The Art of Riding Slowly

The international success of Tokyo Bike finds its grounding
in the experiences that surround the act of cycling.

By Cameron Allan McKean APR 2014

Not peddling so hard is the philosophy behind Tokyo Bike, says founder Ichiro Kanai. “When I ride a bike, I don’t want to feel like I’m riding a bike,” he says, and it seems that even though he runs a bike company, he doesn’t want to feel like he’s running a bike company. Rather than conducting a formal interview in his office, he instead takes me to lunch at his favourite soba restaurant – and then for a long, lazy walk around his local neighbourhood of Yanaka, in Tokyo.

Kanai is friendly and easygoing. He spends our time making jokes and pointing out temples, friends, overgrown trees and ramshackle wooden houses. And while we wander, he tells the story of what has become Japan’s fastest growing, casual bicycle company.

“I’m not a huge bike lover,” he offers as a kind of preface. And as the story unravels, it turns out that Tokyo Bike, which was founded in 2002, isn’t really about bikes at all. Indeed, it’s about the flight patterns of the B-52 bombers that firebombed Tokyo in 1945; it’s about a 90-year-old saké shop; it’s about slowing down, drinking, meandering and obsessing over space, time and style. “I don’t make bikes for serious riders, people who are focused on technical things and parts,” he says, later adding: “They’re maniacs.”

It started “with the name, Tokyo Bike”, says Kanai, helped along by an appreciation for bikes that are “simple, functional, classic…but really, I just wanted a nice bike to ride around the city”.

He had no experience designing bikes and began by sketching the first Tokyo Bike on paper. “I couldn’t believe it when l... Subscribe to read this article in full

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