Never replicate a successful experiment

Statue of flying squirrel with fall leaves in the background

I had a slow start this morning. I’d have been content to just sit at home quietly all day, except for the knowledge it will be raining the next two days. We have plans for next weekend, so if I wanted to get out on the bike, it would have to be today.

Nana had made onigiri, so I was duty-bound to ride. I set out shortly after 9 a.m. to see if I could reproduce my recent triumph on Otarumi Touge. I actually had no idea if I would make it in one go, and so my only goal was to get to the top, as usual. Nonetheless, I set an easy pace to conserve my energy for the final push to the top.

I didn’t stop long at the small park by the Tamagawa, but as I was leaving, the park worker who was sweeping up leaves called out to me, “Where you going?” “Takao-san,” I replied. “OK, take care!” I was amused by his choice of words, which are typically said to someone who is sick. But my native guides assure me the phrase indeed means “Take care” and not “Get well soon.”

With my late start, it was nearly 11 when I reached the bridge over the Tamagawa that leads to the branching of the Asakawa. I stopped for a couple of much-needed onigiri. When I continued on up the Asakawa, it was often against the wind. At some point along here, I lost sight of Fujisan, which had been visible earlier as I’d been working my way up the Tamagawa.

My next stop was just before 12, at another branching of the Asakawa, this time with the Minami Asakawa in Hachioji. I ate the remaining onigiri and checked in with Nana before proceeding.

Not long after that, I ran into a festival along the riverbank. I dismounted and pressed on through the crowd as quickly as I could with my bike beside me — which wasn’t very quickly at all. I made a mental note to see if there was a parallel street which would allow me to avoid the festival on my return.

Avoiding the magnets

As soon as I’d made my way through the festival throng, I was on the city streets of Takao, working my way along past long lines of cars. With the gorgeous weather and the prospect of rain tomorrow, everyone had turned out today to see the fall colors on Tokyo’s favorite mountain.

Soon enough I was past the holiday traffic. I stopped at the freeway interchange to turn on my taillights, knowing that the mountain switchbacks would be in shadow. And then I set out up the climb, feeling good and trying not to push the pace too early in the game.

Familiar as I am with the climb, I was surprised again and again at how long it was taking me to reach certain landmarks. Again and again as I rounded a curve, I thought I’d reach Lover’s Lane — which marks the start of the real climbing — only to find it was still further on. Realizing this was just a function of impatience, I counseled calm for myself and slowed my pace further before continuing.

And again, past Lover’s Lane (my name for the stretch of love hotels halfway from Takao to the top of the pass), I kept looking for my magnet spot around each curve. Not yet! When it came I recognized it ahead of time — and kept pressing onwards. Following that is the second magnet, the place I usually stop if I’ve cleared the first magnet. I was tiring by this time, but I kept up my resolve, knowing that I had succeeded before and could again.

And then, with the next landmark in sight — the bus stop, a scant 300m from the goal — my lungs blew up. I’d been doing OK up to that point, but I was suddenly gasping for breath, gulping down air without having a chance to exhale between gasps. I might have been able to push on through it, but there was a small bend from which I could see traffic in each direction, and I stopped to catch my breath.

My breathing was soon under control again, and I mounted up and continued on my way. I was heartened by the fact my thighs still felt great. I had no more trouble reaching the top — and was very thankful when I had.

Bicycle leaning against wooden fence overlooking road, with sign marking Otarumi Touge over the road
And I’m not going any higher!

After the obligatory snap and a short breather while I appreciated my surroundings, I mounted up for the ride back. Soon I was speeding back down the mountain, touching 50km/h where I’d moments before been struggling at 6km/h. During the descent the wind whistling through my helmet often makes me think a car is right behind me. Today, more than halfway down the mountain, I was passed by another cyclist, in much better aerodynamic form.

That’s a crowd

It was so crowded when I returned to Takaosan Guchi that I just pressed through the crowd to get a selfie before continuing on. (I should have left the bike parked by the road, instead of pushing it through the crowd.) I paused soon after at a convenience store to refuel and then I was on my way again, back through town towards the Asakawa. A couple of groups leaving the festival area reminded me just in time to divert around it, and that went smoothly. Then I was flying down the Asakawa once again, en route to the Tamagawa and home.

I had a very pleasant surprise before reaching the Tamagawa. There’s a section of the Asakawa where I usually see an egret or two, and it was no exception on my way upriver today. But on my return the egrets were flocking, and I watched in amazement as at least 30 circled over the river, returning to the trees on the opposite bank only to lift off again to soar in circles over the river once more.

Egrets in flight in blue skies with puffy white clouds over trees and river
Cycling the Asakawa leads to more egrets

I’d foolishly told Nana in the morning that I’d be home about 3, and yet it was 2:30 when I reached the Tamagawa once more and stopped for a break. I had just a mouthful of water left and no food. I decided to have a look for a convenience store when I got back to the usual park that is the final resting point before heading back into city traffic — the same park where the worker had asked me in the morning whither I was bound. I let Nana know I would be home after 4, most likely, and then set out once again downstream on the Tamagawa.

I was tired and sore at this point. At times the wind was against me and I felt I was crawling. At other times I stretched out and picked up the pace. I’d had a bit of saddle soreness during the ride, and tried shifting about on the saddle and adjusting my posture to ease the pressure. (Spoiler: it’s more to do with the posture than anything, so the secret is to maintain the correct posture in a variety of riding conditions.)

I reached the park without seeing any convenience stores, although I’d passed several vending machines where I could have stopped for water. After passing through Komae and turning on to Rte 3 towards Setagaya, I stopped at a convenience store at last. I hastily wolfed down a sandwich and filled up my water bottle. I checked the time: about 3:40. I messaged Nana I would be home about 4:30, checked that my lights were on, and set off for the final leg in traffic.

GPS record of cycle route
Never replicate a successful experiment

There’s not much to report about the ride home. The usual mix of rude drivers, parked vehicles and city buses. With traffic holding me back a bit more than expected, I was still more than 2km from home when 4:30 ticked by. I decided to keep pressing onwards rather than stop to let Nana know I was still on the way. I reached Central Park and raced downhill towards the goal. A red light, and then the final stretch … and a taxi driver made a U-turn in front of me and came to a stop in the middle of the lane to take on a fare. At 40km/h, I checked over my shoulder that I had enough clearance over the white Mercedes following me as I merged into the fast lane, got safely around the taxi, and then I was home. I messaged Nana at 4:37 that I’d arrived, and then took my time parking the bike and picking up the newspaper on my way up to the flat.

In sum, I really enjoyed the ride. I’m not bothered by the fact I didn’t make it to the top in one go again. I’m sure there will be other occasions — it wasn’t just a fluke. Meanwhile today, I didn’t run over any snakes again, or toddlers toddling about the path while mum’s attention is elsewhere, nor obaasan looking in one direction while they steer their shopping bikes in another, nor ojiisan just being ojiisan in the middle of the path — but not through lack of opportunity!

With a moving time of 5:56:37, the average moving speed was 19.1km/h. According to Strava that’s near my lower limit for this route, and yet I posted a string of 2nd and 3rd personal records all along the route, both on the way up the mountain and the way back.

Got it in one!

Bicycle leaning against railing with road and sign for Otarumi Pass in background

I’ve climbed to Otarumi pass, near Mount Takao, more than half a dozen times since first attempting it more than three years ago. It’s not a difficult climb as these things go: depending on where you start counting, it’s a 4% average over 4km — or 3.6% over somewhat more than 5km. But I’m old and overweight, and I’ve had to stop each time on the way up, usually when it reaches a 10% gradient or so, even though it’s less than 1km from the top at that point.

I’ve written on more than one occasion in the past about the psychological magnet I’d created by stopping at the same point on each ascent. It was based on physical factors as much as psychological: just at the maximum grade, a safe resting point with a narrow, shoulder-less route ahead. And if I made it past that one, there was a similar spot a few hundred meters ahead with another shoulder-less climb in prospect.


This morning I set out with one goal in mind: to get to the top of Otarumi Touge. On each attempt, I hope I’ll make it without stopping, but today I had to be realistic: I haven’t been training or dieting, or even laying off the alcohol. I’ve just returned from a three-day holiday in Nara where I just ate and drank (oh, and hiked about a bit to see the sights). So I just determined to make it to the top, and along the way I did what I could to conserve my energy. This included missing running over a snake by a good centimeter, on the very same stretch of bike path where I did run over a snake a year ago.

When the climbing began in earnest at the highway interchange after Takaosan Guchi, I shift down and pedaled, and then shifted down again. I was soon on the small chainring and working my way down the gears. I started amusing myself by thinking I could make it to the top in one go and yet not beat my personal record, if stopping midway before continuing actually made for a shorter elapsed time.

It took longer than I expected to clear the last commercial zone of restaurants and love motels on the way up to the pass, and yet when I cleared them I did so almost without noticing. I can’t say I was feeling great, but I wasn’t feeling bad, either. I just kept going.

The next landmark on the way is the aforementioned magnet. The grade reaches 10% at this point and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling it. I looked ahead to the second magnet: a similar spot a couple of hundred meters along, after a bridge and before a similarly narrow spot on the climb. I knew I could clear it. With an effort of will, I was past the second magnet and into the switchback with no safe stopping point.

The bus stop

The next landmark was the bus stop. At the magnet it’s still another 700m before the top, but from the bus stop it’s only 300m. There was still a psychological barrier: lots of nice, safe places to stop before and after the bus stop where I didn’t have to worry about a truck driver swiping me off the road. But I also knew from experience that from the bus stop I just had to round that last corner and just … keep … pedaling! My breath was whistling through my nose and mouth at the point, but my thighs were good. If I could just … keep on pedaling … a few dozen more meters …

Made it!

And I was there, gliding under the sign marking Otarumi Touge, actually still just a bit uphill at this point, and then a few dozen meters downhill into Kanagawa Prefecture to the stopping point. I’d seen Fujisan in the morning and along the route, and was hoping to see her from the pass. Alas, it was not to be — perhaps because the café with the westward view had closed last year.

After taking a few congratulatory snaps, it was a quick descent back to Takaosan Guchi. I had every confidence in my bike at this point, but some recently added bump strips caused me to brake in the early curves. Nevertheless I reached a high of 52km/h on the descent and set a personal record.

Back in Takaosan, I took a couple of photos before speeding along to the convenience store for a quick feed before continuing on the way home.

From there it was just a matter of surviving until I got home. It helped that the route was slightly downhill — heading downriver, and at times at least, with the wind. My hands were aching more than my thighs at this point (my thighs ached more when I was at rest than when moving), and I was lucky to press on through a 15km stretch back down the Arakawa without a break until I reached the Tamagawa.

I wasn’t checking my pace as I continued down the Tamagawa. Following my success on the climb, I didn’t mind what sort of progress I was making so long as I was getting closer to home. I took my last break at the usual park where I leave Tamagawa, and ate the last of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. It was 2:30 when I was ready to ride again, so I messaged Nana I’d be home by 4 and turned on my taillights.

Traffic was as usual on the ride home through the city. I was fearing the two brief hills along the way, but I had no trouble getting over them. It wasn’t yet rush hour, so I had no difficulty with traffic backing up around Sasazuka. And with that, I was home by 3:30.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Got it in one

With a moving time of 5 hours 31 minutes 39 seconds, my average moving speed was 20.6km/h — a better pace than I was expecting as I’d taken it pretty easy most of the way to and from Takao. I’d set a number of personal records on the ride, mostly on overlapping segments for the climb up to Otarumi Touge. But I also got a PR on the descent, averaging 43.3km/h for more than 3km and topping out at 52. I stayed off the brakes through the descent except for a couple of curves where newly added speed strips made things a bit dicey. I also had a PR for an 18km segment back down the Asakawa and over the bridge at Tamagawa, all the way down to Koremasa.

The two PR segments above chart my climb up Otarumi Touge. The first starts at Takaosan Guchi. The second covers the same territory, just starting a bit later at the Highway 468 interchange, which is the last stoplight before the climb really begins.

The speed vs elevation chart from Garmin has the stop at the 468 interchange highlighted, and shows I didn’t stop from that point until I reached the pass at Otarumi Touge, 22 minutes 30 seconds later.

Beer with a head in a glass with Yebisu legend next to can of Bodoni craft beer
Congratulatory beverage

That’s me happy

It’s taken me three years and a few attempts to beat this climb, and I’m very pleased to have done it. I can’t really say what I did differently this time around apart from eating earlier in the ride, taking it easy, and particularly downshifting earlier once the climbing began. I know I’ll be back, and if I get more successes on this climb then I’ll have to start looking for the next challenge. In fact, I have a route in mind from home to Otsuki which takes this climb as a starting point and adds on a couple of even longer ones.

Kuroko behaved flawlessly for the entire ride. I still haven’t fixed the squeaky rear brake, but I’ve learned to compensate for it so I’m not screeching to a halt each time — except when I had to skid to stop to avoid killing a little girl who decided to dash across the street just as I was passing.

More failure

Montage: bicycle on path overlooking road sign for Otarumi Passs and view from Otarumi Pass

On Saturday, with overcast skies and a high just shy of 30C in the forecast, I set out once again for Mt. Takao. I got moving about 45 minutes earlier than on my previous effort, and that made a big difference throughout the day. I was able to take my time working up the Tamagawa and the Asakawa, to preserve my energy for the climb.

Another important difference was that Nana had got up early, knowing I was riding, and prepared four of her world-famous onigiri. I reached the turn-off to Asakawa about 10 a.m. and stopped to eat a couple. And then it was 11 by the time I reached Asakawa Riverside Lawn Square, the last rest before Takaosan, where I stopped to eat the remaining two onigiri.

This is where the failure starts

I’d been riding with a tube in the rear tire since the ill-fated visit to Tōgaku-in, the azalea temple, but on the weekend previous to this ride I’d removed the tube and got the tire sealed again as tubeless. I’d pumped it up again before setting out, but when I hit the road (possibly 40 minutes later) I soon had to stop and top it up again. I hoped that the sealant would work into whatever was leaking during the day’s ride, but now, 40km into the ride, I had to inflate it once again.

OK, I thought to myself, I’m going to stop once again before climbing up to the pass. If it needs air again at that point, I’d better give up and put a tube back in it.

At Takaosan Guchi the tire still felt firm, and I continued on my merry way up the mountain. I didn’t feel overly strong and was still conserving my energy — early on I came across a jogger and we were neck-and-neck for longer than I care to admit. And then just as the climb was about to begin, I realized I needed to stop and pump up the rear again. As I was filling the tire, the jogger passed me.

A lot of climbing ensued

With the tire up to pressure, I continued on, and I wasn’t shy about moving to lower gears. Slow and steady, the tortoise and not the hare, and all that rot. A number of cars and trucks passed me by and for the most part gave me room. A few cyclists as well, and those with breath to spare exchanged greetings with me.

All through the first kilometer or so, I’d been feeling it was easy going and I was sure to get to the top in one go, this time! And I would caution myself not to count chickens before the same had hatched, and so on, as I still had quite a bit to go. When my pace is between 6 and 9km/h, my imagination is outpacing my progress by a good deal, and I need to just focus on the next few meters ahead of me: is there debris, or speed strips? How is the traffic? But yes, I’ll get past that magnet spot! I’m going strong! Well, steady at least …

A good, long rest

I reached the magnet spot — where I usually am compelled to stop and catch my breath — determined to keep on powering past regardless of the agony in my lungs and thighs. And it wasn’t too bad at the beginning of the magnet, where the shoulder is broad and inviting. But by the time I reached the end of that stretch, my speed had slowed noticeably, and the road narrowed over a short bridge, and there was a large truck hanging just behind me, the driver patient enough to wait for me but not to drop back and give me room. In fact I was terrified to glance over my shoulder to check on the truck’s position, fearing I’d swerve or even tumble.

I just cleared the bridge when another truck driver, descending in the opposite direction, stopped and flashed his lights. The truck behind me passed with plenty of room to spare, followed by a car or two that had been waiting behind. And I struggled on to the next bit of shoulder and pulled over and nearly tumbled from the bike.

I remained there a good long time, catching my breath, letting my heart’s hammering slow and feeling the weariness draining from my thighs. I spent a good five minutes there recovering, greeting a couple of cyclists as they passed — one making good progress and another struggling along just a bit better than I had been going.

Portion of bicycle wheel with bike pump attached, toe of cycling shoe, with leaves and berries
Once again for good measure

And as I was stopped and resting, I checked the rear pressure again. Not optimal. I topped it up before continuing on my way.

As rested as I could be at this point, with more than 50km under my belt including more than 4km of climbing, I continued on my way. The gradient for the final 500m is considerably less than the 11% seen at the magnet (the grey line in the illustration), and with five minutes’ rest under my belt, I had no difficulty pressing on to the top.

Route guide showing distance and elevation of climb
Grade at the magnet

Descent into chaos

I had another breather at the top while I enjoyed the view. But I was descending from this point, so I didn’t have to have a complete rest. I checked the tire and once again pumped it up. It was a cause for worry at this point — if it lost pressure on the descent, the tire might roll off on a corner and chuck me onto the pavement at speed, possibly in front of a following vehicle!

I gave the tire a squeeze and decided I’d be OK for the descent. After all, it would pass quickly …

I waited for a break in the weekend traffic and set off on the descent. Within moments I was catching up with the traffic ahead. I braked, partly out of concern for the rear tire and partly to remain safely behind the vehicles I was in danger of overtaking. Meanwhile there was no one behind me, so I had the full width of the lane to play with on the twisting downhill.

Strava gave me a PR for the first half of the descent from the mountain pass, but I have serious doubts about this. I was on the brakes the entire time, while in the past I’ve ridden right back down to Takaosan Guchi without so much as touching the brakes. The Garmin put my maximum speed at 50km/h during the descent, which I do find reasonable.

As the road flattened out and traffic thickened somewhat into Takaosan, I knew I had to stop and take care of the rear. I could feel it not only shimmying under the turning forces, but starting to thrum against the pavement, indicating it was near the giving point. I stopped in an unused parking spot just off the road, unseated one tire bead and mopped up the sealant with the tissues in my cockpit bag. I pushed the valve out of the rim and stowed it in my bag, and the put in the spare tube I always carry. Re-seated the tire and pumped it up again.

I’ve had some practice with this fix. Garmie says it only took me three minutes. From that point on, I didn’t have any more tire trouble.

Rest and fuel

I got back to Takaosan Guchi almost exactly an hour after I’d left it. After the congratulatory photo (above), I continued on to the rest spot at a convenience store and bought some snacks to fuel up with (as well as some water to refill my depleted bottles).

As I sat at the picnic table under an umbrella, a couple of younger riders put their bikes in the stand next to mine. I saw them looking at Kuroko and pointing out some of the components to each other: “Cool!”, “Yeah!” I waited to see if they would acknowledge me, in which case I’d speak to them about my cool bike, but they never did. Chalk that one up to either Japanese reserve or young adult shyness.

Fairly well recharged, I mounted up and continued on my way home. The gradient up the Asakawa is only a percent or two, but the return is always considerably easier. I made very good time on the way downriver, despite the occasional headwind, and with no worries about the soundness of my rear tire. I was able to enjoy the sight of children splashing in the river, then further on smiled and waited patiently while a family walking on the path reined in their errant toddler so I could pass safely.


I rejoined the Tamagawa at 2:35, three and a half hours after I’d left it. I stopped at a bench in the shade and rested a few minutes, sipping water. I’d sorted out the tire issue, and the climbs were behind me. What remained was a fight against fatigue, saddle soreness and numbness in my hands. With luck, I could continue on for 15km stretches between rests. If I needed more frequent breaks, there was no harm in that apart from a later finish. And I was still well on schedule to beat the sunset.

I crossed the bridge and continued downstream on the Tamagawa, fighting the occasional headwind, shaking the feeling back into my hands from time to time, and continued the 13km to the park in Komae without stop (apart from a traffic light or two).

After resting in the park in Komae, relaxing and in no hurry, I checked the time. It was nearly 3:30, so I messaged Nana I’d be home about 4:30. And then set out in traffic, knowing my legs were toast and I still had a couple of hills to negotiate before reaching home.

As expected, I had almost no power on the modest hills on Setagaya Avenue, but I had enough to get over the top of each one while traffic worked its way around me. I played cat and mouse with another couple of cyclists and more than one scooter rider. A driver in a Mercedes seemed incensed that he should be asked to share the road with little unwashed me, but (thanks to traffic and lights) I soon left him behind.

GPS record of cycling route
More failure

I got home without further incident, a few minutes before the deadline I’d given Nana. It was a good ride, not setting any records but reaching the goal, and getting back without unwarranted drama. Based on a moving time of 5 hours 43 minutes, the average moving speed was 20.0km/h, which I consider good even absent a mountain climb in the middle. The difference between that and the total elapsed time certainly reflects the lack of urgency I felt at each rest stop.

To bless or not to bless?

I’d feel a lot worse about that pun except that Specialized unabashedly markets their tubeless technology under the moniker 2bliss.

Anyway, this is far from the first issue I’ve had directly as a result of tubeless tires. Should I persevere in pursuit of the no-puncture grail, or give it up as a bad job now and revert to tubes in tires? It’s all a learning process for me, and at this point I can still see progress: the right tire and rim combo, good prep with the tape (which may be the culprit in this case), and the right sealant. Long story short, I’ve got patience for about one more go in me at this point.

And to my friends who point out that the masochism in pursuit of some ill-defined velominati goal is itself the goal, my only response is: nolo contendere.

Got it in … two

Cyclist selfie (in mask and helmet) in front of Takaosan cable car entrance

I’ve got the week off work, so I set off this morning in perfect weather — if a bit chilly. I wore my obnoxiously yellow windbreaker over my usual accoutrements, and that did the trick.

My goal today was twofold: get to the top of Otarumi Touge (in one go if possible) and then loop around lake Sagamiko and return through Kanagawa Prefecture. I’ve been up Otarumi Touge on a number of occasions, each time stopping for a rest at least once (and sometimes more often), but it seems I’ve only done the Sagamiko loop a couple of times, both in 2019 (if my Strava history is to be trusted). The last time was just a couple of weeks before the start of my Lejog adventure with Fearless Leader Joe.

Easy Rider start

Bicycle leaning against wooden railing in park with trees in background
First rest stop: Nishigawara Park

It’s 51km from home until the serious climbing starts from Takaosan Guchi. This morning I was determined to take it easy, hold my energy in reserve until arriving at the climb. I was successful in this, not pushing it in traffic. When I arrived on the Tamagawa cycling course, my average was slightly better than 20km/h. Perfect. Of course, my thighs were still a bit tender as today was just two days after the Yokohama ride in the rain with the Halfakid. But that’s something that another ride should just work through, right?

The weekday traffic on the Tamagawa cycling course wasn’t bad, particularly given the nice weather. At 9 a.m. I arrived at the Yotsuya tennis courts and had a couple of Nana’s world-famous onigiri to make sure I would have plenty of energy by the time I arrived in Takaosan Guchi. I continued on the Asakawa cycling course, a bit into the wind but not too bad, still conserving my energy. About 10km shy of Takaosan I stopped and had another onigiri, umeboshi this time.

It’s hurtin’ time

Cyclist selfie (in mask and helmet) in front of Takaosan cable car entrance
Takaosan cable car entrance

With the onigiri already in my belly, I didn’t have to stop at the usual convenience store at Takaosan Guchi. Instead I proceeded straight to the Takaosan cable car entrance for the usual selfie. Then, with the GoPro rolling, I started the climb. It all went well. I reminded myself to shift down before I felt any burning, and I continued to inch my way up the climb. It’s gradual, and I felt fine, and it




The Garmin was giving me some sort of obnoxious misleading guidance, like “Continue on road after 2.1km” or something, when I know the climb is more than 4km long. And I really felt fine, spinning down in my lowest gear. Some of the pavement was new, which was nice, and they’d cleaned up the shoulder (where there is one), which is even nicer. Well, that lasted for half a kilometer or so.

And of course after I passed whatever imaginary navigation point the Garmin was nagging me about, the burn started. I kept going. “I can live with this,” I was thinking. “I got this. Just. Keep. Going.”

And then the incline ticks upwards, and with the switchbacks the shoulder disappears. And I came to the magnet. And then it’s not only the burning in the legs, but it’s seeing the next two curves ahead, steeper yet, and with no shoulders to stop if I can’t make it.

I stopped at the magnet. I made it a good, long rest. I wanted my thighs to be ready for more pedaling when I remounted. I watched some Japanese Self-Defense Force vehicles roll by. A few big delivery trucks and a couple of private vehicles. And then I mounted up and I rode the rest of the way to the top.

Bicycle leaning against railing with highway sign for Otarumi Pass in background
Otarumi Pass

Sweet gravity!

At the top I had a choice: turn back and return the way I came (my usual practice for Otarumi Touge), or (my initial plan for the day) continue down into Kanagawa Prefecture and loop around Lake Sagamiko before heading home. The latter choice offers a very swift descent and a beautiful loop around the lake, followed by a lot of exurb rubbish riding and a couple of bonus killer climbs.

At the top of the pass, I hit the water bottle and didn’t give it a second thought. At the first break in traffic I was back on Kuroko, on the wild descent into Sagamihara. I’ve only done this a couple of times before and so the switchbacks on the descent, while familiar in retrospect, were unknown quantities to me at the entry point. This was compounded by the speed strips placed across several of them. At speed, Kuroko would start to pogo over them, and I would drift from the inside of the curve towards the middle. (I’m sure if I were to complain about this to the proper authority, the answer would be it’s not a problem at the posted speed limit of 30 — and that is probably correct.)

As a result, I was hitting the brakes frequently on the way down from Otarumi Touge, and I think I may have worn through the brake pads — at least on the front. Tomorrow has rain in the forecast, and Kuroko is already safely in the Workshop in the Sky.

Not the end of the climbing

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with descending. The problem with coming off Otarumi Touge into Kanagawa Prefecture is it places me on the wrong side of the mountain range. I have to make my way back across into Tokyo. After a handful of leisurely kilometers around the idyllic lake, there’s suddenly a climb of 90m with a maximum rise of 12.8%, a moderate middle and then a kick up again near the top. I’d planned to take this the same as Otarumi: the slow and steady tortoise. But despite this strategy, and fresh off the Otarumi climb, I still needed a breather in the middle of the climb before continuing to the top.

The Garmin was reminding me during this climb that it was the second out of three for the day. I’d forgotten — willfully, perhaps — the last one. It’s a bit more gradual, but it does go on. And on. And on. There’s a convenience store halfway up on a flat stretch, and yes, it’s a familiar store for me. I stopped for a brief rest, a small café latte in a can, and a bottle of water.

Lots of exurb rubbish I won’t bore you with

From there on back to the Tamagawa, it’s essentially urban riding, just perhaps with the lights spaced out a bit more (and a bit more up-down yet to come). I started feeling hungry again during this portion. I kept looking at the Garmin and seeing, “Another 4km and then turn here for this or that,” and thinking that meant I was nearing the Tamagawa. I’d forgotten the lesson of my first ride around this circuit, which is: it’s a good 35km back to the river. Fortunately, the preloading of onigiri and the stop for a café latte were holding me pretty well.

Final stretch

With my memory working in retrospect — completing a segment and thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember that!” — I kept expecting to turn a corner and see the white towers and cables of the Fuchu Yotsuya Bridge. When it eventually hove into view and I pedaled across and into the tennis park for a final onigiri and some water, I was surprised to see it was still just 1:30. I messaged Nana that I was in Fuchu and had less than 30km to go, rested a couple of minutes and then was back on the bike. In the morning I had been taking it easy on my way upstream on the Tamagawa to preserve my energy. Now, more than four hours later, heading back downstream I was fighting the wind, balancing my progress against what little energy I had in reserve.

I reached the final rest spot (same as the first one of the day) at 2:15. I messaged Nana I would be home by 3:30, while hoping I would beat 3:15 and thus bring my ride time under 8 hours for the day. There’s not much to relate of the ride home through traffic except for the truck parked on a climb, forcing me around and in front of tailing traffic while I was doing just about 10km/h, and then starting off as I was drawing level with the cab of the truck! I shouted, “Dude!” The driver’s window was open and he shouted something in reply, but I didn’t catch if it was a swear word or an apology. In any case he let me overtake him and return to the curb before he passed me.

We were just 50m from a traffic light when this occurred, so I caught up with him as he waited for the red. I was able to pass and go on ahead when the light turned green, and I didn’t hear any more from that particular driver.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Got it in … two

With my strategy of deliberately taking it easy, today’s pace was down from the average: 19.8km/h moving speed, vs. more than 21km/h on the previous two occasions on the same route. On the other hand, I brought the ride in under 8 hours at 7:58:52. This compares with 8:10 on my first go and a whopping 9:30 on the second go as the Halfakid and I spent ages faffing about in the June sun at the top of Otarumi Touge.

In addition to putting me over 500km for the month (with the rest of the week off will I reach 600? 800?), today’s ride brought me unexpectedly closer to another milestone:

Graphic showing 9,933km ridden on bicycle
On the bubble

At the current pace, the next ride will put me over 10,000km.

Otarumi Touge close!

Selfie of two bikers in helmets and masks in front of Takaosan Guchi

The Halfakid let me know that he and Halfakid no Tomo were planning a ride to Otarumi Touge today, and said they’d be in Nikotama at 8. I let Nana know and she and I got up before 6 to get ready: me to prepare for the ride and Nana to make onigiri.

I was within 10 minutes of leaving home when the Halfakid messaged to let me know the new meeting time would be 9 a.m. OK, that might get us into a post-sundown return but was still doable.

Two bicycles leaning against wall by cycling course
Waiting for one more

I arrived at Nikotama at the agreed time and immediately spotted Tomo. But she was alone. After we said good morning she told me she’d left her bike at the office (not far from our meeting point) yesterday, so she’d taken the train to pick it up. Meanwhile, the Halfakid was setting out from home by himself. While we were waiting, I pumped up Tomo’s tires as well as I could with the portable pump I always carry on Kuroko.

Two bicycles leaning against shrubbery in front of empty fountain
Obligatory park fountain photo

The Halfakid arrived before we both froze to death and we set out on our ride. With the start an hour later than we’d originally planned, I was eager to keep the pace up. We had some wind to fight but we were soon traveling at a good 21-23km/h under very dismal skies. We stopped at the usual park and then once more before crossing the Tamagawa for the Asakawa cycling course.

On the Asakawa we were more directly into the wind. I wanted to keep the pace above 20km/h, but I also didn’t want to use up all my energy before arriving at the climb.

The moment we set out on the Asakawa I realized I should have had at least one onigiri at the previous rest. I’d eaten breakfast before 6 a.m., and now, with our delayed start, it was approaching 11. There’s a spot we usually stop for a restroom and to have some water, and it’s mostly flat along the Asakawa until that point, so I kept on with that as my goal. As soon as we arrived I dismounted and ate not one but two of Nana’s world famous onigiri, while the Halfakid and his Tomo had one each.

We left the path for city traffic up to Takaosan Guchi. Our usual stopping point at a Family Mart was completely empty, and we sat down at the picnic table with hot drinks and some warm food from the convenience store. I had a cheeseburger and Tomo had a nikuman.

It was already 1 p.m. when we set out from the convenience store towards our goal. “It’s only 6km,” I reminded myself. “How tough can it be?” Mindful of previous efforts, I shifted down earlier than was strictly necessary, reserving my strength.

Three kilometers from the top we came to a short bit of road work. We had the red light so we waited patiently (although another rider took his chances and went ahead). When the light changed I waved through all the traffic that was waiting behind us before setting off again.

Soon after that I shifted to my lowest cog and continued to spin. At that point the Halfakid passed us both and sprinted along ahead. Tomo was still following behind me, soundlessly as always. I started calling out waypoints to her and the distance remaining.

Magnetic repulsion

I was still going along well and then I came to the magnet: the nice stopping point along the climb that has become a psychological barrier to me. Some road crew had highlighted it with a yellow stripe of safety tape, but it was still fully accessible. “I don’t have to stop here,” I told myself. “I am able to continue.” With an effort of will, I kept going.

I’m sad to say, though, that the magnetic attraction of that segment of the climb is more than strictly psychological. That’s also among the steepest parts of the road to the top. I hadn’t gone another 50m when another, similar area opened on the left: a wide shoulder after a guardrail with good visibility fore and aft. In other words, a perfect resting spot. And not a meter too soon! It was all I could do to drag myself far enough forward into the area to leave enough room for Tomo to pull in behind me.

“Are you OK?” she called in Japanese as I wheezed to bring my breathing under control. “Yeah, fine. Just need a breather.”

Shut up, legs

It didn’t take long before I was breathing more or less normally again, and we set out once more for the top. “Six hundred meters to go!” I called out. “Really?” came the reply. My legs were already suggesting we take another break. “Look at that nice bit of shoulder right over there! There’s a curb so you can rest without even getting out of the saddle!” I ignored them and kept pedaling. Soon we passed the bus stop. “Three hundred meters!” “Go for it!”

Mountain pass road with sign
Otarumi Touge

I kept on and my legs were not blowing up — much as they were trying to convince me of the fact. “It’s just around this corner!” I shouted to Tomo as my legs were pointing out that yes, this would be another good place to stop. And then we’d made it: we were at the top of the pass. After checking for traffic we crossed the road to take a few congratulatory snaps.

With the photos in the bag we freewheeled downhill to the resting spot with the ramen shop. I’ve promised myself I’ll have a full bowl of ramen there the first time I make the whole climb without stopping. Meanwhile, the vending machine was locked up, so no congratulatory Pokari this time. We took a few more snaps of the scenery and, mindful of the time and the desire to get home before nightfall, we set off on our return.

Mountain scene with overcast sky
View from the top

For the downhill I cautioned Tomo that I would be pulling out all the stops, and she didn’t have to feel she needed to keep up with me. The Halfakid obediently interpreted my remarks, and we set out. I was soon flying down the hill back towards Takaosan Guchi, braking only when I was catching up with the traffic ahead of me. I thought for a minute or two that a car was breathing down my neck, looking for an opportunity to pass, but I soon realized this was just the wind whistling through the cooling vents in my helmet.

When we got back to the construction area I had to stop again, and I looked back to see if Tomo and the Halfakid were with me. In less than a minute they were, several car lengths back. Once again, when the light changed I waved the waiting traffic ahead of us. But this time we just made it through after the last car before the light changed once again.

Selfie of two bikers in helmets and masks in front of Takaosan Guchi
Takaosan Guchi

The crowds at Takaosan were smaller than I’ve ever seen them, but as the Halfakid noted, we’re in a pandemic lockdown. Under those circumstances, there were still far too many people waiting for the cable car ride up the mountain than was healthy. We didn’t linger long but took our snaps and continued on our way.


There’s not much to relate about the return trip. We were going downhill and the wind was with us for large stretches, so we were making good time. I noted via the GPS that we were keeping up a 24-25km/h pace, which is good. But on previous rides with the Halfakid, we’ve done 30 along this stretch. I decided that had been with a stronger tailwind, and put it out of my mind. We were still making good time, never mind the suicidal children crossing the path directly in front of me in response to my bike bell.

Our next stop was across the Tamagawa, “Back into Tokyo” as I think of it — although the entire ride is within Tokyo. We stopped not long after the bridge crossing and the Halfakid and I ate the last of the onigiri. It was after 2:30, and I estimated that we’d reach Nikotama about 4. That would put us on track to reach home by 5. Still, I worried about Tomo’s lack of lights.

As we neared Nikotama, the wind turned against us once again, combining with our fatigue to slow the pace. We were still ticking along at better than 20km/h, though, so I didn’t worry. And fighting the headwind (which wasn’t all that severe) helped to keep us warm. The coldest we’d been all day (apart from the times we took a break exposed to the wind) was racing downwind.

We reached Nikotama at 3:50 and stopped long enough to say our goodbyes and turn on our lights. I crossed Futagobashi’s narrow pedestrian walk without incident and was soon climbing the modest hill out of the Tamagawa valley. I just put it in the lowest gear and spun the pedals, and all was well. When I reached the top it was just 4 p.m. I sipped some water and messaged Nana that I would be home by 5:15 (once again padding out the estimate to create leeway in case I fell behind).

I was exhausted on the way home. It didn’t make a difference except on the few modest climbs, which I navigated in much lower gears than usual. I reminded myself to be mindful of traffic and not succumb to fatigue. Since I’ve changed the GPS to continue counting time even when I’m waiting at a light, I wasn’t thinking about the time of the next 5km split. Instead I was just watching the clock, trying to get home by 5 and so beat my estimate. I was well on the way to making this goal and so I relaxed and concentrated on riding and on traffic.

As I neared home I realized I’d be at 124km and some change — and not very much change at that. It would be nice to ring up a round 125km, but a single 400m lap of the tower wouldn’t bring me up to the goal. Tired as I was, I was tempted to give up on it. But as I neared home, I thought, “I’m going to do this.” So I looped around the tower and made a short run back to Yamate Dori before making a U-turn and finally bringing Kuroko home. I pulled up next to the tower, saved my ride on the GPS, pulled up my mask, and messaged Nana that I was home.

GPS route of bicycle ride
Otarumi Touge close

Otarumi Touge in the heat

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance

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

First mechanical: the Garmin

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

Scheduled maintenance

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

More Garmin trouble

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

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

Going tubeless

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

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

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

Crowded and hot

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

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

Greetings from France

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

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

Litany of excuses follows

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

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

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

How to create a magnet

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

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

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


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

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

Adding it up

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

Rapid descent

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

Additional refreshment

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

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

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

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

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

And that should be the end of the story

It’s not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycle chain with bent link encirled
The real culprit

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

Return to Otarumi Touge

Two cyclists pose in front of the entrance to the Takaosan cable car and lift

With the upcoming Tour de Tohoku having so much climbing, I thought it was important today to have some practice. Otarumi Touge (pass), near Takaosan, is perfect for this. There’s a gradual rise of almost 200m over the more than 40km from Tokyo to Takaosan Guchi, and then a 6% rise over the last few kilometers to the top. What I wasn’t counting on was leaving my legs home in bed today.

Two bicycles in a park
Father-son activity

The day started off well enough, but once we crossed the Tama River and began following the Asa River westward, I started lagging. The Halfakid commented on it several times.

Where’s your energy today?
Guy Jean:
In the past.

I’m not sure why I was lagging so much today, but the heat was definitely playing a role.

Cars on a road leading to the mountain pass
Miles to go — upwards

We stopped at our usual convenience store, with its bicycle stands and picnic tables in the shade, and ate Nana’s world-famous onigiri. Also some fried chicken, cheese, etc. A group of cyclists, all wearing the same gear, came rolling in from the direction of the pass. The Halfakid and I joked about whether I had the energy to continue. I said, “OK, let’s get going. Or, you could go and I could wait here for you, eating ice cream.”

Once we set out, the Halfakid asked if I would make it up to the pass without stopping to rest. “That’s a very, very good question,” I told him. In fact that was the goal — I’ve come close but not made it in the past, while the Halfakid always rides “Straight — to the top!” But I’m sorry to report that after I’d only gone about half way, I just needed to stop and rest. After that, it was go for 100-200m, and then stop to rest. This was the pattern I’d followed during the longer climbs on the recent ride in England. After each rest when I set out I felt refreshed, as if I could continue onwards from there. But then inevitably, before 200m or so had passed, I found myself needing to stop for a rest again. I started looking for turn-offs that would be in the shade, particularly if I could see a long stretch ahead where there was no good place to get off the road onto a shoulder.

Cyclist in front of road sign for Otarumi Pass
Otarumi Pass

All good things must come to an end, and eventually even listless climbing in blazing sunshine and heat will bring one to the top of the pass. I looked in vain for a seat in the shade, and eventually sat in the gravel with my back against a woodpile as I drank cold water from the vending machine — but at least I was in the shade! “Wake me at 5 a.m. so I can get to work on time,” I joked with the Halfakid.

But the truth is that it’s generally downhill from that point all the way back to home. Once I’d rested enough to continue we plunged back down the mountain to the convenience store in Takaosan, after stopping for a photo at Takasosan Guchi.

Two cyclists pose in front of the entrance to the Takaosan cable car and lift
Takaosan Guchi

The Halfakid was a bit confused, because he’d stayed with me throughout the descent, whereas previously I’d left him in my dust. “Is there a problem with your bike?” I told him that — unlike the previous time — I’d been riding the brakes the entire way down. I just didn’t feel as brave this time around all the blind curves on the descent.

I had a pork bun at the convenience store and we shared a bottle of ocha. From there we continued home. And suddenly, I felt as if I had my legs! I’m not sure how much of this was the fact we were trending downhill (although at this point imperceptibly — at any given moment the path appeared to be level) and how much was due to the well-known phenomenon that the horse is always faster on the way back to the barn than on the way out. Meanwhile, at those points where the path was straight and familiar, the Halfakid was rocketing ahead, to wait for me at the next turning point.

From the convenience store in Takaosan, we went straight to the bridge taking us back across the Tama River. Back into Tokyo, as I think of it, although truth to be told today’s entire ride was within the boundaries of Tokyo. (The place we stopped at Otarumi Touge is just a step over the border into Kanagawa Prefecture.) Our usual rest spot is within view of the bridge from there. After a rest of several minutes and many milliliters of water, we continued down along the Tama River towards home.

Bicycle leaning against a wooden railing overlooing a reflecting pond
Almost home

Whether it was Nana’s onigiri, consumed en route, or the retreat of the temperature from the day’s high, or a combination of these things, I really had my legs back at this point. We made good time beating our way back downstream along the cycle path before heading into city traffic. We took one final break at a small park just where our route diverges from the Tama River, and I messaged Nana with an update of when she could expect me to be home.

From here I let the Halfakid take the lead as he knows the way, and we dodged in and out of traffic. There are a couple of significant climbs in traffic along the way, and I set personal bests on them (according to the Garmin). I left the Halfakid at his apartment and continued to push myself for the remaining 8km to home. Was I rewarded? Indeed: a new personal best for 40km of 1:37:24 (largely downhill, of course).

Otarumi Touge Loop

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I’ve been wanting to test out Kuroko’s new lower gearing as achieved by a replacement crankset, and so today the Halfakid and I planned to revisit Otarumi Touge, a mountain pass near Mt Takao. Unfortunately when it came time to set out, the Halfakid informed me he’d spent too much time in the sun at a barbecue yesterday, and so I set out solo.

Since replacing the crankset I’ve been meaning to adjust the front derailleur. I’d gotten it to the point where it would shift just fine, but it would make some noise on the larger chainring because it was rubbing the chain. So before setting out this morning I (once again) tightened up the derailleur cable, and then I spent some quality time with the barrel adjuster fine-tuning the cable tension. I revisited this a couple of times during today’s ride, including while I was riding, and I’m finally satisfied with it.

When the Halfakid and I last visited Otarumi Touge, we got to the top of the mountain pass, rested for a bit, and then did a U-turn and headed home. But the map I’d copied for this route went on from the top of the pass and made a loop through Kanagawa Prefecture before returning to the Tama River (and hence home). So my goal for today was to do the loop instead of the U-turn. It meant an additional 10km (the reason we hadn’t done the loop previously was we’d ridden in January, and daylight is at a premium), but it turns out that was not the only surprise in store for me.

Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin
Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin

Right from the start I was feeling strong, and I quickly made my way up the Tama River. Just before reaching the point where I need to cross the river and start working towards Mt Takao, I stopped in a park near the cycling course to enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous asari onigiri.

Yaezakura at the rest stop
Yaezakura at the rest stop

Asakawa Comfortable Road
Asakawa Comfortable Road

Crossing over the Tamagawa, I followed a branch known as Asakawa and soon I found myself spinning along the Asakawa Comfortable Road (although I prefer to think of it as the Lollygagging Turtle Way). I wasn’t sure what kind of progress I was making along here, but when I returned home and checked Strava I found I was posting personal records all along the way.

Not long after stopping for the photo, unfortunately, I ran through a thick cloud of gnats. As they pinged against my helmet and sunglasses it sounded like a handful of gravel thrown against a tin sheet, and I spent the next few minutes fishing gnats out of my ears (despite the bandana which covers them) and wiping them from my eyes (again, despite the sunglasses). A little further on, I turned down a switchback to a gravel path and nearly lost it on the turn. In the end I regained my balance and traction just as I managed to get my foot out of the cleat. And then a few dozen meters later on, I realized that I didn’t need to take the gravel path after all.

After a bit of pedestrian traffic and requisite kids running across my path without checking for traffic, I came into the second leg of the Asakawa route to find the river lined with yaezakura, and a full-fledged koinobori festival in progress.

Yaezakura lining the cycle path
Yaezakura lining the cycle path

Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons
Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons

Before long I found myself at Takaosanguchi, the entrance to Mt Takao, and stopped for some fine dining chez 7-11 (although mostly featuring Nana’s remaining onigiri). A group of five riders joined me here for a brief rest, and I shared with them the remainder of the 2-liter bottle of water I’d purchased. Although I set out first, they soon passed me by as I stopped right after the lunch rest at the cable car entrance for Mt Takao (and they continued to pull away — I didn’t see them again).

Mt Takao cable car entrance
Mt Takao cable car entrance

Up, up, up!
Up, up, up!

From that point on the climbing begins in earnest. It’s not very steep (despite the appearance in the profile above), but it is relentless. It just keeps going up for about 4.5km at an average grade of 6%. When we first made it up the mountain in January, we weren’t sure about the remaining distance and I stopped to rest a couple of times — the last time within 50m of the top.

This time around I was doing a lot of math in my head from the GPS measurements, and for some reason I bobbled things. I did make use of the new, lowest gear, and was going along pretty well in that. When I reached what I’d calculated as perhaps the halfway point (recognizing that it was further along than the first stop I’d made in January), I stopped for a rest. This turned out to be a mistake: in the first case, because once I mounted up again my thighs (until then doing OK) were like jelly. And in the second case, because I turned out to be less than 400m from the top. Crawling along with wobbly thighs, I soon recognized my error and pushed on to the top.

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge
Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I took a brief rest here and then continued onward (and downhill!) into Kanagawa Prefecture. There were some gorgeous views overlooking the Sagami River valley, but as they were all flashing past at 50km/h, I didn’t stop for photos.

And then I entered terra incognita, at least as far as places I’d ridden before. I was kind of expecting a nice, fast descent and then a flat ride back to Tamagawa (as when we’d taken a U-turn at the top), but in fact there was still a whole lot of “up-down, up-down” to go. I passed some beautiful scenery along the way, including the Sagami Dam, but I had to stop once again to rest on a rather steepish uphill, even though I could see the top from the point where I needed to take a break.

Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam
Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam

At this point, I was playing a mental game with myself which turned out to be a mistake. I was telling myself it was a very short ride back to the Tama River, and so I didn’t stop to rest along the way (apart from traffic lights and the time I stopped mid-climb). In fact, it was 35km to get back to the Tama River and pick up my usual course. By the time I got there, I was exhausted, hungry and sore. I stopped in the park with the yaezakura and had a candy bar and a nice, 20-minute rest. I contacted Nana to let her know I had another 30km to go, and so not to expect me for another two hours or more. Although I’d been averaging more than 22km/h up to this point (with some rapid descents making up for my slow-poke climbing style), once I got back on the Tama River I was fighting a headwind. And I was just …

The next 5km were just murder. My butt and hands hurt, I’d been nursing a cramp in my right thigh, I was fighting a headwind, and out of nowhere the crank started making a clicking noise. I was seriously considering finding someplace to leave Kuroko for the night and taking the train home. But when I reached the next rest point, a little shrine with a major restroom in the shadow of Keiokaku Velodrome, and had a break and refilled my water bottle, I felt reinvigorated. Maybe the candy bar I’d eaten earlier was kicking in.

At any rate, I soldiered on. I thought I was taking it easy now, but I discovered when I arrived home that I’d still set a couple more personal bests. The crank continued making noise like a pair of maracas, and I was worried about the damage I was doing. Whenever I had the chance I would coast instead of pedaling.

Final rest spot
Final rest spot

From the final scheduled rest spot, I continued on. Even my butt felt better at this point. I wonder what was in that candy bar after all! At this point I was feeling tired but not bad overall — although I continued to be worried about the knocking noise coming from the crank. I used various tricks to make sure the noise wasn’t coming from the gears, chain, shoes, rack, etc. But meanwhile I continued looking forward to the end of my ride, a nice, hot bath, and a delicious cold beer!

Made it, in the end, 8 hours 7 minutes after I’d set out. That was a better time than our previous effort: although it was 10km less and rather less climbing (in fact, today involved an additional 500m or 70%), we’d taken 8 hours 15 minutes on that occasion (probably because we spent a lot of time at the summit).

Looking back from today’s ride post-bath and beer, I’m pleased overall. The new gearing will be a big help when it comes to Lejog (although I haven’t yet tried any climbs with laden panniers!). Today I climbed nearly as much as during last year’s Tour de Tohoku (which came in 25km shorter), where I’d spent a lot of time pushing Kuroko uphill. There’s obviously a new issue to sort out with the crankset (probably in the bottom bracket), but I’ve finally got the derailleur adjusted properly. The only real downsides to today’s ride were the Halfakid not making it and the obvious bonk I’d experienced when I determined to keep going until I got back to Tamagawa, rather than stop, rest and have a snack where I was.

Otarumi Touge

Otarumi Touge road marker

Otarumi Touge (Pass) is a popular cyclists’ destination near Mt. Takao at the border of Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture. Naturally, because it’s a mountain pass, getting there involves a bit of climbing. The Halfakid and I had attempted the route last November, but we lost an hour to a mechanical and I was on a tight deadline (dinner with friends that evening), so we turned back after reaching the foot of Mt. Takao.

This time, with the Kid on a new bike and me with no deadline (and fully charged lights), I was more confident of our ability to finish — particularly if the Halfakid didn’t flat along the route!

I set out at 7:30 to take full advantage of the daylight, and met the Kid at his place at 8. From there’s it’s a bit of a run in traffic down to the Tama River, but it’s largely downhill. It wasn’t long before we were cruising up the Tama cycling path. We passed a group of three in matching jerseys for a Setagaya cycling club, and before we knew it we were acting as their pacesetters — at least until the Halfakid took a wrong turning and I slowed my pace to wait for him to catch up again.

Brief rest before crossing
Brief rest before crossing

Just before crossing over the Tama River to continue our ride towards Mt. Takao, we stopped at a quiet park and had one of Nana’s famous onigiri.

Once over the bridge, we joined up the Asa River cycling course and were on the lookout for the wrong turning we’d made on our first outing in November. I nearly went the wrong way once again, but the Halfakid reeled me in and we were soon on our way.

As we’d only come this way once before, we were still learning the ins and outs of the Asa River course. Is it better to take that cycling path although it’s gravel, or stay on this narrow road against the traffic with broken pavement? Should we cross this bridge in the road or on the sidewalk? There were a couple of times I had to apologize to the Kid for sudden maneuvers made without hand signals.

The final stretch of cycling path into Takao is bumpy, broken and full of pedestrians out for a weekend stroll in the beautiful weather. We chanced across a local fire department staging a bonfire surmounted by a daruma — that place was lit! Not long after that we were climbing up from the path and back into traffic. But it’s not far from the end of the path into Takao proper.

Nana's famous onigiri
Nana’s famous onigiri

Once in Takao, we stopped at a convenience store we’d found in November that has picnic benches and parking for bicycles. We bought hot coffee and bottled water, and enjoyed some of Nana’s famous onigiri before our assault on the mountain. This time for the first time, she’d made onigiri with umeboshi, which is a favorite of the Kid.

Onwards! I had my Garmin plotting the course (which was basically: follow the road), but it doesn’t show how much further to go. From this point we were climbing for 6km up to the pass. The overall grade is not steep — a 5% average — but it just keeps going up, up and up! Strava lists the climb as a Category 3, with two segments: 7.62km at 3%, or just the last 3.61km at 5%. I was sure I could do it — it’s much more gradual than the run-up to the pass between Nara and Osaka — but perhaps not all at one gulp. I made it about halfway up before taking my first break and another half kilometer or more before the next break. After each stop, though, I mounted the bike and continued pedaling.

Upwards! The road didn’t exactly switch back, but it wended its way next to a small stream upwards to the pass, first in the chilly shadow of the mountain, then in the bright warm sunshine. We watched enviously as cyclists descended in the opposite direction, or occasionally passed us on the way up towards the pass. I should point out here that the Halfakid was going strong. Despite his much higher gearing, he could have stormed past me to the top at any point without having to stop for a break.

I took my final brief break at a narrow shoulder that would turn out to be within 50m of the goal. If only I’d continued around that last corner I’d have seen it was the end! But no matter — we made it. As we flashed under the sign marking the pass, I asked the Halfakid if it said what I thought. He replied that he wasn’t familiar with the kanji, but it said “mountain up-down.” (峠) “That will be touge: pass,” I replied, making a climbing and then descending motion with my hand.

Otarumi Touge: Tokyo side
Otarumi Touge: Tokyo side

Otarumi Touge: Kanagawa side
Otarumi Touge: Kanagawa side

Naturally, we rested at the top. There was a ramen restaurant with soft cream, but neither of us was hungry enough for a full meal at that point. We had water and more hot coffee, and I had a Snickers bar. We wandered around a bit and took photos.

View from Otarumi Touge, towards Kanagawa
View from Otarumi Touge, towards Kanagawa

We couldn’t dawdle too long, though. We knew that we’d only come half way, and needed to get back home again. We mounted up. Somehow, the trip from the pass back to Takao went much faster, and the only break I took was when I’d left the Halfakid so far behind that I couldn’t see him anymore. (This turned out to be the last time that this was true on this particular ride.) When we got back to Takaosanguchi, we stopped for a quick photo at the entrance to the cable car up the mountain.

Cable car entrance at Takaosan Guchi
Cable car entrance at Takaosanguchi

We stopped at the same convenience store again and stocked up on food, and then worked our way through the traffic back to the Asa River cycling course.

Naturally, on the way home, we were a bit more knackered. And yet when we came to straight, smooth cycling path, the Halfakid rocketed past me and on ahead. Now that he has his new bike, he has reserves beyond what I’m able to match. I didn’t try to hold him back: it’s good if he can stretch his thighs and calves knowing that I’ll catch up with him when he stops for a break at a turning point.

Last stop in a park
Last stop in a park

We crossed the Tama River in the homeward direction and stopped to eat all the goodies we’d bought at the convenience store in Takao. Then we rejoined the Tama cycling path: flat and straight as an arrow back towards home. It wasn’t too long before we came to the park we’d first stopped at in the morning, on our way to the Tama River.

From there we were retracing our path of the morning, except what was downhill then was uphill for us. Again, I think the Halfakid was holding a lot in reserve, but I was doing my best with my worn-out thighs. My only hope of staying ahead was via trickery, which I apparently employed via lack of hand signals as I sped through a right turn intersection on a yellow and left the Halfakid waiting for another cycle of the lights.

All good things must come to an end, including 100km-plus rides featuring a mountain pass at the midway point. I left the Halfakid at his apartment and messaged Nana I was on my way home. I was racing the Garmin’s battery, which was over the 8-hour mark at this point, while at the same time nursing my exhausted thighs. I alternated between coasting along, taking things easy, and thinking, “Hey, I got this!” and pushing the pedals to the metal.

Otarumi Touge round trip
Otarumi Touge round trip

(I’m not sure why the mountain profile isn’t symmetrical — we came back the same way we went up!)

We’ll definitely come back here. There’s a loop course which, instead of turning around at the pass, continues on into Kanagawa Prefecture and turns south before looping back towards the same bridge which takes us over the Tama River. It adds about 20km to the overall route, so we’ll save it for a bright, hot day a bit later in the year when the sun is hanging in the sky a couple of more hours.

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