This one isn’t about bikes, but I wanted to tell the world: Mai is here!
My second daughter was born Saturday night here in our living room in Kawasaki while it snowed outside, with Daddy and her big sister helping. I wrote up a full report of the birth (in English and Japanese) on what up until now has been Lin’s photoblog, but is now the sisters’ blog.
Welcome to the world, Mai. It can be an amazing place, and it’s even better with you in it.

Tips for the Japanese Motorcycle License Test

Commenter Tim writes:

I obtained my license in a different prefecture in Japan a few years ago, it expired whilst I was overseas and now I need to sit the damn riding exam on that Mickey Mouse riding course again at Samezu (I’m in Tokyo now). Do you know of any tips for this silly oogata riding exam at Samezu? Do know of any sites with exam tips, etc that can help in regards to knowing the pedantic rules of what you need to do in order to pass? (Looking left and right before every turn, left foot down before right when stopping, position of bike in lanes when doing a right turn, etc.) English / Japanese OK. Hope to see you on the roads…

Fist off, there’s a really good selection of tips for the ōgata test at Gen Kanai’s place. (After rereading it I see that Tim commented there already, so I’ll just keep the link as a pointer for others.)

It’s been well over a decade since either of us took the test, and the laws and some of the content of the test have changed in that time, so any technical advice may be outdated. Still, I think most of the general advice we got when taking the test is still relevant.

  • Exaggerate your head movements to the point of absurdity. Your body language should be screaming “I AM NOW DOING THE PROPER SAFETY CHECK!!1!eleven!!”
  • Before turns, activate your turn signal ridiculously early. 3 seconds is a very long time.
  • A stop is not officially a stop unless you put your leg down.
  • On the balance beam, unless you are 100% confident you can stay on for the full 15 seconds (or whatever the requirement is now) go as fast as is necessary to keep your balance. Going too fast is only a few points off, but falling off the beam is automatic failure.
  • Don’t dress like a biker, bōsōzoku, or squid. You want to look harmless. I have been told that statistically people wearing white helmets pass the test more often than people wearing black helmets. Don’t wear a scratched or beat-up helmet.
  • Get there early and walk the course a few times before the test as image training.
  • Unless the policies have changed, be aware that they may fail you on principle the first time (or even the first few times) even if you do everything perfectly.
  • It is traditional to do a burnout and wheelie past the tester’s booth as a sign of respect. Many gaijin fail the test due to ignorance of this essential cultural difference. As with bowing, it is important to maintain the proper angle (75°) when doing this.

Good luck!

Ride while you still can!

Two articles I read today, at Riding Sun about the dangers that come with advanced safety equipment, and at Wired about the increasingly sophisticated automatic acceleration and braking systems becoming available, got me thinking about how this safety technology is going to affect us bikers. I’m afraid that improved safety tech in automobiles could eventually result in our losing the right to ride.

While I agree with GB that, so far, safety tech like ABS hasn’t really done much to increase actual road safety (since drivers compensate by driving less carefully), the Wired article makes me think that this won’t necessarily be the case for long. The tech keeps evolving, and once it’s viable it won’t be long before the optional safety equipment becomes mandatory, as happened with airbags.

While it’s nice that people will be safer in their cages, what this means for bikers is that doing something as reckless as riding a vehicle without such safety features will seem even more irrational in the eyes of those who don’t ride. Some people already think bikes are too dangerous to be legal, and their numbers will only grow as the safety gap between bikes and cars widens. And we know how people love to make laws to protect people from themselves.

Tech holds other threats as well. While the Kneeslider has shown that the recent study claiming that bikes pollute more than cars was flawed, again it is only a matter of time before hybrid engines and other such technology make this true. When the day comes that motorcycles become less fuel efficient, more polluting, far more dangerous and far louder than cars, I fear that our days of riding free may be numbered.

Demographically we bikers are a small group, and while recent progress repealing helmet laws and such shows that we can have clout when we get organized, we have to stay vigilant if we want to keep the right to ride. I figure we’ve got a decade or two left in the wind and the sun.

So am I just being paranoid?