A Tour of Tokyo's Newest Bicycle Lanes

New bicycle lanes are appearing all over Tokyo, and thats great even if the lanes aren't so great themselves! We cycled as many as we could and here are our observations.

Fitness isn't a goal, it's a side effect

If you or a friend are cycling to get fit and not enjoying it then cycle to the shops instead. Before you know it you'll be fit, car free and better off financially.

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.

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.

December 16, 2014

How Suburban Tokyo Promotes Cycling (without even trying)

Cycling enjoys a 14% modal share in Tokyo one of the worlds largest mega-cities. While other cities can boast higher figures the fact that, in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world, 14% of all trips made in a day are made by bicycle is really something Tokyo should be proud of.

Despite this high figure, bicycle commuter numbers are low primarily due to the cities fast, clean and efficient public transport system which allows commuters to cross the city more conveniently than other transport options. In the west daily cycling is often closely linked to bicycle commuter numbers, but this is not the case in Tokyo where employees are actively encouraged not to cycle to work and where the average trip distance by bicycle is less than 2km.

How is it then that cycling thrives in a city where the majority of citizens commute by train? Where are the daily cyclists and how can they possibly make up 14% of trips in the city? In short, Tokyo's cyclists are concentrated in the suburbs where they make many utilitarian trips by bicycle every day and  rarely venture much further than a few kilometres from their homes. Rather than using their bicycles to cycle into the city, a route already well serviced by public transport, citizens of Tokyo cycle almost entirely within the confines of their local neighbourhood. To understand why, you have to understand the structure of a typical suburban Japanese neighbourhood.

Tokyo's neighbourhoods resemble small, self contained, villages from a bygone age. At the centre of the village is the train station which is the focus of all village activity. As the majority of residents are reliant on rail transport anyone entering or leaving the village must pass through the station making it the heart of the suburb. Over 20% of Tokyo's 20 million daily rail passengers cycle from their homes to the local station and the provision of bicycle parking close to the station to keep up with cyclist numbers is a major challenge for local councils. Due to a lack of car parking facilities at suburban train stations the remaining 80% of passengers walk to the station.

With such high numbers of cyclist and pedestrian traffic converging on the station daily, merchants keen to ply their trade establish their businesses in a ring around the station and on roads leading radially out from the station secure in the knowledge that the high level of foot traffic will will bring in lucrative business. Within this commercial ring exist all the necessities for daily life including bakeries, vegetable stores, a butcher, fish monger, doctors, dentists, banks, restaurants, dry cleaners, hair salons and supermarkets.

The area within a 250m radius of Sengawa Station in Western Tokyo contains a multitude of supermarkets, restaurants, clinics, convenience stores, banks, post offices and small businesses. 
Local businesses and cycling share a symbiotic relationship in the suburbs of Tokyo. Due to the fact that small local businesses abound, and that sidewalk bicycle parking is tolerated, cycling thrives. Conversely, because so many people are willing to cycle from business to business on their shopping trips (trip chaining) small businesses flourish. This is a fact that other cities around the world are now just to realise with recent studies showing a direct relationship between higher cyclist numbers and stronger sales for small businesses.

Residential zones within 1 kilometre of Sengawa station overlap with neighbouring zones giving residents the opportunity to cycle easily to neighbouring "village centres".
Forming a larger ring around the commercial district is the village residential area. Primarily homes an apartments, the residential areas are also dotted with convenience stores, medical clinics, schools and kindergartens not to mention playgrounds and parks. Given the high density of train stations residents often have the option of cycling to two or more village centres for their shopping. Distances that would be a chore by foot evaporate under the wheels of a bicycle.

The convenience of cycling in Tokyo becomes apparent when the 1 kilometre zone around each village is plotted on a map of the 23 wards. Each neighbourhood is serviced by convenient public transport which is used for trips of more than a few kilometres. But as distances from homes to the local station, or neighbouring station all of which contain a multitude of local businesses nothing beats the bicycle for trips of just a few kilometres.

In conclusion everything a villager of Tokyo could possibly need for day to day living is within a short walk, or even shorter ride from their home close to their local station, or the next one along the line, and this is how suburban Japan promotes cycling use without even trying. The speed of cycling over walking, the convenience of cycling over automobiles, and the availability of almost everything within cycling distance makes the bicycle the most obvious form of transport in the suburbs of Japan.

December 11, 2014

Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe 2014 in Tokyo

Ho Ho Ho! festive cyclists! Its time to dust off your Santa outfit (or obtain one if you don't own one already, shame on you!) and decorate you bike with lights, tinsel, mistletoe and whatever else you can think of because the annual Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe is taking plce in Tokyo on December 23rd and naughty or nice you're all invited to come along and join in the fun!

Jolly cyclists will gather on December 23rd at the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market from 17:00 and the ride scheduled to start at 17:30. The distance won't be that great, and cycling is at a low pace so you can drift up and down the pack and enjoy a leisurely chat. Its a social ride with emphasis firmly on "social". Cyclists if all creeds, and bicycle of all style most very welcome.

There is no obligation to get dressed up to attend the ride, but hey, its only Christmas once a year so why not?! Santa Clause costumes can be had at your local Daiso or other ¥100 shop for ¥400, but feel free to come as a reindeer, elf, snowman or whatever! Got an Easter Bunny costume instead? We don't care! Hell, in the summer we rode (almost) NUDE! Just get it on and join the fun!

Suggested Ride Items:

  • A costume. Santa Clause preferred but its up to you.
  • Lights, lots of lights, the more flashy and annoyingly Christmasy the better!
  • Decorated bike. Tinsel, mistletoe, Christmas decorations, lights, inflatable reindeer, anything goes. The more outrageous the better. 
  • A beverage or two, remember you have to ride home, but we ARE celebrating.
  • A sound system. This will not be a "Silent Night".
  • A means of making it snow, failing that, a means to blow bubbles!
  • Christmas cheer, and lots of it!

I will be attending and would like to invite all Tokyo By Bike readers to come along and join in the fun. I've not met nearly enough of you!

If you do plan to participate let me know, or shoot me a message on Twitter so I can look out for you. You may think it easy to spot a man in a Santa suit, but its not when EVERYONE is dressed as Santa!

Still not sure of you want to join? Check out this ride report from last years event. I hope to see you there.

What : Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe 2014

When : December 23rd, 17:00 for a 17:30 start.

Where : Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market

Details : Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe Event Page

December 06, 2014

Inokashira Park Declares War on Bicycles (for a few weeks)

Tokyo's Inokashira Park has always been a popular cycling destination for families but it seems authorities are hell bent on putting an end to that.

Over the summer months my family and I would often cycle along the Kanda River to its source, the lake in the middle of Inokashira park. We'd park our bikes among hundreds of others in what appeared to be the designated bicycle parking area and enjoy an afternoon viewing the weekend market, watching the kids play in the playgrounds and even enjoy a boat ride on the lake itself.

Imagine my surprise in September when we cycled up to the parking area to find it roped off, devoid of bicycles and being watched over by 2 security guards. What the hell? One of the guards began walking towards us waving us away, but rather than politely walk away I confronted him. What the hell? Where are we supposed to park?

He unfolded a map that he had in his pocket indicating the location of paid bicycle parking lots, not one of which was in convenient distance from the park and a number of which were already full when we arrived.

I was fuming. For as long as I can remember people have always parked their bikes in that spot without authorities giving two hoots. Why now? What the hell? Where would we park on future visits? Would the inconvenience of not having bicycle parking force us to take the train to the park instead? Having a coffee while my daughters rode a swan boat I was getting angrier by the minute.

It was then I remembered something about Japan, this was a campaign, just like thousands of others held around the country each year, and that all campaigns come to an end. There is no way authorities would keep security guards on site for any longer than a couple of weeks and once the barriers and security guards disappeared the otherwise law aiding Japanese public would simply go back to parking in exactly the same spot and things would return to normal.

So imagine my smugness when we returned to Inokashira Park weeks later to find that bicycles were slowly returning to the park. Barriers are still up, and signs abound warning visitors not to park in the park grounds, and there are maps everywhere showing the location of inconvenient, over capacity and expensive parking lots, but these are being largely ignored and bicycles are returning.

Authorities must learn that the bicycle is an incredibly efficient and important form of transport for millions of people around Japan and accelerate the development of cycling infrastructure rather than impose insane parking bans without providing suitable alternatives.  Whenever they step in and make cycling more inconvenient, they're really inconveniencing everyone that cycles, and in Japan that is just about everyone.

Non cyclists may never understand, but I love the lawlessness that exists around cycling in Japan. More power to the pedal pushers!

December 04, 2014

Rainy Afternoon Cycling in Tokyo

So it rained in Tokyo last Saturday which game me a chance to fit a new set of Tioga Factory FS100 tyres to my Giant STP. Of course when the job was done I couldn't resist the opportunity to try them out in the wet conditions.

While out and about I stopped by the Omiya Hachimangu Shrine in Suginami-ku where I had hoped to photograph some of the beautiful autumn colors, but given the nature of weather that was not to be. Instead I got a couple of great shots of my bike in the temple grounds.

The Giant STP is my play bike. In my younger years I spent a lot of time mountain biking in the mountains surrounding Tokyo, but now I have a family I can't justify spending all that time on myself. Luckily we live near a river that has parklands on each side, areas of which have been left rather wild that provide fun off road challenges so I can get out for short quick rides that don't take up the whole day.

In addition to this the urban landscape of Tokyo offers some pretty interesting challenges itself, especially the business districts if you tackle them at night when there is nobody around apart from skateboarders. This makes the Giant STP a great choice of bicycle for the city bound rider who still yearns for the hills.

November 07, 2014

Tokyo to Promote Cycling Ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced this week that it aims to encourage more people to cycle and that it will double the length of bike lanes in the city before the 2020 Summer Olympics. As always they released no details of exactly how they expected to achieve this.

It turns out that creating a network of bicycle lanes may be easier said than done as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government regulates just 2,000 km of roads in the capital with the remaining 20,000 km being regulated by municipal governments such as wards, cities and towns. Many observers believe the Governments vision is doomed to failure as it has already been stated that the planned bicycle lanes will not be contiguous. They will start and end when a road becomes the responsibility of a different authority. Not only that but each authority has its own standards for cycling infrastructure meaning there will be no consistency in lanes around the city.

As we know Tokyo's Governor Yoichi Masuzoe is fresh back from a visit to London where he met with Mayor Boris Johnson and examined the city’s Olympic legacy noting that the city’s roads were “narrow and very similar to those in Tokyo,” making London a useful reference. An interesting reference indeed but I fail to understand why the Governor of Tokyo, a city in which cycling enjoys a 14% modal share, is looking towards London, with its modal share of just 2%, for inspiration regarding the use of bicycles for transport.

Has Governor Masuzoe not heard of The Netherlands and Denmark? Is he not even aware how citizens of Tokyo already rely on the bicycle for transport in their daily lives? Why is he not the one giving advice to London? If you're going to get advice on cycling from another city at least pick a city that does cycling better than your own, not worse.

It is wonderful that the 2020 Olympics has raised the issue of cycling infrastructure to a national level, but until Japan's leaders understand the widespread use of bicycles and the needs of cyclists in their own country I believe it is fruitless to go looking for ideas from overseas.

In addition to this I have come to believe that cycling infrastructure for the Olympics and cycling infrastructure for the people are two separate issues and should be treated as such.

Once again this appears to be a case of politicians racing around to fulfil an agenda with little understanding of the issues, and next to no public consultation. It is sad so see such a chance to make a positive difference potentially go to waste.

October 29, 2014

11 Tips for Cyclists New to Tokyo

If you've recently arrived in Tokyo and are about to venture out on the road on your bicycle, here is a list of quick tips to get you up to speed and cycling safely.

  1. When cycling on the road always cycle on the left, don't argue just do it.
  2. Obey the rules of the road as if you were driving a vehicle.
  3. Don't run red lights but expect cars to rush through the intersection on orange and fresh reds, especially taxis.
  4. Don't get doored. Ride a safe distance from parked cars taking the lane if necessary. Beware of delivery vehicles whose drivers often exit their vehicles in a hurry without looking.
  5. Beware of taxi's as they tend to pull into and out of traffic giving little or no warning. Also look out for automatically opening taxi doors.
  6. Wet manhole covers and freshly painted road markings are slippery, as are rail lines and metal plates used to cover road works during the day.
  7. Don't jump from the road to the sidewalk and back without looking. Choose where you're comfortable riding and stick with that choice.
  8. If you choose to ride on the sidewalks ride slowly and respect pedestrians.
  9. When parking your bicycle on the sidewalk do not let it block pedestrians.
  10. Register your bicycle, its compulsory but there are no penalties for not doing so. Being registered will help you avoid awkward situations with the police and helps you prove ownership if your bicycle is stolen or impounded.
  11. Lock your bicycle no matter its worth. Japanese bicycle thieves are opportunistic and go for easy, unlocked, targets.

The best way to learn how to cycle in Tokyo is to observe the cyclists around you, you'll soon learn what is socially acceptable and what isn't. But I advise you pass your own common sense filter over your observations because there are many practises in which Japanese cyclists engage that they deem acceptable, but may challenge your own view on personal safety.

When all else fails simply exercise some common sense, and ride safely.

October 23, 2014

Anger and Intolerance are the Enemies of Correct Understanding

Recently a friend of mine was cycling to work in Adelaide, South Australia. A motorist passed him closely and at speed before slowing rapidly and turning across his path and into a side street. My friend grabbed a fist full of brakes and swerved to avoid what could have been a nasty collision.

At this point he had two options, lose his temper and go thermonuclear on the driver, shouting and swearing at him for his dangerous incompetence risking escalating the situation to even more dangerous levels, or acknowledging to the driver that he was OK and wave him on his way.

The driver had stopped, and had his head out the window, adrenalin pumping, muscles tensed and his blood pressure rising he was preparing for the shouting match (and chance of violence) that inevitably follows such an incident with angry suicidal cyclist. Instead of confrontation my friend waved him on his way with a smile and the simple comment "I'm OK". Tense situation defused the driver responded with "Sorry mate, I should have slowed down and waited for you." To which my friend responded (in a typically Australian manner) "No worries mate, have a good day." At which point the motorist waved out his window and drove off.

When I heard my friends story I had to congratulate him for his self control, and let him know what a great boost he had given the image of cyclists in South Australia.

By responding with a friendly gesture the motorist suddenly saw my friend as a living breathing human being, not "one of those" Lycra clad, insane, foaming at the mouth, feral cyclists. My friend had made the situation personal and the motorist could no longer view this as another random encounter with a self important, hipster, road hogging cyclist.

Had my friend turned abusive, or angry and escalated the situation all the motorist would remember after arriving at work would be a frightening and dangerous encounter with one of those crazy, suicidal cyclists with no respect for the rules of the, and that's how he'd share the story with his co-workers, gaining support from them all. The image of the frightening, rabid cyclist would completely overshadow all other details of the accident.

But by staying level headed and making it personal, my friend ensures that when the driver recalls the situation they remember it as the time they almost knocked that friendly chap who smiled, waved and wished them a good day, off his bicycle. They remember the details that led to the accident, and that they were at fault, and they remember the person rather than the aftermath and the faceless inhuman monster that thumped the trunk of his car with his fist while shouting abuse.

When cyclists get angry and abusive at drivers the situation is no longer about the cause of the accident, to the motorist it is about escaping a frightening encounter with "one of those" dangerous, unhinged, maniac cyclists. Its all the motorist remembers and cyclists are further dehumanised.

Now you may disagree, but I applaud my friends conduct in this case. With one simple gesture he had humanised all cyclists in the eyes of the driver, and possibly removed years of hatred and bias the motorist had towards cyclists in general. Next time that motorist sees a cyclist he sees a person and one thing we need on our roads is more motorists who can identify with cyclists.

I encounter dangerous acts by motorists (and fellow cyclists) on a daily basis, dangerous, but not all of them life threatening. If I were to get angry over each and every one of them I'd have a pretty stressful ride, and become an insanely bitter person. Today I tend to practise a more peaceful, turn the other cheek, style of cycling, Gandhi-like if you will for it was Gandhi who said "Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding".

I'm not saying that cyclists don't have the right to get angry and stand up for their rights on the road, but not all battles are worth fighting. Pick your battles carefully and we will win the war.

October 21, 2014

Hyogo Governor Calls for Mandatory Cycling Insurance

On October 20th Hyogo Prefecture's Governor Toshizo Ido (69) proposed introducing a new law that would make it mandatory for all cyclists to purchase accident insurance, making it the first Prefecture in the country to take such an outrageous and logic defying step.

The government will approach insurance companies encouraging them to offer cycling accident insurance policies with premiums of just ¥1,500 to ¥2,000 per year to compensate parties injured in accidents involving cyclists. His plan calls for bike stores to sign cyclists up to an insurance plan as part of the service they offer when selling a bicycle in much the same way that dealers currently register new bicycles for customers nation wide (A service that already adds an additional Y500 to the cost of a new bicycle.)

Considering 85% of the population in Japan own a bicycle this ruling is likely to impact on the finances of almost every household in Hyogo Prefecture, and the impact will be felt more strongly by low income families, each member of which will be required to take out cycling insurance. The cash strapped elderly who rely on the bicycle not only as their main means of transport, but as their lifeline to the community and an active social life will be forced to pay up or remain housebound. Children of low income families will lose their independence, another form of healthy play, exercise and social interaction will be denied them leaving them at much greater risk of becoming overweight or obese.

In addition to all that, it is not inconceivable that insurers may add clauses to their bargain basement policies requiring that all cyclists wear helmets which would be another blow for family budgets, and reduce cyclist numbers even further.

In a country where a basic shopping bicycle can be purchased for as little as ¥8,000 the addition of a ¥2,000 insurance policy, a ¥500 registration fee and the prospect of having to purchase a helmet to comply with an insurance policy you didn't even want in the first place is just outrageous.

If this law comes to be, and can be policed, which will be expensive in itself, it will do nothing but drive down cyclist numbers thus placing a larger burden on already congested roads and public transport systems.

In all seriousness I can see no benefit to such a new law and am left astounded that someone in such a position of authority is prepared to completely wipe out a healthy environmentally friendly form of transport that his citizens rely upon in their daily lives, and one that is costing his government next to nothing to maintain. Its insane.

But Governor Toshizo Ido isn't the only lunatic who has escaped the asylum. This announcement comes just weeks after the Mayor of Kamo City in Niigata Prefecture, Kiyohiko Koike (77), wrote to his constituents encouraging students to cycle "as little as possible" and to "always wear a helmet".

He noted nostalgically in his letter that he and his friends enjoyed the freedom of the bicycle as a child, but now the roads are crowded with automobiles and no longer safe for cyclists. As a result he concluded that children should avoid cycling at all cost.

So, lets get this straight; The Mayor enjoyed cycling as a child but today's children can't because he, as Mayor with all his mayoral powers, doesn't have the balls to reclaim the streets from motorists and implement lower speed limits nor does he have the imagination to develop a sustainable transport policy which will make the roads safer for all.

At least the Mayor Koike is simply expressing his ill informed opinion, Governor Ido's mandatory insurance plan was developed by a "panel of experts", likely the same "panel of experts" that recommended license plates for cyclists in 2012, or that which believes nuclear power plants on active fault lines are a smashing idea.

This is the level of idiocy we are fighting: To make cycling safer we must make it more expensive and inconvenient for all, but to achieve truly outstanding results we should simply "cycle as little as possible". These are your elected officials in action folks ...