Dam windy!

Three cyclists in selfie in front of Okutama railway station

Tomo, the Halfakid and I have been eager to reprise our Okutama ride, hoping for better weather. Last year we traveled to Miura Kaigan instead, a similar distance but what turned out to be a much less satisfactory ride as it was nearly all urban roadway.

Last month we agreed on the dates and Nana started looking for hotels. We waited a bit too long as we’d chosen a three-day weekend during the fall colors season and most places were booked full. Finally Nana found a minshuku about 3km from Okutama Station, and we finalized our plans. All that remained was to watch the forecast, which gradually changed from rainy to sunny as the date approached.

Saturday dawned clear and warm, but very windy. Tomo had the furthest to come to our agreed meeting spot at Futako Tamagawa, and set out at 7:40 for our 10 a.m. rendezvous. But we had a surprise when the Halfakid messaged at 8 a.m. from Futako, asking where we were! His mistake, and as there were no cafés open nearby until 10, he set off on a 40km round-trip to Haneda while he was waiting!

I finally set out at 9 a.m. with bags packed and a saddlebag full of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. When I arrived at Futako just before 10, the others were ready and waiting.

Bicycle in front of fountain
Fountain at Nishigawara Park

Immediately after departure we were beset by the strong wind and crept along at a fraction of our usual pace, occasionally fighting gusts that nearly knocked us off the path. We were somewhat compensated for this by a glorious view of Mt. Fuji as we crossed the Tamagawa on the Tamasuido Bridge, and soon came to our first break at Nishigawara Park. We prayed we might be spared the wind as we progressed further up the river, but alas, it was not to be. The wind remained … not with us, but against us until we reached our lunch spot at Hamura at 1:30. (We’d arrived there before noon on our previous trip to Okutama.)

Selfie of three cyclists in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers
With the Tamagawa Brothers

Hamura Intake Weir
Hamura Intake Weir

On the road, out of the wind

After finishing our kombu onigiri and other noshes, we continued on the roadway. Immediately we left behind most of the wind — in exchange for a healthy dose of traffic, of course. The road started rising, however gradually, from this point, but we were able to pick up the pace somewhat in the still air, and after making sure that Tomo was on her smaller chainring (avoiding the mistake of our first ride up to Okutama where she was on the larger chainring the entire time). As the navigator and in the lead, I tried to set a steady, unchallenging pace. I’d been concerned that with the three-day weekend and the hotels being fully booked that we’d be in the thick of traffic the entire way, but it wasn’t bad for the most part. We simply soldiered on to our goal.

Okutama Station in the dark

We finally arrived at the hotel just before 4 p.m. and quickly took stock of our situation. We still had daylight, but it was waning fast. We knew it was another 3km to Okutama Station, with some up-down and a few tunnels to negotiate. We decided to go for it. Nana messaged to ask where we were and I replied, “Right outside.” Then explained we were going on to the station and should be back within about 45 minutes. We’d included in that estimate some time to pick up snacks and — if necessary — beer and other drinks, as the convenience store just outside the hotel was permanently closed. Lights on, we continued on our way.

The first tunnel came and went with no trouble. On the second tunnel, I decided to take the narrow road bypassing it to the left. This turned out to be a good decision as there was a fairly substantial climb though the tunnel. After a bit more up-down and another tunnel that was no trouble, we came to the final tunnel before the station: a 605m monster with a slight rise and a couple of bends. As we ground our way through the tunnel in the dark, we lived in dread of the vehicles overtaking us at considerable speed.

We came through without incident, and I flew down the slope towards the station. Just a couple of dozen meters before the crossing, I heard a loud pop and then a hissing as my rear tire deflated and sealant spewed in every direction. I quickly dismounted and signaled for the Halfakid and Tomo to go on ahead to the station, while I came along behind, walking the limping Kuroko.

Three cyclists in selfie in front of Okutama railway station
Okutama Station

What would Okutama be without mechanicals?

Or, indeed, any of Guy Jean’s wonderful adventures? After we took a quick photo of our arrival at the station, I set about to assess the damage to Kuroko’s rear tire and to see if the sealant would sort it out. Alas, the cause soon became apparent: a broken spoke, which was no doubt poking through the rim tape and opening up a hole that the sealant couldn’t gum over. There was no choice but to put in an inner tube that I’d brought along for just such an emergency (after mopping up most of the sealant and pouring the rest out onto the pavement of the station’s parking lot). While I worked, Tomo and the Halfakid apprised Nana (waiting back at the hotel with her mother) of our predicament, and Tomo assisted my efforts by turning her bike headlight onto the repair job.

I tried without success to remove the broken spoke. (I later looked up the multi-tool that I carry and discovered where the spoke wrench is hidden.) So, as I’d done on a similar occasion in England, I just wrapped the broken spoke about its neighbors to prevent it tangling with the derailleur or brakes. This time, with just the one broken spoke, the wheel was still mostly true and it was rideable — so long as I didn’t break any more!

With the inner tube in place and the Halfakid manning the pump, we soon had a fully inflated tire. I did my best to clean up (in addition to the latex, there was now road grit stuck to everything) and we mounted up in the dark to make our way back to the hotel. The roads were pitch black in places, but the tunnels that were frighteningly uphill on our way into the station were now downhill, and we flew along.

Three cyclists posing in the dark in front of minshuku hotel
Arrival at Unzenya

We arrived back at the hotel to find Nana waiting for us in the parking lot. It was the ladies’ turn in the bath so the Halfakid and I settled into our room with a can of beer each and plugged in our various devices to charge while we discussed the next day’s strategy.

Compared to the seized wheel bearings Ol’ Paint had suffered on our previous Okutama ride, a flat tire was no big deal — again, so long as I didn’t lose any more spokes on the way.

Japanese dinner featuring grilled fish
Minshuku dinner

The minshuku dinner was delicious and made up for some of the shortcomings of the hotel, such as the single bath (with 90-minute intervals for each sex) with a single shower head. After dinner we laid out our futons and turned on the heater, and I was soon asleep.

Day 2: the Dam!

Sunday morning we were all up early, and converged on the breakfast hall the moment it opened. As soon as we’d filled up on fish and rice, the Halfakid and I set off to climb up to the dam while Tomo remained to soak once more in the bath with the other ladies.

River gorge with autumn foliageRiver gorge with autumn foliage
View from Unzen Bridge

I’d been over the map and Google street view time and again for the climb up from Okutama Station to the Ogouchi Dam at Okutama Lake, and in the spring I’d driven it with Nana on a day trip. What I’d seen on the map and remembered from the driving indicated it would be a rather stiff climb with some scarily narrow tunnels en route. But I also remembered passing some cyclists along the way and seeing more at the top, including a couple of preteens, and so I knew the route was rideable.

The Halfakid and I made quick progress back to Okutama Station, electing for the sidewalk this time on the scarily long uphill tunnel. We arrived at the crossing (where I’d had the flat the night before) and marked the time at 8:33. From that point it was climb, and climb we did. I was not shy about shifting to the lower, and then the lowest gear and taking my time, saving my energy for the top. But the first few kilometers were not bad, with gradual (if long) rises, and occasional breaks and even brief descents. We passed over a couple of bridges and then rounded a corner into the first of seven tunnels. Traffic was still light at this point, for which I was thankful. The Halfakid plodded along behind me, patiently calling out encouragement as we continued upwards.

Traffic began to pick up as we neared the halfway point of our climb, dominated by motorcycles and groups of sports cars as riders and drivers alike were eager to prove their cornering skills away from the prying eyes of policemen. But nearly all were polite to us, hanging back when needed and then giving us wide berth as they passed.

More tunnels came and went, and the gradient of the climb picked up a bit. I was counting tunnels as we passed through. We’d done six and I was pretty sure there was just one more when the road steepened again to a grade of 5 or 6 percent and maintained that. We came straight into the final tunnel, one of 400-some meters at pretty much the same rate of climbing, and then out the other side into a turn. The Halfakid passed me at this point and I could see him rounding the curve ahead of me as we finally came into view of the dam on our left and I knew it was a matter of a few hundred meters more. Finally I rounded the corner to find the expected sign to turn off for the dam, and the Halfakid was lazily turning circles in a parking lot there while waiting for me. A final burst of climbing brought us up to the lake and the top of the dam at 9:02, almost exactly 30 minutes since we’d left the station.

Ogouchi Dam and bikes
Ogouchi Dam and bikes

Arrival at Ogouchi Dam
Arrival at Ogouchi Dam

Lake Okutama
Lake Okutama

It had been less than 8C when we’d set out from the hotel in the morning and we were dressed for that. Arriving at the dam, though, we were both covered in sweat. The Halfakid removed his innermost shirt, but I had only the clothes on my back (having left my bag at the hotel for our eventual return). I also knew that, hot as we were at the moment, we’d cool off quickly on the descent. After snapping a couple of photos and letting the ladies know we were on the way, we took the plunge.

As can be expected, the return went a bit more quickly. I’d worried we’d have traffic lining up behind us as we entered each tunnel, and told the Halfakid to expect we might pull over to let the vehicles pass, but we were going fast enough that we didn’t even have time to think about stopping. A few vehicles did pass us, typically in the longer straight tunnels, but thankfully traffic was still light. I braked on a few occasions when there was a blind curve, and once coming through a straight tunnel that was paved with stripes of red paint that set up a hammering in my skull as we flew over them.

We came off the mountain and crossed the first of two bridges back into town. There was a big “30” painted on the road surface and I risked a glance at the Garmin: we were clocking 43kph at the time (and, as the Halfakid points out, the cars passing us were going about 70). That was certainly a bit faster than the 7-8kph at which we had climbed the last bits.

Three cyclists standing in parking lot
Ready to return

We arrived back at the hotel in less than half the time it took us to mount up to the dam. Tomo, Nana and her mother were waiting for us in the parking lot. I picked up my bag and we mounted up. Well, the Halfakid rode up the steep drive from the hotel back to street level, while Tomo and I pushed our bikes. We took a few snaps and checked traffic and then we were off.

Three cyclists posing for camera
And they’re off

Well, I was off, anyway. The moment I’d crossed the busy street I heard Nana’s mother shout, “Watch out!” I turned to see Tomo flat on her side next to her bike. Fortunately she was still in the hotel drive at this point and had not entered the roadway. She explained to me later, “I didn’t realize I was in the lowest gear, so I was expecting a lot more resistance when I stepped down on the pedal. As a result I lost my balance.” She was fine apart from a small tear in her tights and a corresponding scrape on her knee, and the bike came through with just a small tear in the handlebar tape.

The return was primarily downhill and the weather was once again fine — a very nice improvement from the rain we’d encountered on our previous return from Okutama. After a couple of stops at convenience stores along the way, we arrived at Hamura at 11:30 for lunch.

Almost as soon as we were back on the river, though, we were in the wind again. After fighting a headwind all Saturday, would we have luck and get a tailwind? The gods were not so merciful. A strong crosswind buffeted us once again, at times coming from ahead and only occasionally from behind. Once again our pace slowed to a crawl. We found ourselves taking breaks every 5km as the slow pace exaggerated pains in our hands and backsides. Any fantasies we’d entertained about an early return quickly evaporated.

Flag flapping in wind
That’s windy!

We finally crawled into Futako Tamagawa about 3:20. We debated about who would get home first. The Halfakid and I had nearly the same distance to go, in opposite directions. He had some more up-down on the way home, but I had the initial climb out of the Tamagawa valley. As I reminded the Halfakid, I always take a break at the top of the climb before continuing home. Tomo again had the longest way to go, and we knew she was the most tired of us.

With a round of bowing and thanks and promises to schedule another ride again soon, we went our separate ways. I messaged Nana from the top of the climb to expect me in about an hour, and I set off back through the city. I’d kept my GPS on the navigation view (although I well knew the way) just so I wouldn’t be constantly checking my average speed. Without the wind, though, I was certainly riding faster than I had since our descent from the heights of Okutama. I finally rolled into home at 4:26, four minutes before I’d told Nana to expect me. I checked our message group and saw that the Halfakid had arrived 18 minutes before me — the time I’d rested at the top of the climb and then some.

Nana prepared a bath for me and I climbed in with a cold beer and soaked away my aches. Soon we were sitting down to dinner and we had the same question: Where is Tomo? She’d messaged at 5 that she was more than halfway home from Futako, but she was far behind the expected arrival. She finally messaged at 6:20 that she was home, after stopping to get photos of Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge.

Aftermath

Here’s the spoke that caused all the trouble, after I’d bent it out of the way:

Rear bicycle wheel with broken, twisted spoke
I don’t think it’s supposed to look like that

GPS record of bicycle ride from Shinjuku to Okutama Station
Okutama Reprise

GPS record of bicycle ride from Okutama Station to Lake Okutama and return to Shinjuku
Dam Windy

10% perception

90% congestion

On my commute this morning, I felt I just didn’t have my legs. My thighs were like jelly and I couldn’t push into any of the climbs. By contrast, on the way home in the evening I felt good and I was regularly pushing a little more, and a little more.

Let’s see how those perceptions turned out by the numbers:

GPS summaries of morning and evening commute
Perception vs congestion

The evening commute time was actually 11 seconds longer. Combined with a slightly shorter distance, that made for a slower average speed.

Not shown above is the total elapsed time: a respectable 43 minutes in the morning, and a whopping 50 minutes in the evening. And that tells the true story — there was a lot more traffic congestion in the evening, and the good pace I was making when things were clear was coming down to a crawl for long stretches where cars and trucks were backed up at traffic lights.

Close call No. 1

I had a close call on my morning commute, and not from playing chicken with the traffic. When I get to the office I pass through the gate and then down a long sidewalk along one side of the building until I reach the rear, where I turn a corner and park my bike. After locking up the bike this morning and letting Nana know I’d arrived safely, I started back around the building on foot towards the entrance. But just as I reached the corner, one of my colleagues came flying around from the other direction on her bicycle. If I’d been half a second earlier it would have been a quite painful collision. (She didn’t apologize for it, either.)

I’m very happy to say that in the end there was no harm done. (I always take it very easy at that spot myself because I’m aware of the potential for exactly what happened today.)

Close call No. 2

I had a similar close call on the commute home this evening. I’d left Dionysus locked in the basement parking and took the elevator to the first floor to check the mail. As I emerged, a very large man nearly ran me over in his hurry to catch the elevator I’d just stepped out of — and he was running! Once again, no harm done, but I do wonder about people who don’t think there might be others emerging from elevators, coming around corners from the opposite direction, etc.

Like the woman on her bicycle a few minutes earlier, while I was still on the way home, who rode off the sidewalk and into the street without checking to see that I was already coming up from behind on the street. In that case I was watching and expecting her to make that move, so it wasn’t a close call at all.

Sunshine and Spider Lilies

Spider lilies

(and only a few drops of rain)

The Halfakid was supposed to join me today for my first ride in more than a month (not counting a commute last Friday), but he had a tummy bug. Our last ride together was to Yokohama in the heat of August, when I was nearly overcome in the 30C+ temperatures. All through September we had rainy weekends (or the forecast of rain, even if it didn’t materialize in the end).

The forecast for today had been for a high of 26C, with a slight chance of rain in the afternoon. When I checked it again this morning, the chance of rain had risen to 40%. That and the Halfakid’s cancellation would have given me an excuse to drop out, but I was itching for a ride after the one-month hiatus. Besides, Nana had already whipped up a batch of her world-famous onigiri. So I pumped up the tires, put the wheels and bags on the bike, and set out optimistically at 9 a.m.

Bicycle in the park in front of a fountain
First break at 20km

GPS screenshot
Making good time
I made very good time down to Futako, keeping an average pace of 22km/h and elapsed time of 45 minutes. I was a bit concerned I was using up all my power at the beginning of a day-long ride, but I felt fine. I was soon on the Tamagawa river, enjoying the bunches of spider lilies springing up here and there along the path. I kept up the pace through to the first rest stop at the 20km mark. While I drank some water and enjoyed the cool of the park, I pinched the tires to see if they were holding air. All good.

On the river course again, I was keeping an eye on the speed (perhaps too frequently), trying to keep it above the 22km/h average. I soon encountered a marathon in progress, and so scolded myself to keep an eye on the runners (and pedestrians) on the path rather than on the GPS. I was making good time though and skipped one of my regular break spots, putting in another 16km to reach a small but shaded park on a side street. It was just 11 a.m. when I arrived, so I helped myself to a couple of onigiri.

Homemade onigiri wrapped in foil
Homemade onigiri

After that point, the going was a bit more rough. The pavement deteriorates and there’s more “road furniture” — bollards and gates designed to keep scooters off the path. One positive note was that the path had reopened where it dips under a bridge that had been damaged a year ago in Typhoon Hagibis. Seeing that made me wonder about another spot, several kilometers further along, where the path crosses a tiny branch of the river on a pedestrian bridge that has been closed since Hagibis. Nope: still closed.

Bicycle in front of signs announcing bridge closure
Bridge out, do not enter

It was only a short bit of backtracking from there to the detour, which I know well by now. But my average speed had fallen below 22.0km/h, and it slowly dropped further after that as the pavement quality steadily worsened. (I’ve been riding this route about 11 years now, and this section has always been bad. Long stretches of it have not been repaired once during that time.) But there were even more spider lilies everywhere I looked.

Spider lilies lining the side of the cycle path, with a playground in the background
More spider lilies

Hamura — right where I left it

Man in sunglasses in front of statue of the Tamagawa Brothers
Me ‘n’ my Tamagawa Bros

I reached the end of the path at Hamura just after noon, and sat down to eat the remaining two onigiri. I’d been playing cat-and-mouse with a couple of young, fitter riders since the last rest stop, and I was surprised to see them ride in after me. I hadn’t noticed when I’d overtaken them again. After finishing my lunch and topping up my water bottles, I left Hamura ahead of them and didn’t see them again on the way back.

Hamura Intake Weir
Hamura Intake Weir

Puttin’ the pedal(s) down

On the way back, I was eager to try to get the average speed back up to 22km/h — I was at 21.6 and with 53km under my belt, it would take some concerted effort to budge that (at least upwards). I was making good time overall and watching the needle creep upwards, but I didn’t let that prevent me from stopping to snap a few flowers along the way.

White spider lilies
White spider lilies

Pink flower against green leaves
Other flowers exist as well

A bicycle under a tree
Bike and tree at Nishigawara
As I zipped along, I sensed that the limit for improving my average would be Nishigawara Park — the same park where I stopped in the morning and took the photo with the water fountain. Soon after that I would cross a bridge into Kanagawa, then continue another 8km to Futakotamagawa before crossing another bridge back into Tokyo. I knew I wouldn’t make as good time during this part of the course. And then once I was back in Futako, I would be in traffic again. I was pleased to see as I came to Nishigawara that I’d reached 21.9km/h. (Strava subsequently informed me I’d posted a couple of personal bests for this section of the ride.)

Across the bridge, I found the cycling course had reopened where it had been closed for the construction of an emergency water reservoir. I happily returned to the former course even though it added to the distance. (It avoids a dangerous spot riding alongside traffic where the road narrows.) From there I tried to keep the speed up, but fatigue was clearly setting in and I was dodging more pedestrians.

By the time I reached the bridge back into Tokyo, I’d done 100km (at a satisfying 4 hours 40 minutes) and my average speed was 21.5km/h. I knew I wouldn’t make much change in that on the way home — particularly on the short but intense climb out of the Tamagawa valley, with a brief section topping a 16% gradient. I made it, but took a long breather when I reached the top.

It was just after 3 p.m. at this point, and I knew it would be about 50 minutes to get home. So I messaged Nana that I would be home about 4:15 (leaving myself some breathing space). I turned on my lights as it was getting dark and threatening rain, mounted up and continued on my way, keeping up the usual place except in the few brief climbs along the way, where it was clear my thighs were completely shot.

The ride home was uneventful, and I beat the rain home. (Not sure if it rained after all — once I’m in the tower condo, I have to make an effort to see if it’s raining.) In the end I did 106km at 21.5km/h in just under 5 hours (just under 7 hours total elapsed time). My fastest speed of the day was 52km/h on the downhill into Futako in the morning, where I tucked in and put the pedals down to see how I could do.

(lack of) Mechanicals

The ride was pleasingly free of mechanical issues, which was good given that I didn’t have the usual minitool with me. (It was in Dionysus’s bag and I decided to tempt fate by being too lazy to fetch it before the ride.) There was still a bit of squealing from the front disc brake despite my having changed the pads, and yes, I did seat the new pads first thing this morning. It may be time for a new brake disc.

Man holding bicycle wheel with bicycle in stand in background
Swirling the latex

The only other area of concern was whether the tires would hold air for the entire ride. I had Kuroko in the Workshop in the Sky for the entire month of September, and most days I pumped up the tires twice per day (morning and evening) and swirled them around to try to seal up the weeping sidewalls. I had a couple of promising days where the pressure would still be at 20psi after 12 or 24 hours of rest, but then it would fall back again to 15psi.

Tubeless tire with latex seeping through pinholes in the sidewall
More pinholes, more latex

As recently as yesterday, when I pumped up the tires to 60psi, a number of latex bubbles appeared in the sidewalls. And this morning when I pumped them up again, I was starting from 15psi. It was looking as if I hadn’t made any progress in the entire month of twice-daily inflating-and-swirling exercise. So I’m happy to report that during today’s ride the tires remained firm the entire time (which is a significant improvement over what I saw during the Kasumigaura ride) and I didn’t have to stop and refill them.

One thing is sure: I will not be scrubbing these sidewalls when I clean the bike. I don’t want to take off whatever latex blob has filled a pinhole in the sidewall.

GPS plot of cycle route
Hamura round trip

Hot! Hot! Hot! Yokohama!

Yokohama Bay Bridge as seen from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen

Every year it’s the same damn thing

The forecast high yesterday was 35C, so I knew I couldn’t go on a full-fledged ride. Ten years ago I could ride in 35C weather and everything was fine so long as I didn’t push myself too hard, and I made sure I drank enough water. But starting two years ago, on a hot, sunny day, I experienced very sudden and very severe bonk. On that first occasion, it was all I could do to roll downhill and tumble off the bike into the shade of a friendly tree. After resting more than 10 minutes and drinking a lot of water, I ate a couple of onigiri and then I could continue. It was only after the ride that it occurred to me this wasn’t the bonk — it was my body refusing to push on in the heat.

I experienced the same thing again last year at similar temperatures and again on a sunny day. The same sudden loss of power, and a slow, partial recovery after a break in the shade with lots of cold water and something to eat.

Each time I told myself I’d learned a lesson: Don’t ride when the temperature is higher than, oh, perhaps 32C. And each summer I tell myself, “It will be OK this time. I’ll set out early and I’ll get home before the heat really comes on.” And then I set myself a schedule which makes that impossible.

And yesterday was another case in point: I figured if I left by 8 a.m. and only went as far as Haneda, I could be home before noon. And then for some reason I figured if I could ride to Haneda, I could ride to Yokohama. It’s not all that much farther to go, the view from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen is great, and I hadn’t been there in a while. The Halfakid agreed to join me and so the schedule was set.

It’s already near the limit

When I set out from home yesterday morning at 8:10, my phone told me it was already 31C. Hmm … that’s about my limit, right? Maybe I should change plans and just go to Haneda. But I put the Yokohama route on the GPS (I don’t really need the navigation — I know this route) and set off to meet up with the Halfakid. He was waiting for me, all ready to go except for pumping up his tires a bit. My tires also were in need of air, even though I’d filled them just an hour before starting the ride. (See the Weeping Sidewalls.) So we were getting even more exercise than we’d bargained for as we pumped our tires up. At least we were standing in the shade!

Cruising down the Tamagawa

Soon we were cruising down the Tamagawa cycling course with a tailwind to help us along. The sun was very strong and I was thinking I should have worn my UV mask (which I’ve been going without this year, for no particularly good reason). The temperature was rising steadily, but we didn’t feel bad so long as we were moving. The path was crowded and the Halfakid fell slightly behind at times as we wove in and out between other cyclists and joggers. We continued on until we came to our usual rest spot in the shade.

Asphalt canyon

Once again I considered whether I should change our plans and only go as far as Haneda. I was starting to feel fatigue from the heat, but nothing extreme yet. We mounted up and continued along, making good time, and were soon crossing the bridge over the Tamagawa into Kawasaki. From here we continue on Route 15 nearly all the way to our goal, about 16km on. It’s a straight shot, but it’s all in traffic and it’s a veritable asphalt canyon. There’s no hiding from the sun and the temperature soars. We found ourselves stopping scores of meters back from the traffic lights if we could rest in the shade while we waited.

At a small park about 5km after the bridge we stopped for an onigiri and some water as we sat in the shade. I felt recharged. Then it was back into the asphalt canyon. The road is straight and flat, and so the heat was our only real opponent (and the occasional driver who ignored our hand signals as we maneuvered around parked cars and other obstacles). We rolled through Yokohama and passed the entrance to Chinatown before stopping at a convenience store to supplement our onigiri lunch.

While the Halfakid shopped for cold water and coffee, I leaned against a railing in the shade. I knew the heat was getting me — it was 34C at this point. I’d have preferred sitting down but there wasn’t really any place for that. I just had to wait, and when the Halfakid emerged with some cold bottled water I accepted it gratefully. I drank perhaps 300ml or more despite knowing we’d soon be climbing our way up to our goal in the park.

I’ll beat that climb someday

The final 300m to Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen is a rise of 29m, just shy of a 10% average. The steepest bit is 13%. It’s not the world’s longest climb, but it is on a twisty road with fast traffic, so I can’t zigzag my way up. And it comes at the end of a 40km ride just to get to the start. Anyway, long story short, I have yet to reach the top in a single go. (No such worries for the Halfakid, who just rockets past me before waiting at the top.) I usually get about halfway up before giving up just after the steepest bit. This time, with the heat sapping my power, I gave up a good 15m before my usual spot. And from there it was all I could do to push Kuroko the rest of the way up the hill. I really just wanted to stop where I was and have a rest, on the narrow sidewalk with no shade.

Yokohama Bay Bridge as seen from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen
Yokohama Bay Bridge

View from the top

The reason we stop at this particular park (apart from things like restrooms, a water fountain and park benches) is the view over Yokohama Bay that the brief climb affords us. We were lucky in that I quickly found an available bench (there aren’t many), and we sat in the shade and quickly finished the remaining onigiri.

Ship in Yokohama Bay seen through trees
Ahoy!

The difference between theory and practice

As we ate and rested, we joked about how quickly we could get back home. After all, it’s just about 40km and we were averaging better than 20km/h despite my stroll up the final climb. In reality, we’d taken three-and-a-half hours to reach the park even though we’d been riding just about two hours by this point. The difference reflected both the long breaks we’d been taking and the stop-and-go traffic we’d had along Route 15 and through Yokohama. I’d told Nana before leaving home that I’d be back around 3, and I realized that this was now unlikely.

Smoother sailing, at least at first

We set off home, flying down the hill from the park, and found our way back out of Yokohama much smoother going than coming in. We were hitting far fewer red lights. But we were soon back on the asphalt canyon of Route 15. My speed was still a hair over 20km/h, but I was wondering how long I could keep that up. We agreed we’d stop for rest and refreshments when we crossed the bridge back in Tokyo, but I was starting to feel I wouldn’t make it. The only thing that kept me going was the lack of shady parks along the route. (I suspected I could quickly find more than a few just a block or two off the main road, but I was playing a mind game with myself to keep going.) I felt quite weak but I was still keeping pretty good speed so long as the road was flat and straight and I wasn’t fighting a headwind.

We came at last to the bridge without incident. We usually ride up the pedestrian ramp to the bridge — it’s very gentle — but there was another cyclist coming down it as we approached, and I didn’t trust myself not to wobble into him in my current state. So we dismounted and pushed our bikes up the ramp. I knew I was taking my time up the ramp but I didn’t realize how slowly I was going until another cyclist passed by me while pushing his bike up at a much faster pace.

Ice cream!

The bridge is nice and flat, and we dawdled across it. At the far (Tokyo) end, there’s a spiral ramp down to street level which lands us nearly at the door of the convenience store. I sat down on the asphalt pavement in the shade by the bicycle stand and worked at an ice cream sandwich and a lot of cold, cold water. I had a good long rest here, and updated Nana on our status.

Back on the Tamagawa cycling course, my mantra was to just keep moving and not to worry about my average speed. (OK, I did keep stealing glances at the GPS and fretting that I’d fallen below 20km/h, but I didn’t try to get the speed back up.) A scant 4km after the convenience store, we arrived back at the site of our first rest stop of the day, and I pulled in for a brief stop. More water and a few precious minutes in the shade. The Halfakid and I discussed whether it would be easier to go on the road, in traffic, than on the bike path. The bike path would give us a couple of switchbacks to climb — the one at Marukobashi is rather substantial. The road is fast and smooth, by contrast, but there’s a tunnel a few hundred meters long just before coming into Futako. There are probably ways around the tunnel, but I wasn’t feeling adventurous. We continued on the path.

And when we came to a shaded rest area another 4km further on, I stopped again. I had enough water left to get me to Futako, and we discussed whether to buy more water before the climb at Futako or after. The Halfakid said he was fine for water, so I decided to stop at a convenience store or vending machine at the foot of the climb. I’d need to carry the water up the climb, but I’d have it right when I needed it at the top. We set off again for the final 4km drag to Futako, and again I just concentrated on keeping moving rather than looking at my speed. I’d switched down to my smaller chainring at this point, usually only used for climbing, and I just stayed on it. I could get up to just over 20km/h (given a tailwind) without having to move to the larger chainring, so I stayed with it.

The dreaded climb

Of course we eventually reached Futagobashi and crossed the Tamagawa for the final time into Futako. At the foot of the climb I told the Halfakid to go ahead while I stopped at a vending machine. I drank some of the water on the spot and then poured the rest into my water bottle. And with that I was off up the climb (much gentler than the one in Yokohama at a 4% average). I just dropped to my lowest gear as soon as possible and took my time up the hill.

GPS details of ride from Tokyo to Yokohama
Hot! Hot! Hot! Yokohama!

While we rested at the top of the hill, I checked the time and made some mental calculations. The Halfakid was still fine — he’d charged right on up the hill. I was feeling somewhat better. The temperature had probably started to fall, and even though I was in the city now there was more shade. I messaged Nana that I would probably be home between 4 and 4:15, and we set out on the last leg. It’s only 5km (in traffic) to the Halfakid’s flat, and we soon reached it. After a fist bump he carried his bike in through the door and I sat down on the step for a couple more minutes of rest before continuing.

The final 8km home went well (apart from a few idiot drivers, as usual). I modified my course slightly at the end, swapping a straight, fast-moving and heavily trafficked road with a bit of climbing for a back road with some pedestrian traffic and numerous cross streets. This route takes me right by the train station, but I was resting in shade while waiting for the traffic light. At last I reached Chuo Koen and the final downhill to home. I usually crank up the speed here to see how fast I can get it (depending on traffic), but this time I was content just to coast down the hill. I got enough speed even so (32km/h) that I hardly had to pedal to reach the goal. I stopped the clock at 4:08 p.m., within the time that I’d told Nana.

You could even say it glows

After having a shower, I noticed in the mirror that my nose was bright red. I’d used SPF70 sun cream, but I really ought to be wearing the UV mask (or just not biking) in this sort of weather. Nana was calling me “Rudolph.”

While my symptoms during the ride fall well short of heat exhaustion, I still think that I shouldn’t ride under these conditions. I’ll need to either stick to my resolution to leave early and return early, or simply not ride when the forecast is saying it’s a bad idea.

Apart from the weeping sidewalls of my lightweight tires, mechanicals were minor. The disc brakes squealed very faintly on a couple of occasions. I’ve ordered resin brake pads to replace the metallic ones I’m using, and that should take care of it. I also had a return of the problem with the front shift lever, but I know now how to deal with that on the fly. It’s an annoyance, and one I’m considering a couple of alternatives to fix.

I wanna go to Disneyland!

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign

I told the Halfakid last night I wanted to ride the Arakawa to Disneyland today, something not too strenuous in light of the heat. And make an early start so we could be home before the worst of the heat came down on us. Unfortunately, this morning he said he couldn’t join me, so I set out solo.

Bicycle
Clean and tuned

Before setting out, I filled up the tires again and gave them a good swirling to help the latex sealant cover the entire inner tire surface. I also adjusted the brakes and brake levers. And I stuffed some of Nana’s world-famous onigiri in the bag.

Bicycle leaning on sign for Arakawa
Welcome to the Arakawa Cycling Road

The first 13km of riding are in traffic. That’s about the same distance to reach Tamagawa, my usual stomping grounds on Tokyo’s western boarder, but it seems farther to get to Arakawa because it’s nearly all on Yamate Dori, a major artery with lots of traffic. Fortunately this morning the traffic wasn’t bad and most of the drivers were behaving.

I found myself pacing a much stronger rider, catching up with him time and again at the traffic lights. I’m sure without the red lights he’d have left me far behind. As it was, we were together more than 3km before he finally got a light ahead of me, and that’s the last I saw of him.

I didn’t realize at the time I was making very good progress and setting a string of personal bests for this leg of the ride. I didn’t feel particularly strong and wasn’t putting the hammer down. In fact, I remember saving my energy, knowing I was just at the start of the day’s ride.

Possible tailwind benefit

Once I got to Arakawa and started on the path downriver, I knew I was making good time. Now I did feel stronger, and I could see I was putting down 5km splits at 25km/h or better. (My best today was more than 28km/h.) I was feeling some crosswind, but overall I think I was benefiting from a tailwind. That’s not unusual for this part of the course — my personal records here were all with a very strong tailwind that put me over 30km/h for long stretches.

In contrast to the Kasumigaura rides last week, I felt comfortable in the saddle and with my hands on the handlebar. I realized that my posture is different when I’m pushing than when I’m relaxing. The core of my body is held firmer and that takes some of the weight off my hands. Obviously this is not a conscious process or I’d be doing it during a relaxing ride as well. Anyway, I took my first break after 15km of riding down the Arakawa (and a string of riders who had been pacing me to that point went on ahead), and I felt completely fine.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Shinsuna, with river and bridge in background
At the mouth of Tokyo Bay

River, bridge, and blue sky with fluffy white clouds
Last bridge before Tokyo Bay

Backtracking from Shinsuna to the previous bridge, I immediately felt the strength of the wind that had propelled me downriver. Climbing up the ramp to the bridge, I again felt I had no power. But Strava tells me I made my third-best time on this portion.

The run from there to the entrance to Tokyo Disney Resort went smoothly. There were lots of other bikers as well as pedestrians, and not all were good at following the rules of the road. When it got congested I bided my time, waited for my opening and then blasted past all the hoi polloi. From Tokyo Sea Life Park onwards, where it’s all up and down pedestrian ways over roads and bridges, I was nearly alone (after waiting for one mamachari descending from a pedestrian bridge in the ascending lane).

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign
Yes, this is actually what I meant

I’d made good time getting to Disneyland, arriving before 11 a.m. after having set out at 8:16. My average speed up to this point was 24km/h, with the downwind leg of the Arakawa offsetting the ups and downs of the pedestrian walks I crossed to reach the Disneyland entrance. After taking this snap, I reversed course until I was back at the bridge. Before crossing back into Koto Ward, I turned right into a small park where I could enjoy Nana’s onigiri in blissful solitude.

Homeward bound

From the park, it’s a fairly straight shot home, past first Nihonbashi and then Kudanzaka and Chidorigafuchi — less than 20km total. It was still before noon when I finished the onigiri, and I wondered if I’d make it home before 1 p.m. Traffic wasn’t too bad through the city — apart from one idiot who tried to pass me before pulling into the left turn lane, only to find out I was there and there were two cars ahead of me. I passed up the chance to stop at Nihonbashi for a photo (I’ve got plenty of them) and continued on to Otemachi, the Imperial Palace and Kudanzaka. I made pretty good time up Kudanzaka, around 12km/h, and stopped at the top to get some water from a convenience store before settling down at Chidorigafuchi to enjoy the last of Nana’s onigiri.

Bicycle leaning against railing in front of Chidorigafuchi
Last rest stop: Chidorigafuchi

The final 8km or so to home was still in city traffic, and the traffic was still not too heavy. Whenever I had to move over to get around a parked car, there was always room for me to do so. I knew my average speed up to this point was more than 22km/h, and I was eager to keep it up over the final stretch towards home. In the end I pulled up to our tower at just a few minutes past 1 p.m., with my average speed safely above the 22 mark.

GPS map of cycle route for Arakawa and Disneyland
I wanna go to Disneyland

Mechanicals

No mechanicals to report for Kuroko. The tires are holding air a little better after my work yesterday, and there’s almost no squealing from the brakes following the adjustment the morning. The shifters are working flawlessly.

The only issue I’m having is with my sunglasses. One of the lenses had fallen out when I got them out of the pouch this morning, and I spent a few minutes getting it back into place. This is happening when increasing frequency, so I guess it’s time to get new shades. I’m lucky that it happens when the shades are in their pouch. It hasn’t happened during a ride — yet!

Close-up of bicycle crank area showing splattered mud
Return of the mud splatters

Muddy cycling shoes
Hardly my Sunday best

There was no rain today — just mostly sunny, partly cloudy, skies, hot and humid. But there were puddles across the Arakawa Cycling Road. I’m so glad I spent some time cleaning up Kuroko and my shoes just yesterday.

Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road

Two cyclists posing in front of Kashima Jingu Nishi no Ichino Torii

Last weekend after some rather elaborate planning, we loaded the bikes into a rental van and set off for Ibaraki Prefecture and the Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road. I’d originally planned a couple of rides using Kasumigaura as a home base, but it turns out there are no onsen there to relax in after the ride. After a bit of searching I came up with Itako as a base, with two rides — Kitaura and Kasumigaura — using that as a launching spot.

It was a long weekend, with holidays on Thursday and Friday. We decided to beat the rush, though, arriving at the hotel on Sunday and doing the shorter of the two rides — Kitaura — and then staying through Tuesday. This turned out to be the winning plan. When we arrived (after enduring a couple of deluges of rain on the way) it seemed we were the only guests at the hotel. There was plenty of parking space, and we set about decamping the bikes and changing into our riding gear.

Two cyclists assembling a bike against the backdrop of a van
Assembling Tomo’s bike

Tomo had packed her bike into a travel bag in order to meet us at the car rental agency near home, and so we need to assemble it — simply a matter of putting the wheels back on and making sure all was in order. Meanwhile, the Halfakid had ridden his bike to our flat in the morning (in pouring rain, it should be noted) and so no assembly was required. On the other hand, we noticed that his headset was loose. As I coached him through the process of tightening it up, it became apparent that the tightening bolt had been only finger-tight.

Two riders tightening a bicycle headset while an onlooker with bag looks on
Fixing a loose headset while Nana’s mother supervises

Three cyclists in helmets and masks posing at start of ride.
And they’re off!

With the mechanicals sorted (or so we thought) and the course loaded in the Garmin, we set out to circumnavigate Kitaura. Within 1km, though, it became apparent that Kuroko’s tires were too soft. I’d just filled them in the morning before setting out in the rental van, mindful that they were still seeping air following the conversion to tubeless tires. Here we were, a scant five hours later, with the tires below 30psi. I quickly pumped them up again to 45psi, at which pressure they’re nice and firm, but I worried if they would hold the pressure through two days of riding.

Two cyclists posing in front of Kashima Jingu Nishi no Ichino Torii
Kashima Jingu Nishi no Ichino Torii

We made good time under mostly sunny skies, at first, and came to our first break at Kashima Jingu on the eastern shore of Kitaura lake. Our progress at this point was neither outstanding nor worryingly slow, but just right. Soon after this stop, though, the sky turned dark under the shadow of an enormous cloud with a black underbelly, and we worried about the weather we might encounter. For the most part, the weather held, and we soon outpaced the big scary cloud.

We continued on in hot, steamy, occasionally windy weather, until we came to a convenience store in the middle of nowhere (but not far off the path) and stopped for a lunch of Nana’s world-famous onigiri supplemented by convenience store treats such as ice cream to beat the heat.

Well, a little bit of rain after all

We felt a few sprinkles as we stood outside the convenience store scarfing onigiri, but the rain didn’t really start until we’d rounded the top of the lake and began the trek home. In the end, it could have been worse. We had about 15 minutes of steady rain, and that not heavy enough to soak us through. Just enough to legitimately say it had rained.

Close-up of bicycle bottom bracket spattered with mud
Some muddy bits

The rain added to the puddles we’d encountered in the stretches of gravel path. For whatever reason (the Halfakid suggested unscrupulous contractors), there were often gaps in the pavement at each inlet onto the lake, with a stretch of 100-150m of gravel, usually featuring more than a few potholes filled with muddy water. I was fine with my fat gravel tires, but Tomo and the Halfakid had a bit more challenge on their skinnies.

Rainbow above a lake
End of the 40-day rainy season — promise!

We took a rest in a pavilion just as the rain was letting up, and then continued on without issue (although sometimes into the wind) until we found ourselves back at the hotel. We were about half an hour behind our predicted time overall, but still in plenty of time to relax in the bath before dinner.

Kitaura Route
Kitaura Route

Same shit, different lake

Cyclists wave at camera as they set off on road next to river
Au revoir!

On Monday morning we set off immediately after breakfast with the goal of circumnavigating Kasumigaura, a longer route of about 135km total. Mindful of Tomo’s struggles in the wind around Kitaura, we were keeping in mind a number of contingencies. The first was to take the only shortcut available, across the Kasumigaura Ohashi (bridge). Eyeballing Google Maps in the morning, we estimated this might shave 20km off the total. And we resolved to have a break every 5km, and to turn back whenever Tomo said she’d had enough.

Protected fishing area at edge of lake
A day of promise

The going was smooth, although the wind remained an issue at times. There were no gravel sections separating the bike path from the proper road as at Kitaura. We came across Kasumigaura Ohashi just a couple of kilometers after Google Maps had told us to expect it, and stopped for a brief palaver.

Cyclists pose in front of Kasumigaura Bridge
Kasumigaura Ohashi

We had a few options at this point (apart from attempting the entire 135km route): continue on our selected path, and then turn back when we’d had enough; or crossing the bridge, and hence cutting perhaps 20km off the route, but still trying to circle the lake (and alternatively still turning back when we were tired). Tomo suggested that the Halfakid and I continue on the original route, while she crossed the bridge, knowing we would catch up with her at some point. But I said we should stick together. In the end we crossed the bridge, lopping off the northeastern lobe of the lake, and picked up the path again.

The going remained smooth, with perhaps a bit less fighting the wind. We continued to stop every 5km to rest our hands and backsides for a couple of minutes before continuing on. I was starting to feel hungry, but — thinking it was still about 10 a.m. — I didn’t say anything to the others. At the next rest break I handed out snacks I’d bought at the convenience store in the morning: baum kuchen. As she nibbled on her cake, Tomo said she was starving. I checked the time and it was already past 11:30. So we consulted Google Maps and found a convenience store just another 8km ahead, nearly to Tsuchiura. The Halfakid guided us from the path towards the shop, but we found that all the direct routes were little more than gravel-and-mud ruts for farm vehicles to pass between the fields. We eventually found paved roads, adding another kilometer to the distance traveled to get lunch.

GPS route of Kasumigaura cycle ride
Kasumigaura Route

After lunch we had another consultation. Thinking we’d shaved off around 20km by crossing Kasumigaura Ohashi, it looked like we were facing at least 65km remaining if we continued around the lake vs 45km if we turned around. Tomo didn’t take long to decide: let’s take the shorter route home! And so we doubled back.

Having made our choice we stuck with it, although it was soon obvious that Tomo was feeling quite a bit stronger after having had some food. Our average pace increased from 15km/h to nearly 20. (It’s also possible we were benefiting from a tailwind at this point.) There’s also the psychological “We’re heading home!” factor that I first saw in Tomo at the Tour de Tohoku last year, when she kicked it up to 30km/h in the final stretch. In this case, though, we still brought it back to 15km/h during the stretches where we faced a headwind.

In the final 5km, the Halfakid announced his intention to go ahead and continue past the hotel to reach a round 100km. He shot past us and was soon a dwindling red speck in the distance. I remained with Tomo, pacing her through the remaining kilometers, and we pulled up to the hotel just half an hour later than our original estimate. I touched fists with her and then said, “Actually, I … ” and she finished for me: “You want to do 100km too.” So I sped off after the Halfakid.

In the final 9km (4.5km out and back) I turned up the heat and was soon averaging 25km/h and going as high as 28. It felt good to stretch out and bear down, and I knew I could keep the pace up for the paltry few kilometers remaining. With less than 2km to go before my final return to the hotel, the Garmin beeped with a message from the Halfakid: “Where’s Guy?” Followed by a response from Nana: “Oops.” Fortunately the Garmin lets me reply (choose from a list of canned replies) without stopping, so I messaged, “Be home soon.” And then there I was, rolling up to the Halfakid who was waiting in front of the hotel for me, 101km on the clock.

What mechanicals?

Our two days of riding were blissfully trouble-free. After we assembled Tomo’s bike and tightened the Halfakid’s headset on the first day, our only issue was the slow seeping of air from my not-quite-yet-sealed tubeless tires. I took care of that in a couple of minutes at the start of each ride, and then once again on the way home during day 2.

Egrets, I’ve had a few

All along both courses we were treated Sunday and Monday to the sight of egrets — sometimes in pairs — in the rice paddies, occasionally taking wing as we sped by. Unfortunately I was never quick enough with the smartphone to catch one.

The only other (r)egret of the ride came when I checked the course again after returning home to Tokyo. By taking the Kasumigaura bridge on the second day, we’d actually shortened the route by 30km rather than our estimate of 20km. Which meant we’d have had just about the same distance to go by pressing onwards around the lake rather than doubling back as we did. Well, it gives us a reason to return to the Ring-Ring Road at a future date.

Ride Between the Raindrops

Bicycle in front of Imperial Palace moat and building

It’s two weeks since my last ride, and what’s come in between is a nearly unbroken string of rainy days. The initial forecast for today had been for rain as well, but this morning the rain cleared off and the forecast turned to sunny. The Halfakid was not available to ride, so I pumped up Kuroko’s tires, slathered on some chamois cream and sunblock, and set out solo.

What the hell am I doing?

Bicycle in front of fountain at Meiji Jingu Gaien
Meiji Jingu Gaien

It didn’t take long (probably the first climb of note, up to Akasaka Palace) for my thighs to remind me we haven’t been out in two weeks. “See here, chap,” they said. “Just what do you think you’re up to?” That climb is followed by a sharp descent, then another good climb. I reminded myself that I don’t enjoy fixing up bicycles just to satisfy my hardware fetish (a lot of other machines could do this) but that I actually enjoy riding. After that I settled down and enjoyed the ride (and put the climbing behind me for a couple of dozen kilometers).

Tokyo Tower viewed through foliageTokyo Skytree with bicycle on bridge over Arakawa in foreground
The Two Towers

My first real stop came at Shiba Park, overlooked by Tokyo Tower, where I filled up my water bottle and sent some photos to Nana. I didn’t stay long, though, and was soon on my way back across town to Hibiya Park and the Imperial Palace.

Bicycle in front of Imperial Palace moat and building
Kuroko at the Imperial Palace

There were lots of police out today — sometimes it seemed there was one or two on every corner. A lot of them were not wearing masks (neither was I). I obeyed the traffic laws and they ignored me.

Hunger games

From the Imperial Palace out to Tokyo Big Sight, the sun shone strongly and the temperature started climbing. I was getting hungry — it was past noon and I’d eaten breakfast about 6 a.m. The closer I got to Tokyo Bay, the stronger the wind got. But I continued on, motivated by the promise of a convenience store for lunch once I reached Big Sight.

Rainbow Bridge
Breezy Rainbow Bridge

Pigeons and sparrows flocking on flagstones
Nobody move or the burrito gets it

The moment I sat down in the shade with my lunch, I was besieged by a gaggle of beggars. I ignored them and savored every last bite before continuing onwards.

At this point I had roughly 30km done and the same amount to go to get back home. Most of the way back it’s flat, but I could feel my energy ebbing with the heat. Crossing the Arakawa in front of Tokyo Skytree, I was soon climbing up towards Ueno Park and then Tokyo University. There were dozens of firetrucks lining the climb up to the university and an acrid smell of smoke in the air. As I slowly crawled up the hill, a large firetruck passed me on its way home, so I guess I missed most of the excitement.

I hear screaming

It’s a long downhill past Tokyo Dome and the Korakuen amusement park, where I could easily hear the roller coaster riders failing to scream inside their hearts. (Nana says it’s just as well she can’t watch the Giants play at Tokyo Dome, because there’s no way she could stop herself shouting during the game.) Despite my fatigue and having waited for a red light at the foot of the downhill, I still made good time past Tokyo Dome: within 3 seconds of my PR on this segment.

Bicycle against railing overlooking Chidorigafuchi moat
Chidorigafuchi

At Kudanzaka, I put Kuroko down into her lowest gear and just inched my way up the hill. At the top I took a photo of Kuroko posing in front of Chidorigafuchi, and then sat on a park bench in the shade and listened to a white-haired gent playing harmonica to a group of admirers. I checked my water bottle (half full, still cool) and messaged Nana that I would be home in 30 to 45 minutes. I left as other musicians were arriving to join the harp player.

The ride home is flat — after a couple of small climbs immediately after Yasukuni Shrine — and was uneventful (apart from the usual deal with taxis speeding up to pass me and then slamming on the brakes as they cut back into my lane). Instead of turning to pass in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings as I usually do, I continued on beside them and then came around the opposite end of Central Park. I hit 43km/h on the descent back towards our condo tower, but I’d arrived just short of 60km total. I did a couple of laps around the block to bring the clock up over the mark and then brought her home.

Mechanicals? What mechanicals?

GPS route of cycle ride around central Tokyo
Ride between the raindrops

Apart from my fatigue (probably heat-induced), there were no mechanicals of note. I’d had to inflate the tires at the start of the ride, but they were fine after that. There were no issues at all with the shifter and cogs, no chain mangling, and nary a peep from the bottom bracket. The front brake gave out little squeaks on occasion, but there was no return of the Howling Discs. (Could be that they only perform in the rain.)

Having said that, I now need to anoint a broken spoke on the altar of the Mechanical Gods, and their leader, Booker T.

Hot (and wet) (and windy) Haneda

Selfie in cycling helmet in front of Haneda peace shrine in the rain

I hadn’t planned on riding today because the forecast was for rain. But when I checked again this morning, the forecast showed little chance of rain before late afternoon. Nana checked Yahoo and agreed — it should be OK to get in a quick ride.

Before I set out, I had to refill Kuroko’s new tubeless tires. It’s been less than two weeks since they were seated and they’re still not fully sealed. Unfortunately, the Garmin doesn’t count the calories I expended with the portable tire pump before the ride began.

I want to talk to the manager

I got through the city down to the Tama River without incident, feeling good if quite hot. It was just shy of 30C at this point. But as I was crossing over the river into Kanagawa, I felt a couple of drops of rain. Well, no big deal. I’m not going to let a few drops of rain slow me down.

By the time I reached 15km the rain was coming down pretty steadily. I still had hopes it might pass over quickly — after all, the real rain isn’t supposed to come until late afternoon. But then before I hit the 20km mark, the rain was driving down in the wind (a headwind that was already cutting into my progress), nearly blinding me despite my shades.

Decision point

Wet bicycle leaning against tree on a rainy day
Brief shelter out of the rain

At this point I could turn around and head for home, or ignore the rain and continue onwards. At 20km I’m about one-third of the way into the ride. If I turned around I’d have another 20km before I got home, while if I continued it would be another 40km. Either way, I’d arrive home soaking wet.

You can only get soaked through once*

Fearless Leader Joe

* Once per ride, Guy Jean hastens to clarify

As I’ve already established during the Biwako ride, and confirmed in England (although not as thoroughly as FLJ confirmed in Scotland), I am not made of sugar. Since I was going to be just as wet either way, I decided to continue the ride. This wasn’t an intentional invocation of Rule No. 9, as the forecast had been for overcast skies with rain later in the day, but I feel good about the fact I didn’t turn tail at the first few raindrops. The only impact the rain made on my plans was to make me take things a bit easier, cut my rest stops short, and cancel my plan to stop for a snack at a convenience store along the way.

Instead I continued pushing on through the rain (which at least slacked off enough it wasn’t being driven into my eyes). Kuroko’s brakes set up a howling each time I used them, higher pitched on the 140mm rear disc than the 160mm front, but they worked fine. The bell on the other hand was muted by the raindrops which clung to it, so the Howling Discs (a great band name the rights to which I freely grant to the first comer) served the double purpose of warning people I was coming and slowing me down before I ran over oblivious pedestrians and little leaguers on bikes.

Now do it the other way

Selfie in cycling helmet in front of Haneda peace shrine in the rain
Are we having fun yet?

Despite the rain and the headwind (and the crowds of joggers, dog walkers and slower bikers on the path), I reached Haneda in pretty good time. I didn’t want to sit there long in the rain, and I didn’t have any of Nana’s world famous onigiri to eat (as we’d thought last night that I wouldn’t be riding today), so I messaged Nana that I was on my way home and set out again after a very brief rest.

The going on the way home was a bit easier as I had a tailwind, and the rain had brought the temperature down from nearly 30C to a steady and livable 21C. On the other hand, a lot of the little league games were breaking up and so the paths were crowded with gaggles of boys on bikes with baseball bats hanging out to the side and no conception of the rules of the road.

I had a very brief stop shortly after the 40km mark, and messaged Nana that I had another 20-25km to go. But by the time I’d climbed up the hill at Nikotama and stopped for the last rest of the day, the rain made it impossible for me to send another message to let Nana know I was OK and on schedule. The phone is waterproof, but there were too many raindrops on the touchscreen and it just wasn’t detecting my finger taps. And so after a very brief rest I continued on my way home.

I had my lights on for visibility in traffic as I worked my way back through the city. Fortunately, traffic was not heavy. I came to the little shopping street / train crossing where Kuroko had thrown her chain on the previous occasion, but this time there was no trouble at all when I did the same upshift at the same location. The mechanical gods smiled on us today.

I continued on home, keeping the pace up but taking care of the conditions. The new tires handled the job with aplomb. The ride was comfortable, the performance of the tires was fantastic, and there was never once a hint of lost traction on the wet (and sometimes muddy) streets.

Soon I was on my final descent. I kept the speed low at first, mindful of the visibility and difficulty in braking, but then put the pedal(s) down when the lights changed in my favor. I soon rolled up to a stop at the foot of our tower and shut everything down.

A decent pace

GPS route of round-trip ride to Haneda
That’s not a bad time at all

I didn’t set any PRs today, but I did keep up a decent pace overall. Not shown in the results is the really good total elapsed time of 3 hours 34 minutes — aided by all those minimal breaks — which may be a record for me on this route.

Otarumi Touge in the heat

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance

I hoped yesterday to get in a longer ride, and at the same time to make another assault on Otarumi Touge, the 392m mountain pass near Tokyo’s famous Mt Takao. I’d told the Halfakid I’d be leaving home at 8 a.m., and actually departed at 8:20 — not a bad start for me.

First mechanical: the Garmin

I had an issue with the Garmin right away: after I started it up and selected the course, it showed it was “Acquiring Satellites” and it stayed there. I waited a couple of minutes and then set out anyway, figuring it would catch up soon enough. In fact it took more than 7km — when I’d nearly reached the Halfakid’s flat — before it declared it was ready.

Scheduled maintenance

The Halfakid was just coming out of his flat when I rolled up. Before we set out, though, he wanted to install the new bike bell I’d recently got him. That took just a few minutes — the fastener was in an awkward position and we just had the multitool that I carry on every ride. That done, we spent a few more minutes pumping up his tires front and back. I’ve got an old floor pump sitting on my balcony that I’ve been meaning to give to him, but there hasn’t really been a good chance to bring it as it’s awkward to carry. So we used the portable pump that I carry on Kuroko.

More Garmin trouble

We set out together and I soon noticed that although the Garmin was tracking our location, it wasn’t recording the ride. I pushed the start button once again and it began recording. But then it reported we’d taken 40 minutes to do our first 5km. As we were maintaining a consistent pace above 20km/h at this point, it should have recorded less than 15 minutes. I have no idea what went wrong, but after that it settled down and recorded the rest of the ride with its usual accurracy.

(Just now as I’m writing this, the next day, I’m trying to restart the Garmin and it’s hanging on reboot. After many, many tries and forced restarts, I was finally able to get it to start up by turning off my phone, which is connected to the Garmin via Bluetooth.)

Going tubeless

Bicycle leaning against wooden railing over looking dry park pond
Kuroko sporting her new tires

This was my first ride since converting Kuroko to tubeless tires, and I was eager to see how they would perform. In just the first couple of kilometers I noticed a rythmic ticking noise coming from the front tire. Of course I immediately worried something was wrong and stopped to have a look. In fact it was just a couple of tiny pebbles that had been picked up by the excess latex that I’d left on the tread. I brushed them off and kept going, and within another couple of kilometers most of that latex had worn off as I’d expected.

The tires roll very smoothly, and they’re noticeably a bit narrower than the ones they replaced. I’d love to report that Kuroko felt a lot lighter and faster as a result. But the truth is I’ve been riding Dionysus for the past few weeks, so most of my reaction was to the difference in riding position, handling, etc., between the two bikes. I’m sure the lighter, narrower tires helped, particularly when we got to the climbing. Overall, the tires performed flawlessly and there have been no issues with them.

Crowded and hot

It was a hot and cloudy day with little wind. There wasn’t any bright sunshine, so we were a bit surprised when we came to our usual resting spot how crowded it was. A gaggle of seniors was playing croquet in the open gravel lot, with only a few in masks, and the tennis courts were packed.

We crossed the Tamagawa and headed upstream along the Asakawa. Immediately I saw another rider in a Tour de Tohoko jersey. I wondered if I would catch him and have a brief chat. “Oh yeah, I’ve done that, too!” But he was soon putting the distance on us as I felt my energy ebbing. I was hungry, and I’ve learned from experience that by the time I feel hungry while biking, I’m already fading fast. I wasn’t doing as badly as I did in early May when the Halfakid and I included this route as a leg in our first century ride, keeping the speed near 20km/h. When we reach our first rest stop I had one of Nana’s world-famous onigiri for energy, while the Halfakid had two, and then we continued onwards to Takaosan.

Greetings from France

At Takaosan, our usual picnic table spot by the FamilyMart was completely taken over by a baseball team (with no masks in sight). We chose instead to go to the nearby 7-11. We still didn’t get a place to sit, but it was a lot less crowded. I finished up the onigiri here and got an ice cream bar as well to help cool down. While we were resting, another cyclist approached us. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Tokyo,” the Halfakid replied, while I said, “United States.” We asked him where he was from and he said France. He didn’t have a lot to say after that, just mentioned there was more traffic than he expected. “We usually come on Sundays.” He was with two other bikers, both Japanese. I asked if he was going up the climb and he said no, they’d just come out this far and were going back.

We got our helmets and gloves back on and exchanged a “Good luck!” with our French friend, and started up the climb.

Litany of excuses follows

Even with a belly full of onigiri and ice cream, I knew I didn’t have my usual energy. The Halfakid, following patiently behind me, could see it, too. He kept up a string of encouragement and jokes as we started up the climb. I was dropping down the gears faster than usual, keeping my cadence up. In addition to the feeling of low energy, I had a headache. It may have been lack of sleep the night before (less than five hours’ worth), the fact I didn’t put on my sunglasses until after we’d stopped in Takaosan, my delay in stopping to eat when I was feeling hungry, or maybe a combination of these things. But I was determined to keep going.

I continued dropping gears. I went down to my lowest combo far earlier than I had on the previous attempt on this climb (and I did get into the lowest gear this time). The Halfakid meanwhile was contemplating in all seriousness whether he could make the top without down-shifting at all. On our previous assault he’d remained sur la plaque (on the larger chainring) about three-quarters of the way up, albeit unintentionally. I was still spinning, trying to keep my usual cadence of about 90rpm, which translates into roughly 9km/h in this gear, when the Halfakid said “See ya!” and rocketed past me.

The climb continued. Despite my listlessness, I was making progress. I tried not to stare at the Garmin, and at each switchback I’d say to myself that was another half a kilometer done, and encouraged myself that I could continue yet one more half a kilometer.

How to create a magnet

I knew I was nearing about the three-quarter point of the climb, still spinning and yet quite fatigued. I crossed over Annai River (which happens several times on the way up to the pass) and there it was! The point where I always give up and take a rest. It’s not just chance: on a switchback mountain road it’s only safe to stop in select spots. Good visibility in both directions, and a nice bit of shoulder so I’m out of traffic. In this case there’s a guardrail over the river, and immediately after that a broad shoulder (and a nice concrete wall to lean against). I noted the location — Nishi Kanba Bridge — and the distance. I’ve been stopping in this exact spot every time I’ve climbed this route, and in doing so I’ve made it into a psychological magnet. I see that and immediately my legs say, “Yay! It’s time to rest!”

So my goal for the next time up this mountain (which may not be until fall now with summer’s heat upon us) will be to get past this point. If I’ve broken that psychological barrier, will I be able to continue on to the top?

I’ve done this climb often enough that I recognize a number of features. After having a rest and setting off again from Nishi Kanba Bridge, I knew I was closing in on the goal. I passed the bus stop and again noted the distance, and I kept going. (I did make one or two more stops after Nishi Kanba, but the bus stop is not a good place for it.) An older Japanese man with long white hair flowing from under his helmet passed me speeding downhill, standing on his pedals, and shouted out a cheerful “Konnichi ha!” I smiled and waved and kept spinning.

Goal!

Somewhat cloudy view from Otarumi Touge
Somewhat cloudy view from Otarumi Touge

At last I reached the final turn, the one that I know from experience hides the peak just around its shoulder. Sometimes I stop right here for a photo, but this time I noted the distance and then continued on, rolling down the final couple of dozen meters to the spot we always choose to rest and drink water and enjoy the view. The Halfakid of course was waiting for me there, resting at a park bench. “Look at what gear I finished in,” he said, and I checked his bike and shook my head. He’d ridden up to the top in 50/19, or about 1.75m forward for each rotation of his cranks. Meanwhile I’d struggled up in 30/34, or about 0.58m for each rotation.

Adding it up

Or subtracting. The “magnet” bridge where I alway stop is just 640m from the top (distance — it’s another 20m or so of elevation). The bus stop is just 300m from the goal. It remains to be seen whether this knowledge is enough to inspire me to make it in one go on my next attempt.

Rapid descent

After we’d rested and drained our water bottles, we mounted up for the descent. I was fighting an irrational fear on the way down that my new tires would somehow roll off the rims during hard cornering, but I soon put that behind me as I caught up to the Halfakid. I didn’t try to pass him but was content to follow 5-10m behind. There was a car behind me as well, but apparently I was keeping up enough speed that the driver didn’t feel the need to pass me (and wasn’t crowding me, I’m happy to say). Mr Garmin reports that I hit a top speed of 49km/h, which seems about right. Strava, amusingly, from the same data put me at 60.5. Strava also gave me a PR on the descent, of which I’m sceptical as I was on the brakes a good part of this time, while on occasion in the past I’ve stayed off the brakes and let the speed build up as it will.

Additional refreshment

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance
Takaosan Guchi

We stopped at Takaosan Guchi for our usual trophy photo and then continued on to the FamilyMart. The baseball team had moved on and so we grabbed a picnic table. A quick survey of the convenience store resulted in a shock, though: no Snickers bars! We got some very juicy and tender fried chicken and some chocolate covered almonds and relaxed as we topped up our water bottles.

Continuing back down the Asakawa, I was feeling every bump through my spine up into the base of my skull. The tires are supple and do a good job of soaking up bumps, but the headache had left me very sensitive. I was still making good time, tooling along downriver at 30km/h, but each jounce made me wince.

As we approached the confluence with the Tamagawa we came into a headwind. I slowed my pace a bit and again the Halfakid zoomed ahead. I let him go and soldiered on at a cadence that felt comfortable to me. I was looking forward to crossing the river (“back into Tokyo,” as I think of it, although this entire route is within Tokyo — aside from the few dozen meters we go past the top of Otarumi) and having another rest, even if the seniors were still playing croquet. The wind let up for a bit and the Halfakid was waiting for me just before the bridge, and we rose up over the Tamagawa and found our resting spot with a nice bench. I messaged Nana that I was about 30km from home, but I didn’t give her an ETA just yet.

We followed the Tamagawa about 12km downstream before having a last rest and turning east into Tokyo traffic. I knew we had a bit of a rise coming up. It’s only a 2% grade for just over 1km, but when I’m tired it’s a challenge in its own right. At this point I’d ridden just about 100km, and I’d been up and down a mountain and … I somehow found the energy to get up that grade. We had our usual ins and outs with traffic, and then I was saying farewell to the Halfakid and messaging Nana that I would be home within about 50 minutes. (I always pad out this estimate so she won’t worry if I fall behind a bit.)

And that should be the end of the story

It’s not.

After leaving the Halfakid at his flat, I continued on for the remaining 8km to home. I soon came to the train crossing at Higashi Matsubara: a narrow road, with an abrupt climb up to the crossing and for a few dozen meters beyond. I shifted to the small chainring and made my way up without incident. But then, over the top and with the slightest of dips leading into the next flat, I shifted back to the large chainring –and the chain came off.

I was very lucky that the chain came off over the larger chainring, leaving it looping about the right crankarm, and not into the spokes as it had done during Lejog. I dismounted and had the chain back on the chainring in a matter of seconds (after unwinding it from the rear derailleur where it had twisted itself). Fortunately, I keep alcohol wipes in my bag and I cleaned my hands with one before continuing on my way.

I continued home without incident, but I noticed that every so often the rear was skipping. It seemed like the chain was trying to shift into a higher gear. I fiddled with the shifter paddles a bit each time and continued on my way. This is usually a sign of having the cable tension too tight, and if I’d been any farther from home (less than 5km at this point) I might have stopped and tried to fiddle with it. As it was I resolved to just put up with it until I was home.

And I got there without further incident. I didn’t try to set any records on the final downhill because of the traffic. And then when I reached the tower, the Garmin was showing just shy of 105km, so I looped once around the block to bring it up over the 105 mark.

GPS route of cycle ride from Shinjuku to Otarumi Touge
Otarumi Touge Hot!

This afternoon I stepped out into the Workshop in the Sky to have a good look at Kuroko and sort out why the chain had derailled, and why it was acting up after that. The first thing I noticed was the derailleur looked like it had bent. I wasn’t really sure how much it was bent, or if I could bend it back (it’s best to replace it if it really is bent), but I gave it a try. After a couple of firm shoves I was happy with the result.

Bent jocket wheel cageJockey wheel cage straight
Jockey wheel assembly before and after a couple of swift shoves

That done, I cleaned the chain prior to giving it a good inspection. I was a bit shocked by how black the degreaser came out after the cleaning — the chain hadn’t looked bad to me previously. I put the rear wheel back in and set about adjusting the derailleur. And in the process, I discovered the real culprit.

Bicycle chain with bent link encirled
The real culprit

One link of the chain was bent during the derailment. If I was on the road and miles from home, I’d whip out my multitool and shorten the chain a couple of links. As it is, I’ll be commuting on Dionysus tomorrow, and it’s going to rain the rest of the week. The replacement chain is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. Once I’ve installed that and adjusted the front and rear derailleurs, I’ll be able to see if the rear mech is fine as is or also needs to be replaced. (It’s not all that expensive, but I’m hoping it’s not so fragile that I need to replace it after a simple derailment.)

Disaster strikes

Description and map of Lake Kasumigaura Area

With travel restrictions looming back in March, I wrote that my Ohio plans might be canceled. As a back-up plan, I chose the Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road and floated the idea among my usual cycling friends.

Now we find ourselves in June, going on July, and the Ohio trip is definitely out. I started looking more carefully into the Tsukuba situation, and the first speed bump I encountered as the lack of onsen. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a long soak in a hot tub — even in the summer — at the end of a long ride, and a nice onsen will offer that as well as a fantastic meal.

I looked again at the official site, and soon arrived upon Plan B: the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course and the Kitaura Area Circuit Course are both near the town of Itago, and I soon located several likely onsen in Itago to serve as a base for both rides. So the new schedule will be to drive up as early as possible Sunday morning and cycle the shorter Kitaura route. Monday will be spent circling Kasumigaura, and we’ll return to Tokyo on Tuesday.

At Nana’s urging, and with her help, we’ve booked an onsen in Itako, Ibaragi, at the end of July, and a large van to carry both bicycles and passengers. The Halfakid and Tomo are in, so it will be three bikes and five or six people in the van.

Here’s where the disaster part comes in

I knew that I had a route map for the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course, but I didn’t have one for the Kitaura Area Circuit Course. The course maps available from the site are more descriptive than they are effective route guides.

But I knew that the Japanese version of the site included full route maps served by Yahoo’s excellent LatLongLab. So I started looking around in Japanese.

And I looked.

And I looked …

At last I remembered that I’d posted the LatLongLab routes previously, so I went back to that original post to see if it would offer me any clues. But when I clicked on that route … Disaster:

Screenshot of Yahoo page stating that LatLongLab is closed
LatLongLab is closed

LatLongLab is closed as of 31 March 2020. All the data and images have been deleted.

A huge blow, and a small consolation

The loss of LatLongLab is a huge blow to the cycling community in Japan. The organized rides I’ve participated in — Tour de Tohoku, Bike Tokyo — have used this, and I’ve taken advantage of a number of other routes that cyclists have posted there. The small consolation for Kasumigaura is that both routes are very straightforward: just keep the lake on the left (or on the right, if going around clockwise).

It’s a good thing I’m checking now, a month before the event. I have plenty of time to plot out the routes and load them into the GPS.