November 17, 2016

At the beginning of November Japan's largest bicycle show Cyclemode has held at Makuhari Messe just outside Tokyo attracting tens of thousands of visitors over 3 days.

You'd think as someone with a tad of notoriety in Japanese cycling circles and with exhibitors offering free tickets left and right for a favourable product review that I'd jump a the chance to attend, but I did not. After all whats the point?

Cyclemode is for the 1%, not me.

Who are the 1% you may ask? They're the sports cyclists, the recreational cyclists, the MAMILs on their expensive light weight racing bicycles decked out in colourful figure hugging clothing (for better or worse!), sporting bicycle helmets, gloves and special shoes that make them walk like weary cowboys after a hard days rustling of cattle. They're the ones up before 5am on weekend mornings so they can cycle inhuman distances on empty roads while the rest of us slumber.  That's great, I used to be one of those guys and I enjoyed that time immensely. Its awesome that they're involved in such a social and healthy hobby, but at the end of the day its a hobby, a game enjoyed on the weekends by a small percentage of Japan's total cycling population. Unfortunately it is this small percentage of vocal people that ultimately control the image of cycling everywhere, and that is worse for cycling than you may imagine.

I'm no longer one of the 1%.

I love cycling, not bicycles. I encourage everyday, utilitarian cycling as convenient form of transport on whatever bicycle you happen to have at your disposal. For trips to the supermarket there is little difference between a $100 bicycle and a $10,000 one, except that the $100 one is most certainly more practical.

I believe that everyday cycling shapes our communities, not just the urban landscape, but the personal interactions that happen within that landscape.  I believe that the economic, health, environmental and societal benefits which cycling promotes are of immense importance to people and communities yet are sadly under appreciated by politicians and decision makers who determine the shape of our cites. Why would I spend a day I could otherwise spend cycling to the park with family wandering a vast convention centre filled with bicycles from manufacturers who refuse to acknowledge that 99% of the cyclists in Japan don't give a damn about expensive, super light, carbon fiber racing bicycles, in fact not only that but few even give their bicycle a second thought?


Tens of millions of Tokyo's residents can be considered "cyclists" in that they use bicycles regularly as a form of transport. The neighbourhoods of Tokyo are teeming with people on cheap, heavy, Mamachai or city bicycles going shopping, taking themselves off to the station, or delivering children to school, and running 100's of other errands around the local community. They give their bicycles less thought and consideration than the shoes they'll wear out that day, yet they rely on them more heavily than they'll ever know until they find themselves without one. For the vast majority of people a bicycle is is a tool and unless you're a professional carpenter a hammer works just as well as a nail-gun.

Cycling isn't about cyclists and bicycles its about people and communities.

Unfortunately as I mentioned, the image of cycling is formed by the 1%. When policy makers want an opinion from cyclists they'll head towards these people for an opinion, but the opinions of the 1% are not those of the 99%. Most sports cyclists are comfortable cycling on the roads, most everyday cyclists aren't. Many sports cyclists don't want bicycle lanes because the though of sharing space with the 99% on their slow shopping bicycle is abhorrent. The vast majority of sports cyclists consider bicycle helmets a must for cycling, while bicycle helmets for the 99% are a completely unnecessary expense. The 1% will spend $400 to shave 80g of weight from their bicycle rather than forgo a caramel latte and shave kilograms weight off the rider. These are the people who control the image of cycling. Its like supermodels controlling the perception of body image, its extreme and not at all a reflection of reality.

Cycling to the shops is not an extreme sport, it does not require special protective clothing or equipment beyond a kickstand, basket, lock and a light, all of which come standard on an inexpensive Japanese city bicycle. A bicycle from 60 years ago has all the technology most everyday cyclists require, but the cycling industry can't survive selling 60 year old technology year after year. So the industry continues to focus on the 1% making them believe that their product or innovation is essential for better performance and faster times when the majority of us simply want a comfortable saddle, and less flats.

At the end of the day the cycling industry is driven by money and the most lucrative corner of the cycling market is the 1% which in turn forms the public perception of cycling. Because of this the general public are being constantly bombarded with information and imagery that portrays cycling as an extreme and physically demanding sport that requires a great investment of time and money to enjoy to the fullest and thus many people don't consider it relevant to them.

I'd like to argue that cycling is a convenient and healthy form of everyday transport that can improve your life and your community that requires no more than a small investment to get started, and that physical fitness is irrelevant.

If you value a happy, health lifestyle, friendly communities, and strong local economies then everyday cycling makes us all rich, not just those catering for the 1%.

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