Tokyo Motorcycle Show 2016

I’d never been to a motorcycle show, so when the 43rd annual Tokyo Motorcycle Show rolled around this year, I decided I should take the 20min train journey down to the Big Sight venue from my workplace, and see how it was.

To set expectations, this isn’t a top tier bike show like EICMA, there aren’t usually major new bike announcements made there, but they are generally well attended, and showing the latest announced models from most of the major manufacturers, and many boutique brands which means there are lots of motorbikes!  Enough said.

The Big Sight
The Big Sight

So into the show.  Big Sight, the upside down pyramid in Tokyo Bay, with a giant hand saw in front of it. It’s a good venue all told and it was easy to the find the way on to Halls 1 & 2.

Ducati Making Music
Ducati Making Music

Inside, the show filled two of the four main halls, and there was a decent crowd on the Friday afternoon, plenty of atmosphere, and a fairly diverse demographic spread of all ages, and yes mainly men, but with a decent percentage of women riders too.  There was a ladies focused area, which had a lot of good advice on bike mods and models which emphasised lighter bikes, and seat height adjustments. I notice it also had a much better cafe area than the one near the entrance too. As you’d expect, there were a lot of smaller vendors, magazine vendors, parts vendors, and of course the bike manufacturers from home and abroad.

Red Space
Red Space

There were as many cameras as people, and most of the bike models you were able to sit on, excepting some of the more boutique bikes, such as the Italian Vyrus models, which start at 6,300,000yen (~55,000USD) and keep going to over 13,000,000yen. Ouch. But they are very nice.

A Good Vyrus
A Good Vyrus

I spent a little over three hours looking around, and it was worth the 1,400yen. There were plenty of people to talk to and ask questions, and some free samples and stickers, but at least whilst I was there there weren’t too many awesome give-aways.

One stall was promoting their various LED lighting systems, and had a bike all done up with sparkling glass beads, thousands of them. It looked great under the show lights, so we had a look at the stand, and even had a chat with the hard working lady whose job is was to attach the beads by hand.

Blinging it
Blinging it

So what were the highlights?

It was good to see bikes I don’t usually see really, such as the scooters from Adiva, Sym and Kymco – many of which looked very respectable – from the larger American oriented cruisers, European bikes including Norton, Royal Enfield from India, to the local Japanese bikes.  All had a presence of one size or another and most of the staff were able to answer all of the questions I had, even about insurance and spares.

Super Cub and Side Cub
Super Cub and Side Cub

It’s easy to point at the Steve McQueen replica bikes, the Vyrus or high end BMW and Honda Rallye race bikes as the most memorable items, but for some reason, I quite liked the more accessible and fun items like modded Honda Super Cub Cross with a side car. Sure, I couldn’t fit in the side car, and I’m not sure what the performance would be like, but in it’s yellow and black, it looked the part.

 

 

 

明けましておめでとうございます 2016!

A slightly belated greeting into 2016, which we’ll be calling Heisei 28. It’s all about the reign of the Emperors, and is designed to confuse me when I come to sort my taxes out next month.

We did the midnight tick-over at home with the family, but for Hatsuhinode – the first sunrise of the year – I was out on the motorbike to meet up with some friends.  Since I was riding into the sunrise, I thought I’d get the old GoPro Hero 2 out and do a timelapse:

We met up at a Konbini, and I was able to get my traditional biking breakfast of onigiri, but this one was unfortunately common – grilled salmon (焼き鮭) but still did the trick.

Shake Onigiri
Shake Onigiri

Then it was time to ride back up the 134 through lighter traffic, to meet up with a few more people at the Seisho SA, which boasts a great view of the bay, clean toilets and allows you to enjoy the quality musical coffee machines. I never get bored of this Pacific Ocean road on the bike, and just have to remember to take my turn inland – it’s easy to just keep following this road down the Izu pensinsula.

From there, it was on up to the Mazda Skylounge to take in the view along the Mazda turnpike (now 520yen one way).

At the Skylounge you can guarantee a good selection of people on any given day, and here on New Year’s Day I was impressed to see a steady stream of older people – alone and in groups – come up in taxis, take in the view and perhaps have a drink, then get back in the taxis to wherever they’d come from. For myself I had a cup of tea and decided to try the chili cheese hot dog. In no way traditional, or even advisable, but it did taste pretty good. No photo sadly.

Finally, thanks to Frank for getting a line-up shot and for putting the day together:

New Year 2016
New Year 2016

Here’s to hoping 2016 continues as well as it started, and all the best to everyone.

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Bike Tour: Lakes, Tea and Senbei

It’d been quite a few weeks since I’d been out on the motorbike for a day trip, so when my old friend ‘CS’ offered up the middle day of a 3 day weekend for a trip out in November, I was up for it, and so spent some time staring at my Touring Mapple book and Google Maps to see where we could put in a few hundred kilometres.

As I’m all about style and culture, I had decided we should meet up on the infamous 246 road before moving up into the mountains of central and western Kanagawa Prefecture. The meeting place: The Eastern Gods Truck Station.  Well technically it’s the Toushin Truck Station, but the literal translation of the kanji sounds a lot better in my opinion. Yes, it’s a truck stop – a fair sized one too – with a restaurant, showers, some rooms, and of course ample parking for large trucks, and a smaller area for vans. We parked up in the latter car and van park, CS’s Triumph Tiger 1200 dwarfing some of the vans, whilst everything dwarfed my CB400.

tonkotsuramen onigiri
tonkotsuramen onigiri

A cup of tea and a catch-up later we were on the 246 for a little while before heading north on the 412 and then moving onto the 413 and pushing west. The 413 is a decent road – well surfaced, the odd narrow portion, with plenty of twisties to play on. For the most part you’re going along valleys, but at elevation, so expect some dampness and mist, especially on an overcast day like we were on. It was at this point I discovered the mist loved settling on my visor and stubbornly refused to roll off, so I need to sort that out.

About half way along, we came across a rest area near the town of Doshi, and sailing past all those people in cars who like to queue for parking spaces, we parked up in the bike area which was packed with bikes and bikers – men, women and children of all ages, with all manner of bikes, trikes and quads. It was a good place to take a break, with people queuing for various hot snacks or grilled chicken, pork, vegetables , some tasty looking grilled fish, as well as a shop selling powdered radish roots, fresh veg and other things there was no way I could fit on my bike. In the end I had a bottle of hot lemon juice from the the vending machine. A missed opportunity in retrospect – I should have queued for the grilled fish.

Grilled Fish!
Grilled Fish!

Back on the road, more twisties, but then a slower section in traffic around lake Yamanaka.  I always like the lakes around Mt. Fuji, especially for the novelty ferries. I didn’t take a picture, but Yamanaka had the giant swan ferry on the water as we rode past.

Another missed food opportunity here: we went past several nice local places and pulled away from the commercialized lake area,and only when we were stopping for some fuel did we decide we were hungry, by which point our only real option was the nearby Royal Host.  It’s perfectly acceptable as a place to eat, but as a franchise, we’d usually avoid it.

As CS has a GPS system, he oddly likes to make use of it, and due to this, it likes to run him a merry jaunt on occasion. This time, instead of taking us to a small tea house on a mountain road I had spied on Google Maps, it decided we really wanted to sit in more traffic around the outskirts of the larger Kawaguchi lake  in a market stalls area where it continued to confidently claim the tea shop was always 3 minutes away,.

After fifteen minutes, we called it out, told it we weren’t happy, did U-turns and followed my direction following my paper map. That was better. Or at least it was better for a while, since on the 137, we were to look for road 708, a svelte mountain road where this legendary tea shop would be waiting for us. Unfortunately CS was a couple of cars in front of me, and he missed the turn. This left me bombing up the road thinking I was way behind,  arriving at the beautiful tea-shop and realising it was just me. Long story short, CS did finally locate the place, and it was worth it.

Tenkachaya
Tenkachaya

It’s called Tenkachaya (天下茶屋), as in, ‘whole world under heaven’ tea shop.  They also make and sell senbei rice crackers. There’s no parking as such, and the collection of cars and bikes basically hug the sides of the road.  Inside it’s all wood, modestly lit, and very relaxing. The staff were really friendly, and explained what was available in the shop and on the menu. That’s when we noticed we’d misunderstood something. They do sell tea –  indeed they give you a complimentary cup when you sit down – but their speciality is a blend coffee. I had to have one, and yes, it was very good. Also, the senbei were sweet, sort of lemon flavoured, and the staff advised us to break them in their plastic wrappers before eating because they could probably stop a bullet. They do taste rather good though, so we bought some as omiyage to take away too. It’s by itself really on that 708 road, which the tunnel making it far quicker to get to and from the lake, but it is worth the ride/drive up for a rest stop and to take in the view.

The Tea House
The Tea House

After that good rest we started winding our way towards the Chuo expressway, joining at it’s southern starting point, and following it east. There was plenty of traffic – perhaps people returning Sunday night to avoid the read traffic insanity of the Monday return, so we ended up filtering for a couple of kilometres before stopping before the Hachioji junction where we parted ways. My route would take me onto the newer Ken-O extension south. I like the road as it’s not so busy, there’s plenty of distance between junctions, and even though there aren’t yet service areas, it’s a relaxing ride though I should note, there’s no street lights along some sections, so with just me on my bike, even with the headlight on, it felt oddly isolated.

The only notable thing on that final stretch was that all the auto-payment arches (ETC) were broken on my exit ramp, so I had to stop and get off my bike, get my bike seat off to give the chap on the gate my ETC card so he could manually check it through, then put it all back together. I’ve never had to do that before. Odd really.

All in all a good day out.

(An aside here: the lake is called Kawaguchiko. That ‘ko’ denotes lake [], and though most signs in English say Lake Kawaguchiko, it’s technically Lake Kawaguchi I think).

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Bike Tour: Shouganai Dam

Imagine if there was a place called ‘such is life’ . Well, potentially in Japan, there is, and it’s a huge dam.

I say potentially, as it’s a bit of a kanji joke – the name – Ogouchi – is written in kanji as 小河内, which with a liberal interpretation, could phonetically be read as ‘shouganai’, which is the Japanese equivalent of ‘such is life’. Yes, puns in Japanese can be many layered.

Anyway, getting past all that, when I found the Shouganai Dam on the map, I knew I had to go and take a look – partly for the name, partly because dams are usually impressive, but mainly because the twisty roads through the mountains to it were just so enticing to a biker such as myself.

Route Planning
I planned my route similar to my previous Tanzawa / Yabitsu Touge route, because it’s accessible but fun, coming in from the south on route 246, keeping on the back roads and those mountain routes pretty much all the way up, but then planned to come out to the east through the rural roads, and then get on the Ken O expressway to come back [map at the end of the post].

On the Road
I was out of my house by seven am sharp, and the weather was fantastic – dry, sunshine, mid 20s degC., not too humid, and made my way up to the Route 246 in fairly light traffic. Some people may have seen Route 246 as a course on Gran Tourismo. In real life, on a bad day, it’s far worse, especially in mid Kanagawa, where is it one of the main free roads west. Fortunately for me, Saturday morning wasn’t too busy and I could make good time, and not have to stop at every single traffic light, every 100metres, which is sometimes the case.

A few Km down and it was time for the interesting right turn onto Route 70. Interesting for a couple of reasons, mainly the convenience store after the right, which I usually stop off at for a breakfast snack, and partly for the petrol station on the opposite corner – a great place to fuel up, but between the crossroads and the various entrances/exits for these two businesses,  you have to be a little careful on two wheels.

curry onigiri
curry onigiri

Whenever I have to use franchised outlets for things, I prefer to at least try something new, and this time, at that 7-11 on the corner, they had a new onigiri (rice ball) – dry curry – which they even heated up for me. It was nice. It was very nice. I would recommend it. You can also chat to the many cyclists and bikers who often use the place as a meet up spot, as it effectively marks the beginning for people starting a run on the Yabitsu pass.

Route70 is a pleasure to ride – starting off with gentle curves, a steady incline, not many traffic lights, and lightly used roads. As you get up to the pass roper (as delineated by a larger bus stop, a gate, and a small bridge), the road narrows and widens, the bends are sharper, compensated for by fantastic views off one side – just beware cyclists coming the other way at speed down! I think I did a whole post on the Yabitsu Pass, or Yabitsu Touge as it’s known.

At the end of the pass there are a few ways to go, but this time, as I was heading further north, I took a left I’d not taken before, and since I was getting a little thirsty, I was looking for somewhere to stop. Then, just a few hundred metres from the junction, there was this nice Sunkus with some patio tables outside, so I bought a lettuce sandwich and an ice coffee, and watched all the various two wheeled vehicles come and go for a while, before setting off again, and regretting I hadn’t brought my CamelBak water-bottle on what was turning into a nice hot day.

SunKus Cafe
SunKus Cafe

Off again, from Route 64 to 518, twisting higher up into the next group of mountains,  then a few junctions and up to Route 76, and over into Fujino. I wasn’t planning to, but I actually got off to take a few photos there  – it’s a small almost-town where two rivers meet. It’d be very picturesque if it weren’t for the factory perched up on one mountainside. I’m going to say it’s a concrete factory, but I can’t back that up.

Fujino
Fujino

More uphill turns which were plenty of fun, and just great cornering out of and above Fujino, and keeping an eye out for a petrol station, since I’d hit the half tank point and I like full tanks. I missed one, a nice, small, local one which I kind of regret as there was a small group chatting on the forecourt, and so I ended up a few kilometres later on at a Cosmo – nice people though.  Then I was through Uenohara, which seemed like a tranquil town save for its very congested main road, then up again into the countryside up to the dam. I came in from the south, weaving along the narrow road,  but always with fantastic views, until I came to a small car park on one corner, overlooking the lake.

Above the dam
Above the dam

Actually, that lay-by had a camera club or something there, all with nice looking cameras with large zoom lenses all adorned with camouflage for some reason – I mean, they’re sat next to silver cars in a stopping area, chatting, so they’re not exactly blending in to the wilderness but I’d guess there is some bird watching to be done. One chap was also flying his drone out over the valley – I should have asked him where he uploaded to. I should have asked what birds they were hoping to spot too.

More twisties and we’re down to the level of the rivers and the lake behind the dam, and some nice small bridges. The lake is called Okutama, after the local area, and the small nearby town. I stopped to have a drink at one of a couple of restaurants nearby – both looked a little worn, but the staff were friendly, and the drinks were cold, and on a hot day like it had become, that was enough in itself.

Cafes
Cafes

Then it was on to the dam itself, which is a huge wall of concrete as one might expect. There’s a visitors centre, and a generous carpark too, which is free. On this day, it was pretty much empty, but given the coach spaces and the visitors centre having a lot of child friendly areas, I suspect it gets a lot of school visits.

I decided to take a walk across the top of the dam, despite the heat, and even though it is what it is, it’s still impressive to see a 100m plus drop on one side, and water on the other. I also went up one of the viewing towers, which have some basic models in them and don’t add much beyond some welcome air conditioning.

There’s not much on the other side of the dam – a shrine for the areas drowned, and presumably those who died in its construction, and a hiking route, which I followed for a couple of kilometres, but biker gear is not the best wear to go mountain hiking in this kind of heat! I’d be interested in coming back and doing it though, as it looks like a nice route.

Ogouchi Dam
Ogouchi Dam

It’s a very tranquil place all told, and I spent a couple of hours sitting and walking around it, talking a little with the staff in the towers and visitors centre, so it was a good destination, even though I was more interested in the way of getting up there.

Leaving the dam was simple enough though there are a couple of road signage oddities which clearly sent some people the wrong way, but I headed out from the east, through tunnels which varied in age from bubble era 1980s concrete ones, to ones which dripped water from their ceilings, and which I imagined had been blasted out in the early 1900s. The road out isn’t as twisty to the east and you soon get on roads which are more frequently punctuated by villages, but it’s still a nice run.

I’d taken a little longer than I planned up to the dam and at it, so I was thinking of ending the day with some expressway riding, and make use of the extension to the Ken O to Ebina and Chigasaki. It was a nice fast run, but there aren’t any services on it, so make sure you take a toilet break or have a drink before you get on! As a new road of course – and not busy when I got to it – the asphalt was beautifully smooth, and it was nice to watch houses and rice fields fly past (at the legal speed limit of course).

All in all, another great day out, and I’d go back to Ogouchi to be honest – great runs, friendly people to chat with on the way, and plenty of small places to stop and check out.

Here’s a few more pictures, which include the obligatory bike shot:

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Bike Trip to Tanzawa

I was looking for somewhere different to go on the bike for a few hours, and using a tried, trusted and very scientific method, I looked at my map to see where there were very few roads, thinking fewer roads meant a generally quieter area. It didn’t take more than a minute to see the Tanzawa area in central Kanagawa.  With all the research I needed done, I got a fresh flask of tea, the camera, hopped on the bike and off I went.

There’s a rough route here on Google Maps (I hope this works – it’s been a bit hit and miss lately):

There are actually several ways to get to where I needed to go, but I thought I’d get some faster roads in to warm up, and avoid some traffic, so I took the quick Fujisawa bypass down to the coast, did a little on the 134 before cutting north on the 61 up to Isehara. Isehara is a notable place for me since it’s where I lived for two years on my first tour in Japan, teaching English in schools on the JET programme. It seems not much has changed, a few new places, more car parks, but it still seems as nice a small town as it was.

Contrast that with Route 246 which is as comedically evil road out here in Kanagawa as it is in central Tokyo. It’s not a fun road on two wheels, but fortunately on this day, it wasn’t too bad, and most of the drivers were relatively sane.

It was route 70 I really wanted though, and the climb into the mountains aiming for the Yabitsu pass, so just before Hadano I made the right and began the ascent though increasingly relaxed housing, more fields and a great view of the mountains.

I’ll be honest, I somehow managed to take a wrong turn, for which I blame my being easily distracted by small and interesting looking roads. I realised my error when I… ran out of road.  This was to be something of a theme for the day.

No More Road

I soon got back on track, and onto the important job of loving the road and the scenery, it’s just a great little area to go and look it. It also seemed popular with cyclists.

There are a number of things to see along the way, some small shrines, which aren’t really notable, and a few viewing points, which give great vistas of the towns below.

tanzawa-tower1

There’s a small service area at the beginning of the Yabitsu Pass. OK, there are some vending machines and a toilet at the start of the Yabitsu Pass to be honest, but don’t worry about that, it’s fairly secluded, and offers just kilometre after kilometre of beautiful twisty roads, shaded tree cover, mountains, and small rivers running down these small valleys.

On the day I went there were also quite a few hikers which is great, but I noted many walked on the left, and not (per international convention I thought) facing oncoming traffic, which would be their right, so be careful on real hairpins, since not only could there be someone walking on the road, but they may well have their backs to you. I think  this was a bit of an issue for the cyclists a few times.

I love twisties, have I ever mentioned that? I don’t ride a bike for speed, I just like seeing what’s out there, meeting people at stops, and winding, winding roads, and this area is great for that.

There also seem to be a lot of camp sites around the area, so I’ve pencilled them in for next year.

As you come out from the Pass, you start to skirt Lake Miyagase, which looks stunning, and is actually a man made lake supplying water for much of east Kanagawa and Tokyo, so if you look carefully you can see dead trees just below and protruding through the water line.

The colour of the rocks, the water and the treeline just looks so different to many of Japan’s lakes, and is quite a contrast to the very green feel of the place.

tanzawa-lake2

The lake has several smaller rivers feeding it, so I chose a road that followed one which the map suggested ended closest to mount Tanzawa, and headed up. More twisties! There were some small collections of houses, presumably for farmers, and the required white kei vans, coming and going, and more and more, signs were for hikers, pointing out hiking routes and estimated walking times.  The roads started to get narrower, and there were more pieces of rocks and leaves in the middle.

Fishing River
Fishing River

Along the way I came across and angling farm, if that’s what they’re called, so I pulled over to have a look. At a turn in the river,  a makeshift gravel carpark (and BBQ spot I suspect) had been created and several pools with weirs of rock built for fishermen to fish their own spot.

tanzawa-fishing1

It looked like a lot of fun if that’s your thing, and each pond was well stocked. It looked a bit rigged if you know what I mean, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it. Yes, I know nothing about angling.

Further on, I made another wrong turn and hit another dead end, retraced my steps, and got back on route, and saw some beautiful waterfalls,  but it was increasingly obvious that the  road was not well travelled at this time of year – branches on the road, a rock slide, a stream flowing across it, and even a snake at one point. Some bent barriers also suggested a few drivers had been a little over enthusiastic on the corners.

I pushed on, taking care between the rocks, and trying to avoid branches in case they also turned out to be snakes, whilst at the same time trying to enjoy the view as the road was now quite high above the small river below.

Finally though, as all good things must come to an end,  this did in the shape of two large steel barriers across the road,  which didn’t entirely come as a surprise since the 50m of road up to them was basically a rock track.

tanzawa-bike1

That then I decided was the end of the run, and I headed back the way I came, stopping to take some photos of the lake, waving to a few bikers as they passed, and felt a little sad that this place was so close and yet I’d never ventured up here. I am planning to come back as part of a group next time, and perhaps we can try some other roads.

 

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Bike Trip to Manazuru

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been out on my bike for a run, rather than just running errands, and in fact, the last time, I just did old faithful – the Izu Skyline. This time I decided to blend the old and the new, so I took my favourite ocean-side route 134 down towards Odawara, and then go up the Hakone Turnpike. It used to be called the Toyo Tires Turnpike, but now it’s the Mazda Turnpike. At the lower entrance they basically changed one cheap sign for another. At the top, they’ve renamed the cafe area to the Mazda Skylounge, though aside from that, it’s business as usual – and there’s nothing wrong with that – a good chance to see people who love to get out on 2,3 or 4 wheels. I await a unicyclist at the SkyLounge for that single wheel addition.

Sat outside the SkyLounge, on one of the benches with a view down onto lake Ashinoko, I was drinking some tea from my flask, and leafing through my Mapple touring map book, trying to find somewhere I could do in a couple of hours, and be back home in the early afternoon. It just wasn’t going to be Izu again I’d decided. As I leafed through I noticed a small spit of land out into Sagami Bay, that just hadn’t registered with me before, I suspect as I’m usually on the coastal road, which lacks an exit near it – the small peninsula called Manazuru.


View Larger Map

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, first I needed to get from (A) The Mazda Skylounge, to (B) Manazuru. Fortunately for me, a nice way to get there is via Yugawara and Route 75, a playful twisty something, meandering down through the mountain valleys, with plenty of tree overhangs, shade, and more corners than you can shake a moderate sized stick at. It must be five years since I last used this road, and it’s a shame because it’s a lot of fun. At Yugawara, at the base of the 75, it’s a short jaunt on that 135 coast road, but you jump off before the toll and express routes, and then in my case, headed for Manazuru station. I was wondering how these roads were going to work, as on the map there seem to me a mass of turn-offs in front of Manazuru station – and there are. However, after years of tourists, they’ve got it organised, with colour coded lanes to take you to different areas. Fundamentally, the 739 road loops the peninsula, but near the cape (as it’s called) a smaller road breaks off, but this is one way, and quite narrow, which is a good thing, as it keeps traffic flowing safely.

manazuru-rockpool2

I stopped a couple of times along the road to watch people sea fish off the rocks, see the literally fresh fish being dried, and listen to the waves. Riding on though, and onto the one way loop through winding lanes, you finally get down to Manatsuru Cape itself, and a nice large tourist area with car parks and bus parking. From the building, you can get a great view of the bay, it’s very scenic, but I hadn’t come all this way to look at the Pacific from the top of the cliffs – I’d come to touch ocean, and see the shrine. Well, not so much a shrine but, well the photo explains it. As far as I can tell, it’s called ‘名勝三ツ石’ or Meishoumitsuishi. Literal translation – ‘A place of beauty with three rocks’.

manazuru-cape2

As you descend by the steps though, there’s a nice looking cafe. I can’t recommend anything from there, as I was a little early for it to open, but it looked very inviting, perched on the sloping rocks with a grand view of the ocean. At the base of the slope are some toilets, then the pebble beach. The large rocks at the end of the spit are often cut off from the coast when the tide is high, but when it’s low, you can walk out towards them on the rock causeway. You have to be careful on the rocks, and there are thousands of beetles and such, but it’s nice to get out around the waves, and if you’re up for it, try to catch some small fish or shellfish.

manazuru-cape3

The rocks themselves, between two two of which are stretched some Shinto based paper streamers on a long rope (called shime 標, or even a rope version shimenawa), look quite striking against the surf, and it’s easy to see how people living near here in times past would want to make an acknowledgement to the gods of the sea.  All it all, it’s quite a fetching place, and somewhere you can sit for a while and just look out over the vast Ocean. You’ll likely want that rest too, before the hike back up the steps.

manazuru-cape4

The building at the top of the cliffs is nice, but it’s nothing special, if you’ve seen one tourist targeting restaurant selling local food and trinkets, you’ve pretty much seen this one, but it’s got a great view, the menus seemed OK (again, it was too early to try), the staff were nice,   it had some nice places to sit outside, and vitally, the toilets were clean.

After I’d drunk some more tea on the lawn over the cliff, I could feel the bike calling me, so off I went again, giving cyclists plenty of space on the bumpy road, but actually not so far, as another building came into view, and in front of it, the Manazuru Fire Station, which is a simple building with large glass windows, showing off the single fire engine. It looked quite nice in it’s own way.

The building just behind it looks like a large converted house, in some old, and non-Japanese style; at first glance it looked almost south east Asian colonial – yes, I’m not much of an architectural scholar. In front of the house, what was once likely a large stately lawn, has been quite tastefully converted into a miniature golf course. Walk past this, through the palm trees, and again there’s a beautiful cliff-top view of the ocean. I think this is all a part of the number of hotel resort facilities in the area, for those who want to come down for several days.

manazuru-golfhouse1

There are lots of things to see on this peninsula actually – I’d quite like to come back for a full day and walk around a lot more to see more of them, and once you’re here, on foot is a good way to do it. Of course, two wheels are the best way to actually get here.

Manazuru My Map
Manazuru My Map

I made a Google Map link, as the image above is a grab – it didn’t want to show for some reason. However you get here though, the compactness of the area makes it worth the trip.

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Review: Why We Ride

I heard about ‘Why We Ride‘ in the middle of 2013; it’s ostensibly a documentary of sorts about why people ride and love to ride motorbikes. I love riding my motorbike, if that’s any kind of caveat, but that’s not actually why I bought the film, or what this review is about. Also, I’m reviewing the 2,000yen iTunes HD movie, not the BluRay/DVDs version.

To cover the structure, it’s beautifully shot, the camera work and direction are top notch, the soundtrack is fantastic, and as it lacks a central  narrator, the narrative is done via the people being interviewed. One trick the director uses is to not introduce the people speaking, until a sequence which closes the movie. I think this is so as to not distract you and focus on what they say, but I found it a bit confusing in places, because I like to know who is talking, and the end roll, whilst a good idea, comes off as a little bit clumsy in places by comparison.

As you can see from the trailer, it looks beautiful, and whilst much of the road footage looks good, the staged ‘bikers helping each other’ section looks a bit overly staged, and wasn’t really needed. That said, there are some wonderful pieces from the Bonneville salt flats, which reminded me that anyone can go out there and try their bike out, and the place looks truly extraordinary. There is also some time spent looking at training classes, and other skills based exercises, which fit with the theme the film has that motorbiking isn’t the outlaw groups some imagine, and it hits on the old Honda ‘you meet the nicest people on a Honda’ campaign, to show that to an extent motorbiking has grown up, though it goes without saying that it still has a sharper edge.

The film follows some of the history of American biking icons, like Daytona, some of the dirt tracks, some famous figures, and biker culture over the years, including events like the Sturgiss Rally.  One issue then for non-Americans then is that it can seem a bit disconnected. As a non-American myself, I understand the allure of biking to be universal, and some of the background on Daytona to be interesting and informative, but as I don’t follow American motorsports, I didn’t know who some people were, or their larger relevance. It’s not a criticism, just an observation. It’s also odd that they discuss European biking and MotoGP, but don’t seem to interview or go into that at all.

One person I did recognise, and I think the one who came over very well, is Ted Simon, of Jupitalia fame. I’ve read his books, and he’s a fascinating man, whose dual round the world trips inspired the Long Way Round & Down series. As ever his insight was concise and based on personal experience of going around the planet on a bike. I’m biased though; everything he says I find to be interesting.

Even if I didn’t know some of the people, or the relevance of their achievements, the key is really the points they make, there’s a focus on those women who ride, both now, and those who have ridden their whole lives, and how it’s not just about riding pillion, but being the rider. There’s a lot from kids and how they’re safely and constructively introduced to motorbikes, and thus the family and community built around it. It’s endearing to be sure, and so it’s not so much a documentary as a rallying call for those who already ride, and something of an advert perhaps to those who don’t, mainly though it’s about the people – some are champions, some of just people who like to get out on the open road.

One interesting aspect not discussed, but just something I noticed in the shots themselves are the split in those wearing helmets, and those who aren’t. It’s an issue to some, not to others, but in a documentary trying to show how safe and responsible it’s participants are, it’s interesting to see no discussion on this, and plenty of comments about feeling wind in your hair.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always worn a full face helmet on scooters/motorbikes, though I don’t mind what other people choose to wear – its a personal choice, sometimes with personal consequences either way. I remember riding 50cc Zoomers around packed Tokyo streets at night, and how bad the taxi drivers were and how close those trucks got, so any additional protection was a good idea for me. I know in America helmet laws vary by state, but in many European countries (and here in Japan) they’re mandatory.

So who is this targeted at? People who currently have a motorbike for sure, it may also coax some people back, and perhaps get some new converts, or re-assure people they can still ride. Truthfully, I think you could expand that to people who like to see some great cinematography, and listen to people who truly love doing something. In that aspect, it reminds me of the snowboard film “Art of Flight“.

It’s nice it covers so many branches of the biking community – it’s not all speed freaks, or custom bikes, or off-road, it’s a collection of different riders, and so does live up to it’s title, why we ride.

Another quick trip to Chiba

Now and then, I like I take a day to go over the bay to Chiba and just run some of the twisties on that peninsula on the motorbike. It was a nice day, and after a 7am start, took a relaxing ride down the coastal road to Kurihama to meet a friend, and take the ferry over – just a nice relaxing 40 minute boat ride, and time for a chat and a cup of tea on the way over. There’s usually a few bikers on this ferry, and a decent percentage on dirt bikes, as Boso apparently has quite a few kilometres of off-road for those so inclined.

My friend was looking to give his new Triumph Tiger Explorer a good run on some twisties, and I was looking to simply have a more successful run than last time. When we came over in March, we had stopped for a traffic light when some genius in an SUV rammed my bike, forcing me almost 10 metres forward and effectively stopping the run before lunch. That day, dealing with the police and the hospital meant we’d lost most of the day, but with bits taped up on my bike, the police at least let me ride it home.

On the Ferry Again
On the Ferry Again

For some reason, I get a really simple pleasure from riding my bike on and off ferries, and we found some great little twisties along the way, very little traffic, some nice views, and generally had a good time.

We stopped for lunch, originally intending to eat at an Italian restaurant we saw, but it turned out – after we’d walked in – that it was closed; generally unless there’s a sign outside saying “Closed”, I work on the theory a place is open. Anyway, it wasn’t, but the upside was that the neighbouring ramen place was, so we settled for that, and in a great piece of serendipity, the place turned out to be fantastic and quite cheap. Getting good food on a run is always good, with the bonus that you can balance your expanded stomach on the tank when you set off again. The only downside – I lost the receipt and forgot to mark the place on my map.

Ramen For Lunch
Ramen For Lunch

The Boso area is very different to the crowded urban Chiba bordering Tokyo; where we were it was very rural, lots of fields and hills, though I got this sense that it’s faintly run down – we passed a lot of abadoned or disused buildings, and it seemed like a lot of the petrol stations had closed. I wonder how the local economy is faring nowadays since so much seemed to hark back to the bubble of almost two decades ago.

Rural Chiba
Rural Chiba

As the afternoon moved on though, the weather began to close in a little, and we opted for coming back via the Aqualine, a part bridge, part tunnel connector between Yokohama and the Boso peninsula.

I have to admit, I don’t especially like the 4Km bridge section – it’s across Tokyo Bay, it can be windy, there’s a lot of fast, big traffic, and even in good weather, it’s not so fun on a smaller (400cc) naked bike. The weather was getting worse too.

As the road goes from the bridge section on the Chiba side, to the tunnel section on the Yokohama side, there’s a very large service area called Umihotaru, which is on a man-made island. It’s basically a multistorey car park and shopping centre, well known as a bit of a date spot. We weren’t on a date, but we did stop off, if only to have a last warm drink before the last 50Km run home.

It was also raining by then, which is no real problem – the rain gear is always under the seat – but the wind was also picking up, so we got the rain gear on, and headed down in to the tunnel, then broke off from each other as I headed to the west.

My route takes me over a lot of bridges, skirting the coastal industrial areas which means a lot of wind and large lorries, but not usually anything dangerous. The wind was really cranking up though, and I was having to lean the bike into it, hunkering down low over the tank, and trying not to let the bike veer too much from my line as some cars were passing just off to my right, not really judging it well (I could easily touch a lot of wing mirrors), and then the rain started coming down.

In these conditions, on this 80Km/h road, I usually drop it down a gear, keep the revs up, and go down to about 60 Km/h, meaning that usually there are people still blasting past me and probably cursing this biker who is making them actually maneouver their nice wind shielded, dry cars.

Over one bridge and the innevitable swirling of wind around the large bridge towers, and I noticed that no one is passing me any more, but I’m still the same distance behind a tanker in front of me, so I have a look around, and it seems like this weather isn’t just affecting me – everyone is going 55 – 60 Km/h. Nice to know I’m not the only one having to be careful. After about 30 minutes the road took me a little further inland, giving some protection from the wind, to sit up a little more, increase some speed, and not have to lean in so much. I ride year round, and try to be wary of ice and such, but one thing I think I handle better now than previous years is riding in the wind – revs up, tank gripped with the old legs, arms relaxed, and hunker down over the tank.

It was nice to quietly roll up the hill to the house, a little tired from holding the bike through what seemed like the edge of a decent sized storm, but I think it was another good day out if only because it was good to feel like my biking ability had improved a bit through the twisties and that weather, which is always a good thing.
[Run length only ~260Km + ferry]

New Tyres – Michelin Pilot Road 2

I’ve discovered that one of the few downsides to owning a very reliable motorbike is that even though you do the regular checks on it, there are times where you think, “When was the last time I checked that?”. For me recently that was the tyres, as I knew they’d been on quite a few years, so I did a close inspection, and whilst they had wear left, there was a small amount of crazing in some of the tread, and since I actually have a lot of riding to do over the winter, I decided it was time to swap them out.

I asked around, checked in on GaijinRiders and I was actually surprised that for the two things I needed to know, I was getting quite a few people saying the same thing – for my bike and riding style, the Michelin Pilot Road 2 tyres would fit the bill, and the best place to get them fitted was a small shop in Setagaya in Tokyo called Speed Stars.

I called them a couple of days before to confirm the tyre and the dimensions, and they’d said they’d need to order the tyres in, which I thought might mean a week or so wait – actually it would be the next evening. That’s just good service and market knowledge.

The shop is about an hour from me, but it’s a decent run on a good road, so no problems there. The day I went the weather was miserable and raining, but I’m an all weather rider, so I got on the rain gear and the trusty 2006 Honda CB400 SF to make the run.

The SpeedStar people come across as really friendly, and had the job done in less than an hour. I’d actually arrived a few minutes after they opened and there was already a couple of people in – I get the feeling this place is really popular. I waited in the adjoining cafe they own, where the staff were friendly, even showing me around her own bike (a nice Harley) and chatted until the new tyres were on. They’ve got a very nice atmosphere there, and it’s the kind of place which is worth stopping in if you happen to be passing in Setagaya.  The pricing was good too – cheaper than NAPS, and there’s a small discount for paying cash, but even if NAPS were a little cheaper, I’d still go to SpeedStar just for the people and service.

bike-newtyres

I’ve now done a few hundred kilometers on the Road Pilot 2s, and they really area a good tyre – very stable with good cornering and you can really feel the improved rolling characteristics over the old Battlax. That cornering is going to be important – I love riding the twisties.

I’m looking forward to getting a few thousand more kilos under these.

Tokyo Toy Run 2012

Another December means another opportunity to do a Toy Run. Bottom line: a bunch of bikers get together, deck the bikes with tinsel , dress up as Father Christmas, and go and spend the day with some kids at a couple of local Childrens Homes.

I wrote up the previous ones from 2009, 2010 and 2011, which were all a little different, but equally fun. This year was no exception; due to some scheduling issues with one of the homes, we decided to take the whole group to both homes in one day, instead of splitting the group. We also changed the meet up point from Tokyo, to the Ebina service area in Kanagawa, to allow for more pillion riders, and to make some of the logistics for non Tokyo riders, that little bit simpler. In the end, these all turned out to be great decisions.

We always manage to score great weather, and I rode the 45Km up to the Ebina SA (I live much closer, but took a long route to get in the right direction) with my Santa outfit on, and the bike all decked out, so I was getting looks and waves from kids in passing cars, and even a request for a present from a guy on a construction site whilst I was waiting at some traffic lights. It was cold, very cold, but a beautiful day, with bright blue skies. It’s also worth noting that a Santa hat and beard securely fastened to your safety approved helmet is about as aerodynamic as a big pillow on an expressway.

Santa on a 400cc
Santa on a 400cc

Ahead of schedule I met up with the riders already at the meet-up point, and we were already getting a lot of questions and requests for photos from just members of the public passing through what is a busy rest area on the Tomei Expressway, even at 9am on a Sunday morning.

Half the group ready to roll
Half the group ready to roll

We cruised out of there to a fair smattering of applause, and a lot of very curious looks as perhaps thirty plus bikes snaked our way onto the Expressway to make our way down to the the first children’s home. On the short video below, we went through one toll booth and there was a Police bike parked near it and he really didn’t know what to make of it. Shame he couldn’t join in.

Near the first home, we met up with some others who were joining from a different route, and all together we rolled in, and the kids loved it. Whilst some of us played games with the kids, we ate some soup and some pizza, handed out the gifts, and some of the kids got rides on the back of some of the bikes.

After a couple of hours, we were off again to the second home, making our way down the coastal road, getting a lot of waves from fellow bikers, as it’s a really popular route. The second place is a little smaller, so we were cramming the bikes in, but the kids there are great too, and they’d also made some good soup, and cooked up some pizzas we’d brought, in a home made pizza oven, and we stood and chatted, played bingo and let them take the tinsel off a lot of the bikes.

We learned quickly that the gifts are important, but the kids really like the bikes, chatting with us, wearing the Santa outfits, and really just having a bit of a party, which is what it’s all about. It’s sometimes amazing how the kids are growing up too, and some are getting jobs, and the small ones, just babies in 2009, are now walking and talking. It must be a difficult start for some of them, but I think these kids are going to make a really good go of life, and I hope next year they let us come back again, and see if we can make it that little bit better once more.