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Time to load the bikes onto a GMLVAN C-01 and hit the road. 

A car is not necessarily one’s only travel companion. When exploring pastures new, a bike can make a trip more fulfilling by giving access to areas that cars can't reach. GORDON MILLER and PAPERSKY collaborate on "Van Life + Cycle Trip," an active travel proposition befitting the coming era.


It appears that the “Ina Valley” located in Minami-Shinshu is a hot topic among bikers of late. Ina Valley refers to the entire basin stretching along the Tenryu River that flows through the southern part of Nagano Prefecture. This basin, bordered by the Central Alps to the west and the Southern Alps to the east, is blessed with a culture rooted in the mountains. It offers panoramic views, moderate ups and downs and is perfect for all sorts of outdoor pursuits from trail riding by bicycle to gravel riding, trekking, trail running, and mountain stream fishing. It is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts and has played host to a nascent bicycle movement in the past couple of years. A notable MTB park has opened in the area, and an organization has emerged to conserve the area for future generations while carving out trails for their own riding. Bicycles aside, the abundant satoyama lifestyle fashioned by creators with their own unique aesthetic sense is fast gaining attention.

Beyond the Ina Valley, the Chuo Alps loom large amongst the clouds.
Stowing bikes onto the GMLVAN C-01’s cycle carrier. Pictured is the gravel frame “CG” from CLAMP’s original brand “C by CLAMP”.
“CLAMP” is a pioneer in the outdoor and motorcycle scene in Minami Shinshu. 
Owner of the store is Takemura-san (left.)

To sample van life and biking in the Ina Valley, we loaded up our bikes on the roof carrier of a GMLVAN C-01 (Nissan NV200) and headed to Ina City, Nagano Prefecture. Guiding us through the area is Nobuhiro Takemura who runs CLAMP, a bike and outdoor store at the forefront of the local biking scene. An outdoorsman who loves to ski and mountain bike in the backcountry, Takemura has been steadily working to popularize mountain recreation in Ina since he opened his store 10 years ago. The seeds he has sown have sprouted all at once in the past couple of years.

Riding the “GLOP Ante.” course on the original “CM” mountain bike.

The first spoke of our tour was GLOP Ante., a mountain bike park closely linked with “CLAMP.” This is a technical park focusing on skill-building for beginners to advanced bikers; top riders from Japan’s MTB scene are involved in the supervision and creation of the courses. Among them is a young downhill rider, Naoto Tatenda, who has been frequenting “CLAMP” since he was in junior high school – a testament to the seeds that “CLAMP” has sown.

Fully flatten the cargo area for chill out time. Grab 40 winks or just relax in between drives.  A unique way to spend time in the customized GMLVAN C-01.
Park up and make a base. The beauty of van life is that you can have coffee in a hammock, go biking in the surrounding area – the choice is yours.
Lunch in the van is a vacuum-packed rice dish featuring local Ina ingredients. Simply boil the package in hot water and tuck in –  perfect for the outdoors. The recipes are always changing to reflect the seasons.
Aiku Otake runs  “le petit marché” restaurant and a cottage “mökki” where you can stay overnight in the Ina mountains. Don’t miss out on his mouth-watering European cuisine!

As you ascend the slope from CLAMP in the center of Ina toward the Southern Alps, you will see a delightful mountain lodge reminiscent of an auberge in some European country. 

A bicycle and fishing buddy of Takemura, Aiku Otake runs “le petit marché” restaurant serving European regional cuisine and “mökki,” a cottage where guests can stay overnight. He loves to work with his hands and is adept at mountain pursuits, farming, hunting, fishing, and carpentry, making him the Thoreau of the Ina Valley. Here, we enjoy nutrient-rich dishes made with local ingredients such as vegetables and herbs grown in the forest at an altitude of about 1,000 meters, and sweetfish caught in the clear streams. The table groans with a variety of dishes, including the exquisite “Chicken thigh and cashew nut terrine,” “Brambolak (Czech-style potato pancake) and prosciutto ham,-hard to find anywhere else. He also serves up “Chilled ayu confit,” which is perfect for the season, and “Paella di chicken wing,” with an irresistible roasted chicken flavor. He also serves seasonal delights such as wild vegetables in the spring and mushrooms in the fall.

He pairs his cuisine with a cider from Kamoshika Cidre, made with locally grown apples. Nagano Prefecture has always excelled at brewing fruit wine, and in recent years cider has become increasingly popular. Kamoshika Cidre is a cidery in Ina that employs the painstaking Champagne method (a technique that produces delicate bubbles through secondary fermentation in the bottle rather than by adding carbon dioxide gas). “Perfect for grilled pork dishes and equally suitable for BBQs. Ciders are surprisingly easy to pair with any dish,” enthuses Kohei Irikura of Kamoshika Cidre. They are currently developing flavored ciders using blueberries and blackcurrants, and this fall they plan to start preparing apple brandy using a distiller brought in from the Cognac region.

With moderate ups and downs and unpaved roads, the area around Ina City is ideal for gravel bikes.
“Forest Trails” holds rides and maintains trails in Tatsuno town. Their activities draw a wide range of ages from junior high school students to people in their 60s.

Our final destination was the town of Tatsuno, located at the northernmost tip of the Ina Valley. Here, moves are afoot to develop desolate woodlands into a zone where people can let loose. Leading this initiative is “Forest Trails,” a voluntary collective of local mountain bikers. “Once a month, we clear out the brush and thin the forest in areas where we have permission from the owner of the mountain, and then ride the trails,” explains Motoyoshi Takeuchi, one of the group’s founding members. In addition to selling logs, they also process surplus timber it into building materials at a local sawmill and cultivate log shiitake mushrooms. In doing so, they aim to realize a system in which people and nature can coexist in a better way by harnessing the bounty of the forests. Their endeavors have won recognition, with the local community now requesting them to thin the forest and preserve the environment. This new style of “maintain and play” seems likely to spread out further from here. “Sandwiched between the two Alps ranges, the Ina Valley is not only blessed with a variety of playing places, but also functions as a horizontal link in a zone that is long and narrow from north to south. It’s fair to say that biking culture has taken root because of the way “CLAMP” has catalyzed these connections.” (Noriake Akahane of “Forest Trails”) 

A treasure-trove of outdoor fun, the Ina Valley is a place where both van life and cycle trips can be savored seamlessly. Load up your bikes, hammocks, and outdoor coffee set, and hit the road to find your very own slice of paradise.

249-1 Yamadera, Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
TEL: 0265-96-0109
GLOP Ante.
7227-1412 Yokoyama, Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
TEL: 050-3033-3819
le petit marché
1777-557 Tomiken, Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
Kamoshika Cidre
10955-14 Yokoyama, Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
TEL: 0265-73-0580

Gordon Miller Motors. Creating ready to order vans that are: natural, flexible, unique, and will be by your for decades. Creating the seeds for a healthy 'Van Life'.
text | Ryoko Kuraishi photography & videography | Masaru Furuya