems to have done the job as I arrived back home as pale as when I set out, and I didn’t use my mask at all.

GPS map of today's ride
Abbreviated Tokyo Landmarks route

Between the typhoons

Hamura Intake Weir showing high water levels following flooding

Today, with Nana out of town and the Halfakid beating up other people’s children, I had the perfect chance to take advantage of the nice weather and put in a quick (lazy) 100km. It’s been a couple of weeks since the last ride, and I’ve fixed the broken spoke meanwhile.

Flooded baseball field by Tama River
Flooded baseball field by Tama River

I was expecting some leftover signs of flooding from Typhoon #19 (Hagibis), as Tama River was particularly hard hit, and perhaps some puddles. But I wasn’t quite prepared for how quickly Kuroko was thoroughly spattered in mud. I did expect to see some damage and perhaps to encounter a detour or two, and I wasn’t disappointed in this regard.

Barrier across cycling path
Route blocked due to flooding

Bicycle path buried under mud
There’s a bike path in there

Footbridge covered in flotsam with barrier and detour sign
I guess I can’t go this way

Large section of pavement missing from cycle path switchback
This is supposed to be a switchback

Sign by cycle path knocked down and covered in flotsam
Clean-up crew hasn’t got to this one yet

In a couple of cases, one rather lengthy, I had to leave the path in favor of public roads. I did my best to parallel the river and find my way back once the path opened up again. In the case of the path buried under the mud, I just followed the route through the grass that many bikers had taken before me. In all, I was impressed with the amount of clean-up that had already been completed.

Selfie with statue of Tamagawa Brothers
Hangin’ with my homies

The weather was mild today, and cloudy. I felt there was a crosswind on my way upstream, but the fact I clocked three personal bests during this leg leads me to believe there was a tailwind component. (Certainly on the way back I was fighting a headwind.) I was making good time and arrived in Hamura almost before I knew it. I had a brief rest there while I ate onigiri (store-bought this time, with Nana out of town).

On the way home, recharged with rice fuel, I continued to make good time despite what had become a headwind. I got a bit off track during one of the diversions (where the footbridge was covered with flotsam) but I soon made my way back to the path. The sun came out for a bit and I ended up with a red nose. Despite having ordered special sunblock from the US, I left home today with a speck of protection given the overcast skies. (And yes, I assure you that the red nose is from the sun … )

With temperatures in the upper teens to low 20s, I wasn’t sapped by the heat. I was able to skip some of my usual resting places, only stopping when my hands or butt were crying for mercy. I could feel my energy slipping away and I knew I was getting hungry, despite all the onigiri I had eaten, but by this time I just had a couple of dozen more kilometers to go. I stopped in a park and drained my water bottles and had a close look at Kuroko. Oops.

Bicycle bottom bracket area spattered with mud
Not as bad as that time in England

They call me Mr Mechanical

Up until this point, Kuroko had been performing flawlessly. No noise apart from an initial brake squeal as we burned off the accumulation of moisture from a typhoon and subsequent rains. On the return trip, one of the pedal cleats got a bit squeaky, but that’s not a big deal (and can be nearly impossible to get rid of). The new thru axles were locked in place with no slipping. But when I left the cycle path after nearly 100km, a grinding noise started up in the crankset. Sacré bleu! Are the crankset bearings going already? I just replaced them a bit over a month ago, less than 350km. I continued on, listening carefully as I went. And then I tried to shift the large chainring and … nothing! The lever wouldn’t even budge in the proper direction. I gave it a couple of clicks in the other direction and tried again: same result.

As I rode along, I stole a quick glance down at the front derailleur: Yes, it was certainly rubbing the chain. Well, that accounts for the noise. I haven’t yet had a look to see what the problem is (I’ll no doubt give Kuroko a bath tomorrow and have a look at that time), but at least it’s not the bearings. I was stuck on the lower chainring, but that’s not a bad place to be (as Tomo can attest). I typically only use the larger chainring in a couple of places during the ride home through the traffic, and this time I just did the best I could — and took it easy.

Jig time

I made it home in a touch over 5 hours of riding time, or 6 hours 44 minutes total elapsed time. Not bad for an overweight ojisan who hasn’t been on the bike in more than two weeks. I parked Kuroko on the balcony (because she needs maintenance and a bath), where she may remain for at least another week.

GPS route for Hamura round trip ride
The GPS doesn’t lie

Next weekend may not be so great for riding.

Projected routes of typhoons #20 and #21
Typhoons #20 and #21

Really bright, fairly windy

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

I had to fit my riding today in between a doctor’s visit in the morning (just a meds refill) and a dinner date in the evening. The Halfakid was unavailable — we’re looking at riding tomorrow but the weather may have other ideas. And Nana hadn’t made any onigiri. So I just rode down to Haneda and back, which has become my default ride.

Butterfly on a red spider lily
Butterfly on a red spider lily

Spider lily
Spider lily

Before I started the ride, Nana and I walked through Shinjuku’s Central Park, and we found some spider lilies. The weather was fair and the sun very bright, and this continued as I set out on my bike. I stopped at a convenience store for onigiri and then continued down the Tamagawa towards Haneda. I was making good time, but definitely fighting the wind. Then when I got to the picnic areas around Maruko Bashi, I had to contend with picnickers walking abreast on the path and ignoring my bell and warning shouts.

With my late start, it was noon when I reached the next rest stop. I had some water and a little snack and considered whether to go ahead and eat my lunch. But then I decided it was just another 10km to Haneda, and I would tough it out. After the next bend in the river, the wind let up a bit, and I arrived in Haneda less than half an hour later.

Tourist boat passing under bridge

Tourist boat in front of Haneda Peace Shrine
Tourist boat in front of Haneda Peace Shrine

Just as I was sitting down to eat I heard a whistleblower — er, a boat horn — so I got up to investigate.

I rested about half an hour at Haneda, in the shade, and ate the onigiri and remaining snacks. As I was resting the sky clouded up, so I didn’t bother to put on my mask for the return trip.

On the way home the wind was often helping me, and so I picked up the pace. When I got to the climb at Futako I though I was going strong, but Strava did not give me a trophy so I must have done better on other occasions.

With the climb behind me I focused on improving my average speed, and I did get it up a couple of ticks as I worked my way through the traffic on the way home. (No one tell Nana how I ride to improve my speed in traffic … )

Route map of Tokyo-Haneda ride
Tokyo – Haneda solo

Mt Fuji in sunset and clouds
Surprise visitor

When I arrived home, after I had a shower, I discovered a surprise visitor out on the balcony.


Following my recent time spent adjusting the derailleurs, shifting was butter-smooth, almost dreamy. I was very pleased with that. The front disc, on the other hand, has been squealing since the return from the Tour de Tohoko, so during my lunch break I adjusted the front caliper. Blessed silence after that.

The only concern now is the bottom bracket bearings. Yes, I just replaced them at the beginning of this month, and yes, they’re already making noise. I’ve done some research and discovered that when I changed the crankset it meant a reduction in bearing size from 7mm to 4mm. It’s a much stiffer spindle on the crankset, at 30mm, but the change in bearings may have been ill-advised. I’m weighing now whether to seek out other bearing providers (and they aren’t cheap), or to go to a different crankset with a 24mm spindle.

Two for Tohoku

Riders pass under the starting arch at the Tour de Tohoku

This year Tomo joined me for the Tour de Tohoku. The route was mostly a new one, and there were a few format changes from last year’s ride. Rather than having us form in groups with guides fore and aft, we joined a long, snaking queue to walk our bikes through an inspection point where we were checked for working lights, a helmet and gloves. Following the inspection, helpers recorded our bib numbers on a smartphone and used that to register our tracking beacons.

Large crowd of riders funneling through a starting gate
We can finally see the starting line

From there, it was more snaking, of the Disneyland Space Mountain sort, before we came to a stop in the middle of the pavement, in bright sunshine, to listen to the opening ceremony happening somewhere off to our left. Meanwhile, a photographer with an enormous lens was making his way down the line, getting permission to snap the entrants. Most smiled and gave a thumb’s up, but one middle-aged man with a monster-tired bike lifted his ride above his head as he mugged for the camera. We were glad to have been passed by, but then another photographer saw us. “Couple? Marvelous. Smile!” We just laughed and didn’t bother correcting him. (Now that might show up on a website somewhere … )

Finally the line started creeping forward as countdowns rang over the PA. We could see groups of 20-30 riders taking off from the front. Nana, who was on the sidelines with the Entourage, was running back and forth between our position and the starting line, trying to estimate when we would reach the front. We waited, cooling our heels, and then shuffling forward every couple of minutes as another group started off.

Selfie of two riders in helmets in front of the Tour de Tohoku starting arch
Waiting, waiting …

As we neared the starting line, the announcer gave us the usual caution about following traffic rules and being careful, and added a kicker: a rider had been attacked by a deer the day before. Tomo and I agreed we wouldn’t even want to be attacked by a squirrel.

Finally our turn came, 35 minutes after the first group had left the gate. With the Entourage cheering from the sidelines, we were on our way!

Riders pass under the starting arch at the Tour de Tohoku
And they’re off!

As we exited the parking lot of Ishinomaki Senshu University, we turned right on a narrow road, then right again, and then right again, and then … just 3.5km from the start, we found ourselves in another long queue of riders, this time single-file along the left side of the street leading up to a traffic light. Slowly we inched forward a couple of dozen meters each time the light cycled. I was starting to wonder if I should have loaded the course into my Garmin — I hadn’t bothered as I was expecting a guided ride as we’d had last year. But I didn’t have long to wonder as we finally passed through the light and then headed towards a line of mountains on the horizon.

Did someone mention climbing?

The 100km fondo was revised from last year, turning north along the coast after passing through Onagawa, rather than south to the Oshika Peninsula as last year’s route did. There was less climbing on the route this year at 947m (as measured) vs 2,055m, but there was still plenty of “up-down” in store for us. One of the more challenging climbs of the day came first at the 10km mark, a 48m rise at a 7% average. The climb had a couple of “steps” in it, welcome breaks to catch our breath for 10m or so. But that also meant the actual climbing parts were steeper than 7%.

I steamed ahead of Tomo at this point and gave it my best effort, and I’m glad to say I came out at the top. Yes, gasping for breath like a candidate for a coronary, but I made it. I waited a couple of minutes at the top for Tomo, who gave it her best but ended up pushing the bike to the top as she was stuck on the larger chainring. Knowing it was mostly downhill from there to the first rest stop at Onagawa at 18.5km, I let her stay in the high chainring until we reached the station. But after we’d filled up on meatballs in broth and bottled water, I coached her on shifting to the smaller chainring, which she did the moment we left the station.

And that was not a moment too soon, as our next climb started just half a kilometer out of the station, a 5% grade up to 52m, this time with a number of steps and turns along the way. I puffed my way up to the top and turned to wait. And after just a minute, Tomo came pedaling up to the top. “I made it,” she gasped out. I resolved to have her stay on the small chainring for the duration.

In the first bit of really good news for the ride, we didn’t have to pass over this monstrosity. I guess it was a temporary diversion and things are back to normal now.

The longest tunnel

At 37km we came to the next aid station and pulled off the road for some grilled scallops. We were getting pretty good at spotting openings on the bicycle stands — usually at the farthest point from the food.

Man cooking scallops on an outdoor gril

Tomo had been pointing out since we passed the first group of riders — the 210km fondo — while still in the taxi on our way to the start that there were not many women riders. We spotted one in the 210km group. This was borne out at each aid station as there was a long queue of men to reach the porta-potties, while there was usually one or at most two women waiting.

Aside from the lines for the relief stations, we saw a woman getting a scrape on her knee dressed. I didn’t see how serious it was, but we saw her again at the lunch stop.

It was just as well we had a nice, long wait for the facilities because the next segment took us up the longest climb of the day: an 89m climb on a 4% grade. As we started up it we were following a couple on matching electric bikes — not mamachari but the expensive kind with proper gears. As we watched, the man pulled ahead, leaving the woman struggling behind. Before long, I overtook her despite the electric power. It was a good, long 2km uphill and I wasn’t sure I would make it in one go, but I stuck with it to the top. I stopped just at the entrance to a tunnel and waited for Tomo to catch up. When she did arrive I missed her at first in the crowd, and she was busy wiping sweat out of her eyes.

Riders topping the peak of a climb as others look on from the shoulder
The longest climb

After a brief rest I signaled Tomo to set the pace and I fell in behind as we entered the tunnel, lights on for safety. The Kamaya Tunnel is 1km long, and paved in concrete with long lateral grooves (in the direction of travel) about 3-4cm apart. It made for a very slippery, wobbly feeling as our tires hunted across the grooves. We would have been quite a bit more nervous about riding through the tunnel if there had been more traffic, but we were very lucky in that regard.

Immediately after the tunnel we entered a swooping 1.5km descent, taking us right back to sea level at speeds approaching 40km/h. The drop brought us down to the Kitakami river, which we crossed and then turned to the right, heading up along the Oppa Bay and into the wind. At this point I overtook Tomo, holding a steady 18km/h pace and thinking I was providing some wind shelter for her, but when I looked back she’d fallen a bit behind.

I waited for Tomo just before the entrance to Shirahama Tunnel, which was the starting point of the most challenging climbing of the day. We knew that lunch was waiting for us at the end of the climb, a delicious seafood curry to give us motivation. And yet at this point we didn’t seem to make any headway as we worked our way up and down the ridges along the ocean’s edge. There was some fantastic scenery, but also some hurting climbs: 9% for a 27m rise, 5.5% for a 38m rise. And on and on. And after each climb, a drop back to the start. And then another climb. I looked for a place at the top of each climb to wait for Tomo to come pushing her bike up behind me — and she wasn’t the only one by a long shot.

We knew we were within 1-2km of the lunch rest — just half a screen away on my phone (which didn’t have any scale) — when we got a message from Nana. She’d taken a taxi with the Entourage and they were waiting for us at the lunch spot. More incentive to press ahead (although to be honest we were both mostly thinking about lunch and a rest at this point). At the same time, we saw riders coming back in the opposite direction, pushing up the hills we were descending, and we knew we had that waiting for us once we’d rested and digested.

Seafood curry!

A final couple of dips past the ocean, with waves pounding the stony coast, and rolling uphills brought us at last to the aid station, a modicum of shade, and most importantly: lunch! There were several unidentifiable bits that I simply wolfed down in my quest for calories. Tomo and Nana put their heads together and came up with the answer: hoya. (I looked it up later and was just as glad I hadn’t known when I’d been eating it.) It had taken a few minutes owing to the poor cell reception in this remote park, but Nana had finally tracked us down and she and the Entourage put down their beers long enough to wish us a speedy conclusion to our ride.

I knew that Tomo wanted to rest more — as did I! — and neither of us was looking forward to going back over the lumpy bits we’d just traversed in search of lunch. But we checked the time. It was 1:30, and we knew we had 40-some kilometers to go. We had a deadline of 6 p.m., when the bag check back at Ishinomaki closed. And so we bravely mounted up and headed back into the ridges. Again I found myself forging ahead, barely making it to the top before stopping to wait for Tomo to come pushing her bike up behind. And then we had the roller-coaster descents, reaching 55km/h at one point.

Safety first

At the start we were warned that a deer had attacked a rider the previous day. We were given the usual warnings about traffic rules and admonishments to use proper hand signals.

During the day we saw a couple of riders with injuries. At one aid station a woman was having her knee bandaged. At the lunch station, we saw a man with his arm in a sling climbing into a medical van. Then, after lunch, in the middle of a steepish downhill, we first saw a support rider signalling us to slow down, and then behind him a medical van. Finally we saw several people assisting a man who appeared to have lost control on the downhill and gone into the wall. We haven’t heard anything subsequently about his condition.

The Big Easy

Just past Shirahama Tunnel we turned off into an aid station. I held out my water bottle for what I thought would be clear, cold water and ended up with Pokari. It was just as well. We both felt by this time we’d been rolling in sand, and when we wiped the sweat from our faces we came away with handfuls of salt. I stood admiring another rider’s handmade steel bike before seeking out shade while Tomo went in search of a ladies’ room.

With the necessities out of the way, we hit the road again. We had a brief climb before we were back on the shore of the Oppa Bay, this time heading in the opposite direction and with the wind behind us. It was 3 p.m. and we had 30km to go. We made a little bet about making it to the goal by 5 p.m. With the wind to our backs — but the setting sun in our eyes — we crossed the bridge back over the Kitakami River. This time we turned right and followed the river back towards Ishinomaki. The going was smooth and extremely flat.

We’d fallen in behind a small group of riders straggling along at 16-18km/h. I was starting to think that Tomo was just happy to follow whoever was in front. In truth she was just biding her time for the right moment. With a quick “Here I go!” tossed over her shoulder, she was off like a scalded cat, hitting 30km/h as she passed the stragglers and aimed for open road. It took me some doing to catch up, and over the next 5km she never once dipped below 25km/h on the flat. I laughed to myself as I realized Tomo was tired and wanted to get back to the goal. We overtook more than a few riders in similar fashion until we got back into the Ishinomaki suburbs. Now, with traffic to contend with, the pace fell off a bit.

I was counting out the 5km breaks. My legs were fine but my hands and butt were sore, and I was thinking of the closing time for the bag check, as well as the bath and dinner waiting for us back at the hotel. Tomo was keeping up the pace, but she was riding the smallest cog on the rear while staying on the smaller chainring on the front, and that was making noise. She’d go at it a few minutes and then back down a couple of gears until the noise stopped. I knew what she was up to and thought about coaching her to shift up to the big chainring. But then I thought it would just cause confusion, and besides, I couldn’t be sure there wasn’t still a hidden climb lying in wait for us before we got back to the university.

Finally we recognized the car entrance to the university, just as I called out “95!” “What happened?” Tomo asked, meaning we were still 5km short of 100, but we had far less than that to go before the finish line.

“If you like, we can do laps around the university until we hit 100,” I offered. “He. He. He,” was the sarcastic laugh in reply. We turned a final corner, with a baton-waver welcoming us back, and sped together towards the finish line.

“I did it!” Tomo proclaimed. The time was 4:20 p.m.


We’d done it — that much was true. But there were still some things to take care of before we were soaking in the (separate) baths prior to a well-earned dinner. We picked up our bags from the bag check, then got our certificates of completion and “newspapers” with our group start photo.

Front page of the Kahoku Shimpo showing the group start at the Tour de Tohoku
Kahoku Shimpo

With our goodies in hand, we walked our bikes to the delivery area. It was a matter of a couple of minutes to fit them back in the boxes and hand them over to the delivery company. Tomo was so exhausted by this time she was having difficulty speaking English (taking several seconds to remember each word that I well knew she knew), and I was answering her in Japanese. She called a taxi with no difficulty, though, and we were soon speeding back to the hotel. The driver wanted to know what some Michael Jackson lyrics meant, and I was so exhausted I gave him a totally erroneous explanation. (When I confessed to Tomo later what I’d done, she said, “It doesn’t matter: he’ll never realize that.”) After that, though, he wanted to talk about a Japanese boy band I’m only vaguely aware of, and I left it to Tomo to say “Uh-huh, uh-huh” in the appropriate places.

Back at the hotel I picked up my yukata and headed for the bath. I had the rotemburo to myself as the sun began to set, and I spent much longer than I usually do letting the bath soak my aches away. Nana and the Entourage returned just in time for dinner. I ran out of steam during dinner and made my apologies and headed to bed. It didn’t matter: We’d finished. I made my goal of climbing all the hills, not pushing. And Tomo finished her first 100km ride (or nearly so), which was quite an accomplishment given her lack of practice beforehand. Meanwhile, the Entourage seem to have enjoyed their travels for the day. We’re already talking about next year, and debating whether to rent a van rather than taking the shinkansen and having the bikes delivered.

Tour de Tohoku route
Tour de Tohoku route

Kitakami Fondo route at LatLongLab

Pushin’ it to Yokohama

Yokohama Bay Bridge

It was several degrees cooler this weekend than last, but I still chose a non-challenging route: Yokohama. Mostly I wanted a change of scenery. The way to Yokohama is mostly flat, but a long stretch of it is in traffic (in fact we’re only on the bike path for a handful of kilometers), and worse than the traffic and bad pavement of Rte. 15 is stopping for every third traffic light and waiting. (I’m sure that gives us time to rest our hands and thighs, though.)

Rider inflating back tire of bicycle
Filling up

At our first stop, the Halfakid wanted to add some more air to his rear tire. This is the one that blew out on our last venture down this same path.

Onigiri wrapped in foil
Onigiri time!

On my last ride to Yokohama I discovered a small park about 15km before the goal that’s a perfect place to stop and enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous onigiri — so long as some ojisan isn’t spraying insecticide all over the park when we arrive.

Map route of Yatozaka showing elevation
Yatozaka elevation

We had much less traffic through Yokohama this time, but Yatozaka doesn’t change: it’s still a 24m climb at 8.7% average and a long mid-section at 15%. As usual, the Halfakid charged straight up it, while I soldiered through the 15% section and then stopped in the 9%-10% section, just as the going was about to ease up. Unlike every previous occasion, though, this time I continued on after a brief rest. Yes, I rode all the way to the top! And a PR on Strava confirms this was my best performance on this particular hill.

The forecast for today (after several changes) was for sunny weather, and that finally proved true as we arrived in Yokohama. At Minato no Mieru Oka Koen, we found a seat in the shade to finish off our onigiri and guzzle some water.

The ride home was uneventful apart from the maracas in my bottom bracket. I must do something about that within the next week — before the delivery company picks up Kuroko for the next Tour de Tohoku. When we got back across the Tama River into Tokyo we stopped at a convenience store for Pokari and energy food. And then the Halfakid took off towards Nikotama, leaving me in the dust. And what dust: as we rode upstream along the Tama, we were swarmed by gnats and coated with airborne sand blown up from the baseball diamonds along the river.

Bicycle in a park
At the top of the climb in Nikotama

We didn’t rest long at the top of the climb out of the Tama River valley — we were making good time and eager to get home to beer and bath (or shower, in my case). I made a brief farewell to the Halfakid at his apartment and continued on home, still making good time. I arrived home just 6 hours 39 minutes after having left, or 4 hours 6 minutes riding. I think that may be a record for me to get to Yokohama and back, and according to Strava I set several personal bests along the way, although I really didn’t think I’d been striving.

Shinjuku-Yokohama ride route and details

On climbs and their (relative) steepness

Regarding this post about a steepish climb in my near future, the following conversation took place.

Fearless Leader Joe:
You can handle that. It looks vertical on a map, but for 20m I bet that horrible one in Devon was worse – the one that I said as we were freewheeling down, “thank goodness we’re not going up this one”, to which you replied “Wait!”, and then we went up it on the other side.
Guy Jean:
Did we really only have that conversation once?
Cycling elevation for Templeton Bridge
Templeton Bridge

I do wonder if that’s the part he’s talking about, although that’s only 9% for a rise of 90m. There were definitely some shorter climbs that were steeper …

Maybe there’ll be an escalator

Tour de Tohoku route showing elevation

That’s the course for this year’s Tour de Tohoku, coming up in just two weeks. There’s a fair amount of climbing there, but not more than I did on any given day of Lejog. But what’s this little blip near the beginning of the ride?

Detail of route elevation
Detail of route elevation

Just to the right of that vertical line: It’s not even 20m of climbing but … it’s vertical?

I turned to Map My Ride to get a clearer view of the elevation at that point.

Elevation at start and end points of climb
That’s … 20%

The climb is only 80m horizontally, but just a hair shy of 16.5m vertically. That’s a 20% grade — actually 20.6%.

It’ll be all right … ?

I remembered getting into some climbing around there last year, just after leaving the first rest stop at Onagawa Station, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle (that came later). Should be fine, right? But a closer look at the route showed I was wrong: we’d taken a different route away from Onagawa Station.

I turned next to Google Maps to get some idea of what’s going on. When I zoomed down to Street View, it just showed some turns, on some older-looking pavement. I scratched my head, and then zoomed out a few notches.

Satellite view of steep climb at Sakiyama
New construction at Sakiyama

The road used to go around that hill, right by the water side. Now, apparently, it goes over the hill.

The good news is we’re taking that hill from left to right (heading southeast), after a nice flat stretch to build up speed. Because from the other direction, it’s even steeper.

Satellite view of Sakiyama construction
Sakiyama reverse angle

As the full course elevation shows, there’s a lot more climbing to do than this measly 20m — we top 60m just another 900m further on (average 6.7%), and the biggest climb is just before the midpoint at a 90m rise over nearly a 2km run (average 4.7%). But these are considerably less steep.

Tour de Tohoku route showing elevation
Tour de Tohoku route showing elevation

I haven’t calculated all the climb percentages — if I do that, I may not want to join the ride! But it looks like overall the course matches my experience from last year: the longest, highest climb is going to be far from the most challenging one.

Good thing I’ve lost so much weight in preparation.