Client    Rapha
Year        2017

It’s obvious from the abundance of bikes scattered around Hiroshi Ito & Toru Hara’s Tokyo design studio that cycling is part of their daily lives, connecting them to all the subtleties this unique city has to offer.

At Groovisions - the duo’s multifaceted design outfit - they have forged their own path since 1993, working with some of the world's best known brands, yet by their own admission still retaining a sense of innocence - uninfluenced by design trends.

This freedom they strive for also translates in the way they experience Tokyo by bicycle: “You can connect to everything directly, it allows you to really feel the geography and understand the city in detail,” explains Ito. The ever-present climbs, the meandering twists and turns, and the intriguing chaos of Tokyo is a perfect playground for exploration by bike. “Unlike cars, you can make an immediate decision to stop and explore. Encouraging spontaneity and adventure, changing the way you see things.”

Tokyo grew organically without any real planning from an amalgamation of different towns – a very Japanese concept, unlike the macro planning of many western cities. “If the city was well organised, there wouldn’t be as many interesting places,” says Ito. Places that never get exposure because they’re hidden are revealed on the bike. “In a city like Tokyo it happens all the time if you’re cycling. And the importance of discovering the place by yourself is what makes it so special.”

Tokyo may be the most populated city on earth, but Japan is an extremely mountainous country with cities growing in the scattering of flat areas that exist. So by default, all cities are naturally close to the mountains and Tokyo is no exception. “When you ride in the mountains, you can see the city, which feels like an imposter,” says Ito. “It can switch the importance of your perspective fairly quickly. When you graduate to longer rides the sense of distance changes with the relative size of the city in your head changing dramatically and your perception of the bike changes with it.”

As a designer, Ito first began accumulating bikes as design objects, and gradually his interest grew from mountain bikes towards road bikes, which was when Hara eventually began to take interest. With the choices he makes Ito looks to the rebels of bicycle design, bikes that break with the norm. “With the bicycle, you can see through the form of the bike to what the designer was thinking. Especially with smaller brands, I can really empathise with their breaking of convention.”

Both designers live close to the edge of the city, and each day’s journey will depend on their feelings - often exploring different routes when returning home. “Because there are so many natural landmarks, like waterways, railways and main roads, I can take very random routes and still find my way eventually,” says Ito.

In the evening, as darkness falls and house lights begin to illuminate, there’s a very present feeling of ‘life’. Because the city is so crammed and chaotic, roads are narrow and houses tightly packed. You’re so close it’s as if you’re riding through people’s lives: the aroma of food being prepared, people returning home from work. “There are so many scenes taking place,” says Ito. “It’s restorative and helps reset my mind. It’s not unusual that my choice of food will be suddenly inspired by a nearby aroma.”

Cycling itself doesn’t directly influence their work, but the act enables the opportunity for creative thought where ideas can blossom. “I ride bikes because it feels good,” explains Ito. “It’s the freest form of transportation in the world and symbolises freedom to me. That’s why it’s important. Just knowing that bicycles are part of my life is a great state of mind.”

This story first appeared on rapha.cc
Watch the Rapha RIDES Tokyo film here

©2019 Lee Basford