Ride Report

Eroica Japan

Have you ever seen a number pinned to an Audax jersey? Me neither until now.

Eroica is a global series of cycling events celebrating vintage cycling in all its glory. Originating in Italy the course typically has a fair amount of strade bianche in addition to the hills for additional challenge. The organisers state:

“L’Eroica and all Eroica Events invite cyclists to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest. We look to the past of cycling to inspire the future of this beautiful sport.”

I had an ambition to attend an Eroica event since about 2018, thereabouts. To prepare I set about finding a suitable machine to ride, breaking it a few times and modifying it under the skillful hands of LSC owner Adam Pelzer who fabricated a long cage Super Record rear derailleur at my request. Finally a robust and reliable package was developed however sadly the frame was not quite right for someone as short as me. The running gear was transferred to the Green machine and its been perfect ever since.

Meanwhile covid put the brakes on any similar local events for years. The last NSB was a couple of steelies infiltrating the gravel bike event, not really the celebration of vintage bikes I had been looking forward to. And its not the organisers fault either, they got pretty badly beaten up with covid and bad weather over a period of time.

I caught wind of Eroica Japan. It was close or at least way closer than Italy, the routes looked amazing, I signed up and off I went. Obviously there’s a bit more to it than that, but in short that’s how I found myself in the Kona Stay bicycle hotel in Izunokuni pinning a number onto an Audax jersey which I had decided to wear on the Friend ride. The Audax kit has a giant Kangaroo on it which should be some sort of clue as to my origin. Nonetheless, I fielded the “where are you from” question many times.

Because of the other festival events on the Saturday, I decided to ride 30km only which was a good call. I would ride 80km through the hills Sunday on the vintage only ride.

Day 1 – the Friend ride

The ride commences with the traditional group ride briefing. Riders line up into the staging area, drums are getting beaten to death on the adjacent stage which is setting the scene for something epic. Personally I think all rides should have drums, I’ll now be disappointment if they do not. There’s quite a few vintage bikes, some neo and all sorts of other things as well since Saturday is open to anyone with any sort of bike.

With the drumming complete we are sent out onto the course which makes its way along the Kano River and then out to the coast. While this course is not especially challenging it has a proper hill to negotiate to get from the river to the sea. The course follows the coastline which is just stunning. And on this very shiny day Mt Fuji is putting on a bit of a show for even more win. I pause at the checkpoint for a fine lunch and head back along the coast which is just perfect.

The 30km course follows the river and then heads down to the sea. There are also tunnels which bicycles travel through on the carriageway which is a new experience.

Day one ended with speeches, a parade, a fine meal, music and an early night because Sunday’s ride was going to be a bit gnarly.

Day 2 – showtime

The story for Sunday is different. Its 80km and 1600m thereabouts. Owing to a new Garmin and not disabling the auto off function, it only recorded 70km and 900-ish metres but for sure I did the whole thing. When I studied the course, I checked the ascents carefully. I should have also checked the descents since the last 4km off the mountain to the beach averages 10 percent with parts up to 20 percent. Exhilarating as sweaty fingers cling to ancient levers hoping I can hang on. But I am getting ahead of myself, lets rewind a bit.

 

This ride also heads along the Kano river. For anyone familiar with roads that follow rivers in Europe, they are generally flat. In Japan, they are far from flat because they sit way above the river owing to the amount of water that finds its way out of the mountains and into the river. Flooding is real, this is how they deal with it. The road then rises sharply to the top of the first pass.

From there its across the top to the next pass, then down the steep bit to the ocean and from there back along the waterfront. Across the top was cold, windy and foggy, the descents on the ocean side green and slippery. The final descent off the mountain as I mentioned only slightly terrifying on vintage brakes. Other than this, no problem.

The Kano River. Notice how flat it is down here, how wide. The banks are substantially reinforced with concrete and the path is a long way up from the water. Oh yes Mt Fuji in the background. And what about that shirt, is it orange enough?

The river down a bit further. Water is pounding through there.

The roads are superb and zero traffic. Speed limit is 40 all through here.

Fishing occurs along the river. Magical place.

Eventually walking happens. Notice the open drain beside the road. These are common everywhere here. Sometimes they are covered, often they are not. Putting a wheel into one of those would be a very bad idea.

This is one of those “how’s the serenity” deals. Its like this all the way up. Eventually I stop taking photos so I can finish before dark.

I make it to the checkpoint which is not quite at the top of the pass. At around 900 metres its cold and I need to go up there.

I’m in tourist mode, in awe of the road and surroundings. Someone kindly takes a photo and then things get tricky.

Approaching the summit at over 900 metres, weather happens. Its windy and the road vanishes in the fog. I am about to carefully descend into a whiteout in crosswinds on a road I’ve not traversed before. Also its fast, I exceed the speed limit up here somewhere.

Long story short, I had to stop taking pictures so I could negotiate the descent safely. The road got steep and slippery and the last 4 kilometers off the mountains and onto the beach was amazing and terrifying in equal measures. I lived to tell the tale, the most epic 80km I’ve ever ridden.

Day 2 ended with flag waving and cheering at the finish and then lots of requests to participate in photos like the one below which has Giancarlo Broci, the father of Eroica in it. I quite literally was dragged by the arm and shoved in front. Brilliant. This was followed by cultural dancing and then audience participation in the cultural dancing. Just so much fun and I only mentioned some of the events and items of interest. Yes, there was much, much more.

This has easily been the best event I’ve ever been to both in the way it was run, the vibe and the amount of fun everyone had. Add it to your list if vintage bikes are your thing.