2017 & Trip to Australia

Happy New Year.

For BikePackingJapan.com last year was simply an experiment to see if this blog concept had any life in it and I’m happy to say I’ve had numerous emails regarding bike packing and cycle touring in Japan. My aim for 2017 then is to ramp up the content and make the website a solid resource for anyone wanting to experience Japan by bicycle. More on that below.

Apologies for the absence of recent posts, I’ve recently taken a few months off bike packing here due to the winter weather (not a valid excuse I know!), a cycling-related injury (lower back problem), and a two week trip to Australia. However, I did ride a couple of times solo into central Gifu and also with a friend but it has been the trip to Australia that has stood out since I last went bike packing in the Nagano/Gunma mountains.

This is a website devoted to cycling in Japan so I’ll keep it brief before moving on to general aims for 2017, but wow! if you’re a cycle commuter in Australia you have it made. Seriously. Wonderful cycle paths, fairly courteous drivers, and laws to protect the cyclists. I never felt unsafe once while cycling in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. I’ve heard Sydney is different but I haven’t ridden there so can’t say. I also rode in the hills west of the Gold Coast and northwest of Brisbane. It was a lot of fun going off the beaten track, despite the heat, and exploring some of the gravel/dirt roads that seem to be everywhere satisfied the longing for adventure that most cyclists crave. I tried not to get carried away as I didn’t know either area particularly well and the last thing the Australian rescue services needed was another lost Brit in the bush in the middle of the scorching summer. Taking the Fairdale fitted with new Hunt 4 Season Gravel wheels and Schwable G-One tubeless tyres was a great decision. It meant I could ride pretty much anywhere I wanted without having to worry about punctures or getting stuck on difficult trails.

Anyway, back to Japan. In 2016 I mostly concentrated on the central regions – Nagano, Gifu, Ishikawa, Aichi, Mie – but for 2017 the plan is to ride further afield and for longer. Nara and Wakayama prefectures in particular are easily within range of Nagoya and have plenty of mountains to explore, and in Wakayama’s case, numerous coastal villages too. Way back in 2001 I lived in Shikoku and the isolation of Japan’s smallest main island is also something that needs to be revisited in the near future.

It goes without saying that Hokkaido is on the list too. I just need to find the time.

I’d also like to find someone else to collaborate with so that it becomes easier to cover more parts of Japan. If anyone is interested please get in touch.

All the best for 2017 & keep pedaling.

2017 & Trip to Australia

Kii Nagashima to Shima

With winter approaching and the higher mountains seeing the first snowfall of the season late autumn to early spring is a good time to head towards the Pacific Ocean coast to enjoy a change of scenery. Coastal villages, quiet fishing ports, shorter but punchy climbs, fresh seafood and majestic ocean views are abundant throughout the Japanese coastal areas and the Kii Peninsula (紀伊半島) – only a couple of hours train ride away from both Nagoya (名古屋) and Osaka (大阪) – provides all of the above.

The route from Kii Nagashima in Mie prefecture (三重県) to Shima (志摩市), host to the 2016 G7 Summit, is a great way to spend a single day riding or as part of a larger multi-day tour. If you’re on a longer bike trip from Tokyo (東京) to Osaka for example, you will probably have considered this route anyway as it’s only a short ferry ride from Irago (伊良湖岬) in Aichi prefecture (愛知県) across the Ise Bay (伊勢湾) and doing so avoids most of the built up areas around Nagoya. Ise Grand Shrine (伊勢神宮), one of the most important shrines in Japan, is also nearby and well worth a visit.

The route below was actually ridden a couple of years ago but I have chosen to post it now due to a niggling back injury meaning I have not done any bike packing since Hafudake (破風岳) in October (keep those muscles stretched people!). Better to post an older route now than disappear into the blogging void.

I rode it by starting in the west and heading east but it can just as easily be ridden from east to west. There’s a section of old disused road starting at 58kms that is not really suitable for road bikes but this can be avoided by staying on R260. If I rode it again that’s what I’d probably do. Bring lights as there are plenty of small tunnels that are unavoidable.

Distance – 102kms

Elevation – 2280m according to Ride With GPS but that doesn’t take into account the tunnels. In reality it was a lot less.

Approximate train fare – ¥4920 from Nagoya to Kii Nagashima / ¥4200 Osaka – Kii Nagashima / ¥3180 Nagoya – Shima-Shimmei

Camping – N/A as I rode it on a day trip

//rwgps-embeds.com/routes/6084044/embed

If you would like a copy of the route file either download it via RWGPS or leave a comment below.

Kii Nagashima to Shima

Interview with Simon Wile

The Japanese Odyssey is Japan’s endurance bicycle race. Still in only its second year the event welcomes riders from all over the world to try and conquer the single-stage 2400km route, with mountain checkpoints throughout central Japan. Simon Wile was one of those riders.

During the three weeks that it took place I found myself glued to the computer following their progress throughout the country, and when I noticed Simon was heading straight through Kasugai on his way to Nagoya I decided to hop on my bike and meet him along the river. Despite the atrocious weather that he’d had to endure he looked to be in good spirits and had time to stop for ten minutes for a chat about his experience.

Now that the event has finished he was kind enough to agree to an interview about cycling in Japan, the bad weather, and the Japanese Odyssey.

*Unfortunately due to the bad weather some of Simon’s photos are stuck on his smartphone and currently unretrievable. As a result we’ve had to use screenshots for some of the photos in the gallery.

Interview with Simon Wile

What made you decide to come to Japan and spend almost three weeks cycling the Japanese Odyssey?

Great question and one a lot of people ask. I was looking for an event to test my ability as a cyclist and as a person. The transam and transcon races provided a lot of inspiration and the JO being closer to home a bit shorter in length (distance) seemed like a reasonable first crack at a 2 week event, I liked the idea of the seeing the countryside, different culture and what I thought would be warm weather.

What were your expectations of cycling in Japan and how did they compare to reality?

Typhoon aside, I expected tough climbs, beautiful countryside and friendly people and I got all of that in spades. Japan is an incredibly beautiful and easy place is cycle.

Do you like bikepacking or was this your first time?

I’ve only done an overnighter and some longer audax style brevets. I like bikepacking and will definitely be doing more this summer.

How would you describe the differences between cycling in the big cities to cycling in the countryside here?

Cycling in Japan is super easy compared to Australia, everyone gives you patience and space and you never really feel threatened. Riding in the cities on the footpath was novel as we can’t do that at home and I was finding myself being dropped by super quick commuters who just knew the game and the area a lot better than I. The countryside is fantastic, even on the major roads you can cycle. The mountains are incredible, the surfaces are mostly great and you’re never far from a vending machine or conbini for refreshment. The are so many traffic lights though which burn your patience at times.

What did you pack in your bags to take with you?

I have a kitgrid pic on insta of this but I’ll send you the full pic. I won’t list everything but:

1x kit/socks/cycling shoeshelmetcap

1x bivvy and a silk liner

a spare pretty much everything, except spokes and brake pads, bring them!

batteries and cables to recharge things on the go

Garmin 810 and Wahoo ELEMNT bike computers

Not enough waterproof bags.

As it was the typhoon season the weather was quite bad. Were you expecting this and how did you deal with it?

I threw in a pair of Velotoze and a neck buff last minute as I anticipated some rain, otherwise just a Rapha rain jacket as a shell layer. If I had known in advance just how much rain we were getting I would have brought waterproof gloves and wet chain lube.

Did you have any problems?

I slipped in a patch of mud day 2 or 3 and scuffed my legs and bent my deraileur hanger slightly, more embarrassing than anything. Then I broke a spoke for the first time in my life descending Mt. Ontake in the midst of the typhoon. Luckily I taped it up and rolled into Nagoya the next day and had it straightened out. No one in Japan carries spokes for my wheels though! I didnt have any navigation or equipment issues thankfully. On day 5 or 6 I came down with gastro and it just got worse until I couldn’t eat or drink and eventually I pulled out of the Odyssey.

Where did you sleep and what did you eat?

I slept in nearby hotels, pensions, ryokans that I could find on booking.com. I planned on bivvying not more than 2 or 3 times over the event. I ate just about everything I could find! Conbinis are the staple of travelling through Japan so you quickly find what you like and don’t like. Onigiri, ramen, noodles, pasta, chocolate bars, bananas… Couldn’t find my favourite riding snack, muesli bars, anywhere though.

How many kilometres did you ride per day and how would that differ if you weren’t here ‘racing’?

I averaged about 170km per day. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s pretty mountainous and you’re either going up or down, there’s very little flat. If I weren’t racing I would keep it to 100km a day and stop more, take in the scenery, and spend a lot of time in onsen! Aero bars got very little use on this ride.

What did you like the most about bike packing in Japan?

The scenery, far and away the views, when they weren’t fogged in, were outstanding. Just getting from checkpoint to checkpoint there were some incredible vistas and picturesque places. The people are so friendly, food is pretty cheap, the drivers are considerate and patient. Onsen are just the best place to stay after a long days riding.

What advice would you give to first-time cyclists planning a trip in Japan?

Bring a rain jacket, the weather changes quickly. Conbinis have everything you ever need on the road. The people are SO friendly and will help you if you ask. Onsen are amazing and you should stop in as many as possible. There are bike shops and “sports” bike shops, you want sports bike shops for anything more than a tube. Stay off highway 2.

Do you plan to return?

Japan and  I have unfinished business. I hope to return and complete an Odyssey ride for sure.

You can find Simon on Instagram here and Strava here.

Interview with Simon Wile

Kii Nagashima – Kumano

With a rugged and beautiful scenic coast, tiny fishing villages scattered along the shores, an abundance of isolated and rarely ridden mountain roads, and the Kumano Kodo (熊野古道), an ancient walking trail through the mountains, the Kii Peninsula (紀伊半島) has been an area of Japan I’ve wanted to cycle in for a long time. The plan for this trip was to spend three days heading south along the east coast but due to bad weather and an approaching typhoon (always a possibility in September) the trip had to be cut short after only one day.

Early Saturday morning I took the train from Nagoya JR Station south to Kii Nagashima (紀伊長島), just north of Owase (尾鷲). I’ve cycled from Kii Nagashima once before but that time heading east along the coast to Shima (志摩), host of the recent G7 Summit. The original plan this time was to head south through Owase, along the coast, down through Kumano and Shingu (新宮), before reaching Kushimoto (串本町) at the tip of the peninsula, then do a sharp u-turn and head north inland over the mountains back to Kii Nagashima. As already mentioned, due to the bad weather, I only made it as far as southern Kumano, a stones throw away from the Mie (三重県) border with Wakayama (和歌山県).

Despite being much shorter than I had originally planned it was an enjoyable and pleasant day’s ride. Still pretty hot and humid for this time of year but as it was cloudy all day worrying about heatstroke or sunburn was not an issue.

There were plenty of short, punchy up-down climbs between the numerous fishing villages but nothing that ever got out of hand. The R778 south of Owase was the only long isolated climb but it offered wonderful views over the ocean and I didn’t pass a single car or cyclist at all on the mountain. In fact I only saw one other cyclist all day. Beautiful beaches also scatter the coast where it’s possible to camp at night as there is no shortage of covered picnic areas to sleep under if you choose to ride without a tent. I chose to camp on the beach about 350m south of Atawa train station (阿田和駅) south of Kumano but in hindsight it would have been better to sleep a little further north on the beach at Atashika (新鹿) as it was much quieter.

I awoke on day two to torrential rain and the forecast was for it to remain that way all day so knowing what heavy rain is like in September in Japan quickly decided that it would be better to catch the train home and try again another day. And I do plan to return pretty soon.

A few things to bear in mind are that the large stretch of beach from Kumano to Shingu is closed to vehicles during autumn as it’s where sea turtles come to lay their eggs. I’m not sure how this applies to cyclists and camping but I did see a few people fishing and running along the beach just before sunset. I made sure to camp in an area that was well used among fishermen and daytime picnickers.

Also there are quite a few tunnels along the route but for most of them there was usually a seperate tunnel for pedestrians and cyclist that run parallel to the car traffic. Even so, lights are essential as there are still a few mainly shorter tunnels that you have to share with traffic.

Finally, day two of my original route goes through the small town of Taiji (太地), an historic whaling town infamous for its annual dolphin hunt that runs from September to March. Apparently there’s plenty of tension between the local fishermen (including the rightwing nationalists that have tagged along) and both Japanese and foreign activists. If you’re cycling through I doubt there would be any issues but it is worth being aware of the current situation all the same.

As for equipment I realised that for me, carrying a tent is just not worth the hassle. It’s heavy, takes up too much space in the bags, and even in mid-September while camping on the beach can be pretty hot inside. It’s much better to take a small inflatable mat and sleep in a covered picnic area, or even a cheap hotel. A friend of mine sometimes sleeps in shelter bus stops while riding in the mountains and that makes more sense to me now after this trip. Participates in this year’s Japanese Odyssey bike race are also finding creative alternatives to tents that we could all take a few ideas from. If it’s not possible to sleep in a picnic area or sheltered bus stop I’d much rather pay to get a good nights sleep and shower in a cabin at a campsite, in a guest house, or even a hotel as I did on day two of my ride to Matsumoto earlier this year.

Overall a pleasant days ride and one that I hope to continue in the near future.

Distance – 106kms

Elevation – 1286m

Camping – rough camping along the beach near Atawa. ¥0 (Consider Atashika as an alternative)

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Want the files for any of our routes? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to send them.

Kii Nagashima – Kumano

Mt. Fuji & the Five Lakes

It’s impossible to put into words how I felt the first time I saw Mt. Fuji in all its splendour. If the weather is good and it’s the right time of year – in other words when there’s still plenty of snow on the peak – then it is simply stunning. It can of course impress at anytime of year and at 3776m it is easily Japan’s highest peak. Mt. Fuji is understandably revered throughout the country for it’s beauty.

In summer and autumn it is possible to cycle around Mt. Fuji (富士山) and witness stunning views from both the Yamanashi (山梨県) and the Shizuoka (静岡県) sides as well as take in some, if not all, of the Five Lakes (Fujigoko / 富士五湖) – Kawaguchiko (河口湖), Yamanakako (山中湖), Saiko (西湖), Shojiko (精進湖), and Motosuko (本栖湖). Caution is obviously advised for winter and spring as there will still be plenty of snow on the slopes.

At approximately 125km and 2000m of climbing the trip can generally be done within a day, or if you want to ride more leisurely spread out over two days.

When I did the trip in June 2014 I skipped Lake Shoji and Lake Motosu due to time restrictions but did cycle around Kawaguchiko, Yamanakako and part of Saiko. If you’re feeling particularly brave you could also attempt to climb one of the three climbs that go directly up the volcano – the Fuji Azami Line (ふじあざみライン), the Fuji Skyline (富士スカイライン), and the Fuji Subaru Line (富士スバルライン). Be warned, none of them are easy, with the infamous Fuji Azami Line on the eastern slopes feared the most among cyclist in Japan. Also worth a mention is the equally infamous Aokigahara Forest (青木ヶ原樹海), otherwise known as suicide forest which is on the northwest slope near Lake Motosu on R71. The route below, however, steers clear of R71 as it’s a particularly busy and dangerous road and instead uses the R139.

Overall it’s a fairly straightforward route but if you start from the campsite at Lake Kawaguchi then it’s probably best to start early to avoid all the tourist traffic that can build up in the area throughout the day. Starting early also means you’ll catch some of the wonderful early morning light which is always worth considering if you want to improve your chances of capturing some great photos.

On the south slope you’ll ride from east to west along the Fuji Skyline (R23/R152/R180) which is a long steady climb that cuts directly through a Japanese Self Defence Force base. The last convenience store along the road is here (7/11 Gotemba Takegahara) and as it’s a fairly long way to the next store at the base of the descent on the other side, make sure you have enough food and drinks to get you up the climb. There were drinks machines further up the road however.

The campsite is under the bridge that runs north to south over Kawaguchiko and is aptly named Lake Kawaguchi New Bridge Campsite (河口湖ニューブリッヂキャンプ場). It’s a basic campsite with a friendly owner. There are plenty of restaurants and shops nearby so stocking up on food or eating out will not be a problem.

Distance – 125kms

Total Elevation – Approx 2000m

Campsite – Kawaguchiko New Bridge Campsite ¥500 1 person 1 tent / ¥1000 2~4 people

//rwgps-embeds.com/trips/10970923/embed?privacy_code=a6muCLcDuXRsDQ7s

Want the files for any of our routes? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to send them.

Mt. Fuji & the Five Lakes

Lake Biwa & Kyoto

Around Lake Biwa to Kyoto

Cycling to Kyoto via Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is a popular option among cyclists in Japan and with a cycle path running nearly all the way along the lake’s eastern coast it is an easy and fairly safe way to put some good kilometres in the legs.

When I first made the journey I cycled from Inuyama (just north of Nagoya), past Mt. Ibuki (伊吹山) in Sekigahara (関ヶ原) (an historic town famous for one of Japan’s most famous battles), around the northern shore of the lake, through Takashima (高島市) and over the mountains to the west, before the long descent from the north into Kyoto. I spent a weekend in Kyoto with a friend before cycling back along the eastern shore staying on the cycle path whenever possible.

From Nagoya the shortest route is around the lake’s southern shore through Kusatsu (草津市) on to Otsu (大津市) and then Kyoto. If you cross the bridge in Moriyama (守山市) you can ride on both shores on the same ride. To avoid the mountains in northern Mie it’s probably best make your way via Hikone (彦根). Hikone has a popular castle built in the Edo period and will more than likely be the place where you’ll reach the eastern coast of Lake Biwa to join the cycle path.

If you are coming from Takayama and the north you have the option of cycling down either coast. There are a couple of tunnels on the northern shore that you’ll have to pass through if you want to avoid cycling up and over Mt. Higashiyama, but if you don’t mind a bit of climbing then the ride along the R513 and R557 makes for a good option as you’ll take in small fishing villages and quaint fishing ports of the northern shore.

While most of the western shore is a pleasant quiet ride some parts are downright dangerous, especially along the R161 near the famous Shirahige Shrine (白髭神社), so it’s best to stick to the paths closest to the shore whenever possible.

Wind direction can be a serious issue along Lake Biwa. If you have a tailwind you’ll make your way around the lake in no time, but if it’s a headwind it can be quite miserable. If you are riding with a partner or friend then it’s probably best to rotate shifts riding at the front so that you all get a chance to get out of the wind and rest.

There are a number of campsites along the shore so finding a place to pitch a tent shouldn’t be an issue. If you are riding outside the camping season then as long as you pitch up late in the day and don’t mind roughing it then there should be ample places along the lake to sleep. Watch out for the wind though – It can be bitterly cold in winter and there is occasional snow too.

Distance – Approximately 100kms for each shore

Total elevation –  depends on the route

Campsite – numerous along the shores

Want the files for any of our routes? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to send them.

Lake Biwa & Kyoto