The Trail Store. My not so Local Bike Store

Keen to ride my Giant MCM ONE at Nude Pedal Cruising on Saturday night I decided to take it out for a test ride earlier in the day.

Why a test ride? Well sadly as I changed jobs a while ago and can no longer park my bicycle indoors at work I've been commuting on my second hand Cannondale and my Giant has been sadly, sadly neglected. Anyway, after a quick clean I set off on a much needed test ride.

Ever had automatic shifting? You're cycling along and suddenly the bicycle changes gears? Ever experienced being able to shift down in gears, but only being able to shift up one time in three? This is what was going on during my short test ride and they're sure signs that the derailleur needs adjustment, the chain has stretched or the internal mechanism of the shifters is worn or dirty. (In my case it was all three!)

What to do? I was already out on the road, and with my family away for the day I was hoping to make the most of this rare opportunity to go cycling. I really needed someone to take a look at my bike, but who?

After some coaxing I got the bicycle into a comfortable gear and decided to head on down and visit Wada-san at The Trail Store in the hope that 1) they were open, 2) that Wada-san was there and 3) that he was free to give my bicycle the once over before the big night ride.

I used to be a regular customer at the Trail Store as I passed by twice a day on my ride to and from work. From my very first visit I felt comfortable at the Trail Store. Bicycle stores can be notoriously unfriendly to anyone who just drops in, or anyone who doesn't fit their profile of a serious cyclist. But Wada-san was friendly and helpful from the outset. He was never too busy to help with a problem, and always provided exceptional service, and advice. Despite being quite far from home The Trail Store became my local bike shop for many years.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I suddenly changed jobs and no longer passed by The Trail Store every day, in fact it had been 3 years since I last visited Wada-san.  The job change was so abrupt I didn't get the chance to tell Wada-san I wouldn't be around any more. As far as he was concerned I just disappeared. I always felt kind of bad about that, but I guess if you'e a store owner customers come and go, no big deal, but it meant something to me.

So I single speeded all the way to The Trail Store, locked my bike on the rack outside and walked inside. Wada-san was there, confusion at first then "Hisashiburi!" (Its been a long time), smiles and a handshake.  We shot the breeze for a while before I finally revealed the aulterior motive of my visit, the shifting problems.

Again I felt kind of bad about disappearing suddenly, then bursting into his business 3 years later, and without warning asking if he could take a look at my bike, but before I knew it he had it in a bike stand and had got to work on replacing my chain and adjusting the shifting.  In no time the job was finished, and I'm sure he charged me only for parts.

I rarely use this blog to push a business, but if you're of the mountain biking persuasion or are thinking of buying a mountain bike I can't recommend The Trail Store more highly.  Their friendly service is exceptional, I can say no more than that.

The Trail Store is 7km from my home, while another "high end" bicycle store is just 100m from my door. I've never felt welcome in the store close to home, the staff just aren't helpful or even friendly, and I always feel their prices are way too high. Therefore I will ALWAYS cycle to The Trail Store when in need of advice, parts or maintenence and highly recommend you do too.



Nude Pedal Cruising Tokyo, Ride Report

This  weekend marked the 60th ride and 5th Anniversary of Tokyo's popular night ride, Night Pedal Cruising, and it also happened to coincide with Pedal Day 2013 celebrations in Tokyo. Something had to be done to mark the occasion ...

Enter Nude Pedal Cruising, a 37km ride, well more of a mobile party than a ride, starting in Shibuya and winding a course through Tokyo's well known neighbourhoods including Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppingi, Ginza and Odaiba, taking in sights such as Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station along the way.  The ride was planned as a Hinode ride, a ride to see the sunrise over Tokyo Bay, this meant starting at 1am and riding through the night. Oh, and did I mention it was a nude ride?

(Editors note. Its difficult to do nude in Japan unless you're at an onsen. The population just aren't that into it, and the police are decidedly against it.)

In order to maintain a high standing with the law "nude" was redefined to mean "in your underwear", with no obligation to bare anything if you preferred not to. Despite this technical hitch the "nude" ride went ahead and this is my report from the event.

Group picture at LOVE Nishi Shinjuku, we were just getting started.
I fully expected my wife to have her doubts about me meeting a group of strangers, at midnight, in a dark park, for an all night, naked, bicycle ride to the other side of the city, especially when the guy I'd agreed to meet messaged to say I'd be able to identify him by his neck tattoos.  Instead she pushed me out the door saying I should go out more and meet more people. She's right, as a prominent online social networker I'm practically a hermit in real life.

It took me just 15 minutes to cycle to Yoyogi Park, I'd left home too early, it was just 12:15am. Not sure of the meeting point I cycled around until I spotted a group of people and bikes near the entrance to the park outside NHK. Music was being played, beverages were being consumed and people were chatting loudly while checking out each others bicycles.

I've known about, and been following Night Pedal Cruising, for almost over 3 years now, but this was my first time to attend one of their events. Unsure of who was in charge I headed towards the lady holding what appeared to be a clipboard (those in charge always have clipboards) and signed up for the ride.  Upon signing up I was presented with a spoke card, a sticker, and a complementary set of underwear .. did they think in my enthusiasm to ride naked that I'd forget my own underwear?

I introduced myself as the fellow behind Tokyo By Bike and handed my business card to a man in underpants and a wrestling mask, despite the fact he had no pockets.  Then I too got to checking out some of the other bicycles, including no less than 5 tall bikes, one with a huge stereo blasting FM radio from the rear rack.

One of the many tall bikes at the event.
The ride got underway at 1:30am a full half hour behind schedule. I knew then that this was my kind of ride. Just enough organisation to hold it all together and no more. I'm all about loose schedules.

Riding at the head of the group behind the tall bike with the stereo I learnt quite quickly that my clip less pedals would be a burden at such a slow pace. Looking over my shoulder I was blinded by the lights of over 30 cyclists.  With many sporting multiple headlights, tail lights, spoke lights and lights hanging off every conceivable part of their bicycles it was a blinding sight. Many radio's in the group were all tuned to the same station spreading tunes through the length of the pack.

It took me a while to understand the ride, so slow, a little boring and kind of lame in fact, but partway through the first leg from Shibuya to Shinjuku it clicked. I started drifting up and down the group pulling alongside random riders and simply starting up conversation. Its always easier as the foreigner to break the ice by starting conversation in Japanese, otherwise everyone assumes you're an uneducated illiterate and they leave you alone.  There were about 7 foreigners along for the ride too so there was also English conversation to be had.

Nishi Shinjuku is decidedly dead in the early hours of the morning, so after a brief stop for a photo at the LOVE sign we continued on past Kabichicho and the entertainment areas of Higashi Shinjuku still full of revellers where our large, loud group of cyclists and particularly the tall bikes drew a lot of attention.  This area is jammed with taxis, all of which were unsure of how to proceed when surrounded by cyclists. I hope we taught them to use caution.

The first stage of our journey finished with us riding through Harajuku and we ended up back at our starting point for a short break in which even more riders were convinced to whip off their shirts.

Night photography is HARD.
The next leg of the journey took us from Shibuya to Roppongi Midtown. We garnered plenty of attention on the pass through Shibuya crossing, and lost a couple of riders on the way, but as I mentioned before there was just enough organisation to hold the event together and they caught up with us as we were taking another break in Roppongi.

On the way we stopped right outside several Koban and passed numerous policemen all of whom simply stared in bewilderment. To them we weren't breaking any laws, but such a large gathering of people must have been up to no good.

During the Roppongi break people started swapping bikes and owners of tall bikes were very enthusiastic to let everyone try their skills on frightening looking machines. One fellow dressed only in boxers with a camera slung around his neck wandered into a convenience store for some food and drink much to the bewilderment of staff on duty at the time.

From Mid Town we continued on through Sodom and Gomorrah, that's right, Roppongi. Even at 4am the streets were teeming with people and the music still blaring from the clubs, many people shouted to us and took photos as we wove our way through the seemingly endless streams of taxis, pedestrians and drunks. We passed under a dark Tokyo Tower, a very tranquil contrast to Roppongi, then hit every single damn red light on our way up to Hibiya. During this long section along practically deserted roads people were using the red light stops as an opportunity to swap bikes again.

The plan was to go from Hibiya along the front of the Imperial Palace, swing by Tokyo Station and into Ginza, but as we were already well behind schedule we turned right from Hibiya and went straight through Ginza, past the Kabuki theatre, and Tsukiji fish market then over some bridges to the man made islands in Tokyo Bay.

Assing around on one of the many breaks during the ride.
The last stop before our destination was a convenience store to grab breakfast to eat as we watched the sun rise. The shop assistant didn't skip a beat as 30 or more noisy cyclists, many barely clothed, piled into his store. You've got to respect that.

A little down the road as the sky began to grow lighter a decision had to be made. We'd loitered too long on our breaks, enjoyed conversation too much on the ride and would be unable to reach our goal of Wakasu Seaside park. With a show of hands, which indicated most riders were too tired to continue that far, we turned right again towards Odaiba where if we were lucky we'd get to to see the sunrise.

We arrived, we saw the sunrise, we posed for photo opportunities and we chatted as we downed any food we had left. The ride was over. Except for many of us, it wasn't. Myself for instance, I live 15 minutes beyond the point where the ride had started over 4 hours earlier. As soon as we arrived I was planning a route home and calculating the time it would take me to get there.

Goal! (erm .. revised goal) Odaiba.
I needed to get home early if I was to have any chance of a shower and a little sleep before my daughters woke.  A small group of us said our goodbyes and set off from Odaiba just before 6am. I calculated an hour to get home, and maybe an hour of sleep before my girls rose.  Together we island hopped back towards Ginza, me out front fixated on getting home, getting some sleep.  Someone mentioned breakfast at Tsukiji, but that delay would eat up whatever precious time I had for a nap so I pressed on alone.

True to my calculation I arrived home at 7:05am, showered and managed 1.5 hours sleep on the tatami in the living room before sharing (another) breakfast and a fun filled day with my family.

Pedal Day celebrations started at 10am in Yoyogi Park on the same day and continued into the evening. I didn't make it but it looks like the Nude Pedal Cruising ride was just the beginning of a very exciting day.

It was truly a pleasure to meet a number of people I've exchanged tweets with on twitter at the event. As I said, I don't get out much, and I put my family first, but I'll try to attend the Night Pedal Cruising rides each month from now. Please do check their homepage, follow them on twitter or connect on Facebook and join us for a social ride in the future. I'd love to meet you all.



What's with all the Mamachari hate?

Last month an article I wrote about an enterprising bicycle store in London that is introducing Britons to the Japanese Mamachari was published on the popular Japan Today website.

The establishment of Mamachari Bicycles London had me excited as I've been promoting "Japanese city cycling style" overseas for years. I've been trying to convince people that mamachari bicycles are perfect for short trips around town, doing the shopping and running the children to kindergarten etc. I believe that manufactures overseas haven't been catering to this market, preferring instead to target sport or hobby cyclists, and when they do release a bicycle for the city cyclist it is almost always terribly overpriced for a piece of technology that has essentially remained the same for the last 100 years.

Now, let me say politely that Japan Today has a vocal and strongly opinionated set of core users who loudly proclaim their expert opinions on topics from immigration, nuclear disasters, politics to gardening tools and the best way to unblock a drain, they've got it all expertly covered. Given everyone there have such strong opinions and previous articles there about cycling had sparked intense, fiery debate I expected the same for my article.  Boy was I mistaken.

The article gleaned just 20 comments which was disappointing, but even more disappointing is that the vast majority (almost all!)  of those were negative. What is with all the mamachari hate?  Why can't people see the benefits of a cheap bicycle designed for daily duties? Am I failing in my mission?

Here are a few of the reoccurring themes in the comments.

OMG, that woman is cycling with two children on her bicycle, they're gonna die!

By far most of the negative comments surrounded the picture that accompanied the article, a woman cycling with two children seated front and back. Scandalous behaviour. How can she cycle with two kids! That's plain dangerous! She should be reported for child abuse! And my favourite comment: "A fine picture as to why these bikes should be banned" Banned? Is that the answer to everything in your society?

Mothers are reliant on the mamachari for daily transport and ferrying children around is perfectly normal behaviour that few people (vocal and strongly opinionated foreigners aside) consider dangerous.  Bicycles are constantly being re-designed with longer wheelbases, lower centres of gravity with safer child seats and seat belts with carrying children in mind.

This is how we roll in Japan, you're free to do differently if you choose, just don't try to push your "safety" standards on us. We enjoy the freedom to choose, and to judge for ourselves what we consider safe or not.  Its not just Japan, you'll find that cycling with children is considered perfectly healthy and normal in such bicycle rich countries as Denmark and the Netherlands.

I believe few of the commenter's are parents, and even less have experienced the enjoyment of sharing a bicycle ride with their child.

OMG where are the helmets!

Bicycle helmets are not compulsory in Japan, but police recommend that children under 13 years of age wear helmets. Recently bicycle manufacturers include a complimentary child's helmet on mamachari's sold with a child seat in an effort to increase helmet usage among children. As a result you see more passengers wearing helmets today than you did just a few years ago.

Once again in Japan we are free to choose when to wear a helmet and when not to.  Personally if I'm racing or mountain biking then I will certainly wear a helmet, but when riding the mamachari to the supermarket or the kids to the park I do not believe a helmet is necessary. I decide when I will and will not because I'm an adult and can make that decision for myself, I don't need it made for me.

Mamachari are cheap, heavy and just crap.

Mamachari can indeed be cheap, that is one of their primary features. They're usually parked outside in the elements for long periods in tight conditions with thousands of other bicycles which results in them getting banged about, exactly the conditions you do not want to subject your most expensive finely tuned road bicycle to.

Yes they're heavy, I prefer the term sturdy.  Obviously bicycles at such a cheap price point aren't going to be lightweights, but when you consider that the primary function of the mamachari is running errands around the local neighbourhood with few trips over 2km in length then is there really a need for the bicycle to be lightweight?  Besides after you add some groceries, a child or two and climb on yourself you'll be pushing over 100kg anyway.

Even in Japan few people commute long distances on mamachari, its primary purpose is getting around the local neighbourhood at relatively low speed therefore weight is not a big issue.

British cyclists are accustomed to high-quality high-tech bicycles, like the Moulton, Brompton and Pashley.

And British motorists are accustomed to the Bently, Rolls-Royce and Jaguar. Honestly if everyone in Britain can spare the cash for a Moulton I'm moving there tomorrow!

I agree that Moulton, Brompton and Pashley make some beautiful bicycles, but we're talking about different bicycles for different purposes, different prices for different incomes. Can you carry your groceries and 2 kids on an Brompton? Oh sorry I forgot that's dangerous and should be banned by law in your world.

Get them off the sidewalks!

Not a criticism of the mamachari itself, but of mamachari riders.  In Japan it is legal to ride on shared use sidewalks which, due to poor enforcement by the police, has been culturally interpreted to mean its legal to ride on all sidewalks which it clearly isn't.

But sadly Japanese roads are not ready for Japanese cyclists, nor are Japanese cyclists ready for Japanese roads, and until this situation is rectified get used to sharing your space with cyclists.

Those are some of the main themes from the comments which, when I read them, really discouraged me. Why can't people see the benefit of a cheap sturdy bicycle designed for ferrying about kids and running errands around the local neighbourhood? Then I had a major realisation:

These are the exact same negative opinions of the mamachari that I held a decade ago.

Before getting married and having children I was a Lycra clad, helmet wearing, cycling fanatic.  Spending every spare moment on the weekend cycling in the mountains around Tokyo, travelling to races, touring the country by bike, and spending every spare coin I had on newer lighter parts for both my road and mountain bikes.

I didn't understand the mamachari either. I considered them cheap, heavy, rubbish. Weirdly designed and hard to ride with their low seats, odd handlebar shapes and upright cycling position. I could not understand why anyone would ride them, nor could I understand why everyone rode on the sidewalks when it was clearly faster to ride on the roads. It turned out that every negative comment made on the article I'd made myself before learning to love the mamachari.

After marriage and children of course I kept my road and mountain bikes, which I still ride regularly, but we also bought a family mamachari for shopping trips and running the kids to kindergarten and about the neighbourhood. Even now my children are too big to ride as passengers if I'm making a grocery run or am taking the kids to the park I ride the cheap, heavy, crap mamachari because its the best tool for the job for a number of reasons.

  • Its parked downstairs (in the elements) already
  • It has a built in lock so its easy to unlock without getting dirty
  • It has a built in dynamo light so I don't have to remember to bring one downstairs with me
  • It has chain and mudguards that ensure a clean ride no matter what I wear
  • It has huge carrying capacity for the groceries, play equipment, or passengers
  • It has a wide kickstand so it does not topple over when I'm loading it up
  • If it gets stolen while I'm shopping (unlikely) I can get another without breaking the bank!

So after some initial discouragement at all the negative comments the article received I realised that the commenter's have yet to experience the mamachari, and that their thinking was identical to mine before I discovered the charm of the mamachari bicycle.  Therefore it seems apparent that the only way to learn to appreciate what the mamachari has to offer is by giving it a try yourself.

The mamachari is a great tool for the right job and I encourage everyone to get over their mamachari hate and give it a go. Take your mamachari shopping, take your kids for a ride, haul all their gear to the park, and you'll discover instantly the usefulness and versatility of Japan's mamachari bicycles.



Tokyo Cycling Tours with Tokyo Great Cycling Tour

Tokyo, its better by bike. That's the byline of the Tokyo By Bike site because we sincerely do believe the best way to experience any city is by bicycle. If you're visiting or are a resident looking for a new way to experience the city then we'd highly recommend a bicycle tour of Tokyo.

Cycling through a city allows you to visit the places in between places, it allows you to experience and become part of the city in a way that other tours or modes of transport do not allow.  Cycling through a city allows you to travel at your own pace, change course or stop and to browse or take photographs when you discover new and interesting places. When you cycle through a city you can interact with the people and the city making you more than a casual observer of the surroundings.

If you're keen to experience Tokyo in this manner then we'd like to introduce you to the Tokyo Great Bicycle Tour, providers of quality bicycle tours in Tokyo.

The Tokyo Great Cycling Tour has been conducting bicycle tours in Tokyo since 2006 and is one of the most experienced and popular bicycle touring companies in the city.  Their experienced and friendly English speaking guides lead groups of cyclists through the city on three routes that take in many of Tokyo's famous, and some lesser known, attractions.

Route A, the Tokyo Bay Ride, conducted every Saturday and Tuesday is rated "easy" and takes riders along the Sumidagawa River and to the Tsukiji Fish market.  Crossing multiple bridges over Tokyo's many rivers and Tokyo Bay, cyclists can enjoy lunch by the Bay in Odaiba before taking the water bus to Hinode pier. From the pier it is an easy cycle to the famous Zojyo-ji Temple, Tokyo Tower and finally the Imperial Palace back in central Tokyo.

Route B, the Edo-Tokyo Culture ride which is conducted every Sunday and Thursday takes in such sights as the historic Nihonbashi Bridge and district, the old town of Ningyo-cho where riders can buy sweets from a traditional confectionery store.  The tour then moves to Ryogoku, home of Japan's largest Sumo Stadium where if you're lucky you'll see sumo wrestlers going about their daily business. From Royogoku you'll cycle up to the popular tourist district of Asakusa for a well deserved lunch.  After lunch the tour continues to Ueno Park, through the narrow streets of Hongo and Tokyo University before ending up at Tokyo's Imperial Palace.

Route C, the Cool Tokyo Ride, is held on an irregular basis or by request. It is an intermediate ride with more road cycling and less stops than Routes A and B begins with a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market, and the upmarket shopping district of Ginza before moving on to Shiba Park which offers spectacular views of Tokyo Tower. From there its a short ride to the the Embassy district of Azabu-Juban then on to the infamous home of clubs, bars and disreputable foriegners, Roppongi.  Cycle through the historic Aoyama cemetery and down tree lined Omotesando to Yoyogi park for lunch before taking a walking tour of Meiji-jingu shrine. The tour passes by Harajuku's crowded Takeshita Dori, through Jingu Gaien and Yotsuya, past the national Diet building (Parliment) before reaching its final destination, again, Tokyo's imperial Palace.

The beauty of all these routes is that if you were to try and visit all the destinations on the tour using public transport you'd never fit it all into one day. If you were on a business trip or whirlwind tour there is no better way to pack that many sites into a single day.

If you'd rather hire a bicycle and take yourself around the city at your own pace Tokyo Great Cycling Tour will rent you a bicycle for ¥500 per hour, or ¥2,500 for the whole day.

The Tokyo Great Cycling Tour accepts bookings on line via their homepage at or contact them via email at

Let the Tokyo Great Cycling Tour convince you that Tokyo really is better by bike.

Tokyo Great Cycling Tour
1-3-2, Shinkawa,
Tokyo, 104-0033

Tel: +81-3-4590-2995
Fax: +81-3-6699-5544





Nude Pedal Cruising in Tokyo

To celebrate Tokyo's annual Pedal Day festivities the Night Pedal Cruising team are organizing a 37km "nude" night ride through Tokyo, entitled Nude Pedal Cruising Midnight.

The ride will begin on Sunday morning (August 18) at 12:30am at Yoyogi Park and wind through the streets of Tokyo travelling over 4 hours through Shibuya, Shinjuku, Aoyama, Roppongi, Tokyo Tower, Shiba Park, Ginza, and Harumi before ending up at the Wakasu Seaside park where participants can watch the sun rise.  Riders can then return to Yoyogi Park to take part in the Pedal Day 2013 festivities.

While the ride is billed as being a "nude" ride I believe under fear of arrest it will be a semi-clothed ride, but cyclists of all state of undress are welcome.

Complete details of the event can be found here. While the Pedal Day 2013 homepage is here.

I did attend the Nude Pedal Cruising ride and you can read my ride report here.



Buses Remind Tokyo Cyclists of the Law

Keio buses in the western suburbs of Tokyo are being used as mobile billboards to remind cyclists of their rights and responsibilities on the road. The buses have been painted with different messages on each side, one stresses to cyclists that they must also follow the rules of the road, while another (pictured below) is a little more specific reminding bicycle users that they must ride on the left side of the road.

It is rare in Tokyo that we see campaigns aimed at educating the public about cycling rules and cycling safety.  This is certainly much more high profile than handing out bicycle safety leaflets around train stations.  While it is not clear who is paying for these advertisements, nor is it clear they will have any long lasting positive effect, it is good to see a different approach being taken to promote bicycle safety in Tokyo.

Editors Note:
This post is a real Tokyo By Bike team effort. My daughter spotted the bus, and alerted my wife who quickly photographed it, both knowing that I'd be able to use it on the Tokyo By Bike blog. Good work team.