Aside from bike displays, the exhibition area also saw Harley’s offering on an issue still fresh in the minds of most people around the country: the then-recent Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. While the event was held two months later, it’s an issue that was still fresh in the country’s mind and naturally affected Harley riders and vendors. In memory of the victims, a number of large flags were set out for which anyone could write messages of support. These flags were then later sent out to the affected region for support. As well as this, Harley Japan had sent money and supplies, while Harley-Davidson America donated a large amount to the Red Cross.
As for the company, two Harley dealerships were lost in the disaster, while another had its ground floor showroom damaged by the tsunami. It’s not known whether they will be rebuilt.
Part of the excitement of Blue Sky comes from its live exhibitions and demonstrations. This year saw top fuel drag bike rider Takeshi Shigematsu demo his 2.5L methanol fueled monster down Fuji’s 1.5km straight. This bike runs an 11-inch slick tire meant for a car and is capable of a top speed of around 370 kph (230 mph). Of the run, Takeshi said, “Yeah, it’s a bit scary. When there is no traction the bike pulls to the left, but when it hooks up it pulls to the right.” Takeshi’s first of two runs of the Saturday resulted in the aforementioned no-traction situation, and an impressive tire-smoke trail.
Later at the top end of the facility three talented stunt riders hit the tarmac. Shinsuke and Tori, riding a Buell XB9S and Harley XR1200 impressed with a variety of two- and one-wheeled stunts while sporting minimal clothing or safety gear. Tori’s key trick this year was to get the slightly panicked MC to straddle the tank and commentate while he pulled the bike on its rear wheel. Dandy Kagawa’s main stunt was pulling long, high-speed slides while balancing the bike on one metal-soled boot. This allowed extreme angles of lean, and while arguably less spectacular than the other riders, no one could deny the skill and risk on display.
Without a doubt though, the most popular activity was the Chapter Parade. This involved around 1,000 riders gathering in the Fuji paddock area before riding out for a lap of the 4.5km racing circuit. There is a certain pride among riders participating in this, and a strong sense of community and group identity among riders lining up and waiting to go. Many people were chatting, laughing or checking out what people were riding and wearing. The parade itself was flush with chapter flags, laid back cruising, and plenty of thumbs-up to the cameras.
If people got bored of their own bikes, they had an opportunity to try new ones. Fuji’s drift track was taken over for the sole purpose of test rides. All anyone needed was a valid riding license and they could then line up, grab a helmet and gloves, and try out what new models Harley has to offer.
Ending the first night has traditionally been preceded by a fireworks display, and 2011 was no different. Bad luck struck, however, when thick fog rolled in only minutes after the show started and blocked the view of the explosions. Instead of colorful flowers of light, event goers had to make do with equally spectacular soft illuminations of the circuit and surrounding valley.
By the following evening most people had packed their bags, loaded up the bikes, and moved on. For the lucky ones, home was maybe an hour or two away, though some people would be riding through the night to get back in time to go to work on Monday. The common element for most of these riders? They’ll be back next year: rain, hail, or Blue Sky. B