Home  >  Magazine  >  Issue 56 (Summer 2015) : July/Sep 2015  > Features >  Yatsugatake Cycling


Yatsugatake Cycling
By Gardner Robinson

Paul Chetwynd’s cycling career has spanned more than two decades, from beginnings at the foot of Mt. Seymour on Vancouver’s North Shore, where freeriding was born, to the base of the Yatsugatake Mountains in southern Nagano, an outdoor playground he now calls home.

Paul has competed internationally in downhill (DH) and cross-country (XC) events, guided trails and built courses for events in Japan. His latest two-wheeled venture aims to go beyond "freeride" tours for hardcore clients and introduce cycling around Yatsugatake’s pristine eight peaks to anyone with the desire to spin their wheels.

Outdoor Japan How old were you when you started mountain biking?

Paul Chetwynd I started riding when I was 20 as rehabilitation for a broken tibia and fibula. The leg got stronger; my mind and body as well. My first race was in 1983 when I was 22.

OJ What was it like growing up in North Vancouver, British Columbia, amid the MTB community there?

PC I was lucky to have ended up living right at the bottom of Mt. Seymour. My friends opened the first MTB specific bike shop in Canada. We had no idea that our local mountain was the perfect training ground; it was just super fun to try to ride the trails up and down without getting off our bikes. Now 30 years later, Mt. Seymour is ground zero for freeriding. We definitely got schooled in a hurry.

OJ What did you enjoy more, downhill (DH) or cross country (XC)?

PC That’s a hard question because I love them both; when you are in a XC race you put yourself in a painful place, always on the edge of your physical capabilities, which in turn make it a very mental game. Nothing compares to the feeling you get when all the training you have done comes together and you hit the “zone.” Wish I could have found it a bit more often. Downhill mountain biking should be in the Olympics. It is like the downhill in alpine skiing: full-on intensity for three or four minutes; mistakes are costly, and it makes for great spectator viewing. Only a few sports duplicate the adrenaline high you get from completing a hard DH.

OJ What brought you to Japan?

PC I was sent here to race for three months back in 1992. I had just had a horrible World Championship race, and my boss asked if I was interested in doing something different for a season. Twenty-two years later and I am still here.

OJ Why did you decide to make southern Nagano home?

PC I spent my first year in Japan living in Hakone, but it is a bit too touristy for me with lots of buses and people all over the place. I spent a lot of time driving to and from the Nagano area and, when I was asked to stay here longer, I already knew this area was for me. The area around Mt. Yatsugatake doesn’t get the big snow as does the Japan Alps up north, and on the Yamanashi side of the mountains is where the least rainfall in Japan is recorded every year. That and the clean air and water make it a fantastic area for cycling.

OJ How long have you been running Freeride Adventures (FRA)?

PC After racing professionally for 10 years here, I had a lot of people asking to take them riding and help them get better on the trails. So it just seemed a natural progression for me to start Freeride Adventures. I have always run FRA as a riding experience and not a school or clinic. We take only one group each day and try and keep each group size to about six to eight riders of similar riding ability, then give that group a good day’s outing that suits their level.

OJ When did you start to envision the Yatsugatake Cycling base?

PC I have been looking around this area for the right spot to do something to try to promote cycling to all the people who seem to come up here from the city by car. I see them all over the place driving from one store to another looking for something to do. I hope to introduce them to the beauty of cycling. Last fall I found a piece of land I wanted, so I jumped in.

OJ How will Yatsugatake Cycling differ from FRA?

PC FRA has always had a reputation, mostly true, for having rides that are quite difficult. It is where I come from and what I love the most, but it also detracts from attracting new faces. With Yatsugatake Cycling, I want to make it easy for all ages and abilities, if that means driving up the mountain to start or having a van come and pick you up at the end of the ride; no problems, we can do it. The main thing is to enjoy the day and, if a few people catch the cycling bug, all the better.

OJ What is Yatsugatake Cycling?

PC We are a bike rental/coffee shop. We have good quality road bikes, cross bikes and MTBs available in all sizes. Self-guided rides with van pick-up and/or drop-off. Guided road tours are also available.

OJ What makes cycling in the Yatsugatake area special?

PC The variety of riding is great around here; there are roads with short climbs or roads with 20-kilometer climbs that go right over the mountain in our backyard. There’s really something for everyone.

OJ Do you operate tours year-round?

PC We operate cycling tours in this area from April to December, and then we also take private groups for road tours to the southern islands during the winter. Starting this winter, we will offer snowshoe tours from the Yatsugatake Cycling base. ✤

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