Nagano to Hamamatsu 17th-19th

Gunjira

Maximum Pace
Oct 2, 2009
1,002
176
83
Tokyo
#1
A friend of mine is visiting from abroad and we will go on a ride together. I already received some good advice, but would like to ask for any comments regarding improving the route below. Of course, if somebody wants to join, that is fine as well (even for part of the distance).

Nagano>Ueda>Venus Line>Chino>Akiba Kaido>Hamamatsu

It will be a lot of climbing, but a la this years giro the individual distances should be just about 120k or so. Transfer with Shinkansen both ways and staying in Onsen hotels.

In particular I am curious about passability of high-altitude roads for snow, etc...
 

Gunjira

Maximum Pace
Oct 2, 2009
1,002
176
83
Tokyo
#2
So, finally got around to write up what my friend called the best touring he has ever done. Maybe you will even feel motivated to do the same tour, which I can only recommend. My aim to write this up properly is to give some reference for anybody planning a trip in Kanto, you will enjoy this one.

The conditions had been set as three days of riding with no outrageous amount of climbing, I had gathered route advice from all around and changed the initial plan to either start from Hamamatsu or Shizuoka, to soften the blow by starting in Chikuma Valley, Nagano. With the end of May being the best season for cycling in Japan, I was incorporate both the often praised venus line (rt40) along with Akiba Kaido down from Matsumoto to the coast, as recommended by Sergey and Thomas.

Trip Summary:
430km/~6000m climbing broken down in three days. While the distance per day increased, elevation was stacked in the beginning, with the hardest climb right at the start. Of course there are ways to add variation to the route, but almost all increases in distances also amount to a sometimes radical increase in climbing or using less scenic or crowded roads.
Route on ridewithgps

Day1
Transfer: Nagano Shinkansen Tokyo to Ueda
Route: Ueda Station (Nagano Shinkansen)-rt77-rt65-rt254-rt62-rt464-venus line-Tateshina
Lunch: Sculpture museum at 2000m
Pension: Tateshina Grand Hotel
Variations: Taking the Shinkansen to Nagano instead of Uedo and tracking back on the Chikuma cycling road would add another flat 50km to find ones legs before the climbing starts. This is part of the posted route, but be aware that the cycling road on the West side of the river wasn’t routable and requires some trial and error. It is tracked in my strava somewhere.


Day2
Takeshina-rt424-Matsumoto Castle-rt50-rt442-rt19(Ina)-rt207-rt361-rt152
Lunch: Michi no Eki Minami Alps Hase (Speciality Amaranth Pasta)
Pension: Onsenhotel 信州小渋温泉 赤石荘

Day3
Route: Akiba Kaido (rt152)-Jizo toge-rt4 -rt1 (Sakuma dam)-rt
Lunch: Michi no Eki “Kagura no Yu”
Variations: You could just stick to Akiba Kaido the whole way for less distance and more climbing. But you would miss out on rt1, which would be a shame.
Transfer: Tokaido Shinkansen Hamamatsu to Shinagawa


What to bring
-Clothes: Of course that would depend on the season, but the difference in altitude and the number of long descents warrants for bringing additional layers such as arm and legwarmers and a windbreaker. Weather can vary from forecast and in each mountain valley, so that bringing shoecovers is probably a good idea, even if it doesn't look like rain on departure. Bringing one set is sufficient, you can wash your kit before entering the onsen in the evening. Each hotel has driers for cheap/free. Reducing what you carry, will make climbing so much easier, as it allows to relax ones backs and vary posture more easily.
-Food: While there are some spots to stack up, this route has far less convenience store density than Japan average. Best to stack up on snacks at lunch or bring some bars you like. Especially for day3, there are periods of 50km+ without a shop.
-Drinks: See above. Vending machines can be scarce, so bring two bottles or a camelbag.
-Cycling goods/tools: The usual, maybe there is a cycling shop in Matsumoto, but don't expect to be able to pick up any inner tubes/wares throughout. The area is remote enough, that even asking a fellow cyclist for help might see you waiting half a day for somebody to pass by. We saw around a cyclist a day, expect less on weekdays. Road surface was overall good and the two of us did not have any flats at all.
-Rinko bags: We had two fairmean bags, my own and one courtesy of thomas. We were grateful not having to schlepp anything heavier the whole time, for just using it twice. If you cannot borrow one from a TCC member, I would probably just bring some tape and garbage bags on the way out, trash them and buy some more before the return trip.

When to go
-Late May to June. The high altitude and many riverside roads mean a slight relieve from hot and humid valleys in Japanese summers.
-You can check for opening of high altitude roads here: http://www.jartic.or.jp/guide/hunou12/hushizu.html
-Weekdays will see roads deserted. We started on Saturday and while there was some Motorbike traffic on venus line, it was not overwhelming. Motor traffic further increased on Sunday, with Monday having almost none (one car per hour) except for the outskirts of Matumoto/Tenryu city.


Details
Getting to Tokyo station early is good, so better to finish prepping the night before. We entered via the renovated Marunouchi entrance and put the bikes in the rinko bags and decided to cut the start short and forego starting in Nagano. Arriving around 11am in Ueda meant that it was already quite hot, so we couldn't wait to get out of the city and into the mountains. The first incline is towards a tollgate on rt65. I don't know, whether they didn't notice us or didn't care, but we weren't bothered just riding through on the far left side. After a short downhill, you pass the last konbini for the next couple of hours and the climb up to 2000m starts in earnest. A constant incline on straight roads is hard psychologically, but if you can tame yourself the gradient is quite forgiving. Once on rt464 the grade increases, the road starts twisting and turning and you get treated great views. You have plenty of time to enjoy, it is a long climb.
At the top there is the sculpture park, which is hard to miss for its giant outside art pieces including a faux castle. The main museum building boasts a Western and Japanese restaurant plus an outside terrace serving ice cream. Both restaurants were so unpopular, that we could choose our table freely and enjoyed a priceless view while having tasty soba. Best to stock up on snacks and drinks here.

On the next downhill we coincidentally met with @actiongoat, who was waiting for ProRaceMechanic to pick him up by car. Chuck soon turned up and soon talk turned into where to find the meanest and best climbs. A couple of hours of more playtime and we arrived in the Tateshina area, which doesn't have any flat roads at all. Especally after the long downhill facing yet another climb towards the end can be demoralizing, so make sure to leave some in the tank or maybe buy a snack beforehand at the ??? konbini. We saw three deers on the final descent to the hotel, nature's way to show us some approval and encouragement?

The hotel was indeed grand, with incredible value. Who cares for the standard small rooms, when you have an amazing all you can eat buffet, including freshly oven baked pizza, sushi, etc, etc and a vast Onsen? Breakfast is similarily great and I am sure that I managed to refuel with more than I had in the tank when leaving Tokyo. If you were to bring some ziplock bags you might even sneak something out for on the road (winkwink)
 

jdd

Maximum Pace
Hardest Crash
Jul 26, 2008
2,512
639
133
Kanazawa
#4
(thanks, and bookmarked for 3 yrs, 9 months, and a couple weeks from now, when I'll be retired) ;-)
 

Gunjira

Maximum Pace
Oct 2, 2009
1,002
176
83
Tokyo
#5
The second day starts with a highspeed downhill, burning around 300m of altitude before any serious effort. We chose forego the straight shot into town, by taking rt442, a beautiful detour avoiding all traffic and which awards another couple of hundred meters of altitude gain with a beautiful view of Chino and and lake Suwa. Can you spot the castle? A twisty downhill leads straight into town. Don't be disappointed about the rebuilt "black" castle, at least the park is nice. The memory picture included, we must have spent less than 20 minutes total within the flat of the value, before starting to climb out on its Western side again. While rt152 (Akiba kaido) starts in Chino already, traffic along a narrow road is no fun. Even though it means a detour, once on rt442 there is no traffic and it is strikingly beautiful. After passing Momoji dam and a pleasant downhill, the first right turn off this road has a small ice salon.

Ina looks like a city on Google Maps, but we found it to be very sleepy. Rt19 is nothing like a Tokyo street and for the most part you can skip to a cycling road along the river. After some rollers through a mix of rice field and residential area and before you know it, you will be on rt361 and passing the last konbini (a 711 on the right side) for the next 130km. There are some other options, but for anything fancy, now is the time. But no need to eat anything yet, lunch is just a couple of k's away. The “Michi no Eki" specialty "amaranth pasta" hits the spot. There is no oomori though, but the bakery housed in the same building will satisfy any need. They whole place smelled like apple pie, mmh

I can't say much about the road from there on, as a combination of slow service at the restaurant paired with unexpected rain, saw us getting drenched. There was some climbing and some downhill, but all I really thought about was getting to the hot onsen. That motivation fueled me, but you definitely want to reserve some energy for the incredibly steep climb up to the Onsenhotel, which took us completely by surprise. It is an unroutable road with no streetview available, probably the Google car could not make it up the 15%+ grades. It is very worth it though, as not only is it amongst the only options in the wider area, it also offers a breathtaking view on the valley below from its outside onsen. Even compared to the splendour of the prior night, its English speaking staff, good local cousine and a general atmosphere of hospitality more than made up for it.

The third day again started with a quick downhill on the same crazy steep roads, unfortunately turning into the next and final climb straight away. Jizo Toge is a 700m ascent. If its sheer beauty is not enough to keep your tired legs going, just keep repeating "After the summit I will just descend all the way to Hamamatsu. Coast to the coast so to say. It is a winding rise along with the valley on a one lane road within lush vegetation, only during the later parts allowing glimpses that reveal how high you really are. It was too remote for my Garmin, who lost touch and turned itself off. Maybe I was going too fast? Once the descending starts it just keeps on going, it is a liberating feeling to sweep down endless, with the turns and roads gradually widening until you don’t have to touch the brakes and all and can fully concentrate on taking in the scenery. We had lunch in Minamishinanowada, which has about three restaurants places with food and a grandma operated liquor stores with snacks just where Akiba Hwy turns left. We bought some supplies there and continued straight ahead.

I had tried to confirm this alternative route ahead with locals, as we were not keen to do another steep mountain pass (how about 650m of climbing with 8.8% avg gradient?). The locals generally just replied that the road was to twisty to be of any use and we should do a wider loop to effectively circumnavigate the mountain. Am I glad to have ignored their advice, as rt418 and then rt1 leading to Sakuma dam are a cyclists dream. If I had to name the best part of the whole tour, this would be it. Just imagine cycling in a huge valley, both sides going up to a thousand meters with the road perched into the mountainside on top of a river always twisting turning, while on average slightly descending. Every turn giving way for another view, diving into a sidearm of the valley, passing a waterfall, tiny bridges or tunnels. Two cars in just as many hours. Just as many helipads, as the area is to remote to be reachable by ambulance. A forgotten world, and believe me, you don’t want this road to ever end to get back to civilisation. It will once you traverse the impressive dam and use some partly unlit tunnels to reappear in inhabited lands. Before you know, you are back on Akiba kaido, which is still pointed downwards. Just get in TT mode and burn all you have left. We eventually decided to pass on traversing the sprawl that is outer Hamamatsu and just took the train from an outlying station. You could go along the river, but its no pretty town and the time might be better spent to head to one of the local speciality "river eel" restaurants around the main station before hopping on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.
 
Jan 20, 2009
130
4
38
Yokohama
#6
Great report! When you mentioned "Sakuma dam" alarm bells went off, as I had the exact same impressions as you had. Absolutely nothing around
except the great wilderness, pack your rice balls before departure. The border between Aichi and Nagano is a great place to ride, no epic vistas like the Venus line but extremely beautiful just the same.
 

ShaunMcS

Warming-Up
Jun 19, 2013
2
1
1
Germany
#7
I really have to thank gunnar for this one. The tour was indeed the best one i have ever done! and if you want to take a similar route please do yourself the favor and skip the last climb to take the rt418/r1. i was on a never ending high as we descended for round about 50km passing all this jaw-dropping scenery. this was just incredible. I'm looking forward for the next tour in 2014 and can't wait to come to japan again.