I’ve just returned from Australia after spending two weeks cycling in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. In May/June I also took my annual trip back to the U.K. and cycled on the roads of my childhood as well as in central Snowdonia, Wales.
And of course I’ve ridden plenty of times in Japan.
So in no particular order I thought I’d list a few personal observations about riding in each country. This will be part 1. But first a short disclaimer – I do most of my riding in Japan in Gifu, Aichi, and Nagano. In the U.K. I mostly ride the country roads in Worcestershire, south of Birmingham, and in Australia it’s almost always west of the Gold Coast in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. Therefore the area you ride in might be different and so the following generalizations might not hold up there. But it would be good to hear of the differences where you ride so let me know. Here they are.
Australian roads are wide, have wonderful cycle lanes in cities, and drivers are generally courteous. I’ve heard that drivers are not so friendly in Melbourne and Sydney though, but I’ve never ridden there so can’t say.
British country lanes are in an awful condition for cycling. I no longer take my road bike back to the U.K. Despite the wonderful scenery the country lanes are too sketchy nowadays for a roadbike. Bigger roads are fine but then you get more cars to deal with too. Country lanes have too many pot holes, too much road dirt built up in the centre, and too much horse crap and mud everywhere. And that’s in May/June. You can ride them much easier on a gravel bike. You also need to watch out for suicidal squirrels and rabbits.
Japanese drivers are not as patient as you’re lead to believe. I’ve heard stories about how great and courteous Japanese driver are. That’s often not true. Cycling in built up areas can be dangerous. Sure, I’ve rarely had an accident, but the roads are all narrow compared to Australia and even the U.K., and many Japanese city drivers are impatient and regularly come way too close to cyclists, especially during morning rush hour. They usually ignore red lights too. Under Japanese law you must ride single file and while I understand the reasoning – narrow roads and cyclist safety – impatient drivers in cities will not think twice about letting you know you’re breaking the law if you roll up next to your mate for a quick chat. It’s not so much of a problem out in the countryside though. And speaking of the countryside, blind old guys in kei-tora – small white Suzuki or Daihatsu trucks used for farming – are everywhere and seem to enjoy pulling out on cyclists without any notice.
Australia and the U.K. are aware of cyclists’ needs, Japan not so much. There are dedicated cycling lanes, mountain bike trails, national cycle paths etc, in the U.K. and Australia. In Japan, it’s hard, but not impossible, to jump in the car and hit the trails on an MTB. More and more places have signs prohibiting mountain biking and gravel trails often lead nowhere. The only real options are to pay to ride at an MTB park or in an official event. Cycle lanes are rarely respected.
Japan is awesome for road bikes. There are good quality roads everywhere in Japan, and the Japanese love concrete. That means there will be a road to get you pretty much anywhere you want by bicycle without any major issues (occasional landslide or stubborn traffic controller being an exception). Even the roads that are in ‘bad condition’ in Japan are usually no worse than an average country lane in the U.K. And if there isn’t a road to take you over a mountain pass there’ll probably be a tunnel to take you through it. Pot holes usually get fixed pretty quickly.
Japanese convenience stores are full of junk but, yes, they are convenient. Calories, coffee, rehydration and a toilet break? Yes. Healthy choices? Not so much. Don’t be fooled by the onigiri – Japanese rice ball – they are full of junk.
When the weather is good in the U.K. it’s a glorious place to ride a bike. I go back in late May/early June because the weather has always been good and that means good riding. This year in particular cycling to Wales was awesome. The scenery was fantastic and the temperature was just right.
Australian gravel roads are perfect. Nothing much to say here. They are good quality, long, and just right for a good gravel bike adventure. I can’t wait to go back and ride more.
Do you agree, disagree? Anything to add?
More to follow in part two.