Japan is a country of stark contrasts. There are shrines and reminders of a culture dating back thousands of years, but also constantly evolving technology. Take the city of Hamamatsu, where, decades ago, Japanese motorcycles were born. Today, Hamamatsu is still home to Suzuki and its corporate offices, factories, and R&D departments. From its humble beginnings 50 years ago to its huge steps forward with four-stroke innovation, Suzuki embodies the complex spirit of Japan: Both are rich in history yet always looking forward. Suzuki changed the game by introducing fuel injection in their 2008 RM-Z450; now, the company is ready for another leap forward with the all-new 2018 model. To launch their masterpiece, Suzuki invited a handful of American media over to learn about all things Suzuki, and to also enjoy some time in Japan. I couldn’t pass it up.
Between the cultural experience, seeing the Suzuki factory, and the opportunity to throw a leg over a true works 450, my toughest challenge was deciding what to be most excited about. In my racing days, I traveled the world extensively, seeking out prize money in all corners of the globe, but I’d never made it to Japan. With my racing days behind me now, this was my chance, and I led the charge for our media group to board our Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo’s Narita Airport.
Landing on Friday afternoon, my first thought was how large Tokyo looks from above. It’s one of the most densely populated cities on earth, making traffic a real nightmare. To combat that, Japan built an incredibly efficient train system. It features both local trains and lightning-fast bullet trains to connect larger hub cities. These travel over 200mph and are remarkably efficient and affordable. As we left the airport, we hopped on a commuter train to our downtown Tokyo hotel.
That first night was an internal struggle for everyone as the excitement of Friday night in Tokyo waged war with the urgent need for sleep. It was early evening, but we all felt the effects of our journey across the Pacific. Getting out of the shower, I noted that it was 4 a.m. in Los Angeles. That sealed the decision to have a quick dinner and allow our jetlagged group a few more hours of sleep.
Saturday offered the chance to check out the heart of Tokyo. We wandered the streets, admiring the culture and being tourists. We explored the financial district and shopping centers. The afternoon sun brought the jetlag on strong, forcing everyone back to the hotel for a nap, but when we got there, we were greeted by none other than the pride of Suzuki motocross, Ricky Carmichael. RC would be joining us on our trip, promoting the 2018 RM-Z450 and visiting his old friends in the race department. I’ve known Ricky for 30 years—we grew up in Florida racing together, and then raced as pros until his retirement in 2007. (I don’t think I came out ahead on the results sheet very often, but let’s not dwell on that.)
Our wake-up call was intentionally set to an obscene time, as the Thunder Valley National back in Colorado was dropping the gate at 4 a.m. Tokyo time. With coffee in hand, our fanatical group huddled around our laptops to watch the race, pacing around a hotel room while staying glued to our screens.