Note

In case you overlook it, the orange highlighted text found throughout articles in this blog are links to expand those articles, view ride maps or see further information. Regards IC.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Noto Peninsular Japan

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.

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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.

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Above looking down from the Tsuetsuki pass after leaving Chino.

Below, lovely riding on route 361 one of many great roads in Gifu region.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Now my ride on day 3 took me along route 156, one of my favourites when living in Nagoya.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

First ride of Spring

It has been a long winter. 6 months of cold and rain. A rare fine day arrived so I decided to try my luck at seeing Mt Fuji. I have a poor record on this after my first ride in Japan in 2008 it has been always been obscured by clouds when I have been passing but not today.

I don’t want to sound too negative to begin but the ride did not get off to a great start. I chose to ride the shortest route from my home along the ocean and via Hakone, both of which were a bad idea. Off the highways in urban areas traffic can be very heavy in Japan and today despite the pre morning peak departure I still got stuck. Guess it can’t be helped when close to Tokyo.

Late arrival at my chosen view point to discover my Panasonic Lumix LX100 camera seems to have major focusing issues for landscape photos. Oh well back to the phone again until I work out why. Here is Mt Fuji poking its head up on the Hakone Skyline a bit along from my first photo spot.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Across Tokyo Bay

I think I had a touch of cabin fever. Too much time indoors hiding from the cold. Something I am not accustom to coming from the tropics. Nothing like a motorcycle ride to shake the blues.

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This is the Tokyo bay Aqua line highway that goes from Yokohama across the bay to Chiba first by tunnel then bridge. I had wanted to ride it for a while so when I missed the Kurihama ferry due to forgetting my bike paperwork I decided to give it a go. Such a lot of heavy industry in the Yokohama port, the pollution seemed to turn the skies grey however it was actually the sun disappearing behind clouds for the rest of the day with temperature stuck about 8 degrees. Well the FJR is still a comfortable place to be even in these conditions so I rode on.

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Across the bay beyond the urbanised areas there many small villages where life operates at a different pace to the metropolis of Tokyo.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Winters Ride

I tried my first true winter ride last week and it was better than I expected. The temperatures have been around 4 degrees daytime but clear and sunny. So when a milder 11 degree day was forecast I decided it was time to charge the battery with a ride.

It is not possible to ride the mountains now, most roads would have snow and even lower areas are risk of black ice. Cars have studded tyres for winter driving but motorcycles have to stick to city and coastal roads. Across the other side of Tokyo bay lies Chiba, an area that I have read has a number of good riding roads so I decided to take the ferry across.

Leaving home it was very crisp about 3 degrees but the FJR came into its’ own in these conditions. I had good deflection of the wind and no direct cold air blast except perhaps my on hands and boots. I was dressed appropriately. I had a thermal base layer shirt and thin thermal mid layer which I picked up from the Japanese discount clothing giant Uni-Qlo. About $10 each for items that would retail many times more in adventure type shops with some fancy label attached. Having two thin tech layers meant I never felt bulked up under my old Alpinestars winter jacket and pants which are both lined. I had the grip warmers on high and my hands where never cold inside my Held winter gloves but probably at the low temperature limit of those gloves. Weakest link was my boots that are not really designed for winter but it was a short ride to the port and the day was already slowly warming. I have to say I was never cold like I have been in Australia on a naked bike in winter. The touring fairing and electric screen makes the world of difference.

Might be warmer inside that car but your missing everything…

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Motorcycling in Borneo

I finally made it to Koto Kinabalu to try some motorcycle riding in Sabah. Last time I was heading there I got food poisoning in Philippines and went back home. Fortunately this time round I arrived well and brought my mate from the Philippines along. It’s just an hour away from Manila but so different.

Since I have had this ride planned for a long time it was a a snap to organise. I had my routes already waiting in Ride with GPS and knew the rental shop Go Go Sabah was located downtown so shot them an email and booked some hotels and had everything set in no time.

When looking for the rental shop it is worth noting they are inside the shopping arcade at the address given (also open to the back car park) and they open after 9.00am. They have 125cc scooters but these are only for use within the city and their other bikes are 150cc Kawasaki KX road trial bikes. The KX150 bikes are like a 125cc two stroke motocross bike in size and weight, they have top boxes but these are permanently bolted to the racks and mine had a worn out lock.

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We set off late but got a good clean run out of the city at least to not lose more time and then it was not long before we were into the mountains. The route I planned was via Tamburan and the roads are absolutely superb. I took a few photos but really did not capture how nice the riding is in any shot. The views up higher go back to the city and ocean and all around you are deep lush valleys.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Philippines Mini Ride report

Went to visit my good friend who followed me out the door of our former workplace and retired in the Philippines. Been there to see him before and still not convinced it is the best place to make the retirement money go further however a beer and a burger at the pub won’t cost you $20+ like in Australia and from Manila you can fly quickly to just about anywhere in Asia for few dollars so it’s not bad either. As long as the Aussie dollar recovers from its current death spiral towards 69 cents US I guess anywhere in SE Asia still offers a better lifestyle than could be afforded at home.

He was joining me to ride Borneo in a few days but before this we rented some scooters. My mate who had just ridden in Thailand with me came for a look so it turned into a small group ride.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Thailand Tour 2015

This post is the first part of a recent trip riding 3 countries in SE Asia. The other areas I visited were the Philippines and Borneo, Malaysia which I will follow up on shortly. I have already toured the northern mountains of Thailand twice and was not initially planning to return this Christmas however a opportunity arose to meet up with my long time ride partner from Australia first in Thailand and then continuing into Philippines so I thought why not! My previous rides in Thailand can be found by following these links. 2013 Ride. 2014 Ride.

If you are tempted to try an overseas ride then in my opinion Thailand would be one of the best options to start with in Asia. You fly to Chiang Mai as your starting point. This is a easy place to explore and very simple to rent a bike from. You can do a ride from here just by paper map as it is easy to navigate but a GPS or offline map on a smart phone is always going to be handy. I use a GPS with a battery pack in a case that I velcro to the handlebars, (info here) this has worked for me around the world. As for motorcycles I have rented from the three most well known bike rental shops in Chiang Mai and here is my verdict on them.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Keep your cool

It might be freezing here in Japan at the moment but it is summer in other parts of the world where I will soon be heading to and so I find myself examining my hot weather riding gear.

Some of the things I find help me stay cool are as follows:

Good helmet venting. I use a Nolan N43 helmet which has a lot more air venting than most helmets and in summer it makes a huge difference to how I feel since I am not hot and sweaty inside the helmet. When I first got it I used to swap occasionally to my Shark RSR2 helmet and wow the difference on a hot day is quite significant. Helmets that vent really well are going to also be more noisy but if you wear earplugs then it makes no difference. Web bike world have good reviews about helmet venting performance.

Lightweight mesh jacket. I’ve tried a few summer or 4 season jackets and results do vary depending on if you have a naked or full fairing bike. But in general if you are riding summer in your leather or textile jacket then a mesh jacket will make riding so much more comfortable that you will wonder how you did without one. And they are generally very affordable too so even if you only wear it on the very hottest days preferring your regular gear at other times then it won’t break the bank to have one in the cupboard.

Cooling neck scarf. This is something new for me. I used to always wear a summer Buff neck tube as jackets seem to move around exposing the back of my neck to the sun and even with sunblock after a long day I would end up with sunburn. Now I am using a neck tie that you put under the tap and soak, it has material which soaks up a lot of water and as you ride you are treated to evaporative cooling. It works brilliantly and stops your neck getting burnt at same time.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Australia’s Best Motorcycle Roads – East Coast

It has been a long time since I first started writing about where the best riding was in Australia and I have not had the chance to revisit these roads so some of the articles are looking dated or I have simply trimmed old content.

They remain the best rides, that has not changed and is unlikely to since infrastructure away from cities is more or less stable in Australia with little to no change. I will update when I return one day, until then you will find plenty of other info online.

I have listed them in alphabetical order. My top 3 would be The Oxley Highway. Great Alpine road. Great Ocean road. My favourite riding area is the Northern NSW from Byron Bay to Currumbin inland to Nimbin and spilling over into parts of QLD. This area is full of great roads but don’t just take my word on it, the editor of Australian Road Rider magazine, perhaps the most knowledgeable person on where to ride in Australia called it a paradise for motorcycle riders inspiring the name of this blog.

Visitors to Australia

If you are thinking to visit Australia and want to enjoy some riding as well as a holiday then I would suggest the Gold Coast as an excellent location. You have the famous surf beaches, resorts and local airport or transfer from Brisbane. There are dozens of great rides that can be done within same day from your hotel and for those who want to perhaps ride further you can also access the bordering state called New South Wales to see some interesting Australian rural sights. The New England Tablelands area offers landscape vastly different with historic country towns and grand vistas.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Japan South 10 day motorcycle tour

A window of fine weather appeared in early November before winter. It was already very cold to ride North however the southern temperatures remained mild so I decided to seize the chance to try a more ambitious tour here before winter ends the riding for this year.

One of the challenges touring here is securing hotels. They seem to book out a few days in advance and weekends often a couple weeks in advance, so my route was slightly shaped by where I could get rooms. I was going to ride in a anti-clockwise loop but ended up flipping this in reverse to match hotel vacancies.

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Day one was not particularly notable, the fine weather forecast was already looking shaky as light rain was falling when I set off so there was no point to try see Mt Fuji on my way west and I ended up just taking the expressway and ‘slabbing it’ as the Americans would say. I stopped at a couple of the highway service centres called parking areas here. They are quite amazing, besides a great selection of food and beverages you get things like laundry, hot showers, massage chairs, a pet park, playgrounds and at one a custom motorcycle display and motorcycle accessory shop of all things.

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