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Urban Kicks

Cheju: interior tour bus console

The ideal vehicle is traveling slow enough to catch up to with a sprint-burst, fast enough to be worth the pocket-of-calm momentum when you get there. People carriers work well enough and sometimes have the added benefit of providing a glimpse through a minefield of headrests, of the road ahead, but it’s usually trucks and coaches that provides a longer, more fulfilled, sensation and ultimately sense of achievement. Predictability is a must. You learn to accelerate whilst the break pads are on the rim.

Ginza: closer is better

Tubing – the art of tucking into the slipstream of large vehicles is driven, so to speak by a desire for cyclists to leverage the natural resources of the city, ride scary fast & scary close, and inject some adrenalin into the day. A decent tuber is able to switch between the slipstreams of overtaking vehicles with an elegance that would make Chris Hoy proud – leveraging stamina, timing and not a little bit of luck. (The practice of hanging onto passing vehicles is rare in Tokyo – a reflection perhaps of the sanctity of the vehicle and the fact that Japan is mentally and physically indisposed to contact sports).

The two main challenges for a tuber are anticipating when the vehicle in front is likely to slow; and avoiding potholes, with the former mitigated by an understanding of the grammar of the road and the body language of the vehicle, the latter by an authority that seems hell bent on smoothing out any kinks in the asphalt. The life expectancy of holes in this city is low which is good because, tucked into a little wind-resistless world there is a minuscule margin of error.

Driver reactions to tubing range from humour to nervousness. A surprising number of slipstreamed’ driver’s figure out what’s happening and play along – a reflection perhaps of too many hours spent watching the Keirin races, ciggie hanging off lower lip – ash teetering off the ciggie, hand clutching a partially torn betting slip. Or maybe it’s the technology that’s making it’s way into the driver / parasite equation in the form of rear mounted cameras that record the road behind (photo from coach, above).

Ah, the road ahead. How will tubing and other parasitic sports fair a world of the CarNet – urban transport systems that tap into and share real time road information – vehicles, roadworks and quite possibly urban parasites?

Tokyo tubing top three: 246 heading into the city around midnight; the Akasaka flyover (either direction); and the appropriate half of the imperial palace loop.