December 24, 2013

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.

December 18, 2013

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.

December 12, 2013

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.

December 11, 2013

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!

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