Friday, October 2, 2009

CMWC Tokyo Part 1

After arriving in Tokyo safely and getting my bike there for only $50 my friend Kijana met up with me at the airport and we took the extended train ride to his town. We had to transfer trains a few times which resulted in me shouldering the 70 pound bike case a few times instead of dealing with trying to get it down the escalators as we hoped between platforms. By the time I got it safely to his house my upper body had gotten a pretty good workout, I unpacked my bike and began assembling it right away only to find that the airlines had lost my nice 6mm hex wrench when they didn’t close the base all the way after looking into it. I also discovered that at some point in the transit my front wheel had come slightly out of true so I went about doing it the best I could without a stand…good thing I thought to bring a spoke wrench.

The first experience with riding in Japan would be following Kijana on his mountain bike to the air force base he works at. Per his suggestion I stuck to the sidewalks as we hit a busy road. I wasn’t ready or used to riding on the opposite side of the street so mildly took this as a good thing…that is until cars almost pulled out into me 2 times during the trip.

In Japan riding a bike on the sidewalk is encouraged, it isn’t to say that riding in the street is illegal, but the closest thing I could find that resembles a bike lane was actually just the sidewalk, which is marked with signs indicating so. The crosswalks have signs on them that say this is for bikes…which make one wonder where the pedestrians go. There are a lot of bikes in Japan and most are used to local errand running. The most common bike is what is known as the mama-chari (mom chariot) and it is a hulking urban utility vehicle of a bike, complete with full fenders, baskets, racks, electric lights…everything. Housewives, students and businessmen all use them to get around quickly on short distance trips and disregard every single convention of cycling safety…much the same was the rest of us do. The biggest difference is there relative low traveling speed and their complete lack of attention to their surroundings. It is a common sight to see someone on a mama-chari cruising down the wrong side of the street on a busy stretch of road texting and or drinking a soda, while this behavior is not unique to Japan it does make for more challenges on the road. After fuddling around on the base trying to get used to riding on the opposite side I told Kijana he could take the sidewalk if he wanted to but I felt much safer on the street and did just that on our way back to his house. This choice proved to be better and it was my first taste of Japanese motorists’ hesitation to get too close to a cyclist.

The first time on the road wasn’t enough to make me like or hate it so the next morning when I woke suddenly at 6am I took the opportunity to get out and ride for a bit. I quickly left the house and road out into the morning, photographing my progression in case I lost my way. At first my goal was to hit up a 24 hour Japanese fast food restaurant we had had dinner at the night before to get some early morning curry breakfast action going. Instead I continued on past the joint beckoned by the hypnotic call of Mr. Donut…I wasn’t stopping to get donuts; I just wanted to take a picture of the place. On the way I stopped at a convenience store for a hot green tea to help wake me up, much probably to the surprise of the attendants. Once that was downed I continued on my Mr. Donut journey only to almost pass it by with out realizing it. I took a photo as I biked by and continued for a little ways more, enjoying the time to my self.

After a bit further and realizing that the road stretched out into urban oblivion I decided to turn around and head back to the house, still thinking about breakfast. On the return trip I snapped a photo of the bike in front of a boutique called Snob, so that I could send it to the venerable BikeSnobNYC himself to add to his collection of Snob-style photogs. I also snapped a photo of a group of disaffectioned youth sitting on a street corner…wondering what the hell they were doing awake, let alone brooding at such an early hour on a Saturday. The smiled and threw peace signs at me as I rode by, obviously I was the beacon of light in their dreary angst filled day…or maybe not. As I approached Kijana's house I got a little lost and ran into another group of mopey teenagers and took a covert picture of them in all their posing glory. After a moment of panic when I thought I was lost I found the house but instead of stopping I continued on and headed to the nearby convenience store to get some cold soba noodles and more green tea.

I wasn’t able to get on the bike the rest of that day but did strike out to Tokyo via 1.5 hour train ride into western Tokyo. While there we made a diversion to Yoyogi Park and paid Meiji Shrine a visit and got lost in the private garden of Empress Meiji. After that we walked from there to Shibuya in order to find the building where the race registration was taking place so I could check in and get my information packet. As we walked down the street the occasional pack of people sporting messenger bags and track bikes flying by headed the way we were proved that we were on the right path. It took us a little bit of guessing and finagling but we stumbled upon the registration spot relatively unharmed. There were a few people gathered around the entrance and along the side of the building. As I neared a messenger I met on the flight named Baba from Philly showed up and I greeted him. Baba is originally from Japan but lives and works in the States. Friendly guy, good biker from what I heard and saw. He was a part of a 4 person crew from Fuji bike, cosponsored by ReLoad bags, which were there to kick ass.

We went in and I got in line to check in. After giving them the wrong race number I gave them the correct one and I was locked in to my events and handed my info. I stepped into the next line and had a few head shots taken. After I came back to the states I discovered the headshots were for cool photo ID’s for the race…too bad I missed out on getting that one, just one thing out of many that was missed…partially due to liquid communications between the staff and the racers. After browsing around the office and buying some goods we headed back out to the street. Not sure what to do I used my amazing power of coincidence and said to Kijana that I wish I could hook up with Kevin from Cog, when who happens to be rolling up the hill to the registration…Kevin from Cog. Completely blown away by the coincidence I happily greeted him. He pulled over next to some people, one of whom is John Prolly, one of the most notable American fixed trick riders, who unfortunately was in the process of icing a nasty looking ankle injury…guess he wasn’t going to be doing any stunt riding in the fixed stunt capitol.

After unsuccessfully trying to invite Kevin to some lunch Kijana and I took off to wander around Tokyo…seeing all the bikes around made me wish I had mine with me. The rest of the day was spent hopping around town getting reacquainted with the place and seeing what has changed. After that it was a long train ride back to Kijana’s town and off to try and unsuccessfully reconnect with everyone back home via the internets.

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