After a good nights sleep we all awoke to a layer of fog surrounding the lake, being at altitude the campground was cold in the morning but after breakfast the weather soon returned to normal. Saito san and I took off at 6.15am with the other two riders leaving at 7.30am , we got a good lead on them as the route up the valley was great for cycling with not so many big hills , and passed through a number of small villages along the way where we stopped to take photos. Further up the valley the top of the mountain can be seen and the long windy road often forced us to walk as it was just too steep. From the summit the downhill was awesome , but with many of the switchbacks being about 10 % you had to concentrate 100 % on braking and getting around each corner safely. Another side road which was mostly downhill lead us onto another mountain pass towards the lunch stop at the popular village of Ochijiku.
On a solo bikepacking trip about 4 years ago I discovered some of these roads and vividly remember the fresh water mountain spring on the corner of a switchback , back then it was 36 deg and that water spring saved my life . This time it was only 30 deg but the fresh water tasted just as good. Just as we were getting ready to leave Koide san and Komura san finally caught up to us and we were shocked to hear that Koide san had crashed on the down hill , his wheel slid out from underneath him on a corner causing him to slide across the road on his shoulder . Luckily I always carry a first aid kit so was able to put it to good use to try and help Koide san before we continued onto our lunch stop at Ochijiku .
As it was Sunday the tourist village of Ochijiku was packed , all the motorcyclists that had passed us earlier in the day were there plus thousands of people. As Saito san & Komura san rode ahead of us we arrived a little bit later , but soon found their bicycles against the town bell in the middle of the main street. The village is famous famous for buckwheat noodles , but as I had eaten them last time I ordered tempura udon instead . We were all very tired but with only another short climb to the top of the dam so after an hour lunch break we were back on the bikes again. The downhill from the top of the dam to Minami Aizu which is on the outskirts of Aizuwakumatsu City is about 25 mins long with 8 - 10 % switchbacks - very long and exciting but tiring after a long day in the saddle.
On Sat I did not think I would have been able to complete this years brevet due to lack of training , but now flying down the mountain with Aizuwakumatsu city in sight I was so happy to be near the finish line . When riding over a bridge near the city I spied the top of the castle in the distance and found a new burst of energy to make it to the finish line at 2.34pm !. The others were waiting at the castle gate and we got a tourist to take a group photo of us all in front of the castle to prove we had made it. We enjoyed some beer, ice coffee and ice creams at a nice cafe next to the castle and then rode to the station to pack out bikes for the trip back home. Because we had finished earlier than expected we were able to catch a 4.38pm train back to Niigata city . I would like to say a big thank you to everyone in our small group of riders who took part as it was a touch weekend but very happy to have finished. Total distance for the 2 days was about 196km .
Saturday morning of the brevet was nice and cool with all the riders opting to ride from their home to the start line in Shibata at the castle. I left Niigata city with Koide san at 4.45am in the morning and arrived in Shibata with plenty of time to spare before our departure time of 7am. As luck would have it one of the other riders slept in and arrived at 7.30am , after a few photos in front of the castle we rode out of Shibata city along the old railway line which is now a popular cycle road. It is a great way to escape the city and into the mountains. Upon arriving in Akadanai village we stopped at a popular fresh water spring to get much needed water for the up coming climb over the mountain pass of Mikawa that would lead us down hill to the river side town of Tsugawa where we stopped for lunch , eating and assortment of 7/11 food on the footpath to give us enough energy for the climb on route 49 to our next stop at Nozawa.
Upon reaching Tsugawa after an awesome long downhill , I noticed some black smoke coming from the train station area which could only mean the popular Banestsu Monogatari steam train which does weekend trips to Aizuwakumatsu had stopped off to take on water allowing passengers off to take photos . As my Father was a steam train driver in my home country I too have a passion for all thing steam related so picked a good spot further up the line to get a photo of it leaving the station. After that we rode across the red bridge to 7/11 where we all bought lunch .
After we had recovered it was time to start the long haul up and over the pass to the town of Nozawa on the busy route 49, it was not by choice to take this busy road but as a major concrete bridge had been washed out on our intended mountain route we made a course change 1 week prior to the event which now saw us riding a busy road with heavy traffic. Upon nearing the summit was a small shop where the kind owner provided ice water to crazy cyclists in 30 deg heat tackling the climb - a real trail angel if ever there was one.
After a refreshing drink and short climb the road took us into a long tunnel which gets you out of the sun , but is narrow and very dark and lights are required for safety . Soon after we were riding a nice long down and came upon our mate Brian who had injured his leg running , waiting in his car as he had decided to join us at the campsite for Sat night. Somehow he forgot my message to bring a BBQ, cases of beer , steaks and sausages !. We stopped off for an ice cream and it was already 30 deg by this time. After a short break it was the final mountain pass to the Tadami river . The route we chose which is called route 400 lead off from 49 just outside Nozawa and headed inland with some fantastic scenery and some very steep switchbacks to the summit before a nice exciting downhill to the Tadami river. This road is also popular with motorcycle clubs for weekend tours and we spotted many racing along the narrow country roads .
Prior to the event I thought Nozawa would have been the last spot for resupply but thanks to Koide san he found a riverside village with a small supermarket that had everything we needed . After stocking up with beer and snacks and items for dinner we took the store owners advice on the shortest route to Lake Numazawa campsite . It is only 6km up the river he said, while that was true he forgot to mention the switch back road that leads up to the lake. I have ridden some steep roads but at the end of a hot 96km day bikepacking through the mountains the last thing anyone needs is hellish climb , in fact it was so steep most of all could not ride it at all. I was sure they employed the devil himself as the road surveyor - it was a nightmare and never ending . In the end it did end with a short down hill to the campsite which was awesome. Nice green grass overlooking a lake and a much needed shower - 5mins of hot water for 100 yen !. We all enjoyed a fantastic dinner and had a campfire which was a great way to end the day & beer always tastes much better after a long day in the saddle !. The campsite was nice and cool and the perfect place to relax after a very tough day .
Hi Everybody , if you have not been training already it is now too late - The 2016 Castle to Castle is on this coming weekend. Please check the Brevet Series page for the course map and make sure you understand the course change because of the broken bridge. Because of the course change the only off road section is on the Mikawa rindo ,the rest of the course is sealed which is a shame but due to safety we had to change the course. Now is the time to be packing your bags , take plenty of water 2 lts is what you should be carrying in hot weather , think about the food you want to eat on the bike and Sat nights dinner and Sunday breakfast as well. Even though it will be hot , you should always take wet weather gear just in case it rains . Do not forget your repair kit , it is up too you to make sure your bike is in good working order. There will be a riders party this Friday night at Albannach Celtic bar in Niigata city , so drop by anytime for some great food and craft beer !. See you on Fri night or at the start line on Sat morning at 7am - Good luck everybody !
IMPORTANT NEWS - Course route change . Honna - Tsugawa Rindo cancelled Just yesterday we discovered thanks to Koide san that a bridge on the course near Kaneyama in Fukushima has been washed away . It was a big bridge and because of that we have made a route change from the 7/11 in Tsugawa to the campsite in Fukushima . It means more sealed roads which is a shame but more places for resupply. Take lights for tunnels ! , Here is the link to the new route . http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=528835
Yesterday with a day off , I departed Niigata city at 6.15am and rode the 1.5 hours out to Shibata Castle where the start of this years castle to castle brevet will be held. After a few photos of the castle I them headed up the popular Shibata cycle road which used to be the old railway line to Akadani. It was around that time when the wind started to come up forcing my nice riding pace of 20 km per hour down to 16km or so, but upon enter the upper section of the cycle road the wind had died down again which was nice. I also managed to get out the new link road in the village near the Araya river which riders should enjoy, I manged to ride it with a gearing of 33 - 16T fully loaded which was challenging but fun and I did not meet any cars which was nice. These small back roads that link villages are only really used by the locals that live nearby and not many others venture onto them. After joining back with the main road I headed down the hill to the Agano river and took a right at Mikawa. Below are a few photos from the morning part of my ride.
After a break at a roadside rest area I them headed across the Agano river and up in the mountains once again, the sky look dark and I thought it might have rained , but rain was not to be a problem on this ride. After a bit of walking I reached the summit for the ride down into Murumatsu , it was cold and windy on the top of the mountain but my long sleeve merino cycle jersey keep me warm. Upon getting down off the mountain into the valley the weather had become warmer but the wind was terrible. I was slowed down by a fierce head wind that cut my regular cycling pace in half which meant I arrived in Murumatsu much later than I expected. My energy was pretty low and as Murumastu has no train station I decided to go to the nearest train station and make use of my rinko bag. After a brief stop at 7/11 to refuel I discovered the nearest train station was in Gosen so I continued to battle the headwind into Gosen and managed to catch a train at 3.37 pm bound for Niigata. I was exhausted and there was no way I could have made it back to Niigata . I ended up going to bed at 7.30pm and slept for 11 hours - I hope next time I am blessed with a tail wind instead. Total distance for the day was around 100km .
Now that the good weather is upon us, now is the time to give your bike a good clean and safety check. Many of you will have already done that but for those of you who have not - check the chain, does it need replacing the same goes for cables and outers. And if you brakes are not working very well maybe it is time for a new set of pads. After a good clean you can then check out your bikepacking kit , do you want to add any more items or did you discover you were carrying stuff you did not even use the previous year. The castle to castle is now only a few months away so if you have the time do a couple of overnight trips or if you are too busy like me a few long distance rides instead fully loaded with everything you will carry on the Castle to Castle. This Thursday I an off on a long ride and will be checking how long it takes to ride from Niigata city to the start line at Shibata castle and a new section of the course . Below is my route for my 1st training ride of the year. If you would like to submit photos of your training rides for the brevet get in touch with us and we will post them here on Japan by Bike !
These days a lot more bikepackers are choosing flat pedals over spd type pedals - why ? . Often on a bikepacking event you will be forced into a hike a bike situation where it is too rough to ride or maybe even too steep. Traditional cycling shoes with cleats are not great are providing enough grip nor comfort in that situation and the flat pedal with metal adjustable spikes hold onto a solid outdoor shoe very well. There is a vast range of pedals available to suit everyone's budget , from simple cup and cone bearing pedals to state of the art custom CNC machined lightweight pedals with high quality sealed bearings. Choose a pedal that is solid and can take the knocks and one that can be serviced as well . For shoes the list is endless as apart from tough outdoor approach shoes from well known brands now cycle shoe companies are starting to take notice and recently have developed shoes designed for bikepacking. As for me I have been running Shimano Saint platform pedals for 2 years and I love them, they are solid work well and have adjustable metal pins for grip. I have wide feet so my daily work shoes that I wear in the bicycle shop are the same shoes I use for bikepacking or climbing a mountain - The keen Bryce is a super tough water proof leather outdoor shoe and it has survived a lot of abuse and are still very comfortable. If you want comfort on and off the bike check out some flat pedals and shoes - you will feel the difference and your feet will thank you as well.
In this post I look at the things that you carry on your bike, some people carry a lot of unnecessary stuff, I did when I first started out touring / bikepacking . If you are going on a two day brevet or overnight adventure you really only need one set of clothes , plus rain wear in case the weather turns bad. Spare socks are great but if you wear merino socks you can easily wear them for multiple days without changing them , that goes for all merino clothing - it does not stink and keeps you warm . A lightweight shelter or compact tent and a very basic cook set with keep your weight down do not waste your money buying some cheap bulky item as after a few trips you will only want to change it for something smaller and lighter. The Castle to Castle brevet is in mid June so that gives you 2 .5 months to get out on a few rides , load your bike up with what you will carry on the brevet and if time allows do a few over night rides as well. Even though the daily distances are not so great there is a lot of climbing so best to check out everything now and prepare yourself. You can do a test pack at home and then decide do I really need that or will I even use it ?
In the picture below of my old bike a Kona Unit single speed I was carrying a 2 person tent and the poles had to be strapped to the top tube, as you can see the rear saddlebag is pretty big. I still own the two person tent but for bike packing trips I now use a small lightweight tent instead.
For those riders attending this years Castle to Castle brevet you will have the change to have a lunch break in Ochijiku historic village on the 2nd day of the Brevet, The village which is part of the old Nikko highway is right on the course and offers a fantastic array of food options for the hungry brevet rider. The pictures below were taken on a 5 day bikepacking tour in 2013