mandag den 23. juli 2007

Monday Oct. 9 - Mountain Mini-Monkeybike Madness

I leave early for another part of town, where Osca will take me to a motorcycle rally in the mountains 70 kilometers west of Tokyo. Osca is a friend of Yori Kanda, a London-based Japanese bike journalist that I met in Denmark over the summer). He tried to revive the Horex brand name some years ago, utilizing a tweaked Honda Dominator engine and all sorts of expensive bits, but lost big on it, because only 10-12 units were sold.

And now we race up through small towns with ridiculously narrow streets, his friend ‘The Master’ at the wheel. I find it quite entertaining, mainly because I’m in the back seat and thus better will be able to survive a head-on collision. After a couple of hours driving at breakneck speeds, we reach the place where the other motorcycles are waiting. And all I see a dozen or so tiny moped-like contraptions, towards which everyone present apparently harbours strong nostalgic feelings. These are 61 % scale models of the already small Honda Monkey-bike, around which there’s a world-wide cult.

So it isn’t exactly the vintage bike meet I thought I was going to, but still better than nothing, so I get to talk with a few of those around who, like Osca, speak a tolerable English. This is a nature park area, which is great if one is into that sort of stuff. And there are interesting things on the parking lot as well: Like a tough little Suzuki Cappuchino (no kidding) sports car. One of many Japanese car models intended mainly for the home market, with odd names. Thanks to special tax rules over here, cars with engines of less than 660 cc’s are not as expensive to own as larger ones, no matter how much they have in the way of extra valves and turbochargers.

Then off everyone goes, along the narrow two-lane blacktop, through tunnels, across bridges, around hairpin curves. After a few mandatory stops they give me one of the little critters to ride, and I wobble my way onto the main road. Equipped with license plates and turn signals they are actually street legal, except on the freeways, where there’s some sort of not-under-126 cc rule. Ok, this is actually fun; the steering is lightning-quick, my seriously tuned example (2,2 bhp) easily pulls away from the others, so with the 57 centimeters wheelbase bike and my knees in the air, I race downhill through the tight curves doing 45-50 kph. Trust me, this feels very fast.

Some 15 kilometers of hairy-scary riding ends at a farm where the city dwellers can se real cows, let their kids crawl up on a stack of manure, and even take a pet piglet home.

While another 2 ½ hours of bumper-to-bumper driving takes us back to town, Osca tells how he has driven his tiny bikes around Hawaii, from Geneva in Switzerland to Heidelberg in Germany, and to other places in Europe. The guy is cool, and his business with the mini-monkeybikes seems to be doing well: 450 units sold so far, at 3-400,000 yen apiece. That’s about 3,800 Euros / US$ 5,400 and upwards….

Back to town with three different privately owned subway systems. It very simple, really: If you pay too little at the ticket vending machine, there’s a fare adjustment machine at your destination. And there is usually also a guy in a sharp uniform and white gloves, to help you if you still screw it up.

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