Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Walk before you can ride: The professional Mamachari-ist part 2 (continued from 2008)

Warning! The photo at left is an example only: As attractive as it is, this mamachari is not properly set up for riding. The seat is much too high, there is air in the rear tire, and the wheels appear to be roughly true.

It's been quite a long time since I wrote anything about one of my favorite hobbies---road biking---but recent events have made it necessary for me to do so again.

First and foremost, there is the great news that the law has changed to allow mothers to carry 2 children on their hi-quality (Made in Japan! Maybe...) mamachari bicycles which have outstanding brakes and safety equipment. There are probably some troublesome cynics around who would say something like: "What's the difference? They ignored the law and rode them before anyway." Pay no attention to such nitpickers.

Second, two Japanese riders may participate in the Tour de France this year: Fukiya Arashiro and Fumiyaki Beppu who previously rode for the Discovery team, although not in the Tour de France.* I have not seen confirmation yet, but if so, it will be quite an achievement. Anyone who learned to ride a bike in mamachari-land would have to unlearn every single thing that they learned in order to ride a road bike safely anywhere---especially in competition. The mere fact that anyone survived a bike ride in Tokyo is cause for celebration.

Third, road bikes are becoming more popular in Tokyo as some are switching to them for weekday commutes to work instead of taking the wonderful Tokyo subway system---can't figure out why. Plus, more and more books and magazines are being published about cycling. I was so happy to see a couple of books about cycling along the Tamagawa published recently---more cyclists on road bikes with mamachari skills!!! Encountering one of these folks provides me with excellent workouts as my heart rate jumps 300%--way above a training heart-rate zone of 5c into zone 100z. Cardiovascular fitness by terror---little physical effort required!

A little over a year ago, I posted about how to purchase and prepare your own mamachari. I had planned to do another post about how to ride one, but never got to it. I mean, how is a guy who cannot figure out how to walk down the sidewalk without being pushed, shoved, run into, stepped on, forced into the busy road, and such gonna be able to tell anyone how to ride a bike?

Well, I don't ride a mamachari---I'm not skilled enough---but I do ride 4000-5000 miles** per year and have seen enough mamachari riders and observed their expertise, skills, good-manners, safe-riding habits, and concern for others to be able to give some advice. But before you can ride, you gotta know how to walk.

Again, I have to emphasize that I am unable to walk properly in Tokyo. I can't even figure out how to cross a marked crosswalk without risking instant death. But I have observed how the assimilated do it. So if you can answer yes to the following questions, you will be ready to embark on the challenging path to becoming a professional mamachari rider.

  • Do you walk down the middle of crowded streets while playing with your cell phone and not bother with a single glance of where you are going?
  • Do you routinely run into other people and pretend that you didn't?
  • If you are a very short, grouchy old man, do you elbow people who irritate you by their mere existence?
  • If you are a young woman, are you able to sound like a galloping horse with a lame foot as you run at a snail's pace to the station in your absurd high heels?
  • Do you walk slower than a dead turtle when approaching an intersection with a green crossing light and then, just when it starts flashing just before turning red, take off like a bat-out-of-hell, running into anyone and everyone in your way so that you can rush into the intersection just as the light turns red?
  • Do you walk down the middle of the sidewalk in order to cause as much trouble as possible for other pedestrians trying to get by you in either direction?
  • Do you pick up your snail-pace into a mad, insane rush when you see an empty seat on the train while trampling little old ladies with canes to get to it?
  • Do you rush, elbow, kick, bite, shove, and fart to be the first out of a train and then, as soon as you're out, slow down and block the exit and platform for everyone else?
  • Do you wait until the last possible second before collision (or later) with another person before yielding a single millimeter of your sidewalk?
  • Do you lack any sense of anticipation or danger? Are you entirely unaware of your surroundings?
  • Do you rush just to get in front of others even though you are in no hurry and intend on slowing down to your basic 148 year-old peg-legged grand pappy pace just so you can be first?
  • Do you stop to answer your phone or check your e-mail at the narrowest part of the sidewalk thus causing as much inconvenience for everyone else as possible?
  • Do you avoid walking in a straight, predictable line like the plague, but instead do a random side-to-side wobble while running into other folks or forcing them into ditches or active streets whenever possible?
  • Are you an idiot, or can you at least do a good imitation of one?
  • Oops. Forgot a vital skill: If with others, do all of you spread out to take up every square millimeter of the road, sidewalk, or football field?
Answer yes to most or all? Perfect. You already have many of the basic skills needed. If not, don't worry. You can perfect the skills you lack while wobbling your new junkpile mamachari down the street or sidewalk. This is not a complete list, of course, but it should be enough to get anyone started.

I hope to have the mamachari riding tips ready in time for the first few days of the Tour which begins Saturday. Should one need to read up on proper bike selection and set up, see Assimilation in Tokyo: The Mama Chari.

*July 3 update: Both will start: Beppu for Skil-Shimano and Ashiro for BBOX Bouygues Telecom.

**Not hard to do. An annual average of 350-400 miles per month on rural roads and along the Tama River, five hours per week or so will do it. The hard part is training properly and avoiding accidents.

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