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,
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!