Stories

The Five Whys: Graham Briggs

Englishman planned to live in Japan only a few years, has been there for two decades

Graham Briggs earns a living as an engineer in Tokyo, Japan, where he’s been living for nearly two decades, despite originally planning to stay for ‘a couple of years.’ He was born and raised in the north of England. When he has time, he maintains a blog at www.nanikore.net

Why did you start riding?

I got my chuugata license (for bikes up to 400 cc) in 2005 at a driving school in Tokyo. Prior to that I’d been riding 50cc scooters all over Tokyo and had plenty of interesting times on my Honda Zoomer (Ruckus). I got my oogata unlimited license a couple of years later, in 2007.

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I actually can’t seem to remember why I started riding, but to quote Ted Simon: “I think the motorcycle is best because it puts you so much in contact with everything. You experience, much more closely, the nature of the terrain, you can almost taste the cultures that you’re riding through. Because it exposes you to the climate, to the wind and rain, it’s a much more complete experience.”

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Graham’s trusty Yamaha Tracer 900

I’ve always liked traveling around places by any old means – walking, cycling, busing, and getting trains – and seeing things and meeting people along the way. I think motorcycles were the next step: a fun way to pass the kilometers, especially here in Japan where we have mountains and oceans on our doorsteps. Everyone I’ve met to do with motorbikes here has been good people. Waving to other bikers, chatting at service areas, and interacting in shops has made it a relaxing part of life.

What bike do you own and why?

Currently I own a 2016 Yamaha Tracer 900. In red. I think it’s the first bike I’ve had that wasn’t black. My longest serving bike was a Honda CB400SF; that thing was bulletproof (and black).

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I only have space, time, and money for one bike, so I need reliable all rounders. The Tracer has a solid mid-sized triple engine, some basic longer distance amenities with its screen and 12V outlet, and takes a passenger well. Since my preference is for mountain twisties, I appreciate the grunty torque the triple provides. Sure, it looks like a jaeger from Pacific Rim, but it’s such a fun bike to ride and always feels like it wants to help.

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Graham’s photos show Japan isn’t completely the urban landscape some of us imagine it to be.

As I’m about 5 feet 7 inches tall, it’s also one of the largest bikes where I can still get enough of a foot down on awkward terrain and still feel stable. That’s a factor if you’re up in the mountains by yourself and the road suddenly disappears! Also, it doesn’t have much chrome. I don’t know why, but I’m not a chrome fan.

What bike do you dream of owning and why?

I dream of having space for another bike, first of all! Actually, I don’t really dream of owning specific bikes, as boring as that sounds. There’s one or two bike types I might just rent to see how they are because I haven’t ridden one, such as a big Harley-Davidson.

If I could just have any (second) bike, it’d likely be something old and very different from ones we ride today, like an ancient Norton or a 350cc WD/C Royal Enfield overhead valve. My grandfather rode motorcycles during the 1940s, so something from that era intrigues me.

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A 1941 Royal Enfield WD/C. Looks like it could use some attention; is this Graham’s dream machine?

Despite them likely having fairly poor comfort and reliability compared to the standards of the Big Four today, I’d like to just get the feel of riding one around some rural roads somewhere. I’m not so much a gearhead as much of a “doing stuff and being out there”-head, so I think one of these would guarantee an eventful (and probably mechanically frustrating) trip. It’d certainly be a huge contrast to the previous bikes I’ve owned and be an interesting aside before we go electric, which would be my next choice.

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Though I don’t have a preferred maker or model in mind yet, I look forward to an electric future and all that torque. In reality, the most likely second bike will be a 125 or 250 for my wife.

What’s the best motorcycling adventure you’ve had so far and why?

Probably it would be my first coast-to-coast trip across Japan’s main island via mountain roads. I dipped my toe in the Pacific Ocean in the morning, made a mess of getting across the country, taking 15 hours, then dipped a toe in the Sea of Japan in the rain, in pitch darkness, later that night.

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Hopefully Graham has heated grips.

I didn’t know the route well enough, and spent too much time chatting to petrol station owners and taking photos along the way. But because I had no idea what was around most of the corners I had a great time. It was warm, it was cold, there was sun, snow, rain, awesome vistas, and so much more – crammed into a single day.

Of the 400 miles, I’d only ever been on a small percentage before, and because I kept losing the route I kept stopping, checking maps, meeting people, talking about what I was doing, where I wanted to go, and racking up lists of recommendations of places to eat. I’d not spent much time on Japan’s west coast either, and it’s a very different pace and ambiance there compared to the eastern coast where I live.

To me, the riding is always great, but it’s the people when you stop that can really make a ride. I feel like I should at least give an honorable mention to the times I took my wife, and, more recently, my eldest child out for their first times as a pillion passenger on the bike. They both got off and said they loved it. Neither were long rides – just a few hours on easy local roads – but it was a journey shared.

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Not all who wander are lost

Where do you dream of riding and why?

All of the places! It’s tempting to pick somewhere “exotic” like South America or crossing Mongolia, but a part of me would love to do a relaxed coastal tour of the United Kingdom. Despite being from there originally, I’ve done very little riding in my home country. Maybe I could go on the Royal Enfield!

I know it doesn’t sound exotic to some, but I wonder how the place looks from a bike. I’d love to take in the famous Lands End to John o’ Groats route*, and check out some of the places I haven’t made it to before. It would be nice to take the opportunity to visit friends and family along the way – just bimble around the country and eat my bodyweight in haggis, black pudding, and real fish ‘n’ chips. (Perhaps I’ll add some Welsh Rarebit to the list, Chris.)

Also, it’s relatively flat with no earthquakes, typhoons or volcanic eruptions to interrupt the riding.

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Japan: pretty, but given to natural disasters

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*To those of you unfamiliar with the United Kingdom, Lands End and John o’ Groats are two villages at either end of the British mainland. Lands End, in Cornwall, is the most southerly point on the island, whereas John o’ Groats, in Scotland, is the most northerly point. As such it is common for people to drive, ride, cycle, and walk from one to the other. Interestingly, they are not far enough apart that doing so will earn you an Iron Butt Saddle Sore 1000 certificate.