Three Weeks in Japan

yatsugatake

Bicycle Quarterly contributor Hahn Rossman and I just returned from a three-week trip to Japan. It was an incredible visit, filled with excitement, wonder and learning.

grand_bois_ride

We rode through wonderful landscapes. We met randonneurs, cyclotourists, bicycle collectors and many others. We rekindled old friendships and forged new ones.

nara

We visited amazing sites and marveled at the craftsmanship of ancient temples, castles and shrines. We were impressed by a culture that has made elaborate, beautiful things for thousands of years.

level

We watched builders of Keirin frames and cyclotouring bikes at work. We saw them continue the Japanese tradition of craftsmanship. We marveled at their skills, which they have honed over decades by making hundreds of frames a year.

jan_lida_pass

We toured the southern Japanese Alps, where we enjoyed incredible roads, lonely mountain passes and grand vistas. We learned to watch for monkeys on the road.

nitto_welcome

We visited the makers of bicycle components. At Panaracer, we saw how much hand-work goes into making a tire, and we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of various materials and casings. At Shimano, we learned how the company has built on a long tradition of metalworking to become one of the main innovators in the cycling industry. Nitto (above) showed us how they make racks, handlebars and stems. At Kaisei, we saw tubes being butted. At Honjo, we learned how much goes into making our favorite fenders.

What we saw and learned will benefit our future product development. We discussed exciting new components that we hope to make together with these excellent manufacturers.

collector_meeting

We enjoyed wonderful hospitality and a genuine enthusiasm for bicycles old and new. It was touching to see how much our hosts value our contributions to their passion. We loved seeing classic cycling components we only knew from photos and drawings, and we were grateful how freely our hosts shared their research and knowledge.

breakfast

We enjoyed many wonderfully presented and excellent meals, like this breakfast on our last day… We spent three weeks in Japan, and every day brought new surprises and delights. We’ve collected fascinating stories and insightful reports. We look forward to publishing them in future issues of Bicycle Quarterly.

 

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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12 Responses to Three Weeks in Japan

  1. Karel says:

    I can hardly wait to see and read all about this wonderful trip! Maybe there ‘s a chance for an extra edition of BQ?? In full color of course…

  2. Impressive! One things, though: I read your incredible MAP review in BQ, and from the photo it seems you are sticking with the “100% in front” weight loading approach for low-trail bikes used in touring. I wonder how much total weight you’re carrying and what your feelings are about a more even front-back distribution. I did a very short tour with essentially 90-10 rear-front (mostly rear) on a randonneuring bike (I didn’t have an appropriate front rack) and it was doable, but not ideal. I didn’t ride down basalt slopes, however :) (ref to BQ article).

    • The main point is that a front load is easier to balance than a rear. In addition, the front wheel is much stronger than the rear wheel. Combine those two factors, and it makes sense to carry as much of the load as possible on the front – provided you have a bike with a geometry that is suitable for front loading.

      Even with about 30-40 pounds on the front (laptop, extra clothes, gifts, etc. weigh a lot!), the weight distribution of the bike is comparatively evenly balanced, since most of the rider’s weight is on the rear. On my randonneur bike with only a light handlebar bag, I have about 45% on the front and 55% on the rear. With 30 pounds in the front low-riders, it’s about 50:50.

      • B. Carfree says:

        I heartily agree with one caveat: When I’m going to do a series of long days in the wind, I try to roll with only rear bags.

        If I’m tandem touring with a lot of gear so that I want four panniers, then all the light, fluffy stuff goes in the rear. Now if that stoker (me) could just be a little lighter, but that’s unlikely to happen as long as there is ice cream available somewhere.

      • When we tested bags in the wind tunnel, we found that to our surprise, front bags were more aerodynamic than rear bags. The difference was especially pronounced in cross-winds. The wind tunnel staff pointed out that a teardrop is very thin at the back, but much wider at the front – front panniers fit better inside the teardrop than rear ones. (The full results of the wind tunnel tests were published in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 6, No. 1.)

  3. bradci says:

    This looks like wonderful trip. Can you relay what the helmet culture is in Japan? From your pictures that capture people riding bikes, you two are the only people wearing helmets.

    • In Japan, from what we saw, racers and randonneurs tend to wear helmets. Cyclotourists and commuters usually do not. Schoolchildren seem to be half-and-half.

      Generally, the skill level and attention of drivers in Japan appears to be much higher than in the U.S. or even Europe, and in the cities, people give cyclists a lot of leeway. I noticed that most people we drove with didn’t even talk with their passengers (even those who spoke Japanese) while driving, since they were focusing on the task of driving with a minimum of distractions. So generally, cycling in Japan felt very safe compared to other places I have visited.

  4. David Pearce says:

    Thank you, Jan & Team. Such an interesting culture!

    Nevertheless, I am glad you have returned to your home!

  5. marmotte27 says:

    Recent figures here in France seem to show that more and more people use their phone while driving, 34 percent, and even for reading and writing text messages ! That’s extremely worrying to me as a cyclist.

  6. Shane says:

    Jan, did you fall from your bike and hurt your arm?

  7. Maz says:

    Japanese breakfasts are the best! Your last photo reminded me of our two weeks of skiing in January: Miso, smoked fish and pickles every day. Fab!

    Your fine article made we want to go on a ski touring/cycling trip there in April 2015.

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