Tuesday, 8 July 2014
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
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
Sunday, 8 June 2014
Well as a new event the 120km Niigata City ride is growing in popularity every year and entries fill up very fast for the 600 spots . This year my bicycle shop was one of the main sponsors of the event and my mate Brian & I were the tail end charlies clearing the course of riders and mobile mechanics helping out riders who had broken down. Below are a few photos taken at the start showing some of my customers , over spec Ishii who surprises people every year with some new accessory attached to his Surly big dummy cargo bike , this year it was a horses head with a carrot dangling in front of it , it nice to see someone having fun and riding something other than a lightweight road bike. Also for the first time this year tandem bicycles were allowed which was great as recently the Niigata prefecture law was changed allowing them to ride on the road at last.
The day started off nice and cool but warmed up around mid morning forcing some beginners retire by the 2nd check point. A new section of the course this year takes riders up the 8 % climb on the side of Mt Kakuda , this is were I stupidly bet Brian he could not ride to the top on his single speed MTB with a 33 T - 13 T gear , I lost the best and bought him a beer after the event. Its a short but tough climb and I managed to ride to the top as well passing a road cyclists on an expensive team issue Cannondale who seemed surprised to see 2 single speeds pass him by while he struggled spinning his low gear. All the staff were surprised by the amount of accidents that happened this year which included several people going to hospital , in any event road or MTBing accidents can happen and all riders need to take a lot more care whilst riding . The other problems throughout the day were punctures with many riders not carrying enough tools to carry out a simple repair such as patching a tube, as Brian & I were cycling along on our single speeds we were chatting about the next possible breakdown being a broken rear derailleur , 30 seconds later that is what we came across - a road cyclist standing over his destroyed bike with the rear derailleur totally ripped off, the hanger broken and the derailleur and chain mangled inside the rear wheel. I wanted to take a photo of it, but decided not to as the riders day was over now and he certainly was having a very bad day. Most riders who were careful and followed the course maps did not take any wrong turns and had an enjoyable day but to make it a better event more volunteers are required for next year.
Thursday, 29 May 2014
After I discovered some nice looking mountain roads in Mikawa , I set out for a day exploring them with my partner Tamaki. We took the train with our bikes packed up in rinko bags and arrived in the small river side town of Mikawa around 9.15am which gave us plenty of time to unpack the bikes and grab some snacks from the nearby convenience store. The day was already hot and continued to get hotter reaching 30 deg mid afternoon. Luckily most of the day we were in the shade as the mountain road had a fantastic canopy of shady trees that keep the sun off us. I had printed out a map I made and we did our best to follow it , but I need to make a better map as there are many unmarked roads and a few confusing turns along the route.
The mountain road we took starts out on a sealed road steadily climbing up to a mountain village where we saw a small carp farm and discovered a nice fresh water spring. In the village we also spotted the start of another mountain road we did not know about. Many of the small side roads are not marked on any of the maps and make exploring the area a challenge. Not far after the village the sealed road turns to gravel and with a steady gradient and several steep pitches makes a good workout on a single speed MTB, I am pleased to say my 33T - 16T gearing was perfect for this route allowing me to ride the entire route without walking at all.
After following the map carefully we finally crested the summit were the gravel ended and the sealed road started again, after a short rest and some food we headed downhill and were treated to fantastic views on the surrounding mountains. There was a small crew of workers clearing rocks from the road but overall it was pretty nice and not long before we reached a small mountain village marked on my map
At the mountain village on my map there was only one sealed road leading to the left so that is the road we ended up taking, in reality we should have cycled to the right through the village and taken the next road to the left instead.
The road we took to the left was fantastic but did not bring us down to Tsugawa instead we arrived in Tsunogami kohan on the other side of the mountain , bypassing a camp ground and onsen before coming out onto route 459 which then required a short 10 km ride around the river side back to Tsugawa station.
We rode to a nearby liquor store and bought a few beers and snacks for the train ride home. Overall it was not a long ride at all , maybe about 35km in total but one of the harder short rides of I have done this year. Now I need to make a better map before I head into the hills of Mikawa again !
Monday, 26 May 2014
Well on the 13th of June this year a major sporting event will take place , no its not the world cup soccer !, but the worlds toughest bicycle race called the Tour Divide from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells in New Mexico , a total distance of 4418km all off road !. While this race has become even more popular in the last few years due to the fantastic movie Ride the Divide still many people are unaware of the event the reason for this being - its an underground event with no entry fees at all, anybody of any age can take part and there are no prizes at all.
Why is it the worlds toughest bicycle race ?, well lets compare the most famous long cycle race in the world - The Tour De France to the Tour Divide .
First of all riders on the Tour De France have a team bus , a fancy hotel to sleep in every night, team masseuse to help those aches and pains of the days ride, Good meals every day, lots of sleep, the team mechanic to look after their bikes and spare bikes if required. Yes the tour de France is hard but the clock stops every day and starts again the next morning
The Tour Divide has none of the above, the riders have to carry everything they need, the have to find places to stay e.g pitching their tent on the top of a cold mountain pass, they face some of the worst road conditions you can imagine - long stretches with no water, deep mud, snowy mountain passes, cold river crossings & grizzly bears. The clock starts in Banff and finishes at the border in New Mexico its one huge 4418km stage race and if their bike brakes down they have to be able to fix it !.
Who is attracted to such a race - well that answer is as varied as the types of bikes people use to complete the course, many of the riders are veterans looking to better their previous time, brake the current record or they just want to find out if they can make it . Many riders do not make it at all and pull out for a number of reasons such as the weather , mental breakdown , physical problems or mechanical . There is no live television coverage of the event and I hope that never happens as that would turn it into something that its not supposed to be. It is the ultimate bike packing adventure race in the world and anybody who finishes is a winner . There are many riders who have become well known from their record braking rides on the Tour divide such as Matt Lee, Jay Petervary , Oillie Whalley just to name a few and every year new riders take up the challenge, for those of you who would like to follow the race you can become a blue dot junkie and follow the riders daily progress on spot tracker , via the Tour Divide website. This year a few Kiwis will be taking part and as a single speeder I will be also watching the single speed riders as well. Good luck to everybody that has entered for 2014 !. Pictured below are a few of the riders from previous years.
Thursday, 22 May 2014
For some time now my mate Brian & I have been searching the local bookstores and scouring the net for information on local campsites in Niigata . Many years ago I did happen to see a guide book for Niigata Ken detailing all the campsites but at that time I thought I would never have the chance to go camping again so did not purchase it. Yesterday I asked at a local bookstore and they showed me the book pictured above which I readily purchased, it details 130 camp sites throughout Niigata ken and Sado Island and provides the readers with a list of all the facilities, prices, contact numbers and a map of the campsite location. There are so many campsites that I did not know about including quite a few campsites that are free . This guide book will come in very handy for planning overnight bikepacking trips and my extended 6 day tour in mid Oct.