When it isn’t something you feel comfortable with…riding a bike.

I got an email response from a good friend I met through blogging. She wrote a post about biking to work on which I left a comment. That started a whole email discussion about why I don’t ride a bike around these parts.

After reading my email she responded by saying…”you should totally blog about this, it’s fascinating”.

I have to warn you-a part of this post may seem a bit discriminatory. I assure you that is not my intention. I’m a writer. I write it like I see it. If writers tried to be politically correct about everything then they wouldn’t write honestly.

So, a little about why I don’t ride a bike around these parts…..

We have mirrors in some places like- the bigger roads. Big round convex mirrors that help folks see what’s coming around the corner.
However, we live in the countryside- lots of tiny side roads that can barely fit even one car. Those have no mirrors and those are the roads people come shooting out of at speeds far beyond what someone with commonsense would consider safe.
Sometimes they stop. Sometimes they don’t.
Many times they come to a screeching halt so if you happened to be passing in front of them, or almost in front, you’d suffer from shock thinking you were about to be hit. You might suffer cuts and abrasions because you jumped out of the way or flew off your bike not knowing if they were going to stop.
As a matter of fact you can’t even really be sure a driver will stop at a stop sign.
It’s a tricky game around here.
 From what I have observed first-hand the general “rule ” for red lights seems to be- you have 10 seconds after it turns red to go thru it.  Not legal but it’s normal for people to race right thru the red after it has already turned red.
I have no idea where the cops are.
Like I said- I wish it was safer here. I wish that motorists would have common sense and not be so selfish, thinking of only themselves, and not the safety of the general community around them.
We live on a road that is a “2-way” but– only one car can fit on at a time. It’s a narrow little lane actually.
The oddest thing- people can’t seem to ” back up” very well here so they race up or down it because, again, the rule is whoever is more than halfway down or up doesn’t have to back up.
My husband was coming up one day and another driver had just entered the road so she had to back up. She literally tried for 10 minutes and could not back her car up straight enough to avoid falling down the hill. It was only a few feet that she had to back up. There she went…slowly back, cranking her wheel all the way to the right and causing her tires to veer dangerously close to the drop-off that would have sent her plummeting into Mrs. K’s house. We could see her inside the car, faced contorted, feverishly trying to get her car to do what she wanted.
When we saw that she was crying….my husband got out of our car and backed her car up.
This is actually a normal thing because I can see it right out my kitchen window. Drivers that can’t even back up a car. Women drivers, they seem to have the issues with driving. Why? I don’t know. But this is what I see.
When I’m walking on our narrow little lane and I see a car come roaring towards me  I literally jump in the bushes because there is literally only about a foot of space between me and a car. Less if it’s a truck.
And, they are flying….as I said, no one wants to have to back-up.
I used to yell at people to slow down but no one cares about some crazy foreign lady screaming at them.
In the hot months women wear huge floppy hats with brims that come down to their shoulders and hang dangerously low over their eyes obscuring vision. They don’t take them off when they drive. My husband said that he can not believe that this is allowed- driving with clothing that obscures vision. You read about accidents in the local paper where people have been hurt because of things like this.
When I see these floppy-hat clad women barreling down the road-I get out of the way.
The bottom of our road has been missing the mirror for over a year- typhoon blew it off. We found out it isn’t the government’s obligation to put it back. Some of the mirrors are purchased by neighborhood community groups.
Here is how it works- neighborhoods are divided up into sections / groups. Each group elects a leader. The members of each group pay a ” nenkaihi” or a group fee / membership fee that is collected twice a year- over $100 for us.
 This is not a government activity it is part of the old ” tribal” ways and still practiced in the small country towns.
What each group does with their money is up to them. One thing our group did was put a mirror at the top of our road but the bottom is governed by a different group. Hence no mirror. One group does not tell the other group what to do with their money.
All that to say- mirrors on tiny roads are not a priority here.
The roads that I would be on most of the time are narrow. So narrow that there is no shoulder. Some of the roads go alongside the river. There is no guardrail to keep anyone from plunging down the over 100 foot embankment. I can’t even imagine trying to stay on the road while a huge dump-truck roars past me.
Vehicles generally do not slow down for bikers or pedestrians. Not around here. My husband does-thankfully.
So, taking into consideration that I haven’t been on a bike since I was a child and the fact that there are so many dangers I’d face I think that I’d rather walk or take public transportation.
Too bad because I really wanted to get a bike when we moved here. I’m not saying that riding a bike isn’t safe in Japan. I know many that live here and bike and do just fine.
What I am saying is that in our area it isn’t the wisest choice. I know a few people that have been hit while riding a bike in Japan and…I don’t really know that many people. A few weeks ago a 40 year old man in our neighborhood was hit and killed.
Interestingly I read several articles about bike accidents and fatalities in Japan before I wrote this article. I had to laugh because the articles were so biased towards the cyclists. I read through the comments and agreed with most of them. The problem is not all about “reckless cyclists” it is a failure to provide a safe environment for people riding bikes.
A comment left by bloneintokyo on one of the articles:
“58 percent of the 790 respondents said they cannot abide by the traffic rules while cycling because of bad traffic conditions.”
If they are talking about the difficulty of riding in the road, then this is true. There are spots where it is positively dangerous for cyclists to be in the road because there’s too much traffic and just no space for cyclists to ride alongside. I nearly get sideswiped about every week, and It can be really scary. In those cases I can’t really blame cyclists for wanting to be on the sidewalks at least some of the time. Police should be taking this particular violation on a case by case basis, at least until there is better infrastructure for cyclists.”
Anyhow-
I guess this summer  I’ll be spending a lot of time at home. My MRI showed torn but not severed ligaments. There is also a chip in the bone. Thankfully I won’t need surgery. The doc fit me with a nifty knee brace that I have to wear for two months and along with rest and ice, I should heal up by the beginning of October.
I did want to spend more time on my writing……

6 thoughts on “When it isn’t something you feel comfortable with…riding a bike.

  1. Your blogging friend is right — this is very interesting!
    We have fewer of the issues you mention here: roads are wider, traffic laws are generally abided by and enforced — but still, when I am driving on our two lane, striped road and encounter a cyclist, I am nervous, as there are blind curves and very narrow shoulders. It would be easy to have a head-on collision with another car or hit a cyclist, neither of which would be good!
    Thanks for describing your part of the world so well!

    I’m SO glad your injury wasn’t worse!

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    1. Well then…I’m glad I wrote it. And you know me Dimple-I strive to give an honest account of what I encounter. This is truly what I experience here so I think it’s best not to try and ride around on a bike as my major means of transportation. Walking is just fine….

      I too am thankful that I don’t need surgery! I’m being a good patient and doing just what the doctor said. Praying for quick healing.

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  2. Awesome sauce. Glad you elaborated about where you live and biking. I was trying to make a point that before even trying to bike, most people are afraid and won’t even try. I grew up biking when there was way less traffic and thankfully, the Portland bike movement has hit the suburbs with more bike lanes. By picking your route cautiously, it is possible to bike safely. I’m just not into saying it’s dangerous without even trying it.

    And I know about Japan’s skinny lanes. I followed my friend (and yours), Janine, in kyoto and there was a telephone pole about 22″ out from the house wall. In the street was a city bus plus a car and since janine biked through that opening, I just closed my eyes and sailed through hoping my shoulders would fit. Here’s hoping bicycle lanes get more precedence in upcoming road projects.

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    1. As I was just saying to kpplaza, when we finally move I’m thinking the area will be fine for bike riding. Wide open, not so many hidden little alleys and such. I’m sure I can ride a bike to where I need to go. That will be a plus!

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  3. This reminds me of my experience in Japan in 1960 when on my bike I was run over by a fellow on a motor cycle. He was drunk. I took him to the police station, hobbling along with a bloody knee. They forced him to pay for my bike repairs (150 yen) and let him go. But I have ridden a bike in most of my other Asian countries and find just as much trouble, in fact even more, at being safe. In India I got knocked over by a bus, and find India far worse than Japan. I rode my bike there for 2 years and found back ways to get to my destinations. In Indonesia I would never again ride a bike as it is the fastest, biggest vehicle has the right away. But Japan was the safest of all places by far. Even China and Vietnam are busy but Japan was safer. I think Japan does have some rules to follow but not paying attention is the problem. We rode our bikes for 2 years in Numazu and never had a problem. But we have years of Asian bike riding experience. I don’t blame you for not wanting to risk bike riding but so much can be seen if one knows the back ways to get to places. Keep safe and protect that knee. Bikes are not good for knees anyway.

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    1. Wow! You were brave to even get on a bike again!! I’ve been surveying the roads where we will live in the future and I’m pretty sure once we move, a jitensha will suit me! Jitensha being the old fashioned style of bike everyone around here rides. I’m looking forward to that!

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