Taking the plunge! You’ve finally done it. You went out and spent 20,000 yen on a bike, got your 3,000 yen helmet from Daiei and have found a good bike shop with some experienced riders that can show you around the trails. They take you out to the mountain, stopping on the way for provisions. Once you reach the mountain then the fun begins: the climb up. There’s a half ride and half walk up a paved road followed by some lifting and pushing of bikes up stairs and various hills.
Once you reach the top, it’s break time. You cool down with a drink, munch your Snickers bar while you gawk at the amount of safety equipment the veterans are putting on. Not to worry though, you have your spiffy helmet from Daiei and your common sense to protect you. The regulars head off down the slope and tell you to just ‘follow the trail and don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing.” The trail starts off pretty gentle. ‘Hey,” you think, ‘ this isn’t too bad!” Then you come around a corner to a rocky, steep set of stairs with one of your guides sprawled on his back with his bike on top of him. ‘Oh my God! Someone’s hurt,” you think. But then you notice all the others laughing and pointing out what a great endo that was. You decide to skip this bit because you don’t feel ‘comfortable” riding it.
After everyone gets going you quickly fall behind again. You ride for a bit enjoying the scenery. Overlooking Fukuoka from one of the surrounding mountains is breathtaking. Hey, this whole mountain biking thing isn’t so bad after all. Then you catch up to your new friends standing by what could only be considered a cliff with trees zig-zagging on either side, goading each other into riding down it. ‘You might want to give this one a miss on your first time out,” one of the guys says without a trace of irony. Might?
The first guy goes down, looks like he’s going to make it then tumbles down. ‘Are you all right?” someone calls out somberly. The fallen comrade shouts out a shaky, ‘Yeah, I think so,” which apparently is the signal for laughter from the rest of the group. A few of the others try it. Some succeed, others tumble. You find that even walking down with the bike is difficult. After a few more episodes like this you begin to wonder about this sport though some of the gentler slopes are kind of fun and a bit challenging. ‘Hey, this is actually a lot of fun,” you start thinking as you reach the end. ‘You know,” says one of the guys, ‘you did pretty well for your first time out, especially on that bike. We never used to ride any of those difficult parts, not even some of the stuff you rode today.” Your chest swells with pride. ‘Yeah, I did pretty well,” you think. ‘I could really get into this. Maybe with a better bike I could keep up with these guys.” As if reading your mind, your new friend continues. ‘You know, if you’re interested I have a bike that I think would be a good fit for you.” *Note: Always get landowners permission first
Interested in Joining these guys?
First Choose Your Style
The sport of Mountain Biking has fractured into a bunch of different styles. Probably the most common is Cross Country. Think longer rides with gentle to pretty steep climbs and descents. Endurance is the key here. Downhill riding is the opposite side of the coin. Fingers off the brakes and go down the mountain as fast as possible. Jumps, rocks and tight corners are de rigueur. Free-riding is a bit of both. It ranges from riding through a variety of terrains over medium to long distances, to riding stunts, jumps and rolling down things that would normally be repelled down. Can’t forget the Poseurs. These riders can be seen on spotless bikes riding around town challenging things like 10cm high curbs and double lattes outside Starbucks.
Getting in Gear
A mountain bike, helmet, and riding apparel (shoes, shorts, etc.) is all one really needs to get started. An entry-level mountain bike can be purchased for around 50,000 yen, but for a heavy-duty mountain bike prices can range anywhere from 200,000 yen to 500,000 yen. There are many shops in town, but Shinohara Cycle, located in Arae is worth checking out for friendly service and advice in English. See the list on p.10 for other good shops. For most downhill riders, a full-face helmet, gloves, elbow pads, and knee/shin guards are essential pieces of protective gear. Full upper body armor (also called a pressure suit) is also available which provides the ultimate protection for the rider but can be rather bulky and hot during the summer.
Prepping for the Trail
Bringing plenty of liquids is a must. CamelBaks or any type of backpack that allows you to carry a hands-free hydration system is recommended during the summer months. These will ensure you will always have plenty of water and stay hydrated. A pre-ride snack (chocolate bar, onigiri, etc.) and a sports drink help to give you that extra boost to get up the hill. Other favorites are fried chicken, burritos, egg sandwiches and apple pies, but perhaps not recommended! There are also numerous energy drinks and sports bars available. Every rider should bring a few extra parts/ tools (and someone who knows how to use them) should something go wrong out on the trail. A small pump, an extra tube, patch kit, a chain break, and a multi-tool should be thrown in your backpack before heading out. Nothing worse than being stuck half way down the hill with nothing to repair your bike with.
Where to Ride
Takasuyama, Aburayama and Kusenbuyama are three favorites in the Fukuoka area. Each trail differs from the other both in what they offer for going down, but also in the amount of pain in getting to the top.
Takasuyama, one of the more popular trails, offers a bit of everything for the rider. There are sections where you can speed around corners, technical bits to test your skills over rocks and staircases, and slower areas where anyone can just coast through, allowing any type of rider to have a great time. Because of how it differs in sections, it allows you to see your progress as you learn to tackle new areas and become a more skilled rider. The base of Takasuyama can be reached in just over an hour by bike or about 30 minutes by car. At the base, you walk up a fire road for about 30 minutes, then another 20-30 minutes up a trail with parts where you are required to carry your bike. It is a great work out, quite exhausting, but the ride down makes it worth it.
Aburayama, like Takasuyama, offers some great single tracks for any type of rider. It also has some technical parts to challenge you. In the summer, the trail gets quite overgrown but it is still rideable. Go right to the summit of the hill for a longer ride or try the steep track three quarters of the way up. Aburayama is located on the edge of the city and is a popular trail to hit for the rider that wants to get a quick ride in. Getting to the top requires you to ride up a hill for about 40 minutes. It is a fairly steady climb but anyone can do it at a slower pace.
Kusenbuyama, located out near Nakagawa, is a hill that requires an entire day. For those that want more than just a bit of exercise, riding the city roads out to the base and then climbing the 9 km hill takes you to the start of the trail. Renting a truck is an easier solution. Throw the bikes in the back, drive up and enjoy the day doing shuttle runs. This trail is by far the best of the bunch. It has drop-offs, steep technical parts, zig zagging sections where you can ride the banks, and areas where some good speed can be obtained.
When to Ride
- Spring- The weather is just starting to warm up with a lot of clear sunny days. The trail is usually dry but often has a lot of slippery leaves, which can cause sliding.
- Summer- The weather is pretty hot and muggy. Even though the rainy season washes away the leaves from the trail it can create some pretty muddy conditions. Remember to bring plenty of fluids ﾐ two liters a person is about right.
- Fall- It’s debatable whether fall or spring is the best riding season. The weather is cool after a muggy summer and the trail conditions are at their peak – not too dry but not muddy.
- Winter- With Fukuoka’s mild winters, riding is possible year round.
Rules of the Trail
1. Ride, don’t slide – sliding causes undue wear and tear on a trail.
2. If you break it, fix it – maintain the trail.
3. Pick up your garbage – this goes without saying.
4. Yield to hikers; be polite and friendly – it’s their trail, too; in fact, hiking groups have made most of the trails.
5. Always share tools and spare parts – what goes around…
6. Don’t ride alone – for fun and safety.
7. Periodically wait for slower riders – see above.
Give it a Whirl, Girl!
Mountain biking is a female-friendly sport. Once you learn to ride a bike, you’ll never forget, and you’re ready to start right away! The payoff begins immediately, when new and exciting worlds open up to you on the trail. And you can look cool doing it.
Ladies on the Trail
Do women take on mountain-biking to lose weight, or because they love the outdoors? In fact, looks may be a major concern. Colorful apparel that matches their bikes, cool sunglasses and helmets; for some women, the mountain bike is an extension of their irrepressible sense of style, as well as a fun way to travel. The number of women that breeze through town and look good doing it has been on the rise. But with equipment to obtain, a bike to maintain and routes to plan, traveling by mountain bike is not a hobby to treat lightly. Without friends to ride with or reliable information, getting started may be the hardest part. Thankfully, Fukuoka offers guided off-road tours with bike rentals for beginners. The mountains, forests and fields of Fukuoka beckon, as do those cute helmets and gloves! Flying down steep hills, riding up mountains, one thrilling experience follows another. Courses feature former professional cross-country bikers to teach you all the basics. Eliminate your stress (and love handles) while visiting hidden corners of Fukuoka Prefecture, in style. Tours operated by: www.southernworks.com
Customize your bike
Just like your clothes, your bike represents who you are. Try changing the color of your tires, grips or saddle to match the frame. And between helmets, jerseys, shoes, and more, there are enough accessories to express your style down to the most nuanced shade. Tip for tenderfeet: fenders and stands are NOT cool.
A specialty shop for serious sport riders. They have over 60 MTBs, 30 compact bikes, road racers, and others in stock. They’ve even helped to turn out a racer who participated in world champion ships. For world-class products, service, and smiles, too – check out ACE!
2-21-7 Nagazumi, Minami-ku, Fukuoka
A & N Finally
A sports orientated shop specializing in road racers but also a good selection of MTBs. The shop is a hub of information for information on bikes, parts, accessories, events and training. If you’re serious about cycling and you’re in Kita-Q, check them out!
3-1-5 Katano, Kita-ku, Kokura, Kitakyushu
10:30~20:00 (Sun., & Hol., ~19:00)
Shinohara Cycle (Fukuoka)
092-821-0551 / www.shinohara-cycle.com
A strong favorite amongst local foreigners. The friendly staff can fix and customize almost anything. Lots of info and advice in English, too!
Cross Country Kego (Fukuoka)
If you’re looking for unique or stylish wheels, hit the brakes. Their shops in Akasaka and in Nakasu stock some of snazziest bikes.
092-553-2262 / www.masaya.com
If you’re looking for MTBs especially for downhill, visit Masaya. Their original flames are also available. Check it out!
Free Ride (Koga)
092-942-7889 / www.freeride-jp.com
A large-scale shop with over 250 finished bikes in stock. Plenty of tools and parts for maintenance and a good selection of wear and shoes (for the ladies, too!)
Cycland Shiraishi (Kurume)
0942-22-1636 / http://ww7.tiki.ne.jp/~shiraishi/
This shop organizes lots of events around Kyushu including races for children. Casual riders are most welcome – it’s all bout having fun!