Weekend Trip to the Mountains

old_road

Short trips often are the most enjoyable. Last weekend, we did not venture far from Tokyo. After an hour on the commuter train, we were assembling our bikes in a mountain valley.

sakura_1

Our ride started on backroads. In Tokyo, the cherry blossoms are long gone, but here in the mountains, the whispy “sakura” still herald the coming of spring. We were only three at this point; our fourth rider was going to join us later.

spring

The weather forecast was mixed, but the day unexpectedly turned sunny.

lunch

Cycling in the mountains of Japan feels different from the Cascades in Washington: Lunch was at a 300-year-old restaurant. After the delicious meal, we got a tour around the building.

spring_green

The mountains were lush with the fresh green of spring. It was nice to see different touring styles. If you thought all Japanese cyclotourists rode on classic, French-inspired machines… The bike on the left is mine, whereas the Cannondale belongs to our Japanese friend.

lotus_europa

We climbed a beautiful mountain pass. The road has many sharp curves, and it’s equally popular with cyclists, motorcyclists and car enthusiasts. Drivers and riders were skilled, and clearly enjoying themselves.

pass_bikes

The top of the pass was in the clouds, at 1146 m (3760 ft).

monkey_sign

In Japanese, “cute” is always considered a positive attribute… The sign indicating the pass certainly qualifies!

fourth_rider

During the descent, we met up with our fourth rider. He had to work late, so he went to another train station and backtracked along the course until he met us. We enjoyed the long descent together.

hotel

Japan has no shortage of beautiful hotels. We enjoyed a hot bath, as well as a great dinner and breakfast, before heading out again the next morning.

tunnel

Our ride continued on old road that see hardly any traffic, because new highways bypass them.

fish_ladder

We visited what must be one of the tallest fish ladders in the world. You see about 1/3 of it in the photo above. It allows the fish to climb up to a 27 m (89 ft) tall dam.

old_building

We stopped to visit beautiful old buildings…

procession

… and to watch a procession for a local religious festival.

safety_zone

Our ride ended in the suburbs, where we joined more friends for dinner, before boarding the train that took us back to the city. These friends hadn’t toured together in many years, but at the end, everybody decided that it was a fun weekend in every way. Hopefully the next trip will be planned soon.

What short weekend tours have you taken lately, or plan to take this year?

Photo credits: Natsuko Hirose (photos 3, 4, 12, 14)

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. Bicycle Quarterly's sister company, Compass Bicycles Ltd., turns the results of our research into high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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29 Responses to Weekend Trip to the Mountains

  1. passhunter says:

    Where was it exactly? I want to go🙂

  2. Peter Chesworth says:

    Another thoroughly enjoyable photo essay Jan. Love the Lotus Europa too.

  3. Lesli Larson says:

    Love the woman’s neutral, tan canvas handlebar bag. Vintage French or Japanese remake?

    • I think it’s a custom-made Japanese bag. Wouldn’t call it “remake” – just like a steel bicycle frame isn’t a “remake”, but simply a great way to make that component.

    • thebvo says:

      Its probably a hand-made bag, sewn by one of many Fabulous bag makers in Tokyo (all over Japan for that matter). My favorites are made by “Guu” Watanabe. He makes canvas bags in the french style, in any number of colors and even options for kimono fabric on the inside! A Japanese cyclo-touring magazine did a cover spread featuring many of the different bag-makers’ bags a few years ago. Too bad its written in Japanese…

  4. Jon says:

    With all due respect to the Lotus and the beautiful cherry blossoms, my favorite photo is the one showing the smile on rider #4’s face as he rounds the turn, with one pants leg down and the other rolled up. I’m glad I’m not the only one to do that. Perhaps that is a new product idea – a pants-knickers hybrid. You could call it “panickers.” It’s probably a good thing that I am not in charge of marketing (anything).

  5. What a great trip. The Japanese cuisine looks like good fuel and light, but still filling. It looks healthier than stopping at a brew pub, which is very easy to do in the cycling friendly areas just outside Portland . . .

  6. Nate says:

    Awesome report, as always. It looks like you didn’t bring panniers on this trip… Does that mean that you change racks every time you go on a tour which requires the support of a low rider rack for panniers? Or do you have a rack that is mountable as a low rider only rack while keeping your small front rack attached indefinitely and moving that rack on and off.

    • The low-rider rack is independent of the bag support rack. I designed it so that it comes off easily and packs flat – for Rinko, it has to come off anyhow. So I bring it only when I need the full panniers. If we are staying in hotels and inns, my handlebar bag usually has enough space to carry what I need.

      For details on the Mule’s rack, see the article on low-rider racks in the Winter 2015 Bicycle Quarterly.

      • Christoph says:

        The handlebar bag on your Mule seems to have dimensions different from those of a standard Gilles Berthoud bag (it seems deeper), and it looks quite a bit roomier. Did you have that bag custom made, or did you just “reshape” a standard GB28 by overstuffing it? Is it a Berthoud bag at all (the shape of the logo indicates it is)?

      • Good eye. It’s not a Berthoud bag, but a prototype I am testing.

      • Christoph says:

        Looks like a very useful bag for trips involving overnight stays. Hopefully it will pass your test, I would love to see it brought to market.

      • Alexander says:

        You do not happen to have a second prototype with you that you could send to I’s bicycle in Kyoto, where my brand new Grand Bois (currently still without bag) is waiting to be shipped to Europe?

        I am kidding, of course; it is just a funny coincidence that while I am looking for a bag with your prototype’s dimensions you are in the same country as my new machine, testing exactly this type of front bag.

  7. thebvo says:

    Is this on the Chuo Line?
    Also, whats the name of the restaurant? Looks amazing
    Great smiles all around

  8. Lohe Chang says:

    Japanese cyclotourists are not big on helmets then?

  9. Sweet William says:

    Love the classic Lotus Europa! How that ended up in Japan must be a story in itself

    And how was the fish prepared? Dried or smoked or grilled?

    • Most beautiful classic cars ended up in Japan during the days when the yen was high, and imported goods were inexpensive. I suspect some now are heading back to Europe…

      The fish was smoked, but this being Japan, I am sure preparation wasn’t as simple as that!

  10. marmotte27 says:

    As it’s not happening too far from where I live, I’ll be going to the annual meeting of La Confrérie des 650 next week-end. Four days of cyclotouring in the Vosges and Jura mountains, including a ride up the Ballon d’Alsace (first mountain to be climbed in the Tour de France). Should be fun.

  11. Gist says:

    You lead a charmed life! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Daniel Secky says:

    Its good to hear that the mountain pass road is popular with motorists who know what they’re doing. I imagine they are more aware of and respectful towards enthusiasts on two wheels!

  13. Tom says:

    Jan, that well worn Brooks Pro seems to have developed quite the ridge. The patina is great, but don’t you have concerns about perineum pressure? It would seem unavoidable with such shape deformity, even for a very strong or light rider.

    • No concerns. I don’t tend to touch that part of the saddle. I sit mostly on my sitbones. I think the general rule is that if you feel discomfort, do something about it…

    • 47hasbegun says:

      After seeing Jan’s bikes with the Professional saddle time and time again, I got one of my own a little while ago. While I’ve been asked if the shape caused perinium numbness or pain by professional bike fitters, I have never felt anything like that on mine. The only thing I felt was the little bit of pressure points on my sit bones until the saddle started breaking in, which wasn’t anywhere nearly as bad nor long as the “horror stories” that are spread around the Web.

      • Most of the “horror stories” in the various forums probably were written by people who’ve never ridden a Brooks saddle for more than a few miles…

      • marmotte27 says:

        Does the leather hold up? My Brooks Swallow started sagging after a few thousand kilometres and that’s when the problems started.

      • Since Brooks was bought by the Italian makers of mass-produced saddles, their marketing has got much better, but the leather quality has deteriorated. Now, it seems that leather quality is hit-or-miss… Some saddles are great, others less than mediocre.

        The saddle on the Mule dates from the mid-90s, but I’ve only ridden it for 5 years or so. It suffered on a fender-less test bike – getting the saddle wet from above isn’t a big deal, but from below while riding will ruin it within a very short time.

        On my Herse, I have a recent titanium Pro, and that one has been great, too. I guess I was lucky. The Swallow shape, however, always has been troublesome. There simply isn’t enough leather to keep its shape.

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