Riding in Kyoto

Finally got out for a decent ride in the Kyoto area, courtesy of local cycling ambassador Ionut and his work friends, who showed me some gorgeous countryside and some secret cycle-nut locations.

I was promised a “gourmet ride” and wasn’t disappointed. First stop was after about 20 minutes of riding (!) for sen zay, a sweet soup involving red beans and sticky rice dumplings, with a side of super-salty kombu seaweed for contrast.

The sen zay place is very traditional and the host came to greet us in full kimono drag. She then proceeded to tell us about her pink custom steel frame. Total bike nut! A few other roadies turned up to eat while we were there and got the same warm welcome we did.

Right next door is the amazing Ishiyama-dera temple, a famous location for cherry-blossom viewing. The trees are so close to flowering. Our ride also took in a quick visit to Bydoin, which features on the 10 yen coin. This place is just teeming with culture.

Next stop was the weird and wonderful Kizakura sake factory. The brand logo features a kappa or monster. So naturally the factory features a kappa museum. Kooky.

The factory shop. As well as all the various sakes, they make Kyoto craft beer in 3 or 4 styles, as well as a Kizakura  kriek (sweet cherry beer).

Next stop was a bicycle nut cafe right off the 45km river cycle path that goes all the way from Kyoto to Nara. The owner has bikes and trainers strewn all over the place, and provides racks and locks for customers.

“You mean I came all the way to Japan to eat a ham cheese toastie!?”

Luckily the coffee was really good. Espresso is still a very niche thing here, and drip filter remains the strong local preference. I was initially dubious, but have come to really appreciate it. The general standard of bean and roasting is amazingly high. Morning Glory  really impressed in this department. The owner obviously takes pride in it.

After coffee it was back onto the path and in to central Kyoto – an awesome way to get into town, avoiding the traffic and enjoying the scenery.

I’d only heard good things about riding in Japan and these were all confirmed for me. It truly is the promised land of great roads and tame drivers.

Thanks for being such a great guide, Ionut. Hope to ride with you again soon.

Thredbo – I’m going to need a bigger bike

I started my first run of three runs on Thredbo’s All-Mountain Track in the face of a gale whipping off the top of Mt Kosciuszko.

Spinning the granny gear on the Santa Cruz’s old-school triple chainring I hardly made ground against the wind as I rolled to the start of the trail.

At 1900 metres, the altitude and my lack of fitness left me puffing hard as I steered towards the first boulders shouldering the new singletrack.

Pinned to a boulder on the right of the trail was a sign with an arrow pointing down, saying ‘easiest’.

But filled with courage from a newly installed 2.35 inch rear tyre, a new 750mm wide handlebar and dropper post, I took the left side and plunged down.

Sky and alpine ranges spanned the horizon but I focussed on the trail out of utter fear of tipping over the edge.

Built above the tree line, the hard-packed singletrack weaved between granite boulders, a lingering patch of snow and a swift creek.

Sculpted berms swung me down to the next contour, linked by short rolling climbs over rock ledges.

It was only the second weekend since the trail opened and there was little sign of braking ruts.

An open fire trail descent that finished with a 180 degree left hand sweeping turn tested the brakes and I was left needing more as I stuttered through bunting marking the turn.

‘I missed that my first time too,’ said another rider in full body armour and full-face helmet, who was taking it slow around the bend.

The full descent back to the village was 9km long and the trail traversed open grassland ski slopes and twisted through shady groves of snowgums.

On the third run down, I rolled over a steep drop into a right hand berm at speed, but lacking the skills to match ambition tasted the loamy Thredbo dirt.

I was not broken, just bent, as that song goes, and still intact to finish the run in a decent time.

The Santa Cruz Blur was at its limit on this track. At first I thought it was doable on an XC bike – it is – but then there’s a good chance of broken bones or bike.

On the way down I saw several riders who were either spent and sitting by the side of the track, or whose bikes had given up. One rider’s rotor bolts had flung off and his crank and chainring had split from the frame.

Back at the base of the chairlift terminal the bike scene was of downhill machines or enduro weapons with 150mm+ of travel.

There was a guy with an old hardtail and v-brakes but I didn’t know if he’d finished or was about to be the next medivac case.

My brakes worked hard, but at 140mm, its discs looked like water crackers compared with the dining plates of some of the bigger beasts.

Until riding Thredbo I thought I had enough bike for the riding I do. But the lure of slack frames, big travel, fat tyres and wide bars to ride down these trails leaves open an enticing line of thinking.

–Ray Marcello