Sunday, 31 August 2014

Return to Mikawa - shop ride 31st of August

As you may have seen a while back I with the help of my mate Brian have been discovering the vast array of mountain roads in the Mikawa region of Niigata. It's a pretty boring ride from Niigata city to get to Mikawa along the Agano river but from Niigata station you can jump on board a local train with your bicycle in a travel bag and be in Mikawa station in no time at all. So yesterday we held our 2nd shop ride into the hills of Mikawa with some of my customers who are keen MTBers. Brian had discovered this particular course and even though it was only 30km it was a tough morning ride which offered everything from 8 - 10 % grade sealed climbs , wickedly fast winding downhills and a fantastic section of rough 4Wd track through the shady forest which was welcome in the 30 deg heat.  We all stopped at a roadside rest area for Ramen and beer for lunch and then some of us continued downstream to cross the Agano river to the small onsen village of Sakehana which we took a break and waited for our return train to Niigata city. Below are a few photos taken on the ride and if you want to check out all of them check this link

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Shop bikepacking / tour to Snow Peak HQ - part 2

After the last short climb up to Snow Peak HQ we checked in and found a great shady spot near the back of the camp ground over looking the golf course and put up our tents , 3 of us had our own tents while the other rider rented a tent and sleeping bag from Snow Peak who must make a lot of money from renting out camping supplies as there were many large groups who had done so that weekend. After pitching the tents it was beer time which considering the type of heat we had ridden it was very well deserved and tasted great. Later on we all cooked up a big feed for dinner with Brian & I cooking Katsu curry while the other chaps dined on pasta.

Because it was so hot it was really hard to get to sleep even with the tent fly open , so when Brian realized it was raining we both got up and packed up our tents quickly saving them from getting wet. The rain hammered down about an hour later and we retreated to the cover of the main building to cook breakfast before heading out into the rain and down the valley towards Sanjo. Our first stop was back in Kamo at MacDonalds we after a 2nd breakfast we had a MacPunture which was carried out using their sign board as a bike stand before pressing on back into Niigata city for some Italian Gelato before arriving back to the bicycle shop around 11.30am. In total the entire ride was only 126km return but in the extreme heat and humidity it made it feel a lot further . It was a great adventure by bike but I will not be planning any more cycle events at this time of the year again !

Shop bikepacking / tour to Snow Peak HQ

Back in the winter when I had free time I planned all of this years cycle events for my bicycle shop. Sitting inside a warm shop watching the snow fall it was easy to think about warmer weather and the type of shop rides that I wanted to do this year , I knew August was out as it just gets to hot to cycle anywhere but I must have forgotten about July being almost the same. As Fuji Rock was on the same weekend we only got two riders attending but even though we faced extreme temperatures on the Sat ( over 36 deg ) and hard rain most of Sunday morning we all had a great time. We rode out of Niigata City to towards the mountains stopping several times to take a drink and arrived at a local supermarket in Kosodo just before opening time. I wondered why so many people had filled the car park and once the doors opened it was a mad rush towards the ice cream chillers were all ice blocks, ice creams we 50% off from 10am - 12pm. People were going crazy buying boxes of ice creams , but for us who had nowhere to carry such vast supplies we made do with a couple of ice creams each instead.

The next main stop was in the mountain town of Kamo where we dinned in style at Gusto a popular family restaurant and made good use of their drink bar before pressing on upwards through the village of Kamo stopping off at a 140 year old roadside snack shop that sells cold drinks and a tokoroten and kind of gelatin made from seaweed that is served cold and boiled eggs.

After leaving the snack shop the hard work really began with almost no shade and rising midday temperatures we began the accent of the mountain pass the divided us from the route to Snow Peak HQ. As usual Brian set an amazing pace on his single speed 29 MTB climbing the 6% gradient pass in his 33 T - 13T gearing  . I rode on ahead to take a few photos of them passing and then managed to overtake the last rider on his geared cyclo cross bike before reaching the summit. After the summit it was mostly down hill passing brilliant green rice fields soon due to be harvested before arriving at a local super market to buy our evening food supplies 


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

This years Oct bikepacking Tour !

In 2013 I decided to start cycle touring again after a break of many years, my previous long tours have been a 3000 km loop of New Zealands South Island, another 3000 km loop of Northern Thailand , and several shorter week long tours here in Japan. Touring is something I really love - why ? , well after many years of MTB racing when I was younger back in NZ, going on my first bicycle tour around the South Island in 1995 was a big adventure as I could ride at my own pace and stop anytime I liked to take a photo , chat to the locals or even have a beer !. Even today at 44 years old every time I decide to go on a multi day tour I pick some where new that I have never been to before and look forward to a new adventure, what will happen along the way, will the weather be hot or will it rain, what interesting places will I see and who will I met along the route.  Last year I had a fantastic time touring into Fukushima and back alone and learnt a lot more about myself - I can now ride a single speed fully loaded with bikepacking gear for 156km in a day , something I never thought possible.

For this Octobers tour I have decided to attend the Single Speed MTB championships which will take place in neighboring Nagano  ken in the mountain resort village of Hakuba. Its the first time the race has been held on this side of Japan so I decided to give it a go and include it in the middle of my 6 day bikepacking tour. Below is a map of the course I will take 

In total the entire tour is bit less than 500 km which allows me two leisurely days to ride along the coast camping halfway before arriving in Hakuba village were there is camping available at the race venue , 2 days staying in Hakuba before heading over a large mountain range and down into Nagano city and on past Tokomachi  to the next half way point in Tsunan camping again before the final big push back over the mountain down into Tochio and back to Niigata city. I am really looking forward to the challenge of cycling somewhere new and taking part in the Single Speed MTB champs which looks a lot of fun. Below is a youtube video taken of one of the previous events 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Shop ride to Mikawa

Yesterday 8 riders including myself and my mate Brian lead a shop ride into the mountains of Mikawa, half of us arrived by train with the remaining riders driving their cars to Mikawa station. The entire day was nice and cool with light rain but that stopped around midday , for many of my customers it was their first long off road ride, while the entire ride is mostly on sealed mountain roads there is a large section of off road that mainly consists of a climb on loose gravel. That section really tests out the your ability to climb and for single speeders like myself it means getting out of the saddle to avoid the walk of shame, I am happy to say once again I was able to ride all the way to the summit without dismounting, but the road we took after lunch at a nearby onsen was a whole other story. That section was sealed and started off with a short climb leading into a nice rolling downhill , After that the road from hell took over with an endless steep climb that forced many riders to walk, I am still amazed my mate Brian rode the entire course with a hangover without dismounting once - unreal !. The entire ride was only 31km in length but I would have to say it was the hardest 31km I have ever done. The fantastic views and the long downhill back towards Mikawa was a nice reward to end the day though. So now I have explored another new road in the mountains of Mikawa !

Outside Mikawa station at the start of the ride

                    Taking a break at the fresh water spring located at the first village along the route

Riders tackling a steep off road section in the morning

The signboard at the 2nd village along the course 

Enjoying some katsu curry and draft beer for lunch at a nearby onsen

My mate Brian rode his single speed the entire course without dismounting - gearing 32T - 18T 

A fantastic view looking down into the Agano river and the section of route 49 that is now closed to traffic due to a big landslide last year 

Waiting for the train back at Mikawa station