Asakusa to Waseda on a Bicycle

I biked to school for the first time today, on my spiffy pink new Giant, and I never want to get on a train again. The trains are nice, reliable, and wonderful if you're not in a state to be riding across a city, but I had forgotten how much I love dodging traffic, using my legs, and seeing a city's surface, rather than just the inside of its train cars. The ride takes me past Asakusa, with its poop-topped Asahi Beer building, through "Electric Town" in Akihabara, and alongside the JR as it snakes down TK river.

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Looks like a turd, no? I don't get it. The building on the left looks like a glass of bear with a foamy head on top, but the giant gold poop is entirely inexplicable.

Google maps told me it would be about a 14 kilometer ride, which I put at an hour or so. I figured I might get lost, though, so I left an extra half hour. I was pretty confident about finding my way, since my directions used a straight shot south along the Sumida river, a little wiggle over to Iidabashi, and then Waseda-dori all the way to the school.

I was having a great time for the first ten minutes of my ride- there was a freshly-paved bike path, a nice tailwind, and I was cruising along faster than I expected. At some point, though, I realized that I didn't see the buildings I expected on the other side of the river, and asked my cell phone where I was (it doesn't have GPS, but they use cell towers to triangulate your position with pretty adequate results). It put me about as far south as I had expected, but a few miles of big, congested streets to the east. My house is on a sort of peninsula, bordered by a wide river on each side, and I had picked the wrong one.

Spatial awareness is impossible in Japan. I can find my way anywhere in San Francisco on a bike, I've got a general sense of Portland, and if I go to most new cities, I can get online and figure out the layout of the downtown area enough to get where I want to get without much hassle. No luck in Tokyo. Gridded streets are nonexistent, the signage sucks (really, really sucks), and especially out in the suburbs, the tiny roads wind back and forth, completely disorienting me. It doesn't help that you spend a lot of time in train tunnels; my brain tends to position myself relative to the station where I disembark, which is sometimes 180 degrees opposite to the station where I boarded.

I need to find a good bike map, but neither the bike shop I bought my bike from nor google seem to know anything about something like that. I think I'll be able to make my next commute pretty quickly, rather than the 2+ hours it took today as I learned the route, but for future expeditions, I definitely need a navigation aid. I'm not shelling out for a GPS, so maybe a map and compass makes the most sense. Tokyo seems so huge when you take the trains, but once you hop on a bike, it shrinks tremendously. Especially in my backwater suburb, where it takes an extra transfer just to reach any major subway or train lines, a bike doesn't take too much extra time, and is a lot more fun.

More thoughts on bikes here once I've ridden a little more. For now, here's my route to school:

It's about 13-14 kilometers. I think I'm going to test out a few different routes the next few times I go, because this one's simplicity (first follow a river, then train tracks, then a single road) intersects with an unfortunate amount of foot and auto traffic. I think finding some side streets for the worst parts is a good plan.

I figured that the bicycle would be relegated to a school commute for
the most part, since drinking and riding is a recipe for a fat ticket
or a cracked skull, but I recently found that most train stations have
cheap, 24-hour bike parking (usually for about $1-2 per eight hours).
Excellent! Ride your bike into town, have fun, and pick it up the next
day.