Ride Africa Twin International Challenge 2017
Story – Lawrence Hacking (Canada)
For a North American there’s no doubt that a trip to Japan is always an incredibly eye-opening experience. Visiting Japan is an interesting journey of discovery and an in-depth lesson in a culture and society that is very different from anywhere in the World. The recent Ride Africa Twin International Challenge brought a small but varied cast of characters together for a 4-day ride around the stunningly picturesque countryside of Hokkaido, Japan’s Northern-most island. The concept of the event is fairly simple, ride Honda’s newest and perhaps most talked about flagship model in recent years in its intended environment while partaking in a team challenge competition that really was disguised as a very social fun event. The actual challenges were almost more of a conversation starter than an actual competition, in the end no one seemed to care much whether they won or lost, it was more about how the game was played. In this case the journey truly was the destination.
Having spent a considerable amount of time on the big H’s 1000cc adventure bike over the past year or so I feel at home on it but I now I can say I have ridden it its true home. Briefly, the Africa Twin is very different in concept than other ADV bikes stemming from its history in the original Paris Dakar rally; subsequently Honda leveraged its equity in the Africa Twin’s authenticity and remained true to that spirit of GENUINE and undaunted adventure. The Africa Twin is a REAL polyvalent bike that shreds tarmac like a sport bike yet is a thrill to ride on gravel and even more extreme off-road conditions.
To ride the first International Ride Africa Twin challenge was an example of riding the bike in the right context- it is a lively, free-spirited bike and the Ride Africa Twin Challenge was designed to provide fun, explore new territory, make new acquaintances and reconnect with old friends plus enjoy the sensation of riding motorcycles in a shared experience.
The RATIC 2017 started in a small ski lodge outside of Niseko, not far from the main city of Sapporo. The choice of location really set the tone of the event quickly, the cozy log structure had everyone become friends from the first meeting, the bunk-bed dormitory sleeping arrangements and main living room made everyone rub elbows and speak freely and easily. I arrived a day early to get a head start on jetlag recovery and I started chin-wagging and glad-handing right away with the other 2 foreign riders who were invited- Vincent ‘Ptit Maurice’ Biau and Stephanie Rowe from France and the UK respectively. Ptit Maruice was on France’s GS Trophy team when that event took place in Canada a few years ago and Stephanie is an avid adventure and rally rider. The remaining participants were Japanese riders that had varying degrees of experience but were all great, fun guys and good riders.
The three teams were given catchy names, ours was Team Grizzly, my teammates were renowned Japanese moto-journalist Ben Matsui and Yute Kojima a younger Africa Twin owner. We rode together for the duration, Ben led and Yute herded me along so I didn’t stray off-course. The route took us gravel two-track forest roads that led us to some panoramic vistas and other locations for our challenges. One of the most difficult and interesting challenges was to find GPS waypoints at an off-road facility called Big Bear.
Another challenge was to ride a slalom course against the clock and add up numbers at the same time. I failed; jet lag got the better of me.
The organizing team put together a beautiful lunch each day and each one was in special location with the same level of luxury each time; complete with tables and chairs under tents with a BBQ, place mats, salads and wine glasses with tasty grape juice. As participants were privileged and pampered, no detail was left to chance. At each lunch stop we were given a briefing to explain the plans for following the ride and challenges.
For our first day took us on a loop stage around the hills and valleys in the Sapporo area then back to Niseko for a well-earned dinner and some frivolity. The following day was a fairly short day’s to ride up to Hidaka, the picturesque town nestled in the mountains that I have been to for the Hidaka Two Day Enduro. It rained a fair amount so the call was made to forgo the camping plan and we set up our Coleman tents inside a local ski resort, we bivouacked indoors in a large room that Japanese groups would use to host gathering. It was a warm and fuzzy place to sleep and socialize plus it was another unique place to call home for the night. The third day of the Ride Africa Twin event was the longest in distance, we rode North on the small roads and two-tracks in the rural countryside. What I realized is the Japanese make good use of all available farmland in efficient plots growing rice and flowers in addition to many other cash crops. Small pastures dot the landscape and mountainous relief of Hokkaido is home to a number of famous ski resorts. The RATIC took place during a busy summer holiday week and countless motorcycle riders were on the road doing tours and camping. It was great to see and nearly rider you pass gives you an enthusiastic and sincere wave.
We headed to the port city of Wakanai in the most Northern part of the island, before lunch the navigation challenge was in order. The challenge was a tricky bit of two-track trail riding where every intersection had to be verified by GPS and the right path taken. The team with the least amount of distance on their odometers was declared the winner.
Lunch this day was at a 5-star restaurant called Mikuni with a renowned chef with a number of awards and books to his credit. The restaurant was situated on top of a hill featuring a spectacular view of the placid fields and forest below. We ate like kings before setting off on the final leg of the day’s ride. During this particular week many roadside attractions are staged, at one highway rest stop traditional Japanese drumming was entertaining the many travelers. Although busy, the roads on Hokkaido are perfectly suited for riding adventure bikes; the surface is smooth and constant corners kept the ride interesting. We rolled into Wakanai after dusk to meet our last challenge of the competition- the communication challenge. The task is to see how intimately you got to know your team members. I think I aced it, between Yute, Ben and I, we grew as friends quickly, I found Japanese people open and they speak freely, especially among fellow motorcyclists.
The final dinner was well animated with lots of laughs, libations and incredible food. The last day we made the final push up to the tip of Japan at a place called Souya were the Russian coast is a mere 40 kilometers away. Riding up to Souya en masse felt like we reached our goal but I might have been mistaken. Our goal may not have been the actual destination it was the feeling of fellowship and bond we developed over the week among people who were strangers at first and friends in no time at all. I guess that is what adventure riding is all about.