Osaka Sketch and Sakuradamon Gate

And for something completely different...

Some sketches from the past 2 weeks.
One of the schools I taught at in Shimamoto, Osaka
I spent a few hours in tokyo before moving into my apartment in Chiba and was lucky to find some cool buildings to sketch.This is the Sakuradamon gate (cherryblossomfieldgate, loosely)

Have a great week!


Why Cyclists are Divided

It's chilly and I'm wearing a T-shirt, sitting on the sidewalk outside Tokyo Station and I'm leaning against my bike that is bagged behind me. I recently read a blog post on the blog 'let's go ride a bike' about a friend who organized a ride and referred to it as a critical mass kind of ride. There was lots of publicity and some negative responses from auto drivers but also from other cyclists. She wondered aloud how it is that we as cyclists are often pitted against each other instead of standing (or riding) side by side.
I think I know one reason why and I've experienced it first hand.

I think cyclists find 'parties' to adhere to because they need identity.

And here's my anecdotal evidence:
I grew up Mormon in Maine. I was always the 'Mormon Kid' and was more conservative than most everyone I knew. I moved to Utah and 'poof!' my life long identity was vaporized and suddenly I was a liberal. It took me some time to re-identify myself and I began riding my bicycle everywhere as well. I then moved to Oregon. My identity shifted yet again. I stood out as Mormon again, but the fact that I rode my bicycle everywhere did little to set me apart from the rest of the Portlanders I saw daily. Now I'm still relatively new to Cycling (3 years or so) but I think that just as I have adjusted my identity and looked for ways to define myself cyclists may do that with cycling. How are you different than all the other people riding their bikes? If you live in a place (like Utah) where just riding makes you stand out, it's easy to become friends with anyone on 2 wheels, but when you live in Portland, you no longer stand out and who you are as a cyclist (something cyclists cling to) starts to disappear, so you reinforce it with opinions within cycling. Now riding is no longer enough! You must ride a certain way, or be involved in local politics, or shun cars or wear spandex or whatever. American cyclists have fallen in love with being different, and as more people start getting on bikes and following their lead, they forget that it was cycling, not their identity, that was most important to begin with.
Let's let our passion for riding build and encourage instead of destroy and divide.
In a country dominated by the automobile we can't afford to pull in different directions. Regardless of what you believe, lets not discourage others in their journey to define themselves and also enjoy riding bikes.


Cargo Bikes in Copenhagen

Copenhagen Cargo Bikes, a new video from Streetfilms has been circling around and I thought I'd share it here. I have yet to ride a cargo bike but look forward to the day! Also, a new bike shop opened in Portland Maine this past year that sells Bakfiets. They are Portland Velocipede, and I will be sure to stop by for a visit when I'm back in December. Also Utah's own Madsen Cycles makes some great bikes for hauling anything you can imagine. Check them out.
More on biking in Japan as I pack to move to Tokyo!



Bike to Bike Communication

image from letsgorideabike blog

Growing up in Maine I remember being taught hand signals for riding a bicycle. My first memory of this was at some sort of bicycle to school day where Brad, the local bike shop owner oiled and tweaked our bikes and we were all shown how to navigate stop-signs and the like. I remember distinctly being confused as an 8 year old boy that both the left and right hand signal were performed with the left hand. (the alternate method of signaling outstretched right hand wasn't introduced until a few years later and I've heard it was Jeff Miller, Maine bike advocate that instigated this option. As a young kid, the revision was relieving :-)

We've probably all seen the several kinds of signalers out there. Those who don't, those who do sort of timidly, and then the overzealous. I have always considered hand signals mostly a way for cyclists to communicate with motorists and protect themselves, but until this weekend I hadn't really thought about cyclist to cyclist communication.While riding back to Nagoya after Nuts!Fes, we fell into a column of about 15 cyclists biking close together along the paths and roads in Nagoya, and biking fourth in the column I found myself faced with a pretty constant stream of hand signals from the rider ahead of me. I recognized the right and left arms outstretched, and quickly learned the others. As I figured them out it became pretty clear these were well known by the other riders and I wondered if they were Japanese standard signals.

right turn: right arm extended
left turn: left arm extended
stopping: hand open, palm out flat on lower back
slowing down: right hand down by saddle
keep left (oncoming traffic): right hand down by saddle waving left. I didn't see keep right (in Japan you ride on the left) but I imagine the same but maybe inverted
obstacle coming up (pot hole, post, ledge): right hand down, pointer finger pointing down
and my favorite and most complex
left-turn followed by a U-turn (instead of using the car turning lane at an intersection to turn right, turning left, pulling a Uey and waiting at the light): right hand turn signal, pointer finger out, an upward S flick with the pointer finger

Everyone in the line did the signals and we rode very smoothly. The communication was excellent and allowed us to keep together tight and only the head rider had to navigate, with no yelling or explaining turns and so forth.
I tried to find out if these signals were at all standard to Japan, but I could only find the 3 signals you're probably familiar with. Right, left and stop.
These cyclists from Nagoya had the bike to bike communication down to an art, and it impressed me and made me feel like, despite the language barrier, I was able to communicate quickly and effectively with the members of the group.
Ride with friends this week!



Back From Nuts!Fes 2010

Sore and happy, I'm excited to share some of my experiences from Nuts!Fes this weekend! I will probably post several times about this. For all the photos and some great videos, check me out on Facebook.
The riders met at Ozone Station in the morning and then headed up to the Campground together. There were about 100 riders, sporting colorful and various bikes, outfits and gear. After over 3 hours navigating trains and fearing I'd arrive late, it was wonderful to have people help me unpack my bike, they knew my name (the American on the list), and pretty soon I was off riding in beautiful weather along a canal in Nagoya in a huge crowd of people who loves bikes as much as I do.The ride was tough at the end as we climbed up into the hills. Beautiful weather and foliage. Along the way Nuts!Fes riders cheered each other on and took drive by photos. Arriving was wonderful, wet towels, cheering and lots of high fives. All of the riders were very friendly and despite the language barrier I was treated wonderfully and made several new friends.The day involved constant music, live and DJ, streaming from a futuristic looking dome tent at the base of the campground hill as well as various competitions. There was a huge pile of merchandise that would be given away as prizes, as well as tents with vendors selling food and demonstrating products (Brompton folding bikes, Keen footwear and others. 'Well Done', a small company making handmade bags hats and cellphone purses was my favorite.)
The events included:
'Bikes the Bushido', Japanese Style bike jousting (videos on facebook soon)
Virtual Track Racing
Rock Paper Scissors competitions
and an uphill bike race

The prizes were given away very randomly and freely, and included some pretty amazing stuff. Full Kona Frame and Stem, nice rims, custom bags and hats, lots of Pants and gloves, and a really cool handmade picnic blanket. I received a blue and pink jersey in the bike race. (I didn't keep track, but I think everyone who raced was awarded prizes just for making up that ridiculously steep hill)

(vending machine raid on the way home)

The drinking and dancing went on until early the next morning, but having only slept 3 hours the night before, I crashed exhausted at 10:00pm and slept until 8:20 the next morning. Breakfast Burritos off Tony's bike grill made my morning (he was the other American there) and were I a coffee drinker I would have patronized the beautiful bike cafe as well for a cup.
The ride back was much easier going down hill and we made good time, although the heat was worse and I burned my arms and neck on the last unshaded stretch. Some of us then rode to Circles, a local Nagoya bike shop (more later) and then I rode to the nearest JR station, packed my bike (a little less intensely this time) and hopped on the train home. Smooth sailing.
Amazing weekend and a national holiday tomorrow means I get to sleep in.

I'll be posting much more as I get it all out of my head.


My First Time Putting a Bike in a Bag

Tomorrow morning bright and early at 5:00am I'm leaving my tiny apartment to attend Nuts!Fes 2010. I'm very excited, and to kick off this weekend of firsts (camping in japan, biking with other Japanese, attending a music bike festival, etc) I got to pack up my bike in a bag for the first time ever! One of the things that would make Japan a much more bike-friendly country is if bikes and trains got along better. I often run into the problem biking to my destination takes about as long as walking to the station, taking the train and walking again. If I could bring my bike easily on the train, I could really cut travel time down by biking instead of walking. Anyway, I have several hours on a train followed by 35 Kilometers on bike tomorrow, so I set to taking off the wheels and securing everything in one chunk.

I went shopping for a bike carrier bag last week, and everything I found was either super flimsy feeling, very expensive, or rather clunky. (I need something I can roll or fold up and stick in my messenger bag after reassembling the bike) It struck me sometime during the fruitless (although enjoyable) search for the perfect bag, that I had 2 large plastic bags that my futons came in! (free) and as I would be carrying the bike myself the whole trip (not putting it on an airplane or in the mail or anything) that they might just do!


Last week my friend Mika at the Osso bike shop sent me a bike box in the mail to I could box it up and ship it to Tokyo when I move next weekend, and the box had been folded and secured with 2 long plastic straps that are adjustable. I removed those and they worked wonderfully to secure the wheels to the frame and also the rear derailleur, which I took off and strapped to the inside of the frame to avoid damage.

I wanted to remove one pedal to reduce width, but the small multi-wrench that Osso supplies with the bike is very inadequate in the leverage department (it looks so cool tho.....) so I left it on, picked the whole mess up and slipped it into the first bag, which fit perfectly! The second bag is just for strength, and I put a small whole in the top so i can just reach down and grab hold of the frame itself to carry it around.
I'm rather pleased with how it turned out, and I'll be sure to let you know how the weekend goes!
Safe riding,
and remember: Futon bags.



Park Yourself Somewhere this Friday!

Check this out. I found out about it on EcoVelo and I was intrigued by the idea, happy to find out it was this very Friday, that people all over the world do it.... just nobody in Japan. :-(

Portland however has quite a few happening and if you go I want photos!
Find one near you! HERE

Tomorrow I'm figuring out if I'll be going to Nuts!Fes (and I'm crossing my fingers the finances all work out otherwise I may just go and then starve the rest of the month) Amazing photos from last year's Nuts!fes. And if you send me Park(ing)Day photos I will post my weekend's events as well.

Have a great rest of the week.
Bike even if it's rainy. (preferably in a T-shirt, no hat or coat and laughing)



Vushidu and the Train

Hello loyal followers!
Here's a few more sketches from this week. The first two I did tonight outside Takatsuki Station while loving the great reggae from the band Vushidu. Local guys who play great beach/reggae. Way chill and friendly, I wish I were staying in Osaka longer just so I could see more of them. I showed up late and only caught a few songs, but check out their music here.Hige-G, Vocals and Guitar, and what I scribbled below was his English intro to a song:
'Today is hot day because.... summer. I love America because... summer'
It was kind of a personal shout out i think. Having introduced myself as an English teacher before the set. :-)
Aochi. Guitar
Not a member of Vushidu, but I imagine very cool in his own way, here is the conductor of the train going down into Osaka on Sunday. A longish ride with few passengers (to draw) to I went for the whole inside of the train. It's fun to sit near the front cause unlike on American trains I've been on, you can see out the front window, and if you stand it's like you're flying! (yes it's amazing)
Bought a bike light this week. (finally)
ride safe friends!



Some Fun Bikes Downtown

Just a few 'hipper' bikes I saw in downtown Osaka this weekend.
EnjoyGreat colors,



Sketching on the Late-Night Train

The trains here are either so fast or so crowded that I rarely get to sketch, but on the late-night back from Kyoto tonight I had a few minutes and jumped at the opportunity.

As you can see, everyone is looking down at a phone or book on the train, so I fit right in, and in Japan people don't look you in the face nearly as much as I'm used to in America, so drawing inconspicuously was pretty easy.
Draw and bike my friends!



Bike Parking Let Down

(this is not by my station, but rather in Osaka proper. Thought I'd share the photo anyhow)

So I rode my new bike to the station this morning, excited to use it to make my commute a little bit faster. I got to the station and there weren't bikes parked everywhere like I see in the evening, and the few there were tagged (a police warning/abandon marker) which made me nervous. I biked down the line and found a bike lock station. Lots of bike racks with built in locks and a computer to charge you to park. I threw my bike on and caught my train. When I returned my bike was there, but I was charged 600 yen for the day! I was really disappointed and frustrated by the lack of cheap/free parking. I suppose one of the drawbacks of a country that treats the their bikes a bit like we treat cars (most everyone has one, drives it daily to work and doesn't lock it to anything :-) is that free parking isn't always available. This may have just been a case of me being rushed and not looking hard enough, but I will not be paying 600 yen a day for parking (car or bike)
just a bit of venting,



Buying a bike in Japan, finally

Hello friends, let me introduce you to my new bicycle!
Here s/he is! (haven't decided on a gender yet)
It's an Osso7007 EX (to sound fancy), from an Osaka brand, and rides really nicely. It's a 7 speed, the frame is great and for the price was a steal. (I found it marked down to 39,800 yen at Top One, a very cool bike/green living shop in Osaka)
I was considering a folding bike in true Japanese fashion.(after the heavy mamachari, it's the most commonly seen) But I was faced with huge quality issues. It seems that anyone and everyone makes folding bikes here. Ive seen Hummer bikes, Panasonic, Chevrolet, US Postal Service (!?!) and a bunch of others. From my browsing I found pretty cheap components on a frame that by definition met the requirements of being a folding bike, but wasn't elegant or well designed. These bikes are the most common and run under 20,000 yen, so if you're looking for a cheap buy to get you off your feet quickly while abroad, not bad, but I'd look at is as a very short term investment. There are of course great folding bikes you can buy. I browsed mostly Dahon Brand, but Bianchi and many others have bikes ranging from mini non fold-able bikes to really compact creative ones. These often cost upwards of 130,000 yen. A bit out of my price range. (Dahon has some very affordable models as well tho, coming in at around 400 US$. (cheaper on some discount websites)
Frustrated with the lack of affordable quality bikes, when I saw Osso, I was quickly sold. Classy and affordable, these bikes were simple enough for me, yet functional (7 speed, rack bolt holes, etc) and the fact that I would be riding a Japanese bike that wasn't Fuji or Nishiki made me pretty happy as well. I went with a slightly smaller frame (520mm) which suits me better, and also means I can box it up smaller and bring it home in pieces in December (another really important selling point) By the way, Delta is on the less forgiving end of airlines when it comes to fees and size/weight restrictions it seems to me. The only downside to the bike so far is that I find its breaks to be a bit cheap. The traction of the pads on the rims is a bit poorer than I'd like. This is a pretty easy fix though if I ever do decide to replace the breaks (or the whole system) in the future. I will also probably switch the bars to some drop bars and tape it. I like the different grip options of a full taped bar, especially for longer rides.The Osso was christened in heroic fashion with a ride to Osaka Castle (amazing. See photos here) and then a kind of reckless ride from Osaka all the way to Takatsuki in the dark. (22.6km according to google, but I definitely got lost enough to make it 30) I arrived home very sweaty and tired, but feeling great to be on a bike again after almost a month without one.
I'll post more later on my experiences with Japanese biking.
Enjoy riding this week!