Buying a Bicycle in Japan
After living in Tokyo for several years, I finally decided to buy a bicycle. The trains here are incredible, but given the sheer size of the city, there are instances when going by train and walking can take almost the same amount of time. With a bicycle, my range of movement has dramatically increased and I’m looking forward to exploring Tokyo more.
Before I go too far into my own personal story, there are a few brief points I want to explain.
Bicycle, not bike -In English, we are inclined to call bicycles “bikes”, but in Japanese バイク (baiku) translates to motorcycle. I always need to remind myself of this.
Bicycle Registration: 防犯登録 (bouhan touroku) -You need to register your bicycle before you start riding around. You can do this at a bicycle shop (some stores may not offer this service if you bought your bicycle online, though, so call ahead). It only costs ¥500. You fill out a short form with your name, address, and phone number. You will also need to show your ID. They put a sticker with the registration number on your bicycle. If it ever gets stolen, this registration will be important for reporting it to the police.
Bicycle Insurance: -Insurance is not totally necessary, but it is recommended. In case you get involved in an accident, it will cover damages, even if you die! I bought mine on Rakuten. ¥3000 for one year.
Bicycle law: -This is one of those infamous gray areas in Japan that can drive a person crazy. Bicycles are classified as vehicles and should therefore stay off sidewalks, but there are cases, such as when the cyclist feels unsafe, when it is allowed. Also, obey traffic laws and ride on the left side. Here are a few links that can explain it better than I can: Japan Cycling: http://www.japancycling.org/v2/info/biking.shtml Life Where I'm From: https://youtu.be/C9lPo1XxXec?t=543
My story (a warning to those buying online)
I had been considering buying a bicycle for about a year. I figured I could buy one:
1. used: on Gaijin Pot or Merucari, ask around to see if anyone was getting rid of a bike, etc
2. new at a bicycle store
3. new online
I decided that I wanted a new bicycle. Reliability was an important factor, and if I bought it new, I would have more confidence that there wouldn't be any preexisting issues. Hopefully.
First, I checked online to see what was available. There were all types of models at various price ranges, but my specifications were rather strict.
¥30,000 or less
thin and light
an appropriate ratio between the handle bars and seat that wouldn’t leave my butt sticking up in the air
I was lucky to find a few models that I liked on Rakuten, but just to make sure, I went out to several bicycle shops to see what they had in stock. It was disappointing that the majority of bicycles being sold were mamachari (literally mom's bicycle), complete with baskets and a child's seat in the back. Closer to some more downtown fashionable areas, I found a couple of shops with bicycles that fit most of my specifications, but the prices started at ¥200,000!
So in the end, I settled for a bicycle I came across on Rakuten. It fit all my specifications and, more importantly, the price came to just a little over ¥21,000. Not bad.
I hit that 'buy' button and felt the excitement of collecting all those "R Points". It came within a week of being processed in a big cardboard box.
It wasn't too difficult to put together, but I wasn't sure if I had put the front tire on correctly. Even if it was going to cost money, I thought I should get it checked by a professional, so I went to a rather large bicycle shop and asked the manager about it. He said that it was very simple and to come back in an hour.
In a great mood, I decided to go get some unagi at Sukiya while waiting. (Anyone who wants to try some eel on a budget, I highly recommend Sukiya.) It had been 10 years since the last time I had my own bicycle! I couldn't believe I was going to be able to ride again.
And then I got a call. "There is a problem."
The manager explained that the tire frame was bent in a way that the bicycle wouldn’t run straight and recommended trying to return it for a new one. I was happy with his honesty and the fact that he didn't charge me for the inspection, but it was disappointing. I had already celebrated with unagi.
I pushed the bicycle home and emailed a customer representative from the company I had bought it from to explain this matter. Their response was basically that bicycle shops are rivals so I shouldn’t trust anything they say. Also, no tire is perfectly aligned.
That was certainly not the reply I was hoping for. Ignoring this issue could result in a major accident, so I was nervous. Usually I don't like to complain to companies, but this time I knew I had to insist. I took some photos and a video that showed the tire was in fact crooked for proof.
The customer representative immediately changed their attitude and said they would send me a replacement as soon as possible. So the saying is true, "customers are gods". Or at least after they press further they are. I guess sometimes being assertive is necessary.
Anyways, a few days later, the replacement bicycle came. I put it together and went back to the same bicycle shop that discovered the problem. A different staff inspected the bicycle, but he also said the same thing. The tire was crooked. “Well, we can try to adjust it” and “It's not that it is impossible to ride…”.
I accepted that and asked them to adjust it. It only cost ¥3,000. Now it runs fine. Perhaps it would have been best to get the first bicycle adjusted the first time, without going through this process, but I couldn't ignore what the manager had said. Or perhaps he was just giving me a hard time because I didn't buy it at his store. I don't want to believe that, but it's possible. Having two bicycle companies telling me different things was not fun. Next time, I will buy directly from a store to avoid this.
Unfortunately, the story is not finished. Actually, today I am finally getting rid of the first bicycle. For two weeks, it sat in my room in its cardboard box. Putting it back in was way more trouble than I thought it would have been. The first time I brought it to the repair shop, they tightened everything with real tools, not the flimsy ones that came with the bicycle. There was no way I was going to be able to loosen the bolts, so I did the best I could and wrapped the rest with card board pieces. My girlfriend told me that this is how she sends out furniture from her work place, so we figured it would be acceptable.
We scheduled for it to get picked up by a delivery company one week ago, but they looked at the box and said they wouldn't be able to take it and that only a moving company would accept something like that. I guess it makes sense. It was kind of a monster.
After that, my girlfriend called the bicycle company for me. Her negotiating skills are much better than mine. They refused to pay a moving company and insisted that we would just have to get it back in the box, properly, no matter what, even if we break it. Then send it by a normal delivery company.
I tried a bit more, but when nothing moved and the wrench that came with the bike began to warp, I finally went to a small bicycle repair shop in my neighborhood owned by an old man. He was really confused, but he got the picture. It only took him a few minutes to loosen everything, but he had to stand on his wrench to take off the pedals. The whole time he was lecturing me on how the left pedal tightens to the left and not to the right. I just apologized and let him do it without complaining. I was exhausted.
A few minutes ago, the delivery company came and they accepted the box. Thank you baby buddha! I feel bad because I was a nuisance to my girlfriend, the bicycle shop manager, and the old man, but now I have finally have my own bicycle!
In the end, it took a while, but I got my own bicycle! However, this experienced has me worried. I guess I can expect more problems to occur in the future. Buying a more expensive bicycle with a different design might have been more worth it, but for the moment, I am happy.
If you are considering buying a bicycle online, you have been warned.
PS. There may not be so many bicycles actually made in Japan, but the box my bicycle came in had a big MADE IN CHINA printed on its side.