Originally Posted by The Yomiuri Shimbun
'Metabolic' waistlines spark bike boom
Kentaro Sugino / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
An increasing number of company employees are enjoying riding hybrid-style sport bicycles--a cross between a mountain bike and a racing model--not only on weekends, but on weekdays to commute to work.
The trend started three years ago, when the "metabolic syndrome" symptom of expanding waistlines became a matter of popular concern. It also appears that the high price of crude oil last year gave a push to the cycling boom.
On a Saturday earlier this month in good weather, about 10 cyclists wearing helmets pedaled through the Ginza district in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. Led by a guide, the group rode about 10 kilometers. They stopped at a park along the Sumidagawa river and enjoyed an open-air Japanese tea ceremony conducted by an experienced practitioner, one of the group members. The event was sponsored by Ove, a bicycle shop in Minato Ward, Tokyo.
Besides "tea ceremony cycling," the shop also offers "camera cycling," in which participants take photos of passing scenery while riding, as well as "architecture watching cycling" that visits architectural masterpieces. The shop usually holds such events on weekends, renting bikes equipped with automatic 24-speed gear-shifting to the participants. The fee for these outings, which usually last about six hours, is 8,000 yen.
The shop began the riding events three years ago and currently conducts them a few times per month. Since last year, their popularity has increased so much that some would-be participants have to be put on waiting lists. "Among the participants, there are many people who are unfamiliar with bicycles," said Yozo Yoshimura, 45, a shop staffer.
According to the Bicycle Association (Japan), which comprises major domestic bicycle makers, the value of domestic bike shipments in 2008 by its 26 member companies came to 73.4 billion yen, up 21 percent over the previous year. The shipment value of lightweight, hybrid bikes alone was 3 billion yen, a significant 68 percent increase over the previous year.
The sales have shown year-on-year increases since 2006, when the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry began announcing estimates of the numbers of people suffering from metabolic syndrome.
Hybrid bikes are relatively high-priced, with some assembled using high-quality Italian parts costing several hundred thousand yen.
According to a survey by the Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute in fiscal 2008 of 100 selected retailers nationwide, 68 percent of bike sales had a price tag of at least 50,000 yen. Thirty-two percent cost at least 100,000 yen.
"Hybrid bikes aren't just for enthusiasts anymore," said Takayuki Korin, 37, a staff member of Aeon Retail Co., which operates the Jusco chain of general merchandise stores.
One factor behind the robust sales figures is the increasing number of people who use bikes for commuting. "Compared with 10 years ago, I can spot bicycle commuters at intersections more frequently," said Satoshi Hikita, 42, director of the Bicycle Usage Promotion Study Group, an incorporated nonprofit organization.
Yasushi Kimura, 38, who works for an information technology-related company, is one such user. He stopped commuting by train four years ago, as his weight ballooned to 106 kilograms due to overeating caused by job stress, and he became concerned about blood in his urine.
Instead, Kimura began commuting the eight kilometers from his house in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, to his company in Shinagawa Ward using a hybrid bike. Although he was transferred to Yokohama three years ago, he has continued to commute by bike the entire 33-kilometer distance, taking 1-1/2 hours each way. He has maintained his weight at under 80 kilograms. "I can feel the wind by pedaling, and it makes my head clear, enabling me to concentrate better on the job," Kimura said.
A nonprofit organization that aims to increase the number of people who commute by bicycle operates a resting place for bicyclist commuters once a month on a sidewalk corner in the Harajuku district of Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, offering riders free coffee and chocolates.
Marketing battles focusing on the bicycle boom have started. For example, Aeon Retail Co. began selling hybrid bikes with a basket and a seven-speed gearshift in February. Large retailer Marui started selling ventilated jackets for bicycle commuters last summer.
(Apr. 27, 2009)