November 17, 2016

At the beginning of November Japan's largest bicycle show Cyclemode has held at Makuhari Messe just outside Tokyo attracting tens of thousands of visitors over 3 days.

You'd think as someone with a tad of notoriety in Japanese cycling circles and with exhibitors offering free tickets left and right for a favourable product review that I'd jump a the chance to attend, but I did not. After all whats the point?

Cyclemode is for the 1%, not me.

Who are the 1% you may ask? They're the sports cyclists, the recreational cyclists, the MAMILs on their expensive light weight racing bicycles decked out in colourful figure hugging clothing (for better or worse!), sporting bicycle helmets, gloves and special shoes that make them walk like weary cowboys after a hard days rustling of cattle. They're the ones up before 5am on weekend mornings so they can cycle inhuman distances on empty roads while the rest of us slumber.  That's great, I used to be one of those guys and I enjoyed that time immensely. Its awesome that they're involved in such a social and healthy hobby, but at the end of the day its a hobby, a game enjoyed on the weekends by a small percentage of Japan's total cycling population. Unfortunately it is this small percentage of vocal people that ultimately control the image of cycling everywhere, and that is worse for cycling than you may imagine.

I'm no longer one of the 1%.

I love cycling, not bicycles. I encourage everyday, utilitarian cycling as convenient form of transport on whatever bicycle you happen to have at your disposal. For trips to the supermarket there is little difference between a $100 bicycle and a $10,000 one, except that the $100 one is most certainly more practical.

I believe that everyday cycling shapes our communities, not just the urban landscape, but the personal interactions that happen within that landscape.  I believe that the economic, health, environmental and societal benefits which cycling promotes are of immense importance to people and communities yet are sadly under appreciated by politicians and decision makers who determine the shape of our cites. Why would I spend a day I could otherwise spend cycling to the park with family wandering a vast convention centre filled with bicycles from manufacturers who refuse to acknowledge that 99% of the cyclists in Japan don't give a damn about expensive, super light, carbon fiber racing bicycles, in fact not only that but few even give their bicycle a second thought?

Tens of millions of Tokyo's residents can be considered "cyclists" in that they use bicycles regularly as a form of transport. The neighbourhoods of Tokyo are teeming with people on cheap, heavy, Mamachai or city bicycles going shopping, taking themselves off to the station, or delivering children to school, and running 100's of other errands around the local community. They give their bicycles less thought and consideration than the shoes they'll wear out that day, yet they rely on them more heavily than they'll ever know until they find themselves without one. For the vast majority of people a bicycle is is a tool and unless you're a professional carpenter a hammer works just as well as a nail-gun.

Cycling isn't about cyclists and bicycles its about people and communities.

Unfortunately as I mentioned, the image of cycling is formed by the 1%. When policy makers want an opinion from cyclists they'll head towards these people for an opinion, but the opinions of the 1% are not those of the 99%. Most sports cyclists are comfortable cycling on the roads, most everyday cyclists aren't. Many sports cyclists don't want bicycle lanes because the though of sharing space with the 99% on their slow shopping bicycle is abhorrent. The vast majority of sports cyclists consider bicycle helmets a must for cycling, while bicycle helmets for the 99% are a completely unnecessary expense. The 1% will spend $400 to shave 80g of weight from their bicycle rather than forgo a caramel latte and shave kilograms weight off the rider. These are the people who control the image of cycling. Its like supermodels controlling the perception of body image, its extreme and not at all a reflection of reality.

Cycling to the shops is not an extreme sport, it does not require special protective clothing or equipment beyond a kickstand, basket, lock and a light, all of which come standard on an inexpensive Japanese city bicycle. A bicycle from 60 years ago has all the technology most everyday cyclists require, but the cycling industry can't survive selling 60 year old technology year after year. So the industry continues to focus on the 1% making them believe that their product or innovation is essential for better performance and faster times when the majority of us simply want a comfortable saddle, and less flats.

At the end of the day the cycling industry is driven by money and the most lucrative corner of the cycling market is the 1% which in turn forms the public perception of cycling. Because of this the general public are being constantly bombarded with information and imagery that portrays cycling as an extreme and physically demanding sport that requires a great investment of time and money to enjoy to the fullest and thus many people don't consider it relevant to them.

I'd like to argue that cycling is a convenient and healthy form of everyday transport that can improve your life and your community that requires no more than a small investment to get started, and that physical fitness is irrelevant.

If you value a happy, health lifestyle, friendly communities, and strong local economies then everyday cycling makes us all rich, not just those catering for the 1%.

September 08, 2016

Social night rides are taking off around the world. Inspired by the San Jose Bike party Tokyo's monthly Night Pedal Cruising and Melbourne's Ride the Night are gathering increasingly large numbers of cyclists and the concept is taking off all over the world.

 Night rides are a social occasion where bicycle lovers come together for a party, not a grueling 50km time trial that leaves your legs feeling like jelly. They attract people from all walks of life who ride a whole range of bicycles from your conventional road and mountain bikes, to city bikes, cargo bikes, recumbent and tall bikes. At these rides its not the price or brand of your bicycle that earns you respect, its how much your bicycle is loved and how much you love bicycles. If your bicycle came from a dumpster but you've treasure it more than any other bicycle that will show at a night ride.

Night rides aren't just for cyclists, they're for people who love bicycles.

If you're going to be on a night ride with a few hundred other people its important that you stand out and attract attention, for that is one of the aims of a night ride, namely to draw attention to the fact that cyclists have right to be on the road. In addition to this you also have a responsibility to show passers by just how much fun a bicycle can be as well!

What better way to draw attention to yourself and the ride than with sound and lights!

Spokelights are always a favorite. They're cheap, attractive and still raise an eyebrow as they're not exactly common among cyclists other than you and your night cycling friends. Monkeyletric spoke lights are easy to install and generate an unlimited number of psychedelic patterns as you ride the night. But if you want to go even more insane the FTL FH801 Programmable Bicycle Wheel Light gives you the ability to reproduce almost any picture or video on your wheel which will certainly turn more than a few heads. Just imagine the possibilities such a wheel brings to themed rides such as Halloween and Christmas .. I'm tempted to get one myself!

Of course everyone's budget does not extend that far, nor are we all prepared to draw THAT much attention to ourselves which makes simple strings of LED lights or clip on spoke lights a perfect option for someone just starting out. They're cheap, easy to install and certainly do draw attention.

Now you're kitted out with some eye burning psychedelic lights its time to concentrate on music and for that you'll be pleased to know there is a whole range of convenient portable Bluetooth speakers which are suitable for cyclists. Quite some time ago I reviewed two very popular speakers at the time the Scosche Boom Bottle and the Philips ShoqBox Bluetooth speaker but in the end chose to go with the Philips SoundShooter which has the perfect balance of portability, volume and sound quality for all my night riding needs.

So why don't you gear up and join your local night ride and if you're in Tokyo on the third Saturday of the month come join us on the Night Pedal Cruising ride!

August 12, 2016

In June myself, and members of the Cycling Embassy of JapanFreewheeling Japan and the team from Blue Lug Hatagaya had the pleasure of guiding a crew from CNN around the backstreets of our local neighborhood by bicycle for their CNN Asia travel series.

We're all are very proud of our local neighborhoods, and believe that some of the best cycling to be had and discoveries to be made are right within a few kilometers of your home. Despite living in the same neighborhood for over 10 years I'm still discovering hidden gems such as temples, parks, shops and restaurants hiding in the backstreets just a short cycling distance from home.

So when CNN visited we could have taken them on a tour of downtown Tokyo to help them get the iconic shots of Tokyo Tower, Sensoji Temple, the Imperial Palace and Rainbow Bridge with the Tokyo Bay and Odaiba in the background but most of the cycling in Tokyo isn't taking palace in those areas its taking place in suburbia. Therefore we chose to share some of the spots in our local neighborhood of which we're so proud, many of which unfortunately did not make the final edit but despite this I hope you can enjoy a quick look around my local neighborhood by bicycle.

August 04, 2016

On August 27, 2016 the Cycling Embassy of Japan will once again be hosting Tokyo's one and only annual illuminated group ride, the Firefly Ride and you're all invited!

A fun, family friendly event the Firefly ride invites participants of all ages on bicycles of all style to decorate their rides with lights and sound then in the evening cycle the summer streets of Tokyo in a celebration of cycling.

Cyclists will gather at the Harajuku gates of Yoyogi park at 6pm to put the finishing touches on their bicycles then set off on a short easygoing ride through the center of Tokyo with the occasional stop for food beverages and a chat before ending back at Yoyogi where prizes will be awarded for the best illuminated bicycles (and riders!) and the celebrations can continue well into the night.

A grand spectacle of colour, light and sound, featuring bicycles of every type imaginable, the Firefly Ride aims to promote the fun, friendly and social side of cycling.

Check out photos from last years event here!

For more information including a guide to decorating your bicycle visit the Firefly Ride homepage and let us know you're coming via the Facebook Event Page.

 I hope to see you there!

March 05, 2016

Late last year I had the pleasure of working with producer Joe Baur and the Cycling Embassy of Japan on this wonderful Streetfilm entitled "The Gaman Spirit: Why Cycling Works in Tokyo".

The Gaman Spirit: Why Cycling Works in Tokyo from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Over the course of three chilly winter days we guided Joe around the city introducing him to its cycling charms, and cycling infrastructure disasters of which he writes:

Still, it was easy to see some of the same problems in Tokyo that I've seen in my own cycling in Cleveland and throughout the United States. That is, motorists will take that space back when it pleases them.
For instance, while cycling on a beautiful blue lane into downtown Tokyo, my hosts and I stopped at an intersection to get some shots of cyclists passing by. Across the street a delivery truck had pulled over into the bike lane. Ahead of us, a car in the bike lane forced cyclists to either hop onto the sidewalk or move further into the vehicle lane. Unsurprisingly, drivers did not seem keen to make space for the merging cyclists or to slow down.
The other peculiarity was the fact that the responsibility of designing cycling infrastructure falls to the individual districts within Tokyo. Byron Kidd of Tokyo By Bike equated it with New York City boroughs coming up with their own cycling infrastructure, irrespective of one another. The result is, indeed, confusing -- comically so at times.
However, cycling continues to work beautifully in Tokyo. I was surprised by just how young the kids were cycling around the city. I was told that kids start in the back of their parent's bike, then they move up to a handlebars seat when the second child comes along before hopping onto their own bike when they're too heavy. This all makes sense when you consider that it's very common for Japanese children to be sent off on their own at an age many North Americans would consider too young.

It is amazing that in the space of just three days he could understand and capture on film the essence of cycling in Japan and that even without official support for cycling infrastructure cycling thrives simply because it is the most convenient way to get around.
Please enjoy this film and share it with others.

January 06, 2016

On January 4th the Cycling Embassy of Japan rang in the new year with a social ride on a relatively car free route to Lake Tama on the border of Tokyo and Saitama.

Lake Tama Ride from Cycling Embassy Japan on Vimeo.

The ride came about quite by accident as I asked Chad to join me for a ride as I want to get in as much cycling as I can before I start a new job on January 15th. But before I knew it Chad had designed posters and set up a Facebook event so we could invite even more people. In the space of a few hours the ride grew from two guys to a fully fledged Cycling Embassy of Japan event!

Our plan was originally to meet at Meidaemae Station around 9:30, make a stop at Inokashira Park in Kichijoji at 10:30 to pick up more riders if that meeting point was more convenient for them, then to the beginning of the Tamako Cycling Road by 11:00 to pick up even more people. But with a low response rate via the Facebook group we started the day with just 5 riders not expecting any more.

The twin lakes of Tama and Sayama act as reservoirs supplying Tokyo with much needed drinking water and the Tamako Cycling Road sits above a pipe which take the water from the lakes into the city. Along the way out to the lakes you pass many water treatment facilities which set the theme for our ride. So rather than keeping to a schedule we set off in the opposite direction to visit a water storage and treatment facility close to Medaimae station before cruising down to the Kanda River which we followed all the way to Kichijoji.

Interestingly even though the ride was organised by the Cycling Embassy of Japan, at one stage one of the ride participants Kosuke took the lead guiding us an alternate route from Kugayama to Inokashira Park which avoided some nasty intersections and obstacles around Mitakadai Station.  If there is one thing we all love it is alternate routes and local knowledge of backstreets we can add to our mental maps so we can avoid difficult spots in the future.

At Inokashira Park, Kosuke was keen to go off road, closely followed by myself Brad and Chad and as a result we lost Aya for a moment and completely bypassed the spot where we were to meet any additional riders.  We were already 30 minutes behind schedule due to our educational waterworks detour and didn't expect anyone to be waiting anyway, but to our surprise Matthew and Masahiko had been patiently waiting.  Matthew apologised for not knowing the correct procedure to RSVP for the ride but I assured him that if he was willing to stand around for 30 minutes in the park on a cold winters morning not getting upset then he would be the perfect fit for our cycling group.

From Inokashira park Kosuke led us again, this time along the Tamagawa Josui, through a tunnel under the Chuo Line and past the sprawling Tamagawa Josui water treatment facility this continuing our theme for the day.  We arrived at the beginning of the Tamako Cycling Road behind schedule as predicted and sadly found no new riders waiting for us.

We cycled the Tamako cycling road, which was much more crowded with cyclists and pedestrians than our last visit just a few weeks earlier, right up to the Tamako dam where we enjoyed convenience store bought lunches on a grassy bank overlooking the expansive park lands and river.  Along the way we had lost Brad who had to return to Tokyo for an afternoon appointment making us realise that all the times we have cycled with Brad we have rarely if ever completed a return journey with him present!

Surprisingly warm for January 4th I could have lay down on the bank in the sun for a long nap, but that had to wait until I got home where after a shower I fell asleep in the kotatsu.

Hastily arranged with a schedule we mostly ignored this ride turned out the be the best of the year so far (OK so it has been the only ride, but we set the bar high!) A small group of just seven people, some close friends, some casual acquaintances and others joining the ride for the first time, but despite the mix everyone was easy going, nobody paid much attention to the clock, and everyone seemed happy to take detours and learn new routes thanks to people who had more experience cycling in the area.  In all it was a great day of cycling and I hope we can have many more such rides in 2016!

December 17, 2015

On a cold day under crisp blue Tokyo winter skies myself and four others set out on a ride from Studio C in Sasazuka to visit Setagaya-ku's famous Boro-ichi Market.

Setagaya Boro-ichi has been officially recognised as one of Tokyo's intangible cultural assets dating back over 430 years. Beginning in he 1570s as a "free market" where taxes were removed to boost the ailing economy Boro-ichi flourished as a place to buy and sell old fabric scraps. Later Boro-ichi became a year-end market adding farming equipment and New Years goods to the list if items on sale and was held on December 15th each year.  Today Boro-ichi is a two day annual event held on the 15th and 16th of both December and January which boasts over 700 vendors selling food, fabric, clothing, antiques, toys and plants to name a few.

Now I have to admit that when Brad from Freewheeling Bike Adventures invited me out on a ride to Boro-ichi I had no idea what the event was despite having lived just a 20 minute ride away for the last 10 years, but I love a festival and I love a ride so of course no further persuasion was required for me to get involved.

After dropping my daughter off at school I cycled along the Kandagawa to Inokashira Dori before making my way to Studio C where Brad and Jack-san were waiting with a very welcome hot cup of coffee. Once Chad arrived we took the back streets to Blue Lug where we met Naoto-san. Now Brad prides himself on his knowledge of local back streets and promised to take us all the way to from Sasazuka to Umegaoka, picking up Ken on the way, meeting just three traffic lights along the way. We were sceptical, but he's not disappointed us in the past with his amazing mental map of the city.

Brads chosen route took us past numerous parks, temples, and beautiful homes featuring amazing architecture on quiet car free backstreets. After picking up Ken at a nearby 7/11 we did indeed reach Umegaoka Station having avoided all main roads and by passing through just three traffic lights the whole way.

After some more rat running through the back streets we turned on to a large road which would take us directly to Boro-ichi near Setagaya Station on the charmingly local Setagaya line. To our joy this road displayed some of Tokyo worst ever cycling infrastructure, a blue "bicycle lane" no more than 50cm in width, complete with parked delivery vehicles! A classic example of clueless cycling infrastructure this "bicycle lane" stretched all the way to Boro-ichi making it an impressive length, but why so narrow?  I've ranted about this elsewhere.

Upon arrival we parked our bicycles legally in a bike rack that offered free parking for the first two hours and set off on foot to explore Boro-ichi. The street leading up to the market was lined with food vendors serving everything imaginable yaki-tori, yaki-soba, oden, jacket potatoes, age-pan, dango, and mochi, but I was more in the mood for a spicy kebab.

Being early the crowds weren't insane, but considering it was just 10am on a Wednesday morning there really were many more people here than I expected. Venturing into the market down a narrow street lined with antiques, clothing, farm tools, toys and more I munched on a spring roll and perused the wide array of strange goods on sale including German Steins, Japanese Swords, and California Highway Patrol badges. I was really enjoying the atmosphere, chatting with vendors and browsing the incredibly varied items that were for sale and looking up the street I saw the stalls continue on for a few hundred meters more. It wasn't until I reached what I thought was the end of the line of stalls that I looked down a street to my right and realised the section of the market I was enjoying so much was merely a side street feeding into the main strip of the market which extended further than I could possibly see. It appeared to continue on forever!

From there things just got more and more interesting, the sheer number of stalls, people and range if crazy items for sale was mind boggling. Amusing at one stall an elderly man was selling remote controls, he had hundreds and I'd hate to even try and calculate the odds that he's just happen to have one from our 1980's betamax video recorder. Not so amusing were ivory carvings, and stuffed sea turtles. Another stall sold an incredible number of tatami mat trimmings in various designs and colours .. here I was thinking they're all green and that nobody pays any particular attention to them. Stamps, sword guards, military surplus, ancient woodworking equipment, metalwork, kimonos, shoes, fans, food, hood ornaments, antique posters, minerals and crystals, I could list the weird an wonderful curiosities forever you really have to see it to believe it.

We enjoyed free samples of food, beer and sake as we slowly made our way to the end of the market and back before I purchased my spicy kebab to fuel me for the ride home.

Visiting Boro-ichi was a really amazing experience, one I can't believe I'd never had in all my years of living in Tokyo and I'd highly recommend you visit if you can.

Brad from Freewheeling Bike Adventures is going to lead another ride from Studio C in Sazuka along the same quiet streets free back streets we rode to Boro-ichi on Friday,  January 15th, 2016. The ride will start at 10am. Visit the Freewheeling homepage for all the details.

I hope to see you there!

Below are even more beautiful pictures of the incredible array of items that were for sale at the Boro-ichi markets taken by Chad Feyen.


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