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  1. #1
    Senior Member Fibber's Avatar
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    Observations on bicycles in Japan

    Our family just got back from a two week vacation trip to Japan. We've been there before and a couple of things always catch my eye, and I thought it would be interesting to share. We were in 4 cities on this trip (Nagoya/Ichinomiya, Kyoto, Osaka & Hiroshima), so this is a city & predominately flatlands report.

    To begin with, gas equates to about $5 a gallon (Y145/liter), so cycling is hot as an everyday mode of transportation. Two types of basic, inexpensive bicycle made up about 90% of what is commonly seen.

    I stopped in to two bike shops, and the term they used for the most common is 'school bike' - sort of like what I rode in the late '60's - an 'English Racer' (?). 26"x1-3/8" tires, basic shaped steel frame, fenders, 3 speed internal hub & handbrakes. Interestingly, the front brake was a rim type, but the rear was a 3-4" diameter 'band' brake outside of the spokes on the hub opposite the sprocket. It is a small drum with a surrounding band of steel fixed at one end, and drawn tight with the cable at the other end. They sell for around Y17,000, or about $150. Generator lights are found on most.

    The other common unit was the folding bike: 12"-18" wheels, 5-6 speed Shimano Tourney derailleur, selling for Y20,000 - Y35,000 depending on materials ($175-$300).

    A few flat bar roads, almost no drop bar roads. A small number of mountain or hybrids with 18/21/24 speeds, round out the population. There was some more expensive stuff for sale in the shops (up to $1000), but I never saw anything high end on the streets.

    Now for the really amazing part - I took pics and video of this, and have shown it to cycling friends since returning. A street edge with 50 bikes on a retail block. A parking lot near a train station with maybe 500 bikes neatly lined up. What do they have in common? Some had the most simple frame mounted real wheel lock, many with none. No bikes chained up to anything! It is a society with nearly zero theft!

    Quite a difference from America.

    Steve

  2. #2
    Baka dakara supercub's Avatar
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    I lived in Japan for about 5 years. Biking is very much a part of daily life and has been for a long time. I don't think high gas prices are the primary reason. Having a car in general is prohibitively expensive for many, but more importantly, unnecessary thanks to the excellent public transport system found in most cities.

    Biking is a mode of transport for everyday errands and short commutes, so you're not going to see high-end bikes for the most part.

    Finally, Japan is not a society with nearly zero theft. The rate of theft is certainly a lot lower than the U.S., but I know several people who have had bikes stolen. The police make a genuine effort to deter bike theft by making random checks for stolen bikes, but it does happen. Of course, parking a beat-up errand runner next to 50 of the same makes theft pretty unlikely.

    Oh, and riding on the sidewalk is considered perfectly acceptable in Japan, and most riders are quite adept at weaving through heavy foot traffic.

  3. #3
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by supercub
    Oh, and riding on the sidewalk is considered perfectly acceptable in Japan, and most riders are quite adept at weaving through heavy foot traffic.
    As it is in the US, except in some business districts where there actually is heavy foot traffic. For the most part only the Bicylist Education Salesmen and self proclaimed "experts" in bicycling technique find sidewalk riding unacceptble behavior.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Bolo Grubb's Avatar
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    there are other cultural differences that increase the ease and use of bicycles in Japan.

    Many Japanese buy groceries on a daily basis and only what they need for the next meal or 2. Easy to carry that amount of food on a train or bike.

    They also tend to have alot of little shops all over the place, so you do not have to go far to get everything you need.

    According to my japanese friends it is very expensive to get a drivers license and very difficult. The test are hard. They even make you take an additional test for each of several different levels of motorcycles. With the first level being the smallest engine sizes and several more levels of testing for larger engines sizes. If you look, 50cc mopeds are by far the most common and rare to see many motorcycles above 400cc.

    Also my friend who has a car, has to pay extra to rent her parking spot at her apartment complex.

    So many do not even bother learning to drive or buy cars or motorcycles. Between bicycles, buses and trains, many did not need a car. Much different for the thinking of most people in the states

  5. #5
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Another item that comes into play with vehicles in Japan, is their extremely stringent Air Quality standards. As I understand it a vehicle with around 25-30k miles on the odo won't pass the emmisions tests. They then have to scrap the vehicle and buy another one. The scrap engines get cut out and sent to places like the US and sold as used engines

    Aaron
    Webshots is bailing out, if you find any of my posts with corrupt picture files and want to see them corrected please let me know. :(

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    Which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?"
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  6. #6
    Senior Member Ornery's Avatar
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    ...an 'English Racer' (?). 26"x1-3/8" tires, basic shaped steel frame, fenders, 3 speed internal hub & handbrakes.

    The 'English Racer' I purchased in 1969, a Raleigh Sports, is still sitting in my shed. Frame is too small, and Brooks saddle is borked, but it's still working. Sounds like my kind of bike, where form follows function. A lost notion in this country.

    Uh, you mentioned nothing about helmet use over there. Notice anything different about that?

  7. #7
    Senior Member DannoXYZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wahoonc
    Another item that comes into play with vehicles in Japan, is their extremely stringent Air Quality standards. As I understand it a vehicle with around 25-30k miles on the odo won't pass the emmisions tests. They then have to scrap the vehicle and buy another one. The scrap engines get cut out and sent to places like the US and sold as used engines
    Yup, the blow-by gases going past the rings increases with wear and increases emissions. There's no way to fix that without an engine-rebuilt. Costs much less to just install a new engine and the "used" engine gets shipped to the US. I would guess if you can afford a car in Japan, you can afford to just get a new car every 2 years as well.
    Last edited by DannoXYZ; 10-16-06 at 05:33 AM.

  8. #8
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    Once again your observations in Japan indicates that people who
    ride bicycles as a normal means of transportaion prefer simple
    sturdy bikes over multi-speed wonder bikes. The Dutch also
    perfer the simple bikes for the same reasons as the Japanese.

    Funny really when you think about how American's view utility
    cycling as a "tuxedo affair" when a "jeans and tee shirt" biking is
    really where it's at.
    My preferred bicycle brand is.......WORKSMAN CYCLES
    I dislike clipless pedals on any city bike since I feel they are unsafe.

    Originally Posted by krazygluon
    Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
    Aluminum: barely a hundred, which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?

  9. #9
    N_C
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fibber
    Our family just got back from a two week vacation trip to Japan. We've been there before and a couple of things always catch my eye, and I thought it would be interesting to share. We were in 4 cities on this trip (Nagoya/Ichinomiya, Kyoto, Osaka & Hiroshima), so this is a city & predominately flatlands report.

    To begin with, gas equates to about $5 a gallon (Y145/liter), so cycling is hot as an everyday mode of transportation. Two types of basic, inexpensive bicycle made up about 90% of what is commonly seen.

    I stopped in to two bike shops, and the term they used for the most common is 'school bike' - sort of like what I rode in the late '60's - an 'English Racer' (?). 26"x1-3/8" tires, basic shaped steel frame, fenders, 3 speed internal hub & handbrakes. Interestingly, the front brake was a rim type, but the rear was a 3-4" diameter 'band' brake outside of the spokes on the hub opposite the sprocket. It is a small drum with a surrounding band of steel fixed at one end, and drawn tight with the cable at the other end. They sell for around Y17,000, or about $150. Generator lights are found on most.

    The other common unit was the folding bike: 12"-18" wheels, 5-6 speed Shimano Tourney derailleur, selling for Y20,000 - Y35,000 depending on materials ($175-$300).

    A few flat bar roads, almost no drop bar roads. A small number of mountain or hybrids with 18/21/24 speeds, round out the population. There was some more expensive stuff for sale in the shops (up to $1000), but I never saw anything high end on the streets.

    Now for the really amazing part - I took pics and video of this, and have shown it to cycling friends since returning. A street edge with 50 bikes on a retail block. A parking lot near a train station with maybe 500 bikes neatly lined up. What do they have in common? Some had the most simple frame mounted real wheel lock, many with none. No bikes chained up to anything! It is a society with nearly zero theft!

    Quite a difference from America.

    Steve
    Did you take & ride your own bike?

  10. #10
    Senior Citizen lyeinyoureye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wahoonc
    Another item that comes into play with vehicles in Japan, is their extremely stringent Air Quality standards. As I understand it a vehicle with around 25-30k miles on the odo won't pass the emmisions tests. They then have to scrap the vehicle and buy another one. The scrap engines get cut out and sent to places like the US and sold as used engines

    Aaron
    From what I've heard, it's not an emissions deal, since emissions systems can be tuned/fixed for much less than the cost of a new vehicle. They increase taxes/fees on older/higher mileage vehicles so they can encourage the sale of newer ones. A side effect is the availability of lots of low mileage vehicles/drivetrains. If there's demand for the vehicle, they're imported to places like NZ, Canada, etc... whole. If not, they're parted out. In terms of oil slipping past the rings and getting burnt, that's generally what PCV's for. Not that it's perfect, but the majority of emissions come from failing oxygen sensors, cats, etc... Here's some info on how it supposedly works.

    There is no such law "requiring" engine replacement at a certain mileage. That is a urban myth propagated by importers and car owners who simply don't know or understand the situation in Japan. The high taxes (annually assessed), insurance premiums, gas costs, and especially the safety inspection/registration (occurs biennial) combine to keep turnover of vehicles high.

    For example, the Safety inspection for your typical car (say Camry/Accord type) can typically cost $2,000....each time! New vehicles have a 3 year grace period before they are required to submit for the Safety Inspection. In other words, for a 10 year old car, you will have already paid over $8,000, in just Safety Inspection fees! Don't forget, gas over in Japan is also typically four times the cost of here in the U.S. Mileage is kept low on the vehicles as EVERYONE (unless your fabulously rich and patient) uses alternative transportation to get around. Most folks use the trains for local and medium distance traveling/commuting.

    Far distances are taken by airplane and local transportation done by either bicycle or bus. In that society, your car tends to be a status symbol more than anything else. I hope this sheds a little more light for you!
    So the turn around for low mileage vehicles is probably huge. Seems like they want to stimulate the economy in any way possible.
    Last edited by lyeinyoureye; 10-14-06 at 02:07 PM.

  11. #11
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tightwad
    Once again your observations in Japan indicates that people who
    ride bicycles as a normal means of transportaion prefer simple
    sturdy bikes over multi-speed wonder bikes. The Dutch also
    perfer the simple bikes for the same reasons as the Japanese.

    Funny really when you think about how American's view utility
    cycling as a "tuxedo affair" when a "jeans and tee shirt" biking is
    really where it's at.
    Yeah but hey if you can afford it, why not? Plus this way you can
    take your utility cycle out for a longer romp somewhere. Of course
    you can argue that everyone should have a second bike at home
    but that's like having the weekend second car, not an option for
    everyone.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Fibber's Avatar
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    Some good comments, so figured I'd condense them into one post.

    I’ve gone to Japan occasionally on business since 1985, and we host high school kids for a year’s stay at a time thru an exchange students program, so we have a pretty good ‘connection’. In fact the wedding of one of our former students is what brought us over there this time. Our ‘Japanese kids’ and their families have come to visit us since their exchange stay, and we tour with them when we are in Japan. We also have two daughters adopted from China, and have visited that nation three times.

    True, I overstated the near zero theft rate. Unfortunately, even Japan has suffered an increase in (mostly) non-violent crime over the past decade. I was in Japan a few times in the '80's when the economy was in it’s prime and unemployment was at about 2%, and crime really was nearly non-existent. Unemployment has lead to a homeless problem, and some of the parks have become blue tarp tent cities. On previous trips I saw few locked bikes at all. Now most have something that at least makes it unrideable, but still, rarely are they locked to a fixed object. Even the expensive bikes.

    I threw in the price of gas for impact, but it does further encourages average folks to leave the car at home and ride a bike for short errands. Car ownership has always been expensive aside from fuel, as a comprehensive inspection every two years (beginning on year #3) can run thousands when parts are factored in, and relegates most cars over 5 years old to the recycle bin. It is not just emissions, but mechanical, safety, structure, etc. Some say it is a part of the economic engine that drives Japan, pointing out that approximately 1 in 10 earners are somehow tied to the auto industry. Interesting.... Road tolls are also high. I remember on a previous visit a day trip to a neighboring city running on the order of $50. And who really needs a car when you can zip along at 165 mph on the Shinkansen (bullet train)? All levels of train service are superb, but not cheap either.

    Helmet use? Nearly non-existent. It is strange seeing parents riding double with their very young kids in plastic bucket seats, and no helmets on either. Heck, we even saw cyclist with two kids – one in front, one in back. But then they are only now just beginning to use car seats for kids. I think the record sighting for us was a family of 4 on a bike – but that was three years ago in Nanchang, Jiangxi, China….

    Basic bicycles…. None of the excess, outdo your neighbor types of rides. None of those chopper bikes with 6” rear tires! Interesting comment about the Dutch. I was in the Netherlands and Belgium two years ago on business, and would agree – simple, basic transportation cycling.

    Funny, but my daughter asked if she could bring her razor scooter with! The only wheeled objects on this trip were the luggage, and a tiny travel stroller for the little one. I did lust after some of the nice folding bikes I saw in a shop, and did think about bring one of them home for future travel!

  13. #13
    Footballus vita est iamlucky13's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=wahoonc]Another item that comes into play with vehicles in Japan, is their extremely stringent Air Quality standards. As I understand it a vehicle with around 25-30k miles on the odo won't pass the emmisions tests. They then have to scrap the vehicle and buy another one. The scrap engines get cut out and sent to places like the US and sold as used engines /QUOTE]

    That sounds kind of crazy. It can't be truly economical, either fiscally or environmentally. It takes a decent amount of energy to produce a complete engine...certainly more than the extra released due to wear of a normally functioning, properly-tuned engine for the next 75000 miles.

    Fibber...did you ask about rental bikes for visitors? Perhaps hotels might even have accomodations to make using a rental bike convenient (like valet parking )
    "The internet is a place where absolutely nothing happens. You need to take advantage of that." ~ Strong Bad

  14. #14
    Senior Member geebee's Avatar
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    The main reason for the low gear count is probaly more likely to be an attribute of the stated flat terrain, same for the Dutch, as well as the reliability factor.
    A three speed where I live would be a guarantee of knee surgery and a lot of pushing up hills.
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  15. #15
    Immoderator KrisPistofferson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geebee
    A three speed where I live would be a guarantee of knee surgery and a lot of pushing up hills.
    Me too. I love the practicality and simplicity of internal-geared bikes, I even own one for short trips to the store, but my region, and commute, is extremely hilly, so I require a mountain triple with a 34 cog in the rear. As far as derailleurs being "high-maintenance," I clean my drivetrain once or twice a month, takes all of 15 minutes, and is not stressful or difficult in any way.

  16. #16
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    Replace the 3-speed hub with a Rohloff Speedhub? Its only 14 gears though...

    *ducks*

  17. #17
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    A Driver License in Japan usually takes about 3 months of classes and testing at a cost of around $4000-$5000. If a person devotes themself fully to the classes and testing, and does nothing else, it can take as little as 1 month. The cut off to get it all done is 6 months.

    Once this is successfully completed they still don't have a Driver License, but a temporary permit to drive. They then go to the local Police Dept. HQ where they get more classes and another 100 question test. A score of 90% is required to pass.

    Once they have an actual Driver License they are then on a one year probationary period as a new driver and any vehicle they drive must be placarded accordingly. Penalties for violations during this probationary period can range from license suspension until more classes and testing are completed to license revocation.

    License renewal requires more classes and retesting.

    If, for some reason, you allow your license to expire, you start over at square one.

    Some, like my Mother-in-Law, never learn to drive.

    My Father-in-Law works for a company that subsidizes public transportation expenses for the company's employees. An employee driving their car to work is grounds for dismissal. In other words; drive your car to work, loose your job. Other campanies over there do this, too.

    I'd like to see all of this emplaced in the U.S. It's far too cheap and easy to get a DL and drive over here.

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    One reason there's very little theft or other crime in Japan, compared to the U.S., is that over there, concepts like "Honor" and "Shame" still have meaning, but this is going away as they become more Americanized.

    Of course the stress placed on each individual by their social structure is why they have a higher suicide rate.
    Last edited by CommuterRun; 10-16-06 at 05:21 PM.

  19. #19
    No longer in Wimbledon... womble's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CommuterRun
    One reason there's very little theft or other crime in Japan, compared to the U.S., is that over there, concepts like "Honor" and "Shame" still have meaning, but this is going away as they become more Americanized.

    Of course the stressed placed on each individual by their social structure is why they have a higher suicide rate.
    Oh, puhleez, spare us the Far East stereotypes

    There's a huge amount of crime in Japan- most of it just happens to be very well organised and hidden rather than petty and obvious. Playing Spot-the-Yakuza quickly loses its novelty value in cheap restaurants.

    Speaking of Tokyo- I had a friend who used to commute to work on the roads. People though he was nuts, and so did I after he was hit twice in six months.
    Last edited by womble; 10-16-06 at 10:05 AM.

  20. #20
    Code Warrior mwrobe1's Avatar
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    Just a little perspective, Japan is slightly smaller than the whole state of California and is 80% mountains.
    Elwood: It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, 1/2 a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses.

    Jake: Hit it.



  21. #21
    aka old dog greywolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wahoonc
    Another item that comes into play with vehicles in Japan, is their extremely stringent Air Quality standards. As I understand it a vehicle with around 25-30k miles on the odo won't pass the emmisions tests. They then have to scrap the vehicle and buy another one. The scrap engines get cut out and sent to places like the US and sold as used engines

    Aaron
    A lot of them end up here in New Zealand ,a good % of cars here are 2nd hand Jap. imports , car dealers buy them in bulk from Japan & transport them over in their thousands in specialy adapted ships. The goverment is going to put a ban on 2nd hand imports over 10 years old in an attempt to try to cut emmissions!
    :D
    dont worry be happy ????

  22. #22
    J E R S E Y S B E S T Jerseysbest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CommuterRun
    One reason there's very little theft or other crime in Japan, compared to the U.S., is that over there, concepts like "Honor" and "Shame" still have meaning, but this is going away as they become more Americanized.

    Of course the stressed placed on each individual by their social structure is why they have a higher suicide rate.
    Okay Miyagi. Wax on...

  23. #23
    Senior Member Fibber's Avatar
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    Getting a license pretty much requires attending a closed course driving school. You don't get out onto public roads until you have achieved a certain level of proficiency, and these schools are expensive. So at one time, driving was a men's (wage earners) only privilege.

    I remember when our first exchange student saw my wife get behind the wheel, and she exclaimed with great surprise "Mom, you drive?" Now all the kids are getting licenses. We heard the basics explained by two families we visited. At 21, girls have a 'coming out' celebration complete with a new kimono. This event can run a solid $10k. Many girls are asking for a 'yellow plate' car (mini/micro class with reduced fees) instead, and getting them!

    While it is certainly an overused stereotype, honor and commitment is still alive to some extent in Asia. I still see it in business settings. We had a problem with a hotel room at one point, and the manager practically fell over himself to upgrade us and make it right. I goofed and left a tip once. The waiter chased us out into the street to return it. At another point an order contained an error, and the staff apologized profusely and repeatedly. Not a perfect society by any means, but a nice change of pace from typical Western norms.

  24. #24
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fibber
    Helmet use? Nearly non-existent. It is strange seeing parents riding double with their very young kids in plastic bucket seats, and no helmets on either...
    at the risk of branding myself (a la HH), I'd say it's a small minority in the world that wear them.

    I seem to remember another poster that said he was visiting Japan and when he put his helmet on for a ride, people giggled at him for it.

    North America and Austrilia seem to be the few places in the world that think they're important.

  25. #25
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mwrobe1
    Just a little perspective, Japan is slightly smaller than the whole state of California and is 80% mountains.
    Here's some more perspective. How many California cyclists are cycling across the State of California each day; ever? I'd guess about the same number as those cycling across the country of Japan: An insignificant number. Probably the same ratio exists for those who are riding their bicycles up and down mountain ranges in either location. Number of commuter/daily cyclists who are concerned about or affected by such geography perspectives: None.

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