Tag Archives: biketour

A Quick Run on the Skyline

It’s been a few months since I’ve been out on my bike for more than running errands and such, so when I was able to negotiate a whole morning to get out on the road, I had to decide how best to use the opportunity. I was tempted to just do a few hours of ‘take random turns’ up in the mountains, which is what I like doing, but it’s unpredictable time wise, especially on the return leg. Instead, I decided to go for a tried and tested – but fun – route.

Getting on the bike at 7am on Sunday morning means less, but not zero traffic – as I went down the 134 coast road, that Shonan is a surfer place is very apparent, especially at this time of year – lots of people in wetsuits on bicycles, with boards strapped in U shaped holders on the bicycles, people in cars just lazily drifting along, checking out the beach.

It was basically a nice, sunny morning, fairly warm, but not too hot, riding in my mesh jacket and Draggin jeans, in good sunshine, a nice clear view. It’s a good road to go down, you have Fuji ahead of you and the beach on the left, and year round there are a smattering of surfers in the water, fishermen (and women) on the beach, and the universal collection of people walking their dogs on the sand.

Some of the faster roads are toll based, but usually only a couple of hundred yen, and I have ETC on my bike, so I just slow down and go through, rather than in the old days when I’d have to stop and fumble for change in my tank bag with my gloves on. That’s always frustrating, and in the winter and in the rain, it’s a real hassle. On the Seisho Bypass there’s a small service station where a lot of bikers stop to meet up, and sometimes I stop off for the cinnamon coffee, made by an energetic vending machine which plays you upbeat, potentially Colombian music whilst you wait for the drink to be reconstituted. Today though I was against the clock a little, so I skipped the coffee and decided to head straight to my first real stop, turning off at Hayakawa, and heading up the Toyo Tyres turnpike (toll again) to the rest stop at the top which houses the Dammtrax Cafe.

View from the Dammtrax
View from the Dammtrax

As I got closer to the turnpike the road was getting damp and then wet, and at the top of the ‘mountain’ near the Cafe it was even raining a little and once more I was glad I keep my rain gear under the seat, just in case things got worse, but in the event the rain stayed off. The Dammtrax Cafe is in the corner of a food court in the main building, and is a homage to the Ace Cafe near London (where I really would like to go). They do a decent drink and a hot dog too, and the whole place has some great views. Whilst it’s a tourist spot in general, like most of the Hakone area, there’s always bikers and car enthusiasts there – the day I went there was a large BMW meet-up with some of the BMW reps there for what looked like an organized ride. It’s always a place to get into general conversation about bikes, custom work, and pick up some good routes and tips.

When I came back to my bike, I noticed the one next to mine was a Triumph Street Triple, with a great tank decal.

A Nice Triumph Tank
A Nice Triumph Tank

The weather was still wet, but most of the road was OK – no real surface water, but for someone of my skill level, definitely reason to be careful on the corners. Off I went then to the Izu Skyline, another toll road which runs a little over 40Km north to south down the spine of Izu – it’s all hills and twisties, and thus tremendous fun on a bike. For me, on a non sports bike though, I keep an eye out for people coming up fast behind me, and keep an and let them run past – we’re all just out for a good ride. Yes, it’s a fast road.

Enter the Skyline
Enter the Skyline

The route does give great views, and there’s a good selection of roadside stopping points for photographers. There’s also a selection of service stations, including this somewhat derelict one; it always reminds me of some neo-Communist building for some reason, grey concrete surrounded by grass broken car parks, a monument perhaps to Bubble times.

When Rest Stops Die
When Rest Stops Die

More than anything, it’s a fun route to ride down, slow or fast, beautiful tree lined stretches, which open onto the sides of mountains, with great curves and vistas which make you want to stop and take a photo.

Get to the bottom and there’s really not much there, beyond a sort of derelict cafe which may or may not be open at certain times of year – at least it’s never had any sign of life inside it when I’ve been there, despite the constant white van parked outside.

After reaching the bottom and having a nice cup of tea from my flask, I turned right around and worked north again, retracing my exact route back past the Dammtrax, back down the turnpike, and back down normal straight roads and traffic, back to Shonan having thoroughly enjoyed it.

I usually say that having a motorbike is very liberating in Japan, just taking the next turns at random, but even so, there are good mornings to be had just taking a route you’ve done plenty of time and just enjoying the bike and the road.

Tea is also good.

The Best Way to Meet Japan

The best way to get the feel of a country a little bit better is to physically travel it.  How a country feels – the people in the place – in it’s capital, or a major city, compared to the farmlands, the mountains, the sea-ports or wherever, can give you a markedly different impression of the country, for better or worse. See any many aspects as you can really increases your appreciation for it.

On a small scale, that’s pot-luck ordering in restaurants. I used to walk into Ramen shops and order whatever the person next to me was having by pointing at it, as even when I could read the menu, I still didn’t always understand what it was. I never got overcharged. In fact, sometimes, I’m sure they undercharged me for even doing this.

We go up the scale, and travel by rail; Japan is a gift for doing this because the rail systems are simply amazing, and it’s a pleasant way to travel, either bimbling long in local trains, hitting the Shinkansen for that faster feeling, or taking your time on one of the long scenic runs like the Cassiopeia.

Some visitors and foreign residents to Japan hire or buy a car and see more of the country that way – and it is a great way – though the traffic jams are sometimes not so fun, and you very quickly understand the fetish for in car entertainment. Sorting that license out, or using an International if that’s legal for you does put some people off.

Somewhere in all that though, there is the motorbike, and I wonder if some people overlook it. Frankly, that’s a mistake – if you truly want to know a country – get on a motorbike.

I should say now that this isn’t a tutorial on getting a license and all that – better people than I have already invented that wheel, so pop on over to GaijinRiders, or SBKJapan, and the enthusiasts there will help you out, and the ‘Motorbiking in Japan‘ blog, if only because he chronicles going from not being a biker, to loving his bike.

For me, I’ve always loved bicycles, so the idea of two wheels has always appealed to me, but I came late to motorbiking; I spent two years on a 50cc Zoomer around Tokyo in my early thirties, and then decided I would do the 400cc licence in 2006 and bought myself the dependable CB400 Super Four, and then did the large licence in late 2007. I really wish I’d done them both sooner. Still, there’s hope – I really enjoy reading the books of Ted Simon, who in his early 40’s went on a four year round the world trip, and chronicled it in the book “Jupiters Travels” and several follow up books which I’ve managed to collect (with the help of my wife!) including the one for his second round the world trip at the age of 70! I’ve quoted him before in this blog, but to repeat this from Mr. Simon, from the travelogue ‘Long Way Round’ , this sums up why I like motorbikes :

“I think the motorcycle is best because it puts you so much in contact with everything. You experience, much more closely, the nature of the terrain, you can almost taste the cultures that you’re riding through. Because it exposes you to the climate, to the wind and rain, it’s a much more complete experience.”

In a more humble context, new family life restricts my riding and where I now live, I can’t commute, but I do love to get out for days, or even just half days and run out on the bike. I’ve written on here a couple of times about some of the places I’ve been, and seen, but perhaps what I haven’t mentioned is that I couldn’t have done any of it without the bike. Some of the weird roads I’ve travelled, some of the very odd tunnels, tea houses I’ve stopped at, accidental off road excursions and so on, none of it would have been possible without the bike. Really, some of the places either aren’t signposted, or aren’t on a map, or you wouldn’t think to take a car down. On a bike, you just turn, when you want to stop, you just stop – parking isn’t much of an issue, and even the rain doesn’t stop the fun.

It’s not just the riding and the environment though, it’s the reaction of people, the more obscure the place you go, the more interesting riding there becomes.

In a forest. Somewhere.
In a forest. Somewhere.

In early January this year, I took a freezing run down the coast road here in Kanagawa; that’s the literal meaning of ‘freezing’ too. I stopped off for some coffee and got into a great conversation with the few other bikers there, as to how completely mad we were, or how truly inspired – we decided on the former. Plodding along at 80Km/h with a cold wind, looking at the beautiful Pacific Ocean, with Mt. Fuji in the clear distance is fantastic, and the frosting of ice on your helmet, and that steady chill on your hands fades away. A bit. Actually, on that trip I remember stopping at a McDonalds at the side of the road for another hot drink, and even the staff asked if I was OK on the bike. I took the coffee outside, walked through a passageway under the coast road, and spent the time it took me to drink the coffee talking to some people fishing off the quayside.  Does this happen if you’re in a car, or does having biker leathers on key into something which means you’re  safe, because you’re out there? My Japanese isn’t great, but I’m fairly outgoing – I’ll talk about anything, so for me , being on the bike has been great to just meet people doing their thing.

wasabi farm

On a different tack, a friend and I were just picking random turns in Izu, and ended up in a valley, where the river seemed to be full of vegetables, with a little rail track in the air with a cart. From a few signs we’d seen on the way for shops, we assumed this was a wasabi ‘field’. It was completely fascinating – I’d heard they prospered in running water, but I’d never seen it, and since the whole area was serviced by the traditional farmer’s vehicles – tiny white Suzuki vans, I suspect many others haven’t either, apart from the more tourist ones, unless you were on a bike.

Meeting up with fellow bikers, just by accident is always interesting – the bike itself is a topic of conversation. I remember talking to a man in his late sixties at a service station, who pulled up on an old Harley Davidson, with his wife on the back. We were just talking about bikes, and I asked him whether he’d thought about getting a Prius as I see a lot of retired people driving them. His response was a hysterical mime of the kicking of cars and the throttling of owners: “Prius drivers are idiots!!”. You see all these old men, maybe former senior businessmen or something when they worked, and imagining them in a Prius, blocking traffic somewhere, and you realise that the cool, interesting ones spurned that, and keep to two wheels, and are enormous fun to be around.

It is a good crowd too, a certain camaraderie; I’m fortunate enough to be on the GaijinRiders forum, and to have been involved with two Toy Runs to benefit children’s homes, because they could. (There’s something beyond culture which means that kids love the sound of a hundred plus motorbikes revving up.)

Down By The Beach
Down By The Beach

Anyway, I think you get the idea – I love biking. Not for speed or to talk specs or anything like that, just because I like being out there, plodding along, feeling the environment around me, and hoping I remembered to put my rain gear back under the seat.

First Bike Run of 2011

So whilst many 20 year olds prepped for the Coming Of Age Day national holiday, I awoke early, got a nice hot cup of tea, wrapped up well and headed off for my first run on the bike in 2011. Even though I’m still a novice and have a basic bike (a 2006 Honda CB400 SuperFour) I do like to get out all year round. Knowing it would be chilly, I went for two layers under my leathers, and set off.

For the sake of the blog, let’s call a ‘run’ something over 100Km door to door, and a ‘trip’ something over 250Km? This one ran to approx. 124Km., so not a long one.

I only had the morning due to family committments in the afternoon, but wanted to see how far I could comfortably get. The run down Route #1 and then out onto 135 – the coastal road – was OK, but it was already apparent how cold it really was, and the roads were wet.

That said, that road is awesome to see the sun rise, the early fishermen (and women) on the beach, and on the clear days, Mt. Fuji in front, and to the right of you.

After a cold start, I pulled in to the service station at about 7.45 on the Seisho Bypass just past Kouzu to get a cup of coffee from my flask and see who was around. This is a very popular meeting point for people – especially bikers – as there’s a special bike parking area and quite a bit of space, but there were only four of us there. Four. Usually there’d be ten times that. The other three riders were all in serious winter riding gear so either I was part of some dedicated few, or I was being a bit foolhardy/optimistic.

A Cold Morning Sunrise
A Cold Morning Sunrise
Only A Few Takers
Only A Few Takers

One thing I did do was to put my rain gear on as an extra layer, and the effect was nigh on instant – reducing the wind chill significantly, and proving once more why you should always keep rain gear on your bike!

Back on the road the only issue was dodging the snow clumps blowing off the roofs of cars flying past – really, is it such a difficult task to clean your whole car? Good luck when you brake.

I will admit that my next route was ridiculously optimistic – I went up to the Toyo Tires turnpike entrance, despite the apparent snow on the sides of the roads, and the generally wet surface; looking at the mountains towards Hakone and Odawara, it had obviously had a decent amount of overnight snow. Unsurprisingly, the chap on the gate, looking at bit bemused at myself and the biker rolling up behind me, explained that the road was closed due to snow and ice higher up. So that was Plan A down, so I went to Plan B, which was to continue a nice run down Route 135.

It was still cold, but the sun was a bit higher now, around 9am, and getting a little warmer, however, that road is twisty and the surface was wet and glinting in the sun, and at least once I could feel the back wheel slipping on the white paint from zebra crossings, so between those (and there are many), the manhole covers placed conspicuously on the best riding line, and the twisties, it was a good riding workout.

At about 9.30am, I saw a small McDonalds by the side of the road and decided that this would be my halfway turn around point. Now, I don’t usually like McDonalds  but at that time of morning, feeling a bit chilled, I quite fancied a muffin and hot coffee, except I seemed to have stopped at one of the few McD’s which doesn’t have the breakfast menu, so I settled for the smallest hamburger I could order with the largest coffee (no fries). I will also say that the music being played was a pretty decent attempt at an 80’s rock revival which took me back to school disco days.

After the food and coffee I decided to walk a little before getting back on the bike and resting the stomach back on the tank, and followed an under road track to the beach  where I chatted to a couple of people fishing off the pier. It really was a beautiful day for it too by this time.

View from the Pier
View from the Pier

The ride back was fairly relaxed, even if it was getting a little congested by 10.30 and again, there’s plenty of driver’s who don’t see the point in cleaning snow off the roof. I did stop off at the Nexco Tachibana services for a break and a coffee, and I’m happy to report that whilst the esoteric vending machines which play invigorating Colombian music are still there, the toilets and rest area have been renovated. The outside  sitting area has now been encased in glass, so you can get out of the wind a little more. Well done Nexco.

So it was a short run, and hopefully I’ll get somewhere new and a bit further away next time, which at this point is likely to be next month but it was worth it to get out and feel a bit of road under the wheels.

For those interested – Seijin no Hi – became an official national holiday after the Second World War, and celebrates people who have turned 20 since the previous January 15th, and it generally the age people can smoke and drink and do all those other fun things.

On the ferry on the bike

For the first time, I rode my motorbike onto a ferry. It was actually a lot of fun for such a small event.

Kicking off at a rather early 7am start, I went down route 134 to the Tokyo Wan Ferry at the bottom of the peninsula below Yokosuka and took the 45 minute ferry over to southern Chiba. You just get your ticket for 1,600yen for a 400cc bike, and then ride on, they’ll tether your bike to the hull, and you can sit and have a cup of tea upstairs, and then just ride off on the other side – just in time for a bit of breakfast from Gusto.

From there it was a nice ride along the coast – which is quite different to Kanagawa’s on the other side of the bay – and then finally up onto the on-ramp for the Tokyo Aqualine, which is an over-water bridge on the Chiba side for about a kilometre, then into a tunnel under Tokyo bay to the mainland which pops out between Tokyo and Yokohama, so from there it was a quick run back via Sachiura NAPS. The only downside to the Aqualine? A price tag of 2,400yen.

Estimated trip length: 162Km

Over the edge
Over the edge

My bike on the ferry

Through Wasabi Country

So we rolled for the first bike day out of 2010. Actually, this is the first day out I’ve ever done in January. It’s a part of my ‘all year round’ biking push for this year to get more kilometres under my belt – more experience on the bike.  DG joined me on his trusty Skywave, and under a crisp – rather chilly –  blue sky, we headed out onto Route 1 with only a general plan – we wanted to head down the Izu peninsula and take a look at a hotel of all things, called Ernest house which some on the gaijinriders.com forum had recommended.

The coastal road down Shonan gets you some beautiful views, so we made a point to stop on the Seishou by-pass just to take some photos and have a cup of coffee. For 200 yen we got some kind of coffee / chocolate fusion with cinnamon from one of those vending machines which has a video screen showing the coffee being ground etc., whilst playing a pretty catchy latin American tune. Almost surprisingly, I have to say it was actually was a very decent drink. I’ve been past this service area on every run down this road but never actually pulled in, so even though we hadn’t been on the road very long, I thought it was good stop – a lot of bikers, who are always friendly, and a fairly decent cross section of machines. Again, my CB400SF was pretty much the smallest thing there.

shonan beach

We worked our way don’t the coastal road  [135] in minimal traffic, only slightly missing our turn off onto #59, which at least gave us chance to have a bit of breakfast in a McDonalds (shame!) whilst we decided where we were. Then, fueled up on caffeine and cholestrol, we made our way down #12 and finally onto #59.

Road #59 is a lot of fun for me – it cuts through wasabi growing country, through meandering hills and valleys, over rivers and on roads which though tarmac, often get very bumpy and are usually a single lane, with those convex mirrors to see a little around blind corners. You can stop pretty much anywhere and buy wasabi, and in a few places actually see a wasabi farm – we saw a very impressive one which was effectively in a river, since I understand that wasabi requires a lot of fresh water to grow.

wasabi farm

Its a nice, slow, windy road, with great vistas. However, not much in the way of cafe’s or fuel! There are however, a selection of temples and shrines along the way, and down some side roads, so they were a bit of a photographic opportunity also.

sunset at the shrine

Right now it seems like they’re doing some work on the western part of the road, in fact, when I first did a run down it last year, a section was closed for post-earthquake repairs. That now seems largely done, though we did have to ride across a short stretch of gravel, but down the road we were stopped by another road closed sign which we elected to heed, so we turned back and took another route. I’d also done this road previously – another tree-lined winding road, which pops out back near the 414, main north-south Shimoda/Izu road.

Down the 414 we went, around the bizarre looping bridge (I think it’s called the Kawazu Nanadaru Bridge),  and kept on the road, until it met the #135/#136 junction where we took the latter for a few Kms until we went down a smaller road to the ocean and found Earnest House. The place itself looked very nice, very close to the beach, and you can imagine the whole area packed in the summer. In an adjacent building is the Paradise cafe, a nice bare wood place, where we got some good food for a not completely outrageous price.  We chatted with the staff, what seemed a brother and sister team, who both seemed to speak some English, and we ended up having one of  those conversations in both languages. A good bunch of people. I think we’re already planning a trip down there for the Spring with the family.

The trip back was uneventful – it got dark and cold, and the traffic level was a lot higher as usual on the #135, but we still made OK time, slipping down the side, and  pulling in for hot drinks as required.  All in all, a good run, and a great start to the year!

Door to door: 328Km.