Today is the day. After crisscrossing the coasts of northern Japan for the last two weeks, I'm going to go back to my roots on a bike and check out the motocross track at Sugo Sportsland.
The park has tracks for road racing, go-kart, and the aforementioned motocross.
It appears that the course is a few hours away, so I got a head start on the ride this morning, to give myself time to rest before riding the track.
What people don't understand about motocross racing is how physically taxing it can be on the body.
Imagine taking place in a sport that elevates your heart rate at a minimum, 80% of your max for 30 minutes.
Now add in the fact that you're trying to ride a 200+ lb machine over various setups and terrain while battling as many as 39 other riders in that same space.
Imagine doing all of that, twice in one day. That, in a nutshell, is what it's like to be a motocross racer.
The park has limited rentals, but it has enough for me to choose from. I found a nice 250cc bike that'll fit my needs.
Pro riders either race on a 250cc or 450cc bike, which also determines which class that they're in.
I've spent the last 12 days handling a 400cc bike, so I decided it would be fun to go with the lighter, more agile bike to have on the course.
With everything packed up, I leave the coasts of Iwate for the park. My route will take me all along the coast, with a pitstop in Sendai.
It's the nearest major city to the park, so that's where my accommodations will be, for the night.
The farther south I get, the more I grow anxious to venture into the major cities. Every foreigner knows the aesthetic of a well-lit, Japanese city.
I can't wait to see how close the reality of the surroundings comes to the romanticism of the image they present.
As I approach Sendai, I find my exit to the hotel. Another thing I'm going to check out in these bigger cities is staying in capsule hotels.
I've heard that these space pod shaped accommodations are the best budget hotels, in any of these cities.
The one I'm staying at here in Sendai is not one of these, but I'm sure I'll get my fill of them later in the trip.
With my things put away and a quick power nap checked off, I make my short jaunt from Sendai down to the track.
Despite having some gear for my trip, there's articles of clothing that I need in order to set foot on the track. Fortunately, the park offers gear rental along with the bikes.
For lack of a better word, this park is astounding. While I'm here for only the off road section, I'm very impressed by the set up of the on road and go kart sections.
The detail in these tracks are immaculate, just like their reputation in this part of the world.
My iron horse for the ride today is a Hayaku XRF 250F. It's a liquid cooled, 249cc four stroke engine that is tuned for racing.
This is a stock model, so it doesn't have the fancy aftermarket parts a pros would. That's ok, as its current specs are enough to send me off into space.
The bike fired right up and within seconds, I found myself at the starting gate.
The park occasionally changes the design of the MX track but traditionally, the mile long course is filled with jumps to accommodate their hilly terrain.
Specifically, the track seems to enjoy using table top jumps and steep, hilly inclines. Needless to say, I won't get many opportunities to hold it wide open in 5th gear...
As I turn into the first corner, I'm met by a largely un-rutted, fresh terrain with nobody behind me to roost.
The freshly combed soil gives my bike just enough traction around the corners, but not enough to spin out.
The consistent uphill sections, paired hook like berms give the track such a different feel to others I've been on before.
Typically, MX tracks have a mix of jumps ranging from table tops (long, plateau shaped jumps) to whoop sections (a series of small jumps, set in one line).
This track, however, has more of an old school MX feel. This park leans into their surroundings, using the hilly terrain to produce a rigid, uneven course.
This track is exactly one mile in length and the average lap time for riders here is around two minutes. Considering the set up, the latter is starting to make more sense.
If I were on a 450cc bike, plowing my way up some of these steeper sections wouldn't need a lower gear choice.
However, the XRF250F needs better torque and pulling strength to ride through these sections at a higher gear.
Despite the slight lack in power, I'm really enjoying the manueverability of this bike.
I don't feel like I'm losing any speed in these different sections and the sheer weight of the bike allows me to plant it where I want it, with little resistance.
After multiple practice laps, I set off the timer and put my skills to the test.
The plan is to ride the equivalent of a 30 minute + 1 lap race and see if my lap time improves, the later the race goes on.
Lap after lap pass, my adrenaline is still peaking. The RPM's of the bike are changing faster than my heart rate.
The practice laps allowed me to get a feel for the track and dig a bit of a "line" for myself, throughout the course.
I find ways to take advantage of the bike's abilities and whip around corners like it's a drift car at the near by on road track.
The 30+ minute session suddenly comes to the end and I pull off to see some of my track times.
To my chagrin, I only beat the two minute mark one time. While it's not bad for my first time at the track, I was hoping for a better result.
The weight and suspension set up on the bike was on point, but there seemed to be something just missing from the power delivery.
It's too bad that they didn't have the TZ250F, made from Hayaku's competitor, Yaiba. I've heard that bike is a damn rocket ship, built in the shape of the bike.
Regardless, the money spent at this park was well worth it.
Between their diversity in motorsports and attention to detail in their track design, it's easy to see why this MX track is considered amongst the best in Asia.
The park provides an area for riders to change/get cleaned up so I returned the XRF250F and made my way to the showers.
The staff at the park were very gracious and provided me with any assistance, before or after riding.
I cannot say enough good things about this place and would love to come back one day, maybe to set a new record for my lap time..
As this day comes to a close, I hop on the DZed and make my way back to Sendai. Tomorrow, I'm going to check out a legit Onsen "hot spring" for the first time.
Going to an Onsen has to be one of the most requesting things I've been recommended to check out. I'm eager to see how that traditional experience will treat me.
Thanks again and I'll see you soon!