A few weeks ago I had the great opportunity to watch the final night of this years Keirin racing with my friend Wada. We met at the station in Kawasaki and hopped on a bus that brought us to the Keirin Velodrome.
Keirin is a sport that I knew nothing about until coming to Japan, and I've spent the past few months piecing together information about it from conversations and a few articles I've read.
For a rundown of the basics check out our friend wikipedia.

An interesting thing about Keirin is that all of the velodromes are owned by the Japanese government, and the races are managed by them as well. Because of this the sport hasn't changed or evolved the way it might otherwise. Keirin is unique in that steel framed bikes are the only bikes allowed in the races, which has the unique affect of preserving the handmade track bike industry in Japan. Where many frame handmade steel frame builders may have gone out of business, Keirin's constant demand for traditional track bikes has kept the Japanese industry alive. Names such as Revel and Nagasawa are very famous and have an incredible reputation for quality.

Entering the velodrome and watching the races was a bit saddening actually. The facilities were massive, but in disrepair, and it was obvious that Keirin's popularity had waned so that even on the night of the years final races, the stands were essentially empty.The other saddening aspect was the betting. It was obvious that except for Wada and me nobody was there to appreciate cycling or the amazing speed of the keirin athletes. The spectators were all men with "sad eyes", as Wada put it, and many of them didn't even leave the betting booths but just watched the numbers and statistics flash across the television screens, tickets clutched in their hands. The comparisons to a horse race are many and kind of disgusting.
The betting sheet was filled with information to help us decide who to place our meager 100yen bets on. Things like past record, gear ratio, age, etc were all posted. The age difference in some of the racers was massive! Some were in their late 40s!
For details on the different bets you can place, check out the afore mentioned wiki article.
We didn't win anything, and I think I was bad luck because Wada said as we left that he usually wins at least once in a night of races. The returns are pretty low on a 100yen bet anyhow. :-)
Here's a poor video of the racers,

Keirin Clip from Spencer Hawkes on Vimeo.

I really enjoyed the evening, but not because the betting or racing was even particularly interesting, but more because I was able to get a peek into an aspect of bicycle culture I never new existed.
If you've been to Keirin let me know if you agree or disagree with my comments.

Ride smart this week,
I've been learning about helmet laws and safety statistics this week, so more posts (and controversial at that) to come!


Polo sketch 2

Another sketch of bike polo
There will be more polo drawings I'm sure.

千葉 Bike Polo Sketch

A quick sketch this evening.
I'd like to do a series of polo drawings.

Chiba Hardcourt Bike Polo



Recent Fooling Around

A few drawings from life and my mind.
excuse the poor quality of the drawings and blame the photographer....

Thanks to Anthony and Jake, who unknowingly through their blogs have inspired more comics and memory sketches.

More bike posts on the way as soon as I get my thoughts organized,
in the meantime, enjoy fall (not winter)



Streets and Cars and Life

If you haven't heard of livable streets, then you should check it out, and you can start with this great video!
This is not new stuff, it just needs more attention.

Revisiting Donald Appleyard's Livable Streets from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

It's wonderful to see data collected that reflects what people all can feel, but is hard to structure into something that a town council or government would consider basing infrastructure plans around.
Show this to people you love!


Greenways in Portland

One of the reasons I love Portland.

Portland's Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

I hope your city is working to make the streets safe for everyone.



round and round

Seen at the Bicycle Film Festival Block Party, Halloween 2010, Tokyo,

Halloween BMX Spin from Spencer Hawkes on Vimeo.




Quick Polo Video

Lots of Tokyo guys came out to play in Makuhari with us today,
here's some of the action.

Bike Polo 4 Makuhari from Spencer Hawkes on Vimeo.



Sports, Sports, Sports Bikes

That's mostly what I saw at Cycle Mode International today. This was my first 'trade show' (I don't ACTUALLY know what that means) and I spent most of my time looking for things that weren't covered in decals, ugly, and over 2,000$. I was barely successful.I was lucky to find a small booth where a wonderful sage of a Japanese man was displaying his handmade bicycles! Fortunately for me he speaks English quite well and we chatted about bike culture in Japan and America. Kazusuke is his name and he has been writing about bikes for over 30 years, recently publishing a book on the history of the bicycle (which he showed me, confessing he hadn't bothered to translate it into English yet) Wearing a tweed coat, black and white beard and glasses, standing behind 2 beautiful antique replicas, I felt like I had hopped into another century. Startlingly he invited me to send him an e-mail to meet up sometime and he'd show me around by bike and go out 'for tea'. He even said he'd lone me a bike for the ride, which I will surely take him up on.(This great frame is a double top tube and diamond frame with a slight upward curve going into the stem with advantages that Kazusuke explained in detail)

Other than Kazusuke's bikes (he has yet to have an official brand name yet, but said he was going to call them ’bizen’, the name of a type of Japanese sword, and made up of the characters 'beauty' and 'truth' 美全) there wasn't much in the enormous hall that sparked my attention. I did hop on a carbon frame for the first time and race around the track they had set up. Very smooth.Osso bikes had an interesting set up with a live DJ mixing music and an artist doing bike related designs on an overhead that someone else was distorting in kind of a kaleidescopic way. Although the display was mostly geared toward those who like their gears fixed and single, the creative media is worth mentioning. There were also a bunch of interesting folding bikes and one really crazy recumbent with a rather complicated chain get up. (the bike was a prototype, and that foot is not the rider's.)

Mont Bell and Columbia also had camping gear and some bike clothing, but there was an absence of hybrid work/bike clothing and what some would call 'lifestyle' bikes that was kind of disappointing. I think if I'm to get excited by anything in the commercial bike world it's going to be new marketable products that get more people on bicycles and try to bridge the gap between riding and living. I can appreciate individual racers, fixed gearers, bmx-persons, etc but huge companies promoting their products repulses me a bit, and I find myself talking with people in tweed instead of snapping photos of the latest release from Eddy Merckx. (there was a bicycle fashion show going on as well with a runway and everything! ah spandex...)
So in conclusion, it wasn't really my scene, but meeting Kazusuke was wonderful, and it didn't hurt that I got my ticket free from a friend.

have fun riding this week
(and just because I don't ride a carbon frame or wear spandex doesn't mean you shouldn't with gusto!)



Tokyo BFF and the Halloween Ride!

The Bicycle Film Festival has come to Tokyo, and has gone. I really enjoyed the films shown and also the events on Halloween that ended the festival.
Highlights included Riding the Long White Cloud, a documentary of a group of pro skaters who decided to bicycle across New Zealand, stopping and skating as they went. Beautiful and engaging, it was definitely one of my favorite films. The Birth of Big Air, a Spike Jonze premier about the life of Matt Hoffman, revolutionary BMX-er was very well made and having had no interest in BMX all of my life, very interesting and informative. (I've been thinking recently of branching out as a cyclist, and about the personal benefits, as well as massive widespread understanding that could be bred amongst cyclists if we all tried someone else' style at least once. More on this later) There were lots of great shorts, including a clever clip about the first (and likely last) unicycle tandem called A New Challenge. (from the Neistat Brothers, regular contributors to the BFF) a great 1987 short about a messengers ironic battle to deliver a package (On Time, Ari Taub)
and an inspiring and wonderful farm boy inventor film called Ski Boys that made me want to ride my mattress down the stairs again.
The Kintaro theater where the films were played is located in Daikanyama, a beautiful little section of Tokyo graced by a tree lined canal and many cobblestone streets. Interesting cafe's and boutiques line the avenues and lent to the hip feel of the event. The first few film programs were poorly attended, and I was a bit disapointed by how small it was turning out to be, but saturday saw sold out shows and Halloween some 70 people gathered, mostly costumed, to ride through some of the busiest streets of Tokyo and spread Halloween cheer. In true Japanese fashion, bystanders were snapping photos with their phones, and I manged to catch some of the ride on video as well, which I will post here as soon as I'm finished editing out the long boring parts. :-)We worked our way from the Farmers Market at the United Nations University up to Meiji Park where several events were held and people chatted and enjoyed the clear day.
But for me perhaps the best part of the whole weekend was meeting Wada. On Saturday the film Tokyo to Osaka was shown and it featured a Japanese who helped guide the riders part of the way down to Osaka. In what was for me the most compelling 10 minutes of the entire festival, Wada told the story of how his father, an Olypic bicyle racer, had died over a decade ago, and now he rode his beautiful Olympic bike. He felt like he was chasing his father still when he rode, and not quite able to catch him. Wada, the guide, was present at the screening and was cheered by all.

Tokyo to Osaka Teaser from John Murillo on Vimeo.

(Wada shows up at sec 56 in the trailer :-)

The next day I saw Wada waiting for the Halloween ride to begin. I approached him and told him my thoughts on his very touching story in the film. He informed me he had no idea that he was even in the final cut, and was humble as I complimented him. As we rode we made conversation in a mixture of Japanese and English (his English was excellent) At one point I mentioned that I spoke Spanish, and he instantly began speaking to me in Spanish! I was surprised and excited. People cheered and took photos as we rode down the street in a crowd of costumed bikes.

Wada and I both agree that the barriers that exist within 'cycling culture' need to be breached. Riding BMX is no less valid than riding a sports bike or fixed gear bike. (or mamachari as is more often the case in Japan) but Wada had an interesting idea I had not thought much about. He said that people need to ride for fun. FUN! Almost everyone in Japan rides a bicycle, but very few ride for fun. That is the difference between a 'bike person' and everyone else. In the United States I feel like almost everyone who rides a bike does so because they enjoy it. If you ride a bike you stand out and have to be passionate about it. In Japan the majority of the population ride bikes in a similar way americans drive cars (not fast and reckless) but without thinking. It's just how you get around. It doesn't matter if you like it or not. Wada has ridden Critical Mass in the United States and while on the subject I asked if Critical Mass happens in tokyo. He said no, but that he has tried to start one a few times. The general public just aren't that interested he said. In America he rode with all kinds of people in CM, many who had no connection to the ride, but just showed up for fun. Passing out fliers and inviting people doesn't really work in Japan he said. It was apparent that for Wada the purpose of Critical Mass is to get people not already heavily involved in bicycle culture to ride, to branch out and break barriers. I realized that I agree with him. The negative side to Critical Mass are the things that alienate and build barriers (like deliberately annoying drivers, riding dangerously, etc) and the wonderful thing about it is anyone and everyone can do it together. I've made many friends riding Critical Mass and it was a Critical Mass that first made me feel like I wasn't a lone ranger on my bike in Utah.
By now we were through the busiest section of Shinjuku and approaching Meiji Park, our final destination and block party location. We pulled up, tall bikes rolling by, kids on tiny mountain bikes and families in cargo bikes rounding up in a big parking lot.
Wada was fascinating because not only did he have great ideas about bikes and know how to express them, he also had a fantastic personal story. He added to what he had shared in the film on saturday: As he raced more and more he stopped using his fathers old steel bike and switched to carbon, but he always carried some piece of his fathers bike with him. The handlebars, a water bottle, or pedals. One day, he raced without anything of his fathers bike. Solo. I expected Wada to inform me he crashed or that something terrible happened, but instead he turned to me and said "I won the race." I was tingling. All of these years he felt he was chasing his father, always just behind him and his legecy, and then he leaves his father behind and wins the race.
Needless to say, The Halloween Funride turned out to be one of the most enjoyable rides I've ever been on.

I hope you all had a wonderful Halloween (even better if bikes were involved :-)
ride safe, and make friends!