12 April 2012
Meet Lily Amos
Last Sunday, Amos and I went on a hunt for some bikes. We'd been looking for awhile and were having difficulty finding a pair of granny beach cruisers that weren't terribly expensive. We needed bikes that could scoot us around town, and we wanted them cheap enough that we wouldn't have a heart attack if they disappeared, or if we wrecked them, or when we eventually sell them. (The bikes here have no gears and we live in Seattle; it would be nothing but an ill fated love affair).
On a meandering loop of the city, we happend to pass a bike shop (or jetensha-ya... yeeeeaaa Japanese lessons!) that was having a sale. There on the corner were two bikes - one bright blue and one bright green - that would soon become the newest additions to the little Amos family. (This is the part of the story where Amos rolls his eyes. Never has stopped me, not once).
We got each for ¥8900, which is just over $100 (stupid exchange rate, grumble, grumble, grumble). Still, this is the best deal we found by far. Our bikes came with all the trimmings: baskets, ring locks, bells, lights. We are going to be travelling in style.
I named mine Lily, because she is green like a lily pad (duh.) And I call that: Lily, or Lily Pad, or sometimes Lily Allen, when I feel that she is channeling her most bad ass self. Amos named his the Blue Whale, which, to me, doesn't quite roll off the tongue, but he wouldn't hear of any other options. (What is it with him and names: When I ask him about future baby names, he always says Chiquita. Like the banana.)
Nagoya, and Japan as a whole, is a bike friendly place. It's bike friendly in a way that puts every American city, even stuck-on-themselves Portland and Seattle, to shame. In this Japanese neck o' the woods, bikes are ridden here out of necessity, not because of some Statement. It's just how it's done. As such, it's delightfully practical and no nonsense.
For a country that wears helmets for everything (I'm looking at you, utility man that came to check our breaker and you, parking attendant enforcer), it cracks me up they don't wear them to ride bikes. I may be blaspheming my American indoctrination, but riding a bike without a helmet is AWESOME. It also makes it so much easier to hop on your bike and just go.
The kickstands are 3 sided and go around the back wheel, and it parks your bike more upright. You can park bikes so much closer like this. Not many people carry a lock - there is a permeant ring lock around the back tire. You just close it and remove your key when you park it. No more awkward lock luggin'. Did I mention how much easier it is to ride a bike here?
We have bells on our handles, though we never use them. It's one of those things that is Not Polite in Japan. Here, you pass people on the sidewalk only when there is room to maneuver (bikes are on the sidewalks, not the streets). If the sidewalk is full, you ride very, very slowly until there is room. It is not just about you here, bucko.
Yesterday was a truly rainy, rainy day, so I tried to be the ultimate Japanese-woman and ride with an umbrella. Yes, that's how it's done here. One hand on the handlebars, one hand holding the umbrella. It looks so easy, so classy, so effortless. The riders stay dry in their khaki jackets and wool suits. The clear umbrellas glide above the wet sidewalk.*
Me? When I did it? Oh, I failed so miserably. I wobbled when I pushed off. I couldn't go in a straight line. The umbrella kept falling in front of my face (thank god it was clear). A little, old Japanese lady was watching me from across the street and trying so hard not to laugh.
I was hysterically inept.
I was also quite wet when I finally made it to my destination.
It's okay. I still love Lily Allen Amos, and we'll just keep practicin' with that umbrella. Or stick to riding on the sunny days.
* I know... I really should have a photo of the umbrella / bike action for you, but it was raining so hard, really, buckets and buckets, that I wussed out. Next time, pinkie swear.