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Dahon Helios P8

Dahon Helios P8
Before I went to Tokyo I'd read that cycling was the most popular way of getting around in the city and this I found it hard to believe, given the traffic. Many streets have cyclepaths, however, and those that don't everyone rides on the pavements - even through crowds, avoiding pedestrians with a zen-like talent.

On my last week in Tokyo I began to notice that lots of people were riding folding bikes - a type of bike much liked by people with boats whom I've always ridiculed as I overtook them on my mountain bike; their little legs spinning the undersized wheels like crazy. This time, however, I looked again and noticed that a lot of the bikes had larger bmx sized wheels, proper gearing, and were keeping up with their bigger rivals.

I soon found some bike shops with huge selections of folding bikes. The fact that Tokyo is such a crowded place and most people live in small flats means that they're very popular for buzzing through crowds then folding up and carrying into your room. Soon I was hooked on the idea of getting one and spending my last days in Tokyo cycling around - and it would also be perfect for keeping on the boat. After a couple of days of research I decided to buy a Dahon Helios P8 and headed over to a big bike shop in Shinjuku called Joker.

It was packed to the roof with lovely, expensive bikes and I just stood drooling for a long time after walking in. One of the staff spoke English well, and when I told him I would take the Dahon he replied, "Thank you." I think it was the first time anyone had ever thanked me for asking to buy something and it was far from being one of their expensive bikes, but such is the politeness and respect in Japanese society that it's just normal. He asked me to come back in an hour while he set the bike up.

When I returned he went over the entire bike with me, took it downstairs in the service elevator, carried it outside, bowed to me, and asked me to be careful. The service alone was worth the price of the bike - which incidentally was two-thirds of the price it would have cost in Britain. I sat on the saddle prepared to cycle off into the Japanese sunset; but the problem was that this was Shinjuku - one of the busiest parts of Tokyo - on a Saturday evening! The streets were so packed with bodies that it was hard to even walk through them - but you can't buy a new bike and wheel it away! I bowed back to the guy from the shop, and as I cycled off, the crowds parted like the Red Sea.

I did 25km that evening and ended up cycling back to my hotel at the other end of Tokyo. The bike turned out to be perfect for crowded streets - the handlebars are shoulder width meaning you can squeeze through anywhere wide enough to walk, and the gearing is flexible enough to let you go very slowly behind people strolling, or accelerate away fast when you get onto open tarmac. In the last days I saw much, much more of Tokyo than I would have walking, and cycling somehow makes you feel more like you belong in a place. I'd highly recommend cycling in Tokyo - either with your own bike or renting one, as it's a great way to get around such a fascinating city.

This bike also introduces a new way of cycling to me as, weighing less than 11kg, it's easy to fold up and carry onto a bus or the metro when you don't want to cycle anymore, and it's much less hassle to take on a plane than a full-size bike. Being able to do some cycle touring in combination with using public transport could prove to be an easy way to travel compared to my last big cycle trip. The tyres are low profile slicks, which are really meant for fast commuting on smooth tarmac so I've let the pressure down a bit to give a slightly softer ride - probably I'll change them over to an all-round touring tyre that'll handle the rough better.

List of Tokyo bike shops
from IAC Tokyo

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