After 18 years of running tokyobike, he is still as youthful and optimistic as ever. He talks animatedly about his idea and how it has grown to what we see today, and only reluctantly accepts that it was him and his company that have played the biggest part in shaping the jitenshaseikatsu cycle lifeof Tokyoites.
“As you grow older we lose our sense of adventure,” Kin chan reflects, talking about the freedom you feel on a bike as a child. “Before tokyobike, people would just ride to the local train station to then get a train, or to the nearby shops. No-one would think about going any further. People would squirm at the idea of cycling between Shinjuku and Shibuya even.”
Tokyobike, and subsequently a host of other city-based bicycle brands that have cropped up, have allowed people in Tokyo to access the city and culture in a way that was not possible before. If you are on a road bike, stopping and starting is a hassle (not to mention the Lycra); and the classic mamachari was too heavy to go too far or often. Tokyobikes are light, beautiful, and easy to ride and maintain and they provide a lifestyle that connects the user to Tokyo, to their community, and to each other. In a non-cult-like fashion, it must be noted.
Although primarily based in Yanaka, shops have expanded to various other neighborhoods of Tokyo over the years as well as to Japan and the world. Shop locations aren’t chosen, rather “they happen organically”. “When we have the opportunity to open new stores, we don’t ask about how the city is for riding or what bicycle competition exists there, we ask things like the strength of the community and what shops and eating places are nearby.”
This philosophy applies to what companies they work with too, be it as a collaboration, goods to stock, or for in-store pop-ups. These are as far ranging as limited edition bikes – such as with Harajuku Oshman’s, hand soaps, backpacks, shoes, and stationary. Most often the profile of such a company is small, local, and also community focused.
The staff each have unique backgrounds, with only a smattering of ‘bike people’. That is not to say the bikes don’t have good specs of course. Tokyobike makes sure that each component is of a very high standard: this process includes trips to the factories, and updating the bikes if newer or better technology is developed. Kin chan puts it simply, “People are drawn to the brand. If the product is ‘happy’, our staff can be happy, and customers can be happy”.