Rindo Forest Roads 林道 | Japan’s Best Road Biking

Ripping through the towering pines of a tranquil rindo forest road.
Ripping through the towering pines of a tranquil rindo forest road.

Introduction

Where the west of the US has strings of car free gravel fire roads that stretch over their mountains, Japan is home a uniquely massive web of car free paved roads throughout their mountains. Along with the river cycling roads, Rindo forest roads make up some of the best riding in Japan.

Referred to as Rindo 林道 (meaning Forest Roads), they are a collection of forest maintenance and old mountain pass roads. Full of nature, car free, and amazing pavement Rindo are the quintessential Japanese cycling experience.

Pure Rindo Komorebi magic.
Pure Rindo Komorebi 木漏れ日 magic.

Where Can I Ride Rindo Forest Roads?

Rindo forest roads are actually all over Japan. Pretty sweet! That said they come in a lot of variety and flavors from mostly gravel in Hokkaido, to pavement rougher than gravel down south in Shikoku.

There truly are great rindo for cycling all over Japan, but my personal favorites are in the Kita-Kanto Region. This is because I believe they tick the perfect boxes for what makes amazing riding. Let’s see some of those reasons below.

Soaking in the views from atop the Kiryu Alps.
Soaking in the views from atop the Kiryu Alps.

Why Are Rindo So Great To Ride On in Kita-Kanto?

We all have been there before, climbing a narrow road with little to no shoulder, big trucks whirling by at high speed, and way too close calls. Yikes. This is far from an ideal bike ride in our book, and is the complete opposite of what you will experience on a Rindo!

A typical Rindo in the Kita-Kanto Region is,

  1. Car free for long stretches to hours
  2. Surrounded by nature – forests, mountains, rivers, and animals
  3. Well shaded but also has epic views
  4. Smoothly paved
Flying through the amber pines of late fall in Japan.
Flying through the car free amber pines of late fall in Japan.

Car Free For Hours

When I share this point with guests most either don’t believe me or nod along without really grasping what this means.

I am not joking when I say that you can ride out of Kiryu City, and in about 10km time get onto beautiful Rindo forest roads that will see no cars for 2-4 hours!

This means a level of road cycling and nature immersion that even I was unaware was possible before moving to Japan.

One of our favorite rindo vantage points between Ashikaga & Kiryu City.
One of our favorite rindo vantage points between Ashikaga & Kiryu City.

Surrounded by Nature – Forests, Mountains, Rivers, and Animals

This dive into nature is one of extreme variety too. Thanks to the varied terrain that surrounds you can take these quiet roads through towering pine forests, over huge mountains and volcanoes, along crystal clear natural spring fed rivers, and even if you are lucky spot some of the local inhabitants!

It is not uncommon for our guests to spot monkeys (Saru 猿), deer (Shika 鹿), Japanese Racoon dog (tanuki 狸), Japanese fox (kitsune 狐), or even the illusive Japanese Serow (Kamoshika カモシカ) While out on the Rindo.

The elusive Kamoshika カモシカ, Japanese serow.
The elusive Kamoshika カモシカ, Japanese serow.

This is in no small thanks to the lack of vehicle traffic on these roads, and is another reason we love to ride them.

Well Shaded with Epic Views

Due to the forests that cover most of the mountains in Japan, Rindo forest roads are often shaded with a canopy of trees above. This provides crucial shade during the hottest times of the year such as the summer. Then in the cooler winter, after the leaves fall, the roads become exposed to the warm winter sun.

This makes them the perfect place to ride year round!

The komirebi 木漏れ日 can be truly magical this time of year.
The komirebi 木漏れ日 can be truly magical…

Smoothly Paved

Last, but not least, is the quality of pavement found on the Rindo in the Kita-Kanto Region.

Though not the case for all of Japan, the Kita-Kanto area is home to hundreds of kilometers of good to amazing pavement forest roads. This is in no small thanks to the forestry industries in the area that help maintain the forests, and the long history in the region with old mountain passes that sense have tunnel bypasses.

Cycling the quite backroads behind lake Umeda and Lake Kusaki in Kiryu, Gunma.
Cycling the quite backroads behind Lake Umeda and Lake Kusaki in Kiryu, Gunma.

Japan’s extremely mountainous and rugged terrain means that to draw a straight line for a road very often means building tunnels. So, where historically there were small mountain passes between villages and towns, now you can find bypass tunnels.

This is a win-win for both cyclists and drivers. Where the drivers want to just get from A to B as quickly as possible they now can. And, where the cyclists want an enjoyable ride without traffic, they now have it. Thanks too to the lightweight cars of Japan and the low traffic on these bypass roads, many of them stay in pristine condition!

Where dragons are born.
Even on rainy days the mountains of Japan inspire awe. Where dragons are born.

Why are the roads paved so well in Japan’s rural mountains?

While generalizing is never the best, one can take a similar approach to asking which states in the US or countries in the EU have the better roads than others.

In general, I have found the formula to places with the best roads to be,

  1. The places that get not too much winter, but still have a freeze.
    This is because places that don’t need to worry about a freeze don’t need to worry about cracks in the pavement surface. This means less smooth pavement from the start, and less need to repair it along the life of the road.
  2. The places that are wet enough to need to worry about runoff.
    This is similar in that most damage done to roads is from severe water events. If the builders need to factor in large water runoff as they do in Japan the roads are fundamentally better built to last.
  3. The places that invest heavily in infrastructure.
    You can’t build a road without funding, and Japan spends more than any other country on its infrastructure (6.6% of GDP).
  4. The places with towns and industry that needs to go into the nature.
    Where countries like the US or Australia have large tracks of wilderness, much of it is unreachable by bike. Japan, like Europe, has a long history and has invested heavily on connecting the small towns of the countryside to the rest of the island. This means there are ample routes connecting towns all across Japan.

Rindo & River Paths | A Cyclists Heaven

Paired with the river cycling paths in Japan, Rindo make one half of the magical formula of Japanese rural cycling. So next time you are head to Japan consider hopping on a bike and taking to the rivers and rindo for an unforgettable time!

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