Fujisan and Sakura

A large cherry tree in full blossom stands in the left of the image, with a long branch sweeping low across the photo to the right. An asphalt path appears at bottom center and turns to the right at a stone bridge with white iron railings. There is a bicycle on the bridge.

I’ve been moaning about the fact I have a four-day weekend and the forecast is for rain the whole time. But the weather relented yesterday and I got a mostly rain-free ride, with the added benefit of sakura.

Snow-capped Fujisan appears blue and white under cloudy skies. A single puffy cloud hovers just above and to the left of the peak. Below the peak is a low line of mountains stretching across the width of the photo, with a band of low, white horizontal clouds in front.
Fujisan duotone

The day started out looking a bit bleak after the previous night’s rain, but we were graced with a view of Fujisan. I took my time getting ready for the ride as Nana prepared onigiri. A check of the forecast showed it was already a surprisingly warm 17C, with an expected high of 23. I dressed in shorts and a summer jersey, and didn’t bother with the sleeves. But with my history of sunburn even on overcast days, I took time to cover myself in sunblock.

I hadn’t been thinking about the sakura when I set out — I was just glad for the break in the weather and a chance to ride — but they were suddenly everywhere. The sky lightened up for a time as I rode upstream along the Tamagawa, and Fujisan appeared a brilliant white among fluffy clouds. I put off the urge to stop for a photo at each new sakura tree along the path, but kept in mind certain sections where I knew there would be rows of trees in bloom.

With an early start, I reached Hamura just after 11. With a goal of 100km for the day, I was still shy of 50km at this point, so after finishing Nana’s world-famous onigiri I continued on along the sakura-lined path until I reached Aso Shrine.

It seems the main tree at the shrine was not quite ready to put in an appearance, but this was made up for by the many sakura on the path to the shrine, including a magnificent shidarezakura.

… and a bit of rain

With my shrine visit over, I turned back towards home. I’d been toying with the idea of extending the ride a bit to visit Sakura Shinmachi and its famous sakura boulevard on the way back, depending on the weather and how tired I was. The clouds were gathering again as I rode back downstream, and I was feeling satisfied with the sakura I’d seen already. I was feeling good and avoiding saddle soreness and hand numbness via shifting about and taking frequent breaks. But I was also feeling tired. When I came to the park where it was time to make a decision, I checked the clock (1:40 p.m., 84km done) and decided to go straight home.

I was surprised by the amount of traffic on the way home, but soon realized I usually don’t take this route on weekdays. I bided my time behind a wide flat-bed rig until it came to stop at a long line of traffic at a light, leaving me enough room to slip past. I powered my way up the two slight rises on Setagaya avenue and set personal records. After that I’d blown all my energy and just kept up the pace on the flats and coasted on the downhills.

It started raining with 8-10km to go. I’d already turned on my lights, so I just removed my shades at the next traffic light and continued on. It wasn’t a hard rain — I’d gotten wetter riding through some puddles earlier in the day — and it soon stopped. The wind had picked up though and the temperature dropped as I continued homewards. Finally with just 1km to go the rain started up again. I happily rolled downhill to the tower and was pleased to hear Garmie chime that I’d completed 100km just as I rolled to a stop.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Fujisan and Sakura

I’d missed the goal of 6 hours that I’d told Nana, but I was happy with the progress considering all the traffic and the number of times I stopped to photograph the blossoms. With a moving time of 5:06:17, I averaged 19.6km/h. I’m at 398km for the month, so if the weather clears next week and I get in some commuting, I should be well over 400km for March.

Arakawa – Disney – Budokan

Bicycle leaning against sign saying "Shinsuna" in English and Japanese. In the background are a river and bridge, with a Ferris wheel visible behind the bridge. A cyclist clad in black is looking at his phone in the right of the photo.

I got an early start yesterday, on the road before 8 with a couple of Nana’s world-famous onigiri in the bag. It was not quite 10C when I set out, with a forecast high of 17, so I wore shorts and regular (fingerless) gloves together with a long-sleeved jersey. I was sweating long before the temperature reached its high, so the clothing choice was not too light for the conditions.

For the first four or five kilometers along Yamate Dori, working my way in traffic up to the Arakawa, I couldn’t stop thinking about the bath and beer when I would get home. It wasn’t long though before I put those thoughts out of my mind (never completely, of course) and started to really enjoy the riding.

There was very little wind and nothing really noticeable about the traffic — neither heavy nor light for this main artery, and no construction of note. I reached the Arakawa in less than an hour, as usual, and was soon heading downstream on the cycling path.

I was feeling good overall, warm in the sun, riding without pushing. My hands and backside were a little more sore than usual, and I shifted around on my seat and changed hand positions often so I could continue riding. I stopped in the shade with 11km to go to the mouth of the river, and ate the first onigiri while I shook the feeling back into my fingers.

Bicycle on grass leaning against an irregularly shaped sign. The sign has painted fireworks in white and pink against a dark blue background, all outlined in white. The word "Arakawa" can be made out very faintly in alphabetical letters and hiragana.
A bit more faded each time

On the bike again, I wasn’t too disappointed to be passed when I saw how much younger and fitter the rider was — and the fact he was riding one of these added salve to the burn. I decided to satisfy karma by rapidly overtaking a little league soccer team as they pedaled along to their practice field.

By the time I reached Shinsuna at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, I was ready for another onigiri. I sat near the water’s edge and watched as a small poodle barked at a few waterfowl placidly paddling their way about the river.

After crossing over the river, I ran into construction, with traffic diverted off the cycling course. I continued on the street, in traffic, until I came to a ramp up to an elevated way for pedestrians and cyclists which took me back to my usual route to Disney. A few cyclists passed by as I took a photo by the fountain, but I was the only one who had stopped for pictures.

On the return trip I was expecting the detour, and just stayed on the road until I got to the usual convenience store, where I stocked up on a couple of hot dogs to supplement the onigiri to eat as I sat under the plum blossoms in a small park near the bridge.

As I recrossed the Arakawa into Koto Ward, the sky clouded over and the weather turned cold and windy. I stopped at the top of the bridge to message Nana I was on my way home and that the weather was changing. While I stopped I decided to get a photo of the flower message at the side of the cycling course below.

In the traffic of Eitai Avenue, an older, more fit rider passed me on his racing bike. “Good for him,” I thought. But after a couple of lights I caught up with him and then passed him when a bus blocked him against a parked car. After another light or two he fell in behind me, content to let me set the pace, while I was motivated by his presence to put more effort into the ride. We continued on this way until we had nearly reached Nihonbashi, as he turned off just a light or two before.

From Nihonbashi it’s a short sprint to Kudanzaka, and then I took my time working up the hill to Tayasumon at Budokan. The sun had come out again while the older gent and I were sparring in traffic, before I reached Nihonbashi, and at Budokan I relaxed for a moment, warming my shoulders as I drank some water. I checked the time and messaged Nana that I would be home by 1:30. But I made good time with the lights and finally messaged her at 12:53 that I was home, barely half an hour after leaving Budokan.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Arakawa – Disney – Budokan

For the most part I’d taken it easy on the ride, relaxing and enjoying the good weather rather than pushing for time. With a moving time of 3:41:21, I’d averaged 19.6km/h while on the go.

Fixed in preflight

I dealt with the only mechanical issue, if it can be called that, on Saturday night before the ride began. Garmie has been increasingly reluctant to get moving in the mornings, and often 1-3km have gone by before he starts recording. I did some searching and came across this post on Garmin’s user boards, so I gave that a go. When it came time to depart Sunday morning, Garmie fired right up and found the satellites within a couple of seconds. It’s probably too early to say the issue is completely fixed, but that’s a promising first result.

Sagami exploration

On a green, grassy hill, a bicycle leans against a rock under a tree with bright pink-red blossoms, next to a green, leafy tree

Yesterday was a test ride to the Sagami Lake region. I’ve been there before by climbing Otarumi Touge and then looping back through Kanagawa Prefecture. That’s a long ride of 130km or so, and of course involves climbing a mountain pass. Instead, by riding more directly towards Sagami Lake, and through traffic, I hoped to shave off some kilometers and a lot of the climbing.

I chose Sagami Lake because it’s another 20km from there to Otsuki, a possible destination for an overnight stay, and yet another 50km from there to Isawa Onsen in Yamanashi, just north of Fujisan. So my goal was to test the feasibility of this route to those destinations.

Bicycle viewed from the side, leaning against a wooden railing with trees and shrubbery in the background
Nishigawara Natural Park, after 16km

It was about 5C when I set out, but I knew it would be a nice day and reach about 17C in the afternoon, so I dressed in layers and packed a second pair of gloves in my bag. Kuroko was performing flawlessly and I was very comfortable riding. There was no trouble with traffic or construction as I made my way to Tamagawa.

Once on the cycling course, I was heading into a bit of wind as I rode up the river. Knowing I had many kilometers yet to go, I changed down a gear or two rather than try to power my way through the wind. My pace was just about 20km/h.

On a green, grassy hill, a bicycle leans against a rock under a tree with bright pink-red blossoms, next to a green, leafy tree
First feed stop

I was starting to feel hungry by the time I crossed the Tamagawa into Tama, so after a few more kilometers I found a place to stop on the banks of the Okuri River. I sat on a rock under a plum tree and updated Nana on my location as I ate a couple of her world-famous onigiri. I’d come 32km in two hours, and was satisfied with my progress considering about 20 of those kilometers had been in traffic.

More traffic!

And that was the byword as I continued onward. I was now on Rte. 20, stopping for traffic lights at least twice every kilometer. This continued to Yarimizu, where I turned briefly south and began climbing, and climbing, until I finally reached a sharp descent through a tunnel to join Rte. 506. At some point along the way I stopped at a convenience store to shed my undershirt and long johns in the restroom. I gulped down a café au lait and continued onward in my shorts and jersey, along with the fingerless gloves.

The route through Sagamihara was choked with traffic. The road is narrow, the trucks wide and the traffic lights frequent. More than once I waited in the line of traffic rather than risk squeezing past a line of trucks and buses to be the first at the traffic light.

A dark blue river fills the lower third of the photograph. In the middle, tree-lined banks on both sides are dark green with light brown grass. Some houses and buildings are interspersed with the trees. The sky in the upper half of the photograph is light blue with a few white wisps of clouds at the top right.
Shiroyama Dam, Sagami River

It was just about noon when I crossed Shiroyama Dam and climbed the opposite bank of the Sagami River. According to Garmie I still had about 12km to go to reach Sagami Lake. I did some mental calculations and realized I could turn around at this point and be home by 4 (which is what I’d told Nana when I left in the morning). If I continued on I might not be home before 5, or possibly 6 depending on the traffic.

If I’d reached Shiroyama Dam half an hour earlier, I’d have continued on to the lake. As it was, I sat down at a park overlooking Sagami River and reflected on the course. The traffic was bad — not in the sense of dangerous, but in terms of impeding progress. The climbs were not so very long, but they were steeper than the gentle rise to Otarumi Touge. Overall, if I wanted to reach Sagami Lake then I’d probably be better off taking a few more kilometers to avoid traffic, riding up the familiar path of the Asakawa to Otarumi, and then a swift downhill to the lake. Looking at my times to reach Otarumi in the past, this would actually be a faster way to reach the lake.

Mental calculations — and onigiri — finished, I messaged Nana that I was on the way home.

Bicycle viewed from the side, leaning against a wooden picnic bench with grass and some brush visible in the background
Donut stop at 74km

Before setting off home I turned on the taillight, mindful that I’d passed through a couple of tunnels on the way. Knowing I’d be struggling up the tunnel that I’d previously raced down, I opted for the wide sidewalk and then stopped for a breather after emerging at the top.

I was making good time on the way back. Traffic was easier and I was having somewhat better luck with the lights overall. There was one intersection in Sakuragaoka though where I just missed the light and had to wait through a full cycle as I crossed and turned right.

When I got back to the Tamagawa I had to fight the wind all the way across the bridge. The wind had been blowing down the river in the morning and so I was hoping for a tailwind on the return, but it was not to be. After a few kilometers I stopped at a park bench and ate the donuts I’d bought at the convenience store in Sagamihara.

A bicycle leaning against a wooden railing in a park. Water can be seen flowing in a small waterfall behind the bicycle.
Back here once more

My last stop was at Nishigawara once more, where I leave the cycling course for cross-city traffic. Garmie was showing 83km and some change. I’d turned around at exactly 50km at Shiroyama Dam, and I had 15km to go from Nishigawara to home. Where had the missing kilometer gone? It was like that trick word problem where you have so many dollars and you give two to Betty and one to José and so on, and in the end there’s one extra.

I’d messaged Nana from the donut stop that I’d be home about 4. It was 2:30 now, but I didn’t update my estimate. I felt good but I knew I was tired and it might be a bit of a struggle yet on the way uphill from the river. And of course it would be in traffic again. I did struggle a bit with the hills on Setagaya Avenue but got the best of them in the end.

I had Garmie showing me the stats on the way home. I usually don’t do this because I’ll be looking at the screen instead of traffic. But I wanted to make sure about that missing kilometer! As I neared home it came down to just under half a kilometer, so I took a lap around the tower and then rolled past the entrance a couple of more times to bring the clock up to 100km.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Sagami exploration

In the end the ride was challenging. With the good weather and the ability to complete a century, as well as exploring a new route, I had fun. Based on a moving time of 5:31:53, I averaged 18.1km/h. As for the route itself, though, it was something of a bust. As noted above, if I want to reach Sagami Lake and points west, I’m better taking the Asakawa and avoiding traffic, even though it entails climbing Otarumi Touge.

Map of cycle route from Shinjuku to Isawa Onsen, with the elevation profile below in red.
Isawa Onsen route

As for reaching Isawa Onsen, yesterday’s ride showed how unrealistic that goal is. The onsen is another 80km beyond Shiroyama Dam, which would make for an 11-hour ride at yesterday’s pace, even without the prospect of climbing a 1,000m peak. It might work as a two-day ride, with a stop in Otsuki. But overall, it’s not going to be a an overwhelmingly pleasant or scenic route.

Where is my comfort zone?

Bicycle on a balcony, leaning against a glass banister. Buildings are visible far below through the glass. The bicycle is a flat-bar model, turquoise, with fat tan-wall tires. The legend "Billy Bonkers" is visible on both tires.

After riding a grand total of zero kilometers since January 8, this morning the stars aligned and I commuted to the office on Dionysus, sporting her new Billy Bonkers skins.

With the change from the 28mm Conti slicks I shod Dionysus with on the upgrade from Ol’ Paint, I had three basic expectations:

  • More comfortable ride
  • A reduction in the steering sensitivity
  • A slight degradation of performance

Cutting to the chase, then, the ride was quite a bit more comfortable, particularly over broken pavement and assorted bumps. Where the ride was jarring on the Contis, it was downright cushiony with the Billy Bonkers. So mission accomplished as far as the upgrade is concerned.

The performance toll was more than I had expected. With the Contis, Dionysus was an agile, fast accelerator. Now she’s slower on the uptake than Kuroko, with her 42mm tires. The change was noticeable starting out this morning, and on the slight rises in the morning commute. By the evening return, I’d become used to the change and didn’t notice it quite as much. I was still putting more effort into getting off the line from stop lights, and quicker to shift down on whatever modest hills I encountered.

As for the steering, Ol’ Paint was twitchy. With the upgrade to Dionysus, with smaller tires and shorter handlebars, the handling nearly had a mind of its own: great for sudden maneuvering in traffic, not so good for keeping a line in traffic while your mind wandered. Significantly larger tires should tame this a bit, and there was a small change with the Bonkers. Easier to push the bike through the parking with my hand on the seat, and less likely for the wheel to flop over when I’m waiting at a traffic light and let go of the bars to have a sip of water.

Little things

The new water bottle cages are satisfyingly grippy, which was not really in my mind when I bought them — it was a libation-influenced purchasing decision. (For that matter, so were the Billy Bonkers … ) The previous cages, which I bought because the color was a near match for the paint, were a bit loosey-goosey. Never a problem while riding, but the bottle might fall out while I was carrying the bike upstairs to my office.

The brakes remain stiff, which is certainly down to the cables. I should have them out for cleaning and a bit of oil or grease. The braking performance was a worry with the return to the original, longer Deore units. It’s fine on the front. The rear is still a bit soft. I probably need to look at a smaller noodle on the rear, and recut the cable housing to achieve a straighter line.

Other than that, perfectly satisfied with the upgrade. People have noticed the change, and most approve.

New tires? I thought you got a new bike!


Garmie didn’t start recording until I was about 400m into the morning ride, and then skipped about the first 700m on the evening return. Based on a moving time of 38:04, I averaged 19.7km/h in the morning, and 37:47 for 19.3km/h on the return. These times are not out of line with historical records, which is probably evidence that the commute is more dependent on traffic lights than anything else.

Too short to satisfy

Detail of bicycle tire and valve. The valve is pointing downward from the 2 o'clock position. There is barely any gap between the black valve cap and the sliver nut securing the value to the hub. The hub is black and with a white "Mason X Hunt" logo which is upside-down from the viewer's perspective. The tire's sidewall is tan, with a logo partially shown in white. The logo says "King SK" in tan and "27.5x1.75 [650b]", "Made in Japan" and "TLC" in black.

The weather was beautiful today, sunny and warm, but I had prior commitments. Rather than ride, I took to opportunity to swap out the inner tubes on Kuroko, as she was already out on the Workshop in the Sky.

The existing inner tubes are holding air well, which is their main job. The concern I have is that their valves stems are too short. This is noticeable in the rear, where it’s not really a problem, but really sticks out on the front (erm … by not sticking out, if you see what I mean) where it makes it hard to secure the pump head when I want to top up the air.

Shirt sleeves

With the mercury at 16C, I stepped out onto the balcony in sweatpants and a short-sleeved T-shirt. Not bad at all. Within minutes I had Kuroko in the bike rack, the front wheel off, and I was deflating the tire to remove the inner tube.

The tire still has quite a bit of latex residue inside from when I was running it tubeless. This is not an issue, so I’ll most likely keep using this tire until it’s worn out. After removing the new inner tube from its packaging, I gave it a minute in the talcum powder shake shack to make sure it wouldn’t pinch during installation. As is my usual practice, I gave the inner tube just enough air to give it shape, and then mounted it together with the tire on the rim using my hands only. (The Billy Bonkers required just a bit of tire lever at the end to get them on last week.)

Once mounted, I quickly filled the tire to 60psi with a number of satisfying pops as the tire seated on the rim. After inspecting the seat all the way round both sides and bouncing the wheel on the balcony floor a few times, I let all the air out again before inflating it to the final 40psi.

The rear tire went nearly as quickly, with the derailleur just giving a moment’s delay getting the wheel in and out of the frame (or out and back in, actually). With the wheels mounted in the frame once again I gave them a spin, made sure there was no rubbing, and checked the brakes. All good.

Stop the clock!

I had the impression I was done in about 20 minutes, and well satisfied with my work. In fact it was about 40 minutes by the time I had Kuroko out of the stand and had refitted the saddlebag (which has to come off for the bicycle stand). Regardless, I was satisfied with the result: valve stems that are clearly long enough that I won’t have any issue with topping up the air pressure while on the road — and they’re matched.

The last photo above shows the old valve stem from the rear tire. The valve core is decidedly bent. That explains why it had got so difficult to open when I needed to boost the air in the tire (which added motivation for the tube swap).

Now with that done in addition to Dionysus’s fattening up, the question remains: when will I get these beauties back on the road?

The parking situation

Bicycles parked on a two-tier rack under a white ceiling.

I mentioned in my post about the fattening up of Dionysus that I’ve had to change my bicycle parking spaces. I’d had two adjacent spaces on a rack in the back corner of the parking garage. I liked this area because it was out of the main traffic (mostly people riding their bikes in and out), and there was less jostling of my bikes than there would be in the more popular spaces.

After several years in this building, though, management decided to remove the entire row of racks along the back wall to make room for larger bikes: mamachari (electric bikes with a child carrier or two) and fat-tire bikes. I was given a choice of remaining rack space to re-home both Dionysus and Kuroko.

I didn’t have to think twice: I wanted adjacent slots on the top row. I didn’t really mind where in the garage it was. The workers helping me tried to discourage me: You’ll have to lift your bikes up onto the rack and back down again. But I knew that with my babies up on the top row I wouldn’t have to worry about others bashing them about as they got their own bikes in and out of the racks.

I got lucky with two adjacent slots near the door and at one end of the rack. I can get Kuroko in and out without even extending the rack. But the question remained whether Dionysus would fit after upgrading to the Billy Bonkers. Had a turned her into a fat tire bike?

And the answer is: she just fits. I didn’t even have to work hard to get her into the rack. (Getting her out again is the next test.) Meanwhile another tight spot was revealed between the rear derailleur and the supporting bar of the rack. There’s clearance, but I’m going to have to get in the habit of shifting up into the smaller gears before parking the bike. (I usually do the opposite for an easy start.)

The final question will be whether Dionysus will fit in the rack in my office. We will know next week at the earliest.

Going Bonkers!

Bicycle on a balcony, leaning against a glass banister. Buildings are visible far below through the glass. The bicycle is a flat-bar model, turquoise, with fat tan-wall tires. The legend "Billy Bonkers" is visible on both tires.

We had two days of beautiful weather this weekend, sunny and mild with very little wind. Sadly, I was too busy to ride. But I found enough time Saturday afternoon to take the plunge on the tire replacement for Dionysus that I’ve been putting off for more than half a year.

I was given a push by the condo management, which made me change my parking space. (They’re replacing the previous bike rack there with accommodation for larger electric bikes and monster tire bikes.) So I had to change the parking sticker on the bike. I could have just put the new sticker over the old, but I have a heat gun and wanted to have a go at removing the old sticker before putting on the new one.

After bringing the bike up from the parking garage, I gathered all the needed bits near the balcony door. (As always, I’d forgotten a few things.) The old parking sticker came off in one piece after less than a minute with the heat gun, and it didn’t take any paint with it. Then I took off the water bottle cages, because I had some new ones to replace them with, and the bike was ready for a washing.

Dionysus is my commuter bike, and I tend not to ride when it’s raining, so she wasn’t covered in mud as Dionysus can get when I’m caught in the rain (or — more often — out splashing through puddles left on the cycling course after a recent rain). But there was plenty of road grit and grime to wash off.

This is the way we wash our … eh?

I was in for a couple of surprises with the washing. First, the pump on the spray bottle of cleaner didn’t work. The bottle still had a good 150ml or so of cleaner, but I pumped the spray head for more than a minute with no result. In the end I filled a wash bucket with warm water and poured the cleaner into that, then sloshed it onto the bike with a soft brush.

The second surprise came when it was time to rinse off the cleaner. I’d filled the water sprayer with warm water, but when I pressed the button I got less than a second of spray before the battery died. I’ve been asking for this one — I’ve been using the sprayer for months without ever thinking of recharging it. In fact, I don’t remember where I put the charging cord. In the meantime I had a soapy bicycle to rinse off, so I refilled the wash bucket with clean water and used a cheap towel to splash and wipe that over the bike until it was sparkling.

With the bike cleaned up and stripped down (at least of the bottle cages) I put it on the scale to get the weight before I made the tire swap. It came in at a surprising 10.88kg — I’d weighed Dionysus at the end of the restoration, and with a cheap luggage scale she was just 9kg. I took off the headlight and the GoPro mount and that brought the weight down to 10.74kg (but that picture didn’t come out).

That’s really bonkers!

When I rebuilt Ol’ Paint and christened her Dionysus, I’d opted for light, smooth-rolling 28mm tires. I have no complaints about their performance, and they still have some life left in them. But over some of the rougher pavement on my commute I’ve found myself wishing for wider, softer tires. And then I saw these on some YouTube of a mountain bike refurbishing and thought, “These are just the thing for Dionysus!” (Alcohol may have been involved.)

They’re quite a bit wider — almost double at a nominal 2.1 inches. In fact they measure at about 51mm on the bike, perhaps because the rims aren’t really meant for this width of tire. When I bought them I knew there was a lot of extra clearance in Dionysus’s frame, but I didn’t stop and think about things like brake clearance or the width of the bike rack in the parking garage.

As mentioned at the top, these tires have been sitting in the flat for half a year now. But it wasn’t until I started seriously thinking about the replacement last month that it occurred to me there might be an issue with brake clearance. I still have the Shimano Deore brakes I’d bought for the refurbishing, the ones I replaced soon after with shorter-armed Tektro brakes to get more stopping power. So I figured if need be I’d use those and if they didn’t have enough grab then I’d think of other solutions.

To work!

I started with the rear wheel. The narrow Continental tire came off without much hassle. I searched the Billy Bonker sidewalls in vain for a preferred direction of rotation, so I just took a guess and then spent some time trying to make sure the logo would center on the valve. I got the first bead on easily enough, then inserted the partially inflated inner tube. The second bead was more of a fight, and in the end I used a tire lever to finish the job. I learned along the way that I hadn’t cleaned the wheel nearly as well as I’d thought when I saw all the smudges my fingers had left on the new tan sidewall. (Fortunately it was on the non-drive side, so it doesn’t show in the photos.)

As I’d guessed, the tire fit just fine in the frame but the brakes didn’t have nearly enough clearance. I left the rear brake unhooked for the moment and continued work with the front wheel. I took a bit more care to keep the sidewalls looking nice, but in the process I mounted the tread in the opposite direction from the rear. I’m sure that will bother me enough that I’ll fix it at some point.

With the wheels back in the frame, I dug the Deore brakes out of the toolbox along with the needed tools — not forgetting the grease! It was easy enough to remove the old brakes. I’d installed reusable cable tips during the refurbish project so I removed these and carefully set them aside (and only dropped one in the dirty water in the gutter along the way).

After putting some grease on the brake posts, I took some time installing the new (old?) brakes. To get the spring in the right retaining hole, I had to loosen the brake pads and rotate them out of the way. Then I took care positioning the pads to make sure they closed on the center of the rim, without rubbing the fat tires.

After some adjustment, the front brake feels satisfyingly firm. The rear is a bit squishy. I probably need to redo the cable run from the top tube, around the seat post and into the noodle for the rear brake. I probably need a shorter noodle in the process. And I think the brake cables could probably use a bit of cleaning and lube as well. But all that is for another day.


The final weight of the bike, with the new bottle cages and the clamp for the pump, is a full 900g more than previously. That’s just about the advertised weight of the new tires, so I’m guessing that (in addition to the bottle cages, which weren’t included in the “before” weight) the larger inner tubes add a healthy share to the weight.

After the weigh-in I took Dionysus off the stand and carefully set up the money shot. The moment I sent it to Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn, they replied, “How does it ride?” It was after 4 p.m. when I finished the work. Still enough sunshine for a spin around the block, but I didn’t have the energy for it. I’ll try to get the motivation to commute by bike this week, and that may be all the riding I get in for a few days yet. One thing I’ll be eager to see is whether the fatter tires tame Dionysus’s squireliness.

For the moment I’m content with the new look.

初走り 2023

Bicycle propped against shrubbery with reflecting pond and Meiji Memorial Museum in background

For the first ride of the New Year, I had grandiose ideas about visiting a waterfall at the top of a 14km climb that begins 50km from home. As I was preparing this morning, I realized that the climb (and the return) would add at least 90 minutes to a ride that would already be about 7 hours. And it’s a bit ambitious to think I’m going to cap the first ride in a month with a long (if gradual) climb.

Instead I chose to make it an easygoing day with a lap around Tokyo, a route I last rode on October 30. And it turned out to be a good choice. The route features several short but somewhat stiff climbs (there are no fewer than 5 Cat 4 climbs according to Strava), and each one had me feeling it had been more than a year since I’d been on the bike, rather than just a month.

It was a cheerful, relaxed ride. The sun was warm and I only ran into crowds in Toyosu. I saw the Mario Cart tour at Ueno Park, where I have two strenuous climbs before the final go up Kudanzaka (at Budokan).

Based on a riding time of 3 hours 25 minutes, my moving average was 17.8km/h.

GPS record of bicycle ride
初走り 2023

December Century

Bicycle leaning against railing with palace moat and kagura in background

It was 4C when I set out this morning, and I was worried that I would need another layer in addition to the undershirt and winter jersey I was wearing. I needn’t have worried — I was working up a sweat within a couple of kilometers.

After getting a bit turned around at the Imperial Palace, I was soon waiting for José at Nihonbashi. We didn’t have any firm goal in mind — I’d said, “Let’s just ride up Arakawa until we’re tired,” and he’d agreed.

There was a slight headwind when we reached the river, and we didn’t press hard. We soon came to a checkpoint where the police were assisting Girl Scouts in handing out safety brochures and tchotchkes to cyclists. I gamely accepted the pouch, only to have to stop to stow it in my bag so I could continue riding.

We went along upstream, stopping every 10km or so for a brief rest. Just before 11 we stopped to eat a couple of Nana’s world famous onigiri. I’d covered 40km by this time, and I vowed to reach 50 before we turned around. José was feeling the effects of multiple hours spent at the gym yesterday, and a lingering back injury (for which cycling is not a recommending remedy).

Water gate with otherworldly appearance
UFO gate

As luck would have it, the GPS chimed the 50km mark the moment I drew abreast of the Asaka Weir, and we paused to rest our hands and backsides before turning for home. I remember commenting to José that it was the Arakawa, and we could count on the wind being changeable if nothing else on our return journey.

We continued downstream, still stopping every 10km or so to rest. With about 10km to go before we left the river course, we stopped to have the last of the onigiri. We were glad to discover when we resumed our ride downstream that the gauntlet of Girl Scouts had disappeared.

Our final rest stop was a convenience store just a kilometer or two after we left the cycling course, where José treated me to a giant Kit Kat and I washed it down with a bottled latte. The skies had darkened considerably although it was just after 1 p.m., and I turned on my lights before we continued in city traffic.

We parted ways at Nihonbashi, where we’d met five hours previously, after a celebratory selfie. I continued on alone towards the Imperial Palace and around counter-clockwise until I reached Kudanzaka and paused for a last break at Tayasumon and Chidorigafuchi. After that it was simply a matter of plugging on along Shinjuku Avenue in Sunday afternoon traffic.

I rolled into the tower courtyard a bit after 3 p.m. and stopped the Garmie only to discover I was still 170m short of 100km. I resumed the ride and just did a lap down the path and back up the road to bring me once again to the tower entrance, and the Garmie beeped to let me know I’d completed 100km. I shut it off and garaged the bike, then headed upstairs to start the bath and enjoy a cold beer.

GPS record of cycle ride
December Century

We’d taken it easy all day, so I was surprised on returning home to find a string of personal bests up and down the Arakawa, including personal records for the entire length in each direction. José had a similar string of personal bests for the day.

Based on a moving time of 4:49:23, I recorded an average moving speed of 20.7 km/h, which is certainly impressive given the fact I was just taking it easy most of the day.

Finally, with 100km in the bag today, I notched up more than 13,000km on Kuroko since the inaugural ride on 29 July 2018.

Screen shot showing legend "Kuroko -- 13,021.6km"
Kuroko milestone

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.