The May issue of Cycle Sports magazine is out, and the good news is that it includes a Long Ride / Hill Climb supplement. The very bad news is that this version is a pale imitation of what we’ve been used to. Instead of a full-color glossy 100-page pamphlet, this year we get essentially a small two-color calendar with few photos and no maps, and a list of events in the back. So the information is here, and that’s useful, but this is no longer one of the highlights of the year in cycling magazines. Hopefully Cycle Sports will realize what a major disappointment this is for us and they’ll go back to the original style next year.


Best wishes for a great ride through 2019, the Year of the Pig (or on tiny roads in the wilderness areas  of Japan, it would be a wild boar).


It’s that time of year, when the major cycling magazines release their January editions, and although the trend has always been for winter editions to focus on new models and training in preparation for the spring, there are a few routes here and there. Bicycle Club covers the Nishi-Izu Skyline (60-70km) and Cycle Sports has routes in Wakayama and Oita (plus a piece on bike-packing with a hammock!). Vol. 49 of Jitensha Biyori covers a two-day 80km route through Matsue and its lakes (Shinji and Nakaumi) on the Japan Sea coast. And both Bicycle Club and Cycle Sports offer yet more goodies: Bicycle Club includes a small carry-bag with a shoulder strap, and Cycle Sports offers an intriguing “neck warmer” of lightweight scarf-like material that we intend to try when it gets a bit colder.


The two major cycling monthlies have been a disappointment this autumn in terms of touring information, so we’ve had to go back in time a bit. The 21st issue of the quarterly magazine BICYCLE PLUS was actually released LAST autumn, but somehow we missed it. Subtitled “Popular Touring Course Guide,” it summarizes its content as “from ultra-orthodox meccas to little-known hideaways” which translates to 22 routes from all over the country, mainly the Kanto, Chubu and Kinki regions. In addition to these routes, it also features

- four “cycling map” routes from maps prepared by various local communities

- a long Kansai route from Yokkaichi to Ikeda near Osaka

- a report of a tour on the Okhotsk coast of Hokkaido (but with no map!), partly on dirt/gravel roads

- a brief report on the annual “Japanese Odyssey” ride (http://www.japanese-odyssey.com/) in which riders use any route to pass 12 checkpoints on Honshu and Shikoku

- and a couple of solo touring reports.

Well worth checking out. The larger bookstores should either still have copies or be able to order it for you.


In our recent special report on cycling through tunnels in general and tunnels in the Japan Alps in particular, we gave special attention to National Route 158 which is one of the major routes that connects cities in the Japan Alps. As it had been awhile since we’d cycled through the tunnels, we wanted to see how dangerous it was (or felt) to do so, and also to confirm whether or not bicycles are  allowed to go through the monster Abo Tunnel, a toll road whose English name is Abo-Toge Road (some motorists have reported seeing cyclists in that tunnel).

Our detailed report is here. The tl;dr is (a) no to that question and (b) if you decide to cycle through these tunnels, there is definitely a correct direction in which to do so, and that direction is Takayama => Matsumoto and not the other way around.


Was talking to the proprietor of a youth hostel in Japan today and he mentioned in passing that foreigners sometimes reserve months in advance, but the number of foreign travelers who cancel their reservation when they’ve decided to stay elsewhere is around 0% — he says they simply don’t show up. Needless to say, this is unconscionable. Please, if your plans change, be sure to cancel any reservations you’ve made.


Autumn used to be when Japanese cycling magazines often put out special features or even standalone guides with cycling routes. In recent years, they’ve stopped doing that, and this autumn’s magazines have hardly any route information. However, the new ”Let’s Enjoy Cycling” magazine-style guide (Japanese title: Saikuringu o Tanoshimu Hon”) makes up for that in spades. The subtitle says it’s the “Kansai edition” and it appears to be the only one, although presumably there will be at least a Kanto edition to follow. It features 30 routes throughout Kansai and a special in-depth section on the Shimanami route between Honshu and Shikoku.

This guide appears to be part of a series that includes enjoying walking, hiking and “mountain walking” (yama-aruki). It has as much information as a stand-alone book guide, and at 880 yen it’s also a bargain. In bookstores now; get your copy before they’re all gone.


We’ve updated the Bikebag article in our new FEATURES section to include the latest information on bikebags available in Japan.


Here’s our special report on cycling through tunnels in general and tunnels in the Japan Alps in particular.

There is also a new “FEATURES” item in the main menu that brings together some of the special reports that  we’ve presented in the past (and will present in the future) — both those related directly to cycling and “off the bike” reports on other aspects of traveling in Japan.


Unbelievable. For the third time in almost as many months, Bicycle Club magazine offers a high-quality bag included free with the magazine.

This one is a shoe bag. It’s large enough for even the largest size shoes, has breathable mesh sides to allow ventilation, and has a circular carry strap as the picture on the front of the magazine shows:
The issue also features an Editor’s Choice list of 400 best bicycle products  (apparently to celebrate their 400th issue) and a 55km route along National Route 413 to Lake Yamanaka. BC’s major competitor, Cycle Sports, is no slouch either, this month featuring a long section on the increasingly popular “gravel bikes” (road bikes designed for off-road riding) with two short routes and some intriguing advice on finding off-road routes —such as look for "detour" markers in front of tunnels that often point to the old pre-tunnel road, and try using old maps (!). But still: this month as well, the bang-for-buck award has to go to Bicycle Club. On sale for the next month, but get yours ASAP before they sell out.


Two months ago we told you about the May edition of Bicycle Club magazine which included a free cycle pouch. Well, not two months later they've done it again — the July edition also includes a similar pouch! (Lots of extra material left over?) This one appears to be of the same sturdy construction and is designed to fit along the top of the (horizontal) top tube where it connects to the handlebars. Here’s the photo on the cover showing how it fits on the bike:
The issue also includes an extensive section with tips on how to tackle long (100km plus) rides and a nice article on a challenging route straight up through the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama. The magazine and pouch will cost you ¥1000 and will be on sale for the next month, but pick up your copy soon before they run out.


Time files — already late March and that means it’s time for the May issue of Cycle Sports Magazine and its event guide booklet for “long ride” and “hill climb” events in Japan throughout the year. This year’s 98-page booklet features a few more ads (including the back cover again, unfortunately — no more of those lovely double covers for the booklet, it seems) but is otherwise the same, with great photos and a comprehensive introductory section on how to use bike bags to carry your cycle to the event. This year’s premier long-distance ride is undoubtedly the mammoth 22-day ride entirely around the 2400km perimeter of Hokkaido in July. As usual, the booklet is FREE with your purchase of the ¥890 magazine.

But this year is very different in that, surprisingly, the May issue of the competitor Bicycle Club magazine offers SERIOUS competition to the Cycle Sports issue, and you’ll probably want to run out and pick up both of them.

The magazine includes a lovely detachable booklet on the new “B.B.Base” train with bicycle racks that’s designed specifically to help cyclists explore the Boso Peninsula in Chiba (not cheap, but looks like fun), with detailed course guides for the various options. There’s a smaller official guidebook for the Japan Bicyclist Club Federation (JBCF), one of the organizations in the Japan Cycling Federation, which seems to contain info on primarily pro-level races but also includes lots of information on specific races and a whole section on “Cycling Around Tochigi.” If that’s not enough, within the magazine is a small box containing an actual triangular cycle pouch! All of this FREE with your purchase of the ¥1000 magazine.

Both of these issues just went on sale and will be in stores for the next three weeks or so, but you should go out NOW to be sure to get them. Belatedly we note that the RB Sports used bookshop in Tokyo’s Jimbocho area that used to have a ton of back issues of cycling magazines has closed, so there’s no central repository for back issues any more. So don’t delay.


Here is the nengajo (traditional New Year’s Card) for 2018. Hoping you (make that WE) all have great rides in 2018.


A new route, Kagoshima => Nagasaki up Kyushu’s western coast through the Amakusa islands, has been posted. Nuts & Bolts will be added in a few days.


About to post a new route in the next few days — oddly enough, not the long-promised and long-delayed one (but that one will be coming soon as well).

Before that: we received this email from reader RC with a very on-target warning about cycling through tunnels in the Japan Alps:

Maybe it’s common to cycle in tunnels in Japan but as a newb to tunnelling I found it pretty harrowing. The traffic on route 158 moves ridiculously fast and touring with a bunch of stuff I am not up to that speed so I opted for walking along the absurdly narrow walkways which were covered in water, mud and other stuff oozing out of the tunnel walls. Anyway as you can imagine it was a pretty awful 5-6Km. Just might be good to highlight it to other readers who may not be familiar with the wormhole to hell experience. Had I known I might have gone from Takayama instead of from Shioriji.

She’s right, and we’ll reword those sections to put greater emphasis on how nasty and potentially dangerous those long tunnels can be. They’re clogged with trucks and other traffic, and the narrow walkways are really unsuitable for even walking with a bike, much less riding. If you do elect to cycle through tunnels in the Japan Alps (particularly Route 158 between Matsumoto and Takayama), make sure you have a powerful headlight AND rear light and wear the brightest and most reflective clothing you can find.

Footnote: a minor point, but the actual “wormhole from hell”  was a friend’s nickname for the last tunnel before Kamikochi on local Route 24, which had to be seen to be believed. But it no longer exists — it’s been replaced with a bright, modern tunnel that’s much nicer to cycle through.


July is here, and with it the official start of summer and a whole crop of Japanese cycling magazines with great information on cycle-traveling. All of these are in the bookstores now; get yours before they’re gone.

Issue 20 of this bimonthly magazine is devoted almost entirely to “bikepacking” — backpacking with a bike — and is chock full of lovely photos, many of them taken in Nagano. After many pages of detailed equipment and packing suggestions, there is an article on Route 418 from Nagano through Gifu to Fukui, and several "solo touring" reports.
The August issue of always-reliable Cycle Sports has an in-depth (30 pages!) feature on “touge” or mountain passes with truly stunning photos, plus pieces on the 210km ride  around the island of Sado and a two-day ride from Nipponbashi through Nikko to Sukagawa.
The August 2017 (summer) issue of this long-running magazine (this is Issue 86!) is devoted to cycle-traveling, divided into four sections: "Cycletrain x Camp" "Ferry x Island" "Pottering x Goshuin [cycling to different temples and shrines and collecting the seal stamps]" and "Overseas x Triathlon" (in Honolulu). Additional features:  a 1-page piece on the new cross-Honolulu bike route and bus bike racks, a multipage photo shoot with cover model Akane Hotta, and shorter articles on the Eroica (north of Mt. Fuji) and Tour of Japan events.
Jitensha Biyori, another venerable cycling magazine (published since 2005 and up to Issue 42), has come out with a special “road bike starter’s guide” supplement that features several touring routes (Shimanami and circling Lake Biwa and Mt. Fuji) and brief descriptions of others, as well as a cycling event guide for 2017 and cycling photo shoots with cover model Saori Watanabe.


The revised four-villa Okayama Villa route is finally up; sorry for the long wait (the Intertubes have apparently changed the way they handle video). if there are any issues accessing the videos, please be patient; we’ll try to resolve them as soon as possible.


How time flies— already the end of March. We’ve got two new routes stacked up and ready to go if only IRL would cooperate. But we would be remiss if the first thing we did upon coming out of hibernation wasn’t to let you know that the May issue of Cycle Sports magazine is out, and with it the annual Long Ride / Hill Climb special supplement. This year’s version foregoes the double cover (there’s an ad on the back, rats) but the contents are mostly unchanged: 95 long ride events and 84 hill climb events, with elevation maps for the former and course maps for the latter. Rather than include a big map of Japan showing the locations, they just have a list of them by area, so you’ll have to investigate the locations for yourself. Still, this is the most complete guide of its kind, and it’s absolutely FREE with your purchase of the magazine (890 yen). It should be noted that the magazine itself has a very nice article on routes around Japan, and the previous month’s Cycle Sports (April), which is probably still available at used magazine places or bookshops like Tokyo’s R&B Sports, had a nice article with 17 “circle routes” around Lake Biwa, Awaji, Lake Hamana etc.


The 2017 nengajo (traditional New Year’s Card) is now at the top of the main page, with suggestions for things to do on your travels in 2017. Here’s hoping for many great rides this year.


(official and unofficial)

We’ve just become aware of some VERY good news regarding the Okayama International Villas!

(Read on...)

(top: view from Ushimado Villa room)

(bottom: Fukiya lower village)

The economic crash of the late 2000s resulted in the loss of prefectural support and the closure of all but two of the six original villas. Hattoji and Shiraishi are still around, but Koshihata, Takebe, Ushimado and Fukiya were closed. Koshihata was the northernmost and most remote one, and — although it was lovely — its loss is lessened by the fact that the other farmhouse villa (Hattoji) is still around. Takebe was always in our opinion the least successful villa, uncomfortably located right next to a larger tourist facility with a shared hot springs. But the loss of the spectacular views from Ushimado and (especially) the wonderful Fukiya villa with its three-story-high bath really hurt, and we’ve never given up hope that one day they might return.

With the dramatic increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan, we decided that it was time to reach out to the Okayama prefectural government and see if there was any interest in reopening them and reviving the villa concept.

Koshihata and Takebe seem to be gone for good. But the great news is that Ushimado and Fukiya have reopened as privately operated facilities! (Fukiya as recently as March of this year).  They’re no longer foreigner-only official villas, which means you can’t reserve them by calling the official villa number, but the original facilities (including shared kitchens) seem to be intact, and they’re still very reasonably priced given the quality.

Fukiya is now Eleven Village:


(no, I don’t know what the name means, either)

Price for room-only w/o meals is ¥5000 per person for the first night, ¥4500 per night if you stay 2 nights, and ¥4000 per person for 3 or more nights. And since you’ll definitely want to stay at least two nights, that makes the price not so different from villa days.

(By the way, Eleven Village can also provide meals!)

Ushimado retains the original Japanese name, Ushimado Kokusai Koryu Villa:


Nothing seems to have changed. (They even have a link to the original English villa pamphlet on the new site!) The pricing is identical to International Villa days: ¥4000 for solo occupancy and ¥3500 per person for two in a room.

(Note that there’s next to no English on either of these sites. Hopefully something can be done about that.)

We will be visiting these facilities at the earliest possible opportunity to confirm things, and then reworking our Okayama Villa route to link these four villas together. Due to the distance between Hattoji and Fukiya, we plan to scout out a suitable facility in between for cyclists who don’t want to cycle that distance in one day.


Still putting the finishing touches on a new long route, and shortly after that we’ll have a new “Off The Bike” feature on Takayama! In the meantime, there’s yet more good-good-bad-news on bike bus transport to the Japan Alps:

  1. -Good news: Nohi Bus going between Tokyo or Osaka/Kobe and Takayama still accepts bagged bicycles with no problems whatsoever. It’s a bit confusing since their website lists two phone numbers, first Nohi Bus in Takayama and then a number for Kintetsu Bus (which which they share some routes). If you have trouble reaching Nohi (as I did) and call the Kintetsu number and ask whether bagged bikes are allowed even on Nohi buses, the Kintetsu people will say categorically no — since that’s the Kintetsu policy. Don’t be fooled: bagged bikes ARE allowed on Nohi Bus routes.

  1. -As usual, Alpico to and from Matsumoto is more of a mixed bag. I confirmed the following directly with the Alpico office in Matsumoto: (1) Routes are still shared by Alpico and Hankyu, with the time slots generally assigned to one company or the other on a fixed basis. But not always! So you have to check each time. (2) Currently, the afternoon bus leaving Matsumoto for Kyoto/Osaka is handled by Alpico, so cyclists can take that one. (3) But the bad news is that the morning route from Osaka/Kyoto to Matsumoto is now handled by Hankyu, and the afternoon bus gets you to Matsumoto just before 10:00 at night. If that’s inconvenient, you may have to find another way to get to that part of the Japan Alps.

Needless to say, all of this information is subject to change. Finally, using Japan’s very good package delivery (takkyubin) services to ship your bicycle is always an option. Look for more information on this option to be featured on the KANcycling site in the near future.


We’re still putting the finishing touches on a new route (hint: it’s in Tohoku, but probably not the part of Tohoku that you expect). Before that: we’ve been negligent in showcasing the many great articles that appear in Japanese cycling magazines, and we’ll try to do better on that score. Often they deal with bicycle specs or racing performance or other issues that aren’t the primary focus of this site. But several times each year, there are also articles on routes and touring — and three of the November issues that came out this week feature a bumper crop of articles in that, um, wheelhouse. Cycle Sports has an article showcasing a number of 100km “long ride” routes. Bicycle Club has an article featuring 18 mountain pass routes. And almost the entire Bicycle Plus issue is devoted to touring, with a long article on how to equip a bicycle for use as a touring bike and then bike-bag it or ship it to your destination, and two shorter articles on touring in Aizu-Wakamatsu and the Japan Sea islands (with some lovely photos). With two of these issues, you even get bonus freebies: a waterproof pouch in the case of Cycle Sports and a cap in the case of Bicycle Club. On sale now for the next month; get yours before they’re all gone.

(Note: Cycling magazines used to put out route guide booklets on a regular basis, but for the past year or two, with the exception of the annual Cycle Sports long ride / hill climb event guide, magazine freebies have been mostly objects like caps and pouches and the occasional Tour du France supplement. Here’s hoping for a return to the old days.)


A new long-distance route coming very, very soon! In the meantime: here’s how NOT to use a U-Lock. Photo taken at a bicycle parking area that shall remain anonymous for obvious reasons:

The whole point of a U-Lock is to fasten the most valuable part of the bike (the frame) to a solid object, so at least the frame will be there when you get back. This unwary cyclist has, for some reason, fastened the U-Lock only to the bike frame and nothing else, attached an easily cuttable cable to the bike rack and looped both ends of that cable through the lock. One quick snip and bye-bye-bicycle. The safest way to secure the bike would be to (a) pass the U-Lock through both the frame and the rear wheel and fasten it to a solid immobile object and then (b) use the cable together with a padlock to fasten the front wheel to the rack as well. Here’s hoping this cyclist realizes that before it’s too late.


The good news is that Alpico still accepts bagged bikes on its buses (despite the more ambiguous wording in their rules and conditions). But it appears that things have reverted to last spring, in which the 3:00 p.m. bus from Matsumoto to Kyoto/Osaka is now always run by Hankyu, which prohibits bikes on any of its buses. Alpico has an overnight, but due to the greater amount of luggage on those buses, as far as I know no companies allow bagged buses on their overnight bus routes. So cyclists wanting to return from Matsumoto to Kansai will have to overnight in Matsumoto and take the 7:10 a.m. bus. (So you’re forced to see the black castle, eat great soba and drink outstanding local sake — not such a bad thing!) Since that was the status last spring but not last autumn, this may be a seasonal thing; we’ll keep you posted.


Our long-delayed special report on the event at a machiya in Kyoto is here.


Even though we might not always update in a timely fashion due to the constraints of RL (real life), we very much appreciate the information sent to us by readers. And on that subject, thanks to reader JB we belatedly learn that the 40-50k off-road route leading from Manza Onsen to Nozawa Onsen in Nagano Prefecture is now paved! It’s now Prefectural Route 502. On the one hand, that means one of the longest and reportedly best off-road routes in Japan is gone (never did get to cycle it — it was still under snow when I tried). On the other hand, that means road bikes as well as MTB can now cycle it. The site has been updated accordingly. Thanks again, and please keep the tips coming.


Not even the end of March and it’s already here: Cycle Sports Magazine’s annual Long Ride / Hill Climb supplement, listing all such events for the year. This year’s booklet is more than 100 pages (58 LR, 50 HC) covering 70 HC events and 96 LR events. As usual, it features some pages in color and big maps of Japan showing the locations of the events. The big headlines on this year’s covers are “Things to Know (in advance)” for the hill climb section and “Have Fun” for the long ride section. Packed with all sorts of advice, including (on page 13 of the LR section), the contact information for package delivery companies that will ship your boxed bicycle to a location for an event. This is far and away the best magazine supplement of the year, and it’s absolutely FREE with your purchase of the May 2016 issue of the magazine (¥890). Get yours before they’re all gone.

Here’s hoping for many great rides in 2016.

We promised you an “Off The Bike” report on the recent Noh event at a machiya in Kyoto, and we’ll get to that as soon as RL (real life) allows. But there’s actually going to be a second one this Sunday 12/13, and a few tickets may still be available. Go to https://www.facebook.com/tsunenokai for more info.

(see below)
It appears that there was no cause for alarm. I just transported my bicycle on an Alpico bus from Matsumoto to Osaka with no protest or comment or even a glance from anyone: not the ticket people, not the bus station people and not the driver. So good news: Alpico to and from Matsumoto (and Nagano, etc.) remains bicycle-friendly bus transport to and from the Japan Alps, along with Nohi Bus to and from Takayama.

Our periodic check on bus access to Shinshu is getting complicated. As far as I know, Hankyu and Kintetsu, the major players in bus transport, still refuse to allow bikes on board. Alpico has allowed bagged bikes on daytime but not overnight buses. A recent change* to the wording of the Alpico site seemed to indicate that bikes were not allowed on any buses. But a phone call revealed that (a) no, bikes are still allowed on daytime buses on the Matsumoto-Osaka route, and (b) better still, they seem to have reverted to the system of switching off days with Hankyu, which means that every other day Alpico runs the afternoon bus and therefore bikes are allowed (earlier this year that time slot was always run by Hankyu, making it off limits to cyclists). Will it stay that way? Will there be still more changes? Stay tuned.
(* If you want to check the Japanese yourself, it’s the section in red under “Information” at the bottom on this page:
https://www.alpico.co.jp/access/express/matsumoto_osaka/ )

(see UPDATE above)

One of the big advantages of living in the Kansai area is that you have access to Kyoto and Nara, cities that are still the heart of the traditional culture. Whether on or off the bike, I take advantage of any opportunity to spend time in Kyoto. And here’s one: a friend of the blog has been involved in the formation of a new group devoted to the preservation of machiya — the traditional wooden residences in Kyoto — and machiya culture. The group’s kickoff event is this Sunday, July 5th (click on the poster to enlarge).
The event features a Noh performance and tea ceremony — held, of course, in a machiya.  If you’re interested in traditional Japanese culture or just love Kyoto, check it out. And remember, the Gion festival is coming up as well (parade on the 17th and the yoiyama — my personal favorite — on the evening of the 14th - 16th).
(Oh, and if you look at the bottom of the poster for the sponsors and supporters, you’ll see a familiar name...)

There’s a bit of bad news for Kansai cyclists looking to get home from Matsumoto by bus. As you’ll recall, the Matsumoto <--> Kyoto/Osaka bus route is serviced by two companies, Alpico and Hankyu. The former allows bagged bicycles and the latter does not. Previously, they traded off days and time slots, so if a Hankyu bus is scheduled to make the run at the day and time you’re trying to travel, you could go a day earlier or later and get the Alpico bus at the same time. Starting this month, however, the 3 p.m. run from Matsumoto back to Kansai is now being handled EXCLUSIVELY by Hankyu — making this time slot off limits to cyclists.
The good news:
I was able to confirm that Alpico will still allow bagged bikes on non-overnight buses. They recommend that you get there early so the luggage compartment doesn’t fill up. 
Alpico buses now do the morning run from Matsumoto (which leaves at 6:30 a.m.), so you could spend the night and then leave (very) early the next morning.
Alpico also runs buses to Kansai from places nearby such as Nagano and Chino (near Lake Suwa). However, apparently some of the buses on these routes are Hankyu buses as well, so check carefully before buying your ticket to avoid a nasty surprise at the bus stop.

Even we will admit that sometimes it’s good to get off the bike and explore the area. No better time than the big Cherry Blossom Festival in Himeji. See our special report here.

It’s not even April yet, but the May edition of Cycle Sports Magazine is already here, and once again it features the annual Long Ride / Hill Climb supplement. This year’s does not disappoint: a big 100-page booklet (57p LongRide, 43p HillClimb), with color pages at front and back that include big maps of Japan showing the locations of major LR and HC events for 2015, and even some overseas events.  Other features: a table of events in chronological order from April through November, and even elevation profiles for the hill climbs. As usual, you get it absolutely FREE with your purchase of the 840 yen magazine. Get yours before they’re all gone.

Too cold to do much cycling in Japan, so it’s a good time to go to warmer places. Here’s the view from the Tantalus lookout in Honolulu. This will soon be featured as the first “guest route” on the KANcycling site.

Since it’s been so bitterly cold lately, it’s surprising that there’s such a disparity in landscapes. In the Japan Alps and up on the Japan Sea, it’s already winter wonderland, and some small villages have been isolated for days due to heavy snows. Meanwhile, down here in the Kansai, you can still see fall colors, even with less than a week to go before Christmas.

We reported this last year, but now have direct confirmation: Nohi Bus  will take you and your bagged bicycle between Takayama in the Japan Alps and Kyoto or Osaka (and, presumably, Tokyo as well). Yesterday they didn’t even glance my way as I loaded my bike into and out of the luggage compartment. Caution is required, however, since some of the buses shown on the Nohi Bus site are run by other companies. Nohi Bus lists three buses daily between Kansai and Takayama (http://www.nouhibus.co.jp/new/takayama_bc.html), but a closer look reveals that one of the three going in each direction (the first bus Takayama -> Kansai and the last bus Kansai -> Takayama) is actually operated by Kintetsu Bus. Since Kintetsu and Hankyu are the two major nationwide bus companies that absolutely refuse to carry even bagged bicycles, there’s a strong likelihood that they would refuse to take your bike. So I’d recommend avoiding those particular time slots. 
The buses linking Takayama with Shinjuku (Tokyo) are run about half-half by Nohi Bus and Keio Bus, which does allow bagged bicycles under certain conditions. Since the website is unclear, I confirmed directly with the Keio Kosoku Bus Center (03-5376-2222) that they DO take bicycles on board (in the luggage carrier below) as long as the bike is in a bike bag and as long as it’s not an overnight bus (on which bikes are not allowed).
Also note:
The price for Kansai has risen to 4700 yen one way (due to the consumption tax increase to 8%). The price for Shinjuku is 6690 yen.
Expect some delay in arriving if you’re traveling during weekend traffic or holiday periods. For what it’s worth, I took the Kansai-bound bus on a Wednesday and we arrived 20 minutes late due to road construction.

The NHK documentary program “Nippon Kiko” recently aired an episode featuring one of the many hills in the city of Otaru, Hokkaido, called “Hagemashi no Saka.” The name means “hill of encouragement” (meaning it’s so steep you’ll never get up it without encouraging one another). Actually, the same hill was spotlighted last year by another NHK program, Ohayo Nippon, and I’ve found references to it on the Otaru city website dating back to at least 2006.

The hill is not long, but it gets VERY steep at the end —though there’s some disagreement as to how long and how steep. This program said the hill is 600m long and the last 60m is a 13.5% grade. The Ohayo Nippon program says 900 m long (starting from a place further down?) and maximum grade of 22%. The Otaru city website says 904m and 24% grade. Whichever is correct, it appears to have become a popular cyclist destination in recent years due to a certain inn near the top —not named in the program, but appears to be Tomaya (3000 yen per night w/no meals - HP http://www18.ocn.ne.jp/~tomaya/index.html). For the past six years, with the encouragement of the family operating the inn, young people in particular have come from all over Japan to try to cycle up to the top. The rule is that you must cycle all the way to the top without resting and without your feet even touching the ground until the very end.
I haven’t done this since I didn’t know about it last summer when I was in Hokkaido. But it’s certainly something cyclists should probably put on the list of things to do in Otaru.

There appears to be no information on “Hagemashi no Saka” in English. There are some photos of it here:
Your best bet is either to ask at the inn or get the city tourist people to point it out on the map to you. And, obviously, you’ll only be able to cycle it in the warm months.
As of this writing, Youtube links to the NHK Nippon Kiko program split into two parts (in Japanese, no subtitles) are here:
(Part 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_V7S2ADECYQ
(Part 2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzxnws1ZtmQ
As far as I know, NHK doesn’t normally allow its programs to be youtube-d, so I’d advise viewing these sooner rather than later.
The transcript (in Japanese) for the earlier Ohayo Nippon program is here:

Many, many lovely photographs illustrate this splendid article about cycling around one of the many small islands in the Inland Sea. Written by Japan Times columnist Amy Chavez, who also coordinates reservations for the wonderful Shiraishi International Villa on neighboring Shiraishi.

OK, that’s not the actual title, but it’s the gist. Cycle Sports magazine’s September 2014 issue includes a 50-page booklet (in Japanese) entitled “Kantan Rinko-jutsu” (Easy Bike-bagging Technique). It’s about as complete a guide as you can imagine - profusely illustrated with tons of photographs detailing both the disassembly/insertion and removal/assembly processes, descriptions of ‘Best 14 + 6” bikebags, a Q&A section, individual sections for taking the bike on trains, airplanes and ferries, and of course the inevitable “Rinko Style Book” with style coordination suggestions for your bikebag and accessories. Comes FREE with your purchase of the 840 yen issue; get yours before they’re gone.

Last year we reported on the damage to the Maple Yaba Cycling Road in Kyushu due to torrential rains. A note on the Nakatsu City page for the cycling road says that the section of the route between the Yabakei Cycling Terminal and Morizane, Yamakuni-machi became passable as of April 1, 2014, and the entire route is expected to be back by the end of May of this year. Even better:  the lovely bridges look to still be there in some form (a photo shows the stone bridge piers intact ). See the article (in Japanese)
(A photo of one of the bridges being repaired can be seen at  http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/nnp/oita/article/82390 .)

If it’s May, it must be time for Cycle Sports Magazine’s “Long Ride / Hill Climb” supplement listing all of the events for the coming year. 

This year’s version is actually tilted slightly more heavily to LR (59p) than HC (41p), but each has its own lovely cover, and the first few pages of each end (with some of the best photos) are in color. As always, it is absolutely FREE with purchase of the magazine (now 823 yen instead of 800 due to the increase of the consumption tax from 5% to 8% starting April 1). The issue went on sale a couple of days ago and should be available for a month, but I recommend buying your copy sooner rather than later.

Well, blossoms at least. Nice warm cycling weather, here at last.

From KANcycling, best wishes for great rides in 2014!

Cycle Sports magazine is your main source for annual cycling events booklets — they issue one for hill climbs / long rides AND have put out two booklets with reader-suggested routes in recent years. But you should watch the other magazines as well, since they can sometimes surprise you. Here’s an example: this year the June issue of FunRide Magazine includes a hill climb insert (shown down at the very bottom of the cover):

Not sure they’ve ever done this before. Here’s a closeup:

This year seems to be one in which the magazines include a lot of other freebies (caps, etc.) so maybe not so many route guides. We’ll keep watching.

So the question this spring, as every spring, was: will the April 2013 edition of Cycle Sports Magazine continue their tradition (recently revived) of offering a big fancy booklet listing all of the big cycle events for the coming year?

... and the answer is... no.

But don’t despair. This year it’s the MAY edition of Cycle Sports Magazine that has it:

Next year: maybe June, or April, or some month in the Mayan calendar. Who knows. At least it’s here again this year, all 100 pages of it, with the same twin covers giving equal billing to Long Rides and Hill Climbs, the same extensive coverage, and the same huge maps of Japan for both LongRides and HillClimbs showing events nationwide for the entire year. And, best of all, the booklet is still FREE with your purchase of the 800 yen magazine. Get them before they’re all gone.

[UPDATE: The Maple Yaba Cycling Road has since been restored.]

Reader RS writes with an update on the Maple Yaba Cycling Road in Kyushu (12/2013):
“Having read the advice from a fellow rider on your homepage about the condition of the route following the typhoon this summer I was quite surprised at what I found when I got there. The cycling road is in VERY bad condition with extensive damage and many parts totally destroyed and unrideable (particularly around the Yabakei area). One of the bridges (often photographed) has been washed away and therefore an extensive diversion is required back onto route 212 there, but other areas were also in poor condition with barriers broken, bent over or totally washed away. Lots of the bridges also have lots of debris 5-6meters up from the river, and in some places the asphalt has been washed away or has collapsed to the point that cycling over it would be impossible. A local man I spoke to said that it'll take 3 years to get everything back to normal - I would absolutely agree with that and maybe even add on a couple more years as well, which is such a shame as today especially, with the autumn colors, the scenery in that area is beautiful.”

Just a reminder that you should check carefully when making bus reservations to make sure the bus company isn’t one that refuses to carry bicycles. Example: the Matsumoto - Kansai highway bus route is served by two companies, Alpico and Hankyu. Alpico is fine with bagged bicycles on anything but overnight buses, but Hankyu refuses to carry bagged bikes under any circumstances. Be sure to check carefully so you don’t get a nasty surprise at the bus stop - if the driver refuses to allow the bike on board, you’re left with the train, which doubles the price of your journey.

A reader writes to inform us that the Maple Yaba Cycling Road was hard hit by the typhoons this summer and “many sections will probably be closed for a year or two” - but that the ride is still worth doing, switching to the road as needed. Consider yourself forewarned (and apologies for the Flintstones’ reference in the title). The reader also provided a link to a YouTube video that, alas, seems to be blocked in Japan because Victor Entertainment apparently felt that the BGM was a copyright violation. Here’s the link:
Take a look if you can get access. The cycling road appears to be clearly blocked in at least two locations, including a collapse at one of the lovely stone bridges. It would probably be prudent to try to find out which parts are accessible before you go. 
[UPDATE: The Maple Yaba Cycling Road has since been restored.]


Cycle Sports magazine’s “Best Roads” insert, in which readers submitted their favorite routes, was obviously a huge hit - because they’ve done it again in the September 2012 issue. It’s now larger in both size (A4) and length (82 pages). As before, the routes cover the entire country, and some pages are in color. And they seem to have put out the September issue earlier than usual so summer riders can use it. The insert comes absolutely FREE with your purchase of the 800 yen magazine. Obviously, highly recommended.

P. S. The back cover, shown here, is not Photoshopped - this statue actually exists in Shikoku’s Iya Valley.

Japan Airlines’ bagged bicycle policies are apparently unchanged, and if possible even better than ever. I flew to Hokkaido from Osaka’s Itami Airport a few days ago and, as before, had NO problems getting the bagged bike on board. They asked about aerosol cans (but not patch repair glue - yay!) and were mostly concerned about the safest way to lift and place the bicycle. As before, anything under 20 kg including a bagged bicycle travels FREE. And the process couldn’t possibly have been easier or more hassle-free. Wonderful.

[Update to the update to the update: Oh, well, somebody DID ask about patch glue when I left Sapporo’s Chitose Airport - rats. But the bike flew free and arrived in perfect condition on both flights, and that’s the important thing. At some point, we’ll work up a list of places where you can find patch glue near major airports - probably with the exception of Kansai, since you can’t cycle across the bridge to and from the airport anyway.

When people are complaining about the heat even in Hokkaido, you know it’s HOT - and a more appropriate top page photo is definitely long overdue.

And only mid-June...

If you’re going to Hagi (on the Japan Sea coast), be aware that BOTH of the bus companies (Kintetsu Bus and Bocho Bus) that run long-distance buses in and out of Hagi absolutely refuse to carry bagged bikes - no exception. So if you’re trying to get in or out of Hagi, it’s the train or the road. Sigh. Fortunately, the best way in and out of Hagi is still the road through the Akiyoshidai plain, and the bikepath that leads from there directly to Yamaguchi. More on that route soon.

This should be an easy test for readers of this site.
(Click photo to enlarge)

(Photo taken at a small restaurant in Hakuba)

After the longest stretch of pre-spring cold that I can remember, warmth arrived yesterday - one day too late for all of the Saturday cherry blossom events, including the big one at Himeji Castle. Oh, well.

We note that Alpico, the company that runs a number of buses to and from the Japan Alps, states on its website that its luggage carrier below cannot accommodate “skis, snowboards, bicycles and other large luggage.” But they follow that up with a note in parentheses that this applies only to the overnight buses - meaning presumably that bikes are not a problem for the daytime buses. In the past, I haven’t had problems, and anyway I will be testing this hypothesis in the near future, so stay tuned.

So since mid-March the question has been: would the April edition of Cycle Sports Magazine once again include the newly revived cycle events calendar, which last year became the Long Ride / Hill Climb booklet? We have our answer. Features maps of all of the routes, lots of photos, and a big map of Japan showing the locations of all LR/HC events. As a bonus, this year they finally put “Long Ride” on one of the two covers, given equal billing with hill climbs. 

The booklet is FREE with your 800 yen purchase of the magazine. Get yours before they’re all gone. 

For the second year in a row, I had no trouble getting my bicycle aboard a Chuo Kotsu Travel Club bus - the driver didn’t even blink when he saw me and the bagged bike. (They were using a double-decker bus that day, meaning more leeway for storage, too.) The upshot is that I was able to get myself, my bicycle and a huge bag of delicious souvenirs all the way from downtown Hida Takayama to Shin-Osaka Station for a still-astonishing 2900 yen. Needless to say, both Takayama and the Chuo Kotsu bus (http://www.chuo-kotsu.co.jp/tc/) are highly recommended; watch this site for a killer Takayama bicycle route in the near future. 

So here is the photographic proof that a large frame road bike will indeed fit in the tiny lightweight Tioga Cocoon (with the seatpost sticking out -  it’s designed to carry a bike that way; you could always remove the seat):

(Later I’ll post another photo showing the rear wheel left on but the chain off so you can roll it.)

The bag also folds up to about the size of your palm. And did I mention how light it is? Lastly, the material does seem pretty tough.
Some caveats are in order:
- Since it’s a tight fit, it will probably take you longer to pack the bike - no more 3-minute rush jobs. 
- More importantly, note that, if you carry it like this, the most fragile parts of the bike - forks, chainring and derailleur - are all on the bottom. So if you drop it, you’re sunk. (I’ll experiment to see if it can be carried more safely.) 
The verdict: if I’m on a long trip and will be packing and repacking the bike — and ESPECIALLY if I’m entrusting it to baggage handlers on a bus or airplane — I think I’d want to take a regular bikebag, at least until I get used to this one and also figure out a way to protect the forks, chainring and derailleur.
But this bag is going in my bikepack permanently from now on (yes, it’s that light; use a lighter strap than the ones they’ve provided and you’ll never know it’s there). That way I’ll always have a solution if I suddenly need to take a train or bus home.

For the past few years, it seemed that bikebags were getting larger and more expensive. But the popularity of tiny folding bikes seems to have pushed the market in the other direction. Tokyu Hands now offers two that are much, MUCH smaller than the traditional ones.

This model, the Tioga Cocoon, is quite a bit smaller than the smallest bags up to now, and a bit less expensive (3,780 yen). More importantly, being made of nylon, it’s light as a feather! (Not sure how well it will wear, though.) The other one, bearing the brand name Mont-Bell, is a bit heavier than that and quite a bit more expensive (6,800 yen),  but it’s the most compact one I’ve ever seen:

(Update: The Tioga Cocoon will actually fold down to about this size too!)
I plan to buy the Tioga Cocoon in the near future to confirm that it actually fits a large road bicycle frame (the salesman said it did, but he didn’t know about the smaller bag), and to try to gauge whether the bag material will wear as well as the conventional bags. Stay tuned...

If the roads are too frozen or the winds are too cold for you to justify January/February cycle journeys in Japan... well, there’s always the option of finding other places to travel. Below is a self-portrait (make that CellPh-portrait) taken at the Tantalus lookout that offers spectacular views of Honolulu including Diamond Head which you can see at upper right. It’s also a great ride; this will be KANcycling’s first Guest Route, so stay tuned. 

Bus access to the Japan Alps from Kansai continues to be fluid, with one disappointing change but also good news.

- Buses to/from Matsumoto remain the same: Hankyu does not accept bagged bicycles, Alpico does. Since the reservations are handled together, it’s not immediately apparent which company is running buses on which days (they alternate) so you should check the schedule carefully to make sure you’re not trying to travel on a Hankyu day.

- Sadly, Chuo Kotsu Travel Club changed its rules in August and no longer allows bicycles on board. For a long time, this was the cheapest way to get to/from Takayama, but they also raised their price to ¥3500 one way, making it slightly less of a great deal.

- The very good news: I was able to confirm directly with someone at the Nohi Bus Center in Takayama that Nohi Bus definitely DOES allow bagged bikes on their buses that run between Kyoto/Osaka and Takayama “as long as the bicycle is in a bag and not too huge.” The fare is slightly more expensive (¥4000 to Kyoto, ¥4500 to either Higashi-Umeda or Namba in Osaka) but that’s still only about half what a train would cost. See www.nouhibus.co.jp or www.j-bus.co.jp or call 0577-32-1688 or  06-6772-1631 for more information. (Note that Kintetsu also has buses to and from Takayama, but like Hankyu they refuse to allow even bagged bikes on board.)

Also keep in mind that both Matsumoto and Takayama bus routes are quirky in that you have to SHOW your ticket to get on the bus but you also have to GIVE the ticket to the driver when you get off at the end of the trip — so keep it safe and handy, and don’t lose it.

The cover of the latest issue of FunRide Magazine is a head-turner, and not just for the fetching young lass it features:

I was stopped by this headline:

Translation: :”Strengthen your trunk, heart and lungs with LSD!” Whaaaaaat?

Turns out LSD stands for “Long Slow Distance,” a training regimen that’s been around for quite awhile. There is a great deal of information about it on the web, so I may be just the last to hear about it. Anyway, more proof that you can learn something new every day if you pay attention.