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.

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.

September 02, 2014

Cycling Infrastructure Tours in Tokyo

Over summer I had the pleasure of hosting a number of cycling infrastructure study tours around Tokyo, the largest of which consisted of 16 students from the University of Copenhagen.

As we know cycling in Tokyo enjoys a 14% modal share, yet Tokyo's cycling infrastructure has been sadly neglected which is a strange paradox indeed. Given the lack of infrastructure the majority of cyclists choose to cycle on the crowded sidewalks as they regard the roads as unsafe. Japanese cyclists also tend to ignore cycling laws instead relying on an unwritten understanding of how cyclists should behave.

Given all that it seems that cycling could not survive on Tokyo, one of the biggest and busiest mega-cities in the world, but it not only survives, it thrives. The only way to truly understand just how cycling works in Tokyo is to jump on a bicycle and try it for yourself.

During the course of the tour we cycled newly developed bicycle lanes on the islands of Tokyo Bay, along with new lanes along Shintora-dori near the new Toranamon Hills development. We cycled some sidewalk level bicycle lanes between Ueno and Asakusa and negotiates a particularly complicated intersection on some unprotected "blue paint" lanes in Odaiba. At one point on the tour we walked our bicycles over Tokyo's Raindbow Bridge which is an interesting experience in itself.

But to keep it real, and experience cycling from a locals point of view we often rode the sidewalks among the pedestrians, to which one of the tour participants remarked "I feel like a criminal, you can't cycle on the sidewalk in Denmark".  When asked the rules for cycling on the sidewalk all I could offer was "Don't hit anyone." It wasn't long before the group were cycling like they'd lived here all their lives.

During the tour we observed how older parts of the city are much more walkable and cycleable than newly developed areas, and that backstreets offer a much better cycling experience not only in terms of traffic, but that they offer a lot more surprises and interesting experiences, yet unfortunately, in Tokyo, they're notoriously difficult to navigate.

The ride wasn't all work and no play as the route took in a number of sights such as the Odaiba waterfront, Tokyo Tower, Zozoji Temple, the Imperial Palace, Ginza and Asakusa.

After a full day of cycling the participants felt they had a better understanding of cycling in Tokyo but generally agreed that newly developed cycling lanes around the city are of substandard quality compared to those in Denmark, being much too narrow and disappearing at intersections allowing pedestrians and cyclists to mingle uncontrolled.

But I think it was I who learned the most about cycling in Tokyo by observing my guests. I imagined a group of young university students who cycle every day would be as confident as me cycling on the roads, but the opposite was true. I learned that I've become accustomed to Tokyo's roads to the point where what I consider to be safe is actually very far from it. Sure, compared to cities in the US and Australia for example cycling the roads of Tokyo is a lot safer but compared to the Netherlands and Denmark Tokyo's roads are really not safe at all.

If you're visiting Tokyo and would like a better insight into just how cycling works in this amazing and unique city, would like to visit some of the newly developed bicycle infrastructure around the city and even take in some sights please do not hesitate to contact me.

August 30, 2014

Tokyo Governor Explains His Vision for Cycling in the City

At a press conference held on August 29 Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe responded to questions regarding his vision for cycling in Tokyo in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics. His answers were interesting to say the least.

In principal the Governor supports the installation of street level bicycle lanes, over sidewalk level lanes and is committed to expanding Tokyo's network of bicycle lanes across the city. This sounds like wonderful news until he elaborated on his answer.

During his elaboration things became a lot less clear as he indicated that Tokyo's widely accepted practice of sidewalk cycling would not be stamped out even in areas where bicycle lanes are widespread. In particular he singled out mothers who carry one or more children on their bicycle who may not be comfortable cycling on the roads may prefer to cycle on the sidewalks which he described as "safer".

Defending this stance he expanded by saying that he believes that forcing roadies, bicycle commuters (both of whom make up a tiny percentage of Tokyo's cyclists), the elderly and mothers (who account for a much larger percentage) to mix is a bad idea.

He acknowledged that the common practice of cycling in both directions on the sidewalk is a dangerous but is one so common that to prevent it would make cycling a much less convenient form of transport for all.

By allowing sidewalk cycling to continue in the presence of new bicycle lanes one must ask just how committed Tokyo's Governor is to providing safe, world class, cycling infrastructure?

From the very beginning Masuzoe admits that he plans to build bicycle lanes which he himself believes will be too unsafe to accommodate mothers and children.  A bicycle lane too unsafe for mothers and children is by its very nature too unsafe to accommodate anyone. Why waste taxpayers money on infrastructure he acknowledges is flawed from the start?

The Governor has also fallen into the trap of trying to accommodate the needs of everyone over the needs of the majority. The majority of Japanese cyclists are "regular people" riding mamachari's on the sidewalks at speeds less than 30km/h for distances of less than 2km each trip, compared to these cyclists the roadies, mountain bikers and bicycle commuters make up just a small percentage of the total number of cyclists.

Masuzoe really should be focusing on the needs of the majority as in the press conference he acknowledged Japan's ageing population and declining birth rate will eventually mean less mothers and more elderly cyclists, yet his policy seems to be to provide lanes (which I assume will be little more than blue paint on the roadway) for young, active and fearless cyclists (of whom there are few) while allowing everyone else, including mothers and the elderly to continue cycling on the sidewalks. As a result his proposed cycling infrastructure will do little to change the current situation.

If Governor Masuzoe is not fully committed to protected road level bicycle lanes which are safe enough for everyone in the community to cycle in, he is not committed to cycling in Tokyo.

Personally I believe Masuzoe's policy needs a rethink.

August 25, 2014

Bicycle Chambara at Pedal Day Tokyo

One of the Night Pedal Cruising crews contributions to the Pedal Day 2014 festivities in Tokyo on August 18 was the organisation of the Bicycle Chambara event. So what exactly is Bicycle Chambara?

 The rules are simple. Ten combatants, er.. I mean contestants, are each given a rolled up newspaper and strap a stylish paper balloon to their heads. They line up around the edges of an arena of arbitrary size and when the whistle blows their objective is to try and smash their opponent's balloons while protecting their own. The winner is the last person with an intact balloon.

There could be other rules if you're that way inclined, such as the "out of bounds" rule which disqualifies a rider if they somehow exit the arena, you could also disqualify a rider for touching the ground with their feet, but in the interest of good fun and entertainment we like to keep the rules to a minimum, like professional wrestling if you will.

It wasn't planned but as one event dragged on with no clear winner the previously disqualified riders began reducing the size of the arena by slowly moving the witches hats inwards, hemming in the remaining contestants and forcing them to confront each other rather than run for cover. As a rule I believe this works.

This was my first time to try Bicycle Chambara and it was incredibly good fun, but a lot more difficult than it looked given my limited reach and general aversion to crashing into other cyclists.

To drum up spectator support we spent the first few minutes of our match in pro wrestler mode, showboating, name calling, bell ringing and generally messing about, then without words we decided the match was on in earnest.  I like to think I put up a good fight, but getting knocked out in the latter half of the match by a guy on a huge heavy delivery bike really hurt my pride until I found out he was a professional BMX rider here to perform for the crowd later in the night.

I must say Bicycle Chambara is a great sport and you all must try it with a set of rules that work for you (or not), and is immensely satisfying for spectators as its as close as you'll get to gladiators and chariots in the modern day.

I can't wait until this debuts at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020!

What other kinds of games have you played with friends on your bicycles?

August 11, 2014

Nude Pedal Cruising Midnight 2014

To celebrate Tokyo's annual Pedal Day festivities, which will be taking place August 16, 17 and 18th, the Night Pedal Cruising crew are hosting yet another all night "nude" ride through Tokyo. Yes its time for Nude Pedal Cruising Midnight 2014!!

Riders will meet on Saturday evening (August 16) at 11:00pm near NHK Hall in Yoyogi Park for a midnight start before setting off on an all night ride which will end at Wakasu Seaside Park in Shin Kiba where we will watch the sunrise over Tokyo Bay.

The route will wind through the streets of Tokyo travelling at a leisurely pace through Shibuya, Shinjuku, Aoyama, Roppongi, Tokyo Tower, Shiba Park, Ginza, and Harumi before ending up at the Wakasu Seaside Park.

As with all Night Pedal Cruising the pace is slow while the company and conversation is great.

Bring a sound system, decorate your bike with lights or whatever you can find and join Tokyo's one and only bike party.

While the ride is billed as being a "nude" ride, under fear of arrest it will be a semi-clothed ride, but cyclists of all state of undress are welcome. You're not obligated to strip off, but we'll demand you have a great time!

Read the full details of the ride here and don't forget to visit us at Pedal Day in Tokyo this weekend.

If you want to know what goes on at one of these rides read my Nude Pedal Cruising Ride Report from last years event.

August 09, 2014

Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge By Bike

Wouldn't it be great if you could cycle over Tokyo's iconic Rainbow Bridge?  Well I'm sorry you can't.

Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge by Bicycle
On Sunday I was out making an early morning  pre-riding the course for my upcoming guided study tour of Tokyo's cycling infrastructure. I had cycled over the bridges of Harumi Dori, island hopping Tokyo Bay to the Seaside Park in Odaiba where I stopped for a refreshing drink and photo opportunity.
My plan was to take to Water Taxi from Odaiba Seaside Park to Hinode Pier and from there head to Shiba Park at the foot of Tokyo Tower, but to my surprise the first ferry was scheduled to leave at 11:30am, another two and a half hours in the future. This left me with two choices, cycle a big circle back over the Harumi Dori route and loop back to Tokyo Tower, or to walk Rainbow Bridge with my bicycle.

Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge by Bicycle
I'd heard you could walk your bike over Rainbow Bridge but in all my years living here I'd never actually tried it but being just 798m in length with a main span of 580m walking the bridge would certainly be the fastest and most direct route to my destination. So I set off in search of the entrance to the walkway.

I found the entrance with no trouble and began walking my bicycle up a ramp towards what appeared to be a toll booth.  Walking the bridge is free and you are indeed allowed to push your bicycle across, but in order to prevent you from riding the guys in the booth attach what can only be described as a "roller skate" to your rear wheel.

Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge by Bicycle
The "skate" can easily be removed allowing you to cycle the bridge and sneakily reattach it before you reach the checkpoint on the other side but any sensible person would realise the bridge was never designed for cycling and cycling would be dangerous for both rider and pedestrians. The path is narrow the railing is low, and there are countless blind corners that really do rule out cycling across.

With my roller skate attached I set off over the bridge via the north walkway which gave spectacular views of both Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Sky Tree no to mention the Tokyo skyline itself and back over the island of Tokyo Bay where work has already begun on the venues for the 2020 Olympics.

Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge by Bicycle
The walk was surprisingly short, and at the end I was required to take an elevator down to a much welcome air conditioned lobby where I could quench my thirst from the nearby vending machine. After my drink I reluctantly left the air conditioned comfort to take a couple of ramps down to the booth where my roller skate was removed and I was free to continue my journey in a more dignified manner.

Walking Rainbow Bridge certainly is a unique experience and while you can't cycle it I certainly recommend the route for cyclists looking for another way off the islands of Tokyo by. I'm really glad I walked the bridge and will never took at Rainbow Bridge in quite the same way again.

Rainbow Bridge is open to pedestrians from 9am until 9pm in the summer and 10am to 6pm in the winter. Access to the walkway is closed 30 minutes before closing time.

July 29, 2014

Could one bad decision ruin cycling in Tokyo forever?

During the 1990's the streets of Tokyo were teeming with 50cc scooters but now they're gone. Their price, convenience, and easily obtainable licenses them a desirable form of transport among university students and young workers alike. Resembling swarms of angry bees they would weave in and out of traffic and squeezing between cars and the sidewalk to get pole position at the traffic lights. As a cyclist riding with scooters was an interesting challenge, but now they're gone.

Historically there were no rules around parking scooters and due to their sudden popularity the sidewalks of Tokyo became choked by the cumbersome machines. The breaking point came in 2003 when the Tokyo Metropolitan Government drafted a new law making it illegal to park scooters on the sidewalk.  With no alternative parking available scooters suddenly became inconvenient and expensive rendering them an endangered species almost overnight. Many a motorcycle shop saw their earnings drastically cut, and more than a few went out of business completely.

One simple decision by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government killed scooters as a cheap convenient mode of transport in Tokyo, could the same thing happen to bicycles?

Cyclists in Tokyo currently enjoy a great amount of freedom when it comes to interpreting the law. Cyclists are supposed to ride on the roads, but sidewalk cycling is the norm. Cycling while holding an umbrella, operating a mobile phone and even cycling with a bag of groceries hanging from your handlebars can land you with a fine (or imprisonment) yet doing so right before a police officer rarely elicits a response. In Japan cycling laws generally go unenforced until such time as an accident occurs.

But imagine for a moment that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government took a hard line on cycling laws as they did with scooters, could such a decision kill cycling in the city?

Imagine cyclists were banished from the sidewalks and forced to cycle on the roads without the necessary cycling infrastructure, immediately millions of cyclists not confident cycling in traffic would be forced to stop riding. The elderly who rely on bicycles to increase their mobility, adding to their quality of life, would be forced off their bicycles and back into their homes. Parents who carry their children around the neighbourhood by bicycle would choose to walk rather than expose their little ones to the dangers of the road. Forcing cyclists to cycle on the road without appropriate cycling infrastructure would not only be a disaster in terms of cycling numbers, it would have a huge social impact, and possibly even reshape society.

Of particular concern at the moment are the new bicycle lanes that are appearing around the city. At great expense protected sidewalk level bicycle lanes that effectively separate cars bicycles and pedestrians have been put in place. This sounds wonderful except that these two way lanes are so narrow they wouldn't be considered wide enough for a single one way lane in many European countries. With barely enough room for cyclists travelling in opposite directions to pass and the way in which they disappear at intersections forcing pedestrians and cycles to mix, their design is flawed to the point of being dangerous.

My fear is that once these substandard lanes are in place the rules will be changed forcing cyclists to use the lanes at all times. Not only sidewalk cyclists, but I can imagine road cyclists could also be forced into these narrow little deathtraps. If these poorly designed lanes were to spread, and all cyclists were forced by law to use them I can imagine bicycle gridlock, an increase in accidents and a subsequent decrease in cyclists numbers as cycling becomes less convenient for all.

But would Tokyo's cyclists stand for it?

In 2006 Japan's National Police Association decided to outlaw the common practise of cycling while carrying two children as passengers, a move which adversely impacted on the daily lives of millions of families around Japan who use the bicycle for short trips around their neighbourhoods. Under the new law parents unable to carry two children would be forced to walk to kindergartens, schools, and after school activities. They'd be forced to walk to supermarkets, dry cleaners, the doctors or dentists. Not only that, they'd be forced to walk at a child's pace making even the quickest journey by bicycle an epic journey on foot.

In short the impact of the ruling was too much for parents to bear so they simply refused to comply. After months of campaigning the NPA eventually backed down and withdrew the ruling instead deciding on a new law stating that only bicycles certified by the Bicycle Association of Japan displaying a BAA (Bicycle Association Approved) sticker could be used to transport more than one child.

As none of the bicycles currently in use were BAA approved, and asking parents to purchase new bicycles was impractical, the new law came into effect only on bicycles purchased after 2006. Yet another law was born, another that would go unobserved and unenforced for eternity.

Given the sheer number of people in Japan who rely upon bicycles in their everyday lives, any decision which impacts on the convenience of cycling impacts directly on peoples lives. Any new law that dramatically changes the cycling landscape for the worst would have a dramatic impact on the lives tens of millions of people, and possibly even change the dynamics of Japanese society.

In the past Japanese citizens have stood firm in the face of authority to have nonsensical laws revoked and we can only hope that they continue to do so lest everyday cycling be rendered extinct by thoughtless decisions and impractical new laws.

July 19, 2014

Street Girls Ride Presented by SUGAR BOY

SUGAR BOY organise a monthly skate school and other events for the women who love Tokyo's street culture. As part of Tokyo's Pedal Days of Summer they will be hosting a ride for the ladies of Tokyo.

Beginning at the Aoyama Farmers Market at 4pm on Saturday August 9 this relaxed 15km ride will take female riders to a variety shops around the young fashionable areas of Tokyo including Harajuku, Shibuya and Meguro.  Cycling the backstreets and alleys riders will visit selected thrift shops, galleries, and the famous WBASE Bicycle store finishing up at Baja, a Mexican Bar/Cafe in Naka-Meguro.

In detail the planned route is as follows:

1, Aoyama Farmers Market
2, W-BASE (bicycle shop)
3, BLUEWORKERZ (thrift store)
4,2 [Ni] (Alexander Lee Chang shop)
5, VOILLD (Exhibition Gallery Ken Kagami)
6, SUNDAY'S BEST (shop)
7, Baja (Mexican BAR)

The ride is limited to 10 people and costs ¥3,500 per person. More details can be found here.

July 14, 2014

3 Big Events to Kick Off Tokyo's Pedal Days of Summer

Tokyo's Pedal Days of Summer get underway in ernest this weekend with three big events so come along and get involved.

Bunny Hop & Trial School

Learn to bunny hop like a pro at this the first event of the Pedal Days of Summer. Beginners and intermediate riders alike can learn to get more height and distance, invaluable experience for anyone planing to take part in the Pedal Day Bunny Hop competition in August.

In addition to bunny hop skills riders may also choose to brush up on the basics of trials riding under the eye of expert instructors.  The Bunny Hop School will take place at the Aoyama Farmers Market from 3 until 5pm on July 19th and is open to anyone with a BMX or mountain bike and a sturdy helmet! More details can be found here.

Night Pedal Cruising Umi No Hi Ride

As it is the Ume No Hi (Marine Day) long weekend the Night Pedal Cruising Crew will host a summer/beach themed ride from the Aoyama Farmers Market to the waterfront at Tennozu Isle. Gather at the Farmers Market from 5:30pm on Saturday July 19, for a 6:00pm start and remember to get into the spirit of the ride by wearing an Hawaiian Short, board shorts, hat and sunscreen. Full details can be found here.

Old Tokyo Sightseeing Ride

Sunday July 20th the Night Pedal Cruising Crew will host another ride from 14:30. A slightly longer ride the route will pass through  Aoyama Ichome and Akasakamitsuke before swinging by the Imperial Palace to Tokyo Station where riders can enjoy a short break and great photo opportunities.  From there the ride will continue through Akihabara to Ueno Park and Ueno Station before ending up in front of Kaminari-mon in Asakusa.

If you're new to Tokyo or just visiting this is a great way to take in the sights of the city, from the vantage point of your bicycle which allows you to really experience the city, not just observe it from behind the window of a car or bus.

Gather at the Aoyama Farmers Market from 14:00 on July 20th for a 14:30 start. More information here.

I will be at the Bunny Hop School, observing, not competing and will be along for the Umi No Hi Ride, so come along, and say hello. As always it promises to be a great social ride with a wonderful bunch of bicycle loving people. See you there!