Cycling under the influence will earn you a fine in Japan, so may your groceries.

A spot of drama on the commute home a few weeks back. I stopped, as I occasionally do, by the local 99 Shop to pick up a couple of cold beers and otsumame. As its close to home, and I had a bag of groceries hanging from my handle bars, I decided to ride the remainder of my journey on the sidewalk.

Up ahead there were two bicycles heading in my direction so I moved to the left as is customary when riding on the sidewalk in Japan. After adjusting my course I noticed the lead rider up ahead wobble, swerve, glance off a wall on his left then connect hard with the railing on his right before meeting the pavement in a most ungraceful manner. He went down hard. A loud noise, limbs everywhere.

There are a lot of elderly people on shopping bikes pottering around Tokyo and witnessing them topple over isn't an uncommon site. So when I saw the middle aged lady following simply swerve around the accident site and continue on her way I was stunned, no offer of assistance? Not even an "Are you OK?" Nope, she just rode on without a second glance.

Upon reaching the downed rider I discovered a Japanese man in his 30's, not the senior citizen I was expecting. "Are you OK?" I enquired. From his slurred response I deduced he responded "No I'm not %$&! OK". I also deduced that the cause of his accident had a lot to do with the level of alcohol in his bloodstream.

Great. What to do? Can't ride away from an accident. There isn't a lot I can do for a paralytic drunk who is unable to walk and will most likely puke on my shoes by way of thanks. What to do?

There was no blood, he was feeling no pain, nor the cold and after a few moments of the "I've fallen and can't get up" routine he seemed quite content to simply be lying down.

So, I did the only thing I could and doubled back to the local koban to informed the police officer of what had happened. I've visited the local koban twice in my capacity as a responsible citizen and neither time felt that my effort was appreciated. No questions, no note taking, no sense of urgency, no thanks. Why did I bother? Oh well at least the drunk in the street was no longer my responsibility, he was now the responsibility of this disinterested policeman.

Therefore moral of today's story is:

"Don't ride with groceries dangling from your handlebars."

That's right. As I was leaving the koban the police officer told me to remove the groceries from my handlebars as it is against the law to hang items from your handlebars while riding. Thanks Jack, I knew that. I'd just never seen it enforced in 12 years, in particular never seen it enforced on a person after they've gone out of their way to help another citizen.

After all that excitement I rode home, shopping dangling from the handlebars, and enjoyed a responsible beverage. Later I slept content in the knowledge that neither my rogue shopping bag nor responsible beverage caused any accidents.



The Mundo Cargo Bike - Number 1 on my wish list

During 2008 I discovered some great cycling gear online. In 2008 I also discovered that my cycling budget did not stretch nearly as far as my imagination. Today, I decided to start a wish list of cycling gear for 2009, so that when I find some cash down the back of the sofa, I'll know what to spend it on right away. (Answer: probably something for my daughters)

Anyway, a man can dream.

My cycling needs changed the day I became a father, and now as a father of two I want much different functionality from a bicycle than I did 10 years ago. I've mellowed down and have come to appreciate bicycles of all kinds, I've also learned to appreciate riding in more complex ways than simply "how far" and "how fast".

Unfortunately neither of my bikes are practical for family outings. Consider a day at the park: Food, drinks, picnic blanket, assorted balls, bats and rackets, frisbees, skipping ropes, maybe a skateboard, roller skates, a scooter or two, not to mention a change of clothes for the girls if we are going anywhere remotely near a river or pond. I need to be the one hauling all that gear so my family are free to ride unencumbered and enjoy the day.

Therefore number one on my wish list for 2009 is a Mundo Cargo Bike.

Mundo Cargo Bike
What better bike is there for a family in Tokyo than the Mundo? Like the majority of families in Tokyo we don't own, nor strive to own, a car but some days we could really do with a station wagon. We have a mama-chari capable of carrying two passengers, but my passengers are growing up fast and its now impossible to transport them both. I can think of no better bike for the Tokyo family than the Mundo.

Considering the fact that the Mundo is not available in Japan, and that I would have to sell an existing bike in order to raise the funds, my chances of obtaining one in 2009 are pretty slim.

But a man can dream.

If you're in the US, or going to the US any time soon you can order the Mundo Cargo Bike from Rock the Bike in Berkeley, San Fransisco, their customer and after sales service is exceptional.



My name is Byron and I'm a reflective tape addict

I have an unhealthy obsession with reflective tape, I think I need to see a doctor.

It all began after I had recovered from a broken collar bone following an accident while commuting to work down Ome Kaido. After all the titanium and screws had been surgically removed from my body and I was all clear to start cycling again I discovered that I had become car shy. I had lost the confidence to ride assertively in traffic.

After discussing the fact with partner in crime Spud, he tossed a reflective vest my way. The vest was a bright orange Nathan Tri-Color Cross Trainer Vest sporting eye burning yellow, silver and orange reflective strips. It didn't appear to have a lot of reflective material, but under the beams of a cars headlights this vest is bright and visible from a long distance away. As I always wear a backpack when commuting though, wearing a vest isn't going to do me much good as it would be obscured at the back, so now I have this vest slung over my backpack and fastened with safety pins.

I give Spud and his vest credit for giving me back the confidence to ride in traffic again as the vest just screams "Cyclist ahead!" to cars all around. When its not screaming that I like to imagine its screaming "Hey dude, see this vest? Yeah, I care about my safety, now how about you care about my safety too!"

Not long after, I discovered reflective tape when a photo I took of a friends bike revealed he had a tiny speck of tape just below his seat post. This had gone unnoticed by me for over a year until, in the photograph it reflected a whole lot of the camera flash. I couldn't believe a 2x2cm patch of adhesive tape could make a rider that much more visible on the road.

By the following week I had discovered a source of reflective tape and placed patch under my seat post. I sure did have a lot left over though. I wasn't about to cover my bike in tape, but that seat post was starting to look like it could use a taping ... and a taping it got, top to bottom 360 degrees. Awesome finished. But what about the front? Shouldn't I be more visible to cars coming towards me? No, I didn't tape up all of the handlebars, just a little strip beside each grip. Maybe some on the front forks, and the rear chain stays, and a little on the cranks? Luckily by then I ran out of tape or things could have gotten more ugly than the already were.

While excessive use of reflective tape can be an eyesore, I remain convinced that it is the cheapest and easiest way to make yourself more visible on the road, so much so that I've devoted another page to the topic (see Reflective Tape for Cyclists - Be Seen, Be Safe) which examines different types of tape available and techniques for applying it, and also looks other reflective items such as gloves and vests etc.

I'm a reflective tape nerd, I'm passionate about it just like Bert from Sesame Street is passionate about his bottle top collection! Oh no, get me to a doctor fast ...



Speed Vest, How about a Speed Limit Vest?

Two intrepid inventors Brady Clark and Mykle Hansen of the United States have developed the Speed Vest, a vest that displays your current speed in large illuminated numbers on your back.

They want to determine if putting more information in front of drivers will help change their attitudes towards cyclists and cycling in general. As we all know most drivers are unaware that even the most unfit person on a bike is easily capable of between 15 and 25km/h without effort and don't adjust their driving habits accordingly when overtaking, turning or pulling into traffic.

Unfortunately the Speed Vest isn't yet commercially available, but keep an eye on their homepage to learn when it is launched.

Recently I've been thinking of a similar idea, but wasn't sure of the feasibility of wearable display technology. I walk my daughters to school each day down some narrow Japanese streets where the speed limit is a mere 20km/h. The limit is clearly posted and often additional banners warning drivers to slow down are on display, yet despite this cars continue to travel above the speed limit even during hours any sane person would expect kids to be walking to school.

Sometimes I'm tempted to drop a soccer ball in front of a speeding driver to demonstrate to them what a dangerous and inconsiderate a**hole they are being. Other times I just wish I had a cardboard cut out resembling a speed limit sign that I could flash at the driver with a nod and smile.

This is where I got thinking, now that GPS technology is rampant in Japan, and almost all new cellphones on the market have a GPS functionality why not develop a system that uses that technology to display the speed limit in the current street on the back of a child's school backpack, or cyclists jersey?

Working as a engineer developing software for mobile phones in Japan (see The Gaijin Coder) I understand that it is easy to pinpoint a person's location and determine the speed limit of the street they're in, but didn't think displaying that information on a vest was possible.

Do you think having a vest or child's backpack designed to look like a speed limit sign and displaying the current speed limit in bright illuminated numbers would have any impact on drivers?

Tune in next week when I reveal my next invention which connects a drivers horn to their brakes so when a**holes hit their horns when they should be hitting their brakes they slow the hell down.



Dream Run

My ride to work each morning intersects three train lines, the Inokashira line, the Keiō line, and the Setagaya line. In addition, it also crosses Kōshū Kaidō (Route 20) and Tamagawa Dori (Route 246). Some mornings, if my timing is off, I can spend almost 15 minutes standing at the crossing outside Shimotakaido station alone. A times the barrier will open barely long enough for the backlog of pedestrians to cross leaving motorists stranded for another long wait.

Between 8am and 9am weekdays a (largely empty) train leaves Shibuya station bound for Kichijōji on the Inokashira line every 2 minutes!

Yesterday, though, I entered the twilight zone. Maybe there are fewer commuters, cars or incidents in the week after shōgatsu but yesterday morning the unthinkable occurred, a dream run. No waiting for trains, and even more incomprehensible, not a single red light. Spooky.

As a result I spent almost 15 minutes in the lobby at work, warming my hands on a canned coffee, as I waited for someone with a key to let me inside.