December Century

Bicycle leaning against railing with palace moat and kagura in background

It was 4C when I set out this morning, and I was worried that I would need another layer in addition to the undershirt and winter jersey I was wearing. I needn’t have worried — I was working up a sweat within a couple of kilometers.

After getting a bit turned around at the Imperial Palace, I was soon waiting for José at Nihonbashi. We didn’t have any firm goal in mind — I’d said, “Let’s just ride up Arakawa until we’re tired,” and he’d agreed.

There was a slight headwind when we reached the river, and we didn’t press hard. We soon came to a checkpoint where the police were assisting Girl Scouts in handing out safety brochures and tchotchkes to cyclists. I gamely accepted the pouch, only to have to stop to stow it in my bag so I could continue riding.

We went along upstream, stopping every 10km or so for a brief rest. Just before 11 we stopped to eat a couple of Nana’s world famous onigiri. I’d covered 40km by this time, and I vowed to reach 50 before we turned around. José was feeling the effects of multiple hours spent at the gym yesterday, and a lingering back injury (for which cycling is not a recommending remedy).

Water gate with otherworldly appearance
UFO gate

As luck would have it, the GPS chimed the 50km mark the moment I drew abreast of the Asaka Weir, and we paused to rest our hands and backsides before turning for home. I remember commenting to José that it was the Arakawa, and we could count on the wind being changeable if nothing else on our return journey.

We continued downstream, still stopping every 10km or so to rest. With about 10km to go before we left the river course, we stopped to have the last of the onigiri. We were glad to discover when we resumed our ride downstream that the gauntlet of Girl Scouts had disappeared.

Our final rest stop was a convenience store just a kilometer or two after we left the cycling course, where José treated me to a giant Kit Kat and I washed it down with a bottled latte. The skies had darkened considerably although it was just after 1 p.m., and I turned on my lights before we continued in city traffic.

We parted ways at Nihonbashi, where we’d met five hours previously, after a celebratory selfie. I continued on alone towards the Imperial Palace and around clockwise until I reached Kudanzaka and paused for a last break at Tayasumon and Chidorigafuchi. After that it was simply a matter of plugging on along Shinjuku Avenue in Sunday afternoon traffic.

I rolled into the tower courtyard a bit after 3 p.m. and stopped the Garmie only to discover I was still 170m short of 100km. I resumed the ride and just did a lap down the path and back up the road to bring me once again to the tower entrance, and the Garmie beeped to let me know I’d completed 100km. I shut it off and garaged the bike, then headed upstairs to start the bath and enjoy a cold beer.

GPS record of cycle ride
December Century

We’d taken it easy all day, so I was surprised on returning home to find a string of personal bests up and down the Arakawa, including personal records for the entire length in each direction. José had a similar string of personal bests for the day.

Based on a moving time of 4:49:23, I recorded an average moving speed of 20.7 km/h, which is certainly impressive given the fact I was just taking it easy most of the day.

Finally, with 100km in the bag today, I notched up more than 13,000km on Kuroko since the inaugural ride on 29 July 2018.

Screen shot showing legend "Kuroko -- 13,021.6km"
Kuroko milestone

Gettin’ some culture into Da Kid

Selfie of two cyclists in front of sign for Arakawa cycling course

I’ve ridden with José up and down the Arakawa river a number of times, including a three-rivers ride where we started way up in Saitama and cycled all the way down the Arakawa. But he hasn’t been to Koedo in Kawagoe (at least not by bike). This was our goal three weeks ago, when we met at Nihonbashi and rode directly east via Eitai Dori, but that turned out to be a bridge too far.

Bicycle leaning against railing with moat and Imperial Palace turrent in background
Early morning start

Today we met at José’s flat and took a more northerly route to the Arakawa, shedding dozens of kilometers off the route. As is usual on the Arakawa, the wind was changeable but often against us. We also encountered a detour not far from our goal which was distinctly not cycle-friendly. But we persevered, and we reached Koedo shortly before noon. The early start today helped very much in this regard.

As expected, the historical Koedo district was very crowded on a weekend with gorgeous weather. We bided our time in traffic as we cruised up and down the famous road lined with 17th-Century and later warehouses. The road in front of the Toki no Kane bell tower was surprisingly uncrowded, but that didn’t prevent me totally muffing the selfie.

Badly composed selfie of two cyclists with Kawagoe bell tower in background
It’s the famous bell tower. Trust me.

Now to get home

On the way out of town, we stopped at a convenience store to supplement the world-famous onigiri prepared fresh by Nana this morning, and then found a shaded table at the park. I worked out a detour which would avoid the cycle-unfriendly construction detour, and we headed back.

I was feeling good on the return trip and told José I would accompany him back to home, the way we had come in the morning. The wind was easier going on the return, and I’d already let Nana know not to expect me before 4 or 5 p.m. But just 5km later, as we were approaching the sign that marks the spot where I usually enter the river corridor, I had second thoughts. I felt basically OK, with just a bit of hand numbness and no saddle sores or other fatigue. But the attraction of taking the short route home, vs. the original route which would add another 25km or so, was too appealing. And so soon I was dragging José up the levee for a final couple of photos before saying farewell for the day.

I was just shy of the 100km mark where we parted, and I still had a bit of energy to see me over the wavy ride home along Yamate Dori. I stopped under the shade of an overpass to gulp down the last of the convenience store sweets and water. I checked the time: just after 2 p.m. So I messaged Nana I would be home by 3:30 and set off into traffic. Not much to relate about that, but I was still turning PRs — and 2nds and 3rds — at this point, and I made it home before 3.

GPS record of cycle route
Gettin’ some culture into Da Kid

As mentioned, I’d saved about 25km by taking the direct route home rather than seeing José off at his doorstop. With a moving time of 5 hours 37 minutes and 37 seconds, I had an average moving speed of 20.0km/h on the nose. José was a bit unsure of his way home but he got there, just a few minutes after I’d arrived home, and at a nearly identical distance of 112.40km.

Add a loop at the end to make 100

Bicycle in foreground against fence with kagura of imperial palace and moat behind

We planned an easy ride today with José and Tomo to Tokyo Disneyland. When Tomo dropped out, I messaged José:

Let’s stretch a bit and head for Kawagoe.

Guy Jean

I usually get to Arakawa by taking Yamate Dori from just near my flat, a very straight shot. This morning the plan was to meet José at Nihonbashi and take Eitai Dori out to Arakawa. I figured this might add 20-30km to the usual ride of 86-87km.

Slight miscalculation

After the meet-up at Nihonbashi we rode to Arakawa without incident. Once on the river, though, we were battling the wind. We joked about whether it would change heading and we would be facing a headwind on the return leg as well. We soldiered onwards, with me suffering from the wind much more than José.

I’d forgotten again what I already knew, and had been reminded of when supporting José’s marathon effort: Eitai Dori joins the Arakawa cycling course at the 1km mark, while the place I usually join at the Toda Bridge is at the 26km mark. So in addition to whatever extra kilometers I put in reaching Arakawa via Nihonbashi, I had an extra 25km (50km round trip) to reach Kawagoe!

The wind eventually eased up as we traveled further upstream, and our speed increased accordingly. But we were still looking at reaching Kawagoe at 1 p.m. at the earliest, and then having a longer-than-usual return trip.

It was José who cried “Uncle!” in the end. In addition to not having been on the bike for a number of months, he has a huge client meeting tomorrow for which he’s totally responsible — everything from the agenda to the lunch. He didn’t want to face that while being totally exhausted from a bike ride with dad. We cycled along without forcing the pace until a natural return spot suggested itself: Asaka Weir.

After a brief stop we turned and headed back downstream. The wind was more with us than against now, but we were already tired and that was obvious. I was also having issues with finger numbness, so we were stopping every 5km to rest instead of 10-15km. Meanwhile we were being passed at speed by pacelines of club members on carbon fibre bikes and wearing matching kit.

Back in traffic

We finally reached Eitai Dori and re-entered Tokyo traffic about 1:35 p.m. We immediately stopped at a convenience store for cold water, Pokari, ice cream and other treats. We didn’t feel any need to hurry as we enjoyed our treats and cooled off. I drank off half the Pokari bottle before turning to the ice cream, and felt all the better for it.

At this point my question was whether I’d post 100km for the day. I’d already realized I’d made a miscalculation on reaching Kawagoe, but I didn’t concern myself at figuring out what the total would have been — I just wanted a fondo for the day. After José finished a protein bar (and he offered me one several times), we mounted up again and headed straight into Tokyo. We soon passed a sign showing we were just 5km from Nihonbashi. José is lucky — he’s just a few minutes from home at this point. But I didn’t mind that I have longer to go as I was still looking forward to booking 100km for the day.

I made it up Kudanzaka with more in reserve than I was expecting. I had a headache at this point from the pressure on my neck and shoulders, and I took a couple of minutes to relax and stretch out. I’d reached Budokan about 2:50 p.m., so I messaged Nana (and thanks for the great onigiri again!) I’d be home about 4.

I was really flagging at this point — I’d posted several personal bests for the day, but they were all long before we reached the turn-around point. Nevertheless, I was determined to get my 100km. As I entered Shinjuku, I flipped Garmie from navigation to stats, and I noted as I passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings that I was going to be just that bit shy of the goal. So at the end, within a block of my home, I turned the other direction and made a short lap around Central Park. That did the trick, and I finally rolled into the tower plaza just seconds after Garmie beeped to let me know I’d cleared the 100km goal for the day.

Cyclist in pink jersey balancing bike while waiting for the light to change
My dude making a track stand waiting for the traffic signal
GPS record of cycle ride
Add a loop at the end to make 100

We weren’t in any hurry today and the record certainly reflects that. Breaks were frequent and at times unabashedly prolonged. Based on a ride time of 4:52:21, though, the average speed was a respectable 20.6km/h.

I had a bath after getting home and have been relaxing since then, and the headache is scarcely bothering me.

Tama-Iruma-Arakawa

Barrier on cycle path with signs giving details of construction work

After yesterday’s gully-washing rain, it dawned cloudy this morning, with mixed weather forecasts. When Nana woke up, though, she said there was no chance of rain.

I was determined to ride the three rivers, which I’d originally done with José for my kanreki. It’s also the ride I’d set out to do during Golden Week, but came up short on juju on that occasion after getting a late start.

I didn’t get going much earlier this morning, after dawdling in front of my laptop for several hours. But once on the road I felt better than I had on that previous occasion, if not quite as strong as I had on my last visit to Kawagoe.

bicycle leaning on hedge with fountain in background
First rest

Nana had not made onigiri, so I stopped in Futako and bought two mentaiko and one grilled salmon. But when I stopped about 10:30 in Persimmon Park for my first food break of the day, they were terrible. Just awful. Even now, writing about them, I want to retch. Nana has spoiled me with her world-famous onigiri. I forced myself to finish one mentaiko and the salmon so I would have energy for the ride.

I’d had the first glimmer of sunshine about 10 a.m., and the sky continued to brighten as I rode up the Tamagawa. The pavement was mostly dry, but there were some puddles. I followed the example of another rider in a park near Shibasaki and rode up into the grass to avoid the puddles on the cycling course.

As I approached Hamura, I stopped at another convenience store near the cycling course to stock up for lunch — but avoided getting any more onigiri. I rolled into Hamura about 11:40 and quickly delved into my saddlebag for my lunch.

Irumagawa

I’d traveled 54km by this point, but Garmie said I had another 81km to go. I really should have set out an hour earlier! I wolfed down my lunch of sausage rolls, cheese and yogurt drink, and saddled up again at 11:45 to continue on my way.

My legs were OK at this point, but not really strong for climbing. One of the toughest climbs of the day (which is not setting the bar very high) came just a few kilometers after the Hamura break and I was content to just keep shifting to successively lower gears and keep spinning. It got me up the hill.

A few kilometers later, the course turns northwest and runs through a sparsely populated area. The pavement here is really awful. I was glad to see the first part of the street had been redone since I last visited, but nothing had been done with the worst stretch, which continues for a couple of kilometers. Fortunately no one was following me at this point, and I could ride in the center of the lane, where the pavement is least broken.

The bad pavement is followed by a bit of climbing, and then some very rapid descending. I typically hit about 50km/h without even trying on this stretch, and today was no exception. But despite the speed limit of 40, a number of drivers tried to crowd me off the road as they passed.

After a few more kilometers of exurb riding, I arrived at the bridge over the Irumagawa. I stopped at a convenience store here and ate an apple pastry before continuing.

The Irumagawa cycling course winds through numerous family oriented parks, and I have to be more alert than ever for children suddenly stepping into the path, or grandparents wandering into my way while having eyes only for their little darlings. There are also a number of road crossings which are marked for the cyclist to stop, rather than the motor vehicles.

Detour ahead

When José and I rode this route in November, we encountered a substantial detour around Kakusen, which continued until Shimooyashiki, where we crossed the Irumagawa on a single-lane bridge. I was hoping that the construction would be completed, but it was not to be. I had to leave the cycling course at the same spot. Unfortunately today my optimism continued to get me into trouble, and I tried to rejoin the path before I should have.

The path was fine, but just as I got to a bridge that I wanted to traverse, there was a barrier. I actually came up from behind that sign on the left, above. My goal was just a few meters ahead, and the pavement was unobstructed, so I lifted Kuroko over the barrier and continued.

Before I went on my way, though, I noted the sign said that the project was to be finished April 28, Reiwa 4. It’s May 22, so … ?

The second barrier came just a few kilometers later, and was only 250m before the course I needed to take to a single-lane bridge over the Irumagawa. I could easily see that many had come before me and simply gone around the barrier, and so I did, too.

When we came this way in November, José and I had gone down into the road before this point, and we came back to the path just as it turned towards the single-lane bridge, so we avoided this.

Ka-chunk!

Bicycle leaning against barrier on cycle path
Ka-chunk!

The only real issue of note on today’s ride came between the two barriers above, as I was traversing a well-trafficked bridge. The pedestrian / cycle walk on this particular bridge is a good 40cm or so above the roadway, and the transitions are rather abrupt. My mind was wandering as I came to the first one and *ka-chunk!* the front wheel suddenly dropped 40cm. The tire and wheel readily took the impact, but the handlebars rotated downwards in the stem with an audible squeak.

I’ve been riding with the handlebars tilted upwards for a couple of months now, and liking it. In particular, it’s taken the pressure off the sore spot in my nether regions that has been the cause of issues in the past. And now, suddenly, the bars weren’t just back to horizontal — they were drooping!

I stopped at the end of the bridge and wielded the multitool and got the bars tipped upwards once again.

Rice paddies and mountains
Rice paddies and mountains

Not long after clearing the last cycling path obstruction, I was rounding the northeast corner of the ride, past Kawagoe and heading downstream on the Arakawa proper. I’d been fighting headwinds up the Tamagawa and occasionally as I crossed the Irumagawa, and I was dreading this section of the Arakawa, where I always have a headwind. But today, much to my surprise, Fujin was smiling. The wind had died completely, leaving me to string up a run of PRs heading downstream on the Arakawa despite my advanced state of fatigue.

I passed a few clots of day cyclists out enjoying the good weather, plus one rider I was surprised to be passing: an old guy like me, but fit, in full regalia on a classic steel framed bike with full Campagnolo groupset.

My hands and backside were both a challenge at this point, turning sore or numb by degrees, and I was taking breaks more frequently than usual to cater to them.

I noticed someone near one of the rice paddies, spinning round like a shot-putter to launch his free-flight glider into the air. Not the same bloke I’d seen last week, and still several kilometers upstream from that spot.

Bicycle leaning on sign for Arakawa cycling course
My ol’ pal Arakawa

I arrived at the UFO gate and dismounted, eager to rest my hands and to eat the last custard cream pastry to fuel my remaining kilometers. Garmie was showing 21km remaining in my ride, with a finish somewhere between 4:30 and 5, so I messaged Nana that I would be home about 5, according to Garmie.

The few remaining kilometers along the river went by smoothly. When I arrived at the turn-off into traffic, I was out of water, so stopped to get some from a vending machine. I got sweat in my eyes and spent a minute wiping the salt off my forehead and temples with my glove before continuing.

The ride home through traffic was uneventful. I could spin along just fine, but my thighs were challenged by the few remaining bumps along the way. I was glad to be stopped by a traffic light midway up the longish climb out of the river valley, as it gave me a chance to recover.

At some point along the ride home, I was overtaken by the white-haired gent on the classic steel bike I’d passed on the river. He was much better in tune to the timing of the lights than I was, and left me sitting at a red at the foot of a bridge over a railroad. A few other cyclists who were unable to keep up with me on the flats passed me when the road turned upwards. I didn’t mind. I checked the navi and ascertained I’d be just over 135km for the day, and I was happy with that. I swept down the final hill from Nakano Sakaue on Yamate Dori and turned towards home. I let Nana know at 4:35 that I was back, well ahead of the 5 p.m. that I’d told her the Garmie had forecast.

GPS record of cycling route
Tama-Iruma-Arakawa

In the end I made pretty good time. My moving time was 6h21m44s, for an average of 21.3km/h. When I did the route in November with José, the moving time was 6h17m24s, for 21.5km/h. I was feeling a bit more energetic at the time, and no doubt also trying to make a good showing for José.

By contrast, my total elapsed time today was 8h10m50s, compared to 8h16m49s previously. Taking into account the difference in rolling time, that means an improvement of 10m19s in faff time (or pfaffenminuten in the original German). I’m sure some of this was a matter of having done the route before and hence knowing where to go, and the rest was the result of traveling alone and not having any reason to dawdle during the breaks.

Uber Guy

Water gate with otherworldly appearance

I was granted a three-day weekend by my office, but in the midst of a six-day stretch of rain. (But it’s not yet officially rainy season so … ?) The gods condescended to allow for a Sunday that — while not actually actively sunny — was bereft of genuine precipitation. In short, an ideal day for riding.

Nana and I had spent the last weekend exploring the delights of scenic Chichibu (via car). Naturally, during our visit, we’d picked up a variety of omiyage, including several jars of delicious miso with a rather short expiration: the end of this month. So it fell to me to bike-kyubin the jar of miso to one of our friends, who doesn’t get out much these days owing to age and health.

How to fool the Garmie

I’d spent some time last night with Google Maps and Street View to work out the best route to our friend’s house, and from there to Kannana (No. 7 ring road) and hence to Arakawa for a visit to my usual haunt: Kawagoe. I had no trouble navigating to the friend’s house, and quickly handed over the bundle of miso. (He was clearly lonely and would have liked me to stay and talk, and I’m embarrassed to say I refused and said I must be on my way.)

GPS record of ride and intended route
Faffing about as Garmie gets its knickers in a twist (red lines are programmed route)

From there, though, Garmie soon got its knickers in a twist. The neighborhood has many narrow lanes, closely spaced. Garmie was lagging a bit, and so by the time it was telling me to turn, I’d already passed the spot. The first time was fine — I could reckon the way I needed to go. The second time was a palace of mirrors. Garmie kept telling me to turn this way and that, and to backtrack, and I could see it wasn’t keeping up with my current location. I finally proceeded by dead reckoning. I knew I needed to get across the tracks, past the station, and thence back to Kannana. Once I decided to follow my nose, I was soon back on track, and shortly thereafter, Garmie caught up with me.

Koko wa doko?

Once I got back to Kannana, it was simply a matter of following the road until I got to Arakawa. The spot where I met my friend to hand over the miso was northwest of my usual route, so I figured I’d end up upstream of my usual starting point. It took me a few kilometers along the Arakawa cycling course to realize I was in fact several kilometers downstream from that point. I’d crossed my usual route several kilometers previous without noticing.

GPS record of cycling route, with numbers added to show progression
Figure 8

I hadn’t counted on the fact that Kannana crossed my usual route from home to Arakawa, and didn’t notice it while plotting the route. It usually takes me about 13km to get from home to the river — with the cross and the time spent riding upriver back to my usual starting point, I’d already done 25km. On the plus side, it meant I was on track to record 100km for the day.

Heading upstream, I felt unusually powerful. My thighs felt good, and a couple of swipes on Garmie confirmed I was making good time. (I admit: the wind may have been involved.) I didn’t suffer as much from finger numbness as I had on the previous ride, although this may well have been the result of more frequent breaks.

Water gate with otherworldly appearance
UFO gate

It didn’t take long to reach the UFO water gate. On the freshly mown lawn in middle right, above, some old-timers were practicing vertical 8’s, wing-overs and loops with their control-line model airplanes. I enjoyed a convenience store hotdog as I watched, and then headed upstream again. I still felt strong (or maybe the wind was just with me).

I arrived in Kawagoe in good time, less than an hour and a half from the Arakawa landmark sign. I stopped in a park to enjoy another hotdog before continuing. It was a good idea: when I reached Koedo it was jam-packed with pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and it took some time for me to navigate the length of the street and stop for the usual photo. In the process I dodged no fewer than three attempts at vehicular homicide on my life.

It was another fight to get back out of the center of action (one of the homicide attempts came at this point). I stopped at a convenience store for more noshes and then repaired to the local park for a feedbag.

Selfie of biker in helmet, sunglasses and mask in front of bell tower
Toki no Kane

Into the wind

After such a powerful ride upstream, I was concerned my return would be hampered by the wind. I received confirmation of this the moment I mounted up again atop the Arakawa levee. But it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I tucked my head into the wind and pressed on. At a narrow wicket intended to keep the scooters off the path, I encountered a couple of bikers: one, a big, strong, wide-shouldered biker on a carbon-fiber frame with cleated shoes; and his buddy, in jeans on a cheap mass-market steel frame. Once we’d cleared the wicket and the construction following that, the biker sped past me while his friend lagged behind. A few kilometers later I found the proper cyclist waiting by the side of the road for his non-biker buddy to catch up.

The wind continued against me, but not strongly enough to cause a serious obstruction to progress. I’d wondered if I’d given Nana an optimistic estimate for my return, but after 10km or more it became clear I’d been pessimistic.

At a stoplight a pair of Japanese riders pulled up behind me, chatting loudly. When the light changed they soon passed me without so much as a nod in my direction. I kept pedaling. I stopped again at the UFO gate to give my hands a rest and check on my progress: I was ahead of the estimate I’d given Nana. On the field in front of me, the control line stunters had called it quits and a solitary free-flight enthusiast was chucking his glider into the air and recording the results in a large leather-bound volume.

Ahead of schedule

I arrived back at the sign for the Arakawa cycling course well ahead of the schedule I’d given Nana. I checked my water bottles: not as much as I’d like, but enough to get me home without stopping for a refill. My thighs were in a similar condition. So I messaged Nana I’d be home about 3:30 and set out.

Not long after entering city traffic, there’s a long, slow slog uphill out of the Arakawa valley. It’s less than 1km long, and never tops 4 percent, and Fearless Leader Joe will recall it. I kept Kuroko in her large chainring for the climb, but it took all I had.

The remainder of the ride home was the same: I wasn’t dead, but my thighs had already had enough. It was time to trade pushing for spinning. In front of Itabashi ward office, I noticed a Japanese schoolboy in his school training jacket and pants. He passed me on his cheap bike, smartphone in hand, while I was dawdling between two adjacent traffic lights. We played cat and mouse for several kilometers as he ran red lights, always looking at his smartphone, while I waited my turn. I lost track of him somewhere around Nakai.

That’s a century!

GPS record of bicycle ride
Uber Guy

With the unintentional figure 8 I’d made early in the ride, I calculated that I was on course for 100km or more on the ride. As I got closer to home (and the water level in my bottle grew inexorably lower), this goal drew tighter and tighter. I resolved that I would do laps around Central Park until I met the goal (said laps being flat), but in the end they weren’t required.

The wind had certainly helped on my way upriver: according to Strava I set no fewer than 22 PRs. Interestingly, one of those was on the first segment back downriver after leaving Kawagoe. I got a couple of second places as I left the river and joined traffic (before the long, slow drag uphill), so I feel pleased with the ride overall. I was also happy with the lack of mechanicals.

Serendipity?

Selfie of biker and sign marking Arakawa cycling course

My goals today were to get in some kilometers and to try out a couple of routes between home and José’s new flat. A welcome boon was an unexpected and accidental benefit from yesterday’s maintenance.

I’d been casting about the past couple of days for a route. As recently as yesterday evening, Nana asked where I was planning to go, and I replied, “I haven’t decided yet.”

This morning the answer was clear: Tokyo Disney Resort. I got off to a later start than I’d planned, in part because Nana was sleeping in (I don’t like to leave before she’s awake) and in part because I was just taking my time getting ready. As soon as I mounted up, something felt off. When I’d added the accessory mount to the stem yesterday, the handlebars were loosened enough to droop down. And I pulled them back up to level when I tightened up the new bolts holding the accessory mount.

But Kuroko was in the workstand when I made the adjustment, in a decidedly nose-down attitude. So when I adjusted the handlebars and tightened the bolts, the bars in fact were pointing significantly upwards.

I figured when I got to Arakawa I’d sort out the alignment using the multitool.

As I rode along Yamate Dori in the thick of traffic, though, I noticed something: with the higher handlebars, I was not putting any pressure at all on the spot where I typically suffer the most from saddle soreness — the spot where I suffered enough injury to scratch from the great Lejog ride.

I’ve continued to suffer saddle sores in this same spot since that ride, despite changes in shorts and more than one saddle. If riding with higher handlebars could solve the issue, then damn the torpedoes, I’m sold!

The potential downsides to riding with higher handlebars are increased aerodynamic resistance and a loss of power from the gluteus maximi, which only come into play when the rider’s back is bent at a 45-degree angle or more. Well, I’m not very concerned with aerodynamics to start with — I just don’t ride fast enough to make a big difference, apart from when I’m bedeviled by headwinds. And as for the power, I surprisingly felt as if I had more. My upper thighs seemed to be providing more of the thrust, particularly on the short climbs that today’s course included. Perhaps with the more upright position, I was putting more of my weight into the downstroke. Or maybe I was just using less power fighting my belly with my thighs.

With the very appreciated lack of butt soreness, when I arrived at Arakawa I resolved to let the experiment continue as I rode downstream. I was assisted in this by the lack of headwind — or indeed any noticeable wind at all. I also noticed my hands rode more easily on the handlebars. With the bars titled up, my wrists were straight and I was less prone to numbness. The numbness didn’t totally disappear, but by the time I reached my first rest point after 14km of downrider riding, I’d been able to handle the numbness by just taking a few seconds to rest one hand and then the other.

I was also making very good time, considering the lack of tailwind. Where I’d typically downshifted previously on the slight rises on the path, I was able to power through, appreciating the slight burn in my thighs.

I made good time down the river, covering the 25-plus kilometers in slightly more than an hour (including the one break plus several stops along the way for photos). My best 5km time was 11:08, or an average of 26.9km/h.

Tokyo Disney Resort

As has become my custom, I did a short loop after reaching Shinsuna, at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, to bring the total kilometers to 40. I had just a short break, taking photos and sharing them with various groups, before setting off again. I’d had a very strong headwind in the last 2-3km down the river, and I was riding into this again once I’d crossed the Arakawa and continued downriver to the Kasai Seaside Park. I didn’t notice much difference from my upright position, but I did have to fight a tendency to turtle in my neck in response to the wind. It was causing a headache.

I was keeping an eye on the clock, because when Fearless Leader Joe and I rode the Arakawa, we’d decided not to go to Disneyland because FLJ had a long ride home ahead of him. Today I noted the time I arrived at Shinsuna, at the mouth of the bay, and then again after I’d crossed the Arakawa, ridden to Tokyo Disney Resort and returned to the bridge over the Arakawa: 45 minutes. Before crossing back, however, I stopped at a convenience store to pick up a couple of cheeseburgers and other energy sources, and then sat in a sunny park to top up.

Virgin territory

It was just about 12 when I left the park and headed back into the city. This was still all well-covered ground, and I didn’t need the Garmin for directions. I wasn’t sure what my usual time was for getting home from this park, but I was hoping to reach Shinjuku before 1:30. I stopped briefly at Nihonbashi and then Budokan, and finally reached Nishi Shinjuku just about 1:10.

I didn’t ride straight home but paused at the edge of Central Park just long enough to select the navigation to José’s new flat in Ginza. And then I was off. The route took me through some heavily trafficked areas that looked quite scary on Google Street View, but which mostly proved to be easily handled — apart from one particular uphill intersection at Kita Sando with a rare Ferrari parked in my lane and a scooter in the next lane who refused to yield.

It took me just 38 minutes to arrive at José’s new flat, which he was inside cleaning. But my surprise didn’t work as planned. I phoned him up and asked him to look out the balcony, only to discover his room doesn’t face the main road. Rather than interrupt his cleaning, I entered the course back home — a somewhat different route — and set off.

Here’s where it all goes pear-shaped

A seam in the toe of my socks had been nagging me for several dozen kilometers, and despite my mental reminders to take care of it at the next stop, I kept forgetting. Just after setting off on my final leg home, I finally remembered, and pulled over to take care of this.

The Garmin was giving me clear guidance on the route home, but suddenly started displaying warnings. The display was bordered in red and there was a message that the battery was running low and the system would soon stop working. I was mystified as I’d made sure the unit was charged up before I’d left home. At a subsequent stop I flipped through the screens and saw that the Di2 battery was running low. I decided the warning concerned the Di2 battery, as the Garmin continued to operate and provide navigation clues without going into battery saving mode.

Round 2!

Bicycle leaning against ballustrade in front of Chidorgafuchi moat, with paddle boats
Chidorigafuchi again

The final route home took me once again past Budokan, but diverged after that from my usual route home. The new goal was to avoid Shinjuku station and the traffic and bad intersections around there. The route (which I’d redone several times via Google Maps and Street View) turned out to be a success. Without a large increase in distance, I managed to avoid some of the worst of the traffic.

I thought I’d be nearing 100km on this trip, so as I pulled up at the intersection nearest home I checked the Garmin: just 82km. Well, I must have miscalculated. If I’d been within 5km off 100, I’d have done a few laps around the block or around Central Park to make it up. As it was, I might as well bring it home and call it a day.

It’s a day

GPS record of cycle ride
Serendipity

I parked Kuroko in the garage, gathered up the requisite items, and got on the elevator. As soon as I was in the flat and checking the result on Strava and Garmin, I saw a big problem: the segment from José’s flat in Ginza to home was not recorded!

I was concerned when I saw this, because earlier this week the Garmin had simply shut down during a morning commute, after recording just over 2km of a 13km ride. Today was my first try at loading navigation routes on the fly, without interrupting the current ride record, and after a few minutes’ reflection I decided this was not the same thing: it was user error. When loading a new navigation route, ride recording is paused. The first time I realized this and resumed the recording; the second time I did not.

Hence I ended up not having the final 11km of riding on the record.

Of the portion that was recorded, my riding time was 3:48:56, for an average pace of 21.6km/h. This is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Mechanicals

Bicycle leaning against ballustrade over moat, with handlebar angle highlighted
The rise and fall

I was going to record the change in handlebar angle as an unintentional mechanical, but given the benefit to my toochis, I’ve decided this does not qualify — I’m going to keep things as they are for the moment. To be clear, saddle soreness is not completely eliminated. But there’s an ache now over a larger area, whereas previously there was pain and injury concentrated in a much smaller area which today found no small amount of relief.

The failure to record the final 11km of riding today falls under user error — assuming I’m correct about the cause!

That leaves the only true mechanical being my sunglasses. Before the ride I noticed the ratcheting hinge which holds the sunglasses over the prescription lenses was loose. As I tried again and again to fix the sunglass attachment to the frames, it became apparent the hinge was failing. I mended things for this ride with a rubber band (apparent in the photos), but this warrants a visit to the optical shop.

Glide, Switched

Bicycle with Tokyo Disney Resort sign in background

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

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

Arakawa

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

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

Guy Jean

*snicker!*

Arakawa cycling course

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

Detail of bicycle showing muddy splashes
Some splashing was unavoidable

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

Easy rider

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

Unadulterated pleasure

GPS record of cycle route
Glide, Switched

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

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

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

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

A big push!

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign

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

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

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

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

Bicycle leaning against sign for Arakawa
Not tired of this

BFG

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

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

End of the line

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

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

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

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

Bicycle in front of ornate lamppost at Nihonbashi
Nihonbashi

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

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

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

GPS record of cycle ride
A big push!

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

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

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

Bit of a damp ending

Bicycle leaning against tree in park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch in the shade

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

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

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

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

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

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

GPS image of Budokan
Budokan on the navi

A good time was had by all

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

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

GPS record of bicycle ride
Bit of a damp ending