Tokyo’s new rentable bikes are a great start, but the city is still far from bike-friendly | Rocket News 24

Close your eyes and throw a stick in pretty much any Tokyo neighbourhood, and there’s a good chance that you’ll hit someone riding a bicycle. With roughly 72 million bikes on the streets of Japan, they’re an essential part of daily life for many, especially in urban areas where space for motor vehicle parking is both limited and expensive.

Last weekend, though, we stumbled upon a fleet of sparkling new bicycles that couldn’t be more different to the typical mamachari shopping bikes that everyone from junior high schoolers to worryingly wobbly grandmothers pedal around town. Sleek, compact, and with”Suicle” stamped on their crossbars, these lime-green lightweights are available for anyone with a prepaid IC bus or rail card and a half-decent sense of balance to rent.

Eager to know if the ride, and the process of renting and returning, was as smooth as a nearby sign purported it to be, we took a couple of the mini bikes out for a spin.

Built by Japanese electronics giant Panasonic and being rolled out in a handful of commuter towns in Tokyo to allow easy access to stations and the local area, the Suicycle scheme has only just begun, and is still relatively unknown even amongst locals.

The Suicle station (or “port”, as their makers prefer them to be known) we found was located near Higashi Koganei Station on the JR Chuo Line, which runs from Tokyo Station in the east through vibrant Shinjuku and all the way out to the mountains and forests of West Tokyo. Situated directly beneath the line in a gap between two of the giant concrete pillars keeping it aloft, the bicycle parking area is yet another example of Japanese town planners’ recent desire to make use of valuable space that might otherwise sit vacant.

Inside this fenced-off, sheltered spot stood row upon row of shiny new compact bikes destined never to have an owner of their very own. Instead, they are designed to be picked up, dropped off, and shared by hundreds if not thousands of people during their lifetimes. Stamped with the name “Suicle” (a combination of the onomatopoeic word ‘suisui’, meaning to move smoothly and quickly, and ‘cycle’), the bikes are accessible 24 hours a day and the process of picking up and dropping off is fully automated.

Entering through a narrow, pedestrians-only pathway, we found the pay station, a machine roughly the size of a typical vending machine but with a large LCD touch panel in its centre.

It’s here that commuters and sightseers alike scan the same Pasmo or Suica prepaid IC cards that they use for public transport to rent or return a bike, choosing whether to take one out for an hour at a time (starting at 100 yen/US$1), for the whole day as a “visitor” to the area (500 yen/$5), or to pay for a full month of hop on, hop off use (2,500 yen/$25).

Renters are required to provide ID and register a form of electronic payment on their first use, but it’s simply a case of filling out a simple form in order to receive a unique ID number that will be tethered to the card you’ll use for future payments. After that, you’re free to select a bike and, having scanned your card one last time to pass through the automated security barrier, you’re away.

With a comfortable synthetic leather saddle, durable, puncture-resistant tyres, a sturdy wire-frame basket (not to worry — in Japan, even the cool kids have baskets on their bikes!), bell, front-wheel lock for when you’re leaving the bike somewhere other than a Suicycle station, and three twist-grip gears to make use of (sorry, speed freaks, but these bikes are intended for crowded city areas rather than the velodrome, after all), these are genuinely sharp sets of wheels.

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  1. The ending needs work. velodrome riders don't use derailleur gears. they use track bikes which are single speed.

  2. Suicle looks like Suicide


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