When she got her recent job offer in Prague, her primal concerns about the Czech Republic were if she can cycle there, and she hadn’t accepted the employer’s proposal before she made her first test ride in the country. “I love Prague. In Tokyo, you need to ride 40 kilometres just to get out of the city. But here’s just nature and it’s beautiful. And the roads around Prague are well paved. It’s quite hilly, but there are no really big mountains so it’s relatively easy,” Soma says. Regardless of her demanding job, she manages to ride at least 250 km per week, and she tries to spend as much time in the saddle as possible.
This season, she started cycling in March and she’s done 2,700 km so far. As she travels around the globe, it’s difficult for her to get familiar with the local weather conditions, and that’s why an incident can happen to her, just like last year in November. It was getting a little bit cold already, but Soma wasn’t sure how cold it’s going to be. In the morning, she left her apartment not enough dressed, with only a short-sleeved jersey and a thin jacket. It was around zero degrees centigrade. She was riding up to Karlštejn Castle, which is about 50 km far away from downtown, and at one moment she found out that all her fingers, feet and the whole body got frozen. “I was getting in hypothermia. I couldn’t pedal and I couldn’t function. I stopped, I was shaking so much and just wondered where I was. There were no coffee shops, absolutely no place where I could get in. I even couldn’t speak so I couldn’t call for a taxi. Finally, I called my colleague to pick me up and rescue me. I still believe he saved my life back then,” Soma remembers.
Although she started cycling only a couple of years ago, she seems to be unstoppable now. The shorter distance she manages on working days, the longer trip she wants to make on weekends. As she is coming back from a 100+ km Saturday’s common ride with her friends, she still can be seen in the lead of a group consisting of everybody but the well-trained men. She never gives up, even when it hurts sometimes.
“I also tried mountain biking, but if I had to choose, I would choose road cycling. I like how my bike transmits my entire energy into the ride,” she says.
Lost in translation
Her cycling career began when she was working in Japan. Since she saw the movie Lost in Translation, this has been her dream destination and the place where she wanted to live. Her friend asked her if she cycled.
“Cycle?” she replied back then.
Soma didn’t even know that cycling is a sport. For her, cycling was just a means of transport. Her friend took her to a bike shop in Shinjuku Quarter and showed her different types of bikes. That’s where she bought her first Scott with a carbon fibre frame.
Her very first ride was from Tokyo to Hakone, a town famous for its hot springs. It took a hundred kilometres to get there. Soma was ambitious and believed she could make it. The plan was to stay there overnight and then go back. But Soma behaved like a real newcomer and absolutely forgot to eat and drink on the way. During the first fifty kilometres she was alright. And then she bonked. It was only 20 km to the destination but Soma couldn’t go any further. She literally threw her brand new bike into the forest and said she couldn’t ride anymore. It was going dark. Soma couldn’t even stand up and wanted her friend to leave her in the woods. However, she made it somehow. The next day she already ate every hour and drank regularly.
Then she joined a cycling club in Japan and made all her cycling friends there. “I loved it and I had a really good time with them. I was happy, but then my boss said that my company was establishing a big centre in Prague, Czech Republic. She told me it was a good chance for my career development,” Soma explains.
Cycling in Prague
She was sent to Prague for a business trip to check out the place without any pressure. The first thing she did was write “Cycling and Prague” into the Google search engine, and the website called Biko popped up. Here you can choose a guided road bike trip. “Work was my second priority. I needed to know whether Prague was good for cycling so I went with them twice, and during the ride I said to myself I could live here,” Soma says. Later on, she changed her Scott bike for a hand-made bicycle with carbon fibre frame from Festka, a small local company, which builds some of the best road bikes in Europe. Together with the company founder Michael Mourecek, they made her own design inspired by the Rapha cycling apparel company, with details referring to her beloved city Tokyo.
In the beginning, Soma had a hard time finding a cycling club similar to her previous one in Japan. Eventually, she found the English Speaking Cycling Group in Prague, and she enjoys their morning rides almost every day.
“People ask me why I cycle. To be really honest I’ve started cycling because I wanted to lose weight. All girls are like that – we girls are always on diet. But now I purely love cycling. I don’t know why I’ve got to be obsessed with it. When there’s a day without cycling, I feel so guilty. I’m like an addict. Cycling gives me freedom and also a great excuse to eat. At the beginning, I didn’t want to come to Prague. But my boss was right. Now I love it here,” Soma says.