28 December 2008

Kawasaki Keirin Track

After staying in Shibuya late yesterday night with my son and doing the things young people usually do in Shibuya [to be precise: playing table tennis and eating cheese fries at Outback], I decided that I should not go through all the hassle of riding out to Chichibu or some other mountainous place just to end up in piles of knee-deep snow. Instead I had an invitation from Hiroshi to join him and his clubmates for a training session at the Kawasaki Keirin.

I got ready at home after checking the way to the track and packed the usually things plus, as this was the first time and Japanese customs requires to be polite and bring some presents, I took a handful of Haribo Lakritz Schnecken with me. These are tycpical German sweets which look like rolls of low grade Pakistan made industrial cables and taste alike.
It takes only 30 minutes from my house on route 140 to Kawasaki station, I arrived on time. The road is not too bad and there is even a river, Tsurumikawa where one can ride stretches of the ride on a cycling/pedestrian way just as in case of the Tamagawa. I was surprised how big and well developed the area around Kawasaki station is, completely different from my image where I put Kawasaki in the file lettered "insignificant".

Actually for a very long time I have not been in Kawasaki at all. I mean, yes I have been in Kawasaki but the purpose was not to go to Kawasaki but to pass through, either on the way to Yokohama or to Tokyo. I have exactly three roads through Kawasaki, Dai-Ichi Keihin or Dai-San Keihin, if I am riding a car, the other one Nakahara Kaido if I am on my bike. This is my whole experience of the town which is insignificant indeed.
Apart from that I have been in Kawasaki one time and that was in 1991 or 1992, going to Club Quattro to watch STAR CLUB, a Japanese Punk Band which a friend from Switzerland called Urs (all male Swiss are called Urs, that is similar to Kims and Parks in Korea) recommended to me as the Toten Hosen of Japan. After watching them, I believe there were more the Plastic Bertrands of Japan [Thanks Tom for reminding me of this guy when you wrote your blog recently].

In summary, my image of Kawasaki developed through the years like this:
  • 1977 : "Hey, these are the cool green motorbikes that my hero Yvon du Hamel is riding"
  • 1991 : "Star Club is playing there too!"
  • 1992 : "The environmental problem between Tokyo and Yokohama [Tokyo Journal]"
followed by a long time of nothing and which has now completely changed again.

Hiroshi waited for my at the parking place. I gave him some Lakritz for welcome, he managed to eat them well. The parking space was packed with cars of the spectators, did they come to watch us? Was I am going to race immediately? Of course not, a lot of people come to the Keirin stadium, owned by the city of Kawasaki, to watch the Keirin races at other places on the big screen and place some bets.

Why would anybody wanted to do that, if one can sit at home, have a glass of beer, a bowl of octopus on sticks in front of you and a nice warm blanket over your feet and one can place his bets over the Internet? Well, I guess the answer is that one also have a wife, kids in the midst of puberty, things to do and and and and at home so it might be better to escape and spend the day in freezing cold on the stands of the Kawasaki Keirin and watch TV. I guess this is called "public viewing" today, a phenomena almost exclusively experienced by males in their forties and fifties.
Hiroshi was so kind to show me around, so I could take a look at a hall with rollers, where the Keirin pro warm up before the races, including ventilators in front and ashtrays on the bench. I also took a look at the parking place where the pro bikes were standing; I saw a Kalavinka bike, so nicely described in this wonderful book : "The accidental office lady." He also explained to me the basic differences compared to road bikes. Not the obvious things, but the finer details, such as there is almost no distance between the lower tube and the front wheel.

We then went inside and met some of the other guys. About 20 or 30 riders were presented from various teams, the atmosphere was relaxed and there was not much club mood. No exercising, no long pep speeches, no long explanation of the rules. Very nice indeed for a change. Juliane and me have some experience with Japanese club riding and we didn't like the set of rules prevailing there.

We then started to ride on the track. Tracks in Japan are either 333.33 m or 400 m long, this one being the later type. The direction is always counter clockwise, which fits me well as I am much better in left corners than in rights. From the inside to the inside, there is a green marked part and a red marked one which is for warming up and almost flat. This is followed by a small part in green which is enclosed by two white lines. The inner one of these two white lines is precisely 400 meters long. This is the normal racing part where one rides during the race, mostly in a draft line. There is a slight inclination on the curved banks but not too much. Then further up is another yellow line, about halfway of the width of the track.
First we went in a group of seven riders, starting slowly at 20 km/hr but accelerated equally slowly until 40 km/hr. We took turns in the lead after each lap. The pace was fast, but I could follow almost until the end. The last laps were at 46 km/hr and there it became increasingly difficult for me to hang on. It takes some power to concentrate on going at the same speed all the time, not faster, not slower, not to leave any gaps to the rider in front and keeping the same distance. It is not allowed to shift gears or to brake, so everything has to be managed with pedal power.

As I had no fixed gear bike, I could brake while continue to pedal but I rarely did. When I was in danger to overtake somebody, I climbed up on the bank in the curves only a little and that decreased the speed sufficiently.

The level of concentration is similar to riding in a a group during a race. I tried my best to keep pedaling all the time, not to use the brakes or shift the gears.The general feeling is a litle bit like on a home trainer, there is no change in position on the bike which I generally dislike because my butt starts hurting after some time. As long as one goes at the same speed I managed well, but sometimes there was some confusion when we overtook other groups and I started to brake or to shift out of habit.

After 40 minutes or so we made a break and after that we tried it again. This time we moved up to the highest point of the bank. When looking to the right, everything is normal, just riding along a fence. But when I looked down to the left and I saw the inclination and the height I didn't felt too good. But I got used to that. Hiroshi showed me how to get down from the high line in the curves to the two white lines and accelerate, taking all the momentum. One can easily go up to 50 km/hr.

I then felt strong and stayed with another group making more laps. Then another break. I talked to some of the other guys and everybody was very friendly. I spotted also Ms. Takamatsu, JCRC women champion of 2007 from Maglia Rosa, who I have seen at some JCRC races here at there this year.

Then I did a last try and went as fast as I could, followed by some laps to regain power, so some kind of interval training. Just for the fun of it I did 1.000 meter time trial and with flying start and I could do below 1.30 min which would be more than 40 km/hr average, but there is still a long way to go to achieve a good time with standing start, which should be around 1:15 min a guess.

I must say that everybody was very friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was nice, just the right balance of being taken care of but also left in peace. I personally felt much more powerful when I left the venue and I thought that this would be a good training to gain more stamina and absolute speed, something which comes in handy when thinking of the races I would like to do in 2009: endurance and flat course short races.

I distributed the remaining Lakritz to everybody as a token of gratitude. Not sure if this was appreciated. Then I rode home. which felt strange. I mean it felt good to change position from time to time and to get out of the saddle. But I tried not to brake and not to shift gears and to keep pedaling, I just couldn't get used fast to my usual style.

My thanks go to Hiroshi who as so kind to introduce me to track racing and to Tom who introduced me to Hiroshi. I would like to do it again in the near future. It is good to know that there are still so many things left in cycling which can be explored. Not only track racing but maybe I need also a mountain bike to do the remaining stretch of route 76 next year.

When I came home I found out that Hiroshi has already updated his blog about todays training. I got a very positive review and the Lakritz I have given him found their way into the glass heart of the family.

1 comment:

TOM said...

You got some very high grades there Michael!! Glad you were able to link up with Hiroshi.