Five Questions with a Japanese Cycling Legend

Today we sit down with Rhythm shop staff and cycling legend Kunihiko Mamiya (Mamiken) to talk bikes, riding across the Sea of Japan and his favorite riding destinations.

R: You’ve been a veteran on the Japan MTB scene for 30 years, what was the scene like at the beginning?

M: A long time ago there weren’t many people riding mountain bikes, which meant there was a lot of freedom and no restrictions. However as it became more popular we had to stop riding hiking trails, so we began building our own courses. As I lived in Chiba our situation wasn’t good as the land is extremely flat, so we built our own dirt jumps and this is how it all began.  There was a gomi (rubbish) hill near my house, so we used that to build a dual slalom course. I raced the cross country discipline to begin with, but when I was 16 I discovered downhill (DH) racing, and I loved this as there was so much adrenaline. I raced with my neighborhood friends and two of them gained sponsorships and became successful racers, however slowly my direction changed and I began cycle touring.

riding dirt jumps on mountain bike in japan
Kunihiko Mamiya (left) and Yutaro Miyamoto riding dirt jumps in Chiba prefecture

R: What are some of the most memorable rides you have done on your bike?

M: One of my most memorable rides is when I cycle toured from the Arctic Circle down to San Diego, which is on the U.S.A/Mexico border. The journey began in the Arctic Circle at a village called Inuvik, and from here I rode to Dawson City. From here I rented a canoe and floated down the Yukon for two weeks with my bike. I then continued via Golden, BC, where I stopped for the winter. Once spring came I continued my travels South, and finally made it to San Diego 13 months after the journey began.

On another trip I biked from the Russian mainland to Sakhalin Island, which is the Japanese/Russian disputed island North of Hokkaido. We did this by crossing the sea ice, at the time it was a world record as we were the first people to do it. We camped on the sea ice overnight, it was a very unique experience. 

cycling from russia to sakhalin over sea ice
Taking a rest on the Sea of Japan

R: What is riding on the snow like, and what specialist equipment did you use?

M: Riding on snow isn’t too hard as long as there is less than 20cm of fresh snow, as the deep snow really slows you down. It is also easier to ride downhill on steeper slopes, as it allows you to keep your momentum up. When we crossed the sea it was before fat bikes had been invented, so we used regular width dirt tires with spikes on them. It was somewhat difficult as the ice was like a skating rink and closer to land there was crevasses and bumps, but apart from that it was a pretty easy ride (only about 24km).

world record crossing sea of japan from russia to sakhalin on mountain bike
Crossing the Sea of Japan with camping gear in tow

R: Where are your favorite places to ride and why?

M: Niseko: D Sen (trail near Grand Hirafu) – I really like riding trail as you get to be amongst the trees and feel nature. My other favorite place to ride locally is Mintaland, it is a dirt park that I built on my friends private land. I think of it as a “tiny piece of Whistler”, with lots of jumps and flow.

Bikepark: Kamloops, Canada – It’s a free bikepark with many crazy routes and no shuttle. My favorite riding style is Freeride, where I carry bike up to a really high point, and then ride back down a really steep and narrow face.

Moab, Utah, USA: the scenery here is incredible, it seems like it is not on this earth. The trail is just paint on a rock that guides you on where to go. I really like how some of the rocks are really steep but are also extremely grippy.

Fujiten, Japan: I really enjoy riding here when I can make it down to Honshu, my friend Daiki Takahashi builds here and he is a really good trail builder/rider.  

R: What are the favorite bikes you’ve owned and why?

M: When I got a Kona Entourage I was so happy – this bike was a game changer. The geometry was very different from other bikes at the time, and because of short chainstay it was very easy to cutty and slide. I now have the 2020 Kona Operator and I really like it, it is my first 27.5” wheel bike. It wasn’t super expensive, and it is really good quality.

japanese cycling legend mamiken riding his kona operator mountain bike in Niseko
Mamiken riding his Kona Operator at Niseko Grand Hirafu

R: What is your dream course, if you had unlimited budget?

M: I love jumps, so I would build something that is similar style to Dirt Merchant in Whistler – it is 2km of jumps and berms. I also want to try and hit bigger jumps in the future, so I want to create huge jump course, similar to Loosefest.

R: Thanks for your time Mamiken, we look forward to helping you build even bigger jumps than usual next summer!

Make sure you checkout his YouTube channel Mamiken77.

Mamiken taking some serious hits back in 2006

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