June 26, 2008

Buying a Reconditioned Bicycle in Tokyo

The sheer number of bicycles abandoned around your typical Japanese train station is mind boggling.

The local council employ an army to visit stations in their jurisdiction and tag all the bikes parked in the surrounding streets. If you return at the end of the day to find your bike has been tagged, you simply remove the tag and toss it in the bin before riding home, thus indicating to the officials that your bike has indeed not been abandoned. After a period of time the stations are revisited, and the bicycles that have tags remaining are loaded on to the back of a truck and transported to a locked holding yard. The bicycles will stay in the yard for another period within which it is possible for the owner to reclaim their bicycle.

Eventually it becomes obvious that a number of bikes are not going to be claimed, and these bikes pile up at a simply astonishing rate. At this point, and I have witnessed this near Shimo-Ochiai Station on the Seibu-Shinjuku Line, a garbage truck is reversed into the yard and one by one the unclaimed bicycles are fed into the crusher. When I first saw it I couldn't believe it, perfectly good bicycles being crushedSome days I'd imagine setting up a business. Take some of the better bikes off the hands of the council at a token cost, give them a spot of maintenance, and re-sell them second hand at a fraction of their original cost. Of course being a geek, without an ounce of business sense to call my own, the idea went unrealized ..

... Until now ...

No, I haven't mustered up the courage to set up such a business by myself. But it seems that, in Suginami-ku at least, the local council has decided to act and try to save at least a small percentage of the abandoned bikes. They have established a bicycle recycling center voluntarily staffed by a number of retired, bicycle loving, gentlemen.

The recycle center is called Suginami Green Cycle and is located at Eifuku 2-1-11 (ph: 03-3327-2287). A timetable listing the dates they are open to the public can be found here.

These guys hand pick the most promising looking bicycles from those scheduled for destruction, transport them to their yard and get to work servicing them for re-sale. They open to the public once a month for three days in which you can purchase a second hand bike for a fraction of its original price.

In addition to the standard shopping bikes and mama-chari, if you arrive early on the first open day of the month you'll find they also have a selection of mountain, cross and city bikes including names such as Bianchi, Cannondale and Specialized, but you have to be quick as those obviously get snapped up quickly.

So, it happens my wife was there one afternoon with a friend who was collecting a ladies Bianchi she had purchased the previous day. She was chatting with one of the elderly volunteers about her bicycle nut of a husband. She told him how much trouble its is to transport my expensive MTB up and down the stairs whenever we want to go out as a family and how I was thinking of getting something cheap to leave downstairs for just these occasions, but that cheap bikes aren't my thing ...

Of course being a bicycle enthusiast himself the fellow understood where she was coming from, and led her over to a Cannondale MTB not yet ready for sale and offered it to her for a good price once it was complete. She sent the photograph below to my phone immediately, along with the price, to which I responded buy, buy, buy!

The bike is an aluminum frame Cannondale F300. Its a great frame which was used on all the F series bikes of its year from the cheapest to the most expensive. During its release year in Japan this bike retailed at Y99,000. My wife bought it for Y18,000 and when she arrived to pick it up they had included a complementary Cateye light for the front and a kickstand.

As I mentioned its a great frame, so the plan now is to continue to upgrade my Giant MTB (below) passing down the components from that to the Cannondale, starting with a new pair of SPD pedals as I can't stand riding on platforms any more.

Before closing I'd like to congratulate Suginami-ku on taking the initiative to recycle some bikes, it just makes sense. But perhaps more importantly it has given a group of retired guys a way to help out their community while doing something that they love.

I'd also like to state for the record that my wife is awesome. She's not a cyclist by any means, but there she was, in a mechanics shop, without me dragging her there, on the lookout for a decent bike for me. You've got to love that! I'm a lucky man.

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