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Hello from a sidewalk bicyclist.


Apr 9, 2008
I'm Stuart. I have loved bike riding since I was very small (I'm 190cm now). I am almost 50 years old, and my bike riding is largely commuting and shopping excursions. I try to commute daily by bike to the many schools where I am an AET, but sometimes the frosty Kushiro weather gets too life threatening!

I am not sure this is the right cycling club for me. My reasons for bike riding are environmental and health considerations, not road racing. During registration for this site, I noticed "commuting" wasn't even offered as a choice for bike riding style.

My bicycle is probably one no one has ever heard of, a Diamant made in Chemnitz, in the German state of Saxony. It is 19 kilos heavy and has big 47-622 tires on it. The gearing is a Sachs 3x7 (3 internal hub gears, 7 derailleur gears). It was meant for cruising on rocky paths between farm fields, but is well-suited to the bumpy asphalt sidewalks of Japan. It came complete with lights, fenders and luggage rack. I put a Brooks suspension saddle on it and a right rear view mirror. I also have two big baskets ideal for grocery shopping that just hook unto the sides of rear luggage rack and can be easily removed and carried into the store(those Germans think of everything!).

I noticed a lot of angry opinions regarding riding bikes on sidewalks here at the Tokyo Cycling Club. My perspective is different. I feel bicyclists should have the best of both worlds: when riding in the street is too dangerous (this should be the bicyclist's call, not some desk jockey's in City Hall), bicyclists should be allowed to ride on the sidewalk. When riding on the sidewalk, however, bicyclists MUST change their riding style to give pedestrians priority. Isn't that just common sense? Why shoot ourselves in the foot, by demanding bicycles be banned from sidewalks?

My typical commute is about 12 kilometers during rush hour, about 6 kilometers are along heavily congested roads, some are two lanes in each direction, I have to cross one big convex-shaped bridge with heavy traffic, another 6 kilometers are on designated bicycle lanes (painted on the sidewalk), quiet streets, and a beautiful dedicated bicycle path along a canal. I am sorry, but I am not going to risk my life battling the traffic in those four lane roads or crossing that bridge. I am going to join the other school kids, mothers and old people who are bicycling on the sidewalk. I drive my bike SLOWLY, use a bicycle bell and try to give the pedestrians a wide berth when passing, always thanking them as I pass.

Maybe the hard core road racers here feel this almost 50 year old bicyclist should be tossed out into the heavy car traffic just on principle. But do you want your child, your wife/girlfriend, or your grandmother/grandfather who are on a bicycle to have to do the same?
I'm with you there Stuart!
My other bicycle, by the way, is a mama chari. You can't get any more domestic than that. Where I live in Chiba, the roads are too narrow there just isn't any choice but to ride the sidewalks for my safety. Of course, i do respect the pedestrians and give them priority on the sidewalks. Sometimes though, I get really annoyed whenever I am following a septuagenarian where it takes forever to pass. :D
Hello Stuart,

At the risk of ruining my reputation...:(
I'm not for "all bikes on the road", and I'm not for "all bikes on the sidewalk/footpath" either!
I do believe there are times when the use of both is necessary.
I think the problem stems from many different causes:

1. When cars first started to become popular in Japan - just after WWII - I don't think the road management system at the time was prepared for such a huge increase in traffic in such a short period (1950 - 1970).
Quote from "The history of Japanese roads":
At the end of World War II, the number of motor vehicles stood at 130,000 vehicles. By 1951, the total reached 500,000 vehicles, then doubled to one million in 1953, and doubled again to two million in 1957.

2. Is the fact that the "land-mass : population" density has never allowed for wide roads (In any era of Japanese history), nor has it allowed the space for "cycling-lanes" - for those who wish it to become another "Holland", sorry but it just won't happen due to the land restrictions.
Here' a story from a 75 y.o. lady who used to have a house in Asakusa - Tokyo:
As a child, my friend and I would run up the hill to Aoyama and watch the soldiers training. There was a great view of Mount Fuji from there...
...After the war, I got married and moved into my parents' house again after a short stint as an "office lady"...
... Just before the Tokyo Olympics, in 1964, the Government came and told us that they "needed to widen the streets, and that our house was in the way"! We had no choice but to leave. The Government did an appraisal of our house and land. They couldn't give us back the one big house we used to have so instead, they gave us two houses; One in Nishi-Arai, and another smaller one in Den-en-Chofu....

3. Is an education problem... Japanese children basically have, "all the freedom in the world", and any driver that hits a child crossing the street is instantly liable.
(*Note: The signs that say "飛び出し注意" 「Look out for children who might run out in front of your car」 are unimaginable in western countries!)
It would be much better to say on those signs, "If your child runs out in front of a car and is killed, it is the parents' responsibility for not teaching that child to look where he/she was going"!
I truly believe that it is this lack of early-childhood discipline that is the cause of most Japanese adults still walking around like zombies.

4. Licensing laws & regulations: It costs at least 10-times more money & time to obtain a driver's license in Japan - Hopefully because they are being trained to "LOOK". But this causes two more problems:
a). Mama-chari riders who have never had to go through the training, and hence, don't look where they are going remain as ignorant as ... children.
b). Drivers who become somewhat arrogant that they HAVE completed the training, then feel that cyclists who have "not got a license" shouldn't have any right to be on the road!

I have "Gold" license from Australia, and consider myself to be a very capable driver. I've driven in Japan, and found the majority of drivers around me to also be very competent.
I have however - on the bicycle - had experiences with drivers who have revved their engines & tried to force me onto the side of the road (Deej has also told me about a similar experience), because they perhaps feel that "the road should only be for 'licensed drivers'."

That said; I, as a "Road-Cyclist" would also not particularly want to share the road with all other "Mama-chari" riders!
- They outnumber road-bikes by at least 100:1.
- They DO NOT LOOK where they are going.
- I've never seen a Mama-chari ride in a straight line!

Ive said it before, and I'll say it again...
And here's my logic:
When you, me or anybody decides to go out riding, we put on a helmet - it's usually the last thing we do before we leave the house. Putting on a helmet tells us (even subconsciously), "I don't want to die today!", "I'll be riding in traffic (on the road) & I'll need to be careful!"
Not putting on a helmet (again, subconsciously) says, "I'm only going to the shop! What can happen?", "I'll be fine! It's just down the street!".

Helmet ON, means your a "road-rider".
Helmet OFF, means you should be on the sidewalk!

Think about it; The police pull over many mama-chari's on the sidewalk for not having lights on at night. They're easy to spot & easy to stop!
How much easier would it be to spot a "non-helmet-wearing cyclist on the road" as opposed to a "helmet-wearing cyclist on the footpath"?

It just seems so simple!
It would even increase helmet sales.
hi Stuart,

I can respect what you are saying, we have had this discussion before on this site. I have no problem with people like you who ride on the footpath so long as you are careful of pedestrians. I do have a problem with everybody being forced on to the road though, for the reasons Travis has pointed out.

Commuting by bike though is a subject dear to my heart though, and it is one of the major themes of my blog on this site, so you might want to have a look at that. I think we need to discuss this subject a lot more and encouraging folk to do it should be one of the missions of TCC.

Anyway, you are very welcome to join us. I note you live in Hokkaido so we probably won't see much of you in the flesh but please participate on the site.

Stuart hi from just across the water in Aomori.
I liked your post and can imagine you rolling around Kushiro on a slightly crisp breezy spring day like you must be getting now. Have you been out to the wetlands yet? That is a very nice ride with not too steep rolling hills if my memory serves me correct. Seemed like the perfect place for a day excursion with a picnic lunch and a sketch book thrown in. I was there in Autumn and the oyster festival is a good memory I have of Kushiro. That and the bridge crossing the river as you ride into town with the oyster boats sitting in the water. Nice wide streets and roads up there as well, very good for cycling, except those winters. Enjoy your commuting and don't worry, the peeps in this community are very accommodating of us older and not so speedy Northerners and who knows a tour of Hokkaido was on the cards last year.Finally maybe Thomas will make a new category for commuters as many of us here are .
Hello Simon!

Thanks for the nice message. The Kushiro wetlands have some rocky, gravelly roads that are quite flat and suited for mountain bikes. The surrounding roads that car traffic goes on are quite hilly. There is a nice flat paved by-pass road that cuts right through the marshland, but the big trucks like to use it.

I noticed my knees have been acting up for about two years now. After a bike commute or an extended ride, I experience a "burning" sensation on my upper shins just below the knee. I am guessing it is Patellar Tendinitus. I have put my saddle all the way up to reduce the amount of flex my knee has to make when the pedal is at its highest point. That seems to help a little, that and I have been dismounting and walking up the hills, rather than spinning up in a low gear.

I have seen some patellar tendon support pads on the Internet (those Japanese Sumo wrestlers sometimes wear them), but don't know if they are a waste of money. I sometimes worry my bicycling days are numbered, so I am reluctant to go joyriding in the countryside. I think I should stick to commuting and hope my knees are just going through a phase.
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