Tokyo: Bike Shops and Rental Bikes

Key Points: 

--If you need a rental road bike, the most foreigner-friendly choice is AstutoCC / Tim Smith. They now have an iOS App (find "AstutoCC" on the Apple app store) or you can check out the website here

--For a road cyclist visiting or new to Tokyo, you can get most of what you need for gear and supplies in central Tokyo either at Nalshima Friend's Jingu shop (on Gaien Nishi Dori, north of Aoyama Dori) or Y's in Shinjuku, Shibuya or elsewhere.  Everyone who works at Nalshima is a rider and member of their club team, and so they are knowledgeable, it has a friendly vibe, reasonable prices for Japan and a wide selection.  See below for links to the shops' websites, which include addresses/phones

--Also, for mid-ride repairs and gear, each of Nalshima and Y's has a shop along (or near) the Tamagawa.  Nalshima's Tachikawa is a few blocks off the river on the road that runs directly under the elevated monorail.  Y's is a bit closer to town, just across the road from the path along the Tamagawa, a bright blue building next to the 7-11 that is just past Yotsuyabashi, the bridge that you take to get to Yaen-Kaido or to Takao (this is the only 7-11 that is right on the path along the Tamagawa).

--For having a bike built-up or repaired, if you are in the right geographic area (Meguro/Setagaya), we highly recommend Positivo, our local bike shop.  It is along Meguro-Dori, near the intersection with Kanpachi-Dori.  The owner/mechanic, Koki Nagai, is a real master with a bicycle.  He worked as a mechanic for the Fassa Bortolo team in Europe for 3-4 years, returned to Tokyo and opened his shop in 2004.  He also moonlights as a color commentator for Japanese TV broadcasts of the grand tours.

--If you happen to be in the Takatsu area of Kawasaki (just back from the Tamagawa a kilometer or so across from Futako Tamagawa, we recommend C Speed, opened by our friend Hiroshi Koyama in 2010.  Hiroshi specializes in steel frames, beautiful and rare parts, and both road and track bikes.  Also, Hiroshi rides sometimes with Positivo Espresso or TCC, and he can manage reasonably well in English.  

--As noted below, you won't usually find larger frame sizes in Japan without expensive, special orders. Y's may have some at one or more of its stores.

--Even if you have your road bike, tools and spare parts with you, one reason to stop by a bike shop soon after you get to town will be to pick up a "bike bag" or "rinko bukuro" so you can easily take your road bike on the train.  (See the bikes and trains page for more explanation).

Apologies for any "dead links" below.
There must be millions of bikes in Japan. Everyone who has exited from any train stations in Tokyo has seen them: Parked in the hundreds, orderly in marked lots, tied to lampposts, heaps of abandoned bicycles, city bikes stripped down naked of parts. Sometimes it seems to us, that the cultural value of a bicycle is similar to an umbrella or a lighter: One buys it with the intention to use it for some time, but if it gets lost, one is not too much concerned. In the Setagaya ward of Tokyo with a population of about 800,000, 72,000 bicycles are illegally parked and removed in 2008. Where do all these bicycles come from?
The majority of these bicycles are so-called “Mama-Chari”, a composite of the word for mother (Mama) and a Japanese colloquial expression for bicycle (Charinko), steel utility bikes with a large basket mounted to the handle bar, perhaps a three gear shifter and all kind of heavy sturdy parts attached to it. They normally sell in the price range of 7,000 to 20,000 Yen and are made by the dominant Japanese Brands of Bridgestone, Panasonic and Yamaha or low-cost imports from China and Taiwan.  Other options include battery-assist versions and lots of mini or folding bikes.  You will also see plenty of stylish single speeds, cargo bikes with trailers, and a wide diversity of others.
There are thousands of small bike shops in Japan, catering to the needs of mothers and housewives. For the road cycling enthusiast, mama-chari shops are best avoided. Their knowledge of road bikes is quite limited, the owners speak most certainly no English and the availability of spare parts for road bikes is very limited. A local shop might serve as a good supply point for basic items such as locks, lights etc., but for road cycles, you will have to turn to one of the many sports cycle stores that are springing up around the city.
The greater Tokyo area with more than 30 million inhabitants has of naturally the variety and quantity of bike shops to cater to every need. Japanese are very particular about their hobbies. If they start one, the first thing is to buy the most perfect equipment. A 50 year pot bellied office worker on a beautiful Pinarello bike with a disc wheel creeping up a modest slope isn't an uncommon sight. So there are plenty of good choices
Concept Store
Cannondale, Giant, Trek and Specialized all operate a least one concept store where they sell their own brands of bicycles only and a broad range of accessories and clothing. The number of these concept stores is constantly growing during the current bicycle boom in Japan. There is a list of these shops at the book’s website.
Most other international brands are represented by Japanese distributors who are selling to a vast number of bike shops.
Giant [J]    Specialized [J]    Trek [J]    Cannondale [J]
Large Shops
In and around Tokyo are a number of larger shops with multiple outlets such as Y’s Road, Nalsima Friend, SEO and Friends Shokai. These shops are selling a large variety of bikes and parts and their main advantage is, that many items are on display or stock and you can select, buy and take them home. The chances that you are served by English speaking staff is also higher than at a local shop. 
Small Local Shops

These are small operations usually consisting of the owner-operator and an assistant. The owner tends to be a cycle fanatic rather than a businessman. Most of these are stuffed to the ceiling with bikes and frames of many makers, with components and accessories crammed into the few remaining spaces. Rarely a shop is bigger than 50 m2 and normally they serve also as warehouse for bikes under repair or newly delivered cycles. Below is a list of small shops by area where we had the feedback that they serve their foreign customers well.

Sports bikes and framesets can be up to 20% to 50% more expensive than the equivalent model in North America or Europe. Add in the language barrier, few opportunities to test ride bikes, and the almost complete lack of models in larger sizes ("larger" meaning 54cm and up) in the shop itself as well as in the stock of the importer.
That means that you're often better off buying a bike from abroad.
There are advantages to buying locally, however, if you are the right size. It is good to build up a relationship with a local shop as the owner will continue to give you free service and maintenance in case of troubles. Some shops are unwilling to service bikes that they have not sold themselves. A good shop can also provide advice on upgrades, accessories, and other components that you will need down the line. 
The best chance to buy larger frames is in autumn, as the distributors are stocking next year’s models. Already in spring many larger frame sizes are sold out and the importer will not order again.
Bike Registration
All bike shops in Japan offer the possibility to register bicycles with the police. The cost is marginal and a yellow sticker with a registration number is pasted on the frame to allow for identification of the bike. Registration of bikes bought in Japan is now compulsory, although it is rather rare for road cycles to be checked by the police. Most shops register only bikes which are bought at the shop as if the origin is not known to the shop owner it could be a stolen bike. 
Like in other countries one can buy a new or used bike over the web, with Yahoo Auction being the major provider in Japan and not eBay.  This requires a registration with Yahoo in Japan which comes with a monthly charge and is advisable only for good Japanese speakers. 

Japan is often called the service paradise of the world and this is also true for bicycle shops. Most shops do a very good job on repairing and servicing bikes within very short time. A good small shop can do an excellent job at a reasonable price – you just need to find the right one. On the book’s website you will find a list of small bike shops with a good reputation to shorten the process of trial and error.
Japan is also the home country of Shimano and if one needs spare parts Shimano delivers relatively quick; this might be not the case for many other foreign brands, where one depends on the stock of the importers.
So, if you decided to buy a bike outside of Japan or bring your own used or new bike to Japan, there are several options. The easiest one is to pick-up the bike outside of Japan by yourself and ship it on your flight with your entire luggage to Japan. Depending on the airline and the total weight of your luggage you might need to pay luggage overweight charge. Some airlines seem to charge a flat fee for a bicycle and others are charging per kilogram over the allowed maximum weight (depending on which class you fly but generally 20 kg for economy class).
Given the price difference between buying a bike in Japan and abroad this is still a very attractive option. If you buy in the EU and you live in Japan (proven by Alien registration card), you can also ask for an export declaration from the dealer, so that the VAT (value added tax, 19% in Germany) will be refunded. There is also the TAXFREE system where you are partially refunded at the airport.
It is very rare that you will be subjected to a custom inspection of your bike when arriving in Japan and as long as you claim that it is your bike, used and not for commercial sales, you will not need to pay any tariffs.
If you buy a bike abroad in a real or online shop and ask for direct shipment to Japan, the matter gets more complicated and costly, but not impossible. Some online shops do not ship to Japan. A packed bicycle parcels exceed most national post services maximum dimensions or weights, only pricey courier services such as FedEx, DHL or TNT can handle shipments.
When these commercial shipments arrive in Japan, they are subjected to standard custom clearance procedure. Bicycles are generally not subjected to tariffs (according to chapter 87.12 of the Japan Tariff Schedule) but you would need to pay 10% VAT on the invoice amount and some clearance fees.
Summarizing, there is a risk that the cost will explode, but the lower purchase cost abroad will offset the risk.

If you intend to rent a fully fledged road bike it is not easy to find one one in Tokyo. We rely upon Tim Smith of GS Astuto. His rental business has grown and he is enthusiastic about adding to his inventory as and when demand continues to grow further.He now has an iOS App (find "AstutoCC" on your Apple App store and download it for reservations) or you can check out his website hereAs demand supports it, Tim wants to put bikes in various "depots" in Tokyo, including some major hotels and facilities, so that visitors can get a road bike easily. 

There are plenty of options if you are content with a MTB, a folding bike or even a mama-chari. A rental bike is not forever and on a short trip to Tokyo it might be better to have any bicycle to stay in shape than to stay at home. You will find a list of about 40 providers on [J] [dead link -- sorry] sorted by area that will help you to locate a service close to your location. Some of these services are operated by bike shops, others are run by the local ward office. Rental charges can be very cheap from 500 Yen/day or 2,500 Yen/month for the typical mama-chari. Some are more expensive: HinomaruTokyo Bike! [J] Rents about BMW cruising bikes at 6.000 Yen/day including insurance for the sophisticated traveler.
For English-only speakers there is Tokyo MTB Rental ( [E] which charges 2,900 yen/day, [J/E] for folding bikes (2,000 Yen/day) and Tokyo rentabike [E] for mama-chari with gears at 900 Yen/day.