Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Happy is on the road: bicycles in Korea and Japan

Transportation in Korea, at least outside of major cities, was a free-for-all. We saw everything from cars, trucks, and bikes to tractors, 4-wheelers, and gas-powered wheelchairs on the roads. Bicycles were common, but I can imagine riding there to be a risky prospect.

"Happy is on the road" - almost enough to make me start carrying a purse.

Old man with a bicycle at the street market in Osan, South Korea

In Japan, transportation seemed to be much more regulated. Bicycles were much more prominent, and it was interesting to see how they integrated into pedestrian and vehicular traffic. They freely flowed from sidewalks to streets as necessary, and though it felt like it would be easy to get hit by one while walking, it was probably never unsafe.

A typical Japanese town bike at the playground of the Imperial gardens, Kyoto, Japan

Bike parking at a train station

A small shop that sold wire bicycle models. I really wanted to buy one, but resisted the urge to accumulate more useless stuff.

I got the impression that there wasn't much of a bike culture, per se, but that bicycles were just part of the larger culture in general. But in both countries, along with the masses of people using bikes for practical purposes, there was some evidence of an enthusiast camp who rode for fitness and sport. That is to say, they also have roadies in Lycra and mountain bikers pounding down the unpaved trails. And as evidenced above, there were accessories for people who just love bikes.

Nearly all of the town bikes had kick stands attached to the rear hub which allowed the bike to stand freely (visible in the playground picture above). I almost bought one of those to bring home and put on my touring bike. The two-legged stand I have on there now gets in the way of the chain a little bit.

Some bikes also had arms extending from the handle bars with a clamp on the end to hold an umbrella, but it was more common to see people just steering with one hand and holding their umbrella in the other. When not deployed for protection from sun or rain, the handle of the umbrella was hooked onto the seat post while the other end ran back between the wheel and either the kickstand or fender mounts.

It was also not unusual to see people riding around while smoking cigarettes. On town bikes, squeaky chains and brakes were the rule. I'm not sure any of them actually cared, but I wanted to get a big bottle of Triflow and put up a sign advertising free bike lubes.

My observations of Asian bicycle security were interesting, too. The approach seemed to be that, as long as someone couldn't hop on the bike and ride away, the bike was safe. So cable locks were often wrapped between a wheel and the frame, but it was rare to see a bike actually chained to a stationary object. I wish bicycle theft were as small a problem here in the US.

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