Photo: Cassandra Lord

A cycling adventure on Ibaraki’s Ring Ring Road

By Cassandra Lord

Tokyo’s cycling scene conjures up images of basket-laden bikes idly wading through the crowds, or commuter cyclists perilously weaving through city traffic. Not exactly a cyclist’s paradise. However, less than 100 kilometers from central Tokyo, on the smooth cycling paths and scenic spots of the Ring Ring Road, it’s an entirely different story.

Here’s an introduction to Ibaraki’s Ring Ring Road and what you can expect on your first trip.

Cycling in Japan

The blue chevrons will lead the way on the Ring Ring Road. Photo: Cassandra Lord

Before setting off, it’s important to note some basics about taking longer trips with your bike around Japan. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Helmets are highly advised while cycling, especially at high speeds or near traffic.
  • Bicycles are not allowed on trains in Japan unless they are in a rinko (bike) bag.
  • Bicycles must be equipped with a front light, rear reflector and bike bell.
  • Cycle lanes are marked by a bicycle pictogram (or a blue chevron in Ibaraki).

The Ring Ring Road

Cycling by Lake Kasumigaura on the Ring Ring Road. Photo: Cassandra Lord

Ibaraki’s Ring Ring Road is a large cycle route that goes around Lake Kasumigaura and up past Mount Tsukuba. It’s mostly flat and the entire course is around 180 kilometers long, but is broken up into smaller sections.

Keep in mind that pedestrians and cars are allowed onto the route, and pay attention to the road and cycle lane markings, as there are some points that join with the main road.

Starting from Tsuchiura station allows you to choose between a Mount Tsukuba course or a Kasumigaura course. Make sure you bring enough fluids and sun protection for the ride, as the Kasumigaura route, in particular, offers little to no shade.

Begin your journey at Tsuchiura station

You can walk your bike through Tsuchiura station and the connected mall — but you'll need to use your "rinko" bike bag to enter the train station gates. Photo: Cassandra Lord

Arriving at Tsuchiura station, you’ll immediately see that this is cycling country. The station and adjoining mall are so bike friendly that you can walk your bike through the complex itself.

Bring your bike using the above mentioned rinko bag or rent one from one of the nearby rental spots to get going. Be forewarned: it’s best to reserve online in advance as they quickly get booked up. It is especially popular around the hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season.

If you want to track your cycle route and progress, you might consider using a bike route app like Strava. The Strava route below is recommended for first time Ring Ring Road riders and those looking to see some sights while there. Feel free to adjust the route to your tastes.

Ibaraki Ring Ring Road Strava link:

Tsuchiura castle

Go inside Tsuchiura’s elegant white castle. Photo: Cassandra Lord

About a 10-minute cycle from Tsuchiura station lies Tsuchiura Castle in Kijo Park. The castle is thought to have been built in the late Muromachi period (circa 1400s). The quaint grounds come to life with pink petals and fluttering koinobori (carp streamers) during hanami season.

The fort is named kijo (lit. turtle castle) simply because its domed shape surrounded by the moat makes it look like a turtle. Look out for turtles swimming in the moat and the adorable turtle statue resting on the bench under the small gazebo by Hyotan pond. You can also head inside the fort for views of the grounds and the surrounding Tsuchiura cityscape.

From there, it’s time to get onto the cycle route itself. You’ll need to head back to the station, and after coming to a large bridge, enter the Kasumigaura course from the south side. Check the Strava route above if you’re unclear of directions.

In the spring, the entrance to the cycle route is lined with cherry blossoms and the gentle breeze from the lake is a welcome start to your waterfront ride.

About 10 minutes from the entrance at a leisurely pace, you’ll come across Kasumigaura Comprehensive Park, easily noticeable with its European-style windmill. Stop at the park on your way back, but around here is the last easy opportunity to have a proper meal near the route.

Nautilus Café

Stop for "barahan" (minced beef topped with cheese and onion) at the Nautilus Café. Photo: Cassandra Lord

Straying from the route slightly, park your bike outside Nautilus Café and step inside to be greeted with smooth jazz and a distinctly retro vibe. You can’t go wrong with their curry or barahan (minced beef topped with cheese and onion) and they have a surprisingly wide selection of coffees with dainty cup designs.

Osukazu Noson Park

Climb the tower at Osukazu Noson Park for a view of Lake Kasumigaura. Photo: Cassandra Lord

Osukazu Noson Park makes for a good end goal for first timers to the route. With no stops from Tsuchiura station, it takes about one and a half hours to reach this destination, making a round-trip of at least three hours. Of course, if you plan on visiting each of our recommended tourist spots, it will take somewhat longer.

Here you can stop for a breather and make your way to the top of the tower. Look out for Mount Tsukuba across the water or try to find the windmill in the distance to see how far you’ve come. Here you can also make free use of the bike pump at the bike stand, use the restrooms, or grab a drink from the vending machine.

Kiharashiroato Park

Marvel at the colorful tulips in spring at Kiharashiroato Park. Photo: Cassandra Lord

A few minutes away, off the route slightly, is Kiharashiroato Park, a part of the Hitachi Kihara Castle grounds. Although there is no longer a castle to be seen, in spring the park comes alive with colorful tulips and makes for a peaceful stop. Incidentally, this is also the only spot with any kind of hill climb — and it’s an incredibly short one, at that.

Kasumigaura Comprehensive Park

Finish off your cycling trip with a windmill photo shoot. Photo: Cassandra Lord

Turn back the way you came and enjoy the smooth cycle and pristine lake views, following the blue bike markings. There’s one rest stop on the way back if you need a quick breather.

For your final stop before calling it a day, take a moment at Kasumigaura Comprehensive Park. The park is worth a visit at any time of the year with its various illuminations, events and food carts. In spring, tulips bloom in front of the windmill, making for a distinctly European scene. With all the cycling facilities, you might think you’re somewhere in Amsterdam, rather than Ibaraki.

After a day of cycling and sightseeing, relax with your bikes by your side at the BEB 5 Tsuchiura hotel — designed especially for cyclists — and grab a bite to eat nearby. Challenge yourself to a longer course the next day or head home knowing your new favorite cycling spot will always be ready to welcome you back.

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Love cycling in Japan! For the most part the motorists are the most tolerant of anywhere I have cycled in the world even considering the smallness of the roads. A great course is from Fukuoka to Kyoto, stopping in at hiromshima, miyajima and crossing to Shikoku before catching a night ferry to Osaka for the final leg. Stay in the business hotels very economical and convenient.

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Done the complete ring ring route several times and I can tell you this is a very weak article. Search on the net if you want real information. It's a great place the the lake route can be windy and a head wind can make the going hard. Several interesting burial mounds shrines and temples to visit that are real unlike the castle stuff mentioned here.

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The Ring Ring Road is such a beautiful route! There’s tons of interesting stuff to find along the way and it’s such a relaxing ride. I’ve done it a few times and reading this is making me want to go back again.

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