Sunday, September 25, 2016

A bike ride along Kyotoyawatakizu (京都八幡木津) Cycling Road and to Osaka castle

In the previous blogpost, I mentioned that my coffee run to Arashiyama (嵐山) along the Katsuragawa (桂川) used the Kyotoyawatakizu (京都八幡木津) Cycling Road. As the name indicates, it runs from Kyoto (京都), goes through Yawata (八幡), and finishes in Kizu (木津) about 45 km away. I was also told one can make use of this road to go all the way into the heart of Osaka (大阪); in fact, one can pop up next to Osaka castle (大阪城). How cool is that?

Well, it's such a cool concept that I had to ride it using the portable Bike Friday Pocket Rocket Pro that I recently brought to Japan in my checked luggage.
Bike Friday Pocket Rocket Pro all disassembled into its Samsonite suitcase

Reassembled in the apartment in Kyoto, this is what it looks like.

iPhone 6 Plus on the stem for Google Maps navigation. The aerobars are only used to hold accessories.
Here is the GPS tracklog of the route I took. I started from Kyoto University using the path along the Kamogawa (鴨川) to join up with the Kyotoyawatakizu Cycling Road at the confluence of the Kamogawa and the Katsuragawa. Then I rode the bike path to its terminus at Kizu. Turned around, and rode from Kizu to Osaka castle. Then turned around again and rode from Osaka back to Kyoto University. All in all, that adds up to a century, i.e. 161 km or 100 miles.

GPS tracklog recorded using my new Garmin Vivoactive HR

Notice that the bike paths are simply taking advantage of, and following, the path set by the local rivers (marked in yellow above). From Kyoto, it's along the Katsuragawa and Kamogawa. To Kizu, we simply follow the Kizugawa. To Osaka, and ultimately out to sea at Osaka Bay, it's the Yodogawa. The Cycling Road is nearly completely paved with tarmac and  built on paths along river banks or on top of flood embankments. Sometimes it seems like it splits into multiple paths that proceed in parallel. Then it's a question of spotting the next road, railway or utility bridge, and figuring which path stops and which path ducks under the bridge. Signposting exists, though not always where you need them for disambiguation. On a weekend, the route is full of cyclists, young and old. You will see groups of club cyclists in a paceline wearing their club jerseys, guys with gear in their baskets going fishing along the river, a line of kids in their little league uniforms cycling to riverside practice grounds, walkers, people pushing their bikes, mothers with babies, runners of all ages and styles, even Japanese men dressed in Arab robes - you get the idea. Along the river, you may see housing estates, golf courses, softball fields, industry, railways, allotments where hobbyists grow vegetables, farms, people camping in tents, ducks, naked men washing their clothes in the river, people doing tai-chi, couples sitting on the banks - sometimes sleeping there overnight, whole families enjoying a picnic in the afternoon, or ordinary people sitting on the embankment watching the river. In summary, it seems like a good way to see a fairly wide cross-section of Japanese society. Not many tourists though, unless we're talking about downtown Kyoto or Osaka. One thing I didn't see any of is watercraft until I got well into Osaka; there I spotted some tourist barges. But along the way, no boats, no barges, no jet skis, no kayaks, no paddleboards, and no swimmers (the rivers were flowing swiftly).

A route map along the Kyotoyawatakizu Cycling Road

Here is a signpost. On one side it says to Kizu (12.2km), on the other side to Arashiyama (32.8 km):

I have to say the end of the cycling route is rather disappointing. The start is near the beautiful Togetsukyō (渡月橋) in Arashiyama.  The route peters out at an ordinary road intersection. Since Kizu is near Nara, it would be nice there the bike path could be extended all the way into Nara.

Cycling Road terminus

So I decided to backtrack from Kizu northwards along the Kizugawa, and eventually south onto the Yodogawa (淀川) down into Osaka. This is near the confluence of the rivers in Yawata (八幡). The path on the Kamogawa is just a few hundred meters away over two back-to-back bridges.

Osaka Bay 37.0 km away

Arriving in Osaka, one can continue ahead to the high-rise district of Umeda (梅田) (in the far distance), or turn left along the channel to Osaka castle.

Following the water, it appears this is as far along the bike path as one can get. Notice you can make out Osaka castle 400m away. The board explain how a bicycle can get there taking two city streets and one bridge:

The end of the bike path along this section. Osaka castle is visible in the background.

Basically, at this point the Keihan railway line is in the way. Those stairs go down to the right and up under the line. Alternatively, as recommended on the board, ride down the street until you can duck under the line.

Entrance to Osaka Castle
Navigation came courtesy of Google Maps running on my iPhone 6 Plus velcroed to the stem. A iPhone Lightning to USB cable can be seen running from the iPhone down to the main tube and thereon down to the Profile Design bento box pressed into service to hold a 7000mAh Elecom USB battery. The battery has two USB outputs; the other output is actually connected to a WIMAX hotspot, also stored inside the bento box.

Bike Friday by the moat. I am not here to fish:

The moat at Osaka castle

Allow me to emphasize how cool this is: it'd be a bit like riding from Princeton, New Jersey along a bike path and somehow popping up next to the Rockefeller Center or Times Square in New York, having avoided all motorized traffic and traffic lights.

Unfortunately, the Yodogawa section of the route is not so friendly for an entirely different reason: there are frequently gates or barriers that are designed to basically force cyclists to dismount:

Along the Yodogawa
The one that can be seen in the background can be ridden through without dismounting if you're careful to unclip from the pedals and keep the cranks horizontal, i.e. at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. But many of them are specifically designed to prevent even that. The motivating idea must be to slow cyclists down in areas where kids may be playing. I found them so annoying I preferred sometimes to take the road when one exists alongside the path. Fortunately, it is only along the Yodogawa that this happens.

Anyway, it's about 53 km from Osaka back to Kyoto University. And at 100 miles and 3000 kcal total, overall I'm a pretty happy camper:

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