Once more around the park, driver

Bicycle in front of moat with fading cherry blossoms

With a late start this morning and a longer ride planned for tomorrow, I was in the mood for a shorter ride today. Between my two typical short courses — Haneda and the Tokyo Landmarks — I chose the latter.

Bicycle leaning on hedge in front of fountain
Meiji Jingu Gaien

Tokyo Tower looming over trees and flowers in foreground
Tokyo Tower and Shiba Park

The skies were grey when I departed, with the forecast for more of the same all day. It may not be the most cheery weather, but it makes it less likely I’ll get a sunburn. For most of the day, my shades remained in my bag.

I hadn’t given Nana a clear answer yesterday on whether I’d be biking today, so she didn’t make any onigiri.

Imperial Palace moat and outbuildings
Imperial Palace moat and outbuildings

Cherry blossoms overhanging the Imperial Palace moat
Imperial Palace moat

I’m not able to eff why I decided to ride Dionysus today. Kuroko should be fine to ride following the shifter cable replacement, and I’m planning on riding her tomorrow. But I made the right choice today. My pace was easygoing — not to say lackadaisical — and we had fun.

Rainbow bridge across bay with cloudy skies above
Grey Rainbow Bridge

Tokyo Skytree from Sakura Bridge with bicycle in foreground
Tokyo Skytree

At Tokyo Big Sight I stopped to get lunch from a convenience store. Unfortunately it was 12:15 on a weekday, and the shop was packed with people. I had to wait for people to move to get what I was after, and then waited in quite a long queue to get to the register. Fortunately, the workers were fast and efficient, and I didn’t wait very long.

Hungry as I was, my eyes may have been bigger than my stomach. When I set out again after eating, I was feeling a bit leaden. Within a handful of kilometers the feeling passed. I still don’t feel as strong as normal, and I don’t know if that’s a lingering effect of pneumonia, or just the effect of having missed nearly a month of cycling. At any rate, I continued on at a comfortable pace.

Dionysus didn’t give any trouble. I raised the seat slightly at the beginning of the ride and that seems to have been a good choice. The main water bottle bracket — the one on the down tube — was a bit loose, but that was quickly remedied with the minitool. After about 50km my left wrist got tired. I was riding in traffic all day so I didn’t want to ride on the horns, which takes my hands away from the brake levers. So I just rested the wrist at every opportunity (such as the multitude of traffic lights).

Bicycle in front of moat with fading cherry blossoms
Chidorigafuchi just after the cherry blossoms

Although the skies looked like rain all day, we didn’t have any — true to the forecast. When I got to Budokan I messaged Nana that I’d be home in about an hour. In the end I made it in half that.

GPS record of cycle ride
Once more around the park, driver

Nothin’ but blues and Elvis

Bicycle in front of moat and Edojō Sakurada Tatsumi Yagura

I had a late start this morning because Nana’s been after me for a couple of weeks now to have a haircut. I finally got on the road after 11, and immediately I knew I was overdressed for the weather. It was not quite 10C while I was preparing for the ride, but the temperature was soon in the double-digits and eventually hit a high of 17C. Meanwhile, I was dressed pretty much the same as I would have been if the temperature was 3.

I’d been thinking of riding to Haneda today, but Fearless Leader Joe brought up the Tokyo Landmarks ride in an e-mail last night, and I realized it had been a while since I’ve done this. I took Dionysus because I wanted to check if tightening the bottom bracket had solved the bearing knock I’d detected on my last ride.

Bicycle in front of hedge, fountain and Meiji Memorial Portrait Gallery
Meiji Memorial Portrait Gallery

Dionysus doesn’t have a cockpit bag, and the saddle bag is small (just big enough for a spare inner tube, tool kit and the lock), so I loaded everything I needed to carry in my jacket pockets: wallet and cash, phone, keys, tissues. This was fine, but when I got too warm I had no alternative but to just unzip the jacket and continue on.

That was pretty much the only fly in the day’s ointment, though. The weather was sunny and warm, and the wind was mild. Dionysus’s bottom bracket was silent — no sign of the earlier bearing knock. The brakes and shifter worked flawlessly. Every man called his fellow “brother,” and the lion laid down with the lamb.

… and somebody else’s favorite song

This was by far my longest ride on Dionysus since I acquired Kuroko. I’ve only used Dionysus for commuting since then. I was pleased to find I had none of the finger and toe numbness I used to experience with Ol’ Paint. The riding position is good — a bit more upright than Kuroko, with my hands just a bit farther apart. Dionysus accelerates quickly and is very nimble, but lacks some of the top speed I get out of Kuroko (owing to the more upright riding position). And the quick steering means constant vigilance, particularly on fast downhills.

Bicycle in front of moat and Edojō Sakurada Tatsumi Yagura
Edojō Sakurada Tatsumi Yagura

At the Imperial Palace, I thought I might get a closer look at the Sakashita Gate. There’s a large gravel lot separating it from the road. I dismounted to have a look and immediately noticed the “No bicycles” sign. I hoped that I could slip through by walking my bike. But as I approached the gate I saw I was walking directly towards a guard booth. The guard advanced and told me, very apologetically and politely in broken English, that no bicycles are allowed. I thanked him and returned to the street, and then stopped as usual by the Edojō Sakurada Tatsumi Yagura.

I continued on my way through the financial district. I’d chosen to ride without navigation, and this was the one spot I thought I might miss my turning. But I found the exact spot without any difficulty, and continued past the now defunct Tsukiji fish market to Toyosu and on towards Tokyo Big Sight. It was getting towards 2 p.m. when I stopped at a convenience store for lunch, which I ate at a bench in the shade.

Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge

Bicycle on pedestrian bridge with Tokyo Skytree in background
Tokyo Skytree

There’s no getting away from the fact that the next leg of the route is a long, straight slog through city traffic with lots of traffic lights. It was on this portion of the ride that my butt started hurting and my left wrist was feeling the strain. None of the aches and pains were too heavy to bear, though, and I continued on towards the Sumida River. I stopped on a pedestrian bridge just long enough to take a snap of Tokyo Skytree before continuing onwards.

When I set out in the late morning, I’d planned to stop and photograph every landmark I passed along the way, and send these along to Fearless Leader Joe along with the GPS coordinates. As always happens, though, I get in a groove on the bike and don’t want to stop. After leaving Tokyo Skytree behind, I didn’t stop for Sensoji (Asakusa shrine), Ueno Park, Tokyo University or Tokyo Dome. Even though a couple of these involved fairly challenging climbs, when I got to the top I just wanted to continue onwards. I finally took another break (my last of the day) at Budokan.

Bicycle leaning against railing in front of Chidorigafuchi palace moat
Chidorigafuchi

Tayasumon Gate
Tayasumon Gate

It was about 3:30 when I arrived in front of Budokan, having oozed up Kudanzaka in my lowest gear. I messaged Nana I would be home by 4:30 (as always leaving myself a generous margin for error). I still had plenty of water in my bottle so I set off without delay. Despite obeying the traffic signals (mostly) and not taking chances in traffic, I rolled into home about 4:05, having made quite good time through Yotsuya and Shinjuku.

GPS record of bike ride
Nothin’ but blues and Elvis

FLJ always names his rides after the song lyrics he’s been signing that day. In my case, the Steely Dan lyrics have been stuck in my head all day. It’s true I suffered no static at all on today’s ride. But I’m not promising I’ll make this a regular thing.

初走り: First Ride of the New Year

Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, Meiji Jingu Gaien

The first ride of the New Year is always something of a landmark event. In the past I’ve typically done my quick jaunt down the Tama river to Haneda, because I can have it done in four or five hours and so not be out in the cold so long. So that’s been something of a tradition.

This year, the Halfakid was eager to try out his new bike, and I was also thinking that to mark the New Year a visit to the Tokyo Landmarks might be appropriate. So we arranged to set off at 9 this morning. The forecast was for a not-unreasonable 8C and sunny, with a bit of wind, so I thought we’d have time to stop and photograph some of the landmarks along the way, a few of the sights we usually pass on the trot.

Akasaka Palace: State Guest House
Akasaka Palace: State Guest House

Akasaka Palace is one such place. It’s a fairly brisk climb up from Gaien and then there it is, all by itself, set far back from the street behind a wrought-iron gate. We stopped at the sidewalk in front of the gate and leaned our bikes against the wall. As I was preparing to take the photo, though, a guard informed me that we were not permitted to lean out bikes against the wall. Sure, dude. I asked the Kid to hold my bike and his while I grabbed the shot.

From there it’s a very fast downhill to Akasaka Mitsuke, followed by a steep climb up towards the Imperial Palace and Nagatacho. For once, we hit the light at the bottom of the hill green and so had a good head start on the climb that followed. We took this as an auspicious sign.

Kokkai: the National Diet
Kokkai: the National Diet

Next comes another attraction I usually speed by: the National Diet Building. The traffic around the entrance is usually fast and thick, and the edifice marks the beginning of the short, steep climbs of Nagatacho. We were curious to see how the Halfakid would handle the climbs on his new bike, as the gearing is much steeper than he’d become used to on Ol’ Paint. As it happens, though, the bike’s performance more than made up for this and he had no difficulty keeping pace with me through the climbs.

We stopped not much further on for a water break, and then again when we reached Hibiya Park to eat some of Nana’s famous onigiri and have something warm to drink. I had resolved to save one of the rice balls for later in the ride, but the mentaiko was too delicious and we finished them all on the spot.

Imperial Palace under cloudy skies
Imperial Palace under cloudy skies

By the time we’d finished eating, the sky had completely clouded over. We proceeded to the Imperial Palace under completely cloudy skies, and with the wind starting to pick up a bit. After stopping for a quick photo, we set our sights through the financial district to Toyosu and Tokyo Big Site, where we planned to stop for lunch.

The forecast was sunny

The gloom continued to gather as we raced eastwards towards the Sumida river. We were making good time, but we’d put away our sunglasses and were bracing for wind and possible cold weather.

Rainbow Bridge: Who turned off the sun?
Rainbow Bridge: Who turned off the sun?

Sumida river near Toyosu
Sumida river near Toyosu

We continued onwards to Tokyo Big Sight, where we locked up the bikes and took a break to enjoy hamburgers, fried chicken and fried potatoes. The fast food shop where we stopped had implemented self-service registers, and I’m glad to report I’m not the only one who took more than one try to complete the transaction. Fortunately the staffer waiting on me was very polite and patient.

Tomioka Hachimangu
Tomioka Hachimangu

After lunch our next destination was Tomioka Hachimangu. This is another landmark I typically pass on the fly, but I decided to stop today for a brief visit and photo. The shrine is famed as the birthplace of sumo. I decided that I would visit again soon, when I had time to devote to seeing all that was to be seen here.

Tokyo Skytree from Sumida River
Tokyo Skytree from Sumida River

From Tomioka we turned north and fought the traffic lights until we met up with the Sumida river again, and then Tokyo Skytree. At this point I was starting to wonder if we’d used up most of our spare time for photo taking, but we always stop for one of Skytree.

Our next stop was the famous Sensoji at Asakusa. Again, this is one I usually pass by, but I was aware it was just a few paces off the course. This time we flew past and I hastily signaled a turn and then climbed up on the sidewalk and reversed course. As I did so I heard the Halfakid calling for me. I stopped to see what he wanted. “I think I have a flat.”

Sensoji
Sensoji

We dismounted and confirmed the tire was flat. The Halfakid wanted to find someplace less crowded than Sensoji, so he looked up a nearby park on his phone. There I coached him through the process of removing the holed inner tube, inspecting the tire for foreign objects (none found) and inserting the new inner tube: real father-son bonding stuff. The whole process took us about half an hour, or around 45 minutes when combined with washing hands, eating Snickers bars and having a warm drink from the vending machine.

Puncture: fixed
Puncture: fixed

With that delay, we were really racing the encroaching clouds and setting sun. We passed by Ueno Park, Tokyo University and Tokyo Dome without stopping. Our last rest stop was one I never miss: Budokan and Chidorigafuchi (plus it’s at the top of a climb so I need to catch my breath). This is old stomping grounds for the Halfakid, who has actually competed in karate tournaments at Budokan.

Tayasu-mon Gate at Budokan
Tayasu-mon Gate at Budokan

Chidorigafuchi, looking cold and uninviting
Chidorigafuchi, looking cold and uninviting

From here it’s just a couple of hills and then flat all the way back to Shinjuku and home. We’d determined to stop at the bike shop there, to see if they would replace the flat inner tube under warranty. The Halfakid had purchased several additional warranties on the bike, and I recalled that one covered up to three flats per year. I handed him my point card and waited outside with Kuroko while he took his bike down the stairs into the shop to negotiate.

I didn’t have to wait long: he returned in less than 10 minutes. The verdict? The warranty covers the labor cost of fixing a flat, not the cost of the flat inner tube. We joked for a moment about being reimbursed for his labor, and then we turned towards home. At this point we were really fighting the winds, but they didn’t stop the Halfakid racing ahead of me when the traffic was clear to stretch his legs. Now that he has a smooth, lightweight ride, he’s going to need to get out without his father to see what he’s capable of.

It was just 4 p.m. when we got back to my tower condo, and the Halfakid took a moment to switch on his headlight before continuing on the remaining 8km to his apartment. By the time he reached home, I was relaxing in the tub with a beer.

New Year's Ride
New Year’s Ride

The Garmin’s battery died just before we reached Budokan. It’s just over 7km from there to home, so call it an even 60km for me, 76km for the Halfakid.

初走り: First Ride of the New Year