The Hidden Rindo; Japanese Odyssey 2018
Ahead of the 2018 Japanese Odyssey, we caught up with organisers Guillaume and Emmanuel to discover more about the event, and the spirit of exploration running through its DNA.
“The Japanese Odyssey is an endurance cycling event. It is not a race.
It’s about discovery, about exploration, about challenging yourself. Be prepared.”
2018 will be the fourth edition of The Japanese Odyssey. How has it’s direction changed in that time?
‘It is important for us to change the route, and our direction, every year. In the inaugural 2015 edition, our ambition was to do a north-to-south traverse of the country. Two years ago, the Odyssey was focused around a series of famous climbs in Japan, then last year we took entrants on unnamed secondary roads. This year will be different again.
Exploring different sides of the country every year is very rewarding, and gives us the chance to discover just how magical and vast Japan is. It is really incredible how the topography varies between the main roads and remote forest trails. Once you get out on the roads less traveled, you have to be ready for anything: Ultra-steep gradients, broken roads, debris, gravel, wild animals…
The smaller roads are clearly not the easiest choice when it comes to riding, but we’ve learnt to fall in love with them.’
What direction will the 2018 Odyssey take?
‘Every Odyssey is a new one, and this year we want the riders to experience the small forest roads, or what the Japanese call, “rindo”. But as well as a new route, we’ve also changed a few things in the event format for 2018. The Odyssey will now start and finish in Tokyo, whereas in previous years, its always ended in another city. This will considerably ease the logistics for riders, with bicycles and cases. We also decided to shorten the ride, in terms of distance and time in the saddle, so this year, riders are expected to be back in Tokyo in 10 days. Finally, we’ve made a return to checkpoints instead of mandatory segments, as we want the riders to make their own odyssey. Giving them the choice of route should enable that.’
Can you roughly outline the route and checkpoints?
‘The Odyssey will start from Nihonbashi, a famous bridge in the center of Tokyo, which has a special significance as the ‘kilometer zero’ for measuring distance from the capital. Riders will then head south across Honshu, the biggest of the Japanese islands, through checkpoints in the Prefectures of Nara and Wakayama. They’ll ride steep winding roads and encounter small traditional villages, before hopping on a ferry to the island of Shikoku, and discovering the wilderness of the smallest and least visited of Japan’s main islands. The three checkpoints here will lure the riders onto yet more rural ‘rindo’ roads. From Shikoku, riders will get another ferry back to Honshu, and proceed north through the mountainous checkpoints in Nagano and Saitama Prefectures, to the finish in Tokyo.’
How many kilometres will riders need to do each day to finish in the 10-day limit?
‘The rough length of this year’s Odyssey will be around 2,600 km. Depending on how well riders plan their route, they will need to ride around 260 km per day in order to make the 10 day time cut. It is possible to slightly shorten those distances, but it would require a lot of climbing, and riding on small roads. It’s a choice each rider will have to make.’
Why is it important that The Japanese Odyssey is not a ‘race’? Can entrants still ride for a time?
‘We don’t see The Japanese Odyssey as a race, and we state that quite deliberately. We don’t publish any rankings. We want the riders to make the most of their voyage in Japan, and be able to enjoy their surroundings. Two years ago, an Australian rider made a detour of about 100km just to see Mount Fuji, but he still completed the Odyssey in the allotted 14 days. That was fantastic to see.
We don’t want entrants to endanger themselves by trying to make it to the finish line too quickly either. As such, the minimum daily distance (260km) allows enough time in a 24-hour period for sufficient rest.
However, The Japanese Odyssey is not a Sunday morning excursion – it is a demanding event. And if some riders want to ride fast, no one will stop them.’
What makes Japan such a fascinating place to explore by bike?
‘What fascinates us is the contrast between the buzzing nature of the Japanese mega-cities, and the total wilderness outside of them. Bike travel in Japan turns common beliefs and preconceptions upside down. It is not all busy streets, high skyscrapers, and futuristic technology; the country has a lot more to offer. Exploring Japan by bike allows riders to discover that.’