156. BICYCLES IN JAPAN
As part of my on-going series on what the future looks like, today I'll be showcasing The Bicycle. Bikes are essential in energy-poor Japan, and the city where I live (Osaka) is literally clogged with them. Here's a typical scene outside a subway station:
And that's just the beginning of it. If we walk up to the subway entrance (upper left in the above photo), the sea of bicycles just keeps on going...
After a morning workout on their bicycle, commuters enter the subway here:
There's lots of stairs in the Osaka mass transit system. If you transfer or switch sides of the track, you might have to navigate six flights of stairs like this on a one way trip. So between the walking, and the bicycling, and the endless flights of stairs, it's no wonder that you don't see any obese people in these photographs.
Here's another bicycle deposit, about a two minute walk down the same street:
It's insane how many bicycles there are in Osaka. Indeed, I've often propoposed the idea of making bicycles ownerless property. Virtually anywhere you go, there's going to be a massive deposit of bicycles, so you could just grab one, ride it where you want to go, and leave it there for the next person. The city could collect strays from time to time, and truck them back to the city center.
Here's my trusty steed:
As you can see from the photos, Japanese bikes aren't the trendy, spandex, pipe-up-your-ass Lance Armstrong model. These bikes are built for easy-riding and functionality, and here in Osaka the standard type is fondly called the mama-chari ("mom's bike") because all the moms (and most everybody else) ride them. They have the basket in front, and the rack in back for cargo. If you look closely at my bike, you'll see it also has metal pegs screwed onto the back axle. This allows another passenger to stand on the pegs and ride by holding onto my shoulders. Talk about transportation efficiency -- two passengers and no gasoline!
The mama-chari generally has one speed and absolutely must be equipped with a bell because you use it all the time to work your way through crowds of pedestrians. There are also lots of mama-chari accessories -- like umbrella holders and gear for carrying children. It's not unusual to see a woman, with one child riding in a child seat behind the handlebars, another child riding in a seat on the back, and the front basket filled with vegetables from the market. It's sort of like the "SUV" for Osaka housewives.
Now, I can sense the glum faces on my American doomer readers. Clearly these silly bicycle ideas are not going to work in the U.S., because the U.S. isn't built like Japan. It's not "realistic". People are too fat to ride bicycles anyway etc. etc. But let me remind you of something: You guys are the pessimists. You (not I) are the ones predicting imminent, debilitating shortages of gasoline. So if you're right, we're all going to be riding bikes whether you like it or not. Might as well get rid of that stupid, polluting Prius you foolishly purchased, and buy your bike before the last-minute rush. I bought mine for less than $100, and it takes me wherever I need to go. Fuel costs: $0. How much did you pay for your Prius?
As the Japanese would say in their cheerful English: "Ret's shape up!"