Lake Biwa is Japan’s biggest lake- about 185km around, it is also one of the oldest lakes in the world (estimated to be at least 4 million years old). Located near the old capital of Kyoto, Lake Biwa is featured in many notable stories and in classic literature and as such is a popular destination for tourists. Fishing, sailing and other water-sports are popular here, and recently cycling around the lake has been successfully promoted. A beautiful course has been created over the past 10 years and cycling around the lake (known as “Biwaichi” literally “once around Biwa”) has become so popular, local data states that on average, about 270 people cycle around the lake every day!
In late May I decided to finally try the challenge myself. Hi! My name is Edward, owner and head coach at Smith’s School of English in Otsu city, Shiga prefecture (home of Lake Biwa). I have been living in Japan since 2007 and decided it was finally time. I love the outdoors, I love cycling and I love exploring local areas and this Biwaichi challenge has been on my bucket list for years. My English conversation school is located right in front of JR Otsu station and only 700 meters from Lake Biwa. From the window of my school, I see cyclists come out of Otsu Station every morning. They set up their bikes, adjust their gear and start riding. The dedicated course is 193 km around and the majority of it is dedicated cycling paths, keeping us safe and making for a pleasant ride.
There are so many great sites to see as you ride around the lake: shrines, temples, castles, statues, beaches, mountains and so much more. The south end of the lake is more populated and features a lot of lakeside parks with walkways, lots of shopping and shrines and is almost completely flat. The north end of the lake is less populated, with long stretches of nothing but nature- some mountains and tunnels and a lot of fun lakeside roads. Their are 2 or 3 easy hill climbs on bicycle only roads (bypasses put in years ago for cars allowed these “old roads” to become bicycle only roads). I met many other groups of cyclists along the way, all of whom greeted me kindly with a wave, a head nod or a quick hello as we zoomed past each other.
The official website for Biwaichi offers 3 recommended tours- 1-day, 2-day or 3-day. The 3-day tour is recommended for sightseeing and an easy pace. The 2-day tour is probably the most popular and the 1-day tour is for high-level cyclists (I have a student who can do the Biwaichi in 6 hours!) I chose to take 2 days, as I am a beginner road cyclist. I stayed 1 night in my hammock tent in a nice little campground at the very north of the lake. The first day I rode for 5.5 hours, the second day I rode for 9 hours ( I was tired by the end and my pace slowed down). It was a tough ride but I was glad to finally complete the challenge. I loved seeing the whole lake finally, and saw so many great sites along the way, as well as birds, fish, deer and monkeys! This time I challenged myself and did it alone- next time I hope to do it with a group of friends. Who wants to join me?