Free Cycling Fun at the Suginami Children's Traffic Park

A free cycling outing for the whole family in Tokyo is a visit to Suginami-ku's Kotsu-Kōuen, on the banks of the Zenpukuji river.

Suginami Kotsu-Kōen, or Suginami Children's Traffic Park, consists of a network of roads complete with road markings, traffic lights, road signs and railway crossings where children can cycle while observing the rules of the road. That's right, all those rules and regulations that frustrate us adult cyclists are just what children are looking for to add some structure and learning to their play.

Visitors to the park are free to ride their own bicycles or borrow one of the many adults, children's and infants bicycles provided for free. In addition to bicycles the park also has a number of pedal powered go-karts including karts that allow an adult to pedal around a smaller passenger. Go-karts have a set course which they must follow and while you're limited to two laps of the circuit each time you borrow a kart, there is no limit on the number of times you can borrow one through out the day.

The smallest of riders can borrow bicycles, pedal cars, karts and other assorted ride-ons for use on a separate smaller circuit safely out of the way of other older more confident riders.

While the major intersections of the course are manned by voluntary staff who occasionally remind children of the rules, there is not an overbearing traffic-nazi presence. For the most part everyone is expected to ride on the left, and respect the traffic lights, but don't rely on an 8 year old to show much interest at stopping at a stop sign. Helmets are also not mandatory, but can be borrowed on request.

Just outside the park is the Zenpukuji Cycling Route, a 2,400m circuit along the banks of the Zenpukuji River and through sections of Wadabori Kōen. After borrowing a bicycle from Kotsu Kōen you're also free to ride this longer route, although you're sharing it with joggers, other cyclists and the general walking public.

In addition to cycling facilities, Kotsu Kōen includes a number of playgrounds with jungle gyms, swings, slides, sandpits and even a decommissioned D-51 steam locomotive. On summer days there is ample shade provided by the trees and a large fountain does a great job of keeping the area nice and cool. The park is dotted with many picnic tables, and has toilet facilities, making it perfect for an afternoon picnic with the family.

The Suginami Children's Traffic park (杉並児童交通公園) is located 12 minutes walk north of Hamadayama Station on the Keio Inokashira line, and is open daily from 9am to 4:30pm.


Pedal Asia Podcast Episode 9

This week we go a little further afield and talk about how cycling is changing life in Bangladesh, the rather peculiar Tour of India, women riding in Japan and most importantly we go and visit the 2nd Cycle Speedway Japan event in Central Tokyo. It was a cold but fantastic day and the boys have become converts to this slightly mad way of getting around a very small course (most of the time) on two wheels. Listen Now!



Cycle Speedway Japan. The most fun on wheels ever.

Last Sunday the 2nd Cycle Speedway Japan was held in Tokyo's Yoyogi Koen and I can honestly say it the most fun you can have on two wheels!

Over 200 riders took part in the event which began at 9am, and finished with a trophy presentation at 3:30pm as the light began to fail on a winters day where the temperature barely reached 10 degrees. Of the 200 riders, roughly 120 were children around 4 and 5 years old, who participated in exciting two lap races on a smaller circuit than the adults. The weapon of choice for these youngsters was the Strider bicycle, those pedalless machines which are popular with future cyclists the world over.

Youngsters raced a seemingly endless series of high energy heats with slower riders gradually being eliminated and culminated with an exciting final race the likes of which I've never witnessed before. There were thrills and spills in the children's events, a few tears, and lots of excitement as the crowd and the hilariously entertaining commentators cheered the young racers on as if they were tour pros.

Junior riders weren't all limited to the smaller track. Those with the skills to ride a bicycle with pedals, namely balance, were able to race two laps on the adult track. The youngest racer again being just 4 years old.

A series of races for slightly older riders took place before midday, but their numbers paled significantly against the sheer volume of 4 year old Strider racers at the event.

With the endless races still going on the at junior track, under 22 and adult races began to get underway in the early afternoon.

Cycle Speedway Japan organisers were determined to make an event with the lowest possible barrier for entry and therefore there were few restrictions on the types of bicycles allowed to participate. This resulted in some nail biting races in which it was not uncommon to see full suspension mountain bicycles go up against up against brakeless fixies.

Teen and adult events were broken down by wheel size, allowing BMX riders to battle it out amongst themselves, before the big wheel brethren took to the track and the serious action got underway.

An adult cycle speedway race lasts just 4 intensely fast, and action filled laps in which the lead can change numerous times. All the action on the compact course happened so close you could literally reach out and touch riders as they flew on by, but if you had any common sense you'd stand back from the barriers as riders did occasionally get their line wrong and go crashing through the fence. Unlike the dirt tracks of cycle speedway in Britain, Tokyo's competitors raced on unforgiving concrete, but despite the numerous (dare I say it, entertaining, crashes) there were few injuries beyond a bruise and a scrape.

A crash in the last lap of the adult final prompted the commentator to call for a restart, although I believe that is not strictly by the book as a red flag had not been raised by the race marshal. After a crash in the rematch the commentator and spectators noisily called for yet another rematch. Out of sympathy for the tiring riders the result of the third rematch stood despite yet another spectacular accident.

It was this disregard for the finer details of the rules, and emphasis on having a great time over winning at all costs that really made Cycle Speedway Japan an insanely entertaining spectacle. Obviously as competitor numbers grow in the future the rules will be tightened, but for now its simply a bunch of bicycle lovers getting together for a good time. And a good time it was.

Organiserss are already planning a 3rd Cycle Speedway Japan to be held in the Spring of 2013 and I've offered to assemble an international team made up of representatives of Japan's foreign community. So watch the videos, and if you enjoy them as much as I did the actual event, and you're keen to compete in the 3rd Cycle Speedway Japan, Spring, 2013 please let me know.

Cycle Speedway has to be the most insane fun you can have on two wheels.

A note from Byron:

I had my iPad with me to record for the Pedal Asia Podcast, but ended up shooting more video than audio. Lacking a camera I also used the iPad to shoot these shots at the event.

We recorded parts of the Pedal Asia Podcast Episode 9 live at Cycle Speedway Japan, please do give it a listen!