Changing attitudes and taking on the challenge of developing a new outdoor sport is often a long, hard but rewarding road. Rhythm Cycles has stepped forward to face such a challenge and views the future of cycling, during the “green” season in this popular ski resort area, with hope and optimism. Rhythm is the collaborative effort of Australian Matt Hampton, owner of Rhythm Snowsports and Canadian Paul Butkovich,owner of Groove Cycles, who combined forces and expanded inventory and services to the Niseko area.
As with any sport in its early stages of development, particularly on-mountain trail development and riding, there’s a significant learning curve. Coupled with the expected growing pains is the reality that the area is surrounded by National Parks, which adds yet another layer of consideration when making any plan of action.
Similar to what Whistler, Canada has developed over the past ten years or so, Niseko would also like to capitalize on the summer season and offer visitors a wide array of activities. And like Whistler, Niseko knows that the development of summer activities is largely dependent on a steady stream of domestic visitors, both from Hokkaido and other areas of Japan. For right now, Niseko’s mountain biking is a “best-kept-secret” of sorts.
The domestic-centric approach means that Rhythm will have Japanese-speaking staff members available at all times and endeavor to build up relationships with local riders as well as offering services to visitors from other areas of Japan and overseas.
Of course, you can have all the natural beauty in the world but if you don’t have the proper gear to enjoy it then the whole thing becomes an exercise in futility. Luckily, Rhythm Cycles manager Andy Meadows is a certified mechanic and a stickler for high quality gear and optimal performance. This means rental equipment gets a thorough inspection before and after use. Meadows, originally from England, cut his teeth as a guide in Switzerland before a job offer brought him to Niseko. Now, five years later and still working as a guide during the busy ski season, he’s turned his attention to the burgeoning cycle business of the summer season.
One of the main cycling attractions in the area is the recently developed Grand Hirafu Mountain Bike Park. The park allows riders to experience an adrenalin rush on a downhill track covering almost 600 vertical meters of trail on the main face of the ski resort. Your lift-accessed journey takes you down a number of jumps, berms and north shore sections. This is not for the novice and any trip to the park requires safety training and a Rhythm Cycles Guide.
Thankfully, for those whose youthful, daredevil days are long behind them, the shop also offers plenty of standard, premium and children’s bikes. These bikes are perfect for taking on trails or riding along one of the many bucolic road routes throughout Niseko and its surrounding regions.
As the summer approaches here in Niseko, I asked Meadows what he felt the number one factor was in establishing a popular cycle season in the area. After traveling to Japan a number of times I was relieved to hear him say, “Customer service, that always has to be top priority.” It’s hard to imagine that his optimism regarding the sport won’t be rewarded with an increased popularity in regional cycling. And it’s equally difficult to envision that once the public gets a taste of mountain biking in Niseko, that it remains a secret.