RISE OF THE RENT-A-CYCLE
A Leisurely Way to Tour Cities and Tourist Spots (February 5, 2004)
More and more people are taking to two wheels to get around
cities and resort areas. Cycling is an enjoyable, efficient, and inexpensive means
of transportation, and bicycles have the added bonus that, unlike cars, they don't
pollute the air. As bicycles gain favor, popular tourist spots and city governments
have been launching rent-a-cycle services that enable visitors to make their way
around at their own pace, stopping along the way to take in whatever sights interest
them. These services are finding favor with foreign visitors, who use them to
broaden their holiday experience beyond mere sightseeing.
|A passenger rides in a velotaxi. (Jiji)
Touring Kyoto's Temples on Two Wheels
Kyoto, long renowned as a tourist haven, attracts around 480,000 foreign visitors
every year. Nowadays the savvy sightseer in Kyoto can rent a bicycle at the nearest
train station, roam around taking in the city's famous temples and shrines, enjoy
a ride amid the scenic natural splendor of the surrounding area, and return the
bike at his or her hotel. This is the new way to tour Kyoto - by bicycle.
Bicycles are delivered and collected by an organization called the Kyoto Cycling
Tour Project (KCTP). In Kyoto, with its many narrow lanes and one-way streets, bicycles
are a common means of transportation, and cycle rentals are set to exceed 20,000
per year in the near future. Tourists from Europe and North America reportedly
account for 15% of that figure.
The KCTP has created 23 different cycle-tour routes, including a six-hour tour
of historic homes and another tracing sites of interest from around the time of
the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Rather than a whistle-stop tour of the sights,
these trips offer participants a more leisurely experience and a chance to gain
a deeper appreciation of Kyoto's many attractions, and this has made them very
popular. Rental fees vary, depending on the type of bicycle, from ¥1,000 to
¥3,000 ($9.52 to $28.57 at ¥105 to the dollar) per day, with an additional
¥500 ($4.76) charge for having a bike delivered to or picked up from a hotel.
Guides are also available to accompany visitors on the tours and provide detailed
insight into the places visited.
In Tokyo, meanwhile, tourist-oriented rent-a-cycle operations are proliferating
in districts where young people congregate, such as Odaiba and the Omotesando-Aoyama
area. It's easy to get from one local hot spot to the next on a bike, and over
short distances cycling is a lot faster than riding the subway. Traffic jams,
the bane of every motorist, pose few problems for cyclists. One of the great charms
of cycling around town is discovering little shops and restaurants tucked away
in nooks and crannies, where they can't be seen from a passing train. Cyclists
even gain a new perspective on the office buildings that make up the urban landscape
of the workaday world.
Battery-Assisted Bikes Also Available
For people who would rather not do the pedaling themselves, human-powered taxis
are also now available in Kyoto, as well as in Shibuya, Roppongi, and other areas
of Tokyo. Known as velotaxis, these covered vehicles have three wheels - one at
the front and two at the rear - with pedals for the driver and room for two passengers
on the rear seat. They travel at about 10 kilometers per hour, a leisurely pace.
In Europe, where they are also in use, velotaxis are operated by private businesses,
but the velotaxis imported into Japan are operated by a nonprofit environmental
organization. The fare is ¥300 ($2.86) for the first 500 meters and ¥50
($0.48) for each 100 meters thereafter. In addition to tourists, velotaxis are
also used by elderly people to go shopping and by people traveling to and from
Battery-assisted bicycles, which can carry their riders up steep hills easily,
have also become popular rental items. When first introduced, battery-assisted
bicycles had a reputation as expensive and too heavy, but recent improvements
have made them much easier to use. Rates are low in the city of Nagasaki, the
home of Holland Hill and many other hilly streets, where a battery-assisted bicycle
can be rented for two hours for only ¥500 ($4.76). The number of tourists
and others requesting these bikes, which can travel up to 60 kilometers on a single
battery-charge, is rapidly increasing.
Related Web Sites
Kyoto Cycling Tour Project
Tokyo Tourism Info
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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