“You’re Japanese, you have to do it.”
It was the default nationality reasoning, which, when you happen to be Japanese, gets applied too often to activities that normal people just wouldn’t choose to engage in. Raving? Cosplay? Zentai? Yup, yup, and yup [and no, I did not do all of the above].
But this time, it actually sort of made sense. For once, it wasn’t linked to sexual perversions, a big step in and of itself when you’re talking about being Japanese. It was something that, while there might be quite a bit over overlap between the fans/spectators of uniquely Japanese fetishes and this activity, I found kind of cool. Something that would probably still elicit surprise in Japan if I ever admitted being into it, but vanilla enough to enable one to talk about it openly [loudly, even] in public.
I am, of course, talking of keirin, or track racing.
A sport that, in my home country, is more famous for its status as a betting sport and doesn’t allow women to race, I never thought that I’d end up on a track on a random Sunday in June. I saw it coming, unconsciously, maybe, acquiring a taste for bicycles, dropping bank on a track bike that consequently terrified me, and choosing to spend a winter developing some semblance of balance on the rollers. But “working towards getting to a track” and “getting on a track” are two different animals. I could waste endless hours on the rollers and never touch a banked velodrome.
But cursed with the kind of friends who think that I could “do well” in certain activities that involve physical exertion and a bicycle [never mind if their logic is rooted in my unchosen ethnicity], “riding my track bike around” just wasn’t cutting it. Mike insisted I get on a track. Jared kept asking me when I was going to show up to Kissena. DS was included in plans to accompany me to Kissena one day in sunglasses, mustaches, and matching tracksuits with “SHIMURA” emblazoned on the back, a rising sun beneath it.
With two single-speeds - one a legit track bike - absurd costumes aside, it seemed like a good plan. So when Jared told me about Kissena’s Women’s Track Clincs, I poked around their website, and just in time, signed up for the last 3 hour clinic last Sunday. I BikeReg’d for my first ever event, felt sort of cool because of it, and then proceeded to spend most of Sunday morning repeatedly telling Mike how nervous I was while he got ready to ride in the support car and otherwise do really cool stuff with DS for the Danish team in the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships [yes, I was uber jealous]. He told me I would be fine, that DS said I would kill it, gave me a kiss, and left, leaving me weakly pointing at my bike, on the verge of pooping my pants, yet again.
A few hours later, I was sitting in the middle of the first track I’ve ever been to, watching as experienced riders switched out cogs and chainrings, sprinted, and circled. A few minutes later, Joe - the main instructor and organizer - showed up with loaner bikes, and more clinic particpants filtered in. In all, about 10 women showed up, ranging from 10yrs old to 40. All were experienced in racing in some capacity, and I was thoroughly intimidated.
We first rode around the track, getting used to the banked corners, and learning how to use gravity to launch into a 200m sprint, where to stay on the track and how to pass others. After a drink of water and a few minutes of rest, we were then put in a giant pace line.
And that’s about the time when I started to get my ass handed to me. Mostly by a handful of tweens.
Due to my nonexistent pace line skills, and riding behind the probably 8yr old brother of one of the younger girls, I managed to get dropped, then linger in no man’s land for about FOUR FUCKING LAPS. Struggling to pull the rest of the line back to the front, I didn’t so much blow up as slowly putter out from pushing against the wind for what seemed like forever. I heard Jared’s voice in my head - “hey, at most, I’ll only be 399m ahead of you” - and then the wind gusted again.
The pace line broke apart, we drank by-then hot water, and rested before doing individual sprints, lead-out sprints, telephone pole jumps and power bursts, concluding with mock races. By the individual sprints, my legs were pretty much done. Of course, I apparently still had to go around and around the track, attempting to muster up some semblance of speed, while the wind treated us to billows of yellow sand from the baseball diamond adjacent to the track. By the time we were through, my jersey was marked by chain grease [from flipping my wheel] and patches of brownish-yellow sweat where I had wiped the sandy sweat from my chin. My glutes hurt and the sheer thought of climbing up 5 flights of stairs to Mike’s apartment with a bike over my shoulder - much less the ride back from 42nd St - made my head swirl.
I made it, though [an almond butter sandwich helped]. Brakeless, even. I had pulled out the cable in my front brake once I had arrived at the track and failed to put it back in properly. To be honest, I was a little disappointed in myself when I left; even though my riding has recently been limited to my commute, I expected to be a little stronger. I didn’t notice until halfway to the Main St 7 stop that riding brakeless was sort of coming naturally, and that I was totally okay with it.
Rain hit me around 27th St, but feeling bad about pulling out Mike’s Rapha Stowaway with my disgusting hands, I considered it a free shower and toughed it out. I made it up those stairs, jumped into the most awesome shower in recent memory, tried to study for the bar and ended up passing out in my underwear instead.
I woke up to stories and pictures of the Philly race, indulged in a delicious brownie made by Mike’s mom, and passed out yet again, dreaming of turning left at Kissena.