Bicycles are everywhere here in Tokyo. In the US, most people ride bicycles purely for recreation, but here in Tokyo, bicycles are an important means of transportation. Sure, there are still actual lycra-clad “cyclists” on “road bikes” like at home, but most of the bicycles here are the ordinary, practical type — equipped with baskets and/or kid seats. And… these bicycles travel around on the sidewalks, not on the streets. I cannot tell you how many times I have nearly been side-swiped by a bicycle as I have walked along the sidewalks.
I am fascinated by these bicycles, and can’t help but watch them. I am amazed when I see a young mother — usually in a skirt and heels — with an infant strapped to her chest, a toddler in the front baby seat, and an older child in the back seat. I am shocked when I see people riding their bikes in the rain holding an umbrella overhead. I laugh when I see the women riding with their small dogs in the front basket. And… I carefully move to the side when I see someone “texting and riding” on the sidewalk… lol. Maybe they are chasing Pokemon! Who knows…
It is often a family affair of bicycles on the weekends… Father riding in the front, followed my a mother with a young child, and then older children on their own bicycles trailing behind them. Men in suits ride bicycles. Delivery people ride bicycles. Meter readers and city workers ride bicycles. It is a very practical and cost effective way to travel around this small area of urban Tokyo. The only traffic problems are with the pedestrian-crowded sidewalks. They weave expertly in and out among the walkers and runners and older ladies dragging their shopping baskets.
Some of these “commuter bicycles” actually have a power-assist feature that kicks in when they press hard on the pedals. That would seem to be a desired feature for some of these tiny, young mothers with multiple children in tow, and baskets full of groceries.
One day as I passed the convenience store (“kon-bi-ni”), I saw a bicycle parked on the sidewalk with a toddler strapped into the baby seat… Mama was apparently inside the shop. No… that would probably never happen in the US, but here it is ok. Mama no doubt had her eye on the child from inside, and no one walking by bothered the child. The young child was sitting contentedly, waiting for mama. He was not trying to climb out, or crying or fussing. Just waiting patiently.
I saw a bicycle with a dog in the front basket parked outside the supermarket. The dog looked somewhat anxious, but still… sat obediently in the basket waiting. He did not bark, or offer to jump out of the basket. I am just amazed at this phenomenon of transportation.
Parking fees for cars here at the apartment buildings are really high. It is very expensive to have a car in central Tokyo. But every apartment building has free parking areas for bicycles. Racks and racks of bicycles, and they are almost never locked up. Our apartment building — one of the smaller apartment high-rises on Shibaura — has 240 apartments, and a large bicycle parking area in the basement… with a dedicated elevator to take your bicycle to the street level exit. Much more convenient than getting a car out of the underground parking area.
I know using bicycles for transportation in the US would not be very practical, but this mode of transportation works well here… with the added bonus of getting a little bit more healthy exercise into the day.