Twistybutt 8 – Coast to Coast 2018

TL;DR: An awesome 500Km run across Japan, having a great time on bikes with friends before food and beer. No bad way to spend a day.

The Tunnel
The Tunnel

“This is not an easy ride! You will be on the road for the best part of daylight and maybe more than 12 hours with little time to just cruise and zone out. It is a true feast of twisties that even gluttons have trouble swallowing.” – Touge Express

The Coast to Coast Twistybutt is an informal event put on each year for bikers in Japan by the Touge Express site. We would be riding from sea level at Odawara in western Kanagawa prefecture by the Pacific Ocean, all the way over the spine of Japan to 2,172m on the highest national road in the country, and then on to Joetsu in Niigata prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast.

This was my second attempt at the 500Km route, having clocked in a 15 hour time last year, rolling in tired and wet to the hotel at 8pm. I loved it, I was hooked.

This year I had a few goals – to ride better, to ride smarter, but overall, to be better prepared.

I’d trimmed my gear down from not-so-much, to downright minimal, so that instead of a waistbag and a camping drybag, I was just using a jacket pocket and one of my bicycle’s panniers, down to puncture kits, tools, fasteners, safety kit and a change of clothes. I’d spent more time really understanding my navigation app (OSMAnd+), and understood how gpx GPS tracks worked on it, and spent a few hours in Kurviger.de making a track from the ‘official’ route.

This year I was riding with an old friend (CS), who has been riding far longer than me, but this was his first go on the C2C. We woke around 3am, got prepped, got that all important cup of tea in, and with gear safely strapped to the bikes, we set off into the dark, under that weird illumination of a full moon.

The few other bikes we saw en route were all fellow twistybutters it seemed, and rolling down the coast road to Odawara we were all waves and enthusiasm.

We met at the base of a toll road as it has a small but convenient car park, which we promptly filled with just over 80 motorcycles, from 110cc SuperCub copies, to elegant and classic Kawasaki’s, to big BMW 1200GSs and pretty much everything in between.

It’s a totally international field of riders as well as the machines, and everyone took photos, exchanged last minute tips, realised flaws in their plans and eagerly awaited the off. After a reminder from the Touge Express team about road etiquette and safety,  at around 5.15am we set off with a mere 500Km of twisties ahead.

Into the forest
Into the forest

I again found the first 50Km awkward as I was navigating for the two of us, and generally I don’t ride following a route, so I had to remember to check my turns and not disappear along a beautiful road, but which wasn’t the specific beautiful road I should be on.

(It also became apparent from the profanity levels at stops, that my riding partner’s Google Map / Smartphone system was not working for him at all, so it was looking like I’d be leading the whole way!)

Bounding along on my Tracer with CS’s Triumph Tiger 1200 Explorer’s familiar lights in my mirror felt good in the brisk morning sun, as we twisted towards Fuji, and I had to keep to a point I’d made: I wasn’t going to stop for photos every few kilometres early on like I had the previous year. It’s a difficult promise to keep as many of the views we’d pass by are stunning, and at one point we skirted Fuji, with low cloud barreling down a valley towards it looking like a wave lapping up on a beach. OK, maybe I should’ve have gotten that picture.

(I should also say we were riding with another chap, EP, but for reasons unknown he took another route, but thankfully he made it to Joetsu! )

Fuji from the mist
Fuji from the mist

The roads on the south end of the route were decent as some are well travelled tourist roads, so we made good time as at this early hour there were just a few cars around, mainly photographers looking for that early morning Fuji shot.

After the initial barrage of turns, as we neared Kofu, we traversed a kind of valley bottom between mountain ranges, and you’re reminded that there exist flat, and even straight roads, which suddenly feel wrong. It wasn’t many kilometers though before we were back climbing up into new mountains and more touge, meandering through small villages.

We really only stopped for fuel or for a quick snack, drinks and to stretch our legs around every 100Km. At the 200Km stop for refreshments (and for CS to get caught with his trousers down again, adjusting his knee protectors), we encountered probably Japan’s most minimally stocked convenience store. It was like some homage to late eighties eastern bloc shops I remembered seeing – empty shelves, and half of what products they had were local wines and other alcohol. The staff though were two very friendly old ladies who chatted with us, and made a point of bringing out their personal rubbish bin when I was trying to find somewhere to throw some rubbish.

Corner Torii
Corner Torii

This kind of interaction seems normal when motorcycling here in Japan, everyone in the mountains just has time for people, and if you’re on the road, then that’s a talking point. When we took on fuel around 300Km, we had a good chat with the old gents running the place about why we were on the road, where in Japan we had set off from, how long it had taken, and where we were going. In fact we were quite appreciative as we’d passed a few petrol stations which were either closed for good, or closed for the Golden Week holiday which had just started. (Oddly, I really start looking for fuel when I’m down to half, even though half would still likely get me ~ 150Km.)

We bumped into a fellow Twistybutt’r just a few kilometers later when we were looking for some more refreshments at a large Seven Eleven, and he was relaxing with a cigarette, his CBR600 parked up, and with that riding position for a few hundred kilometres, I can see why you’d be stretching out. We exchanged tales of the ride thus far, and other riders we’d seen.

One thing we’d both seen was another biker on a big BMW coming the other way with his pannier wide open at the back. I remembered as I was waving at him and pointing at the back of my bike and him. I don’t think I got my point across.

Detour
Detour

One reason for that is the ‘biker wave’ – we wave at each other as a salutation as we pass, to say hello, or to pass on information, but sadly I don’t know what the correct gesture is for ‘your side box is open and I think everything has fallen out’. I think he just interpreted my motions as sheer enthusiasm.

It has to be said though, as the day went on, the road quality started to get patchy. Or indeed non existent. We had a stretch of about 100m of basically gravel and stone downhill where they were looking to put asphalt down at some point. Going down this wouldn’t have been much of an issue for either of us, except that there were a couple of cars coming up who apparently had to be in the centre of the track, and would not negotiate, so we were left to get through the rough side sections. It’s all good practice.

I should say at this point that there isn’t much traffic on most of this route, and the vast, vast majority of cars on twisties will move to the side and wave you past. These were the exceptions to that.

We went over some quite badly maintained roads, down through some valleys where there was plenty of debris on the road, as well as the required tar snakes, ripples of asphalt and general subsidence leading to significant drops from mountainsides.

It’s part of the deal – we have great mountains and thus touge and twisties because of Japan’s location on the rim of fire, and the typhoons and long deep winters take their toll. Indeed this year there was a change of route due to one road being closed for nearby volcanic activity. That’s the trade-off – not all of these places can be maintained beyond adequate levels, and I’m fine with that.

We pushed on, savouring the views. At one point I got myself caught in a ragged trench running down the centre of the road when I was looking to overtake a farm vehicle, and had to wrestle the front wheel out of the rut and get back into a lane before anything came the other way, I managed it, but it made me a lot more wary of passing in that area.

Snow Walls
Snow Walls

Almost the only photo stop we made was at the snow walls on route 292, not far from the highest national road in Japan sign, and a truly beautiful view to see, and something of a tourist attraction, and after several hours of there not being much humanity, it’s a friendly reminder. I have to say this is my favourite section I think, riding between banks of snow, awesome vistas, small streams of melt rolling across the road, and the dedicated skiers getting the last runs of the year in before strapping things back to their cars and heading down, whilst the hotels reconfigure themselves for cycling and hiking season.

Winding down into the next valley, and cutting through a small town it was getting into later afternoon, and we were about to start on the last full set of twisties, which are mainly unmarked single lane farmers roads, and which the previous year I’d done in the dark, in the rain and hadn’t really enjoyed it. This time I was a few of hours earlier, it was dry, so I got to enjoy a wonderful ride down into Joetsu during the golden hours towards sunset, with the light bouncing off the fields and ponds.

We also passed a lady on a mobility scooter coming the other way.  Uphill. In the middle of nowhere. The biker spirit never leaves some people it seems.

Down the last
Down the last

The last section is a quick highway burn into the town itself, and we rolled into the Hotel car park literally twelve hours after we’d left Odawara, with the sun just about to set.

All that was left to do was a soak in the onsen and have a few beers with the other riders, make sure everyone was safe, exchange stories and bike scars and share a few laughs before getting some sleep, to be fresh again for the next day, where some would continue to other parts of Japan, but where I would be making my way back home.

All in All

It was another fantastic Twistybutt, good times with good people. It’s a great opportunity to challenge and improve your riding skills, or recognise where you need to put some work in. It’s also a good time to learn your bike, how to pack it, how to navigate on it, and if you’re riding with other riders, how to effectively communicate, or agree beforehand how you’ll proceed.

Navigation

The main thing I learned from last year’s coast to coast, which not only saves time, but boosts enjoyment on the day: knowing the route is everything.

This could be by running it beforehand, or just having a solid mental picture of the turns from studying a map of Touge Express’s route. It also includes having a method of navigation which you know and understand. For me this also included having a far better idea of how GPS tracks, routes and maps work.

Last year I had the source route (the golden master) on Google Maps, and I exported it from Furkot as a GPX route and imported it, seemingly successfully, into OSMAnd+. It didn’t work so well. OpenStreetMap and Google Maps are subtly different, and when I missed a turn my smartphone would then try to recalculate to the next waypoint, which may or may not be on the golden master route. I also didn’t fully understand some of OSMAnd+s options, further adding to route recalculation. It all added up to wasted time and missed turns.

This year I used Kurviger (which also uses OSM) to make a 1:1 track copy of the golden master, which then looked 100% correct on my phone, and I set OSMAnd+ to just use that, so if I missed a turn, it wouldn’t recalculate, it would just point to where I left the track. that was pretty much exactly what I wanted, and was the key to making the navigation portion a case of checking turns in advance, and actually in 500Km I only missed one turn as it was a fairly small hook turn in a forest, forcing us to do a U turn a hundred metres later.

Touge Express

Since I talk a lot about touge and twisties on here and in some of the articles I’ve had on other sites, I thought I should give a mention to a friend of mine who is the Touge master, and runs the blog ‘Touge Express‘.

Craig has done a lot of riding all over the world, and has sniffed out some of the best routes I’ve ever been on  so check out his site which has a lot of tips and route reports, so there’s plenty to go at.

(He also does excellent water proofing videos.)

A Year With The Tracer 900

On the road

It’s difficult to believe it’s been a year since I got my 2016 Yamaha MT-09 Tracer, but it really has been. What a great year too!

Getting down to business, so far I’ve put over 6,400Km (~4,000 miles) on the Tracer, which for me is pretty respectable in 12 months, so here’s a very quick mini-review of the experience so far.

“It’s a great motorcycle.”

There we are, nice and to the point. Done.

On the road

OK, maybe I should add something to that.

To ride, it’s fantastic, there’s plenty of torque and power coming out of that CP3 triple engine, and it never gets old winding it up on the twisties.

Of the three throttle modes, I’ve mostly just been leaving it in standard for most of my riding, though I do slip it into the B mode for heavy rain in the mountains, where it’s effective for that – there’s a much smoother roll on experience.

The A mode is fun, and yes, on the highways it’s useful, but honestly it’s a bit too enthusiastic for the way I ride day to day – I don’t ride aggressively, at most I’m around ‘decisive’, sometimes I drift into ‘plodding’.

I spent a bit of time setting the suspension up, and generally I’ve been pleased with it, and adjustments are simple, though at one extreme on the rear the C wrench provided meant I had to move the chain guard to adjust the pre-load. Only had to do it that once though.

The stock tyres, Dunlop OEM  D222 Sportmax, are OK. Coming from Pilot Road 2s, they don’t feel as good, but they’re certainly not bad. I am planning to swapping them out for Road 5s though.

I haven’t modded it much beyond adding some frame sliders so I can’t speak to the customising aspect, but the whole MT-09 range seems to get plenty of attention on the mod scene.

It’s all about the riding though, and the riding has been great, from the mountains to hours on the expressway, to trips around town, and nothing to fault really, the windscreen and front fairings provides a bit of wind deflection, which is good when I ride the coast roads, and the seat-height is pretty much the highest I’d feel comfortable on.

Have you dropped it?

Of course I have!  Nothing exciting – did a U turn on an incline, foot was on some loose stones and slipped, leading to one of those slow, inevitable lowerings which deserves a round of applause. Nothing damaged though, save a minor bend in the brake pedal.

Best ride so far?

It has to be the Coast 2 Coast Twistybutt. Over 500Km of touge twisties from the the Pacific to Japan Sea coasts in a day, and the Tracer did it with comfort and ease – this thing loves twisties, and if there’s one thing Japan has piles of, it’s twisties!

2 Up?

After sorting the suspension for my slightly over-fed self, a minor tweak for my significant other, and it’s a fine two-up bike, where reports say the pillion seat is comfortable with a decent view, but not out in the wind.  I tried throttle on B, but standard is still fine for two.

Downsides?

One odd thing for me might be the mirrors. They’re OK after you’ve messed around with them, if a bit narrow for me personally, but I found the stem nuts would vibrate loose now and then, once leading to the left side one spinning around whilst riding, forcing me to pull over and look for the correct spanner in the micro toolkit Yamaha provides – of course there wasn’t one which fit in there, so I bought one (17mm?) from a local DIY shop which has now saved me on a couple of days out.  Also, the fuse on the aux outputs are for 2A, so beyond a phone, USB etc., you may want to be careful. Don’t ask me how I know.

Let’s face it, if they’re the only downsides, that’s not too bad at all.

The way back

2017 Tokyo Toy Run

Last month a large group of us got together for our annual toy run in Kanagawa. I did a brief write -up on RideApart.com if you want to have a quick look.

I’ve done a few ride reports for the toy run on here previously: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and indeed 2017 made it our 9th continuous event!

Thanks as ever to the kids at the childrens homes for having us, and all those who rode in, or donated gifts.

 

 

 

Baby Face Frame Sliders

I’ve been looking around for some frame sliders for the Tracer, and indeed found quite a few which seemed to fit the bill with it being based on the fairly popular MT-09 and all.

As you could expect, the two two main types for my model were the ‘single bolt and puck’ type, and those which used two bolts per side with the slider puck somewhere in the middle on a bar or mount.   Despite being a little more expensive, I decided to go for the latter two-bolts-per-side type as I think they’d disperse any inpact force a little better, and frankly I quite like the look of them. I also thought it’d be something different to install, as I’d only had the single bolt type on previous bikes.

Truthfully, I’ve been lucky over the years not to drop or slide my bikes too often, but the Tracer is quite tall for me, and I’ve felt it almost go when doing some slow, tight U-turns down mountain roads which had suddenly stopped being roads, so once more I thought I’d get some sliders on, just in case.

After a bit of thinking, reading, more thinking, and several cups of tea, I’d narrowed it down to either a set from German manufacturer SW Motech, or some from a Japanese company called Baby Face. The Motech ones look nice, they’re well made and angular like the Tracer. The Baby Face ones look more traditional, with the more tubular style puck but the two piece bar is a very nice piece of engineering. Partly because they looked chunky, and partly because a friend is a distributor who tends to only represent decent kit, I thought I’d give the Japanese manufacturer BabyFace a go.  Price wise here in Japan they’re quite similar.

Slider Kit
The sliders arrived in a well packed box with the contents shown above – all in a kind of vacuum bubble wrap, and with some very basic instructions. Very. Basic. Those instructions had an odd blowup diagram of the assembly, some generic warnings (‘don’t fit these when the engine is hot’), some general torque guidance for their bolts, and a request to consult your bike’s service manual for specific mounting bolt torques. There’ s also a parts and spec list, but none of the parts themselves have numbers on them, so be sure to measure and know which part is which.

I dry assembled them, and beautifully labelled them with premium masking tape, in an attractive shade of pink. You can see the two parts which form the bar are quite chunky, but they’re light, and even when only lightly tightened, they feel incredibly rigid.

Next up was fitting them to the bike.

Per instructions and experience, I’d need some threadlock, for which I defaulted to Loctite Blue 243 which hasn’t failed me yet. The rest are the usual hex bits and the required torque wrenches.

The BabyFace bar bolts just require 5 & 25Nm torquing, with the engine bolts requiring 45Nm.

The instructions recommend an engine jack, but since I don’t have access to a specific motorcycle one, I simply put the  bike on its centre stand, then  a car jack under the engine until I could feel it taking some weight, and the bike didn’t move.

From that I just went one bolt at a time, doing first the left, then the right slider. It was actually simpler than expected. Only one of the original Yamaha bolts had any threadlock on it, but for scale I put a small drop on each of the four engine bolts. Each bolt I removed I labelled and put in a ziploc. Force of habit.

Basically, remove a bolt, clean the theads and washer (as it would be re-used), thread the new BabyFace bolt through the slider assembly and washer and into the hole,  hand tighten, then do the second bolt for that side and then torque them both down. No problems.

As you can see, they suit the style and colour of the Tracer, so I’m really pleased with them, and despite the sparse instructions, fitting was a breeze likely thanks to the quality engineering.

As expected, they feel incredibly solid on the bike, fit in to the design and in a good way, disappear.

Left Side Slider

Ride Side Slider

Pros:

  • Look and feel well made
  • No installation issues

Cons:

  • Instructions are very generic, and not immediately clear so spend some time absorbing them.

Coast to Coast Twistybutt?

Coast to Coast Twistybutt
Coast to Coast Twistybutt

At the tail-end of Golden Week this year (May 5th to be exact) I took part in Touge Express’ 2017 Coast to Coast Twistybutt, an invitational run across Japan from the Pacific Ocean to Japan Sea purely via the mountain pass roads or ‘touge’ as they’re known. 500Km of turns with the occasional short local road connecting them.

If you were on a straight road, you were probably on the wrong road.

So where is the tale of this crossing? I did write one, but it’s not here, it’s on a real motorcycle website, so thanks to Chris and everyone at RideApart for bringing tales from the touge to the broader world – they’ll be all the better for it!

The Twistybutt – Japan’s Iron Butt Challenge

ride apart

Nanikore’s Podcasts – Motorcycling

I have a bit of a commute for my job, so I’ve tried to find different ways to make use of the time in a more constructive manner, and one of those ways is to listen to podcasts.  As I have quite a few on my list right now, I thought I’d break this up into two posts – ‘Motorcycles’ and ‘The Rest’.  As an aside, I’m currently running a cheaper Android phone (a Lenovo Moto G5+) and the DoggCatcher podcatching app. (I did a round-up of my podcasts in 2009 and 2011; a few I still listen to, some have gone away.)  Anyway, on with the list:

Adventure Rider Radio RAW – Out of Canada, this is a monthly panel show, usually running 90-120 mins. of experienced overlanders discussing situations, kit, their books etc..  I’ve not done anywhere near the travelling they have, but it’s often interesting for tips and funny anecdotes, as well as differing perspectives on how to travel for long periods. The same production team also make the weekly Adventure Rider Radio, but this can be hit and miss as there can be a lot of native advertising in some episodes – probably worth a try though.

Front End Chatter – Two motorcycle journalists from the UK discuss street bikes as well as some racing content and usually runs for 60-90mins every two weeks. There’s a lot of light banter and some very decent Q&A in most episodes.

Two Enthusiasts – Two American chaps, based out of the Pacific north west of the US discuss bikes, with a slant to technology and the motorcycle industry itself. This is an extension of the usually decent news website Asphalt and Rubber, and each episode goes for  between 60-90 minutes.

Moterrific – Two American ladies this time make this podcast on a semi-regular monthly schedule, with each episode running around 60-80mins. They discuss areas to ride, gear, and dip in to some of the challenges women face in the hobby from perception, to decent gear, to bike height.

Tabibike Ladies Bike – A Japanese podcast which doubles up as both motorbike podcast and Japanese study for me, where the two hosts discuss bikes as well as bike culture, all the way into food and happenings during rides.  This podcast is a little shorter at around 40 minutes per episode.

So those are the ones I’m currently listening to, but feel free to recommend others.

The Working Monkeys (and Motorbikes) of Nagano

We were up in Shiga Kogen (Nagano Prefecture) again a few weeks ago for yet more snow fun,  and decided to go and see the famous snow monkeys in the hot spa pools of Jigokudani Park, since we were in the area and hadn’t been before. There are a million or so amazing photos of these monkeys around the internet so I won’t post any of my own of them, but instead, a couple of the valley running through part of the park to give you an idea of what it looks like when you take a step back.

The park is actually a ~1.6Km walk from the car park area to the monkeys, and  requires a fee of ~800yen per person to get in to see them, so be aware.  The walk up is through a beautiful valley side though, a long, winding, if somewhat icy track, which is quite relaxing. At the base of the stairs which mark the final few hundred metres, there’s a group of old traditional houses and a steam geyser – and the occasional naked man in an outdoor bath (routenburo) if that’s your thing!

You can see above where most of those amazing photos actually happen. It’s not always this crowded though, if you take a look at the webcams when they’re live, it’s often fairly empty. It is of course well staged – the monkeys are fed by the park staff to encourage them to come down, though guests are understandably discouraged from feeding the monkeys. As someone who has had a close face-to-face encounter with an adult male snow monkey in a carpark on a previous snow trip, I can vouch for not getting too close.

Also of interest to me was a group of old, and somewhat battered looking motorcycles down by the track, some Honda (Super) Cubs and an old CD90, all muddied up and with chains on for the snow, ice and mud. They look like they’ d seen some fun for sure. They seem to be used for running basic deliveries, and I dare say they’re probably road legal, but sadly there were no owners around I could ask. Definitely the types of vehicles you want for this terrain.

Protecting a Motorcycle the Traditional Way

A modern motorcycle has a number of safety systems built into it to help the rider stay safe, but we all know you’re also at the mercy of the other person and the universe in general. Insurance helps for sure after the event, but what if you need that little extra protection avoiding an accident?

Here in Japan we can also call upon the gods, and get ourselves an O-mamori [守り]. These are small amulets,  commonly looking like small bags, which are purchased from shrines, and intended to bring good fortune or ward off evil and bad luck. The bag usually contains something which has been blessed, for want of a better term – I don’t know what’s in mine since part of the deal is that you don’t open it.

I had an omamori bought for me from a local Shinto shrine, and I now have it safely tied on under my motorcycle seat, to help ward off crazy minivan drivers, Prius drivers, and all the others who seem to forget there are vehicles with less than four wheels. This one then is of the traffic safety or koutsuu anzen variety, and let’s hope it serves its purpose!

Omamori

Shimoda and the Hosono Highlands

There’s a little known requirement that you have to go on a full day out on your motorbike within a week of getting it.

Actually, that’s not true. But it should be true.

To do my part then, I decided to take a day off and ride down the Pacific coastal roads to the southern end of the Izu peninsula, to Shimoda.

I love coastal roads; just riding along, with the vast ocean on one side – hopefully with a sturdy looking metal barrier between you and the cliff down to that ocean – and a rising mountain on the other.

If this sounds good to you, then welcome, and come on down to Routes 134 & 135 on Japan’s Pacific coast.

Down the Coast

The day started at around 7am, I’d gotten all my layers on,  and warmed the bike up a little too, and then made sure I had a hot flask of tea in my backpack. The sky was a perfect blue, with almost no cloud, bright sunshine, and most importantly at that time – no ice or dampness on the road.

Since I was exploring the new Yamaha as well as the road, I decided to give one of the ‘other’ riding modes a shot – it has A, B and Standard. I’d only been using standard up until now, but decided to give ‘B’ a try as this is intended as the smoother, power-reduced rain mode. I thought that would give a nice gentle start to the day. Indeed it is exactly what that suggests – it’s smooth – it really is a wonderful mode to start the day on. It still pulls, there’s still the torque, but it’s like it’s massaging you into the ride.

The coastal road I take is a toll road, it’s true, but raised up, you get to look down on to the beach and the rivers flowing into the ocean as the sunrise hits the beach and you get to see the sun on the side of Fuji-san, all snow capped, before looking left again at the handful of surfers and fishing enthusiasts casting out from the beach.  Part way along this straight section is the Seisho Bypass Service Area (SA). It’s often a big meeting spot for motorcycle groups, but as I approached it I didn’t see a single bike unfortunately, so I passed it by this time. When I’m riding alone, if I see some people in there, I’ll sometimes stop off for a chat and exchange route ideas and good stopping points – but not today!

There was something of a cross-wind on the road, but unlike the old Honda, this was much less tiring (and chilling) thanks to just the small amount of fairing and screen on the Tracer, and the bike held its speed more consistently.

Once you get a little past Hayakawa at the west end of the road, the twisties start kicking in, rising and falling around the cliff edges, switching from cliff cutout roads, to short bridge sections seamlessly.  It’s fun.  Again, there’s a choice of free roads with a little more traffic, or toll roads, with a little more flow.  Be aware some of these toll roads are not ETC/NEXCO ones, you need to stop and pay, a bit like the Izu Skyline.

The road takes you down past coastal towns like Manazuru, Atami and Ito, but as I rode along I saw a couple of small signs for some place called ‘Hosono Highlands’, which sounded interesting, so I turned up an already narrow road, up into the hills, where the road gave way to a narrow, barely paved forest track, past some camping and cabin areas, before popping out into a clearing with what looked like some brand new parking spaces – the Hosono Highlands!

Hosono Highlands

I parked up, and was having a nice cup of two when a couple of cars pulled up coming the other way, and out jumped eight retired people, who made a bee-line for the bike and we spoke for about ten minutes about why we were all here – they had planned to come up, to see the highlands, whereas I was there almost by accident. We also discussed whether Japan still makes good motorbikes (they do), whether English is difficult to learn (it is), and after a swift toilet break, they jumped back in their cars and left.  One of the drivers had commented the road extended further up in to the the mountain, past a golf course, to the wind turbines I could see higher up.

It looked like a nice road, so after pondering the view, I decided to go up a bit further. For about a kilometre it a was fun, cracked road surface, steep inclines and corners, with autumnal leaf-fall and branch debris here and there, so it took some concentration.

Anyhow, I came around a corner into a shady wooded area and saw what looked like a run-off stream actively flowing across the road. Not so unusual in the hills around here, but only when I was too close to it did I realise from the reflections that it was actually solid ice.

Pants.

All I could do was make no change to my speed or direction and hope I was balanced enough to get over. Fortunately it seemed I was, though for a second or two I could feel the ice passing under the tyres, but my momentum carried me over.  I decided to get off and take a look at how this thing had duped me, and sure enough the water had frozen in rivulets rather than as a flat sheet, and was well over a centimeter thick even at its thinnest point. I decided then it was better to GPS mark the road, and come back to do it in the Spring, rather than have less luck further up!

Hosono Highlands

Fortunately, those leaves and such at the side of the road had virtually no ice on them, and so it was quite simple to walk the bike back down that way, bypassing the frozen stream. It was disappointing, but that road will make a nice addition to a future day out on warmer days.

Back down to the coast road, and more great views and soon another small road, this time down to a beach, which, given that it was about 5degC., was pretty much deserted. However, given the blue skies and sunshine, if you didn’t know that, you could think from a photograph it was a wonderful Summers day.

It’s called Sotoura Beach, and when the weather gets a little warmer, has quite a good crowd down there. On this day though, it was just me, and some fisherman repairing nets in the small harbour nearby.

The Beach

(Note that in a few photos my bike looks like it is on sand – it isn’t – I walked out to check the area and found it was actually an old asphalt car park with a very thin layer of sand and gravel on it.)

After another cup of tea just looking at that blue ocean, I pushed on just a few more kilometres to my lunch spot, the appropriately named Cafe Mellow, which is next to a small hotel we’ve often stayed at, called Ernest House.

 

[As this post is a little long,  I won’t fully recount the trip back, which was yet more happy riding, avoiding some bad drivers, and getting to test the headlights out. I’ll also see if I can get a short road video together for it.  After 350Km that day, I have to say, I’m really pleased with the Tracer for sure. ]