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.