Moulton Summit 2005 Kyoto and Lake Biwa, Japan

Having attended and very much enjoyed the 2003 Moulton Summit around Mount Fuji in 2003, I wanted to attend another as soon as the opportunity arose. I missed the 2004 event, but was able to make it again this year. Fortunately my brother-in-law lives in Kyoto, the most historic city in Japan, with hundreds of temples and shrines. It was the capital for a thousand years before Tokyo usurped it just over a hundred years ago, and just to the north lies Lake Biwa, the largest in Japan.

Hence I set out early on Saturday from Kyoto in the family car, headed for Hikone on Lake Biwa, with a Land Rover APB in the boot.  Jiro Tominari of Dynavector, the Moulton import agent, had kindly arranged for Kyoto dealer Moku to lend me a bicycle for the weekend. I had collected it the day before, and enjoyed a test ride round the city.  The original 3×7 transmission had been replaced by a close ratio 9-speed derailleur, making it quite light. I successfully navigated my way to the already very busy Meishin Highway for the 60km run to Hikone, at a toll of £10, and somewhat fortuitously found the port car park where dozens of Moultoneers were already assembling their bicycles.  As well as Jiro, Shaun Moulton, and Dan Farrell and Adrian Williams of Pashley were also there, having travelled from Tokyo the day before; we four Englanders were the only non-Japanese. I literally flew the flag by wearing my new Union Jack cycle jersey, which attracted a certain amount of photographic attention, including from passing cars during the ride.

With immaculate preparation, we were handed full colour, glossy maps and timetables of the day’s ride, including photographs of each stop. We were to ride east to west round the northern end of the lake for some 60km, then take a chartered ferry back to the start point across the lake.  At the first stop some riders joined from nearby Maibara station on the Shinkansen (bullet train) line from Tokyo and west Japan, and altogether we numbered around 80.  It was interesting to see how owners had modified their Moultons, perhaps in different ways than we do. One Pylon owner had a hand-crafted day bag of shaped aluminium sides and leather, at a cost of around £600; it did look very impressive!  Several had wicker baskets, in the tradition of older bicycles, and the most amazing variety of handlebar shapes.

We cycled alongside the lake, mostly on the pavement, as cyclists are entitled to do in Japan, thus safe from the traffic on the rather narrow roads. We paused for the first of about ten punctures, and took the opportunity to take photographs and chat. As we approached the second stop, Kohoku Mizudori Station, dark clouds rolled in and rain started to fall, developing into heavy showers as we sheltered by what seemed to be an indoor vegetable market. Feeling peckish and unable to find anything inside suitable for immediate consumption, I resorted to an outside stall selling a local speciality, takoyaki, grilled octopus balls. They were very hot (in the thermal sense), and I could persuade only Adrian to try one, Shaun and Dan uncharacteristically preferring to remain hungry. We bought drinks from the ubiquitous vending machines to be found literally everywhere in Japan, offering a wide selection of both hot and cold beverages. Since the cans of hot drinks are dispensed immediately, I often wonder how long they have been kept hot, but have never had a bad one.

The road soon turned inland from the lake, and we cycled between immaculate paddy fields against a mountainous background, spotting the occasional heron poised to pounce, while kites soared above.  Just before Katayama tunnel, there were some roadworks, and we were waved through by baton-wielding traffic controllers into the tunnel. At the other end we emerged back onto the lakeside before arriving at the lunch stop, Okubiwako Drive In restaurant, where tables had been reserved for us.  For less than a fiver each we had a set lunch including a main dish, miso soup, rice and pickles.

After lunch we divided into two groups, as there was a choice of ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ routes to the next stop. Somehow I found myself in the former, and we climbed to 200m on a narrow, twisting road called the Okubiwako Parkway. At the top we passed through another tunnel before an enjoyable fast descent, limited only by the turns and damp road surface.  This is where I discovered that a lack of mudguards and a saddle with a hole in the centre do no favours for the state of one’s shorts.  The two groups recombined at Nishi Asai Parking for another raid on the drinks vending machines.

For the last 10km the road went round a headland close by the lakeside, then through another tunnel to arrive at an irresistible ice cream shop opposite a jetty where our ferry was waiting.

We carried our cycles along the jetty, then onto the stern of the boat, up some steep steps to the top deck to park them, then back down inside for the hour-long crossing.  As we cruised over the lake, there were several formations of unidentified black birds flying northwards, just above the surface of the water.  Approaching Hikone, the heavens opened again, with dramatic lightening forks above the backdrop mountains.

From Hikone I drove back to Kyoto and the Kyoto Prince Hotel, located in the north of the city adjacent to the International Conference Hall. It was here that the so-called ‘Kyoto Agreement’ on the environment was hatched back in the late 1990s.  We barely had time to wash and change before the evening event in a banqueting room, yet amazingly many of the bikes which had been ridden that day had been cleaned and displayed in the room.

There were a number of presentations throughout the evening, including one on the new AM20 Shaun had brought from England, new Bridgestones for the Japanese market, the history of Pashley from Adrian, and finally one from Shaun himself. Jiro translated from English to Japanese, though the occasional brevity reminded me of the film, ‘Lost in Translation’, about two westerners suffering culture shock in Tokyo.  There was also a splendid buffet dinner of both Japanese and western food, drinks included, and a prize draw in which I think everyone ended up with a prize of some sort.  The final ones were awarded with a mass ‘scissors, paper, stone’ contest.

Sunday 5th June

After a buffet breakfast at the hotel, again with choice of Japanese or western food, we gathered for a group photograph in the car park of the adjacent International Conference Centre, By this time we were about 130 in number, so it took quite some organising!

There was an optional guided bicycle tour of Kyoto, with four cycling guides leading groups of about ten each. I joined one along with the other Englanders and Jiro, led by a delightful young Japanese lady called Junko. First we toured the nearby Takaragaike Park, somewhat hampered by a coincident mini-marathon, before making for Shimogamo Shrine in north Kyoto.  Shrines have the characteristic orange coloured gateways, and are part of the native Shinto religion which celebrates nature, as opposed to temples which are Buddhist.  There was quite a lot going on as we looked around, including a samurai film being made on location, a wedding in traditional costumes, and a new-born baby’s first blessing.

We then moved on through back streets to the expansive grounds of the former imperial palace (go sho), and on to lunch in a machiya, a traditional, wood-built Kyoto restaurant.  For less than eight pounds each we enjoyed a delicious Japanese lunch consisting as usual of several dishes, in the most peaceful surroundings.

After lunch we made our last stop at a workshop where stencil painting of fabrics wasn’t so much demonstrated, but participated in. We each donned aprons to protect our clothing, as we attempted to follow the instructions how to decorate a fabric coaster, with varying degrees of success.

Junko then led us to the River Kamo which flows north-south through Kyoto, and has wide pathways each side.  We paused at some stepping stones so that Shaun, Dan and Adrian could stand in the middle of the river and hold their bicycles aloft. At this point I asked Junko if this was the craziest group she had ever led, and received a very diplomatic denial as she collapsed in hysterical giggles.

With that the tour ended, and we made our way back to the hotel, mostly along the river path amid the Sunday walkers and picnickers, before making our separate ways.

Thanks to Jiro and Taro Tominari of Dynavector and their volunteer helpers for organising another wonderful Summit Meeting, and especially their hospitality to us gaijin (foreigners). I met friends old and new, and hope to see several again at BoA this year or next, and at future Japanese Summits.