Grinduro returns to Japan on Oct. 7-9 in Hakuba, taking the place of last year’s successful Hakuba GravelFest that saw 200 cyclists ride a thrilling network of 160 kilometers of mixed trails. This year’s multi-stage, enduro-style event will cover 95 kilometers of new and existing trails from Iwatake’s downhill MTB trail, through the magical Nodaira rice fields, then a loop around Lake Aokiko and along the Matsukawa River to a grand finish at the Olympic Ski Jump Stadium. Ride Japan’s Adam Cobain shares more about Grinduro’s triumphant return after a four-year hiatus.
How has the response been to bringing Grinduro to Hakuba?
The gravel scene has changed a lot since the last Grinduro in Japan in 2019. It was hard to know how the brand would resonate here after such a long break, but we were amazed by the quick response of riders signing up. Hakuba is a great fit for Grinduro with the existing trails and sponsors and support.
What’s special about the event format and the course?
Grinduro was born out of balancing the “party-to-race” ratio. Too many events focus solely on competition and forget that many of us come to be part of the cycling community. Ultimately, it’s about sharing the joy of cycling by bringing together all types of riders in a village atmosphere with great food, live music and Grinduro good vibes.
Yet on the bike it’s all about a great course with four timed sections that are accessible to most types of bikes—except pure road bikes! The 95K course is up and down with a mix of MTB trails, forest roads and gravel. More than 50 kilometers of the course is dirt, so the best bike is a gravel, MTB or something in between. There are drink stations and safety is paramount.
The Hakuba Valley is stunning in autumn. We want our riders to immerse themselves in the landscape and be part of the beauty during the amazing ride.
What kind of impact do you foresee Grinduro having in Hakuba?
Given that more than 450 riders are expected for Grinduro, along with family, friends and sponsors, we expect over 1,200~1,500 visitors to the region for the event. We use local suppliers for all course support, food, beverage and staging and estimate there will be 30-50 million yen directly injected into the local economy through accommodation, food, transport and more.
What’s next for Grinduro Japan?
We already have dates set for 2024 and the key things we look for are a great course, access and camping. We chose Hakuba based on this and the local support. We also need to weatherproof the event as best we can. I hate canceling! I’ll be first to admit the camping has had to take a back seat for 2023, but we will offer what we can and make sure to develop that more in 2024. That being said, given the unpredictable weather in Japan (as many may remember from 2019), having warm beds with showers and onsen available (starting at just ¥6,000 right next to the event village with the Hakuba Hotel Group) isn’t a bad thing.
There are many regions in Japan where Grinduro would fit well, but lining up all the criteria takes some time and planning—so let’s see where 2024 takes us!
It’s no secret that the global MTB tourism world is booming with not only domestic adventure tourists but thrill seekers saving their holidays to fly around the world—and the sight of overflowing carparks and gondola queues at MTB parks like Iwatake in Hakuba and Fujiten down near Mt. Fuji confirm the trend has certainly reached the southern and central Japan Alps. But how is it catching on further north? To find out we headed to Tohoku to see how the MTB scene is shaping up in Hachimantai, Iwate.
Clubman Lodge MTB Guide Junya Kuragane has swapped his fat skis for fat tires to explore some of the great local trails around Hachimantai. It’s clear that APPI Resort has potential to become a big part of the MTB scene with a variety of trails. Junya takes visitors up the gondola to enjoy the views of Iwate-san’s volcanic and geothermal landscape before enjoying a swift descent back down to the base.
We were also joined by father and son duo Pete and Jake Early, the former a teacher at the newly launched Harrow International School Appi Japan and the latter a student. Freeride Japan MTB instructor Lisa Sheffield, who is helping grow mountain biking in the area, rounded out the crew.
Harrow is a progressive school that boasts a dedicated MTB Academy Enrichment Program for students, with two sessions per week to develop key riding skills from PMBIA, the world’s leading MTB training association. There is a big initiative underway to develop a skills park, beginner downhill trail and a cross-country trail network expansion for the whole community.
This is welcome news for Junya and Clubman Lodge who have been in Hachimantai for generations, mostly guiding in the winter months, but also stepping into mountain biking and green season guiding. There has been an increase in Japanese and foreign visitors, typically from Tokyo, who have found their way to Hachimantai in order to explore the area by mountain bike. From Iwate-san, which stands just over 2,000 meters, there is a forest trail and road cycling network that reaches all the way across to APPI Resort and beyond.
Currently there are plenty of easy trails and roads that can be traversed by road bikes, MTBs and the increasingly popular e-bikes, which extend touring without as much effort. Traditionally hikers and trail runners have been setting the trails in the area and hopefully these can also expand into to cross-country MTB trails. The ride up to the beech tree forest to see the local horses is especially nice.
Keep an eye on APPI Resort as the local riders and Harrow International School Appi Japan keep pushing the MTB scene forward, creating downhill courses and hopefully developing the area into a year-round adventure tourism destination in Tohoku.