Bicycle Misadventures

So I’m back in Japan. Whoo-hoo. Actually a lot of things have been going on here recently which have contributed to me not posting much of anything. Let’s start with my bike.

bicycle misadventures

The piece of crap I have to ride until my new bike arrives

So I arrived in my new spiffy location down over Tokyo-ish (more ish than Tokyo, sadly) and find most of my stuff has arrived. Awesome. Now all I need is a bike. Due to some bizarre sense of Japanese logic, I had previously discovered that while I could send a 25 kg box (that’s like 50 lbs for my America readers) from my old place to mah new hood (as we say in the ghettos where I was raised) for only 1600 yen (that’s like $15 USD), if I want to send my bicycle (well less than 25 kg), however, then that will be 15000 yen (about USD $140). Yeouch.

Faced with this unpleasant outlay of money a few weeks ago when trying to get all my stuff together before leaving for America, I did what any respecting young man would do in my situation – I ignored everything and hoped it would somehow magically resolve itself while I was in America. Sadly, upon my return to Japan – I found that not only had it not resolved itself magically (or non-magically for that matter), but now I was sitting in the middle of a crowded urban area with no visible means of daily transit (the trains don’t figure into this).

bicycle misadventures

The view from my new apartment (well, kinda)

Thus, heaving a big disappointed sigh at the lack of divine intervention, I called up my friend back in my old place to see if my bicycle was still hanging around where I had remembered leaving it last, and upon hearing it was (cue another sigh at the fact that it didn’t pull a Lassie and set off cross country on its own in search of its owner), I bit the bullet and asked her to send it to me, coughing up the ridiculous sum of 15000 yen to mail a bike that was worth only about twice that new (and believe me, it has seen better days).

So fast forward two days later and with a hearty riiiiing of the doorbell at the godforsaken hour of 7 am on the o’clock Saturday morning, my bicycle arrives borne on the strong shoulders of a strapping young Takkyubin delivery man.

I stumble over to the door and open it.


“Hi! I’m here with your bicycle.” He grunts as he adjusts its heft on his shoulders.

I shoot him a stare and try to rub the sleep from my eyes.

“Ummm, thanks. You know, you really didn’t need to bring it all the way up here.”

He holds it with one hand while handing me a piece of paper with another.

“Sign here please. What do you mean?”

I scribble out a disaster that looks nothing like my name. Japanese never check your signature if you’re a foreigner, so over the years I have taken to scrawling out the most idiotic things I can think of in escalating magnitudes of preposterousness whenever asked for a signature. Once I scrawled out XLMPLHMMPPHHH or something like that in three inch tall gigantic cursive etchings that looked like they were dug into a bathroom stall with a pen knife, capped off by a jagged picture of a smiley face. When the recepient looked at me, I just shrugged and told them that’s how Westerners sign their names, to which they just responded with the standard “sugoi” (amazing) in the rising intonation Japanese will do in the face of things that are not amazing at all, before stuffing the reciept in the cash drawer. It made me want to kill myself.

“Well, I mean, the bicycle parking area is right down there” – I point over the edge of the balcony of the 5th floor on which I live down at the parking lot right in front of the building next to the delivery truck – “and I’m not going to do much with a bicycle up here in my apartment.”

He shoots me a quixotic glance as he takes back the reciept with my “signature”. I went with “cluck cluck chicken” (seriously) this time around in lieu of my name.

“Ummm…” he says, as he sets down the bike.

I debate the situation in my head for a couple of seconds before deciding that it just wasn’t worth the effort to try and get him to take it back downstairs. I sigh my all-too familiar sigh of defeat.

“Well, uh, thank you.”

“Thank you for using Takkyubin delivery services” he replies and hightails it down the stairs before I can even blink. I regard my bicycle with a glum eye for a moment before turning back to my apartment to grab a pair of painfully frilly bear slippers (courtesy of the young lady who lived here before me) to put on so I can haul the damn thing down 5 flights of stairs. Would it have killed them to put an elevator in this place?

bicycle misadventures

Bits of greenery sticking out from building shadows

Anyway, so let’s go to Monday now. I hop on my bicycle and head off to work, whereupon I instantly remember – oh yeah, the rear tire is all wobbly. Damn.

Actually, I had been intending to fix the tire for quite some time, but just never got around to it. I figured that while it would have been a good idea to get it checked out before I moved, I would just eventually take it to a repair shop down here in my new place. After all, how expensive could it be?

Oh famous last words panda.

Anyway, so the tire is wobbling pretty badly and I’m a little concerned so I decide there’s no time like the present to get this nonsense dealt with. So after work I head off to a nearby bicycle shop. I walk in the door.

“Hello! Welcome to [insert name of bicycle shop I forgot here]!” pipes a man covered head to toe in chain grease.

“Heya. Umm, my rear tire is kinda broken. Do you think you can fix it?”

He pops over to take a look. I steel myself for the worst.

“Well, I think – think that it’s just the tire, but not the rim. If that’s the case, it’ll only be 3000 yen (~$30 USD).”

I sigh in relief. $30 bucks? That’s not so bad.

“Cool man, have at it.” I wander off to the rest of the bike shop to browse while he starts in on the repairs. I had figured on it costing around $50… hmmm… maybe I’ll use the remaining $20 to buy myself a bike light or something?

So a few minutes go by and I find myself engrossed in a stupifying self-debate over which velcro strap to buy to keep my pants from getting snagged in the chains (“ooh, this one has a reflective strip on it!” … “but this one comes in a funky red and blue camoflauge color!”) when suddenly the attendant’s voice interrupts me.

“Ummm I’m sorry sir, but upon closer inspection….”



“Well, as you can see, upon looking we can see both the hub and wheel rim are bent…”

He holds out a bizarre assortment of bolts and nuts and slightly warped spoked aluminum and hub-by gear-y bits all jumbled together like one of those metalwork brain teaser puzzles, only covered in significant amounts of chain grease and not resembling something that came off the back end of my bike very much.

bicycle misadventures

Skyscrapers darkening city streets

I politely decline to examine the parts myself.

“So umm… how much are we talking here?”

The man produces a calculator out of nowhere (literally). He starts hammering away at the keypad – leaving it covered in grease stains – while I silently try to figure out where he got it from (“did it come out of ass…!? Cuz’ it sure looked like he reached around and….”).

He sucks in his breath, which I know to be a bad sign.

“Well, including everything, you’re looking at around 22000 yen… (~USD $220)”

My jaw drops.


“Well, that includes a new tire, tube, rim, hub and the labour…..”

“…b…b…but my bike only cost 30000 (~$300 USD) new…!

The man regards me with a curious mix of pathos and bemusement.

“By the way, I noticed you had a registration sticker on it from [name of my old hood]. Did you recently move from there?”

Jesus. Nothing slips past this guy as his words drive in and twist the knife reminding me I just spent $150 to get the damn thing sent over to my new place. I nod glumly.

“Well, I can fix the entire rear wheel, hub, etc. but as I told you that will be around 22000 yen. As you said, the bike is only 30000 yen new and it’s likely that if the rear wheel has already broken, then other parts can’t be far behind. To be honest, I would almost suggest you just buy a new bike, as that’s only 8000 more and everything would be brand new…”

In my mind, I choke on the prospect of an unexpected outlay of $300 USD.

“Uhhh, can you just, umm you know, fix just the tire like you originally thought, and leave the rim and hub and stuff as is?”

“I could but I really wouldn’t recommend it, as it’s very dangerous.”

“How dangerous could it be?”


“What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Most likely the tire will come flying off when you’re riding at high speed and throw you into oncoming traffic.”



“That bad, huh?”

“I suppose it depends on how big the oncoming cars are.”

It takes me a second to pick up on his deadpan sense of humor – I look up to find him smirking – so unusual for a Japanese person. I sigh (for the last time this story, I promise).

“Well, I guess I’ll get a new bike then.”

“Probably a good idea.”

“Probably.” I mutter, casting one last glance at the battered remains of my bike frame hanging on the repair stand sans tire, trying to figure out how I’m going to find $300 in my budget out of nowhere.

I guess I just won’t eat for a month.

Now listening to: “Eminem – One Shot 2 Shot”


I have this set as the “powersong” on my nike+ipod thing. I was skeptical at first that this nike+ipod thing would really help me get off my lazy ass and exercise, but I am pleasantly surprised at how effective it is. There’s something to be said for the motivational powers of being able to know how many calories you’ve burned, or how far you’ve run at the touch of a button. I guess it’s just a sign of how used to instant gratification we’ve become in this day and age.

Anyway, it’s cool to be able to chart your progress automatically, or set goals for yourself, and I have to admit that when I’m ready to give up the ghost, having Eminem start ripping up the track with some hard raps really does give you an extra few minutes boost.

Money well spent, I think.

71 Reactions

  1. kc

    sucks that you have to spend money on a new bike…but new bikes are fun! if i could afford it i’d ship you my bike b/c i don’t use it. it’s a bmx with front and back pegs and the frame and handlebars glow in the dark. coolest bike ever. in theory anyway.
    hey i got a job as a third grade teacher in east harlem! can’t wait to read your blogs and see more pics as you put them up. miss you buddy

  2. Jenny

    Hi hi!! Wow! I’m shocked myself too – first for remembering me ;D and then finding out you’re in [the new hood] too! When did this all happen? You’re like practically my neighbor now! I’m over in [next to the new hood] right now – just moved down a few weekends ago.
    *Unfortunately* still doing the ALT gig, but living MUCH closer to Tokyo. ^^ I wanted to see what it was like living near/around the BIG city. ^^ Anyway, please feel free to drop me a line anytime! It’s been 3 years since we’ve been on JET…time sure flies huh?

  3. Anonymous

    Sorry to hear about that, but you could have just bought a new wheel for less. The guy was milking ya for money. Hell, some shops might even have an old wheel that you could have had for free.

  4. michaelpanda

    that’s what i thought too, but the poetic liberties i was taking with the story above not withstanding, actually the rear assembly was pretty messed up. The rim was definitely bent and the hub was off kilter too. i pretty much knew going it it was going to be at least 12000 yen (7000 for rim and 3000 for the tire, 2000 labour). i guess i just didn’t realize the hub etc. was messed up as well.
    i had actually taken the bike to two other shops who gave similar estimates (~12000-16000) but couldn’t fix it because they didn’t have the parts in stock and it is the middle of the obon season here in Japan so all the suppliers are closed for like 2 weeks. I ended up at the third guy (the one in the story) after hearing he might have the parts in stock (which he did), though it turns out to be a moot point since i ended up buying a new bike.
    i did debate just repairing the tire (or even trying to get it repaired at one of the other places for cheaper) but truth be told, the bike needs new brakes (not expensive, but add another 2000 yen to the price) and the rear derailler is shifting quite harshly and might need to be re-hung or whatever (4000-5000 yen?). When all was said and done, i figured i might as well buy a new one, since i’ll be riding it a lot more now that i’ve sold my car.

  5. andrew

    so I am a little unclear here.
    The bike guy thinks it is better for you to do all you can to avoid the notoriously bad drivers here, as opposed to your running the risk that your bike will, at some point, try to pitch you into said bad drivers?

  6. Kittos

    When I was in Japan, I bought a second-hand bike for 5500 yen. It was a bleeping good bike. Just my 2 cents.

  7. bellish

    Even after escaping [the hood] you still have the worst luck. I hope more things go your way from here on in.