11 Tips for Cyclists New to Tokyo

If you've recently arrived in Tokyo and are about to venture out on the road on your bicycle, here is a list of quick tips to get you up to speed and cycling safely.

  1. When cycling on the road always cycle on the left, don't argue just do it.
  2. Obey the rules of the road as if you were driving a vehicle.
  3. Don't run red lights but expect cars to rush through the intersection on orange and fresh reds, especially taxis.
  4. Don't get doored. Ride a safe distance from parked cars taking the lane if necessary. Beware of delivery vehicles whose drivers often exit their vehicles in a hurry without looking.
  5. Beware of taxi's as they tend to pull into and out of traffic giving little or no warning. Also look out for automatically opening taxi doors.
  6. Wet manhole covers and freshly painted road markings are slippery, as are rail lines and metal plates used to cover road works during the day.
  7. Don't jump from the road to the sidewalk and back without looking. Choose where you're comfortable riding and stick with that choice.
  8. If you choose to ride on the sidewalks ride slowly and respect pedestrians.
  9. When parking your bicycle on the sidewalk do not let it block pedestrians.
  10. Register your bicycle, its compulsory but there are no penalties for not doing so. Being registered will help you avoid awkward situations with the police and helps you prove ownership if your bicycle is stolen or impounded.
  11. Lock your bicycle no matter its worth. Japanese bicycle thieves are opportunistic and go for easy, unlocked, targets.

The best way to learn how to cycle in Tokyo is to observe the cyclists around you, you'll soon learn what is socially acceptable and what isn't. But I advise you pass your own common sense filter over your observations because there are many practises in which Japanese cyclists engage that they deem acceptable, but may challenge your own view on personal safety.

When all else fails simply exercise some common sense, and ride safely.



Anger and Intolerance are the Enemies of Correct Understanding

Recently a friend of mine was cycling to work in Adelaide, South Australia. A motorist passed him closely and at speed before slowing rapidly and turning across his path and into a side street. My friend grabbed a fist full of brakes and swerved to avoid what could have been a nasty collision.

At this point he had two options, lose his temper and go thermonuclear on the driver, shouting and swearing at him for his dangerous incompetence risking escalating the situation to even more dangerous levels, or acknowledging to the driver that he was OK and wave him on his way.

The driver had stopped, and had his head out the window, adrenalin pumping, muscles tensed and his blood pressure rising he was preparing for the shouting match (and chance of violence) that inevitably follows such an incident with angry suicidal cyclist. Instead of confrontation my friend waved him on his way with a smile and the simple comment "I'm OK". Tense situation defused the driver responded with "Sorry mate, I should have slowed down and waited for you." To which my friend responded (in a typically Australian manner) "No worries mate, have a good day." At which point the motorist waved out his window and drove off.

When I heard my friends story I had to congratulate him for his self control, and let him know what a great boost he had given the image of cyclists in South Australia.

By responding with a friendly gesture the motorist suddenly saw my friend as a living breathing human being, not "one of those" Lycra clad, insane, foaming at the mouth, feral cyclists. My friend had made the situation personal and the motorist could no longer view this as another random encounter with a self important, hipster, road hogging cyclist.

Had my friend turned abusive, or angry and escalated the situation all the motorist would remember after arriving at work would be a frightening and dangerous encounter with one of those crazy, suicidal cyclists with no respect for the rules of the, and that's how he'd share the story with his co-workers, gaining support from them all. The image of the frightening, rabid cyclist would completely overshadow all other details of the accident.

But by staying level headed and making it personal, my friend ensures that when the driver recalls the situation they remember it as the time they almost knocked that friendly chap who smiled, waved and wished them a good day, off his bicycle. They remember the details that led to the accident, and that they were at fault, and they remember the person rather than the aftermath and the faceless inhuman monster that thumped the trunk of his car with his fist while shouting abuse.

When cyclists get angry and abusive at drivers the situation is no longer about the cause of the accident, to the motorist it is about escaping a frightening encounter with "one of those" dangerous, unhinged, maniac cyclists. Its all the motorist remembers and cyclists are further dehumanised.

Now you may disagree, but I applaud my friends conduct in this case. With one simple gesture he had humanised all cyclists in the eyes of the driver, and possibly removed years of hatred and bias the motorist had towards cyclists in general. Next time that motorist sees a cyclist he sees a person and one thing we need on our roads is more motorists who can identify with cyclists.

I encounter dangerous acts by motorists (and fellow cyclists) on a daily basis, dangerous, but not all of them life threatening. If I were to get angry over each and every one of them I'd have a pretty stressful ride, and become an insanely bitter person. Today I tend to practise a more peaceful, turn the other cheek, style of cycling, Gandhi-like if you will for it was Gandhi who said "Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding".

I'm not saying that cyclists don't have the right to get angry and stand up for their rights on the road, but not all battles are worth fighting. Pick your battles carefully and we will win the war.



Hyogo Governor Calls for Mandatory Cycling Insurance

On October 20th Hyogo Prefecture's Governor Toshizo Ido (69) proposed introducing a new law that would make it mandatory for all cyclists to purchase accident insurance, making it the first Prefecture in the country to take such an outrageous and logic defying step.

The government will approach insurance companies encouraging them to offer cycling accident insurance policies with premiums of just ¥1,500 to ¥2,000 per year to compensate parties injured in accidents involving cyclists. His plan calls for bike stores to sign cyclists up to an insurance plan as part of the service they offer when selling a bicycle in much the same way that dealers currently register new bicycles for customers nation wide (A service that already adds an additional Y500 to the cost of a new bicycle.)

Considering 85% of the population in Japan own a bicycle this ruling is likely to impact on the finances of almost every household in Hyogo Prefecture, and the impact will be felt more strongly by low income families, each member of which will be required to take out cycling insurance. The cash strapped elderly who rely on the bicycle not only as their main means of transport, but as their lifeline to the community and an active social life will be forced to pay up or remain housebound. Children of low income families will lose their independence, another form of healthy play, exercise and social interaction will be denied them leaving them at much greater risk of becoming overweight or obese.

In addition to all that, it is not inconceivable that insurers may add clauses to their bargain basement policies requiring that all cyclists wear helmets which would be another blow for family budgets, and reduce cyclist numbers even further.

In a country where a basic shopping bicycle can be purchased for as little as ¥8,000 the addition of a ¥2,000 insurance policy, a ¥500 registration fee and the prospect of having to purchase a helmet to comply with an insurance policy you didn't even want in the first place is just outrageous.

If this law comes to be, and can be policed, which will be expensive in itself, it will do nothing but drive down cyclist numbers thus placing a larger burden on already congested roads and public transport systems.

In all seriousness I can see no benefit to such a new law and am left astounded that someone in such a position of authority is prepared to completely wipe out a healthy environmentally friendly form of transport that his citizens rely upon in their daily lives, and one that is costing his government next to nothing to maintain. Its insane.

But Governor Toshizo Ido isn't the only lunatic who has escaped the asylum. This announcement comes just weeks after the Mayor of Kamo City in Niigata Prefecture, Kiyohiko Koike (77), wrote to his constituents encouraging students to cycle "as little as possible" and to "always wear a helmet".

He noted nostalgically in his letter that he and his friends enjoyed the freedom of the bicycle as a child, but now the roads are crowded with automobiles and no longer safe for cyclists. As a result he concluded that children should avoid cycling at all cost.

So, lets get this straight; The Mayor enjoyed cycling as a child but today's children can't because he, as Mayor with all his mayoral powers, doesn't have the balls to reclaim the streets from motorists and implement lower speed limits nor does he have the imagination to develop a sustainable transport policy which will make the roads safer for all.

At least the Mayor Koike is simply expressing his ill informed opinion, Governor Ido's mandatory insurance plan was developed by a "panel of experts", likely the same "panel of experts" that recommended license plates for cyclists in 2012, or that which believes nuclear power plants on active fault lines are a smashing idea.

This is the level of idiocy we are fighting: To make cycling safer we must make it more expensive and inconvenient for all, but to achieve truly outstanding results we should simply "cycle as little as possible". These are your elected officials in action folks ...


Common Complaints about Japanese Cyclists Refuted

If you're looking to push a persons buttons here in Japan just ask their opinion of cyclists. More than politics or religion, when it comes to the issue of cyclists almost everyone has an extreme negative opinion and can not be persuaded from their views.

And why wouldn't you have a negative opinion of cyclists? When they're on the sidewalks they're cycling too fast, on the roads they're too slow, everywhere they ride they're swerving unpredictably, ringing their bells and frightening the children.

Admittedly the customs and manners of some cyclists leave a lot to be desired, yes some do speed, some are dangerous on the roads, some claim the sidewalk as their own exclusive domain but lets not judge the group by the bad actions of a few. After all we rarely notice the law abiding cyclists around us, it is only the dangerous, impolite and reckless ones that stick in our mind leading to the impression that all cyclists are dangerous.

How many "good" motorists do you pass every day? Do you remember them? No, you only remember the bad ones, but you'd never conclude that all motorists are dangerous. Why not? Because chances are you're a motorist and you're one of the "good" ones right? Therefore not all motorists are dangerous. If you don't cycle and you witness dangerous acts by cyclists around you (yet subconsciously ignore the vast number of safe cyclists) then its easy to conclude that all cyclists are dangerous.

Statistically speaking 85% of Japan's population of 127 million own a bicycle, every day 16% of all trips in Tokyo are made by bicycle. However you cut it that's a lot of bicycles moving a lot of people around the city every single day. If everyone of those cyclists were as dangerous as the anti-cyclists claim then you'd have to question how anyone in Japan lived long enough for the population to reach 127 million!

Here are some common complaints made against cyclists in Japan

Cyclists should get off the sidewalks.

Under the Japanese Road Traffic Act bicycles are classed as a light vehicle and thus are required to travel on the road. This act was amended in the 1970's after a sharp rise in bicycle accidents, which coincidentally coincided with a sharp rise in private car ownership, to allow bicycles to travel on specially marked sidewalks. This amendment effectively forced bicycles off the road to make space for automobiles as Japanese society became more affluent.

Under the current version of the Road Traffic Act cyclists are allowed to cycle on specifically marked shared use sidewalks, sidewalks over 3 meters in width, and when they deem road conditions to be unsafe for cycling. Children under 13 and those older than 70 can cycle on all sidewalks.

Given the lack of cycling infrastructure on Japanese roads, and no definition of what are regarded as "dangerous road conditions" the vast majority of Japanese cyclists and choose to cycle on the sidewalks as they believe the roads are too dangerous for them.

The Japanese constabulary know that Japanese cyclists aren't ready for the roads, and Japanese roads aren't ready for Japanese cyclists so let the practise of sidewalk cycling persist lest they face carnage on the streets.

Cyclists should wear helmets.

There is no legal requirement for cyclists in Japan to wear helmets. Children under 13 are encouraged to do so, and manufacturers of bicycles designed to carry small children in child seats do include a children's helmet at the time of purchase, but there is no legal requirement for anyone to wear a helmet.

An why should there be? Only 2 countries in the world, Australia and New Zealand, have mandatory helmet laws and you only have to look at the low cyclists numbers in those countries to determine what a detrimental effect those laws had on cycling.

Cycling to the supermarket, or to pick children up from school is not, and should not be, an extreme and dangerous activity requiring the use of specially designed safety equipment, helmets, or pads. Governments forcing people to wear helmets are reinforcing the idea that cycling is dangerous. What governments should be forcing instead is the creation of cycling infrastructure capable of supporting Japan's millions of currently under catered for cyclists.

Helmets don't keep cyclists safe, well designed cycling infrastructure does.

Cycling with children is dangerous, those parents are irresponsible.

Statistics are clearly against this argument. Millions of children are transported around their town or neighbourhood by bicycles every day yet the number of deaths and injuries resulting from this practise remain low.

When police tried to implement a ban on carrying two children per bicycle parents refused to comply citing inconvenience as a major factor. Proving that when you make cycling inconvenient you make life inconvenient for those that rely on bicycles as transport.

Not surprisingly I most often here this argument from people who don't have children or have never enjoyed cycling with their child. Sure it takes some getting used to the extra weight and affected handling, but nothing is more fun than cycling down the street with your child in front of you, feeling the breeze in your hair an singing together loudly at the top of your voice.

If I can ride on the streets of Japan so can everyone else.

This is an argument I hear a lot from bicycle commuters, recreational and "sports" cyclists in Japan, and is one I used myself in the past when I was young, fit and arrogant. I cycle on the road, I consider Japanese roads to be some of the safest I've cycled on around the world, but I am not representative of the average Japanese cyclist, I'm a bike commuter, a cycling enthusiast, therefore most unlike the average Japanese cyclist.

What commuters, recreational and sports cyclists fail to realise is that they represent a tiny fraction of the total number of cyclists in Japan.  Not all cyclists have their confidence on the roads, most are mothers, the elderly, businessmen, and children who simply want to get from point A to B without exposing themselves to unnecessary danger.

You may feel safe cycling on Japanese roads, but would your wife, mother, grandfather or child? Consider that.

When a cyclist and car collide its always the cyclist fault even if he was being an ass.

Its called Strict Liability Law and in short it attributes financial responsibility for the accident (not criminal responsibility) to the driver of the motor vehicle in the event of a crash with a more vulnerable road user. Thus when a cyclist is hurt in an accident they are compensated by the driver of the heavier, faster and more dangerous vehicle.

It can be argued that this instills bad behaviour in cyclists but the same law applies to them in the event of an accident with a pedestrian, the more vulnerable party. In such a case the cyclists is financially liable for the property damage and medical costs of the pedestrian, yet we don't hear anyone claiming limited liability promotes dangerous walking.

Cyclists should be licensed, it'll make them safer.

Yeah, like that worked for automobiles. Statistics from around the world show that over two thirds of accidents between bicycles and cars are due to negligence on the part of the driver. Explain to me again how licensing cyclists will make them safer?

Japanese cyclists are still dangerous.

Japanese cyclists aren't dangerous, Japanese roads are dangerous as they're not designed with cyclists in mind. Make a safe place for cyclists to ride separated from both pedestrians and traffic and you'll see a drastic reduction in accidents involving bicycles. It works work in The Netherlands and Denmark and will work in Japan too but only if the government takes measures to prioritise people over automobiles when designing infrastructure. Until then, you'd better get used to cyclists on the sidewalk.

When it comes to complaints about cyclists in Japan I often find the ones complaining don't cycle and hence conclude that they can not identify with cyclists. They walk, they drive so they can identify with those activities and as they consider themselves are good drivers and attentive pedestrians they believe the majority of others are as well. When they see a motorist make a mistake they know that "sometimes happens" and "can't be avoided". But when they can't identify with cyclists they see only the bad behaviour.

I believe that if the roads in Japan were built with cyclists in rather than solely for motor vehicles you'd see complaints about cyclists decrease dramatically. Until the infrastructure is improved spare a thought for cyclists, the refugees of the transport world and recognise that the bad behaviour of a few is far outweighed by the good behaviour of the vast majority.


night pedal cruising

Night Pedal Cruising Halloween Ride 2014

If you only get to one Night Pedal Cruising Ride this year then you should get out more often.

Wait, thats not right. If you only get to one Night Pedal Cruising ride this year then it has to be the Night Pedal Cruising Halloween Ride 2014 which will be held Saturday October 25th.

Like the famous Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride the Halloween Ride is a chance to climb into your spooky costumes and decorate your bicycle for a frightful fancy dress ride the likes of which Tokyo has never seen before.

To add to the mystery of this months ride neither the route nor the destination has been announced leaving you at the mercy of the psychotic ride leader Naohiro Kiyota. Where will he take us and will we make it back alive??

Ghoulish fiends will descend upon the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market at 5:30pm for a 6pm start under the cover of darkness.

Night Pedal Cruising rides are social rides at a slow pace for relatively short distanced with the emphasis on having a good time with bicycle lovers from all walks of life. No matter your level of experience you can complete a Night Pedal Cruising Ride with ease.

As this is Halloween please do come in costume (or not!) and decorate your bike, bring lights, your camera and if possible a sound system with music fitting for the occasion. (Just what is fitting for a Halloween night ride around Tokyo? I'll let you decide.)

For more information please visit the official Night Pedal Cruising Halloween Ride 2014 page.


A great ride was had by all, here are some pictures from the night (as always most turned our blurry as shooting from the bike at night is HARD.)


Exercise bikes use technology to better simulate your biking experience

There’s still nothing quite like the real thing, though!

Cycling isn’t just an activity; it’s an experience. Every time you take to the road or ride on a trail, you experience a new part of the world around you. Yes, even if it is just the cacophony of traffic in Tokyo. Of course, not everybody has the time or the drive to commit to a regular cyclist’s lifestyle. Thankfully, there is a good alternative for those who, for one reason or another, can’t really go out and burn through calories on the open road: exercise bikes.

The thing is, it seems that over the years exercise bikes have started to get not only more and more high-tech, but more and more unusual as well. One prime example would have to be the slot machine exercise bike. Yes, this is a real thing; or at least it was. Back in 2000, a company called Fitness Gaming Corp came up with the idea of encouraging casino patrons to exercise by hooking up a slot machine to an exercise bike. The exercise bike can only be pedaled if you use the slot machine, which is controlled using buttons on the handlebars. There’s even a cup holder for your quarters. Casino gaming is a very hot topic in Japan today, what with talks about passing a bill this month that would allow the nation to build its very first brick-and-mortar gambling establishment. If the bill becomes a law, perhaps the next step would be for big casino providers like Cryptologic – the operator of the world’s first online casino site InterCasino – to follow the Wii peripheral boom a couple of years ago and outfit its online gambling portals with its very own bike peripheral.

Now, designers have moved on to making stationary bikes feel more like the real thing. The open-source Smartbike project, for example, is a game you control with your bike and monitors everything from your real pedal speed and handlebar movement to heart rate and calorie burn rate in real time. Others like Citytrip pair the Oculus Rift VR headset with a stationary bike to simulate actually getting out on the road and pedaling, even through fantastical alien worlds!

While the technology behind these innovations are quite impressive, it feels like there’s still a ways to go until you can successfully replicate the real feeling of cycling in your living room. After all, you can’t really feel the wind and the bumps you ride over when you’re stuck pedaling a stationary bike.