Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2013
In a recent independent survey Tokyo was ranked as the 10th most cycling friendly city in the world. The only other Asian city to make the list is Nagoya. In fact, urban mobility expert Mikael Colville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize Design Co. the creators of the Copenhagenize Index of Bicycle Friendly Cities, goes even further and ranks Japan as the third great cycling nation behind Denmark and the Netherlands. And rightly so:
Tokyo is among the largest and most populated cities in the world, but most residential neighborhoods have their own unique small town feel. In terms of services, Japanese neighborhoods are self contained with residents having to cycle no more than five minutes to reach supermarkets, kindergartens, schools and doctors—in fact most necessities for everyday living are just a short ride away. Without the need to travel excessive distances for the basics of daily life, a bicycle makes perfect sense. So much sense, in fact, that 14 percent of trips made in Tokyo each day are by bicycle, compared to just 2 percent for London and 3 percent for San Francisco.
Up the Garden Path
Many of Tokyo’s better parks lend cycles
When it comes to cyclists numbers and everyday bicycle usage Tokyo is leading the world, but let’s not forget that Tokyo offers some great escapes for the recreational cyclist.
The Palace Cycling Course is a 3km, car-free loop on Uchibori-dori open to cyclists 10am-3pm on Sundays (weather permitting). The route is one of the few places in all of the country where it is legal to ride a tandem on the street and is popular with couples and families. Bicycles can be borrowed for free from the reception area near Nijubashimae stn, exit 2. 03-6409-6923 www.jbpi.or.jp/pc1.php
Showa Memorial Park in Tachikawa has more than14km of paths winding through its 163 hectares. Bicycles can be rented for three hours for ¥400 (¥250 for children). Nearest stn: Tachikawa. www.showakinenpark.go.jp/english
The Suginami Children’s Traffic Park teaches young riders the rules of the road with a practice course complete with traffic lights, road signs and railway crossings. Bicycles and pedal go karts are provided on site. 1-22-13 Nishi-Narita, Suginami-ku. 03-3315-4564. Nearest stn. Hamadayama or Minami-Asagaya. http://meturl.com/kidstraffic
Yoyogi Park Cycling Center in the northwest corner of the park rents bikes for adults (¥200 first hour/¥100 additional hour) and kids (¥100 first hour/¥50 additional hour) and they even have tandems (¥200 for first lap/¥100 for additional laps). The bikes can only be used on the designated cycling path, but that is more than ample. 03-3465-6855.
Largely closed to vehicles—Tokyo river paths are the perfect escape from busy city life
The Kandagawa River ends near Inokashira Park, a family-friendly destination for trips starting near Takaido station or, for a longer ride, Nakano-Fujimicho station.
The Zenpukuji River branches off from the Kandagawa near Nakano-Fujimicho station then makes its way up toward Ogikubo station. It is a refreshing route through parklands dotted with ponds and playgrounds.
The Arakawa River on the border of between Tokyo and Saitama offers a wide, well maintained, car-free, often windy cycling road starting near Kasairinkaikoen station near Tokyo Bay and ending near Kumagaya station in Saitama. The riverbank is dotted with sports fields which has led to accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians. The planned speed limit has been dropped, but be careful.
The Tamagawa River on the southern border of the city has a path is narrower, less maintained and more crowded than the Arakawa path, making it is less suited to high speeds. Starting near Haneda Airport and extending to the mountains of western Tokyo, it offers long-distance cycling without ever leaving the city.
The Tamako Cycling Road starting near Tanashi station and heading due west to Tamako and Sayamako on the edge of Saitama makes for a wonderful day ride.
Leaving Tokyo opens up unlimited destinations
Nikko and even the Japanese Alps are destinations far afield of Tokyo that can be reached by express trains with bikes full covered in bags.
Sado Island in the Sea of Japan can easily be reached and circumnavigated in a single weekend.
Izu Oshima island south of Tokyo offers a rather unconventional overnight trip. Take the overnight ferry operated by Tokai Kisen (www.tokaikisen.co.jp) that arrives before dawn. Cycling clockwise from the ferry terminal, it is possible to circle the entire island before lunch. More energetic cyclists can take the steep climb to the crater of the active volcano for wonderful views before a speedy descent to catch the ferry back to Tokyo.
Head to the Hills
Serious roadies are spoiled for choice
Ogouchi Dam on Lake Okutama is a sharp climb up from Oume station and offers scenic views and casual rides before a pleasant ride back down, enjoyable any time of year.
Uenohara and Otsuki offer mountain paths out of Tokyo into Yamanashi Prefecture, where they can take trains back home. Since the paths leading up Mount Takao are now closed to bicycles, these are choice destinations for cyclists looking for longer, more challenging rides.
A bike bag will allow you to take your wheels on the train for scenic, challenging day trips around the Miura and Izu peninsulas or Hakone, which offers beautiful views of Mt Fuji and is a riot of color in both the autumn and spring. And with a bag getting home is as easy as finding the closest train station at the end of the day.
Spokes and Folks
Resources for metropolitan cyclists
• Half Fast Cycling is an international group organizing rides in and around Tokyo. http://halffastcycling.com
• Night Pedal Cruising is a Japanese group that does monthly themed night rides. https://www.facebook.com/pedalcruising
• Pedal Day Festivities in Tokyo are organized by the same group. http://pedallife.com
Touring Mapple guides available in bookstores are mainly aimed at motorcyclists but are useful for long distance cyclists. Although printed in Japanese, they have useful maps and terrain information.
Cycle Press is an English bi-monthly magazine on trends, marketing and new products. They also sell guidebooks to cycle shops across Japan. http://cyclepress.co.jp/en
Bicycle Safe offers information on common bicycle accidents and how to avoid them, but readers in Japan will have to adjust for left-hand traffic. www.bicyclesafe.com
Folding Biker Japan offers useful trips, tips, links and resources for folding bike enthusiasts. http://foldingbikerjapan.blogspot.jp
Japan Cycling Navigator is a bilingual online magazine offering advice on buying and renting bikes, camping and long trips. www.japancycling.org/v2
Positivo Espresso is a blog with postings on routes around Kanto and other useful resources. http://positivo-espresso.blogspot.jp
Rent a Bike offers extensive English info on rentals throughout Tokyo. http://rentabike.jp
Ride with GPS has over one million user-sourced bike routes around the world, with Tokyo and Japan getting their fair share. http://ridewithgps.com
Tokyo By Bike by Byron Kidd offers articles on trends, laws and bike customization. http://www.tokyobybike.com
Tokyo Cycling Club offers an English-language forum at http://www.tokyocycle.com/bbs/portal
Japanese Cyclists’ Thoughts
Do you ride a bicycle?
1. I commute to work/school 2323 responses
2. I used to ride quite often 1749
3. I don’t really ride much recently 1473
4. When I go shopping 1471
5. I don’t own a bicycle 1020
6. I never ride bikes 601
7. I ride to my local train station 478
8. I take my kids to and from school 350
9. I like cycling 176
10. If you mean motorbikes, I ride often 131
Do you wear a helmet when riding?
1. No 7693 responses
2. I did when I was a student 2738
3. If I have one with me, I wear it 180
4. When commuting to school/work 135
5. If I’m cycling fast 131
6. Every day 127
7. I plan to… later 74
8. When touring 65
9. If I plan on going far away 19
What do you think police enforcing the ban on riding on sidewalks?
1.We need bicycle-only lanes 4890 responses
2. Accidents with cars might increase 3809
3. Cyclist etiquette is bad so it’s necessary 2517
4. It must be done 1294
5. Then you would have to watch out for cars 1114
6. It’s OK if it’s not more difficult to ride 733
7. I wonder if it will really be effective 389
8. I’ve been hit, so I’m for a crackdown 333
9. I don’t really know 188
10. I’ve bumped into pedestrians 19
If you live in Yokohama, take advantage of bike sharing service Bay Bike, which maintains over 300 red bikes at 15 stations across the city from Yokohama to Ishikawacho stations—which means you can pedal throughout Minato Mirai, Bashamichi, Kannai, Chinatown, Yamashita Koen and Motomachi. Sign up online with a credit card or head to one of their offices where you will be furnished with a Bay Bike touch card. Use it to unlock an available bike at one of the stations and away you go. Drop the cycle off at any other Bay Bike station. One month subscriptions cost ¥1,050 allowing you to pick up a bike and use it at no extra charge for 60 minutes. Each additional half-hour is ¥105. Day use costs ¥425 and a ¥1,575 premium monthly membership allows you to reserve a bike 30 minutes ahead of time. http://docomo-cycle.jp/yokohama