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Tamagawa bike ride turns day off into vacation

Ryuzo Suzuki / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Cyclists pedal on the Tamagawa Cycling Road in Ota Ward, Tokyo, with high-rise buildings in Kawasaki seen over the river.

By Hiroshi Hirai / Japan News Staff WriterLooking for a healthy way to spend time outdoors? Try cycling along a river.

Since I am an enthusiastic cyclist living in Fuchu, Tokyo, a series of cycling paths collectively known as the Tamagawa Cycling Road is sort of my home turf. I recommend it as a good route for a bike ride.

The Tamagawa Cycling Road — or any other bike path — is extremely fun because you can feel the wind, sense the changing seasons, and see and hear a variety of things you might not encounter in everyday life.

The Tamagawa river begins at Mt. Kasatori in Yamanashi Prefecture and runs for 138 kilometers until it empties into Tokyo Bay between Tokyo and Kawasaki. Along the way, it flows through Yamanashi Prefecture and Tokyo before serving as the border between Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture for nearly 30 kilometers.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

The route we cyclists normally refer to as the Tamagawa Cycling Road follows the river’s final 55 kilometers, from the Hamura no Seki weir in the city of Hamura, deep in western Tokyo, to a red torii shrine that stands alone by Haneda Airport in Ota Ward, near the open water of Tokyo Bay.

Usually, I only ride certain sections. However, one autumn day, I decided to cover the entire distance and set out to ride the Tamawaga Cycling Road from end to end and back again.

My trip started at the Koremasabashi bridge in Fuchu at about 6:50 a.m. on a September morning. It was a weekday, but my day off, and there were not many people on the path. Since I wanted to begin and end in Fuchu, near the middle of the route, I pointed my bike downstream toward Haneda, after which I would be in for a long and mildly ascending upstream ride to Hamura, followed by the reward of ending my journey with a downstream section from Hamura back to Fuchu.

Starting out, I stuck to the path on the left side of the river. But I knew this path would end soon after the Tama-Suidobashi bridge, which I reached nine kilometers into my trip. So, I took the bridge over the river from Komae, Tokyo, to Kawasaki and then rode 14 kilometers on the Kawasaki side until I reached National Highway Route 1, which I used to cross back into Tokyo — Ota Ward, to be precise.

But first, I stopped at the Tamagawa Koryu Center on the Kawasaki side. It’s a rest facility beside the path. I usually take a break here because there is a vending machine that accepts payment via Suica or Pasmo prepaid e-money cards.

I recommend that cyclists carry a supply of coins as well as e-money cards because vending machines are the main source of drinks while cycling. There are some convenience stores near the Tamagawa river, but finding them tends to require detours of several minutes off the cycling road.

After crossing into Tokyo on the Route 1 bridge, I rode another eight kilometers with the winding and widening river on my right, enjoying views of high-rise buildings in Kawasaki. Reaching the downstream end of the cycing road, you will see a large red torii shrine gate. After a couple of minutes of rest at this turnaround spot, I was back on the cycling road again.

Retracing the route I had just traveled, I now made my way to the upstream end of the cycling raod. Theoretically a 55-kilometer ride, I had actually cycled about 60 kilometers because it was not the straight ride along the river seen on a map.

When you ride a riverside cycling path, it sometimes runs along the top of an embankment and sometimes dips down to the dry floodplain, and then switches back again. But it should not be difficult to keep on the path if you follow it carefully. Watching where other people cycle, or walk, will help.

About seven kilometers after passing the Koremasabashi bridge where I had started my trip, the cycling path ended in the city of Kunitachi. From this point, for about one kilometer, cyclists have to ride through a residential area, but they still consider it part of the cycling road. This was the only part of my trip for which I really had to ride on regular streets — although further on in Fussa, I did detour to a convenience store to get two onigiri rice balls.

Finally, I arrived at the Hamura no Seki weir, the upstream end of the course in the city of Hamura. There stands a statue of the Tamagawa brothers. According to the Hamura Sightseeing Association, the brothers played the main roles in developing water supply routes from here to Edo during the 1603-1867 Edo period.

At last I started pedaling back downstream to the Koremasabashi bridge.

There are two sets of train wheels resting along the path in the city of Akishima, Tokyo. In 1945, there was a head-on collison of trains on the bridge over the river on what is now the JR Hachiko Line. These wheels, found in the river, are believed to be relics of the accident.

There are benches by the wheels, and I took a break. A fellow cyclist was already there, and we exchanged greetings. “Where are you going?” the man asked. “I’m on my way back from Hamura and heading home to Fuchu,” I replied.

It’s part of the fun when you can have conversations with strangers who share your hobby.

Another fun part of cycling is visiting tourist spots. Though I did not drop in at any sightseeing spots on this particular trip, the Tamagawa Cycling Road leads to a number of such places. One that I recommend is the Jindaiji temple in Chofu. Soba noodles served at shops around the temple are quite tasty. The temple is about four kilometers from the river’s Tamagawarabashi bridge.

Sharing the path

On the way back, I saw a number of children on the path, some of them going to practice baseball at riverside fields after school.

Although it is called a “cycling road,” the paths are basically designed for pedestrians. In addition to the baseball kids, there were joggers, an old couple walking hand-in-hand, a mother pushing her baby in a stroller, someone walking a dog, and so on. Cyclists must pay attention to the safety of such people. Safety is the first priority of cycling.

I got back home around 4 p.m. That means the day’s ride took nearly 9 hours, including rest stops. My cycling app with a GPS function shows I rode 116 kilometers in 7 hours 12 minutes.

Cycling tips

■ Please wear a bike helmet and gloves to protect yourself from falls. Pads on the palms of the gloves will also reduce shock from the handlebars. Eyewear is advisable to protect your eyes from bugs and UV rays.

■ I suggest applying sunscreen and insect repellent. You don’t want to get sunburned or bitten by mosquitoes or other bugs.

■ Make sure your bike is properly maintained. Check to see if your brakes and lights are in good working order.

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