Cycling to the Boro-ichi Market in Setagaya, Tokyo.

On a cold day under crisp blue Tokyo winter skies myself and four others set out on a ride from Studio C in Sasazuka to visit Setagaya-ku's famous Boro-ichi Market.

Setagaya Boro-ichi has been officially recognised as one of Tokyo's intangible cultural assets dating back over 430 years. Beginning in he 1570s as a "free market" where taxes were removed to boost the ailing economy Boro-ichi flourished as a place to buy and sell old fabric scraps. Later Boro-ichi became a year-end market adding farming equipment and New Years goods to the list if items on sale and was held on December 15th each year.  Today Boro-ichi is a two day annual event held on the 15th and 16th of both December and January which boasts over 700 vendors selling food, fabric, clothing, antiques, toys and plants to name a few.

Now I have to admit that when Brad from Freewheeling Bike Adventures invited me out on a ride to Boro-ichi I had no idea what the event was despite having lived just a 20 minute ride away for the last 10 years, but I love a festival and I love a ride so of course no further persuasion was required for me to get involved.

After dropping my daughter off at school I cycled along the Kandagawa to Inokashira Dori before making my way to Studio C where Brad and Jack-san were waiting with a very welcome hot cup of coffee. Once Chad arrived we took the back streets to Blue Lug where we met Naoto-san. Now Brad prides himself on his knowledge of local back streets and promised to take us all the way to from Sasazuka to Umegaoka, picking up Ken on the way, meeting just three traffic lights along the way. We were sceptical, but he's not disappointed us in the past with his amazing mental map of the city.

Brads chosen route took us past numerous parks, temples, and beautiful homes featuring amazing architecture on quiet car free backstreets. After picking up Ken at a nearby 7/11 we did indeed reach Umegaoka Station having avoided all main roads and by passing through just three traffic lights the whole way.

After some more rat running through the back streets we turned on to a large road which would take us directly to Boro-ichi near Setagaya Station on the charmingly local Setagaya line. To our joy this road displayed some of Tokyo worst ever cycling infrastructure, a blue "bicycle lane" no more than 50cm in width, complete with parked delivery vehicles! A classic example of clueless cycling infrastructure this "bicycle lane" stretched all the way to Boro-ichi making it an impressive length, but why so narrow?  I've ranted about this elsewhere.

Upon arrival we parked our bicycles legally in a bike rack that offered free parking for the first two hours and set off on foot to explore Boro-ichi. The street leading up to the market was lined with food vendors serving everything imaginable yaki-tori, yaki-soba, oden, jacket potatoes, age-pan, dango, and mochi, but I was more in the mood for a spicy kebab.

Being early the crowds weren't insane, but considering it was just 10am on a Wednesday morning there really were many more people here than I expected. Venturing into the market down a narrow street lined with antiques, clothing, farm tools, toys and more I munched on a spring roll and perused the wide array of strange goods on sale including German Steins, Japanese Swords, and California Highway Patrol badges. I was really enjoying the atmosphere, chatting with vendors and browsing the incredibly varied items that were for sale and looking up the street I saw the stalls continue on for a few hundred meters more. It wasn't until I reached what I thought was the end of the line of stalls that I looked down a street to my right and realised the section of the market I was enjoying so much was merely a side street feeding into the main strip of the market which extended further than I could possibly see. It appeared to continue on forever!

From there things just got more and more interesting, the sheer number of stalls, people and range if crazy items for sale was mind boggling. Amusing at one stall an elderly man was selling remote controls, he had hundreds and I'd hate to even try and calculate the odds that he's just happen to have one from our 1980's betamax video recorder. Not so amusing were ivory carvings, and stuffed sea turtles. Another stall sold an incredible number of tatami mat trimmings in various designs and colours .. here I was thinking they're all green and that nobody pays any particular attention to them. Stamps, sword guards, military surplus, ancient woodworking equipment, metalwork, kimonos, shoes, fans, food, hood ornaments, antique posters, minerals and crystals, I could list the weird an wonderful curiosities forever you really have to see it to believe it.

We enjoyed free samples of food, beer and sake as we slowly made our way to the end of the market and back before I purchased my spicy kebab to fuel me for the ride home.

Visiting Boro-ichi was a really amazing experience, one I can't believe I'd never had in all my years of living in Tokyo and I'd highly recommend you visit if you can.

Brad from Freewheeling Bike Adventures is going to lead another ride from Studio C in Sazuka along the same quiet streets free back streets we rode to Boro-ichi on Friday,  January 15th, 2016. The ride will start at 10am. Visit the Freewheeling homepage for all the details.

I hope to see you there!

Below are even more beautiful pictures of the incredible array of items that were for sale at the Boro-ichi markets taken by Chad Feyen.



Seriously Tokyo what is this shit?

So five of us were cycling to Setagaya-ku's famous Boro-ichi Market this morning when we came upon some of the most obscene graffiti insulting cyclists that I've ever seen :

Seriously Tokyo what is this shit? Were you holding a precision painting competition and this was the winner? Were supplies of blue paint so low you could not afford to paint a full width bicycle lane?

Seriously Tokyo, do you think paint keeps us safe? Do you think this crap will get cyclists off the sidewalks and on to the roads?

Why not simply use the paint to write "Fuck you cyclists!" in big blue letters down the middle of the road?

Seriously Tokyo, you know Denmark and the Netherlands have already worked the kinks out of cycling infrastructure so you don't have to right?

Stop wasting our taxes on this worthless crap and hire a consultant to teach you how to get it right. Its cycling infrastructure not rocket science.

Seriously Tokyo, get your shit together.



Cycling Tokyo's Tamako Cycling Road

It was a spur of the moment decision at 7:10am to message partners in crime Chad and Brad to let them know that I planned to cycle out to Lake Tama on the border between Tokyo and Saitama after walking my daughter to school. Brad had much cleaning up and recovery to do after the previous days incredibly enjoyable bonenkai party at Studio C, but by 8:20am Chad and I were underway along the banks of the Kanda rive heading towards Kichijoji.

The ride out to the twin lakes of Tama and Sayama hold a special meaning for me as it was my first "long ride" in Tokyo just weeks after I began cycling. Having exhausted all the sights in my Lonely Planet guide book, and feeling the need to escape the city, I was browsing a map when I noticed two large lakes surrounded by parks northwest of where I was living at the time. After some serious consideration I decided I could easily cycle there and back, and more importantly that I wouldn't get lost en route.

I cycled all the way from my apartment in Nakano to the lakes on Shin Ome Kaido, a major artery cutting Tokyo from East to West. On the map this was the simplest, most direct route, but in hindsight it was a poor choice being so busy and stressful. After an hour or two of cycling in hideous traffic I turned right onto what appeared to be a dedicated cycling path which took me to the very top of the Tamako Dam where I enjoyed beautiful views that stretched all the way across the lake to Mt Fuji.

After a break for coffee and a snack while enjoying the sun and taking in the scenery, I examined a nearby map which indicated that there was a network of cycling paths around the two lakes so I set off to circumnavigate Tamako itself. The route took me through the trees past the Seibu Amusement Park, Seibu Dome, home of the Seibu Lions baseball team and gave me tantalising glimpses of the second lake Sayama-ko before I returned to my starting point and headed down the path back towards Ome Kaido.

Before turning back on to Ome Kaido for the stressful ride home I noticed the cycling path continued on into the distance for as far as I could see. It was very tempting to simply continue along the path and see where it took me, but I was still new to the city and had no map with me. As for smartphones with GPS maps, they hadn't been inevnted yet! With regret I turned on to Shin Ome Kaido for the harrowing ride home.

After that ride some research revealed the path I had been on was the Tamako Cycling Road which runs from the end of Inokashira Dori just North West of Mitaka Station right up to the Tamako Dam. Had I taken that path home on my very first ride I would have ended up in an unfamiliar location but would have been able to navigate my way home.

Over the years following my first ride to Tamako I started cycling insane distances in the mountains surrounding Tokyo and the Tamako route served as my short weekend ride, or a course I'd take others who were interested in venturing further afield by bicycle. My hardcore cycling buddies weren't interested in the course as they had to share a narrow bicycle path with slower cyclists and pedestrians, but the route has always been one that I enjoyed.

Until yesterday it had been over 15 years since I had visited the Tamako Cycling Road and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. From home Chad and myself rode along the Kanda river to Inokashira Park in Kichijoji, a peaceful car free ride that I do often with my children. From Kichijoji we cycled to the start of the cycling road along quiet back streets which can often be difficult to navigate but in this case we took almost a straight line along a road which ran behind the Inokashira Zoo and along another of Tokyo's many hidden waterways.

Arriving at the Tamako cycling road I was amazed at the improvements that had been made since my last ride there. The entrance to the cycleway was wider and much better marked than it had been in the past when it could quite easily have been missed if you weren't searching for it (I'd overshot it many times on subsequent rides). Not only was it wider was but pedestrian and cycling spaces were properly marked, although of curse cyclists and pedestrians mixed because thats the Japanese way!

As we cycled on I noticed many of the smaller farms that existed previously had disappeared to be replaced with large mansions, warehouses and even a large new University complex, but here and there small stands attended by elderly ladies stood out selling locally grown vegetables. The path narrowed the further from the city we traveled, and when passing by a station the foot traffic increased which would have slowed us down if we weren't too slow already. Where the cycleway intersected with roads there were well marked crossings and sometimes traffic lights and at one large intersection a bicycle overpass had been constructed that was certainly a new addition since my last ride.

Cycling the Tamako cycling road was a much better experience than it had been in the past when it was narrower and more dangerous given that often you had to leave the path so avoid other cyclists and pedestrians. Chad an I could only guess why they hadn't chosen to continue the path all the way into Shibuya or Shinjuku which would have made traversing the whole width of the city an safe, easy and stress free journey.  The answer actually lies not on the cycling road itself but what is under it. Running in a straight line from Lake Tama down to a water treatment facility is a large diameter water pipe over which the Tamako cycling road has been built which explains why it runs as straight as an arrow. In order to make maintenance of this pipe easier the land above has been kept free of buildings and the above ground space has been given over to cyclists and pedestrians.

The route was a pleasure to cycle, calm, relaxing and stress free. Even the stretch from the cycling we covered by road was not nearly as bad as other routes we could have chosen. The Tamako Cycling Road is  rare example of a cycling path done right in Tokyo and we can only hope that more such path can be constructed and linked together around the city.

If you're interested in cycling this route please contact me, I'd love to guide you there sometime.



Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe 2015 in Tokyo

Ho Ho Ho! festive cyclists! 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 because the annual Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe is taking place in Tokyo on December 23rd and naughty or nice you're all invited to come along and join in the fun!

Jolly cyclists will gather on December 23rd at the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market from 17:00 and the ride scheduled to start at 17:30. The distance won't be that great, 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". Cyclists if all creeds, and bicycle of all style most very welcome.

There is no obligation to get dressed up to attend the ride, but hey, its only Christmas once a year so why not?! Santa Clause costumes can be had at your local Daiso or other ¥100 shop for ¥400, but feel free to come as a reindeer, elf, snowman or whatever! 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!

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, and lots of it!

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 its not when EVERYONE is dressed as Santa!

What : Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe 2015

When : December 23rd, 17:00 for a 17:30 start.

Where : Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market

Details : Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe Event Page



INVINCIBLE: End Bike Theft. Once and For All.

I love a product that solves a real problem which is why many years ago I was incredibly impressed by the range of Defender theft proof lights from Fortified Bicycles. If you've ever had an expensive bicycle light stolen then you know that being able to leave your bicycle parked anywhere in full confidence that when you return your lights would still be attached is a big deal. The team at Fortified identified a real problem and developed an effective solution and now they've done it again with the release of the Fortified Invincible bicycle which I am very excited about.

Major bicycle manufacturers have completely ignored the urban bicycle market. They may say they have bicycles suitable for the city, but in reality they've never taken the time to really understand the needs of city cyclists and bicycle commuters.

As city cyclists we need a bicycle that is tough, one that can take a few knocks, yet still be fast and light. We need to be able to cycle in confidence that we're not going to get a flat tire every time the road surface turns rough. We need to be able to park our bicycles out in the elements without fear of rust or the saddle absorbing water. But above all we seek security, we're tired of having to strip our bicycles pf parts when we park lest a bicycle thief strip them for us. We're tired of the extreme measures we have to take to ensure our rides are safe.

Fortified Bicycles is made up of a team of city cyclists, they know what is important to city cyclists, and they surveyed hundreds of cyclists listening to what they really want in a bicycle. Taking this information on board Fortified developed the "Invincible" to meet the needs of city cyclists and to end bicycle theft forever.

The Invincible comes in two models, the Invincible 1 Speed for flat cities, and the Invincible 8 Speed for hilly cities (Because lets face it who really needs 27 gears for cycling in the city?) Both models are constructed with a 6061 Aluminium rust-proof frame and zinc-coated, corrosion-resistant chain, ensuring that the Invincible is built to endure the harshest winter conditions. In addition to this the Invincible is equipped with light tread 700x32c puncture-resistant tires, allowing riders to float over potholes and to climb curbs without fear of flatting out. On close inspection its a beautifully built bicycle but from a distance its inconspicuous, not drawing any unwarranted attention from possible bicycle thieves.

But by far the biggest feature of the Invincible is that it is theft proof. Each bicycle is shipped with a Best In Class Fortified Ulock and is outfitted with Fortified’s proprietary anti-theft hardware, meaning that each of the bike’s components - handlebars, seat, wheels and front and rear lights - are guaranteed against theft. So confident is Fortified in the security of their product if the bike or any of its components, is ever stolen, Fortified’s Protection Policy will ship replacements within 24-hours. That's right, all components, in fact the entire bicycle are covered by a replacement guarantee in the case of theft.

In addition Fortified take the security of your Invincible bicycle one step further. Each Invincible bike is registered to a single owner at the time of purchase and the FortifiedProtect team manage ownership records to ensure that no Invincible bicycles are resold without permission. The team also monitors sites and forums across the Internet ensuring that if an Invincible bicycle is ever put up for unauthorised sale local authorities will be notified immediately. Fortified are taking both a proactive and reactive approach to cycling that has all bases covered.

The Invincible 1 Speed has a starting price of $399 for Kickstarter backers while the 8 Speed starts at $649. Backers can choose to customise their ride by adding Fortified's theft proof front and rear lights the Aviator and Afterburner, fenders or an always convenient rear rack.

For all the details of this amazing urban bicycle please visit the Fortified Invincible Kickstarter Page.

So that was my review, here is my personal opinion.

Recently I've been experiencing "Kickstarter Fatigue". With so many products competing for my attention and backing I've put a filter on my mailbox that forwards these emails to my almost never read "read later" folder. Its physically impossible for me to review every cycling related Kickstarter that comes my way which is why I choose to write about just those that I believe solve a real problem or add significant value to cycling and the Invincible is one of those, its a product I believe in, developed and supported by an inspiring team who I am most happy to support in whatever capacity I can.

For cycling around Tokyo I use a modified mountain bike because on the surface it shares many values of the Invincible. Its light enough but still tough and with narrow, almost slick, puncture proof tires I can cycle in confidence. I even ditched the padded seat for a plastic one so I don't get a wet ass after parking out in the rain. But it still has a whole slew of unnecessary gears, any of its parts can be easily stolen by anyone with a few tools, and beyond that its taken me considerable time, money and experience to configure it just the way I like.

The Invincible has everything I want and more in a commuter bicycle right out of the box.

If I were in the market for a new bike for the city this would be it, actually even though I'm not in the market it's still a very tempting purchase. I'd love to get a single speed Invincible on the ground in Tokyo and put it through its paces in the worlds biggest metropolis where I believe it would just eat up the streets!