Leaving home 7:40am the Cycling Embassy of Japan delegation arrived at Kaihin Makuhari station at 9:20am after a quick stop at a convenience store for a less than healthy breakfast snack. First event on the agenda was to catch up with Thomas Coulbeaut the founder DOUZE Cycles, a French company that produces a range of innovative cargo bicycles. Thomas was in town for Cyclemode and we arranged a hasty last minute meeting to discuss the cargo bicycle market here, which given our busy work and travel schedules took place near the Taxi rank at Kaihn Makuhari station in the 40 minute window between our arrival and his departure.
I've posted my opinion on why the Japanese market will be a hard one for cargo bicycle manufacturers to crack on this site in the past. I believe they have a place in business, but with the convenience and already considerable carrying capacity of Japanese mamachari bicycles, a large cargo bike is just not as practical in Tokyo as it would be in say Paris. But but the DOUZE cargo bike that Thomas was sporting made me rethink some of my earlier predictions as it was the smallest bike in their lineup.
Not overly long the bicycle sported ample carrying capacity, easy handling, and the lightness and speed of a regular bicycle. I still wasn't convinced this bicycle could break into the everyday market in Japan until I made one observation, the width of the cargo area on the front of the bicycle was no wider than the width of the handlebars, and in Japan where narrow streets and sidewalk cycling are common this fact alone made me reconsider my earlier views on regular people using cargo bicycles in Japanese cities. Also the ease of which the bicycle can be disassembled into two parts for transport or storage appealed to the space consciousness I've developed over my years of living in Japan. I believe there is a place for DOUZE in the Japanese market, wish them every success and will do what I can to support their efforts here.
After our brief but beneficial meeting at the taxi stand (its a glamorous life here at the Cycling Embassy of Japan) we increased our delegation size by one and headed into the show. Things looked promising as we joined a LONG line of attendees many of whom inexplicably were either carrying or wearing bicycle helmets despite wearing street clothing. It was not until later that we realised that anyone wanting to test ride a bicycle was required to wear a helmet, yes "required" in a country that has no compulsory helmet laws!
We entered the main hall in anticipation of large areas devoted to the big names in cycling such as Trek, Pinarello, Colnago, Bianchi, De Rosa, Giant, Cannondale, Cervelo and even Dahon and Tern. But at Cyclemode this wasn't the case. No Trek, no Cannondale, no Giant, Colnago, Bianchi, Cervelo, Dahon or Tern. Only De Rosa and Pinarello caught my eye as I entered the hall. The space you expect to be jam packed with complete bicycles from the major manufacturers was peppered with smaller booths for components, supplements, saddles and helmets, something was terribly wrong here. After a short walk around we discovered booths for Eddy Merckx, Look and Canyon but was this it? Really? Japan's largest bicycle show with but a handful of bicycle makers in attendance?
Surprised, yes. Disappointed, no because as you well know I love cycling, not bicycles per se so a lack of sports bicycles on display doesn't bother me. But still .. what to bicycle brands know about the market that we don't? Is it really not worth their time and effort to attend?
Anyway, next order of business was to visit Umi Miyhara, Business Development Manager for Zwift here in Japan and thank her kindly for gifting us with entry tickets for this years Cyclemode. Conveniently located in the main hall the Zwift booth had already attracted a large crowd in the mere minutes after the show had opened.
In case you're not familiar, Zwift takes indoor training to the next level by connecting your trainer to your PC and placing you on a virtual tropical island where you can ride or compete virtually with friends regardless of location which takes the drudgery out of indoor training by turning it into a game, a race, or a group ride. An surprising number of pro cyclists and and athletes have already integrated Zwift into their training programmes so don't be surprised if you're overtaken by the likes of Jens Voigt or Japanese Tour De France cyclist Fumi Beppu.
It was endlessly entertaining watching peoples reactions to the Zwift experience. The overall majority of people commented on the responsiveness of the system and the level of detail in the virtual world. The visual experience is absolutely amazing with smooth scrolling 3D graphics with no noticeable clipping in the distance or nasty situations where the camera ends up inside your character or other 3D objects. The software also responds so quickly translating your actions into actions on the screen that you really do feel that is really you competing in the virtual world rather than you fighting for control of a bunch of pixels trying to drive them where you want to go.
While watching the beautiful graphics glide by as I cycled beside the sea I commented that in winter I'd go to work much happier in the morning if I had completed a couple of laps of this beautiful virtual island before leaving home.
Zwift works with almost an kind of cycling trainer, but with a good resistance trainer you'll feel it becoming harder to pedal as you begin to climb a hill, and a detail I found quite amazing was the fact that drafting another cyclist on the screen actually translated into less effort on the bicycle. With that level of attention to realistic details I do believe you have to try Zwift for yourself to really appreciate how much they've improved the virtual cycling experience.
With Zwift you'll not only be hooked, you'll actually cycle more.
With the surprisingly cycle free main hall of Cyclemode behind us we headed into hall number three where the booths began to grab and hold my attention. Makers of lights, clothing and accessories shared hall two with bicycle makers such as Louis Garneau and Kona (seriously, the only two exhibitors at the show with mountain bikes on display!). Big names from Japanese cycling including Shimano, Pearl Izumi and Cateye were all present in the second hall which also housed the main stage which despite some woeful entertainers did at least lift the mood of the event.
Being poor, I'm not looking for a new bicycle so the smaller booths showing much more affordable parts, accessories and clothing took my eye. Interestingly there were just two products at this years show that attracted my attention. The first was a piece of technology from the late 1800's, the solid rubber tire. As an everyday bicycle commuter punctures are a hazard I'm always acutely aware of. A single puncture could make me late for work, or even worse late for an important meeting. I believe when it comes time to change tires I will give solid rubber tires by Tannus a try.
The second product that really excited me was a range of children's bicycles on display by Rexard Japan. What originally attracted my eye was the beautifully painted rear mudguard on a children's bicycle. While examining it an attendant handed me what appeared to be binoculars instructing me to look through at the bicycle and press the red button. When I did the entire bicycle lit up reflecting light from the binoculars right back into my eyes. I was stunned, finally a reflective coating for bicycles that was beautiful and eye capturing in the light. The booth attendants were so pleased by the fact that I instantly understood the all the benefits of a reflective coating that isn't as ugly as sin during the day. Not in the market for a child's bicycle I did purchase two reflective stickers designed by Miku Ohira who kindly gave me a 50% discount ( but if her boss asks, then I aid full price )
The further back we went into the hall the more interesting and obscure the booths became, but despite the odd booth displaying folding bicycles there was still a decidedly road biking and touring feel to the event. So I approached hall three in anticipation of a wider display of the different variety of bicycles that make cycling so great, the cargo bikes, mountain bikes, recumbents, three wheelers for the ages, and yes even the humble mamachari as I remember from my visit in 2012 that electric assist mamachari bicycles designed for carrying goods and children occupied quite some floorspace and attracted many interested patrons.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was no hall three!!
Having commented on what took my eye at the show lets take a moment to talk about booth attendants, which we discovered fall into a number of distinct categories.
Visitors from overseas. These attendants are great fun to speak to as they welcome the chance to communicate information about their products to anyone who can understand English which is not the majority of Cyclemode visitors. Alternatively as long term residents of Japan we welcome the opportunity to speak english too! In particular it was a pleasure speaking with Island Triathlon and Bike, Boo Bikes, Cartel Bikes and cycling clothing manufacturer Arden from Korea.
Friendly Japanese types. A few attendants made an effort to speak English when we approached their booths and we really appreciate the effort they put into trying to accommodate foreign visitors. But once it becomes obvious that we all speak and understand Japanese these attendants loosen up and welcome the chance to spread word of their products and work to the English speaking community. Awards for his category go to Tannus (makers of sold rubber tires) and Rexard the maker of reflective coatings I spoke of earlier. The attendants at both these booths were completely unfazed by our foreignness and treated us in a manner we wish we were treated in all aspects of our daily life in Japan.
Deers in the headlights. OK lets not beat around the bush I'm talking about the Nutcase Helmets booth attendant here. While not overly fond of helmets ourselves we do in fact love Nutcase Helmets more than any other, they're fun, they're colourful and if I was to ever buy a helmet I think I'd go with with their watermelon design, or the Union Jack, they're all so cool I can't decide. We stood at the Nutcase booth photographing and animatedly discussing the products for the longest time asking each other which design they'd choose if they had to learning a lot about each other in the process. The whole time the booth attendant, a male in his 30's, stood meters away in silence simply watching us. You know when a street performer calls for a volunteer from the audience and you look at the ground chanting "don't pick me, don't pick me" silently in your mind? This attendant was obviously paralysed with fear and I imagine he was chanting "please don't ask me anything in English, please don't ask" over and over again in his head. His state of confusion was so obvious our conversation turned to that and we walked away me entertained that offended.
Anyway, to summarise Cyclemode 2015 was more about who wasn't there than who was. The lack of big brands at the show is baffling especially given the popularity of road cycling in Japan at the moment. Despite the lack of exhibitors there was still a sizeable number of visitors keen to test ride the bicycles available and I find these mixed signals baffling. At the end of the day I enjoyed the show, but it could have been, should have been so much more and for visitors who paid the ¥1,500 entry fee I truly wonder if they got their money's worth.
Below is a selection of photographs taken at the event taken by Cycling Embassy of Japan Deputy Chief of Mission, Chad Feyen.