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.

19 comments:

  1. great story! i hate to see bikes go to waste also... especially these days. i've been to tokyo 3 times and stupidly have not rented a bike there yet ...next time. of course i bike all the time back at home. i was surprised the 1st time i went to tokyo to find it so full of all sorts of people on there bikes.

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  2. I have just posted the dates Suginami Green Cycle is open to the public between May 2009 and March 2010 here.

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  3. Thanks a lot for your post.

    I decided to by a cheap bike today, just to help my way from home to the station. I saw your pos and it fits perfectly. I am going there NOW!

    Thanks once more

    Gustavo Dore

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  4. new to japan and have a quick question:
    is there any type of fee for bike registration?
    I've noticed the DON.K discount store near me has a number of folding bike for around $120 which would be nice for my 6 weeks here. but will they need to do anything special to register it to me?

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  5. Brandon,

    Your question comes at a good time bought a new bike on Friday and can tell you that it cost Y500 to register. I'm not sure about Don Quixote, but any regular bicycle stores won't let you ride out the door till you've paid the fee and filled in the registration form which they will submit on your behalf.

    I was not asked to provide ID as I'm pretty well known at the store I purchased from, but it might pay to take some form of ID along when you by the bike just in case.

    Byron.

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  6. Minato-ku has a similar bike recycle group. They sell only once a month, on the second Saturday.

    Not, able to paste the link in here, but I'm sure they are google-able.

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  7. Finally! someone else noticed. I was living around Komae last year, and after a few months i could pick out a load of left behind bikes on my way from and to the station, one bianci MTB onder some foliage, laying there for 3 months, untouched...
    do you know any other shops like it around tokyo? I was thinking about going straight to the place where they destroy all the bicycles and just picking one out before they do it, but how would i go about this in a legal way? the police tend to be less than helpfull on these "new" ideas..
    i'll be in tokyo this summer from beginning of july and wanna get me a second hand mtb, i'll be too late for suginami sell-days and don't wanna wait until 20 july to start going to work by bike. any advice?

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  8. J.

    I believe other wards of Tokyo have similar bicycle recycling programs, although I'm only familiar with Suginami Green Cycle from personal experience.

    Once you've settled in Tokyo, pay a visit your local ward office (kuyakusho) and ask if they have a similar scheme.

    Eventually I'd like to get a list up here of all such recycle shops, but until I do, asking at your local kuyakusho is the easiest way to find out.

    Byron

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  9. Thanks for the recommendation! I was a bit late and got there on the last day for this month, so only 4 cheap bikes were left. Cheap, but it will do for my shopping and travel to/from University. The men there were really nice and I'm happy with the purchase. =]

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  10. Perfect post! And good to see people finally gather together and do something about that!

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  11. i live in nakahara ku, kawasaki shi, do you have any idea about the similar shop around my place

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  12. Can anyone give me the address of the Recycled bikes in Minato-ku?
    As Suginami isnt opened for another 20 days, and would like to have a bike sooner.

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  13. Hi
    This week I'm going to Tokyo and unfortunately most of websites for renting a bike are in Japanese. I was wondering if I can rent a bike for whole week and not return it by the end of day or would it be smarter and easier to return it by the end of the day?
    Another question is that is it better to purchase cateye lights down at shopping malls or is there a professional cycling shop downtown?
    Thanks

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  14. I would be very wary about buying a bike here. I purchased a "reconditioned" bike from them and it problems. The chain broke on the way home from the shop. They replaced it for free but later other issues popped up. One of the brake cables was frayed and about to snap, the seat split, the shocks were frozen and one of the pedals broke. I can understand a problem or two with a refurbished bike but five. I think their idea of "reconditioned" is more like "cleaned."

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  15. Anonymous, sorry to hear your bicycle is falling apart.

    I bought a mountain bike from them almost 2 years ago and have not had any mechanical issues. I actually inspected it in their workshop in the process of being re-cabled and having a new front tire fitted before I bought it. After roughly 6 months of use the front shifter refused to shift, but that was due to being banged around in the bicycle parking lot, and was fixed with a screwdriver and minimal effort.

    A number of friends and readers have also bought bicycles from there and are satisfied with their purchases, but I'm sure its possible for some less than perfect bikes to leave their lot.

    Before purchasing its a good idea to give the bike a good inspection, checking for normal wear and tear on the chain, cables and tires etc.

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  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  17. Hello, i am planning a bike trip in japan, were would you advise me to go?

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  18. Can I donate a bike to them?

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  19. I'd like to give this post a kick since i found something very useful.
    My japanese friend found this :

    Yokohama recycle bicycles shops:
    http://www.facebook.com/l/2AQEz_ONbAQHb8FRh8ptFylA68Jcd38SI4mt1z7MTdroyLg/www.kanasho.jp/recycle.html

    This organisation has a lot of bicycle shops for a fair price.
    You can find a map about where they are located on their website. unfortunately only provided in japanese.

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