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Orphan bicycles

August 18, 2010

On Monday, a friend Courtney and I went to the Suginami-ku bike sale. Suginami, and some other wards in the city, sell off the bikes that have been towed from no-bike-parking areas or otherwise abandoned. Bikes here have the equivalent of the “dog pound truck” which somewhat randomly arrives in an area and throws all the illegally parked bikes in the back of a big truck and carts them away. This raises a few important points:

1) people don’t lock their bikes TO anything here, they just flick a lock that immobilizes the back wheel (I have heard this called a cafe-lock somewhere). Sometimes people use a chain lock, but very often it is still just through the wheel, and not even locked to the frame. Occasionally a bike is locked TO something. More often than not, it’s not so it doesn’t get stolen, it’s to reduce the likelihood it will get towed. (I own a bike lock for precisely this reason). Occasionally bikes do get stolen. Courtney’s last bike was stolen, but in all fairness, she did also leave the key in it.

2) people don’t “love” their bikes that much in most cases. Most people I know whose bikes have been impounded never go to get them. It not only smacks of effort, it costs 5000 yen. I’m guessing it involves a lecture too.

3) all bikes here are licenced. Ok, not all. Most. I know a few people who haven’t done theirs. You licence you bike for 2 reasons: 1) if it gets stolen (but more likely impounded) you can identify it by it’s licence number sticker and 2) if a police officer pulls you over while you are riding your bike because he thinks you stole it, you can prove it is yours. The bureaucracy and infrastructure on those little yellow licence tags must be massive, but I really wish a similar system was in place at home.

4) I am deathly afraid of the bike-tow truck. Not so much for the 5000 yen or the tongue lashing, but because I saw them do it the other day, and they just toss bikes willy-nilly in the back of the truck. I fear for the paint job on Mabel if she ever gets towed, because I DO “love” my bike.


Suginami-ku, I learnt from C a few weeks ago, sells off unclaimed bicycles, and since losing hers, she needed to go buy a new one. This involved leaving the house before 9 (a shock to my system), walking to the bus in the heat (can’t ride a bike to a bike sale in case you need to ride something home), the heat which is so bad that the news gave “no-exercise warnings” this week, taking said bus across town, and then walking to bike sale depot (with a quick stop at Doutor for coffee and thick buttered toast first).

Once there we got a number (35 and 36) and were told to go wait in the park till 10:50.

At 10:50 we were given a welcome speech akin to first day of school ceremonies in length and detail. The warm weather was discussed, we were thanked for coming, the staff were introduced (lovely red aprons all round), the layout of the compound described, the organization of the bikes for sale, their price points and logic thereof (basic no gears 6500, with some doodads like lights or gears 8000, brand name bikes with doodads 10000, and high end bikes 15000 yen), the procedure for trying and buying and licensing your bike, and then some closing comments about the heat and how sports drink and a water spritzer were available to keep us cool. Then began role/number call. First in had first choice to grab the bike they wanted to try first. Courtney and I had our eyes on commuter bikes with at least 3 gears, and Yuki (for whom I was shopping) wanted a pretty basket. I had hoped to see if there were any decent older bikes or road bikes, but alas, no luck for me.

We were about half way down the number call, and our best choices were gone, but we did nab one higher price point one, and then when someone brought it back, a second lower price point one.  Then began the line up for paperwork. Because of the heat, they had us line up in the repair shed.

The line up through the repair shed.

This is perhaps the real jewel of the whole process, is that these nice older men FIX all the bikes before they sell them. They all have bells, most have baskets, and things generally run properly. They also help you adjust seats, pump tires, and raise handle bars before you leave. And of course you have to do the paperwork for a licence.

Shed eye-candy.

There was one altercation between an old man buying a bike, and the rather passive aggressive (in a fabulous way) red-aproned man who chose to ignore the pushy bike buyer and made him wait. Not sure what started it, but it was amusing.

Does this man even look capable of having an argument? He was taking the money. The licence guys are to the right, out of view. Several desks of paperwork to deal with.

So C and I left, each on a bike, and cycled off towards Shimokitazawa. I clearly had no idea how hot it really was though until I left Yuki’s bike at her house and realized I was dizzy and fading fast. I chugged two bottles of water, and still continued to be dizzy and sweat profusely for the train ride home. Once home, my roommate pointed out my shoulders were very burned. I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from heat stroke, but nothing dire. (Have I mentioned the heat stroke death count is up to 132 here now and tens of thousands have been admitted to hospital this summer?)

My new roomy and I took refuge in front of the aircon, and ordered Korean food in. Sadly, that took 2 hours to come…I guess ordering food in on a hot day in Tokyo is the equivalent to snow storm ordering in Toronto: you aren’t the only one with that idea, and it’s gonna take time.

The bike sale was fun. But exhausting. In large part because I hate that feeling of lining up and knowing you might not get what you wanted (it’s the lack of control thing) and in part because it was too darn hot. Would I go again? Totally. But in the fall.

I’m tired of summer. It’s too hot to even ride a bike right now. I mean physically too hot. I gasp for air walking to the train station. Tomorrow is my first Taiko lesson. I really wanted to bike there, but I don’t think I can in the heat. And then the next day it’s off to Sadogashima!!! yeah!!!!

One Comment leave one →
  1. jtau permalink
    August 18, 2010 2:26 pm

    Taiko lessons sound like so much fun! I hope you have a great time. Missing you in TO!

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