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Travels With An Airhead

Motorcycling in Japan

— by Notch Miyake

When we want to go for a ride, we put on our Kevlar riding suit and full-face helmet, or our fringed leathers and helmet-law-protest brain bucket, and head off across the country or cruise down to the local tavern. Whatever your flavor, motorcycling in America is simply a lifestyle. But in Japan, it is honest hard-working transportation.

One reason for this is the dismal lack of parking in Japan. It is true that to register a car in Japan, you have to prove that you have a place to park it off the street. But these parking spaces are usually at home, which doesn't solve the problem since people insist on driving to places where there is no parking.

It can be said that, in general, there is no automobile parking in Tokyo. But there is a persistent myth, like Elvis sightings, that there are available spaces. So drivers spend all their time driving around looking for Elvis, creating massive traffic jams.

The motorcyclist, however, has no problem in Tokyo, because he can park on the wide sidewalks, along with the bicycles. And lane splitting is legal, so he can zip past all the cars waiting for the two or three automobile parking spaces in Tokyo to open up.

Another reason for the popularity of motorcycles is the narrow streets in neighborhoods like Akasaka, which is well known for its hostess bars (yes, some are topless). It is difficult to walk more than two abreast in Akasaka, while basking in the neon glow of signs advertising hostess bars on each of the five or six floors above, and dodging the motorcycles that race through delivering sake and sushi to the revelers.

Japan is a motorcycle friendly country. But motorcyclists in Japan still have a few hurdles to overcome. For example, to get a license to operate a machine over 750 cc, you must prove you can ride it, and you must prove you can pick it up if it falls over. This is good because it insures that no wimps are allowed to ride real motorcycles, and that there are no K1200LT's in Japan.

On the other hand, 50 cc step-thru scooters do not require an operator's license or registration. And 250cc and smaller machines are exempt from shaken (annual inspections conducted by people who got kicked out of the Nazi Party for being anal). The bias is clearly toward smaller machines. In fact, 400 cc is the most popular size motorcycle.

So, to make the US more motorcycle friendly, we must eliminate all public parking except for two spaces in front of the Bush White House (one must be for handicapped), because nobody wants to visit him, anyway. And we must narrow all neighborhood streets to six inches less than the width of a Ford Explorer. This can be easily accomplished by widening the sidewalks to provide for motorcycle parking. Write your congressman right away and reclaim the streets (and sidewalks) for motorcycles. Ride safe.

— Copyright © 2002 by Notch Miyake.

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