The eyes of the cycling world may be turning this week to the climax of the Tour de France, yet I think that the love affair between Japan and bicycles is one that deserves much greater international appreciation.
In the West, I hardly ever get on a bicycle — I certainly would not fancy cycling along Britain's busy streets on one. Yet transport me to Japan and every day I am to be found whizzing around the quiet, bike-friendly back streets of the suburbs on my trusty mama-chari (shopping bike — literally, "moms' bike"), performing every errand from getting the groceries to posting letters.
Life in Japan would be virtually unthinkable without a bike — the great expanse of suburbs assumes that you will navigate your way around them by a combination of train and bike. Japanese society and culture seem intrinsically suited to bicycles, which require a degree of safety of environment and intimacy that are alien to many thunderously car-based, brash and crime-ridden Western societies.