A Tour of Tokyo's Newest Bicycle Lanes

New bicycle lanes are appearing all over Tokyo, and thats great even if the lanes aren't so great themselves! We cycled as many as we could and here are our observations.

Fitness isn't a goal, it's a side effect

If you or a friend are cycling to get fit and not enjoying it then cycle to the shops instead. Before you know it you'll be fit, car free and better off financially.

How to Turn Your Old Mountain Bike Into a Tidy Commuter

Need a new commuter bike? Maybe not, because with a few cheap and easy modifications you can convert your mountain bike into a lighter faster commuter bicycle. Here's how ...

Japan's National Bicycle Commuting Ban

Strict government regulations and inflexible insurance rules effectively force companies in Japan to ban their employees from cycling to work. It's time for a change.

Cycling at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

We're excited that Tokyo is hosting the 2020 Olympic Games! Read on to learn what we know of the cycling events and facilities planned for Tokyo.

Cycling My Fuji and Fuji's Five Lakes

Climbing Mt Fuji by bicycle is a ride you have to put on your bucket list. The Pro's do it every year at the Tour of Japan, but us mortals can do it anytime we like.

May 31, 2010

New Zealanders Adopt the Japanese Mamachari Bicycle

With cycling so commonplace in Japan it is easy to forget that dedicated groups and individuals around the globe are working hard to promote cycling, not as a sport, but as a viable alternative to the automobile.

Two such people are environmental entrepreneurs Jason and Sarah Penny who recently started the business Mamachari Bicycles in Wellington, New Zealand.  Mamachari Bicycles imports second hand, upright bicycles from Japan in order to recycle them back on to New Zealands roads, similar to what New Zealanders have been doing with used cars for decades.

Stumbling upon their business by accident I was intrigued to know what gave them the idea for the business, and to learn how it was being received in New Zealand so promptly contacted Jason with a flurry of questions.

What motivated you to begin importing and recycling Japanese mamachari bicycles?

We had just seen the documentary 'The Age of Stupid' at the movies and we decided that we had to do something, however small. We wanted to improve the way we treated God's creation which we feel is a gift to be valued. I was working on eco-housing at the time which was a long slow process and seemed expensive for people to take up. I figured, why not just try to take as many cars off the road as I could?

When did you start the business?

We started the business in March this year when we received our first shipment of 200 bikes from Japan into Wellington. We finally decided to import them around the end of last year.

Had you or your wife had any experience with import/export or the bicycle trade before?

We had never imported or exported but Sarah had lived in Japan and Taiwan for about three years and was familiar with these kind of bikes. Both of us have been keen cyclists since we were young. As for bike mechanics, we both knew how to change a tyre but not much more.

The Mamachari Workshop in the beautiful city of Wellington, New Zealand.

How has the business been received in New Zealand?

It's been welcomed with open arms. The kind of people who buy our bicycles tend to be of a very positive disposition. The people who still prefer thier car look on what we're doing as very positive, and I try to preach a moderate line. Our customers are brilliant. All the old boys come in a tell me about the old Raleigh 20's with the Sturmy Archer gear and the older ladies talk about how our bikes are like the ones they used to ride when they were girls. I had one couple come in a buy a bike to replace the one their 77 year old father had had stolen. He was Indonesian and had been riding up till then. We have had many people from places like Japan and Holland where cycling culture is well established, and they come to us for a normal bike.

What have been some of the rewards you've experienced?

Seeing such a big impact so early on. We sold most of our first shipment fairly quickly so we knew we'd struck a chord. We had been looking for reasonably priced commuter bikes for ourselves for a while so we knew they just weren't easy to get and suddenly all the people who were looking had the bikes right there. Everyone has been so supportive and encouraging and we love seeing the reaction when people walked into our garden and saw all these beautiful bikes lined up. They looked like all their Christmas's had come at once!
Now, when we're biking around town we see them all the time, and we all smile and call out compliments on each others bikes.I also enjoyed working in our garden for two months in the sunshine before we finally found a workshop space. The new workshop is across the road from the beach and looking out at the island in Island Bay. It's not so bad. One day I hope support my wife and kids with this venture and know that I'm doing my bit to make my city a more beautiful place to live.

Do you think New Zealanders are becoming more aware of everyday cycling as opposed to sports cycling?

I think they are slowly becoming aware although I think we've only just started. They tell me about 2.5% of people in Wellington cycle regularly and that is fairly good as far as the country average. It irks me that cycle shops have been selling mountain and racing bikes to customers who will never use them for those purposes (for very high prices). It's not much different to every New Zealander owning either a formula one race car or a rally car for driving to work or the shops in. Fast and good off-road but not very practical or reasonably priced.

Do you think New Zealanders will take to the mamachari style of bicycle?

Kiwis are smart and they know a good thing when they see it. I think kiwis take to change very efficiently. I'm sure they'll love the mamchari, everyone who has either seen one or taken it for a ride certainly has.

Inside the Mamachari Workshop

New Zealand has mandatory helmet laws.  Do you think they hinder the adoption of cycling as an alternative form of transport?

I think they can hinder cycling. Lobbyists overseas oppose compulsory helmet laws by pointing to New Zealand as an example that it doesn't solve the problem of safety. I have heard many people talking about how they would cycle if it wasn't for the compulsory helmets and that drivers ignore them and speed past. These two things are tied up together. If drivers acknowledged the cyclists right to be on the road, and understood their vulnerability with or without a helmet at the same time, we might be onto a winner. 

What are the cycling laws in New Zealand?  Can you cycle on the footpath as well as the road?  Are you permitted to carry passengers?

Cyclists in NZ are not permitted to ride on the footpath, although I understand that there are exemptions which I believe are based on wheel size (ie. small enough to belong to a childrens bike). We do have some shared spaces now and bike lanes are starting to appear. We are only beginning to scratch the surface. All the money and civil engineering is still tipped obscenely in favor of the motor vehicle. I'm not sure if we're allowed to carry passengers, except of-course for young children and babies. 



To me Jason and Sarah's story is absolutely amazing.  Two people with no previous experience importing and selling goods from overseas taking a huge personal and financial risk to introduce New Zealanders to cycling as it should be and as a result one by one reduce the number of cars on New Zealand's roads.

I wish them every success and encourage our New Zealand based readers to look them up.  Maybe you're happy with your formula one road bike or high end rally car of a mountain bike, but if you hear someone mention they'd cycle more it it was more affordable, or if the bicycles were more accommodating then you'll know to send them to Mamachari Bicycles.

Mamachari Bicycles is based in the beautiful city of Wellington, New Zealand.

240 The Esplanade
Island Bay
Wellington

You can contact them by phoning, texting or emailing, or better still, drop by their workshop/showroom down on the beach.

Opening Hours

Wednesday – Friday     10am – 5pm

Saturday – Sunday         10am – 4pm

Monday – Tuesday         Closed

Phone: (04) 384 8610

Text: (021) 065 0801

E-mail: jasonhpenny@gmail.com

May 27, 2010

Tokyo Marathon 2010 Race Report

The first four months of 2010 turned out to be incredibly busy for me due to an exceptionally large project at work.  As a result this blog didn't get updated over that period, and I neglected to let everyone know about my experience of running the 2010 Tokyo Marathon on February 28.  So its late, and not the least bit cycling related, but please enjoy my Tokyo Marathon 2010 Race Report.

Tokyo Marathon 2010 Race Report

Rain.  Why did it have to be rain?  Cold I can handle, but cold and wet is just miserable.

The Start - 4 degrees and raining

I arrived in Shinjuku around 7:30am and followed a couple of seasoned looking runners down the long underground passageway towards the start line in Nishi Shinjuku.  The further I went the more congested it became as runners had pulled over to the sides of the passage to strip down to their running gear and place their baggage into the plastic bags provided.  Not wanting to look like a first timer I did the same.

Once changed and with luggage safely stowed in a plastic bag I continued my pilgrimage  into the runners area.  Only invited guests and runners can get within two blocks of the start area as the logistics of 35,000 runners is enough to organize without their families and supporters as well.  I showed the number pinned to my chest, the security guy patted down my runners pack with two delicate fingers totally ignoring my backpack and I was in.

My first mission once inside the runners area was to rid myself of my luggage.  Everything was extremely well organized, with maps and directions posted everywhere.  I found truck number 35 and left my luggage with the volunteers for transport to the finish line.  With that out of the way all that remained was to visit the toilets and to make my way to the starting blocks.

I found a long row of toilets (toilets are going to be a repeating theme today) and surprisingly didn't have to wait to use one.  I did what had to be done then followed the signs to my designated starting block, G Block. Without fuss I took up position towards the front of the block and settled in for a wait of almost 40 minutes.  The the first 10 minutes or so of waiting in the rain weren't so bad, but the longer we all waited the colder we all got.  At one stage about 10 minutes from the start I was shivering uncontrollably.  Above me I noticed a lot of spectators had gathered in a 5th floor hotel restaurant to watch the start .. damn they looked warm.

Not only did all this waiting make me freezing cold, it also made me want to go to the bathroom again, but walking back to the toilets against a steady stream of runners trying to get to their starting blocks before the cut off time was just impossible.  Nothing to do but grin and bear it.

After what seemed an eternity the gun went off at precisely 9:10am.   It took us a minute or two to even start moving, then it was a brisk five minute walk before we even crossed the start line, during which time my freezing fingers fumbled with my iPod to get it to record my race progress.  (I heard from a fellow in J Block that it took him a full 20 minutes to reach the start line after the gun had gone off)

Shinjuku to Hibiya - Where did it go?

Once over the line it felt good to be running, I could feel my body warming and the urge to go to the bathroom subsided.  I thought to myself I'm not going to feel any pain in my feet today, as my feet were already seriously numb from the cold.  Seconds later I ran through an ankle deep puddle.

The first 10km of the race from Shinjuku to Hibiya passed by amazingly quickly despite my slow pace.  As it was my first marathon I was soaking up the atmosphere that only tens of thousands of spectators and fellow runners can provide.  I was distracted from the effort I was putting in by the other runners, supporters, scenery and enjoying the atmosphere that the kilometers just flew by. 

During the first 10km I really enjoyed watching the costumed runners.  There were just too many to name, but here are a few: Snow White was there, as were Spiderman, Pikachu, Winnie the Pooh, and a bloke in an Hawaiian skirt wearing a coconut bra.  But it was a great moment at the 3km mark when I passed Jesus Christ himself. When you pass the messiah you know you're going well, although he did have a pretty large heavy looking cross strapped to his back which was obviously slowing him down.

After the race, my daughters told me excitedly of all the characters they had seen running.  I never knew what to think of costumed runners but now I think they're awesome.  Like rodeo clowns they lift every ones spirits.  When feeling tired seeing Batman run past really takes your mind off the pain.  But best of all the costumed runners kept all the children in my Support Team entertained for hours .. I mean how boring is watching a marathon for a 5 year old if Minnie Mouse or a gorilla doesn't run by once in a while?  I used to think the were just attention seeking fools but now I realize they're a great asset to the race.  I'd love to thank every one of them that waved to the children in my Support Team, you brightened up their day and mine.

I arrived at the 10km mark behind schedule, cold, soaking wet and only partly able to see because my glasses were covered in raindrops and occasionally fogged up.  Ahead of me was the most boring looking part of the course from Hibiya down to Shinagwa and back which would take me to the 20 kilometer mark.  This part of the course takes you past Tokyo Tower but aside from that there is nothing to look forward to about going to Shinagawa, other than coming back.  I was still in need of a toilet, but those around the 10km mark had huge lines outside.

Hibiya to Shinagawa and back - is this bit really necessary?

I donned my iPod for the drudge to Shinagawa and back only to discover that it was reporting my distances in miles not kilometers which left me pretty much clueless as to my progress, plus it was barely audible possibly because it and my headphones were also drenched.  The most boring 10km of the race ahead, I had no music, no race feedback, and I needed to go to the toilet ... really really needed to go.

Less than 2km later natures call became too much and I headed off the course to line up for a toilet.  While waiting I gave my wife a call to let her know where I was, she was already in Ginza with the rest of the "Support Team" and I could here them cheering on the runners in the background.  The longer I waited in line for the toilet the more I realized that standing around in the cold with a full bladder was worse than running with a full bladder and that I was losing time fast.  So, I broke from the line and rejoined the race without any relief.

Shinagawa came and went and on the way back towards Ginza I felt the need for an energy gel.  I fumbled around at the zip of my pouch with my freezing, numb fingers and eventually managed to extract a gel.  Try as I might though I could not twist it open .. my fingers  felt like big frozen sausages.  Eventually I held the cap in my teeth and wrenched it between the heels of both hands .. which worked, but I must have looked a right moron.

Ginza - A boost in energy

I knew the Support Team were waiting in Ginza with a huge hand made banner featuring the Australian flag, drawings by the kids, and messages of encouragement, so I called my wife once more while running past the 21km mark to let her know I was on the way.  I didn't want them to miss me after standing out in the cold for so long. I must have slowed quite a bit because I was determined to find them.  As I ran through Ginza Crossing I positioned myself on the left side of the road as close to the supporters as possible and scanned the crowds ahead for my girls.

I did a lot of 20km runs during training, but at this point I was feeling a little tired.  This changed the moment I spotted my wife, daughters, and the rest of the Support Team a huge grin spread across my face and felt a surge of energy from deep within my body.  After launching a now unneeded pair of soaked woolen gloves at them I high fived as many hands as I could.  Looking back I wish I had stopped for a quick chat, and photo opportunity as they had been waiting for me for a long time in the cold rain.. but after stopping I wasn't sure I would be able to start again.  I was so happy to have seen them, they changed my race.

Less than a kilometer away I spotted, my neighbor, training partner and the man who talked me into entering the Marathon in the first place.  (Unfortunately he didn't secure an entry, but was in training to run the Nagano Marathon in April)  He was cheering on runners all morning and when we spotted each other it took a moment for us to recognize each other .. it was really odd, but after a pause he  exploded with a loud cheer and shouts of encouragement.  I grinned, shouted something, waved and took the energy he gave with me.

Ginza to Asakusa - Its a smorgasbord!

From Ginza the route takes us to Asakusa.  Its an exciting part of the course mostly due to the cheering spectators who hand out food (candy, bread, hot coffee, and even Miso soup!) at to runners and shout words of encouragement as we ran by.  On this part of the course, all us amatures are getting tired and need all the support and encouragement we can get.  The supporters know this is a tough part of the course for us and gather there to push us all forward, its an amazing atmosphere.

I was 25km into my run and STILL needed to visit a toilet.  Finally I spotted one, ran almost 50 meters off the course to see 3 port-a-potties and a line of roughly 40 people.  Damn! Back to the race, more valuable minutes lost.  A kilometer later I HAD to stop, I HAD to go or I was at serious risk of my bladder exploding.  (But as all the runners were soaked from head to toe nobody would have noticed!)

I waited roughly 10 minutes before I took the longest most satisfying pee of my life.  Just like the scene in Austin Powers where he wakes from suspended animation and pees an endless stream for minutes on end.  Evacuation com ... com ... evacuation complete.  (Sorry, it needed to be said.  It was a very important part in my race :)

I rejoined the race and was amazed at how quickly Senso-ji came into view and we turned back towards Ginza getting an amazing view of the currently under construction Tokyo Sky Tree. 

Asakusa to Ginza - Twice as long as Ginza to Asakusa? Thats unpossible!

The Asakusa to Ginza leg takes you past the 30km mark and for some reason feels almost twice as long as the Ginza to Asakusa leg.  The rain had stopped, the sun was coming out and it was getting decidedly warm in he garbage bag I had been wearing since the start.  I shed the bag, grabbed a banana and drink from a nearby drink station and settled in for the long grind back to Ginza.  My iPod had dried out and was audible but I took it off in order to hear the crowds and enjoy the atmosphere.
During training my longest run was 30km, and I only did that once and it left me buggered for a week afterwards, so the kilometers from 30 to 35 were all new ground for me.  Losing energy fast it was this stage of the race I was beginning to think "OK, you're going to make it to the end, but once this is over you never have to run another marathon again in our life." I was close to taking a walking break during this section but knew the Support Team and some people from work would be around the 35km mark and I was determined not to let them see me stacking off.  Knowing there were friends and family up ahead waiting for me, cheering for me kept me running.  If they had not been there I would have slowed down for a little rest and my time would have been longer.  You have no idea how important having them there was to my race.

Not long after rounding the bend at Ginza 4 Chome for the final 8km to the finish line at Tokyo Big Site  I spotted the Support Team once more.  Again their cheers gave me an incredible boost in energy and bought a big grin to m face.  Hayakawa-san grabbed the hand made banner and ran along side me behind the waving crowd shouting encouragement for about for a short time before he faded and dropped back.  Not long after I spotted my neighbor again ... I slumped over to convey to him just how tired I was, waved and pushed on.

In truth I wasn't just pretending to be tired but I had to keep up a brave performance because a fellow from work had said he'd be waiting somewhere around the 35km mark for me.  I had no confidence he would be there as he is the type to bail out at the last minute, but on the off chance he was there I had to keep up my pace.  Right before the 36 kilometer mark I spotted him and two others from work which really surprised me, smiled and waved .. that was all I had the energy for.

Ginza to the Finish - from the worst you've ever felt to the best in under 8km
Once well past my supporters my mind told my body to take it easy.  I'd been holding on to my pace up until the 36km mark because I wanted to run past my supporters in good form.  But in the kilometers after 30 a voice in my head was telling me "Once you've passed everyone here to cheer you on, you can take a break.  They'll never know." So, between the 36 and 39 km mark I walked a bit, ran a bit, drank a bit, ate a bit and generally took it easy knowing I was going to make it to the finish even if not in a stellar time.

I think if someone told me they'd be cheering me on somewhere between 35km and 42km I wouldn't have given in to the voice in my head and have ran right on to the finish. 

Surprisingly though with the crowds, and volunteers all cheering you on its actually harder to walk than run.  They're all pushing you forward, giving you energy and somehow you feel like you don't want to let them down.  It was really strange but each time someone looked me in the eye an called out Gambatte! Go on! You can do it! I found the energy to break out in a run despite my tiredness.  Without that crowd support I would have slacked off a lot more.

With 3km to go the sun was shining and I was feeling in really good shape.  It was the warmest I had been all day and I was actually enjoying myself a lot more and couldn't help thinking what a different race it would have been if the weather was this nice from the start.  I pulled out my phone and called my wife again to let her know I wasn't far away.  Like many others I walked through the final drink station downing the entire content of two amino supplement drinks before shuffling up to what passed as running speed at this stage of the race for the final 2.195 kilometers.

With the sun shining brightly and the crowd all cheering loudly I turned into the final straight and broke out into what felt like a sprint, but was probably more like a slow jog, up to the finish line.  There were stands of spectators on one side of the straight and entertainment on the other.  I was really surprised the stands were so small as there must have been thousands of spectators who wanted to see their loved ones cross the finish but couldn't get a position, my Support Team included.

My arms felt like limp noodles when I flung them in the air as I crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 8 minutes.  A long way from the 4 hours 30 minutes I had planned to run, but with crowds, weather, and toilet stops thrown in I was proud to have just finished in such good shape.

Once over the line I took the time for a short stretch on the warm asphalt and to check for any injuries (thankfully there were none) before following the herd into the finishing area.  With amazing efficiency myself and thousands of other runners made their way forward collecting the finishers towel and a bottle of Amino Vital before having our timing chips cut from out shoes and traded for the finishers medal.  After that I received  huge plastic bag with a single small bottle of water in it, odd I thought.  But as I wove my way to the luggage pickup area my plastic bag filled with energy bars, bananas, oranges and other goodies to refuel and repair my tired body.

I made my way into a surprisingly empty exhibition space at Tokyo Big Site where 3 girls spotted the number on my bib and raced each other to retrieve my luggage.  Incredible the enthusiasm and energy all the volunteers displayed even this long after their day had begun.  I was pretty much dry at this stage so simply pulled a tracksuit on over my running gear before filing out of the runners area.

The exit to the runners area was like that of an international airport.  We runners made our way down a long glass walled corridor with doors at the end. On the other side of he doors barricades were set up behind which friends and families of the runners, some holding signs, waited for their runner to appear.  Without any trouble I found my Support Team and gave my wife and daughters all a big hug. 

After chowing down on some of the goodies I had received in the runners area and sharing some of the highlights of the day with my excited team we all filed to the station to head on home.  The train was crowded (as you'd expect when 35,000 runners and their supporters hit the same venue) and I found myself to be very sleepy, not stiff, sore, tired or injured.  Bundled up in my tracksuit riding the train I was the warmest I had felt all day and I was feeling very relaxed and very sleepy.

All things considered it was an awesome day, and I really hope I can run this event again next year.

OK, turn away now if you don't want to read about my BLEEDING NIPPLES!  (Sorry, launched right into BLEEDING NIPPLES without warning there didn't I?)  Its something I've read about, but not experienced even during my longest training runs so I didn't take any precautions such as band-aiding them up before the race. Upon arriving home I stripped down to take a shower and decided to remove my number bib to keep as a souvenir of the race.  Underneath my bib, standing out quite noticeably on my white running jersey were two perfectly round, red patches of blood.  It looked like I had been shot twice in the chest!

The only side effect in the days after the marathon were some really painful thigh muscles, ordinary muscle pain, not injury, (oh, and some sensitive nipples) so all things considered I came out of the race in really good condition.  It took about 5 days before I could go down a flight of stairs without any discomfort, but come Friday evening I was really wanted to get out for another run.

Now the Tokyo Marathon is over I'm looking for another event to work towards.  I expect to run the Toda and Yokohama Half Marathons in November but will be looking out for another event before then.  I'll most certainly put in an entry for next years Tokyo Marathon, it is just too good an experience to miss out on.  
It has been three months since I ran the marathon, and with no goal to train towards, and a lingering cold, by running has dropped off to as little as once or twice a week for a mere 7km  at a time.  But having just re-read my race report I realize just what good shape I was in on February 28 and that has given me the inspiration to get out there and start running again.  Three times a week for 7km with 15km or so Sunday mornings, then cross my fingers that I can get an entry into the Tokyo Marathon 2011.

May 26, 2010

Come on Japan, keep to the left. Is that too much to ask?

 In Japan it is customary for vehicles to use the left side of the road out of common courtesy to other motorists.  This custom has become widely accepted due to its inclusion in the Japan Traffic Act, large fines and the possibility of death for not doing so.

Now, I grew up in a country with a well established car culture.  In my home country children ride in cars from birth onwards, and almost everyone learns to drive when they're 16 years old, sometimes earlier.  One fact so widely accepted that they don't even bother quizzing you about when you go for your driver's your license is that vehicles use the left hand lane.

Essentially from birth your brain is being conditioned accept the keep left rule.

In Japan, on the other hand, not all children are ferried around in cars, my own children ride in cars just a few times each year.  Also, a much smaller percentage of the population hold driver's licenses.  Of those that do hold licenses many do not drive on a regular basis, these people are known as paper drivers.

As a result a large proportion of the population haven't been conditioned to or learned about the generally accepted keep left rule.

Often I'll be cycling, on the road, on the left, only to almost be involved in a head on collision with an approaching cyclist who is not only riding on the wrong side of the road, but often reading/sending mail, talking on their phone or holding an umbrella.  These people annoy me primarily because I am always the one forced to take evasive action which involves swerving further out into the lane.

But what disturbs me more about this practice is the number of times I see adults  with a young child in the child seat or an older child on a bicycle trailing behind.  They're not only risking a serious accident on this single trip, but also conditioning their children to believe that cycling towards traffic is an acceptable thing to do, thus increasing the likelihood of an accident in the future.

Its not only cyclists, as a jogger I'll run on the left side of the path only to have someone running towards me on the right try and barge right through me.

As a pedestrian its a little more complicated, as a lot of the time you're forced to move with the crowd.  But in less crowded areas can't you please walk on the left, or at the very least walk in a straight line?

Another quaint custom in Tokyo is that of standing on the left when using an escalator, leaving enough space on your right for those in a hurry to walk up.  But go to Osaka and this is reversed, stand on the left and you're just getting in everyones way.

To add to the confusion our local station was recently upgraded to a shiny new building.  When approaching the stairs there are signs and arrows indicating "keep to the right here".  Yet on the escalators everyone stands on the left, as is generally accepted!

The lack of standardization is doing my head in!  Come on Japan, as a country can't we standardize on a general keep left when moving policy?

Is it just me or do people cycling, or waking on the "wrong" side annoy the hell out of you?  More so when they glare at you as if you're in the wrong for not getting out of their way.  Or am I just becoming a grumpy old man?

May 24, 2010

The Humble Bicycle Bell, it may save you a fortune

Let us not forget the humble bicycle bell.  Considered lame by myself and my peers when growing up, one of the first items to be removed from any new bicycle along with the reflectors, the bicycle bell's true value has long been overlooked.

I'm here today to tell you that a bicycle bell from the 100 yen shop could end up saving you thousands, and here is how:

Recently a reader, lets call him 'bell-less', contacted me for some advice after being involved in a bicycling accident.  Bell-less was cycling down a typical narrow Tokyo shopping street where he caught up with an obasan cycling in the same direction, but meandering all over the road as obasan are known to do.

To cut a long story short, bell-less found an opening on obasan's left as she swerved to the right.  As he took advantage of the gap obasan veered left, they made contact, she went down breaking her arm in the process.

Be it law or lazy police work, in Japan the largest party is almost certainly held to blame in accidents where fault can not be easily attributed to either party.  In this case where the vehicles were of equal size and fault could not clearly be attributed to either party it seems the generally accepted rule is that the uninjured party shall shoulder the burden of the injured parties medical expenses.

At the end of the day obasan would not negotiate and demanded bell-less pay all of her medical costs.  Police encouraged bell-less to simply pay up without a fuss.  Lawyers encouraged bell-less to drag out the whole process while they lined their pockets with gold.

Given the options bell-less paid up.

A simple "Sumimasen" , or "On your left", from behind and the whole situation may have been avoided.  But to really get a Japanese person's attention nothing works better than the crisp clear "ding" of a bicycle bell.  Its like Moses parting the Red Sea, to the point where I've often felt like carrying a bicycle bell as a pedestrian.

After hearing this story play out I visited my local 100 Yen shop and purchased a bicycle bell.  Its a tiny metallic blue bell that matches my frame incredibly well.  Now its fitted and I can send pedestrians scurrying away with only the power of my thumb, I can not understand why I never had one in the past.

Still think bells are lame?  Check this article from X2 Tokyo and the Tokyo Bell website and you may change your mind.

May 14, 2010

Cycling in Japan, its second nature

Outside of Japan a child learns to cycle when they're ready. In Japan a child learns to cycle once they're too heavy to ride in a child seat on the back of mum's bicycle. 

Its a natural progression, you crawl, you walk, you get carted around on mum's bicycle until you're too big then you're pushed out of the nest and find yourself on a bicycle wobbling from side to side trailing a parent to the dry cleaners. 

By the time you're old enough to question it bicycling has become second nature.

May 12, 2010

Tokyo Fix and Xtreme Sport Biker iPhone Applications

Ollie Magazine have released an iPhone application for all you fixed gear riders in Tokyo, or those planning on a visit.

The application Tokyo Fix, available for 230 yen or $1.99 via the app store, will help you locate fixie friendly shops all over Tokyo, or just those near your current location.  It also includes links to photos and videos relevant to the Tokyo Fixie crowd along with video tutorials so you'll master even the most complex of tricks in no time (or break your iPhone while trying).


If you're up for a hit of fast, muddy mountain biking fun while on the train then Xtreme Sports: Biker will give you access to 25 levels of forest, mountain, urban and park action.


Although why the action has to be viewed via a scuba diving mask I'll never know.

May 10, 2010

Tokyo Bike's New Sydney Store

Tokyo Bike have followed the recent opening of their London store by opening a store in Sydney.

Great to see these bicycles, specifically designed for city cycling, expanding into more and more countries.  Even if you're not in the market for a new bicycle why not drop in and see for yourself why I rant on so much about how ideal these bikes are for the streets of Tokyo, London and now Sydney.

Tokyo Bike
1 Mary's Place
Surry Hills
Sydney

Phone: (02) 9357 1223

Website: www.tokyobike.com.au

Opening Hours: Sunday & Monday 11am-5pm, Tuesday & Wednesday Closed, Thursday & Friday 11am-7pm, Saturday 11am-6pm

May 07, 2010

Cycling Tokyo with Tokyo Rent A Bike

Spring, the perfect time of year for cycling in Tokyo.  If you're in Tokyo for a short visit or don't have a bicycle of your own then you're not out of luck thanks to Tokyo Rent A Bike.

Tokyo Rent A Bike can furnish you with a 6 speed city bicycle, just like the locals ride, for Y900  per day, or as little as Y700 per day for multiple days.  Each bicycle has a comfortable seat and a front basket large enough to carry your backpack or any shopping you may do on your tour.  Their bicycles also come equipped with their own lock, so you can stop anywhere, take a walk around, have a snack or do some shopping confident that your bicycle will be there when you return.

Contrary to popular belief Tokyo is quite compact and easy to get around by bicycle.  From the Tokyo Rent A Bike office in Nakameguro it is a leisurely 10 minute ride to Ebisu, Daikanyama, and Meguro.  Cycle for as little as 20 minutes to reach Shibuya and in under 30 minutes you'll reach Roppongi, Harajuku, Shinagawa, Yoyogi park.  Even destinations such as Ginza, the Imperial Palace, Odaiba and Ueno are not out of your reach when cycling around Tokyo.

Navigation isn't a problem as Tokyo Rent A Bike will provide you with a map, with suggested routes, and some local knowledge so you can find your way around the areas in between the major centers that tourists taking the subway never get to see.

Blogger and Dad, James Christian used a bicycle from Tokyo Rent A Bike last summer to visit Hiroo, Roppongi and Aoyama with his 2 year old son, discovering places he would never have known about had he taken the train. You can read about the days experiences here.

Tokyo Rent A Bike are located in Nakameguro at the end of the Hibiya Subway Line, or just 2 short stops from Shibuya on the Toyoko Line.  You can pick up your bicycle any time between 10am and 1pm, and return it before 8pm.  Check their English website for more details and don't hesitate to give them a call with any further enquiries in English, or Japanese.

May 06, 2010

Cyclists pedaling to Osaka for hearing-impaired pupils

Last Friday, 15 bicycle riders lined up on the campus of Meisei Gakuen School for the Deaf in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, to kick off their second fundraising charity ride to help the school purchase playground equipment.

Organized by Give a Dream a Chance, known as GDC, a voluntary group founded in 2009 by employees of AXA Life Insurance Co. Ltd., the event brought in ¥800,000 last year with a 1,200-km ride from Tokyo to Hokkaido.

This year, GDC members and other participants are cycling 920 km from Tokyo to Osaka with the aim of raising ¥3 million. As with last year, GDC will donate all of the money raised to the Bilingual Bicultural Education Center for the Deaf Children (www.bbed.org), a nonprofit organization that supports Meisei Gakuen.

“Last year, we were here to start the ride to help the school to set up a junior high school. This year, we’ll help you build your playground equipment,” said Don Kalubowila, one of the founders of GDC.
Donning T-shirts emblazoned with drawings by one of the school’s students, the riders were greeted by the students, their parents and teachers.

Meisei Gakuen is the only private sign-language school in Japan. Established in 2008, signing is the school’s primary language for education. Thanks to help from GDC and other organizations, the school, which used to be only for kindergarten and elementary school children, opened a junior high section this spring.

“If you didn’t do the charity ride last year, we may not have had the junior high school today,” said Hiro Tamada, one of seven new students who entered the junior high this spring. “Thank you for doing the event again this year. This time for younger students.”

The 15 riders cycled in the schoolyard alongside children who happily ran around, waving their hands, before they headed off for a 7-km ride to AXA’s office building in Minato Ward.

The event was initiated last year by Kalubowila, a Sri Lankan-born Canadian national, who came to Japan three years ago.

“The moment I arrived at Narita International Airport, I decided that I will cycle across Japan. I cycled from Tokyo to Fukuoka in the first year. And last year, I wanted to combine cycling with something else. I wanted to do something different. Something to change the society,” said Kalubowila, who leads the tour.

After hearing about Meisei Gakuen from one of his colleagues, he and his coworkers decided to organize the charity event to raise money for the school.

About 15 people participated in last year’s 12-day charity ride, but it was only Kalubowila who made it all the way from Tokyo to Sapporo.

Kalubowila, a veteran cyclist who has made bicycle trips in 10 different countries including Canada, South Korea and the Philippines admitted that it wasn’t easy to complete the long journey. Plagued by heavy rain and stormy weather, he thought of quitting for the first time in his cycling life.

“Also, on the 11th day of the trip, my grandfather passed away. When I got the call, I thought of quitting again,” he said.

But he kept going all the way to Sapporo, where about 10 hearing-impaired local children greeted him.

“The children kept me going. I love children. When I reached the goal, I was exhausted, but when I saw their faces, I promised them to do the charity ride again,” said Kalubowila, now the father of a 9-month-old son.

Another GDC member, John Morris, also noted that they are doing the riding event again for the children.

“We used our private time to prepare for the event. So last year, we were already tired on the first day of the event. But when I went to the school to start the ride and met the children, my feeling all changed. The children were just amazing,” said Morris, also an AXA employee.

“This year, we have about 40 people taking part in the event. Among them, five will go all the way with me to Osaka,” Kalubowila said. “We also have a 7-year-old boy joining us on the second day. And we’re very, very excited about that.”

After the short ride from Meisei Gakuen, they were joined by 13 more riders at AXA’s office before taking off for the first day’s goal: Honjo, Saitama Prefecture.

They were to travel to Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, on the second day. From there the cyclists will push on through Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui and Shiga prefectures before reaching Osaka on Friday.

“I told all the riders to take the flier (which has a photo of the school’s students at the top), so that when they get exhausted and think of quitting, they can see the photo. It should make them keep going to the goal,” Kalubowila said.

Its not too late to make a donation to support this worthy cause!

May 02, 2010

Follow Randy van der Heide, as He Cycles to the Southernmost tip of Kyushu

Growing increasingly restless at his job as a Software Engineer and rapidly falling out of love with the country he once admired, Dutchman Randy van der Heide decided he needed to make a change in his life.  So, he quit his job and decided to cycle from Kanagawa to Cape Sata at the southernmost tip of Kyushu.

Of course it wasn't such a rash or ill considered decision but rather one he had been mulling over for months.  Given the multitude of options available to him, the decision that could ultimately shape his future was not an easy one and to use Randys own words "I decided not to decide."  He decided instead that he needed time to sort out his thoughts, and time to explore Japan to see if he could rediscover what he once loved about this country so much.  If at the end of his journey he was still disillusioned with Japan his decision to return to the Netherlands would be an easy one.

So it was in February that he made his intentions known via his blog entitled The Colorful Wolf and began preparations to begin his journey in April.  First up his bicycle needed some repair, he had to get rid of all his worldly posessions, and of course there were the thorny visa issues to sort out.

Randys trip began on April 13 with a surprisingly simple blog post "Today is a beautiful day. I'm waiting for electricity to get cut off, then I can leave."  Not long after he is in a bicycle shop getting a new front tire fitted!  Not exactly the start he was looking for and hopefully not an omen for the rest if his journey.  In the following weeks he meanders his way south west and blogs about his experiences as he travels to Mount Fuji, Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto and more interestingly the places in between.

When I questioned Randy about his route he readily admits has nothing planned just a general direction in mind.  He tries to avoid setting goal distances to ride each day, and stops or detours whenever something interesting catches his eye.    For acommodation he is carrying a tent and sleeping bag, but also relies upon youth hostels and business hotels.  I asked if he was carrying any cooking equipment (a rookie mistake in Japan) and while he had considered the idea he decided to take advantage of Japans wonderfully convenient convenience stores, family restraunts and cafes.  After all when you're trying to enjoy a wonderful bicycle tour in Japan who wants to cook and clean?  



April is an amazing month to begin a bicycle adventure.  Spring has sprung and the temperatures are on the rise, at least it was that way before climate change screwed it up for everyone.  Unfortunately for Randy this April has been the coldest on record in Japan since, well, since the Ice Age wiped out all the dinosours and prehistoric bicycle tourists.  When I asked him about his most usless piece of equipment to date he replied that the "Most 'useless' equipment so far has been my tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. It's really too cold to camp." Then goes on to tell the stories of some of the cold, cold experiences he has had so far.  I can't believe the weather hasn't forced him to give up.


Luckily over Golden Week the weather has picked up as have Randy's Spirits.  Not even a night surrounded by oyaji in a Himeji capsule hotel managed to dampen his spirits.

As for the most useful pieces of equipment on the trip thus far Randy cites a waterproof bag and his netbook.  Using his netbook and a USB device from DoCoMo Randy is able to connect to the internet at any time.  He is able to survey the following days route and scope out accomodation options online, and also uses the netbook to upload stories and photographs from the day to his blog.

Randy blogs daily, sometimes multiple times per day, I find myself visiting his blog religously each evening to check his progress.  His blog posts highlight some beautiful and not so beautiful spots in Japan.  He talks of some of the interesting, and most down right boring people he has met on his travels and there is always something valuable about bicycle touring in Japan to be learned from his writings.  But more than this I find myself reading his blog  daily for its honesty on his own mental state.  He has only been underway for a few weeks and thus far has had some very low lows mostly due to the punishing weather we have been having.  Of course there have been good moments too, but will they eventually overshadow the bad ones and convince Randy to stay in Japan?

I am keen to know the outcome of Randys journey as I believe every foriegner in Japan goes through a dark patch where they have to decide if they will stay here or move abroad.  Everyone tackles that question in a different way, and I certainly admire Randy's quest for a solution.  Occasionally he writes along the lines of "I'm 70% in favor of staying in Japan right now", then a few days later he changes his estimate to 50%.  Other days he admits he may have made a mistake even thinking that this trip would help him decide his future.

I must admit in all my years on the internet I've never wanted to follow a journey this closely and I highly recommend you follow his story as it unfolds day by day.

Good luck Randy, I hope you have somewhere dry and warm to sleep tonight.

May 01, 2010

Señor Crankee, Cycling across Japan for Hope International

The bicycle messenger burst through the doors and handed me a plain brown envelope without even dismounting.  How he got up four flights of stairs on his bicycle I'll never know.

"An urgent message from Señor Crankee", he announced, barely out of breath.

Da Crank has a message for me? I couldn't believe it.  Before me stood one of Señor Crankee's's legendary elite ninja bicycle messengers, dispatched in the middle of the night from Da Crank's secret Nagoya compound.   Whatever that envelope contained was bound to be important.

With trembling fingers I unfolded the message and began to read:

I’d like to share something with you… 
As a friend, you know me and you know I love to cycle. If I could, I would cycle to the kitchen every morning to fetch my breakfast. 
Two years ago I found myself answering yes to a question asked by an acquaintance. He asked me if I would like to join him on a two-week cycling tour of the French countryside. I didn’t give it much thought; I didn’t need to. The idea of cycling through the bucolic back roads of France while sipping the local vino was to me a simple no-brainer. The trip was as I expected; full of beauty, challenges and wonderful adventures. Most importantly, I made new friends and learned a few things along the way. I am very thankful for all the wonderful experiences I’ve had traveling with my bicycle. 
I’ve often wondered if there was a way that I could help others through my love for the two-wheeled iron donkey. I started a blog (www.crankee.me) to help people learn about cycling culture in Japan. I’ve helped many friends rediscover cycling and even helped some choose the right bicycle for their needs. Yet still, I felt there had to be more I could do through cycling to make a real difference in people’s lives. 
The answer came from my buddy and cycling partner Lowell Sheppard. Lowell suggested I join him and another ex-pat, Mark McBennett, on an eight day cycling tour through the Japanese Alps. The Challenge is to cycle from the Pacific coast to the Sea of Japan coast while following the route taken by the great 19th century mountaineer Walter Weston across the Southern Alps of Japan. Lowell added that we could also seek sponsors for the trip and raise money to help people obtain clean water and become self-sufficient. As with the France tour, this one was also a no-brainer. 
So I’d like to take a moment to ask if you would consider sponsoring me during this tour. I can promise you that 100% of what you pledge will go towards helping people in Cambodia obtain access to clean water and thus lead them down the road to self-sufficiency. Your pledge will help keep me motivated as I cycle up some of the highest peaks in Japan with nothing more than the power of my legs and the thought of making a difference in another human being’s life.
You can read about our Coast to Coast Challenge here:
http://www.hopeglobalchallenge.com/newsdisplay.asp?id=90
I've worked with HOPE INTERNATIONAL in the past, and I can assure you, your donation really does help farmers in Cambodia become self sufficient. Like the old saying goes, why give a man a fish, when you can teach him how to fish for a lifetime.
To start, just go here
http://www.hopeglobalchallenge.com/participants.asp?id=77
Scroll down until you see my name. You can pledge a specific amount per kilometer that I cycle or any fixed amount. Please take a moment to make a pledge and sponsor me while I struggle to cycle across some of the highest peaks in Japan. Your pledges will keep me motivated and help make a difference in someone’s life.
Kind regards,
Tony Torres

Once I finished reading I looked up only to notice the messenger had disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived.

With a sigh of relief I wiped the sweat from my brow.  For a moment I thought I had displeased Señor Crankee and the message was to summon me to Nagoya where I would have to ritually disembowel myself with a tire lever to atone for my transgressions.  Instead Da Crank was asking for my help.

In turn I ask for your help in supporting  Tony, Lowell and Mark on their 8 day tour across the Southern Alps of Japan.  By making a donation you're not only helping bring fresh water to villagers in Cambodia, but are also giving Tony and the team the inspiration and motivation to complete their journey across Japan from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Japan.

Please take the time to visit the Hope International Japan Coast 2 Coast homepage to learn more about the journey and donate as much or as little as you can. For regular updates you can follow the Japan Coast 2 Coast Challenge blog or Facebook group.

Your generosity will mean the next visit I get from Señor Crankee's elite ninja messengers won't be asking that I sever my pinky finger with a bicycle tool.