A Sapporo bikepacking trip: The Fuchs Loop (Hokkaido, Japan)

“I’ve figured out how we might cycle over those hills,” Dirk said over lunch one day. “A mix of gravel road and singletrack trail through the forest,” he said.

This was music to my ears. Since moving to the Sapporo region five years ago, I’ve eyed up the range of low hills that separate Sapporo City from Jozankei in the west. If only there was a forestry road or hiking trail that would link Jozankei to northern Sapporo, cutting through the dense forest, it would be an off-road cyclist’s dream.

A few weekends later, we were on our bikes to give Dirk’s route a try. From central Sapporo to Jozankei (via Makomanai), then up to Harukayama (via Lake Sapporo), down to Zenibako, and back to central Sapporo. I call it The Fuchs Loop after Dirk’s last name.

We started at 8am from the southern entrance to Hokkaido University, and headed south through the city towards Makomanai. At this time in the morning on a public holiday, we more or less had the roads to ourselves.

Cycling from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area in summer (Hokkaido, Japan)

For this trip I was on my Surly Karate Monkey (with Jones Loop bars, if you’re wondering), and Dirk was on his Trek X-Caliber 7. The original plan was to stay a night at the Ginrei-so Hut near the top of Mt. Haruka, hence the extra gear we’re carrying.

We made really good time along the Toyohira River cycle path and then up towards Jozankei Village. Usually this would take close to 3 hours. We knocked off the 30km to Jozankei Village in around 1.5 hours. All the while, feeling pity for the lines of holiday traffic inching their way along the highway.

Cycling from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area in summer (Hokkaido, Japan)

We stocked up on food and beer in Jozankei, anticipating a relaxing evening at the hut. The Jozankei hostpring resort area was looking it’s stunning best.

Cycling from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area in summer (Hokkaido, Japan)

From Jozankei we cut directly north, towards the artificial Lake Sapporo, and it’s massive dam. This took us through tunnels…

Cycling from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area in summer (Hokkaido, Japan)

  Soaring above the valley, plugged up by Jozaneki Dam…  

Cycling from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area in summer (Hokkaido, Japan)

And next to the clear blue waters of the lake.

Cycling from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area in summer (Hokkaido, Japan)

We were surprised at our own quick pace, arriving at the  gravel-road turnoff to Mt. Haruka-yama at only 11am. So we carried on up the paved road to Sapporo International Ski Field (Sapporo Kokusai), and had our sandwiches for lunch on the lush grass fields.

Cycling from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area in summer (Hokkaido, Japan)

Cycling from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area in summer (Hokkaido, Japan)

Lunch done, we hurtled back down hill for a few minutes and found our way onto the gravel forestry road that connects with the Haruka-yama Hut (called the Ginrei-so Hut). I was looking forward to seeing the hut in summer, because I had stayed overnight there a few years back on a ski trip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdScuMG9cDY), and had not been back since.

The route up from the Jozankei side is grin-ear-to-ear gravel road that starts well-kept…

Mountain biking on Mt. Haruka (Harukayama) near Jozankei and Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

And slowly deteriorates…

Mountain biking on Mt. Haruka (Harukayama) near Jozankei and Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Until it is more or less a couple of tracks in the grass.

Mountain biking on Mt. Haruka (Harukayama) near Jozankei and Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Mountain biking on Mt. Haruka (Harukayama) near Jozankei and Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

“A small slice of that,” laughed Dirk, “and your mind will be somewhere else!” The head of this mushroom was about the size of my palm.

Mountain biking on Mt. Haruka (Harukayama) near Jozankei and Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

We arrived at the Ginrei-so hut at around 1:30pm after the short grunt up the gravel road to get there. The hut is owned and managed by Tokai University in Sapporo. If you want to use the facilities there during the day, then this costs a fee of 400yen. To stay the night costs 800yen each. The hut is fairly dingy and dark inside, but it is cosy.

Haruka-yama hut (Ginrei-so), Hokkaido, Japan

In principle, in order to stay there a reservation is needed (call Tokai University on 011-571-5111 during office hours). Our original plan had been to stay the night at the hut on the previous Sunday night, and I had put in a reservation for that night. In the end it was raining on Sunday, so we decided to postpone the trip till Tuesday. The problem was that Monday through Wednesday were public holidays, so there was no way of getting in touch with the university to change our reservation.  

Long story short, we decided to head up on Tuesday without a reservation and hope for the best.  

We were greeted by the chatty Japanese caretaker of the hut, Mr. Hirata-san, who is at the hut year-round. I explained that we had had a reservation for a few nights ago, and he immediately realized who we were. “Ah, Roberto-san, you made it!” I explained that we’d like to stay the night tonight, but he apologized, explaining that today happened to be the day he had to go back down to Sapporo to re-supply. He wouldn’t be at the hut overnight, so we couldn’t stay.  

“Can I offer you some coffee instead,” he offered cheerfully. We gratefully accepted and spent at least 30 minutes on the veranda of the hut chatting with Hirata-san. “Once a bear came up on the veranda…” “the hut is definitely more busy in the winter…” “…it takes up to 6 hours in winter to ski up here, and I do it a couple of times a week to re-supply…my pack weighs 30kg!”  

Mountain biking on Mt. Haruka (Harukayama) near Jozankei and Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

It was a pity not to be able to stay, but we knew that from here it was just a quick downhill back to the city. And what a fun downhill it was.

Technical trail for the first 15 minutes or so (which was much steeper than it looks in the photo)…

Harukayama mountain biking, Otaru, Japan

  And then the joy of fast gravel and singletrail…  

Harukayama mountain biking, Otaru, Japan

My slick Schwalbe Big Apple tires were not the best for traction, but they did the job.

After a couple of gates, the trails spat us out into civilization again.

A bike ride from Harukayama to Ishikari Bay, Hokkaido, Japan

  A bike ride from Harukayama to Ishikari Bay, Hokkaido, Japan

With all the extra time we now had we headed to the beach at Ishikari Bay for a post-ride beer before heading back into central Sapporo (we had, after all, lugged those cans over a mountain range). A last hurrah to a great mission accomplished. A highly recommended 90km loop of very mixed terrain.

A bike ride from Harukayama to Ishikari Bay, Hokkaido, Japan

A bike ride from Harukayama to Ishikari Bay, Hokkaido, Japan

A bike ride from Harukayama to Ishikari Bay, Hokkaido, Japan

College Festival Magic – The Art of Love at a Japanese University

Every year the Hokkaido University Festival takes place in June. Students prepare in teams for months in advance, culminating in four days of intense festival spirit. Here I interview students about “festival magic”…the curious pairing up of couples during the preparation and excitement of the festival.

This was my first video I’ve shot on my new camera – the Olympus OMD EM-1. I must do a decent write-up on the camera at some stage, but suffice it to say I really enjoyed using it for filming.

– Location: Hokkaido University, Sapporo City, Japan

– Script, camera, and editing by Rob Thomson (www.robthomo.com)

– Music by the amazing Jeris Quinn (http://ccmixter.org/people/VJ_Memes)

– Produced as part of the World Relationships Study (http://on.fb.me/1lUQZzl)

– The World Relationships Study: a 40-country survey about intimacy, similarity and secrets in friendship and romance.

– Filmed using an Olympus OMD EM-1, Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 lens, Canon FD 50mm f1.4 lens, Zoom H1 sound recorder, and a Syrp Genie timelapse controller.

Long Weekend Cycle-Touring in Japan | Day 1: Sapporo to Yuni (Hokkaido)

Like last year, we made the most of Golden Week this year here in Japan. Golden Week is the name given to a string of back-to-back national holidays in Japan. If the dates fall kindly (that is, don’t fall on a weekend), you can end up with up to 5 days of holiday. This year, the dates worked out such that we had four days off work: Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

We celebrated by going on a 200km cycle tour out and back from our front door, towards the south-east of Sapporo (the biggest city in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan).

Unlike last year, however, where we spent most of our time cycling in the rain, this year’s trip began and ended in beautiful sunshine and cherry blossoms galore.

Blossoms on the Shiroishi Cycling Road, Sapporo, Japan

Many of our cycle trips in and out of Sapporo involve the awesome Shiroishi Cycling Road. This scenic cycle path cuts north to south from the Sapporo Convention Center all the way to Kitahiroshima Train Station (changing names from Shiroishi Cycling Road to Himawari (sunflower) Road to Elfin Cycling Road as you get closer to Kitahiroshima). If I happened to be cycling from Chitose Airport to Sapporo, I would take the slight detour and take this cycle way into Sapporo rather than the busy main road (probably adds an extra 15km or so to the route).

Shiroishi Cycling Road, Sapporo, Japan

Our destination for the day was Yuni Town. Not many people I know from Sapporo have heard of this out-of-the way town. But that’s just the way you want it during Golden Week, when every person and their cat is escaping the city. This keeps the crowds at bay.

All along our route were signs of spring.

New spring growth near Naganuma, Hokkaido, Japan

Most of our riding was on quiet farm roads today, and we arrived at the very nice Yuni Campground by about 5pm. The campground was overpriced (1,000yen each for entry, 500yen for a tent space = 2,500yen in total for two people), but only 2km to the amazing Yuni Onsen (Yuni hotspring spa). This was just as well, as we had forgotten to fill my stove fuel bottle with gasoline on the way. The onsen had a restaurant, which saved us going hungry.

Cycling at night on the road in Yuni, Hokkaido, Japan

After a nice hot soak in the hotspring, and a huge meal at the restaurant (2,500yen between us) we returned to the campground satisfied.

Distance for the day: 45km
Note the route map does not follow the Shiroishi Cycling road. The cycling road starts around this GPS point: 43.048698, 141.382821

Claire Press – Music Documentarian Cyclist

Claire’s journey is “a journey to meet, record and explore music across the globe whilst travelling by bicycle. I will seek out and interview street musicians and buskers, local independent artists, labels, club nights and radio stations, all in order to listen and learn what music means to different people around the world” (Claire’s Website).

If you know of any musicians in Hokkaido, let Claire know via her website.

Claire Press in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Haidee and I had the pleasure of meeting Claire Press today in Sapporo. Claire is a British cycle-tourist, currently on an open-ended plan-as-you-go cycle journey (http://www.thebicycletracks.com/). She started in Australia around 6 months ago, and most recently cycled through Indonesia.

She arrived in Japan a few weeks ago, and has traveled up to Hokkaido to explore this northern part of Japan before heading south. We met up with her for lunch, and then an excursion to the local outdoor shop (where Haidee and I were planning on going).

Claire Press in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Claire’s big purchase: an altimeter/barometer. “A completely non-essential luxury item,” she said. “But so motivating as you’re grinding away up a big pass.”

Claire Press in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

I certainly could not agree more (http://14degrees.org/day-734-china-qinghai-qinghai-detour-part-iii-from-o-po-pass-to-o-po/).

Claire Press in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

2014 Spring Tire Change

For four months of the year here in Sapporo, we cycle with spiked tires. That’s mid-December till mid-March. At the beginning of winter, in December, the decision to make the change from normal tires to spikes is fraught with uncertainty: It is snowing today, but will there still be snow on the ground in a couple of days? Inevitably, I do end up cycling a week or so on bare asphalt before the roads finally become firmly in the grip of snow.

In March, the opposite uncertainty is true: The roads are clear today, but will there be a big snowfall in a couple of days? That said, I’m pretty sure today was the right day to make the switch. I’ve grown tired of noisy metal spikes on pavement (and the bewildered looks from pedestrians as I noisily approach).

Haidee was there to document the 45-minute procedure in a relatively balmy 3 degrees Celsius.

First, off with the spikes on the front tire. I use the excellent Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro tires. This is my third full season on the tires. I think they’ll last another couple of winters. With more than 400 aluminium-embedded carbide studs in each tire, they are some the most expensive mountain-bike-sized studded tires you can buy. But even then they cost less than a full tank of gas in most automobiles.

I opted to switch out the tubes for some lighter-weight ones. This is not so much for the literal weight savings, but the thinner tubes make the tires as a whole more pliable, making for a more comfortable ride (tubeless would be ideal, and I intend to make the change at some point).

The after-switch tires are the fat and plush Schwalbe Big Apple tires. These tires have a very pliable sidewall. That plus very high volume of air makes them a very comfortable and fast ride. This will be my third season on this set of tires. Wear looks to be acceptable on both tires.

I have a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub (IGH) on my back wheel. This means removing the back wheel involves a few more steps than a standard quick release setup. I also have a full chain cover (Hebie Chainglider). I haven’t removed the chain cover all winter, and the chain looks in relatively good shape (I give it regular squirts of very light lubricant).

The completed job…

Could do with a more thorough clean of the bike, but that’ll have to wait till a warm weekend.

After a third of a year on the knobbly crunchy spiked tires, the slicks feel like I’m on a magic carpet: Quiet, smooth, steering more direct. Lovely.

Jobs still to do:

  • Change handlebars to ‘butterfly’ trekking bars
  • Take the bike to bits and re-apply anti-rust to the inside of the frame
  • Change the brake pads (Aztec Organic are my pick for quiet braking)
  • Get the dynamo-powered back light wired up





UPDATE: DIY Bicycle Dynamo USB Charger

Following on from my previous post describing how to make a home-made DIY bicycle dynamo-hub USB charger, I have updated the old PVC-pipe container version (at the end of the last post). I removed the innards and transferred them to something more interesting: a clear acrylic pipe, with corks in the ends.

DIY Dynamo USB Charger for a Bicycle | 自作の自転車用のダイナモ充電器(USB)

As you can see, I have also replaced the micro-USB plug with a female USB-A socket, so that I can plug any USB-type cord into it (micro-USB, mini-USB, iPhone-charger-USB, etc). This particular version is not particularly weather-tight. The actual size of it is larger than the previous shrink-wrapped version also. But it is certainly smaller than the PVC-pipe version, and should serve me well.

DIY Dynamo USB Charger for a Bicycle | 自作の自転車用のダイナモ充電器(USB)

Haidee and I are heading off on a two-week cycle tour starting in a couple of days, so both chargers will get a thorough testing :-)

The Shiroishi Cycling Road (Path) in Hokkaido – Sapporo to Kitahiroshima

Length: 19.7km (100% smooth asphalt)
Start: Sapporo Communication Park (SORA) - Sapporo City, Shiroishi-ku, Higashi Sapporo 6-jo 1-chome
End: Kita-Hiroshima JR Train Station - Kitahiroshima City, Chuou 6-chome
Other names: Elfin Road (Kitahiroshima section),  Hinatadamari Road (Atsubetu-ku section), Sapporo-Eniwa Cycling Road (extension is planned).
Winter usage: The Sapporo City section (13.2km) is cleared of snow in winter, so can be cycled all year round. The Kitahiroshima section (6.5km) is not cleared in winter, and is only passable with nordic skis or snowshoes.
Japanese info: Link 1, Link 2.

This is one of my favourite cycling paths in the Sapporo area. It follows the route of the decommissioned (1973) Chitose Line of the Japan Public Railway, so has those classic gentle gradients one would expect from an old train line. The section from the beginning at the Sapporo Communication Park, to the border with Kitahiroshima can be quite busy, especially in the mornings, with middle and high school students using the path to walk to school.

Shiroishi Cycling Road, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

 The path is, however, impressively wide at all points, and throughout the Sapporo City portion, there are only a few road crossings that are not furnished with tunnels or bridges. For the most part, the cycle road goes over or under roads.

Shiroishi Cycling Road, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan   A bridge on the Shiroishi Cycling Road, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

For those cyclists who want to ‘get away from it all’, the Shiroishi Cycling Road will not truly impress until the Kitahiroshima City border, where the urban sprawl ends, and lush forest (in summer and autumn) begins. Here, the cycling road really shines.

Shiroishi Cycling Road, Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, Japan

There is a toilet just after the Kitahiroshima border; a clean bio-toilet with solar panels. There are also toilets at the top of the climb. That is to say, coming from the Sapporo side, the cycling road is a gentle climb all the way to the top of a ‘pass’ on the Kitahiroshima side (here). That said, the Kitahiroshima section of the cycling road has to be seen to be believed. The road is wiiiiide. And smoooooth.

On the Shiroishi/Elfin Cycling Road between Kitahiroshima and Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

The cycle road ends at the Kitahiroshima JR Station, where you can either turn round and cycle back to Sapporo, or bundle bikes into bike bags and take the train back to Sapporo station.

Bicycles on the train in Sapporo, Japan Bicycles on the train in Sapporo, Japan

Bicycles on the train in Sapporo, Japan

There are plans afoot to extend the cycle road all the way to Eniwa. This would be fantastic, as it would make an almost perfect cycling road loop, connecting the Shikotsu-Chitose cycling road, Sapporo-Shikotsu cycling road, Toyohira River cycling road, and Shiroishi Cycling road. This would be an almost 150km circular route, easily done in two days with a nice camping stop at the scenic Lake Shikotsu.

Shiroishi Cycling Road Route Map

View Map on Google Maps