--For an English speaking foreign visitor in town looking to join group rides, probably Half Fast and TCC are the easiest places to look.
--Half Fast really is that -- very much slow, social, relatively short rides, no rider left behind and food/alcohol consumed at the end. If you are interested in "club rides" at speed, you may be frustrated. I have never tried, since one of the other PE founders told me I would not like it.
--TCC has several sub-groups, including a core of very strong riders. They also have some groups that will ride at a more leisurely pace. And TCC members live all over, so they have rides in Chiba and Saitama as well as on the West side of Tokyo. The TCC bulletin board is active and a fair number of people check it daily and are happy to give advice, let you know about rides etc.
There must be thousands of bicycle clubs In Japan. And they come in every size and location; for every performance level, riding interest and bicycle type. At the Japanese Cycle Racing Club Association (JCRC), an organization conducting cycle races mainly in the Kanto area, more than 340 clubs are registered. What can they offer the incoming foreign road cyclists?
To be in a club can be very helpful to make new friends, ride out together into the hills around Tokyo, get some cool team jerseys and exchange information about tours, races, new bike parts and social events. It is also much easier to register and attend races, in particular if you want to attend team endurance races. Many clubs are linked to bicycle shops and as a member one will get discounts for service and parts. Some clubs are providing accident insurance cover for their members, collect fees and are officially registered with one of the Japanese Racing Associations. But most clubs are just consisting of a group of people who like to ride out together and decided to call their activities “a club”.
SELECTING THE RIGHT CLUB
There are some things to consider when selected the right club. Apart from the more obvious facts, such as that the other members should be as least as nice as oneself and that the type of activities should match your own style of riding. The performance level of all riders should be matching so that nobody has to wait on top of the hills for too long. Bigger clubs such as Nalsima have groups of various levels making different tours on the same weekend, but most clubs are too small to support more than one group. If you want to attend road races it is also better to join a club who does this on a regular basis. And last not least, one should find a club where the balance of sport and social activities is matching the own requirement. You may find some clubs plan drinking meetings in the evening more than regular ride outs on the weekend!
There are a few clubs consisting mostly of foreign residents, but most clubs are, of course, Japanese. Joining a Japanese club is a great opportunity to make new acquaintances and learn about Japan and its people. Many of them will take you in with great pleasure and everybody is nice and interested in you. You might be lending some international flavor to the club! But you should be aware of some of the cultural differences you might run into. Even if not clearly stated, you will also be expected to respect the written and unwritten rules of the club. As a new member of the club you should not question the rules or make proposals for improvement. This can be tiny things like which road to take from A to B (the club is using this road since it’s foundation 12 years ago and will not change), or whether it is OK or not to run occasionally over red lights (it’s not). In the club I rode with for some years, members for asked to bury their punctured inner tubes in the backyard of their house and say a short prayer. So don’t be surprised.
There are some of us freewheeling cowboys who are very much irritated by this tight web of rules and who just want to ride out into the sunset. If you are one of them, think about joining twice. You either need to accept to become more flexible or go out riding out alone
Foreign or mixed clubs - personally we know only four of them - are much more relaxed and not too much concerned about rules and consistency. They are also more open to accept new members, as most foreigners don’t stay forever so that there is a constant coming and going.
JOINING THE RIGHT CLUB
Of the foreign/mixed clubs, the most relaxed and easy accessible is the Tokyo Cycling Club which operates a website under the same name and where newcomers can introduce themselves and find information about planned rides. The TCC is a very loose association of all kind of riders of different levels and one can surely find within riders with the same interests and performance levels.
Positivo Espresso is another foreign/mixed club with only a handful of members and focused on riding in the West of Tokyo. Please check their website for more information.
Half-Fast Cycling is another foreign/mixed club in Tokyo which also offers many shorter rides and social events.
As opposed to Nigerian lawyers, trying to give away huge heritages for free, not many Japanese bicycle clubs are actively scouting for new members. It is therefore rather hard to find especially the smaller clubs and those not connected to shops. Some are simply off-limits, for example university clubs which are only ospen to students or many privately organized clubs are close-knit affairs of old school friends.
As for the bigger clubs associated with bicycle shops, Nalsima operates the Nalsima Frend Team (Frend is Japanese and means “Friends” in English) and is probably the biggest club in the greater Tokyo area. You can find out more about the club when visiting one of the Nalsima stores. The same is true about SEO, also a larger chainstore that organizes own racing events (SEO Cycle festival) and You Can located in Hachioji.
For the smaller Japanese clubs, there is a list of clubs registered with the JCRC and weblinks on the JCRC homepage. Clubs that are racing rather frequently do include KM Ibex (associated with the KM cycle shop), Space Ace, Fitte (Tokyo store), Cicli Hide (Saitama shop), Space (Chiba shop), Pine Hills 90, Vlaams, Comrade (High Level Amateur Team), Piano Piano, Kaneko Inks (Saitama shop), O-vest (Chofu shop) and Maid Servant (very strange jerseys).
The easiest way is to inquire at your local shop if it operates also a cycle shop and what kind of activities it is focused on. You can also check the websites about the above clubs, however they are all in Japanese only. Last not least many foreign riders in Japan run their own blogs and are members of Japanese clubs. You can check the blogs, contact the riders and ask them to introduce you to their club if you find them appealing to your interests.
In any case we find it worth a try to join a club and gain easy access to new friends, new roads and new information.
Tokyo Cycling Club
Half Fast Cycling
Pine Hills 90
Another way to get into contact with cyclist in Tokyo is to check out the cycling blog pages on the web. On the Postivo Espresso main page is an extensive list of blogs on the right side labeled "Link Compilation". Some of the blogs are maintained by cyclists based in Tokyo and Japan who are always looking for new riders to join their weekend rides.