Monday, February 17, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Line Dancers

The need to belong is a strong subconscious driving force.  Even for those American’s among us who, usually through actions rather than words, proclaim their desire to be alone most of the time.  Solitude may be the balance, but even loners like to know that their is someone like them somewhere.  Even if the group you are a part of is spread across the vast landscape and your only contact is the random written word or phone call.   Even if the group is only two people.  

Contrast that with the fact that most of us in the U.S. never feel different enough.  Uniformity is somehow a sin, maybe because it hints at the status quo or the un-extraordinary.  With that in mind lets turn our attention to Central Japan and the LINE DANCERS.  

Here we have a group of gents and ladies who subscribe to a very similar style of bike.  But a style which is singular in Japan.  Almost no-one else is doing it on the island.  Beginning with a couple of friends, Atsugi Hashimoto and Yoshiki Miyagawa.  Stock length, rigid frame, cone-shovel, drag bars, friscoed tank, high mids.  And over time, as the savings permit you make it faster, cams, dual carbs, magneto and thus, impossible to start.  Knee breakers.  But they didn’t call it the Knee Breaker crew.  They didn’t give their pairing a name at all because they were only two within a larger, better known group of Harley Davidson and Lee Marvin ala “The Wild One” long sleeve striped shirts enthusiasts in greater Nagoya/Gifu area, known as the VISE CREW.

But then the crew within a crew began to increase in numbers.  Add A.G.s wife, Yuka, Yang (Young),  K.P. and a dude that everyone calls joke. This has obviously grown into a thing.  And why Line-Dancers? A.G. was not aware of the common American cultural practice of dancing in a line to hit songs such as the electric slide and achy breaky heart.  As A.G. explained it to me in the van on the way to a swap meet and camp out under mount Fugi, the bikes are narrow and fast and lane splitting is necessary to keep pace.  I have seen this lane splitting take place in Japan on a much more aggressive scale that that which I have ever seen in the states.  A.G. tells me its not crazy when his wife splits lanes going 80mph because the other drivers in Japan are aware that two wheeled vehicles are everywhere and while speeding is a crime in Japan, lane splitting is not.  I’ll buy that.  You must be eighteen, have somewhere to the tune of two grand and a great deal of time to invest in driving school if you want a license to operate a motor vehicle in Japan.  Still, its hard for me to wrap my everybody is trying to kill me riding mentality around the balance of trust that Japanese motorists maintain.  
If you are Japanese you are always a part of something.  First of all you are a part of the greater Japanese community, a responsibility that even my stripe clad buddies did not take lightly.  Then your workplace (perhaps the most serious obligation), then your neighborhood, your family and your friends.  I don’t know that all Japanese citizens overtly think about this but I became acutely aware of it working for a Japanese company and living in Japan for two years.  I am conditioned to take care of myself, the Japanese seem to be conditioned to take care of each other.  

The Line Dancers plug into this mix by creating (or falling into) a group almost expressly for the purpose of enjoying themselves, and even then many of there activities focussed on supporting Yoshiki’s clothing company, Redtail.  Interestingly their group within a group has had underdog status in the bigger picture of the Vise Crew, with Yoshiki’s Hell Cat and Terryi’s guilty razor Panhead, and Mox’s knuckle being the more fashionable of crew’s bikes.  All amazing individual bikes reflecting their rider’s personality, but A.G. has been riding the same bike, the same style, the same blistering speed since long before the 3.5 or so years I have know him, and only now that his lane splitting companions in full face helmets have grown to a whopping group of 6 people, they have emerged from underdog status to the cover of UpSweep magazine, a magazine specifically devoted to motorcycle fashion in Japan.  

And if you weren’t aware, motorcycle fashion is a big industry in Japan.  If you think that is weird, don’t think about it at all.  Their attitude is that the style is a part of the fun.  Not the whole picture.  The Line Dancers don’t own choppers and dress up just to be fashionable. We know the symptoms of such behavior in the U.S.  Showing up to a bike event dressed the part, with very little riding getting done.  In contrast, the Dancers (and most of the Vise crew for that matter) do it all.  They ride to every event, even the ones on the other side of the country in the rain in December.  They ride to work. They ride till they break their bikes.  Then fix them and ride more.  

Their appearance on the cover of UpSweep is a testament to two things.  A) that the motorbike culture is catching up to their style (which by the way they openly admit is just an ode to American choppers from the early 80s) and B) their willingness to support help their fellow Dancer, Yoshiki who owns three bikes, two of which fit the Line Dancer mold, the other is the famous Hell Cat, sell more striped shirts and blue jean vests.  Its not at all unlike supporting your local skate shop or neighborhood beer and produce market.  Even if the eventual result means that many more people will soon be doing what you are doing. The 

Dancers don’t hide in fear of becoming played out.  A.G. and Yuka haven’t changed in the years that I have known them and I don’t suspect they will change when they see Tokyo fashion beginning to copy them.  After all they know that every idea gets recycled and unlike we who run in terror from mediocrity and the things we love being turned into investment propositions for share holders, they see the proliferation of a good idea as a natural progression.  Of course American’s do have reasons for our resentment of the corporate copy-cat structure of share holders waiting to pounce on mom and dad money.  
Admittedly this structure is not exactly parallel to Japan’s.  But if you have ever woken up before school to go skating, if you have ever ridden your jalopy bike comprised of questionable old parts across the country, if you have ever woken up freezing on the other side of a dwindling campfire from a good friend, you probably understand that their is more to living than always being on the cutting edge of the next trend.  

A.G. and Yuka invited my wife and I to virtually every event that they were going to when we lived in Japan.  “So tomorrow we are going to a beach race in Ishikawa prefecture.  Can you meet us at the train station in Maibara? Yuka’s bike is broken so she will pick you up in the car. I think you American’s are just crazy enough to drop everything and do it!”  It was in fact crazy to hop the first bullet train in Okayama at 5:30 a.m., ride 300 kilometers, and then another 200 in a car and then come back in the same day.  But A.G. was right.  We did it because we new we had to.  Every get together was a complex mix of trains and hitching rides in which A.G., Yuka, Yoshiki, Rie, Yang, Hanayo and company always found us a way.  Why would they go to so much trouble?  The only thing I can think of is that in their view I am a part of the greater family of motorbike riders (I certainly don’t have any more credentials that) and my wife is my family thus, we are all family.  And thats just what you do.  No questions asked.  


Monday, February 10, 2014

This is happening.  We are going. You are too, right?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Whats up.

Hello 2014.  Putting old things to new use has always been at the pit of my subconcious. Suppose thats how how I fell into and old 4 cylinder yamaha 10 years ago.  Put together, take apart, put together in a different order.  Well this thing here fell together.  I dreamt of a long bike with a 14 over girder, psychedelic paint on a wassell tank and tiny front wheel.  Silly eh? But this thing was bound and determined to put itself together.  While thinking I would repair a bent girder for use Duane loaned me a 35mm front end with a mag to roll it around the Dojo (our overcrowded workspace where shuffling bikes around to make room for others is necessary).  From there parts just started appearing on their own.  A tank from Bowles, a shifter assembly from Nick, a rear mag from the heavens, hand carved steal your face points cover from Alex, fender, seat and sissy from the dust in my shed shed.  Nothing fit anything. But every piece that came seemed to want so badly to be ridden again. Everything was tired from use accept maybe the seat.  Way off center sissy bar, toasted wheel bearings, leaking tank, ragged out forks and no first gear (the trans is currently apart in my living room).  Cutting, bending, grinding, re-welding (thanks Austin and Duane) to make these old parts bolt together.    When I finally rode it for the first time, the old metal parts seemed to radiate joy in a giant V shape from where the wheels met the pavement, upward towards the sky, like Moses parting a sea of doubt.  This bike is three parts, gratitude for friendship, gratitude for those riders who first wore these parts out, and spirit of ghost parts returning from where ever they go to rest.