A cycle tour around Aso with guests from Singapore and guides from both Aso and Oita

This is a report from Koichi Nakao, aka Colnago captain, entitled “A cycle tour around Aso with guests from Singapore and guides from both Aso and Oita”.

This report details a three-day tour around Aso, blessed with beautiful weather.

It is a long report, but it seems that our overseas guests were very satisfied with the trip to Aso under the guidance of Colnago captain.

Please have a look and let’s enjoy the wonderful scenery of Aso together.

 

During my stay at a traditional inn in Uchinomaki Onsen village in 2014, I had the opportunity to guide cyclists from Singapore who had come to ride in Aso and Yufuin. I provided support not only for the cycling routes but also for transportation, including picking them up from Fukuoka Airport. In November of last year, I had a consultation with Mr. Endo, a resident of Singapore who had participated in the previous trip. He was looking to arrange a similar plan for a 4-night stay in Aso and a 3-night stay in Yufuin. During the previous trip, I had required the assistance of Mr. Sakata from Aso Natureland and Mr. Nao from Nao’s Base but due to their busy schedules I decided to entrust the arrangements to a bus company near Aso and have a support vehicle accompany them during their stay. I asked Mr. Yamauchi from Cycle Pit Gururi in Minami Aso to handle these arrangements as he is located close to Aso.

 

 

During my previous stay at the inn, I was able to guide the guests, but I couldn’t provide assistance beyond that point so the guests had to navigate to Yufuin on their own after receiving directions. This time around, as I have been active at Michi no Eki Aso (Aso Roadside Station) and connected with many people, I coordinated the cycling activities during the Yufuin stay with Mr. Fujino from Oita Cycle Tour Ring, an organization conducting cycling tours in Oita.

Regarding accommodations, I introduced them to two places: Uchinomaki and Senomoto. The group decided on the “Senomoto Kogen Hotel” for a 4-night stay in Aso and for Yufuin, whereas they stayed at Tama no Yu during the previous trip, this time they opted for a 3-night stay at Yufuin Baien GARDEN RESORT.

In the photo taken during the meeting at Michi no Eki Aso, from the bottom left going counterclockwise, you can see Mr. Yamauchi from Cycle Pit Gururi, myself, Mr. Fujino, the representative of Oita Cycle Tour Ring, and Mr. Kudo, another tour guide. On that day, we discussed plans in case of rainy weather, it would be disappointing to have guests come all the way here and then be confined to the hotel due to rain. It would also mean losing out on the guide’s fee, so coming up with alternative plans was essential.

 

 

On May 20th, slightly behind schedule at 8:50 AM, 11 guests arrived at Fukuoka International Airport via Singapore Airlines. They were greeted by a chartered bus and Mr. Yamauchi’s van to transport their bike cases. The group then headed to Senomoto Kogen Hotel. For lunch, under the recommendation given by the bus driver, they went to a yakisoba (fried noodles) specialty shop called Sofuren in Hita City. I heard that they were very happy with the food, and that there were cheers to celebrate their arrival.

Since the group arrived at the hotel just before noon, as planned, they utilized a reserved meeting room (pictured), where they had stored the bike cases (sturdy and caster-equipped like a suitcase as you can see on the right in the photo). They assembled their bicycles, stored their luggage there, changed clothes, went for test rides, and even soaked in the hot springs until their respective check-in times. At the end of this report, I would like to introduce you all to 6 videos made by ‘Si x 15′(their team name) from their arrival at the airport to the last cycling session.

 

 

Day 1

84.6km · +1,681 m / -1,681 m

 

On the first day of the ride, May 21st, we started from Senomoto Kogen Hotel at 9:00 AM. I arrived 40 minutes early to discuss potential schedule changes for the three-day course with Mr. Endo. The reason behind this was the uncertain weather forecast for the third day. To account for that, we decided to keep the Milk Road course, which was ridden in 2014 as an option for the third day in case of rainy conditions. This way, we ensured that even if it rained on the third day, participants could still enjoy that course. For the first day, we planned a course that would be enjoyable from our accommodation at Senomoto, and for the second day, the Aso Crater and Yoshida Line downhill course on the Aso Panorama Line.

 

 

Mr. Yamauchi’s support vehicle is an ISUZU Elf UT. It’s commonly used for modifications into camping cars and for transporting bicycles. From the airport, it was used to transport bike cases, and during cycling, it served as a support vehicle capable of carrying up to three people.

 

 

The tall and spacious cargo area can accommodate 11 bikes hung on the walls and 2 placed horizontally. With the addition of a cycle carrier, it can transport 4 more bikes. The wall-mounted system utilizes fork mounts to secure the bikes, preventing scratches and minimizing stress. For the second day, since the destination was Kugino, people were transported by microbus while the bikes were carried using this method.

During lunch breaks or when storing the bikes at places like Yufuin Baien GARDEN RESORT, if the storage options are not suitable, this vehicle can also accommodate bikes placed horizontally.

 

 

The route for the first day’s ride included part of the “Gurutto Kuju Excursion Route” along Route 442. It started downhill through the grasslands of the Kuju Gliderport, followed by the Okubungo Green Road we usually use during Aso-Mankitsu-Ride. The route however from there to Ubuyama Ranch via Route 131 was not very enjoyable. We decided to turn around and head back towards the Kuju Kogen Cottages and the Kuju Kogen Beer Village area.

Despite not having significant inclines, the landscapes of the auto-camping grounds and the view of the cows in the grazing fields made for a pleasant uphill ride.

 

 

The viewpoint on Route 442, just outside the hotel, offers a breathtaking scene. Mount Takadake and Nekodake (resembling the teeth of a saw) appeared quite distant. The route took us closer to them before going back.

 

 

Turning left at the 10 km mark leads to the road for the Kuju Gliderport Field. At the heart of a 3.7 km grassy field, there’s an exhilarating downhill section. You could hear exclamations of “Wow!” coming from behind as riders enjoy the descent.

 

 

During this time of year, the new shoots of bracken ferns (warabi) cover the grasslands in a dazzling display.

 

Riding along this road feels like being in “Top Gun: Maverick”…

 

 

The downhill comes to an end here. Going left would have lead us back to the unenjoyable route of Okubungo Green Road and Route 131. Therefore, turning right, you’ll embark on a 4.9 km, 250 m ascent along a road in the middle of the grasslands that takes you to Kuju Kogen Cottages. It’s a leisurely climb where you can enjoy the magnificent scenery at a comfortable pace.

 

 

The faster group of five riders completed the climb. At this point, one of the participants noticed an unusual noise coming from the rear of his bike. They consulted with Mr. Yamauchi, who found that the rear through-axle was not properly tightened. For bike transportation with bike cases such as this, it’s important to pay attention not only to the front and rear wheels and pedals, but also components like the seat post and handlebars when assembling. Mr. Yamauchi’s was well-equipped with a variety of tools, an air compressor, and even spare bikes.

 

 

Riding from Higotai Park, taking the Yamanami Highway to reach the Oso dam seemed to put everyone in a good mood.

 

 

We took a break at Ubuyama Farm, where coffee and ice cream were particularly well received. Observing the Singaporean participants up to this point, I could grasp their cycling abilities, riding styles, preferences for landscapes, among other things. It seemed they were genuinely enjoying the vistas from Higotai Road and Milk Road.

We had lunch at the udon-specialty restaurant “Yama-an” along Route 3. The combination of great taste, generous portions, and most importantly, incredibly affordable prices surprised everyone. Although the place was already reasonably priced, the synergy of high prices in Singapore and the weakening yen made us feel the potential impact on future inbound tourism trends.

 

 

From National Route 57 to this point, the roads through Machi no Koga bokuya (private grassland) were characterized by continuous ups and downs. The impending presence of Mount Nekodake and the expansive grassy landscapes seemed to leave quite an impact. The ultimate highlight was the breathtaking view of Hakoishi Pass, which will be part of the Tour de Kyushu held in October. Everyone seemed to be gleeful, exclaiming like children at this sight.

 

 

The return journey from here consists of an 8 km downhill stretch to the Sakanashi Intersection, followed by a 6 km ascent on Route 213 leading to Shiroyama Viewpoint, encompassing a 4 km uphill section of the Yamanami Highway.

 

 

Upon reaching Shiroyama Viewpoint, the eastern part of Kita-gairinzan (Northern Outer Rim), everyone took a break while enjoying the scenery. They indulged in ice cream and carbonated beverages. Ian, who wasn’t fond of uphill rides, bought four watermelons and a melon along with strawberries. He proceeded to hollow out two watermelons, filled them with ice, whiskey, sparkling water, watermelon juice, and the diced fruit, creating a watermelon highball. However, the cost ended up being quite substantial, leaving the shopkeeper quite astonished.

 

 

Upon entering a road in the grassland from the Yamanami Highway, when heading towards the direction of Minami Ranch, one of the participants experienced a flat tire, making it the third puncture of the day according to Mr. Yamauchi. Interestingly, all these punctures occurred with ultra-lightweight tubes weighing around 30 grams and made of polyurethane.

Amidst this, Mr. Yamauchi jokingly asked Mr. Endo, “Are there no pebbles on the roads in Singapore?” To which Mr. Endo responded, “Well, since it’s Aso and we’re preparing for mountain passes, we’re going for lightweight options…” This exchange brought laughter to the group.

 

 

As the final ascent on the grassy road connected to the hotel, the buildings came into view and cheers erupted. It was a challenging course, spanning 84 km and climbing 1680 m, but the group seemed to be quite pleased with the experience.

On that morning, a sea of clouds could be seen from the Milk Road. Anticipating a possible recurrence, the next day, the start time was adjusted 30 minutes earlier.

 

End of day 1

 

 

Day 2

78.1 km · +1,395 m / -1,896 m

 

On the second day of the ride, May 22nd, the group had hoped to see a sea of clouds similar to the previous day’s photos, but unfortunately, strong winds prevented its formation, and the anticipated phenomenon could not be witnessed.

As this day’s destination was Kugino, there was no need to be concerned about fatigue for the return journey. Starting from Higotai Park, the downhill led to the Yamanami Highway, and the group took a break at Shiroyama Viewpoint again. From there, the downhill was marked by many sharp curves and heavy traffic, prompting the need for caution and a careful descent.

 

 

Before the start, Ms. Yoshimi Hashimoto, the wife of Mr. Hashimoto from Aso Kuju Cycling Tour, came to meet everyone. Since Ms. Yoshimi is from Singapore, it seems the conversation flowed quite well with the Singaporean participants.

 

 

I introduced Senomoto Kogen Hotel to the Singaporean participants after receiving an email from Mr. Endo a few days prior. Shortly after, during a cycling event based at Senomoto Rest House, I happened to consult with a staff member from the company that owns Senomoto Kogen Hotel, which led to the recommendation.

The hotel is situated within a vast grassland, offering views of the Aso Five Peaks and a vast “starry sky” due to the absence of surrounding buildings. This point is particularly appealing to residents of the bustling city-state, Singapore. Additionally, it doesn’t overlap in atmosphere with the Yufuin Baien GARDEN RESORT in Yufuin, where the participants were planning to spend three nights. However, the drawback was that the hotel is over 28 km away and over 400 m uphill from Aso Station and Michi no Eki Aso (Aso Roadside Station), making the return journey uphill for all three days difficult. This setup would lead to accumulated fatigue and limited route options.

A solution seemed at hand when it was proposed that there would be two Hiace vans available for transportation, and Michi no Eki Aso could serve as the endpoint. However, circumstances changed this year, and the hotel could no longer provide transportation. Instead, microbuses from a bus company were arranged to support the participants for all three days. While Mr. Endo and his team had agreed, just before the event, the participants expressed a desire to ride back on their own for two days, resulting in a change of plans.

I’ll elaborate on the specifics later, but the outcome turned out to be quite favorable, and the course was altered to start at Michi no Eki Aso, tackling the challenging “Aso and Kuju Cycling Course.” This experience taught me that even under pressure, focused thinking can lead to solutions for any situation.

 

 

Shiroyama Viewpoint. Alan’s bike (Alan is 190 cm tall and is the tallest member of the group) alongside my bike.

 

 

Entering the “Path of Happiness”, a straight 3.4 km stretch on Route 213, the stunning scenery immediately lifted the spirits and excitement of everyone in the group.

 

 

They made a stop at Aso City Hall to see this wrapped vehicle. Since the Colnago bikes and Mr. Endo’s bike were the same, it garnered quite a bit of attention.

 

 

For the route that involved crossing the Aso Five Peaks from the north, observing Kusasenri and the Nakadake Crater, then descending to Minamiaso, arrangements were made for a microbus to be waiting at Kugino in Asobo no Sato Kugino. Thanks to this, they could enjoy a 78 km route with 1395 m of ascent and 1896 m of downhill. Ample time was allocated for lunch, coffee breaks at Kusasenri, and exploring the crater.

They joined the Bochu Line via the Ikoi no Mura route. Although there were young calves and foals in the grasslands, it seemed that not many were particularly moved by these sights, and there weren’t many people taking photos.

 

 

Back in 2014, the weather wasn’t favorable, and the visibility was limited due to fog. As a result, this route was excluded from their plans.

 

 

This time, the weather was really nice for the Panorama Line hill climb!

 

 

During lunch, when they stopped at Kusasenri, they unexpectedly encountered the South Korean female cyclists they had seen on the Panorama Line earlier. They took photos together and had an enjoyable interaction, adding to the excitement of the day.

 

 

After the meal, they spent some leisurely time at a coffee specialty shop in Kusasenri. Mr. Fujino, who would guide them for two days in Oita, had communicated the importance of having ice cream and coffee breaks. The steep 19% gradient slope on the paid road (bicycles are exempt from the toll) leading from the top of Mount Aso to the Nakadake crater seemed to have been a challenging yet valuable experience.

 

 

The crater doesn’t evoke a strong reaction from most people. It’s a place that doesn’t necessarily impress anyone regardless of who visits. Instead, what excited everyone is the fact that you can ride your bike right up to the edge of the crater, and the friendly security personnel allow cyclists to park their bikes at the closest possible point to the crater. This was a delight for all participants.

 

 

What truly gets everyone excited is this spot is that you can see the road you just climbed and the splendid view of Kusasenri in the opposite direction.

 

 

They also ran into ladies who were also staying at Senomoto Kogen Hotel. The encounter led to a lively interaction once again.

 

 

When suggesting taking a “jumping photo”, it creates quite a lively atmosphere, but surprisingly, not many participants tend to react enthusiastically.

 

This was better.

 

 

On the second day of cycling in Japan, there was a noticeable relaxation in tension and a sense of comfort among the participants. However, because the downhill stretch from the crater to the Yoshida Line is dangerous, I made sure to convey in a slightly firmer tone that they must not overtake me under any circumstances. I emphasized the point that an injury during their time in Japan could ruin their entire cycling journey.

 

 

They took a break at the Minamiaso Panorama Line viewpoint and then decided to have a free ride until we reach the Family Mart at the signal corner, where Route 325 intersects.

 

 

They reached their goal at Asobo no Sato Kugino, and everything went as planned without any delays for the microbus. They left their bikes on Mr. Yamauchi’s van. Once again, it turned into a lively ice cream time for everyone. I was about to mention that they could do some shopping along the way, but as soon as they got on the bus, some of them fell asleep.

 

End of day 2

 

 

Day 3

83.3 km · +1,353 m / -1,355 m

 

On the 23rd, the final day of their Aso cycling journey, the weather had improved. In 2014, they had climbed the Milk Road from Uchinomaki Onsen, but this time, they aimed for the Milk Road from Senomoto by taking a downhill route and a varied terrain of uphills and downhills through the grasslands.

 

 

At this point, one of the e-bike riders approached me with concerns about his battery running low. They didn’t have a charger with them and didn’t have any fellow e-bike riders nearby. They asked “GINRINN” for help, and it turned out they could borrow a battery until the final day. They arranged for Mr. Yamauchi’s support vehicle to pick up the battery at the entrance of the Futae pass. When this was communicated to the e-bike rider, his face lit up with a big smile.

 

 

They rode the Milk Road comfortably and stopped at the Kabuto Iwa Viewpoint for an ice cream and coffee break. At this spot, the ownership had changed, and now they are brewing coffee instead of using a coffee machine. This change allowed them to enjoy high-quality roasted coffee. The coffee beans were said to be the same as those used at the café in Kusasenri, and the selection of bread items, including butter pretzels and bean paste filled pastries, received positive feedback from the Singaporean participants.

As they descended from the Milk Road, specifically at the entrance to the Futae Pass, they designated a no-passing zone due to the dangerous conditions. Then they switched to free riding, splitting into two groups and maintaining a good pace while taking turns leading the group. The teamwork was well-coordinated, with the faster cyclists taking longer turns at the front. The atmosphere felt like a regular training scene, showcasing their strong synergy.

 

 

They had made a reservation for lunch at the “Aso Milk Factory,” which is run by Abe Farm. The anticipation was quite high as the first day they had Udon, the second day Akaushi-don (a type of beef bowl), and finally, on the third day, they could have a lunch that they were familiar with.

When arriving at the time of the reservation, staff members greeted us in front of the cycle racks. This “surprise hospitality” was highly appreciated. Following the staff’s guidance, they entered the restaurant, where they could see aging Parmigiano cheese through a small window in the cheese factory section. The delightful aroma increased their appetite significantly. While the regular customers ordered using tablet devices, we were a group of 13 people sharing a single tablet, which could take quite some time. Considering the amount of pasta, pizza, and drinks they would consume, having a printed menu option might have been more efficient. There were also group menus available for tour buses, but catering to their preferences by allowing each person to choose their favorite items would undoubtedly be more appreciated.

 

 

Dishes were served one after another. While each person ordered their own pasta dish, the original cheese pizzas came in Margherita, Quattro Formaggi, and Ragù Mozzarella flavors, with two servings of each variety, filling the table. Sharing the pizzas and tasting them together, everyone had smiles of delight on their faces and agreed that the food was delicious. After the meal, they moved to the café area, where they enjoyed a leisurely time with soft-serve ice cream and gelato made from award-winning milk by the International Taste Institute, as well as the original Baumkuchen dessert. This place seemed to be a true oasis for cyclists from all around the world.

 

 

The Return journey included a 4-kilometer hill climb up to the Shouranzan Mountain, and upon reaching the top, they were treated to breathtaking views. Instead of the typical viewpoints overlooking the Aso Five peaks that they were usually guided to, they seemed to have appreciated the different perspective from the grassy plateau further ahead. Everyone enthusiastically took photos and videos, creating a lively and memorable experience.

 

 

More common views have been seen on the Milk Road, so perhaps it was good to have a change here, and the view was second only to the Machi no Koga bokuya (private grassland).

it’s important for a guide to have flexible thinking while observing reactions, rather than sticking to fixed notions.

 

 

After enjoying the grassland roads up to Route 40, we ended the ride with a final free ride of 11 kilometers from exiting the Yamanami Highway to Senomoto Kogen Hotel. It became clear that there was a significant difference in cycling ability among the members. Therefore, for those who wanted to ride at a faster pace, we established a clearly marked section for a safe and straightforward free ride, allowing them to ride ahead at their own pace.

This setup provided a sense of accomplishment, and it seemed like the group enjoyed a pleasant ride until the end. Additionally, I took up the role of supporting the riders at the back, enabling every member to cycle at their own comfortable pace. As we reached the hotel with the members at the rear, I received words of gratitude from everyone. Although I don’t understand English very well, it seemed like they were saying something like, “Everything was wonderful, thank you so much!” Their eyes were wide open, expressing their joy and appreciation. It really touched me and almost brought tears to my eyes.

 

 

On the 24th, we left the hotel, and with the help of Mr. Yamauchi’s support vehicle, we loaded in 11 bike cases and suitcases, heading towards Yufuin. The carrying capacity of the ISUZU Elf was truly impressive.

 

 

On this day, there was no guide, and Mr. Endo took the lead. I received photos from Mr. Yamauchi, so let’s introduce them while sharing impressions from the three days.

 

 

I struggled quite a bit in deciding the routes for the three days of guidance. While there were plenty of options starting and ending at places like Uchinomaki Onsen or Michi no Eki Aso (Aso roadside station), starting and ending in Senomoto was a choice I hadn’t had much experience with in actual rides. The commonly used routes to Makinoto and Kokonoe areas overlapped with the itinerary heading to Yufuin the next day. Solely going towards Kurokawa Onsen lacked appeal. The route towards Taketa remained unexplored, and circling around Kuju was too challenging in terms of difficulty.

 

 

I decided to go with a familiar route in direction of Aso for the three-day course. Initially, I aimed for going distances around 80 km and elevations between 1200 to 1600 meters, which seemed reasonable. However, considering the 28 km distance from the center of Aso Valley to Senomoto, I chose to make Kugino a finishing point for the day when going to Minami Aso. For the remaining two days, I planned to end at Michi no Eki Aso (Aso Roadside Station) and return by microbus. However, as the days approached, discussions among the participants led to a last-minute change of plans. They expressed the desire to self-ride back for every day except when coming back from Minami Aso. This prompted me to revise the routes accordingly.

 

 

However, this turned out to be quite delightful, and with just a few adjustments, whether starting from Senomoto or Michi no Eki Aso (Aso Roadside Station), it became a unique and captivating route through the lush green Aso-Kuju National Park. The grasslands were beautiful with adorable calves and foals during their grazing season, adding a charming touch. The reflections on the flooded rice fields created a mirror-like effect, the busy scenes of rice planting were captivating, and the sight of Mount Kishima and the Miyama Kirishima flowers near the mountain’s summit was simply magnificent.

These three exceptional routes in May are something that cannot be fully conveyed through photos, videos, or e-books. I take pride in how well they turned out.

 

 

Reflecting on this experience, although creating and refining cycling routes for Aso might be a consuming endeavor, I do wish to incorporate more detailed courses, not only general recommendations, or seasonal routes, but also monthly routes in the future. The 3-day ride with the cyclists from Singapore turned out to be a valuable personal experience for me, and it marked the beginning of a collaborative effort with Mr. Yamauchi and Mr. Fujino from Oita.

Interestingly, a Korean woman I met at Kusasenri told me about her friend plans to cycle in Aso in June and asked Mr. Yamauchi for support and guidance. She reached out to me about guiding, but it coincides with the Aso Enjoyment Ride event, so I’m content to observe from a distance. It’s worth noting that the 2014 tour, which was the catalyst for this cycling tour, started when Mr. Endo discovered my blog. Social media is truly remarkable.

I just received an email from Mr. Endo. He mentioned that one of the members from this tour wants him to introduce me to their friends, so he gave them my contact details. After writing this report, it seems like I’ll be practicing conversational English.

Finally, I received 6 videos of our Aso-Yufuin expedition, so please take a look at those as well.

 

Six15 Japan 2023 Day1

Six15 Japan 2023 Day2

Six15 Japan 2023 Day3

Six15 Japan 2023 Day4

Six15 Japan 2023 Day5

Six15 Japan 2023 Day6

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