Thursday, January 13, 2011

Last weekend I realized a dream I've had for a while-- riding Japan's only 250 meter track at Shuzenji. These (cell phone) photos do not really do it justice, but it is STEEP! 45˚steep. Most keirin tracks in Japan are 400 meters with a fairly innocuous 30˚ of banking, but this track is of another species.

At first glance it appears to be so steep as to be nearly unrideable-- it just looks like a wall! But thanks to my more experienced buddy, Ishibashi-san, I soon learned it was not really that scary. He took me around the lane for a few laps, then up at the stayers line for a couple, then finally all the way up to the rail. I'll admit that the first lap at the rail I had to remind myself not to grip the bars too tightly and to relax-- a bit freaky! That wasn't helped by the bumps coming out of turn two at the rail, they get your attention! But after a few laps, it was alright.

Go through the tunnel in the infield and you are face-to-face with Japan's famous Keirin school. Here you can see the dormitories and the school's velodrome, which I believe is a 333 meter track.

Ancient rollers in the infield tunnel.

I was invited to the track by Shonan Airinkai's jitsugyodan team, which I'm very excited to say will be my new team next season. Here Wada Makuru, a new professional this year, is getting warmed up on the motor. Makuru came up racing with Shonan Airinkai and now looks to be one of the future stars of kerin. Still only 19 years old, look for him at the 2016 Olympics! You heard it here first...

Another new pro, Kameya-san, doing a flying 200. Again, you just cannot appreciate how steep this is from these photos!

It's super cool -and not a little intimidating!- to be training with actual pros. It's a huge honor for me to be joining Shonan Airinkai, who are one of the strongest track teams in Japan. Jitsugyodan-level competition is gonna be a whole new world for me, and I'm sure to get my ass handed to me regularly. But, I'm excited for the challenge. Ganbarimasu!

The scene. It was really cold and windy, but a super fun and exciting day. Huge thanks to Shonan Airinkai for having me!

This is the future jewel of Japanese track racing: A new world-class indoor 250 meter track, under construction just down the road from the old 250. It should be completed by September, I'm told. Photogenic Fuji-san in the background. The next dream!

Sometimes Japanese food is just ridiculously strange. This is home-made soft-serve ice cream flavored with..., tiny fish! Why?!