Beat the wind
Cycling is something that most people do through necessity – a cheap and healthy
way to get around the city. Only a few cycle at a competitive level but Japan has a
thriving and accessible road racing community. Amidst the autumn colours, and
with winter almost upon us, now is a great time to get training for next season.
So, what do you need to start racing? Firstly you want a decent
bike and it’s simply going to come down to budget. If you’re
starting out, ¥100,000 should buy you something suitable but
remember that clothes, shoes and helmet will need to go on top
of that. Your best bet is to visit the Cyclemode show at Osaka
Intex on Nov 11-12 showing all the major brands to compare and
try out: it’s great fun.
Training is next. Find a mixture of routes that won’t get boring
after a few weeks. Thankfully, even around Osaka, there’s an
abundance of options. Riverside cycle paths and parks are quiet
but the over eager cyclist should be aware of toddlers and animals
if you’re getting up any speed. A better option could be the surrounding
climbs of Mt. Ikoma or Mt. Kongo. Exploring with a good
map is priceless for finding quiet, country roads which reward
with incredible views. A bike bag (¥4,000+) is also a great way
to allow you to do a one-way ride and return by train. Remember
that a repair kit, pump, spare tubes and spare tyre are priceless
— especially when you encounter problems in rural areas.
It’s a really good idea to start a relationship with your local bike
shop, especially if they have a club. They’re invaluable for technical
support and information but it’s also essential to start riding in a
bunch, getting a feel for what a race can be like. Another benefit
of group riding is drafting (when someone in front of you acts as
a wind break, making pedalling around thirty percent easier).
The best way of getting comprehensive race information is
buying a schedule, which comes free with some late winter
editions of cycling magazines. April’s Cycle Sports magazine
listed all types of road races as well as triathlons, bmx, cyclocross,
track, mountain biking even cycle-soccer and cyclegymnastics
events. Entry info comes with the schedule and the
first step is picking a race and filling out a postal order to apply.
You also need to know your category but for most races in Japan
you don’t need a license. CATs are of an international standard
and if you haven’t had a placing before, you enter CAT four.
Because of the large fan base, many races, such as the almostlocal
Shimano race at the Suzuka circuit cater to all ages. It’s a
real carnival atmosphere but with serious racing too. After a race
or two you will be pretty sure of your level: aim low and build
confidence. It must be pointed out, though, that circuit races,
with their many corners, can be pretty dangerous.
Some of the races are expensive (the Fuji hill climb was ¥8,000)
but the event organisation is exceptional. You are given a wearable
chip to record your time and you are often greeted with hot food.
If you’re serious about racing, then get a schedule, pick what
you can afford and get going. Just remember that you can’t buy
training and muscle so getting up at 6 o’clock on a cold winters
morning will stand you in good stead when the nice weather
comes around. See you on the road.