Yokohama solo

Yokohama Bay Bridge

I set out this morning in sunny but cool weather towards Yokohama, which I’d had to give up on last weekend when I learned the Yokohama marathon was running the same day.

It was a chilly 9C when I started preparing for the ride, but by the time Nana had got out of bed and started making onigiri, the temperature had risen to 12C. As I set off I started to wonder if I’d overdressed with my long-sleeve jersey given the forecast high of 18C. But I found even when the temperature had risen to its peak, the long-sleeve jersey was still welcome in the shade and wind.

My goal for the day was to see how much I could chip away at the total elapsed time for the ride, rather than the average moving speed. So I wasn’t putting the pedal down at every opportunity, but rather keeping track of the number of breaks I took, and making sure not to dawdle so long as my bum and hands didn’t need any extra rest time.

There was a brisk crosswind when I reached the river. I didn’t fight it — it wasn’t helping, but it wasn’t holding me back much.

Cycle course with detour signs and arrows at fork in path
What would the Tamagawa cycling course be without detours?

The wind ceased to be an issue when I joined up with Rte. 15 into Yokohama, so I could concentrate on traffic and traffic lights for the remaining 15km to the goal.

Self-inflicted wound

As I neared Yatozaka, one question was foremost in my mind: would I climb the hill in a single go? I’ve managed it twice in the past, but have suffered a large number of failures along the way. I made the turn and started the climb easily, then quickly shifted to the smaller chainring, and then down, and down, spinning all the way.

… and then, ker-chunk! The chain slipped up in to the second cog. I hit the shifter again and it immediately returned to the largest cog. And after another four or five crank revolutions: ker-chunk! again! I continued on up the hill this way, feeling the chain slip to the smaller cog every few revolutions, and quickly hitting the shifter to bring it back to the largest cog.

I continued in this fashion until well past the dog café. But then — ker-chunck! — it was just too much and I dismounted and pushed the bike up the couple of dozen remaining meters. I resolved to rest and enjoy the view, and then have a look at the rear derailleur situation.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

The view from the garden at the top was fine. It was warm and not too windy. I worked my way through the two remaining onigiri, watching with mild alarm as a little girl playing on the banister nearly knocked Kuroko over. (Her grandfather warned her off just in the nick of time.)

Onigiri time over, I had a look at the rear derailleur. On the largest cog, the derailleur was severely misaligned. I was surprised it could shift onto the largest cog at all. I tried backing off the limit screw with my multitool (mindful of the extreme consequences of doing this during Lejog), to no avail. It wasn’t the limit screw — the cogs were in the wrong place.

It was only then I remembered that during yesterday’s cleaning and lube job, I’d left out the spacer. It’s a very thin spacer, but it goes on the hub before any of the cogs, and it pushes them outward just that single, important millimeter.

Realizing there was nothing I could do until I got home (and knowing I didn’t need this gear again for the remainder of the ride), I put the limit screw back to where it had been and mounted up for the ride home.

Long, steady crawl

It’s a lot of traffic and even more stop lights on the way back from Yokohama to the Tamagawa river. I concentrated more on timing the lights than on bursts of speed, with some limited success. On more than one occasion, a driver turning right from the opposite direction would creep forward as I entered the intersection, and I got more aggressive about shouting “Hold!” and raising my hand in a “Stop!” gesture. A couple had the grace to look abashed, but the more normal reaction was to pretend not to see me (which is the whole point — making sure they’ve seen me and aren’t going to hit the gas just as I’m crossing in front of them).

At the top of the climb out of Futako, I took a minimal break, drinking some water and messaging Nana that I’d be home “about 3.” From there it was the usual dance with traffic on the way home. At one point I checked my elapsed time at 5 hours 15 minutes. OK — if I can only finish in less than 45 minutes! I was already about 10 minutes out of Futako, so it was quite likely, but not the sure thing.

As I neared home I was able to snake my way past quite a bit of backed-up traffic in places. The situation around Sasazuka was far less crowded than is often the case, and I pedaled smoothly along. At last I was in the final run towards Nishi Shinjuku, and there was nothing to do but pedal and try to game the lights. At last I sped downhill past central park, and for a wonder made the light at the bottom. I remained in the highest gear for the remaining flat 300m or so to reach our tower, and then shut off the Garmin and messaged Nana I was home.

22 May 2116 Oct. 216 March 226 Nov. 22
Distance (km)87.9987.6087.9288.14
Moving time (h:mm:ss)4:26:004:08:594:28:434:18:51
Total elapsed time (h:mm:ss)5:57:485:50:596:35:385:47:46
Average moving speed (km/h)19.821.119.620.4
Performance comparison for Yokohama round trip

Compared to the three previous runs down to Yokohama, my average moving speed was on the high side. I’d been solo on 22 May 2021, with with José for the next two rides, with a lot of faffing on the most recent ride on a cold March morning. And today, solo and with only a slight mechanical, I’d indeed put in the shortest total elapsed time, acing my goal for the day.

GPS record of cycle route
Yokohama solo

I arrived home just before 3 o’clock, and after a quick shower, hustled out to the Workshop in the Sky to attend to the day’s mechanical. In a few minutes I had the wheel off and the sprockets removed from the wheel, and sure enough, the spacer was missing. Fortunately I knew exactly where it was. The sprockets went back on quickly, and then it was 10 minutes in the stand while I sorted out the shifter adjustments. Fingers crossed I won’t have any issues on next weekend’s ride. (And the forecast is improving!)

Why are we riding when it’s cold?

Bicycle leaning against Kawazuzakura tree in bloom

I’d thought about having a longer ride last weekend, but schedules changed and I ended up with a deadline. José was available to ride, under the same conditions, and we decided as we’d done Yokohama in 6 hours previously then that would be the plan.

It was still just 4C when we met in Futako, and the first words out of José’s mouth were, “Why are we riding when it’s cold?” In fact the sun was out and I’d already started warming up from the exertion, so before continuing on I took off my outer jacket and stuffed it in the saddlebag.


Kawazuzakura blossoms against blue sky

Just 3km south of Futako on the Tamagawa course there’s a rest area with a line of sakura trees. Half the trees are kawazuzakura, a special, early blossoming variety named after their town of origin: Kawazu at the southern tip of Izu peninsula.

Ripping his legs off

As we rode it soon became apparent the José was not on his usual form. I had to strain to look over my shoulder at times to see him hundreds of meters back. I knew he could catch me anytime he wanted, so I didn’t worry as long as I could see him every few kilometers. I stopped and waited once at a detour to make sure he found the correct route.

At the next rest stop, José told me he’d been to the gym the previous two days in a row, and had in addition run 5km. So his thighs were not completely fresh.

Meanwhile I was feeling OK, but not at my best. We joked about the one serious — brief but steep — climb waiting for us in Yokohama, and I began wondering if I would make it.

Over the river and through the traffic

We crossed over the Tamagawa on the Rokugo Bridge and descended into the steady traffic and uneven pavement of Rte. 15. As has become our habit on the Yokohama ride, we soon stopped at a park for the first of the delicious asari onigiri prepared fresh by Nana that morning. We didn’t dawdle but soon mounted up again and continued on the long, straight road into Yokohama.

Not sending their best

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

We stopped once more at a convenience store just before the climb to Minato no Miero Oka Koen, our destination, and I waited patiently while José finished a protein drink. Then we pedaled off again, waited for the light and finally began our climb.

I immediately dropped to Kuroko’s best climbing gear, and José powered past me just seconds later. I have a long habit of making it just past the steepest part of the climb and then running out of steam immediately afterwards, but I’ve made it in a single go on my last two attempts. Alas, it was not to be — as I reached the steepest section I just ran out of reserves. I watched in bemusement, though, as José struggled slowly on ahead of me: usually by this time he’d be well out of sight at the top. To my amazement, he remained in view the entire time I paused to catch my breath and let the ache in my thighs subside. (In fact my break was so short it barely registered on the Garmin.)

I mounted up again and got off to a wobbly uphill start, but soon I reached the top. It proved to be my third best effort on this particular climb. José was out of sight by this time, but I caught up to him just as he was parking his bicycle by the observation deck. We stopped long enough to finish off the onigiri, plus the supplements that José had procured at the convenience store.

Into the wind

On the way back, we were beset by a headwind, and now we both had aching thighs. In addition, my more tender regions were starting to swell up at the point of contact with the saddle. I shifted my position frequently, trying to ease the pressure, as we once again braved the traffic. I made it through a light just as it was changing, while José — a good couple of dozen meters behind — was mindful of the police car waiting at the light as he decided to wait out the red.

We didn’t break any records on the way home, although I put in my second-best effort for the entire Rte. 15 stretch from Yokohama back to the Tamagawa — much to my surprise. Over the bridge into Tokyo, we stopped again at another convenience store (at my urging) and had a nice, long break with Snickers bars and sweetened café au lait. We rested long enough that we started to feel chilled again as we stood in the shade of the convenience store parking lot.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Why are we riding when it’s cold?

The wind continued to dog us as we returned up the Tamagawa. At times I felt we were barely making progress, while my dissatisfaction with the saddle only increased. José and I parted ways at Futako and I climbed out of the river valley in my lowest gear. In the small park where I always rest after the climb, I noted it was already 1 p.m. We’d been making good time in the morning, but now — between the extended breaks and the upwind struggle — I knew I was going to fall behind my previous 6-hour mark for the ride.

I messaged Nana I would be home by about 2. There was no reply — she’d already departed for the sauna. I did what I could for the ride home through traffic, against the wind and with failing thighs, and arrived at 1:54, sore and worn out. As quickly as I could manage it with my remaining strength, I unloaded the GPS, empty water bottles and discarded onigiri wrappers from Kuroko, ascended to our flat in the sky, and slid into a hot, relaxing bath.


In the end, I’d finished with a riding time of 4 hours 29 minutes, for an average moving speed of 19.6km/h. This was a bit more leisurely than the pace of 4 hours 9 minutes (21.1km/h) I’d done on the same route in October (when I cleared the climb to Minato no Mieru in a single go). Likewise my total elapsed time was 6 hours 36 minutes, with lots of generous rests, compared to a more blistering 5 hours 51 minutes on the previous occasion.

Splish Splash Yokohama

Yokohama Bay Bridge

I left the house a bit after 7 in a mist of fine sprinkles, which I guess fit the forecast of a 20% chance of rain. By the time I reached Futako to meet up with the Halfakid, though, the sprinkling was heavy enough that rain was dripping from my helmet and nose. I think that counts for a Rule #9 invocation.

The sun made a token appearance as we zipped along the Tamagawa. In one respect the dripping weather was helping us: there weren’t a lot of other cyclists, joggers, children, etc., on the path, and we made good time.

Rain-spattered cycle computer and bike handlebars
Drip drop

The sun never really came out to stay, but at least we avoided further rain as we played cat-and-mouse with a couple of other groups of riders on the way into Yokohama. The Halfakid and I had been fretting all morning about Yatozaka, the final climb up to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen (Harbor View Park), but when the time came the sun shone and we both aced it with personal bests. I tortoised up in my lowest gear, while the Halfakid rabbited ahead. When I finally reached the top he confessed he’d gone to the largest cog in the back, but was still sur la plaque (on the larger chainring).

View from the top

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

We celebrated our success with a leisurely rest at the park as we devoured Nana’s world-famous onigiri. The skies remained overcast, but at least not raining, as we returned through city traffic to Tamagawa, but we encountered a few sprinkles on our arrival in Futako. There we parted ways as the Halfakid returned to Kanagawa Prefecture and I set my sights for home.

Bicycle parked in front of statue of Astro Boy
Atom at Futako

At Futako I had a second challenge: the St. Antonio climb. This is only a bit less of a challenge than Yatozaka, both in steepest gradient and total meters climbed. But after 75km of riding, I didn’t know if I still had the power to make the grade.

No worries in the end. I was 10 seconds off my personal best and gasping for air by the time I reached the top, but reach it I did. I didn’t even stop for a breather after that but continued on home. I left the sprinkling behind in Futako but not the traffic. The cars were out in force in the afternoon to make up for their scarcity in the morning. But I kept my wits about me and made it home, lights on, without incident.

Personal growth

I’d last done this ride on May 22, which was the first time I made it up Yatozaki in one go. Today my times were a bit better, both in ride time and total elapsed time. I wasn’t sure I was going to improve on the elapsed time as the Halfakid and I spent quite a bit of time faffing in Yokohama, but as I drew closer to home I could see I was going to beat 6 hours.

22 May16 Oct.
Distance (km)87.9987.60
Moving time (h:mm:ss)4:26:004:08:59
Total elapsed time (h:mm:ss)5:57:485:50:59
Average moving speed (km/h)19.821.1
Performance comparison for Yokohama round trip

So that gives me a couple of goals to shoot for: get the moving time under 4 hours (average 22km/h), and cut out quite a bit of the faff to get the elapsed time under 5 hours. The second goal might be the more realistic of the two.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Splish Splash Yokohama

Today’s ride puts me over 400km for the month, a goal I’d just squeaked through last month (and prior to that hadn’t achieved since May). I have the next week off work, but no more free weekends, so let’s see how far I get.

Minato no Mieru Oka Koen Get!!

Yokohama Bay Bridge

The weather was iffy on Saturday — cloudy with a chance of rain. But Nana and I had plans for Sunday, so I could risk it or just stay home all weekend. I decided to risk it. I took my time getting ready for the ride, and hadn’t really chosen a destination until Nana had finished making the onigiri.

I hadn’t been to Yokohama in some time, and I wanted to see how I’d do against the final climb, a steep 9% scramble over 270m to gain a total of 25m, with a rewarding view of Yokohama Bay from the top. Having decided that, I got my preparations under way. When I was pumping up Kuroko’s tires prior to departure, I noticed a spot of latex sealant emerging on the back tire. I didn’t think anything about it at the time.

So far, so good

The weather held as I rode through the city to Futako Tamagawa, and then down the Tamagawa. The wind was changeable, but never really holding me back. One good thing about the cloudy skies was the relative lack of pedestrian competition for the cycling course. I had one brief stop along the Tamagawa before reaching the bridge that took me across the river and into Kanagawa Prefecture. After a couple of kilometers, I stopped at a park in Motoki and had the first onigiri — a really huge mentaiko onigiri that probably counted as two.

From there it was just one long, straight slog through 15km of urban traffic. At some point I started feeling a vibration through the pedals and seat when I was putting the power down. After determining the vibration coincided with the pedal cadence (and not, for example, wheel rotation), I started wondering if the bottom bracket bearings were going. Kuroko does have a habit of eating bottom brackets, although things have been good in the year since converting to the Sugino (and a bottom bracket that matched the original spec, rather than the subpar solution I’d hit on previously).

Apart from the vibration, an almost crunchy feeling that made me feel certain it was a bearing issue, things were going smoothly. The sun came out from behind the clouds for a bit as I approached Yokohama, and I made an effort to keep my UV mask over my big nose.

And then … sweet success!

I passed through the Minato Mirai neighborhood of Yokohama more smoothly than anticipated — traffic was low for a Saturday, and I was having good luck with the lights. I was sitting at the intersection under the Yamashitacho interchange before I knew it, wondering about the upcoming climb. I’ve made it more than halfway up at least half a dozen times, only to run out of steam when the goal was in sight. Would today be any different?

At the final intersection before the climb, I paused and waited for all the traffic to go ahead of me. I didn’t want to have to worry about traffic overtaking me during the climb. Then, as the light changed, I set off. I didn’t charge the hill but took my time up the approach, shifting down rapidly and before the effort increased. In moments, I was inching forward, content to take my time, working my way slowly (if a bit shakily) up the narrow and winding road.

My breathing became audible as I neared the spot where I often give up: a small café on the left with some appealing ice cream on offer (but it’s a dog café). I glanced up at the remaining few meters and it occurred to me that I was going to make it!

Stupid bus

Just as I realized that, I was passed by a city bus, and then a car. Within a few more seconds, I saw what a problem this was going to make: while stopping for the traffic light at the top of the hill, the bus had pulled close enough to the curb to block my way. With less than a second to choose my course of action, I decided I was going to continue my climb on the sidewalk. I glanced up towards the intersection and saw a couple of pedestrians, but they moved aside as I mounted onto the cobbles. The slope was already far gentler than its 16% maximum, and I passed the bus in a matter of seconds and then was back in the street, arriving at the stop light at last!

Cue Rocky Theme

I’d done it! I waited a few seconds at the red light, allowing pedestrians to cross as I gasped for air. Then I turned into Minato no Mieru Oka Koen (Harbor View Park), parked Kuroko and took a snap before sitting down to enjoy a couple more well-earned onigiri.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

After wolfing down the onigiri and posting my accomplishment on social media, I had a close look at Kuroko. No sign of looseness in the wheel hubs or bottom bracket. As far as I could see, the rear derailleur was in good alignment. No obvious issues. Mystified, I mounted up for the return trip.

Descent into hell

Well, into Yokohama, anyway. The speed on the descent back down Yatozaka (the hill I’d just conquered) is limited by the need to retain control in the blind curve and the sharp stop at the bottom. According to the Garmin, I only hit about 35km/h at this point. (Strava reports that the king of this particular mountain has climbed it at an unbelievable 36.9km/h!) Threading my way through traffic, I passed Yokohama Chinatown and headed back towards Tamagawa. All was going well except for that unexplained thrumming when I put some effort into the pedals.

The real hell here is the 15km of totally urban riding from Minato Mirai back to the bridge over the Tamagawa. I was making slightly better time on the way home, perhaps thanks to a tailwind.

So you had a flat …

Bicycle leaning against bridge abutment topped by small statue of boat
Checking tire pressure at Rokugo Bridge

On reaching the bridge, I mounted a curb to the pedestrian ramp. And there I felt the rear rim come down on the curb, albeit gently. I dismounted to push Kuroko up the ramp to the bridge, and there stopped and gave the rear tire a squeeze. It was definitely low! It took me just a couple of minutes to pump the tire back up to full (as measured by my hyper-accurate thumb) and I noted once again that a bubble of latex sealant was forming on the tread. I thought for a moment about putting a barb into the pinhole, and then voted against it. I put my barb away, and then I was on my way again.

And, just like that … the vibration was gone! I couldn’t believe it. At the earliest opportunity I put all I had into the pedals and … smooth as sake. Do you mean to tell me that all this crunching and vibration was a low rear tire? A pinhole leak that for some reason the sealant isn’t … erm, sealing?

Apparently so. On both counts. Over the next 15km I confirmed that (a) the vibration was gone when the tire was at full pressure, and (b) the tire was leaking, and coming down from perhaps 40psi to around 20psi before holding steady at that. I suppose the good news was that the tire wasn’t going completely flat, or unseating from the rim.

Over the river and up the hill

My way upstream on the Tamagawa brings me back into Kanagawa at Marukobashi, and then finally into Tokyo at Futagobashi. But as I was making good time, and I don’t like the narrow, crowded sidewalk at Futagobashi, I continued on another kilometer or so to bring me to the 246 bridge over the Tamagawa. Here there’s much less pedestrian traffic, and at the foot of the bridge on the Futako side there’s ample space to stop and top up a leaky tire. And to get a half-liter of chilled water from a vending machine.

Having crossed the river at this point, my path up out of the Tamagawa valley was quite a bit steeper than the one I usually take — nearly as challenging as the climb at Yokohama. I’d been up this hill in one go on several occasions, though, and approached it with confidence. Once again, I dropped into my granniest of granny gears well before needing it, and I was at the top (albeit once again gasping for breath) before I knew it.

A little rain among friends

From the top of the valley at Tamagawa, it’s less than an hour to home — all in traffic. I messaged Nana when to expect me, and set out in good spirits. I was nearly halfway there when the vibration started up once again (letting me know the rear tire was losing pressure as before), and then I felt a sprinkle or two on my arms and face. Within moments it was raining. I’d already taken off my shades and put on my lights out of regard for the cloudy skies, so there was nothing to do but continue onwards. The rain was never particularly heavy and did let up after only five or ten minutes, and it failed to get me as wet as I’d got splashing through puddles on the Tamagawa cycling course. There was nothing more of note on the way home apart from the tour bus driver who decided he needed to be ahead of me at the red light and in the process nearly forced me off the road.

The rain was a (not so) distant memory as I wheeled into the plaza in front of our tower, dismounted, and wheeled Kuroko into the freight elevator for a visit to the Workshop in the Sky.

GPS record of cycle ride
Minato no Mieru Oka Koen Get

Hot! Hot! Hot! Yokohama!

Yokohama Bay Bridge as seen from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen

Every year it’s the same damn thing

The forecast high yesterday was 35C, so I knew I couldn’t go on a full-fledged ride. Ten years ago I could ride in 35C weather and everything was fine so long as I didn’t push myself too hard, and I made sure I drank enough water. But starting two years ago, on a hot, sunny day, I experienced very sudden and very severe bonk. On that first occasion, it was all I could do to roll downhill and tumble off the bike into the shade of a friendly tree. After resting more than 10 minutes and drinking a lot of water, I ate a couple of onigiri and then I could continue. It was only after the ride that it occurred to me this wasn’t the bonk — it was my body refusing to push on in the heat.

I experienced the same thing again last year at similar temperatures and again on a sunny day. The same sudden loss of power, and a slow, partial recovery after a break in the shade with lots of cold water and something to eat.

Each time I told myself I’d learned a lesson: Don’t ride when the temperature is higher than, oh, perhaps 32C. And each summer I tell myself, “It will be OK this time. I’ll set out early and I’ll get home before the heat really comes on.” And then I set myself a schedule which makes that impossible.

And yesterday was another case in point: I figured if I left by 8 a.m. and only went as far as Haneda, I could be home before noon. And then for some reason I figured if I could ride to Haneda, I could ride to Yokohama. It’s not all that much farther to go, the view from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen is great, and I hadn’t been there in a while. The Halfakid agreed to join me and so the schedule was set.

It’s already near the limit

When I set out from home yesterday morning at 8:10, my phone told me it was already 31C. Hmm … that’s about my limit, right? Maybe I should change plans and just go to Haneda. But I put the Yokohama route on the GPS (I don’t really need the navigation — I know this route) and set off to meet up with the Halfakid. He was waiting for me, all ready to go except for pumping up his tires a bit. My tires also were in need of air, even though I’d filled them just an hour before starting the ride. (See the Weeping Sidewalls.) So we were getting even more exercise than we’d bargained for as we pumped our tires up. At least we were standing in the shade!

Cruising down the Tamagawa

Soon we were cruising down the Tamagawa cycling course with a tailwind to help us along. The sun was very strong and I was thinking I should have worn my UV mask (which I’ve been going without this year, for no particularly good reason). The temperature was rising steadily, but we didn’t feel bad so long as we were moving. The path was crowded and the Halfakid fell slightly behind at times as we wove in and out between other cyclists and joggers. We continued on until we came to our usual rest spot in the shade.

Asphalt canyon

Once again I considered whether I should change our plans and only go as far as Haneda. I was starting to feel fatigue from the heat, but nothing extreme yet. We mounted up and continued along, making good time, and were soon crossing the bridge over the Tamagawa into Kawasaki. From here we continue on Route 15 nearly all the way to our goal, about 16km on. It’s a straight shot, but it’s all in traffic and it’s a veritable asphalt canyon. There’s no hiding from the sun and the temperature soars. We found ourselves stopping scores of meters back from the traffic lights if we could rest in the shade while we waited.

At a small park about 5km after the bridge we stopped for an onigiri and some water as we sat in the shade. I felt recharged. Then it was back into the asphalt canyon. The road is straight and flat, and so the heat was our only real opponent (and the occasional driver who ignored our hand signals as we maneuvered around parked cars and other obstacles). We rolled through Yokohama and passed the entrance to Chinatown before stopping at a convenience store to supplement our onigiri lunch.

While the Halfakid shopped for cold water and coffee, I leaned against a railing in the shade. I knew the heat was getting me — it was 34C at this point. I’d have preferred sitting down but there wasn’t really any place for that. I just had to wait, and when the Halfakid emerged with some cold bottled water I accepted it gratefully. I drank perhaps 300ml or more despite knowing we’d soon be climbing our way up to our goal in the park.

I’ll beat that climb someday

The final 300m to Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen is a rise of 29m, just shy of a 10% average. The steepest bit is 13%. It’s not the world’s longest climb, but it is on a twisty road with fast traffic, so I can’t zigzag my way up. And it comes at the end of a 40km ride just to get to the start. Anyway, long story short, I have yet to reach the top in a single go. (No such worries for the Halfakid, who just rockets past me before waiting at the top.) I usually get about halfway up before giving up just after the steepest bit. This time, with the heat sapping my power, I gave up a good 15m before my usual spot. And from there it was all I could do to push Kuroko the rest of the way up the hill. I really just wanted to stop where I was and have a rest, on the narrow sidewalk with no shade.

Yokohama Bay Bridge as seen from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen
Yokohama Bay Bridge

View from the top

The reason we stop at this particular park (apart from things like restrooms, a water fountain and park benches) is the view over Yokohama Bay that the brief climb affords us. We were lucky in that I quickly found an available bench (there aren’t many), and we sat in the shade and quickly finished the remaining onigiri.

Ship in Yokohama Bay seen through trees

The difference between theory and practice

As we ate and rested, we joked about how quickly we could get back home. After all, it’s just about 40km and we were averaging better than 20km/h despite my stroll up the final climb. In reality, we’d taken three-and-a-half hours to reach the park even though we’d been riding just about two hours by this point. The difference reflected both the long breaks we’d been taking and the stop-and-go traffic we’d had along Route 15 and through Yokohama. I’d told Nana before leaving home that I’d be back around 3, and I realized that this was now unlikely.

Smoother sailing, at least at first

We set off home, flying down the hill from the park, and found our way back out of Yokohama much smoother going than coming in. We were hitting far fewer red lights. But we were soon back on the asphalt canyon of Route 15. My speed was still a hair over 20km/h, but I was wondering how long I could keep that up. We agreed we’d stop for rest and refreshments when we crossed the bridge back in Tokyo, but I was starting to feel I wouldn’t make it. The only thing that kept me going was the lack of shady parks along the route. (I suspected I could quickly find more than a few just a block or two off the main road, but I was playing a mind game with myself to keep going.) I felt quite weak but I was still keeping pretty good speed so long as the road was flat and straight and I wasn’t fighting a headwind.

We came at last to the bridge without incident. We usually ride up the pedestrian ramp to the bridge — it’s very gentle — but there was another cyclist coming down it as we approached, and I didn’t trust myself not to wobble into him in my current state. So we dismounted and pushed our bikes up the ramp. I knew I was taking my time up the ramp but I didn’t realize how slowly I was going until another cyclist passed by me while pushing his bike up at a much faster pace.

Ice cream!

The bridge is nice and flat, and we dawdled across it. At the far (Tokyo) end, there’s a spiral ramp down to street level which lands us nearly at the door of the convenience store. I sat down on the asphalt pavement in the shade by the bicycle stand and worked at an ice cream sandwich and a lot of cold, cold water. I had a good long rest here, and updated Nana on our status.

Back on the Tamagawa cycling course, my mantra was to just keep moving and not to worry about my average speed. (OK, I did keep stealing glances at the GPS and fretting that I’d fallen below 20km/h, but I didn’t try to get the speed back up.) A scant 4km after the convenience store, we arrived back at the site of our first rest stop of the day, and I pulled in for a brief stop. More water and a few precious minutes in the shade. The Halfakid and I discussed whether it would be easier to go on the road, in traffic, than on the bike path. The bike path would give us a couple of switchbacks to climb — the one at Marukobashi is rather substantial. The road is fast and smooth, by contrast, but there’s a tunnel a few hundred meters long just before coming into Futako. There are probably ways around the tunnel, but I wasn’t feeling adventurous. We continued on the path.

And when we came to a shaded rest area another 4km further on, I stopped again. I had enough water left to get me to Futako, and we discussed whether to buy more water before the climb at Futako or after. The Halfakid said he was fine for water, so I decided to stop at a convenience store or vending machine at the foot of the climb. I’d need to carry the water up the climb, but I’d have it right when I needed it at the top. We set off again for the final 4km drag to Futako, and again I just concentrated on keeping moving rather than looking at my speed. I’d switched down to my smaller chainring at this point, usually only used for climbing, and I just stayed on it. I could get up to just over 20km/h (given a tailwind) without having to move to the larger chainring, so I stayed with it.

The dreaded climb

Of course we eventually reached Futagobashi and crossed the Tamagawa for the final time into Futako. At the foot of the climb I told the Halfakid to go ahead while I stopped at a vending machine. I drank some of the water on the spot and then poured the rest into my water bottle. And with that I was off up the climb (much gentler than the one in Yokohama at a 4% average). I just dropped to my lowest gear as soon as possible and took my time up the hill.

GPS details of ride from Tokyo to Yokohama
Hot! Hot! Hot! Yokohama!

While we rested at the top of the hill, I checked the time and made some mental calculations. The Halfakid was still fine — he’d charged right on up the hill. I was feeling somewhat better. The temperature had probably started to fall, and even though I was in the city now there was more shade. I messaged Nana that I would probably be home between 4 and 4:15, and we set out on the last leg. It’s only 5km (in traffic) to the Halfakid’s flat, and we soon reached it. After a fist bump he carried his bike in through the door and I sat down on the step for a couple more minutes of rest before continuing.

The final 8km home went well (apart from a few idiot drivers, as usual). I modified my course slightly at the end, swapping a straight, fast-moving and heavily trafficked road with a bit of climbing for a back road with some pedestrian traffic and numerous cross streets. This route takes me right by the train station, but I was resting in shade while waiting for the traffic light. At last I reached Chuo Koen and the final downhill to home. I usually crank up the speed here to see how fast I can get it (depending on traffic), but this time I was content just to coast down the hill. I got enough speed even so (32km/h) that I hardly had to pedal to reach the goal. I stopped the clock at 4:08 p.m., within the time that I’d told Nana.

You could even say it glows

After having a shower, I noticed in the mirror that my nose was bright red. I’d used SPF70 sun cream, but I really ought to be wearing the UV mask (or just not biking) in this sort of weather. Nana was calling me “Rudolph.”

While my symptoms during the ride fall well short of heat exhaustion, I still think that I shouldn’t ride under these conditions. I’ll need to either stick to my resolution to leave early and return early, or simply not ride when the forecast is saying it’s a bad idea.

Apart from the weeping sidewalls of my lightweight tires, mechanicals were minor. The disc brakes squealed very faintly on a couple of occasions. I’ve ordered resin brake pads to replace the metallic ones I’m using, and that should take care of it. I also had a return of the problem with the front shift lever, but I know now how to deal with that on the fly. It’s an annoyance, and one I’m considering a couple of alternatives to fix.

Pushin’ it to Yokohama

Yokohama Bay Bridge

It was several degrees cooler this weekend than last, but I still chose a non-challenging route: Yokohama. Mostly I wanted a change of scenery. The way to Yokohama is mostly flat, but a long stretch of it is in traffic (in fact we’re only on the bike path for a handful of kilometers), and worse than the traffic and bad pavement of Rte. 15 is stopping for every third traffic light and waiting. (I’m sure that gives us time to rest our hands and thighs, though.)

Rider inflating back tire of bicycle
Filling up

At our first stop, the Halfakid wanted to add some more air to his rear tire. This is the one that blew out on our last venture down this same path.

Onigiri wrapped in foil
Onigiri time!

On my last ride to Yokohama I discovered a small park about 15km before the goal that’s a perfect place to stop and enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous onigiri — so long as some ojisan isn’t spraying insecticide all over the park when we arrive.

Map route of Yatozaka showing elevation
Yatozaka elevation

We had much less traffic through Yokohama this time, but Yatozaka doesn’t change: it’s still a 24m climb at 8.7% average and a long mid-section at 15%. As usual, the Halfakid charged straight up it, while I soldiered through the 15% section and then stopped in the 9%-10% section, just as the going was about to ease up. Unlike every previous occasion, though, this time I continued on after a brief rest. Yes, I rode all the way to the top! And a PR on Strava confirms this was my best performance on this particular hill.

The forecast for today (after several changes) was for sunny weather, and that finally proved true as we arrived in Yokohama. At Minato no Mieru Oka Koen, we found a seat in the shade to finish off our onigiri and guzzle some water.

The ride home was uneventful apart from the maracas in my bottom bracket. I must do something about that within the next week — before the delivery company picks up Kuroko for the next Tour de Tohoku. When we got back across the Tama River into Tokyo we stopped at a convenience store for Pokari and energy food. And then the Halfakid took off towards Nikotama, leaving me in the dust. And what dust: as we rode upstream along the Tama, we were swarmed by gnats and coated with airborne sand blown up from the baseball diamonds along the river.

Bicycle in a park
At the top of the climb in Nikotama

We didn’t rest long at the top of the climb out of the Tama River valley — we were making good time and eager to get home to beer and bath (or shower, in my case). I made a brief farewell to the Halfakid at his apartment and continued on home, still making good time. I arrived home just 6 hours 39 minutes after having left, or 4 hours 6 minutes riding. I think that may be a record for me to get to Yokohama and back, and according to Strava I set several personal bests along the way, although I really didn’t think I’d been striving.

Shinjuku-Yokohama ride route and details

Shut up, legs

Yokohama Bay Bridge

I set off with some trepidation for Yokohama this morning. I’d just done the Tokyo Landmarks ride yesterday, and I usually don’t ride two days in a row. But as I’ve got a big ride coming up with more than a couple of days in a row of riding, I thought it best to get some training in.

The moment I set out this morning, I started hearing from my thighs.

Way-way-wait! We did this yesterday!
Then after 20km:
*sigh* I guess we’re doing this. All right, just don’t expect any help in the climbs.

In fact the start of today’s ride was inauspicious in other regards as well. Within the first 20km, I was:

  • Lectured to by a police officer
  • Cut off by a driver overtaking me in an intersection, who definitely needed to beat me to the next light another 50m on
  • Ambushed by a kid who crossed the path and then suddenly reversed, stepped right in front of me and stopped

The cop thing happened like this: I was approaching an intersection where I wanted to turn right (Americans, think: turn left) and the light changed. So I used the crosswalk to cross right to the opposite side and wait for the light to change.

As soon as I’d done that, the baton-waving and whistle-blowing cop crossed over the crosswalk after me and said good morning in a polite tone. I pulled my mask off, hoping that revealing myself as a gaijin would put off whatever she was on about, but she was unfazed. I didn’t totally play the gaijin card by pretending not to understand Japanese; instead I returned her greeting.

Gesturing with her baton, she told me that the proper way for cyclists to turn right at a multi-lane intersection is to first proceed across the intersection to the opposite corner, and then wait for the light to change to proceed to the right.

Yes, that’s the law (and yes, I know this as a result of having passed my driver’s license). But seriously? To call me out because I took the first crosswalk instead of making the “two-point right turn”? I didn’t get uppity with her: I just agreed and thanked her, and when she told me to be careful I thanked her again. I still made the crossing when the light changed (and thus saved myself one cycle of the light, which had been my goal when making my move).

And I made sure to stop and wait at the next two lights, even though they were only for crosswalks (not cross streets) because I was still in her view (and I figure she could radio ahead to her colleagues and say, “Stop that asshole gaijin on the bike!”).

Following that, the driver cutting me off at an intersection happened in full view of a police box, so I guess that says everything I need to know about my karma …

Kuroko resting in the shade
Kuroko resting in the shade

After 20-some kilometers I stopped to rest, and from that point onwards my legs were mostly OK. I still felt (as noted above) that I would not be up for any big climbing. I was also sure any personal bests today would be the result of a combination of green lights and tailwinds.

As usual, after leaving the cycle path on the Dai-ichi Keihin towards Yokohama, it’s all just straight and flat and bad pavement and lots of traffic. I would ride this way more often but for the fact it’s a 10km stretch of this (and back again) with nothing to break the monotony except for the occasional pothole or rude driver cutting it too close.

Chukagai: Chinatown
Chukagai: Chinatown

As soon as I got to the Minato Mirai section of Yokohama, the traffic turned impossible. Buses up against the curb, preventing passing. Cars stopped in the middle of intersections and blocking progress. Idiots trying to change lanes without looking in hopes of leapfrogging the car ahead. (Wait: does that describe me?) Usually when we bike this we flash by the entrance of Chinatown too quickly to give it a second thought, but today I had time to take a photo at my leisure while I waited for the intersection to clear.

When I finally cleared this section and made it to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen, the park overlooking the harbor which is my goal for this ride, I messaged the Halfakid. “Yokohama is packed. It’s the kind of day that your grandmother would convince your grandfather we have to drive to Chinatown.”

Oh, and that climb up to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen from sea level? Forget it. I made it half way (which is what I usually do). The Halfakid can do it, but he wasn’t with me today.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

View from Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen
View from Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen

Sunken flower garden and Osaragi Jiro Memorial Museum
Sunken flower garden and Osaragi Jiro Memorial Museum

The park was packed. Usually I can get a seat on the observation deck in the shade, but today that was impossible. I explored a shaded walkway I hadn’t noticed before and came across a quiet park with benches in the shade, and sat down there to fill up on Nana’s world-famous onigiri (and a Snickers bar left over from yesterday’s ride).

Windmill near the Image of Maternal Love sculpture
Windmill near the Image of Maternal Love sculpture

A couple of people asked if they could share the bench, and I readily agreed. One older woman struck up a conversation with me, but she was one of those types who doesn’t really listen to the answers I supply to her questions. I relaxed, took my time eating the onigiri, and didn’t set out again until the sun had moved (earth had turned) so that the bench was no longer in the shade.

On the way home I was feeling capable but not strong. The traffic wasn’t quite as bad. I just kept moving, trying to beat the lights but not trying too hard to game them. I was very surprised to find after I got home that Strava had assigned me a PR for the entire stretch from Minato Mirai back to Tamagawa (and hence back into Tokyo).

Once back on the cycling path, I took advantage of the tailwind. The GPS was spazzing out with the directions, so I switched it to displaying my stats, and concentrated on increasing my average speed. By this point I’d already racked up more than 65km, so any gains required quite a long stretch at speeds exceeding the average, and were quickly undone by time spent in pedestrian traffic or climbing. Still, I managed to get it up a notch or two. (And after a few more kilometers, the GPS finally figured out which direction I was heading. No idea … )

Back to the Futako
Back to the Futako

When I leave the path, there’s a bit of a climb up out of the Tama River valley into the city. I wasn’t sure how my thighs were going to respond to this challenge. When the time came I just kept shifting down until I felt I could maintain the pace, and then I kept pedaling. I’m lucky that it’s not a very long climb. I had in mind as I was doing it, though, that on Day 10 of Lejog when we hit a 5% grade with full panniers, I’ll look back at this brief climb with nostalgia.

At the tiny park at the top of the hill, I drank most of my remaining water and messaged Nana that I would be home in an hour or so. There was nothing to do but mount up and make the best of it. In fact on the way home, I felt better — stronger — than I’d felt most of the day. I managed to notch up a couple of tenths on the average speed, and got home in less than 45 minutes (which is my usual time for that stretch when I’m commuting). I’d done the whole thing in 6 hours 36 minutes, which is not bad considering it was a Day 2 ride, and the amount of time I’d spent relaxing in the park and eating Nana’s onigiri. And that’s 172km in four days after nearly four weeks of nothing.

Tokyo - Yokohama
Tokyo – Yokohama

Yokohama in the sun

View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge

The Halfakid was ready to go this morning, and Nana had fixed up a mess o’ onigiri, so I didn’t have much choice about riding. Plus the weather was very clear — cold in the morning but warming up as we went. I was hoping to see some cherry blossoms today, particularly along the Tama river, but it’s a week early for that.

A mess o' onigiri
A mess o’ onigiri

For a change I decided to return to Yokohama, which we last visited in early December. On that occasion Tomo joined us, and it was cold and rainy. When we reached the lookout point at Minatonomieruoka Park, we were all freezing and eager to get back on our bikes to generate some heat.

Today, although it started out slightly colder than it had been in December, the sun was shining in blue skies and we were soon working up a sweat.

Blue skies over the Tama river
Blue skies over the Tama river

We were familiar with the route this time, and we knew it was simply a matter of fighting through the traffic (and traffic lights) on a long, flat stretch until the destination. There, just before Minatonomieruoka Park, the road rises suddenly and steeply, and we were muttering various colorful nicknames for the hill as we approached. As it turned out, the Halfakid rode right up to the top, while I made it about halfway, and dismounted and walked up from exactly the same point I had back in December.

View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge
View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge

The payoff for the climb, though, is the great view from the top overlooking Yokohama Bay. We sat under the pavilion there and ate the onigiri so thoughtfully prepared by Nana this morning. We didn’t dawdle, though, as we planned a slight addition to the course this time around: once back over the Tama river in Tokyo, we turned downriver to Haneda and the peace shrine.

Blossoms -- of a sort -- at Haneda
Blossoms — of a sort — at Haneda

(It was after I’d taken the photo and posted it on Instagram that the Halfakid pointed out these are fake blossoms. Someone has wound a plastic garland around the tree.)

Haneda Peace Shrine on a sunny day
Haneda Peace Shrine on a sunny day

There we ate the last of the onigiri and discussed our resting points on the way home. I messaged Nana that I would be about another two hours.

Not long after we left Haneda, we encountered a bit of crosswind. I was already feeling the kilometers traveled in my thighs, and the Halfakid took this opportunity to rocket past and leave me in the dust. As I soldiered onwards I watched his yellow windbreaker receding in the distance. Soon he was out of sight, and I was busy contending with pedestrians and other cyclists on the path. I didn’t see him again until we reached the agreed-upon rest stop.

From this point it’s mostly flat until we reach Futako, where we leave the path and climb in traffic up out of the river valley. I wasn’t sure about the climb with my tired thighs, but when we got to it I was able to keep the bike moving upwards, albeit slowly. Once again, the Halfakid rocketed past me, although I noticed that he too was slowing as he reached the top of the hill.

Yokohama in under 7
Yokohama in under 7

I dropped the Halfakid at his home and continued to grind my way homewards. In the end I made it home in just under seven hours since I’d set out. This was an improvement of a few minutes over the total elapsed time in December, when we hadn’t included the Haneda jaunt.

all flat but too many traffic light
all flat but too many traffic light

After getting home and soaking in the tub, I reviewed the ride in Strava. The segment above caught my eye as the name perfectly describes the conditions there where Daiichi Keihin turns into Minato Mirai. (And before you comment on my speed through that segment, understand it’s one of the few where I’m in the top 1,000. So I must be timing the lights pretty well, if nothing else.)