Aloha and Welcome to *Liam's Wild Ride* , the Official Website of Liam Shubert. This is the mostly complete chronicle of my travels, adventures, and experiences while I was busy working in MotoGP, with stints in WSBK, WSS, and the World Endurance Championship! Please enjoy the Places, Races, and especially, the Races!
I'm currently living and working in beautiful San Francisco, California. How can I help make your auto/moto dreams into a reality? Email me to discuss your special project today.
Beautiful Japan -
shiny, confused, chaotic
- so magnificent!
See you guys back in Barcelona, I'm heading to the airport now for more than 24 hours of combined travel to get back to "homebase". Expect full reports from the last 3 (Three!) MotoGP races, and my tours and travels through those various countries - once I have a chance to decompress and get to writing! I am soooo looking forward to a good cup of coffee.
It's been raining quite a bit in Tokyo. The city is quieter than I expected and getting about has been more challenging than I originally thought. I've gotten off the off the subway one stop early - a couple of times - simply because I'm disoriented and I've misread the signs. Nonetheless, this time, and my experiences in Japan, have been simply amazing. I'll wait until I'm back in Barcelona next week before putting up a ton of photos from the past three races because right now my time here is precious and I want to soak in as much as possible.
Shinjuku area, looking for a place to eat. There are lots of restaurants and eatery's, but I was looking for something specific.
This hole in the wall place looked perfect.
And it was!!!
Tonight I'm off in search of more good food, and tomorrow I'm planning a day trip through Ueno. This city has far too much to see and do, and I wish I had more time here, but it's also incredibly expensive and this season has been tight, financially. I feel like this trip has been one of those catalyst moments, which causes a shift in personal understanding and stimulates growth. It's not just being surrounded by a such a rigid and structured society (which it is anything but!), it's more. It's baffling, and it will take me some time to sort through everything. On thing is for sure. I'm so fortunate to be where I am, and it's a combination of people, talent, and drive, that have put me here. To see what I've seen, to smell the air across continents, to feel the impact of various cultures and alien societies - it's magnificent. I'm living well beyond my means at this time, but where my goal might once have been to have fun, love what you do, etc., it's getting more focused week by week. I can't wait for life to keep roling on, rushing into the next stage. Time to eat!
After watching the 800's spin some laps, I quickly made my way up and out of the paddock area. You cross through a tunnel to go across the track to the main grandstands area, and then you take a series of escalators to get to the top level of the circuit. While not immediately noticable from the television, Motegi is cut into a bunch of hills and there are some nice elevation changes around the track. The grandstands at Motegi are the tallest I've ever seen. What was also interesting were the flags and banners that the Japanese fans made in support of their favorite riders. They were Professional! I mean, fonts, logos, graphics, everything was perfect. I didn't have time to get many pictures, but they were the best I've seen, and they really showed the devotion and dedication that the Japanese racing fans have.
The circuit is so big, that walking around would have taken a considerable amount of time, so I went to the information office at the main gate and asked where the museum was. When the girl noticed I worked in MotoGP, she smiled and told me to wait a moment. It was well worth the wait, as a bus-driver came out and drove me (just me!) to the museum in this yellow bus. Normally, these were used to bus people to and from the parking areas, but this one was all mine! The slogan on the side of the bus sums up my racing philosophy, Enjoy it! Actually, it's more of a life philosophy. We're not getting out of here alive. . . . .
A short bus ride later, and I was at the front entrance of a gorgeous building that was set aside from the amusement park rides strewn throughout the track. And not just kiddie rides, we're talking adult go-kart type stuff. I highly recommend spending some time at this track if you get the chance. That's why I was there on Monday!
A little disclaimer here: This museum is filled with top-notch examples of groundbreaking cars and motorcycles, both for the street and for the racetrack. I took literally hundreds of photos, and I have selected just a few to be here on my website. There are so many outrageous and beautiful machines here that I wanted to spend as much time as possible just poking around, but I didn't have that luxury, as I needed to be back with Marlboro Ducati later that afternoon. I did the best I could to absorb some part of Soichiro's spirit, and I think I did just that!
The ground floor is tastefully laid out, minimalist, clean, and with a selection of bikes and cars from all eras. It was this bike that caught my eye first. I would love to see a modern iteration of this style of bike, even a modern four banger with a different fairing would be enough. This style is iconic, and although Ducati has released something along the lines of "classic" with their Paul Smart edition, I think a bike that took after one like this would be that much sweeter. But that's me, and I'm a sucker for all things moto.
What was neat about the first floor was that there are sections that not only have original vehicles, but also time pieces on display, of the fashions, trends, art, and things like that. There's a nice cafe, a courtyard out back, and a perfect little souvenir shop. I wanted to see and do as much as possible, as quickly as possible, so I ran up the large stairway to the second floor, which was separated into two sections, one for historical bikes, and one for historical cars. It should be noted that the museum is not strictly reserved for Hondas. Far from it! There are bikes and cars from all manufacturers represented, because history is full of groundbreaking ideas and proof of design from all sides. It was a real treat to see this replica of the very first motorcycle, originally made by Daimler, of later Daimler-Benz (Mercedes) fame. It was utterly stunning and perfect in every way.
I forgot to mention that there's an onsite flat-track, presumably built so HRC could get their RS750 on the ground when they were going after Harley. When they won the championship in the states, they promptly lost interest, or maybe it was because the rules were bent against them.
I love singles. Man! I love singles! What a graceful and elegant frame on this one.
Further back in the motorcycle room, I found a collection of mini's that was phenomenal. These are quite possibly my favorite motorcycles in the world, so this was like hitting the motherlode for me.
A clean (well, perfect, really) example of a KO. One day I'm going to build a super version of one of these hard-tails, with a perfectly balanced motor and all the trick bits I can get my hands on! Mark my words!
One of the more interesting Honda 50's, the industrial Motra. I've seen these in o.d. green, also. What a kick-ass farm bike this would make.
The little bike that started it all, the CZ100. Try finding one of those these days!
On the opposite side of the single cylinder side of things, we have this, which needs no introduction. Honda's great six cylinder streetbike, the CBX.
Another one of Honda's great streetbikes, the V4/V8-ish engine powering what is now a rare collectible, the Honda NR750. What a radical design, with it's oval pistons. Radical, there's no other word for it.
If you see one of these, see if the owner will let it go - Cheap! Good luck, haha!
Ohhhh, one of my absolute favorite. The Rikuo, a Harley-Davidson clone that was manufactured after WWII. These things are just about perfect replicas, and in fact, they should be considered Harley-Davidson's. Just not ones from Milwaukee. They might even be better . . . . . . . .
I don't know the square footage of the rooms, but they are large and filled with so much two wheeled goodness, it can be overwhelming for someone like me. I'm by no means an engineer, but I can recognize and see how certain designs were developed and evolved over time due to higher tolerances, better metalurgy, or just out of sheer popularity. I think Kevin Cameron (of Cycle World, I think) would have a field day here, because while the second floor is filled with "standard" bikes and cars, the third floor is race-only! Here's just a small, small sampling of what was there.
It was really neat being here on a Monday, because literally, there were probably only four other people in the whole museum. FOUR. That meant I pretty much had the place to myself, and you can get darn close to these machines. Close enough to touch them, if you wanted to. . . .
I stumbled upon the endurance racer section, and immediately felt like I was surrounded by Ultraman's bikes, because of all the strange bug-eye headlights. Maybe not Ultraman, but more like Masked Rider, or Kikkaida!
While not especially competitive, the Rock/Elf Honda was ahead of it's time. I really appreciate that they went racing with a new and unique design, though maybe it wasn't so good for Ron Haslam's career. Who knows? I know it's a very special bike, and I wouldn't mind owning a version today, but with a more modern powerplant that was easier to service, or one that didn't need much service, like a VFR!
This place has everything, a wall just full of #1 NSR's, four strokes, two strokes, anything and everything that HRC has raced you can probably find in here. I was at a loss because you can't believe how much racing history is just sitting around quietly. These are terrible machines, warriors on wheels, and now? Now they are polite examples of beautiful design, like a sword on the wall never to be used again. A little sad, really.
Oh, SNAP! Name it if you can. I love this machine.
Nice tail. I like asymmetry. It's more organic in some ways, and that let's the bike flow to the function side of things more than the form.
Ok, last one for a little while. This is a nice Italian/Harley machine made by an aeroplane company, if I remember correctly. As more racing knowledge pours in, more arcane Harley history falls out!
Couple shots I took this afternoon while hanging out at Twin Ring Motegi, Honda's home track, and one of the most elaborate and beautiful circuits I've seen. I'm hoping to get into the Honda Collection Museum later this afternoon, but for now, here's a peak at what next season will bring.
Valentino was spinning some laps on his new 800, which looks very similar to this year's machine . . . . for now.
Suzuki had something a little different out there as well.
Managed to check this out, too! This has got to be one of the tightest projects ever to come out of Honda, with people still guessing about the engine configuration.
The left side is very, very, interesting. Almost "street-fighterish".
The full profile is sharp, and it's looks like next year is going to be fantastic!
But more than the looks, you guys really need to hear the new machines. It's out of this world.
It wouldn't be fair to hang out at a Harley place , and not fire up a couple of the old girls, so that's exactly what we did. After I got back from taking the Honda 50 for a spin, Hammer decided we should make a run for the mountains - or at least, a run through the old towns and villages that surrounded Mt. Tsuba, or Tsuba-san.
Hammer took out his '56 Pan, I borrowed Katsu's shovelhead, and then we were off. I tried to take a couple motion shots and some video, but a lot of the roads we were on were quite small and it was difficult to manage. We went through the rice paddies, on roads so narrow no American truck could have made it. No direction, just an overall heading towards the mountains.
A beautiful farmhouse, with bamboo and hills in the rear. What a life, huh?
I tried to look cool, but I don't think I quite made it.
Hammer showed me what a "cool" biker pose is, haha. Tsuba-san sits patiently in the background, waiting, watching. I miss seeing mountains, like when I was growing up. Living in the cities, surrounded by concrete buildings, really takes a different mindset, and you forget what you had.
Another little stream, this time with someone fishing from the banks.
This little bridge provided the perfect spot to take a break, and snap a pic! The sun was setting fast, and although it wasn't cold in the tshirts we were in, it added a sense of urgency to what was otherwise a very relaxing cruise through the countryside. We pressed on towards the hills, getting lost once or twice, but enjoying every minute of it. I was so surprised at Hammer's bike's agility, as he was rounding tight little bends much faster than I was able to, and although I'm used to riding rigid frame motorcycles, I doubt I could have done much better, even on my own bike.
Here's a rare sight, scarecrows! I think there was some sort of harvest festival coming up at the end of autumn, and there were a bunch of these scarecrows lining some of the fields. There was even a ninja one, with outstretched katana reaching into the road. Don't get too close!
Headed towards the Tsuba-san.
Get out and ride, if you can. Words just can't describe how much I miss being in the wind. With the rumble of the engine, the roar of the exhaust, the wind lashing at your face, tears streaming out the sides of your eyes, and not running down your face, it's just perfect. The only thing to look forward to is another glorious ride.
This is the kind of stuff I was looking for. Buildings that have been around for more than generations. Buildings that have stood, basically unchanged, for a thousand years. This one is a typical, old-school, grain harvesting shed, where the rice was stored and dried over the winter. Villagers would bring their food from the surrounding areas and store it all here, and the buildings are all raised on stilts to prevent anything from getting wet in case of a flood or heavy rain. Magnificent.
Beware of these stink bugs. They move slowly, so it's easy to reach out and touch one, but if you do . . . . . you're going to smell. For a long time. And no one will believe it's not shrimp.
There are small lakes in the area, filled with fish, snapping turtles, and lots of wild Lotus.
Ahhh, Tsuba-san. As it was explained to me, the two peaks represent two, errrr, parts of the body.
It was late at this point, and darkness was creeping in. We decided to make a run for the mountains at a later date, a promise to ride again. Heading back towards the shop, I paused on the side of the road to catch, The Land of the Setting Sun.
Huge gratitude goes out to Hammer and Katsu, for making this a once in a lifetime journey. There might be other times in Japan, but nothing quite so special as this one. Riding through small, winding roads, seeing the life from the saddle of a Harley, being places where I never would have been.
Wednesday was swirling by too quickly, and after reading a couple magazines and catalogues at the shop, Katsu and Hammer wheeled out this little old bike. I guess I looked bored, or maybe they knew that I needed to go for a spin. Either way, it was really cool to check out this vintage bike. Faded paint, loose hardware everywhere (like the bars!), it was something else. After airing up the tires, the boys told me to take her out, so I did!
At first sight, I was a little scared, because I thought, what kind of bike is this?!?
I really tried to give it a good inspection, and it turns out that this little thing was an early Sixties Honda! Everyone knows I have a thing for little motored Hondas, and this was right up my alley. I had fun bouncing down the roadways, cutting in and out of the neighboring fields, and with it's bouncy, spring only suspension, it was a real throwback in time. I could almost imagine that time hadn't passed, and that I was zooming around on something more modern, because everything still worked! Ok, maybe the brakes were a little worn, or the brake shoes were glazed, but it felt sooo good to be back on two wheels, and under power, too!
Under Power? Hell yeah! That little frying pan looking thing is the muffler, and when you take a good look at the rear wheel (inside), you can see that it's actually the generator for the bikes electrical system. Just flip a switch on the motor and pedal to get it started, and Vroom! You're off! It took me a little while to get accustomed to it, but once I was rolling, everything was just second nature. To be alone in the wind, the smell of the ricefields, the sun shining, it was amazing. No thoughts about horsepower, or who's watching, or where I was going - just putting along to the tune of the engine. I think technically this might be a moped, because there weren't any gears to shift through, but I'm not picky. Two wheels? Motor? That's a bike in my opinion. No front fender? Hmmm, maybe it's a chopper, hahaha.
Another amazing Honda 50cc. What kind of journeys has this bike taken before, and who has it carried - to work, to school, to a girlfriend's house? One look at the engine and it's obvious that this is unmistakably Honda. Who else has ever made so many cool 50cc machines? I love it!
I needed to get back to the shop eventually, so I took a few pictures and then headed back. At Max Speed! I don't know how fast I ended up going, but it was a riot just getting the bike cleared out and doing it's best. Huge Thumbs-up to this bike. To be away from everything, even for just a couple minutes, and to be riding in the country, was truly something special. Life is special.
I spent a bit of time at my friend's shop, Hammer Sycle , and it was great. Not only do they specialize in vintage Harley-Davidson's, they seem to work on anything on two wheels - my own motto! Not to say that your bike needs to be old to be here, but there's a definite difference between the mechanics of today, and the mechanics of old. Everything is so precise these days, whereas the older machinery takes a different touch, a different feel, in order to run at it's best. Know how to shim a four speed Ironhead Sportster's tranny? What's the best way to get a Knuckle to run, and last? Personally, these are skills I wish I had more of, because it's a dying art. Seems like these days it's all replace, replace - "When in doubt, throw it out!". Personally, I prefer to set the gears up tight (because you just know you're going to have to get back in there eventually) and the accompanying gear whine, like a small turbo, is music to m ears. But that's me. Koji "Hammer" Hamada, and his right hand man, Katsu, are absolute magicians when it comes to keeping all these old girls up and running. In itself, just hanging around the shop was like a little history lesson for me, and bits and pieces of things I'd long forgotten came rushing back. How ironic to find such a haven for American Motorcycling history in a small town outside of Tokyo! I am so happy for my friend, that after years of learning his trade in Los Angeles, he was able to go back home to Japan and open such a beautiful and amazing shop. He is actively spreading the knowledge and keeping the wheels turning. If you're ever in the area, in Tsuichura, drop by. He'll welcome you like you wouldn't believe and you just might learn something in the process.
Hammer - Thank you for the most incredible time. It was great to hang out with you again and just talk. If you ever need anything, just ask, it's yours.
There's a wide variety of styles at the shop, from tall and skinny, to long and low.
This is one of Hammer's personal bikes, a 1956 Panhead. He's owned it for more than 12 years, and they have both been through their ups and downs. Note the unique wheels, and high strength stainless bars.
Anyone recognize this vintage racing carburetor?
Here's a little something built on a budget. Love the snaking exhaust routing under the seat. Hammer calls it his Mad-Max bike, and that's about as dead-on a description as any.
Can you name which Japanese bike this bike has parts from? There's a whole bunch of them in Mad-Max. . . .
Here's a customer bike, getting a full rebuild.
Not super rideable, but man, I love goosenecks. Actually, you can ride the heck out of anything, just about, and maybe this guy really hangs it out. Who knows?
An example of what you can do with a little creativity and some skill. I think etching is highly under-rated and I hope people start doing this more. Again.
Ahhh, sometimes you just need to re-wire the whole bike, haha. I remember this well. Actually, this is great because so many of the colors are spot on for what's used by the factory, so just about anyone could work on and diagnose this custom system. Remember, K.I.S.S.
Expensive old Rowe trueing stand? Check. Valve grinder? Check. Panhead fly-wheels? Check. Complete with a mill and lathe, and all the welding equipment you could want, this is a full service shop. There's a frame jig in the back that's been used quite a bit to make some very interesting motorcycles. Hammer is always ready to push the boundaries of what's an "acceptable" Harley-Davidson.
Did I mention there's two stories of goodness? There's a cool little lounge filled with memorabilia from days gone by, and a fully stocked parts department with all kinds of neat things.
Found this neat soda in the vending machine. You can't buy this in Spain, so I was stoked to get ahold of some in Japan.
While I was hanging around the shop, I busied byself by playing with a Buell, reading various catalogues and magazines, and came across this. I first started reading (and subscribing to) Vibes Magazine in 1999, after being introduced to it by a fellow MMI student who was from Japan, Shinichi Sakaguchi. I have to be honest, here, and I think some of the customs I've found in these pages really are head and shoulders above what's being made in the US. The creativity and metal working are top notch, and the styles are refreshing and unique in a world of cookie-cutter customs and replicas of the current "hot-style". Not only are there tons of photos of the local Japanese biker scene, there's also a beautiful painting in the back of each issue. I used to cut them out, frame them, and hang them on my garage or shop walls. You can find an index of the paintings, by Yoshihito Tomobe, by clicking here. I highly suggest checking out the artwork, and the magazine. For Bay Area people, you can order it from Kinokuniya bookstore, and there's one in San Jose, and one in Japantown, San Francisco.
This is a neat little "scrambler chopper" that Hammer put together for someone.
Woke up on Wednesday morning, happy that I had another free day to spend with my friend, and more time to check out rural Japan. We talked life, and then took Bu, the hunting dog, for a walk through the neighborhood. It was humid, no breeze. Almost perfect weather. I was nursing a slight hangover, so some fresh air was just what the doctor ordered. I saw some beautiful homes, and the school that Hammer graduated from 20 years ago - we're getting older, haha!
Can you see it? It was as long as my hand, like a .50 cal shell.
I don't know why this seems so important, but right outside Hammer's house, we found a Hibiscus bush growing. If you don't know, the Hibiscus is the state flower of Hawai'i, and I grew up around them in my childhood home. How cool is that?
Yuck! Tiger Spiders, brrrrr. I don't know about you, but I'd rather crash a motorcycle that mess with that spider!
Starting to get my head back together, and we were in and out through beautiful roadways, narrow and sometimes covered with a veritable jungle of different trees and bamboo.
Look! Baby rice!
I wish I could remember the name of this one - it's rare. Unfortunately, there was such an information overload for me going on at this point, I could only repeat it before it fell out of my head.
These golden fields really resonated with me, and they smelt so good. It's hard for me to imagine a life without rice, because it's just that good. Everyday at Motegi we ate at the on track cafe, called J's. You could get just about anything you wanted there, with it's built in mini-store filled with collectibles, models, clothing, and more, and the food was a selection of stuff from around the world, like pastas, Japanese, and then some. I always opted for the Katsu Curry with rice. You just couldn't beat it. No pictures exist of that, though, because when I'm at the track, I'm working.
More waterways, which cut through the flatlands and provided the irrigation for all the rice paddies. Rice needs water to grow, which is something that makes it very hard to cultivate. Sometimes you need to drown the rice with water, and at other times you need to drain all the water from the fields so the rice will flourish. It's complicated and time consuming, and I appreciate it that much more now - for sure!
Arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday morning and immediately made plans to meet with one of my oldest friends, Koji Hamada. We first met in 2000 when we were both living in Los Angeles working on Harley-Davidson's. We got out of the big city and headed to Tsuba-san in the Kanto Prefecture, the area where he now lives and works.
Japan is absolutely amazing. More on these incredible experiences later when I have more time, cause right now it's time for bed. Tomorrow is a double-duty day because our shipping containers arrived a day late to the Motegi circuit. Which meant Wednesday was free!!!
Tuesday evening came way to fast, and normally, I'd be trying to get some rest in the hotel because work at the racetrack normally starts on a Wednesday. Due to some shipping issues, the entire GP paddock's shipping containers weren't going to arrive until Thursday, which meant that Wednesday was totally open. I got clearance from my team to do my own thing, so I opted to stick with Hammer and take a mini-break from the three races in a row. Sunset came in, and it was gorgeous. We were back at the shop, which is next to a Dunlop tire dealership which handles industrial type stuff. Further, there's a custom car shop on the premises which installs stereos and preps racecars. Racecars? Yeah. Drifters. Turns out the local racetrack is Tsukuba (you may have seen it in many a video game).
Hammer's older brother has been racing for decades, and a bunch of little ricers would show up throughout the day and into the evening to check in, hang out, or just show off. Anyone recognize this?
It had that classic, old Japanese car smell, but it was anything but.
Hmmm, nothing stock under the hood, either. Anyone know what motor this is?
Could this be the infamous Initial D -mobile?
We dropped back to Hammer's place to knock back a beer and celebrate my first night in the Land of the Rising Sun, and then it was off to find a little restaurant that served up some of the best food I've ever had. How can you tell if a Japanese place is good? Is it because it's full of Japanese people? They're all full of Japanese people here! Nonetheless, this place was good, and for the huge amount of food and drinks we had, it was unbelievably affordable, too. If only I could remember the name.
Bring it! We had everything, from soups, to katsu's, to fish. It was perfect.
Hammer and I finished checking up on his shop, and proceeded to get around to some more errands.
I was happy to go along with, because I got to see more of the Japanese life than I could have on my own. Plus, we had a great time talking and catching up with everything we've been up to these last few years.
We went to another small town to hit the bank and grab some food. There were old buildings and temples popping up when you least expect it, which was cool. Here's a little park across the bank. At this point, we hadn't eaten all day, and it was already late Tuesday afternoon. After what seemed like two days eating only airplane and airport food, I needed something tasty!
Paused to snap a picture of this guy at the bank. Japanese fashion can be a little strange at times. . . . but they really get into it. In fact, I've never been anywhere were people are so "uniform" oriented. I mean, you see race fans at the track, and maybe they have a t-shirt and a hat of their favorite rider, but in Japan, I saw whole families decked out from head to toe, socks, custom shoes, special leathers for their kids, the works! It was insane. And it goes beyond racefans. If you see a traveller, they might have everything travel related, like special travel shoes that slip on and off for convenience. I don't know, it's tough to explain, but I'll just say that they really get into character in Japan.
We drove around a little bit and found a tiny, hole in the wall spot. Hammer called it "Japanese fast food". I asked him what he meant, and he meant simply that it was instant food, not the American junk food. He told me these places are getting pretty rare, because bigger chain restuarants and fancier places are moving in, and that the old shops (this one had no seating, just a couple chairs outside) are dying out. Of the few that are left, the workers are the original ones who opened the place, 30 or 40 years ago. Suffice it to say, the food was grubbin'! Noodles, sausage, and egg, with - GASP - mayonnaise! I tried taking some pictures of the food, but I was so hungry they all came out blurry. Oh well! The food was good, the company was great, and what more could you ask for than some authentic Japanese livin'?
We decided to take a break from the errands and go for a nice walk through some of the older areas of the city, checking out the architecture and styles that have been around for centuries. I really get a kick out of seeing original examples, where people have laughed and cried, where life has happened.
This is a typical example of a "louvered siding", which must have taken a lot of work before wood-working machines were around.
How long has this place been around?
Or this place? While the day started off sunny and hot, by the late afternoon is was gray and beginning to drizzle. I didn't mind, it just made taking pictures more difficult because of all the white light from the clouds.
This building has seen a lot, and judging from the marks of it's neighbors, it has been around.
This is pretty neat - these vending machines are everywhere in Japan, offering coffees, teas, juices and sodas. I mean everywhere. Some sell beer, depending on the location, but I mainly used it for coffee fixes. Prices were pretty good, too, and Hammer pointed out that they make Japan the most convenient country in the world, haha.
Seeing the old buildings, and the mix of modern power lines overhead was pretty neat. It totally fit in with my image of how life and modernism keep moving in, and when there's no time or space to hide it all underground, it goes on up.
After eating our small snack and walking around in the city, we ventured to an old road, which has been used to travel to and from Tokyo for a thousand years, maybe more. Lining the road were grand old homes, hundred of years old and fronted by enormous gates. Some of the gates had built in apartments for the servants, which was perfect because then they could also guard the front door.
A look past some of the entrances revealed many beautiful gardens.
More gates. As a dear old friend told me, you can't take a bad picture in Japan. Well, I know I managed to take some rotten ones, but the good ones far outweigh them. These structures really make me smile, and I think real history can still be found on the streets, and not just in a museum. Speaking of museums, we'll be visiting the Honda Collection Hall in a future post. Stay tuned!
Peaceful. What a place to sit and think. Japan is probably the closest I've felt to being back in Hawaii. The people, the vibe, it all felt similar to home. This probably sounds strange, but it was almost like I was meant to be there. Almost. There were also times in Japan where I felt completely alienated, utterly without a voice. To the four people who straight up ignored me on the outskirts of Tokyo when I was lost (despite my being polite and asking for directions in Japanese), well, I don't have time to think negative thoughts. Rock on!
Last garden shot for now. It was getting dark and time to start thinking about the night. . . .
I arrived in Tokyo, Narita Airport, early Tuesday morning. I had just travelled from Kuala Lumper, and previously from Melbourne, so that meant being cramped in a plane for nearly 16 hours, plus the additional airport time waiting for flights, etc. What I really wanted to do was get out and stretch! Fortunately, I was able to do just that.
While I was on the road, I managed to contact one of my oldest friends, Koji Hamada, who turned out was living in a small town just outside of Tokyo. I hadn't seen him in years, and we had a lot of catching up to do. I was lucky because he was able to get away from work and come pick me up at the airport, so after saying goodbye to my team, I hunkered down and waited for an hour or so until he came to get me. It might not seem like much, but virtually everyone's celphones weren't working in Japan (mine included), so just making contact was a big deal. Thanks, Sergio, for letting me use your phone - it meant a lot. Meanwhile, the team headed for the rental cars to stash our luggage and made plans to head into Tokyo, Akihabara (Electronics Town), for some shopping. I would have been totally down to go with them, but I think I ended up doing something a lot more meaningful - and time with friends is something that can't ever be replaced. Take a moment to contact someone from your past, it's worth it.
Imagine my surprise when "Hammer" showed up to get me in a 1970 Chevy - Super Stylin' in Japan! It was powered by a solid 400+ motor, and we chugged along at a good clip on Tokyo's freeways on our way to his hometown, in the Kanto Prefecture. Actually, we ended up taking quite a few smaller roads, cutting in and out of small towns and villages, which was absolutely perfect because it really let me see how life is in "normal" Japan. Maybe normal is the wrong way to put it, because I'm sure there are plenty of people who grew up in the big cities, but rural Japan hasn't changed much in a long time, and I was pretty excited to be getting right in the middle of it.
I should mention that Japan is one country that I've wanted to visit for a long time, since childhood, really. Growing up in Hawaii, which has a glut of Asian cultures intermingled together, meant that I have a more open mind when it comes to Asian foods and customs. I remember reading Japanese fairytales as a kid, watching Japanese cartoons, you name it. I'd always meant to journey there, but life had a way of keeping me busy doing other things, and I never made it. Until now!
Welcome to Japan, Baby! Don't worry, these signs change at the airport back into English, so you've got a chance of finding your flight.
We loaded up the truck with my baggage and proceeded to find our way out of the airport complex. We got stopped by some sort of security gate, but then once we made it on the road, it was Easy Ridin'! The first thing I noticed about Japan was how incredibly green and lush the place is. Because most of the country is 70% mountainous, the flatlands are very important for producing food and vegetables - and mainly, rice! This hasn't stopped anyone, though, because the mountains are terraced where necessary. I love seeing natural bamboo, it always makes me feel good.
There are plenty of small waterways criss-crossing the fields, and I love the red here.
We stopped in a small town to check out Hammer's house, which is under construction. It's a standard affair, with huge wooden beams running across the ceiling in a traditional fashion. What I found interesting was that even while the house was being built, the construction workers still took their shoes off before entering, and wore house slippers while cleaning up the rough framing! Hammer's place is on a hillside that overlooks a small rice paddy area, and it's peaceful and quiet. Great place to raise a young family - though I'm sure the neighbors are gonna love the sound of vintage, open-piped harley's coming home every night, hahahaha!
A little background on Hammer - or Koji Hamada, as he's known on paper. When I first graduated from M.M.I. in 2000, I moved to L.A. and begain working in a dealership under the tutelage of a renowned old guru named Bob Pynn. Similarly, Hammer had moved to L.A. and was working and studying under another great, Larry Settle, who happened to be old friends (20+ years) with Bob. We met and immediately hit it off, as we were both into the old school chopper style which was so radically different than what Jesse James was kicking out at the time. I started building my first chop at this time, and it was Hammer who did the initial welding on it, to place the tank where I wanted it, and also the seat spring tabs and rear brake rotor caliper mount. Here's a shot of the bike Hammer helped me with:
God, I loved that bike. I wish I didn't have to sell it to move to Europe, but part of this journey was learning to live with less and not be so consumerist. Anyway, we drove a couple minutes from Hammer's house to his shop, which he set up two years ago. It's called Hammer Sycle, and it's a fantastic place for vintage harleys and choppers. I'll post more on the shop in a later entry. Next stop, random old Japanese buildings!
I'm in Kuala Lumpur's beautiful airport once again after a longish 8 hour flight out of Melbourne. I didn't get a chance to see much of Melbourne, but I tried to check out Phillip Island as much as I could, with short trips to Cranbourne and Cowes. I have a lot of footage and great experiences meeting with the Aussie peoples, in particular two MotoGPod listeners (both of whom bemoaned the lack of consistent podcasts these days). Matt - thank you very much for the Gummi Bears and Ginger Bears.
It's a busy time, and the flights are full of GP personnel - typical of these overnight flights. Many of Dorna's crew, my team, and a bunch of 250 guys are onboard my flight, and we're losing out on a day because we spent the morning getting back into Melbourne, a couple hours waiting for the flight, and then we flew to Kuala for an hour before heading to Japan. We'll arrive Tuesday morning and then drive for a couple hours to get to the circuit. I've been informed that the entire paddock's travel boxes will be arriving to the circuit a day late, so we might have Wednesday free to check out some of the local sights (and foods!). I'm not sure where I'm based, but like the residence I stayed at in Phillip Island, it will be without internet access so I'm not sure when I'll be able to check my mail and post up.
Hope everyone is doing well and that you guys are all enjoying the strange twists and turns the season is bringing us this year. Here's just one of the many cool photos I took while in Australia.
They really love their Bazza.
Barry Sheene World Champion, 77 major race victories.
We finished up on Wednesday pretty quickly, so a couple of us returned to Kuala Lumpur. My boss wanted a copy of MotoGP for the PSP, and a couple other people wanted to find Chinatown, because it's where all the "replica" clothing is. You have to get downtown and then take a nice train/trolly/whatever to get there. It was cheap and smooth sailing.
Once the train dropped us off, you get to walk a couple blocks to get into the heart of the area. We passed a nice temple on the street and I decided to pop in and light three sticks.
I only took a photo of the door, because I didn't think it was right to shoot inside. It was really similar to the lay-out from Michelle Yeoh's place in Crouching Tiger.
These are the typical bikes in the city. They're almost all 125 four strokes, and you'll see them hustling down the freeway on the shoulder. The strange thing is, everyone was wearing their jackets on backwards while riding, presumably to keep their clothes clean from all the pollution.
I took some time to make friends with the local bikers. They were pretty enthusiastic about the races, and one guy talked about Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer, and that one guy who fell on his bike and broke his arm. At this point, he was shouting and waving his arms up and down until I said, "Randy Mamola?" _ and then he really went bananas! It was great.
Ahhhh, your gateway to purses, watches, clothing, and more. All authentically fake.
I didn't buy anything in Chinatown, except some more food! A nice Chinese biscuit, some more soy bean milk, and a soy dessert. Yummy!
Yeah! This is how we do it. Great forks - anyone remember what this type of suspension set-up is called?
Went back to the hotel later that evening for another good meal with a lot of variety. The selection of food was just amazing, and I wish I'd taken the time to take pictures of the whole spread. Unfortunately, by the time I made it there, I was too hungry to wait and would just dig in.
Suprisingly good. It's funny, now that I'm here I recognize so many faces from the movie, Faster. Where was this guy in Faster 1?
We flew overnight into Malaysia, and although much of the team was tired, we all managed to load up in the hotel shuttle bus and take a ride into Kuala Lumpur. It was a horrible ride because the driver was constantly tailgating and then stomping on the brakes hard enough to throw us out of our seats! Think that's bad? The bus driver was about a half hour late to pick everyone up and take us back to the hotel at 8:30 PM that night, and it turned out he had been driving drunk so the police held him until he sobered up. There were an awful lot of these flags around.
I'm assuming this is another hotel we passedo n the way to the city. There's a very diverse culture in Malaysia, with people from all over living in close quarters here. Indian, Malay, Chinese, you name it.
Here's the signage at the toll booths everyone has to pass through to get in or out of the city. I imagine this in the Beavis voice. Heh heh.
A little shout out to my gibbons from Dunlop.
This next photo is for my mom! There's a huge shopping area here called Chu Lan square, and even though this is a rather simple photo of an awning, the real place is big and very stylish. There's a statue of a giant piece of rock with the word Chu Lan carved in it, and yes, it was square.
The team naturally wanted to eat Italian, so we found a small place. I wanted to get to the real deal, so I just had a piece of garlic bread - with big pieces of garlic on it!
I split off from the crew and found a food court on the sixth floor of an electronics mall. Every place was "scratch-built", and a little crusty, and some of the cooks were wearing rice-picker type clothing, rolled up pants, slippers, you know the deal. But the food rocked.
And I found my favorite Soy Bean drink! When I was a kid, a glass bigger than this was about a nickel, but here it was 1.30 Riggits (Malay money) which translated to about 35 cents or so.
This is part of the downtown area. All the prices on everything are fake, and you can bargain like hell for whatever you want. You even barter with the taxi drivers before you get in. It's unreal. I'm sure there are foreigner rates and local rates, but I think because I look mixed I had an easier time than the rest of my team. It seemed like the Malays spoke better English than most of the GP paddock.
I got it for a good price after bargaining for two hours and criss-crossing the mall several times, pitting one vendor against another. I'd like to think I wore them out, but they probably got a kick out of me walking back and forth, thinking, hahaha guai-lo!
Flying to Malaysia from Europe was a bit complicated because of the tighter flight restrictions in England. Originally, passengers weren't allowed to carry anything onboard flights leaving England, but they've since changed the rules to allow for a small carry-on, and no one said anything about the things in my pockets. Security seemed normal, but the lines were long and everyone was tense. Because you couldn't bring liquids onboard, the waiting/staging area in Heathrow was littered with bottles all over the floor, and other goods as well. It was strange watching women emptying their purses and leaving all kinds of expensive creams, lotions, and perfume. Myself? I had to give up my contact solution and eye-drops.
Heathrow. I was speaking with a Brit yesterday who told me all the security precautions in place in England's airports are useless, because the people who work there are all muslims. It was a strange twist and I hadn't considered it before. He also told me that there were thousands of lost luggage items because during the flight freeze the airport needed to store everyone's checked in baggage in warehouses around the terminals, and many of the bags got "lost". Particularly because you couldn't bring onboard with you - meaning, you had to check in your computer bags . . . . terrible.
Thanks for taking my tiny bottle of eye drops! It got so bad on the flight I took one of my contacts out and stuck it in a glass full of water for a couple hours. It was difficult to sleep and overall the flight was pretty rough.
The first thing I noticed when I finally got off the plane and into Kuala Lumpur International Airport was the smell of great food. It's very distinctive in that part of the world, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on some.
The architecture of K.L.I.A. is magnificent. In fact, there are quite a few cool places in K.L. - like the giant twin towers.
Here's a view from just outside the airport. Everything is lush and green.
Literally! Driving from the airport you can either head towards the big city of Kuala Lumpur, or head in the opposite direction, which we did. The circuit is very close to the airport, but we ended up at a great hotel about 45 minutes away. Rows and rows of palm trees.
Nice sight to see when we arrived at our the Equatorial Hotel, in Bandar Baru Bangi. There is a surprising amount of English spoken in Malaysia. However, I still managed to get lost a few times coming to and from the hotel because there are two Equatorials, one in K.L., and the other where I was staying outside the city.
We checked in, and I noticed the hotel was still using a previous version of the team name.
I was blown away by the hotel. By far this is probably one of the nicest places I've ever stayed at, and it was completely stocked with good food and drinks.
A room with a view. I thought it was extremely hazy all the time, and wasn't sure whether or not it was from the constant humidity or the methanol that the cars burn.
You could tell it was a new hotel because all the fish (koi) in the pond were young and small. In the evenings after dinner a couple of us would sit around outside and talk over a few drinks. It was very relaxing.
I'm at K.L.I.A., and the wi-fi is free! Unfortunately, I'm boarding in five minutes and I think I'll be staying at a residence in Phillip Island that isn't equipped with an internet connection. I'll see what I can scrounge up.
What a race in Sepang! Unbelievable, and I thanked a couple riders for putting on an incredible display of passion and ability. If you haven't seen it, you'd better get to it. Less than a week until the Australian GP, and it's been absolutely incredible thus far in Kuala Lumpur and Bandar Baru Bangi.
It was phenomenally hot and humid, and I was totally destroyed each night by the time I made it back to our hotel (about forty five minutes from the circuit). Hot showers, cold showers, nothing helped. Maybe it was worse for the riders at times, and here's a nice, creative way of cooling Colin's sticky suit.
36 hours left before Malaysia, Australia, and Japan. The Tentative Schedule.
There's been more stress concerning this trip than any other I've taken. Part of this is because I have been "out" of my apartment in Europe for quite a while, and part of this is because of all the extra work I made for myself.
It's important to have all my apartment stuff settled while I'm gone, and I just learned I might be moving with my roomates the week I return from this trip. This meant, get back from Brno and pay the rent for September, and also, because I'll be out and about during that month, pay the rent for October, too! I lose money hand over fist when it comes to paying rent. The new place my roomates have scouted is large, bright, and marginally cheaper. Those are all good things. My room now is very small and the apartment is rather dark, so moving is a good idea, but I wish it didn't have to be right when I return from a month on the road. I don't want to be thinking about it.
Here's a little bit about my travel plans:
Sept. 4, Monday -
Out of the house at 6AM (or earlier, if I'm ready). Take the bus to the airport in BCN and fight the morning crowd. Get to London at 10:15, and somehow make it through customs and security to make my next flight, at 12:00. This doesn't sound too bad, except that I'm arriving in Ternimal 2 and I need to fly from Terminal 3. If any of you know Heathrow, you'll understand why this is bothering me. From there, it's a 12.5 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Due to the time change I'll be arriving Monday night. I'm not sure about the London interchange, because everything has to be lined up "just-right" in order for me to make my flights. My flight out of BCN has to be on time, and things in Spain are rarely on time. Two, having a US passport can make things difficult when travelling through Europe, because you always get stuck in the long Customs/Immigration lines with everyone else who's not from the E.U. and who want to get in. I lost my team at one of those points - they all whisked through the E.U. side, and I just kept on waiting, and waiting. Those lines always take forever, because they're really looking for people who are sneaking around, and it's cost me a flight before in Germany. On the plus side, I'm not travelling alone. Jose Luis Cardoso, and his girlfriend, Racquel, will be travelling alongside me.
Sept. 11, Monday -
Up early the day after the race. Same thing, early morning flight out of Malaysia to Melbourne, duration 7.5 hours. Lose time with the time change and once again, arrive Monday night. Not sure how we're getting to Phillip Island just yet.
Sept. 18, Monday -
Yes! A Monday afternoon flight. I'm not sure if this is because we're spending the morning leaving Phillip Island and getting back to Melbourne, but I think so. It's more than 8 hours to return from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, and then two hours after I land in Malaysia, I'm on a plane to Tokyo, Japan. That flight is just a tick over 7 hours.
I hadn't realized how much travel time was involved with these three "Asia" races, but just looking at my itinerary, I can see that getting from Melbourne to Tokyo is going to be longer than getting from Munich to San Francisco. Except, I get a smoke break in Malaysia.
Another thing that is complicating the journey is the tighter restrictions in place in England at the moment. There are new rules for what you can and can't bring on the flights, and it looks something like this:
"Customers travelling from the UK will be able to take onboard as hand baggage one cabin bag no bigger than 45cm x 35cm x 16cm, the size of a small laptop bag.
Cabin baggage must not contain any cosmetics, toiletries, liquids, drinks, or cigarette lighters.
Nothing must be carried in pockets."
There's more stuff, too, about not packing anything in your checked in luggage, because they're going through everything and it's slowing everyone down at the airports. I wonder how many teams are flying through London on their way out? All of this does nothing to diminish my enthusiasm and excitement for the races, and I can't wait to see what's going to happen.
Speaking of cool videos, I'll leave this up for a couple days. . . but then I'm going to take it down, because bandwidth costs money - and I ain't got none! We shot this video with just a couple minutes notice, with no planning or preparation. I call it "One Kick", and if you watch carefully, you'll see it. All we wanted to do was be free - free to ride our motorcycles, and to be free from The Man! You can click here see the static shots of the Mother of all Monkey rides in San Francisco!