Tag: cycling

Biwaichi Takes the Wind from Our Sails

Having completed about two-thirds of a circumnavigation of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, the final day was supposed to be an easy jaunt to the train station and a comfortable ride home to Tokyo for the Kangaeroo crew.

“Ha, ha,” laughed the devil.

On paper, the last leg of the Biwaichi circumnavigation was a mere 60 kilometers on a flat course, nearly all of which was isolated bike tracks.

For the first hour, that was precisely what Kanageroo and the missus got as they headed out of Seta and off toward Hikone.

The bitter taste of a terrible time at the Royal Oak Shiga slowly dissipating as we rode along Biwa, which offered a clear view of its built-up opposite bank with mountains in the background.

Nearing Moriyama, however, the wind suddenly blew up a storm…right into our faces.

The gentle ride suddenly became a herculean task as we ground the Brompton and BD-1 into the face of the 30-km/h headwind.

The steady rapid pace of the day’s first hour of riding was almost halved in the near gale, and pedaling became even more difficult in the open farmlands near Azuchi, where cyclists got no protection.

Finally, though, we rolled into Hikone at around lunchtime, an arrival somewhat earlier than planned.

It was here that Kangaeroo was to fulfill a 30-year-long dream of visiting Hikone Castle.

Before arriving in Japan in 1988, Kangaeroo read a travel guide that raved about the feudal era castle and its surrounding gardens.

Life intervened, though, and he never made it….until now!

Hikone Castle was a delight! The early 17th century castle is one of only a dozen that is in its original state. Glorious gardens that had once been the havens of the castle’s lords remain intact, as does the inner moat around the castle.

Even more delightful, a yakatabune runs tours through the moat, giving a wonderful look at the castle and accompanied by (Japanese language) guides with expert knowledge on the national treasure.

What’s more, there was also a little touch of Australia with a black swan (endemic to Oz, but this one was born in Japan) swimming its waters and frantically chasing the boat as it headed through the moat.

After an obligatory photo with the castle’s nationally famous mascot, Hikonyan, it was off to Champontei for a bowl of omi champon, noodles that are a local specialty.

Following the hearty and delicious meal it was a short walk to Hikone Station, where the bikes ended their fabulous journey by being packed back into their bags for the train trip home.

Being the year’s last long weekend, the trains were packed as the Kangaeroo crew headed back to Tokyo.

But it was essentially an eventful, though long, journey on the stopping all stations kodama bullet train to Odawara and then suburban trains to get home.

It was an amazing and rewarding journey with special kudos to Mrs. Kangaeroo, Brommie and Birdy for jobs well done.

Rounding Biwa, Japan’s Largest Lake

Blessed with a long weekend and loads of motivation, Kangaeroo and Mrs. Kangaeroo got out the foldups and built up the resolve to circumnavigate Biwa, Japan’s largest lake.

The 235-km shore length is not for the faint-hearted, though plenty make the trip in a single day, courtesy of the almost completely flat course.

Nonetheless, it’s a demanding distance for irregular cyclists, so Kangaeroo had cause for concern regarding the missus, who admittedly cycles day, but does so on an e-bike and not an old foldup with no track record of triple-figure journeys.

Anyway, putting aside the concerns, Mrs. Kangaeroo remained deeply confident of her abilities and plotted out the trip, designing it to have full enjoyment at the lowest possible cost.

Thus the Kangaeroo couple headed out from home late on Friday night, racing to Kawasaki to catch the bus to Hikone, from where their circumnavigation would start.

Arriving at the bus stop and folding and bagging the deadly treadlies, Kangaeroo was surprised when the jobsworth driver informed him that bus company policy was to not carry bikes.

“We’ll let you on this time, but take no responsibility for any damage that occurs in transit,” the officious driver said.

“Yeah, whatever.”

The driver then wrapped the bikes in blankets, ensured no luggage was around them and went to enormous pains to make sure the bikes would be safe.

And, indeed, the Brompton and BD-1 were safe and unscathed when the bus finally made its way to Hikone the following morning, arriving more than 1 hour late thanks to roadworks and heavy traffic.

The less than ideal start was compounded by Kangaeroo having caught a cold, leaving him coughing and spluttering with snot running riot.

Countering that, though, was glorious weather. Blue, sunny skies and welcoming warmth greeted the riders as the foldups were unfolded, the luggage packed on the Brommie’s racks, and the riders set off.

Just one problem….which way to go? Fortunately, there was a sign to Hikone Port not far from the station and that seemed a logical place to head for considering the city is located on the lake (and not the sea).

Within a few minutes riding along the moat of the city’s renowned and beautiful castle moat, the Kanagaeroo crew reached the port and found the huge blue arrows that serve as the indicators for the Biwaichi, the abbreviation of 琵琶湖一周 (biwakoisshuu), or circumnavigation of Lake Biwa.

The remainder of the day was simply exquisite!

We rode north from Hikone, essentially hugging the lake’s shoreline.

It didn’t take long to reach Nagahama, the first big town after leaving Hikone, and also with a notable castle of its own, surrounding with a lovely garden.

Kangaeroo was worried about the missus, having seen seasoned riders struggle a little on a less than 80-kilometer trip in Kyushu just last month.

But she was resilient, pounding away on the Birdy’s pedals and less susceptible to the call for a cuppa than Kangaeroo.

A snack was partaken at a delightfully quaint, lakeside cafe basking in the sun in Takashima.

From there, it was a couple of kilometers off the beaten track to the Makino Metasequoia, a row of redwoods leading to Makino Pick Land, where punters can at times gather their own fruit for eating.

On the day the Kangaeroo crew arrived, there was a local market going on.

While Mrs. Kangaeroo went of to get a French lunch, Kangaeroo clumsily carried the bikes up a flight of stairs to score a seat.

Well, it was a right mess, but people flocked from all sides to help out, including another Aussie, who was there with her hubby and we had a wonderful conversation.

True to form, her hospitality was outstanding and we tucked into our French fare armed with an invitation to drop by her home during our trip.

Having eaten more than out fill, it was off to Imazu, where we would end the first day’s journey.

We even saw a couple of wild monkeys along the way!

The Imazu Sun Bridge hotel, while being nothing flashy, was simply outstanding in terms of its handling of cyclists and bicycles.

We were warmly welcomed, the bikes wheeled into a protected area behind the Reception Desk and the staff treated the bicycles with great care.

Imazu would be a nondescript town were in not for the existence of a few prewar buildings designed by an American architect who would naturalize and spend the war interred in Karuizawa.

After a tour of these buildings, it was back to the hotel room to watch the Rugby World Cup final where the Springboks blanketed England, ending an amazingly well-coordinated event where Japan excelled itself both on and off the field, as well as turned Kangaeroo into a rugby fan having (erroneously) previously dismissed it as a rich boy’s sport with little appeal.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 9: Nara to Kyoto

Our tour has reached Kyoto, remarkably with only minor injuries and not a single puncture in the more than 11,000 kilometers the cyclists covered collectively since setting out from Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture, on the morning of October 1.

The group battled a barrage of rain on the most prominent of climbs on Mount Aso and Koyasan, but got through unscathed each time.

The tour drew to a close in a journey between the two ancient capitals of Nara, where participants frolicked with the deer roaming freely through the city and saw its lauded Great Buddha at Todaiji, and Kyoto, where the group lunched at Inari Taisha Jinja.

Only a farewell dinner remains in a tour that passed way too quickly, but ends with typically outstanding timing as Typhoon No. 19 prepares to slam into Japan.

Incredibly, the final leg of the tour also included an unexpected encounter with a pack of kangaroos.

These marsupials were manufactured types, though, located in a children’s playground alongside the bicycle track running between Nara and Kyoto. The poor macropods had been crafted with a look of sheer terror on their face, perhaps because they were aware of Kangaeroo’s shoddy guiding?

Brommie performed outstandingly on the final leg of the tour.

His broken rack makes him harder to push, but that shouldn’t be an issue for a couple of days at least while he carries Kangaeroo back to Tokyo.

Thanks to Pedal Pedal, Japan Biking and all the tour participants for making it such a magnificent time for Brommie and Kangaeroo.

Safe travels!

And so it goes.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 7: Wakayama to Koyasan

Japan, the land of the gods, threw everything at the Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto on Day 8, but the riders came up trumps, scaling the queen stage unscathed.


Despite persistent drizzle, the tour made it to the World Heritage List site Koyasan without injury or incident.

The tour’s first flat even still remains unclaimed!

Following the previous day’s travelling exertions, it was back on the bikes from Wakayama.

Almost half of the day’s ride was occupied on a beautiful cycling track with barely anybody else using it.

The track ran along the Kinokawa River and offered some nice views of the waterway, as well as distant mountains.

Looming over cyclists, however, was the constant presence of Koyasan.

The ride remained steady until lunch. Surprisingly, Kangaeroo’s early group ran into another bunch that were supposed to have been well behind, but had taken a short cut. The entire troup met for a superb lunch of chirashi-zushi and some also had ice creams.

Forecast rain arrived barely minutes into the afternoon leg and was a near constant thereafter.

As riders gained elevation, visibility was lost.

By the time the troupe reached the Daimon gate at the summit of Koyasan to welcome visitors to the Buddhist town, mist was so thick the normally imposing gate could barely be seen.

Showers were more welcome than usual following the cold, wet ride.

Warming cyclists’ hearts, however, was the news that the tour’s climbing is essentially over and it is, literally, all downhill from here (actually, there’s lots of flats, but nobody wants to let the truth get in the way of a good yarn, do they?)

And Brommie? Well, with so much climbing there was really only one place for the old foldup to play a part….warming up the back of the truck. His day will come again soon.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 6: Uchiko to Matsuyama

Shikoku’s glorious mountains seemed less and less attractive at times while pounding the pedals to push on upward even higher, but a wonderful descent followed on the final day of riding on the smallest of Japan’s four main islands.

Leaving Uchiko later than most starts, it was a steady climb upward for the remainder of the morning.

The strenuous efforts of the climbs were rewarded by priceless views across seemingly endless mountain ranges, whose splendor was enhanced by the brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies.

More climbing continued after lunch (the day would eventually top 1,100 meters of elevation).

An exhilarating and lengthy descent followed, though, winding downward through mandarin patches and bamboo groves.

The latter part of the trip was at sea level, first winding its way through the rice paddies, then along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea before moving inland and following the river into central Matsuyama.

The tour’s ride ended adjacent to Dogo Onsen, Japan’s oldest and most-renowned hot spring bath.

Brommie remained banished in light of the hardcore climbing earlier in the day.

With the next leg of the tour being its steepest and hardest climb of all, it seems a fate likely to continue.

For the time being, though he is looking after the other bikes in the tour. They have been packed in a van ahead of the tour’s rest day, when the troupe travels by bus and ferry to Honshu.

Brommie’s planned Saikyo to Teito Trip is looking increasingly likely to be a washout, with rain forecast for the scheduled four days of the planned odyssey.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 4: Kurokawa to Beppu

Glorious weather greeted the tour today, paving the way for some amazing riding.

The group set out from the gloriously quaint hot spring resort town of Kurokawa.

Slowly but surely, the riders wound their way through forested areas, driving ever upward until reaching the Kuju ski ground, the highest point of the entire tour at 1,140 meters above sea level.

Despite reaching the tour’s literal high point, it wasn’t all downhill from there.

Travels along undulating roads followed over the next 30 or so kilometers along beautiful thoroughfares such as the Yamanami Kaido.

The group inched ever downward, though, until reaching the hot spring town of Yufuin.

Following a delicious lunch, the way out of Yufuin involved a brutally grueling climb at a back-breakingly slow pace.

Once the climb was over, it was for the most part a descent at furious pace along National Route 500.

Upon reaching the outskirts of Beppu, it was off the main track and onto a switchback for some more fun.

Brommie near Beppu

Brommie performed brilliantly in circumstances not ideal for him with so much climbing. He incurred his first problem of the tour when his chain tensioner flew off, but this was the result of Kangaeroo over-oiling him.

Once the tensioner was re-applied, it was all systems go again, but Kangaeroo is jeopardizing others’ fun, so it looks like Brommie will be packed away again for a while.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 2: Hinagu to Ozu

The tour’s drive into Kyushu moved northward on its second day of riding, and first when inclement weather came into play.

Rain fell about halfway through the 72-km leg, drenching riders, but fortunately not resulting in any injuries or accidents.

The trip was largely along the plains of Kyushu, following rivers and train tracks through to the industrial city of Yatsushiro.

From there, it was a trip along similar terrain through the areas hit by the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes and onto Ozu.

Brommie in Ozu

The tour next moves into the mountains with the long-awaited assault on Mount Aso.

Brommie performed superbly, but will face bigger demands hitting the hills.