Recreating the Japan leg of Thomas Stevens’ journey has stuck in my mind for quite some time. The Wikipedia entry for Thomas Stevens mentions that his journeys were reported in Jijishinpou. In Stevens’ writings we see his journey from his viewpoint but Jijishinpou would describe his journey from the point of view of the locals that saw this strange foreigner on his crazy contraption go by.
When I mentioned this whole thing to my father-in-law, who is a retired professor from Asia University, he told me that, though Jijishinpou is no longer in print, libraries have collected volumes of selected articles. He made a phone call and determined that Asia University has the volume that covers the period I am interested in. We made plans to visit the library when it reopens after the new years holiday.
The long and short of the story is that we went to the library, checked out the books and found that the articles that I wanted were not included in the collections.
The next step would be to check out the National Library or perhaps the Japanese Bicycle Association.
By Paul Richards
Recently, I have discovered the wealth of literature hosted by Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org). Project Gutenberg digitizes and publishes online works of literature whose copyright has expired and are now in the public domain. There are 36,000 books in their online library and it is growing steadily as more books enter the public domain every year. At this point you may be thinking “That’s neat but what do musty old books have to do with cycling?” Well, if you do a search in their catalog for “bicycle” you will find two cycling gems called “Around the World on a Bicycle – Volume 1″ and “Around the World on a Bicycle – Volume II” by Thomas Stevens. Here’s the part where it ties into Japan. Thomas Stevens was the first person to ride a bicycle around the world and Volume II has a chapter entitled “Chapter XIX. Through Japan”. Stevens finished his epic tour of the world by riding from Nagasaki to Yokohama. You may still be thinking “What’s the big deal? Many people have toured through Japan on a bicycle. The big deal is this; he performed this epic cycling feat between April 23, 1884 and December 17, 1886 on penny farthing bicycle over unpaved roads. His faithful machine was a Columbia 50-inch ‘Standard’ penny-farthing with nickel-plated wheels built by the Pope Manufacturing Company of Chicago. As the first pneumatic tires for bicycles weren’t available until 1888 it is certain that the tires on his Standard were solid rubber.
These days we take it for granted that the roads we ride on are paved and in passable condition. In fact, we have to go out of our way to find unpaved roads to ride on to satisfy our mountain biking urges. Even the cheapest bicycle you can buy at your local home center or big box bicycle shop can easily handle a cruise around the neighborhood, a trip across town or even farther. They are the product of over a century of technological development and high tech manufacturing processes. But in the late 1800s the ordinary bicycle was not the diamond frame of the road bike or mountain bike or even the sit-up-and-beg configuration of the mamachari. It was the hand-built Ordinary bicycle with the gigantic front wheel and the diminutive rear wheel. Stevens spent at least as much time pushing his machine as he did riding it and he wasn’t shy about recounting all the tumbles he took from his high perch. Perhaps, it was as much bragging as it was complaining. You know how it is. Sometimes our whining and crying is more bragging about our misery than it is complaining.
Stevens was born in England in 1854 and emigrated to Missouri, America in 1871. He travelled from town to town, country to country sometimes without a even carrying a map. He usually bought what he needed in each new town he arrived or relied on the kindness of the locals who would take him in for a night and feed him. It seems he travelled light. He packed his handlebar bag with socks, a spare shirt, a raincoat that doubled as a tent and bedroll and his .38 caliber revolver.
According to Harper’s Magazine, more than one-third of the route followed by Stevens across the United States had to be walked just to get across America. He completed his journey after 3,700 miles of wagon trails, railways and canal towpaths on August 4, 1884. He crossed the Atlantic and began the European leg of his journey in Liverpool. After doing research and making preparations to cross Europe and Asia he left Liverpool on 30 April 1885. In Europe he worked as a special correspondent for Outing magazine. He contributed articles and sketches. He cycled through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slavonia, Servia, Bulgaria, Rumelia and Turkey. His bicycle got a tune up in Constantinople, restocked and replaced his pistol and waited for reports of banditry to subside. He continued on through Anatolia, Armenia, Kurdistan, Iraq and Iran.
He set out on March 10, 1886 to conquer Asia on his 2-wheeler by way of Afghanistan. He toured through India on the excellent Grand Trunk Road. After India he ventured into southern China. He pedaled his way to eastern China and suffered greatly from an inability to master Chinese pronounciation. Finally, he took a steamer to Japan where he was delighted by the calm country that was such a contrast to China. He completed his journey on 17 December 1886 in Yokohama after pedalling 13,5000 miles . His travels were reported in the Jijishinpou newspaper. Stevens also sent a series of letters to Harper’s magazine which detailed his experiences and were later collected into the two-volume book that is now available to everyone from Project Gutenberg.
There is no question that Thomas Stevens journey was extraordinary and gave people who heard about it the feeling that the world had just gotten a little smaller. One can’t fail to be impressed by his feat and his confidence in his ability to survive and to succeed despite, in many cases, his utter lack of preparation or ability to communicate with locals. As I read Thomas Steven’s accounts of his journeys I know intellectually that this was a great thing he was accomplishing but in my heart I felt that I probably wouldn’t have liked the man. Of course, he was a product of his era and harbored all the prejudices, misconceptions and ignorance of his time. Undoubtedly, compared to his contemporaries he was exceptionally enlightened and open-minded. However, his penchant for taking potshots at passing wildlife just because he could and his superior attitude towards many of the people he meets is very off-putting to me. His business dealings before and after his historical ride are also a bit questionable. Since it doesn’t seem that he had mastery of any of the languages spoken by the people whose land he was traveling through I can’t help but question the accuracy of his observations. Taking that into consideration, it is amazing that he got on as well as he did. He must have had one of those winning smiles.
And finally, what became of Steven’s historical penny-farthing? The Pope Company preserved it until World War II when it was donated to a scrap drive to support the war effort. It is sad, but sacrifices must be made during trying times.
Despite my feelings towards Thomas Stevens as a man I often daydream of repeating his historic ride from Nagasaki to Yokohama retracing his path as much as is possible. How would my impressions as a man of the 21st century with the ability to communicate more or less freely with the Japanese people I meet differ from those of Thomas Stevens?
Other Links of Interest
by Paul Richards
I recently enjoyed an afternoon of cycling with my six year old son at Kokyogaien. I have wanted to take my son cycling somewhere interesting but being that he is only six years old it is impossible take both his bike and my own on a train to someplace new and I don’t have a car that is large enough to load up the bikes nor a rack to mount them on. The Palace Cycling course was a great solution to my dilemma.
The Palace Cycling Center loans out bicycles nearly every Sunday.
By Paul Richards
My 11 year old daughter gave me this handmade neck warmer/hat. A little bicycle love for daddy.
And my 8 year old son gave me an umbrella holder to put on Boris the Bike. I don’t know if it will fit and I am not really an umbrella kind of person but I wouldn’t dream of not installing it no matter how awkward it looks.
These were the best gifts I got this year and to be sure neither of them were on my list. Santa was good to me.
Santa gave my son a new, blue mountain bike. Santa must have thought my son was a bit taller than he is or maybe he just knows that the boy is growing like a weed because the bike is a 24 inches. The look of excitement and joy on his face were incredible. On Christmas morning we went for a ride in the park and played follow the leader and swung by the local big box bike store to get a back light for his new machine. In the afternoon, we rode around the town looking for geocaches. He was thrilled that he found 2 and his old dad found none.
Santa knows life is better on a bicycle. Merry Christmas from Tokyo Two Wheeling.
By Paul Richards
On Sunday, October 2 NTV’s Bankisha news program aired a segment about the dangers of fixed gear bicycles on city streets. The reason for the program was the fatal accident last month in Shibuya caused by a fixed gear bicycle that had been stripped of its hand brakes. The Yomiuri Online reports that there are two other related deaths in Kanagawa Prefecture as well. In Japan, it is required by law for bicycles to have both front and rear brakes. It is punishable by a 50,000 yen fine. Police have recently stepped up their vigilance in ticketing offenders. Last month, in Nagoya, a company employee was given a “Red Ticket” (aka kippu) and most notably, comedian Fukuda Mitsunori, 36, of the comedy team Tutorial, received a ticket for riding a piste bike without brakes on October 28.
These incidents are raising a furor among people and spurred the police to crackdown on illegal fixies. The offense is riding a bicycle with inadequate equipment.
For those who don’t know, most brake-less bicycles are inspired by bicycles used for track racing. These bicycles are often called piste bicycles. Piste is a French word meaning track or trail which the bike racing sport has borrowed from downhill skiing. Another name for piste bikes is fixed gear bikes or fixies. Piste bikes have a lean, minimalist look to them as there are no brakes and no gears. The lack of extra cabling and hardware gives them a sleek, stripped down esthetic that has become fashionable among certain groups of bike riders. You might reasonably ask, how are such bicycles stopped if they don’t have brakes. They are stopped by attempting to pedal backwards. This isn’t like the coaster brakes you probably had on your first bike when you were a kid. Without the freewheel hub in the back there is no coasting with fixed gear bicycles. The pedals don’t stop turning until the bike loses momentum or the rider forces it to slow down by pushing backward on the pedals until the bike comes to a complete stop or the wheel locks or the rider crashes into
Though I don’t own a fixed gear bicycle, I have ridden bicycles with inadequate braking ability due to worn pads. The first time I was cut off by a truck driver and had no recourse but to barrel head first into the passenger side door. I credit my helmet for keeping my gray matter inside my skull. Now if my brakes had been better maintained I might have avoided meeting the truck door up close and personal or at least minimized the impact. The second time was a case of me not learning my lesson. After my narrow escape from being road ragu you would think I would have rushed right out and gotten my brakes into tip-top shape. But I didn’t. I approached a corner as a car passed me. Realizing that the driver intended to turn right I attempted to slow down but my brakes just didn’t have enough purchase on the rim to slow me down in time to careen off of the side of the car. It wasn’t the driver’s fault. While she may have cut it a little too close after passing me she did make a legal turn. It was my own fault that I side swiped her door because I didn’t keep my brakes maintained. The Bankisha program pitted a professional keirin racer on a brake-less piste bike against an ordinary mamachari. At around 30 kph the mamachari was able to come to a compete stop within 6 meters but it the piste bike over 21 meters to stop completely. The video is pretty damning evidence. That additional 15 meters could easily take you through a cross walk filled with people into the middle of a busy intersection.
My take on the fixed gear issue is that bicycles equipment should be safe and ridden in the environment they were designed for. Track bikes should stay on the track or on such empty roads that they pose no significant danger to the rider or other road users. (I don’t know of any roads like that in the Tokyo Metropolitan area.) Bikes that take to the streets and sidewalks must have two sets of well maintained brakes. The streets in most Japanese streets are just too crowded with vulnerable road users to take chances.
Yomiuri Online (Japanese Text only)
Hamamatsu City Donates 834 Bicycles to Earthquake Victims
Translated by Paul Richards from At-S article. Original article in Japanese.
To help those affected by the Tohoku Earthquake the City of Hamamatsu appealed to its residents to donate bicycles. The City sent the first shipment of 300 bicycles to Sendai on March 21. They arrived in the disaster struck area on the morning of March 22.
To help victims cope with gasoline shortages and damaged roads each of the City’s wards presented 834 bicycles over the two day period of March 19 – March 20. The ward offices collected women’s bicycles and mountain bikes donated by residents. There were even brand new bicycles among the bikes collected.
Donating bicycles to the stricken area was proposed by Towa Transport company president Andou Yoshio. Towa Transport provided three 10 ton trucks to transport the bicycles to Sendai. The transport companies affiliate in Sendai was severely damaged by the tsunami.
On each a sticker saying “Ganbare Tohoku, (Hamamatsu)” (Good luck, Tohoku! From Hamamatsu City) was attached. The remainder of the bicycles will be delivered to affected areas upon request. 200 more bikes will go to Sendai and 100 bikes to Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture. President Andou said that he “wanted to help in the recovery effort”.
Editorial Note: Tokyo Two Wheeling thanks the people of Hamamatsu City and Towa Transport for their generous donations to the earthquake victims. Even in Kodaira City, far from the disaster struck area, we are feeling the pinch of gasoline shortages. When I see cars queuing up for 30 minutes or more for gasoline I appreciate my bicycle. I know that these bicycles will help the recipients begin to put their lives back together after their loss.
BMX Track in Koganei
By Paul Richards
While visiting family in Koganei with my son we went for a walk in nearby Musashino Park. I was surprised and pleased to see a BMX track on the west end of the park. just a stone’s through away from Nogawa River. I admit it. I saw Rad the Movie and cheered as the hero of the story rode his BMX bike over obstacles and through the town. Seeing the BMX track brings back lots of memories of when I was a kid. I never road BMX but I saw the track near my grandma’s house and I loved riding my single speed bike with coaster brakes through the ditches and vacant logs in my neighborhood. I wish I had a BMX bike or a mountain bike now so I can take advantage of a BMX track so near to my house.
If stop by the park to check out the track, and I hope that you do, please remember to be a courteous rider and follow the rules.
To all bicycle course users
This bicycle course is maintained and managed with the cooperation of mountain bike and BMX enthusiasts and park users.
Please obey the following rules.
1. Ride safely to avoid accidents.
* If someone is standing on the track stop reading immediately.
* Ride at your own risk. No responsibility will be accepted for your accidents or injuries.
2. Do not make any changes to the course.
3. Pack out your own garbage and cigarette butts.
Enjoy the course and follow the rules so you don’t bother other park users and surrounding neighbors.
Musashino Park Service Center.
by Paul Richards
I attended the Handmade Bike Fair at the Chiyoda Ward Science Museum with six year-old son. Actually, the official name of the event was Tsukau Hito, Mokuteki ni Awaseta Jitensha Zukuri Fair. Despite the clumsy name the event was well worth attending. The fair was sponsored by the Bicycle Popularization Association of Japan. (Another clumsy name.) here were 19 bike builders and customizers exhibiting at the fair this year. The concept for this year’s fair was “Expanding the Possibilities of Handmade Bicycles”. This concept was reflected by the dual themes of Sports Cycling and Bicycles for the elderly and the handicapped. The first, and my opinion, the most interesting were the bikes designed for the handicapped and the elderly. These bikes showed a level of creativity and outside-the-box thinking that helps moves cycling into new areas. The second genre of bicycles were the recreation and leisure oriented machines. For the most part, this genre had the usual fare of custom-made road, touring and commuter bikes.
Bicycles, such as those submitted in the handicapped and elderly genre, almost always pique my interest. About half of the exhibits were recumbents and semi-recumbents of one sort or another. Two in particular that caught my attention were the quadracycles exhibited by KMX Karts (http://www.kmxjp.com) and the trike from Trinity Drive (http://www.trinitydrive.com).
KMX Karts are an established international recumbent maker with a domestic outlet based in Shizuoka Prefecture. I spotted these vehicles at Cycle Mode International but didn’t get a chance to try one out then. I wasn’t going to let the chance slip past me again. The low attendance of the Handmade Bike Fair made it easy to get a turn at trying out a KMX quadracycle. Unfortunately, the size of the venue this time around didn’t lend itself to a very large test course. Because the exhibit model was built for Japanese who, on average, have shorter legs than mine, pedaling the quadracycle wasn’t quite comfortable for me. Shifting seemed to be a bit rough but that may be on account of the fact that it is a bicycle used for exhibits and the fact that I wasn’t used to riding it. Despite this, the overall riding experience was pleasant. It is clear that this bike won’t win any road races but you sit so close to the ground slower speeds will feel faster. The underbar steering was fun too but I misjudged a corner bringing the bike back to the booth and needed help clearing a path because I couldn’t easily drop my feet to the ground and reposition myself. I’m sure I wouldn’t make that mistake once I got used to the bike.
Trinity Drive offered a hand cycle with a unique approach. Trinity Drive is the creation of Kyoshi Machida, Kazuhiro Ugajin and Eiji Shibata. They are based in Iruma-shi, Saitama. According to the brochure, ｄesigner, Machida, wanted to create a hand cycle that had the ease of use of a cross bike with a higher seat than a standard hand cycle. Instead of getting your locomotion from directly turning the rear wheels on a vehicle that looks like a souped up low-rider wheelchair the Trinity Drive is configured, more or less, like a standard recumbent trike. The difference is that the pedals have been replaced by platforms to rest your feet on and the front wheel is driven by a chain that is turned by pumping the the handlebars up and down. I got the opportunity to speak with the builder, Kazuhiro Ugajin. Ugajin explained the bike was aimed at riders who do not have sufficient leg strength for a standard bicycle. I didn’t get a chance to test ride the Trinity Drive but I did get on the bike or, as is more accurate with recumbent-style bikes, get in the bike. The hand cycle wasn’t adjusted for my western sized legs so I found that my western sized gut got in the way of pumping the handlebars. Ugajin assured me that the seat can be adjusted. Also, I felt uneasy having the bare chain so close to my legs. It probably isn’t any closer that the chain is to a rider’s ankles on a road bike but with the Trinity Drive Trike the chain is right in front of you so you can’t help noticing how close it is passing by your right knee. Ugajin said that the production model with have a chain guard to protect the rider’s paints from getting a nasty grease mark. The Trinity Drive Tricycle isn’t for sale yet in stores but you can order one online and will be available through bike shops in the spring.
Another builder that gets kudos for thinking outside the box is another Shizuoka based company named Autocraft Izu. They exhibited a pair of human-powered vehicles that caught my attention. With their Anzen Tandem Cycle being wheelchair-bound doesn’t have to mean that you can’t enjoy a bike ride. This three-wheeler is designed to carry a wheelchair passenger on a platform that is mounted onto the front of the trike. There is a long crossbar that is used to lower the passenger platform to the ground so the wheelchair can board the vehicle and then lifted off the ground by the rider. This trike looks ungainly and ponderous and I wonder if larger front wheels wouldn’t make the trike easier to pedal for the rider. It is definitely not designed for speed but any bike that improves the mobility of the handicapped is worth investigating. This trike is priced at 140,000 yen. The price isn’t cheap but it puts it in the ballpark of a decent low-end road bike for racing.
The second offering from Autocraft Izu is the Genki II. With it’s dual drive system riders with a variety of handicaps can ride the Genki II. The standard pedal configuration is replaced with a pair of platforms that look and function like a Stairmaster. The rider steps down on the platforms in a walking motion to turn the rear wheels. Unlike pedals, this trike can move forward even if the rider has the use of only one leg. For elderly riders and handicap riders lacking sufficient strength to drive the bike with their legs the front wheel is connected to a hand crank on the left side of the steering column. Riders can use either the hand crank by itself or the Stairmaster pedals or any combination of the two to move the trike on its way. This versatile vehicle sells for 170,000 yen.
There were several exhibits in the leisure and recreation genre that caught my attention. Amongst the custom-made steel and carbon fiber race and touring bikes were two unique bicycles created by Takata Special. TS-26 HE sports full suspension on a frame made from industrial strength mild steel. Despite this it weighs in at a mere 15 kg. The location of the water bottle and mini-pump is rather unique. I don’t think it is a problem for the mini-pump but the water bottle would be hard to reach from the saddle. This bike will set you back a whopping 450,000 yen but if this design gets your engine running you better put your order in now because the builder informed me that only 3 TS-26 HE were built.
The other offering from Takata Special is the one of a kind Wind Assist Bike. The builder admitted that it takes a strong wind of about 15 kph to feel the benefits of the sails. The sails are operated by a rope that is attached to the top tube by a clamp. Standing next to the bike it seemed awkward to manipulate but it might be easier to sail from the saddle. On windy days I often dream of harnessing the wind instead of fighting it but I don’t think that this is the bike to do that. Maybe I would feel differently if I had a chance to ride it on a windy day.
The bike that really stole the show for myself and my son were the wooden bikes from Sano Magic. The W.R.D-T-2 is more than just two-wheeled transportation. Made from Mahogany it is a work of art. I have read articles in the newspaper about this builder and his wooden bikes. But this is the first time I have seen his bikes first hand. The builder is known as master boat builder. Leveraging skill in working with fine woods he expanded his repertoire to bicycles. It is obvious even to this Sunday Carpenter that the wood used for the W.R.D-T-2 was lovingly fitted and finished by a master craftsman. The frame, fork and even the rims are made from wood. It sports a Campagnolo Record component set hinting that this bike has more than just a pretty face to it.
If you want one of these beauties be prepared to fork over 2,000,000 yen. At that price you will want to hang it on the wall in your living room next to your Monet. If you get one of these I recommend that you don’t ride in the rain or snow and don’t park in your local churinjo. Looking at this bike I couldn’t help wondering though what it would be like to ride one. Seeing the picture in the booth of the Ricky Racer type all kitted up in team reassured me that this bike was more than just a tour de force in wood working. It was actually a functional bicycle. But knowing how clumsy I am I would be afraid to ride such a bike. I would probably never take it down off the wall if I could afford to own one.
By Paul Richards
This post is not for people who live in Japan. Long-term Japan dwellers already know this stuff. I’m sorry. If you want to step out of the room for a bio break or to get a drink, now is a good time. If you want to spin along with us, that’s okay too.
Much to do has been made about the automated bike lot in Kasai-Rinkai Station. One of several YouTube clips has got over 700,000 views (In Japanese, in English) as of this writing and the link has been flying around Twitter like a sparrow with caffeine jitters. I’m afraid that people will get the wrong impression about bike parking in Japan from this video. The roborack is an aberration, an exception to the rule.
When I first arrived in Japan in the fall of 1990 many train stations did not have sufficient bicycle parking infrastructure (many still don’t). The lots were often unattended and you risked serious damage to your bike by using an official lot. For the most part bike lots were a plot of land with a fence around where bikes were parked in ragged rows. Unfortunately, the alternative was to park illegally on the street or stuffed in the gap between two buildings. You ran the risk of having your bike hauled away by the city. If you took your chances with this on-street parking. Near my home station there aren’t any sidewalks so on-street parking is really “on” street. The concept of a bicycle being impounded in North America is a truly foreign idea but in Japan it is a regular (and expensive) occurrence. The number of bicycles littering the neighborhoods around train stations reached critical mass by the late 90′s. Besides being eyesores they caused many problems. They blocked businesses, congested streets, impeded the flow of traffic for all road users and the large number of abandoned bicycles was also a public safety hazards.
What were communities to do? It was clear that no matter how many bicycles were impounded bicycle riders would continue to illegally park. Plus impound yards were filling up. Impounding bicycles at train stations was like raking fallen leaves in a strong wind. As soon as you have cleared a section of street a gust of wind kicks up and more bicycles fill the space.
The logical course was to make more bicycle lots. In many communities, these new lots were managed, at least part-time, by old men whom I have dubbed Jitensha Jijis (jitensha means bicycle and jiji is colloquial and impolite way to refer to old men.) These seniors would make sure users parked their bike in an orderly manner so you don’t have bicycle chaos. As the lot filled up they would direct users to open spots. Finally, at the end of the day they would move unclaimed bikes to a corner of the lot to make room for the next day’s horde of bikers. These lots were nothing more than a gravel or paved plot with a fence surrounding it. No racks, no infrastructure per se. These lots helped relieve the pressure of the cycling masses but land in Japan’s cities comes a premium, especially around train stations, and, though those silver haired gentlemen do their duties for a pittance, they don’t work for free. The cities began to charge users 50 to a 100 yen per day to use the lots. In the beginning, you gave your coin to the Jitensha Jiji on duty and he stapled a dated slip of paper to your handlebars or cable housings. Occasionally, you got a receipt of sorts but nothing that proved any particular bike was your own. When you collected your bike at the end of the day if the Jitensha Jiji was still on duty you may or may not give him your receipt on the way out. Not exactly high security. There are many variations on this theme.
Over the years, perhaps in an attempt to further reduce costs or to get users to pay for more of the infrastructure, gadgets and technology has been added to bicycle lots.
There are three payment schemes available. The first is simple, per per day. These range from 100 to 150 yen per day. Usually, you go through a turnstile that issues a parking receipt. At the end of the day you use the barcode or magnetic stripe on the receipt to calculate how much you pay and to unlock the turnstile which allows you to leave. The second payment scheme is per month. many of the pay per day lots have a certain number of parking spots allocated for monthly users. In this case a rider registers for a spot and receive a sticker that goes on your bike and oftentimes a dedicated parking spot. The racks are numbered and the number of the rack matches the number on the sticker. Sometimes you will also receive a magstripe card to open the entrance and exit turnstiles. The advantage to paying per month is that you are guaranteed a parking spot and it is cheaper than paying per day for daily commuters.
The final payment scheme is the most recent and most expensive. These are the pay per hour lots that can be found in some very busy locations. Sometimes these lots offer free parking for the first half hour and then charge for increments of one, two or three hours. For daily commuters these lots can become very expensive. The cost for a day of parking at one of these lots has cost me 450 yen for a long day. These lots tend to have the most sophisticated parking systems. These lots are usually run by the private sector and they are intended to make money. Like many private parking lots for automobiles these lots are self-operating and only need periodic checking my attendants.
Lately, Japan Rail (JR) has opened up their Suica pre-paid card system to the private sector. Many businesses, including bicycle parking lot owners, have adopted the system to accept payment for goods and services. You can charge your card up at the station. When it comes time to pay for your bike parking you enter the rack number into the payment machine and flash your Suica card over the sensor. No need to worry about having enough money in your pocket after a day of shopping. At the beginning of every month I calculate how much money I need for train fair and bicycle parking and load up my Suica card with sufficient funds.
Lots that offer pay per day or pay per month may have open racks at the simplest. They control payment and exiting at the gate. These systems can be smart enough to know when the lot is full because they are able to keep track of how many bicycles have come and gone and the exact capacity of the lot. More advanced racks have clamps that automatically close around the front wheel of the bike. The rack is numbered and the wheel lock is integrated with a payment machine at the entrance of the lot. When you are ready to take your bike out you enter the number of your rack. The payment machine will tell you how much your parking fee is. When you make the payment the machine sends a signal to the rack to release your bike from the wheel lock. Be careful that you don’t enter the wrong number into the payment machine. I have accidentally given some stranger an early Christmas present in this way. Though the bicycle is locked into the rack it is by no means secure because anybody with some loose change can pick a nice bike out from the racks and pay a few coins to release the clamp and voila! they have a new bike. Self-locking racks do not eliminate the need for locking your bike up with a chain or cable. The locking clamps are to ensure that bike lot users don’t leave without paying the parking fee. Two story or double-decker bike racks are becoming more and more common at both pay-per-day and pay-by-the hour bike lots. The upper rack can be pulled out and angled down to mount your bike on it. Though the upper rack is not that heavy I think it is courteous for stronger riders to take the top racks and leave the lower racks for older riders with less upper body strength or riders with small children.
Though none of this is as glamorous and as the high tech as the robot bike rack at Kasai-Rinkai it is based on years of accumulated traffic and vehicle management experience. The innovation is not in glamorous technology but in sustainable and cost effective systems. Other countries should take these as examples and case studies for urban planning. Much is heard in the bike industry media and even then general media about bike activism and pressuring local, state and federal governments to develop more bicycle infrastructure. What’s stopping the private sector from getting involved? The most innovative ideas almost always comes from business not government.
Tokyo Two Wheeling
Tokyo Two Wheeling is a source for cycling information, bicycle culture, news and commentary on cycling.