What the hell am I doing…? I asked myself that a few times at the start of this trip cycling from Osaka to Nara, and for a very good reason.
I had bought a cheap city bike in Osaka for around $50 as I knew I would be staying there for at least 2 weeks. Then I had the great idea to cycle to the city of Nara.
Looking on the map it was only around 30km so looked easy, until I read that the only way bicycles are allowed to go is over route 308 which is Japan’s steepest national road.
Always up for a challenge I said “screw it” and went for it.
Cycling from Osaka to Nara Day Trip
After cycling for around one and a half hours from Osaka city centre I finally got to the beginning of the hill/mountain/wtf/ monster bitch/ etc.
Looking at my bike second thoughts about this started creeping in. It was only a single geared simple and heavy city bike. I knew there was no way to ride this on the steep parts. The plan was to push it up the bitch and then bomb it down the other side.
Do I really want to do this?…
View over Osaka.
It was absolutely shattering. I didn’t even bother taking photos going up as I was just concentrating on not dying! I vaguely recall a few buddhist shrines and a temple or 2.
It took around 2 hours in total and was so fucking steep it was unlike any bicycle related thing I had done before. You literally have to push the bike vertical for around 30-40 metres then stop for 1-2 minutes to catch your breath before going on.
I’m 39 years old and in reasonable shape but still…
Luckily it’s a little traveled road and sees only a few cars every now and then. I was the only person with a bike the whole way. Yes, I felt like an idiot. It didn’t help that it was 32 degrees and sunny, making me sweat like crazy.
But at the top it was all worth it as you are rewarded with beautiful views of rice fields and bamboo forests, and a very chilled out little cafe with cold drinks and comfy seats.
The hardest part was over.
My epic little city bike. Cheap but awesome. The fun stuff was just about to start.
What goes up must come down. Hell yeah!
Can you imagine going DOWN the steepest national road in Japan? A huge smile came over my face as I started downhill. Man it was so good with hardly any traffic and a lot of speed.
Even while going fast though you have to keep your hands on both breaks halfway as it’s so steep. If anyone who’s reading this and wants to try it make sure your breaks are working good as it can be terrifying in parts.
You pass through quant little villages with people working in rice paddies as older people sit around chatting. Not a single other traveller in site.
Nearing the bottom I started to smell burning.
Stopping I saw that smoke was coming off the back wheel and break!
That’s how hardcore that hill is to go down. It started to burn my breaks up. Here’s a short video below showing smoke coming of the rear of the bike as I pour water on it to help cool it down. You could have cooked a steak of it.
After waiting a while I moved on passing through a small town before heading up over a more “relaxing” steep hill. Cursing some more as I thought all the hard work had been done I finally reached the top and was rewarded with a brilliant little surprise, making me smile through the sweat and biting insects.
At the very top is a small village and next to it the start of a hiking trail through a bamboo forest. It was getting late in the day and as the sun shone through the bamboo it lit up small Buddhist statues around the trail. It was beautiful and I was all by myself walking around for 30 minutes.
In comparison the famous bamboo grove in Kyoto is overcrowded with tourists which kind of kills the vibe, despite how beautiful it is.
This is when having offbeat ideas really shine. You often stumble upon places unspoiled and so many times more a beautiful place than others for it.
Offbeat travel FTW!
Buddhist statues scattered in the bamboo forest.
It was like a walking meditation going through the bamboo. Without a doubt the highlight of the cycling trip. The other highlight was being proud of myself for conquering the steepest hill with a crappy old one gear city bike!
Leaving the forest behind you then pass through more small villages, rice paddies, and bamboo forests. The sun was getting low so taking advantage of the steep hill I sped up praying the breaks would not fuck me up.
Reaching the bottom of the last part a peaceful sunset came.
Finally I had arrived in Nara buzzed up from an epic day of exercise and a great offbeat adventure. It was my second time in Nara and the next day I explored the famous park with cute deers everywhere and old temples and shrines.
Nara deers and temples.
How to Cycle from Osaka to Nara
For those interested in cycling from Osaka to Nara or vice versa you have to go on route 308 and like stated is the steepest national road in Japan. It took me a total of 7 hours with stopping for a walk in the bamboo forest and around 1 hour of rest times and getting slightly lost at points.
You can do it in probably 5 hours if on a better bicycle and not stopping to see stuff on the way.
Another note is that I cycled from Nara to Kyoto afterwards and that took around 3 hours but is not a very exciting bike ride as your pretty much half the way on a busy main road and then passing through non-descript towns on the other parts. Take route 24 for Nara to Osaka.
If you are interested in more day trips in the region then read my post on some of the best day trips from Osaka.