Schwinn T-shirts at UNIQLO

If you love Schwinn bicycles and find yourself in a t-shirt and jeans more often than not then you should get yourself to your nearest UNIQLO store.  Japanese budget clothing brand UNIQLO have teamed up with the iconic bicycle maker Schwinn to produce 7 different Schwinn themed t-shirts. The shirts are currently on sale nationwide for just Y1,500 each, but experience tells us if you wait a while you can pick up the very same t-shirts for as low as Y990.

This isn't the first time we've seen UNIQLO team up with well known bicycle brands on t-shirt designs. In the past they have collaborated with Giant, Specialized, Jamis and Pinarello among others. So if your inner 10 year old demands all articles of clothing you wear boldly announce your most loved hobbies then get yourself down to a UNIQLO store right now. Or if you're more like me, your more adult and budget minded self can suppress your inner 10 year old another few weeks until the price drop after which you can buy two!

While you're there why not pick up some super hero themed underpants as well? Girls love those.



Tokyo Warns Cyclists About Illegal Electric Bicycles

Recently the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has issued warnings to the public against the use of electric-assisted bicycles which run under their own power rather than providing pedal assist, saying that they are illegal on public roads.

Road Legal Electric-Assist Bicycle
Under Japanese road laws an electric bicycle that can run under its own power, without the cyclist pedalling, is under the same category as a motorcycle with engine size of 50cc or less and such vehicles require number plates and for the rider to have a license. Therefore riding such a bicycle on public roads unlicensed and without number plates is illegal. Electric bicycles commonly sold in Japan provide "electric assist", extra power to the pedals while the rider is pedalling while models overseas typically have a throttle allowing the bicycle to move without the rider pedalling at all.

The Tokyo Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs purchased 5 different types of the electric power-assisted bikes, ranging from 30,000 to 60,000 yen, for testing. They sourced the bicycles from both highly recommended online retailers, and retailers who had received a high number of consumer complaints. Of those tested one was equipped with a throttle in a clear violation of the road traffic act and three of the five continued running after the rider had stopped pedalling. More alarmingly was that under Japanese regulations power assisted bicycle motors are designed to stop running once the rider reaches 24 kilometres per hour, but four out of the five bicycles tested continued to accelerate to even higher speeds.

Personally I've noticed an increase of throttle controlled electric bicycles in the Higashi Shinjuku and Shin Okubo districts near my office. Such a sharp increase that I thought maybe the law had been changed to make such bicycles legal. I've seen these bicycle in use within full view of police officers none of whom have so much as even warned the cyclist. If officials don't act soon their use will become commonplace and the police will lose the power to act as they have in so many other areas of Japanese cycling regulation.

Bicycle buyers are advised to check safety inspection marks including the Traffic Safety mark from the Japan Traffic Management Technology Association, Bicycle Association Approved mark from the Bicycle Association of Japan and the Safe Goods mark of the Consumer Product Safety Association.



Tokyo Bicycle Lane Improvements

Japan is a nation of sidewalk cyclists. By law cyclists are required to use the road except in areas where specially marked sidewalks are available. Japanese society has misinterpreted and massaged this law over the decades and now the general consensus is that cycling on all sidewalks is acceptable. So ingrained has the practise become that police no longer enforce the sidewalk cycling laws. As a result most Japanese have no experience of cycling on the road, and even in areas where attempts have been made to develop on road bicycle lanes they're still largely avoided as they've been implemented with no consideration for the actual needs of the cyclists they're intended to serve.

Japanese roads are not ready for cyclists, and Japanese cyclists are not ready for the roads.

Bicycle Lane Adachi-ku Tokyo
Bicycle Lane in Adachi-ku, Tokyo.
When factories were demolished and the area west of Tokyo's Nishi Arai Station was redeveloped planners made the enlightened decision to provide wide sidewalks stretching 500m from the train station to the newly developed shopping centre. These sidewalks were paved with different coloured stones, the darker ones marking a two way lane for cyclists while the lighter area was designated for pedestrian use. Signs were erected and markings painted on the sidewalk surface indicating the correct location for both cyclists and pedestrians.

With no physical barrier between the bicycle lane and sidewalk, no education, and no policing, pedestrians and cyclists alike were oblivious to the bicycle lane.  Despite the markings pedestrians still walked wherever they pleased leaving cyclists with no option but to weave in and out often veering into the pedestrian only zone. Despite planners best intentions posting signs and changing the colour of the sidewalk surface did nothing to separate cyclists and pedestrians. Business as usual.

This chaos continued for years after the development was completed, it seemed that planners had given up the battle.

Upon visiting Nishi Arai last weekend I was surprised to see that a single simple improvement had been made to the lane which saw the bicycle lane almost entirely pedestrian free. Between the lane and pedestrian area posts had been erected at roughly 1.5m intervals. The bright blue posts, sport reflectors and markings pointing out the respective places for cyclists and pedestrians. The posts themselves are made from a soft rubber like material and when struck they bend and wobble rather than staying rigid.

During my 500m walk beside the bicycle lane I observed just one woman walking obliviously in the lane, which she did for the entire 500m despite me remarking to my wife, numerous times, loud enough for the women to hear that "Some people still don't realise that's a bicycle lane!".

Bicycle Lane Adachi-ku Tokyo
Posts to separate cyclists and pedestrians.
I noticed that cyclists, travelling in both directions, travelled faster than they had when they were mixed with pedestrians, some dangerously so as the posts pose no obstacle to errant toddlers who occasionally wandered into the bicycle lane. A small step or garden bed between would go a long way towards making it safer for all.

Another problem arose at intersections where the coloured tiles of the bicycle lane and the posts suddenly stopped. It was at intersections where pedestrians and cyclists were forced to mix again quite dangerously as cyclists were passing through the intersections at higher speeds than they would had they been cycling amongspedestrians.

Despite the problems the simple addition of posts effectively separated pedestrians from cyclists on a sidewalk where signs, markings and different coloured road surfaces had been proven a failure by years of demonstrated misuse.

Why not just widen the roads and provide on road bicycle lanes you may ask? The practise of sidewalk cycling is so widespread in Japan it has become part of the culture, as is the belief that cycling the sidewalks is safer than cycling the roads. Japanese cyclists include children, the elderly and parents carrying multiple children on their bicycles none of whom are keen on sharing the road with fast moving, heavy motor vehicles with nothing but a stripe of blue paint for protection.

In addition to this sidewalk lanes are convenient for shoppers as they're two way while on road bicycle lanes are typically one way.

Imagine you're on a one way bicycle lane and need to cycle back to a store 50m behind you, its one way so you can't double back. First you have to cycle down to the next intersection (away from your destination), wait at some traffic lights and cross the road. Then you'll cycle back in the direction of the store you want to visit, but you'll have to cycle past it to reach an intersection where you can cross the road again. Having crossed the road you can finally cycle on towards the store. You've done a big circle, wasting a lot of time in dong so.

On a two way sidewalk lane you simply turn around and cycle back. Easy.

Most people in Japan use their bicycle not for travelling long distances from point A to point B, but for pottering around the neighbourhood stopping by the bakery before dropping into the fishmongers then dropping off some clothing at the dry cleaners. A 10km one way roadside bicycle lane from the suburbs to the city is of little practical use to 99% of Japanese cyclists.

I believe it is important when considering cycling infrastructure to not simply accept what works well in other cities will work well in yours. Certainly there are best practises to adhere to but there is also a need to examine the culture, and the patterns of bicycle use and design infrastructure that complements that. Remember that cycling infrastructure is for people and you must understand how people use their bicycles before you can design infrastructure that they will gain the most benefit from.

Do not blindly accept that what works elsewhere will work in your city. Cities, cultures and people are unique and the problems they face may require unique, customised, solutions. Keep this in mind when considering cycling infrastructure, build it for your people.


night pedal cruising

Vikings Don Your Helmets for the NPC Spring Safety Ride!

Spring, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police department are holding their semi annual road safety campaign.

This month the Night Pedal Cruising Crew will hold a special Spring Traffic Safety Campaign Helmet Ride because that's the kind of fine upstanding citizens we are.

As we are not required by law to wear helmets when cycling in Tokyo and around Japan for many wearing a helmet is like getting dressed up for a fancy dress party, and what a party this will be. So grab your helmet, be it viking, fireman, samurai, or construction worker and join the Night Pedal Cruising Spring Traffic Safety Campaign Helmet Ride.

As last months Onsen ride turned into a massive snowfest this months ride will follow the course of the abandoned onsen ride finishing up at Utsukushi no Yu Onsen in Takaido.

Riders will gather under the Night Pedal Cruising banner at the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market at 5:30pm on Saturday March 15, and will set off at 6:00pm.

Along the way to Utsukushi no Yu we'll cycle along Suidō dōro which features one of Tokyo's finest bicycle lanes, a rare opportunity indeed to cycle in a bike lane in Tokyo and while wearing a helmet! Don't miss it!

At the end of the ride you can relax in the warm waters of Utsukushi no Yu which features attractive outdoor rotenburo baths, a range of indoor tubs and a 'relaxation room' fitted out with rows of reclining massage chairs.

There is a small restaurant on site which serves good cheap food and drink. Living local I know some restaurants in the area, but I expect few could handle the vast number of Night Pedal Cruising members!

To bathe at the onsen or not is completely up to you. Utsukushi no Yu charges ¥1,200 for use of the facilities and you can rent face towels, and bath towels for ¥50 and ¥100 respectively.

As always dress warm as Night Pedal Cruising rides travel at a leisurely pace, and remember to bring lights, cameras (no nude pictures in the onsen please!) bells, whistles, and any kind of mobile sound system you may have.

As this is the Helmet Ride wear a helmet, anything will do, in fact the more inappropriate or wacky the helmet, the better, this is after all Night Pedal Cruising. If you have no bizarre helmet then get to work on your cycling helmet and decorate it up. If you have no helmet then I guess a cardboard box is a good start.

I missed last months Night Pedal Cruising ride due to a back injury. Its still playing up but I really do hope I can join this ride. If I am unable I will beat you all at the destination in Takaido.

For more information visit the Night Pedal Cruising event page.