How Suburban Tokyo Promotes Cycling (without even trying)

Despite poor cycling infrastructure 14% of all trips made in Tokyo each day are made by bicycle. What is it about the city's suburbs that make cycling such an attractive transport option?

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 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.

November 19, 2010

Bicycle Registration Checks on the Rise?

Is there a crackdown on bicycle registration checks going on in Tokyo at the moment?  On my morning commute through Setagaya-ku yesterday I noticed the police carrying out registration checks in three different locations and this morning two more.

Bicycle Registration Sticker
I've been cycling in and around Tokyo since 1996.  I commute to work almost every day. I cycle almost every weekend. I ride the family Mamachari to the supermarket in the evenings, ferry my daughters around by bicycle on the weekends.  Despite the number of hours I spend on a bicycle each week I have not once been stopped for a registration check.  I frequently ride 4 different bicycles and I must be on a different one each time I pass a policeman and I'm still never questioned.

I have read so many complaints from overseas residents of Japan that the police use bicycle registration checks as an excuse to pull over foreigners to check their alien registration cards and visa details.  I must not fit their target profile as I've never been stopped for a registration check nor hassled by the police at Narita.  The only time I've really been spoken to by the police in relation to my cycling habits is during the road safety campaigns the hold a few times each year at which time the come down hard on everyone for a few days they go back into hibernation.  Oh, and when I've broken some usually unenforced cycling law.

Have you ever been stopped for a bicycle registration check and do you think there was a deeper motive in getting you pulled over? 

November 18, 2010

Have you "adopted" an abandoned bicycle in Japan?

Well its finally happened, a mountain bike that has been abandoned outside out apartment for almost 2 years had been removed.

I originally wrote about this bicycle, and how would have loved to repair it and send it to a loving home before the elements destroyed it, in May 2009 after it had been sitting in the street for over 2 months.  A little love and care and it would have been good as new, but even though it was obviously abandoned, me taking and repairing it would still amount to stealing it so I left it to its fate.

Soon to be scrapped.
Little did I know that its fate was to sit in the same place, stuffed halfway into a hedge beside the sidewalk for almost 2 years.  In April this year I commented again on how surprised I was that the bicycle had not been collected for recycling or destruction.

By the time it was collected last Tuesday it had been stripped of a fair number of usable parts, and thoroughly ruined by the elements, sadly rendering it unfit for recycling and resale.

In Tokyo where abandoned bicycle are usually removed with ruthless efficiency I was perplexed by the staying power of this little white mountain bike.  But disappointed that it wasn't collected earlier when it could still have been recycled, rather than being left to rot then sent to scrap.

Friends have done it, but I've never "liberated" an abandoned bicycle.  There is a Giant Escape which has been abandoned at our apartment for almost 2 years that is still salvageable.  Its amazingly light for such an inexpensive bicycle and would make an awesome commuter bike with its slick tires, rack and fenders.  But as it is registered to its previous owner, and that owner has left the country there is no way to legally transfer ownership, so its left to rust away.  What an unfortunate waste.

Have you ever adopted an abandoned bicycle in Japan?

November 15, 2010

Switching Commuter Bicycles for a Day

If you read my last post you'd know that I've been getting bored with my regular commuting route and have been looking for ways to spice it up a little. 

Commuting, for me, is about getting to and from work in the shortest time possible, safely of course.

In the mornings I walk my daughter to school before jumping on the bicycle and cycling to work, arriving with just enough time to change and freshen up before the workday starts.  In the evening there is 10km of road between me and my family that I want to cover as fast as I can so I can be with them in time for dinner.

While changing my well worn route will add some variety to my ride, it will also add time to my commute and doesn't sit well with me.

This morning however, just by chance I discovered another way to add some variety to my ride which should have been blindingly obvious.  I rode a different bicycle.  My usual commuter is a Giant MCM One small, light, fast and fitted with narrow slick tyres.  Its a tough mountain bike that I used to race in the past, but over time its been modified become a speedy commuter bike.


My Daily Commuter
Well, the Giant is in need of a new front brake disc, and some pads.  In such need that its actually become dangerous to ride.  So this morning I brushed the grime off the Cannondale F300 MTB that my wife rescued from the pound (Suginami Green Cycle).  It has a larger frame, wider handlebars, a rack and big bouncy mountain bike tyres which made for a much different feel to the ride to work this morning.

With three bikes in my stable I really should take the opportunity to use each of them on my daily commute.  They're not all "commuters" but they all do the job.  By changing bicycles occasionally I can spice up my commute without having to change route nor add excessive amounts of time to my journey.

November 10, 2010

Lodging for Bicycle Tourists with WarmShowers.org

Camping has long been the preferred choice of accommodation for bicycle tourists world wide.  But there are times when you could really do with some more comforts such as a warm shower, a working washing machine, and the opportunity to compare notes with a local, like minded individual.  Till now you'd probably head for a hostel, but there is another option.

The website WarmShowers.org gives you the opportunity to network with people who are willing to offer their hospitality to bicycle tourists who are passing through.  They may be able to offer a bed, a couch, a place on the floor for a sleeping bag, or space in their garden to pitch a tent.  A warm shower, and use of a washing machine is also a welcome treat after weeks on the road.

Most members of the WarmShowers site are bicycle tourists themselves and are sympathetic to the needs of fellow bicycle travelers, others are just generous souls who enjoy the cultural exchange that comes with hosting a guest from overseas.

If you're planning a bicycle trip in Japan or elsewhere then WarmShowers.org is well worth a look, as is the ever popular CouchSurfing.org.

November 09, 2010

For Bicycle Commuters Variety is Not the Spice of Life.

While browsing around last week I clicked on a link to an article entitled "10 Rules for Urban Commuting".  I didn't think I'd learn anything new, but its always wise to compare notes with other bicycle commuters so I read on.

I've been growing bored with my commute recently and have been toying with the idea of mixing it up a little by changing routes every now and again.  After all, it couldn't hurt to add some variety could it?  That is when I read this piece of advice:

Variety is not the spice of life. Save the mixing it up for whatever else you like to do for fun.  You’re riding a bike to and from work for chrissakes, isn’t that fun enough.  You don’t need to alter your route just to add variety.  Knowing your route – every pothole, blind right turn and nasty intersection of it – is critical to riding safely.  Be predictable in your riding and your route.  Get a tattoo or something if your route isn’t exciting enough.

Odd, that a blog article should bring up the very issue I was contemplating only moments before reading.  (Changing route, not getting a tattoo.) Initially I brushed this rule off, but eventually it got me thinking. Just how well do I know my current route?  Surely I don't know the location of every pothole, does anyone, do I?

To my surprise it turns out that I actually do.

After reading the article I paid attention to my riding style and realized that for years I've been veering left here to avoid a pothole, right there to avoid another, even lifting the weight off my front wheel to go over one particularly nasty one too wide to safely go around.

Its not just potholes.   I know the traffic light sequences.  I know if one light is red when I arrive then the flowing two will be also.  I know traffic conditions at different times of the day, different days of the week.  I know which intersections cars like to sneak across on the orange light.  I know where it is narrow and cars will give you a fright by overtaking too close for comfort. I know where taxis are likely stop suddenly without warning.  I know the location of a gravel yard around which you find numerous large trucks and concrete mixers.

Without being consciously aware, I have intimate knowledge of the smallest details of my route.  At first I doubted the statement that you know every pothole on your commute, but if you've cycled the same route for any period of time chances are that you do, you're just not aware of it any more.

Have a think what "local knowledge" you have of your commuting route and share it here, you'll be surprised at all the details you recall.

Lovely cycling weather in Tokyo recently.  Enjoy!