GPS navigation for cyclists gathers speed

July 28th, 2010 by Felicity Hughes

Tokyo Zoo Project allows you to take an animal shaped bike tour of the city

Tokyo Zoo Project allows you to take an animal shaped bike tour of the city

One of the best ways to get around Tokyo is by bike: the city’s cyclists are able to whizz down alleys too narrow for most traffic, sail the opposite way down a one-way street and bypass traffic jams by hopping up onto the sidewalk when necessary. Cycling around the city this way you won’t get much hassle from local policemen, who tend to turn a blind eye to such minor traffic infractions, but you might find yourself stymied by the maze-like nature of Tokyo’s streets.

These days there are a number of GPS devices available for the adventurous cyclist who wants to explore the city streets, but with so many phones possessing GPS capability is it worth investing in such a device? Surprisingly, while car-compatible GPS apps for cell phones proliferate, there’s not much available for cyclists yet. As mentioned earlier, bicycles have more access to the narrower byways of Tokyo’s streets, so using a pedestrian app like AU’s Easy Navi Walk is preferable to a system designed for motorist that might have you cycling down polluted traffic clogged streets.

In April this year DoCoMo updated their car navigation system, iMapFan, to include a mode aimed at cyclists to allow users to identify bike friendly routes. At ¥315 a month, DoCoMo’s system has the edge over devices such as Sony’s NV-U35, which costs nearly ¥30,000. The problem though is that, unlike custom-made devices, no accompanying handlebar mount for cell phones has come out on the market, meaning that cyclists still have to keep stopping to consult their maps. Also, the NV-U35 is waterproof, so unless you’re buying a brand new waterproof phone you might find a cell phone impossible to use in wet weather.

To promote NV-U35 (which was released on the market earlier this year), Sony has come up with a fun summer campaign that allows cyclists to discover the backstreets of Tokyo. Pedal pushers can follow a series of themed routes that describe the shape of an animal through the city streets by using the gadget. Each route has a cute name to suit its species, for example, “The Giraffe Who Came To Compare His Height With Sky Tree Tower.” That route takes you past the site of the tower (which is currently under construction but still a pretty impressive height of nearly 400 meters) and includes recommended coffee shops and scenic spots to stop off at along the way.

Currently there are three routes available on the Tokyo Zoo Project website, but by August that will have grown to 10 to create a zoo of animal routes that spread out across the city. The general public are also invited to submit their own ideas for routes via Twitter (@tokyozoopj) making the campaign interactive.

If bicycle navigation systems take off, local policemen are going to spend less time giving out directions and more time making sure people are observing the rules of the road, making the advent of GPS both a good and bad thing for cyclists.

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2 Responses

  1. Regarding GPS:

    I understand that an iPhone can give you an accurate English map of Japan. However if you need a real GPS, in English, I believe you need to do the follwoing:

    1. Import a Garmin Vista Hcx model from America
    2. Buy a third party map of Japan in English from

    This is how I hike and cycle in Japan.

  2. Can you search with Sony’s Nvu35 using romaji/English?


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