Thursday, May 01, 2008

Assimilation in Tokyo: The Mama Chari

In order to live comfortably in a foreign country one has to adapt. Japan is no different even though non-Japanese can never understand Japan. Still, when in Rome...

I hope to cover some aspects of life in Tokyo that I rarely see discussed anywhere beginning with how to ride a mama-chari like a Tokyoite:

One of the most common means of transportation in Tokyo is the bicycle. Two types are very common: the mama-chari (heavy, slow handling, clunker) and the imitation "mountain bike." We will look at the mama-chari with the understanding that the fake mountain bike can be utilized in nearly the same way.

Let's look at purchasing your mama-chari and setting it up like a true Tokyo-ko:

Purchase. Something to keep in mind is that although these things can be found anywhere, it is always best to get a good brand-name. The fake mountain bikes are available with many famous brand-name decals on them. You can choose from the standard Giant, or such exotic types as Levi or maybe even Frito-Lay. For the mama-charli your choices are fewer, but Tokyu department stores sell their high quality brand and I have seen a genuine Burberry sold in a Burberry shop. Go for one of these babies because you know that a heavy low-grade steel bike with a famous name stuck on it at a higher price has to be good. Be sure and ask the salesperson detailed questions about the bike and cycling in general as you can be sure that they know what they are talking about. After all, why else would they be selling them?

Set-up. The first step after you get your finely crafted, high quality machine home is to set it up properly. If you have ever ridden a bicycle of any type, now is the time to forget everything that you learned.

1. Let's begin with the seat. The very first thing you must remember is that the seat can never be too low. You should at least be able to plant both feet firmly on the ground while sitting on the wide, pillowy saddle. In fact, if your rear could drag the ground while riding, it would be nearly perfect.
When pedaling, your knees should come up to about your chin---be careful and don't knee your nose! From the side, a properly positioned cyclist should look something like a person on a squat toilet.

2. Tires & Wheels. Let's prepare our tires next. You may find that the shop where you bought it has filled the tires with air. This is for shipping purposes only. You will find a valve on the round steel things that the tires are attached to. (Bummer if yours are aluminum. These should be avoided as they can cause stopping when brakes are applied.) Remove the cap and press on the valve. Let most of the air out. Your tires should be at minimum 50% flat when you are riding it. The wheels themselves should be properly dished. This is more accurately referred to as "tacoed." If yours are not, remove them from the bike and loosen some spokes on one side or the other. Then either run over each wheel with your car or jump up and down on them until they assume the approximate shape of a taco shell. These steps will make it easier for you to wobble from left to right.

3. Brakes. The pads should be a well-aged hard rubber. When applied, they should make a loud squealing sound. Make sure, however, that they cannot lock the wheels no matter how hard the brakes are applied. Your feet are your main braking source. Brakes are for irritating and scaring pedestrians so that they will get out of your way.

4. Bike bell. This is a required item. They vary in size, but look something like the bells used in boxing. The difference is that there is a little thumb thingy for you to clang the bell with. This, along with the squealing brakes, helps assure that you as a mama-chari rider get the proper respect from those who interfere with your god-given right to the sidewalk.

5. Lights. Legally required for riding after dark. Don't worry much about these as you don't want to be the only fool using them. Remember, the nail that sticks up gets banged down.

6. Handle bar. You probably won't need to adjust this as long as you can comfortably rest on it while reading your e-mail, playing video games, reading your book or newspaper and those other things you may do to keep your mind occupied while riding. Some folks use baskets on the front to help make them even more comfortable as they can then rest almost the entire arm from elbow to wrist on something. Remember, using these are optional. The cool stud and police officers can show their mama-chari riding skills and all-around manliness by riding with one or no hands in crowded areas. Since you will likely be riding while doing other things with your hands, handlebars are of limited use.

7. Mirrors. Very important. Adjust these so that you can look at and admire yourself as you ride. Can be valuable for women to use for applying make-up while riding. Can also assist in properly picking one's nose. WARNING! Do not improperly adjust these so that you could see someone approaching from behind. This could result in such bad habits as awareness of surroundings and anticipation of danger. These types of mama-chari riding errors will be covered later in part two: Riding your mama-chari.

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