City Cycle “Sharing” Systems


Bridgestone bikke model bike available in Minato Ward

Japanese cities have always been places where people on bicycles are not only welcome, but characteristic of life in the city.  However, for the most part, these riders have supplied their own wheels.  Now, following the worldwide trend toward encouraging bicycle use within metropolitan areas, Tokyo is hoping to develop an integrated bike share program of its own as it looks toward hosting the 2020 Olympics.  An article and video news report posted on the NHK site today offers some details about the program.

Up until now, bike shares in Tokyo have been ward-specific, with Koto (江東区), Chuo (中央区), Minato (港区), and Chiyoda (千代田区) wards each offering their own programs. However, the municipality now wants to work to combine these and create a unified system.

If you are curious about the nuts and bolts of a current program, the Minato Ward Bike Sharing site has short videos explaining (in Japanese) how to register and borrow bikes, as well as a map showing the locations of the stands and images of its customized red Bridgestone bikke model bikes.

Other cities in Japan have developed community bike share programs as well.  Yokohama has its baybikes, Kyoto its Machikado Minaport program, Sapporo its Porocle, and Osaka its Umegle-Chari, just to name a few.  Most offer a similar type of program with a practical, mamachari type bicycle with basket.

Kyoto's Minaport Panasonic bikes

Kyoto’s Minaport Panasonic bikes

If you are a frequent traveler and interested in bike share programs worldwide, you might want to check out the Google Bike-sharing World Map.  Other interesting English-language resources include the following:

The Bike-sharing Blog – created by a bike share consultancy in Washington D.C.

NACTO Bike Share Info – USA-based National Association of City Transportation Officials

Do you have experience using a bike share program in Japan?


“Loco” Cyclists, and Other “Crazy” Japanesisms

Today I was scanning some cycling blogs, wondering how the throngs celebrating Golden Week were coping with the extreme weather, and I came across a term I hadn’t seen before: ロコサイクリスト (roko saikurisuto), or “Loco Cyclist”.  As an American West Coaster the first thing that came to mind was “crazy cyclists”, but it turns out that is not it at all.  The “loco” is apparently short for “local”, since the definition I found for this term was 地元の (jimoto no), and it appears to refer to people who are natives of a given region willing to share local knowledge and guide newcomers around.

Here are some other English-derived terms which might be misinterpreted by native speakers of English:

パンク (panku), “punk” = flat tire (from “puncture”)

マイペース (maipeesu), “my pace” = describes a person who does things in his/her own (self-indulgent) way or at his/her own pace (usually inconveniencing others!)

ジャージー (jaajii) = jersey

メット (metto), “met” = helmet

ピットイン (pittoin), “pit in” = pit stop or SAG station


Wooden Bicycles

Sano Sueshirō (佐野末四郎) is a 9th generation wooden boat builder. He is also a designer and builder of wooden furniture, speakers and – since 2007 – mahogany bicycles.  In an interview for the company Cat Eye, Sano said he began making bikes because he saw the industry focusing on carbon fiber and other stiff materials in the belief that that technology would make bikes faster.  Reflecting on his own experience with wood, he thought he could do better. Apparently – according to this New York Times Magazine blog entry – he has done a convincing job of it.

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Tartaruga Folding Bikes


Photo from the Tartaruga website.

Tartaruga is Italian for “turtle”.  I first learned of this brand from a post on the blog Folding Biker Japan.  Tartaruga’s originator, Yoshimatsu Naotaka (吉松尚孝), designed “amusement machines” (for game arcades) at Namco (ナムコ) before breaking out on his own to design bicycles.  The model seen here is the “Type Sport”, but the company also makes a semi-recumbant “Type Folding” model as well.

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Shimanami Kaidō (しまなみ海道) Cycle Path

View of Onomichi from Mukaishima. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Vickerman625.

View of Onomichi from Mukaishima. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Vickerman625.

One Japanese blogger , who uses the moniker 吾輩は猫であるさん (from Wagahai wa Neko de aru, the title of a famous novel by Natsume Soseki), referred to this bike trail as a サイクリストの聖地 (saikurisuto no seichi), or “a cyclist’s holy land”.  The 海道 (Kaidō) in the name means “sea way” or “sea path”, and the trail obligingly hops islands from one side of the 瀬戸内海 (Seto Naikai, “Seto Inland Sea”) to the other.  After reading so much about the trail itself and individual cyclists’ experiences on it, I’m adding this ride to my bucket list for my next stay in Western Japan! (´∀`)ワクワ

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Cycling Events in Japan, April 2014

Traveling in Japan this spring?  Interested in getting some exercise and making connections with other cyclists? If so, here are three options for April 2014:

グラン・ツール・せとうち2014 (Guran Tsuuru Setouchi, Grand Tour Setouchi):  April 19, 20 (register by March 31)

  • Starts in 尾道市向島運動公園 (Onomichi-shi Mukaishima Undō Kōen, Onomichi City Mukaishima Exercise Park) and runs along the しまなみ海道 (Shimanami Kaidō, Shimanami Sea Path) and nearby roads
  • Saturday or Sunday short course (70km): ¥4000 (about USD $39)
  • Saturday long course (120km): ¥5000 (about USD $49)
  • Two day short course (includes single-sex group accommodations and breakfast/dinner): ¥17,000 (60-80 people per room)/¥18,000 (8-12 people per room)  (about USD $166/176)
  • Two day long course (includes single-sex group 0accommodations and breakfast/dinner): ¥18,000/¥19,000 (about USD $176/185)
  • Participant limit: 1,500 riders

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Bike Trails in Japan, Part 1: Kyoto’s Katsura River Cycling Road

Katsura-gawa Cycle Road

Along the Katsura-gawa section of the trail.

Urban Kyoto is of its own accord a great place to ride a bicycle if you are acclimated to city riding – and you can use this map and guide from the city’s visitor’s bureau if you are so inclined – but if you are aching to get away from the crowds and see a little of the countryside, one option is the 京都八幡木津自転車道 (Kyōto Yawata Kizu Jitensha-dō, “Kyoto-Yawata-Kizu Bicycle Path”).

Popularly known as the 桂川サイクリングロード (Katsuragawa Saikuringu Rōdo, “Katsura River Cycling Road”), this trail starts in Kyoto’s Arashiyama area (Nishikyō-ku, Kamikawara-cho) and runs 45 kilometers toward Nara along the Katsura and Kizu rivers.  An overview map of this trail is provided below, but if you would like more detail (and information on how to connect this trail with trails in the Nara area), Kyoto Prefecture provides a regional cycling map and additional information in .pdf format on the trail page of its website.

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“Pottering” in Japan (that is, “puttering about on two wheels”)

outside Matsumoto

On a ride outside Matsumoto. (c) Site author.

If you read many Japanese blogs on the subject of bicycles, you will no doubt come across the term ポタリング (potaringu). Since this is a relatively new term, you won’t find it in many dictionaries, but a quick internet search reveals that the term is widely used and evolved from the English idea of “pottering about”. In Japan, it applies specifically to leisurely and somewhat aimless rides on two wheels.  The Japanese Wikipedia entry describes it as an activity similar to “strolling”, but on a bicycle or motorbike. A Kotobank entry narrows the usage to bicycles exclusively, and describes it as the activity of riding around wherever one feels like going, just for the purpose of sightseeing.

Either way, “pottering” is something I have had the pleasure of doing many a time during my stays in Japan.  One afternoon I remember quite fondly was on a visit to Matsumoto, a beautiful “little” city, situated in a basin below the Japan Alps in Nagano Prefecture.  Before I went there, I really only knew four things about Matsumoto: 1) it has a famous castle, designated as a National Treasure,  2) it is the home of the “Suzuki Method” for teaching violin, 3) the area is known for wasabi, and 4) it was the site of a terrible Sarin gas terror attack.  While thoughts of the latter did float through my mind a bit when I was first making plans to go, these evaporated quickly as we emerged out of the station into the sunny, crisp April air and began to wander around.  I had read in advance that free rental bikes were available near the station, and a few of us decided to head out in search of the wasabi fields.

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Can I be stylish on my bike?! サイクルで着こなせる?!

I was recently struck by some copy on the cover of abbautumn2010cover Japanese mook called Bicycle Beauty (バイシクル・ビューティー、Baishikuru Byuutii).  It included the word kikonasu (着こなす), which translates as something like “dress stylishly”. This made me consider how I dress when I go out for a ride…

When I go to my local bike shop to shop for cycling clothes, I’m not usually thinking about fashion.  Not, mind you, because I don’t want to.  It’s just that the places local to me have a somewhat intimidating, masculine feel to them, and the options have more to do with function than aesthetics.  “After all”, they seem to imply, “we’re in training for next year’s STP” – or at least we feel we should be – “and we’re too serious to care about what we look like”. It seems the focus is on looking hard-core, rather than “beautiful”…

Whatever clothing is available for women, it is pretty much just pinkified, smaller versions of the men’s clothes.  I don’t ever recall walking into the women’s cycling section and thinking to myself, “That’s so cute!” or “I love that cut!”.  Certainly, I’ve never found any cycling clothes that would make be feel “beautiful”…

Is it just me?  Or does anyone else feel this way?

It is true that there are some places online that offer more stylish things, but they tend to be for for climes that are much warmer and drier than here – things that I could really only consider wearing in August, and even then I’d be slightly cold.  I wish I could find things like this in shops near me…

Where is the really stylish windproof, rainproof jacket in a color other than neon yellow or orange? After all, reflective tape could be integrated creatively into something more stylish, and then we wouldn’t have to look like moving traffic cones… 。^‿^。   And could someone please make some jerseys that have some colors other than hot pink and fuschia? It’s not that I don’t like those colors, but enough already! A lovely pale petal pink would be nice, or something in a soft sage or violet would be even better, for the sake of variety  …And the patterns:  Cycle jerseys always seem to have swishes or bold stripes of color, like we’re all football team wannabes!  What about a soft paisley?  A damask?  Some little flowersBirds?

I’ve realized as I’ve begun to ride more often, that I feel better about gearing up to go out when I like what I’m wearing, and in all the gear I have, there are really only a couple of cute things.  I can only wonder, how much more often would I ride, if I was excited about my gear?!

Some day when I retire I’m going to learn how to sew, and then I’ll be able to create some things I actually want to wear and feel beautiful in… Until then, I’m still searching for that great shop that has to be out there…