Sunday, 28 October 2007

A bicycle side car

Up until the 1950s in the UK bicycle sidecars were popular with families as a way to transport their children on jaunts into the countryside. These days there have been very few bicycle side cars made and if so are nothing like the wooden framed, alloy bodied sidecars that were once popular. One of the major manufacturers of bicycle side cars were Watsonian who by the way is still in business producing motorcycle sidecars. Apart from the company mentioned above there were others and one of these is a bicycle company called Armstrong Cycles Ltd a bicycle manufacturer from Birmingham. Looking through an old issue of Cycling (a British magazine ) from the 1940s I found an add for their side car. Which I've decided to copy. At present I have almost completed the wood frame and the next step will be to fit the perspex windows etc. As this project advances I'll post updates of how the side car is progressing. It's a winter project so it may be finished some time next year. Pictured above is the work that I've done so far and the add for the Armstrong sidecar. Also the bicycle it will be fitted too when finished which is a 1947 Humber Sports

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Nozawa Eki

Pictured above is a photo of me at the Nozawa Eki ( train station ) , I didn't think I would have made it at one stage as I had lost a lot of energy and had to walk up the last hill and I didn't have the power left for any hill climbing at all. I felt rather embarrassed pushing my bike up a gentle slope when cars drove by ,but I was so tired I didn't care anymore. After a nice quick downhill into Nozawa we met up with route 49 and asked a local family directions for the train station. After arriving at the station Brian took off back up the road to the local supermarket to buy some beer & snacks while I cleaned my bike and packed it into my bike bag for the journey home. The beer tasted fantastic after such a long day in the saddle and even though we were both physically exhausted we were glad to have completed our ride. After boarding a train at 5.35pm we headed back to Niitsu station were we changed trains to an express train that got us back into Niigata station at 7.30pm. This is one ride I would never attempt again unless it was in a 4 wheel drive.

The Tadami river

After finding out that we couldn't catch the train we headed along route 225 towards the turn off of route 400 , along the way we passed through some very nice small villages which had flower boxes along side the road and were very clean & tidy. This area is quite famous for sightseeing so it looks like the locals make a big effort to keep their villages looking good, hoping to attract any passers by to stop for lunch along the way. Pictured above is a photo showing a small village along the bank of the Tadami river.

Aizu Kawaguchi

After being shaken to bits on the downhill I knew than when we saw the dam we were about to finish our off road section and meet up with route 225 alongside the picturesque Tadami river. We were both relieved when we reached the sealed road along side the river and because we were both tired we headed for the nearest station which happened to be a JA ( Japan Agriculture) railway station at Aizu Nakagawa hoping to catch a train into Aizu Wakamatsu where we would then change trains to head back to Niigata City. But it was not to be as when we arrived at the JA station the next train was due 2 . 5 hours later so we had no option but to press on for route 400 which would take us over a low range of hills ( not more bloody hills ) into Nozawa where there was a station. Pictured above was the welcome sight of the dam

The unsealed downhill

Even though the above photo shows a slight climb most of the road from the summit was downhill. This is the only photo I took on the way down as I was very tired and the road was very rocky with large wheel ruts that we had to dodge on our rough ride to the tadami river. This section of road was the worst we had encountered so far and I'm quite surprised our bicycles handled it as the ideal bike for this trip would have been a fully suspended downhill bike.

The summit

Finally I came around the corner to find Brian at a car park which turned out to be the border of Niigata & Fukushima and the 1350 mtr summit. I was so tired that I could have easily feel asleep right there on the grass in the sunshine. By the time I arrived at the summit it had taken us 5 hours , it was the hardest hill climb I had ever done in my life but I managed to get to the summit somehow and as it was 12pm I ate some more of my power bar and tried to gather the strength for the next stage which was 18 km of rocky downhill to the Tadami river in Fukushima ken.

Out of water

Due to the amount of climbing and the power bars I was consuming I soon ran out of water and started to feel very tired. I knew if I could find some fresh water I would be able to make it to the summit, so I told Brian to ride ahead and wait at the nearest water stop. About 2o mins later I came around the corner to find Brian at a curve in the road with a concrete low wall next to a small waterfall. My prayers had been answered and I was overjoyed at the chance to refill my 2ltr camelbak for a much needed drink. The ice cold mountain water tasted great and gave me the boost I needed to make it to the summit. Pictured above is one very happy cyclist at the water fall.

A view of the road

If you look carefully at the above photo you will be able to see part of the road we cycled & walked up. There were often drops of several hundred meters into the valley below and the last Niigata earthquake had also caused some damage to the road as well.

Nowhere near the top

The photo above shows me nowhere near the top as the road seemed never ending and each corner I came around thinking it may have been the summit was just another hill climb which seemed to get steeper and steeper all the time until I was forced to get off and walk. I managed to keep my energy levels up with plenty of water ( thank god I bought a 2 ltr camelbak ) and power bars but it was still very hard work getting to the summit. Along the way we met several people who had parked their cars by the side of the road to pick wild chestnuts as now is the best season. I couldn't understand why someone would drive so high up a mountain pass just to pick chestnuts when you can find them down lower were they would be easier to pick.

On the way up the Mountain

After spotting the Kamoshika we continued our ride up the valley and were fortune to have a nice smooth road to ride on , after completing the ride we have decided that Niigata ken spends a lot more money on roads than Fukushima ken as on our way to the summit most of the Niigata side was sealed and there was even evidence that some of it had recently been sealed much to our delight. Pictured above is Brian showing the condition of the mountain road on the Niigata side of the border.

A rare sighting

Not long after passing the entrance of the mountain rd we were coming around the corner when something caught me eye on the side of the mountain , it was a Kamoshika or Japanese serow a rare and protected species of Mt goat. In all the years I've been cycling here in Japan I have never seen one so I reached for my camera but as soon as it had spotted us it took off quickly up the hill into the tree line. I found the information below on the net as well as a good photo of one to give you some idea of what we saw.

The Japanese serow stand 60 to 90 centimetres at the shoulder and weigh 30 to 130 kilograms. Japanese serow are mottled brown and white and black underneath. Their fur is very bushy, their tails especially. Both sexes have short 10 centimetre horns, which curve backwards.

The start of the mountain rd

After passing through the last small village we then arrived at the start of the mountain rd which we had come to do, there was sign warning travellers to be on the lookout for bears as they often frequent this area and another sign stating that the rd was open for traffic. Just to the right of where I'm standing is a historic cave were it is rumored a family once lived. The road from here was mostly sealed with a few short stretches of gravel.

A fantastic view

After cycling for a while in the cold fog we came around the corner to the view pictured above, it was like another world as the narrow valley had widened giving us a fantastic view of the surrounding mountain ranges bathed in the early morning sunshine. It was hard to believe we were in Japan as we had never seen any this spectacular before in Niigata ken. Pictured above is Brian on the bridge we we stopped to take several photos.

A foggy morning

After assembling our bikes we headed up route 227 through several small villages and were greeted by foggy scenes such as the photo above. This view reminded me of the many Japanese hanging scrolls I have seen over the years as quite often you can just see the ridge line of the mountain covered in fog. As you can imagine it was still quite cold at this time but we didn't have to wait long before the sun came up and then we were greeted with blue sky.

On the way to Tsugawa

Pictured above is a photo of Brian just after we boarded the train to Tsugawa. Japanese Railways or as they are commonly known JR are very kind to cyclists as bicycles can travel for free as long as they are contained in a bicycle bag, these bags are strong and lightweight and are available from most bicycle shops in Japan and make travelling by train very easy.

A Border crossing

For a while my cycling partner Brian Southwick and I had talked about riding over the border from Niigata Ken to Fukushima via a mountain pass road where the summit is 1350 mtrs. Little did we know that undertaking this ride would be so difficult and tiring but we did manage to complete it even though both of us were extremely exhausted and we often thought of giving up. We met at 4.45am at our usual meeting spot in Bandai and rode at a quick pace out of the city and across to the town of Niitsu where we wanted to catch the 1st train that departed at 6.06am . After riding at a brisk pace we arrived at the station at 5.50am which meant we had to pack our bikes quickly into our bicycle bags and sprint for our train which we just managed to catch in time. From there we had a 40 min ride up the valley to Tsugawa which is where we got off the train and assembled our bicycles ready for the large ride that lay ahead. By the time we had assembled our bicycles it was around 7am and it was rather cold and foggy. After making our way through Tsugawa we found route 227 which would lead up towards the hills and the mountain road that we wanted to take. Pictured above is a map showing the route we took.