More and more riders of fixed-gear bikes--racing bicycles without brakes--are being ticketed by police for riding on public roads.
Riding a bicycle without brakes on a public road is a violation of the Road Traffic Law.
The number of cases in which police have taken action against such bicycles--known as "fixies" in the West and "piste bikes" in Japan--has also increased. "Piste" is a French word meaning race track.
Piste bikes have fixed gears directly linking the rotation of pedals to the rear wheel and are primarily used for track racing.
To stop the bikes, riders must stop the rotation of the pedals, but they can be difficult to stop quickly.
The law stipulates that bicycles on public roads must be equipped with brakes on both front and rear wheels. The Metropolitan Police Department warns that violators face up to a 50,000 yen fine.
In February last year, a 34-year-old company employee crashed his piste bike into a 69-year-old woman on a road in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
The woman fell, hit her head and died. The man was referred to prosecutors on suspicion of serious negligent homicide and violation of the Road Traffic Law.
In May last year, a piste bike hit a 92-year-old woman cleaning a road in Shibuya and the woman suffered a broken collar bone.
The bicycles in both cases did not have brakes. "Such accidents are caused partly because of overconfidence on the part of the riders that they have the skill to avoid collisions with pedestrians," a senior MPD officer said.
The MPD ticketed riders on bicycles with faulty brakes in only two cases in 2009, but the number jumped to 661 in 2010.
By the end of August this year, the number has already reached 614, up 238 from the same period last year, accounting for 52 percent of traffic violations by bicycle riders.
Police in other parts of the country are cracking down harder on piste bikes, with Aichi and Kumamoto prefectural police having taken action against violators for the first time in September.
On Sept. 28, Mitsunori Fukuda, 36, of the TV comedy duo Tutorial received a ticket for riding a piste bike in Tokyo.
Fukuda was stopped by police in Setagaya Ward while he was riding a sport bike with only a front wheel brake.
He explained to his production company, "I thought it was all right if one of the wheels had a brake." He added, "I'll make sure not to do it again."
Goro Murayama, 39, a curator at the Jitensha Bunka Center, which promotes bicycles in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, said an increasing number of young people have begun riding piste bikes recently after seeing them in magazines because they feel the bikes are fashionable.
Fixed-gear bikes usually cost from tens of thousands of yen up to about 300,000 yen.
Though bicycle makers have released models equipped with brakes, some buyers remove the brakes to make them look more fashionable.
In December last year, the MPD asked the Bicycle Dealers of Tokyo, an association of bicycle shop owners, to explain to customers that bikes without brakes are not allowed on public roads.
Because many piste bikes are sold on the Internet, the MPD in February asked Yahoo Japan Corp. and Rakuten Inc., which operate online shopping malls, to instruct bicycle shop operators to explain brake requirements on their Web sites.
An official of Y. International Inc., a chain of sport bicycle shops in Tokyo and the surrounding area, said, "When we sell piste bikes without brakes, we ask customers to sign affidavits that they will not ride on public roads."
Haruka Takachiho, 59, a writer who is also an avid fan of bicycles, said, "Professional bicycle racers who know the most about piste bikes say it's impossible to ride them on public roads without brakes."
"Though some young people ride piste bikes without brakes to be fashionable, they may cause very serious accidents. It's unforgivable to think anything goes as long as it looks fashionable," he said.