Friday, December 14, 2007

First Ride

This morning I set out for a warm-up ride. Keen to get on the bike after a week off recovering from Melbourne’s ‘Around the bay in a Night and a Day’ but that’s other story. I also have a few spare calories to burn off from the great food I have consumed since arriving in Tokyo 3 day ago…

Yesterday I went for a walk in the Sagamihara area which was mainly spent walking on back streets and a shared cycleway and path heading west. It is truly wonderful to see just about every kind of person cycling as a way to get around. Truly a BFA dreams come true. If you think it can’t happen, just come here…!! School children, Parents, Business Men, Old Folk, Office Workers cycling, all be it in a very ‘pedestrian way’ if you can excuse the pun.
I put it down to the low speed environment and closeness of the narrow streets. A product of a country that doesn’t have endless scrub to bulldoze into an oversized McMansion. It might seem strange unless you have had the experience, but having too much space can be a liability.

And it works! Everyone going everywhere, just blending and going with the flow. A testimony to this is the number of very old people cycling and walking. This system doesn’t isolate anyone like our setup back home. Cars are the exception on the back streets. On the busier streets, cars, bikes and pedestrians just blend. In shopping malls cyclist and Peds’ just blend. These malls and shopping environments, the likes of which in Australia would have an overzealous janitor type under strict instruction from the centre management, demand that you stop riding immediately and remove you cycle. Such antipodean bylaws completely miss the point of the door to door nature and beauty of the cycling for transport.

The key factor in all this is the people’s nature or education if you will. There is an inherent nature of respect for one another…it shows up in the cooperation on roads, and in the public amenity best displayed by but not limited to… A lack of graffiti, broken glass, cigarette buts or rubbish almost anywhere, public infrastructure intact etc…or the many instances one says to oneself….How come someone doesn’t just steal that item etc, cause back home it wouldn’t last a day setting there like that…In such a dense urban environment, I’m sad to say to my experience, seems unnatural to me.

I wonder what happened to this respect, the essence of a ‘fare go’ if you like, in Australia. Is it our heritage, a ‘convict mentality’ way of looking at our world, an ‘Us and Them’ attitude?

Somewhere along this walk I stumbled on an observation tower in a park somewhat akin to the palace of Vasi. From there I could see the foot hills and mountains to the south west of Tokyo. It gave me an overview of where I was and I could feel my hamstrings pining for the mountains.

Thankfully Sagamihara is on the outskirts of greater Tokyo. So today I used this local knowledge as a base to get me out of Tokyo and into the mountains.
I’m not one for route planning relying mainly on the lay of the land, intuition, tell tale signs, strokes of fait, a bit of luck and the bones of my ass…to make my way around. Just as well because I don’t read, write or speak Japanese. The only exception to that is when I get hungry…! To me, a map, although obvious is just another card in a suite of ‘navi’ skills available if you are willing to wing it in a place like this, especially when it’s written in Japanese Kanji !!

I look at riding here in Japan like a form of orienteering, but instead of being dumped in the bush on a hot day with a map, a smelly pair of runners and a slap on the back of your head, you get to RIDE you Italian road bike in the mountains and valleys on absolutely perfectly made HOTMIX roads with little mountain villages and bigger urban jungles to test your navigation skills.

It’s just a completely different world here… The traffic is mostly limited to 40kph and is used to sharing the road and is well ordered.
Today I resolved that if I get that Lotto win that IS due me, I would like to employ someone to personally send a Christmas card to every truck driver in Japan. Such is there courtesy and understanding of someone cycling, especially when just about everyone else in town is riding on the footpath. Now that’s not my normal experience with the same in Australia…And it’s not that there is plenty of room on these beautiful roads… that would only allow everyone to drive like a pack of maniacs like back home!

Speaking of which I spent the first half of the ride today dodging manhole covers, road plates and the like, in fear of the dreaded thump. But alas, no such thing here. It’s just unreal, the folk that get the roads absolutely smooth, put the manhole covers in flush. They are just a delight to ride over, all be it dry.
I want to describe the landscape which I past through today but the traffic and the road surface was just too good. All of it! Every last vehicle and manhole cover! And there was quite a bit of traffic for I was riding on mainly connecting valley roads with a bit of climbing. Dare I say, a bit of route planning or local knowledge wouldn’t have gone astray…

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