BIG IN JAPAN

BIG IN JAPAN

Hi, meet Michelle de Graaf, a 25 year old bike enthusiast, living in Holland. She works for Live Slow Ride Fast and LSRF.cc and in her spare time she rides bikes. Gravel bikes, road bikes and fixies. On Saturday 23rd of September, she rode the SfiDARE Criterium in Yokohama, Japan. This mega fast, 20 minute short fixed gear crit was one of the many side events of the World Championships Bike Messenger, that were being held that weekend. She got there with her team members from Team Look Crit on Wednesday and the party was on from the moment they arrived. Pre- and afterparties, social rides, sprint races, skid competitions, qualification races and a big expo, all leading up to the big event on Sunday. This was not the only reason for her to book a flight to Japan, but a perfect excuse to top this experience off with a bike packing holiday.

FIXED GEAR RACING

Now first, let me tell you something about fixed gear racing. It is a unique style within the many bike disciplines available. There are no brakes on the bike and you have no gears. You choose one gear to put on your bike and stick to it. This means that the pedals always turn with the rear wheel, no matter the speed. Braking is being done by skidding, sliding your tires sideways to reduce speed. It is considered to be a sport for daredevils and fast, sprinter type of cyclists. The community of fixed gear lovers is big and has its origins in the bike messenger culture from the 80’s.

THE RACE

Back to Yokohama. The race itself was super short, fast and intensive and she did not know any of her Japanese competitors. Normally, she likes long straight parts where she can really speed things up. But here, there were more curves than she could comprehend and she needed to switch tactics in order to outsmart the rest. She decided to give it all from the start, hoping the rest would have trouble overtaking. Little did she know, the gap that she had created lasted and was even extended during the race. Feeling like a queen with all the cheering around her, she won and never felt more celebrated than that night.

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The vibe was amazing. It was extremely busy and the ambiance reminded everybody of the Red Hook Crits of years back, with thousands of people watching the races in Brooklyn, Barcelona and London. Sadly, those series of events are no longer here, but the crowds at the SfiDARE Crit certainly brought back those memories and lit a fire that is still smoldering. The Japanese were, in contrary to what she had seen during the day, super loud and cheerful. One crazy party, that ended with a lot of beer and local spirits . She can’t wait to have more fixed gear crits like these brought back on the race calendar.

LIVE SLOW

What a start of her trip to Japan. Slightly hungover, she and her boyfriend packed their bike bags and traveled to Tokyo the next day. Biking the Shibuya crossing and getting all the sushi they could get our hands on. Off on the bullet train to Kyoto, for a bike trip to Nara and from there the couple really got into the ‘live slow’ mode. Into the mountains they rode, where the people were surprised to see two young persons on bikes, packed with just the essentials. They enjoyed the ‘onsen’, hot water springs deriving directly from the volcano and slept at ‘ryokans’, a sort of traditional family hostel, dating back to the 17th and 18th century. No bed, but a tatami with a blanket and a pillow and a common room where you can cook and wash. The craziness of the first weekend in the city seemed lightyears away. They traveled through the country for about a week to finish their trip at the bike festival Grinduro Japan in Hakuba.

BIKE PACKING

Bike packing in Japan may not be the first idea to cross your mind, but Michelle can definitely recommend it. Bike paths are rare outside the city, but the roads are safe and well maintained. Drivers keep their distance and are extremely polite, just like everybody, really. There are enough super markets, even in the countryside and they are just one big fun experience. Besides, there are vending machines everywhere along the major roads (estimated one for 23 people), so no need to be afraid to run out of fresh water of snacks. Help is never far and people go a long way to make sure you are in good hands. In conclusion, this was one of the most memorable trips she has ever experienced.


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