September 12, 2013

Bicycle Commuting in Tokyo? Are You Insane?

At first thought the idea of bicycle commuting in Tokyo is insane. Its a huge concrete metropolis, home to tens of millions of people, an untold number of motor vehicles and during rush hour they're all intent on just one thing, getting to work. The thought of cycling to work through that mess may strike you as insane, but in reality Tokyo is a great city in which to bicycle commute and the benefits make it all worthwhile.

a bicycle commuter in tokyo

Why would you want to bike commute in Tokyo, home of the worlds cleanest and most efficient public transport systems, anyway?


Trains are crowded

Lets face it, riding rush hour trains in Tokyo can be torture. Just when you think the train is packed to capacity it stops at a station and attendants push in even more people. At times you can feel the air being squeezed out of your lungs by the combined weight of humanity pushing you bodily against an overweight salaryman who evidently had nattou on garlic bread for breakfast. Lets not mention the body odour in the summer, the wet dog smell in winter, or the coffee and tobacco breath of of your fellow travellers .. sorry mentioned it didn't I?

"Roads are crowded too", I hear you say. True, but unless you're commuting along a major route such as 246 or route 20, which is  not advised, the traffic isn't horrendous and you'll discover yourself travelling faster than the cars anyway.  Most drivers in Tokyo are aware of cyclists on the road and are relatively polite to them too. Of course inattentive, careless and speeding drivers abound, but there really are relatively few openly aggressive drivers on Tokyo roads.

"Cars pollute, not only do they smell worse than a salaryman's armpit, but the pollution also damages your lungs", some may object. Maybe, if you're cycling in 1970, but emissions from today's cars are quite odourless. Unless you're cycling along 246, 20, or Kanpachi vehicle emissions are barely noticeable as you speed between the rows of almost stationary cars.


Bicycles are faster

Lets say your commute involves a walk to the station, changing trains once on the way and walking from the station to the office. Now lets agree that this commute takes an hour door to door. I can guarantee you the same commute can be done by bicycle in 30 minutes.  Why am I so sure? Because that's my daily commute exactly.

"But you're a finely tuned athlete, of course you're faster.", someone whined. Well believe me, that's quite untrue, I don't want to sweat like a dog on my commute therefore I cycle quite sedately. Twice a week I notice a mother cycling the sidewalk carrying her child in a child seat. We take the same route for 6km, her on the sidewalk me on the road, and she consistently keeps pace with me. We're both faster than the traffic, but neither of us are needlessly exerting ourselves.

Imagine saving 30 minutes each way. That means leaving half an hour later in the morning and arriving home half an hour earlier. That's a full extra hour a day you can spend with your family, or doing your own thing, an extra hour in the day to do with what you wish, not which is dictated to you by society.

If you don't want more free time please feel free to stop reading here.


Still with me? Great.


Benefits, benefits, benefits

Physical exercise has numerous health and mental benefits which have been well documented elsewhere, in addition to those, here are some of my thoughts on the benefits of bicycle commuting.

A crowded train and long commute can be tiring and stressful not to mention both soul and body destroying. By the time you arrive at the office you're tired, stressed and feel like you've already put in a full day. When you cycle in however you arrive feeling awake, alert, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.

At the end of a long stressful day of work who needs a long stressful commute? In addition to the "commuter stress" you experience on an over packed train your mind is free to mull over all the stressful things that happened today, and all the stressful events of the future. By the time you arrive at your home station your stress is likely to have doubled.

On the flip side, when you're cycling the physical exercise gives you a rush of endorphins which naturally kill stress. In addition to this if you're not paying 100% attention to your surroundings you're likely to end up under a bus, so your brain doesn't have time to concentrate on all the stressful things in your life. You arrive home feeling refreshed, energised and stress free. In addition to this there has been a clean break between work and home life, you've left all your professional baggage back at the office to be dealt with tomorrow.

Another benefit of cycling to work is that if you enjoy cycling you get to indulge in your hobby twice a day. Take that golfers!


In short while public transport in Tokyo is clean and efficient, during peak hour the crowds can make it hell. By cycling to work you can avoid that unpleasantness and unnecessary stress.  Working in Japanese companies, or companies the world over, can be stressful and cycling helps reduce that stress both chemically, and by giving your mind a break by allowing it to concentrate on something else for a short while. Above all cycling in Tokyo can be faster than taking the train, and generally for commutes up to 15km this is the case. This means more spare time, something in short supply for workers in Japan. If you love to ride your bike you can do it every day by better utilising time you'd otherwise waste crushed into a train with unhappy golfers.

While people cycle to work for numerous different reasons, these are some of the benefits I enjoy and I'd like to encourage you to give it a try. Tokyo is such an easy city to get around by bicycle, you'll be amazed at just how compact the city really is.

If you're not already cycling to work what is stopping you? If you are, you may have different reasons for doing so that me. What are they?

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