Chromag Chronicles: A Hardtail Rider's Quest from Tokyo to Whistler

Chromag Chronicles: A Hardtail Rider's Quest from Tokyo to Whistler

Posted by Michael Sawatzky on


Where It All Began

It was 2009 when Jinya reached out and connected with Chromag to join us on a Friday Ride. He was fresh out of university, barely past 20, and had made his way from Japan to Whistler on his own to experience a season of riding. He became part of the Chromag Crew, joining us on rides every Friday and after work. He helped us in the warehouse assembling and packaging parts and working in the shop as a mechanic. When he wasn’t working or riding with us, he spent every additional minute riding on his own.

Jinya turned a lot of heads when he shared a video of himself shredding a hardtail in the Whistler Bike Park. This was on a bike with 26” wheels and a 140mm travel fork! 

Jinya has featured in a number of Chromag videos:
Hardtail Soul
Green Monsters
Trail Boss 

Jinya extended his working visa, and stayed as long as he could but eventually had to return to Japan in 2011. Returning this year (in 2023) for a visit, we were so stoked to see him again. We had some amazing rides, enjoyed after-work beers, and got him set up on our latest version of Stylus hardtail. He teamed up with Ollie Jones and Hailey Elise for a video shoot and as it turns out Jinya is still as smooth and precise as ever! Following his trip we sat down with Jinya to catch up and get a glimpse of what it's like riding in Whistler all those years ago VS Japan in the present day.

What motivated you to leave Japan and come to Canada all those years ago?

During my sophomore year of college, I took a biking tour for 2 weeks to ride in BC. Long time Chromag rider, Yoshi took me to North Van, Squamish and Whistler and this trip totally gave me a new perspective of what mountain biking was. I decided to move there once I graduated.

 How did you first become involved with Chromag Bikes during your time in Whistler?

I emailed Ian that I wanted to build a bike because I moved to Whistler without one. I was also interested in how bikes and parts were made because I’d never visited a bike company. I remember spending lots of time just sitting in the corner of the shop to gaze at raw frames hanging on the racks and stems waiting to be assembled. I was curious and felt overwhelmed every time I went to the shop.

 Can you share any memorable experiences or challenges you faced during your early days in Canada?

I’d say Friday ride always gave me all kinds of adventures. It was a great opportunity for me to get to know the people and trails otherwise I’d end up with riding solo not knowing where I was going. Trailforks didn’t exist back then. It was tough on uphills for the most part and I was always the last one in the pack, hoping to be stronger one day. We went up to Up up and away, the time when trails were not really there on the alpine, it was so foggy that we could see only 10 meters ahead. We did a hike-a-bike for all the afternoon and couldn’t find the trail, so we decided to spend a night up there. No food or water. Even though it was July, I was so cold and Darcy spooned me to warm me up. He really saved me! We finally found the trail the next morning and shredded to get to the bottom. I was actually surprised how hard we could ride on that steep technical trail with empty stomachs.


Passion for Mountain Biking:

Michael: What does mountain biking mean to you personally, and how has it influenced your life?

Jinya Nishiwaki: It’s like solving a puzzle. While it’s fun to hit those man made features, I like to find my own line on a trail. I also like the physical aspect of it. I’d spend most of the time cursing on a grueling climb, but each pedal stroke definitely gets me to the top of the hill. Taking small steps is important for pretty much everything you do in life, right?

 What drew you to riding a hardtail?

At certain speed on a rough terrain, you start moving your body almost like you’re dancing on a bike. This is when I feel the connection to the earth. Sure, it’s still bumpy but you can feel the flow and the Stylus helps me do this easily.

 How do you think your riding style and preferences have evolved over the years?

When I spent 4 summers in Whistler over 10 years ago, I rode In-Deep/Schleyer more than Freight Train/A-Line. So I’ve always had singletracks in mind. Then I moved to Squamish over the winter and started hitting jumps and drops. It was all about improving myself little by little, I mean going bigger and bigger, and I liked the process. After leaving BC, the hype has faded away over the years because there aren’t many big jumps or drops in Japan. I still try to find the gnarliest or most fun line possible whenever I ride.

Are there any trails or moments that stand out to you while riding a Chromag?

Maybe riding down the steep rock roll on Babylon in 2012 on my 26inch Gypsy, a Canadian made Stylus. Now you can see people riding the chute all over the SNS but it wasn’t a common move back then. Not sure if I could claim I was the first one on a hardtail though.

There was a 4 day stage race called Four Queens by WORCA in 2010. You race from 35km XC to Garbanzo DH with one bike, no tire change was allowed. I focused on the DH race because I was a park rat at the time. I was going strong when suddenly somewhere in the Fitz zone my shoe came off. I ignored it and kept going, near the bottom I was forced to hit the GLC drop and still managed to finish 4th out of 100+ riders. There’s a little article about me on Pique magazine even though I did not win.

Also in 2010, I raced Canadian Open DH in pro class on my Chromag. That’s the year when they built a gap onto whoops right in front of Hecklers rock. As you might have guessed, I blew up on the whoops and went into a bush completely  upside down. I couldn’t get up by myself and someone helped me get back on course. That was a bit embarrassing but the crowd went wild so that is what I choose to remember.


Working at Chromag Bikes:

 What was it like riding for Chromag Bikes and working with the team while you were in Canada?

I learned quite a lot such as mechanic skill, riding skill and how to have fun in general. Friday ride was a great place for me to learn all different kinds of riding styles from a solid group of riders. They are so fit and their line choices always amazed me. They’ve also taught me some life lessons and new perspectives of life that I might have not gotten because of the cultural differences.

 How did your time at Chromag contribute to your growth as a rider and your overall mountain biking journey?

It was exactly when Chromag became widely known in Japan and you could see almost every single bike kitted with Chromag parts on a bike magazine. Then, they noticed there’s this Japanese guy riding for Chromag but they didn’t know who exactly I was because I didn’t race in Japan. Luckily, a few companies read my blog and saw my photos/videos and reached out to me for a sponsorship. It was pretty rare for a non racer like me to get a sponsorship because racing was the main thing in Japan for a long time. The other perk is that I got to know many riders from all over the world and take them to my favorite trails when they visit Japan.

 Are there any specific memories or achievements from your time with Chromag that you hold dear?

I have to mention joining Deep Summer as a rider in 2011. We actually won it. It was fun scouting spots with the photographer leading up to the event. When we had a meeting on the first day of the event, pretty much everyone in the room was the pros I knew from DVDs and magazines. It was such a crazy experience. The most memorable line I hit during this event was the rock face on Fatcrobat. When I saw the rock in June 2023, there was a line but it was covered with fresh moss when I rode it. This event and photo shooting for Chromag got me into photography, which is my other passion and ultimately became one of my jobs. Whistler offers so many great spots to shoot and I could take my time to learn how to shoot including self portrait. I think it’s handy when you could take your own riding photos when a photographer isn’t available?


Riding Culture Japan vs Canada:

 How does the mountain biking scene and culture differ between Japan and Canada?

The usage and management system of the forests are so different. Most of the lands are private property and sometimes there’re dozens of land owners within a few hundred meters of a trail. Thus getting a permission from each one of them is virtually impossible. The lands owned by the government are for preservation. There are some bike parks throughout the country but they’re much smaller like a few trails with or without a skill park/pumptrack. I hate to say this but we’re far behind Canada and I don’t think the gap would ever be filled.

 Can you share insights into the riding community in Japan?

The average age of riders seems higher and it’s still male dominated unlike what you see in Whistler. Imagine 37 year old me is the youngest in most of the group rides here in Japan. Bikes are getting pricier because we have to import everything, so it could be harder for the younger generation to start mountain biking. The daylight hours are shorter so you can’t really go for a quick spin in the evening. Sounds tough to be a mountain biker in Japan? Well, just like Japow, we do have awesome brown snakes hiding in the woods…

 What aspects of Japanese mountain biking culture do you find most inspiring or interesting?

Like I mentioned, we have lots to deal with just to get a chance to ride. More riders have stood up to advocate for mountain biking over the last decade. I started working with the local community with my riding friends to maintain the trails in 2014. It’s still the small portion of the entire trail network but non biking people have recognized us, so I guess we’re on the right track.


Canada A Decade Later:

 How did it feel to return to Canada after a decade away, and what emotions did you experience while riding in familiar Whistler terrain again?

I joined Friday ride on the next day of arrival, the first ride of the trip. I was skeptical if I could ride like I used to because I hadn’t ridden gnarly stuff for a long time. It’s just they don’t exist here in Japan but I could at least expect what the trails in Whistler are like. The first trail we rode down was totally new to me and they let me go first so I had to ride blind. I thought I should take it easy first, but I was actually smashing so hard on the fresh loamer. It’s just too fun! The bike handled no problem with the steep tech lines thanks to the geometry. It helped me regain tons of confidence!

 Were there any moments during filming this edit that are worth mentioning?

It was fun shooting with Ollie and Hailey as they kept me pushing harder. We headed to Pemberton to shoot on Diesel Wolf. There’s a steep rock roll that gives you a heavy compression, then the trail gets flat for a bike length into a super steep climb. We filmed the section a couple times and when I hiked back up one more time, a crankarm fell off because the fixing bolt broke. It would’ve been a disaster if that happed at the bottom of the rock roll!

 How has your perspective on mountain biking and life in general evolved since your initial move to Canada?

My life revolves around mountain biking. I started working for the bike industry as a translator and photographer after I left Canada. It’s been always there for me and I know I’ll keep riding as much as I can. The motivation never cease. It feels great to have a life long passion and people to share with.

You can find Jinya's socials under: @jingypsy
Video by Ollie Jones, Photography by Hailey Elise.

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