Bike Lore Cyclocross Festival - Japan
above photo courtesy of Blue Lug
This post has been a long time coming because I just haven't known where to begin, and the experience was so moving that I don't want to forget anything.
Cross racing in Japan, simply must be experienced to be believed. I don't even think the locals realize just how amazing the scene that they've built is since it's normative to them. To us, with outside eyes, our time at the Bike Lore festival was a mind blower.
The two trips that All-City has taken there to visit our distributor, Motocross Intl (so named because their first line of business was bringing BMX to the country) and dealers have been two of the greatest travel experiences of my life. It's hard to even talk about without gushing. The level of hospitality, openness, acceptance, and excitement that we have been welcomed with is something that I hope I never forget. It's both a lesson in how to conduct your own self, as well as a reminder of how kind and wonderful people can be to one another. A catalyst for personal growth and a reaffirmation in the inherent goodness of human kind. I could go on and on... In short exactly what you hope for when traveling halfway across the planet.
On our first trip we had the blessing of attending the Nobeyama cyclocross event in the mountains near Nagano, it was a world class event attended by many of the European and U.S. stars of cyclocross. It was without a doubt the most beautiful race venue I have ever been to.
Nobeyama 2014- photo by Shuji
This most recent trip again happened during the cyclocross season so it was decided that we would attend Bike Lore weekend on the outskirts of Tokyo. This was a two day race in a local park, that also featured a variety of vendors of both the goods and food variety. In all honestly, I had several of the best meals of my life at the race, from the Miso soup at Blue Lug's booth to the artisanal sausages, with the best being a turkey leg that somehow tasted like ham. It was wild. (you're probalby wondering why the heck I'm mentioning a turkey leg, but my friends, it's because I want, no, I need you to know that somehow this turkey tasted just like flipping ham.Up was down, right was left, nothing made sense and my tastebuds were in tiny tastebud heaven)
And the picnics....I hope you won't feel like I'm painting with too broad a brush stroke, but in all facets of life in Japan when someone is into something, they don't mess around. They go after it full force and that fact could be seen in the booths, the food, the race organization, and the picnic game of the folks in attendance. They be bringing in sun shades, tents, tarps, their own picnic tables, wine, candles, coolers, etc. It was amazing, families spending the whole weekend posted up, spectating, supporting, and having a great time.
The organizers too went all out. From the amazing signage to the sturdy flyover, the cool tents, the treefort, and the obstacles in the kids race. No expense was spared and maximum effort was given. Luckily our team rider Juri just happened to be the weekend's emcee, with members of his crew serving as the DJ's. The whole thing was just a spectacular vision of what bike racing can be when the experience of all in attendance is carefully thought out and planned, not just what happens on the race course. As an event promoter myself, I couldn't help but be inspired to try harder and be better the next time I have the opportunity to serve my own community.
But enough yammering, let's get to some photos.
Wonderful light up sign
One of the tent areas
photo - Shuji
The highlight of the first day of racing was the Sunset race sponsored by All-City and taking place at dusk. They had a fog machine at the line and the jams were pumping from the DJ booth. The course was a crit version of the route and proved pretty dang treacherous with a whole bunch of hard to see roots and stumps in the woods as well as a number of angled turns over cracked and slippery cement that claimed a number of racers. I was lucky enough to get a front line call up as the organizers were stoked to have us visiting and I used it to my advantage coming out of the hole shot in fourth, working my way up to second on the first lap, and jumping out to the lead when the rider in front slid out on the wet concrete.
Having tons of experience in night cross crits in our local Bandit Cross races helped me out as I buried myself over the next 11 laps to take home a solo victory. The thrill of having won a race here, and hopefully making our distributor proud, was overwhelming. As a bike racer, you dream of winning and to once more do so on Japanese soil is something that I will forever cherish. Our main dude Koshi, the only Cat 1 singlspeeder in Japan, spent most of the race jockeying between 2,3, and 4th places although he lost track of the lap count (an easy thing to do in the dark as the board was difficult to see) and mis-timed the sprint with his geared rivals to finish 4th. I was stoked for him, but you could see the disappointment written on his face. Dude is seriously fast, and I know he was looking to showcase his skills with us in town.
photo - Shuji
So stoked! Don't care if you can see my hairy belly.
The next day Koshi and I would race again, as would our Sales Manager Nate. It was to be Nate's first ever cyclocross race and he was both nervous and excited. Now racing just ain't Nate's normal bag, but when you have the opportunity to pin up and do battle overseas, sometimes you just have to go for it.
Before we get to the race shots though, let's paint the incredible scene that was the community at Bike Lore.
We met a whole bunch of rad AC customers and dealers from all around the country, the above gentleman was racing aboard his Mr. Pink!
And this is our homie and shop owner Tas after autographing my Katakana cap. Dude had style for miles!
Tas' custom painted Macho Man
Behind the Bike Lore sign they had built this amazing treehouse.
The kids course was so cool and right in the middle of the action. A good time for all members of the family was clearly on the organizers minds
This was during the "Denim Race" one of several "fun" races held throughout the weekend
Pinning Nate up for his first ever cross race
What a cutie! - photo Shuji
Juri cheers him on - photo Shuji
Nate ended up flatting out just as he was finding his groove and starting to move up, bummer, but still a successful first cross race if you count having fun and sending it on the ramp every lap as successful. Which of course, you know we do!
Photo - Shuji
Photo - Shuji
Photo - Shuji That dude in the skirt? Oh you know, he's only one of Japan's top cross racers and a contender on the National Team.
For the main race, I knew that Koshi would be out for blood. He didn't have the ride he wanted the night before and was out to prove a point. I myself just hoped to hang in there as I was stiff and sore from the previous day's efforts and knew that I didn't have much in the tank. Some of the heaviest hitters from around Japan showed up to mix it up with us regular folk, so this one was definitely going to be interesting.
You can see here how fast Koshi is, just a step behind the badass in the skirt and taking the faster line. Our man was on a mission!
Photo - Blue Lug
I myself was just sitting in, doing the best I could and trying to enjoy the experience as much as possible.
Photo - ?
Photo - Shuji
Koshi was way out on me and running with the leaders when the unfortunate happened and he burped his tire. Here I am coming around him offering my condolences, I remember wondering what he was going to do: if he was going to quit, or fix the flat. A few laps after this photo he came around me again, and with 2 laps left to go I passed him back. He had pumped up his tire, but the tubeless wasn't holding. Again I wondered what he was going to do. While I feel as if Koshi is a brother to me, we actually don't know each other very well, and when something like this happens in a race it's a real quick way to find out about someone's character. Especially with laps left to go...
And you know what the dude did? He ran that son of a gun out. No quit, no defeat, nothing in his heart but a warriors spirit. It may sound silly to some of you, but even typing this I'm getting all misty. That my friends is some true bike racer shit. Death before - DNF. I don't think I could have been more proud of this person who has taken up the mantle of All-City in his homeland than in that moment, waiting for him at the finish to gut it out. There are lots of fast bike riders in the world, their are significantly fewer people with real fucking heart. If you get it, you get it. If you've been there, then you've been there. And if you think I'm just over romanticizing a silly bike race, you're right. But even months later, when I think about it, it makes me smile, and warms my heart, and I am swept by a warm wave of pride for my teammate. Like I said, that's some real bike racer shit.
And just so we don't leave you hanging with this silly sentimentality over heroic feats in stretchy clothing, there was also a costume race to close it all out. And it was pretty great too!
I feel pretty comfortable stating that Bike Lore is the best!