The Rise of Illegal Electric Bicycles in Kabukicho | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The Rise of Illegal Electric Bicycles in Kabukicho

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Electric bicycles traveling at a tremendous speed.

Electric bicycles are all the rage now in the nightlife district of Kabukicho, Shinjuku. At night, a large number of large electric bicycles are parked on the street, and more than 100 bicycles can be seen in a few hours.

While ordinary electric bicycles are fine, the problem with these bicycles is that they are as fast as mopeds.

Fashionable electric bicycles are more expensive than bicycles that are commonly sold, and the most mainstream bicycles cost about 330,000 yen, depending on the manufacturer.

These electric bicycles are also called e-bikes and are sold separately from electric scooters.

They are different from other manufacturers in that they can be customized with special seats, lights, and other custom parts, making it possible to create an original bicycle.

However, there is a problem with this bicycle. That is speed.

We spoke with Yusuke Yamano (X-account @yamanoyy), an expert on electric bicycles.

“In Japan, electric bicycles are required to have limiters installed, as they are not allowed to provide electric assistance at speeds exceeding 24 km/h, according to the standards of the Road Traffic Law. However, some electric bicycles produced overseas, designed for private road use, may not originally come with limiters, or they can easily have limiters removed through app integration or the introduction of external components.

Japanese-made electric bicycles typically have models with a motor rated output of 240W. Even if a motor with higher power is installed, it would be essentially futile due to the standards of the Road Traffic Law. In contrast, electric bicycles from overseas often have models with a rated output of 500W or 750W, comparable to motorcycles.

In a state without a limiter, operating a high-power motor at full capacity can easily achieve speeds of 50-60 km/h. While this is a violation of road traffic laws, these bicycles, with their appearance resembling regular bicycles, are challenging to detect, and many such bicycles can be seen even in Tokyo.” 

In Japan, the assist power must be 1:2 in relation to the ratio of pedaling by a person. The Road Traffic Law also stipulates that bicycles cannot be ridden without pedaling, and that the power of the assist decreases after 10 km/h, and the ratio of assist to pedal power reaches zero at 24 km/h.

However, in Kabukicho, there are bicycles with illegal assist ratios that can reach speeds of 20 to 30 km/h with just a light foot on the pedals.

Most of the people riding such dangerous bicycles are catchers.

Catchers living around Kabukicho ride these electric bicycles to appear on the streets where their workplaces are located. It’s essentially their commuting vehicle.

Why did these electric bicycles become popular? Catchers in Kabukicho share their thoughts,

“It’s because they look cool. The people who catch the bikes have an old-fashioned yankee temperament, and they like vehicles that look like motorcycles. This bicycle has big and thick tires. It can also be customized. They are better looking than ordinary electric bicycles. They want to ride a bike that is different from the norm, and it has become a fad”

The advantage of these bicycles is that they are easy to use and provide powerful assistance for distances that would be too far to cover on foot.

It is no wonder that catchers, who are active until late at night, utilize them to come to the street without worrying about the last train or cab. The ease with which they can be illegally modified to distinguish themselves from others is probably another reason why Catch has taken notice of them.

However, it is also true that these types of runaway behavior and illegal riding on bicycles are also a problem. We spoke with people in Kabukicho about these illegal riding practices:

“I often see people riding with two other people. They are moving around in the alleys, just like a quick ride. They are moving through the downtown area at a very high speed, and there are some dangerous situations where they collide with pedestrians. Driving without helmets on those bikes is scary. It feels like a major accident could happen at any time.”

It is not surprising that accidents can occur due to illegal driving. It is even more dangerous to drive in narrow places like the back alleys of Kabukicho.

Also, if the bike has been modified, even if the brakes are powerful, it is highly dangerous because it runs at the same speed as a moped. One can only hope that no serious accidents will occur.

Electric bicycles lined up in a row
Electric bicycles lined up in a row
Electric bicycles lined up in a row
Electric bicycles lined up in a row.
Electric bicycles lined up in a row.
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