Because It’s There: a 400km Ride Around and Around Lake Biwa

In Japanese, bicycling a full loop around Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, is called 「ビワ1」(Biwa 1), and depending on the route you take, is about 180~200km (112~124mi). It's a concept and phrase well known among cyclists, and even promoted by the Shiga Prefectural government, and that of various cities around the lake.

It's a lovely ride to do on a long summer day, with lots to see and enjoy, as I present in the story about the first time I did it 2½ years ago, in Bicycle Ride Around Japan’s Largest Lake (and its Part 2).

Part of what makes it interesting is the discovery and the newness, so it's a bit boring to do again. Still, half a year later, I did it in fast, not-sightseeing mode, in this 200km (125mi) ride.

So, having done it a couple of times and looking to up my does, my thoughts went to 「ビワ2」, two loops. During the zippy attempt, the actual loop itself (that is, excluding to and from the lake) took 6h 10m, so I thought I shouldn't have too much trouble doing two of them in one day. I thought I'd give it a try on my 50th birthday, but I ended up visiting my folks in Ohio then, so it remained an unfulfilled goal.

So, I finally did it this past Wednesday, completing 408km (254 mi) in 18½ overall hours:

I intended to wake at 3am, but couldn't sleep so I got up at 2am and spent the extra time stretching the quads and hamstrings in a lazy way. Finally I set out from my house in Kyoto at 4:10am, to meet the two others I would ride with, Ionut (seen on this post), and Hatano-san (seen on this one).

Waiting with a Cup of Coffee 4:30am, eastern Kyoto, about 11°C (52°F) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus front camera 2.87mm f/2.2 at an effective 32mm — 1/15 sec, f/2.2, ISO 1600 — map & image datanearby photos
Waiting with a Cup of Coffee
4:30am, eastern Kyoto, about 11°C (52°F)

Ionut's day got off to a bad start with a puncture on the way to the meeting point, so he was a bit late to arrive. We eventually got going and climbed over the short mountain between Kyoto and the city of Otsu, to a tiny traffic circle near the lake that would be our start, middle, and end.

Ready To Start the First Loop 5:10am, Port of Otsu, about 10°C (50°F) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus front camera 2.87mm f/2.2 at an effective 32mm — 1/15 sec, f/2.2, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Ready To Start the First Loop
5:10am, Port of Otsu, about 10°C (50°F)

We did a loop around the little grass-filled traffic circle seen in the background at the start and end of each loop, to lock in the loop and make the full loop unambiguous. And then we were off as a paceline at a brisk pace.

A paceline is when you ride with others single file, taking turns at the head of the line, and other times drafting immediately behind the others, to save energy. When you're at the front, you take group responsibility for watching for hazards, as those behind you can't see the road or side hazards because you're in the way, and when you're behind others with your wheels separated by just inches, you pay hyper attention to the movement and signals from the person in front, lest they swerve or slow down and you don't react appropriately.

Half an Hour In 5:45am, 8℃ (46℉), 35 kph (22 mph) photo by Ionut Sandu -- Kusatsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Ionut Sandu
402SH at an effective 30mm — 1/19 sec, f/1.9, ISO 500 — map & image datanearby photos
Half an Hour In
5:45am, 8℃ (46℉), 35 kph (22 mph)
photo by Ionut Sandu

Most everything with the paceline went smoothly, except for one adrenaline-pumping event early on when it was still pitch dark on a middle-of-nowhere stretch of road. Hatano-san was leading the paceline, and I pulled out of it to move forward to take my turn at the front, and in the process came across a very dark hump of roadkill in the middle of the very dark (but otherwise pristine) road. It's the kind of road hazard that one could easily go over or avoid, so the danger was in the surprise. I bobbled, but thankfully did not pay the price for my inattention. I did not make that kind of mistake again.

We took even turns early on, but as the day progressed, Ionut took longer and longer turns at the front. He's by far the strongest, and wanted to train for a long endurance race he has coming up, so except for a small part of me with pride, I was happy to let him pull. All in all, he pulled for probably 80% of the day.

Gorgeous Sunrise 6:30am (1h20m into the first loop), 7℃ (45℉), 32 kph (20 mph) photo by Ionut Sandu -- Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Ionut Sandu
402SH at an effective 30mm — 1/1500 sec, f/1.9, ISO 32 — map & image datanearby photos
Gorgeous Sunrise
6:30am (1h20m into the first loop), 7℃ (45℉), 32 kph (20 mph)
photo by Ionut Sandu

Because I spent my mental energy on riding safely (and on worrying about the total distance, and about fretting at how long it was to the next milestone, and worrying about what body part was in pain at the moment), I didn't pay much attention to the scenery, but the sunrise was gorgeous, with deep rich oranges and blues painted with a warm, rich gradient.

I'm thankful that Ionut had the energy (both physically and electronically) to take a few photos. To allow my iPhone to record the whole ride, I turned off all its antennas except for GPS (turned off WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular), put it into low-power mode, and touched it as little as possible. After 19 hours, the battery was still at 47%, so I guess I didn't need to be so severe.

But I'm glad I had it and could record my whole ride. I brought four different devices to record the ride with, and two had troubles. The iPhone worked perfectly, but my Garmin Edge 820 wouldn't even turn on. I've been having all kinds of problems with it lately, but thought I had them taken care of until the morning of the ride when it seemed to turn on but the screen didn't display anything. I brought it with me in the hopes that it'd record everything, but it was just dead weight, and it recorded nothing all day.

Then there's the Polar M460 that I bought as a backup when the Garmin started acting up. This piece-of-shit cycling computer is worth a whole blog post of ridicule on its own. It's horrible. I had to stop early in the ride to de-register my heart-rate sensor because it kept popping up HR sensor battery low messages, sometimes multiple times per second, even though the HR sensor battery was new and full. The message would stay there until I pressed a button, after which another one would come anywhere from after a few minutes, to instantly. It took a while with it's ridiculous input system to clear the HR sensor from the unit, and the resulting silence was angelic, but it seems to have decided to drop all sensor data from that point, even though it displayed it (e.g. power data) to me during the ride. These are just a few of the many problems I encounter with this unit. I sent a note to Polar, and they still haven't even responded.

I also had an old Garmin eTrex 20, which recorded everything fine.

taken at 36 kph (22 mph) photo by Ionut Sandu -- Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Ionut Sandu
402SH at an effective 30mm — 1/90 sec, f/1.9, ISO 32 — map & image datanearby photos
taken at 36 kph (22 mph)
photo by Ionut Sandu

In even considering to attempt this ride, I questioned whether I had the strength and endurance to complete it. A year ago I would not have given it a second thought, but this year has not been kind to my fitness, and I'm not even close to my peak. But as it turned out, I felt strong on the flats, which is most of the route.

Mentally, I didn't feel so strong, and the ride ended up being much tougher mentally than physically. Milestones along the route were so slow to come, and it was taxing to keep wondering When on earth will we get to the spot?.

Heading South in Makino 9:30am (4:20 min into first loop), 15℃ (59℉), 28 kph (18 mph) photo by Ionut Sandu -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Ionut Sandu
402SH at an effective 30mm — 1/380 sec, f/1.9, ISO 32 — map & image datanearby photos
Heading South in Makino
9:30am (4:20 min into first loop), 15℃ (59℉), 28 kph (18 mph)
photo by Ionut Sandu
Aerobars -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 at an effective 28mm — 1/17 sec, f/1.8, ISO 160 — map & image datanearby photos
Aerobars

I'd borrowed some clip-on aerobars from a friend, which allow me to rest my elbows on the handlebar and relax in a fairly aerodynamic posture, as seen in the next photo, while maintaining good power and cadence.

photo by Ionut Sandu -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Ionut Sandu
402SH at an effective 30mm — 1/750 sec, f/1.9, ISO 32 — map & image datanearby photos
photo by Ionut Sandu

I really liked them, feeling natural the first time I tried them the day before. These particular ones were a bit short for me, so I did have to put some thought into a position that didn't hurt my elbows and wrists.

Perhaps six hours in, an hour before we were done with the first loop, I lamented that we wouldn't make it to the grassy traffic circle to finish the first loop by noon. Ionut said that we'd not go all the way down there, but instead cut off about 40km (25mi) of the bottom of the lake by cutting across the Great Biwa Bridge. This had been his plan all along in order to help ensure we finished at a reasonable hour, but I had clearly not understood it.

I was surprised at my reaction. I'd spent the last three or four hours worried that I'd not have the fortitude to continue, that I'd give up after the first loop, but in hearing that 40km would be cut off, I immediately told them to go ahead as they liked, but I'd continue to finish the loop. It was meaningless to me to cut off the end of the first loop (and cut off the start of the second loop, for that matter), as that would give us zero loops for the day, and I came into it planning to do two full loops if possible, but at a minimum one full loop.

We talked about the timing and how late we'd likely get home, and in the end we continued as a group to finish the full loop.

Almost Done with the First Loop Noon (7h into first loop), 21℃ (70℉) photo by Ionut Sandu -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Ionut Sandu
402SH at an effective 30mm — 1/380 sec, f/1.9, ISO 32 — map & image datanearby photos
Almost Done with the First Loop
Noon (7h into first loop), 21℃ (70℉)
photo by Ionut Sandu
One Loop Down 12:20pm -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus front camera 2.87mm f/2.2 at an effective 32mm — 1/800 sec, f/2.2, ISO 25 — map & image datanearby photos
One Loop Down
12:20pm

In the end, the first loop took 7:13:35, more than an hour longer than it took me last time I'd tried alone. Because we went slower, and were working as a team, I had ample physical energy, so it was with less dread than I expected that we started the second loop.

Hitano-san had been having increasing pain in his knee, so he decided to bow out at this point. It's lucky that we had continued to finish the whole loop, because had we not, then by the time he felt the need to abandon, he'd have been much farther from home.

Ionut and I continued on.

27km (16mi) into the second loop, we stopped at a cycling statue recently installed near the lakeshore.

Detour off the Cycling Path -- Moriyama, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 at an effective 28mm — 1/8000 sec, f/1.8, ISO 25 — map & image datanearby photos
Detour off the Cycling Path
Ballerina Bicyclist -- Moriyama, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 at an effective 28mm — 1/3200 sec, f/1.8, ISO 20 — map & image datanearby photos
Ballerina Bicyclist

The plaque says Lake Biwa, and the somewhat presumptuous Cyclist Hallowed Ground.

Moriyama, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 at an effective 28mm — 1/450 sec, f/1.8, ISO 20 — map & image datanearby photos

It's a nice statue, and a nice place to pause. (It'd be nice if there were some services nearby, such as toilet or water, but I guess the lake can serve for both 😉 ).

I took the three photos above in July, on my first visit to see the new statue, on this ride.

During Our Second Loop Ionut hams it up -- Moriyama, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 at an effective 28mm — 1/750 sec, f/1.8, ISO 20 — map & image datanearby photos
During Our Second Loop
Ionut hams it up

This area seems to have been hit hard by the typhoon a week or so prior, looking to have been totally covered in mud and sand, though some had already been cleared away. Many trees had toppled.

Moriyama, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 at an effective 57mm — 1/850 sec, f/2.8, ISO 20 — map & image datanearby photos

After leaving the statue, the next milestone for me is a change of roads in the city of Hikone. My feeling was that it would come after a short while, but it took an eternity. I've now measured it at 38.5km (24mi), and the disconnect in my mind made it the longest hour and forty minutes of the day, as I kept wondering When in hell will we get to Hikone?.

It was also perhaps one of the slowest sections, as our moving average between the statue and where we changed roads in Hikone was only 27.5kph (17mph).

It was nice to make a 90° turn at the intersection in downtown Hikone, because we'd been on the same road for hours, since the southernmost part of the loop where we crossed the Seta River that the lake drains via. Changing roads makes you feel like you're making progress.

Approaching Sunset 4:30pm, more than 12 hours into the ride -- Nagahama, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 at an effective 57mm — 1/60 sec, f/2.8, ISO 20 — map & image datanearby photos
Approaching Sunset
4:30pm, more than 12 hours into the ride
Nagahama, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 at an effective 57mm — 1/2400 sec, f/2.8, ISO 20 — map & image datanearby photos
Only About Four More Hours to Go photo by Ionut Sandu -- Nagahama, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Ionut Sandu
402SH at an effective 30mm — 1/1400 sec, f/1.9, ISO 32 — map & image datanearby photos
Only About Four More Hours to Go
photo by Ionut Sandu

Half an hour after this shot, my distance for the day passed my previously-longest ride, the 293km (182mi) Coffee Round Trip to Amanohashidate. That ride was much more difficult than this one, though, because it had a lot more mountains, and a lot more wind. Riding around Lake Biwa can often see strong headwinds all the way around, but we got quite lucky on this trip, and there was not much wind one way or the other for most of the day.

After that was a section that I was really not looking forward to, a 2km (1.2 mi) hill that surprised me during the first loop. Most of the route is pretty flat, and I'd not done that particular section of road on previous Biwa loops, but our route used that road this time both because it's the most direct way, and anyway, the other options are closed due to landslides.

The hill, 2km at 6%, isn't normally a big deal, but I had no idea it existed, and it just kept going up and up in long straightaways separated by bends, with me hoping each bend was the end only to find out that another long straightaway awaited. It was a bit tough, mentally.

I was really not looking forward to that grind again, but in the end I was happy to finish it only about a minute slower the second time (7:19 vs. 6:10).

Shirohige Shrine Gate 7:06pm, 15 hours into my ride -- Takashima, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 at an effective 28mm — 1/15 sec, f/1.8, ISO 1600 — map & image datanearby photos
Shirohige Shrine Gate
7:06pm, 15 hours into my ride

There was a full moon helping to light our way, and helping, I thought, to light the shrine gate, so I thought the iPhone camera would be able to do better. Alas.

The first ride I ever did that exceeded 100km was to this place, 2½ years ago, as seen in Pleasant 105km Bike Ride From Kyoto, Along Lake Biwa, to Takashima’s Shirohige Shrine, but I'd visited here long before. Almost nine years ago, I used it as the subject for the photos in the camera-technology writeup Overexposure and Underexposure, and the Compensation Thereof.

I felt great during the last couple of hours because I knew we were closing in on the finish. On the other hand, Ionut (who still continued to pull most of the time) started feeling discomfort in one of his knees. That's never fun.

Throughout the 18.5-hour ride, most everything hurt at one time or another. I had periods where one knee would start to hurt, and I'd stress about how bad it might become, but after an hour or two of stress I would eventually notice that it didn't hurt anymore, and feel relieved. Half a day later, it (or the other knee) might start hurting again, for a couple of hours.

The biggest pain was with my neck. When you're riding in an aero position, your body is as horizontal with the road as possible, so in order to see where you're going you have to really bend your neck in a way that's uncomfortable for long periods.

Two Full Loops Done! 8:30pm -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2017 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
iPhone 7 Plus front camera 2.87mm f/2.2 at an effective 32mm — 1/15 sec, f/2.2, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Two Full Loops Done!
8:30pm

The second loop took an hour longer than the first (8:05:52). We had stopped and relaxed more, and had more stretches were we laid off the gas.

By this point I'd ridden 368.7km (229mi), and with about 11km to get home, I was looking at a total of about 380km, a distance so tantalizingly close to 400 that I just had to go for it. At first Ionut joined me for an extra excursion to give the additional distance, but his knee was really bothering him, so he played it smart and eventually headed home.

I rode south to do a 2.1km Criterium segment out in the countryside among rice fields. It was pitch dark except for the almost-full moon, so I didn't go all out, but I went faster than just light cruising. (I had flashing lights both front and rear, but they are to be seen, not to see.) After such a long day, I was happy to maintain a decent speed — 32kph (20mph) — for its duration.

Then I headed home by not quite the most direct route, to increase my chances of cresting 400km before arriving home.

To get back to Kyoto, I had to climb over a small mountain, and wow, this is where I came to a grinding halt. I just had no power for climbing. My best time on the last bit of the climb is 92 seconds, but this time it took 3:57. It probably would have been faster to walk. But when I did get to the top, I checked my distance and saw that it had just crested 400km, so I was thrilled.

I'd left home at about 4:10am, and returned at about 10:40pm. Strava says the elapsed time was 18:29:02.

With modern GPS track recorders, there's often a lot of slop and uncertainty with how it determines your location at each moment during the trip, and so a lot of variety in how the connect-the-dots distance adds up. I often record my rides with multiple devices, and see multi-kilometer differences even on short 50km rides, so I expected the three tracks I recorded on this long ride would show a huge discrepancy. I was shocked to see that the three lengths agreed to within 200m! I guess the lack of valleys on the route helped GPS reception. I used the shortest of the three to upload, resulting in 408.0km (253.5mi).

I felt remarkably good, and the next day was fine, other than my neck, which hurt, and a few tender spots on the derriere. For the former, I went for a massage at Ken-chan's. I rode again a few days later (this ride) and felt fine, even setting a PR on a short steep climb.

It's sort of stupid to ride for 400km only to arrive where you started, especially when your pace disallows you to drink in the lovely views, but since I can't ride really fast, I'll take my satisfaction where I can, and I'm so very pleased to have a 400+km ride under my belt.

It took only a few days for me to start thinking 「ビワ3」.


All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

I thought Mike had forever captured the family award for exercising to the point where fitness took a dark turn into insanity when he ran Comrades. You, my dear crazy person, have now tied him.

— comment by Marcina on November 6th, 2017 at 12:37pm JST (1 week, 5 days ago) comment permalink

Incredible. I feel motivated by this Jeff. Someday, I want to do something like this to test my own mental endurance. Your effort is like the “Pathfinders”, of WW II.

Love and regards,d

maverik

— comment by Maverik on November 6th, 2017 at 7:17pm JST (1 week, 5 days ago) comment permalink

First picture- “Waiting with a Cup of Coffee
4:30am, western Kyoto, about 11°C (52°F)”

Looks east of Kyoto to me, but what a great achievement.

Kenmore, WA

Dyslexic “Doh!”. Thanks, fixed. —Jeffrey

— comment by Rick H. on November 7th, 2017 at 3:09am JST (1 week, 4 days ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey: Came across this a while back and thought it might interest you…

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/adventuretape/adventure-tape-the-ultimate-rescue-solution-for-yo

Mike.

Looks interesting, thanks Mike. —Jeffrey

— comment by Mike Nelson Pedde on November 14th, 2017 at 10:46am JST (4 days, 3 hours ago) comment permalink
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