Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) ride

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is the largest lake in Japan, and just over the mountain, about 10 km from Kyoto. I rode to Ōtsu (大津) and then anti clockwise around the lake, keeping the lake to my left:
GPS tracklog
Nearly 210 km (130 miles) and 750m of climbing. Ride time was 8 hours 15 mins. That does not include stops at convenience stores and photo opportunities.  I started just after 6:45am from Kyoto University, and got back around 4:45pm. I used my folding Bike Friday:
Bike Friday Pocket Rocket Pro
Number of calories burned was either 3500 or 3700 kcal, depending on whether you trusted my Pioneer powermeter (based on force) or my Garmin Vivoactive HR (based on heart rate). Navigation was supplied by my iPhone 6 Plus using Google Maps. The iPhone was mounted on the stem for visibility (see picture above). A white USB battery pack (10,000mAh) with an ultra-short Lightning to USB cable kept the iPhone alive and the screen on during the long ride. (The pack is sandwiched between the iPhone and the stem.)

At the bottom of the tracklog picture, you can see that I actually crossed the "mini Rainbow bridge" to get to the other side of the lake. This is the bridge in the background below. (Actually, I call it the "mini" because it doesn't seem to be the real Rainbow bridge. Studying Google maps after I got back, this one seems to be called Omi-Ōhashi (浜江大橋). And there is a much bigger bridge crossing the lake further up from Ōtsu that is probably properly referred to as the "Rainbow bridge", though the official name seems to be Biwako-Ōhashi (琵琶湖大橋). On the way back, I wasted time putzing around at the western end of that bigger bridge at the Biwakoohashi Kome Plaza (びわ湖大橋米プラザ), which I thought was an onsen but it's actually a crowded rest stop featuring Shiga rice. I decided not to cross the bridge as it warned of a toll booth. As far as I can tell, there is no toll for the smaller bridge:
Omi-Ōhashi (浜江大橋) in the background
The picture above is from the Ōtsu side. There is a nice path near the bridge (which doesn't continue through downtown Ōtsu, unfortunately). Along the path, many runners were out there early. I saw hikers too. They all had individual numbers on a vest. And volunteers clapping. And they all looked kinda tired. As far as I can make out, it seems to be the finish perhaps of some 100 km hiking event.

Well, onto the bridge, there's a really nice wide bike lane:
On the Omi-Ōhashi (浜江大橋)
From another bridge early on in the ride, we can see Ōtsu:
Ōtsu (大津)
The tall building is the Prince Hotel. The waters are still calm early in the morning. (More on this later.) City-wise, you pass through Nagahama (長浜) "Long Beach" approaching the northern end of the lake. After that, it's real quiet.

Here at the northern end of the lake (looking south), it seems particularly unspoiled:
Northern part of Lake Biwa (琵琶湖)
Japan is the land of the convenience store, or "konbini". I carried only a single water bottle, choosing to take advantage of liquid refreshments available for purchase at the many convenience stores along the route. Here is one that has a special bike rack catering to Lake Biwa cyclists.
Note the special bike rack. My Bike Friday is second from the right.
Why is this special? Well, normally bikes in Japan have kickstands. Race bikes don't. This is a special rack that is designed to hold the non-kick stand-equipped machines. (The saddle rails rest on the horizontal bar.)

Another view down the lake:

The long side of lake runs north-south, and in fact at the northern end we're actually quite close to the Sea of Japan (see below). Incidentally, the map below also gives you an idea of why the lake looks particularly narrow from this end.
Sea of Japan at the top
Although it's October and the temperature has begun to drop significantly, the leaves haven't begun to change color yet. A few more weeks and the mountainsides should be spectacular.
Uncrowded roads at the northern end
In my opinion, this is the nicest part of the route:
Northern route
There are tunnels to navigate though. Some are mercifully short, but others are up to 1 km long. Cars go pretty fast through them, so it's important to turn on your lights to prevent being run over from behind.
A short tunnel
Many are lit but I'm not sure all of them are. Can you see the tunnel in the next picture?
Unlit tunnel?
Sometimes we don't need a convenience store. Just a vending machine and a view:
Vending machines besides the lake
I carried my "good camera" on this ride, an Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with the Panny Leica 15mm lens (30mm equivalent for full-frame). I had it attached on my waist using a Miggo Aqua Quick Draw pack. (Trick install using a carabiner. The Miggo is not designed to be a fanny pack.) This allows me to quickly take pictures at a stop, and keep the iPhone on the stem full-time. The mirrorless camera even can do selfies (LCD screen pivots out to the side so it can be seen from the front):
At the vending machine stop pictured above
I was surprised to see a sign for the Kamo River (鴨川). This famous river flows through the middle of Kyoto. I didn't know it started at Lake Biwa.
Sign for the Kamo River (鴨川) next to the lake
As the route comes closer to Ōtsu (大津), it gets nasty; especially Route 161. Full of traffic. Commercial. Only plus point is that I was moving faster than the cars. However, I think I came off worse breathing in the fumes.
A torii (鳥居), the only one I saw in the lake, along Route 161:
Torii (鳥居) along Route 161
Notice the water on the lake is no longer calm. In fact, we have a fairly strong headwind in the afternoon. Didn't seem to bother the jetskis though:
One of two jetskis near the torii
By the 172 km point, I needed to eat some solid food. Konbini(-no) onigiri, here we come!
Unfortunately, I chose poorly; this is the bad no-preparation-required onigri:
Onigri at hand
On the other hand, I bought two onigiri-s. The second one happened to be the good convenience store onigiri:
Onigiri and milk tea
You see the good convenience store onigiri keeps the nori (seaweed) separated from the rice until it's time to eat. At the time, I thought hot English milk tea would go well with it. (It was in the afternoon after all.)

Outside, I'm surprised at the other bikes parked there. Surely they're not also doing the Lake Biwa run?
My Bike Friday is not the only bike parked at the convenience store here
Route 161 dumps me back in the center of Ōtsu (大津) at the Keihan Hamaōtsu station. (Ōtsu has trams too.) I turn right to head over the mountains back to Kyoto.
Keihan Hamaōtsu station (浜大津駅)

Back at the apartment, I have a lot of devices to recharge:

From left to right, we have: (1) white USB battery pack (10,000mAh) to keep the iPhone on and displaying the route at all times. (I need to be able to see the map and my current position just by glancing down at the stem briefly.) (2) A black USB battery pack (7,000mAh), whose job is to keep the wifi hotspot alive during the ride. (3) My Garmin Vivoactive HR watch. It has a wrist heart rate sensor. It recorded the Google Earth tracklog shown earlier. (4) The WiMax2 hotspot brick. Gives my iPhone internet access. (5) The Pioneer SGX-500 cyclometer. As well as showing speed/distance/time, it reports my power output for each leg individually in real time. It can also record a GPS tracklog. The above 5 items all need a USB power adapter to recharge. I have a 4-in-1 plus another single power adapter. Actually, that's not all the items. My Olympus camera's battery charger (not shown) isn't USB.

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