Gnat knock-out

Selfie of cyclist in front of Toki no Kane bell tower in Kawagoe

I’d planned a longer ride today, but woke up to fog. And Nana, maker of the onigiri, was dead to the world. So I changed my plans and spent a leisurely morning getting ready for the ride.

The road was wet from the overnight rain when I set out, and I picked up a lot of grit on my way up Yamate Dori to the river. By the time I got to the Arakawa, though, the pavement was largely dry.

There were still a few puddles on the Arakawa cycling course, but not as bad as yesterday. I splashed right through whatever came my way, and didn’t see the dilettante on his beautiful Anchor.

I’d put the GPS on navigation, although I knew the way, just so I wouldn’t be checking the stats every 30 seconds. I settled into a comfortable pace, not willing to use up all my energy early in the ride.

And then I cruised through a cloud of gnats. This was an occurrence I was destined to repeat several times during the ride, and it took me a couple of goes to realize my UV-block mask is equally effective at allowing me to breathe without having to worry about ingesting gnats.

Bicycle in tall grass leaning against sign for Arakawa
Opposite direction

There are several stretches along the river where I come off the course into traffic, for example to get by bridges for which there’s no switchback. At one longer stretch where the course degrades into uneven gravel and I come down by a golf school, there’s been road construction every previous time I’ve come this way. Now the construction is finally finished and today I was able to plow straight on. Further on, at the final spot where I pass under a highway before rejoining the course, the bollards have been modified and made considerably less obnoxious. (This is in contrast to other locations further downstream, where the bollards have gotten more difficult to negotiate.)

Lunch first

I reached Kawagoe Sports Park about 10:50, and stopped to have a couple of onigiri before continuing. I was already ravenous. The park was full of seniors playing croquet and younger folks fooling around at soccer. I parked Kuroko under a tree, but the ground looked soft (if not outright wet), so I ate standing up.

Kawagoe was crowded, but perhaps thanks to the threatening weather, not nearly as crowded as on previous visits. I loped along the old town and only stopped for a photo of the signature Toki no Kane. Soon I was on my way back to the park for another onigiri (and the Snickers and bottled water I’d picked up at a convenience store along the way).

I’d been fooling with the rear derailleur adjusters again all morning and managed to get the shifting all mixed up. I’d sorted that out long before leaving the cycling course for Kawagoe, but the derailleur was still having issues staying on the largest cog in back (lowest gear). I only use this gear on steeper switchbacks on this course, but when I need it, I really, really need it.

After filling up I had a close look at the derailleur. Everything seemed right except for that reluctance to stay in the lowest gear. Mindful of the Stafford debacle, I used the multitool to back off the lower limit screw one turn. That proved to be the key to it all. I rode a few hundred meters in gear and proclaimed it fixed. This was borne out on my return to the cycling course, via a rather steep, half-paved footpath overgrown with weeds.

Crosswinds and rain

On the way back, the sky was still grey from horizon to horizon. Despite this I put on my shades for a bit. Even grey, a broad, sunlit sky can be bright enough to give me a headache.

I was soon fighting a crosswind. Instead of trying to power through it, I just clicked down a gear and kept spinning. I was concentrating at this stage on keeping my shoulders square and head up — the opposite of aerodynamic optimization, but the best for avoiding cramping in my neck and shoulders.

Given that I was just trying to keep comfortable for the long haul in the face of a crosswind, I was shocked to learn after the ride that I’d racked up a string of personal bests on my way back downriver. I know I’m often fighting a headwind at this point, but I didn’t realize today was the first time I wasn’t riding straight into the wind.

After climbing back up to the cycling course at the top of the levy by the golf school, I stopped to drink some water and check the distance remaining: 21km. The next stop would be the “space ship” — officially, the Asaka Water Gate.

Asaka water gate
Asaka space ship

On my way out in the morning, I saw someone stunting a control-line airplane here. How many years does that take you back? On the return trip, with rain drops splashing around, a couple of guys were loading their radio-controlled sailplanes into their vans.

Bicycle leaning against a bridge abutment
Out of the rain

The rain started just before I reached the space ship and continued until I reached Todabashi — the bridge where I leave the cycling course for the traffic of Yamate Dori to take me home.

Just like yesterday, the rain was not heavy and I was not soaked through. The pavement and my tires remained dry. I was more splashed with mud from the few puddles I’d encountered earlier than from the rain now falling from the sky. I just shrugged and pulled close the zipper on my cockpit bag, and hoped it wouldn’t get any worse.

When I reached Todabashi, I left the course and parked Kuroko under the bridge. The rain was light enough that I sat in the open, on some stairs leading to the walk under the bridge, to have the last of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. That done, I mounted up without any hesitation and headed back into traffic.

Silent running

There’s not much to report about the ride home after departing the river course. I left the rain behind me, as hoped. Traffic was heavy, as usual. I kept my head up and watched carefully for traffic. Much to my surprise, I racked up more personal bests. I really was not pushing, I promise!

Kuroko was behaving perfectly. Not a sound from the shifting, and never a missed shift. (There was a bit of front brake squealing, and I may need to replace the pads there sooner rather than later.)

It’s National “Race-Ahead-of-the-Cyclist-Just-to-Turn-Left” Day

Guy Jean

At some point I picked up a friend: an older (well, he had more grey hair) gent on a classic bike with a full mechanical groupset and rim brakes. He was behind me for several lights, and then passed me on a climb. After that I would catch up with him at each light. He was slow off the mark — would take his time clipping into the pedals and checking for traffic, and then he would zoom ahead. It was not always at the next light that I caught up to him, but given the traffic conditions, I would eventually end up waiting behind him at a light.

When we neared Nakano Sakaue, he zoomed ahead on the climb, as expected. When I neared the top, though, he was nowhere to be seen. Then I spotted him — on the sidewalk. Figuring he knew better than I did, I followed him. He did indeed know better — we passed all the cars waiting to turn left at the light, crossed at the pedestrian cross walk, and came out the other side, perhaps one light cycle ahead. I bade him a virtual farewell at the foot of the next descent as I turned towards the goal.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Gnat knock-out

As mentioned, I wasn’t pushing today. I was consciously holding power in reserve to get me through the ride. Apart from the scattered raindrops, I was fighting a crosswind both up and back down the river. I was shocked when I arrived home to find the string of personal bests, and uncounted 2nds and 3rds, lurking in wait for me on Strava.

Three in a row

GPS record of three consecutive days of bicycle riding
Three days in a row

Including the commute on Friday, that gives me three days in a row of biking. That hasn’t happened — apart from three consecutive days of commuting in June — since I was in England in June 2019. The forecast is promising for tomorrow, so let’s see how I feel when I wake up.

Kawagoe windy and wet

Fork in river with flood gate railing in foreground

I just rode to Kawagoe a couple of weeks ago, but when the weather turned unexpectedly sunny today, I couldn’t resist going again.

I’m getting quite familiar with the ride out Yamate Dori and Nakasendo to Arakawa. The signpost at the top of the levee is a regular landmark for me.

Bicycle in front of sign for Arakawa cycling course
Entrance to the Arakawa

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and UV mask in front of Arakawa cycling course sign
Vampire mode

The course was flooded in places from yesterday’s rain. I started the ride at the mid-level all-weather landing (the red course) to avoid the water, but it was quite broken up. Even with my fat tires, some of the seams and gaps were a bit jarring.

Steps down a levee leading to red all-weather course, above flooded cycling course
Broken pavement and flooding

By the time I ran out of red all-weather pavement and descended to the regular course, I was past most of the deep puddles. Even so, I took a moment to message Nana to apologize in advance for the wet, muddy laundry I’d be handing her when I got home.

The clear skies and stiff breeze following yesterday’s rain left some grand vistas for today’s ride.

Fork in river with flood gate railing in foreground
Fork in the Arakawa

Fujisan in partly cloudy skies, with farmland and factories in the foreground
Fujisan in the distance

The closer I got to Kawagoe, the stronger the headwind became. I’d dropped to my smaller chainring, into my climbing gears even though the going was flat. The headwind was strong enough it was pulling my mask down from my nose. Despite this, I felt stronger than I did two weeks ago and I continued pressing forward. I was also more confident of the route this time, having experienced it once already.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and UV mask in front of Kawagoe's Toki-no-Kane bell tower
Chimes of the times

Pressing onwards against the wind, I made good time into Kawagoe. I didn’t walk around Koedo (except to get this photo), but just cycled up and down the length of it before heading for a convenience store and then a park for lunch. (Because we’d been expecting rain, Nana didn’t make any onigiri.) In the park I lucked out and got a picnic table all to myself. I felt the sun beating on my cheeks as I lowered my mask to eat a couple of tortillas. I watched a child playing with a kite as I ate. Other children sat nearby with their families on plastic tarps on the tree-shaded grass.

I washed down my lunch with some convenience store espresso, gathered up my rubbish and set off for home.

Wind at my back

On the way downriver, the wind was (mostly) at my back. I was amused to notch up a 12-minute 5km segment — implying an average of 25km/h — despite having stopped for traffic a couple of times and a photo once. The next 5km segment might have been 10 minutes (30km/h), but I had to wait more than a minute at a traffic light. I didn’t mind: I was making good time and having fun, and it was more pleasant to ride with a tailwind on the way home than to fight into a stiff breeze as I had on the way up.

I stopped where the course passed over a flood gate and ate a Snickers bar. Energy for the upcoming fight through traffic.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Arakawa cycling course
Not the same photo: The path is a bit drier and Kuroko is a bit muddier

Fighting my way back to you

When I left the river course behind I headed back into traffic and also back into the wind. I’d given Nana an estimate of an hour to an hour and a half for my return, because I didn’t know how much wind I’d be facing. At times it was quite stiff! I had to be careful I wasn’t blown into the path of the fast-moving traffic just centimeters from my right elbow. (Shout out to the taxi driver and the driver of the red Volvo who didn’t make use of the entire open extra lane when passing me!)

The wind wasn’t constant: it was coming and going, and blowing in gusts. At times I was struggling to get to the top of the next climb, and at other times I was keeping up a very good pace. At traffic lights I had to sit up and stretch my shoulders, relaxing the muscles that were hunched against the headwind while I was riding.

I had no idea what kind of time I was making in the 13km from the river back to home. I’d hoped to improve on my time from two weeks ago (feeling quite a bit stronger overall), but with the wind in this final leg I thought I might be falling behind.

At the crossing for Shin Mejiro I checked the GPS: I had another 6km to go. Even fighting with the wind in the few remaining uphill sections, I’d be home soon. At the next light I caught up with a younger, more fit rider on an orange classic steel racing bike who’d passed me earlier. I kept up with him on the next rise as we both fought against the wind. And then we were at Nakano Sakue! From there it was downhill before turning off Yamate Dori onto a flat kilometer to the goal. As we descended, the other rider was content just to coast. I thought about passing him but finally just shrugged. I’d be home soon enough. I made my turn — at the wrong place. No worries, as I was already in my neighborhood. I ignored the GPS beeping and just followed the familiar streets. I checked the time as I stopped the GPS: a good 15 minutes earlier than the lower bound of the estimate I’d given Nana, and an improvement of 20 minutes over my previous ride on the same route.

GPS record of cycle route
Kawagoe windy and wet

Kawagoe on a beautiful day

Kurazukuri style warehouse with famous Kurazukuri and Toki-no-Kane bell tower in background

I visited Kawagoe more than five years ago with Nana and her family. We went by train that time, and it took so long to get there I didn’t realize how close it was until I accompanied Fearless Leader Joe when he borrowed Dionysus for a stay in Saitama. I was very surprised to find after heading a few kilometers upstream on the Arakawa that we were passing into Kawagoe!

But, as they say, there’s Kawagoe and then there’s Kawagoe … We didn’t see any of Koedo (the Old Town) on that ride. And when FLJ subsequently had business dealings in Kawagoe, he didn’t even realize Koedo existed! But it all got me to thinking. In the intervening months I plotted a course that would take me from home to Futako Tamagawa, up the Tamagawa to Hamura, and then overland to Kawagoe (and of course passing through Koedo!) before returning down the Arakawa to home: a total of 125km.

Bicycle in front of cycling course sign for Arakawa
Kuroko at the Toda Bridge

Today I did something a bit less ambitious: from home, up the Arakawa to Kawagoe and back would be just 85km, and largely flat. I set off just before 9 a.m. after dealing with an unexpected mechanical, and was soon making good progress on Yamate Dori and Nakasendo Way towards the Arakawa.

Upon reaching the river I turned upstream, into uncharted territory for me. (When we delivered Dionysus in November, we’d crossed the Toda Bridge and continued on the opposite riverbank.) I’d plotted everything out on Google Maps and Street View (where available), but it wasn’t always clear what was a rideable path and what wasn’t.

Night and day

It was such a pleasure to be back on Kuroko after yesterday’s jaunt on Dionysus. The drop bars, the high-volume tires to soak up the bumps — a pillowy promenade after a rocky road.

Worn and rutted path uphill between fields of grass
That’s a path, according to Google

And after less than an hour’s riding along the river, following the Garmin and the other cyclists, I came to a section where the path was blocked off. I descended from the levee to the parallel street, as I’d seen a couple of other bikers do, and from there I kept looking for an opportunity to get back to the cycling course at the top of the levee. I was a bit premature — I ended up cycling a few hundred meters of gravel before giving up and returning to the street level!

And the route was complicated by road construction and detours. Thank goodness Japanese baton-waving construction workers don’t get bashful in the presence of foreigners and struggle to speak English. The fellow I encountered just called out, “Keep going that way until you get to the white sign, then turn right!” The directions were perfect.

In the end I joined up with paved cycle path atop the levee less than 1km before I was due to turn off and set across farmland towards Kawagoe proper. Unfortunately, Google Maps in this territory doesn’t have cycling directions, and the walking directions led me to a decidedly non-cycle friendly route down from the path. I made a mental note to look for an alternative on the way home.

Kawagoe

Once off the path, it was just a few kilometers through farmland before joining up with a main route into the city. Before I knew it, I was turning into Koedo and the Kurazukuri no Machinami — the warehouse district.

Photo montage of old style Japanese kurazukuri warehouses
Kurazukuri no Machinami

Photo montage of old style Japanese kurazukuri warehouses
Kurazukuri no Machinami

Among the old-style warehouses there’s another sight not to be missed: the 19th Century Toki-no-Kane (“Bell of Time”) bell tower.

Photo montage of famous Kawagoe bell tower Toki-no-Kane
Toki-no-Kane

Lunch!

By the time I’d finished photographing Koedo, it was nearly noon. There are many restaurants and take-out counters in Koedo offering a variety of tantalizing Japanese dishes, but I was fully stocked with Nana’s world-famous onigiri. I quickly back-tracked to a sakura-adorned park near the Arakawa and gobbled down four at one go — surely a record for me!

The route home along the Arakawa was an easy one, particularly now that I knew which parts of the cycle path existed only in Google’s imagination. The road along the levee was quite narrow in bits, but I was soon back up on paved cycle course heaven! Unfortunately that only continued for a few hundred meters before it was back down into the streets and construction and detours, but this time I knew where I was going and when I would be back on the cycle course.

On the return I was fighting the wind a bit — either it was calm on my way upstream or I was unwittingly benefiting from a tailwind — but it didn’t hold me back much. It took just an hour and 17 minutes from the time I left the park to return to my favorite signpost marking the point where I leave the Arakawa cycling path for the welcoming arms of Tokyo city traffic.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and UV mask in front of sign for Arakawa cycling course
Masked against the sun

I’d applied my regular sunblock on my face before leaving the house in the morning, but not the extra super stuff. I was expecting weather more or less like yesterday’s overcast skies, but it turned out to be quite a bit more sunny. Fortunately I was wearing my UV mask and pulled that up over my nose when the sun got strong (even when I wasn’t in the presence of others). Whenever I felt it was getting uncomfortable and wanted to pull it off, I reminded myself it’s not all that hot yet, and I need to get in the habit of wearing the mask even if it’s 30C.

Racing traffic towards home

I know the route from the river back home well, and I don’t let myself get excited about the traffic whizzing past my elbow. It’s a major artery the whole way, but there’s a good margin left for cyclists for the most part. I only had a couple of times going around a parked car, with my hand out to indicate I was coming over, where a driver didn’t feel he needed to give me room. It was on this same route back in November that Fearless Leader Joe put his hand out to indicate he was coming around a parked car only to touch the bumper of a car coming up fast behind him!

GPS record of bike ride
Kawagoe on a beautiful day

In the end I got home at 2:30, just five and a half hours after setting out, after telling Nana I’d be home about 5! I made good progress today, aided by the largely flat course.

Mechanical

Ah, what would a Guy Jean post be with a mechanical? Since my return from Shimanami Kaido, the front tire has been losing air slowly. I’d fill it up and leave it a day or two, and find it nearly flat.

This morning I figured I’d fill it up and it would be OK for the day’s ride. I was in for quite a surprise — I’d no sooner filled the tire than it began audibly leaking and visibly going soft. The reason was soon apparent as latex sealant sprouted around the valve.

Detail of bicycle tire with latex sealant leaking from valve
That’ll be a leaky valve right there

I’d had the same issue with the rear tire just a couple of weeks before, and had quickly fixed it by replacing the valve with a high-quality unit from Schwalbe. In that case, the leak had been from the valve core itself, while this time it was clearly from the base, where the valve emerges from the rim.

I quickly thought: I could futz around with the valve as it is and try to get the base to seal up again. Or I could simply replace it — I had another Schwalbe on hand. I immediately decided for the replacement.

Detail of bicycle wheel with tire lever pulling tire away from valve area
Peeling the tire back

Bicycle tire valves, old and new
Old ‘n’ busted — you know the routine

The new valve held the pressure immediately. After inflating the tire again (with a number of satisfactory popping noises as the tire seated on the rim), I could still hear a bit of hissing, but not from the valve area. I swirled the tire around to get the sealant to the leaking area, and the sound soon stopped.

Tire pump with gauge showing inflated pressure; bicycle wheel in background
That’ll hold?

Unfortunately I proved to be a bit optimistic in my evaluation of the fix: I stopped a couple of times during the day’s ride to top up the pressure in the front. I’m happy to say though that we didn’t reach the extreme of having the tire roll off the rim and burp out all the sealant, as happened on the Arakawa back in November (albeit with a different set of tires).

The forecast is for rain tomorrow, and I’ve got Kuroko up in the Workshop in the Sky. I’ll get this leak sorted or know the reason why.