Cardinal rule #9 of living in Tokyo: Buy a used bicycle.
Why you need a bicycle in Tokyo
There is almost nothing that has not fit, or been made to fit, in the basket of my yellow mama-chari.
Now how does one explain the mama-chari? The “mom bike”, perhaps? It’s something of a dignified workhorse of a bicycle, equipped with several or more of the following: basket, child seat, kickstand, built-in lock with a teeny, tiny key of which you might want to make several dozens of duplicates. There’s little that has not been accomplished while riding the mama-chari—smoking, eating, catching up on cellular correspondence, endurance racing. No lie.
Inherently practical in a city too crowded for cars, bicycles are also incredibly affordable to maintain and use, especially in conjunction with the ubiquitous train system. While you can purchase your bicycle new at a department store or specialty shop, reconditioned bicycles do the job just as well and much more cheaply.
Where to get a used bicycle in Tokyo
Tokyo Silver Jinzai centers
Secondhand bikes are often retailed by “silver jinzai” centers, or state-sponsored senior citizens’ work centers, that dispatch the skills of retired folk.
For a few days every month, buyers can pick out impounded bicycles that are assembled by the truckload on a vast lot at the Silver Jinzai centers across Tokyo.
Bikes are then fixed up and ready for retrieval within a few days. Prices range from ¥6,700 to ¥15,500. Opening hours vary, but go early to snag the cheaper specimens. Suginami Green Cycle is a great place to start:
Suginami Green Cycle
There are centers in most wards from Nakano to Minato, check the full list here. Note that this is a not-so-frequently updated government site and we found that a few of the recycle center websites were down recently.
The Musashino-shi Silver Jinzai Recycling Center in Nakamachi is still on and runs a similar service every 4th Saturday of the month from 10 am to 4 pm, albeit on a much smaller scale. Since only around 20 bikes are reconditioned each month, I’d suggest calling in advance to check the stock. (Closest station: Mitaka)
Musashino-shi Silver Jinzai Recycling Center
Recycle Garden Yoyogi
Recycle Garden Yoyogi is a glorified 100 yen store. It stocks bizarre jewelry, smokers’ paraphernalia, and a menagerie of fake eyelashes on the second floor—and reconditioned and discounted new bicycles on the first. Bicycle registration is done on site for ¥500.
A new mama-chari costs between ¥9,500 and ¥14,900, several thousand yen cheaper than they would be elsewhere, according to the employee I spoke to. Strung from the ceiling are used bicycles—a Trek Belleville and a Trek 7.5 FX that retail for ¥70,000 and ¥95,000 new, respectively, but cost ¥39,800 and ¥59,800 at Recycle Garden.
Recycle Garden Yoyogi
Online and other options for finding used bicycles in Tokyo
I haven’t personally visited any of their locations, but the Cycly chain seems like a good option for buying used bicycles in Tokyo and select locations around Japan.
Finally, take a close look at your local bike shops. They often have a secondhand section, especially bike shops in suburbs like Nakano, Shimokitazawa or Sangenjaya. However, their prices tend to be a bit of a mark-up from the recycling centers.
How to sell your used bike in Tokyo
Here I would encourage you to turn to Facebook first. Groups like “Sayonara Sales Tokyo” are well established and you can sell almost anything on them to a broad audience, conveniently in English, and without having to pay any commission.
Craigslist Tokyo is another good option, but these days the Facebook sales groups seem to get the most traction.
Finally, you could sell your bike on Mercari or Yahoo Auctions (eBay is not a thing in Japan). However, you would need to do it all in Japanese and pay a commission to the platform, which is currently 10%.
Getting a new bike in Tokyo (if you must)
Tokyo Bike Gallery
Tokyo Bike Gallery has one simple concept: comfort above speed with attractive designs. This place isn’t huge but has a great range of frame designs, colours and even matching flasks and pumps. Prices range from 44,000 yen to 76,000 yen. So popular, Tokyo Bike now has branches in London and Sydney.
For light, fixed-gear bikes, go toDiner. The owner’s original brand is Cartel Bikes, which matches the performance of a track racing bike and is also durable enough to be ridden on the streets. Bikes start from 60,000 yen, and you can customize the bike (at an extra cost. of couse). Last we visited, there was English-speaking staff.
Bicycle laws in Japan
In Japan, there are some bicycle laws which need to be followed. Note the following:
- Cyclists ride on the lefthand side of the road.
- Careless cycling can lead to a maximum penalty of a 500,000 yen fine and/or three months in prison. So cycle carefully, always stop at a light and make sure your brakes work.
- Cycling when drinking alcohol is forbidden and can leave you with a penalty of five years in prison and a 1,000,000 yen fine. Put that drink down we say.
- You are not allowed to cycle on sidewalks, unless it is indicated by shared sidewalk signs.
- If you ride a bike while carrying an umbrella, listening to a music device, or talking on the phone, you could face a fine of up to 500,000 yen—put that phone away!
While you might see these rules broken frequently around Tokyo, we recommend against taking the risk!
- 3 Tokyo Cycle Routes to Explore City, Nature and Everything in Between
- Crowd-Free Cycling at Saitama’s Shinrin Koen Cycle Course
This article was originally published in July 27, 2012 and was updated in May 2020.