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.

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.

Kawagoe on my mind

Photo montage of cyclist selfie and Kawagoe's Toki no Kane bell tower

I got a late start this morning because I visited the doctor first and then took my time getting ready. When I checked Kuroko’s tire pressure before starting, the front was holding air as well as the back (which hasn’t been the case for several months). So that was a good sign.

I didn’t feel strong setting out this morning, and the Garmin apparently agreed with me because it took its own sweet time to locate the satellites and start tracking.

Cyclist with stuffed toy fish hanging from saddle
Something fishy going on here

Nevertheless, I persisted. It wasn’t long before I was overtaken by a cyclist with something dangling from his saddle. Where other riders might have a bell or omamori, this guy was sporting a stuffed toy fish!

Feeling the heat

It was soon apparent I’d overdressed. The temperature when I set out was about 12C, with a forecast high of an unseasonable 21C. For the first time this year, I was wearing shorts and fingerless gloves, but I was also wearing a heat tech undershirt under a long-sleeved jersey. Within a few kilometers of setting out, I was feeling the heat! I resolved to remove the undershirt as soon as I got to Arakawa.

In fact the weather was perfect for riding, so long as you don’t include pollen under the “weather” category …

Missed opportunities

Along my brief jaunt up Yamate Dori to the Arakawa cycling path, I witnessed / was subjected to a number of occasions in which drivers missed out on perfect opportunities not to be a dick. One that stands out in my mind was when some construction had reduced the number of lanes from three to one. It was only a brief constriction, and yet a postal worker felt compelled to pass me in his mini truck with just 5m to go before the road opened up again — and just 30m before a red light! He gave me ample room to spare when he passed, but I just had to wonder what he thought he was gaining from that.

This is the same section of road where Fearless Leader Joe, aboard Dionysus, put out his had to signal he was coming over to avoid a parked car, only to touch the fender of a passing car whose driver declined to spare a second to give some room.

The Arakawa cycling course was dry (for a change) and windy. Going upstream from Todabashi to Kawagoe typically involves a few changes in wind direction, but they are rarely unabashedly favourable. At times I felt I was hardly making progress. But whenever I checked my speed, I was doing more than 20km/h. My first 5km split without a rest break was well under 13 minutes, despite the wind.

At my first rest stop, in addition to the usual little leaguers, I saw a handful of people preparing to fly their control-line stunt aircraft. Unfortunately they were too far away for a good picture, and I didn’t want to wait around to watch the actual flying. Several kilometers further on, I encountered a lone middle-aged man preparing to launch his radio-controlled sailplane.

Suddenly … sheep!

Farther on again, out of Tokyo and into Saitama, I was surprised by the sight of several sheep grazing on the slopes of the levy I was riding atop. They were all chained to concrete-filled tires. I’ve been by this spot on a number of occasions and this is the first time I’ve seen sheep.

Kawagoe

I reached Koedo in Kawagoe before 1 p.m., but I was still behind schedule. I’ve been here often enough now that I’m not surprised at the crowds despite the pandemic. I try my best to get my photos while staying out of everyone’s way, and then move on. I picked up some pork buns from a convenience store on the way back to the river, and sat in a park to eat them.

Long way home

I didn’t dawdle over lunch, and was soon on my way back downriver. Every beep of the Garmin just served to remind me of how much longer I had to go, as I struggled against the wind. Each time I checked, though, I was making surprisingly good time. Even if I’d taken a brief break, I still had a 5km split under 15 minutes — implying I was averaging more than 20km/h.

At this stage I was getting saddle sore and my fingers were getting numb. My thighs were tired but not overly so, so I shifted around in my seat and tried various hand positions to keep going. In my head I was drawing various vector maps to explain to Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn that a crosswind would slow my progress in either direction — a legacy of several misspent years at university studying aeronautical engineering.

But despite my whingeing and my aches and pains, the kilometers were flying by underneath Kuroko’s tires. I stopped after a climb to surmount the levy and watched a paraglider soaring over the river and golf greens. Further on, I passed the field where the sheep had been grazing and they were gone. Before too long, I was descending from the levy towards the plain by the river, and the wind was no longer against me. The kilometers ticked away, and I lifted my hands one by one and rested them against the small of my back to get some feeling in my fingers again.

Back into traffic

I reached the Arakawa course sign — the point where I leave the cycling course and head back into traffic — at 2:47 p.m. I had roughly 13.5km to go through traffic to get home. I messaged Nana (who was relaxing at the sauna by this point) that I would be home by 4, “or thereabouts.” (Some subtleties of the English language are wasted on her. If I say I’ll be home by 4, she’ll be calling the police if I’m not there by 4:01.) I was low on water and I had a headache — whether from the jouncing or the sun or something else, I had no idea.

Back in traffic, I was playing mind games with my fatigue and my stats. “I’m doing 16 minute 5km splits — I’ll be home sooner than I think!” The traffic lights were unimpressed with my reasoning. There’s a long, slow drag out of the Arakawa river valley about 2km after leaving the river, and I shifted to a lower gear than usual to make my way up. Further on — more traffic, more lights — I stayed on the road as it rose over train tracks rather than move to the sidewalk and mix it up with pedestrians in the lanes clearly marked for bicycles.

In addition to the 5km splits, the Garmin was showing me a turn coming up: just 7km to go. I couldn’t quite remember which turn I’d plotted on the course from Yamate Dori back to our tower mansion, but regardless, that was an indication of just 7km+ to go. I spared my thighs as I knew this was a wavy bit of road, and the last uphill to Nakano Sakaue, just before turning off to our tower mansion, was a bit of a challenge.

In the end, I got the green light at the bottom of the downhill just before the climb to Nakano Sakaue, and so had lots of momentum to get up the hill. I hardly minded when I hit a red with perhaps another 2-3m of climbing to go.

GPS record of cycle ride
Kawagoe on my mind

I got home well before 4 p.m. and saved my ride. After parking Kuroko in the Workshop in the Sky (she desperately needs a bath) I checked my stats and received a huge surprise: I’d not only made fairly good time for the day, but I had a number of personal bests on the segments where I really felt I was struggling — particularly upriver on the Arakawa.

It just reinforces something I’ve been learning in the years since GPS has given me objective records to review: our perception of speed is often far removed from our actual progress.

The next thing I did after arriving home was to enjoy a cold brew in a nice hot bath, which is where Nana found me when she returned home from the sauna — and informed me I’d left the door unlocked.

初走り2022

GPS record of cycle ride

First ride of 2022

Usually for my first ride of the New Year I’ll just run to Haneda and back, a ride I can get under 4 hours if I try. I can wait until 10 or later to start, when it’s warmer, and I’m not out in the cold for long.

This year I wanted to do something a bit longer, even if it meant braving the cold. And I’d just ridden to Haneda a few days ago. I figured Kawagoe would be 6 hours, even at a relaxed pace, and so I could leave as late as 9 a.m. and still be back by 3 in the afternoon, before the shadows got too long.

Then it was just a matter of working up my courage to get out in the cold air. Google was telling me it was 3C, and when I stepped out onto the Workshop in the Sky to fetch something, it certainly didn’t feel any warmer than that. But I knew it wouldn’t be as bad as I was imagining once I got under way, so I braced myself and got dressed.

Starting with a mechanical?

When I went to the basement parking to fetch Kuroko, the front tire felt soft. In fact, there was no air in it at all. I gave it a quick look over and spotted a few drops of sealant on the sidewall. I’d had no hint of trouble on my way to Haneda and back, and prior to that the tire had held its pressure for more than a month without issue.

I shrugged and pumped the tire up, gave it a squeeze and spun it around for a few seconds. Gave it another squeeze. It seemed to be holding. I mentally shrugged my shoulders, put away the pump and set out.

Into the wind

When I reached the Arakawa, I could see the path was nice and dry. But I could also feel that I’d be heading into a fairly strong wind. At this point I could have chickened out and headed downriver, towards Disneyland, but I plucked up my courage once again and turned upriver — and upwind.

It wasn’t too bad. The wind was very steady, so I wasn’t being buffeted about. I just wasn’t making the same speed as I usually would on the flat. When I took a moment to swipe the Gamin to the stats screen, I saw I was ticking along at 16-18km/h: not quite a third off my usual pace.

Bicycle leaning against decorative sign for the Arakawa cycling course
The real start of the ride

With such fine weather I expected to see a lot of people out on the path, and I was right in this. Not as many bikers as I’m used to, but some families out for a walk, or flying kites. At the first rest stop the path was crowded with cars (it’s one of the places where the path and roadway intertwine) and a whole bunch of baseball players jogging to warm up before practice.

A little later on I saw a boy standing on the edge of the path, holding something in his hand and looking across the path meaningfully. His father was relaxing a couple of steps away, watching unconcernedly. It was only as I came upon them I noticed the kite strings arching upwards across the path from the handle in the boy’s hand. Fortunately the kite was flying high enough that the strings didn’t take my head off.

The wind remained constant until I descended from the path into the Kawagoe sports park and then into Kawagoe itself.

Kawagoe Crowd

I don’t know why it failed to occur to me that thousands of others would think of Kawagoe as a destination on a public holiday with such fine weather. The park wasn’t very crowded, but as I continued on in towards town I was soon fighting through long lines of traffic. The commercial parking spots were turning a brisk trade. When I finally reached the main attraction, the crowds were so thick I hardly had room to walk with my bicycle.

Pandemic? What pandemic?

I can’t blame people for being idiots without pointing at myself first, of course. I hurriedly took a single selfie and headed back towards the park, stopping at a convenience store to pick up a couple of nikuman for lunch.

Slight return

I was quite lucky to find an empty picnic table at the park to enjoy my lunch. The weather remained beautiful for the ride home, except the wind was helping me along and the sun was in my eyes — enough to give me a headache despite my sunglasses. I pushed my helmet up in the back to bring it jauntily down over my right eyebrow to block the glare, and that helped.

It was just past noon and I had about 37km to go on the way home. I felt OK except for the bit where my backside rests on the saddle. After a few rides I’d got the new Brooks saddle adjusted to the perfect angle. But the saddle hasn’t been broken in any significant amount yet — it’s still as hard as a wooden bench. And my Pearly Zoomie winter cycling tights have a much thinner chamois pad than my usual fair-weather shorts. I was constantly shifting about on the saddle to try to move the pressure from one spot to another.

GPS record of cycle ride
初走り – New Year’s Ride 2022

I reached the point where I leave the cycling course for Tokyo traffic about 1:30, and stopped under the bridge to have a final Snickers bar. I had 15km to go, so I messaged Nana that I would be home before 3. I was feeling quite knackered at this point and I knew that I had a couple of challenging climbs on the way (well, challenging to an overweight old man with an aching backside, anyway). With that I set off into the traffic (and into the sun). In the end, without pushing hard at all, I rolled into home at 2:20, saved my ride on Garmin and messaged Nana that I was home.

The ride was a good start to the year, and left me totally knackered. There was no sign of leakage from the front tire all day, but I’ll be sure to check it before the next ride. I’m not sure what Garmin meant by “Up cycling” — was I supposed to find some gomi there to repurpose into a hot dog stand?

Finally, the Di2 battery was showing 80% at the end of the ride. I suspect it’s showing things in 10% increments. Anyway, this is after three rides. I’d expected better battery performance. Of course the Bluetooth unit drains a bit of power, and I may be seeing that. Or it may have to do with the first-generation battery I’ve got.

In any case, the battery performance is still fine, and I’m glad I have a free extra battery courtesy of Amazon. I’ll just need to make sure I’m covered before undertaking any extended rides.

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.