two bonsai girls and a few exceptional [rapha] gentlemen

I would have at least shaved my legs.
I would have at least shaved my legs, attempted to look a bit less tired, and washed my bike. I would have made some effort to seem more pro.
The thing was, it was supposed to be a chilled-out ride. Natsuki-san and I had made plans to do an easy ride up Onekan on Sunday [the rest of the Bonsai team were headed to Nagano for a monstrous ride], and I figured that despite being bloated and about 30 seconds away from getting my period, it would force me out the door and onto my bike. I mean, this was the bike ride equivalent of hanging out on a friend's couch, watching movies, and talking about boys while eating too many cookies, not dressing up and going out to be looked at by boys.

How wrong I was.
When I rolled into our meeting spot, I was informed that we were meeting people. It took a few seconds to sink in.
"So at the Rapha pop-up shop yesterday, I mentioned we were going to ride together, and then Ichifuru-san said he wanted to come, too, and then some other people said they might come..."
"Oh, okay, cool."
It took an hour to sort of sink in. At the convenience store meet-up spot, we coasted in and found the talented Yuji Yamada waiting for us, in full Rapha and a Superb cap. I assumed he was "some other people," but Natsuki-san was busy texting. "Yano-san said he just got up, I'm not sure what that means," she said.

Yano-san? The [No-No-] Notorious Y-N-O of Rapha Japan?
I'd actually met Daisuke Yano of Yastugatake Bicycle Studio and Rapha Japan back in February. Super chilled out and totally cool, he had been nice enough to invite me on a ride around Tokyo with TJ, which unfortunately got rained out. A little intimidated by the idea of actually riding with him, though, I had a casual hope that maybe "I just got up," meant "nah, I'm not going to make it this time."
I was totally wrong again. He rolled up with Ichifuru-san on a borrowed IF, both of them in Yatsugatake-Rapha gear. Everyone was impossibly slim and decked in Rapha. Natsuki-san and I had on Bonsai jerseys. I also had on Assos. FML.

It’s a sign of a good ride to come, and good riders, when things silently fall into place. Sandwiched between the Rapha [gentle]men, Natsuki-san and I surged up 10% climbs that topped out at 14, 15, and finally 18%. Through secluded roads too narrow to zig-zag up [trust me, when I hit that 18% wall, I really tried], the guys shimmy-ed up the inclines like they were 2% grades, while I grunted with effort like a constipated rhino.
The realization that it must have been incredibly easy for everyone else only came much later. Because these guys are strong. Given their Rapha affiliation, that shouldn't come as a surprise, but it's a strength that is, for lack of a better term, comfortable. Unasked, someone was always playing sag wagon by bringing up the rear, with none of the impatience that lets you know that a charity ride is exactly that. For the first time since flying back to Tokyo with a couple bikes in tow, I didn’t feel guilty riding with exceptionally strong, skilled cyclists.

As awesome as the riding was, I was more than ready to fill up on carbs and coffee by the time we pulled into the usual Starbucks. For some reason, at this point in time, I was caught on camera giving The Notorious YNO a look of horrified disgust. I honestly can’t remember what we were talking about, but this is possibly the best picture of me, ever.

And because Rapha was involved, it started to pour on the way back. Sucking a wheel felt like taking a shower, and my shoes became little bags of water. We beasted through, and despite the discomfort, I realized I hadn’t gotten this drenched on a ride in a long time. It actually felt kind of good.

The rain conveniently let up as we came back to the convenience store we had assembled at that morning. We said our thank yous and our goodbyes, and rolled our separate ways. Natsuki-san and I ended up spinning through downtown Tokyo to check out the Rapha weekend pop-up in our still-wet chamois shorts before heading home, tired but happy. It was one of the more unexpected of days, and definitely an amazing one.
I’m hoping that sometime soon, we’ll get to do it all over again.
[Big thanks to everyone that came out on Sunday! More pictures courtesy of Ichifuru-san, here.]

the rapha continental with alex stieda

A video popped up on Facebook the other day, shared by a friend, and I watched it on a wary whim, expecting a front row seat to another story I wouldn't be able to relate to. But a minute in and it suddenly made me smile, bite my lip, and hold my breath. It even got me on the bike this past weekend, if only for a solitary, indoor, hour.
A baby step in the right direction, it came in the form of a gentle push by Rapha, Rich Bravo, and Jeremy Dunn.

Rapha Continental Alberta, Canada with Alex Stieda from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Thanks, guys. Miss you!

copying fantasy

Back in high school, I was lucky enough to have friends who had much better taste in music than I. The Sex Pistols, Propagandhi, The Clash, [old school] Rancid. I would like to say that we exchanged CDs, but in reality, I was exclusively borrowing.
The music and [life]style came at a point when, much to my disappointment, copying my sister’s style - which required legs the size of my arms - was no longer physically feasible. It wouldn’t have been so bad, maybe, if my sister hadn’t been so cool to begin with. But she had friends, snuck out of school to smoke, and stayed out late, drinking. I hated the chemical smell of stale cigarettes that lingered in her closets, yet envied this social life of hers. And as most of my time was spent either staring at or falling asleep on books, plagarizing her style had been the easy option.
But stuck in the same high school as my sister for two years, I was left to conjure up both an existence outside of her shadow and the confidence to express myself [or else endure daily beatings]. To assume the risk of exhibiting my own personality. A confusing and intimidating task, mostly because since there was no longer an older sibling serving as an experiment as to what was considered cool or tasteful, I hardly knew where to start. But in the struggle to pin down my own identity while walking the gauntlet that is high school, there was the music. Those borrowed CDs that turned into a decent purchased-by-myself collection, a love for a good bass line, and a grasp of something that was distinctively me. Something that I loved enough to lay out for the school populace to judge.


This love ultimately manifested itself into wearing lots of black, including a dog collar. Not a clichéd cheap leather one with studs, but one made of light woven nylon with a proper silver buckle. It was actually made for dogs, not teenagers, but that didn’t deter my somewhat questionable accessorizing. Blind to any canine implications, I wore it religiously, and in the small world that was my high school, I considered it a trademark of sorts. Never mind that gutter punks had patented the look about a decade before I was born. To me it was a declaration of self.
I should have known better, but perhaps the anchoring of personality to accessory was the reason why it chafed so much when a classmate suddenly started to do the same. Because for me, back then, that dog collar was akin to a distinctive shade of lipstick, a signature cologne, or a one-off team kit designed for you and your buddies. It was more than a simple fashion statement, which made the appropriation, done so casually, hurt even more. In hindsight, this classmate was probably acting under the misperception that I was actually cool, but all I could feel was resentment at her for reducing all those hours picking at a bass guitar and digging for music into a mere accessory. Open to be acquired by all.


Since then, I’ve been told that copying is the highest form of flattery, but depending on the day, I think that this statement is pure bullshit, somewhat true, or something in between. On one end of the spectrum, when the imitation is subtle and flavored with a twist of originality, it’s a nod towards an inspiration, or a shy glance at aspiration. An acknowledgment that you thought something was cool enough to risk duplication. At the other end - oftentimes coinciding with “copying” becoming “counterfeiting” and thus pissing off enough wealthy and/or litigious individuals - it dilutes authenticity into what David Sedaris once defined as “fantasy.” Something that lets you “skip the degradation and head straight to the top.”
I remembered that dog collar recently, upon Josh’s discovery of Torm, Pistard, and Road Holland. The two-tone jerseys, the distinctive slanted back pockets with a zipper on the outside of the right side pocket, sometimes coupled with photographs of men climbing out of the saddle in said jerseys on seemingly deserted roads at high altitudes. It is the stuff of [a Rapha-filled] fantasy made real, the higher-end version of the classmate who came in one day with a black dog collar of her own.




To be honest, it’s not the act of copying itself [the law, if not in the US, at least in the EU can take care of that], that bothers me the most in this original/copy debate, but that the copying signifies giving up. Throwing energy into everything but the very thing that’s important: the products themselves. It’s premature ejaculation taken to a corporate level where a business is incorporated, people are hired, materials prepared...only to result in something that isn’t quite unique. If the aforementioned companies were off-the-back-of-a-truck operations, set up and dismantled with the shady stealth characteristic of a Chinese counterfeit enterprise, I would almost be more okay with it. At least, then, the provision of a copy would be in acknowledgment of the luxury status of the original and no one would be attempting to claim ownership [just a few quick bucks, with the understanding by both parties that the product is a mere imitation with no brand or status of its own]. As it’s set up now, though, there’s almost too much [albeit commendable] hard work and courting of financial investment to excuse the lack of originality. It’s a promised good time with a cute guy who spends the evening trying to be something he’s not, because he has somehow convinced himself that that’s what you’re looking for.
The thing is, if I want Rapha, I know exactly where to find him. And if I’m not knocking on his door, I’m looking for something different. Something fresh.
Because, as I eventually discovered, different can sometimes be predictable [and the predictable, different]. I held onto that dog collar until then, fearful in trying the unfamiliar while telling myself that nothing else could truly represent me. Variety - colors, shoes with heels, belts without studs - gradually made their way into my wardrobe and brought with them the challenge of presenting myself to the world without easily categorized visual aids. To be [as a South Park episode once put it] nonconformist by not being nonconformist. It’s a route that can be riddled with fashion faux pas, but like a long, hard ride, there’s also something exciting in having the confidence to try. The knowledge that you invested enough time, thought, and frustration into it to make it solely yours might not make you an overnight success, but it alleviates the pain of those prolonged periods of degradation.
Ironically, the interest in attempting to be fashionably interesting has given way to my current lazy outfits; a result, I tell myself, of my inability to think about properly dressing myself after a ride. But like those who choose to confine themselves to imitation, it’s a shame. It’s not like I’ve lost my closet full of clothes that I could be mixing and matching. I’m just letting the opportunity slip by.