I have not been able to do much motorcycle riding in Japan this year. The weather has been cold with rain weeks on end. Last year was apparently an odd one with low rainfall but not this time round. I am learning in Japan there normally is no dry season.
I made a small graph representing a year of averages (click to enlarge). Basically winter season is too cold to ride due to snow and ice. Then as it warms you get a couple nice weeks in Spring, end of April first week May. Then the rain increases. Summer is wet monsoon rains with a slight easing in August if no typhoons. Then we head towards cooler shorter days with a small window in autumn of less rain around October. Already it may be too cold in some regions to ride and then winter arrives for 5 months.
Now in Spring the rain has briefly cleared so I decided to go for a small tour before Golden Week national holidays which is an insanely busy time to go anywhere in Japan. Some of the high mountain passes are still closed with snow so I had an idea to revisit a few of the roads I liked around Nagoya which I hoped would be clear on my way to the western side of Japan to the Noto Peninsular – just to see what was there.
One thing that attracted me to trying a touring motorcycle this time was the idea of good weather protection and on that point I am very happy with the FJR which manages the riders exposure to rain and cold well. After years on naked bikes I love having a windscreen. It can however be too large a motorcycle to enjoy in Japan. I just had the oil changed and new tyres fitted. Pirelli Angel GT’s. This is the third different brand to try on the FJR with hopes that these will perform more consistently as they wear – a design feature claimed by the manufacturer – since the bike steers so heavy on worn tyres. More about the FJR1300 can be found in my detailed and ongoing test and review.
I rode via Mt Fuji and was rewarded with some excellent views.The vegetation is still recovering from winter so lacks colour but I could enjoy late cherry blossoms in the higher area in lieu.
Above looking down from the Tsuetsuki pass after leaving Chino.
Below, lovely riding on route 361 one of many great roads in Gifu region.
I chose to use the highway for about half the ride today as distance is very difficult to achieve in Japan on regional roads. Low speed limits exist on all roads with no ‘out of town’ open road speed area like you might expect. You encounter many farmers vehicles in the small rural towns where every intersection has traffic lights. Also road conditions vary wildly on any given route from two lane sweeping road one minute to narrow one lane blind corners the next. Roads are generally maintained well but widening and upgrading all seems to have stopped dead/half finished after the economic downturn and as the population continues to shrink there is no reason to be road building in rural areas so only the toll road expressways built by private firms are pushing on with construction. Todays route to Takayama was 400km of which I used the expressway for 150km and it still took 8 1/2 hours.
Leaving Takayama I encountered a road block on route 360 so had to back track but fortunately it was not a long way and the road had been scenic. There is always signs saying road closed ahead due to something, like landslide or tunnel closure, but of course I cannot read them and some apply just to heavy vehicles so unless I can make out it is no go I often just push on and see what I find.
Plenty of snow on route 41 into Toyama.
I rode across Toyama without any idea of good roads and by sheer chance found an amazing little back road, route 25, which judging by the other riders is a local favourite. It seems to serve a number of shrinking communities as most houses along the way are abandoned but a wonderful ride that I really could not capture. After here I enjoyed some more nice riding on route 29. There is a beach road at Hakui famous in Japan as one of the top must do rides but even if the sand is hard packed I was not confident to take the two tonne FJR on it as I feared it would surely end badly so I skipped it despite passing by opposite the entrance and joined a bit more expressway, the natural home of the FJR, to start my ride of Noto Peninsular with a look at Noto island.
Lovely sleepy fishing villages and some excellent roads on Noto island, hardly any cars I could stop on interconnecting bridges and enjoy the view. (even if not supposed to) It really deserves a longer look in the future. Next I continued north and the ever present farming and small urban areas slowly gave way to simple low lying scrub with open straight empty roads and for awhile I forgot I was in Japan. I do believe I even got into top gear on a non expressway road.
After Suzu town I rode across the other side of the peninsular on the enjoyable route 52 then enjoyed the ocean side views and road back to Wajima. Day two route.
Day three the Garmin played up a little and took me off my intended route leaving Wajima but I found my way back to the ocean road again for some scenic riding.
Today would be a day the Garmin just kept trying to route me incorrectly so I often needed to pan the map about and just head in the rough direction I wanted often taking different roads to my original route through Toyama. Eventually I returned to roads familiar to me as I crossed the range into Gifu and from green emerged from a long tunnel to snow.
Now my ride on day 3 took me along route 156, one of my favourites when living in Nagoya.
From Gujo I followed some more roads I was familiar with into Ena. Route 256 and 68. So many nice riding places in this area. You can just make out Gujo castle in the photo below.
Final day I set off south from Ena spoilt for choice. Every road around here is wonderful riding. I decided to revisit Chausuyama skyline and Mt Horaiji parkway.
After here I went east on route 473 wanting to see the Tenryu river area but came undone as the road was closed. Again there were signs well in advance but I went ahead not being able to read them and seeing motorcycles coming from there hopeful that the road was open. There must have been an side road open as some traffic was passing through but to where I did not know, likely away from where I wanted to go so without knowledge of the area or being able to speak to anyone for advice I had to backtrack and decided to make towards the expressway as it was midday and time to think about the long haul back towards Tokyo.
The ride home was easy, the FJR again in its element on a highway with cruise control set, it is effortless until the traffic density starts to get crazy as you enter the outer urban edge of the Yokohama-Tokyo metropolis. Day 4 route.
Well another great ride in Japan but sadly just after it ended I had an accident (non motorcycle) and ended with a broken collar bone which has taken me totally out of action for the next 3 months. Just writing this needed a week with only left hand to type and try edit photos. But the worst thing is I was all set to do my big dream ride next month in Europe having already booked everything and with a motorcycle sitting there waiting for me. For now I await results of next x-rays and ponder if I can mend and rehabilitate by say August to then try a modified version of my intended European ride. To be honest the accident has really taken the wind from my sails and made me consider should I just be looking at organised bike tours since I am a lot older than my appearance (and behaviour) would suggest. Hmm dunno, they say things happen for a reason but I am usually too slow to pick it up anyway.