Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe 2013 Report

It began on the ride home from Nude Pedal Cruising in the Summer of 2013 after I'd just enjoyed my first ride with the Night Pedal Cruising Crew. We cycled Tokyo all night ending up in Odaiba to watch the sunrise before heading back to Shibuya for the Pedal Day celebrations. I began formulating a plan to attend the Christmas ride on the most outrageously decorated bicycle Tokyo had ever seen. I'd ride my commuter bike as it has a rack upon which I could pile high wrapped Christmas presents and I'd drape the whole thing in tinsel and Christmas lights. Up front on the handle bars I'd mount some antlers and a flashing red nose .. I mean light.  I would ride on the middle, between the reindeer and the presents, dressed as Santa, thus completing the illusion of Santa in his sleigh. Brilliant!

In my mind it was awesome, in practise it was flimsy cardboard held together with string, ribbons and sticky tape and I wasn't entirely sure it would last the duration of the ride without falling apart. With fragile decorations complete, I donned some cycling tights two layers of HeatTech tops and my Santa suit before climbing carefully into my sleigh.

I have to admit to being very self conscious as I cycled to the ride and in addition to that I was worried the decorations would fall apart. I was convinced I looked totally insane, but as I cycled children smiled, people waved, some cycled along side me wishing me a Merry Christmas and before long I began to loosen up a little smiling and waving to anyone who made eye contact.

Less than a kilometre into the ride, while waiting at a set of traffic lights a female voice called from behind "I saw your bicycle on twitter. I think we're going to the same ride" and that was how I met a fellow Night Pedal Cruiser with whom I cycled to 246 Common in Aoyama for the start of the ride.

246 Common was a sea of red with roughly 50 cyclists in attendance, the vast majority dressed as Santa, or sporting a Santa Hat at the very least, we even had a few reindeer among our ranks.  I was surprised and a little embarrassed to notice that while many bicycles and riders were decorated nobody had gone nearly as Clark Griswald on their bicycles as me. Before the ride began I had posed for more pictures with my bike than I could count and received many generous compliments on my bicycle. I was very happy that the illusion held and all people saw was Christmas magic, no gobs of glue and countless meters of clear tape holding together hastily wrapped, and totally empty, shoe boxes.

The ride got underway on time at 17:00 and we wound our way from Aoyama to Roppongi. As you can imagine 50 riders dressed as Santa, a handful of tall bikes with loud Christmas music blasting from countless bicycle mounted stereo systems causes quite a spectacle and if that wasn't enough we were frantically ringing our bells to garner even more attention from the people we passed. (So much bell ringing in fact that I almost gave myself a blister within the first 15 minutes of the ride.)

Amongst all the other Santas and decorated bicycles any feelings of self consciousness or embarrassment quickly evaporated and seeing the look of joy a simple wave or "Merry Christmas" would bring to the faces of people we passed encouraged me to make sure everyone we passed got a smile a wave or a wink from Santa. Who knew that dressed as Santa all it took was a simple wave to send someone over the moon with enjoyment? One forward thinking rider had chocolates which he passed out to children and adults alike on the ride, even pulling up alongside cars with the windows down handing sweets to the children inside. Why didn't I think of that?

We stopped for a break in a beautiful tree lined avenue near Roppongi MidTown where we posed for photographs with each other and with passers by. Being on average 20 years older than most of the riders, and being one of the few foreign Santas on the ride, I was in particular demand for photo opportunities. I'm normally a shy and reserved person, but tonight I was Santa Claus, and enjoying the kick everyone got out of having their photo taken with Santa started to draw out my inner Santa. There are no shy Santas and I'd be doing him an injustice if I didn't get all jolly and festive with everyone who wanted a photo or a wave.

I was really beginning to enjoy myself and started to understand that our Christmas ride was about more than just a group of cyclists having fun together cycling the streets in Christmas costume, it was about making those around us happy. It was about getting peoples attention, making them laugh, smile, wave, and about spreading some joy around the city. I think we did a wonderful job.

We continued on in this manner, getting louder and bolder as the ride made its way to our destination, a park near Tokyo Tower.  At the park the Champagne (non alcoholic beverages provided) flowed and everyone took turns trying out each others bicycles. Many a brave soul tried their luck on the tall bikes. As it was still early impromptu track stand and fixie skid competitions were hastily organised with speculation that the winner of the first ever Night Pedal Cruising track stand competition would not win a second time after he downed his celebratory drink.

With Christmas music still pumping from the stereos, and wine flowing, we whiled away a couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting. Many a person came to photograph Tokyo Tower lit up for the evening only to end up in a picture with Santa Claus and many a group of young ladies dressed in skimpy Santa costumes, stockings and heels came to pose for a photograph but in the end just who was posing with who became impossible to determine.

It was a quick and boisterous ride back to Aoyama. Our numbers reduced made the ride faster, the beverages consumed made us louder and we continued to draw attention to ourselves and spread the Christmas cheer.

With a successful ride ending in Aoyama myself and another Santa costumed rider made our way down to Harajuku station just as the Christmas illuminations were being turned off. Being but a pair of Santas we weren't confident that we could raise excitement amongst the crowds of pedestrians heading home after a long night of festivities. But those doubts were put to rest when we were all but surrounded by merry makers all wanting to pose for photographs.

Eventually we broke free and continued on our way home only to have carloads of young women scream our names (Well, OK, Santa's name) and take photographs as they passed by. I was beginning to feel like a rock star and commented to my cycling companion that it would be hard returning to work the following day as just an ordinary guy.

In short it was a great ride. It was amazing to see so many riders turn out and that the vast majority of them got into the spirit of things by wearing a costume. But to me the best part of the ride was the reactions of people we passed, the smiles, the waves, the countless photographs and calls of Merry Christmas. It made me so happy that a group of simple cyclists just having fun among themselves could bring a smile to so many people along the way.

I can't wait till the next ride.

Merry Christmas everyone. Enjoy the holidays, ride safe, and I look forward to writing for you all in 2014.

For more stories, news and information about cycling in Tokyo and around Japan follow @tokyobybike on twitter.



Don't Mess With The Natural Order of Bicycle Parking

There is always one. You know the person, the one who takes it upon themselves to tidy up the bicycle parking lot thus throwing the natural order of things into disarray.

Bicycle parking in Tokyo, Japan
Bicycle parking at our apartment is, like many across Japan, an unorganised knot of metal, cables and rubber, consisting of seemingly way too many bicycles in the space provided. To the untrained eye its an untidy, disorganised, eyesore, but residents who use it daily know it has evolved this way naturally over time and represents the most efficient use of the space available. Let me explain.

Over the ages abandoned bicycles have gradually migrated to the hardest to reach and most inconvenient locations in the lot, lesser used bicycles occupy the middle ground of slightly inconvenient locations, while bicycles which are being used daily, the kings of the jungle, reside in the most accessible spots. Like any society there is some shuffling in the ranks from time to time, but balance is always maintained. For example when someone new moves into the building and their bicycles are assimilated into the lot, it takes some time before they find their natural place within the parking hierarchy.

All this takes place quite naturally, there is no communication between the owners of the bicycles, there are merely subtle shifts in the placement of bikes over time until equilibrium is reached. Like everything in nature its a fine balance.

Then that one person comes along, the one who decides to "tidy up" the bicycle parking by arranging all the bicycles in rows, alphabetically, according to size, colour, weight or some other bizarre system that bares no resemblance to the natural order of things as determined by time. When the job is done the delicate ecosystem has been destroyed and it will take weeks if not months to recover.

This is exactly what happened at our apartment over the weekend, someone possibly with good intentions, but no knowledge of the dynamics of bicycle parking took it upon themselves to "sort out" the bike parking "problem".

This morning my bicycle wasn't anywhere near where I left it. It had been moved, then moved again by someone else so they could extract their own bicycle from the newly imposed, highly inefficient, structure. This left my bicycle leaning sideways, kickstand in the air, with its brake cables caught in the handlebars of the mamachari next to it. Thankfully I reached it before the owner of the mamachari had a chance to rip the cables from my bike.

But worse was what happened to my youngest daughters bicycle, her rear reflector had been smashed, obliterated, and the was a substantial scratch and dent in her rear mudguard.

Way to go asshole, you've damaged a little girl's bicycle, and for what reason? To impose your static structure on a dynamic system that had no faults other than being a little displeasing to the eye. How much force did you need to use to shuffle a few bikes around? You may consider bicycles an eyesore, you may consider them disposable, but some of us cherish our bicycles, care for them, keeping them in fine condition so they're a pleasure to ride.

Sure its just a reflector, I will replace it for a mere Y100, but the look on my daughters face when she saw her damaged bicycle revealed the true price of the damage inflicted by this inconsiderate individual, a price that can't be measured in any currency. Thanks asshole, next time just butt out, our bicycle parking was working fine before you "fixed" it.

Honestly when parking your bicycle in Japan you have to expect a few accidental scratches, which is why my commuter bike isn't the best bike in my stable, but a completely smashed reflector and seriously dented mudguard is something else, it shows an intentional disregard for another persons property. There is no need for a child's bike to be thrown around in such a manner.

So, what starts as a light hearted story comparing bicycle parking to a living ecosystem ends with an angry rant. I didn't intend the article to turn out that way, but that's how it evolved, and unlike some I'm not one to step in the way of evolution.



Staying Safe on the Roads During the Festive Season

Bonenkai parties (literally: forget the year gathering) are Japanese drinking parties that take place at the end of each year among groups of co-workers and friends.  The reason for these parties is to forget the troubles of the past year and look forward to better times in the upcoming new year and what better way to erase bad memories than consuming dangerously large quantities of alcohol!? In addition to bonenkai parties December is also a time for Christmas parties at which alcohol consumption is almost mandatory. In the lead up to Christmas and the New Year it is easy to find yourself facing numerous gatherings, and an untold number of potential hangovers.

Photo: James Szypula (Yokohama Rides and Rentals)
 Luckily the vast majority of Tokyo's drunken revellers rely on public transport to ferry them home after a boozy night of partying, but despite this December is still a dangerous month on the roads for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike. Therefore I'd like to take this opportunity to remind cyclists of Tokyo to take extra precautions when cycling the streets in December, because as cyclists we face an increased number of threats on the road this season.

Sadly even with Tokyo's excellent and efficient public transport system there are people who will insist on driving home from their alcohol doused celebrations. When it comes to drunk drivers there is little we can do apart from stay alert and on guard. Be aware of your surroundings, exercise a little more caution at intersections (even if the lights are in your favour) and put away those earphones so you have a greater awareness of what is happening behind you.

You'd think drunk drivers would pose the greatest threat to cyclists in Tokyo during the party season but, as cyclists, we have more to worry about ...

Entertainment districts around the capital are incredibly crowded in December, and as a result these areas are packed to the brim with an almost impossible number of taxis. Not known for their manners, nor driving skill, taxi drivers will stop mid lane without warning, fling open doors, cut off everyone around them to reach a passenger waiting on the sidewalk, then pull into traffic seemingly without looking. Taxis are a menace to Tokyo's cyclists at the best of times, and December, well, December is far from the best of times. If you're on the roads in entertainment areas during this season, be aware that taxi drivers are more focused on the sidewalks than the roads around them.

In addition to motor vehicles, pedestrians are also a threat to cyclists this time of year. As cyclists, if we're involved in an accident with a pedestrian, we're held liable for insurance purposes, no matter the circumstances surrounding the accident. So in this season of drunken revelry please do be aware that pedestrians may stagger, dash, leap or fall into your path without warning. By avoiding them not only do you avoid injury, but you can also spare yourself a truckload of paperwork and financial pain.

Photo: James Szypula (Yokohama Rides and Rentals)
Many merry makers will head to the notorious nijikai (after party) knowing full well they'll not be able to catch their last train home. As taxis can be outrageously expensive there are some party goers who will choose to cycle home instead. Japanese cyclists have enough bad habits when they're sober so after a few drinks they pose a greater danger not only to themselves but to those around them. Once again be aware of your surroundings and be ready to avoid an accident as a drunk cyclist may also wobble, dash, leap or fall into your path without warning.

Cycling under the influence of alcohol is an offence in Japan which carries penalties of up to 1 million yen and the possibility of a prison sentence as long as 5 years! Like all Japanese cycling laws this too is poorly enforced unless you cause a serious accident, but it isn't a risk worth taking.  So if you're partying this holiday season its probably smarter to leave your bicycle at home if you plan to have a few drinks so you don't give in to the temptation to cycle home in your alcohol induced euphoria.

Finally, a point we often forget. After a big night out, often lasting into the early hours of the morning, it takes some time to sober up. So keep all the tips above in mind when cycling in the mornings too. Drivers may still be influenced by alcohol they consumed the night before, taxis will still be ferrying people home and in all likelihood you'll have to avoid pedestrians passed out in the street.

If you're planning a night out, maybe leave the bike at home, and consider carefully if you're in any state to cycle the following morning.

Enjoy the celebrations, but do so responsibly with consideration for your own safety and the safety of those around you, or more simply put: Party on and be excellent to each other.



Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe 2013 (Updated!)

Important Update: Starting time and place changed. December 23rd at the 246 COMMON in Aoyama (map). Registration starting at 16:30 with the ride scheduled to start at 17:00.

The crew at Night Pedal Cruising organise monthly themed social night rides in Tokyo and this month being December the theme is, of course, Christmas!

That means its time to dust off your Santa outfit (or obtain one if you don't own one already, shame on you!) and decorate you bike with lights, tinsel, mistletoe and whatever else you can think of in order to make this ride the biggest two wheeled Christmas spectacular Tokyo has ever seen.

There is no obligation to get dressed up to attend the ride, but hey, its only Christmas once a year so why not?! Got an Easter Bunny costume instead? We don't care! Hell, in the summer we rode (almost) NUDE! Just get it on and join the fun!

Participants will gather on December 23rd at the 246 COMMON in Aoyama (map) with registration starting at 16:30 and the ride scheduled to start at 17:00. The distances are generally short, and cycling is at a low pace so you can drift up and down the pack and enjoy a leisurely chat. Its a social ride with emphasis firmly on "social".

Suggested Ride Items:

  • A costume. Santa Clause preferred but its up to you.
  • Lights, lots of lights, the more flashy and annoyingly Christmasy the better!
  • Decorated bike. Tinsel, mistletoe, Christmas decorations, lights, inflatable reindeer, anything goes. The more outrageous the better. 
  • A beverage or two, remember you have to ride home, but we ARE celebrating.
  • A sound system. This will not be a "Silent Night".
  • A means of making it snow, failing that, a means to blow bubbles!
  • Christmas cheer.

I will be attending and would like to invite all Tokyo By Bike readers to come along and join in the fun. I've not met nearly enough of you!

If you do plan to participate let me know, or shoot me a message on Twitter so I can look out for you. You may think it easy to spot a man in a Santa suit, but not in a group of Santas!



Police Systematically Removing Bicycle Crossings Around Tokyo

Over the past few days I've been informed by many concerned readers that they have witnessed workers removing bicycle crossings from streets all around Tokyo and they want to know whats going on.

This comes as little surprise as in May 2012 the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) released a statement which revealed they were planning to remove over 10,000 of Tokyo's 15,000 bicycle crossings from intersections by 2014 to encourage cyclists to use the streets. Over summer crossings slowly began to disappear, but with the end of the year little over a month away, work crews hit the streets in November and crossings all around the city are being removed at an alarming rate.

What was once a bicycle crossing in Tokyo.
Photo: Scout Hatfield
I'm astounded by the reasoning of the police. A representative of the Metropolitan Police Department actually said "We want to quickly start removal so that bicycles can travel roads safely,". What? Removing cycling infrastructure from the sidewalks will somehow make cycling on the roads safer? Sounds to me like someone at the MPD has been into the confiscated drugs.

The stated aim of removing bicycle crossings is to get more cyclists off the sidewalks and onto the streets, but if you've observed any Tokyo intersection you'll notice that the bicycle crossings are currently ignored by cyclists and pedestrians alike. What affect will removing them have if they're already universally ignored? How is anything change cycling on the sidewalks supposed to make the roads safer?

Cyclists in Japan will continue to cycle on the sidewalks until such time as there is alternative, safe infrastructure on Japan's roads and they fully understand how to utilise it. I've stated it a million times in the past "Japanese roads are not ready for Japanese cyclists, nor are Japanese cyclists ready for the roads".

On May 17 2012, the MPD announced that 5,685 accidents involving bicycles occurred in Tokyo from January to April (2012), 12 percent fewer than during the same period the previous year. There were 20 percent fewer accidents on sidewalks and 23 percent fewer at intersections, but accidents on the road increased by 7 percent. As to whether the changes were due to the department's announcement that cyclists must generally ride on the street, a traffic affairs department official said, "More analysis is needed."

Workers erase a bicycle crossing in Tokyo.
Photo: John Crossley
So according to the Police Department's very own data, accidents involving bicycles are going down, accidents on the sidewalks are going down, and accidents at intersections are going down, but since the MPD began recommending cyclists ride on the road accidents on the road have increased by 7%. Astonishingly the police refuse to recognise the spike in on road accidents directly relates to their efforts to get cyclists off the sidewalks!

If, after the removal of the crossings, police decide to take a hard line on sidewalk cyclists one of two things will happen. 1) Without alternative safe cycling infrastructure the general populace will simply ignore the police as they have on a number of past ill informed rulings and nothing will change, or 2) The number of on road accidents between cyclists and motor vehicles will soar because there is no safe cycling infrastructure in Tokyo.

What is it that the Metropolitan Police department don't get? When will they understand that while they faff about making new laws, which they never enforce, the Japanese public are getting on with life cycling under their own, culturally accepted, set of rules which have evolved from decades of practical bicycle usage. Whenever the police get involved they confuse the issue by enforcing laws nobody has observed for decades because they're irrelevant, impractical, and don't meet with society's needs.

When it comes to cycling laws the policy makers are so out of touch with reality they're totally irrelevant.

Educate the public, provide them with safe cycling infrastructure, develop cycling laws designed to protect not punish cyclists and enforce those laws consistently. Admittedly I haven't given it a lot of thought, but surely that would go much further towards making our roads safer than removing already irrelevant bicycle crossings.



How to Register Your Bicycle in Japan

Japan has an interesting bicycle registration system. Interesting because while registration is compulsory there are no penalties for not doing so. Even though this is the case I do strongly recommend you register your bicycle, so here is all you need to know about registering your bicycle in Japan.

Buying a New Bicycle at a Bike Store

When you purchase a new bicycle at our local bike store the salesperson will offer to register your bicycle for an additional 500 yen fee. If you decide to register your bicycle at the time of purchase you will be asked to fill out a form with details including your name, phone number and address and details about the bicycle including maker and serial number etc.  Finally you will have to present a valid form of ID.

Once done the shop assistant will place a bright yellow registration sticker on your new bicycle and you're ready to ride. Easy! They will also give you a receipt which you should hold on to for a while just in case you're stopped by police before your registration information has entered the police records.

Japanese bicycle registration sticker
Japanese Bicycle Registration Sticker

Buying a New Bicycle Online

After purchasing a bicycle online it is your responsibility to visit the police, fill out the aforementioned form and show the police your receipt of purchase and valid ID which they will use to confirm that you are the rightful owner of the bicycle.

Buying a Used Bicycle

When purchasing a use bicycle you will have to visit your local police koban with your bicycle and fill out an identical form as you would had you purchased your bicycle new from a bike store and you'll have to pay the same registration fee. But as this is a used bicycle the beaurocratic fun doesn't stop there. Both you and the previous owner of the bicycle will have to fill out an additional form confirming the transfer of ownership.

Transfer of ownership sounds complicated and time consuming, but it isn't. When you go to purchase your second hand bicycle print out this change of ownership form and take it with you, once you've completed the deal, get the former owner to fill out their portion of the form. If you purchase a used bicycle in Japan and do not get the owner to fill out this form then it is unlikely that you will be able to transfer ownership into your name.

If you have suspicions that the person selling you a second hand bicycle is not the registered owner you should not purchase the bicycle. If you try to transfer ownership of a bicycle using a form with fake seller information the bicycle will be confiscated and returned to its rightful owner, and you may even be charged with stealing the bicycle even if you protest that you bought it second hand from someone who claimed to be the owner.

Bringing a Bicycle from Overseas

Not surprisingly when the bicycle registration system was conceived nobody considered the fact that people may move to Japan and bring with them unregistered bicycles and as a result there is no formal system for registering a bicycle you've bought into the country. It is possible that if you take your bicycle, passport and if possible a photograph or two of you and your bicycle overseas and explain your case to the police then you may be able to register the bicycle.  I've not tried this method, so if you do please do let me know how it goes.

If you're here for just a few weeks or months on a bicycle tour with your unregistered bicycle your very appearance will be enough to convince any suspicious police officer that you're only here temporarily. If that doesn't convince them then showing them your passport should be enough to deter any further suspicion.

Once Registered

If your bicycle is stolen and later abandoned, or the police stop someone and discover the bicycle is registered to you, not them then they will contact you to reclaim your stolen bicycle.

Failing to Register

While there is no penalty for not registering a bicycle, if you're ever stopped by the police for a bicycle registration check things will get very complicated very quickly and you could be accused of having stolen the bicycle you're riding even if you are the rightful owner.

While it may seem to some an invasion of privacy, or unnecessary bureaucracy to some I believe the advantages of registering a bicycle far outweigh the disadvantages so please do go out of your way to ensure that police records accurately list you as the rightful owner of your bicycle.

For more information about the Japans bicycle registration system and to download the necessary forms please visit Tokyo Bicycle Crime Prevention Association's web site.

For more stories, news and information about cycling in Tokyo and around Japan follow @tokyobybike on twitter.


Seven Kinds of Japanese Cyclists That Make Me Smile

A mother cycling on a mamachari with her child in Tokyo, Japan
I've spent too much time of late slamming the bad habits of Japanese cyclists on this blog, so I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that I love cycling in Japan, I love that cycling is such a natural part of everyday life in Japan and I love the wide variety of people who cycle here in Japan.

So to lighten the mood and focus on the good, here is a list of Japanese cyclists I love a little more than most:

1) Parents With Kids.

I cycle to work each morning as mothers are dropping their children off kindergarten by bicycle. Nothing makes me smile more than seeing parents cycling with children in seats front and back smiling, laughing and chatting away happily. This practise is much derided by people who have not experienced the delight of singing nursery rhymes at the top of their lungs while cycling with their children front and back. Its a wonderful practise and one I hope is never legislated out of existence.

2) Teenagers In Love.

Sure its illegal, but there is something lovely about seeing a young couple sharing a bicycle. Usually, but not always, the boy is pedalling away in the saddle while the girl sits on the back of the bicycle, sometimes with her arms around her suitor, other times she sits elegantly balanced side-saddle on the rack. On occasion the girl will stand on axle spikes (also illegal, and not at all romantic sounding) while resting her hands on the shoulders of the boy. Who was the heartless bureaucrat who deemed this innocent practise, one which all teenagers should experience, illegal?

3) Elderly People In Love.

Perhaps even more endearing than teenagers in love is the sight of a well dressed old man cycling by with the love of his life dressed in her Sunday best perched side-saddle on the back of his bicycle. If that doesn't make you smile then you must be one of the aforementioned heartless bureaucrats. I love that they're in love, I love that they still choose the bicycle for transport given their advanced age, and I love that they proudly stick it to the man by breaking the law.

4) Children On Bikes.

As a child growing up in Australia my bicycle represented freedom, I could go further faster with a bicycle than I could on foot. The bicycle gave me independence. I always smile when I see small children cycling to their after school activities, sports practise other events in Tokyo. I love that children choose to cycle and that the neighbourhoods are still safe enough for children to venture out alone.

5) Gadget Lovers.

There is one in every neighbourhood, the man who has kitted his bicycle out with every accessory imaginable, most scavenged from abandoned bicycles. Racks, mudguards, baskets (front, back and side), lights, holders for folded umbrellas, holders for open umbrellas, drink holders, bottle cages, bells, horns, mittens in the winter and electric fans in the summer.  He collects hundreds of spoke reflectors and insists on placing them all on his wheels at once. If you don't see him cycling by in his fisherman's vest with pockets for every other accessory, you'll certainly be able to locate him via the loudly blaring transistor radio in his front basket. I love that he loves his bike gear so much that he needs ALL of it on his bike ALL of the time.

6) Polite Bell Ringers.

It's no secret that Japanese cyclists are more at home on the sidewalk than on the roads. As a pedestrian its annoying, and sometimes startling, to hear the screech of brakes and a loud, aggressive, bell ringing close behind you. The bell is like a car horn, there are subtle differences between a polite toot and a "get the F&%K out of my way you moron" blast. When walking I've no problem moving aside for a polite bell ringer.

7) Unicyclists.

Yes, you read right. Elementary School children in Japan, in particular girls, go through a distinct unicycling phase. Both my daughters can ride a unicycle and I think that's awesome. Mastering the unicycle seemed impossible but they practised hard for months and now they can unicycle anywhere with apparent ease. Unicycling may have little practical value, but whenever my daughters feel like a goal is out of their reach I remind them of how they practised hard and overcame the seemingly impossible task of becoming skilled unicyclists. Learning to unicycle teaches children that with hard work and perseverance they can achieve anything. How can you not love that?

Sure its easy to focus on the negative cyclists in society, but they give the majority a bad name, I'd like to hear some positive cycling experiences from Tokyo, Japan and around the world for a change. Who are the cyclists you love and why?



Brakeless Cyclist Arrested in Japan, Confusion Over Law Remains

Police in Tokyo have arrested a 31 year old man for riding a bicycle without brakes on the rear wheel in violation of a new Road Traffic Act law which was introduced at the beginning of the  year.

At the time the law was introduced Japan's police announced that they intended to prosecute cyclists who repeatedly violate road traffic laws, the key word here being "repeatedly" as most cyclists are merely let off with a warning when police decide to act on an infringement. This marks the first arrest under the new ruling.

Policeman on a bicycle in Tokyo, Japan

Both Japanese and English versions of the article reporting this incident state the cyclist was "arrested after defying repeated requests by police", yet the man told police he "had no idea he would be arrested for riding the brakeless competition bike." So which is it? Is this poor reporting, poor policing, or a feeble attempt by the cyclist to escape punishment? Maybe we'll never know.

Other articles covering the incident state that bicycles must have both front and rear brakes under Japanese law, yet I've been led to believe that a single rear brake is all that is legally required. As it is now illegal to sell brakeless bicycles in Japan, and bicycle stores still sell bicycles with a single coaster brake on the rear wheel isn't it safe to assume that only a single rear brake is required?

If not then this isn't the only Japanese cycling law which is out of step with society. Under Japanese law carrying an adult passenger on a bicycle is illegal but when the law was drafted nobody considered tandem bicycles and thus it is technically illegal to ride a tandem bicycle in the majority of Japanese prefectures, yet they're sold freely in bicycle stores.

Once again confusion about the finer points of the law remains. Each time a new law is introduced, such as the recent law requiring cyclists to cycle on the left hand side of roads without sidewalks, but with pedestrian side lanes, the police have no convenient means for publicising the law therefore it goes mostly unpunished as cyclists argue they were never informed of the new ruling.

Efforts have to be made by the authorities to educate the public about new and existing cycling laws. Children can be taught in schools, but adults are harder to reach. As children learn cycling rules by observing adults they will eventually emulate the mistakes of the previous generation.

It seems to me that before cracking down in cyclists police need to crack down on shoddy reporting which causes confusion among the general public, because as it stands newspapers are the only avenue through which the public learn of new laws. Ideally the government needs to commit to educating the public about how to ride safely and legally, possibly through an extensive campaign of television advertisements, its the only way to ensure that the message reaches the majority of the population. This should be a priority task for our new Bicycle Promotion Ministry if it ever comes to be.

Remember, until they're widely and consistently enforced Japanese cycling "laws" are more like "suggestions" and you'd be better off observing the rule I adhere to daily: Exercise some common sense and ride safely.



How to Turn any Mountain Bike into a Commuter Bike

Thinking of buying a commuter bike? Have a mountain bike in the garage but don't think its suitable for cycling to work? Then think again, because with just a few easy modifications any old mountain bike can be resurrected as a lighter faster commuter vehicle saving you a lot of money in the process.

Mountain bike converted into a commuter bike. Tokyo By Bike.

Replace Your Tires

The very first thing to do is get rid of those big, heavy, off road tires because while they're essential on the dirt, on the road they just add weight, drag and slow you down.  Replace them with a the narrowest slick or semi slick tire you can fit on your rim. Believe me you'll notice a immediate difference in the weight, speed and feel of your bicycle by taking this simple step alone.

I have two mountain bikes set up for city riding, one is a GIANT MCMone with 26x1.25 Specialized Fat Boy slick tires. The other is an Cannondale F300 which I recently fitted with semi-slick 26x1.25 Schwalbe GreenGuard tires. Despite being the same size the Marathon tires are heavier and slower than the Fat Boys, primarily due to the fact that they're virtually indestructible. If you're commuting on a daily basis and don't want to constantly worried about puncturing your tubes I'd highly recommend trading some speed and weight for the security of a tougher tire.

When fitting narrower tires you'll most likely have to use a different sized tube, so take this opportunity to switch to a pair of puncture resistant tubes. When it comes time to put air in your new tires be sure to pump them up hard, really hard, this will make a huge difference in reducing the rolling resistance of your bike.

If you're not confident on a thinner tire or aren't willing to give up the comfort of a wide tire, even a fat tire with less tread will result in an immediate improvement in speed on the roads.

I can not stress enough what a difference narrow, slick tires will make to you ride.  Just a small investment in tires will breathe new life into any mountain bike. Try it, you'll be surprised.

Fenders (Mud guards)

Despite the fact mountain bikes are designed to be used in the mud and dirt, few come equipped with fenders, the primary reason being that mud will quickly lodge itself between the fender and your tire and before you know it your wheel will no longer turn. As an urban bicycle commuter getting your bicycle clogged up with mud shouldn't be an issue. (If it is, you have an awesome commute to work!)

The simple addition front and rear fenders to your mountain bike will stop water and grime from the road splattering your clothing ensuring that you arrive at work clean and dry. While considered unsexy by some, fenders are considered essential equipment among regular bicycle commuters, or at least among those who like to arrive at work clean and dry.

Racks, Panniers and Baskets

As a bicycle commuter chances are you'll be carrying some luggage, be it a change of clothes, your lunch or your laptop, but riding with a backpack in the summer leaves you with a wet and sweaty back.

Fitting a rear rack to your bicycle gives you with a number of options for carrying your luggage. You can simply tie down your bag to the rack with an elastic strap, but this can be time consuming, awkward, and leave you dirty. Some bicycle commuters opt to use pannier bags, the type you see long distance bicycle tourists using. Despite modern attachment mechanisms, putting pannier bags on and off the bike can be a chore, and once you've got them off you have to lug them about which is why I've chosen to fit a folding basket to the side of my year rack. Something else that may work for you is a set of handlebars with an inbuilt basket.

With a basket I can cycle to work with any bag, backpack, brief case, or even a shopping bag, all I have to do is fold out the basket and dump it in. When it comes time to park I remove my luggage and fold the basket away so it doesn't take up valuable space in the bicycle parking lot. I find the basket a lot more versatile and convenient than panniers, but that's a personal choice.

A final, often overlooked, option for carrying luggage is the simple front, handlebar mounted, basket. These can be easily fitted and has ample space for whatever a bicycle commuter will need through out the day.


A bright pair of lights are a must for any bicycle commuter who finds themselves out after dark, and sticking to convention most bicycle commuters install a red rear facing light and a white front facing one. When it comes to bicycle lights options abound, battery operated, USB rechargeable and those with generators, from small flashing lights to ones more powerful than a car's headlight.

As the streets of Tokyo are generally well lit bicycle lights aren't required to see the road ahead, but rather to alert motorists of your presence on the road. Given this I have installed nothing but two small flashing LED lights from the local Y100 store to my handlebars. They're bright, have a good battery life, and cheap enough that I can leave them attached to the bike at all times without fear of theft. So cheap in fact that I carry a spare around in my backpack in case one is stolen or runs out of batteries in the ride home.

In contrast to my minuscule front lights I have quite a chunky rear facing light. As I can't see behind me to take evasive action I'm reliant on getting the motorists attention, therefore my tail light ranks right up their with those of a fire engine for brightness.

In Japan riding with a headlight at night is not only a good idea, it is required by law.

Reflective Tape and Stickers

Controversial, as many cyclists are religiously against high viz, but reflective tape is a great way to improve your visibility on the road at night for minimal cost. Such tape can be purchased at your local Y100 store, and I tend to place it on areas of my bike where it will not attract too much attention during the day, but shine brightly at night. I like to place some tabs of reflective tape on my cranks, as reflective items moving in ways a motorist isn't expecting are more likely to attract their attention.

If it doesn't offend your fashion sensibilities, I recommend some strategically placed reflective tape on any commuter bicycle.

A Good Maintenance Guide

While you're in the mood and working on your mountain bike is a perfect opportunity to perform some other preventative maintenance tasks and there is no better reference for mountain bike maintenance and repair than Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance. With the tips above and a few maintenance tasks out of the way your mountain bike will be the perfect commuter bike.

Bicycle makers will try and sell you a bicycle for every purpose, road bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, fat bikes, commuter bikes and now even gravel bikes are a thing. Don't fall for it. For much, much, less money the simple addition of narrow slick tires, fenders, a rack and some lights will turn your old mountain bike into a fresh new ride, perfect for commuting in the city.

Article posted by Byron Kidd.

For more stories, news and information about cycling in Tokyo and around Japan follow @tokyobybike on twitter.



How Many Japanese Cycle To Work?

Japan, a nation of 127 million people has 72 million bicycles with over 10 million new bicycles being sold every year. In a country where public transport is clean and efficient and where car ownership can be costly and inconvenient, the bicycle has risen to occupy a unique place in Japan's transport ecosystem. The bicycle is an essential form of everyday transport used by millions of people from all walks of life.

bicycle commuters wait in the rain for a commuter train to pass in Tokyo Japan
Recently I wrote about how government policy and inflexible insurance companies have created a situation in Japan which forces employers to ban cycling to work. This got me wondering, in the face of such widespread bike to work bans, just what percentage of commuter journeys are made by bicycle in Japan?

By far the most popular method of commuting in Japan is by train, with 53% of students and 48% of workers nationwide using the train as their primary means for commuting to work. Other forms of public transport including buses and streetcars are preferred by 13% of students but just 9% of workers. Students tend to rely more heavily on buses than workers as schools are generally well serviced by bus routes.

When it comes to cycling a healthy 18% of students indicated they rely upon the bicycle but this is offset by a much lower 9% for workers. Why the difference? Schools tend to be closer to homes, whereas workplaces are often much further afield, making cycling an attractive option for students, but less so for workers. The convenience, efficiency and cleanliness of Japan's public transport makes it an easy choice over cycling as a transport option for Japan's workers as many live conveniently within walking or cycling distance of a train station.

Sadly corporate Japan shoulders some of the blame for low bicycle commuter numbers among workers. Citing safety and insurance concerns, along with a host of other nonsensical reasons, many Japanese companies strictly ban employees from cycling to work. Until this is rectified bicycle commuter numbers among Japanese workers will forever remain low.

A mere 6% of Japanese students commuted by car, while that figure jumps to 24% for workers. In Japanese cities such as Tokyo where up to 67% of commuters rely on the efficient train and subway systems, and where private car ownership is more expensive, the number of workers who travel by car is much lower. But the Japanese countryside is not as well serviced by public transport, and this coupled with longer commuting distances bolsters the nationwide car usage statistic among Japanese workers.

Surprisingly when it comes to walking to work 7% or both students and workers chose this option and 3% of both groups indicated they commute by motorcycle.

In summary 66% of students and 57% of workers choose to commute via Japan's legendary public transport, while 9% of students and 27% of workers rely upon cars or motorcycles to get to work. At the healthier end of the scale 25% of students and 16% of workers cycle or walk to work, despite the practise of cycling to work being frowned upon by corporate Japan.

Of course there is more to a strong cycling culture than high bicycle commuter numbers as the bicycle will be used for a much wider variety of trips in a truly healthy and well balanced cycling nation.

In Tokyo 14% of all daily trips, not just commuter journeys, are made by bicycle with an average trip distance of less than 2km. Given that short distance and the fact that the average commute for a Tokyo worker is 60 minutes one way it is safe to assume that door to door bicycle commuting makes up just a small percentage of overall trips by bicycle in Japan each day. It is important to remember that certain cities or regions within a country can deviate greatly from the national average, and groups within the population can exhibit wildly different patterns of bicycle usage.

Therefore even under company wide bicycle commuting bans a healthy 9% of all commuter journeys by workers in Japan are made by bicycle. I wonder what portion of those commuters have company permission and how many are cycling to work in secret? I also wonder if companies were more lenient towards cyclists just how high the number of bicycle commuters would rise around Japan.

Ride safe and stick it to the Man.



Japan's National Bike to Work Ban

Strict government policies regarding employee travel insurance, and inflexible insurance company policies, have created a situation where cycling to work is effectively banned in Japan. That's right, bureaucracy is preventing people from cycling to work in Japan.

Under Japanese corporate law, companies are required to insure their employees against workplace accidents and this insurance extends to cover commuting to and from work, despite this few employee insurance policies include cycling insurance. As a result employers in Japan implement company policies which prevent their employees from cycling to work to protect themselves from financial liability should an accident occur.

Fixed gear bicycle commuter in Tokyo, Japan
 For example the majority of IT workers in the Kantō region are covered by a single insurance company which provides insurance not only for Japanese IT companies, but global IT giants including Microsoft, Google and IBM.  Their employee insurance policy does not cover cycling which effectively means not only employees of Japanese companies, but Japan based employees of international companies are banned from cycling to work while their international colleagues are free to travel to work however they choose.

So while more than 7% of Google's Mountain View employees cycle to a workplace which maintains a fleet of 1300 bicycles, provides showers with lockers, a towel service, secure parking with access to bicycle tools and even bicycle friendly shuttle buses, 100% of Google employees in Japan are banned from cycling to work as the company must comply with local regulations.

Despite this technical ban on cycling to work, many companies have a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy towards bicycle commuting,  whereby companies never make a strong formal announcement of the cycling ban, and employees who choose to cycle to work do their best to keep the fact hidden. Employees who make their cycling habits too obvious, or those unlucky enough to be involved in an accident during their commute will be asked to refrain from cycling to work in the future. Yet despite employer demands around 9% of commuters still commute by bicycle.

When informing errant employees of the company's bike to work ban, few companies take the time to explain to employees the insurance situation. Companies will claim that because they pay employees commuting fees employees are required to commute by train, others cite a lack of bicycle parking near the office, while yet more simply close the issue with "Its dangerous, please don't cycle to work in the future". This creates employee animosity towards the company when in reality the company is playing by the rules laid down by the government and their insurance provider.

Resourceful bicycle commuters go to the trouble and expense of arranging private bicycle parking near, but not too near, their office. In the summer months many take out gym memberships close their offices so they can shower and change into business attire before beginning work for the day.

Increasingly cyclists are taking out private insurance after a court ruling in July ordered the mother of a child who caused a serious bicycle accident to pay ¥95.2 million in compensation. Following that incident the number of enquires about bicycle insurance spiked and in reaction insurance companies expanded their products covering cyclists. Private cycling insurance can be purchased in Japan for as little of ¥4000 per year with payouts ranging from ¥50 million to ¥100 million. But despite the insurance industry warming up to cyclists, employee insurance policies still do not accept cycling as a valid means of commuting to work.

Japan is home to over 70 million bicycles, almost equal to the number of automobiles, but there is no obligation for cyclists to take out insurance. As a result only 30% of bicycle users in Japan are covered in the event of a bicycle accident.

With private cycling insurance, a legal place to park, and if possible a place to freshen up before work a defiant bicycle commuter has counter arguments to the most common employer concerns when it comes to cycling to work. But at the end of the day if a company demands an employee refrain from cycling the employee has few options and will reluctantly comply, even if only for a few months until the whole thing blows over.

Interestingly employers had little to say about bike to work bans in the weeks after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 when eager to please employees shunned the disrupted public transport systems and chose to cycle to work.  Also, in an anomaly of unfathomable proportions, the very same employers that claim a lack of facilities as a reason to ban bicycle commuting go out of their way to provide smoking lounges for their employees.

Fixed gear bicycle commuters in Tokyo, JapanWhile the outlook remains bleak for Japan's bicycle commuters, a handful of forward thinking companies have devised internal policies to support bicycle commuting. Most require bicycle commuters to be privately insured and rather than providing commuter passes, cyclists are paid for the kilometres they ride, while others received a lump sum based on the estimated number of rainy days per year to ensure their travel costs are adequately covered in inclement weather.

In most cases employers that embrace bicycle commuting discover the cost of supporting bicycle commuters is much less than providing the same employees with commuter passes and that their employees are healthier, resulting in fewer days off work due to ill health, and more productive as they arrive to work in a positive state of mind full of energy.

Cycling to work has tangible benefits for employers, employees and ironically insurance companies, the very ones ultimately responsible for the bike to work ban. But until government regulations, or insurance policies adapt to accommodate bicycle commuters millions of Japanese will be prevented from cycling to work and employees who do cycle will forever have to do so in secret under the fear of discovery.

This nonsensical bike to work ban must not be tolerated, nor should Japanese workers accept this type of interference in their private lives.

Don't stand for it.

Article posted by .

For more stories, news and information about cycling in Tokyo and around Japan follow @tokyobybike on twitter.



Japan Proposes Appointment of Bicycle Promotion Minister

Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) announced today a proposal which would appoint Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki to a newly created post of Bicycle Promotion Minister. Excuse me for not getting excited about this.

Tasks facing the new minister would include promoting the bicycle as an effective means of transport ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, improving cycling infrastructure by increasing the number of bicycle parking lots, installing bicycle lanes and the possible introduction of a bicycle share system in Tokyo.

Tanigaki is a career politician, like his father before him, and has also served previous terms in government as Finance Minister and Minister of Construction and Transport.  He lists mountaineering, cycling and wine tasting among his hobbies, but most notably appears in the press as being the person responsible for signing the execution orders of death row inmates, condemning 6 prisoners including a 73 year old man to death in the past 12 months.

While we would welcome a newly created post of Bicycle Promotion Minister we question if Tanigaki is the right person for the job, even given his love of long distance cycling. The LDP have a track history of cronyism, and while there is no indication of who will work with the Bicycle Promotion Minister, but we assume there will be more career politicians, representatives of companies with a vested interests and countless Tokyo University "experts" and academics who have been on the government payroll for decades.

Whatever eventuates you can rest assured that public consultation will never feature in the decision making process and that our voices will go unheard.

While this should be a happy day for cycling advocates around Japan, how can we get excited about a bunch of politicians, sons and grandsons of politicians, with track records of corruption, self serving policies and ignoring public opinion, electing one of their ilk to a position that holds so much promise?

But there is at least one positive, we now know where to send our complaints about bicycling infrastructure in Japan, even if they will fall on deaf ears.



Cleverhood Rain Cloak Review

Today as two typhoons lash Tokyo simultaneously I realise it was exactly one year ago, during another powerful typhoon, that I first put my new Cleverhood rain cloak to the test. To put it mildly, I was incredibly impressed with the results.

As anyone will tell you, its much easier to sit out a typhoon if you have snacks and beer, exactly the two things we didn't have as the rain came in sideways and the typhoon moved ever closer. Under normal circumstances it would have been a long day without the much needed snacks and beer, but I had recently taken delivery of a new Cleverhood rain cloak, it looked sturdy, and I wanted to put it to the test. What better way to test a rain cloak than in a typhoon, on a daring mission for a six pack and some crisps?

Cleverhood TF Green Rain Cloak

Looking at the Cleverhood cloak the first thing you notice is how stylish it is, as if stylish is ever something you've said about a rain cape before. The version I have would look quite at home over a tweed outfit and high riding boots, in fact given its unique waterproof design you can essentially wear what you like underneath without fear of getting wet.

The Cleverhood cloak is made from a sturdy waterproof polyester with sealed seams to keep you dry in even the most inclement of weather. It is tastefully trimmed with 3M reflective tape which shines amazingly brightly under lights, but which disappears in daylight making this a very stylish but stealthy high-viz item.

Two arm slits in the front of the cloak feature magnetically closing flaps so that when you draw your arms inside they automatically snap shut preventing water from seeping in. Below the arm slits on the interior of the cape are finger loops so when the rain really pours you can slip your fingers into the loops and drape the cloak over your handlebars keeping everything underneath nice and dry.

The cape's hood has a wide brim, and moves around with your head so as to not cut down your peripheral vision. If so inclined it is possible to secure the hood under your helmet. The Cleverhood has elastic draw strings (internal) so you can draw the cape in closer when you're on the bike. I make good use of these because if the cape is flapping around in the wind I'm always in fear that it will catch on to a car as it speeds past. Zippered pockets and a small loop of fabric on the back from which you could secure a light or reflector are additional details that round out this amazing product.

The material is hardly breathable but the cape is loose fitting enough to allow air to circulate. Also, being a cape it does not cover the lower part of your legs so in extreme conditions you may want to complement the coat with some waterproof boots, leggings or trousers, but outside of typhoon conditions and gale force winds they're not necessary.

Cleverhood TF Green Rain Cloak

The cloak comes in its own convenient drawstring carry bag, and folds down so compactly that I carry it on every single commute to work even when the chances of rain are zero.  Knowing I have a rain cape I can rely on has resulted in more riding days as I'll cycle to work knowing it will be raining on the return journey, but that the Cleverhood rain cloak will keep me dry.

If I could ask for an addition to the cloak there would only be one, an internal pull tab for opening the front waterproof zipper from inside, as currently the only way to open it is to pop your arms out of the slits and use the external pull tab. A small thing, and one which may have already been included on newer designs.

I don't often recommend products on Tokyo By Bike, but the Cleverhood Cloak comes with my 100% backing. This review comes after a full year of use of the Cleverhood cloak in heavy rains through Japan's notorious wet season, summer squalls, typhoons and snow, both cycling and walking.  This is an exceptionally high quality product which will serve you well for a long, long time.

The Cleverhood cloak can be purchased on line from the Cleverhood store. International shipping is available.

Try it, you'll love it.



Japan's Inner Tube Vending Machines

What a great idea! The town of Imabari in Shikoku, at the beginning of the Shimanmi Kaido Cycling Road has teamed up with DyDo Drinks and Panasonic to install vending machines that dispense bicycle inner tubes in addition to their normal fare of sweet sugary drinks, and brown water deceptively labeled as "Coffee".

The vending machines sell three types of inner tube including road bike tubes with Presta valves. The tubes sell from between 1330 and 1400 yen which is comparable to their in store price, so cyclists aren't being charged a premium for convenience.

Bicycle inner tube vending machine in Shikoku, Japan

These are the first such vending machines in Japan and have yet to spread beyond Shikoku.

In general the Japanese public don't change their tubes, relying on in shop mechanics to do it for them so it is doubtful these vending machines will become a common sight all around the nation. Having said that, these vending machines would be a welcome addition to other popular bicycle touring areas such as Hokkaido and Kyushuu, and near popular weekend cycling routes, the kinds of places that attract cyclists who are comfortable changing their own tubes.

The Shimanmi Kaido is an expressway linking the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku via series of bridges and islands covering a distance of 60km from Onomichi City, in Hiroshima prefecture, to Imabari City, in Ehime prefecture alongside which runs the 70km Shimanmi Kaido Cycling Road.

The Shimanmi Kaido Cycling Road is a popular tourist destination with thousands making the journey every year, some covering the entire distance in a single day, others taking a more relaxed pace stopping ad numerous sightseeing spots along the way and breaking up the trip with an overnight stay in a local ryokan. While people do opt to make the return trip by bicycle many choose to return by bus or ferry.

It is possible to rent bicycles at your starting point for as little as 500 yen per day and bicycles can be returned to any rental terminal along the course. Electric assist bicycles are available for 800 yen per day, but they're not available at all rental terminals and must be returned to the terminal from which they were borrowed.

These vending machines will be a welcome addition to Shimanmi Kaido Cycling Road, and we can only hope that they become more widespread around the country. The only addition we'd like to see is an air compressor on the vending machine which would allow cyclists to quickly inflate the repaired tyre and continue on their journey with a minimum of inconvenience.

Visit the Shimanmi Kaido Cycling Road homepage for more information.



Japanese Cycling Rules a Mystery for Japanese Cyclists (Infographic)

While Japan has always had a high number of cyclists the number has been growing even more rapidly as many people not only use the bicycle as a tool, but are also beginning to take up cycling for recreation and health reasons.  In addition to this after the transport disruption caused by the March 2011 earthquake many more Japanese have taken up commuting to work.

As a result increasing number of cyclists, and changing use of the bicycle in Japan, the number of accidents involving bicycles has increased, and it has become painfully obvious that the general public have very little awareness of Japan's cycling laws. 

This prompted Insweb Research to conduct a survey of 1443 people (1072 mane, 371 female) asking them questions about Japanese cycling laws. Upon completion of the survey they produce this most enlightening infographic.

Some interesting points from the survey include:

A huge 72% of those surveyed were unaware that it is illegal to operate a bicycle one handed and that it can result in a ¥50,000 fine or 3 months imprisonment.

44% of those surveyed had no knowledge that children are required by law to wear helmets when cycling.

49% were unaware of the requirement to use a headlight when cycling at night.

62% believed that stop signs do not apply to cyclists.

While the general public's lack of awareness of the rules in a problem, as I always state in this blog, the real problem is the rules are not being enforced, and until the police do their jobs and enforce the laws they will go largely ignored endangering the lives of millions of Japanese cyclists each day.

Additionally now the results of the survey are in, what is going to be done about the problem?

* This has been a rushed post, I'll translate the results of the survey more thoroughly as I find the time, so please remember to come back.



Another Case For Bicycle Commuting in Japan

From late yesterday to early this morning Typhoon 26 (Wipha) lashed the Kanto region of Japan, its fury peaking in Tokyo around 6am bringing heavy rain and strong winds. Japanese media have reported Wipha to be the most powerful typhoon to pass so close to Tokyo in 10 years. All schools in our area are closed for the day, but us hard working Japanese salary men are still required to go to work.

As a result of the continuing winds, and flooding in some areas, Tokyo's normally ruthlessly efficient rail system has been severely disrupted, with numerous lines closed completely. In anticipation of transport chaos companies expect employees to be late for work today, in the face of mother natures fury it can't be helped. Many employees, relying on yesterday's forecasts, chose to take this morning off work, others decided to take the entire day off today.

I'm a bicycle commuter, in a company that bans bicycle commuting, I'm unaffected by transport delays.

I chose to wake up this morning, look out the window, heed the weather reports and decide a course of action based on that information. My options being, take the morning off and go back to bed, take the train and possibly arrive at work late, requiring that I work late to make up the lost time, or cycle to work business as usual.

Based on the information on hand this morning I cycled to work in dry conditions, but with strong winds. I left home at my usual time, and arrived as I normally do, 20 minutes before the start of business. I encountered a lot of debris on the road, mostly leaves and small branches, and a countless number of broken umbrellas. I arrived to an almost empty office, although it is slowly filling as people file in late.

So as a disobedient employee who chooses to flaunt company rules to cycle to work, I end up being among the most productive employees in the company today. My entire team has taken the day off so I'll be shouldering their load today too, but I wouldn't even be here had I obeyed company policy and taken the train to work.

It is not unusual for Japanese companies to ban employees from cycling to work. Some claim their insurance does not cover bicycle commuters, or protest there is no bicycle parking nearby, or that they have no facilities for bicycle commuters. Others simply close the matter with "Its dangerous, therefore forbidden". None of their claims hold water in my case as I have private insurance that covers cycling to work and I've also arranged bicycle parking near the office. As for "facilities for bicycle commuters" what other facilities do we need?

My company hasn't confronted me about cycling to work, not yet. We have an unofficial "don't ask, don't tell" policy, but I am adamant that outside of business hours the company has no right to dictate employees behaviour.

I didn't hear any Japanese companies complain about eager to please employees cycling to work after the March 11, 2011 earthquake disrupted transport in Tokyo for weeks, in fact they must have been secretly overjoyed. Yet despite this once transport returned to normal so did the intolerance of cycling to work.

Companies stand to gain so much by allowing employees to cycle to work.  Bicycle commuters arrive at work in a much healthier mental and physical state, more alert and ready to get down to business than those that have been battered and beaten by a long train commute.

But what do Japanese companies care for the health of employees? Long work hours are not only common, they're expected, resulting in employees eating calorie packed meals late at night which leads to obesity. But even more astonishing is that in this day and age many companies conveniently provide employees with smoking lounges!

Smoking yourself to death on company time is acceptable, cycling to improve your health on your own time is systematically forbidden. Its illogical, some would say criminal.

Sadly big Japanese companies are opposed to change and altering their thinking on this issue is an act of futility. Unless Japan's employees stand up for their rights those rights will continue to be abused by Japanese companies, and haven't they been abused enough already?

Ride safe, stick it to the Man, and smoke 'em if you got 'em.



Experiment moves Tokyo's cyclists from the sidewalk to the road

In early 2013 Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT) collaborated with the Metropolitan Police Department and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to initiate an experiment at two traffic intersections in Tokyo. The intersections involved were painted with arrows in blue to indicate to cyclists where to ride and cross. Not surprisingly results have shown that more bicycle riders follow the guide arrows rather than taking the sidewalks.

woman bicycle lane tokyo Japan
From February through July, between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM, the Sengoku Icchome intersection in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward had an increase of cyclists taking the left side of the inbound car lane of Hakusan Dori Avenue. The increase was from 51% to 81%. As for those who use the sidewalks, the decrease was from 39% to 16%. In Minato Ward’s Fudanotsuji intersection, cyclists taking the lane for bicycles have increased from 26% to 53%, while those who keep using the sidewalks have gone from 33% to 19%.

With the improvement resulting from the use of guidance lines, Professor Tetsuo Yai, the project’s chairman from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, said, “Road usage increased at Sengoku thanks to the bicycle lane and other measures. We should spread this success to other areas.” There are also other lanes set for bicycles besides those at the intersections at Bunkyo and Minato wards.



Cyclists Reminded of New Left Side Rule

Just when I thought I understood Japanese cycling laws, I discover something new.

A new law will take effect on December 1st, 2013 which will ban cycling against the flow of traffic in an effort to reduce the number of bicycle related accidents police warned on Friday.

But hold on a second. Aren't bicycles already required by law to use the left lane? Well yes, but it seems there has been a legal loophole which the new law aims to close.

Woman cycles in bicycle lane in Tokyo, Japan
In Japan cyclists can cycle in both directions on sidewalks wider than 3m which are marked as shared use. When cycling on the road bicycles are required by law to keep to the left. So why this new regulation when a law already exists?

Many roads in Japan don't have space for sidewalks, but have a small area on each side of the road marked for pedestrian use by a single white stripe of paint. These side lanes are rarely wide enough for pedestrians to walk two abreast.  Under normal conditions pedestrians walk on the roads and when a vehicle approaches they drift, single file, into the side lane until it passes by then disperse to fill all the available road space again.

This revision to the Road Traffic Act pertains to those roads with side lanes. Until now there has been no law preventing cyclists from riding against the flow traffic in these narrow side lanes. Under the revised law bicycles must use the left side of the road at all times. Finally, some much needed consistency.

Cyclists who do not keep to the left-hand side of the road may face up to 30 days in prison or a fine of ¥20,000, police said. The key word in that sentence being "may", because as we all know cycling laws in Japan are rarely, if ever, enforced by the police.

According to National Police Agency data, 3,956 cyclists nationwide were given warnings in 2011, including 17 that reportedly led to fines, meaning that 3,939 cyclists broke the law, but were let off by the police. Is it any wonder cycling laws are largely ignored?



Saitama City Plans 200km of Bicycle Lanes Over 10 Years

Saitama City recently announced a plan to create a 200km network of bicycle lanes within 10 years as part of its commitment to ensure the safety of cyclists and to promote a bicycle friendly environment.

Bicycle lane in Kanazawa Japan
According to the city Saitama Prefecture has the highest bicycle ownership per capita, partly due to the prefecture being entirely flat, with 15% of all commuters using their bicycles to ride to and from the station. Under a plan to be finalised this financial year the first lanes to be developed will expand radially from major railway stations and within 10 years connect schools, parks and public buildings to a 200km network of bicycle lanes around the city.

Currently it is unknown of the lanes will be fully separated from traffic, or if they'll simply be blue stripes on the side of the road offering little protection, but the fact that Saitama City is committed to the network and to bicycle safety is commendable.

Saitama already hosts numerous cycling events including the Tour de Saitama and next month will hold a UCI event; the "Saitama Criterium by Tour de France". The city hopes that such events will further promote bicycle usage within Saitama Prefecture, but admits they have to do their part to ensure cycling is safe for all, including not only providing infrastructure, but increasing awareness of cycling rules, and devising systems to prevent bicycle abandonment, failing that, systems to efficiently handle abandoned bicycles.

Implementation of cycling lanes has proven difficult in space starved Japan where cyclists are already quite at home cycling on the sidewalks. Saitama city is using the momentum of its national and international cycling events to garner support to drive cycling infrastructure forward.

Lets hope it does not fail, and that the bicycle lanes provided are of better quality than this bicycle lane in Yokohama.