best

The Best of Tokyo By Bike

Over the years some great stories have appeared on Tokyo By Bike, but unfortunately they quickly get lost in amongst the sheer number of articles posted. Below are what I consider to be some of the stand out articles from Tokyo By Bike, the ones that remain popular despite their age, and the articles I point people to the most when they're seeking information. I believe these articles combined go a long way to giving an overview of what cycling is really like in Japan and what the Tokyo By Bike site is all about.

Society

A lot of what makes everyday cycling work in Japan isn't infrastructure its Japanese society, people, their attitudes and the cities themselves. I've been observing cycling in Japan for almost 20 years and he articles below summarise many of my findings.


What makes Japan a great cycling nation?

Japan is ranked by Copenhagenize founder Mikael Colville-Andersen as the third great cycling nation behind The Netherlands and Denmark. At the time I read this, despite having lived in Japan over a decade, even I found that information surprising but looking around me I shouldn't have. Learning that someone like Mikael held Japan in such high regard changed my perspective on cycling in Japan and shifted my focus from recreational cycling to everyday cycling. I set out to find what makes cycling such a poplar form of transport for millions of Japanese people every day in this article and surprised even myself with what I discovered. Read article.

How Suburban Tokyo Promotes Cycling (Without even trying)

In the article above I discovered that the design of Tokyo's neighbourhoods plays a vital role in keeping cyclist numbers high despite the lack of infrastructure. This article explores that idea in more detail demonstrating that compact self contained neighbourhoods promote cycling as a viable form of transport and that there exists a symbiotic relationship between a healthy cycling culture and successful small businesses. Read article.

Why Suburban Japan is Teeming With Female Cyclists

Despite a lack of cycling infrastructure Japanese cities are teeming with female cyclists. Cities around the world are actively encouraging more women to cycle, maybe they could learn something from Japan? Unfortunately emulating Japan in this case may not be the most desirable course of action. Read on to find out why. Read article.

Japan's Cycling Seniors

Everyone in Japan cycles and that includes the elderly. Cycling keeps them health both physically and mentally, but more than this it keeps them connected with their community and helps them to remain socially active in a way that car centric communities can not. Everything should be done to accommodate elderly cyclists as the benefits for both them and society are enormous. Read article.

Japanese Cycling Laws

Cycling laws in Japan are poorly understood end even more poorly enforced. This is both good and bad as it gives cyclists great freedom in choosing where and how to ride without fear of copping a fine, but alternatively if we're not all reading from the same page accidents will occur.


Of Bicycle Laws in Japan and Other Mythical Beasts

This ever popular article from way back in 2009 gives a quick overview of Japanese cycling rules, and he penalties for not complying with them. But as few people actually follow the rules I suggest everyone follow just one rule "Exercise some common sense and ride safely". Read article.

Why Bicycle Laws in Japan Are Like Monopoly Rules

Cycling laws in Japan go largely untaught and unenforced which has resulted in the Japanese people evolving the laws over time into an unwritten yet generally understood set of rules most people abide by. (I get hammered for this opinion constantly, but it is one I stand by, and I think its wonderful that people have come up with their own set of rules rather than having them enforced upon them from above.) Read article.

Cycling Infrastructure

When city planners in Tokyo think of cycling infrastructure they consider noting more than providing enough parking lots, and the processes that need to be in place to deal with abandoned and illegally parked bicycles. Bicycle lanes are largely nonexistent in Tokyo but with the Olympics arriving in 2020 there is a new focus on cycling infrastructure in the city, but is it misguided?


The Various Designs of Tokyo's Bicycle Lanes

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government administers just a small percentage of the roads in Tokyo with the rest being controlled by the cities individual wards who are all using a different playbook when it comes to designing bicycle lanes which has resulted in a wide variety of different styles of bicycle lanes popping up all over the city. This article takes a look at a number of those designs from around the city. Read article.

Sidewalk Circus

Despite the controversy sidewalk cycling stirs up it works better than you'd expect in Tokyo and until the government can provide safe protected bicycle lanes I believe cyclists are better off on the sidewalk as long as they ride safely and respect the rights of pedestrians. Here is an article I wrote on the topic for Metropolis Magazine. Read article.

Bicycle Commuting

I've been a bicycle commuter for as long as I remember and as such there is quite a bit of commentary about bicycle commuting in the metropolis of Tokyo. Tokyo may not seem the easiest place in which to cycle to work but believe me, it is, and doing so will add so much more joy to your days.


Japan's National Bike To Work Ban

OK, I'll admit that this subject is pure click bait. There is no national ban on cycling to work in Japan, but that does not change the fact that many employers actively discourage their employees from cycling to work which in a country with so many utilitarian cyclists is just insane. Given the nature of Japanese employees not to fight the system employers have effectively bullied their employees from partaking in one of the healthiest modes of transport around. Read article.

How Many Japanese Cycle To Work

Given that employers threaten bicycle commuters with all kinds of punishments if they disobey company rules and cycle to work just how many people are cycling to work in Japan? This article pulls some figures together to paint a picture of just how people in Japan are travelling to work. Read article.

Employer Benefits Of Bicycle Commuting

Occasionally someone who works at a company that has asked them to stop bicycle commuting will contact me to explore their options. Of course I encourage them to stand up to their employers as they have no legal right to dictate an employees mode of transport to work. But I also try to get them to make their employer aware of all the benefits cycling employees bring their business. Read article.

Encouraging Employees to Cycle to Work

Despite this gloomy outlook for commuter cyclists in Japan some businesses are actively trying to encourage more employees to cycle to work so I furnish them with these tips to bring more people into the bicycle commuting fold. Read article.

Bicycle Commuting in Tokyo? Are You Insane?

Cycling to work in a city that boasts safe, clean and efficient public transport systems, and one whose morning rush hour roads are jam packed full of cars sounds like an insane activity, but I have my reasons or choosing to cycle to work. Read article.

How To Turn Any Mountain Bike Into A Commuter Bike

I've converted my old mountain bike into a sturdy commuter bicycle which I think is perfect for Tokyo. Fast and light, yet strong enough to take a few hits in the bicycle parking lot. If you're looking for the perfect commuter bike, maybe it already exists in your garage, you just haven't realised yet. Read article.

Bicycles

Japanese city bikes do not receive the love they deserve.


Introducing the Mamachari

The mamachari is the family station wagon of Japan. For the most part they're cheap, reliable and perfect for daily tasks such as ferrying one or more children to school doing the shopping and taking yourself to the station. They're under appreciated and I want to change that. Read article.

Why Cargo Bikes Face A Tough Market In Japan

I love cargo bikes, and wish I had one when my children were smaller and I had to carry all that play equipment to the part for weekend picnics, but given the cost and versatility of the Japanese mamachari bicycle I believe cargo bikes face a tough time entering the Japanese market. Read article.

How To

A collection of articles on how things are done in Japan to help you out.


Can I take my bicycle on the train in Japan?

Sure you can, but it has to be partially disassembled and packed neatly into a bicycle bag (or failing that some garbage bags from the nearest convenience store!) Read article.

How To Register Your Bicycle in Japan

All bicycles in Japan must be registered, and display a registration sticker. Although the sticker is easily removed the police rely on this system to return stolen bicycles to their owners. If you're caught riding a bicycle without a sticker the police can detain you under suspicion of being a bicycle thief and can even confiscate your bicycle. This article has links to all the forms require to register your bicycle and transfer ownership of a bicycle to another person. Read article.

Traveling from Narita Airport to Tokyo with a Bicycle

Tokyo's main international airport isn't even in Tokyo which makes transporting your bicycle from the airport to the city a bit of a challenge. This article explains some of the options available. Read article.

11 Tips For Cyclists New To Tokyo

You may be an experienced and confident urban cyclists, but each city is different. This article points our some common dangers and dangerous practices that may be unique to cycling in Japanese cities. Read article.

How To Cycle Japanese Style

On second thought, maybe you shouldn't follow these tips. Read article.


There are literally hundreds of articles about cycling in Japan on Tokyo By Bike. I've highlighted many of my favourites and most popular ones here, but often surprise even myself when I dig up a forgotten article from the past. Please do explore the site and do not hesitate to contact me if you can't find just the information you're looking for.

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keirin

Video: Precision Training at the Keirin School in Japan

Gillette World Sport recently visited the Japan Keirin School in Shuzenji to document the training regimes that students undergo in order to reach their full potential as professional keirin racers.

The first keirin event in Japan was organised by the local government in the city of Kokura in 1948 as a gambling event to raise funds for post-war reconstruction and as a way to develop the lucrative bicycle industry. From there it has grown into a nationwide spectacle with 47 velodromes around Japan each hosting events on 70 days of the year.  Almost 2,500 professional racers participate in keirin events nationwide making it Japan's largest professional sport. From its humble beginnings keirin has become an official Olympic event, increasing its profile and popularity internationally. Olympic keirin debued at the 2000 Sydney Games and the first Japanese racer to win an Olympic medal was Kiyofumi Nagai took 3rd place for Japan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Despite the popularity of keirin races overseas the sport suffers a serious image problem in Japan due to its association with gambling. In an interview in the World Sport video one Keirin School trainer explains how they impart on their students the importance to perform due of the huge amounts of money riding on each race, demonstrating that gambling, not sport is the root of keirin in Japan. Annual sales of betting tickets reach approximately 800 billion yen, with roughly 60 million tickets sold each year which demonstrates that keirin in Japan is clearly more about gambling than cycling.

The video also shows how regimented the lives of new recruits is, with students sporting mandatory shaved heads taking part in military like training and drills. While trainers stress the importance of incorporating new technologies into the sport one can't feel that the strict training regimes that strip racers of their individuality are stuck deep in the past. Indeed you could argue that it is the lack of charismatic riders that is also hindering the sport.


Visit any velodrome in Japan and you'll notice most spectators are males, in their 50's or over, who reek of tobacco and alcohol, who would gladly skip work to visit the track and they're most certainly more interested in gambling than cycling.  Each time I've visited velodromes in Japan most punters have been indoors, smoking, placing bets and watching numbers flash across monitors rather than out in the stands cheering on the racers.

With training regimes stuck in the past, and an ageing audience slowly smoking and drinking itself to oblivion Keirin needs to clean up its act in order to appeal to a younger audience who are less and less likely to be keen on gambling.

Promoters are trying hard to lift the image of keirin in Japan but are failing miserably as are promoters of Japan's other gambling related sports, horse and motor boat racing. The keirin website has a page encouraging people to "take part". I clicked expecting to find times I could visit and ride the velodrome track with my friends, or join amateur races only to discover a page informing me how easy it is to fill out a betting form!

The recent fixie boom in Japan drew young people who previously had no interest in cycling what so ever to the bicycle in droves and handed keirin a golden opportunity to attract young people to the track, an opportunity they entirely failed to capitalise on.  One million kids who love fixed gear bicycles are of no interest to the Japan Keirin Association unless they gamble. Isn't time they changed their business model?

Armature road and mountain bike races in Japan are attracting millions of cyclists each year. The ever popular Fuji Hill Climb in which cyclists race entirely up hill to Mt Fuji's fifth station sells out within minutes of tickets going on sale. Imagine the number of people who could have been drawn into armature track races and training days at the height of the fixie boom. By being entirely focused on gambling the Japan Keirin Association dropped the ball.

Keirin promoters in Japan are failing to promote their sport, choosing to gambling to an audience that is diminishing day by day.

As a tourist visiting Japan who is thinking of heading to the track for an afternoon or evening of entertainment, don't expect to get directions from your hotel tourist desk, or local bicycle store.  Keirin's image here is so bad that I've heard stories of tourist desk staff actively discouraging tourists from visiting the track.  Tourist desks will most certainly not have any keirin pamphlets on hand that's for sure, nor will they find it easy to give you directions to the nearest velodrome, its not mainstream enough for that.

But if you love your bikes, love track racing, and happen to be in Japan I'd still recommend paying a visit to a Japanese velodrome as its an experience you won't get anywhere else, though it may not be the experience you expected.

Unfortunately the Keirin Japan website can be difficult to navigate if you do not read Japanese, so if you need assistance finding somewhere to watch a race during our stay in Japan, drop me a line and I'll hook you up.

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gear

Read on before you judge this cheap and painful looking bicycle saddle

A lot of people questioned my sanity when I purchased this VERTU CCAV-S saddle online for just 780 yen. Others though really wanted to know how it turned out for me, so here is my verdict.

I bought this saddle for commuter bike which is essentially a mountain bike with a few changes here and there to make it what consider to be the best kind of commuter bike for the city in which I ride. You'd think I'd opt for a more comfortable saddle, not something sleek, narrow and light but I had other things on my mind when I made the purchase.

I was riding with the stock standard padded saddle that came with my bicycle for years and never gave it much thought until it started to split. But being cheap, even a split saddle isn't uncomfortable so I kept on riding regardless. Then the rains came and to my surprise what looked like a perfectly dry saddle was really a sponge which when squeezed (or in this case, sat on) would release all the water trapped inside right into the seat of my pants.

So when I saw this saddle online it had a lot of things going for it. It was cheap, really cheap. It was also green and given I've chosen green parts to complement my frame it was perfect.  But above all if this saddle was left out in the rain, which my bicycle often is, then a quick wipe with a cloth and there'd be no surprise drenching when I sat down.

But I had some doubts. It sure looked narrow and hard, and I wasn't sure what to expect in the way of quality for such a low price. I bought it anyway figuring if it turned out to be a dud I hadn't wasted a lot of hard earned cash.

So how is it?  After fitting the saddle I realized I had to increase the height of the seat post, because even that thin padding on your saddle makes a difference to your seated position. On first ride I was really aware of how I could feel all the road vibrations through the seat, not in a bad way, but I could feel the surface of the road as I glided over it. It also didn't feel too narrow nor hard as the plastic has a lot of flex which absorbs some of the shock.

I've been cycling with this saddle for over 6 months now and for daily commuting I have absolutely no complaints at all, and as promised when left out in the rain I no longer ride home with a wet bottom.  For longer rides, say upwards of 20 or 30 Km though I do begin to notice myself standing up in the pedals to give my sitting bones a break from the saddle.

So for everyone who wanted to know, I've been pleasantly surprised by this saddle. Its cheap, it looks great and rides well over shorter distances, but for longer rides you may want something more between your bum and the hard hard plastic.

I've had no problems with the build quality and the plastic shows no signs or perishing or degrading even after being parked out in the elements more days than not.

At the end of the day this cheap little saddle has worked out quite nicely for me and I'd recommend it to anyone on a budget. They come in a range of colours and for the price you'd ba crazy not to give one a try. Go get one today.



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Tokyo Firefly Ride Report and Photos

On August 22nd over 50 people joined the inaugural Firefly Ride in Tokyo.

Hosted by the Cycling Embassy of Japan and Tokyo's night cycling veterans Night Pedal Cruising the Firefly Ride was held as a simple celebration of the joy of cycling, a reminder to people in a country where getting on a bicycle is as natural as pulling on your shoes that the bicycle is an important part of their lives, and that cycling can be fun as well as utilitarian. The ride also aimed to demonstrate the social side of cycling, not just cycling in a group but serve as a reminder that each time you cycle through your neighbourhood you're contributing to its social nature.



Of course sending the message isn't enough, you have to get people to see the message which is why the Firefly Ride encouraged participants to decorate their bicycles with a variety of lights in order to create a spectacle nobody could miss.

From 5:30pm onwards participants began gathering at the United Nations University in Aoyama and I was happy to see many new faces along for the ride. People of all ages, people who had borrowed bicycles for the night, people from a variety of countries and backgrounds, and even a small dog joined in. They bought with them a wide range of bicycles from mamacharis, to expensive brand name bikes, to heavily modified monstrosities (like mine) that only their owners could love. It is this variety of people and bicycles that makes this and the monthly Night Pedal Cruising rides so much fun. We're not all fit and fast we just love to cycle in the city on well loved bicycles while enjoying conversation with people who feel the same.

After a quick last minute change of route, in consideration of the number of new and inexperienced riders, we set off in a flash of light and sound, nobody attracting more attention then guest judge for the evening Joseph Tame, a local identity known for his art of running projects, running the night lit up like a Christmas tree, and for live streaming the Tokyo Marathon from various iPhones and other devices strapped to his body while he runs. As someone who has run the Tokyo Marathon, trust me that Joseph's broadcast and commentary is much more interesting that the official broadcast, so much so that I feel like I'm running the race all over again!

As always on our night rides we aim to keep the group together which means a lot of stops and starts as the group routinely becomes split by traffic lights, but this gave everyone a lucky opportunity to get to know the people cycling around them.  The frequent stops also allowed passers by to take photos, and for us to answer any questions about our seemingly odd activity to whoever may ask.

Despite the leisurely speed we found ourselves at the Imperial Palace in no time. I took an opportunity during the break to try and fix my rear brake which wasn't operating 100% as it was snared by an  overly tight wire-tie used to secure some obscenely large lights to my bicycle, but by the time we cycled over to Tokyo Station for another photo opportunity I realised that my attempt at maintenance had failed and I was still without stopping power.

From Tokyo Station we cycled through Ginza where restaurant staff and pedestrians cheered us on, and over the bridges (which gave us beautiful views of Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba) to the islands of Tokyo Bay where our group got permanently split in two for the remainder of the ride as I and a few others remained behind to help one rider nurse a punctured tube to the end of the ride.

At Odaiba Seaside Park Joseph judged the winner of the best decorated bicycle competition before we cracked open some drinks and shared snacks on the beach.

Below are some more photos from the event.




















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