[Part 2] Izu gears up for cycling at 2020 Tokyo OlympicsPeninsula hosting Games’ racing events aiming to become bikers’ mecca
Among a varied lineup of courses on the Izu Peninsula, the 200 km Izu Isshu, or “Izu Circuit” is the pinnacle for cycling enthusiasts, who can complete it in roughly 11 hours – all in one day or with a break along the way at places such as Kona Stay.
An undulating loop course with a total ascent close to scaling Mt. Fuji (altitude 3,776 meters), the circuit course also is among the five routes on offer during “Izu Ichi,” an annual cycling event co-organized by the Izu Development Association (IDA) and the local Suruga Bank
Each ride, which range from a relatively leisurely 50 km coastal course starting from the historic city of Shimoda to the 200 km route, takes in some of the best of the peninsula’s jaw-dropping scenery, from the gold-sand beaches of the west and dramatic sea cliffs of the east to the lush mountain scenery, cascading waterfalls and eroded volcanoes of the interior.
The rides also allow cyclists to sample some of the local delicacies, such as its sumptuous seafood and sometimes quirky local specialties (wasabi Kit-Kat being one eye-popping example), while its geological history means it’s home to a plethora of hot springs, including at Shuzenji in Izu City, which are great for a relaxing post-cycle soak. Indeed, cyclists taking part in IDA-Suruga cycle trips are rewarded with discounted tickets to hot springs in and around Shuzenji.
The prime objective of the venture, which in addition to Izu Ichi in October is offering some 50 cycling events in 2019, was to bolster efforts to promote and develop cycling tourism on the peninsula, which has been developed by the IDA under the “Cycling Resort Izu” banner, says Suruga Bank’s cycling project captain Toshiaki Fukada.
“Izu is an incredibly rich and varied environment to cycle,” said Fukada as he greeted cyclists taking part in the 90-km “West Izu Ride” on Aug. 1, which was led by former Olympic cyclist Yasutaka Tashiro and kicked off from one of three “cycle stations” in Izu City, this one a former Suruga branch that has a kitchen, changing rooms and walk-in strongroom. “It also caters to all levels.”
Nowhere is this more in evidence than the Kanogawa area, which boasts about a dozen cycling courses, ranging from 8 km to 94 km – the latter covering the entire length of the Kanogawa River from Izu City to Numazu, taking in the spectacular Joren Falls along the way.
Some take in historic Shuzenji, home to hot springs and Shuzenji Temple – believed to have been established in the early 9th century by Kukai, a Buddhist monk, scholar and poet who established the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism and said to have given Japan its first unique writing system, known as “kana.”
Not all of the peninsula’s cycling is on roads. The recently opened Yamabushi Trail can be found in the mountains of western Izu, created by local mountain bike enthusiast Junichiro Matsumoto.
However, the route is anything but new. Around 1,200 years ago it was a busy trading route used by tradespeople to carry produce between coastal and mountain communities, but gradually gave way to nature as automobile use became more widespread.
Matsumoto began the long process of clearing the route with a group of like-minded individuals and today offers seven courses to suit all levels of cycling abilities.
The region is keen to promote this “cycling for all” image. Indeed the retrofitted buses, which cover some of the region’s more challenging climbs, and trains, not to mention the ebikes available at rental shops, are seen by officials as major components in that effort.
In fact, there is a hope that an increase in casual cyclists will help redress an ironic local anomaly: According to a national census, only 2 percent of Izu residents use bicycles, says Izu City official Yuji Umehara, who heads up a division promoting Izu’s 2020 cycling events.
“Very few residents use bicycles, and in fact (according to the census) 69 percent of residents use cars, so sadly it would seem as far as they’re concerned cars are the only means of getting around,” says Umehara.
There’s hope that the likes of Izu Velo will not only attract casual visitors, but also become a place where locals, too, try their hand at cycling. “The core idea is to make Izu bicycle friendly – for visitors and locals alike.”