12 January 2014

The Ubiquitous Japanese Bicycle

Most bike-commuting Americans I know feel they're a special breed; it's not a warrantless entitlement, either- if you ride a bike for anything but competition or recreation in the US of A, it is generally assumed you have a couple DUI's under your belt. Of course, there are exceptions to this in certain cities, but even in those places a lot of motorists do not "get it" and will "feel okay running you over". So you can imagine the culture shock coming to a country where there are just so many damn bicycles everywhere:
And crows. So many damn crows.

I had wanted to write a piece on the state of non-sport cycling in Japan for quite awhile, but the more I put it off, the more I found other people who had done a much better job of it themselves. Byron Kidd of Tokyo By Bike gives an excellent analysis of the Japanese perspective on bicycle use (mainly the basket-clad mamachari) in his article "Why Cargo Bike Face a Tough Market in Japan".
What it really boils down to are a couple ideals that Japan has come to be known by: convenience and efficiency. If you've never had a basket on your bike, you're missing out. It is, in my opinion, the single greatest utility-multiplier you can add to your bicycle.
Have you ever fit a puppy in a pannier?  Then you're a terrible person.
And those come standard. Dynamo headlight? Standard. Integrated wheel lock? Standard. Fenders, chain guard, center-stand kickstand, the list goes on and on  pretty much ends there, but you get my point. Sure, this is the land of state-of-the-art Fujis, Keirin track racing, and one of the largest fixie scenes in the world, but those are all second to the concept of bicycle-as-vehicle that the Japanese have embraced. Even Tokyo Disneyland has a dedicated bicycle parking lot:
Albeit, this was on a school day in January.

There exist other places on planet Earth, i.e. the Netherlands, where utility-cycling is also prevalent, and that's great, because it demonstrates that bicycle transportation doesn't just work in a closed system, but has flourished in two very separate parts of the world. But there is just something so no-nonsense about how the Japanese view transportation and infrastructure, that seeing bicycles as an integral part of that is refreshing. I don't have much hope in anything on this level ever being adopted in North America, but I'll enjoy it here in the meantime thank you very much.

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