Saturday, 12 June 2010

Old road, new camel

Newly planted rice above Kawaguchi

Having unexpectedly been lent a mountain bike by my road club captain on the express condition that I find some good routes, I dragged myself out and up the hills on a fine late afternoon in the first days of June in an effort to deserve it. Having been beaten back by spinning wheels on the steep gravel on my road bike there, I decided to go up the crumbling old road straight up the hill behind the school. It is only used by forestry workers and whoever has these rice paddies now, and is in disrepair. The old routes were made for foot transport, and were therefore much more direct and steep than the graded roads that replaced them.

The Tadami river with Nakagawa village in the distance

It was worth the climb as it (nearly) always is,  the Tadami valley opening out below me, much prettier than my style as I tried to get accustomed to the rolling lurch of climbing on a full suspension bike. Are these wheels round? No doubt I'd appreciate it on the way down.

Past the sixth century samurai grave mound, I skirted the plateau of soba fields on tarmac and headed for a path I had only snow-shoed before, which lead up to the rim of our (currently) friendly neighbourhood volcanic lake. It was ride-able all the way, and it was strange to arrive on wheels to a point on the ridge I had only reached on foot before. Taking a machine of any description domesticates places somewhat, don't you think?

On the one hand it's a mountain, on the other,  I seem to have parked a bike in someone's kitchen

I didn't really trust the paths marked on the map that seemed to offer a contouring escape from the climb up to the next top on the ridge, but decided to be wilfully naive and go anyway. Sure enough, arriving at the base of the hill after a sporting skitter on the switchbacks, they had disappeared, leaving a choice between going back the same way (what am I, a yo-yo?) or slogging up the steep hill pushing and dragging a lump of temporarily useless metal and rubber to get to the access road off the top (what am I, stupid?). You know the answer to this, don't you?

Yes, but an idiot in a beautiful place

I still don't know why I photograph bikes in different places, then show people the photographs, I mean what's the point? Is it a kind of visual scent marking? Mind you, you are looking at it and reading this, so you are encouraging me.

I chose a very steep (25% ish) zig-zagging concrete track off the mountain for my first experience of disk brakes. They began squealing as I kept them on, developing into a deep throb with whining overtones that, were I not concentrating on avoiding going over the edge, I would have analysed in more detail to ascertain why it began to sound like an early German experimental electronica track. I am sure the wildlife was making the self-same connection and wondering how all those old analogue synths were managing to slide down the hillside so gracefully, yet so far from Berlin. Do disk brakes always do that, or is it just the 12" vinyl extended picture disc singles?

Somewhat more darkly, form a practical point of view, was the fact that after finally stopping, I pulled on the front brake lever and it went right to the handlebar - the brake seemed to have completely failed. I decided to ride carefully home on roads, even when for no apparent reason it started working again. Do disk brakes always do that? I decided that riding an MTB when you are used to road bikes is like a jockey being presented with a saddled up camel. They look really well suited to desert survival, but it might take a while to learn how to actually milk one.


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