Iiyama offers plenty of opportunities to meet serious cyclists. In fact, the city is often called a "biking paradise" by those in the know. Various cycling routes run through Iiyama, with flat public roads providing easy cycling for road bikers, while rocky ridges challenge mountain biking enthusiasts. With four unique seasons, cyclists can also enjoy a variety of gorgeous scenery while on the road.
After touring the world by bicycle, Terunori Kobayashi now works at the Iiyama-based TRKWorks, helping to advance cycling sports by bringing bike races to the city and training future professional cyclists. According to Kobayashi, Iiyama is "one of the best cycling spots I've encountered in my world travels."
The wide paved roads running along the Chikuma River recall the maintained paths of bicycle-friendly Denmark, while the mountain roads bring Italy's bike routes to mind.
In addition, because the JR Iiyama line stops at several stations within city limits, it's possible to bring bikes to various parts of Iiyama by train. Mr. Kobayashi tells us that locations with this combination of excellent biking paths and easy transportation are few and far between. We were lucky enough to get a few tips from Mr. Kobayashi on the best cycling roads in Iiyama.
Ride along the Chikuma River, admiring flowers as you go.
“Flower Road “
Route 117 is situated on the left bank of the Chikuma River in the center of Iiyama city. With few traffic lights and long flat stretches, cyclists can ride at a brisk pace. The road is wide, designed to prevent floods from the Chikuma River, and maintained as a path for students commuting to school, creating a safe and easy route for cyclists.
In addition, "Flower Road," the roughly 10 kilometers of Route 117 running alongside the railway tracks, is known for the charming variety of seasonal flowers planted by Iiyama residents.
Furthermore, with local roads to sightseeing spots, cafes/restaurants, and hot springs branching off from this route, cycling trips can be tailored to your interests. As a short break or a side trip, you might enjoy a food tour stopping at delicious patisserie and eel shops, a teramachi (temple town) tour, or a visit to one of Iiyama's healing onsen (hot springs).
Iiyama residents plant various seasonal flowers along “flower road,” including nanohana (rapeseed blossoms), which reach full bloom each spring. Cyclists can enjoy a stress-free, nearly traffic light-free ride down a road surrounded by flowers.
Have you ever seen a sign like this!?
A traffic sign “An incline of 20%“in Kosuge
Found on a prefectural road in Kosuge, Iiyama City, this sign warns of a steep "20% grade slope!"- this will be one of the steepest roads in Iiyama. Mr. Kobayashi recommends that cyclists "definitely try challenging the hill climb here."
“Hill climbing” is exactly what it sounds like - cycling up the slope of a mountain pass. Those who attempt this feat are known as "hill climbers." Because hill climbing involves a strenuous uphill climb from start to finish, it's a serious test of strength and will.
Because even top-level cyclists are reduced to a crawl when mounting 20% grade slopes, training here will ensure that you reach peak levels of strength. And if you can manage to enjoy the ride, it's a good sign that you truly love cycling.
One of the steepest slopes in Iiyama city. At a gradient of 20%, this hill is an excellent training ground for cyclists seeking a thrilling hill climb. Incidentally, the "Nanohana Iiyama Cycling Road Race," organized each April by Mr. Kobayashi, includes a hill climbing section with average inclines of 8%.
Shinanodaira: Cycle through quiet rural scenery
Iiyama's Shinanodaira district is a peaceful area, with Mt. Kuroiwa rising above quiet rural scenery. An old patrol base, known as Mt. Takaochi, now serves as the launch-area for hang gliders, and offers impressive views of the mountain's elegant shadow on the rice paddies below.
In addition, the roughly 6 km between the Shinanodaira inns at the mountain's base and the Takaochi summit serve as the race course for both the "Nanohana Iiyama Cycle Road Race" and the first race in the "All Japan student road race cup series." Held every April, these races draw large numbers of participants and supporters.
It's said that Mt. Takaochi (Mt. Hawk-fall) is so steep that hawks seem to plummet as they take off in flight. The peak offers uninterrupted views of the Shinanodaira area's beautiful agricultural scenery, and the entire mountain route makes for a refreshing ride.
The old national highway runs parallel to the Chikuma River and JR Iiyama line.
The old national highway runs beside the Chikuma River from the Kashio Bridge to the Nishi-Otaki Dam. Offering a beautiful view of the Chikuma River and the Iiyama train line, this is a great cycling course.
Since the construction of a new Rt. 117 bypass on the opposite side of the river, traffic on the old highway has dwindled, so cyclists can enjoy a leisurely ride. For those who get tired or run into bad weather along the way, train stations provide easy access to alternate transportation.
At Yutaki onsen (hot spring), located along Rt. 117, visitors can enjoy an up-close view of the Chikuma River while bathing, making it a great spot for a day trip.
There are no houses and little traffic along the old national highway, so it's a great route for a carefree bike trip. Riding alongside the Chikuma River and the Iiyama Railway line is great fun!
Miyukino Line: A pleasant trip along farm roads and past bridges in the Nabekura Kogen (highlands)
The Miyukino line runs northeast along Prefectural Highway 95 from the Togari-onsen ski area. This major farm road stretches roughly 7 kilometers from Nukui village to Karayama Village, passing Nabekura Kogen - Mori-no-ie along the way. With almost no traffic and gentle ups and downs, this is a lovely route.
The road passes over deep gorges, which are spanned by five bridges. The Nabekura-ohashi (Large Nabekura Bridge) and Habiro-ohashi (Large Habiro Bridge) offer particularly magnificent views of the mountain foothills. Especially during the several weeks of magnificent fall foliage, this route offers some beautiful but little-known viewing areas.
Visitors with a fear of heights should be cautious when looking down on the ravines.
The Miyukino Line, extending to the Nabekura highlands across five bridges, offers sweeping landscape views. On clear days, visitors can see as far as Echigo-sanzan (The three Echigo Mountains) in neighboring Niigata Prefecture.
The Cyclist's Delight:
Tackling "hill climbing" on mountain ridges
"Hill climbing" is a rapidly growing trend among serious road bikers. Because ascending a mountain or steep slope provides a great sense of satisfaction, the number of cyclists tackling challenging climbs is growing. Quick ascents are also a useful way to take the lead in timed road races, so many cyclists are working hard to overcome their weakness in uphill rides. Located in a basin surrounded by mountains, the Iiyama terrain provides various mountain ridges ideal for training.
Great rides include: The uphill road from central Iiyama city to Madarao Kogen (highlands); The Shinanodaira area's Mt. Takaochi, which hosts the annual "Nanohana Iiyama cycle road race"; and maki-toge (Maki Ridge), which runs from Kuwanagawa Station to Joetsu City (Niigata Prefecture) through the Nabekura Kogen (highlands). Head to sekida-toge (Sekida Ridge) and you'll see many cyclists riding intently up the road.
Sekida-toge (Sekida Ridge), situated at the Nagano-Niigata Prefectural border, looks out over the Sea of Japan. It's said that Kenshin Uesugi (A 16th century warlord) traveled to Nagano through this pass, and exchange between present-day Niigata and Nagano prefectures increased during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Of all the mountain passes in the area, Sekida-toge is situated at the highest elevation. The Daikagura observation platform, located on the ridge, offers views of the meandering Chikuma River, vast Iiyama Basin, and the lower mountain pass. After scaling the mountain pass, cyclists emerge into a forest of beech trees, which surrounds chaya-ike (Chaya Pond). The peaceful scenery, including the Hikarigahara farm just ahead in Niigata prefecture, has a calming influence.
Roadside station "Flower Station - Chikuma River” is recommended as a starting point.
The roadside station "Flower Station - Chikuma River” along Rt. 117/Flower road is a great place to start your bike trip. You can bring road bikes by car, and park for free in the large parking area. After riding along branch roads and mountain passes, it's a convenient place to return. Clean and comfortable bathrooms are also provided. The shop at "Flower Station - Chikuma River” sells vegetables and other local products, and has a fully-stocked information corner with tourism information from Iiyama, as well as the surrounding towns and cities.
Surrounded by the Chikuma River and rice fields, the scenery is particularly lovely in spring, when nanohana (rapeseed blossoms) and sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom. With hot spring facilities available nearby, many families and couples camp here overnight.
Sudden breakdown? Call Agematsu Co.!
Because of the heavy snow in winter, people in Iiyama come to love winter sports from an early age, and the ski club is a very popular activity for middle and high school students. In summer, many students commute to school on road bikes, or cycle to stay in shape. (Actually, Mr. Kobayashi rode a road bike for the first time in high school) There are several cycling shops in Iiyama city that specialize in road bikes.
One of these shops is Agematsu-shokai, located in front of Iiyama Station, which sells bikes, as well as offering maintenance and repair.
The 5th annual “Nanohana Iiyama” race
“Nanohana Iiyama cycle road race" and the first race of the “All Japan student road race cup series," both held annually in April, have come to mark Spring in Iiyama. The "Nanohana" race is open to all cyclists above junior high, and safe even for beginners. The "All Japan" series offers high level competition for university students, as well as professional athletes and skilled non-professionals. The Iiyama race holds an important position as the first competition in the series. Mr. Kobayashi plans and organizes both events.
The 5th annual race, held in 2011, saw a record high number of participants - a total of 580 cyclists competed over two days. On the first day, participants cycled in between huge snow walls to Shinanodaira's Takaochi peak, a 6 kilometer climb with an average slope of 8.5%. General competitors made the ascent once, while registered competitors were timed as they rode the course three times. The fastest athletes can complete the course in about 18 minutes. Local people of all ages gathered at the starting point in central Shinanodaira, cheering vigorously for all of the competitors.
The second day of competition was based around high speed time trials, held on a special circuit set up on public lake-side roads. A race built for all levels, general entrants (Elementary school and up) competed in personal time trials, while registered competitors attempted to complete circuits within established time limits. Sakura (cherry blossom) trees bloomed all around the circuit, creating a spring-like scene very different from the first day of competition.
The main feature of the two-day competition is the use of public roads. Most racing competitions in Japan are held in one day, but to highlight the two different types of cycling, the competitions in Iiyama are spread over two days. According to Mr. Kobayashi, "Without the cooperation of local people who understand and support cycling sports, this competition would not have been possible." This supportive local atmosphere is one reason Iiyama is known as a great place for cycling.
A "bicycle boy," MR. Terunori Kobayashi
loves Iiyama and cycling
Mr. Terunori Kobayashi was born and raised in Iiyama. He was a bicycle boy from an early age, wearing down two tricycles in early childhood. He began to seriously pursue cycling after receiving his first road bike at 15.
As a student, he traveled throughout Japan and abroad for races and tours, and his interest in mountain trails continued after graduating. Since his retirement from racing, Kobayashi has worked with various sponsors to promote cycling sports, including efforts to train young athletes and coaches. Beyond his work in organizing the "Nanohana Iiyama cycle road race" and the first race of the “All Japan student road race cup series" held every April, he also helps to plan the fall/winter Cyclocross race popular in Europe. Kobayashi also participates in various Iiyama activities as an outdoor outfitter, including skiing, snow shoeing, kayaking, and agriculture.
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