06 November, 2014

Re-entry shock: Bikes

The other day we had to drive about 10km to get to a bike repair shop! In Japan where we live, we could get our bikes repaired or serviced in at least three different places within 1km of where we live. We don't live in the centre of Tokyo, either, we live about the same distance from the main Tokyo CBD as we are in Brisbane. It's just that there are way less bikes per population here than in Japan. 

In Japan there are about 72 1/2 million bikes (about 57% of the population) and more than 10 million are sold every year (from here). I couldn't quickly find stats about how many of those bikes are regularly ridden, but I'd guarantee that it is more often than most bikes in Australia. 

In Australia the cycling rate is much lower. Around 13% of 18-39 year olds cycled in the last week prior to being surveyed in 2011. Around 8.5% of 40+ year olds cycled in the last week.

This is a great post about why cycling is so popular in Japan.

Look at this lovely big footpath outside of school. I still have
parents panicking about me being on this footpath with their
kids, like really!?!
Bikes here are generally more expensive, we've discovered. They're not really designed for mums doing shopping or carting kids to kindergarten. They're mostly designed for recreation or serious cyclists who wear lycra! I'm missing my Japanese bike with its two huge baskets!

Our family is a novelty here, riding bikes to school. It was the way a teacher opened a conversation with our shy middle son the other day: "You're the boy who rides to school, aren't you?" We've only seen one other student from the school riding, out of eight or nine hundred students! It isn't a local public school, however, and many students come from far afield on school buses or on trains.

More subtle culture shock comes while riding bikes. Australians seem to be more scared of bikes than Japanese people. Probably because they see less of them. I have heard, however, that Australian cyclists can be a dangerous lot. Here we have wonderful wide footpaths to ride on. I try to keep the boys off the roads (where the drivers are a dangerous lot who drive fast) but pedestrians can be a bit antsy about sharing the footpath with us. Legally we're supposed to get off the footpath, and we try to do so wherever possible. I had someone swear at me once for not doing so, even though we had a good two feet between us. 

The footpaths in Tokyo are, when they exist, usually much narrower and people and cyclists seem to coexist with a lot less angst. I guess bikes are more familiar to them. I even scared a little dog here the other day, it nearly jumped out of its skin when I passed it as it walked with its owner! Japanese, in general, are used to the give and take that living so closely with so many other people entails. Australians, I guess, are not.

Anyway, we're enjoying our bikes and working them hard. We're still riding to school four days a week, and getting stronger. In Japan we rarely ride more than a km or two and usually without much in the way of hills. Our suburb in Ipswich is much hillier and our gears get a workout, though as I get stronger I'm managing less gear changes.

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