Images by Andy Penn
With waterfront cycling paths, rugged mountain roads in the north, numerous areas to swim, some stunning landscapes, shrines and more, Lake Biwa offers a bit of everything for cyclists.
At 218km, most people would do this over two or three days however our rider had other ideas. In soaring Summer temperatures, Andy put in a colossal effort and wrapped things up in a day.
Access from Kyoto city: Good
Andy was in Kyoto for a short time during his trip and wanted to get out on the bike and tackle the Lake Biwa route.
He had climbed Mt Fuji only a few days before but that didn't seem to slow him down.
Leaving the City
The route starts at the Kamo river which flows from north to south through Kyoto. It doesn't really matter where in Kyoto you start from, simply head to the Kamo river then start cycling north.
Take the right-side path at the Demachiyanagi river split then get on the Mikage dori which will be on your right in 4 blocks.
Mikage dori to Mt Hiei
There are a few ways you can get to Lake Biwa from the east side of Kyoto but the Sanjo dori which turns into route #1 and route #30 are two of the more popular access roads.
Route 30 takes in some of the Mt Hiei climb which is the second tallest mountain in Kyoto and offers some good elevation and views over the lake.
Route 30 is also an express lane out of the city with the base of the mountains only 6km away from Sanjo station meaning you say goodbye to Kyoto towns and suburbs in next to no time.
After winding through the mountain along the Shigagoe-michi (#30) for 5km or so, you'll start getting a glimpse of the lake as you descend into Yanagasagi, which is the town on the lake.
Lake Biwa Loop (Biwaichi)
From Yanagasagi you've got around 185km to get around and back to the intersection where the #161 meets the #30 which will take you back through the mountains to Kyoto.
One, Two or Three Days
Generally riders do the Lake Biwa loop in one, two or over three days. If you are new to cycling or still building up your fitness we recommend doing it over two or three days.
One thing to keep in mind is that some areas of the lake get extremely dark after sunset making cycling a bit dangerous without the proper lights and gear.
Plan your ride to make sure you arrive at your destination for the day with a bit of time to spare and enjoy a well-earned drink, meal and ideally a soak in an onsen.
If you do stay a night, Makino in the north west is a beautiful little town with a great swimming, water activities and access to the hills just to the north.
The mountains in the north are pretty impressive and make for some fabulous scenery looking north to the Japan sea and also south over the lake.
The landscape is pretty rugged and it really does feel like you're a world away from the commotion of Kyoto and Otsu.
There is a bit of debate about which direction is best but most people probably do the loop anti-clockwise, keeping the lake on their left for the ride. But, there can be strong head winds when going anti-clockwise so some people prefer to tackle the ride from a clockwise direction.
As you make your way around the Lake, you'll have the option of riding the Fast path or the Slower path. The fastest paths mean cycling on the main roads, and the lakeside paths are a bit slower and more enjoyable.
The ride around the lake is pretty much flat except for the mountains in the north which suddenly dart up offering some excellent views and riding.
The climbing on this route is at the start and the end when going through the Mt Hiei range. The incline gets up to 13-14% and after riding 200km, we're pretty impressed Andy got up and over the mountain again on his return to Kyoto.
There is plenty to see on the ride with castles, lakeside towns, rugged mountain roads, shrines, temples and much more. For more details about the sights see the Shiga Biwako tourism sight from the below link.
Lake Biwa is a fantastic place to explore by bike. While being close to Kyoto, Osaka and Nara, there are some remote areas in the north that make you feel like you are a world away.
In warm weather the lake is great for swimming meaning there are ample opportunities to have a break from peddling and cool off in the fresh water.
There are some areas with a lot of traffic, Otsu in particular is very industrial so if you start there or go through there early on like most do when going anti-clockwise, just remember it does get better.
All in all it's a great area to explore on the bike and it deserves some consideration when planning your cycling routes through Kansai.
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