Another Road for the Collection

Another Road for the Collection

A few years ago, I wrote in Bicycle Quarterly how I collect roads. Others collect bikes, or rare components, or photos of racers. My collection is more esoteric: I collect roads. Not the physical roads, but the experience of riding on them. Like all collectors, I have criteria of which roads are worthy for inclusion in my collection, and which are merely conveyances that transport me where I want to go.
During the recent Golden Week cyclotouring trip, I was excited to add another road to my collection: Road 327 near Matsumoto in Japan. I explored this incredible road during a solo early-morning ride. And I don’t regret getting up at 5 a.m. to ride it.
The previous night, I had seen a valley in the distance, leading up to snow-covered peaks. If a road went up there, it could be spectacular. It seemed worth exploring…
A quick lock on Google Maps showed a promising road up the valley. The road dead-ends at an onsen hot springs high up in the mountains. “Dead-end” means little traffic… “High in the mountains” promises great climbs and descents.
The next morning, I headed out before breakfast. And the road fully lived up to my expectations.
The climb started with a set of amazing hairpin turns. The map and photo above show that first part of the road. The road wasn’t so steep that I was struggling, and it was fun to push myself on this stretch. I gained elevation quickly. Looking back, I could see several levels of the road below me.
The next section was more open as it ran along a steep cliff.  This part offered great views of the valley below and of the mountains ahead.
I rode past waterfalls and across little bridges, even traversed a short tunnel.
The entire time, I saw no more than three or four cars, as well as a very short tour bus. Its driver clearly had driven this road many times, as he took very confident lines around the tight turns.
After an hour of climbing, I reached a small pass and realized that it was time to return, if I wanted to eat breakfast. Later, checking the maps, I realized that I had climbed 800 m (2500 ft) in just 14 km (8 miles). The maps also show that the road continues for another 3 km, with another 250 m of elevation gain. I’ll have to come back!
The descent was even more fun than the climb. I quickly gained speed on the wide-open stretches. My brakes got a workout as I approached the tight hairpin turns at high speed. As I leaned the bike hard, I could feel my wide, supple tires bite into the pavement. It’s nice to get feedback that there is grip in reserve.
The best part of the downhill was the section along the cliffside. With hardly any braking, I threw the bike right, left, right again. Japanese mountain roads have useful mirrors that allow you to see around the corners: It’s important to make sure that there is no oncoming traffic when you take the best line on a single-lane road!
In twisty sections like that, I appreciate a bike that handles with precision and corners without reluctance. Descents like these are the reason we spent so much time studying front-end geometry, think endlessly about bike handling, and optimize tire construction. On this empty road, nobody could see the smile on my face, but it was huge.
And I made it back for breakfast (almost) on time.
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Comments (8)

  • Jim Cloud

    Looks like a beautiful ride. I was stationed in Japan for two years, while in the Army, and traveled extensively often on a motorcycle. Japan is a beautiful country! Have you traveled yet on the island of Shikoku? I road up that island on my Suzuki motorcycle along with two companions, it was a memorable trip.
    My grandson (20 years old) just arrived in Japan for a one-week trip hosted with a local Japanese family. He’ll be visiting one of the Onsen hot springs while there as well as traveling to Kyoto. He also has a great opportunity to visit with a man who does repairs on Stradivari musical instruments (my grandson also does instrument repairs). I envy him his trip and hope he has a great time!

    June 9, 2016 at 8:14 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I’d love to learn more about the man who repairs Stradivari! The level of craftsmanship in Japan is amazing.

      June 9, 2016 at 8:25 am
      • Jim Cloud

        I’ll give you some information when my grandson returns. I’m sure he’d be happy to share his experience with the visit to the luthier. I completely agree with you that the aesthetics and level of craftsmanship in Japan are amazing.

        June 9, 2016 at 9:13 am
      • Jim Cloud

        Hi Jan,
        I was pleased yesterday to see an Instagram post by my grandson on his trip to Japan. He just had an opportunity to visit the famous Japanese luthier who specializes in repairs of Strativari and other fine instruments, in addition to making his own. I’d like to attach his photo to you on this reply, but I’m not sure how to get a photo from Instagram to another platform. Here’s a quote from my grandson’s post:
        “Yesterday, I had the honor of meeting Muneyuki Nakazawa, one of the best violin luthiers in the entire world. In his shop were not one, but two Strativari violins as well as an original c 1600 Amati seen here. Mr. Nakazawa was one of the most interesting, yet humble people I have ever met. No instrument was off limits to examine. I’m still in shock just a little bit. It has been a good week.”
        The photo he posted was of himself holding the Amati violin with Mr. Nakazawa standing behind with a broad smile of his face. I think my grandson is having the time of his life!

        June 12, 2016 at 5:05 pm
  • jprichard10

    Not quite the same, but I’m definitely made maps so I can systematically bike every street in large sections of the city. There’s so many hidden treasures on some side streets that I wouldn’t normally take!

    June 9, 2016 at 8:28 am
  • Guillaume

    Absolument fantastique! Thanks for sharing.

    June 9, 2016 at 9:56 am
  • David

    I had the chance to ride on very similar roads last week around Nagasaki. It was breathtaking. I also discovered some beautifull waterfalls by accident. It turned out to be a pretty popular sightseeing site. If you have the chance to ride in Kyushu around Unzen, i definitly can recommend road 210 and 128 which both lead to Mt. Unzen, before climbing all the way up to Nita Pass to see Mt. Heisei Shinzan. These roads will be present in my memory for a long, long time.

    June 9, 2016 at 11:21 am
  • Steve Pells

    I like this “collecting roads” idea. I collect passes similarly. We once crept out of the hotel fire exit at 6 in the morning to bag the Col del Preit (2083m) before before breakfast like that.

    June 10, 2016 at 1:17 pm

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