Coast to Coast on the Cub

Another Golden Week, and another opportunity to ride from the Pacific Coast of Japan via just over 500Km of twisties to the Japan Sea – from Odawara to Joetsu – and just to add to the fun, this time I did it on my new 125cc Honda Hunter Cub.

The Twistybutt has always been an interesting 2 days because for me, no two have been the same and this time, trading in the Tracer for the Cub was going to make a huge difference for sure.

The Build Up

Preparation went pretty well, I’d been doing some runs through the Tsubaki line and around Hakone to get used to the Cub on winding slopes and learned a few things such as not completely rolling off the throttle uphill unless really necessary since it doesn’t have the world’s greatest pick up with 9 horses, and perhaps because of the riding position and the nature of the bike and its tyres, going down steep corners with any kind of speed can be a little nerve wracking at times.

Aside from that, it’s a fun bike to ride in the twisties once you get a bit of practice in, so come the day I felt relatively well prepped.

Maps are always fun, and as always the biker brains over at TE issued the routes for both the 500Km and 650Km routes. Don’t ask me about the 650Km option – I’ve never done it, and likely never will (until I finally prep for an 18 hour day…really, how does anyone do 650Km of this?)

I mention maps because you need to know how maps, map files, map apps and devices and all that work before you turn up. I have a bit of a page about it here.

On the day…

So at dawn – near 5am – we gathered. For me that mean’t almost an hours riding the backstreets mostly in the dark – no fast toll roads or expressways for us mere 125cc riders. Fortunately again the weather was great – and more on that later.

One of the great things about this ride is that each year you get to see those people who you haven’t seen for a while, and it’s not uncommon to make a team on the morning – in fact I was planning to ride with one friend, and another person I knew was there, but their riding partner had to drop out due to sickness, so we invited him along, though with the massive caveat that I was going to be on 125cc time. Speaking of the Cub, there is actually a pretty active contingent each year, and I was kind of honoured to be asked to ride with them, but I know their pace, and as a Cubster newbie, I knew I wasn’t going to keep up with them. Maybe next year … maybe next year.

…and we’re off.

Being on a slower bike, and just being a relatively slower rider, I’m used to and quite comfortable waving the quicker riders past me, and this year was no different. There’s a lot of talented people around for sure.

It’s always nice to get those first 50Km under your belt, and a couple of hours of riding to warm up for the veritable all you can eat twisty-fest for the day. For our small group, we munched along taking in the side view of old man Fuji, winding up to the Tenkachaya tea shop. It wasn’t open of course, but it’s a breath taking view on any day.

Following that, it’s down into Kofu and some suburban riding, before getting back into the mountains again, and that’s the model for many hours – beautiful landscapes when you can take your eyes off the next corner which is likely only a few metres away, with the exception of some of the farmlands, which can have what looks like a whole kilometre of straight road, which is an odd sight anywhere on the main island of Honshu.

As you can see from the photos, the weather was superb – in fact it was a little too superb – up to 28degrees C at times in the valleys. At stops for fuel and convenience stops, we were opening jacket vents and checking layers, aware that the highest point of the trip was yet to come and it can indeed get chilly.

As it was, we moved on, just that endless ribbon of asphalt of varying levels of quality streaming past, and we were making decent time for a low capacity lead bike – I figured that since it was me causing the other two to be so slow, I should at least take point and make sure we were on the route, so the others could enjoy the view a little more.

It’s also worth noting that on any group tour, there’s always that person who doesn’t cancel his signal / indicator / winker in a timely fashion, and I’m ashamed to say that this year I was that person. It’s one thing I need to work on with the Cub – the light is just out of your vertical peripheral vision and is completely silent and along with a switch which sometimes in gloves doesn’t cancel means I have to work on that!

The Top

It’s such a long ride you get to see all manner of different vistas, and one of my favourites is just north of Kusatsu and the 292 road as it climbs through broken volcanic areas – complete with shelters – with the remains of the winters snow still at the sides. Coming up from the south side of the range, climbing through the snow walls to the highest point of any national road in Japan. Of course, I had to take a photo of the Cub there – it had earned it (I got one of the Tracer in the same place, several years ago).

Even though there’s quite a few upward hills still to climb, this sort of marks the top of the trip, and you feel like it’s downhill from here, with about three hours riding left to go, which would mean doing the last serious set of twisties through the fields in the darkness, but we’ll get to that.

Unexpectedly, it wasn’t that cold up at the top either, so once we got down to the Yamanouchi village – a place I usually come through on the way to snowboard trips – we stopped for a bit longer, checked our layers, and prepared for that one last push.

These last sections are rural – the road quality is generally good but there are virtually no street lights, safety barriers or other road markers, and as there are almost no cats-eyes in Japan, its dark and you really have to stay focussed for these last twisties, which is its own challenge given we’d now been on the road for twelve hours.

This illustrated another issue with the Cub – it’s lights, including full-beam aren’t great – it’s fine for urban and sub-urban riding, but it could do with a little more lumens, so that’s on the future mod list. Fortunately, having two other riders meant that between us we could easily illuminate enough of the road, and we weren’t exactly charging through and could take our time and enjoy it.

I even enjoyed that random metre of gravel across the road in the middle of nowhere – at least there was a sign!

Down into Joetsu

Just after this it levelled out a little, through a stretch of farmland, then it’s on to Route 18 and into the town of Joetsu and the hotel.

If there’d been some daylight, I might have done the beach, but I’ve been there in the dark before and … well, it’s just dark!

In total then it had taken us 14 hours from Odawara to Joetsu, and it had been thankfully stress free, and there’d been no incidents, which is always good news.

There’s usually a few beers being drunk at the usual hotel bars, but for me, it was time to just sort my gear out and get some sleep – another long day tomorrow!


The Day After

Of course going to Joetsu is one thing, but what to do the next day? How to get home? Quite a few people continue the tour and take a few more days to ride around the nearby mountains or head up the coast. Usually I’d do some expressway, then jump off, check out some twisties and repeat all the way back home, but of course this time that wasn’t an option as the Cub can’t go on expressways by law, and so I knew I was staring at around 420Km of main roads, and potential traffic jams on the way back with it being Golden Week.

One other tradition of sorts for some of the Twistybutters is the morning meet up at Starbucks. Yes, it’s quite tongue in cheek to kick of the next day at the home of the BMW GS riders! Joking of course, but we do meet up, have a morning beverage before we all go our seperate ways.

For me, I followed Route 18 south, then cut through to Chino City, Route 20 a hop over to Gotemba and then Odawara and home – quickly said, but another 11 hours of riding. There was a little traffic, but actually I was quite pleased and surprised how little there was, so it was a fun ride. I rode with a friend for the first half, before he made for the expressway to try to get home himself at a reasonable hour and I finished again in darkness, but a decent sense of accomplishment.

So there we are, another Twistybutt – good riding, good times and good people. Also, knowing I could use my Cub for this kind of thing is nice to know.

Till next year…

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