Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road

I’ve been planning a ride with friends this summer in Ohio, but I haven’t booked anything yet given the current state of travel and restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. In case things fall through, I’d like to have a back-up plan.

Assuming things don’t get dramatically worse for us here in Japan, one option would be the Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road, one of three Japan national cycle routes. (Shimanami Kaido is another one.)

Cyclist riding a course under ume plum blossoms
One draw in early spring is the Ume Festival

The Ring-Ring Road includes several courses, most originating from Tsuchiura, a small city in Ibaraki Prefecture about 80km from Tokyo. Given the proximity I thought it would be possible to spend a day biking up to the starting point. But when I reviewed the route on Google Street View, it was clear it would be some very unsavory cycling: lots of traffic and very little scenery (but at least mostly flat). When I spoke with coworkers yesterday about the idea, one said she was from the area. Her cousin had ridden from Tokyo up to Ibaraki several years ago, and the experience was so bad he decided to leave his bike there and take a train home. (He collected the bike later by car.)

So if we go this route (if my friends are interested in joining, that is), the most likely course of action would be to rent a car to carry our bikes up to Tsuchiura. Depending on the size of the entourage this time, some people may need to go by train.

The official website has information in English and links to route maps. Two of the courses stood out to me: the Former Tsukuba Railway Course and the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course.

Former Tsukuba Railway Course

This 44km course runs on a former railway right-of-way, so it’s flat and straight through rice fields. Given the length and the lack of attractions at the terminus, we’d ride it round-trip in one day to bring us back to our starting point in Tsuchiura.

Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course

The lake circuit course is 127km of small roads and cycle paths around Japan’s second-largest lake. The circuit winds around a bit more than the railroad course, but it’s just about as flat. As with Biwako (Japan’s largest lake and the third of the three national cycle routes), the directions are easy: just keep the lake to your left and you’re good. (When the Three Gaijin-teers did Biwako back in 2014, we went clockwise around so we kept the lake to our right. But the principle is the same.)

A portion of the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course features in this month’s episode of Cycle Around Japan, an NHK series.

Schedule

For the moment, the likelihood of us going on this route depends on the coronoavirus situation (at least as much as we’ll know if it by mid-April) and the availability of onsen at Tsuchiura. But I’m thinking one day to drive up with the bikes. Day 2 would be the ride around the lake, and Day 3 the shorter railroad route. We’d have the option of returning home at the end of Day 3, or staying another night at the spa (assuming we find one).

I’ll also see if Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn would like to come along. Ol’ Paint’s restoration should be complete by then, insh’allah, so I can offer one of them a ride. And there are rental bikes available at Tsuchiura. If FLJ and the Halfakid decide these courses are too tame, then they might like to take a day to follow in Michael’s tracks and cycle up Mt Tsukuba.

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