Max Houtzager

PHOTOS: Max Houtzager

LOCATION: Asuke, Toyota, Aichi Prefecture

Every Gourmet Century is an unforgettable event, but the ride’s return to Asuke was marked by a deepened connection to the land and the riders who travelled to be there.

The Chris King Gourmet Century returned to Asuke for the second year in a row, bringing with it the unique camaraderie of tight-knit cycling culture and culinary exploration that characterizes Gourmet Centuries from Japan to California. Each region has key contributors who impart their own distinct flavors on their respective rides. Shinya Tanaka has a vision for cycling in Japan, and Asuke proved the perfect stage once again, with riders from Tokyo, Osaka, and Hiroshima descending upon the rural town in Aichi Prefecture to spend the entire day riding on some of the best roads in the world, stopping only to take in the stunning scenery and strategically placed meal stops.

Many riders arrived via drives that started moments after moonrise, but the combination of breakfast and anticipation made waking up easy. As the day progressed, the route wound from lakes to mountain roads, treating riders to challenging climbs and picturesque vistas worthy of pause. The first stop of the day was alongside a lake where chefs served coconut jelly topped with a single cherry tomato. The lunch gathering was set in a lush forest that provided opportunity for a cold dip at the base of a powerful waterfall, set to live music and a sneakily all-vegan feast. Unique dishes born from endless collaboration between Chris Diminno from Chris King and Keita from Early Birds focused on local ingredients and kept everyone well-fueled from sunrise until well past sunset.

At every stop and every turn, it was clear that this event recognized its defining traits from its inaugural year and built on them. Deeper collaboration with local farmers, foragers, and hunters led to more refined and varied food. Favorite dishes and road sections returned, but everything in between was subtly yet markedly improved.

The final descent was a fitting end to the riding portion of the day. A sublime, car-free road with banked turns twisted and undulated alongside a river as riders danced their way down over ruts and loose brush. The pure, unadulterated stoke was as palpable as the lack of cars. The buzz had hardly worn off from the final snack of the day before the descent left everyone speechless. It was one of those rare sections that seems to last forever and be over too soon, that gets revisited in one’s mind for a lifetime, the imperfections polished out with each return.

There was ample time to process every clarifying, energizing, and hilarious moment of the day as soon as the descent flattened out. The finish line offered more coffee and another swim in the cold river before moving to the onsen, libations, and unforgettable dinner under the sunset and stars. Every Gourmet Century is an unforgettable event, but the ride’s return to Asuke was marked by a deepened connection to the land and the riders who travelled to be there. Shinya’s clear vision and infectious vibe was tangible at every turn and at every moment of the day. Everyone in Asuke made the trek deliberately, and the stunning setting worked in conjunction with the route and the food to allow every sense to perceive the Circles lifestyle. By the end of the night, it was clear that this kind of cycling in Japan will not remain a niche secret for long. And Shinya Tanaka is ready.

Shot on a mix of Cinestill 50, Portra 400, and Ilford XP2 film through an M6 and a Fuji Natura Black.

Corner Bikes crew from Osaka

Chef Keita and Rie

Shinya and John Watson with their first libations of the evening.

Cheers with Chris King

Special thanks to the Simworks crew for making it all happen.