Bicycle Happy

Bikes in Tokyo by bloompy
Bikes in Tokyo, a photo by bloompy on Flickr.

Tokyo is not exactly Beijing, where countless number of cyclists could be found wandering around town during rush hours. Nor is Tokyo like San Francisco, where on certain Fridays, hundreds of cyclists take over the downtown area in hope of raising consciousness in a city that could certainly afford to cycle more; but I do remember that once my city exploring left the confine of Shinjuku and into the other neighborhoods, I started seeing something I really enjoyed: mothers taking their children in a bike built for two; a girl giving his boyfriend a ride; a very old but sturdy lady (I am talking 70-ish) maneuvering her bike in a crowded alley.

At first I found it annoying that the cyclists (not “bikers” as bike here means motorbike) rode through the sidewalk. In some areas in Tokyo, the sidewalks are not exactly like those at Champs-Elysées, Paris. You can indeed find a broad sidewalk in the “Champs-Elysées of Tokyo,” a.k.a. the Omotesandō-dōri, but when you get to smaller streets, the sidewalk could only accommodate two people walking side by side. That annoyance quickly dissipated as I realized that the city had not dedicated a lane for cyclists on the roads: only crosswalks have dedicated lanes for cyclists, but of course the pedestrians walked on those lanes as well. I still wish that any local government would look at Münster (Germany) to see what a dedicated bicycle lane should look like: In that small town, roads are for motor vehicles, sidewalks are for pedestrians, and in between them, cyclists have their own lane, complete with concrete pylons separating and protecting them from the autos. When there are no dedicated lanes, then it is understood that the cyclists could share the sidewalk, and they know which side to cycle so as not to hit any pedestrians.

When I finally moved to Tokyo in the winter of 2004 (February), I yearned for a bicycle. Going to Tokyu Hands or any bicycle shop is always a lot of fun because of the many varieties of available models. They have many bikes that could be folded in two, put in a shoulder bag (albeit a huge and heavy shoulder bag) to go; or those with a tiny little motor that could help you when facing an incline (the motor is operated with the help of a rechargeable battery.) The tires come in different sizes (and numbers! There is even a unicycle available for purchase!), from the tiniest (toy-like) to the biggest. I thought the smaller tires are for the kiddy bikes, but I have seen a lot of people in their 20s using these bicycles with small tires.

I was reminded of those parents who placed their kids in the seats behind them, and suddenly I was looking for a bicycle that could accommodate my own kids, the two dachshunds, Ptolemy and Galla. Once I saw a green bike with a huge, oversized basket and not at all proportional. The price was a whopping ¥15,000.00, I think. When I got close, I realized that they had called this bicycle “The Baker’s Bicycle,” and that basket was supposed to carry all the fresh-from-the-oven baguettes. The bicycle itself was a simple and a straightforward old-style bicycle.

Three months later, after seeing many different bicycles, at Tokyu Hands they displayed a bicycle with a dog (stuffed animal) in the basket in front of the bicycle. It turned out that this bicycle was made to carry a pet’ it came with a very nice bag that fit into the basket. Immediately I had the staff take it down for me to inspect, but no transaction took place that day. There was some doubt with regard to the size of the basket, etc. The second time we came to inspect it, still nothing. Finally on our third visit, last night, we brought both of the dogs and fit them into the baskets (an extra basket had to be placed in the back if I wanted both of them to come along.) They fit perfectly, and so the bicycle had a new owner. The staff told me that all bicycles had to be registered with the police department, and the license would be valid for ten years. Fortunately, the department store took care of the registration, and it took a mere hour, a time that we passed on by having dinner in the same building.

On the second inspection of the bicycle the week before, we were informed that if we wanted this shipped, it would take weeks before it arrived; the packing and handling would take a long time. So, on the third visit, I braced myself and decided early on to ride the new bike with the dogs in it from the Shinjuku Tokyu Hands all the way home, which was rather far. Considering that this was my first bicycle ride in close to 20 years, and riding in Tokyo was not exactly the safest means in the world of cycling, I was rather daring. My partner decided to walk along with me, and he ended up walking one of the dogs while the other one rode with me in the doggy basket in front. The ride was brutal as it happened to be a hot and a humid evening, but the compliments from the passing crowd, upon seeing a dog in the basket, injected a sense of (delusional) parental pride; that, indeed, felt like a breeze to me.

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