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.