Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cycle killer, qu'est que c'est

Or, "I can't ride my bike with no handlebars"

Well, winter is over. Last weekend I managed to exhaust the last credit on my Zao ticket, enjoying a triumphant day's riding on soft, melty snow under a cloudless sky. I now find myself in the all-too-brief period where I need to use neither my kerosene burner nor my aircon.

Something else I did last weekend was purchase a bicycle. This move was prompted by a number of factors:
  • My six schools have become three (something that I'm sure I will discuss properly in the near future), and two of them, along with city hall, are within easy cycling distance of my house.
  • The pavements are no longer covered in snow.
  • My weight, which had been holding fairly steady in the 86-88kg range, started troubling the 90kg mark. So, I thought it was time to get some exercise into my daily routine.
  • While there is zero tolerance for drink driving, cycling after a few shandies, though technically illegal, is done by just about everyone.
I splashed out 20000yen (£140) on the most basic, yet largest, utility bike I could find. It's a standard-issue Japanese street bike: three speed hub gear (I've puzzled over that for some time now, and I still don't really grasp how it works), dynamo-powered LED light, insubstantial-looking built-in lock on the back wheel, ladies-style lowered crossbar, basket on the front.

Today I decided to christen it with its first serious ride, to Yonezawa. While the hilly terrain of Yamagata prefecture would generally make for challenging cycling, Nanyo and Yonezawa lie at opposite ends of a flat-as-a-pancake plain ringed on all sides by mountains. It was a beautiful day for it too: 17 degrees, hazy sunshine, not too humid. To be honest, I'd be happy if it stayed that way until next winter. (Note to Graham, who's coming to visit in July: Don't worry, it totally won't be any hotter in three months. You'll be fiiiiine.) I slapped on the factor 30, and headed off down the main road.

I was quite pleased with the ease with which I conveyed myself the 15km to Mos Burger, where I stopped off for lunch. I then went to my favourite shop - Yamaya - and stocked up on Belgian beer, Mexican salsa, Thai curry paste, Italian gnocchi, and American peanut butter.

For the return journey, I decided to mix things up and take a slightly less direct route. Lining the main road is a sparse but continuous procession of houses and shops, so one never really feels like one is in the country. Taking the back roads, however, I was in no doubt that this is rural Japan. Rice fields (not yet featuring much in the way of rice, obviously) spread out in all directions, terminated only by the still white-capped mountains rising steeply up at the edge of the plain. It was an impressive sight. Occasionally I saw very old women - wearing actual straw hats - stooped over with trowels, tending to some agricultural business apparently in much the same way that their ancestors would have done 500 years ago.

I also encountered a few children, who would shout and wave at me as I passed. At one point, a car overtook me with a boy leaning out of the passenger window, greeting me. I'm not sure if he was one of my students - I teach over 900 kids in total, and they all, you know, look kinda similar. The car stopped, somewhat obstructing the road, and I had the following conversation with the boy's mother (in Japanese, I'm pleased to say).

"Hello! Where have you come from?"
"From Yonezawa."
"And where are you going?"
"To Nanyo."
"Heeeeeeeeeeeee?! [my family will understand this Japanese expression of surprise] How long does it take you?"
"Ummm... One and a half hours...." [I wave my arms around, trying to convey "each way"]
"Really? Wow. So you come from Nanyo?"
"Yes, I live in Akayu."
"That's great. Well, take care."

Like I said, people are friendly to me.

As I was nearing Nanyo, my legs were starting to feel the burn quite badly. I reckon I must have ridden something getting on for 40km (25 miles) in total - I had my GPS but I didn't put in in record mode, so I can't be sure. Anyway, I'm fairly pleased with that for a saturday afternoon. I'd be lying if I said my buttocks didn't hurt, though.


  1. At least they're not hurting from something else!

  2. My declaration that winter was over may have been premature. There is currently a blizzard occurring.