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





Jozankei Nature Park in Winter (Day 2)

Last night, Haidee and I and Haidee’s sister stayed the night in a yurt at Jozankei Nature Park in the foothills of Sapporo City. Despite the interior of the yurt only being separated from the walls of snow surrounding it by a thin layer of canvas, it was a warm enough sleep. No doubt aided by the nice kerosene stove.

We woke to glorious weather.

So we wasted no time in making the most of it. While we were free to use the snowshoes we had hired the previous day, this morning we opted to try out their basic skinned skis (also hired for 100 yen each). It turned out they were hard work for the inexperienced.

But fun enough on the flatter parts.


Haidee and Kylee opted to return the skis and switch back to the snowshoes for the rest of the morning.

Whereas I soldiered on with the skis…

With mixed results.

Checkout at the Nature Park was at 11:30am, so we made it our goal to walk the 4km from the nature park to Yu no Hana Onsen (hot spring) (42.962724,141.158421) for lunch, a hot spring soak, and a free bus back to Makomanai Subway station.

The footpaths and roads were cleared for the most part…

But along the main road into Jozankei township, it was clear it had been a bumper season for snow.

Yu no Hana Onsen is not the most ‘traditional’ onsens in the area, but it is ‘authentic’ in the sense that it is a classic large-scale onsen. With a large food court upstairs and their multiple free shuttle buses into Sapporo, it is very convenient for trips to the Nature Park area.

We made it back to Makomanai Station at around 5pm, and caught the subway to Nakajima Park.

From Nakajima Park it was a quick 15 minute walk across the Toyohira River back to our apartment. With magnificent views down the river towards Mt. Tarumae.

A fantastic two days, with great weather and great company.

Jozankei Nature Park in Winter (Day 1)

Haidee’s sister Kylee was in Tokyo on business. Friday last week was a public holiday. Which is all to say the prerequisites for a quick long-weekend jaunt up to Sapporo were lined up for Kylee.

Haidee and I decided to make it count for her.

The mission was to try to showcase Sapporo’s awesome winter. One strategy we came up with was to book a night in a yurt at the awesome Jozankei Nature Park. We had heard rumors that winter was an epic time to visit Jozankei Nature Park, so we made the plunge. The risk paid off well, with the help of an amazing spring snowfall while we were there.

Getting to Jozankei Nature Park is fairly straight forward. Take the Nanboku Subway Line all the way to the final station, Makomanai Subway Station. From there, catch a bus to Hoheikyo Onsen (hot springs). If you time it right, you can catch a free bus all the way to Hoheikyo Onsen. The free bus leaves Makomanai Subway Station at 10am each day, and takes 45 minutes (http://www.hoheikyo.co.jp/en/access/index_e.html). The bus leaves about 100m down the road from the station (42.990827,141.356258).

Upon arriving at Hoheikyo Onsen (42.949387,141.155803), it is then a 20 minute walk to the very end of a quiet road, where Jozankei Nature Park is situated in the forest (42.931813,141.152215).

Jozankei Nature Park costs 170yen for entry for day visitors. This time, we opted to stay overnight in one of their awesome yurts (or, ‘tent-house’ as they call them). These amazing 7-person yurts cost only 3,900yen a night, and this includes very basic foam mats, wool blankets, and a kerosene stove which does a great job at warming the space up. We were staying in the Okuma yurt (all the yurts have names) (42.931198,141.150554).

That said, there is only a small layer of stretched canvas between the interior and walls of snow.


So a warm sleeping bag is recommended.

On this first day, a couple of our other friends Alex and Abby joined us for the day. We hired snowshoes (100 yen) for the day and explored some of the forest surrounding the park.

There was a good fresh layer of snow, helped along by a solid dumping while we wandered. The nature park has a marked snowshoe route, which takes about 30 minutes to walk around, starting from behind the admin building (42.932115,141.152874).

The snow continued, even as we stopped to dig a trench-couch and have an impromptu birthday cake party for Alex. What better way to spend your birthday?


Alex and Abby headed off half way through the day to catch a 3:30pm bus from Hoheikyo Onsen back to Makomanai Station. After a quick break, Haidee, Kylee and I headed back out into the forest in search of powder snow.

It was easy to find (42.929405,141.156087).

Venturing even further up the gully (42.925843,141.151485), we soon became wary of avalanche danger. We erred on the side of caution and turned around back to the park.

During the winter months, the park kitchen is open for guests to use. We cooked up pasta and vege soup for dinner.

After dinner we ventured out into the night for a spot of night snowshoeing. The crisp clear night was perfect for it.

All the while I was struck by how perfect a location this was for getting a taste for the great outdoors in winter in Hokkaido. With the nature park village only a few minutes walk away, people can safely experience this environment in relative comfort.

We headed back to the yurt after an hour of wandering, and were in our sleeping bags by about 9pm, falling asleep to the sound of the occasional icicle dropping off the side of the yurt.









Takino Suzuran Hillside Park in Winter (Sapporo, Japan)

I spent most of today wondering why it had taken us three years to visit Takino Suzuran Park, on the outskirts of Sapporo. This gargantuan park, 395 hectares of it all, is a national government run park. In winter it is free to enter, and is a treasure trove of winter outdoor activities. We finally made the 45-minute bus ride there because Haidee’s sister, Kylee, was visiting from New Zealand, and we wanted to check out the nordic skiing on offer. The park did not disappoint.

Essentially, it was dumping big fluffy gobs of spring snow all day. We had wanted to show Kylee what Sapporo’s proper winter looked like, and our desires were being met.

We caught a bus from Makomanai Subway station, direct to the Suzuran Park Keiryu-guchi bus stop. This bus stop is the first of three bus stops in the park itself. From there, we walked a few minutes through the snow to Lodge Yukizasa, where we hired nordic skiis (800 yen each for the day).

This was only the first (Kylee) or second-ish (Haidee and Rob) time we had used nordic skiis. They were easy enough to get the hang of though, and we were soon gliding through the powdery snow.

We opted to stick to the beginner’s course to start with; a 2km ski through mostly flat terrain to a frozen waterfall.

We soon grew more bold, and decided to head up to the Country House for lunch. This required a stiff climb up the park, but promised a gentle easy ski back down to the lodge.

Lunch at the County House, at the top of the small ski field near the center of the park, was sufficient. It was nothing special, but the prices were cheap (US$8 for a medium-sized lunch).

And then came the downhill. Not too steep to cause too much concern.

All in all a great day out, and it has me all motivated to learn a little bit more about cross-country skiing for next season.

Timelapse: Sapporo Snow Festival and Winter Cityscape (Hokkaido, Japan)

My brother is one of the masterminds behind the Syrp Genie, a timelapse motion control device for taking timelapse footage. With the Genie, I captured the footage below, edited by a friend here in Sapporo, Japan.

I used a Panasonic Lumix GF1 camera linked to the Genie. Lenses used included the Lumix 20mm f1.7, and an old Canon FD 50mm f1.4, and a crappy old fisheye converter.

Snowshoeing near Hoheikyo Onsen (Jozankei, Hokkaido)

Sometimes we forget how majestic the nature is here in Sapporo, so close to home. Within a 40 minute drive, a prepared individual can enjoy some impressive hills, made all the more beautiful by the annual winter snows.

So I organized a short snowshoe trip for the local Hokkaido International Outdoor Club. We have a Facebook group with 80 registered members, around 20 or so of which are active. Six of us ventured out a few weekends ago to explore a perfect spot for snowshoeing: the area surrounding Hoheikyo Onsen (hot springs). The idea was simple. Meet at the hot springs, go for a showshoe hike along the Hiyamizu-sawa track (heading towards Sapporo-dake), return to the hot springs, have Indian curry (there is an Indian curry restaurant at the hot springs), have a soak in the hot springs, go home.

Two of us decided to cycle from Sapporo to the meeting spot. The distance is around  25km. For some reason I thought it would take us an hour and a half. It took us almost three. The going is slow in winter…

Cycling from Sapporo to Jozankei in the winter (Hokkaido, Japan)The other four, traveling by car, arrived on time at the official meeting time. On the bikes, we were a solid 45 minutes late. No time to dilly-dally, on with the snowshoes.

Top Tip: Showshoes can be hired for only 800yen for an entire weekend from the Nakajima Park Fitness Center (中島公園体育センター). The 800yen is for one 24-hour period, but since the center is not open on the weekends, Friday pick-up and Monday drop-off is considered ‘one 24 our period’.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)We started hiking from the start of the Hiyamizu-sawa track, which climbs all the way to the top of Sapporo-dake. We would only hike part of the way, have lunch, and head back.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)

The track follows a small stream, only sometimes visible under large mushrooms of snow. The snow was fairly well packed down on the track; this is a popular spot for outdoor types.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)

Once we veered off the track onto a forest road, the snow was fresh; without snowshoes this would be hard going.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)

Rick, the most experienced outdoors-person in the group, had previously scouted out a nice place for lunch on his topographical maps. This required a hike up a small rise in the landscape through deep powder. His keen eye for interesting contour lines was spot on: lunch was at the top of an amazing clearing, overlooking the hills in the distance.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)Wrapped up against the cold, we lasted about 30 minutes soaking up the view and warm cups of soup.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)


We carried on after lunch with full bellies and keen to get back down for a soak in the hot springs.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)We arrived back at the hot springs at around 4pm. First a soak, then food. Hoheikyo onsen is a natural hotspring, well known for its outdoor baths. In winter this place is magical.

The bike home was amazing, as it always is from Jozankei. It is more or less all downhill to Sapporo. This was the first time I had done the return trip at night, in a blizzard. At least the blizzard was at our backs for the most part. Screaming down a dark rural road with only bicycle headlights to illuminate great chunks of ice was exhilarating. At least I had a decent dynamo-powered headlight (the amazing Busch and Mueller Lumotec IQ Cyo). Michael only had a head torch…

All in all a long, rewarding day outside.

Snowshoe members (from the Hokkaido International Outdoor Club)



Mid-winter cycling on Ishikari Beach

In summer, Ishikari beach to the north of Sapporo, Japan, is a soft sun-tanners paradise. In -10 deg C mid-winter, it freezes solid. Which means one thing: cycling perfection. Upon Alex’s invitation, I went for a bike ride there today. Alex rides a fatbike. That means his tires are huge; made to float over soft stuff like sand. And snow.

The only issue is access to the beach. This consisted of about 15 minutes of tough pushing through deep snow. The hope of clear, wave-washed beach further down kept us going.

After some hefty pushing, however, a glorious sight greeted us. Little to no snow on the beach. And even better, the sand was frozen solid like concrete. With my skinnier 29×2.25 tires, this was a relief!

It was a beautiful day for it. Sun, clear visibility, and around -5 degrees C.

Alex was on 4.8-inch tires. I was on 2.25-inch. Quite the difference in terms of float: The wider the tires, the less they sink into soft stuff. But when everything’s frozen (and so long as there wasn’t too much snow), my bike handled it OK.

It was amazing to see wild foxes, and even more amazing to see Hokkaido sea eagles. Massive majestic creatures.

We cycled all the way from Ishikari Port to the end of the beach at the north end, where Ishikari River meets the sea. The further we got north, the more ice we saw. And a fascinating phenomenon: small slithers of ice washing up on the beach like pebbles.

It was a hard slog back the way we had come; the afternoon sun had softened the beach a little. Or was it just my tired legs?

All in all, it was an amazing morning/afternoon out. Thanks for the idea Alex!

And yes, that is a guy using a kite-surfing kite on the beach, on the snow. Looks like great fun.

Japan Far North: Days 12 & 13 (Mashita to Hamanasu to Sapporo)

Our last two days on the road on this 2013 summer vacation cycling trip were a bit of a blur. The highway connecting Sapporo to Rumoi along the coast is a whirlwind of tunnels interspersed with little nuggets of coast.

Lots of tunnels along the coast towards Hamamasu, Hokkaido, JapanWaterfall near Hamamasu, Hokkaido, JapanRoadside stalls lured us in with their delicious wares such as freshly steamed sweetcorn and watermelon.

More watermelon snacks (Ishikari City, Japan)We made the dash from Hamanasu to Sapporo in one day, despite planning on splitting it up into two days. A tiring 80km into a headwind later, we finally arrived back home after a fantastic two weeks and 600km cycle-exploring the far north of Japan – Rishiri and Rebun Islands, Wakkanai and surrounds.

Lots of tunnels along the coast towards Hamamasu, Hokkaido, Japan

Japan Far North: Day 11 (Tomamae to Mashike)

A sleepy, rainy start to the day.

A sleepy Rob in the morning (near Tomamae, Hokkaido, Japan)Lunch well and truly made up for it though. I had mentioned yesterday the great lunches we were indulging in on this trip. This is what I was talking about. An awesome filling lunch for US$9 equivalent. Anyone who thinks traveling in Japan is expensive has either never left Tokyo, or has never traveled by bicycle in this country.

A great lunch for US$9 near Rumoi, Hokkaido, Japan The big surprise today was the amazing historical town of Mashike. We never expected it at all. We would have missed it altogether had we not taken the coastal route into town. But this place is amazing. Some of the earliest Hokkaido recent history (around 180 years) on the island.

Historic buildings in Mashike, Hokkaido, Japan

Historic buildings in Mashike, Hokkaido, JapanThese photos are from the former Merchant House Maruichi Honma – a dry goods store build in 1882. The building charges an entry fee, but it is well worth it.

Historic buildings in Mashike, Hokkaido, JapanHistoric buildings in Mashike, Hokkaido, JapanWe ended up staying at the Mashike Auto-Camp Grounds, one of the priciest campgrounds of the trip, which was mostly worth the money (1,000yen each). The bright red suspension bridge over a small river to get to the campground was a nice touch.

Suspension bridge in Mashike Town, Hokkaido, Japan

Japan Far North: Day 10 (Shosanbetsu to Tomamae)

We knew we only had 40km to cycle today, so we took it easy in the morning. A short walk down the cliff to the seashore revealed a Shinto torii (shrine gateway). Just up the beach from the gate was an impossibly small shrine.

Tori at Shokanbetsu Misakidai Park (Shokanbetsu, Japan)Another scorcher of a day awaited us as we packed up the tent and headed out on our bikes. This is why we love Hokkaido: Wide open spaces, massive sky…

Haboro Town, JapanLike most days on this trip, today we also had lunch at a local restaurant. We’ve found for around 800yen (US$8) we can get a very filling lunch, consisting of rice, some sort of tasty dish, and plenty of vegetables. Having lunch in this way allows us to relax for an hour or so in the hottest part of the day before venturing out again.

Post-lunch activities for me consisted of getting a haircut. I had been playing with the idea of getting a #0 buzzcut for a while. I usually cut my own hair using clippers, at a #1 length. Believe it or not, the jump from #1 to #0 is scary. You’re pretty much just leaving stumps. So I found the most old-school looking barber in town, and asked him to buzz away.

Getting a haricut the oldschool way by an 81 year old barber in Haboro Town, Hokkaido, JapanThe barber was 81 years old. He’s been doing this since he was 16. He was born in Manchuria, during the Japanese occupation of that area of China. The man was a pro.

Getting a haricut the oldschool way by an 81 year old barber in Haboro Town, Hokkaido, Japan

The treatment was full and without mercy. He only trimmed my eyebrows a little bit, saying “I don’t understand these young guys these days shaving their eyebrows to a whisp.”

Getting a haricut the oldschool way by an 81 year old barber in Haboro Town, Hokkaido, JapanFor an 81 year old, he had very steady hands.

Getting a haricut the oldschool way by an 81 year old barber in Haboro Town, Hokkaido, JapanAfter getting all spruced up, we carried on the rest of the way to Tomamae, our stop for the night. Yuhi-gaoka (Sunset Hill) Campground lived up to its name.

Tomamae Yuhi-gaoka Autocamp Ground (Tomamae, Hokkaido, Japan)