In the Mountains of Asuke for the Chris King Gourmet Century Japan

Japan is wonderful. In the cities like Nagoya, cars zip through intersections, merge with traffic, mamacharis cruise the sidewalks, baskets rattling with groceries and pedestrians swarm cross walks. Yet if you drive or ride a bicycle outside its network of infrastructure for 40km, you’re in the mountains. Many ranging around the 3,500′ height and all covered in a dense forest. These mystical beasts lie in slumber awaiting the rainy season to drench their loamy forest floors and fill their rivers.

The rainy season is at the end of June, so very few people want to throw events this month, at the risk of it being rained out, yet that didn’t stop Shinya and the Circles team from organizing the Chris King Gourmet Century. Now, if you’ve never heard of a Gourmet Century, the format is simple. Chris King works with local bike shops to plan a route in a select city, then they fly out Chris DiMinno, their lead chef to plan food stops along the way, with the event culminating in a feast after the ride. In some cases, like Japan, Chris was able to count on the talented caterers from Nagoya, who’d drive out to Asuke the day prior to prepare food.
Hairpin number one of like 100 that day.

Now, I’ve never attended a GC and to be honest, I never felt compelled to do so. Until I saw Japan on the docket last year. Suddenly…

Last week I landed in Nagoya and have been getting a sense for the cycling community here. This prepared me for what I’d experience in Asuke, while riding the 50 miles and 5,000′ course. What I saw was a lot of cyclists, all from various walks of life and all accepting of visitors, eager to show them their local riding.

Really feeling the grade

The day prior, we loaded up the Circles van with bikes and drove to Asuke. As soon as we unloaded, I pre-rode the course to gain a better sense of what photos I’d take where. Boy was I surprised. This wasn’t an easy ride and I felt it in my legs the next morning when I awoke to the sound of a stream outside our hotel window.

Leaving the hotel, I was surprised to see bikes already loaded up, ready to roll and coffee being served. Breakfast was at 7am and you could roll out whenever you wanted to. I found an eager group and hit the road early. A 10 mile, 2,500′ climb awaited us right out of the gate. Luckily my coffee hit me immediately!

Hi, Akira!

You can read the rest of the ride Reportage in the gallery and all I’ll say is if you get a chance to do this ride next year, do not pass up this opportunity. Asuke is beautiful, the roads are beautiful, the food is beautiful and the smiling faces of all the Circles staff and volunteers are beautiful.

Many, many thanks to everyone who made this ride possible and thanks to Circles for being such great hosts! If you’re thinking about coming to Japan. Go to Nagoya, see Circles and ride out to this ride. It’s amazing!

  • Martin Pont

    What a trip….
    Great stuff!

  • Phil Wood & Co.

    Man, I used to live very close to Asuke. It’s my absolute favorite place in Japan to watch the leaves change in the fall. Thanks for sharing this, it makes me nostalgic for my time in Japan.

  • food looks delicious

  • awesometown

    One of the handsomest galleries you’ve ever posted. Well done.

  • Daniel M

    De Salvo in #14, amazing, even with the Shimaglo build!

  • D. Park

    Nice choice on the your Firefly for the ride. When is that AARN chainring coming out?

  • Søren Nejmann

    This is so awesome! Would love to something like this. Had my eyes on trip to japan for a very long time. Picture #69 makes me so jealous! Actually just bought a Baum with chris king headset and bb, and I can def see what the fuzz is all about. Lovely stuff!

  • Chris Valente

    Man the riding in Japan looks just sublime. Defintely at the top of my list.

  • btompkins0112

    Awesome to see how the Japanese have such a fondness for our friends here stateside….see a lot of US builders/artisans represented. Cool to see the globalization of some of out favorite brands (Ringtail, TDT, etc.)

    • That’s all Circles! You should see the shop…

  • What a gallery! Leave it to the Japanese to have a great taste in food, kits, route and bikes.. Thanks for an amazing set of pictures John!

  • Linh Nguyen

    This is the greatest collection of cycling photos I have ever seen. The people, bikes, backgrounds and food! Superb. Captures just about everything that is great about bikes. Makes me want to buy more.

  • Can’t ever get enough of those Tomiis!

  • So much love.

  • Sumiya Shiho

    Descending the hills towards the red bridge with John Watson was the best moments in Asuke. I wish I could share his big air using a bump on the roadside of a steep and narrow downhill in the woods. It was amazing. Damn, I should have owned a GoPro. Totally cool guy, hope to see you again sometime.

  • chrismoustache

    …breakfast clams!

  • Quinn.e

    That didn’t suck did it. Great pics!

  • Rex Lombardi

    The route seems to have been the same like last year. Spectacular but short of a “century”. We have so much forest here in Nippon, I crave for the open sky sometimes!

    • They changed the route slightly from last year. Added like 5 miles or so.

      • Rex Lombardi

        Five miles of climbing I hope :p

  • Vincent Flanagan

    Great pictures which capture the atmosphere really well. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day out with perfect weather, great bunch of people and and terrific tasty food as to be expected. I will be taking my wife back to show her the area in the near future.

  • Germanflea

    This makes me want to buy chris king hubs, still on the fence about R45 hubs.

    • AaronBenjamin

      Do it!

  • This is all kinds of ace. Some beautiful pics. Nice.

  • Matt Rumora

    Loverly set! The joinery on those bike racks!!!

  • STW

    Please figure out a way to import Grumpy cycling kit so my attitude finally has something to match. I’m dead serious, too. Any chance you can figure out how to become a distributor or something awesome like that? I’ve bugged those guys before but ordering from the US isn’t super feasible it seems.

  • AdamBike99

    Another confirmation that Japan may be the ultimate cycling country. No wonder Jan (BQ) has been spending more and more time there! Great photos and stories John. Arigatou gozaimasu!

    • Just wish there were actual MTB trails. You can poach hiking trails but it’s heavily frowned upon.

  • John Gipson

    Hey John, wondering if you could give me some info or advice on your rides in Japan? I’ll be in Nagoya next week and would like to do this 50 mile loop you posted on Strava. I won’t be traveling with a bike so I’ll need a rental and means of transport to start the route. Any info or advice on who to contact about setting somthing like this up would be greatly appreciated. Have very much enjoyed the Japan posts. Thanks in advance.

    • You got the Instagram message right?

      • John Gipson

        Got it, thanks again.

  • Eric Hancock

    Beautiful photos, the food looks amazing, and such bike porn. Would love to have been there.

  • Jonathan Gresley

    No photos of dinner? =(

    Food, and ride look amazing. My wife and I did the Sonoma ride last year. The Japan ride looks hands down a cut above what we experienced.