Too busy working
to work out? Turn your commute into a toning opportunity with
two-wheel transportation. Don Morton brings you the ins and
outs of cycling your way through Tokyo.
|Fat-busting on the way
"The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man's
metabolic energy with the impedance of locomotion."
Ivan Illyich says that in "Energy & Equity."
He goes on to say that, "A man on a bicycle can go
three or four times faster than a pedestrian, and uses a fifth
the energy in the process. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips
the efficiency of not only all machines, but all animals as
And he's right. Using the subway, I can get from my
home in Azabu to my job in Shibuya in about 35 minutes. This
entails a 10-minute walk to the station, about 15 minutes
waiting for and riding the train, and another 10-minute walk
from the destination station to work. If I were foolish and
rich, a taxi would take about 45 minutes in traffic and costs
¥2,500. I can walk it in an hour. But on my bicycle,
I can be there in about the time it takes to walk to the first
station. What's more, it's fun, involves a little
exercise, doesn't pollute, and lets me see a bit of
the city I live in. And it's free.
"But it looks dangerous," you say. Not really.
In fact a recent survey by the Ministry of Roads, Transport,
Infrastructure and Other Gray Things showed that fully 85
percent of the taxi drivers polled said they were NOT trying
to run down foreigners on bicycles. So there you are.
tone and talk on the phone
This is probably because "traffic" is an inappropriate
term for what cars do on the road in Tokyo. A better term
would be "parking." A bike exists in a wonderful
gray area, allowing you several options when negotiating the
labyrinthine streets of this megalopolis. You can use the
sidewalks ("pavement" to you Brits), you can
go down one-way streets and even run the occasional red light.
If you begin to commute to work, you will discover some great
side streets and shortcuts.
But usually you want to ride in the street. This is because
automobiles, even when they're moving, are more predictable
than the dreaded pedestrians. It's amazing to see how
two little old ladies in kimono can somehow completely block
a three-meter-wide sidewalk without even looking like they're
trying to. And pedestrians have gotten worse with the advent
of cell phones. Especially the oblivious kind that likes to
pace across the sidewalk as they talk, or the zombies sending
e-messages as they walk.
But back to the street.
Stake out your meter of road on the left. Don't make
any sudden moves; ease out to get around parked cars. Go fast;
you make a more difficult target and blend with the traffic
flow. Develop your peripheral vision (your "cow eyes")
and be aware of what's going on around you. Eschew
gadgets like glasses-mounted rearview mirrors; a quick glance
over your shoulder and an examination of the retinal afterimage
will let you know what's there. Practice makes this
easier to believe. And if you listen to music on headphones
while you're riding, please first bequeath me your
bike. Your ears are in effect your rear-view mirrors. And
watch out for those damned automatic taxi doors. Exercise
extra caution when a taxi is slowing or stopped in the street.
You eventually develop a sixth sense.
Rules of the road
|Pick up the pace on the
crowd-free back streets
The bike. For city riding, many of the things thought
advantageous for sports cycling are not necessary. Your city
bike doesn't have to be lightweight. Big tires allow
you to hit curbs at speed with impunity.
You do not need springs or shock absorbers. These are for
off-road cycling and merely soak up a lot of that energy Comrade
Illyich was talking about. Keep the tires inflated. The harder
they are, the easier they roll, and the less energy you will
expend. You don't need 27 speeds for Tokyo's
few zaka. I find my Shimano seven-speed internal rear hub
shifter (no derailleurs) ideal.
Lock it up. Don't just secure the wheel; lock it TO
something. Bike thieves are not impulse shoppers and will
case a neighborhood many weeks in advance. Use a big lock.
All most bike locks do is provide your average bike thief
with a chuckle. If your bike is a good one, take it inside.
Light it up. You don't need a headlamp in this floodlit city
to see where you're going, but you need to be seen. Front
and rear strobes are a swell idea; they're bright, attention-getting
and last for hundreds of hours on their little batteries.
Bike shops. Tokyu Hands has bikes but won't
let you test ride them, and what's up with that? Good
source for accessories, though. Bicycle Seo in Trident Square
down Harumi way is the biggest bike shop I've found,
with a broad range of bikes and even used ones. My local is
Azabu Cycle (3441-5910, Minato-ku, Shirokane 3-2-4), where
the stoical Mr Hara stocks Trek bikes and will not sell you
something you don't need.
You can ride all year. The winters here are mild, and
anyway you are working up some heat as you go. In summer,
I take a dry shirt to change into.
Coming up in future articles: weekend trips to Haneda, Odaiba
and cycle-touring vacations in Europe
Photos by Carlos Sosa