Yes, I have been quiet. It seemed appropriate that I get my head down and try to find a job. There are plenty of ads for jobs in other parts of Japan but it’s pretty quiet on the job front here in Sapporo so I’ve had to track down schools and send them my resume in the hope that a job opens up. I’m hopeful that something will come up soon and more universities will advertise as semester two gets closer. Except for that glorious year on the dole when I was a student, I’ve never been out of work this long and even for someone as supremely lazy as I am, it feels a bit weird. Nonetheless, I’m getting pretty good at vacuuming and doing the dishes. However, I’m still looking for the perfect flagon to hide in the oven and my hair is too short for curlers.
By Friday I’d had enough of the job hunt and decided it was time to venture forth in search of new rides. I’ve been dressing in lycra and taking the Pista up mountains but I decided it was time to pay homage to the bicycle’s origins. As we all know, although they were briefly used for track cycling, Bianchi Pistas were originally designed as a stylish but impractical bicycle for urban use. The fixed gear fad has even made it as far as Sapporo and I’ve seen the odd fixie parked here or there but only a few being ridden.
My first step was to dress appropriately for the occasion so I popped on my fashionable three-quarter length pants, vegan woolen t-shirt and crumpler fake mini bike messenger bag. Unfortunately I don’t own a pair of Vans sneakers. Most people on fixies seem pretty thin so I found a dietary supplement that I thought might help me get stick-thin and grow a crazy beard:
The next task was to make the bike even more impractical. My rear hub will take a cassette on either side. On one side I’ve got a freewheel cassette that I use most of the time. On the other side is a fixed one so if I pedal forward, the wheel goes forward, pedal backwards and the wheel goes backward. As you can imagine, it’s a lot easier to coast down hills than pedal like crazy while also braking because I can’t pedal quickly enough to keep up with the speed the rear wheel is turning at (found an interesting calculator here – if I get up to 60kph I have to be pedalling at 160rpm). For the full urban effect I switched to fixed but I left my brakes on because I’m the sort of fool who thinks being able to stop quickly is a good thing. Then I swapped out my clipless pedals, which are easy to get in and out of and put on pedals with toe-clips which aren’t that hard either but there’s that little trick of flipping the pedal over with the tip of your toe and then slotting your foot into the clip when you take off.
To cap off the fearsome urban bicycle warrior look, I left my helmet behind. Because I’m a wimp, though, this meant I would stick to cycling on the footpath but that’s where most people ride here anyway. I was immediately confronted with the tremendous impracticality of riding a track bike in the city when I went to take off. Instead of taking off and coasting while I got my left foot into the pedal, I had to keep turning the pedals to keep moving while at the same time chasing the left pedal with my left foot in the hope of eventually successfully flipping it over and getting my foot in. This usually happened just as I got to the next set of traffic lights, where I would do the world’s shortest trackstand before putting my foot down and waiting for the lights to change so I could do my little dance again. Also at intersections there is often a bicycle lane painted which, oddly enough, seems to be where most pedestrians choose to walk:
I was pretty pleased when I finally got to the river and didn’t have to stop every 100 metres or so. I could finally head away from town and compete against any other cyclist I saw. This bloke had that embarrassing moment where you’ve just started singing aloud to yourself and another cyclist goes past:
I was rapidly getting sick of pushing back on the pedals every time I wanted to slow down a little so I stopped for lunch and to flip the back wheel over so I could coast again.
And got back on the bike path:
I came across a fox on the path:
He was lingering a bit long and I was worried I might have come across a crack fox and I didn’t want the hassle that goes with that but just as I was considering riding at him (or her), he (or she) retreated into the foliage.
On the way home it occurred to me that riding a fixed wheel bike in the city is pretty much the same mentality as people who drive four wheel drives in the city. They are both designed for a completely different environment yet despite being hopelessly impractical for city use, they are still remarkably popular. Which is why I believe people should have to pass a test before they are allowed to vote. And just as small cars, which are perfectly convenient for city use, are often poo-pooed as somehow unmanly, the bicycle of choice of most Japanese would also not get far in Australia. The mamachari is what we used to call a lady’s bike. Three-speed is ideal for a flat city: mudguards keep you dry and baskets let you carry stuff – all the things a fixie lacks, and not a single person on them tries to pretend they are at the Tour de France.
You won’t catch me for dead on one but they are clearly popular among the practically-minded:
Of course even set up just as a single-speed and with clipless pedals, the Pista is still fairly impractical, especially for riding up mountains, as I found out yesterday when I collapsed in a heap yesterday after trying to ride up Mt Teine in the hottest part of the day with only a twist-top bottle in my shirt’s back pocket. I couldn’t get at it anyway because I need both hands on the bars to go uphill. In my imagination, word is spreading among the Sapporo cycling community of the prowess of the bloke who rides a single-speed up mountains but the guy who whizzed past me on the way downhill while I was having a compulsory lie-down may have a different opinion.
In any case, I still managed to compete with Kazuko up Mt Teine on Saturday morning:
Before the weekend descended into high-spirited family get-togethers.
My brother-in-law has realised that he can use me as an excuse to drink without getting told off by Kazuko’s twin sister. And as his English is only marginally better than my Japanese, we need to get a few beers in to help international relations. And speaking of which, I’ve been enjoying the following ad on the telly. It made me realise that beer companies (apart from brave Suntory) are strangely coy about showing what happens after you’ve had a couple of their product. And I think that’s a bit of a shame.
And last of all, I’m not really into motorbikes but I passed this one in town the other day. It appears the impracticality trend is not limited to fixed-gear bicycles or 4WDs.