Cycling in Tokyo (my early impressions)


The Crank Engine
Nov 1, 2005
Here are a few of my early impressions on cycling in Tokyo. Mind that when I wrote these lines as a rookie urban biker (on a mamma-charrie!).

Cycling in Tokyo
(originally posted at the JREF Forum on June 22, 2004​

Lately, there have been a few threads about using bicycles in Japan. Some issues have already been covered in these threads, but let me add my two yen worth. I am an avid biker, using the bicycle as sole means of urban transportation since early spring. Conclusio: Japan is a bicycle-friendly country.

However, here are a few personal observations (please don''t take them too serious, as your "mileage" may vary).

It is perfectly common to ride bikes on the pavement. Although larger roads usually have designated bicycle lanes, no one seems to respect them, in particular pedestrians. In Tokyo and probably other large cities too, they tend to ignore cyclists unless a bike boasts a 50-decibel horns or you literally run them down. Remember: pedestrians are evil.

Street traffic
In order to avoid busy pavements it''s good advice to use streets wherever possible. According to my experiences, Japanese motorists are very cautious and gentle as far as "soft targets" are concerned. They even seem to expect cyclists and pedestrians to cross at red light, they therefore approach traffic lights and junctions quite cautiously. However, don''t rely on it, at junctions I always try to establish eye contact with car drivers.

Theft & authorities
Unless you park your 200.000yen de luxe mountain bike unchained in Kabuki-cho, there is only a slight chance a bicycle will be stolen. I think it has been mentioned in another thread: city authorities have the ugly habit of confiscating bikes parked close to stations. These bike razzias seem to take place once a month and improve the city''s tax income as you have to fork out transportation & administrative fees in order to redeem your bicycle (cost me 3.000yen last month). On the subject of authorities: I have never been asked to produce my registration card or proof of ownership, no matter how hard I tried to prompt police action. I attribute that to my innocent looks.

Busy areas
While biking avoid busy commercial areas at specific times: between 9 & 10am subway stations spawn Men in Black and OLs (salarymen and "office ladies") at frightfully regular interval, there is no way a lone cyclist could possibly cope with these corporate hordes (similar between 12 & 1pm due to lunch break and 5 & 7pm when mainly OLs and few renegade MiBs leave office). Remember: pedestrians are evil, but virtually predominant during certain times of the day.

Cell phone peril
Another most dangerous subspecies of pavement dwellers is what I''m inclined to call "keizos" (keitai zombies), people walking with their eyes transfixed to their cell phone displays. While they are abundant in motionless state on trains and subways, they can also be spotted moving eerily in the flow of traffic. No need to ring, they wouldn't notice you until you rub noses or dispossess them of their keitai. Ergo: circumvent at maximum distance.

Other risks
However, danger is also imminent from your fellow cyclists. While Japanese traffic regulations stipulate to drive on the left side of the road, the same does not appear to apply to traffic on pavements. Passing oncoming bicycles can sometimes turn into some sort of Russian roulette.

Other categories of cyclists to pay attention to:

- swervers: mostly children, oji- & obasan. Defying gravitation, they master 90 degree swerves at minimum speed. Most of the time, they wouldn't even notice that you risked your neck in order not to hit them.
- keitai gogglers: the wheeled version of "keizos". Equally perilous.
- umbrella swervers, single-handed cyclists, abundant in rain, but also during sunshine (aka parasol swervers, mostly female). Ultimate danger when using a cell phone.
- BoBs (baby on board), usually mothers carrying their infants to kindergarten or preschool and/or taking their siblings (up to two) along to the next supermarket. Notorious for their heedless driving. Avoid whenever possible. - gaismaps (gaijin smartiepants) such as the speeding author of these lines who in his sheer arrogance deems himself above traffic regulations despite having caused one bicycle accident and suffered countless self-inflicted injuries.

Japan is a bicycle-friendly country. :)