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Tour de Hokurikudo


The Crank Engine
Nov 1, 2005
Devised as the third stage of what will eventually turn into a complete crossing of Honshu from north to south.

Stage 1: Tour de Tohoku II (Morioka - Sendai)
Stage 2: Tour d'Echoline (Sendai - Niigata)
Stage 3: Tour de Hokurikudo (Niigata - Kyoto)

Total stats:

Time: 35:07'20
Distance: 903.78 km
Elevation Gain: 7,039 m



Day 1, May 2 (Niigata - Itoigawa, Niigata 糸魚川)

Chris, Sergey and I took the first shinkansen from Ueno to Niigata on the traditionally busiest day during Golden Week. Fortunately, we had reserved tickets. While we originally planned to ride into Nagano and cross over into Toyama from there, we had to heed to Naomi-san's and Alan's advice and stay on the coast. We briefly contemplated making it into Toyama in one day (~240km), but gave up on that idea as time elapsed and the mileage increased.


Start in Niigata: Chris and Sergey in front of the station

The stretch between Niigata and Nagaoka is very picturesque, resembling the coast of the Normandy with its white and rugged cliffs. We were surprised by the hordes of road bikers we encountered along R402 and 8. Around Joetsu we started using the "Kubiki Bicycle and Walker Road". As we were unable to find accommodation in the onsen resorts along R8, we headed into Itoigawa where Chris managed to procure quarters in a huge, but empty minshuku where we indulged in "anti-oxidants".


Our lonely mamma-san in Itoigawa.


Time 05:55'15
Distance 170.06
Elevation Gain 970m
Elevation Loss 999m
Average Speed 28.7
Max Speed 56.1

Day 2, May 3 (Itoigawa - Nanao, Ishikawa 七尾)

After a healthy Japanese breakfast, we proceeded along R8 heading into Toyama. Sora-san had warned us of that route, as there would be a long line of dodgy "half tunnels". These half tunnels are excavated as overhangs within steep slopes of hard rocks, follow the coastline (uphill, downhill, curved and any possible combination thereof) and were too narrow for cars to overtake cyclists in oncoming traffic. Having a nervous truck driver on your tail is a very effective incentive to pedal for your life. :D


Image courtesy of Sergey

Unfortunately, we were not able to visit the famous Kurobe dam, as we intended to reach Wajima at the northern tip of Noto Peninsula (能登半島). However, the GW influx of local tourists had begun: we started looking for a place to spend the night at Noto-kuchi, the southern entrance of Noto. All the hotels, ryokan and minshuku we stopped at were booked out. We continued riding to Nanao City (七尾) where we were told the same thing: 満室, fully booked!

Time for Plan B: we abandoned our bikes and took the train to Kanazawa. On the train we were indulging in frivolous fantasies, fancying the delicious food, the beer and the ofuro we were about to enjoy. The helpful lady at the station immediately shattered our dreams: no beds available throughout the city! However, she continued, there was that onsen centre in the northern parts of Kanazawa. They were open 24/7 and offered easy chairs to spend the night. Off we went, only to find out that a few hundred other people had obviously been given the very same information.


Image courtesy of Sergey

It turned out to be an unforgettable night. Previously, I hadn't been aware of the astounding spectrum of sounds the human body can produce. And the orchestral effect of hundreds of such bodies gathered in a contained space. Needless to say, we did not catch a lot of sleep, but we learned our lesson. :D


Time 05:33'23
Distance 150.80
Elevation Gain 740m
Elevation Loss 735m
Average Speed 27.1
Max Speed 58.7

Day 3, May 4 (Nanao - Kanazawa, Ishikawa 金沢)

Our bicycles had survived the night in Nanao undamaged.


We realised that we couldn't possibly make it up to Wajima and into Kanazawa in one day, so we decided to cut the ride around Noto short: we cycled north, circling Noto-jima which reminded me of Scandinavia and is connected to Noto Peninsula by two large bridges.


Notojima - image courtesy of Chris

From Noto-jima we cut across Noto-hanto reaching the shores of Nihonkai by R256 and 48, wonderfully hilly roads free of traffic that allowed reckless hammering. Heading south for Kanazawa, Sergey and Chris insisted on using a dedicated cycle path that led us right along the coast.



Who said you couldn't cruise the beach on a road bike?? - Images courtesy of Chris


After a little "refuelling" and beach cruising, we finally hit the bigger roads and TT'ed into Kanazawa taking R159. I believe this is what John (jdd), who resides in Kanazawa and who was so helpful as to draft a more reasonable ride into the city, referred to as "brute force". R159 is a two- and three-laned wormhole with tunnels and a wide shoulder that permitted us to warp into the city centre in no time (even though Chris and Sergey protested my slight detour).

That night, however, we were able to spend in the comforts of civilisation, as the very same lady in the Kanazawa tourist office had been able to provide us with a hotel room. Finally, a *quiet* night in *real* beds!


Time 04:28'36
Distance 123.76
Elevation Gain 920m
Elevation Loss 935m
Average Speed 27.6
Max Speed 63.3

Day 4, May 5 (Kanazawa - Ono, Fukui 大野)

Kanazawa translated into culture, sightseeing, a shave and clean bibs. After a rich breakfast at McDonald's, we headed for Kenroku-en, one of the three Great Gardens of Japan.


We admired the beauty of the Karasaki Pine, a tree planted in the 13th century, the Kotoji-toro, a two-legged stone lantern, the Kaiseki Pagoda and the oldest fountain in Japan, powered by the difference in altitude of two ponds.


These spandex-clad long noses caused quite a commotion on the sacred grounds of Kenroku-en.

As much as we enjoyed ancient Japanese history, our stallions longed to be ridden. We traded history with the wild natural beauty of southern Ishikawa and Fukui, heading down south along R157, encountering lots of road bikers, even entire teams doing their interval training. Turning off to R44, we tried to find a rindo that would eventually take us back to R157. Unfortunately, that rindo turned out to be a gravel road. My companions were not in the mood for "hikling" (yet!), so we rode back to R157 and followed Tedori river, eventually reaching Tedori Dam.


R157 was another proving ground for the TCC Tunnel Rats.

Chris' wife was kind enough to reserve a minshuku for us in Ono City. The place was supposed to be close to the train station. When we finally arrived - tired, hungry and in anticipation of rain - we were very surprised to learn from the local omawari-san that - while our minshuku was actually located in Ono City - it was another 30km to go there! Ono is another prime example of municipal mergers, creating towns stretching over countless square kilometres. Looking back, we were very happy about that indirection: R158 turned out to be one of the finest and most beautiful roads we would take during the entire ride.


Asahi, the place we were supposed to stay in, was an epitome of innaka. There was literally nothing, not even an izakaya, not to mention a convenience store. Lovely! The yakiniku dinner our hearing-impaired landlady prepared consisted of more meat than I had eaten during the previous three months and added a new quality to the term "ippai" - we were unable to budge. That night it started to pour... and it wouldn't end for the next two days...


Time 05:23'33
Distance 143.92
Elevation Gain 1,564m
Elevation Loss 1,149m
Average Speed 26.7
Max Speed 64.7

Day 5, May 6 (Ono - Takatsuki, Shiga 高月)


Asahi, Ono-shi, Fukui-ken: in the middle of nowhere with no combini, izakaya or supermarket, not even a koban! Image courtesy of Chris.

After an equally opulent breakfast, we rode back the 30km to Ono. The rain had subsided, but not stopped. Today was supposed to be our first day of "hikling" - a TCC tradition on long-distance tours and one of Sergey's most favourite disciplines. From Ono we followed R476, a number we shall not forget any time soon. Basically, R476 is still under construction. My Mapple guide, as well as our Garmin GPS sets, showed nothing more than the planned route - the local policeman in Ono couldn't provide us with any helpful info either. Here we go:


Still in good mood. Steep, partially paved, yet definitely under construction.


"Salamander creek" - here we started to have second thoughts about our endeavour. It was the first time I have seen Chris in what appeared to be a slightly gloomy mood - it became evident that he was no longer amused.

Right after the bend, the road ended. No construction whatsoever underway. Not even traces of a rindo cleared. We tried another rindo, but after reaching the mountain ridge we realised that it would lead back to Higashimata, the northern end of R476 where we had started out hikling tour: we surrendered to nature and turned back - desperate and bitten by insects.


We followed R201, 8, 365 and climbed Tochinoki-toge (栃ノ木峠, 538m), crossing into Shiga Prefecture. It was rainy, dark, foggy and cold. Nevertheless, the descent into Shiga proved to be rewarding. While we originally intended to head as far south as Nagahama, we decided to stop in Kinomoto (木ノ本) and found a "business ryokan" in a place called Takatsuki (高月). Ofuro, gyoza and beer made us forget the hardships of the day. Even the sound of the raindrops against the window panes was wonderful.


Time 07:13'14
Distance 157.99
Elevation Gain 1,490m
Elevation Loss 1,961m
Average Speed 21.9 <-- pushing the bikes through dense vegetation!
Max Speed 57.2

Day 6, May 7 (Takatsuki - Kyoto 京都)

We left our ryokan quite late, waiting for the rain to abate. To no avail, the weather gods were unyielding. Yet, the road along Lake Biwa - chosen by Sergey - was very beautiful, meandering through small fishing villages. There were even a few climbs... that's where my bicycle started to act up: the chain skipped in the lower gears. Chris adjusted my rear derailleur which seemed to help - but only temporarily. Eventually, I was unable to use my small chainring which made climbing quite a challenge.


Biwako - very scenic, even in rain!

We continued south along R161 which Sergey so aptly described as a "truck-and-rain nightmare".


We left R161 in Minamishiga and turned west taking R30. R30 traverses the hills east of Kyoto and ends in an exciting descent that brought us right into the heart of Japan's ancient imperial capital: Kyoto, the Beautiful. The final destination of Stage Three.


We settled at Guesthouse Bon in the northern boroughs of Kyoto, a cosy place mainly for backpackers commended by Chris. They are not only cheap but also very friendly and efficient. We concluded the day by calling on the local sento and a family restaurant nearby.


Guesthouse Bon in Kyoto - image courtesy of Chris.


Time 05:01'03
Distance 124.10
Elevation Gain 1,002m
Elevation Loss 845m
Average Speed 24.7
Max Speed 48.4

Day 7, May 8 (Ohara Loop 大原)

We started the day by according much-needed maintenance to our battle-proven rigs. The past two days of adverse weather had left their marks, and they were not only cosmetic... The grande finale of our tour was a loop into the hills north of Kyoto, Ohara (大原) to be precise, with the famous temples of Sanzen-in and Jakko-in. The ride there involved a bit of climbing (big chainring for me). What was obvious from the moment we entered Kyoto was the fact that motorists were not in the slightest impressed by bicycles on *their* roads. Road sharing seems to be an unknown concept in these parts. Chris was nearly pushed off the road twice by buses overtaking us; the first time the rear end of the bus was just a few centimetres from his right shoulder. I wonder if this is a common attitude towards cyclists in Kansai.



Sanzen-in was truly impressive, a very meditative place full of natural beauty.




Time 01:32'12
Distance 33.16
Elevation Gain 353m
Elevation Loss 394m
Average Speed 21.6
Max Speed 56.8

We finished our sojourn in Kyoto with a final visit to our sento. Chris would stay another two days, then head on to Matsumoto. Sergey and I embarked on a shinkansen that would take us back to the eastern capital.

Mission accomplished!

Gentlemen, I want to thank you for taking part in this epic ride. We shared moments of glory, moments of misery and moments of silence; it's those precious moments that count in life. I do look forward to Stage Four.

PS: John, I want to thank you for your extensive help. I hope we can meet in the future and ride Noto-hanto together.


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That looks like a tough trip - you'll be taking Tom's "Hardest Rider of TCC" crown at this rate. Great photos and story. I would have liked to join you for some of it at least. Maybe for Stage 4..!
Wow! I'm lost for words on your adventures there. The Noto Peninsula up and down them hills was a ride. Wajima is nice. There's the beach there that I camped out on. No one there because of Covid. I really enjoyed reading all this.
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