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August 2015

Peace and quiet in a crowded land

C TB rolls along on a road with very smooth seal, a broad cycle path right next to it, and vehicles travelling at 50pkh. When there are any. C TB rolls along on a road with very smooth seal, a broad cycle path right next to it, and vehicles travelling at 50pkh. When there are any.

This is our first newsletter in almost a month.

The reason for this lack of noise is a trip we took to Japan, with a few productive days in China on the way home.

Japan: we have only quick impressions of a complex country, but the main thing we can report is that it is fantastic for bike riding. The roads are brilliant, for a start. And there are heaps of them, as you would expect in a country that packs over twenty times New Zealand’s population into a landmass about the same size as ours.

Drivers are the most cautious and polite we have ever come across.

Add to that the speed limits. While motorways have the same 100kph limit we have, the secondary roads are mostly restricted to 50. These secondary roads are often better than our state highways, and many have a wide, well-sealed bike path alongside.

We didn’t ride in Tokyo, but we saw an amazing number of locals doing it. They way they ride bikes in the biggest city on earth looks like anarchy, and maybe it is, but it appears to work. What the rules are, or even if there are any, remained a mystery to us. The natural patience required for so many people to live so close together seems to allow everything to function. People ride their bikes on the sidewalk, on the wrong side of the road, and in places where the sidewalk is marked for bike riding, on the wrong side of that too. In our country this would drive people crazy, and maybe it does in Tokyo, but if so they hide it well. Everybody just seems to get on with it, and each other.

The huge population means any interest group can have enough members to make supplying it viable. Every bike-related perversion seems catered for, with magazines and specialist shops for each sub-cult. We found a shop full of vintage road bikes, another full of designer gear for cycle touring, and one in a very flash-looking fashion district that was all high style based on a Belgian road racing theme.

The whole place is epically tidy, and appears remarkably free of graffiti or vandalism. We live in a land where the public’s natural inclination is to break stuff because it is there. For whatever reason, Japan is not like that. A by-product of this is functional vending machines, stocked with anything from iced coffee to hard liquor, literally everywhere. We never figured out exactly how, but they are even situated remote from any building, humming away on the edge of a farmer’s field, ready to produce a mid-ride refreshing beverage of your choice.

There must be mountain biking, we just didn’t get time to find any.

We are keen to go back one day to go off-road.

There are probably vending machines next to the singletrack too.

These vending machines lurk in front of what may have been a karaoke bar amongst a stretch of rice paddies. It vended alcoholic beverages and its colleague offered cigarettes. If we were real hard men we would have spilt a pack of filter tips and chugged a couple of cans of whisky before the next pass, but we aren't. These vending machines lurk in front of what may have been a karaoke bar amongst a stretch of rice paddies. It vended alcoholic beverages and its colleague offered cigarettes. If we were real hard men we would have split a pack of filter tips and chugged a couple of cans of whisky before the next pass, but we aren't.

Anybody who really knows me can imagine the pain involved in leaving Bicycles Yokoo without any of these vintage bike frames in my possession. Anybody who really knows me can imagine the pain involved in leaving Bicycles Yokoo without any of these vintage bike frames in my possession.

 

He should know better

Mike Metz on an early morning session, captured by Graeme Murray. Mike Metz on an early morning session, captured by Graeme Murray.

A bike shop is a bit like a pub.

We all have a ‘local’, where we go to get a fix, or something fixed.

Like a pub, it is rarely a place we go because we have to. We go there for pleasure, to see if anything miraculous has arrived, and to find out stuff we didn’t know we didn’t know.

There is a way it is done if you are a local. Nobody asks if they can help, because they know you are beyond help. So you wander in, looking for something shiny and new. The oracle is likely to be in the workshop. A wise bike shop owner will try to make the the shop floor accessible from the workshop, but also, for productivity’s sake, make the workshop awkward to access from the shop. That is not easy, and the way the mechanics are sequestered is as varied as the discussions with the regulars who occupy the optimal positions within earshot.

My local has taken the view that they are more like a craft brewery, and the shop has been turned inside out. The workshop IS the shop. The mechanics are the owners. Their regulars come for bike maintenance and to see shiny things, but also seek wisdom and entertainment.

They have placed a lounge suite of dubious origins in front of the workstands, which are on a little stage in a sort of greasy cabaret.

Regulars progress quickly from being treated with polite interest to being ridiculed mercilessly, by the proprietors and the other customers. The more they like a customer, the more derision is heaped upon her, or him. As a regular target, I hope thats how it works.

Case in point: a valued customer announced his intention of riding 1000 kilometres off road in a calendar month. Guffaws, unhelpful suggestions, and doubt ensued. Mission complete, he then proposed climbing 10,000 metres in 10 days. Again, derision and laughter, and a long argument over whether climbing the same hill several times should count.

He reported back 10 days later that the altitude gained was 14,000 metres, but admitted that  many reps on one hill were included in the total. It was pointed out unkindly that he doesn’t have a full time job, so achievements like his most recent one had to be taken with a grain of salt.

The fact that he is 72 doesn’t enter into it.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN FLOW MOUNTAINBIKE MAGAZINE

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