No bridge too far

lifestyle September 10, 2016 01:00

By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul

100 Plus takes cyclists to experience the best bike routes in Japan



FORTY LUCKY THAIS, all of them fans of isotonic sports drink 100 Plus, recently enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience of cycling in Japan, pedalling the Fuji Five Lakes route at the base of Mount Fuji and the Shimanami Kaido bikeway in Onomichi, Hiroshima.
The 20 pairs, comprising one winner and one guest, were all invited by 100 Plus to participate in the “Pan Lad Fah Kod Fuji” (ride across the sky, embrace Mount Fuji) event with |Atiwara “Toon” Kongmalai, the front man of the country’s hottest rock band Bodyslam and a keen cyclist. 
“I was surprised when I received the message from 100 Plus. I never expected to have the chance to go to Japan,” says Keantisak Kachayut, a 21-year-old student of the Faculty of Engineering, Rajamangala University of Technology Thanyaburi. 
“I was worried at first about the 70 kilometres we would be cycling as I have never ridden that far before. I usually ride around campus and I also run around the university’s football field. I loved the Shimanami Kaido route, especially the winding and steep Kurushima-Kaikyo segment, which was a real challenge.
The Kanchanaburi native, who brought his brother along for the ride, sent 45 plastic bottle screw caps of the isotonic sports drink to the organisers and like the other participants, was chosen at random through a system of winner caps.
Jatuporn Kiriwanna, a 58-year-old businessman, who sent in 42 caps, came with his son. 
“I prefer 100 Plus lemon lime to the citrus version of the drink,” he says. “When I received the message telling me I had been selected I thought it was a joke! I work hard to keep fit by running between 7-10 km every day. And I always rehydrate with 100 Plus. When I read about the campaign, I decided to have a go and sent in the caps. I started riding every day after receiving the message. I also purchased a road bike and persuaded my son to ride with me on the 23.5km Sky Lane nearby Suvarnabhumi Airport. I didn’t find the Japan route as hard as I had anticipated. Flying to Tokyo was much more of an ordeal,” Jatuporn says. 
The group was met at Narita International Airport and taken to Tokyo Skytree, at 634 metres the second tallest tower in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to enjoy the panoramic city view. After a brief stop at Gotemba Premium Outlets, it was time to check into the hotel near Mount Fuji.
The cycling started the following morning in the company of a Japanese cycling team and took us towards the Fuji Five Lakes – Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Shojiko, Yamanakako and Motosuko – which served as the checkpoints. From Kawaguchiko we took in the fields of blueberries and lavender in front of Natural Living Centre and despite the onset of a heavy shower had no problems reaching Saiko. At that point, with the rain becoming heavier and showing no signs of abating, the trip was called off and we headed to Iyashi no Sato, literally the “healing village”, home to traditional thatched roofed houses that house a museum, shops, restaurants and galleries.
The next day found us on a Shinkansen, as the Japanese bullet train is known, travelling at high speed to Kurashiki, a historic town located in Okayama Prefecture, where our first activity was to sample Yurinan Caf้’s famed “Pudding Makes You Happy”. Boasting a smiley face and tasting good too, the pudding can’t help but make us smile. The rest of the day is spent strolling around the town and visiting Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki Ivy Square and Momotaro Karakuri Hakubutsukan Museum, which is packed with items on the theme of the popular Japanese folk hero.
Arriving later that evening in Onomichi, it’s off to bed early to prepare for our ride along the Shimanami Kaido bikeway, a network that includes seven bridges across six islands.
Our starting point is at Hotel Cycle U2 from where we board a ferry to Mukaishima Island then cross Innoshima Bridge. We wave to the dinosaur in Innoshima amenity park and stop off at the third checkpoint in Ikuchijima Island for steamed pork buns and orange ice cream made from local citrus fruit. From there, it’s a mere 9.9 kilometres to Tatara Shimanami Park and a hearty lunch of fish and rice. Duly fortified, we cycle across Omishima Bridge towards Hakatajima Island, cross Hakata-Oshima Bridge to Oshima Island and end our efforts at the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge.
“This bike route is very charming and the steep Kurushima-Kaikyo bridge makes for the perfect finish,” Toon enthuses. 
“From here we can see the sea, the island and the city. I was surprised to see a bike path not just separate from the road but also from the motorcycle lane. It makes it feel very safe. I’ll definitely be back and next time I’ll do a full 140 km and ride both ways.”
“Omishima Bridge is the shortest at 297 metres in length, while Kurushima-Kaikyo is the longest suspension bridge structure in the world at just over four kilometres,” says Japanese cyclist Ikoma Toshikiko who was born in Onomichi.
“Cycling wasn’t all that popular when the bridges were first built so the design focused more on vehicles and motorcycles as well as on commuting convenience so that people could access the islands without needing to wait for a ferry. Today, of course, everyone is on a bike. The trend started almost a decade ago in Tokyo and it wasn’t long before cyclists were looking for places to ride that also offered them fresh air and gorgeous scenery. I started riding seriously when I was 63 and decided to join a cycling club to keep me busy in my retirement.”
Toshikiko’s club, the Onomichi Cycling Association, now has 120 members. The association has been in operation for six years and offers services to tourists who come here to cycle. Today, he says, most of the tourists and cyclists come from Asian countries. A few years ago it was all Europeans. 
“I usually ride with cyclists from Taiwan and this was the first time I joined up with Thai cyclists. It was very enjoyable,” says Toshikiko, who visited Chiang Mai for the first time 10 years ago.