Nanikore’s Podcasts – Motorcycling

I have a bit of a commute for my job, so I’ve tried to find different ways to make use of the time in a more constructive manner, and one of those ways is to listen to podcasts.  As I have quite a few on my list right now, I thought I’d break this up into two posts – ‘Motorcycles’ and ‘The Rest’.  As an aside, I’m currently running a cheaper Android phone (a Lenovo Moto G5+) and the DoggCatcher podcatching app. (I did a round-up of my podcasts in 2009 and 2011; a few I still listen to, some have gone away.)  Anyway, on with the list:

Adventure Rider Radio RAW – Out of Canada, this is a monthly panel show, usually running 90-120 mins. of experienced overlanders discussing situations, kit, their books etc..  I’ve not done anywhere near the travelling they have, but it’s often interesting for tips and funny anecdotes, as well as differing perspectives on how to travel for long periods. The same production team also make the weekly Adventure Rider Radio, but this can be hit and miss as there can be a lot of native advertising in some episodes – probably worth a try though.

Front End Chatter – Two motorcycle journalists from the UK discuss street bikes as well as some racing content and usually runs for 60-90mins every two weeks. There’s a lot of light banter and some very decent Q&A in most episodes.

Two Enthusiasts – Two American chaps, based out of the Pacific north west of the US discuss bikes, with a slant to technology and the motorcycle industry itself. This is an extension of the usually decent news website Asphalt and Rubber, and each episode goes for  between 60-90 minutes.

Moterrific – Two American ladies this time make this podcast on a semi-regular monthly schedule, with each episode running around 60-80mins. They discuss areas to ride, gear, and dip in to some of the challenges women face in the hobby from perception, to decent gear, to bike height.

Tabibike Ladies Bike – A Japanese podcast which doubles up as both motorbike podcast and Japanese study for me, where the two hosts discuss bikes as well as bike culture, all the way into food and happenings during rides.  This podcast is a little shorter at around 40 minutes per episode.

So those are the ones I’m currently listening to, but feel free to recommend others.

Review: The Fourth Phase

The Fourth Phase is the third snowboard focused film / travelogue from Brain Farm, mainly featuring the ideas and riding of Travis Rice and  friends.

The very short version:  It’s a well shot video of snowboarding and life following the water cycle across the north Pacific with some wit and wisdom from Travis Rice and friends thrown in. I enjoyed it the first time around on my home BD / TV, and I even enjoyed it second time around on my phone during my commute into Tokyo.  It’s re-watchable.

The Nighter

Still reading? Thanks, here’s the slightly longer version.

This video came five years after the excellent Art of Flight (2011), and almost nine since That’s it, That’s all (2008). I recommend both of those previous ones by the way.

It notionally follows the cycle of water around the north Pacific, meaning it starts in Wyoming (as ever with a Travis Rice part), then scoots via Travis’ catamaran across the Pacific to Japan, then to Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands in Russia, before heading back to Alaska.  The Fourth Phase of the title alludes to some wonderful property water possesses beyond solid, liquid and gaseous phases, derived from the book by Gerald H. Pollack.

That’s the metaphysical bit behind the title, but what about the film itself?

Compared to Art of Flight, there are fewer of the epic slow-motion and dolly shots, and more point-of-view and drone footage. That’s not a bad thing in my opinion, making it feel more personal. As for the other personnel, there are a few guests per region, but it’s anchored around Travis Rice and Mark Landvik. They’re both personable on screen, whereas some of the other riders look overly self conscious. Landvik always comes across well I think, so a good choice there, especially as things develop, but there needed to be more of them together.

Fire Festival
Fire Festival

The time in Japan I especially liked. I’m biased I know as I live and snowboard here, but those scenes more completely captured what it’s about – great tree runs, hikes out, the very surreal feel in the countryside during the epic amounts of powder snow and deluges of water the islands get, and the people who live in the mountain regions. The standouts were the fire festival footage, and the eerie illuminated night tree-runs, so well done to the team for the location work and cinematography.

Music is always a key part of snowboarding videos, and this one moves from classical to rock to synth pop, and it broadly works, though some bits don’t seem to work as well as others. The orchestral sections in Russia are excellent for example, but some of the synth-pop for the Japan sections seemed a little disconnected to the visuals. Much of the soundtrack was done by musician Kishi Bashi.

The Russian section is interesting even if there isn’t so much riding, just through the geography of the place, yet there are snowboarders there, even if the set-piece of the crew giving some local kids a board feels a little clumsy, a bit more explaining what the local boarder community is up to would have been more useful than the surf scene, which whilst fun, didn’t really add as much as more with the local kids would have.

There is of course plenty of big mountain riding, hikes, great heli-drops and at least a few nice ramps.  There’s also the hospital section which is now either a requirement or a tradition at this point.

One minor disappointment with the BD version I have are the extras – not as many fun outtakes as previous discs, and even the behind the scenes sections seemed a little forced.

If you see reviews, reception was mixed – maybe they wanted Art of Flight 2  which is a little unlikely as this wasn’t directed by Curt Morgan, it was from Jon Klaczkiewicz,  and as I understand it, there was an Art of Flight series which should’ve covered that?

I think there’s a few things going on here.

Firstly, as this is built around Travis Rice, he’s getting older, and whilst he brought other younger riders in, this is more about his thought process, and what he’s into, which was doing runs he hadn’t done before. Yes, his first world philosophizing about being a seeker is a little cringe inducing, but you can tell he believes it and to his credit, is getting out there and doing it.

Also, given all the snowboard videos available online these days, it’s difficult to know if the sponsors would go for yet another flurry of epic jumps in Alaska by itself, or whether Red Bull, GoPro, Skullcandy and all the other very obvious sponsors would want to do that, given they’re already saturating those markets online.

On the ‘missed opportunities’ side, I actually wanted to see a bit more of Travis Rice on the catamaran, beyond the philosophizing, actually following this water cycle the premise hangs on.  I’m always keen to hear more from Brian Iguchi too, who just seems like a very calm chap to sit down with.

Ultimately it’s a great film to watch but it’s straddling two different genres – it’s not an hour and a half of shredding and epic jumps, but it’s not really a travelogue either since there really isn’t enough about what happens locally – even the Russian shutout wasn’t really explained for example.

If you want straight riding and tricks with the odd laugh, probably better to go back to That’s It, That’s All in this series.

 

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The Working Monkeys (and Motorbikes) of Nagano

We were up in Shiga Kogen (Nagano Prefecture) again a few weeks ago for yet more snow fun,  and decided to go and see the famous snow monkeys in the hot spa pools of Jigokudani Park, since we were in the area and hadn’t been before. There are a million or so amazing photos of these monkeys around the internet so I won’t post any of my own of them, but instead, a couple of the valley running through part of the park to give you an idea of what it looks like when you take a step back.

The park is actually a ~1.6Km walk from the car park area to the monkeys, and  requires a fee of ~800yen per person to get in to see them, so be aware.  The walk up is through a beautiful valley side though, a long, winding, if somewhat icy track, which is quite relaxing. At the base of the stairs which mark the final few hundred metres, there’s a group of old traditional houses and a steam geyser – and the occasional naked man in an outdoor bath (routenburo) if that’s your thing!

You can see above where most of those amazing photos actually happen. It’s not always this crowded though, if you take a look at the webcams when they’re live, it’s often fairly empty. It is of course well staged – the monkeys are fed by the park staff to encourage them to come down, though guests are understandably discouraged from feeding the monkeys. As someone who has had a close face-to-face encounter with an adult male snow monkey in a carpark on a previous snow trip, I can vouch for not getting too close.

Also of interest to me was a group of old, and somewhat battered looking motorcycles down by the track, some Honda (Super) Cubs and an old CD90, all muddied up and with chains on for the snow, ice and mud. They look like they’ d seen some fun for sure. They seem to be used for running basic deliveries, and I dare say they’re probably road legal, but sadly there were no owners around I could ask. Definitely the types of vehicles you want for this terrain.

Protecting a Motorcycle the Traditional Way

A modern motorcycle has a number of safety systems built into it to help the rider stay safe, but we all know you’re also at the mercy of the other person and the universe in general. Insurance helps for sure after the event, but what if you need that little extra protection avoiding an accident?

Here in Japan we can also call upon the gods, and get ourselves an O-mamori [守り]. These are small amulets,  commonly looking like small bags, which are purchased from shrines, and intended to bring good fortune or ward off evil and bad luck. The bag usually contains something which has been blessed, for want of a better term – I don’t know what’s in mine since part of the deal is that you don’t open it.

I had an omamori bought for me from a local Shinto shrine, and I now have it safely tied on under my motorcycle seat, to help ward off crazy minivan drivers, Prius drivers, and all the others who seem to forget there are vehicles with less than four wheels. This one then is of the traffic safety or koutsuu anzen variety, and let’s hope it serves its purpose!

Omamori

Shimoda and the Hosono Highlands

There’s a little known requirement that you have to go on a full day out on your motorbike within a week of getting it.

Actually, that’s not true. But it should be true.

To do my part then, I decided to take a day off and ride down the Pacific coastal roads to the southern end of the Izu peninsula, to Shimoda.

I love coastal roads; just riding along, with the vast ocean on one side – hopefully with a sturdy looking metal barrier between you and the cliff down to that ocean – and a rising mountain on the other.

If this sounds good to you, then welcome, and come on down to Routes 134 & 135 on Japan’s Pacific coast.

Down the Coast

The day started at around 7am, I’d gotten all my layers on,  and warmed the bike up a little too, and then made sure I had a hot flask of tea in my backpack. The sky was a perfect blue, with almost no cloud, bright sunshine, and most importantly at that time – no ice or dampness on the road.

Since I was exploring the new Yamaha as well as the road, I decided to give one of the ‘other’ riding modes a shot – it has A, B and Standard. I’d only been using standard up until now, but decided to give ‘B’ a try as this is intended as the smoother, power-reduced rain mode. I thought that would give a nice gentle start to the day. Indeed it is exactly what that suggests – it’s smooth – it really is a wonderful mode to start the day on. It still pulls, there’s still the torque, but it’s like it’s massaging you into the ride.

The coastal road I take is a toll road, it’s true, but raised up, you get to look down on to the beach and the rivers flowing into the ocean as the sunrise hits the beach and you get to see the sun on the side of Fuji-san, all snow capped, before looking left again at the handful of surfers and fishing enthusiasts casting out from the beach.  Part way along this straight section is the Seisho Bypass Service Area (SA). It’s often a big meeting spot for motorcycle groups, but as I approached it I didn’t see a single bike unfortunately, so I passed it by this time. When I’m riding alone, if I see some people in there, I’ll sometimes stop off for a chat and exchange route ideas and good stopping points – but not today!

There was something of a cross-wind on the road, but unlike the old Honda, this was much less tiring (and chilling) thanks to just the small amount of fairing and screen on the Tracer, and the bike held its speed more consistently.

Once you get a little past Hayakawa at the west end of the road, the twisties start kicking in, rising and falling around the cliff edges, switching from cliff cutout roads, to short bridge sections seamlessly.  It’s fun.  Again, there’s a choice of free roads with a little more traffic, or toll roads, with a little more flow.  Be aware some of these toll roads are not ETC/NEXCO ones, you need to stop and pay, a bit like the Izu Skyline.

The road takes you down past coastal towns like Manazuru, Atami and Ito, but as I rode along I saw a couple of small signs for some place called ‘Hosono Highlands’, which sounded interesting, so I turned up an already narrow road, up into the hills, where the road gave way to a narrow, barely paved forest track, past some camping and cabin areas, before popping out into a clearing with what looked like some brand new parking spaces – the Hosono Highlands!

Hosono Highlands

I parked up, and was having a nice cup of two when a couple of cars pulled up coming the other way, and out jumped eight retired people, who made a bee-line for the bike and we spoke for about ten minutes about why we were all here – they had planned to come up, to see the highlands, whereas I was there almost by accident. We also discussed whether Japan still makes good motorbikes (they do), whether English is difficult to learn (it is), and after a swift toilet break, they jumped back in their cars and left.  One of the drivers had commented the road extended further up in to the the mountain, past a golf course, to the wind turbines I could see higher up.

It looked like a nice road, so after pondering the view, I decided to go up a bit further. For about a kilometre it a was fun, cracked road surface, steep inclines and corners, with autumnal leaf-fall and branch debris here and there, so it took some concentration.

Anyhow, I came around a corner into a shady wooded area and saw what looked like a run-off stream actively flowing across the road. Not so unusual in the hills around here, but only when I was too close to it did I realise from the reflections that it was actually solid ice.

Pants.

All I could do was make no change to my speed or direction and hope I was balanced enough to get over. Fortunately it seemed I was, though for a second or two I could feel the ice passing under the tyres, but my momentum carried me over.  I decided to get off and take a look at how this thing had duped me, and sure enough the water had frozen in rivulets rather than as a flat sheet, and was well over a centimeter thick even at its thinnest point. I decided then it was better to GPS mark the road, and come back to do it in the Spring, rather than have less luck further up!

Hosono Highlands

Fortunately, those leaves and such at the side of the road had virtually no ice on them, and so it was quite simple to walk the bike back down that way, bypassing the frozen stream. It was disappointing, but that road will make a nice addition to a future day out on warmer days.

Back down to the coast road, and more great views and soon another small road, this time down to a beach, which, given that it was about 5degC., was pretty much deserted. However, given the blue skies and sunshine, if you didn’t know that, you could think from a photograph it was a wonderful Summers day.

It’s called Sotoura Beach, and when the weather gets a little warmer, has quite a good crowd down there. On this day though, it was just me, and some fisherman repairing nets in the small harbour nearby.

The Beach

(Note that in a few photos my bike looks like it is on sand – it isn’t – I walked out to check the area and found it was actually an old asphalt car park with a very thin layer of sand and gravel on it.)

After another cup of tea just looking at that blue ocean, I pushed on just a few more kilometres to my lunch spot, the appropriately named Cafe Mellow, which is next to a small hotel we’ve often stayed at, called Ernest House.

 

[As this post is a little long,  I won’t fully recount the trip back, which was yet more happy riding, avoiding some bad drivers, and getting to test the headlights out. I’ll also see if I can get a short road video together for it.  After 350Km that day, I have to say, I’m really pleased with the Tracer for sure. ]

 

 

 

 

 

The Yamaha (MT-09) Tracer

In July 2006, just after buying a Honda CB400 Super Four, I wrote:

I wont be able to afford a new one any time soon, so I’m hoping it’s as reliable as people say.

That time turned out to be ten and a half years, as today, after a lot of saving and the trade-in, I took ownership of a Yamaha MT-09 Tracer!

MT-09Tracer
MT-09Tracer

Yes, I know it’s quite angular, as is the way with the Yamaha MT series, but it’s an incredibly fun bike to ride, with a growling three cylinder engine, and yes, it has some (unnecessary?) horsepower, but for me it’s all about that sound, and the torque from that engine, which perhaps given my … er … mass, was sometimes lacking at times on the Honda. It’s very easy to ride, and today I just stretched its legs a little on some expressways, before taking it down the narrow and busy roads around our station; and it was superb on both.

Too many differences to go into here, but just in today’s ~50Km, it assured me that this is another great bike. That said, “I wont be able to afford a new one any time soon, so I’m hoping it’s as reliable as people say.”

(For the record, the Honda was superbly reliable).

 

明けましておめでとうございます 2017

Happy New Year 2017. This year, for the first time in 9 years, I was back in the UK for Xmas and New Year, and much of that was on the road, so this post is a little late.

New Year was a more UK style ‘drinks at midnight’ affair with the family, and though I was planning a hatsuhinode morning sunrise viewing, heavy cloud and rain put an end to that unfortunately.

We’re now back in Japan, so there are some New Year traditions to sort out this weekend, then it’s figuring out snowboarding trips and potentially, a change of motorbike.

All the best to everyone for 2017.

Last Fireworks of the ‘Summer’

A few weeks ago we were down at the beach near Enoshima, where it was the closing hanabi of the Summer festival season – yes, in October. I think it’s one of the last formal fireworks events in Shonan for the year, and it attracted several thousand people, on the beach and the strip of grass and parks between the beach and the main coastal road.

The whole thing went for just under an hour, a little longer than normal, but not as long as some of the big ones around Japan. The atmosphere was great though; there’s just something relaxing about being down by the beach, sitting around and watching fireworks – and quite a few people were finishing off BBQs.

When the fireworks finished, in an impressive finale, there was a generous round of applause. It was also good that  had quite a few designs I hadn’t seen before, and there were fewer ‘character’ based ones like Doraemon, which I find a little cheap.

I should say, I’m awful at taking pictures of fireworks, mainly because I’m, you know, busy watching them instead of getting the camera right. Instead of a shakey and blurry picture of fireworks then, I thought I’d put in an equally generic photo of sunset around Fuji from Enoshima I took as we were waiting, and a short video as I was testing out my new GoPro.

Fuji from the beach
Fuji from the beach

To give a rough idea, here’s a 60 second video of the finale, though if you look around the net, there are much better examples!

Halloween on Halloween

halloween

Since it’s Hallowe’en, I thought I’d break out my DVD of John Carpenter’s original Halloween film, in its Extended Edition which is basically the original film, with some extra bits which were shot for the TV release spliced in. I doubt it has much effect on the film.

Despite being released in 1978, I think it stands up very well today, likely because it’s a sparse film – not many locations or actors, and it doesn’t try to show or explain too much.

I won’t give the story away, since it’s one of the original great slasher films, but it’s easy to say it’s a jump-scare film, though I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate since many of the scare scenes are mostly with protagonist Michael Myers in the background, or shadow, or perhaps not even in that shot. It tends to build up of the “he’s behind you” scare type, and there’s little on screen blood. It’s also nice how John Carpenter lingers in many shots to add to the creepiness level.

I always wonder what the police chief and Myers’ doctor, Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasance are doing for much of the film. It seems they spend most of it just waiting, or in the police chief’s case, just driving around, but somehow it pays off.

You’ll love how the high-school students look a little too old to be high-school kids (star Jamie Lee-Curtis was ~20), but that’s fine, and it’s good to see the female lead fight her way out for the most part, whilst still earning Lee-Curtis the ‘scream queen’ tag. Be ready too for socially acceptable drink driving and smoking, and marvel at how child-sitting really works. Ah, the old days.

This obviously then is not a review, just to pass on that if you have the opportunity, perhaps have a watch of an old horror classic.

halloween
halloween

If you want to see a quick video review of the film, or one of so many other horror films, wander over to Cinemassacre.com which has a great selection.