Climbing Passes near Kyoto, Japan


I am back in Japan to discuss our new tires with Panaracer, talk to other suppliers, ride bikes, visit friends, enjoy great food… It is delightful to return to places that are starting to become familiar.


My Rinko bike that we call the “Mule” is back in Japan – now actually finished and painted, unlike last time, when I had completed building it just hours before the plane left, with no time to have it painted.


I had a great view of Mt. Fuji from the train. The Shinkansen bullet train is fast! In the time it took the camera shutter to move from top to bottom of the photo, the railings in the foreground already had moved backward!


I had planned to work on the Summer 2015 Bicycle Quarterly on the train, but by the time I was done with breakfast, we were almost in Kyoto.


It was nice to see my good friends at I’s Bicycles (who also were going to take my suitcase to Miyama, where I am staying for a few days.) I un-Rinko’ed my bike, and headed into the mountains for the 80 km (50-mile) ride to Miyama. The road starts climbing right in front of I’s Bicycles shop. I have more than 1600 m (5500 ft) to climb before I get to Miyama. Click here for the route.

The cherry trees are in full bloom in Kyoto and amazingly beautiful. I apologize for the poor cell phone photos – I left my camera in my suitcase, not planning to take any photos on this ride with its tight schedule. The scenery turned out too beautiful to resist…


I soon reached Kurama with its beautiful temple. I didn’t have much time – dinner in Miyama was in 4 hours, and even though that seems like ample time for 80 km, once I had bought food and made it through Kyoto’s rush-hour traffic, my schedule was getting tight. But I couldn’t pass the temple without at least a brief visit. Above is just one of the many temple buildings that dot the entire slope of Mount Kurama.

Past Kurama, the road starts climbing in earnest, with hairpin following upon hairpin, until it reaches Hanase Pass at 750 m (2500 ft elevation). It was raining, but after all that climbing – Kyoto is almost at sea level – I wasn’t cold.

The descent was exciting and a good place to bed in my new brake pads, since I couldn’t just let the bike roll at speed in the dense fog.


A brief interlude in a bucolic valley was followed by the ascent to Sasari Pass. This is an absolute gem with a beautiful flow to it. The sign at the bottom says “10%”, but it’s not as steep as the Hanase pass (which obviously must be steeper than 10%). When I crested, it was dark.

Unlike the first time, when we underestimated the severity of the weather in the mountains, I was prepared this time. It was still warm enough that I didn’t need my puffy vest, but I put on my jacket and wool gloves for the descent.


At the first hairpin of the downhill, I encountered snow! To think that just down in the valley, the cherry trees are in full bloom! The descent, despite the rain and fog, was great fun. I remembered the road, having ridden this descent twice almost a year ago. I only held back a bit because I was afraid of hitting deer. I did encounter a few white-tailed creatures, but they scampered up the impossibly steep slopes as I approached.

Once I reached the valley, it was a time trial, with a slight downward gradient, but also a headwind, for an hour to reach my destination. A last brief climb over the “Exciting Team Risk Pass”, and I was in Miyama – just in time for a delicious dinner. And the hot bath afterward felt especially good!




About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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20 Responses to Climbing Passes near Kyoto, Japan

  1. Jan Fries says:

    Beautiful to see your travel bike in action! I make plans on getting my own travel randonneur. How did you make the brush in the fork that connects the wire of the rear light to the front light?

    • It’s still a prototype – I’ll describe it in a future Bicycle Quarterly article. The beauty of the carbon brush transmitting the power to the taillight is that when you remove the fork, there are no wires to unplug. (Any plug eventually tends to cause problems…)

  2. ORiordan says:

    An inspiring article… the Rugby World Cup will be in Japan in 4 years time and I’m already thinking ahead to combine my loves of cycling and rugby with a trip although I’ll need to wait until the match schedules are available before finalising it.

    Are you able to take a non-folding bike on the bullet trains?

  3. Jon Gehman says:

    I’m really eager to see photo’s of the “Mule” now that it’s painted, I hope there’s going to be some sort of feature on it sometime soon…

  4. thebvo says:

    It’s been incredible reading BQ for the past year as so many of your articles reflect our own adventures here in Japan. Living in the countryside outside of Tokyo affords us day trips from our door and longer adventures like the ones you describe (most recently to onsen laden-Kyushu and Yakushima with its ~7,000 year old cedar trees). Reading the most recent article about Jizo pass and Shirabiso pass was surreal. My riding partner and I did that ride (not the SR600 tho! We ain’t supermen like y’all!) two years ago during the koyo autumn leaves and we went out of our minds with the colors and the switchbacks. We tried to lead our other riding buddies on it last fall only to have one problem after another. To top it off two of them burned through their brake pads on the way down a gravel and muddy pass so much so that we had to abandon our plans. We dropped into the valley and pedaled north to a town called Ina and were amazed by how cool it was. Most towns out in the sticks close by 6 and you can’t find much besides the kombini. A hip Shibuya-esque restaurant cooked and poured our blues away. What a country!

  5. Bill Gobie says:

    Did you take the photo aboard the Shinkansen with your cell phone or a DSLR? Depicting speed by drawing moving objects leaning forward was probably implanted in popular consciousness by Jacques Henri Lartigue’s famous photograph of a race car. I thought the phenomenon required a focal plane shutter, but while searching for Lartigue’s photograph I learned that the readout from a shutterless digital sensor can be slow enough to create the effect.

  6. Jon says:

    Jan, do you have to pay extra when flying your bike on the plane? US airline companies used to love gouging people for checking in bikes and these days they charge just for regular luggage. Does the Rinko bike keep you from having oversize luggage to check? Thanks.

    • It depends on the bike and the airline. I didn’t have to pay flying ANA to Japan this time. I packed it in a padded Rinko bag, and it was squishy enough to fit within the airline’s requirements. With a Japanese airline and a direct flight, I am comfortable not having the bike in a hardcase…

  7. PB David says:

    Please update timing for the availability of the Compass Rat Trap Pass 26″ x 2.3″ tire from Panaracer. Your prior blog and BQ article said the tires would be available in summer. It is 10 weeks until the start of summer! I need new tires for my 26″ gravel grinder…

  8. John Oswald says:

    If they get in before mid July they’ll be on our Tandem for a ride on the Camino Santiago (and possibly PBP!).

  9. nightrainbrain says:

    I’m wondering if there is a compendium somewhere on the Japanese randonneur scene. My first glimpse of the Japanese affection for French bikes and components came from the early Ebay days when Japanese collectors were paying a small fortune for 50’s-60’s french derailleurs. A brief search gave me an old list of builders on the Velo Orange blog, a Japanese only article you wrote for Cyclotourist Magazine and a small section in your “Golden Age of Hand Built Bicycles”. From what I’ve read in BQ, there must be a long history, rivaling the UK, or perhaps even France itself.

  10. Paul says:

    Kurama and environs is a magical place. Kurama fire festival on 22 Oct is amazing, and there is a great onsen.

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