Pedal Asia Podcast Episode 7

This episode we talk world champs, nasty goings on at the Tour of China 1 and 2, bicycle number plates, lanes and a 7 year old legend who is riding the length of Japan. An inspirational story.

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Downtown, free digital Cycle and Lifestyle Magazine

Downtown embodies the emerging spirit of comfortable and sustainable mobility. Aesthetics, style, and function are being combined to a lifestyle magazine á la avant-garde. Impressive means of transportation – from a classic bike, over electric cars, to e-bikes, they are in perfect symbiosis urban stories & reports. “Aesthetic Mobility” in this context, is a synonym for emotion, aesthetics, and enthusiasm – as an expression of a new lifestyle.

Visit the Downtown homepage for more information and earlier issues.



Yokohama Bicycle Lane is a Real Obstacle Course

Last weekend I asked James Szypula from Yokohama Rides and Rentals if he could photograph the new painfully narrow bicycle lane in Yokohama that I wrote about last week in the article "Thanks for Half a Bicycle Lane Yokohama".
Drains! Cyclists beware!

After visiting the site James comments :

"It really is a very short and narrow section of lane. The city probably saw a need to separate cyclists from pedestrians along this particular stretch, as it is often crowded with sightseers (often foreign so not used to seeing/interacting with bicycles on the sidewalk). "

My concerns about the bicycle lane include its reported width of 1.2m ad the fact that almost half of that width isn't actually road space.  To think that city planners are so woefully educated about protecting cyclists that they would include approximately 40cm of rainwater gutter when quoting the width of the lane is astonishing.

Raised reflectors! Cyclists Beware!

When I asked James to photograph the lane I was specifically looking for drains in the gutter space and the photographs do prove that such drains exist.  Cyclists swerving to avoid these obstacles will be seen by rivers as behaving in a dangerous and unpredictable manner and be put in unnecessary danger.

In addition to the danger cause by forcing cyclists to avoid drains James observed even more problems:

"My main concern is that some inexperienced cyclists will be lured out into the lane and then right into one of the many raised reflective pavement markers which are at one end of the lane. These things are death traps IMO. Any cyclist hitting one of these will definitely go down hard and maybe fall into the path of traffic. Although reflective they actually are not so easy to see on a bike, especially at night."
Parked cars! Now thats just rude.

Anyone who has ridden at night knows that a bicycle light is sometimes not enough to illuminate these reflectors after they've been coated with grime from the road, and that hitting one, especially on a road bicycle, would result in disaster.

Two more problems, which are not unique to this bicycle lane were motorists parking in the lane, and that after just 400m the lane stops and cyclists are once again left to fend for themselves on the road, or return to the sidewalk endangering pedestrians.

Riding this lane is going to be a real test of your cycling skills!

You can see more photographs of the Yokohama bicycle lane on Flickr.



Cycle in Tokyo, get doored in new and unusual ways

Tokyo's Minato-ku have installed a new style of bicycle lane which puts cyclists between the sidewalk and parked cars.

The boffins down in traffic planning believe that parked vehicles will effectively shield cyclists from traffic. Which may be true, but what will shield cyclists from getting doored from passengers exiting the parked cars?

When exiting a vehicle from the drivers side of the car most of us are conditioned to check behind us for incoming traffic, including bicycles.  But conditioned as we are, when we exit the car from the passenger side rarely do we check behind us as we've been flinging passenger doors open without checking since the invention of the motor vehicle. Passengers are just not trained to check for incoming traffic.

How long before we see a dooring in this bicycle lane and how many doorings do you think we'll see each year?

Aside from the creative dooring possibilities, the gaps between car parking spaces also cause me some concern.  Are cyclists going to have to contend with pedestrians darting out from between cars, across the bicycle lane to the sidewalk?  That's going to be a lot of fun for all. I'd love to sit on an overpass and film the exciting events that are bound to take place on this bicycle lane the boffins down in traffic planning are so proud of.

Come on Japan. The research into bicycle lanes has already been done. Its not about rocket science, its about commitment to do it right and I don't see that commitment in Japan yet.



Thanks for Half a Bicycle Lane Yokohama.

Last week a new 400m bicycle lane opened in Yokohama between Minato Mirai and the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse.  While I applaud the Yokohama council for taking steps to improve bicycle infrastructure along the scenic Yokohama waterfront I can't say I'm happy with the width of this lane.  The video below describes the new lane as being 1.2m in width, sure it is, if you include the gutter as part of the bicycle lane.

You see inexperienced road cyclists in Japan riding in the gutter all the time rather than asserting their right to be on the road and taking their fare share of the lane.  Its a dangerous practise for many reasons not the least of which is most gutters have drains at regular intervals so to avoid these the cyclist must swerve periodically.  From a motorists point of view this is erratic and unpredictable behaviour which won't earn cyclists any respect on the roads.

Thanks Yokohama for giving us half a bicycle lane.

If you really want to enjoy Yokohama by bicycle I recommend you get in touch with James at Yokohama Rides and Rentals.

James can  take you on a guided tour of the Yokohama and Kamakura areas and also has compact folding bicycles available for rent.  As part of the Yokohama Rides and Rental service they can deliver bicycles to your hotel or meet you at the nearest convenient station.

For more information or to make a reservation please contact James at or give him a call on 090-7849-6683.

Update: James visited the site of this new bicycle lane, made some observations and provided Tokyo By Bike with pictures confirming drains in the "lane" and other hazards. Read more in the article "Yokohama Bicycle Lane is a Real Obstacle Course".



Report on Bicycle License Plates Presented in Tokyo

On Monday, September 10, a working group established by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to study the feasibility of implementing  license plate system for Tokyo's cyclists handed over their report to government officials.

The government believes mandatory number plates will encourage cyclists to ride more safely and observe road rules as they will become more easily identifiable.  The also believe the new system will curb the increasing incidents of bicycles being abandoned illegally.

Opponents of the system (myself included) argue that any move that makes cycling more expensive or inconvenient will have a dramatic impact on families who rely on bicycles as their main mode of transport.  Bicycle manufacturers also oppose the idea as they believe it will impact on their sales figures.

I've written more on the subject here, and it is a story I will be following with great interest.


Pedal Asia Podcast Episode 6

This month Byron goes on another rant about cycling laws in Japan, we wander of into helmut talk. We wrap up Asia's olympics on the road and on the track, visit the Pedal Day festival in Tokyo and have a chat with Mike Rice - Japan rep for new commer Neil Pryde bicycles. Gavin was surprised this legendary name from sailboarding are in bikes these days but Mike is living the dream of combining his love of bikes with a pay day. A great chat with a lucky guy. This week is very Japan focussed but over the next few months we going Asia wide.

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Tokyo serious about number plating cyclists

In a move that would leave any cycling activist absolutely dumbstruck, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is seriously considering making it a requirement for all cyclists to display a large number plate on their bicycles.

Under the proposed law cyclists will be required to pay a fee to register their bicycles, and then will be bound by law to notify authorities when they change address, sell, or dispose of their bicycle as is the case with motor vehicles. Government officials say the plan hopes to achieve a number of goals including reducing the number of illegally abandoned bicycles, lowering rates of bicycle theft, and preventing cyclists from riding in a dangerous manner.

A common scene around shopping centers in Japan.
In 2009 approximately 740,000 of Tokyo's 9 million bicycles were removed for illegal parking and of those 310,000 were subsequently disposed of after their owners failed to retrieve them in the 6 month period stipulated by most municipalities. The cost of removing and storing illegally parked bicycles has been estimated at 13.5 billion yen and as deflation pushes bicycle prices down number of abandoned bicycles is rising.

Japan already has a nationwide bicycle registration system.  Once a Y1,500 registration fee is paid owners receive a sticker which they attach to their bicycle frame.  Registration is compulsory, yet there are no penalties for non compliance, and despite this over 90% of bicycles in Japan are registered.  Under the current system there is no requirement for bicycle owners to notify officials of change of address, or change of ownership, and this say police makes it difficult to keep track of bicycle owners.

The number of accidents involving bicycles has stood steady at 30% of all traffic accidents since 2001, but that rose to 36% in 2010. The number of accidents between bicycles and buses in the January-October period of 2011 rose 40% from the same period the previous year prompting the Tokyo Bus Association to urge the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to make bicycle number plates mandatory as identifying a cyclist who flees an accident is almost impossible. Police are expecting that cyclists will ride more safely if they are more easily identifiable.
As a cyclist I stand firmly against the proposed law for a number of reasons.  Firstly, any law that makes cycling more expensive will reduce cyclist numbers.  Currently there is no mention of how much it will cost to register an individual bicycle, nor is there any indication if children's bicycles will require registration. In most Japanese families every family member has their own bicycle including children. With consumption tax in Japan set to rise and electricity prices already increasing due to the March 11 nuclear disaster, family budgets will be further stretched to support the cost of re-registering already registered bicycles under the new system.

My current registration sticker.
In addition to cost, the requirement to notify city officials upon change of address, change of ownership or disposal of the bicycle adds an extra burden to bicycle owners.  Each change to the bicycle registration records will require the owner to make a trip to city hall which in many cases requires taking a half day off work to accomplish. Any law that puts an extra burden on cyclists or makes cycling inconvenient will also reduce cyclist numbers.

The argument that making cyclists easily identifiable will prompt them to ride more safely is easily dismissed. We've always been able to identify motorists via their number plates yet still witness countless examples of dangerous driving on a daily basis.

There is no indication of how much the system will cost to administer and police. Will the registration fee cover the cost of administration in addition to the cost of disposing of abandoned bicycles or will it need to be subsidised by the taxpayer meaning less funds for more essential services?  What about penalties for not registering, or failing to notify authorities of changes of address or ownership. In the event a number plate is stolen, how much will it cost to replace?

Lets not even get into the issue of where on the bicycle cyclists will be required to display the number plates.  Front? Back? Front and back? Below the saddle? What if I have a saddle bag? Tape it to my backside?

This misguided action by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government can only result in a decrease in the number of cyclists and I can't help thinking that that is the point.

Tokyo has few bicycle lanes which results in the majority of cyclists riding on the sidewalk and as cyclist numbers increase so have the number of accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.  In January the Tokyo Metropolitan police force made the statement urging more cyclists to ride on the roads, rather than the sidewalks resulting in the number of accidents involving bicycles on the road increasing by 7% over the period till May.  So for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department reducing cyclist numbers, rather than providing safe cycling infrastructure, could be the solution to their problem.

Try as I might, I can find no avenue to appeal against the proposed laws.  Therefore I would like cyclists and cycling activists the around the world to help create an uproar online, in the hope that international attention may cause Tokyo to rethink its poorly planned cycling agenda.

Note: We discussed this topic on Episode 4 of the Pedal Asia Podcast and will certainly be revisiting it in a future episode.  You can subscribe to Pedal Asia via iTunes.



Treadlie - Bike Magazine

I've been hearing a lot of good things about Treadlie Magazine out of Melbourne, Australia for a long, long time. In a round about kind way I came to posses a paper copy of an earlier issue not long ago and must say I'm thoroughly impressed by this magazine.

Treadlie was launched in December 2010 and focuses on style, fashion, design and the passion that bikes inspire in people. It contains interviews and profiles of designers, artists, writers, stylists, musicians, poets, all of whom have a strong love of bicycles and cycling. In recent issues they've run features on artisans re-invigorating the handmade bicycle industry, collectors, DIY and all aspects of bicycle design and craft. The popular Treadlie St section features interviews with and photographs of people and their bikes spotted on streets worldwide.
There are very few magazines that I read cover to cover. Usually I'll flip backwards and forwards cherry picking the most appealing articles which leaves a lot of the magazine unread. With Treadlie, all the articles were of equally exceptional quality and proved such entertaining reading that I abandoned the cherry picking approach and simply read the issue from front to back. When you read a magazine in that fashion you realise just how much good content is crammed into each issue.

I do love a paper magazine, but they tend to pile up and once read they're rarely read again. That's why I've subscribed the electronic edition in my iPad, not only are the visuals stunning on the new Retina display, but having back issues always on hand means those back issues do actually get re-read, and shown to others.

Treadlie is available from newsagents and bike and design shops all over Australia and NZ as well as some newsagents internationally. Subscription can be done via the Treadlie website Treadlie is also available on the iPad via the Apple Newsstand where you can either subscribe or buy individual issues. For a short time, Issue 4 is available as a free download!

You can also follow @Treadlie on twitter.



Bicycle Safety, by Tokyo's Elementary School Children

Many construction sites around Tokyo attempt to beautify themselves by displaying artwork by local children on what would otherwise be lifeless white walls. I came across these bicycle and and road safety themed pictures at a construction site in Ebisu, Tokyo.
Going clockwise from the top right the first caption warns against standing on your pedals (a bit strict I thought), the second recommends you always cross at pedestrian crossings, the third advises you slow down when going down hills, and the final comment is not to ignore traffic lights.

Judging by the pictures this random sample of Tokyo children have a firm grip on on the theoretical side of road safety, lets hope the put it into practise when they're out on the streets, because as third year elementary school children in Japan they're already cycling.