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A big push!

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign

The day dawned clear and windy. Between the forecast for wind and some sneezing that started last night and continued this morning, I put off plans for a longer ride and decided to get out to the Arakawa and see which way the wind was blowing.

Fujisan capped with snow in pink early morning sunlight
Lovely start to the day

The ride in traffic to the Arakawa was uneventful. My thighs took some persuasion to get going, but were soon in their rhythm. The wind was gusting against me at times, so I just took it easy.

When I reached the Arakawa, the wind was very clearly blowing downriver. Well, OK! Downriver it is! I sped down the ramp from the top of the levee, splashed through some puddles and was on my way. And with the wind at my back (for the most part), I knew I was making good time without much effort.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Arakawa
Not tired of this

BFG

From the moment I hit the trail, a Big Friendly Giant was pushing me along. I racked up a 5km segment in 9m57s, and then another in 9m17s. Put together, that gave me 10km in 19m14s, for more than 31km/h average.

As the giant wind continued to push me along, I racked up some surprising numbers on Strava, including a 7.37km segment at 33.3km/h.

End of the line

Bicycle leaning against sign marking river mouth at Shinsuna
Back into the wind after this

In all, it took me 58 minutes to cover the 26.5km from my start on the Arakawa cycling road to the end at the Shinsuna River Station, averaging more than 27km/h for the run (including a brief rest stop). But after that I had to backtrack into the wind to the Kiyasunao Bridge to cross over the Arakawa to reach my true destination for the day.

Bicycle in front of Tokyo Disney Resort sign
Kuroko goes to Disney

After snapping a quick picture for the blog, I made a leisurely pace getting back to the Kiyasunao Bridge, impelled forward only by my hunger. I reached the Seishincho North green space at 11:45 and promptly ate three of Nana’s world-famous onigiri.

Bicycle in front of ornate lamppost at Nihonbashi
Nihonbashi

Back across the bridge, I was in traffic on Eitai Avenue. The wind was gusty, but overall much abated from the giant’s hand that had pushed me down the river. I was thankful I wasn’t fighting my way back into the same wind that had propelled me to speeds of more than 40km/h on the flat!

I sent a photo from Nihonbashi to both Nana and Fearless Leader Joe. They both came back with the same response: You’re already in Nihonbashi? By the time FLJ’s response reached me, though, I was already sitting down outside Budokan for a final onigiri.

After finishing up the onigiri, I checked the time: 1:20. I messaged Nana that I’d be home by 2:30 and set off once more into traffic. I had to warm my thighs up again after the brief stop. I honestly didn’t know how long it would take to get home — I’ve always assumed about 45 minutes from Chidorigafuchi and have told Nana an hour. But as I rolled up to the tower and noted the time, I realized I’d done it in 30 minutes. (I’ll probably continue to give Nana an hour estimate, though.)

GPS record of cycle ride
A big push!

Garmin gave me a moving time of 3:20:58, for an average of 21.7km/h. Despite all the personal records set today, Strava reports my speed on this ride is trending downward. It’s certain that on other segments today I was taking it easy. My fastest time was in February 2019 when I averaged 24.3km/h in an even stronger wind and set a personal record for 40km of 1:24:35 (which I make to be 28.4km/h) in addition to a number of personal records on Strava segments along the Arakawa.

Today’s big push brought me a milestone: more than 10,000km on Kuroko since my first ride with her in July 2018. I know there are some who ride 10,000km in a single year, but I suspect most of them don’t have day jobs. At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.

Graphic showing 10,006km ridden on bicycle
Ten. Thousand. Kilometers.

Got it in … two

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

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

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

Easy Rider start

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

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

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

It’s hurtin’ time

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

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

just

keeps

going.

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet gravity!

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

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

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

Not the end of the climbing

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

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

Lots of exurb rubbish I won’t bore you with

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

Final stretch

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

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

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

GPS record of bicycle ride
Got it in … two

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

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

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

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

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.

The Whole Enchilada

Collage of cyclist selfies at Hamura and Haneda

After yesterday’s learning experience, I was confident that Kuroko was up for a nice, long ride. The only question was whether I wanted to challenge Otarumi Touge once more, or do the length of the Tamagawa cycling course, which I haven’t done since January. Considering the relative amounts of climbing involved and my recent training regime, I opted for the latter.

Bicycle leaning against hedge in front of dry fountain
Nishigawara Park

Looking at my time from January (total elapsed time of 9 hours 38 minutes), I planned to set out at 7 this morning. As it happened, it was 7:20 before I hit the road, and that was all down to me. Nana had the onigiri ready and was constantly prompting me if she should call building security to open up the freight elevator for me so I could bring Kuroko down from the Workshop in the Sky to street level.

I’d chosen 7 a.m. based on my time in January and a goal of returning home by 4:30, so I could be showered and ready for our 5:30 dinner reservation. As I’d started out with a 20-minute deficit, I was constantly looking to improve my time. Mostly, this meant limiting my break times. January’s time included two-and-a-half hours of non-riding time (including time spent at red lights in traffic), so I knew I could easily improve on that.

Ahead of the game

I reached Persimmon Park by 9:10 a.m., which meant I was already ahead of the game. I had about 16km to go into Hamura, the turnaround point, so with luck I’d be there by 10 (which would amount to something of a record for me). I had a few sips of water before setting off again. After negotiating my way through a troupe of young ‘uns on a weekend outing, I was back in force on the path, the wind with me, making good time but conserving my energy for the long haul. I started feeling hungry along the way, but I knew I was just a handful of kilometers from Hamura. I pressed on, and eventually rolled into the goal on the dot of 10.

I rationed my time at Hamura, getting a couple of onigiri in and resting my hands, feet and backside. But I was loathe to spend too much time resting and wasting the gain I’d made against the clock. So as soon as I had the onigiri inside, I mounted up again for the return ride.

First one-third in the bag

I’d racked up the usual 53km on the way to Hamura, but I knew this was just one-third of the day’s planned total. On the way back downriver, I could feel those 50-plus kilometers in my hands and my butt. I knew that I could cut the day short by turning home once I got to Futako, but I also knew it was too early to be making alternative plans. The bike was behaving well, I was kicking out a steady pace, and the wind was … not exactly fighting me. It was a crosswind, not strong, that was sometimes with me and sometime slightly against.

Soon after I left Hamura it began sprinkling. The sky had been cloudy up to this point, and while rain was not in the forecast, it wasn’t a total surprise, either. I kept pedaling. The pavement was not getting wet, and ditto my tires. My sunglasses were getting spotted with the rain, and that was about the extent of it. I thought about taking the shades off, but the sky overall was still rather bright. The rain — never heavy — ceased after 15-30 minutes.

In fact I was making very good time downstream. I’m sure the wind was with me overall. I racked up a couple of 5km splits at less than 11 min each — 10km at less than 22 minutes. I’d been providing Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn with regular updates on my position, as well as photos, without any response. But when I reported this stat, the reply from Sanborn was quick: pix or it didn’t happen.

Table of 5km split times
Doubting Thomas

(Split 14 included a second stop at Persimmon Park.)

In any case, I responded to Sanborn with the most appropriate pictures available to me at the moment: my current location, and one of me devouring another of Nana’s delicious (and world famous) onigiri. After averaging north of 27km/h for 10km, I deserved it!

Eye on the clock

When I’m riding a route I know, I usually put the GPS on the map, just to keep myself from checking my stats every two minutes (and possibly missing some developing situation on the path ahead of me). At this point, though, I put it on the stats so I could keep an eye on the time. I knew I was doing well overall, but I wasn’t sure of the total ride time — particularly as I was starting to fatigue. I figured that I needed to reach Futako by 1 p.m. at the latest, which would put me at Haneda by 2:30. Given that it usually takes about two hours to get home from Haneda, that would put me home in time for dinner.

Onward, and reserving my energy. I had more than 90km on the clock after crossing the Tama Suido bridge the second time, and was now facing both a headwind and increasing traffic — pedestrians and slower riders both.

I came back to Futako at just under 5 hours into the ride, or about 12:15. Well ahead of schedule. I pressed on for another 3-4km until I came to a familiar resting spot, where I pulled over for a final onigiri. From this point I had about 14km to go until Haneda, my second turnaround point of the day, and I figured I could make it in one go. More importantly, I could make it with the water remaining in my bottles.

Nothing really to report on the remainder of the run to Haneda. The wind turned against me, so I hunkered down and kept pedaling. With the sun now out and it being after lunchtime, there were more cyclists, dog-walkers and bric-à-brac competing for the path. My thighs were telling me they were OK for the flats, but not to expect anything on the climbs.

Selfie of cyclist in front of Haneda Peace Shrine
Haneda shrine without the peace

I reached Haneda at 1:15, well ahead of the deadline. The nameplate was missing from the famous torii. I have no idea why. I sat in the shade and finished off the remaining water while an oji-san noisily dismembered plywood boxes just a few steps from where I sat.

Snickers to the rescue

I was ahead of schedule, but I was also tired and hungry. I knew that there was a convenience store just 5km away on the route home, and I soon stopped there for a bottle of water, a Snickers and a café au lait. I ate the Snickers standing in the parking lot and washed it down with the au lait, and the sugar of the two was just what the doctor ordered. After emptying the water from the PET bottle into my water bottles, I hit the trail again well refreshed. The wind was at my back once again, and I made jig time back upriver to Futako.

When it came to the climb out of the Tamagawa valley, I just dropped down the gears until I was comfortable and took my time on the way up. I pulled in for a rest at my usual park at the top of the climb and noted I still had another two gears to call on if the need arose.

It was 2:30 p.m. — my deadline for leaving Haneda, and I was already back in Futako. I messaged Nana that I’d be home in an hour, possibly a bit more (allowing for the fatigue I was suffering), and swallowed a bit more water. I turned on the rear light (clouds were moving in) before mounting up for home.

NBD, and a bit of a cheat

The ride home was no big deal. I fell in behind another cyclist after a traffic light and stuck with him until we came to a small climb, where he left me for dead. Once again, I just used a comfortable gear and didn’t push myself. The traffic (which had been missing in the morning on my way to the river) was out in force, and I took care negotiating my way. To get home ahead of time, I reminded myself, I had to get home.

With my stats on the GPS screen, one thing I was keeping my eye on (in addition to the current time) was the total elapsed time. When I’d done this ride in January with the Halfakid (and his then-fling), I’d come in at 9:38 total elapsed time. I was now looking at bringing it in under 8 hours. Could I do it? The answer relied more on traffic than on my legs. I had to remind myself on a few occasions to pay more attention to the road conditions and less to the clock.

In the end, I came swooping down the descent by Central Park with scant seconds to spare. As I waited at the red light at the bottom (still a couple of hundred meters from home), I watched the seconds tick down to 8 hours total ride time. And … I simply ended the ride at that point. Satisfied, I relaxed until the light changed and spun my way into the tower courtyard before dismounting and parking Kuroko in the basement.

GPS record of cycle ride
The Whole Enchilada

Sleight-of-hand notwithstanding, a few comparisons are in order. In January I completed the same route in 9:37:50 total elapsed time and 7:08:01 ride time, for an average of 20.1km/h. Today the figures were 7:59:42 total elapsed time and 6:18:07 ride time, for an average of 22.6km/h. I hadn’t just cut down on the rest times, I’d taken 50 minutes out of the ride time! I feel totally justified now in complaining loudly that I have no energy and people should be rushing to set pillows out for me to sit on, rather than vice-versa.

Fearless Leader Joe asked if this has been my longest ride this year, and — apart from the January go on the same route — the answer is yes. It doesn’t seem like it should be the case, but doing the Futako course in both directions is longer than the three rivers course.

The Halfakid and I did a century (162km for me) back in May 2020 in 7:57:22 ride time. That remains, to date, my longest ride. FLJ and I had a 148km day during our Lejog outing, but — with laden bikes, and day-after-day riding fatigue — we didn’t make anything like the time I recorded today.

The Fyutchaa!!

We’re just one-third of the way through October, and I already have 320km under my wing for the month. Next weekend the Halfakid may be able to join me for a ride (Otarumi Touge, depending on his condition). The following week I’m off work (with two road trips on the subsequent two weekends), so let’s see how the month comes out.

Learning experience

Tightening the chainring

Last weekend, on my first ride on Kuroko in several weeks, the bell failed. Apart from being a violation of the law, this can be a fairly big safety issue when riding on mixed-use paths with pedestrians and other cyclists.

I also noticed a rattling noise. It would happen in time with my pedaling, and the bike was silent when coasting (apart from the freehub ratchet, of course). During a rest stop I checked for anything that might be loose, including the water bottle cage. And I grabbed each crankarm in turn and gave them a tug. I didn’t notice any play.

As the day progressed, the rattling noise just got more constant, and I became convinced it was time to have a look at the bottom bracket. I’ve had this one just a couple of years and have put less than 4,000km on it. As Fearless Leader Joe noted, it should last much, much longer than that. On the other hand, it’s already lasted longer than any of the bottom brackets I had with the ill-stared FSA crankset.

Dumb bell

The bell has been on Kuroko since she was new. I have no idea why it chose this moment to take an oath of silence. It seems like the spring for the thumb release is broken. It just took a moment with a hex wrench to remove the bell, but it took a bit more time with degreaser and a thumbnail to remove the residue left on the handlebar.

As always with gear swaps, I have to do a weight comparison. I fully expected the new bell to weigh more, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it come in at 2g less. (Yes, I fully appreciate the fact that either bell weighs just a fraction of a full water bottle, or even the spare inner tube in the saddlebag.)

Most of the time for this bit of maintenance involved searching on the floor for the screw and clamp for the new bell after I dropped them. After that it was just a few seconds to tighten it all up and give it a few experimental rings.

Knog on

The bell is a Knog Oi Luxe. I previously purchased one for the Halfakid. They’re a bit pricey, but I love the sound.

Monkey with a wrench

Next up was the inspection and adjustment of the bottom bracket. I’d found a note on the manufacturer’s site that the non-drive-side crank could rattle if it wasn’t tightened properly (the washers on the clamping bolts can rattle), so I made a mental note to have a look at that.

The first order of business was to make sure I had all my tools ready for the job. A special tool for the preload nut, and another for the chainring bolts. A torque wrench and hex wrench, both 5mm, for the crank bolts. I had the bearing press on standby in case it was necessary. Of course, I overlooked the fact the chainring bolts were Torx, and so I had to go back to the toolbox for that when the time came.

I had no difficulty removing the crankset. With that out of the way, I inspected the bottom bracket, and I spun the bearings on both sides with my fingers. There was no sign of play or roughness.

I took some time to check the chainring bolts. They were fine on the smaller chainring, but some of those on the larger chainring were a bit loose. This is the one I replaced when the crankset was new. It was the work of a moment to tighten them all up again.

That done, I decided to give the crankset a good scrubbing before putting it back on the bike. There was a lot of grunge built up on the chainrings, and it took more than a bit of scrubbing to remove it all.

When the chainrings were sparkling again, I set about to put the crankset back in the bottom bracket. That’s when I made a shocking discovery. What was this little thread sticking out from the bearing? It only took a moment’s inspection to confirm my worst fears: the bearing seal was coming out. I gave the bearing cap a couple of tugs, thinking I could get it off and stuff the seal back in place, but I knew even as I did it that it was a vain attempt. The people who manufacture these things for a living can probably get the seals back in, but for us mere mortals the only likelihood is doing more harm than good.

That’s where experience comes from

Reluctantly, I tugged the seal out and discarded it. I had a look at the opposite side and discovered the same thing: the seal was sticking out. It followed its mate into the rubbish heap.

I’ve had a look at the photos above and there’s no sign of the seal in the picture I took immediately after removing the crankset. It’s pretty clear that I disturbed the seals when I was mashing the bearings about with my fingers, trying to feel for play or wear. Heavy sigh.

The good news is the bottom bracket was fine after nearly 4,000km. It’s probably good for many more, but with the seals gone now it will be at the mercy of the elements, and the bearings will no doubt fail in time from the incursion of water and road grit. For the moment I’ve put the crankset back in, tightened it properly, and given it some test spins. It’s fine.

That rattle

While I was putting the crankset back in, I nudged the water bottle cage — the one hanging below the down tube, near the crankset. It was loose. I quickly tightened it up again and all is shipshape.

I could have chosen to preserve my pride and not admit any of the above tomfoolery, but in the end I decided the comedic relief was more important it would be a good object lesson.

Ridin’ dirty

Kuroko has splashed through more than a few puddles over the past month. It had been my intention to give her a bath after the maintenance, but I decided to hold off for the moment in light of the missing BB seals.

Parting gift

Fearless Leader Joe has been putting in the kilometers without cease, and it’s time for a cassette replacement for his Jamis. Unfortunately, he needs a popular model that’s out of stock just about everywhere, with no estimate given of when it might be available.

I have the same range, 11-32T, in my spares, although it’s 105, which is one step down from the Ultegra he’s got on the Jamis. Apart from a few material choices (and hence a few dozen grams), there’s no real difference, though. After all the maintenance on Kuroko was done, I dug this cassette out of the toolbox and cleaned it up so I can send it to FLJ. This is a cassette I had on Kuroko for probably less than 1,000km before swapping it (and the derailleur for good measure) for an 11-34T cassette.

Stories I could tell

When I racked up more than half of my 400km ride total in September via commuting, I related a few stories of things I’d seen. I rode my first commute of October today, and garnered a couple of more tales on my way home this evening.

GPS record of cycle ride
Crosby, Stills, Nash
GPS record of cycle ride
… and Young

But they’re thirsty!

There’s a brief rise just about at the midway point of the commute. It’s a good, wide section of road, with wide sidewalks on both sides. Where I’m climbing up the rise on the way home, there’s a railing at the edge of the sidewalk, and just inside that a low row of bushes. As I puffed my way upwards this evening in the trail of a delivery truck, I noticed a white stream arcing from a townhouse to my left, over the sidewalk and into the bushes. There was a woman standing on her balcony one story above the pavement, holding a garden hose, and watering the bushes — by jetting the stream of water right over the sidewalk.

She had pretty good aim, too!

In certain South American countries, this means we’re married

With less than 3km to go, I stopped to wait for a light at a crossing. I watched the changing of the lights carefully as I balanced at the corner with one foot on the curb, and launched across the intersection just as the light turned green.

But I wasn’t the first off the line! From behind me, a woman on a DoCoMo bike (electric rental cycle) was already on the move, zipping past on my right, nearly clipping my handlebars, before she cut right across my line to mount the sidewalk.

Ahead in the street, a bus waited at a stop. The woman was going to the sidewalk to get ahead of the bus. Meanwhile, I put the pedal down and powered my way around the right side of the bus as it continued to wait at the stop with lights flashing. As I came back to the bicycle lane on the left, there was the woman, trying to come off the sidewalk and back into the lane. Fortunately she recognized my right of way and let me go ahead.

But that wasn’t the last I saw of her. She overtook me again as I waited at the next red light, speeding on through the intersection without a care. Once again I overtook her when the light changed, this time without any drama. The next time I hit a red light — at a pedestrian crossing this time — I was expecting her, and there she was, once again sailing through the red. This time I followed her a few dozen meters as I waited for cars to pass us both, before once again overtaking her. For the final time, as it happens.

A touch of the ol’ breeze

It was cloudy and ominous when I left the office this evening, and the wind was up. Despite the color of the sky, I wasn’t really worried about rain. As for the wind, I ducked my head and did my best.

“You’re late!” Nana declared when I arrived home. I looked at the clock: just an hour after quitting time. I often am later even when I take the train.

“What do you mean, late?”

“It’s dark out! And I haven’t brought in the laundry yet because I know you’ll want a shower.”

Forecast

This weekend is shaping up to be perfect for bicycle … maintenance.

Hello, Old Friend

Bicycle leaning against the rail with Hamura Intake Weir in background

I’ve commuted with Dionysus eight times since I was last out for a weekend ride on Kuroko. Riding Dionysus is fun, but the moment I mount up on Kuroko it’s like putting on an old shoe: comfortable and familiar. I’d spent some time the evening before the ride putting a spacer in the rear cogs and adjusting the shifter cable tension, and all the shifts were immediate and nearly silent.

Hamura Intake Weir
Hamura Intake Weir

I chose the Three Rivers, Three Prefectures ride I’d done in May. Based on that experience, I’d made some changes both in getting to the start of the Iruma river course and leaving the course for Kawagoe, and yesterday’s ride was greatly improved as a result.

The weather was hot and clear, and a little breezy following Friday’s typhoon and a sudden, unexpected heavy rain Saturday evening. With all the rain, I’d been expecting some flooding on the paths, or at least a lot of puddles, but there were just a few.

The exception was on the Arakawa course. I knew there would be a few hundred meters of puddles just where I leave the course for the city streets, and I was right. Thankfully there’s a detour just half a kilometer before this section which takes me along a path 3 or 4 meters above the level of the cycling route.

I’d been fighting the wind the whole way down the Arakawa, with a particularly bad kilometer not far from the end where it felt I wasn’t making any progress at all, so it was actually a relief to leave that behind for the city traffic. I was surprised to find I still had a little power left in my legs. I was running on empty at this point — cramping thighs, an empty water bottle, and no chap stick — and I was very glad to arrive home, park the bike and head to the shower.

Kawagoe Toki no Kane
Kawagoe Toki no Kane

Mechanicals

As mentioned, there was no issue with shifting all day, which was a relief. But I had a totally unrelated, totally unexpected and nearly crippling mechanical early in the ride: the bell stopped working! That may not seem important, but the Tamagawa cycling course in particular was very crowded with a marathon, club riders and people just out for a walk in the pleasant weather. After making sure the bell wasn’t pressed against the handlebar tape or the Garmin mount, and the clapper was free to move, I just gave up and started shouting warnings when I was approaching someone on the path.

There was also a bit of a worrying ticking noise coming from somewhere in the drivetrain. At first it was faint and only came under load, like when I was struggling up a switchback. I made sure it wasn’t just the ice in my bidon, and checked various parts on the bike to make sure they weren’t loose. During one rest break I verified that the crankset didn’t have any play.

By the end of the ride the sound had become more frequent and a bit louder, and I’m pretty sure it’s another bottom bracket going bad. Kuroko has a real appetite for bottom brackets. I’m pleased that this Sugino has lasted longer than the three previous units, so I’m going to order the same thing again (and hope it’s not out of stock like a lot of bicycle parts are at the moment).

That’s me happy

GPS record of cycle route
Hello, old friend

My impression while riding was that I wasn’t making very good time. My goal was to get home by 4 p.m. to prepare for dinner guests. Meanwhile I was feeling the absence from the bike, and the lack of longer rides for the past several months. The wind was cooperating at times, but putting up a stiff resistance at others. Towards the end I was suffering cramps in my thighs and just a lack of go juice.

So I was very pleasantly surprised with my Result According to Garmin: 7 hours, 15 minutes overall. Based on a moving time of 5 hours, 49 minutes, I’d averaged 21.7km/h. I had numerous personal bests for the day, including the final uphill slog on Yamate Dori before home, where my mantra had been, “Just get over this final hump and I can coast the rest of the way home.”

400!

Bicycle leaning against tree in park

With today’s commute, I’ve brought my monthly total up to 408km — above 400km for the first time since May.

Bar chart of distance cycled per month
Highest point since May

High temperatures and rainy weather cut into my riding in the intervening months, which is not surprising in light of Japan’s climate and typhoon activity. What’s interesting about my breaking through the 400km mark this month is that the lion’s share of the riding was from commuting. I cycled to and from work no less than 10 times this month (out of 22 working days), for 259.52km or 63.5% of the total.

Also of note: I didn’t achieve a fondo (metric century) this month, which makes the 400km total all the more surprising.

In fact, the only rides I did which were not commutes were both on the same weekend: a ride down the Arakawa on Sept. 11 and then the opposite direction, up the Arakawa to Kawagoe, on Sept. 12.

The upshot is I’ve spent far more time on Dionysus this month than Kuroko.

Calendar of bicycle ride records
No rides before the 7th

We’d planned to ride to Nanasawa Onsen on Sept. 18-19, but a typhoon put paid to that. (We ended up going by car.) And Sept. 25-26 was another road trip, this time to Tateshina in Nagano.

(The forecast for tomorrow is for rain, so I already know I won’t be improving on this month’s statistics.)

Summary of monthly riding statistics
No idea when all that climbing happened

So what’s the big deal?

It’s true that 400km is a rather arbitrary number. But Strava offers a badge at 400km/month, and I register for it each month even if I don’t think I’m going to get there (as in July and August).

Strava 400km badge
400km badge

I’ll just note in this context that 400km is about three days’ riding for Fearless Leader Joe … (We actually did 400km in days 2-4 of Lejog, and north of 370km/3 days in days 4-7.)

Strava used to have an 800km badge, but I haven’t seen it recently. The next level up now is 1,200km.

The things I’ve seen, son

I could tell you stories

A partial list of things I’ve seen and encountered during my now-regular commuting routine:

  • A scooter rider who must have been told he resembled John Banner, because he wore a German military-style helmet (and did indeed look quite a bit like Sergeant Schultz as a result)
  • じゃんじゃんおじさん (Jingle-Jangle Uncle), a middle-aged man in bright, clownish apparel (including a sign with this appellation) and sporting signboards spelling out the evils of littering, who was picking up empty cans and other litter
  • Rain on a day with a forecast of 0% probability of precipitation
  • An Uber Eats rider rounding an intersection corner into the bike lane, without pausing to check if someone else was already in the bike lane
    (To be fair, a lot of Japanese cyclists do this — but I expect a bit better of those who cycle for a living)
  • More than a few drivers of German sports cars who sidle up to the curb at stop lights, preventing cyclists from advancing in the cycling lane
  • A line of traffic more than a kilometer long at a location where I’m used to encountering three or four vehicles waiting at the light
  • A monster-tired bike with an outsized gold rear hub which turned out to be an electric motor — something to keep in mind for the day my legs give out (although I doubt those tires will fit in the bicycle parking racks at home)
  • No end of boorish behavior by motorists

The rattle of ice cubes in the bidon doth not a mechanical make

Perpetual reminder to self

Where to next?

October is typically a sweet spot for cycling, so long as the typhoons hold off. Sunday is looking nice so I’m planning to dust off Kuroko then. I have a long weekend at the end of the month that I usually use for rides — such as Okutama or Miura Kaigan — but this year we’ve got yet another road trip planned.

Gnat knock-out

Selfie of cyclist in front of Toki no Kane bell tower in Kawagoe

I’d planned a longer ride today, but woke up to fog. And Nana, maker of the onigiri, was dead to the world. So I changed my plans and spent a leisurely morning getting ready for the ride.

The road was wet from the overnight rain when I set out, and I picked up a lot of grit on my way up Yamate Dori to the river. By the time I got to the Arakawa, though, the pavement was largely dry.

There were still a few puddles on the Arakawa cycling course, but not as bad as yesterday. I splashed right through whatever came my way, and didn’t see the dilettante on his beautiful Anchor.

I’d put the GPS on navigation, although I knew the way, just so I wouldn’t be checking the stats every 30 seconds. I settled into a comfortable pace, not willing to use up all my energy early in the ride.

And then I cruised through a cloud of gnats. This was an occurrence I was destined to repeat several times during the ride, and it took me a couple of goes to realize my UV-block mask is equally effective at allowing me to breathe without having to worry about ingesting gnats.

Bicycle in tall grass leaning against sign for Arakawa
Opposite direction

There are several stretches along the river where I come off the course into traffic, for example to get by bridges for which there’s no switchback. At one longer stretch where the course degrades into uneven gravel and I come down by a golf school, there’s been road construction every previous time I’ve come this way. Now the construction is finally finished and today I was able to plow straight on. Further on, at the final spot where I pass under a highway before rejoining the course, the bollards have been modified and made considerably less obnoxious. (This is in contrast to other locations further downstream, where the bollards have gotten more difficult to negotiate.)

Lunch first

I reached Kawagoe Sports Park about 10:50, and stopped to have a couple of onigiri before continuing. I was already ravenous. The park was full of seniors playing croquet and younger folks fooling around at soccer. I parked Kuroko under a tree, but the ground looked soft (if not outright wet), so I ate standing up.

Kawagoe was crowded, but perhaps thanks to the threatening weather, not nearly as crowded as on previous visits. I loped along the old town and only stopped for a photo of the signature Toki no Kane. Soon I was on my way back to the park for another onigiri (and the Snickers and bottled water I’d picked up at a convenience store along the way).

I’d been fooling with the rear derailleur adjusters again all morning and managed to get the shifting all mixed up. I’d sorted that out long before leaving the cycling course for Kawagoe, but the derailleur was still having issues staying on the largest cog in back (lowest gear). I only use this gear on steeper switchbacks on this course, but when I need it, I really, really need it.

After filling up I had a close look at the derailleur. Everything seemed right except for that reluctance to stay in the lowest gear. Mindful of the Stafford debacle, I used the multitool to back off the lower limit screw one turn. That proved to be the key to it all. I rode a few hundred meters in gear and proclaimed it fixed. This was borne out on my return to the cycling course, via a rather steep, half-paved footpath overgrown with weeds.

Crosswinds and rain

On the way back, the sky was still grey from horizon to horizon. Despite this I put on my shades for a bit. Even grey, a broad, sunlit sky can be bright enough to give me a headache.

I was soon fighting a crosswind. Instead of trying to power through it, I just clicked down a gear and kept spinning. I was concentrating at this stage on keeping my shoulders square and head up — the opposite of aerodynamic optimization, but the best for avoiding cramping in my neck and shoulders.

Given that I was just trying to keep comfortable for the long haul in the face of a crosswind, I was shocked to learn after the ride that I’d racked up a string of personal bests on my way back downriver. I know I’m often fighting a headwind at this point, but I didn’t realize today was the first time I wasn’t riding straight into the wind.

After climbing back up to the cycling course at the top of the levy by the golf school, I stopped to drink some water and check the distance remaining: 21km. The next stop would be the “space ship” — officially, the Asaka Water Gate.

Asaka water gate
Asaka space ship

On my way out in the morning, I saw someone stunting a control-line airplane here. How many years does that take you back? On the return trip, with rain drops splashing around, a couple of guys were loading their radio-controlled sailplanes into their vans.

Bicycle leaning against a bridge abutment
Out of the rain

The rain started just before I reached the space ship and continued until I reached Todabashi — the bridge where I leave the cycling course for the traffic of Yamate Dori to take me home.

Just like yesterday, the rain was not heavy and I was not soaked through. The pavement and my tires remained dry. I was more splashed with mud from the few puddles I’d encountered earlier than from the rain now falling from the sky. I just shrugged and pulled close the zipper on my cockpit bag, and hoped it wouldn’t get any worse.

When I reached Todabashi, I left the course and parked Kuroko under the bridge. The rain was light enough that I sat in the open, on some stairs leading to the walk under the bridge, to have the last of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. That done, I mounted up without any hesitation and headed back into traffic.

Silent running

There’s not much to report about the ride home after departing the river course. I left the rain behind me, as hoped. Traffic was heavy, as usual. I kept my head up and watched carefully for traffic. Much to my surprise, I racked up more personal bests. I really was not pushing, I promise!

Kuroko was behaving perfectly. Not a sound from the shifting, and never a missed shift. (There was a bit of front brake squealing, and I may need to replace the pads there sooner rather than later.)

It’s National “Race-Ahead-of-the-Cyclist-Just-to-Turn-Left” Day

Guy Jean

At some point I picked up a friend: an older (well, he had more grey hair) gent on a classic bike with a full mechanical groupset and rim brakes. He was behind me for several lights, and then passed me on a climb. After that I would catch up with him at each light. He was slow off the mark — would take his time clipping into the pedals and checking for traffic, and then he would zoom ahead. It was not always at the next light that I caught up to him, but given the traffic conditions, I would eventually end up waiting behind him at a light.

When we neared Nakano Sakaue, he zoomed ahead on the climb, as expected. When I neared the top, though, he was nowhere to be seen. Then I spotted him — on the sidewalk. Figuring he knew better than I did, I followed him. He did indeed know better — we passed all the cars waiting to turn left at the light, crossed at the pedestrian cross walk, and came out the other side, perhaps one light cycle ahead. I bade him a virtual farewell at the foot of the next descent as I turned towards the goal.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Gnat knock-out

As mentioned, I wasn’t pushing today. I was consciously holding power in reserve to get me through the ride. Apart from the scattered raindrops, I was fighting a crosswind both up and back down the river. I was shocked when I arrived home to find the string of personal bests, and uncounted 2nds and 3rds, lurking in wait for me on Strava.

Three in a row

GPS record of three consecutive days of bicycle riding
Three days in a row

Including the commute on Friday, that gives me three days in a row of biking. That hasn’t happened — apart from three consecutive days of commuting in June — since I was in England in June 2019. The forecast is promising for tomorrow, so let’s see how I feel when I wake up.