It’s no secret among cyclists in Japan that Mt. Norikura (乗鞍岳) is the highest road passable by bicycle in the country. Some call it the Japanese Alpe d’Huez but I think comparing mountains is somewhat silly. All mountains differ, and all mountains have the potential to change character within minutes.
Most road bike cyclists start from the car park at the bottom of the Nagano side where you can expect to be riding for about 19kms and gain over 1200m until you reach the dizzing heights of just over 2712m at the car park near the summit. Starting from Matsumoto on the Nagano side, or Takayama on the Gifu side is also possible although both sides will add another 40+ kms to your climbing and the tunnels on the Nagano side are some of the worst I’ve ridden through in Japan. One other lesser used route is from Nomugi Pass (野麦峠) in south up and over Shirakabe Pass (白樺峠). It’s a fairly isolated road without much traffic but plenty of wildlife. I saw wild monkeys, native Japanese deer (Nihon shika /日本鹿), and I was given a bear bell at the local campsite to scare away any of the larger wildlife that roam the area.
Camping, giant moths, Nomugi Pass – made famous in this old film – and the eery climb up Shirokaba Pass makes for a solid weekend of riding. I made a short film for my friends over at First Over Everything about a recent trip. You can watch it here.
Distance – 87kms
Total Elevation – approx. 2400m
Campsite – Takasome Campsite ¥1540
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