Japan's Small Wheeled Cargo Bikes

Large cargo bikes really don't fit in Japan so Japanese manufacturers are experimenting with a variety of interesting designs for small wheel cargo bikes. Check them out here...

How to Turn Your Old Mountain Bike Into a Tidy Commuter

Need a new commuter bike? Maybe not, because with a few cheap and easy modifications you can convert your mountain bike into a lighter faster commuter bicycle. Here's how ...

Japan's National Bicycle Commuting Ban

Strict government regulations and inflexible insurance rules effectively force companies in Japan to ban their employees from cycling to work. It's time for a change.

Cycling at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

We're excited that Tokyo is hosting the 2020 Olympic Games! Read on to learn what we know of the cycling events and facilities planned for Tokyo.

The Tokyo Great Cycling Tour

Tokyo, its better by bike. Don't simply witness Tokyo through the window of a bus or a train, take a bicycle tour and get out there amongst the action.

Cycling My Fuji and Fuji's Five Lakes

Climbing Mt Fuji by bicycle is a ride you have to put on your bucket list. The Pro's do it every year at the Tour of Japan, but us mortals can do it anytime we like.

April 19, 2014

Treadlie Magazine Now on iPad & Kindle

Its no secret that I love bicycles but long past are the days when I'd buy magazines to drool over the latest, lightest and fastest bikes on the market. These days I'm more sedate, I'm less interested in speed and more interested in style. I like to read about people who ride bicycles, real people, not elite athletes.

I draw inspiration from reading about how people have turned their passion for bicycles into thriving businesses, I love learning about the innovative ways in which bicycles are being used, and how bicycles are becoming an essential form of transport for millions in cities around the world. I enjoy stories about how the bicycle has influenced people who do not necessarily consider themselves "cyclists" such as artists, photographers, designers and performers.

Surely there is no magazine that caters to my tastes.

Well there is, and its called Treadlie, which  describes itself as : 

A magazine is for bike lovers, would be bike lovers and those that appreciate great bike design – a magazine devoted to culture, fashion and design.

Featuring people and their bikes, bike businesses, cycling cities, bike travel and a toolkit section profiling the latest in bike accessories, art and design.

I actually pulled that description from the Treadlie homepage after I wrote the first two paragraphs, and while my writing was much more wordy, what I want from a magazine and what Treadlie provides is an uncanny match.

Treadlie is one of those rare magazines that I read from cover to cover rather that flipping backwards and forwards cherry picking the most interesting looking articles. All articles in Treadlie are of equally high quality as is the photography so that reading from cover to cover makes perfect sense ensures you don't miss a single word or amazing photograph.

While Treadlie is published in Melbourne it is certainly not Australia centric.  New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, cities from around the world get equal coverage in Treadlie.

To get the magazine to as many people at the lowest price possible you can now subscribe to Treadlie on your iPad and Kindle. Of course if you prefer a good old fashioned paper copy of Treadlie you can subscribe here.

I'm sure if you're a regular reader of Tokyo By Bike you'll thoroughly enjoy Treadlie and I encourage you to subscribe.

April 15, 2014

Employer Benefits of Bicycle Commuting

A lot has been written about the benefits of bicycle commuting that bicycle commuters experience, but did you know there are many benefits for employers as well?

Bicycle commuters are in general happier and healthier, they arrive at the office less stressed, pumped up on endorphins, alert, aware, in a great mood and are ready to begin the day. By the time a regular employee arrives at the office they've spent hours in traffic, or crammed into overstuffed commuter trains. They arrive at work tired, stressed, in a negative mood and feeling like they've put in a full day's work just getting to the office. They're demoralised even before their work day begins while the perky bicycle commuters hit the ground running.

Cycling employees are healthy employees who take less sick days not only due to the health benefits of cycling itself but also from not picking up a cold, flu or virus while sharing public transport with thousands of unwell travellers, particularly in the winter where trains are nothing but mobile disease dispensers. Sick employees can be bad for business not only due to the time they take from work, but also because there is a risk they will pass on a virus to fellow workers and before you know it half the office is off sick. Cycling employees are not only healthy themselves, but promote a healthier workplace resulting in fewer sick days among all employees.

Mentally bicycle commuters are less stressed than their public transport taking and driving co-workers. Personally I find that cycling to and from work gives me a clear buffer between home time and work time whereas when I take public transport I'm on work time from the moment I step out the door. For me the very act of cycling is enjoyable and puts me in a positive frame of mind, and having to concentrate on the cars, cyclist and pedestrians around me gives me less time to stress about what awaits me at work when I arrive or the following day. When taking the train, with little else to occupy my mind, I find myself thinking about work, worrying about deadlines and stressing about meetings, that can't be healthy. For the duration of the commute a cyclists mind freed from the worries of work making them happier, less stressed and ultimately more productive.

Bicycle commuters are more punctual. Bicycle commuters aren't restrained by traffic jams, nor are they affected by train delays meaning they arrive at work on time regardless of the condition of the transport networks their co-workers rely upon. Recently in the aftermath of a typhoon in Tokyo train services were delayed for an entire day. By cycling to work I arrived on time while co-workers were filing in up to 4 or 5 hours late due to transport delays. I arrived with a smile on my face and put in a solid days work (achieving even more without constant interruptions!), while colleagues arrive late, tired and in terrible moods having spent the last 4 hours battling over crowded public transport. What about mechanical delays you may ask? A well maintained bicycle with puncture proof tyres is a lot more reliable than both traffic and weather forecasts!

While we don't want to work ourselves to death there are times we must work late, or irregular hours. In Japan where the train service stops between 12:30am and 5:00am (roughly) allowing employees to cycle to work means we can come to and from work during the hours when public transport is not operating if needed, without the expense of providing a taxi or car.

Finally, the cost of providing parking for employees who drive or shuttle buses for employees who rely upon public transport can be immense. Although bicycle commuters will need facilities of their own the cost is minuscule compared to that of providing adequate parking facilities or shuttle bus services for all employees.

Not all of the benefits of bicycle commuting are easily measured financially, but it should be plainly obvious that happy, healthy, stress free bicycle commuting employees are more productive and will have a positive impact not only on profits, but will also contribute to a healthier and happier workplace.

Of course these benefits do not come to businesses without a price, as bicycle commuters will require, even demand, facilities which we will investigate in the next article on this topic.

April 10, 2014

Japan's Cultural Nice Way Code

In 2013 Scottish Government launched a widely lambasted bicycle safety campaign called the Nice Way Code, the central premise of which was to promote bicycle safety by calling for mutual respect between cyclists and motorists. In September 2013 after wide criticism the campaign was scrapped.

The campaign was blasted for many faults including pandering to stereotypes, victim blaming, having no clear goals, and failing to coordinate with other road safety bodies and planning initiatives. The details of all the perceived faults of the campaign are too numerous to get into, but I'd like to know is it really too much for society to expect motorists and cyclists to show a little respect for each other?

In Tokyo one of the biggest, busiest and most populated metropolises in the world, cycling holds a respectable 16% modal share yet cycling infrastructure is severely lacking and cycling lanes barely exist. In addition to this cycling laws are poorly understood by the public and inconsistently enforced by the police. In short cycling should be a disaster in this city yet it thrives with none of the infrastructure of world leading European countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

I've written before about the ingredients that when mixed together create an environment where cycling thrives without planning and infrastructure. The compact neighbourhoods, the expense and inconvenience of private car ownership, the exceptional public transport, the lax enforcement of cycling laws, these all contribute to high cyclist numbers in Tokyo and around Japan.

But the biggest factor in making cycling work in Japan is the attitude of the Japanese people.

Historically in the tiny, overpopulated islands of Japan people have learnt how to share spaces. In many smaller Japanese homes a single room may be used for eating, sleeping, working and relaxing so the idea that a single space can have multiple uses is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. This ingrained notion of shared space translates to public spaces including parks, roads and sidewalks.

Drivers in Tokyo are used to sharing narrow roads with both cyclists and pedestrians as many smaller streets lack even sidewalks. In addition to this most drivers also cycle which means they drive around cyclists as they'd expect other motorists to drive around them. Cyclists are, of course, also pedestrians and thus when cycling on the sidewalks they generally show respect for fellow cyclists and pedestrians. Watching cars, cyclists and pedestrians interact in Japanese cities may appear to be complete anarchy, but it is a polite form of anarchy in which most people subconsciously strive not to have a negative impact on the people around them.

Without meaning to overgeneralise (and I am) it is the Japanese peoples attitude of mutual respect and flexibility when it comes to sharing spaces which makes cycling work here despite the lack of infrastructure. Imagine for a moment every Japanese person was suddenly a New Yorker, cycling would become extinct overnight!

So while Japan has no official Nice Way Code campaign, each individual has their own internal code of conduct, based on sharing the road and tolerance for each other, because you can't cycle in a city with 14 million others without exercising a little patience. This highlights a startling cultural difference, and teaches us that cycling initiatives that work well in one country will not necessarily be accepted in another.

When seeking ideas to improve conditions for cyclists in your area it is worth remembering that what works in one city or country may not necessarily work in another. Unfortunately in the case of the Nice Way Code the Japanese notion of "Wa", harmony and keeping the peace, did not translate well into the Scottish environment, its a shame.

April 08, 2014

Sidewalk Cycling in Japan

I have a love hate relationship with sidewalk cycling in Japan. On one hand I hate the fact that cycling infrastructure is so poor that cyclists have to resort to cycling on pedestrian walkways. But given that, I love the fact that everyone is free to choose to cycle where they feel comfortable, yet hate it that some cyclists endanger pedestrians when cycling on the sidewalks.

Love or hate sidewalk cycling in Japan, you have to understand that given the lack of cycling lanes it is the acceptance of sidewalk cycling which has allowed cyclists numbers to remain so high in Japan and that until infrastructure is improved sidewalk cyclists will not go away.

I recently wrote a more detailed piece on sidewalk cycling in Japan for Metropolis Magazine here in Tokyo entitled "Sidewalk Circus: The bustling walkways of Tokyo are no places for cyclists - or are they?" and encourage you to take the time to read it online.

March 19, 2014

Schwinn T-shirts at UNIQLO

If you love Schwinn bicycles and find yourself in a t-shirt and jeans more often than not then you should get yourself to your nearest UNIQLO store.  Japanese budget clothing brand UNIQLO have teamed up with the iconic bicycle maker Schwinn to produce 7 different Schwinn themed t-shirts. The shirts are currently on sale nationwide for just Y1,500 each, but experience tells us if you wait a while you can pick up the very same t-shirts for as low as Y990.

This isn't the first time we've seen UNIQLO team up with well known bicycle brands on t-shirt designs. In the past they have collaborated with Giant, Specialized, Jamis and Pinarello among others. So if your inner 10 year old demands all articles of clothing you wear boldly announce your most loved hobbies then get yourself down to a UNIQLO store right now. Or if you're more like me, your more adult and budget minded self can suppress your inner 10 year old another few weeks until the price drop after which you can buy two!

While you're there why not pick up some super hero themed underpants as well? Girls love those.

March 18, 2014

Tokyo Warns Cyclists About Illegal Electric Bicycles

Recently the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has issued warnings to the public against the use of electric-assisted bicycles which run under their own power rather than providing pedal assist, saying that they are illegal on public roads.

Road Legal Electric-Assist Bicycle
Under Japanese road laws an electric bicycle that can run under its own power, without the cyclist pedalling, is under the same category as a motorcycle with engine size of 50cc or less and such vehicles require number plates and for the rider to have a license. Therefore riding such a bicycle on public roads unlicensed and without number plates is illegal. Electric bicycles commonly sold in Japan provide "electric assist", extra power to the pedals while the rider is pedalling while models overseas typically have a throttle allowing the bicycle to move without the rider pedalling at all.

The Tokyo Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs purchased 5 different types of the electric power-assisted bikes, ranging from 30,000 to 60,000 yen, for testing. They sourced the bicycles from both highly recommended online retailers, and retailers who had received a high number of consumer complaints. Of those tested one was equipped with a throttle in a clear violation of the road traffic act and three of the five continued running after the rider had stopped pedalling. More alarmingly was that under Japanese regulations power assisted bicycle motors are designed to stop running once the rider reaches 24 kilometres per hour, but four out of the five bicycles tested continued to accelerate to even higher speeds.

Personally I've noticed an increase of throttle controlled electric bicycles in the Higashi Shinjuku and Shin Okubo districts near my office. Such a sharp increase that I thought maybe the law had been changed to make such bicycles legal. I've seen these bicycle in use within full view of police officers none of whom have so much as even warned the cyclist. If officials don't act soon their use will become commonplace and the police will lose the power to act as they have in so many other areas of Japanese cycling regulation.

Bicycle buyers are advised to check safety inspection marks including the Traffic Safety mark from the Japan Traffic Management Technology Association, Bicycle Association Approved mark from the Bicycle Association of Japan and the Safe Goods mark of the Consumer Product Safety Association.

March 17, 2014

Tokyo Bicycle Lane Improvements

Japan is a nation of sidewalk cyclists. By law cyclists are required to use the road except in areas where specially marked sidewalks are available. Japanese society has misinterpreted and massaged this law over the decades and now the general consensus is that cycling on all sidewalks is acceptable. So ingrained has the practise become that police no longer enforce the sidewalk cycling laws. As a result most Japanese have no experience of cycling on the road, and even in areas where attempts have been made to develop on road bicycle lanes they're still largely avoided as they've been implemented with no consideration for the actual needs of the cyclists they're intended to serve.

Japanese roads are not ready for cyclists, and Japanese cyclists are not ready for the roads.

Bicycle Lane Adachi-ku Tokyo
Bicycle Lane in Adachi-ku, Tokyo.
When factories were demolished and the area west of Tokyo's Nishi Arai Station was redeveloped planners made the enlightened decision to provide wide sidewalks stretching 500m from the train station to the newly developed shopping centre. These sidewalks were paved with different coloured stones, the darker ones marking a two way lane for cyclists while the lighter area was designated for pedestrian use. Signs were erected and markings painted on the sidewalk surface indicating the correct location for both cyclists and pedestrians.

With no physical barrier between the bicycle lane and sidewalk, no education, and no policing, pedestrians and cyclists alike were oblivious to the bicycle lane.  Despite the markings pedestrians still walked wherever they pleased leaving cyclists with no option but to weave in and out often veering into the pedestrian only zone. Despite planners best intentions posting signs and changing the colour of the sidewalk surface did nothing to separate cyclists and pedestrians. Business as usual.

This chaos continued for years after the development was completed, it seemed that planners had given up the battle.

Upon visiting Nishi Arai last weekend I was surprised to see that a single simple improvement had been made to the lane which saw the bicycle lane almost entirely pedestrian free. Between the lane and pedestrian area posts had been erected at roughly 1.5m intervals. The bright blue posts, sport reflectors and markings pointing out the respective places for cyclists and pedestrians. The posts themselves are made from a soft rubber like material and when struck they bend and wobble rather than staying rigid.

During my 500m walk beside the bicycle lane I observed just one woman walking obliviously in the lane, which she did for the entire 500m despite me remarking to my wife, numerous times, loud enough for the women to hear that "Some people still don't realise that's a bicycle lane!".

Bicycle Lane Adachi-ku Tokyo
Posts to separate cyclists and pedestrians.
I noticed that cyclists, travelling in both directions, travelled faster than they had when they were mixed with pedestrians, some dangerously so as the posts pose no obstacle to errant toddlers who occasionally wandered into the bicycle lane. A small step or garden bed between would go a long way towards making it safer for all.

Another problem arose at intersections where the coloured tiles of the bicycle lane and the posts suddenly stopped. It was at intersections where pedestrians and cyclists were forced to mix again quite dangerously as cyclists were passing through the intersections at higher speeds than they would had they been cycling amongspedestrians.

Despite the problems the simple addition of posts effectively separated pedestrians from cyclists on a sidewalk where signs, markings and different coloured road surfaces had been proven a failure by years of demonstrated misuse.

Why not just widen the roads and provide on road bicycle lanes you may ask? The practise of sidewalk cycling is so widespread in Japan it has become part of the culture, as is the belief that cycling the sidewalks is safer than cycling the roads. Japanese cyclists include children, the elderly and parents carrying multiple children on their bicycles none of whom are keen on sharing the road with fast moving, heavy motor vehicles with nothing but a stripe of blue paint for protection.

In addition to this sidewalk lanes are convenient for shoppers as they're two way while on road bicycle lanes are typically one way.

Imagine you're on a one way bicycle lane and need to cycle back to a store 50m behind you, its one way so you can't double back. First you have to cycle down to the next intersection (away from your destination), wait at some traffic lights and cross the road. Then you'll cycle back in the direction of the store you want to visit, but you'll have to cycle past it to reach an intersection where you can cross the road again. Having crossed the road you can finally cycle on towards the store. You've done a big circle, wasting a lot of time in dong so.

On a two way sidewalk lane you simply turn around and cycle back. Easy.

Most people in Japan use their bicycle not for travelling long distances from point A to point B, but for pottering around the neighbourhood stopping by the bakery before dropping into the fishmongers then dropping off some clothing at the dry cleaners. A 10km one way roadside bicycle lane from the suburbs to the city is of little practical use to 99% of Japanese cyclists.

I believe it is important when considering cycling infrastructure to not simply accept what works well in other cities will work well in yours. Certainly there are best practises to adhere to but there is also a need to examine the culture, and the patterns of bicycle use and design infrastructure that complements that. Remember that cycling infrastructure is for people and you must understand how people use their bicycles before you can design infrastructure that they will gain the most benefit from.

Do not blindly accept that what works elsewhere will work in your city. Cities, cultures and people are unique and the problems they face may require unique, customised, solutions. Keep this in mind when considering cycling infrastructure, build it for your people.

March 05, 2014

The Bike Commuter Cabal - A Shadow Conspiracy

The Bike Commuter Cabal is an international shadow conspiracy dedicated to supporting bicycle commuters and promoting sustainable cycling around the world. Beginning life as a Google+ circle of like minded people who choose to commute by bicycle the Cabal has secretly expanded its empire to include a Google+ Community, Facebook Page, and twitter feed.

The most recent expansion of the ever evolving Bike Commuter Cabal Empire is a new blog launched in March, 2014 and I am humbled to have had my story "Tokyo, Japan: Omnipresent Cycling in the Big City" chosen as the first ever Bike Commuter Cabal feature story.

Members of the Cabal come from all walks of life from people who commute to work, school, the store or the pub to people who train, race and tour the globe. Members are students, parents, activists, writers, janitors, designers, some wear helmets and Lycra, others don't, but who cares? We all love cycling and it is the diversity of real people with real experiences and stories that make the Bike Commuter Cabal such a unique and interesting community.

So if you're a bicycle commuter, a bicycle lover, or someone who is keen to get started then hook up with the Bike Commuter Cabal in one or all of its many forms as I can honestly say it has been without a doubt the most friendly, informative and welcoming group of people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting and working with on the Internet.