Tokyo on Two Wheels: The Tokyo Bicycle Sharing program puts a spin on getting around town
With some of the highest train and bus ridership rates in the world, Tokyo has a well-deserved reputation for being easy to navigate using public transportation. Still, there are times when bicycles are faster than trains or buses. They also offer much-needed exercise and a chance to better appreciate distinctive neighborhoods.
Tokyo has been catching up with trends in other parts of the world with a new bike-sharing service available in many cities within the metropolis. Called the Tokyo Bicycle Sharing program, this service places distinctive red-and-black rental bicycles at dedicated ports across Tokyo. As of September 30, 2018, the bicycles could be found at 520 locations, including popular spots in the cities of Chiyoda, Chuo, Minato, Shinjuku, Bunkyo, Koto, Shinagawa, Ota, and Shibuya.
As you might expect from a country known for high technology, these rental bicycles are not just ordinary cycles but rather fancy electric-assist bicycles. Equipped with a battery pack—nestled just behind the seat post—these three-speed electric bicycles provide an extra boost when you pedal, making Tokyo’s occasional hills and inclines easier to manage.
On the left side of the handlebars you’ll find a small control panel. A power button on the bottom right activates the assist technology. Other buttons adjust the electric motor’s power output, which can be set to strong, normal, and eco-mode, and turn the front light on or off.
Much like on a regular bicycle, the right side of the handlebar is where you can select the appropriate gear for the terrain. There is also a convenient basket on the front in which to place your belongings.
How to register
Although the Tokyo Bicycle Sharing program requires advance registration, the process is simple and straightforward. From the program’s official website, click on one of the “Member Registration” links under the “Service Areas” section.
You’ll then be redirected to another site with a “Member Registration” link. After selecting that link, create a user name and password, then enter your contact details and credit card billing information. All of the fields are clearly marked in Japanese and English.
How to Rent
The rental process is easy, thanks to smart locks and IC card readers installed on the bicycle. One option is to select a port and a bicycle you’d like to ride on the bike-share website and receive a passcode. Type this code into the keypad/card reader unit on the rear of the bicycle at the port and it will automatically unlock. An even faster option is to register a smartphone or IC card with the service, as you can unlock any bicycle you wish to ride simply by moving your registered smartphone or IC card near the card reader.
Returning your rental is also hassle-free, as the program allows you to drop off the bicycle at any of the 520 ports across Tokyo. Regardless of whether or not a cycle stand is available at the port, you simply dismount, park the bicycle, set the stand down, slide down the rear wheel lock, and press “Enter” on the operation panel. When “Return” is displayed on the panel, you are done.
The cost of the Tokyo Bicycle Sharing program varies depending on the plan you select. For tourists and others who want a one-day rental, the cost is just ¥1,500.
Tokyo residents can pay a one-time membership fee that allows for rentals based on short periods of use: ¥150 for the first 30 minutes and ¥100 for each additional 30-minute block. Monthly memberships are also available for ¥2,000 and offer free use for the first 30 minutes (for an unlimited number of times within the month) and ¥100 for each additional 30-minute block. (Please note that the prices above do not include sales tax.)
Corporate memberships are available for companies that wish to provide employees with a transportation option during work hours. Speak with a Docomo Bikeshare representative for more information.
Where to Go
If you’re interested in using one of these bicycles for sightseeing, there are excellent places to cycle all around the Tokyo metropolitan area. We tried a couple of routes for this article, the first of which was to ride around the artificial islands of Odaiba and Aomi in Tokyo Bay. Plenty of wide-open areas and relatively light vehicle or pedestrian traffic make cycling a breeze. The view of the Tokyo skyline is also outstanding.
Our other course afforded an excellent contrast of traditional and modern Tokyo. Picking up different bicycles from the Konan side of Shinagawa Station, we ventured out towards Kita-Shinagawa, which was the closest shukuba-machi (rest stop) to Nihonbashi along the old Tokaido, Japan’s main east–west route that connected Edo (Tokyo) with Kyoto during the Edo Period. Here, as well, we encountered few vehicles, which made it easy to stop often and appreciate the Shinagawa Hyakkei (100 famous views) that can be had along this route.
A short ride towards Tokyo Bay then took us to Tennozu Isle, a scenic and modern waterfront area with public art, cafés, and several restaurants. Renovated warehouses and stylish boardwalks give this district a very appealing aesthetic, and ports made it easy to return our bicycles and walk around.
The best part of this flexible bike-share program is that you can easily create your own sightseeing plan in Tokyo. Not being limited by the proximity of train stations or bus timetables gives you the freedom to venture off the beaten path, whether for a visit to hot springs in Ota City or around the backstreets of Shibuya.
More details about the program and a short video illustrating the rental process are available on the Tokyo Bicycle Sharing website.