Walk Your Bike to School Day

Walking my daughter to school this morning I noticed a lot of 4th year students walking their bikes to school.  Apparently there was a bicycle safety session for all 4th year students planned today which required students bring their bicycles yet they banned the students from riding to school!

Fourth year students are all around 10 years old.  In the evenings they're riding home alone from juku after dark.  On the weekends they're riding alone to soccer practice, to the park, to friends houses or the convenience store.  Yet today they were asked to bring their bicycles to school but told to walk them.

I'm not sure when riding to school was first banned at my daughters school.  The school has a huge bicycle parking area which must have been chock full of students bicycles in its heyday.  Now it sits empty except for a few teachers bicycles, hows that for a double standard.

Do you think kids in Japan should be allowed to ride to school?



Electric Bike from Volkswagen

Surely it can't get any worse than this?

Last week it was Lexus, this week Volkswagen are showing off their concept electric bicycle the "Bik.e".  Unfortunately Volkswagen's offering isn't hybrid electric, making its eligibility for an appearance on this blog a little dubious.  Lacking pedals the Bik.e is more like a lame electric scooter than an electric bicycle.
What does make this interesting though is that the Bik.e is designed to fold and fit into the space where you'd normally store a spare tire.  Which is maybe something the makers of conventional folding bicycles should investigate.

But with a bicycle in your cars spare tire bay, where are you going to keep your spare tire now?  On your cars bicycle rack maybe?  Ah .. all too confusing, I'm glad I don't own a car.

Promising a range of 20km on a full charge and with a top speed of 20km/h, you'd be better off retaining your dignity on a conventional bicycle.

On a related note, in Japan we've seen a lot of cheap, nasty, generic looking bicycles branded with the names of automakers including Chevrolet, Hummer, Jaguar, Land Rover, and even Lamborghini.  I'm curious to know if that's just a Japanese thing or if they're available elsewhere too?



Hybrid Bicycle from Lexus

Japanese automaker Lexus have been flashing about a pair of hybrid electric bicycles ever since last years Tokyo Motor Show as part of their sponsorship of the Great British Bike Ride.

According to Lexus, the bike's frame is constructed of carbon fiber and it uses an eight-speed internal gear system sourced from Shimano. There are no plans to put the bike into production because what automaker in their right mind would see fit to actually promote cycling as a valid means of transport!?!

Move on, nothing to see here.



TokyoBike, cheap but by no means nasty.

Since posting about buying recycled bicycles from places such as Sugimani Green Cycle I am often asked if I know of other places to buy cheap bicycles in Tokyo.  If your definition of cheap stretches to bicycles within the Y40,000 to Y60,000 price range then you're in luck because I've been quite impressed by the offerings from TokyoBike within that price range recently.

TokyoBike first came to my attention almost two years ago when I noticed one of their bicycles parked outside my office.  I've passed a lot of bicycles in my day, but somehow this one struck me to the point where I had to stop, go back, and examine it more closely.  What caught my attention initially was just how suited this bicycle seemed to the Tokyo street environment.  Consisting of a strong Cr-Mo steel frame, narrow, flat bars, sturdy looking wheels with thin slick tires and just the right amount of gears to get you around the city, it appeared strong yet light and fast.

What also struck me about this bicycle was despite attracting my attention, it wasn't an attention seeking bike.  No stickers, badges or brand names plastered all over it.  In a group it is a most easily overlooked bicycle which is something I consider to be a great anti-theft device.

From a quick scan of the frame I located the tokyobike.com address,  headed upstairs to visit their homepage and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the bike I had spotted was available for Y48,000, and that even cheaper versions  existed.  I decided then that if I ever needed a new commuter bike I'd be taking a serious look at a TokyoBike.

TokyoBike produce a number of versions of the TokyoBike I spotted outside my office with prices ranging from Y48,000 to Y58,000.  The TokyoBike Bisou, a 7 speed bicycle with a more relaxed ladies frame is available for Y42,000.

I've never really been interested in the fixed gear scene, but with TokyoBike's single speed offering available for just Y48,000 I'm sorely tempted to pick one up at that price simply to experience fixed gear riding.

You can purchase a bicycle from TokyoBike's line up online, or from one of their many distributors around the country.  If you're in the UK then you're in luck as TokyoBike UK has recently been established.

Tokyo By Bike is in no way affiliated with TokyoBike, I'm just a fan of their bicycles.


Wise Words from a Cycling Philosopher

Indeed it does.
Words of wisdom found on the chain guard of the bicycle belonging to the elderly Japanese gentleman in charge of maintenance around our building.


Bicycle Touring Maps for Japan (or the next best thing)

You kids today with your GPS and iPhones, back in my day we had to naivigate by the stars, during the day!  When touring around the countryside of Japan by bicycle the smell of the air, direction of the wind and some animal tracks in the mud were all we needed to get to our destination.

The situation changed after the invention of paper, the printing press and the publication of the Touring Mapple series of motorcycle touring maps.

Motorcycle touring maps?  For cyclists?  What gives?

As we are all well aware of, the cycle tourist market here in Japan isn't exactly booming.  As a result publishers are hesitant to invest in the publication of bicycle touring maps if you can count the number of potential buyers without removing your shoes.  Motorcycle tourists on the other hand are in abundance (who'd have thunk it?) and hence Mapple have taken it upon themselves to publish a special series of map books aimed at the needs of a motorcycle tourist.

Surprisingly, or not, the information presented in the Touring Mapple series for motorcycle tourists is incredibly useful for bicycle tourists also.  They show, for example, the location of camping grounds and onsen so you can plan where you'll be bathing and sleeping each night.  In addition to this they single out alternative, lower traffic or more scenic/interesting routes which appeal to us touring types.  In some areas they also include valuable information such as "while this looks like a quiet country road look out for speeding trucks on weekdays as there is a quarry nearby".  Steep inclines, unsealed roads, you'll find them all conveniently marked within the pages of Touring Mapple.

Before you ask, no, I'm not on the Mapple payroll.  I discovered these maps some 10 or more years ago and they have served me well when planing long weekend rides, scenic outings or epic cycling adventures. I would encourage anyone planning a cycling adventure in Japan to consider using these maps when planning their route.

If you're not of the Japanese reading persuasion you'll get less out of these maps, but once you've worked out what all the icons in the legend stand for you'll be able to mine these maps for an incredible amount of useful information to help you on your way.  (Unlike your GPS or iPhone these maps require no batteries, but they also can't receive incoming calls.)



Hilton Nagoya offers complimentary bicycle service

Hilton Nagoya guests can now enjoy a new complimentary bicycle rental service, part of the hotel’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by encouraging an eco-friendly and convenient way to travel around the city.

The new service follows an experiment (called “Mei Chari’) conducted by Nagoya City in 2009, that offered registered members complimentary use of bicycles in the city. Its overwhelming success not only confirmed the pleasures of cycling but also showed a growing acceptance of bicycles as an effective eco-friendly way to respond to global environmental issues.

Hilton Nagoya is working closely with “The Forum for citizens with bicycles,” a non-profit-organization, to encourage staying guests to take advantage of the hotel’s fleet of meticulously maintained Corratec and Raleigh bicycles.

“We are strongly committed to addressing environmental issues and promoting a healthy lifestyle,” said Hilton Nagoya General Manager Jamie Mead. “Using one of our complimentary bicycles is not only a smart choice for convenient transport and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but will also add great value to exploring this beautiful city. Our staff is also on hand with up-to-date city maps and advice on the best cycling routes to fully enjoy your stay with us.”

There is a maximum of four hours per person. Reservations are required before use and a contract needs to be signed before using the bicycle. Other terms and conditions may apply.



Japanese Cycling Style (for the rich and famous)

In countries where cycling is perceived as a sport or recreation activity rather than a form of transport one of the barriers of entry for would be cyclists is the idea that cycling requires an investment in special space age, figure hugging, low drag, not to mention technicolor, clothing.  Sure, if you're Lance Armstrong it does but for everyday cycling, trips to the supermarket, picking the kids up from school etc. there is nothing wrong with regular everyday clothing.

While in Garage Takaido last weekend, I picked up a free cycling magazine which included a feature highlighting "cycling style".  The article featured a fictional business man an his wardrobe for a week of cycle commuting.  Finally, a cycling publication admitting the fact that clothing needn't be a barrier of entry for the everyday cyclist. Or so I thought until I perused Mondays outfit which included among other things a Y63,000 bag!  I own bicycles cheaper that that! In fact the total for Monday's outfit was a staggering Y264,600, for clothing and accessories, bicycle not included! None of my bicycles are that expensive!

In Japan cycling is transport not sport, and we don't have things like helmet laws, or the perception that to cycle you must be squeezed into eye burning lycra outfits.  But I can't help thinking that by promoting expensive clothing and equipment while promoting the "fashionable cyclist" image the media is creating a different barrier here in Japan.  Not a lycra barrier, but a barrier of brands.



Bicycle Safety Leaflets Distributed in Japanese Schools

As the weather in Japan improves the number of children taking to their bikes for the first time, or those rediscovering them after a long cold winter, increases dramatically.  Pre-empting this increase in young cyclists the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department have distributed a colorful 8 page bicycle safety leaflet to schools.

The leaflet covers basic bicycle safety including a pre ride safety check list, basic road rules, and generally accepted courteous behavior when riding in an environment shared with pedestrians.

There aren't too many points in the leaflet I take issue with.  But the space take up telling kids not to ride side by side (which I don't see as a problem if you're in control of your bike and not causing a obstruction) could have been better spent advising kids to pick a line and stick to it rather than weaving all over the place which is a habit that continues to adulthood.

It advises children to wear a helmet when cycling, and in all the cartoon like illustrations the children are wearing helmets but no the adults.  This reflects the generally accepted view that bicycle helmets are like training wheels, once you've got the hang of cycling you can safely ditch both.

In addition to the pamphlet I've recently noticed trucks with cycling safety billboards on the back, blasting out bicycle safety messages on a loud speaker doing the rounds of Suginami-ku at least.  While I  praise the effort in raising awareness of bicycle safety issues I can't help but think the execution of the plan is a little misguided.



Man left paralyzed in bicycle accident sues importer

A 60-year-old man has sued a bicycle importer after he was left paralyzed in a bicycle accident.

Hiroshi Nakajima, from Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, filed a case against Tokyo-based bicycle importer Cycleurope Japan Co. on Monday, seeking some 160 million yen in compensation over the accident, caused by a defective bicycle, that left him paralyzed.

According to Nakajima, he fell off his bicycle manufactured by Italian brand Bianchi on his way to work in August 2008 when the front wheel of the vehicle suddenly came off from its forks. He suffered severe injuries to his spine and was left paralyzed from the neck down.

The bicycle was imported and marketed by Cycleurope Japan, Bianchi's parent company in Japan. The product was designed by an Osaka firm with its suspension manufactured by a Taiwanese maker. However, the man argues that the bicycle importer is liable for the damage he suffered and sued the company in accordance with the Product Liability Act.

Following a request from the plaintiff, experts conducted a safety test on the bicycle and concluded that the separation of the front wheel could have been caused by its corrosion-prone suspension system, as well as a lack of locking equipment to prevent the separation.

The importer received a warning from the Consumer Affairs Agency in March this year after it failed to report the incident to the government.

If the bicycle is defective who is at fault?  The importer?  The manufacturer of the bicycle?  The manufacturer of the suspension?


Your very own Japanese Postman's bike

How cool is this.  An importer of Japanese bicycles in Malaysia has a classic Japanese Postman's bike for sale.

Posted the very same day the Brits Slaughter the Postal Bicycle.



Who is collecting the abandoned bicycles these days?

Last May I wrote about an abandoned bicycle that I would have liked to picked up, repired and given to a good home. It had been sitting on the street outside our apartment with a bent back wheel for months and I fully expected it to be picked up and sent for recycling or disposal in no time at all. Though, here we are in April 2010 and its still there. What has happened to the once ruthless efficiency of the bicycle police?

While updating the status of abandoned bicycles in the area, here is another for you. Last August I wrote that bicycles apparently abandoned by (ex) tenants in out apartment building had been marked for collection. Each seemingly abandoned bicycle had a notice taped to its seat indicating that if the bicycle was not claimed it would be removed by the end of August. August was 8 months ago and the tagged bicycles are still there quietly rusting away.

I used to be amazed by the efficient and frequent manner abandoned bicycles were removed from the streets, now I'm amazed that a bike can sit abandoned on the street for one year and not be cleared up.



SANYO Completes Installation of Solar Parking Lots in Setagaya, Tokyo

SANYO has announced that it has completed installation of two Solar Parking Lots, incorporating solar panels and lithium-ion battery systems, and provision of 100 electric hybrid bicycles, eneloop bike, in Setagaya, Tokyo Japan. The Solar Parking Lot is a completely independent and clean system eliminating the use of fossil fuels, and the clean power generated from the solar panels installed on the roof is stored to be used to recharge the electric hybrid bicycle batteries and illuminate the parking lot lights.

For each of the bicycle parking lots operated by the city of Setagaya at Keio Line Sakurajosui Station and Tokyu Den-en Toshi Line Sakurashinmachi Station, HIT solar panels (approximate 46m2, 7.56kW) are installed on the roof to generate sufficient power to recharge the batteries of a total of 100 eneloop bike units and illuminate the LED parking lot lights. eneloop bike is SANYO’s energy recycling electric hybrid bicycle featuring a regenerative charging function that enables electricity generation and battery charging during riding. The 100 eneloop bike units provided at the three locations, including Odakyu Line Kyodo Station, in addition to Sakurajosui Station and Sakurashinmachi Station will be used as community bicycles by a wide range of people residing in and outside Setagaya.

By combining HIT solar panels with lithium-ion battery systems, SANYO’s Solar Parking Lot enables recharging the electric hybrid bicycles without any commercial power source, even at night or on a rainy day. The lithium-ion battery system also features AC power outlets that can be used to power external equipment during an emergency. In addition, the installed system incorporates a DC charger. The DC charger enables photovoltaic energy generated and stored in DC to be used directly and effectively without AC conversion.

While reducing C02 emissions is a great idea, you can do that perfectly well on a regular bicycle and one is left wondering about the environmental impact of all those batteries ...