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

Someone forgot to tell 風神

I was off to a late start this morning as I waited for Nana to wake up, but mostly I was watching the weather and hoping for the temperature to come up a bit. It was just 2C when I first checked, and when I finally set off about 9:20 a.m., it had risen to 6C.

For a while it seemed my fears were unfounded, as I was hot and sweating quite a bit by the time I reached Futako at 10. Soon after, though, a large black cloud blanketed the sky. It looked like I was in for quite a rain, but that never materialized. The temperature, though — at least as I was experiencing it in the fierce wind — plummeted.

Windsock and flags flapping in the wind
Fujin, call your office

I’d carefully checked the wind forecast before leaving home, and saw a mild 2-4m/s. It seems that someone forgot to inform 風神, though. As soon as I reached Tamagawa I was battered by headwinds, and my average speed soon dropped below my target of 20km/h.

I didn’t let the conditions bother me, though (so long as it didn’t rain!). My goal for the day wasn’t to set any personal bests but just to complete 100km. This is a distance I reach on a regular basis, but hadn’t done so yet this year. I was content to push on even at a reduced speed, as long as I was making reasonable progress.

Spring is in the air?

Signs of spring were everywhere, despite the chilling wind: from children playing with soap bubbles in the park to buds on a cherry tree.

Round fountain in a park
At least the fountain wasn’t frozen over

Buds on the branch of a cherry tree
Soon

Detours

There were several detours along the way, including a couple left over from last year’s typhoon. In the case of one, a major bridge is being rebuilt, and the usual path passes right underneath. Another has no such major construction going on, but it may require some major repair work regardless. In addition to the typhoon reconstruction, there was a new detour around some riparian works.

Detour
Detour

After 10 or more kilometers upstream along the river, the wind tapered off (or perhaps just changed direction to become a tailwind), and I was soon making good progress despite the detours. I took a brief rest at the 20km mark and ate a Snickers bar, and then at the 36km mark for an onigiri (a store-bought one — alas, Nana did not make any rice before going to bed last night).

Kawazuzakura
Kawazuzakura

In the final stretch towards the goal, I was treated to the sight of the early-blooming Kawazuzakura.

Hamura

Selfie with statu of Tamagawa Brothers
With the Tamagawa Bros

The cycling course had been full of picnicking families, little league baseball teams and joggers. When I got to Hamura, though, the park was nearly empty. There were just a couple of other cyclists in addition to me. As I enjoyed my lunch of convenience store onigiri, an older couple strolled in to enjoy a picnic lunch.

I ate quickly. With the cloudy sky and the wind, I was chilling off from the moment I had stopped pedaling. I took just a few moments to enjoy the view of the river before mounting up for the return trip.

Kuroko and the Tamagawa
Kuroko and the Tamagawa

Hamura intake weir
Hamura intake weir

Maybe get a blister on your thumb

On the return I was making good progress, although I continued to battle the wind at points. My winter gloves and tights — good quality Pearl Izumi wear — aren’t padded quite as well as their summer counterparts, and I was taking more frequent breaks to relieve the pressure on my hands. I noticed a couple of small blisters on the heal of my thumb. In addition, the pressure of my weight on the saddle forced me to take more rest stops as the Perineum Falcon took its toll.

Bicycle saddle
Perineum Falcon

Again it was a case of not setting records but continuing towards the goal as I fought off headwinds and numbing fatigue. As I approaching Futako once more, I decided to try a steeper route up out of the river valley, despite my fatigue, as a test of the lower gearing I’d spent so much time and effort to achieve. As I struggled up the 16% grade, I confirmed I’d succeeded in making an easier time for myself with Kuroko’s modifications.

At the top of the rise I rested and checked the time. I’d told Nana I would be home by 4, and I was just a bit behind that schedule. I messaged that I would be home by 4:30 and set out through the city traffic. Despite the fact I was coming up on 100km for the day, I was not far off my typical commuting pace for the end of the ride. I pulled up beside our tower at 4:11 and messaged Nana that I was home.

GPS record of cycling course
Hamura via Futako

According to the GPS, as expected, I had not set any records for the day. But I hadn’t done badly, either. I’d beat my target of 20km/h and gotten home well before the sunset.

Sunset looking west from Tokyo
No Fujisan but still …

Another quick run to Hamura

Kuroko at the Hamura Intake Weir

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

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

Mechanicals — none of them mine

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

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

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

Fujisan in the distance
Fujisan in the distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selfie with statue of the Tamagawa Brothers
Tamagawa Bros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GPS record of Hamura Round Trip
Hamura Round Trip

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