Funday in Okutama; Escaping Tokyo to knee drag & get lost in the mountain
We only had 1 day for riding a week ago, therefore we looked for a convenient touring road close to Tokyo, providing enough excitement and possibility to return at a reasonable hour, given the usual Sunday evening traffic. We were set for Okutama, expecting a serene quiet ride over empty mountain roads, and drove right into the opposite:
An ongoing, furious, wild and adrenaline-packed Japanese street race!
We had no idea that the loop road around the Okutama lake is commonly used for trying crazy road maneuvers. Riders come here to learn new tricks and techniques, try out new gear, as well as cross their personal speed limits.
The Okutama loop is perfect for advanced drivers, full of unpredictable curves with various inclination, which give skilled riders a great surface for cornering fun.
Touring close to Tokyo, with wonderful mountain sights
We're not entirely sure which road we took (especially since I got lost taking a wrong turn close to Hossawa waterfalls), but if you come to this area and follow the bikers at all times, you should loop around the lake in a similar pattern:
The Okutama tourist road is a scenic 19.7 km long road connecting Okutama Town and Hinohara Village.This area is surrounded by steep mountains in the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park, and is a wonderful way for enjoying the landscape with fascinating seasonal changes. This road is therefore ideal for cyclists and motorcyclists (but unfortunately, also common for traffic accidents).
It didn't feel like we were still in Tokyo at all! The nature was impeccable, and Okutama lake was impressive, as well as the giant dam holding it. It was a nice surprise to ride the road just next to it - see how close you can get (right-hand side of the next picture):
At one of the hills, we stopped to observe the view and talk to a few riders. One of them was especially intriguing, looping up and down the street, starting and returning to the parking area every few minutes. He later explained that he just got new tires on his already vintage Honda VTR and came to Okutama to wear them out a little bit. Papa-san, as we called him, used to be a racer until he got married and became a father of 2 a few years ago. Now he rarely goes to circuit, but still squeezes a few hours of motorcycle freedom every now and then. He shared that Okutama is a wonderful place, great for "venting out" on the weekends. He said that bikers come here and rule these streets, as in most cases, the police gave up chasing up speed violators. It's a zone where riders claim their own rules and act upon their own responsibility. As he rushed of, he advised us to always put safety first, as the rest will come naturally.
The view from the parking lot was quite remarkable. We stayed there for about 10 minutes before continuing our loopy trip:
Beautiful sights with creepy reminders
Winding roads of Okutama are attracting mainly motorcyclists and bicyclists, and the roads get pretty packed on the weekends. However, many cars and truck pass along them as well, bringing additional hazard to challenging mountain ways.
We’ve never seen more accident warnings at one place before. Some curves were equipped with large banners, displaying an image of a creepy silhouette with widespread arms ready for a hug and text warning about a risk of death accident. I could not understand everything on the poster. Passing slowly, I could only catch a few kanjis, and seeing the character for death every now and then wasn’t a pleasant sight. Kazuto on the other hand didn’t notice any of those banners. When you’re taking the curve with joy and higher speed, it’s actually quite dangerous to keep your eyes off the road. Beginners like me are more likely to get distracted, read the road signs, freak out and maybe even break during cornering. Majority of the accidents in this area are caused by junior drivers (mainly in their 20s). Pushing the limits with lack of experience can lead to tragic outcomes, and we could observe that seeing numerous spots where people placed flowers in memory of a driver that crashed into the arms of death at one of those corners.
We couldn't take pictures of the accident warnings. Here are 2 images of signs placed in calmer areas, warning about the dangers of reckless driving and explaining the difficult approach for ambulances, which would take over 2 hours to arrive to an accident spot.
While I rode my first kilometer or 2 without enjoying it, Kazuto had quite the contrary experience. He loved every challenging curve and enjoyed playful interaction with other riders. He wants to go back asap, but as for me, I need more KMs before I can return to Okutama, next time with enough experience and skill to take those corners smoothly.
Okutama curves are perfect for some, and too advanced for others
Kazuto enjoyed shaving off his protectors while knee dragging over the Okutama loop:
In the meantime, I spent the majority my riding time checking mirrors for approaching riders, turning on my left winker and signaling riders to pass me by. I also took a wrong turn, got lost in the mountain and took challenging tiny road by the river up some hill that was definitely not meant to be conquered by a motorcycle. Was super happy to reunite with Kazuto at the parking lot of "Mountain Shop" in Hinohara:
However, Okutama loop riding is safer than ever
Even though the ride felt slightly creepy to me, it doesn't mean that it's hazardous for others. I would not recommend it to riders with less than 3000km experience (like in my case). More skilled riders will surely fully enjoy the road.
A few years ago, the road got a few upgrades. Tokyo Metropolitan bureau of construction advanced the path by adding a non-slip coating over the street, adding more guarding fences on the side of the road, implementing line separation guards, as well as better signage along the road (reflecting arrows and delineators).
If you want an adventurous day-trip with your bike, head to Okutama!
Drive according to your capabilities, take it easy, and enjoy!