søndag den 22. juli 2007

Sunday Nov. 12 - Time Tunnel Race Meet, Part I

The onsen last night was great, as I laid there in the steaming hot water, looking up at star constellations I couldn’t readily recognize, even if they are supposed to be the same at northern latitudes (?).The large dormitory was ok, 50-odd ‘beds’ placed about one meter apart. Six hours of sleep, and then a marvelous view of Mt. Fuji through the large panorama windows. Couldn’t see it yesterday in the darkness, of course, but today there’s sunlight and the mountain is capped with snow.

Off I ride in direction of ‘Time Tunnel Race Meet’, and park at a Yamaha SR shop I spotted last night, when I stopped to check my road map. The door sign reads ‘closed’, but the owner runs down the stairs as he sees my Nimbus. ‘Stinky’ is the odd name of the shop, but the quality of these SR 400 conversions are higher than on any SR’s I have ever seen before. MV Agusta, BSA, Ducati and other themes are used, most of them have a delicious 120,000 yen (ouch!) rear swing arm, and some even have Japanese copies of Fontana brakes, while the owner’s personal mount has real Grimecas front and rear.

I have a timetable to consider, but an offer of breakfast – green tea and bits of chocolate – make me stay and talk for a while, as it is still freezing cold outside. 10 degrees centigrade last night, and certainly not any higher this morning, with a strong wind blowing. I hang around for ¾ of an hour, whereupon his mechanic or apprentice or whatever leads me the back way to the racetrack. Whatever time I may have ‘lost’ at Stinky is recouped here, because even if Fuji Speedway lies close to the onsen, it is still far from anywhere (in beautiful nature, of course), and I see no signs in English leading there.

At the entrance I mutter the magical code word – Yoshimura-san (the organizer, one of Osca’s friends) – and get in for free. Down to the race pit, and quickly I tear off everything that is touring-related, before Yohimura-san sees the bike. I want to go on the track, lack of a proper racer’s license and no pre-registration be damned. Impossible, he says, as I meet him at the office, but after he has seen the stripped-down bobber, and after some other people kindly have intervened on my behalf (just like in ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’), I’m allowed to race in some sort of ‘parade’ class. All I have to do is promise not to overtake anyone, or do any knee-sliding.

A couple of hours are spent walking around looking at all the nice stuff: Lots of small vintage Honda racers, a dozen or so Bridgestones, some small Ducatis, 10-15 pieces of British iron, a sole 1960’s Harley-Davidson KR, at least 20 scooters and one incredibly mean looking 1200 cc pre-war Rikuo. All in all a little more than 100 motorcycles, which according to a local Brit is about half the number that showed up at last year’s event. Seeing that people here are more focused on the racing thing, rather than that of the vintage bike thing, the Nimbus is an entertaining element, but not half as much as at the other two meetings. Fine with me, I’m mainly thinking about my start just before noon, and how to get a race number plate to put on the bike. Riding without would be like robbing a bank without having real ammo in the sawn-off shotgun.

Normal conversation in the pits is all but impossible, thanks to the sweet, loud music of bikes getting started and adjusted. On the track battles are being fought in different classes, on a short, narrow track with only one 500 meter straight stretch. A number of crashes occur, though seemingly with only damage to the machines and not their riders. In particular the rider of an orange Lambretta scooter goes around like if his life depended on it, but miraculously the guy reappears from some of the hidden turns every time. A local journalist pops up next to me, his camera man sticking a camera lens in my face, and asks questions like ‘Which motorcycle here do you find most interesting?’ (easy; the big old Rikuo with the Kawasaki W3 gear box). From behind a hill we can hear the roars from the larger part of the Fuji racetrack, where a Lotus Seven club is out this last weekend before winter sets in, having a blast in the little cars.

Just as I’m mounting a race plate borrowed from a Bridgestone, a friggin’ band of bagpipers march down the pit area. This is part of a 30-year old tradition, I’m told. So be it, at least the sound like they know how to play those contraptions. Half an hour later they are done, the flock of scooters do a number of sloooow laps, and it is time for me to go on the track. Last man in an eclectic bunch of smallish bikes, right behind and incredibly loud megaphone-equipped little Honda (noisy to the point where I consider running him off the track), and with a 200 cc Velocette LE as the unofficial pace bike. This is definitely too slow, even for a Nimbus, so I fall back about half a lap for each go-around, and repeatedly have some fun catching up.

Downhill along the straight at full throttle in second and third, something I would not even have considered on the first part of this trip. Now, however, I can finally ‘afford’ a serious engine failure, which in any case not likely to happen. I’m close to the port of departure, and here’s a lot of large vans and people who will understand my predicament – this very bunch of racers have probably experienced more blown-up engines per capita than any other group of 4-500 people in Japan.

Another bonus of racing here, is that for a short moment I get to remember how easy the bobber is to ride without all the touring crap, and without my highway pegs and the low license plate to limit the lean angles. Even if I’m 6-7 kilograms lighter by now, thanks to six weeks of small servings of Japanese food, the 35-40 kilograms of luggage severely hamper the stripped bike’s reasonable performance and handling. Eight or ten laps later it is over, all too brief.

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