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    Cycling in Tokyo - A Tale of Two Rides

    Cycling in Tokyo - A Tale of Two Rides

    Cycling in a new and interesting country is a special kind of riding. The possibility of experiencing something completely new really fuels the desire to get out on the road. With adventure travel and active weekends growing in popularity, getting a ride in whilst you’re away is becoming easier, and the chance to ride in an exotic and unfamiliar location should never be missed!

    How you go about researching, planning and executing that ride, however, is just as important as where you go. If you’re on holiday and are planning just one or two days riding, then it’s even more important to get it right. Recently I travelled to Japan for a two week tour of the country, and never has the importance of good planning been more apparent.

    Cycling in Tokyo Blog Post

    Three days in Tokyo marked the end of the trip; the grand finale and the last chance to do some proper road cycling in this wonderful country. I had two full days set aside for riding so had meticulously planned my rides, and they could not of been more different! It wasn’t until half way through the second ride that I realised what the difference was, and why that ride, against the odds, was more enjoyable than the first.

    Ride No. 1 — Cycling alone in the Tokyo Mountains

    Not having Japanese maps on my Garmin meant that I was navigating old school — paper map in my pocket and town names written on my hand. As long as I followed the road signs (Tokyo is fantastically sign posted) then I would be fine. Granted, I did get lost a few times, but that was part of the fun! There was no reason to get back at a certain time or worry about getting lost; just a whole day to ride up into the mountains and around Miyagase Lake.

    Navigating Whilst Cycling in Tokyo

    Tokyo is a sprawling metropolis around 3 times the size of London, so whilst getting out to the mountains takes a fair bit of time, it really is worth it. The mountain roads leading up to the lake are smooth and challenging with plenty of decent climbs. Miyagase Lake is the perfect cycling location — the roads wind around the lake, crossing the water over two bridges before disappearing through a series of short tunnels under the mountains, finally emerging into daylight with an incredible view of the Miyagase Dam. The descent back down the mountain was breathtaking, before meandering through the Tokyo suburbs into the city. Sounds perfect, right?

    Lake Miyagase Dam Tokyo

    140km, 2,500 metres climbed and 9 hours of exploring some of the most incredible cycling I’ve experienced was an unforgettable day, but something was missing. The amazing roads, the massive climbs and the incredible views were great, but I had no one to share them with. Sitting at the top of the lake, marvelling at the view, I felt a bit sad without a friend to experience it with (and posting on Instagram doesn’t count!)

    Cycling alone can be a great break; a few hours of alone time to unplug and destress is incredibly valuable. However it really struck me during the ride just how important it is to have some mates to ride with, especially when exploring a new area. No matter how perfect the route, you need someone else to share it with! That’s why I was so glad that I had arranged ride number two in advance.

    Ride No. 2 — Rapha CC Tokyo Saturday Ride

    Riding with Rapha Cycle Club Tokyo

    Getting up at 6:30am wasn’t ideal, but I’d been looking forward to this ride for weeks, and wasn’t going to miss being led around the city by some local experts. The cafe was full when I arrived, with 2 rides going out that morning. I had booked onto the longer ride, with 12 others, all local RCCTYO members, bar myself and one other tourist.

    Our ride leaders, Hiroki and Masataka, led us out of the city centre quickly and easily, a completely different and much better route than the one I had formulated for ride one. Where it had taken me around 2.5 hours the day before, they made sure we were out of the city and in the Tama Hills in no time; embarking on one of the craziest routes I’ve ever had the pleasure to cycle!

    Urban Cycling in Japan

    Even with a functioning Garmin, this route would’ve been very hard to follow! We twisted and turned through tiny winding streets; up short sharp climbs and down long winding descents. For the locals in the group this was normal; but the “oohs”, “ahhs” and “wows” continually being uttered by the tourists as we twisted, turned and climbed showed just how amazing this ride was! Complete faith in our ride leaders was easy as they corralled the group in Japanese and in English, attacking every climb and descent with massive smiles on their faces; infecting us with their enthusiasm.

     Country Roads on Tokyo cycling route

    Whilst Lake Miyagase may have been more spectacular area to cycle; the camaraderie and local route knowledge of ride two made it a much more enjoyable day. Learning Japanese cycling customs, chatting with the local cyclists and being shown their world was an invaluable experience.

    One of the most satisfying aspects of the day was learning that cycling has a language of it’s own! Once we’d identified the usual hand signals and protocols, we fell immediately to chatting about bikes, rides, parts etc. My Japanese stretches to about 3 words, so the fact that these guys had a good grasp of English really helped. Whenever language did fail us, pointing at a cool component and giving a thumbs up always works!

    Cherry Blossom in Japan in Springtime

    So my advice is this — if you’re going on holiday or for a weekend away, and you intend to do some riding, find a group to ride with! The RCC is a great place to start if there is one in the area. You don’t have to join the club, but if you do then hiring a bike from them is really easy if you don’t want to travel with your own. In some countries (like Japan for instance) hiring a good road bike is not always easy, so joining the RCC eliminates that hassle.

    If you’re not into Rapha, or there isn’t a club where you are going, then get on google and find a local ride group. There are usually plenty, and if you drop them an email in advance, they’re normally thrilled to have you along. Exploring a new area is always best in a group, and everyone knows that local knowledge trumps Strava every time. So join a ride group, and let the experts show you around their home town!

     Dirty Wknd Active Travel Guide

     

    Top 5 things to do in Bath this Christmas

    Top 5 things to do in Bath this Christmas

    Bath is the perfect city to see in a weekend; intimate, but packed full of amazing history and nightlife. The incredible North Somerset countryside also offers excellent cycling and walking routes. At only two hours from London, it’s the perfect spot for a Dirty Weekend!

    There is also something magical about the Ancient Roman city during the festive period that makes now the best time to go. From the Christmas market surrounding the Abbey, to the quaintly decorated Georgian streets; Bath at this time of year will have you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

    1. Visit Bath Christmas market

    Bath Christmas Market is the largest in southern England with over 170 wooden ‘chalet’ stalls selling all kinds of craft gifts, over 80% of which are hand made by local traders. An afternoon in the market is an afternoon well spent; with the smell of mulled wine, fresh mince pies, and the sounds of carol singers to accompany you. And if you do need a little break from shopping, pop into the Apres Ski bar (new this year), and just drink in the atmosphere. The stalls surround the Abbey and the Spa in the centre of the city, so there aren’t many more spectacular locations for a Christmas Market. More info — http://www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk/

    2. Cycle to Cheddar Gorge

    The incredible Cheddar Gogre cycle — not as daunting as it looks!

    Cheddar Gorge is one of the South West’s most beautiful sights, and is something of a pilgrimage for cyclists. Nestled in the Mendip Hills (itself an outstanding area of natural beauty), it is Britain’s biggest gorge, boasting cliffs of 450 feet. The road that runs through the gorge is an incredible cycle; it’s hilly and challenging, but the beautiful landscape will keep you going. We recommend storing your bikes at the visitors centre and taking a walk around — there’s loads to see and do, and a nice little cafe for a spot of lunch before the ride back. It’s a 25 mile cycle south west from Bath, so doable on an active weekend away; the outstanding landscape is well worth the effort! More info — http://www.cheddargorge.co.uk/

    3. Hike the Bath Skyline walk

    Bath is a great city to hike around, with incredible hills, history and scenery right on your doorstep. It’s compact size means that as soon as you get out of the centre, you’re basically in the countryside! The Skyline walk starts just south of the city on Bathwick Hill and heads out in a 6 mile loop over stile and through meadow, offering some stunning views of the city along the way. The route takes in an iron age fort and an 18th Century castle, with plenty of wildlife along the way. It is a challenging walk, with some steep hills, but it’s definitely worth it for the views. The route ends where it began, so you can wander back into the city for a well deserved drink. More info — Bath Skyline Walk

    4. Climb at Cheddar Gorge

    We really can’t recommend Cheddar Gorge highly enough! It offers so much to the active weekender, and is so close to Bath, you really can get the best of both a relaxing city break and an extreme weekend! If you’re not a cyclist, then Cheddar Gorge is a short drive from Bath with free parking at the visitors centre. Once there, you can hike the limestone cliff path, complete with incredible views of Somerset, or book yourself onto a rock climbing excursion. There are different level classes, so complete beginners can be shown the ropes, and more experienced climbers can tackle some of the gorge’s tougher climbs . If you’re planning a Christmas trip to Bath, then aim for the 4th December: Cheddar Gorge’s festive night! Carol singers and festive food and wine; all set in the beautiful surrounds of the gorge. More info — http://www.cheddargorge.co.uk/

    5. Visit the Spa’s, old and new

    Thermae Spa rooftop pool, complete with Abbey view!

    No trip to Bath is complete without visiting the Roman and Thermae spas. One ancient; one ultra-modern, and both incredible experiences. Pick up aSpas Ancient and Modern pass and get entry into both spas, with lunch or champagne tea in the Pump Room. The Roman Baths are one of the most famous historical sites in Northern Europe, and the free audio guides make the tour incredibly interactive. You can even listen to commentary from Bill Bryson, the American best-seller, who lived in bath for a while. From the ancient history of Roman Britain, you move seamlessly onto the very 21st Century modern Thermae Spa. It is the country’s only naturally warm spa, and a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon, especially if you’ve cycled or hiked the day before. They have taken the ancient spa waters, the very same that the Romans bathed in nearly 2000 years ago, and housed it in a high-tech setting complete with modern architecture. So come to Bath, and do like the Romans do — spend an afternoon in the Minerva Bath, indulging in one of the spa treatments, or just relaxing in the roof top pool. When in Rome… http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/

    The Top 5 ‘New’ Cycling Cafes in the UK

    The well documented rise of cycling has lead to many positives; the expansion of the UK cycling network, an active online community, and a national team we can finally be proud of. Another very welcome institution on the rise is the ‘cycling cafe’.

    For many years cycling cafes were the dwelling of hirsute East Londoners, trading couriering war stories and swapping rare Japanese fixie parts. However, as the sport of cycling has become more mainstream, thanks largely to Tour de France victories and the media coverage that affords, a new crop of cycling cafes have emerged. This new breed are doing their bit to grow the sport by turning on new cyclists with advice, camaraderie and excellent coffee!

    1. The Velo House, Tunbridge Wells — http://www.thevelohouse.com/

    Opening in 2014, The Velo House quickly became the focal point of the burgeoning North Kent cycle scene. Ollie and the team are cyclists first and foremost, and they have kept that in mind with their refuel, reduce and reward mantra. They serve Coffee Officina, Tea Pigs and a wide variety of beers and wine, alongside a delicious, healthy menu. Upstairs the shop sells an eclectic mix of cool gear, and the workshop team in the back can fix, shine and tune your bike whilst you wait. Weekly club rides and regular events are also on offer to feed your cycling habit.

    2. Rapha Cafe, Manchester — http://pages.rapha.cc/clubs/manchester

    The name Rapha is now synonymous with high end, high quality cycling kit, so it’s no wonder that their first cafe offering in 2012, in central London, was a huge success. So much so that the brand have opened another ‘cycle club’ in Manchester, and it’s doing just as well. Many have written off the cafes as a ‘gallery’ to show off Rapha products, but it’s hard to argue with the style and atmosphere they’ve created. Alongside events, exhibitions and film screenings, there are also organised weekend club rides out to Cheshire and the Peak District. If you’re lucky, you might even bump into a Team Sky rider or two!

    3. Dandy Horse, Norwich — http://www.dandy-horse.co.uk/

    Norwich may be (in)famous for Alan Partridge and Delia Smith, but it has an exciting and emerging cycling culture to rival anywhere, and an excellent cycling cafe in Dandy Horse. They sell excellent coffee which changes daily, alongside fresh cakes and sandwiches. The workshop is staffed with over 10 years of mechanical and wheel building experience, so your beloved steed will be in good hands. What Dandy Horse pride themselves on, however, is their custom builds and restorations. Take in your frame (or pick one of theirs) and have them build your dream bike. Grab a coffee and drool over the beautiful selection; you won’t be disappointed.

    4. Pedalling Squares, Newcastle Upon Tyne -http://www.pedallingsquarescafe.com/

    Pedalling Squares is so much more than a cycling cafe! An event space, a retro jersey emporium and a ‘Supper Club’; there’s always something going on at The Old Brassworks. They brew locally sourced ground coffee and ‘feed stations’ offer ‘cycling legend’ themed panini’s (we had Greg Lemond). The Workshop is run by Vieri Velo, the nicest bike blokes in the North East! They’ll fix your bike, fit parts you’ve brought in for free, and even buy you a coffee (if you’re extra polite).

    5. Maison Du Velo, Reigate — http://www.maisonduvelo.cc/

    Maison Du Velo is the perfect pre or post ride stop if you’re out in either the Surrey Hills or the North Downs. This ultra-modern cafe and shop has a gallery feel to it, with the bikes and kit very much ‘on display’. They are passionate about the choice brands they stock (and the coffee they serve), and have complete confidence in their performance ability. The workshop team offer a range of services and comprehensive Bike Fit options to make sure that your setup is on point. Shop rides are weekly and vary by ability, so everyone can get involved.