Grand tour covering Tokyo and three prefectures
On a still chilly weekend in spring, we invite Tempra Cycle owner Kenta Kobayashi and set out on a bike packing trip. Our goal is to complete the women’s road race course that 67 athletes will tackle in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The rigorous course runs from Fuchu City to Fuji International Speedway, covering a distance of 147 kilometers and a total elevation of 2,692 meters. Initially, a circuit race was designed circling the Imperial Palace, extending to Hachioji, and returning to the Imperial Palace. This was changed to a more dynamic linear race starting in Tokyo and offering views of the Fuji Five Lakes and Mt. Fuji.
We start at Musashinonomori Park, near Tama Station on the Seibu Tamagawa Line. From here, we cross the Tamagawa River and head west, taking on the ups and downs of Tama Hills on Minami Tama One Kansendoro Avenue, aka Onekan, including a favorite section of Tokyo cyclists dubbed the “Bamiyan Slope.” Past the city area awaits a steeper, longer climb up Doshimichi Road (National Route 413).
The scenery changes dramatically from around Lake Tsukuiko. The second half of Doshimichi Road up to the Yamabushi Pass (80.3 km point) before Lake Yamanakako is an endless upward slope with an altitude of over 1,000 meters. Our reward along these uphill sections is little stopovers. We draw delicious spring water from the Owata well complete with a bike rack, and munch on tasty peanuts from the souvenir shop next to the Kubo Suspension Bridge with a breathtaking view. Thanks to these refreshing diversions, we manage to reach our goal on day one, the Doshinomori Campsite.
Day two kicks off with fishing in the Doshigawa River. The best part of bike packing is these detours. The Doshi Village Fishery Cooperative runs a Doshigawa River Mountain Stream Fishing Center, which divides the main stream of the Doshigawa River into areas for bait fishing, fly fishing, and tenkara fishing. It also rents out fishing gear and bait for visitors who might show up empty handed.
“The Doshigawa River has always been famous for its clear water,” says Yukimasa Ikeya from the fishing center. “Long ago, the river provided drinking water for deep-sea fishing vessels departing Yokohama. The crew welcomed the water that never went bad, even below the equator.”
Today, the river is a popular spot for mountain stream fishing. Masu salmon, char, and rainbow trout are in season from March through September, and ayu sweetfish from June to mid October. Editor in Chief Lucas B.B. and Kobayashi try their hand at bait fishing first thing in the morning. Kobayashi catches a rare masu salmon on his second cast. Lucas also reels in one rainbow trout after another. In total, they catch and release seven fish in a matter of 30 minutes. From May onward, a tourist restaurant opens in the fishing center, inviting visitors to cook and enjoy their catch.
After fishing, we straddle our bikes and press on west along Doshimichi Road. The Yamabushi Pass (80.3 km point) comes into view at last. We pick up speed on the welcome downhill ride from here to Lake Yamanakako, and a snowcapped Mt. Fuji appears out of the blue. This is the course’s most exciting section.
We cruise along the cycling road around Lake Yamanakako to the Yamanakako Cycling Base and meet up with Koji Noma. He is promoting a cycling culture in Yamanakako Village.
“I’m hoping the Olympic Games will provide the chance to present this beautiful course and the cycling culture in Japan to people around the world. That was my motivation for improving the roads, establishing a cycling road, and setting up benches for cyclists taking a break.”
Biker-friendly movement in Yamanakako Village
Last year, Noma joined hands with Tom Bossis, a cyclist working at the village office, and formed a team they describe as “interactive, cultivating, and dedicated to the local community.” Seven Japanese and two French cyclists are registered as members at present. They also launched the Yamanakako Cycling Base as a hub of the cycling culture at Lake Yamanakako. Noma’s dream is to foster local cyclists, produce the next generation of Olympic athletes and make Lake Yamanakako as a sacred spot for cyclists.
We leave Lake Yamanakako and make our way to the highlight of the second half of the course, the Kagosaka Pass (96 km point). Beyond that is Fuji Speedway. Having obtained special permission to ride our bikes on the access route in the speedway, we make a glorious finish at the grandstand. We bask in the afterglow of our trip and gaze at the race course that will later be the goal for Olympic athletes.
Kobayashi reflects on our one night, two day journey. “I liked the gradations of change in the scenery, from the cityscape of Tokyo to the mountains, with snippets of Lake Yamanakako and Mt. Fuji in between.” Making stops to admire the view, go camping and fishing, and visit local restaurants and souvenir shops—he compliments our flexible planning that allows us to deviate from the course and interact with the locals.
Kobayashi says that bike packing is a field trip for grown-ups. Getting as far as your own legs will take you is an enriching experience.