all about the ride: Tokyo Edition

In bike, japan on January 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Riding in Tokyo is cool, the roads are wide, generally two to four lanes on the big main thoroughfares I’ve used, and well tarmaced, some of the smoothest, nicest surfaces I’ve rolled over. Riding across town takes about half an hour, forty mins, probably less if you cane it, but I’ve been quite sedate. Haven’t hit many of the smaller roads, as they seem to be filled with pedestrians. The actually center of Tokyo, the bits which aren’t the suburbs, would take you an hour to ride from east to west, north to south. Which is great because your never that far away from home, also Tokyo doesn’t have any hills, otherwise known as zaka’s or zaza’s. They have inclines, think Pentonville road, but less steep and longer, depending on your leg strength you’ll probably get out of the saddle a little bit, and maybe be a little puffed, but nothing which you look at and think “fuck me, I’m not going to make it up that.”

I hear Kyoto has more hills, as the temples/shrines are built further out of town on hillsides, so I’m reserving judgement on how easy it’ll be for me to get the old self up them.

But I digress, back to Tokyo riding, they drive on the right side of the road, so no need to second guess myself when it comes to looking left or right, and the drivers seem to be plenty considerate of cyclists, the only thing with Tokyo is that the light sequences are LOOOOOONNNNNNNNNG!!! Like a drum and bass intro, drivers routinely, turn off their engines at the lights. Let me repeat this for you, they turn off their engines. And they don’t have an amber light, so they go straight from red to green and you get a load of cars which try to anticipate it, and just edge forward on the red for AAAAAGES.

Late at night the roads are pretty empty once you get out of the very center of Tokyo, and so you can jump them to your hearts content, but I’m trying to be legal, and am refraining unless its a tumbleweed filled western road. Probably by the time I leave I’ll be jumping them like it’s old London town. But also with the roads being so wide, if you try to jump them during the day or anywhere close to rush hour YOU WILL be turned into roadkill.

People CYCLE over here, a bike is transportation, a way of getting themselves and cargo from a to b, they are not precious about their bikes. And all of them, and I mean all of them, have kickstands, even the fixed ones. Some the one legged, one sided type, but most the two sided lift back wheel off the floor kind. They are ubiquitous. You’ll see rows and rows of shoppers, step through frames, with baskets on the front, propped up on their kick stand,  free locked through the back wheel. I’ve properly gotten the fear when I’ve seen some of the riders on their bikes out here, riding round, with their kickstand skating perilously close to the ground, because they haven’t pushed it back properly, sending an anxious look over my shoulder to see if that left turn, dug the kickstand into the road and sent them sprawling.

And they don’t seem to have much road sense either, they will ride their bike through a crowd of people on the pavement, weave the wrong way down a road, try and squeeze over a crossing when the lights are against them, all to get to their destination just a little quicker. Yet they are cycling, which makes me happy, it feels like a lot more ride here than in London, a lot more. More on the scale of Denmark or Holland or any of them great European countries where you see people replacing cars with bikes. Tokyo’s another one of those cities, which because of the great transportation links, you really don’t need to own a car to get around, just hop on the metro and despite the crush during rush hour, there you go, out at your destination.

So lots of bikes here, lots and lots of them, people ride low slung cruisers, bmx’s, mountain bikes, but shoppers with big wheels and step through frames are all the rage here, there are some road (geared bikes) aficionado’s who roll out the high end stuff, i’ve seen de rosa’s, pinarello’s, bianchi’s, high end exotica, you name it I’ve seen it. They even close off the roads around the imperial castle in the center of town on a Sunday and people come out and do laps either jogging or cycling , it’s about a five kilo loop and the boys whizz round, head to toe in liveried lycra splendour. They will even load you a bike if you don’t have one.
But the bikes you see on the everday are transport, not there to be ogled at or photos taken of, they get you and your cargo from a to b, whether that’s taking kids to school or bringing the shopping back from the Market.
I like this, cycling is seen as everyday, so everyday that people don’t spend alot of money on their bikes because they will ride them hard, as Outkast used to say “All day, Er’day”, not because its seen as something to be stolen and your only going to ride it during the summer anyway.

So the fixed thing seems like a bit of an aberration because they ride their bikes everyday yet they spend more money on them than seems reasonable, it’s a combining of the high end male exotica fetish and the bike as transportation ethic. Over the last couple of days I’d been disappointed by the lack of track bike action here in the land of Keirin racing, but it was just that I wasn’t looking in the right place. I took a trip down to Shibuya, and let me tell you, lots of track bikes there, Japan’s answer to the hipster highway (ride to Old St, from Tottenham Court Road, and you’ll see more fixed bikes in twenty odd mins, than you’ll see for days in the rest of London) Shibuya’s like that but you don’t even have to go anywhere, just sit on the famous crossing by Shibuya Metro and they will come to you.

Think of Shibuya as Camden/Shoreditch/Oxford St but with more money thrown at the clothes. Everyone dressed to the nines just to stand outside shops, or to do more shopping. Intense is not even close to conveying how insane it is to see that many people moving across a crossing, not just once, but every couple of mins. You stand there and wonder where they are all going to, and what they are going to do when they get there.

Tokyo feels comfortable, yet strange with a capital S all at the same time. And just when I think I know where I’m going and am navigating myself well across town, the place up and kicks me in the ass. Very disconcerting.

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