Nagano Japan: Made for mountain biking

ALWAYS found it strange when folks asked if there was good MTB riding in Japan…duh? For those with limited geography knowledge – or better, a desire to explore one of the world’s most beautiful countries, the archipelago nation is nearly nothing but a vast MTB park, where every prefecture is studded with mountains and hills of varying sizes, but THE place to be is in Nagano, Japan’s mountain heartland, where the trails are steep and thrills deep.  Grabbing the dual-suspension mountain machine and heading into the mountains of Nagano Prefecture is the natural thing to do when surrounded on all sides by epic rides. Having lived there for just over ten years, I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours getting lost, making discoveries, and having adventures galore with my buddies.  Some of the best moments of my life have been whipping around bermed curves, sailing off natural rock features, and yes, tumbling uncontrollably after big crashes in the forests and mountains of Nagano on either my titanium hard-tail or aluminum dual sus. I generally prefer the ride of the latter, and while a dually isn’t de rigueur, it sure does help smooth out the rocks, drops, hits, and make for some silly fun when hurtling through deciduous forests at stupidly high speeds…ah yeah.

Dorobo, aka James Robb on the 8 line. Photo: C.Lawrence

So, are you a climber, a drop-off demon, or a lift lover? Doesn’t matter because it’s all here in Nagano.  If earning downhill bliss with leg burning, heart hammering climbs is your thing, then the area around Chino and Lake Suwa in southeast Nagano is where you might like to head. Mountain bike pioneer and MTB Hall of Famer, Paul Chetwyn can guide you to the best places to ride. Dig the massive hits and gut wrenching drops of lift accessed big downhill speed?  Fujimi Panorama Ski Resort in the town of Fujimi, southeast Nagano, gives up relentless thrills and some gnar-gnar spills with its adrenal pumping downhill courses. Choose from three levels of difficulty and distance, but make sure you’ve got the guts, gear and skills for the A course, as it is a technical, mean, pure race driven trail and not at all intended for first timers.  Get there when lifts open at 8:30 and see if you’re fit and fast enough to bag ten descents in a day!

Rick McCoy, Brett Hutchings, & C.Lawrence at Fujimi after Ten Descents. Photo: Sweet Riders Japan

For all around free-riding fun, Hakuba offers choices a plenty.  Karey Watanabe, the queen of MTB in Japan, lives to ride the cornucopia of trails that crisscross the Northern Alps in the Hakuba region. She also guides and coaches, so if you need to know where to ride or even how to, she’ll make sure you’re on the right single-track.


Karey Watanabe riding the 8 line so fine. Photo: C.Lawrence

Trails are everywhere in Nagano and I’m not going to disclose exact locations with GPS coordinates. Contact the professionals above to get guided rides, or grab your bike, riding buddies and a topographical map and get out there, but do remember, just like trails in mountainous areas around the world, you need to make sure riding them is okay, as some are on private property or in prefectural parks, so be certain you’ve got the permission to play rather than pirate pilfering.  It’s just good karma.  Enjoy the thrills and avoid the spills!

A happy Henchan Narusawa rolling through her rival, the rock garden. Photo: C.Lawrence