Preparing to Ride the Japanese Odyssey

A couple of months ago, Ritchey, Apidura and 7mesh joined forces on a unique project, aiming to send someone to Japan to participate in the Japanese Odyssey, a 2,600 kilometer unsupported ride that winds across the country for 10 days. We opened up a competition to find someone who could document the adventure in a special way. Detour, the name of the project, sought to find an individual who would use their individual perspective and chosen medium to interpret and express the experience of riding alone around Japan.

Detour is a mission to find riders, adventurers, and creators who document their experiences of bicycle travel through art. We wanted to see paintings, photographs, illustrations, poems, films, songs, and more. The medium didn't matter, as long as the spirit of exploration and adventure is clear.

We received a lot of absolutely fantastic ideas. It was difficult to choose one winner, but representatives from 7mesh, Apidura and Ritchey…after much deliberation…ultimately decided on James Robertson, a photographer from Scotland. James is no stranger to photographing and cycling, as he recently shot…using an old Polaroid dental camera…Transcontinental racers as they crossed the finish line. James' use of unorthodox cameras mixes well with his interpretation of cycling and travel, and it creates a stunning combination.

James starts the ride on 31 October, and we look forward to what he delivers when the ride finishes nearly two weeks later. We'll definitely post his photos upon his return. In the meantime...While he was flying to Japan, James was nice enough take some time to give us a glimpse into his plans.

Detour Japanese Odyssey Ritchey James Robertson

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm a photographer and I've spent the past few years documenting self-supported endurance races, although always from the relative comfort of a car or van.

Currently I'm 37,000 feet up somewhere over Russia, on route to Tokyo to take part in and document the Japanese Odyssey. Though there's small matter of buying my camera once I land. 

What are you expecting to get out of the Japanese Odyssey?

I'm trying not to come in with too many expectations. But I think it's safe to say I'm going to get an adventure - one that hopefully allows me to push my photography in a way that I can bring into my work documenting others. And as I'm on the bike all day I'm hoping for a level of immersion that you can't get from a more relaxed holiday. 

What attracted you to enter the contest…aside from the free trip to Japan and being outfitted with great products for the ride?

Everything. It's a big chunk of my bucket list in one trip. I've been wanting to ride an endurance ride for a while and have been thinking of how it would work alongside photography. Japan is an amazing place to buy slightly niche film cameras, and it's somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time now.

Have you done an epic ride similar to this before?

No, nothing like this. I've obviously been up close while other people are riding big rides like this, and I think you can learn a lot from that. And I've ridden long distances as a group, but on my own, in a country when I can't understand anything? No.

Tell us a little bit about your set-up. What will you ride, carry and use?

Apidura has been great at sorting me out with bags, including a custom bar-mounted camera bag - and I'll be riding with basically a full suite of expedition packs. Bivi kit and warm layers go in the saddle pack; gloves, legs and if-it-rains-for-days jacket in the frame bag, batteries and bits in a top tube bag; and then pockets for food. Because I'm carrying so much camera kit, I'll also have a small packable rucksack with me that I can fill up in the evenings or on sections with less resupply options.

Camera-wise I've brought a small Fuji digital, but I'll also be exploring Tokyo's many camera shops on arrival hoping to pick up a medi-format rangefinder and as much film as I can fit into the remaining space in my packs. I'll see what film is available, but I think at least half of it will be Kodak Tri-x based on how well it responds to being badly treated. 

Ritchey Detour Japanese Odyssey James Robertson

7mesh have me sorted with clothing, but I've had to pack more than I otherwise would to ensure I'm in a position to take photos. I can't just be warm on the move, I also need to be able to stop and spend some time shooting. It's where their more mountain bike orientated Revelation jacket will come into its own as well their PrimaLoft jacket.

Holding everything together is the Ritchey Outback, which besides being a beautiful colour is perfect for covering in bags: it really doesn't seem phased by the extra weight at all and I'm confident it's going to be awesome place to spend my days. I'll be honest though…I haven't ridden it without bags on - the first thing I did after getting it out of the box was to put my full kit on it - and I'm kinda curious to see how much fun it is to ride unloaded, hopefully something I'll have time to try out after the trip.