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.