At the beginning of this episode of Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ), the announcer mentions a bicycle boom, but the graph they show actually has a decelerating trend:

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Anyway, this Aiba Manabu is about bicycles, and whatever they might want to say about bicycles while showing us graphs and VTRs . . .

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. . . the important thing is we know they absolutely must have Aiba-kun and his buddies riding bikes around, and that’s all I want to see.

I’m not sure why they waste time back in headquarters after an opening VTR that was already too long . . .

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. . . but that only took half a minute, and the venue this time was the Matsudo Velodrome (bicycle racing track – keirin jou) in Aiba-kun’s home prefecture of Chiba.

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His companions this time were Sawabe-san, Cunning Takeyama-san, and Suzuki Taku-san. Still nobody new in the mix. For once, I would have actually liked to have Watabe Ken-san in just to watch him sweat a bit, but he once again dodged the heavy-duty work.

Sawabe-san and the rest complain that it’s seriously hot – 36 degrees Celsius – but that’s not going to save them.

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The second Aiba-kun sees cyclists he starts running after them like a puppy dog. Sometimes I think he just instinctively knows what’s going to put a smile on my face.

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A VTR informs us about the three types of bicycle – daily use, sport, and electric-assisted.

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We begin with regular use bicycles from various eras, starting with one from the 1960s.

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A specialist discusses its design:

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Then there’s this bike from the 1980s:

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I’m not sure what was up with this bike, but it was popular:

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This one has a belt instead of a chain driving the wheel:

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Each of the four participants will take one of those four bicycles in a race – two laps around the 333 meter velodrome.

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Aiba-kun got the one from the Sixties, Suzuki-san the one from the Eighties, Sawabe-san got the popular utility one, and Takeyama-san got the newest one with the belt instead of chain. Basically, the better they were athletically, the worse their bicycle.

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This should be a close race, then, and since there are three types of bike to test, I guess that we’ll be treated to three such races.

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This was great fun to watch, as expected.

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And they gave it their best:

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They didn’t go straight into the bikes for the next race – they needed to catch their breaths first – so the specialist talked a bit about no-puncture tires.

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There was also this innovation – the pedal didn’t turn the wheel with a chain or a belt on this next bicycle, but with a drive shaft, as in a car.

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Aiba-kun got to test out how to ride a bicycle with young passengers in the front and back – there is, of course, a special bicycle for this as well.

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After that, they went on to the sport bikes.

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I’m not going to detail each one. In general, they were an order of magnitude more expensive than the regular use bikes, except the mountain bike from the seventies.

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This one had a carbon fiber frame to make it light:

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You know, carbon fiber – the kind of material used on space stations, aircraft, and . . . isn’t a wheelchair a step down from a bicycle?

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Okay, time for race 2!

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And this time, Aiba-kun wants to do three laps.

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And again, even if you can’t understand a word of Japanese, you’ll get a kick out of seeing these races.

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There’s even a bit of a surprise involving the bicycle specialist – this is the first time we’ve seen one of the sensei do so much for the entertainment side of the episode.

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Finally, they gave the electric-assisted bicycles a try.

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These bicycles are all pretty new, so will Aiba-kun have an easy time of it since he won’t be saddled with decades-old technology this time? Don’t bet on it – it all depends on the net effect of the assistance the bicycle provides.

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Well, there’s a twist – this race won’t be on the same racetrack, but in a more cross-country format:

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I know absolutely nothing about bicycles and don’t ride one, but this was an easy episode to enjoy anyway. It was very simple to assess – the races were great, everything else was a shrug. A lot of it came off as an advertisement for the newer bicycles more than anything else, and I didn’t feel too worried about knowing the details of what they were talking about. I expect that bicycle enthusiasts (and I know there are plenty of you out there) will get a particular kick out of it, though.

Three races was more than I expected – I thought it would be more like some of the other episodes where they’d spend most of the episode talking about it and save the challenge for the last five minutes. Thankfully, they did a good job of capitalizing on the topic instead of sticking to some sort of pattern like other shows might. The flexibility of Aiba Manabu continues to amaze me.