Drama on the Streets of Tokyo

Literally, television dramas spilling out onto the streets of Tokyo. On my commute home a few nights ago my usual route was partially blocked by a film crew and their equipment as they filmed at a nearby residence. As the street was quite narrow assistant directors were busy herding bicycles onto the sidewalk and around the scene. I had my usual speed on, so whipped around the waiting mama-chari, hopped onto the sidewalk, sped past the crew who began frantically calling out "Stairs! Its dangerous, slow down. Stairs! Stairs!" After launching myself off the stairs and speeding off into the night I actually received a round of applause.

There is no fun to be had in following directions.

The following morning I was on a wide busy road close to my office and noticed a plainly dressed fellow with a bright orange baton had stopped a motorcycle and was in the process of waving down another. He wasn't a policeman, didn't have the uniform of the usual road worker who directs traffic, and was only stopping motorcycles. Odd, I thought as I cycled by.

A few hundred meters down the road a film crew had set up outside a cafe and were busy shooting a scene. A few hundred meters beyond that I see yet another orange baton waving staff member flagging down motorcycles and asking them to wait, which they all did obediently.

Obviously the films producers didn't want the scene to be ruined by noisy motorcycles tearing through the background so they had sent staff, armed with orange batons used to direct traffic, out to wrangle the motorcyclists.

What amazed me is that the motorcyclists all stopped and waited after being confronted by a person with no authority over traffic other than the possession of an orange baton. They all simply complied with his wishes and fell into line. In any other country the motorcyclists would simply speed on by, possibly after hurling a mouthful of abuse at the powerless baton waving buffoon.

There is no fun to be had in following directions.

Its amazing what one can accomplish in Japan with just the hint of authority. With these kinds of bugs in the Japanese hardware there is no limit to the social engineering possibilities, it frightening.


Cycle Messenger World Championships come to Tokyo

The Cycle Messenger World Championships originated in Berlin in 1993 and is hosted in a different city each year. This year the 17th annual event will be hosted by members in Tokyo.

During the event, held from the 19th to the 23rd of September, some 400 bicycle messengers from around the world will visit Tokyo to participate in a wide range of planned events. The main race, sprints, and track stand competitions etc. will be held in Odaiba and a day of track racing will be held at the Keiokaku Keirin track. A number of social events including the opening party and the Art Rush exhibition will be held in Shibuya.

While the competitors are mostly messengers, the events and competitions are open to anyone interested in competing.

More information can be found at the CMWC 2009 homepage.



Suginami Childrens Traffic Park, its fun, free, and possibly educational

Another free cycling outing for the whole family in Tokyo is a visit to Suginami-ku's Kotsu-Kōuen, on the banks of the Zenpukuji river.

Suginami Kotsu-Kōen, or Suginami Children's Traffic Park, consists of a network of roads complete with road markings, traffic lights, road signs and railway crossings where children can cycle while observing the rules of the road. That's right, all those rules and regulations that frustrate us adult cyclists are just what children are looking for to add some structure and learning to their play.

Visitors to the park are free to ride their own bicycles or borrow one of the many adults, children's and infants bicycles provided for free. In addition to bicycles the park also has a number of pedal powered go-karts including karts that allow an adult to pedal around a smaller passenger. Go-karts have a set course which they must follow and while you're limited to two laps of the circuit each time you borrow a kart, there is no limit on the number of times you can borrow one through out the day.

The smallest of riders can borrow bicycles, pedal cars, karts and other assorted ride-ons for use on a separate smaller circuit safely out of the way of other older more confident riders.

While the major intersections of the course are manned by voluntary staff who occasionally remind children of the rules, there is not an overbearing traffic-nazi presence. For the most part everyone is expected to ride on the left, and respect the traffic lights, but don't rely on an 8 year old to show much interest at stopping at a stop sign. Helmets are also not mandatory, but can be borrowed on request.

A responsible parent would take up the task of ensuring their child adhere to the rules of the road, but last Sunday most parents, fathers in particular, showed more interest in sleeping on park benches. I actually saw one father cycling behind his child while sending email on his cell phone .. so much for setting a good example.

Just outside the park is the Zenpukuji Cycling Route, a 2,400m circuit along the banks of the Zenpukuji River and through sections of Wadabori Kōen. After borrowing a bicycle from Kotsu Kōen you're also free to ride this longer route, although you're sharing it with joggers, other cyclists and the general walking public.

In addition to cycling facilities, Kotsu Kōen includes a number of playgrounds with jungle gyms, swings, slides, sandpits and even a decommissioned D-51 steam locomotive. On summer days there is ample shade provided by the trees and a large fountain does a great job of keeping the area nice and cool. The park is dotted with many picnic tables, and has toilet facilities, making it perfect for an afternoon picnic with the family.

The Suginami Children's Traffic park (杉並児童交通公園) is located 12 minutes walk north of Hamadayama Station on the Keio Inokashira line, and is open daily from 9am to 4:30pm.


Bicycles marked for collection

Our apartment building contains a number of fully furnished apartments available for rent on a monthly basis and a result attracts a fair share of short term residents. While the number of residents in the building at any one time is pretty much constant, the number of bicycles in the parking lot grows slowly over time.

This creates bicycle parking carnage as everyone battles for space. As a result the seemingly unused bicycles slowly inch their way out of the under cover parking over the months to be left exposed to the elements.

It seems that more than a few of the short term residents choose to simply leave their bicycles behind when they vacate the building.

Recently a number of the abandoned bicycles have had notices taped to their saddles informing the owners that any bicycle still displaying the notice at the end of August will be removed from the property.

Just another example of just how disposable some people here consider bicycles to be.



Imperial Palace Cycling Route

Where in Tokyo can you borrow a bike for free, spend a pleasant Sunday morning cycling around a loop with your family in scenic surrounds away from traffic? The Imperial Palace Cycling Route, thats where.

Each Sunday between 10am and 3pm Uchibori-dori in front of the Imperial Palace gardens is closed from Iwada Bridge to the Hirakawa Gate creating a 3 kilometer cycling loop surrounded by the castle moats and pine trees for all to enjoy. While you'll see some sporty types on the course they're vastly outnumbered by families, children and couples out for a leisurely ride.

You can cycle the course on your own bicycle or borrow from a total of 250 bicycles for free. To borrow a bicycle you will need to visit the reception desk and fill out a simple form. If required volunteers can help you select a suitable bicycle for yourself or your children based on age, height and weight. Bicycles available include city bicycles, mountain bicycles, tandem bicycles, children's bicycles and infant's bicycles.

To ensure the smallest of children are kept out of harms way there is a Kids Corner where users of infants' bicycles can ride safely accompanied by a parent.

While riding the course remember to keep an eye on the cyclists around you, especially children as they're prone to changing direction at the most unexpected of times and while the loop is closed to traffic you still have to obey the traffic lights operating at certain points to allow pedestrians to cross the course.

I have to stress that this is a course for leisurely cycling with your partner or children. If you're looking to train on a closed loop circuit with triathletes and semi-professional cyclists then you're better off heading to the 9.5km Oifuto loop where you can sprint to your hearts content.

The Imperial Palace Cycling Route is roughly 3 minutes walk from Exit 2 of Nijubashi Station on the Chiyoda line, or 10 minutes walk from the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station.



My pain has a name, Pes Anserinus Bursitis

This morning I visited my doctor to have him take a look at my knee. His first words when I walked in were "So Mr Kidd, what have you done to yourself today?". He knows something is up because the only time I visit is when some thing is broken, missing, bent at an odd angle, three times its normal size, bleeding uncontrollably or any combination of the above. He knows I've damaged myself sufficiently that I am unable to put myself back together.

I explained the details surrounding the pain, jogging, increasing the distance and intensity etc. He poked, prodded, and twisted my knee before subjecting me to a couple of x-rays from different angles and declaring I have pes anserinus bursitis, an inflammatory condition of the medial knee caused by overuse or poorly fitted running shoes. One of the many conditions referred to by athletes as "runners knee". The condition commonly known to us non Latin speaking mortals as tendinitis.

The treatment, ice it, rest it and take a handful of prescribed pain relief medicine, anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics 3 times a day with meals. Once the pain subsides a little I've been instructed to perform sets of exercises and stretches which will prevent the condition from reoccurring.

The downtime? Limit sporting activities until the pain has subsided. "How long would that be do you suppose?" I asked my doctor. "Maybe 3 weeks, it varies by case", he replied. I took that to mean 3 weeks from the injury which means I'm already a week into rehabilitation. But as I have grown quite fond of the ability to walk over the years and plan to be doing it well into my 80's and beyond, I'll give my knee as long as it needs.



I've got no business running.

I've been off the bike for almost a week due to a knee injury sustained while running.

For over 10 years I've cycled constantly with no (non accident related) injuries. I've been running for just a few weeks and now I can barely walk at all. Stick to bicycles people.

What was I, a cyclist, running for anyway you may ask? Good question. A cyclist has no business running. Running is punishment, in whatever sport I've played in the past running is the sentence your coach hands down for fooling around when you should have been paying attention. Who could possibly enjoy running?

During my recent early Sunday morning activity of tooling around in Wadabori Park on my bike in quest of bigger and more dangerous challenges to jump over, drop off, ride down or up, I've noticed a lot of runners. Seriously a lot of runners. All out at 6am, breathing hard and running up a sweat. What's with that? Looks painful. Running, its an activity so boring that the majority of runners have to run while listening to an iPod to prevent from going mad.

What is it with runners? How can they just go on and on like the Energizer Bunny? Its crazy yet, phenomenal at the same time.

So I bump into a friend on my way to work, he's just finished a 6km run. What? Him too? Never expected him to be a closet runner, mad, insane. He'd made some gains since joining a gym, got tired of the treadmill and took to the great outdoors. He told me of his plans to run the Tokyo Marathon in February 2010. A mere mortal, run a 42km marathon, mad, crazy, insane. He asked me to join him, yeah right.

But all this recent exposure to runners caught my interest. I've never been a runner, 400m and I'm ready to pack it in yet I have the stamina for distance cycling. How is it that the runners I see, many well into their 60's can just run and run forever without stopping? Why does my friend believe I have it in me to run 42km with him? If running is as awful as I think it is, then why do so many people do it? I had to look into it.

Before agreeing to run with my friend, who by now was up to 8km runs every second morning, I decided to get in some sneaky runs under the cover of darkness.

My first was an evening run where I figured, as a reasonably fit cyclist, I'd run 3km and see how I pulled up the next day. So I ran and it didn't feel too bad. As my breathing became harder I felt I must be somewhere around the 1km mark and started looking for the distance markers along the path. I'd gone 500m. A mere 500m and I felt like I'd run double that. I continued to run until I finally reached the 1km mark, where I decided to revise my target distance to 2km. So after a short rest, turned around and headed back. That was a Thursday night, my muscles hurt till the following Sunday. Demoralizing, punishing, who could ever enjoy running?

But muscles heal, and when they finally did I found myself wanting to run again and I can't rightly say why. But run I did, shorter distance intervals with walking in between this time. I wanted to be running again in 2 days time so settled on a plan to build up kilometers gradually.

After a couple of weeks of running every second day, slowly building up distance, strength and stamina, my friends 6km run didn't look so hard, given how much I was enjoying running (when did that happen?) even the idea of training for the Tokyo Marathon was appealing. After all thousands of regular Joes run it along with the professionals every year and finish. In fact the Tokyo Marathon has one of the highest finishing rates of marathons world wide at 97%.

So with eyes on the Tokyo Marathon I put together a training plan of slowly building up base kilometers until 18 weeks before the marathon when full training would kick in. My goal was to finish the marathon, no target time, just finish. Thats when I blew my knee.

I was completing a run last Thursday, same distance as the run 2 days before, but decided to deviate from the plan and run out the last 500m. I put the hammer down and pounded out the last 500m, stretched and walked home. Ouch, pain under the left knee at the top of the shin, nothing unbearable, but iced it just to be on the safe side.

The following morning there was a lot more ouch. I limped to the station leaving my bike at home, then spent my lunch break googling knee injuries and figure I have either runners knee or tendonitis. As both require similar treatments (RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) I ran, erm, hobbled to the drug store to get some asprin, cold patches, and a knee sleeve.

I've spent almost a week icing the knee in the evening, cold patching it and compressing it during the day, and taking asprin constantly but if anything it seems to be getting worse rather than better.

I'm resting from cycling, but have to walk to and from the station and change trains once (ouch stairs) on my way to work. I can't decide which would do more harm to the knee at the moment cycling or walking as walking is pretty darn painful.

As its been almost a week since the original injury and none of the home treatments seem to be working I'm off to the doctors tomorrow for some peace of mind, compression advice and hopefully some much stronger painkillers and anti inflammatory drugs.

The injury is a bummer but if it takes a month or more before I can run again I can live with that. But what is most annoying is that I can't commute by bicycle to work each day .. taking time off from cycling is not what I envisioned happening when I took up running.

Despite the injury my entry for the Tokyo Marathon is in. Entries passed quota just 2 days after opening, so final runners will be chosen by lottery. Given the rotten luck I'm having with the knee right now my luck can only improve in time for the draw right?



Bicycle registration check nabs convenience store thief

An 18 year old man was arrested on Saturday, accused of robbing a Familymart convenience store of 40,000 yen. The suspect is accused of entering the convenience store around 4:30am and demanding cash after threatening the employee on duty with a knife.

Two police officers who happened to be passing when the youth came out of the store gave chase when he took off on his bicycle. After giving chase the police eventually lost the suspect, but later found a bicycle resembling the suspects parked outside an apartment building.

The police confirmed the bicycle registration and the youth admitted to the robbery after being questioned by police.

Good to see a bicycle registration check resulting in the arrest of a criminal rather than being just another random annoyance for law abiding citizens.



Sanyo announces carbon frame hybrid

Sanyo announced the addition of a new model to the eneloop bike lineup, the CY-SPK227 electric hybrid bicycle, to be launched in Japan. The Sanyo CY-SPK227 electric hybrid bicycle is the world's first commercially available power-assisted bicycle with a carbon composite frame. Due to its properties, carbon composite is a material that facilitates the optimal design of each part of the frame in terms of rigidity and vibration absorption. It enables a comfortable ride and helps efficiently convert human energy into propulsive power.

The new Sanyo CY-SPK227 electric hybrid bicycle features Two-Wheel Drive System- where conventional pedal power is applied to the rear wheel, while an electric motor powers the front wheel. As a result, both the front and rear wheels grip the road securely, thereby increasing a stable feeling while riding, and providing a smooth ride with forward traction that is very steady and straight. The CY-SPK227 is equipped with a Sports Traction Mode. The mode improves the ridability so that when the rider puts pressure on the pedal even if the wheel is slipping, the mode detects this and causes the front-wheel motor to rotate and grab the road.

Rather than increasing the battery capacity to meet the need for traveling longer distances, Sanyo developed the Loop Charge Function as its exclusive technology for generating and storing energy during bicycle operation. The Loop Charge Function System generates electricity by switching the motor to a dynamo and charges the hybrid bicycle's battery during riding (regenerative charging).Other features include- 3 high intensity LED’s battery light, Central Controller (equipped with back light) indicating various operating information on its liquid crystal display in real time and Magnesium Suspension Fork to further increase the ridability under various road conditions.Sanyo CY-SPK227 electric hybrid bicycle will be available only in Japan from October 1st for approximately 627,900 yen (Ouch!).




Sanyo announces folding electric hybrid bicycle

Until now, Sanyo's lineup of electric hybrid bicycles has been mostly composed of more basic models. However, with the expansion of electric hybrid bicycle users, there has been growing demand from urban consumers for more upscale and sophisticated models. Many people who live in high-rise condominiums are looking for bicycles that they can store in front of or just inside their units, rather than leaving them in vehicle parking areas. In order to meet this need, the CY-SPJ220 has been developed as a folding bicycle with 20-inch tires that can be taken into even smaller elevators, while also making it easy to store in an apartment foyer. As an example of the portability benefits of a small lightweight folding bicycle, riders can travel a long distance by car, and then use the bicycle for getting around at their destination. Therefore, Sanyo’s new hybrid bicycle CY-SPJ220 l offers the possibility of a new transportation lifestyle called "micro park and ride" utilizing the benefits of both a car and bicycle together.

The Sanyo CY-SPJ220 electric hybrid folding bicycle features Two-Wheel Drive System. In this system conventional pedal power is applied to the rear wheel, while an electric motor powers the front wheel. As a result, both the front and rear wheels grip the road securely, thereby increasing a stable feeling while riding, and providing a smooth ride with forward traction that is very steady and straight. With compact design that can be loaded into a car, the Sanyo CY-SPJ220 electric hybrid folding bicycle will be available in Japan by September 21st.




Japanese police get tough on law breaking cyclist.

This morning the police upped the ante on red light running cyclists. Beware, they're getting tough, you may never want to risk running a red light again after reading what follows.

While waiting at a red light an intersection with a koban on the corner a fellow cycling in his office kit passed me on the inside and proceeded to cross the intersection against the light. In response to this one of the police officers in the koban leaned out the door, put a whistle to his lips and blew it sharply three times "Pi! Pi! Pi!". It was a tense and confrontational moment in Japanese law enforcement.

The cyclist continued on his merry way oblivious that the whistle had even been blown. If he did happen to hear it over the background noise he would have no idea it was directed at him as he was already a good 15 meters past the koban.

Cyclists be warned, this is an intersection at which I have regularly gone against the red light without consequence, but no more! Ignore this red light at your peril because there is a hard ass cop at the koban looking to correct your misbehaving ways, he's armed with a whistle and he's not afraid to use it.



Tandem Touring in Japan

I was recently contacted by a couple with some questions about bringing their tandem to Japan for a summer tour of Hokkaido. They had some concerns about Japanese bicycle law that I had not considered before.

Their first concern was bicycle registration. As all bicycles in Japan are registered and being caught on a unregistered bicycle could at the very least take a few hours out of your schedule, and at worst could earn you a fine. What is a bicycle tourist to do when they bring a bike with them from overseas for a short tour?

Firstly I believe its unlikely that you will be stopped by a policeman for a random registration check as you ride your fully laden touring bike around the Japanese countryside. But on the off chance that you are, simply explaining your situation should get you off the hook with a pleasant wave and a smile. If the officer is more of a by the book type then I suggest you show him your passport, itinerary, and return tickets etc. Explain there is no way to register your bike as a non-resident of Japan and you should set right to go.

What if that isn't enough? Have a picture or two of you and your bike on other trips in other countries on hand. An old Polaroid with the date in the corner adds further evidence to support the case that it is in fact your bicycle.

At the end of the day I think bicycle registration is a non issue for the short term visitor.
Their second and bigger concern was that riding of tandems is deemed illegal all over Japan with the exception of Nagano. Surely that would put a stop to their plans?

Japan does outlaw the practice of futari-nori, or two people per bicycle, but this law was put in place to stop the dangerous practice of giving your friend a lift home on the luggage rack or handlebars of a bicycle clearly designed for a single rider. As that law was being written I'm certain nobody was even considering the case of tandems. But the law is the law and two people per bicycle is specifically banned, well in writing at least.

I've heard numerous stories, and read many a blog about tandem riders all over Japan, not just in Nagano. I have even heard of tandem riders approaching policemen to ask for directions with no ill effects. I believe the police are sensitive to two people on a bicycle built for one, but when a tandem rolls by it probably doesn't even register in their minds that something is amiss as a tandem is specifically built for two riders.

As with all bicycle laws in Japan the law around tandems is fuzzy. Yes its against the law, as is riding on certain sidewalks, riding with an umbrella, and slinging a bag of groceries over your handlebars, but those laws are ignored by the populace on a daily basis and are rarely, if ever, enforced. If you're on a tandem, obeying common sense rules of the road and not putting yourself on anyone else in danger then you're unlikely to run into trouble with the law, but nothing is certain.

So, can you ride your tandem in Japan? The law clearly states two people per bicycle is unacceptable, despite being drafted without tandems in mind, so technically you shouldn't be considering bringing a tandem to Japan. But all technicalities of the law aside, others have and continue to ride tandems around Japan in full view of the local constabulary without any ill effect.

When you're riding a tandem in Japan you're bending the already quite flexible cycling rules, how comfortable you are in bending the rules will ultimately determine if you'll risk riding a tandem in Japan or not.
If you'd like a fully legal run on a tandem bicycle in Tokyo, you can borrow one for free at the Imperial Palace Cycling Course between 10:00am and 3:00pm each Sunday.



Where to get an Xtracycle in Tokyo?

f.i.g Bike Daikanyama thats where. I first spotted the Xtracycle Radish (pictured above) in their Daikanyama store but expect it is available at their Harajuku store also. I haven't had a chance to revisit f.i.g Bike and talk to the staff, but assume that as they carry the Xtracycle Radish they must also stock the Xtracycle FreeRadical and accessories.

f.i.g Bike Daikanyama is easily accessible from either Daikanyama or Ebisu stations. Check their homepage for access details.



Electric assist bike, energetic child give dad an easy ride

While waiting at a traffic light near Setagaya Koen this morning I noticed a father and daughter on an electric assist bicycle. OK, nothing unusual about that. But in this mornings case it was the little girl, no more than 6 years old, who was doing the pedaling. Dad sat back on the seat, hands on the handle bars, legs dangling, while the daughter stood on the pedals in front of him propelling the bike forwards.

I don't have any idea how long she can keep that up, but the denki assist bike certainly must be giving a fair amount of assistance.



Busted Pedal

I broke a pedal on the way home last night. It was a Shimano DX, an SPD pedal with a metal cage from almost 9 years ago, unlike the DX of today which sports a plastic cage.

Anyway, the bolt that holds the outside of the cage to the SPD had disappeared, as had the spring inside. It made a terrible rattle but didn't really affect the ride. But I figured being left like that for the rest of the ride home it might suffer even more damage so I jerry-rigged it back together using some folded note paper just like you'd see McGyver do. It got me home.

During my lunch break today I took the bike to The Trail Store to see if replacing the bolt and spring were an easy matter. Initial analysis revealed that with the purchase of just a few parts there was a good chance the pedal could be saved. The friendly mechanic whipped off the pedals and replaced them with some new platforms so I'd be able to get home, as ordering in the parts would take a couple of days and it seemed pointless to leave the whole bike in the shop for the sake of repairing a pedal.

Unfortunately further investigation of the pedal revealed more damage inside. In other shops, in other parts of the world, the mechanic would simply suggest buying new pedals but The Trail Store mechanic was keen to save my pedal with the purchase of a few parts from Shimano.

It was the first time I'd seen the schematic of a Shimano DX pedal and there sure are a lot of fiddly little parts in there. So in the end it was I who suggested to the mechanic maybe it would just be easier to simply purchase some new pedals. After all, the existing ones had lasted me a good 9 years initially for racing and later for commuting, they'd done their job and deserved retirement.

So now I've got some shiny new Shimano XT pedals on order. The new SPD design sheds mud a lot easier than the old so there is less need of a platform as backup when your shoe and pedal are clogged up with mud. Therefore I forwent the platform and saved almost 200g in the process.

After the purchase of a new bike, the replacement of an entire set of Hayes brakes with Shimano XT, and now the purchase of new Shimano XT pedals I certainly hope this is the last of my purchases for a long while as my wallet is starting to sting.

I'm not on The Trail Store payroll, they don't even know this blog exists, but I mention them at every opportunity because each time I go there the staff are friendly and the service is faultless. If you're a cyclist of the mountain bike, downhill, dirt jumping, freestyle or trials persuasion I couldn't recommend The Trail Store more highly.



Bag Your Bike Poster

A few weeks ago I wrote about taking your bicycle on the train in Japan, the following weekend I noticed this poster at my local, Keio operated, station:

This is odd because cyclists in the know have always known that bagged bicycles on the train are perfectly acceptable. We've always garnered pained looks from station staff and passengers, but our presence has been tolerated as we're careful to be as unobtrusive as possible.

But your average Tokyoite has never considered taking their bicycle on the train. If they did then I can't imagine that they'd entertain the idea of rolling it on fully assembled as depicted the poster. Its unprecedented, I've never seen it and I'd wager a bet that 99.999% of the population of Tokyo have never seen it. If it were attempted the station staff would prevent the person from even reaching the platform let alone entering the train. Wouldn't they?

So is the poster saying "Our staff are so lax and unconcerned for your safety and comfort that they'll let anyone old nutter roll a fully assembled bicycle onto the train."???

Petty criticism of the poster for my own entertainment aside, any education of the public is worthwhile. I don't believe there will be an influx of bicycle bag toting, grocery laden, obasan on our trains, thank god. But I do think that making it known to all that bagging your bike is perfectly within the rules of train etiquette us existing bike baggers may earn a few less stern looks from fellow passengers next time we bag it.



Japanese Police Bicycles

The rider in the distance was out of the saddle of what appeared to be a mamachari, pumping hard and swaying side to side. "Get off the road, you're a danger to yourself", I though to myself as I approached. In the little time it took me to catch up I realized this was no ordinary rider, this was a policeman, on his heavy mamachari like police bike. Interested to see where this was leading I dropped into his slipstream, sat up in the saddle and rode at a leisurely pace behind him as he exerted a considerable amount of just keeping his bike moving forward.

As we reached the line of cars waiting at the intersection he disappeared onto the sidewalk. "Wonder what that was all about?", I think as I ride between two rows of cars leading up to the red light up ahead. While waiting for the traffic light to turn green I peer back down the row of cars to see the policeman dismount, knock on the window of a van and instruct the driver pull his vehicle into a driveway. The driver complied, the light turned green, I rode off, and maybe, just maybe one more dangerous driver was taken off our roads.

If you've ever seen a Japanese police bicycle you'll know they are not designed for pursuit, they're more like what you'd expect your local postman to ride if you were living in the 1950's. They're manufactured by Japanese bicycle maker Bridgestone especially for the police departments of Japan. However I believe Bridgestone was awarded the contract purely on account of being a Japanese company rather than on the quality or design of the bicycles they provide to the police departments across the nation.

Don't get me wrong, Bridgestone make some terrific bicycles, both road and mountain alike, but the bicycles developed for the police department are not much different than your regular mamachari. Being "mens bikes" they have a traditional diamond frame rather than the sloping top tube of a mamachari, but that is just about where the differences end.

The rear rack supports a small lockable metal box which judging from is size holds a clipboard full of paperwork (in triplicate), and the only other noticeable difference from a mamachari is a tube attached to the front fork designed for holding a baton. (Japanese police love their batons, bokken, staffs and sticks. Overcompensating for a deficiency in the stick department perhaps?)

Although I'm unsure of the gearing of the police bikes, judging by the effort it took the policeman in front of me to keep his bike above 20km/h, I don't believe they're geared for sprinting. So unless these bicycles behave in the same manner as the Tommy Lee Jones' car in Men in Black, I consider them woefully inadequate for police work.

Which do you think will come first. Cops on more practical police bikes, or cops on electric-assist mamachari? (Both with stick holders, of course.)



Bicycles designed to carry 2 kids go on sale

From the Kyodo News Agency:
TOKYO - Bicycle manufacturers launched models strong enough to be ridden by an adult plus two small children Wednesday as the ban on riding bikes with two kids was lifted in almost all prefectures across Japan. The move resulted from strong objections to the ban from mostly mothers, prompting the National Police Agency to issue safety standards for bicycles suitable for being ridden with two children earlier this year. The agency had previously attempted to fully enforce the ban. As the new models are priced higher than conventional bicycles, ranging from 60,000 yen to less than 200,000 yen, some local governments, such as the Maebashi city office in Gumma Prefecture, are moving to subsidize purchases.

Under the safety standards the NPA released in April, riders should be at least 16 years old and can carry up to two children less than 6 years old on special auxiliary seats installed at the front and the rear of the bike. Bikes that meet the standards are marked with either a BAA, or Bicycle Association (Japan) Approved, sticker or an SG, or Safety Goods, sticker of the Consumer Product Safety Association. Those riding nonstandard bikes with two children could be fined, but the police agency plans to start issuing directions and warnings instead until the sale of new models becomes full-fledged and the public gets thoroughly acquainted with the rules, an agency official said.

Until the price comes down or the police get serious about educating parents and enforcing the law I can't see a very rapid adoption of these stronger bicycles. I believe this will become another in the long list of inconsistently or unenforced bicycle laws in Japan.



Goodbye Hayes, Hello Shimano

I took my Giant MCMone to The Trail Store yesterday to have the fluid in my aging Hayes hydraulic disc brakes changed. Its something I've been postponing for a long time as every time I have the brakes serviced it ends up costing me a fortune.

Hayes hydraulics use Dot 4 hydraulic fluid which is corrosive, as a result of which, when it comes time to change fluid you realize that you have to replace a the majority of rubber seals and parts in the system. There is also the strong possibility that you'll have to replace your hydraulic lines as the insides are prone to deteriorate over time due to the corrosive nature of Dot 4. Add to that the cost of any brake pads and rotors that need replacing since your last service and suddenly you find that what you thought was the simple act of replacing your hydraulic fluid is now going to cost you a whole lot of hard earned yen.

So yesterday I was faced with the possibility of yet another expensive maintenance bill plus having to order in parts and wait for their arrival. More jokingly than not I asked how much it would cost to replace the entire setup with Shimano XT Hydraulics. The answer was roughly Y45,000 and they could be installed that afternoon. Sold!

Shimano XT hydraulics use a non corrosive mineral oil as the hydraulic fluid in addition to which both their rotors and pads are less than half the cost of Hayes replacements. With regular use Hayes brakes should ideally have the fluid changed every year while Shimano's mineral oil will keep going for up to three years. If your racing with Hayes on a regular basis you may need to change Dot 4 as often as every 6 months. I've never raced on the Shimano brakes so can't accurately comment.

All in all the running cost of the Shimano setup is a lot less than Hayes.

I wasn't expecting to blow Y45,000 when I walked into the store yesterday, but next time I go in for a service expecting to pay over Y20,000 I'll be glad I did.



Introducing the Mamachari

Recently I was asked by a journalist to define the term mamachari. That's a good question that left me scratching my head as mamachari isn't easy to define in a few lines of text.

First up the word mamachari is a typical Japanese mash up of the words mama, meaning mother and chari, a less polite word for bicycle.

The mamachari is a cultural icon, it's the Japanese equivalent of the family station wagon. Its the family workhorse used on shopping runs, for riding to the local station, taking the kids to school or picking them up from sports practice. Without it families around the country would be in a right pickle.

The defining features include, a top tube bent low that is easy to step over, a shopping basket on the front, a luggage rack on the back, mudguards, chain guards, dynamo lights, an integrated lock, a bell and a hefty rear stand that keeps the bike stable and upright when parked.

Oh, I forgot, one of the most defining features of the mamachari which is brakes that go "SCREEEEEEEEEEEECH!" when even slightly feathered, startling everyone within earshot.

After purchasing a mamachari, the upgrade of choice is a child seat. These can be mounted on the rear luggage rack or behind/between/in front of the handlebars. It's not unusual for a mamachari to sport two child seats, and on occasion you'll spot one with three! When the government implemented a ban recently on carrying two children on a mamachari mothers across Japan campaigned against the ruling and the government was forced to back down.

Our mamachari is of a newer breed designed with passengers in mind from the beginning. The child seat at the front is mounted low between the handlebars for added stability and when not in use as a child seat it converts into a decent sized basket. But as children soon outgrow the front seat we've had to add a second child seat to the rear of the bike.

Usually priced between Y10,000 and Y20,000 mamachari are essentially considered a disposable item. They're regularly left exposed to the elements for long periods of time, and for the most part are poorly maintained, even putting air in the tires seems a chore. Most people would throw a mamachari away or abandon it after years of neglect rather than undertaking simple preventative maintenance to extend the bikes useful life.

When buying a bicycle most Japanese don't consider anything other than a mamachari and initially I found this odd because when I think of bicycles I think recreation, mountain biking, commuting, racing, or for getting air off the top of a set of stairs. But in Japan I realized I'm in the minority, as even your average Japanese male purchases a bike for its utility, for making short trips to the station with a briefcase in the basket and carrying groceries home from the supermarket etc.

In a country of 130 million people 85% own a bicycle. Who'd have guessed that the majority use their bikes for practical purposes rather than jumping gaps?

Indeed, despite the fact I own 3 high end bicycles which are all incredibly fun to ride in their own way, when it comes time to pick up a 6 pack of beer or 5kg of rice from the supermarket my wife's mamachari is the most comfortable bike for the job. Why?

MamachariMountain Bike
UnlockingThe frame mounted lock can be unlocked by simply pushing in the key.A wire lock has to be untangled from around the wheel, frame and whatever the bike is locked to, potentially dirtying everything in the process.
LightsThey're attached to the bike, difficult to steal and don't require batteries.Have to remember to bring them downstairs and attach them to the bike. Also have to remember to remove them when I arrive at the supermarket lest they get stolen, reattach them after I've finished shopping and remove them again once arriving home. Thats a lot of work.
ChainguardKeeps everything nice and clean.Have to remember to bring a velcro strap downstairs to keep clothing from rubbing on the chain.
BellGets pedestrians out of your way.Saying "Excuse me", "Coming through", "On your right", or "Ding! Ding!" just doesn't work
MudguardsDry bumWet bum
ParkingPull in. Kick down the stand. Push a lever to lock the bike. Go shopping.Look for something to lock the bike to, not always easy. Remove the wirelock from handlebars, lock the rear wheel and frame to a solid object. Careful, you might get dirty.
Child seatI can take someone for company, or to push the supermarket trolley for meNo chance.
BasketHolds any amount of groceries I'm likely to buy in one go.Squash groceries into a backpack or hang them from the handlebars which not only interferes with the bikes balance, but is also frowned upon by the law. 5kg of rice? Impossible.

For those of you saying "Well thats fine but you can't race a mamachari can you?" I'd like to direct your attention to the Mamachari Endurance Race held annually at the Tokachi International Speedway which attracts hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators all of whom enjoy the festival like atmosphere. Suffice to say its all just a little fun with few serious racers, but plenty of great costumes.

So, despite the perceived un-coolness of the mamachari, it is by far the best bicycle for day to day use all over Japan and deserves a little more respect. The mamachari truly is the family station wagon of Japan, I don't know where we would be without it.

If you're looking for a second hand mamachari at a good price in Tokyo try Suginami Green Cycle.



Staying cool while cycling the streets of Tokyo

With the mercury set to rise to over 30 degrees celsius today, the first time this year, its time to start putting in to place measures beat the heat.

My favorite tip is this: The evening before your commute soak a face washer or small towel in water, roll it up like the warm towel you receive when you sit down at a restaurant and place it in a plastic zip-lock bag before dropping it into the freezer.

The following morning, and this is most important, remember to take the package out of the freezer and put it in your backpack or pannier. Depending on the heat of the day and the length of your commute by the time you reach your destination the towel has started to thaw and you can use it to towel down, lowering your body temperature and freshening up.

Try it on your next commute, both you and your co-workers will appreciate it.

When writing about staying warm on the streets of Tokyo in the winter I mentioned getting close to the back of a bus as the engine blasts out a lot of heat, suffice to say, avoid doing that in the summer.

Also, be on the lookout for subway ventilation, because in the summer those grates in the sidewalk blast out crispy cool air from the subway below. They're nice to get close to while your waiting at a red light.

How do you keep cool on the bike in the summer?



No time for cycling? Maybe you need to change bikes?

Recently I came to realize that I was kidding myself if I thought I could get out for more than 2 hours straight for cycling on the weekends. Given my desire to spend as much of my weekend with my daughters I usually set the alarm for 6am, put in 2 hours on the bike and return just as they're are starting to wake.

Unfortunately, two hours just isn't enough time to make it to the mountains for either an off or on road ride. Cycling to Tamagawa or Arakawa is an option, but upon reaching their banks it is almost time to consider turning back. In my two hours I can head West on Inokashira-doori or Route 20 and cover a reasonable distance, but its a straight line out, and a straight line back on flat, unending asphalt, with traffic.

Then there are other times over the weekends when the girls are busy and I find myself with a spare hour or so on my hands. There is not a lot of cycling you can do in an hour. Or is there?

My roadie side dreams of riding distance at speed, while the mountain biker within longs for shredding the hiking trails of Western Tokyo, but my schedule just doesn't have enough time for that and family. Clearly in order to use my fleeting moments of spare time to the fullest I need a new hobby.

Not impressed by any other hobbies I dropped into The Trail Store and bought myself another bike. The 2009 Giant STP1.

By now you're thinking I'm crazy. He doesn't have enough time to enjoy his two existing bikes and now he's gone and bought a third? How is that going to fix the situation? Did he hit his head? Well, hear me out.

My problem is time. Time just doesn't come in large enough chunks to enjoy all that my two existing bikes can offer. A decent road ride in a decent location takes hours, as does a decent trail ride. Yet give me an hour, the Giant STP1 and Wadabori Park across the street I'll do gaps, drops, wheelies, manuals and jumps until every muscle in my, no longer 17 year old, body aches for days. (Sunday morning to Wednesday evening to be exact.)

When I'm done I'm content in the knowledge that I've spent a fun hour on the bike. Not half an hour out and back from home in traffic you wouldn't even bother pulling on a jersey for, but a solid hour of adrenaline pumping madness like I've not had since I was a teenager.



Chump arrested for stealing high-end bicycles and parts

Tokyo - A man was arrested on suspicion of theft Tuesday after police found over 60 high-end bicycles and over 400 bicycle parts in his house in Setagaya Ward. Investigators said the unemployed suspect Yamaguchi (28) admitted to stealing luxury bicycles from the parking lots of apartments around his home and that he told police he wanted to open up a shop by stealing expensive bicycles.

In a strange twist, after admitting to stealing over 60 bicycles, he is denying that he stole the bicycle parts.

Apparently the suspect fell victim to a random bicycle registration check which revealed he was riding a stolen bicycle, how that escalated to the police raiding his home on suspicion of mass bicycle theft is unknown.

Police are confident they can return the bicycles to their rightful owners.

The home where he was storing the stolen bicycles is right on my morning commute, and just a few kilometers from my home. Who knew I've been cycling past a cache of 60 stolen bicycles every day for months now? Pleased he didn't get his hands on any of my rides.




72,000 is the number of abandoned or illegally parked bicycles removed from the streets of Setagaya-ku each year.

72,000 bicycles abandoned each year in Setagaya-ku alone. Lets assume for a moment that all 23 Wards of Tokyo see similar figures, that's 1,656,000 abandoned bicycles removed from the streets of Tokyo per year, the vast majority of which go unclaimed and are subsequently destroyed.

1,656,000 bicycles abandoned per year in Tokyo, not Japan, Tokyo ...



Cheap jerseys from Uniqlo

With temperatures increasing as we approach yet another notoriously humid Japanese summer, a cyclist can't be without too many jerseys. Depending on the frequency of your laundry cycle, if you're commuting daily you're going to need between 3 and 5 jerseys as, believe me, you'll need a fresh one every day.

Team jerseys in Japan will usually set you back over Y12,000 while plain Jerseys from Perl Izumi are priced around Y7,000. At those prices cycling wear in Japan can get pretty expensive.

If those prices scare you then you should take a trip to your local Uniqlo soon, as they currently have quick drying mesh shirts for Y1,000. I picked up a couple while in Kichijoji last weekend to try out on my daily commute and discovered them to be cool, comfortable, and fast drying. In addition to this they come in a variety of fashionable and/or eye searing colours for on road visibility and feature a limited number of designs.

Obviously they lack pockets in the back, and a zipper in the front for when it really gets hot but as a cheap alternative to a cycling jersey these tops are well worth the Y1,000 investment.

You can view, and purchase, these shirts on the Uniqlo website. Just be sure you're looking a the dry mesh (ドライメッシュ) types.



Can I take my bike on a train in Tokyo?

A question I'm asked a lot by people new to Japan is "Can I take a bike on the train in Tokyo?" We'll you'll be glad to know the answer is yes, but there are some conditions which make it more troublesome than just wheeling your bike into the carriage.

The generally accepted rule is that your bicycle must be sufficiently covered to prevent it from dirtying up your fellow passengers. Therefore, in the local vernacular, you have to "bag it".

Most good bike stores will sell nylon bike bags, or "rinko bukuro" ranging from Y3,000 to well beyond Y10,000. The majority fold down to a size that fits perfectly into a bottle cage which makes them convenient to carry when not in use.
Bicycle, bagged and ready to go.
Photo by: Kinya Hanada

Obviously your bike is big and the bag is small, so in general it is best to remove both wheels from the bike and strap them either side of your frame with the straps provided with your bike bag. You might like to place some cloth around your frame where it comes into contact with your wheels to prevent scratching or rubbing.

After your wheels are tightly secured, simply throw the bike bag over the whole package and run shoulder strap (also provided with your bike bag) from your headset to your rear fork or seat post for easier carrying.

If you find yourself without a bike bag and needing to ride the train in an emergency such as a sudden storm, strong winds or tropical downpour, then drop into a convenience store and buy some garbage bags. Bag each wheel and your frame in individually and you're good to go.

It has been rumored that there are cases in which you have to buy a special ticket to carry your bike on the train, but in 13 years of cycling around Japan I've never purchased one, so throw caution to the wind and only bother to buy one if you're asked by the station staff.

Also, on city trains try to ride in the front or rear most carriages as you'll find a little more space there for your bicycle. If you're riding the shinkansen then try to secure seats at the rear of any carriage as there is just enough space behind the rear seats to slide in a bagged bike.

If you're simply touring around the city I'd say avoid the trouble of bagging all together, as Tokyo is small enough that you can cycle from point A to point B in less time than it takes to bag your bike and take the train. Its only for those rides starting, or ending, outside the city that you should consider bagging your bike.

Update: After writing this article based on years of experience, rather than actual research, I came across Japan Railways (JR) rules for luggage which state there shall be no charge for:

Bicycles for use in cycling or sporting events if the bicycle is disassembled and placed in a bicycle carrying bag, or if the bicycle is a folding bicycle that has been folded and placed in a bicycle carrying bag.

The complete list of JR luggage rules can be found here.



Japanese companies offer benefits to bicycle commuters

Japan Today is running a story about companies offering special benefits to bicycle commuters which is worth a read, but it turns out the "special benefits" aren't that special after all.

For example Yamaha Motor company in Shizouka pay employees who cycle an extra Y1000 per month. Okuchi Shuzo a producer of shochu in Kagoshima offer bicycle commuters Y10 per kilometer. Nobody it seems is addressing the issue of showers and parking for example.

While we have no showers at my company, and there is not a lot we can do about it, we are able to park our bicycles inside the building at no cost. In addition to this anyone cycling to work still receives their full commuter allowance which nets me an extra Y10,000 per month.

We don't consider that a special benefit, just fair and equal treatment.


A Life of Cycling in Tokyo

A long time ago, in a neighborhood not so far away ...

Being new to Tokyo, and not knowing a much about bicycles, I purchased a cheap mountain bike from the local Bridgestone store in 1996 with the aim of commuting to work during the week and exploring some of those green areas, presumably parks, I'd noticed dotted around my map of Tokyo on the weekends.

During the weekends following the purchase of my bike, and a trusty pocket map, I visited the green areas of Inokashira-koen, Shakuji-koen, Wadabori-koen, Komazawa-koen and Hikarigaoka to name a few. One particularly adventurous afternoon I set out towards the lakes of Tamako and Sayamako in Saitama thinking I would never go the distance. Without my bicycle these are places I would never have bothered to visit by train, well maybe with the exception of Inokashira-koen in Kichijoji where local craftspeople and performers gather on the weekend. Without my bicycle I would never have have known such beautiful places existed in amongst the endless gray concrete and asphalt of Tokyo.

After a while I began running out of places nearby to visit, and as my legs and sense of adventure grew in strength I was ready to go further afield. One bright Saturday morning I met up with some foreign cyclists via a mailing list for an easy ride to, and along the banks of, the Tamagawa river on the southern border of Tokyo. The following weekend the same group of cyclists guided me to the Arakawa river and I began riding distances I'd never ridden before. Not long after our ragtag group of casual, some would say overly casual, cyclists from around the globe formed the now defunct Tokyo BHB Cycling Club.

As the weekend rides increased in length and the terrain increased in gradient I realized I was going to need a better bicycle if I was to have half a chance of keeping up with the other riders in our group. With the guidance of my new found cycling buddies I purchased my first road bike, a Cannondale CAAD3 decked out with Shimano Ultega components at the Y's Road store, Galaxy, in Ikebukuro.

After that my weekends changed dramatically, spending one day each weekend on an epic road ride, the other just pottering around the city or riding the banks of Tamagawa or Awakawa. On weekdays I commuted to and from work by bike and spent my Wednesday evenings doing laps of the Imperial Palace with whichever BHB members were able to show up. One evening while recovering in front of the palace gates a motorcade rolled through and we received a courteous smile and wave from none other than Empress Michiko as she returned from some official duty. (After which she quite possibly ordered the palace guards to march those sweaty, smelly, lycra clad foreigners off her lawn, but by then we'd moved on to Subway for a post ride snack, a BHB Wednesday Night Jam tradition.)

Our regular full day road rides outside of Tokyo included the mountains of Okutama, Takao-san to Sagamihara, the coast of Miura-Hantou, the hills and coast around Odawara, Hakone and Izu, climbing Mount Fuji, even the odd trip to the island of Oshima. Most days we didn't have any route in particular planned, we'd just ride till our legs gave up or the light ran out then jump on the nearest train heading back to Tokyo. Including the time taken getting to the start point by train, and back home again these were full days out of my schedule every weekend.

But the BHB weren't just a group of roadies, we enjoyed our mountain biking as well. We enjoyed it so much so that I had to purchase a Carbon Frame Giant MCM Team MTB just to remain competitive. Our regular mountain bike routes included the hiking trails of Hinode, Mitake-san and the mountains around Okutama in Western Tokyo. The well kept and well signposted hiking trails in those areas present unlimited mounting biking opportunities to the Tokyo bound mountain biker.

Of course those destinations all require a day to do at leisure, although certain members would get up before dawn, ride Hinode and be back before lunch, but that's not my pace. On days when we felt like getting dirty but not travelling all the way out to the mountains we would get off the beaten track along the banks of the Arakawa river which offers some challenging off road terrain upon which to hone your skills.

While I was not much for road racing at this time, cross country mountain bike racing was another thing entirely. During Japan's long hot summers there are endless racing opportunities on the ski fields of Nagano, Niigata and elsewhere, a favorite of mine being Hakuba which also plays host to a terrifying down hill course. Of course weekend racing usually involves an overnight stay in a ryokan, or tent if you're roughing it, and thus consumes an entire weekend.

At my peak I was riding over 300km a week, owned an assortment of ridiculously expensive road and mountain bikes, and poured every last hour, every last yen in my pocket into cycling. Did I mention I loved every minute of it?

Somehow with my days, nights and weekends jam packed with cycling I still managed to meet a beautiful woman who is now my wife and mother of our two lovely daughters.

Of course, being married and a father of two, my time is no longer my own. I know guys whose lifestyles hardly skip a beat after they've had children, but I for one can't justify spending extra ordinate amounts of time on my hobbies at the expense of spending time with my family. Obviously as a result of this I no longer spend every waking weekend hour on the bike nor does every yen I earn go towards something cycling related.

Currently my cycling activities include commuting, the odd early morning weekend ride before the girls are awake and the luxury of 2 or 3 races or cycling events per year. At this stage of my life I'm happy with that balance because this is the time of my life to spend with my family. As my girls grow up and become more independent, as children do, I'm sure that my cycling activities will increase once more, so I'm content to wait it out.

When I flip through a catalog these days and spot the latest Y700,000 racing bike I no longer lust after it as I once did, instead I admire it, note how my former self would be drooling madly over it, then admit for the style of riding I'm doing right now a bicycle one 10th the price is more than adequate.

Recently I've come to realize, I can snatch an hour or so to myself here and there on weekends. An hour I could very well spend cycling except that an hour of cycling around home isn't very satisfying compared to an hour on steep mountain passes or rocky single trail.

Fortunately there is a huge park running the length of Zenpukuji river just minutes from our door. In parts its manicured and landscaped, but the majority of it is wild, its paths crossed with gnarly roots and scarred by erosion. This weekend I'm going to take the time to survey it a little more closely via mountain bike, but I get the feeling that at this stage of my cycling life that I'll be selling a mountain bike and investing in a trials bike to extract the most fun from Wadabori park.


Cycling, now 120% better for your health.

With Swine flu cases in Western Japan climbing at a remarkable rate, wouldn't you rather commute to work on your bike than ride a crowded commuter train?



Google Street View Bicycle

Google recently introduced the Google Street View Partner program in Japan which allows people to share their otherwise inaccessible locations with the world.

Google's policy prevents them from photographing on private property, but by becoming a Google partner the landowners give Google permission to photograph their site and make it available on Google Street View.

In order to photograph ancient alleys and confined temple sites of Japan Google has been forced to abandon the Street View Car and adopt the Google Street View Bicycle!

View a video of it in action here. Seems its use involves more pushing than cycling.

Seems now word of this has got out it being called the Google Tricycle or Google Trike, which is what I would have gone with if I actually cared about semantics.



Yet Another Abandoned Bicycle

A cheap and nasty dual suspension mountain bike has been abandoned about 30m away from our apartment. Its been sitting out there, exposed to the elements, with its pringled rear wheel for well over 2 months now.

The frame doesn't appear to have been bent out of shape by whatever caused the rear wheel to fold over, so all it needs is a new wheel fitted, some air in the tires, a little lubrication and its good to go. Unfortunately the type of person who buys such a cheap and nasty MTB in Tokyo is the type of person who wouldn't even consider fitting a new wheel when a new cheap and nasty mountain bike is so .. well, cheap.

Eventually the bike will be removed, maybe it will make its way to Suginami Green Cycle for recycling, or maybe it will be crushed along with so many others. Or maybe, just maybe, in the dead of night someone with a little mechanical skill and a passion for bicycles of all shapes, sizes and makes will quietly take it away, repair it and pass it on to one of the children in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately if that someone isn't me I can see this bike going to the crusher.



Japan Secret Service

I kid you not. On the way to work this morning I pulled up alongside a gray Toyota Prius with an insignia and black lettering on the door which read "Japan Secret Service". Hardly a secret any more now is it?

I would have taken a photograph except I was worried I'd get busted for international espionage, taken away and locked up in a secret government prison, the location of which is marked only by a large flashing neon sign reading "Japan Secret Service Interrogation Facility - Move along now, nothing to see here".



Down Low Glow in Tokyo

Roughly a year ago I bout myself a Down Low Glow, from Rock The Bike and have been using it on my commute every day since. I can't say I'm getting any more room on the road from Tokyo drivers than I did in the past, but in the event of a future accident I'll be able to yell at the driver "Which of my fifty #&'%! million flashing #&'%! lights did you fail to #&'%! see?!!?"

I expected a few more comments and bigger reactions to the Down Low Glow than I've received to date. I've received my share of looks from pedestrians, drivers and cyclists alike, but only children grace it with a comment, usually along the lines of "Coooool!", or "Woah, green!". Adults on the other hand don't like to show their surprise. By acting surprised at the Down Low Glow they're publicly admitting to all around they've never seen such a thing before. They dread the person they're with saying "Oh that, that was last weeks trend, I can't believe you didn't know about that!"

Also about the same time I purchased my green Down Low Glow, those tiny single green LED strap anywhere lights suddenly became popular. Every time I rode past a cyclist sporting one of those I could see them shrivel up in DLG envy, yet everyone is too proud to ask where I got it.

Oh well, its a hit with the kids.

One in particular loves the DLG, my daughter. She has a pretty standard Japanese girls bike, step through frame, rack on the back and a translucent blue plastic basket on the front. Because of the unusual curve of her frame there is nowhere to conveniently mount the DLG, but toss the Down Low Glow into her front basket an suddenly she is cycling with a huge cube of green light on the front of her bike that absolutely nobody can fail to see.

To date she hasn't expressed an interest in getting a DLG of her own, just don't tell her they're available in pink, purple, red, blue and amber as well as green!

If you're in Japan and would like to get your hands on a Down Low Glow you can order from the Rock the Bike homepage. They deliver internationally and offer exceptional customer service. You'll also experience no problems using the American made charger with the Japanese power supply.

I hope to see more Down Low Glows on the the streets of Tokyo real soon.



Buying a Second Hand Bicycle in Tokyo - Suginami Green Cycle Open Day Calendar

Buying a second hand bicycle in Tokyo is certainly a great option for anyone looking for a good deal on a reasonable every day bike. Suginami Green Cycle as mentioned in my post "Buying a Reconditioned Bicycle in Tokyo" offer second hand reconditioned bicycles for between Y6,500 and Y10,000 except in special cases when the price may rise to Y15,000 for a well known brand in good condition.

As mentioned in the previous article Sugunami Green Cycle are open to customers for 3 days each month but their timetable is a little unpredictable. Yesterday my wife was in the area and she stopped by to ask if they had an open day calendar for the upcoming months, indeed they do, and here it is:

May 200918 (Mon.)19 (Tues.)20 (Wed.)
June 200915 (Mon.)16 (Tues.)17 (Wed.)
July 200921 (Tues.)22 (Wed.)23 (Thurs.)
August 200917 (Mon.)18 (Tues.)19 (Wed.)
September 200914 (Mon.)15 (Tues.)16 (Wed.)
October 200919 (Mon.)20 (Tues.)21 (Wed.)
November 200916 (Mon.)17 (Tues.)18 (Wed.)
December 200914 (Mon.)15 (Tues.)16 (Wed.)
January 201018 (Mon.)19 (Tues.)20 (Wed.)
February 201015 (Mon.)16 (Tues.)17 (Wed.)
March 201015 (Mon.)16 (Tues.)17 (Wed.)

On the days listed above Suginami Green Cycle is open from 11am to 4pm, and these are the only days you can purchase second hand bicycles, but you're free to drop in a few days before the sale to check out their stock.

Suginami Green Cycle and is located at Eifuku 2-1-11 just 10 minutes walk from Eifuku Station on the Keio Inokashira line or Shimotakaido on the Keio line. Call 03-3327-2287 for more information.

Staffed by friendly bicycle loving retirees giving something back to the community Suginami Green Cycle is definitely worth a visit if you're in the market for a second hand bicycle in Tokyo.



One Week Pedestrian Safety Blitz

If you've been cycling in Tokyo this week you may have noticed a policeman on every corner, a guard on every crossing and a host of mothers sporting "PTA on Patrol" armbands. What's going on? You may ask as I did when I witnessed it for the first time too many years ago.

Monday marked the start of a new school year and between 7:30 and 8:30am in particular the streets are overflowing with excited 6 year olds on their way to their first days at school. In Japan with roads being narrow, that youthful enthusiasm often spills out on to the road which is why you witness such a high level of adult supervision.

Each year around this time the police presence rises to an unbelievable level. Literally a policeman on every intersection, directing traffic, directing pedestrians, hassling cyclists with their individual unique interpretation of Japanese cycling laws. Where are these officers the other 51 weeks of the year? If they can provide such a show of protection for 1 week why not even a token show of interest outside of that week?

Its not just the police who disappear. After the first week of school, crossing guard numbers also fall. Sure the busier intersections are manned year round by civic minded retirees (for whom I'm grateful) but other intersections guarded so passionately for the first week of school are suddenly deemed safe and go unmanned.

Finally, the parents disappear. They drop out over a number of weeks as their children grow in confidence and finally their little ones are left to fend for themselves on their way to and from school.

Maybe I'm overprotective, but I walk my daughter to school every single morning and have witnessed the safety overkill of the first week of school fade to the point where its just a handful of crossing guards and me looking out for a quarter of the schools population.

Its not just traffic dangers parents expose their children to on their walk to and from school. Last year there were a number of disturbing incidents involving children from my daughters school, on in which a child's backpack was slashed by a man as he walked home. After that incident 2 policemen were stationed outside the school gates (which are already manned by a security guard) for a week even though the incident happened nowhere near the school. Would it be too much for them the get on their bikes and patrol the area? My daughters school has 4 official routes which children use to get to school, how hard can it be for a policeman to randomly patrol those routes by bike each morning?

As a deterrent to prospective child endangering nutjobs my wife and some other mothers considered it a good idea that I wear a bright orange PTA Patrol armband as I walk the kids to school, sending out an eye searing visual clue to everyone around that the children are being looked out for. When they bought up the idea with the PTA President it was rejected on the grounds that I do not attend PTA meetings. It really makes me wonder how serious these people are about protecting their children.

Anyway, I continue to walk my daughter to school every morning before continuing on my way to work and will do so till long after she thinks she is ready to fend for herself.

Seems I've gone off the cycling topic and into a rant but isn't that what blogging is all about?

If you're on the streets around the time children are heading to or from school, exercise a little safety in your riding or driving, as children and their movements are unpredictable at the best of times let alone when they're with 6 of their boisterous friends all pumped on first week of school excitement. Also, when the police, crossing guard, PTA and parent presence dies down, and you find yourself the only adult in a sea of kids, keep an eye open for anything suspicious or potentially dangerous and steer them away from it. Its the least we can do for parents and a society that think its safe for 6 year olds to walk the streets by themselves.



If I had 100 yen ...

... for every car that crossed an intersection after the light turned red, I'd be dining on fine steak for lunch from the proceeds of this mornings commute alone.



Putting Japanese Cycling Laws to the Test

Last week in my article about bicycle laws in Japan I pointed out that while bicycle laws do in fact exist, they are rarely if ever enforced. Friday evening, while commuting home from the office, my theory of unenforced bicycle laws had a rather spontaneous test in a real world scenario. The results of which support my theory that police turn a blind eye to cyclists breaking the rules.

Not far from the office on my nightly commute there is a 'T' intersection which operates on timed traffic signals, so regardless of the traffic conditions the lights change at regular, and thus predictable, intervals. Now, imagine me crossing the top of the 'T' left to right, against a red light, on the left hand side of the road as is custom in Japan. By glancing right as I slow, but before entering the intersection, I can see if any cars heading my way and determine if it is safe to cross the intersection.

Safe as it is, I am always nervous as I run this red light as there is a koban (police box) on the corner which is staffed by 2 officers 24 hours a day. Efforts to make myself highly visible to motorists including a bright orange jacket, meters of reflective tape, blinking lights, and possibly the only Down Low Glow in Tokyo also point me and my misdeeds out clearly to any policemen that happen to be in the area.

Yes I'm a little sheepish, but I cross this intersection against the red light in this manner, in full view of the koban every single evening without fail.

On Friday however a new variable was added to the equation. As a co-worker and myself approached the already red light we noticed a police pursuit car stopped at the intersection ahead of us, lights flashing, alerting everyone to its presence.

After a short exchange my co-worker and I decided to proceed as usual. Passed the police car on the left, slowed, checked for traffic, then cranked our way through the intersection. One police pursuit car, 2 occupants, one police box, 2 occupants, two blatantly law breaking cyclists one lit up like a Christmas tree. I fully expected us to get busted.


When we reached the intersection with Tamagawa Dori (Route 246) the light was red and we stopped accordingly as crossing 246 dangerous enough on a green light let alone a red one. The police car, with its lights still flashing, slowly pulled up behind us and came to a stop at which point I expected an officer to get out and give us a stern talking to.


Therefore I conclude that my theory that bicycle laws in Japan will go unenforced unless you cause an accident injuring someone other than yourself, is sound. Having concluded this I don't want to encourage you to put this theory to the test, but as always simply exercise some common sense and ride safely when on the streets of Tokyo.

Is it just Tokyo where the police are disinterested in enforcing cycling laws or is it like this all around Japan?



Of Bicycle Laws in Japan and other Mythical Beasts

Quite often, as the resident cycling nutjob, I'm asked about bicycle laws in Japan. More often than not this question comes from a foreigner, because as far as Japanese people are concerned there are no bicycle laws in Japan, beyond "Don't have an accident" and unfortunately even that rule is not often adhered to.

So here is a concise list of the most important bicycle laws in Japan:

  • Exercise some common sense, and ride safely.

There you go, short and to the point.

OK, the truth of the matter is that a whole complicated mess of cycling laws do in fact exist, but they are loosely enforced. So loosely that almost the entire cycling population is completely confused as to what is a law, what is common sense and what is pure myth or urban legend. For example:

Riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol could earn you up to five years imprisonment or a fine of up to 1 million Yen. Unless you cause a serious accident and injure someone other than yourself the usual police response is to turn a blind eye to the merely tipsy cyclist. If the cyclist is is over the limit on the policeman's internal 'tipsy-o-meter' then they'll be trundled to the koban till they sober up, then sent on their way after a stern talking to. Problem being that each policeman's internal 'tipsy-o-meters' is calibrated differently.

Riding at night without a headlamp, using an umbrella, cell phone or iPod won't get you jailed but could cost you up to 50,000 Yen. The only rule I've seen enforced with at least some consistency is riding at night without a headlamp, but rather than a 50,000 Yen fine it usually results in a short exchange in which the police officer informs you that you shouldn't ride at night without a light, then you both go your separate ways. Riding while talking on the phone may, to a lesser degree, get you the same treatment.

As for umbrellas, and iPods, once again, unless you cause an accident (injuring someone other than yourself) no policeman is going to tell you to stop using a perfectly good umbrella and ride till you're soaked nor can they be bothered catching up with you to ask you to remove your earphones. (They have to catch up because calling to a person listening to their iPod doesn't yield any response.)

Carrying a passenger (over the age of 6) or riding in tandem with another bicycle promises to fetch you a fine of up to 20,000 Yen. Futarinori (the practice of riding two to a bike) is common amongst high school students, couples, and friends. Its part of a Japanese teenage boys induction into manhood to cycle the streets with his girlfriend on the back with her arms around him. What policeman is going to put an end to such a simple teenage pleasure? Just don't cause an accident.

Failing to stop at a red light or stop sign, or cycling dangerously (for example riding with broken brakes) is another offense punishable by up to 3 months imprisonment or a fine up to 50,000 Yen. On most roads in Japan the traffic lights are timed to trigger on regular intervals, traffic or not, they'll change every few minutes. This results in a lot of stopping and starting which quickly wears you down. As a result I slow, check for traffic and use my judgement to determine if I'll stop or continue. I do this safely, every day, in front of a police box twice on the way to work and twice on the way home and have not once been stopped. Although I just read that in 2008 40% of cyclist fatalities were caused by cyclists going through red lights or stop signs without stopping, so I'll exercise some caution.

I'm not sure of the exact legal wording, but "cycling dangerously" is a rather subjective notion. I'll take my hands off the bars to get something from a jersey pocket, is that dangerous? No, but I wouldn't like to see my daughter try it.

So by now you see the pattern. Just like when you were a child playing dangerously with a friend, its all fun and games until someone gets hurt. You'll jump Billy on your skateboard 20 times, your mother will warn you not to 20 times, but on the 21st time when you land on Billy's ankle the full weight of your mothers fury comes down upon you.

Cycling in Japan is the same, "Obey this rule we never enforce", says the policeman, until someone gets hurt then his tone changes to "Why don't you accompany me to the station."

Therefore in essence all the rules for bicycles can be boiled down to "exercise some common sense and ride safely".

What about riding on the road or sidewalks in Japan? I don't even want to try and explain the complexities, myth and legend surrounding that question so I'll let you know the rules that work for me:

  • Yes, you can ride on the roads in Japan
  • Yes, you can ride on the sidewalks in Japan
  • Exercise some common sense and ride safely

The more formal definition of the rules is:

  • Yes, you can ride on the roads in Japan, except in places where you can't
  • Yes, you can ride on the sidewalks in Japan, except in places where you can't
  • (No mention of common sense or safety, as they have nothing to do with bicycle laws in Japan)

I like my rules better.

Around the beginning of each school year there is a 2 week road safety blitz. Police at every intersection directing traffic, and a crossing guard (or two, sometimes even three) at every crossing, waving flags, blowing whistles and generally getting in the way of everyone. Its during these waves of madness that the police may pull you up for riding on the road (which is legal, let us stress again) and tell you to ride on the sidewalk even though you already cycled past 5 police and didn't receive a warning. After riding 50m or so down the sidewalk jump out on the road again and don't be surprised if the next 5 police officers let you cruise on by.

Surprisingly it wasn't until June 2008 that helmet laws were introduced in Japan. Currently it is compulsory for all children under 13 to wear a helmet while cycling, even if they are a passenger on an adults bicycle. Despite this you still see few children wearing helmets and even fewer police officers enforcing the law. Adults have no legal requirement to wear a helmet.

Personally I wear a helmet every day on my commute (unless I'm taking the train, then I leave it at home) and on weekend rides, but if I'm taking the mama-chari to the supermarket I'll leave the helmet behind. On the road, wear a helmet, going shopping, give it a miss. My daughters, both under 13 wear a helmets whenever they're on the bike, its common sense.

In the event of an accident, when the enforcement of the law actually kicks in Japan attributes blame to the larger party. In a car against bicycle bout, the driver of the car is automatically at fault even if the cyclist was riding the wrong way down a one way street holding their umbrella while listening to their iPod. When a cyclist injures a pedestrian the cyclist is at fault, and the person deemed to be at fault covers the medical expenses of the other party.

So there you have it. While Japan does have a complex set of cycling laws, they are poorly understood and only really enforced in the event of an accident. I'm sure all of you exercise common sense and ride safely within the law, but while in Japan, forget the law, its incomprehensible, and just exercise common sense and ride safely. Its worked for me.