Personalized Bicycle Key Holder

I was walking through Inokashira Park with my family this afternoon when my daughters spotted, this bicycle key holder.  My wife bought it for me, but before giving it to me she had the craftsman personalize it by burning my name into the reverse side.

I love small personal gifts like this, I love that when my daughters find anything with a bicycle design they excitedly show me, and above all I love my wife.


Subtle bicycle helmet promotion increasing in Japan

Mind the gap.
This newly painted sign at a nearby railway crossing warns cyclists to be careful not to get their tires caught in the rails.  I've not seen this sign before, but at this particular crossing the tracks don't run perpendicular to the road and as a result they're easier to get accidentally caught in.

I couldn't help but notice the subliminal message.  Can you spot it?  That's right, the helmet. Helmets aren't compulsory in Japan, but they are being passively promoted in a number of ways.  How long before the misguided start trying to make helmets mandatory in Japan?  

At the moment we have the choice to wear a helmet or not, I'd hate to see that choice taken away.


Yakult's Bicycle Delivery Ladies, 41,000 Strong

If you have ever wandered the suburbs of a Japanese city you have most likely seen, and inevitably exchanged greetings with, a Yakult Lady delivering probiotic drinks by bicycle.

In 1963 Yakult launched its unique door-to-door delivery system, the Yakult Ladies, in order to help customers fully understand the benefits of their products. Yakult currently employ over 41,000 Yakult Ladies in Japan, working from 2599 sales centers. The typical part-time Yakult Lady is also a full-time mother and as a result there are 1,373 daycare facilities near sales centers supporting the Yakult Ladies.

Travelling by bicycle, always smiling and polite as they pass by, the Yakult Ladies have become a recognisable part of all communities in which they operate. The personal impact of delivering by bicycle brings them much closer to customers and the community than if they delivered exclusively by by car or scooter. Checking in on the well-being of the elderly as the do their rounds, offering counsel and support, the Yakult Ladies offer so many additional benefits to society.

Even if you're not a customer, you will eventually exchange a polite smile, or "konnichi-wa" when a Yakult Lady passes you on her bicycle, which is something you just don't do with the local pizza delivery guy as he darts anonymously down the road on his noisy scooter.


sumo cycle chic

Sumo Wrestlers Attend Bicycle School in Tokyo

A sumo wrestler weaves his way carefully around a line of pins outside the Ryogoku Kokugikan arena in Tokyo's Sumida Ward on Dec. 7, 2011. Twenty-two wrestlers from the Hakkaku-Beya sumo stable turned out to improve their bike-riding skills at a class organized by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). The class -- which included sections on maneuvering, crossing intersections and negotiating curving roads -- is part of the MPD's traffic accident reduction program, though this is apparently the first time the officers have conducted one just for sumo wrestlers. (Mainichi)



Japanese Mountain Bikers Turn to Religion

From the promoter's site:
For the second edition of Red Bull Holy Ride, 95 mountainbike downhill riders - including top riders from the Japan Cycling Federation Elite Class and downhill legend Filip Polc - met at the traditional shrine at Mt. Ishizuchi (one of Japan's Seven Holy Mountains) in Saijo City, for one a most unique mountainbike downhill event. More than 2,000 spectators witnessed some tight races and saw Filip Polc put his longstanding experience to great use in the final.

Wow.  Its a good thing that all Japan's "ancient temples" were built after the 1960's.  I can't imagine this kind of thing happening at the Pyramids, or Parthenon.  Do you think next year we wil see "Mountain Bike Down Hill on Holy Soil 2012 - Shred the Sphinx"?? Probably if Red Bull can pay off enough people.


Tokyo By Bike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter

Lets admit it I'm a terrible writer, you already know that, so I don't need to go into details.

So in order to get you more of the cycling news and information that you want from Tokyo and Japan, without being subjected to my abysmal writing, Tokyo By Bike is available on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
Tokyo By Bike Google+ Page
I've primarily been using Twitter to quickly distribute interesting articles as I find them, Google+ and Facebook for when I want to pass some comment on the article that Twitter's 140 character limit does not allow.  I write on the blog when I've come up with something original that I'd like to share.

As writing for the blog hurts my tiny brain, the Google+, Facebook and Twitter feeds have much more content than appears on this blog, so if you're a user of any of those services please do check them out.



Japanese Cycling Laws, they're more like guidelines

In a world where cyclists are fighting for acceptance on the roads, Japanese cyclists fight for the right to keep riding on the sidewalk.

The above statement may sound odd to western cyclists, but this is Japan where riding on the sidewalk with your family is the accepted norm.  Here in Japan a person on a bicycle does not consider themselves a "cyclist", they're just out there, getting things done, using the bicycle as their primary means of transport for short trips. They are mothers, children, businessmen and the elderly. They are making short trips to the supermarket, school, train station, or cafe and the majority of these trips are made on the sidewalk, not the road.

These people are comfortable on the sidewalk, they have no desire to ride on the road as it offers them absolutely no benefit over the sidewalk, and exposes them to much more perceived danger.  Sure a commuter can save 30 minutes over 10km by cycling on the road, but the majority of trips by bicycle in Japan are less than a few kilometers so any time saving is negligible.

Recently the all seeing eye of Sauron .. sorry .. the National Police Agency, has turned to cyclists after an increase in the number of accidents between bicycles and pedestrians.  In 2011 whopping 12,630 accidents involving bicycles in Tokyo occurred up until August, that’s 37.8% of all traffic accidents in the city.

Currently we are witnessing a change in attitude by the police towards cycling on the sidewalk. But while the NPA are encouraging people to cycle on the road, they understand that Japanese roads, and drivers and cyclists are nowhere near ready for that. So, to prevent ugly incidents they have made a number of confusing and conflicting statements about who can ride on the sidewalks, where and when.

One report stated that children under 13, people over 70 and those with disabilities could ride on the sidewalk.  Another stated that mothers carrying children by bicycle would not be forced to cycle on the road, nor would those people carrying luggage by bike.  Yet another report indicated that anyone could cycle on a sidewalk as long as the sidewalk was 2 meters wide and had signs stating cycling was allowed.  No, lets change that to 3 meters, said another.  Others stated that it was OK for anyone to cycle on the sidewalk in areas where the road was deemed too busy or dangerous.  Obviously these conflicting messages have left everyone confused.

Under that mish-mash of advice from the NPA when cycling to the park with my children I'll have to cycle on the road, while they ride unsupervised on the sidewalk, unless the road is dangerous or busy, or I have luggage in which case I can cycle the sidewalk also.  But the meaning of "dangerous" or "busy" is not defined, nor is it stated anywhere what constitutes enough luggage to warrant cycling on the sidewalk.  Confused? I know I would be if I paid any attention to the NPA, so I don't.

At the end of the day these are police guidelines, not cycling laws, so the only thing that has really changed since October is that the NPA look like a bigger bunch of unorganised idiots, and everyone else is confused.

So until the police make up their minds and pass consistent cycling laws that apply to all, instead of dishing up ambiguous guidelines please follow the Tokyo By Bike guidelines for cycling in Japan: "Exercise some common sense and ride safely."



The Japan Premiere of mountain biking film FROM THE INSIDE OUT will be combined with the Mountain Bikers year end party at the J-Pop Cafe in Shibuya on Monday, December 5th.

Doors open at 20:00 with things geting under way at 20:30.  Entry is ¥1,500.

Many well known Japanese mountain biking and downhill identities will be attending including past and present pro riders.  The event is open to all who enjoy mountain biking.

Check out some of the action from the film :

More details can be found on the sponsors website

Thanks to Wada-san from The Trail Store for passing on this information.


A Practical Bike for Tokyo.

Its a proud day for a dad when his daughter asks for a mountain bike for her 10th birthday which is just what my daughter did in September.  She had had her eye on the girls Hotrock 24 at Garage Takaido for a number of months prior, so thats what we got.  Suffice to say she was stoked.
Specialized Hotrock 24 Girls MTB.

On her first ride you could see she was loving the big bouncy tyres, the light frame and front suspension.  Rather than sitting constantly in the saddle she was standing and cranking down on the pedals and speeding off into the distance.  Instead of avoiding bumps, obstacles and potholes she was seeking them out.  Instantly her cycling experience changed from being transport to being fun.

It was only a few days later, however, that we discovered that a mountain bicycle is not the ideal bicycle for a city like Tokyo where cycling is primarily transport.  Until now she had been riding what is accepted as the standard girls bicycle in Japan, pictured below.
Miyata Fruit Salad Girls Bike.

While its no sports car, it has a number of redeeming features which make it perfect for a 10 year old girl in the city.  For example a basket for carrying luggage is much more practical than having to use a backpack, which holds less, encumbers your movement and makes you all sweaty in the summer.

Also the built in lock means when you pull up to park your bicycle is locked in seconds without your hands getting covered in grease.  With the mountain bike you have to carry a lock, remove it from your backpack, handlebars or frame before threading it through your wheel most likely getting dirty in the process.
A practical bike lock for Japan.
Then there are lights.  The mountain bike requires batteries, whereas the girls bike uses a dynamo.  Not to mention the kick stand which is much more stable, and not an optional extra, on the girls bike.

As someone from a country where cycling is recreation, not transport I've never really considered the inconvenience of a mountain bike in the city, but watching my daughter struggle with locks, luggage and cycling in a skirt I've realized that for day to day transport a regular girls bike or mama-chari is much more practical.

Thats not to say we're getting rid of the mountain bike, its too much fun!



How fast is a Mamachari?

Put a professional Japanese Keirin bicycle racer on a mamachari and how fast will he go?  That was the question posed by a viewer of a program on television last night.

To answer the question two professional cyclists completed laps of a velodrome and recorded their top speed and time over the last 250 meters of the circuit.  On their track bicycles they both managed a top speeds around 65km/h, and on the mamachari they barely managed to reach 44km/h.

In contrast, a comparatively unfit member of the programs crew completed the same course on the mamachari and managed a top speed of 39km/h.  Thus it was concluded that the top speed of a mamachari is more a factor of the bicycles gearing and geometry than the strength and level of training of the rider.

Obvious of course, but still entertaining viewing on a slow Wednesday night.


Bicycle Parking in Japan ....

Sometimes it's complicated ...


And we're back, almost.

I have to apologize for not writing in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake.  For the first week or so after the disaster I was primarily concerned for my family's safety as we rode out more than 500 aftershocks over magnitude 5, dozens over M6, and a handful over M7.  In addition to which we had to deal with blackouts, food shortages and the threat of nuclear meltdown which still continues.

My wife's father's home near Sendai airport was swept away by the tsunami.  It took days for us to learn that he was not home at the time, and a week before we could contact him by phone.  He's safe. In an evacuation shelter with gas, electricity and food.

So as you can imagine I have been otherwise preoccupied.

Once things settled down and returned to what we now accept as normal I felt it was too soon for me to write about how the earthquake had increased the number of cyclists and bicycle commuters in Tokyo.  It seemed so trivial to everything else that as happening around us.

So if you're wanting to stay informed about cycling in the aftermath of the earthquake please follow my twitter feed @tokyobybike until I get back into the writing mood.

Many thanks to you all for your support over this difficult time.


Miyagi Earthquake Update

It has been over 48 hours since what has been upgraded to a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan.  I have stories about my experience, but my experience pales in comparison to hundreds of of thousands of other people around Japan.

To everyone who sent their best wishes I say thank you, I am safe, my family is safe.  We've had contact with some relatives in Sendai, and are awaiting word on some others.

For cyclists out there I can confirm  the events in Richard Masoner's article "Tokyo earthquake and bicycles".

Right now, while I'd like to write I'm focused on my family and keeping life as regular for my daughters as I can.  I have been tweeting cycling related things at @tokyobybike, and more general observations about the situation at @byronkidd.  Until I have time to write more you can follow our progress  there.

Stay safe, cherish your loved ones.



Toyota proposes 250,000km of bicycle lanes across Japan over 5 years

An official at Toyota Motor Corp. has presented proposals to the central and local governments to install 250,000 kilometers of cycling lanes across Japan over the next five years in a bid to reduce accidents involving cyclists.

The proposals were presented by Akira Watari, a 63-year-old member of Toyota's IT & ITS planning division, which aims to reduce accidents and ease traffic congestion through intelligent transport systems that make use of information technology.

After conducting observations in Europe, Watari reached the conclusion that the installation of cycling lanes was essential to prevent accidents between motorists and cyclists.

"The establishment of cycling lanes is the most effective way to enable motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to coexist," Watari said.

The number of accidents between cyclists and pedestrians is 3.7 times higher than a decade ago, and as many drivers regard cyclists as a nuisance on the road, the suggestions from the Toyota official are likely to gain public attention.

In January last year Watari drew up standards for installation based on the situation in Europe. He announced them in the Japan Society of Civil Engineers' magazine Civil Engineering in October last year. Japan currently has no standards for installing cycling lanes so Watari made his own suggestions.

His proposals split the 1.2 million kilometers of road in Japan into three main categories: roads in urban areas, roads in non-urban areas and community roads with no center line. He also grouped roads in the first two categories into main and regional roads, and examined measures based on the various speed limits (under 30 km/h, up to 40 km/h, 50 km/h and 60 km/h or above).

Watari concluded that cycling lanes separated from traffic by fences or curbstones were needed to ensure safety on some 6,900 kilometers of city roads where speed limits of 50km/h or 60 km/h and above were implemented. On the remaining urban roads and roads in non-urban areas -- a distance of about 730,000 kilometers-- Watari proposed cycling lanes separated with white lines. He also suggested making cycling lanes in urban areas stand out with colored paving.

Watari proposed that cycling lanes be installed on a preferential basis on 250,000 kilometers of roads, excluding regional roads in non-urban areas.

via Mainichi



パパ大すき!!You Love Bicycle

This picture was hastily drawn and presented to me by my daughter while we were riding the train.

パパ大すき!!You Love Bicycle

It is impossible to keep every letter, picture or piece of craft my daughters present me with as they do it on an almost daily basis.  But I do have a special folder for the most treasured items I've received over the years.

This piece, scribbled in just moments on the back of a piece of advertising we picked up in Shibuya, will be going into that folder to be kept forever.  Its the best present I've received in ages, and not a bad likeness I might add.


Love Wheels Nagoya - 2011 Bicycle Calendar

Nestled between Tokyo and Osaka on the Tokaido Bullet Train line, is the Asian Detroit, Nagoya City. Home to Toyota Motors, miso pork cutlets and most importantly, The Love Wheels Nagoya Girls. But this group of Japanese pedal beauties have little interest in dirty cars or deep fried pork. The Love Wheel Nagoya Girls enjoy three things: their bikes, dressing up and having their picture taken. You just gotta love Japan.

Love Wheels Nagoya - 2011 Bicycle Calendar features some of Nagoya's prettiest cyclists posing with their velocipedes showcasing popular spots around Nagoya City.

Nagoya is fast becoming ground zero for the Japanese cycling scene. Most of the girls that posed for the calendar can be seen at the monthly alley cat races in downtown Nagoya. Start the year with a hot Japanese babe on a bike, order your Love Wheels Nagoya - 2011 Calendar today! FREE Shipping if you order now! Oh, and because we like to do things differently in Japan, the calendar months start from February 2011 and ends January 2012.



Bicycle lanes. Don't bring them to Japan.

Dear bicycle infrastructure planners (if such people even exist in Japan), Please don't increase the number of bicycle lanes in Tokyo, please.  

Currently the laws concerning cyclists are poorly understood and even more poorly enforced, as are most cycling laws in Japan.  This gives cyclists the freedom to ride where they're comfortable, at a pace which they are comfortable.  

I'm comfortable cycling on the road, in traffic, riding at speed.  Others are more comfortable cycling at a more refined pace on the sidewalks.  That’s great, I appreciate the fact that as cyclists we're allowed to choose between the two.

But if it comes to pass that bicycle lanes abound in Japan I predict that the law will change to decree: "Thou shalt cycle in the bicycle lane where such a lane is provided. Thou shalt not ride upon the sidewalk, nor the road."

If the law does change as such we will end up with the road cyclists and the sidewalk cyclists all being forced to share a single bicycle lane and that’s going to be a recipe for disaster.

I don't know how much cycling you've done in Japan, but if you've ever been forced to ride on the sidewalk with salarymen, mothers, the elderly, and drunks, then you learn to appreciate the safety of a busy metropolitan road during peak hour.

It may not be a popular view but I, for one, am happy with the situation as it is.  So instead of bicycle lanes, lets pump some of that money into bicycle parking, and bicycle safety campaigns for both cyclists and motorists instead.