AKAIGAWA TOMO Challenge Cup report

Unfortunately, last year’s fever of the Red Bull Pump Track World Championship didn’t quite come back here this year as the Japan qualifier round in Hokkaido was canceled. To save the locals from the loss and tears, the venue and several members of the local scene have made it happen within the community, and that’s what I was up to a weekend ago.

The race format was the same as the Red Bull event, where there is a single timed run for the qualification round and then a pursuit style dual for the final tournament.

Result-wise, the top two places subject to awards were both taken by the Niseko crew. Fast, consistent and awesome riders.

For myself, despite quite a bit of improvement since last year and some confidence, a series of errors got me eliminated in the first round of the finals. A lot of my friends seemed to have expected me to win, but I just couldn’t cater. Too bad, but lessons were learned nevertheless.

(Hey white line, I haven’t seen you in a long time…)

This is where the biggest losing factor was. I had only been riding here trying to maintain as high cruising speeds as possible from random rolling starts. In this race setup, on the other hand, you need to pedal hard for a few seconds from a still start, then switch to the pumping mode instead of pedaling. I know, it’s something totally basic and I really should have known.

Regardless of the failed start and an accidental french kiss by the stem against my jaw when absorbing a bump, I had to push, and I chose the “jump whatever you can” tactic I came up with this year. They say jumping exhausts you less than pumping, so I just decided to subscribe to that. However, it’s a known fact that manualing and jumping will slow you down if you are just barely keeping the front end up or clearing the distance. I have improved my pump manuals in the last year, but there seems to be way more to learn about jumps. At least I’ve figured something out about race style jump techniques after watching tons of BMX race footage on the next day and onward, and I’m excited to try them later this year.

By the way, there are like 52 roller bumps on this pump track at Akaigawa Tomo Playpark. If you doubled everything, that’d be 26 jumps in a lap. Among which, I managed to make 13, exactly half of them. Considering that there were only three sets I could double around the end of last year, it’s at least some progress, even though I’m still in the “just barely jumping and clearing” phase.

Usually it costs 1,400 yen to ride the course for two hours, but the organizer kindly set a rule to let us ride for hours after the race. At first I was like, “who would actually want to keep riding after a race?” but as it turned out, I was steaming carbon monoxide from my ears when the race was over as I was so far from happily burned out. So despite the drippy weather, some other participants, friends and I ended up riding a lot. I had also brought our official test bike in the Night Forest colorway, and the people there got to try it, from pros to casual bike lovers, leaving quite favorable reviews.

And by favorable reviews, I really mean it. In comparison to, say, model P from company S, J from SC, and T from T, which are all like new, actually really nice bikes produced by large companies that have spent tons of money in R & D, our Tanatos was reviewed as nothing lesser. Or rather, as those who had a taste would occasionally say, actually even better, like, crazy maneuverable, fun, rad, like, wow.

Another discovery came along with a pointer from a friend of mine that the general public may be misled about the rad-/dope-/craziness factor. Apparently, people are scared that such an infectious rad crazy dope ride shall turn their chihuahuas into pit bulls when you buy the bike and casual cruises into bloodbaths when you ride it.

So let me elaborate a little. Certainly, the street/dirt jump/skate park/pump track MTB is a niche genre, within which there have been a number of models with distinct crazy deviant characters in both good and bad ways. Also, it is true that there are many parts of the Tanatos frame that you may call “deviant” based upon bike design norms at the time when I designed it. However, all that “rad deviance” we employed is for the sake of creating a bike that reacts linearly to rider’s input and maximizes the fun of controlling the bike. Just like a good pair of scissors that makes it easy and fun for anyone to cut things precisely, the foremost objective here is to design and make a product that allows you to explore your imagination to whatever extent you may conceive.

Self promotion gets boring so it’s done. Let’s talk a bit about other bikes as well. Amidst the heat of bike swap sessions, I had a chance to try several BMX racers, and they were great fun. Personally I don’t need anything other than our very own Tanatos for my kind of riding on the street and at dirt jumps, and I’m pleased with its versatility to shred in other situations such as at the MTB park at Bankei. Still, the world of 20 inchers like BMX and BTR that have a way bigger maneuver space is somewhat special, fun, and can teach you a lot. For myself as well, there have been so many things I couldn’t have learned, both riding-wise and product design-wise, if I hadn’t been riding BMX bikes pretty seriously at some points. If you have the desire to enhance your bike riding experience with more bike control, this is one great way to do it, whether your main ride is a road racer or full-sus MTB.

So as a whole, despite the sketchy race results on my part, it was a great session with lots of discoveries through fun interactions with the good fellows. Big thanks go to those I rode with, those who cheered, those who captured, and those who elaborated the event and made it happen.

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