keirin cul­ture

Bicycling (South Africa) - - Tour De France 2018 -

The many forms and sub­cul­tures that cy­cling splits into can be as­tound­ing – and some­times con­found­ing. One of the least known is the Ja­panese style of keirin, which has been around since 1948. Rac­ers live in seclu­sion when not com­pet­ing, and are bet on by spec­ta­tors as if they were horses, com­plete with odds for pay­outs. Keirin is run at 47 velo­dromes around Ja­pan, and it’s es­ti­mated that each year as much as $14 bil­lion in yen (R194 bil­lion) can pass through the wa­ger­ing sys­tem.

Pho­tog­ra­pher Narayan Ma­hon be­came in­trigued by keirin when he was a teenager, a young cy­cling fa­natic leaf­ing through old is­sues of VeloNews, where he came across pho­tos of the sport. Some 20 years later, he de­vel­oped the idea for a shoot as he planned a per­sonal trip to Ja­pan, cap­ti­vated by the par­al­lels he’d drawn be­tween the lifestyle and train­ing of keirin rac­ers and those of an­cient Sa­mu­rai war­riors. This past De­cem­ber, he spent a day in the life of keirin cadets in train­ing, and the next day amid the chaos and tran­quil­ity of the races.

“Keirin rac­ing is so dif­fer­ent to any kind of bi­cy­cle rac­ing I’ve ever seen or ex­pe­ri­enced,” he says. “The rac­ers are so im­mersed, and there are such rigid rules. It’s very pure and hon­ourable.”

Here, Ma­hon’s pho­tos ac­com­pany an ar­ti­cle from our archives: in 1992, our writer Don Cuer­don be­came the first Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist to be al­lowed into keirin school – the train­ing pro­gramme from which all rac­ers must grad­u­ate be­fore they are al­lowed to en­ter com­pe­ti­tions.

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