Shirakawago is a timeless glimpse at a bygone era and a place everyone visiting Japan should make an effort to get to. And it does need effort as it’s not the closest place to the main touristy draw cards. From its nearest big city Nagoya, it’s about a 3hr tour bus ride or 4hr by train and bus on public transport.
So, how about riding? It’s about 150km directly north from Nagoya and ought to take two to two and a half hours. However, I rode from Yokohama and the shortest route is around 360km and from Matsumoto to Takayama has some great twisties and fantastic views. But, winter snow and ice makes the short route dicy if it’s open. So, it was a safe 450km+ mostly expressway jaunt.
Making it to that last long tunnel was like Shirakawago was rolling out a big warm welcome mat for all the effort.
Got to get back and stay longer next time… Next time… How many attempts and years will that take? 😂
With the lifting of the corona virus state of emergency and local prefectural no-travel requests, it was time for the steed and I to chase the horizon once more.
This was the road that inspired the second wind and got me to thinking that a Coast to Coast Twistybutt had to be done. From here on there were mostly epic roads, views and the autumn colours would be even better. Besides, the 502 was ahead and I’d read a few months before that it’d be open for the start of October. If you get to the 502, it’s all downhill to the coast, right? Onward!
The expressway run home was a cold monotonous cruise control enabled decompress. It was the easiest and most economical leg of the ride though and traffic was surprisingly light.
This twisted fossil thoroughly enjoyed the stretch of legs and right wrist. And the MT10sp is proving a great steed for such stretches. Just wish it wouldn’t drink so much. 😉
Left home in the cool pre-dawn for what I thought would be a morning excursion but one thing lead to another and before I knew it I’d gone Coast to Coast and still had to get home, which is near the coast so…
Was a fantastic ride! @1150km in 20hrs with @250km of that on the expressway. Nice and cool at altitude so tried to stay up there as much as possible. Got to finally do a road on my bucket list, Sugawa Touge on the 403 between Niigata and Nagano. Exceptional views and a fantastic hillclimb. Bit narrow on the south side though. The phone was overheating unfortunately so here are some other snaps from the ride instead.
About the Bones
Now, why did I start the day with a 190km expressway run out to Nikko? Let’s roll the clock back a bit. Almost two years ago to the day while returning from several great days of touring Tohoku with a Viking, coming around a right hander into a narrow bridge crossing, I was met with a a black van on my side of the road and a tough choice…
Head on Collision…nope!
Dodge the van and likely hit the guardrail over the bridge…guardrails are rather unforgiving from previous experience, so…nope!
Try to pull up and go off the corner…lots of thick grass to plow, a concrete pole and tree to dodge but ok…
It all happened so fast that there really wasn’t a decision process to ponder. As soon as I grabbed that brake lever, a wide line was inevitable and going off road it was.
The braking was strong enough to leave a faint gray streak for the last metre or so before leaving the sticky stuff but by then we’d slowed to running pace. After shimmying across the dirt and then off the brakes into that long welcoming green grass with about as much traction as butter, the grass had a another surprise for us.
Just as I was sizing up the tree’s thick branch that we were going to have to plow through at just above front wheel height, we launched a little on a hump hidden in the grass. Not a space bound launch but I’ve many a time thought what would have been if I’d hit it with pace… In any case, it threw me out of the saddle enough to unsettle me and after that I was a mere passenger.
It was about then that my eyes widened to dinner plates as there was a gaping trench below the branch which had also been hidding behind that long grass!
A stone walled creek/river of unknown depth and bottom. Yep, the crash that keeps on giving! Branch crack, crunch of fairing-plastic and then the odd pop-click-crack, like lobsters on the reef if you’ve ever heard that when diving but a hundred reefs of them pop-click-cracking out from your marrow to your sensors. Bones n joints doing what they aren’t intended to. Head first into the wall! Just above the helmet visor. Then again to the crown of my head on a lower stone step protruding from the wall.
I came to, draped over the FZ1 with my left fingers in mesh summer gloves filtering clean clear mountain waters gurgling below me. The old beast had saved me once more.
I did the sensory check and then the digit-limb-everything check and I was in one piece, operational but quite badly winded. Clambered to my feet noticing a sore wrist and bit of dizziness. Looking around, I was ankle deep in a 2-3 metre high 2-3 metre wide concrete bottomed, riverstone lined creek/river teeming with life, both plant and insect. The FZ1 had lost the front below the fork stanchions but looked ok. It wasn’t. Discovered a fatal frame crack much later. Still pains me.
Back in the trench, I was bewildered and having a little trouble staying upright when the Viking appeared above. He’d been some way back but close enough to see something amiss. I just remember asking, “Did I fk up?” Oviously!
On extracting myself from the trench with the help of a good samaritan passerby, I painfully realized something was not at all right with my wrists. As the shock and fight or flight chemical dump wore off waiting for the ambulance, it became painfully apparent there were a few things not quite doing what they should’ve been doing.
The ambulance and fire crew were great while the local inspector Cluoseau wannabe bordered on comical with his various hypothesis and line of resulting interrogations. Later, at the hospital after some xrays and CT scans, the injuries were clear.
Rehab lasted a while. The back is still not right, the left wrist isn’t either but I’m no spring chicken and that wasn’t my first rodeo. I can still ride!
And ride I will. One day shy of the second anniversary of that decisive day, I went to look over that place and make peace with my demons. It is a beautiful little area and was all the more so in the early summer light.
Think I’ll make this a regular place to visit around this time each year. A pilgrimage to pain and life and what could easily have been my last ride!
Had a great night’s rest and woke up ready to ride. But the inn was silent. Climbed out of my cubbyhole trying not to wake anybody but old wooden buildings like to chat with even the most cautious of feet. So with creaks and squeaks but never a thud, I dressed, loaded up and crept downstairs. Snoring continued from at least one cubbyhole…
The peace and quiet and soft morning light splashing over the mountains and flooding the vast western windows of the inn before seeping its way through the open wooden labyrinth was a magic way to start the day.
MotoGP pit the night before, twisty hunter staging area the following morning. ☺
And out the door we went.
The Michael way to minimise downtime!
Making our way south east, the conditions were just right and we were having a ball on the wide open bypasses and squeezing through the tighter canyon passes.
Came upon a deserted XR and after a short trek into the thick mossy forest..
… spied Michael soaking up minus eons down by the waterfalls below. Nice!
Then we climbed…
Crossing over into Misakubo, the wildlife are quite different…
Seems the wildlife like to jump onto the back of speeding bikes too. So best to go slowly, apparently. Defies my logic but I’m not a cute girl on a dualsport so…
Michael and John enjoyed the climb. 👍
Who’s that way over there?
Mountains to the horizon..
How do you like that John?
Just like the way up, endless twisties from there on down.
Views aplenty too!
Soon we were back tracing a river and a closer look was warranted.
Out on the mossy bridge taking pics, soon discovered that my new can’t-miss-that-yellow helmet was a flying-bug magnet. And there were plenty of big stingy ones above this river.
So, back on the road I went! 🏃
And where there are steep mountains and deep canyons with roads cut into them, there are almost always sharp stones falling from the walls. The MT10SP picked one up unfortunately.
Fortunately, mechanic Michael was there to save the day. I pulled in under the dragons…
… and he flew into action.
Nice plug mate. 👍
Plugged and pumped up, we got back into it and soon found ourselves in the great green lined hills of tea.
This is the kanji character for cha = tea
Flowing east and then north we twisted our way up toward Ikawa and its mighty dam.
Round the north side of the dam, we pulled into an old favourite for lunch.
The food’s always fresh from the local fields and the kitchen is staffed by local ladies who know what they’re doing with such great ingredients.
From there, with furnaces fueled, we twisted our way back down out of the mountains and headed east for home.
Back in the big smoke, Michael’s work spoke for itself by getting the MT10sp and I back without event. And the rest of the tyres show it was a well rounded test. 😂
The only thing left to do was celebrate @3000km and a week-plus well ridden.
Abalone anyone? Couldn’t wait…sorry. ☺
Now that’s some choice Hayama Premium beef!
Great suggestion Michael. That was an epic post-tour feed. Thank you!
Brilliant Goldenweek of riding with a great crew. Full of sideways skewing events but nay a scar or regret. The weather gods tested us a few times but blessed us with predominantly fine weather and clean clear roads. The tour started and finished with three and hats off to Michael and John for their endless enthusiasm, tireless tyre rounding and being a ZERO-PITA. 😁
Meanwhile, down by the Pacific Ocean, all fired up and ready after waiting all year to ride coast to coast, 80 odd riders and their steeds were all kinds of excited, sleepy and confused, I’m sure.
Another epic collection of bikes and riders!
5:20am…ishRising up out of a great sleep to a beeping alarm, had the feeling that someone was watching me and none too impressed…
Then it hit me. COAST to COAST Twistybutt day! The one day of the year not to sleep in! So, like Fred Flinstone but onto a bike, I was outa there!
7:15ishRolled in to the start point and of course no one was there. Beautiful morning though 👍
So, with hares to hunt, it was time to get to know the SP side of the MT-10SP.
The Viking caught me here and plied me with rider fuel as I topped up the somewhat thirstier than usual eMpT-10 ☺ Then we were off again!
Toilet stop and refocus here.
Blasting through a subterranean valley to valley wormhole, loving the thrum of the MT10 crossplane rattling the tiles on the tunnel wall, I realized I’d completely missed the turnoff for the snaking touge overhead and as a result had lopped off around 20km of the C2C500 route! Doh! It was time for a pitstop and refocus. The riverside here did the trick. 👍Head back on straight, no time for photos and deciding to try and catch one pack or another doing the same route, the tyres stayed medium-well done all the way till Asama yama was in the mirrors and my furnace needed fuelling. Still hadn’t seen anyone I recognised but it was lunch time.On the road again headed for the Tsumagoi Panorama Line with the bike and belly full, the Touge Express was ready to rock again! But, within 300m, the grey sky turned black and a chill took the air.Ouch! Took a hard hit to the knee… Bug? Maybe. Ping-tock-ouch! Something bounced off the tank, hit the bottom of my helmet and jammed in between my neck and collar. And it burned till I dug it out! Then the heavens opened and grape-sized hail was bouncing around everywhere. Luckily, across the way there was a post-office with a decent verandah out front. In the MT and I darted. And as fast as it started, it finished.The remnants of the hail was melting away and there was road to ride so away we went. Over the 292, through Nakano and Iiyama and along the last farmer/panorama line before dropping down into Joetsu we went. And with plenty of daylight left, the MT10sp and I pulled up on the sand by the Sea of Japan.
Got to the hotel just behind one of the groups I had had in my sights but that was it!The rest of the riders, groups and coast to legends rolled in over the following hours. Yearly acquaintances were renewed, new faces were put to names and we gassed on about our rides and the freedom of carving one’s way from coast to coast, again. Brilliant!It had been a few years since I’d done a solid C2C Twistybutt and although it was only @490km, it was truly one for the nostalgia files.
Eyelids slowly seperate and a new day’s light pins the retinas. Thank you! Woke up to the rustling of futons in the next room. The Viking was up. I wasn’t…
Creaked into a somewhat upright position and sculled some water and decided a 10minute back stretch was in order. Then the paparazzi pounced. Good morning day 3, for me.
Being surrounded by Hida’s finest roads was bound to draw at least one of us out early. Barely out of bed and the drainpipe on the KTM fired to life and could be heard trundling down the hill. Not long after, the Viking was wailing on the throttle and announcincing his gallop off into the twisties. Worth noting, the Viking helmet version of a muffler was already over a kilometre and one ridge away and sounded like one long gravely “O—DI—-N!”
All packed up and cabin in order, we headed out into the cool fresh Alps air under an inviting blue sky lightly dusted with high faint cloud.
First order of the day, west in search of breakfast. The 41 down to the Miyagawa River was just the wakeup tonic needed. Munched thru a simple combini feed then back on the road.
The Viking’s GT was a little on the smokey-sick side so he headed out early again taking it easy this time while the rest of us swung back east to get a little slice of 471 heaven again before a hop-step and a jump over to the run out of Takayama heading for Kiso.
The 361 was a treat once again but a little of its character seems to disappear every year as more and more bypasses are added. Still a fun workout though and just before Kiso, we pulled in for a coffee and rest. And something smelt good!
While fish-feasting, the Viking called in to report he’d just had a little private time with a member of the constabulary. No penalties but a timely heads up for us.
We continued on over to the 152 and on the run north started to get some warnings of more constabulary ahead and sure enough came across two on bikes hiding up on a perch ready to pounce. Fortunately, we werent to be prey that day and we still had the twisty north section to enjoy.
From Chino, we supercruised down a busy Chuo expressway and rolled into our first view of Fuji in a couple of days. Tony put the hammer down for Tokyo here and said farewell until we ran into him again at a service area. T, really wanted an ice-cream there with you but we had a time sensitive treat for the lads. Next time. 👍
Actually, that service area was past our turn-off but was a warranted detour due to the eMTy10 needing a drink.
All fueled up and saying farewell to T, we sailed onto a deserted but hot Chubuodan Expressway with great mountain views all around. Our last stretch of monotony before getting back to rubber rounding on the climb up to the five lakes region of Mt. Fuji.
Swinging south after Motosu Lake, we rode straight into bumper to bumper traffic leading to a local cherry blossom festival. Those poor cagers, it was like a parking lot for several kilometres in all directions. And sorry gents for riding us straight into it. 🙏
We got through it though and were soon circumnavigating the mighty Mt. Fuji from west to south before turning up the Fuji Skyline and climbing on the long switchbacks to the highlands before the final tight climb to the 5th station. Michael loved the highland section sooo much he sailed right on by the turn up to the final climb. At the turn-off, John and I waited, called and then thought he’d probably already gone ahead up the mountain so we followed. Didn’t really have time to wait around either as the shadows were growing longer. Only at the 5th station did we confirm we’d left him behind. Sorry mate.
Always a great view and special place to be but boy it was chilly up there and we had to make tracks as the next day was to be a big one.
Buuut that festival’s traffic we’d waded through earlier was now on the march home, as were we, and gridlock was everywhere. So it was time for some roads less travelled. Interesting fun roads!
Our route had us up on the Ashinoko Skyline right on time for a fantastic sunset over Mt. Fuji.
From there, it was a wriggle across and then run down the Hakone Turnpike and Seisho Bypass home.
Good long day gents. We made a lot of ground and had a variety of riding. Too much fuzz maybe but…the tyres were still round all over and not a chicken strip in site! Well done.
More to come. Stay tuned…
MT-10 SP Update
Had the chance to ride the MT10sp back to back with a BMW S1000XR again. Always a pleasure.
A couple of days and 1000+ kilometres aboard the MT10sp had shown it to be a quick and comfy tourer. The XR is really smooth and easy to handle making it an even comfier tourer on top of being deceptively quick. Quicker than the MT10sp…? Maybe after a few hours in the saddle and the comfort possibly makes for a less fatigued rider.
But for outright squirt and tarmac twisting, the SP has got the upper hand, with a caveat. The S1000XR, for me, had the ability to make a quick rider of almost any jockey right out of the box. The MT10sp on the other hand is sharper and more focused and speaks volumes more about its interaction with the road and you. And for that, not as easy to handle as the bigger spoungier S1000XR. But if you can learn to read its language and utilise what it telegraphs from the road, it is far more rewarding and the conversation will have you whooping and laughing all the way to the next fuel stop which comes up all too soon!
Oh and let’s not forget the sound! The Yamaha CP4 firing out the upswept muffler sounds like rampaging clydesdale hooves! 🎶 Charge!