The Japanese Odyssey is Japan’s endurance bicycle race. Still in only its second year the event welcomes riders from all over the world to try and conquer the single-stage 2400km route, with mountain checkpoints throughout central Japan. Simon Wile was one of those riders.
During the three weeks that it took place I found myself glued to the computer following their progress throughout the country, and when I noticed Simon was heading straight through Kasugai on his way to Nagoya I decided to hop on my bike and meet him along the river. Despite the atrocious weather that he’d had to endure he looked to be in good spirits and had time to stop for ten minutes for a chat about his experience.
Now that the event has finished he was kind enough to agree to an interview about cycling in Japan, the bad weather, and the Japanese Odyssey.
*Unfortunately due to the bad weather some of Simon’s photos are stuck on his smartphone and currently unretrievable. As a result we’ve had to use screenshots for some of the photos in the gallery.
Interview with Simon Wile
What made you decide to come to Japan and spend almost three weeks cycling the Japanese Odyssey?
Great question and one a lot of people ask. I was looking for an event to test my ability as a cyclist and as a person. The transam and transcon races provided a lot of inspiration and the JO being closer to home a bit shorter in length (distance) seemed like a reasonable first crack at a 2 week event, I liked the idea of the seeing the countryside, different culture and what I thought would be warm weather.
What were your expectations of cycling in Japan and how did they compare to reality?
Typhoon aside, I expected tough climbs, beautiful countryside and friendly people and I got all of that in spades. Japan is an incredibly beautiful and easy place is cycle.
Do you like bikepacking or was this your first time?
I’ve only done an overnighter and some longer audax style brevets. I like bikepacking and will definitely be doing more this summer.
How would you describe the differences between cycling in the big cities to cycling in the countryside here?
Cycling in Japan is super easy compared to Australia, everyone gives you patience and space and you never really feel threatened. Riding in the cities on the footpath was novel as we can’t do that at home and I was finding myself being dropped by super quick commuters who just knew the game and the area a lot better than I. The countryside is fantastic, even on the major roads you can cycle. The mountains are incredible, the surfaces are mostly great and you’re never far from a vending machine or conbini for refreshment. The are so many traffic lights though which burn your patience at times.
What did you pack in your bags to take with you?
I have a kitgrid pic on insta of this but I’ll send you the full pic. I won’t list everything but:
1x kit/socks/cycling shoeshelmetcap
1x bivvy and a silk liner
a spare pretty much everything, except spokes and brake pads, bring them!
batteries and cables to recharge things on the go
Garmin 810 and Wahoo ELEMNT bike computers
Not enough waterproof bags.
As it was the typhoon season the weather was quite bad. Were you expecting this and how did you deal with it?
I threw in a pair of Velotoze and a neck buff last minute as I anticipated some rain, otherwise just a Rapha rain jacket as a shell layer. If I had known in advance just how much rain we were getting I would have brought waterproof gloves and wet chain lube.
Did you have any problems?
I slipped in a patch of mud day 2 or 3 and scuffed my legs and bent my deraileur hanger slightly, more embarrassing than anything. Then I broke a spoke for the first time in my life descending Mt. Ontake in the midst of the typhoon. Luckily I taped it up and rolled into Nagoya the next day and had it straightened out. No one in Japan carries spokes for my wheels though! I didnt have any navigation or equipment issues thankfully. On day 5 or 6 I came down with gastro and it just got worse until I couldn’t eat or drink and eventually I pulled out of the Odyssey.
Where did you sleep and what did you eat?
I slept in nearby hotels, pensions, ryokans that I could find on booking.com. I planned on bivvying not more than 2 or 3 times over the event. I ate just about everything I could find! Conbinis are the staple of travelling through Japan so you quickly find what you like and don’t like. Onigiri, ramen, noodles, pasta, chocolate bars, bananas… Couldn’t find my favourite riding snack, muesli bars, anywhere though.
How many kilometres did you ride per day and how would that differ if you weren’t here ‘racing’?
I averaged about 170km per day. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s pretty mountainous and you’re either going up or down, there’s very little flat. If I weren’t racing I would keep it to 100km a day and stop more, take in the scenery, and spend a lot of time in onsen! Aero bars got very little use on this ride.
What did you like the most about bike packing in Japan?
The scenery, far and away the views, when they weren’t fogged in, were outstanding. Just getting from checkpoint to checkpoint there were some incredible vistas and picturesque places. The people are so friendly, food is pretty cheap, the drivers are considerate and patient. Onsen are just the best place to stay after a long days riding.
What advice would you give to first-time cyclists planning a trip in Japan?
Bring a rain jacket, the weather changes quickly. Conbinis have everything you ever need on the road. The people are SO friendly and will help you if you ask. Onsen are amazing and you should stop in as many as possible. There are bike shops and “sports” bike shops, you want sports bike shops for anything more than a tube. Stay off highway 2.
Do you plan to return?
Japan and I have unfinished business. I hope to return and complete an Odyssey ride for sure.