Saturday, 4 January 2014

Tokyo Cycle Trends

Metropolitan Cycling

I am currently back in Tokyo, visiting an old friend with whom I shared a house here in the mid-eighties. That was when we were wild young men. Back in those days Tokyo astounded me with its size and traffic. Few people in Tokyo had their own cars and most people got around by metro, taxi or by bicycle. There were millions of bicycles in fact. This is still the case. Most of them in those days were small-wheeled shopper type bikes as they tend not to cycle very far. Tokyo is a huge city - the world's biggest in fact. Go up any tall building and you will find that you can rarely see as far as the outskirts. It's about sixty or seventy miles diameter in general.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Building (Shinjuku)

Night views of Tokyo conjure up thoughts of film 'Bladerunner'

Most Tokyo cyclists use their bikes to pop down to the supermarket (many open all night in this 'Bladerunneresque' world) or to ride to the nearest metro station for work. The multi-storey cycle storage parks outside stations these days are quite fascinating. I visit my friends here every three or four years and notice each time how there has usually been a change of bicycle fashion during my absence. Over the years I have seen this trend-conscious city pass through a fashion for grown-up tricycles, another for tiny folding bikes, then another for traditional Dutch-style bikes. This time I notice a trend for a kind of small wheeled racing bike. This is not a type of bike I have seen in England or anywhere else although it could be said to vaguely resemble those very rare and expensive modern Moulton bikes. So every time I see one, I photograph it and hope that the owner might arrive and engage me in conversation, or even offer me a ride – the Japanese are very hospitable.

 Latest Cycle Fashion - Nakano, Tokyo 2013/14

A Cautionary Tale About Drunk Cycling

Back in the eighties I got involved in some drunken youthful antics involving an attempt at getting to a late night party on a 'borrowed' bicycle with flat tyres, after leaving some sleazy downtown bar. Such behaviour in the early hours tends to stand out in Japan, especially when the rider is a westerner, and I was soon apprehended by a cycling policeman with a long truncheon, who easily outpaced me. I only narrowly escaped deportation after being interrogated and locked up for the night. Releasing me the next day they told me I had fitted the description of an American assassin they were hunting, after an international war between two drug gangs. They had phoned my elderly landlady in the early hours, who had eventually convinced them I was only an adventurous English teacher with a love of strong sake. Fortunately they still allow me back.

Many Ways To Arrive In Tokyo

In 2009 my teenage son and I arrived in Tokyo by bicycle after riding nearly 10,000 miles from Dingle in the west of Ireland. Cycling into Tokyo and down the main streets of a city I had been so familiar with in the past was a surreal experience for me. It proved so for others too. People struggled to get their heads around it. As I have said, many people in Tokyo cycle, but rarely further than one or two miles at the most. We stayed in Tokyo for a month at the end of our long expedition and often got around the city by bike. It can be a hard city to find one's way around and we frequently found ourselves stopping to ask for directions. Ironically, we found that a request to be shown the correct route to take in order to get to Takao, Kamakura or even Shibuya (not far from the centre) was usually met with a look of incredulity:
"No no, you can't possibly get there by bike sir, it's more than ten kilometres away!"

 Sam in Nam Ban Oon, Laos - March 2009

 Near the Turkey-Iran border - Sept 2008

Arriving back home in Canterbury - June 2009

You can read more about our Ireland to Japan father and son expedition, along with specific details about cycling in Japan, in our book Long Road, Hard Lessons:

Book on Amazon UK
Book on
Book via Smashwords


  1. Enjoy Japan. Need awarm day back in Canterbury for a good hard ride.


  2. Sounds like it's been a long time coming, Richard, according to what I hear.

  3. Excellent discussion of of bicycling in Nihon. However, I would never refer to the Yoro-no-taki as a "sleazy downtown bar." That place had loads of character and the food was mostly very decent. Ahh, the good old days. Dave

    1. Ah yes Dave, what a superb place indeed. Please remember that the term "Sleazy downtown bar" is for me an expression of overwhelming desirability :) The Nakano Yoro-no-taki is slightly less sleazy than our old Okubo example but Steve and I enjoyed it very much nonetheless. Abrazos my friend.