Yabakei : Japan’s Secret Cycling Paradise

November 2nd 2021 | Ian Rudd

Japan boasts some truly wonderful cycling routes, however aside from perhaps the Shimatani Kaido, it can be difficult for bicycle enthusiasts to find more information on which ones to try. Today we’d like to introduce you to the Maple Yabakei Cycling Road, ideal for anyone looking for breathtaking scenery and some physical activity on their next trip!

Located on the North Eastern coast of Japan’s Kyushu island, Nakatsu City’s Yabakei Gorge is a nationally designated ‘Place of Scenic Beauty’. As well as the beautiful cycling route, the area is home to a number of fantastic onsens, and bizarrely enough … the best fried chicken in Japan.

The full Maple Yabakei Cycling Road follows the route of the former Yaba-kei Gorge Railroad, which was in operation from 1913 - 1975. It is 35km in length, with 22km of those exclusive for cyclists. The route provides participants with spectacular views of the surrounding mountain range and through maple tree lined roads , tunnels, bridges, a cedar grove and more.

Upon arriving, your first stop of the day should be at the Yabakei Gorge Cycling Terminal to pick up your trusty steed. The Cycling Terminal offers a number of affordable cycling options for all ages. Whether it’s a road bike, an electric bike or even a tandem that you’re looking for, they will be sure to have you covered. 

Once you’ve picked up your bicycle, it’s time to hit the (maple) road, where after a short cycle you will soon find yourself crossing the Yamakuni River Bridge, a beautiful stone structure that was restored in 2014 and now used exclusively by cyclists and pedestrians.

If you happen to be visiting on a hot day, the Maple Yaba Railway Tunnel will come as a welcome cool-down stop as the air temperature noticeably drops once inside. Further along the route you'll find such interesting sights as the Former Hirata Post Office and the Former Hirata Train Station, now a public rest stop which still has pieces of the original train platform in place.

Whether cycling the Maple Yabakei Cycling Road when the leaves are green in Spring or a beautiful deep red in Autumn, we’re sure that visiting any time of year is sure to give all participants a unique appreciation for the natural beauty of the region. Whether you ride the full 35km route or take one of the shorter options, one thing is certain, you’ll need to refuel and refresh after all that exercise! 

Japanese fried chicken (or ‘karaage’) is a popular dish, enjoyed across the entire nation, however the city of Nakatsu is the only place to be known as ‘The Mecca of Karaage’. All establishments selling ‘Nakatsu Karaage’ must meet strict standards including using a home made ginger and garlic marinade and only domestic chicken.

There is no shortage of Nakatsu Karaage stores in the region, in-fact there are more karaage stores here than anywhere else in Japan! One such restaurant, located close to the Cycling Terminal is Wakadori Karaage Kuri-chan, be sure to swing by for some well-earned nourishment.

Now that your hunger has been satisfied, the last thing to do is relax and refresh those tired muscles and what better way to do so than vey visiting a private onsen? Kogane Sansou is a popular onsen that offers both a communal onsen and separate, private huts, for the ultimate relaxing experience.

Japan has some of the most fascinating cities on earth and you could easily spend an entire month exploring any of them without getting bored, however, we highly recommend experiencing the gorgeous countryside that it also offers. If you’re looking for some stunning natural scenery and a little physical exertion at the same time, we can’t recommend Yabakei Gorge highly enough.

How to get there ?

Yabakei Gorge is an hour’s drive from Kitakyushu airport and about an hour and 15 minute’s drive from Oita Airport which can both be flown directly to from Tokyo.

Nakatsu station is located on the JR Nippo Main Line and can be reached by express train from Kokura Station in just over 30 minutes and from Fukuoka’s JR Hakata Station in 55 minutes.