Friday, June 25, 2004

Cycling near Tokyo

Often when one reads of cycling in a foreign country, you get a wonderfully romanticized view of beautiful scenery, and kind, thoughtful, people. Well, that is in reality not likely to be anymore true than it is in your hometown.

I ride nearly every day along the Tama River which divides Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures. I can get in a ride of over 70 miles, or do a quick 15. Weekends are difficult to ride as you get the path filled with your usual absentminded wanderers. I entirely quit riding on Sundays a few years ago because it became outright dangerous. During the week in the morning before work, I am able to ride and even get in training rides; sprints, intervals and time trials.

What are the problems then? Perhaps it is nothing unusual for riding in a huge city, but the absolute absentmindedness and carelessness of people is infuriating. It is very common to come close to a serious accident at least weekly because someone looks right at you and decides to cut directly in front of you anyway. After slamming on the brakes and making some comment to mister or misses numbskull, I get an apology about 10% of the time. (Yea, I know, you may have heard that the Japanese are ALWAYS apologizing. In reality they don't always do so, especially if there is a real fault on their part. And when they do, we must go along with the pretense that a simple apology makes it all OK).

The biggest danger, however is not really pedestrians (or autos), but is other cyclists riding "mama-charli," the old-fashioned cheap, heavy bikes that most people have here. Traffic laws apply to them, but those laws are rarely obeyed. People blow red lights, shoot thru crosswalks, jump from the sidewalk into the street without so much as a glance to check traffic. This is hard to believe until you see it. Apparently, if one doesn't look before doing something, he won't see any danger, and if he doesn't see danger, it either doesn't exist, or he isn't the one responsible for avoiding an accident. Just yesterday, when I was riding on the street going to Tama River, some old guy jumped off the sidewalk directly in front of me. Fortunately, there were no cars coming, so I could swerve right, but I came within a foot or so of hitting him at about 25 mph. (I had been watching him, as I knew he had that certain braindead look about him so I was prepared).

Often, in bright sunshine or in rain, you will see people riding with an umbrella. Sometimes, this is held directly in front of them so that they cannot possibly see farther than a foot ahead of their front tire. You'll also see about 50% plus of mamachali cyclists riding with semi-flat tires and the lack of control that leads to.

Those are just a few of the frustrations. Of course if you get in an accident because of the actions of someone, you are in for an even bigger surprise.....

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