Porocle is a rental bicycle system consisting of specially branded bicycles and docking stations spread out around Sapporo. The name comes from the amalgamation of “SapPORO CyCLE”.
It is currently run as a joint venture between engineering consulting company Docon Ltd, and NTT Docomo Japan. There are currently about 50 docking stations, giving quite good coverage of Sapporo’s downtown and surrounding areas. Most major hotels in the downtown area have a docking station on site, as well as signup service at the front desk. Bicycles can be rented by the day or half hour period, and you can return them either to the docking station you originally rented it from or from any other docking station in the Porocle network. The bicycles are the Bridgestone Mariposa model, a good all-purpose in town bicycle that’s easy to ride, but not a long distance model. The docking stations are solar/battery powered and the bicycles are unlocked with a card key which also serves as the payment system. You can purchase and recharge the card keys by credit card.
To sign up for the system you can go to the front desk of most major hotels. You will be issued a key card with IC reader chip that allows you to unlock the bicycles. A one day plan is available for a 24 hours period at a flat rate of 1,500 yen, or you can sign up to be a member for about 1,000 yen and then rent for short periods at 105 yen per 30 minutes. Unfortunately the system is still in somewhat of a trial stage and information is only available in Japanese. In fact, the current Porocle policy is that you must be 16 years of age or older and a Japanese speaker in order to rent a bicycle. Hopefully the service will extend to non-Japanese speakers and be more tourist friendly in future. For now, you can attempt to get by with a few Japanese phrases and see if the hotel’s front desk staff will let you rent a bicycle.
A word of warning about cycling in Japan. Primarily due to narrow roads and ill-defined cycling areas, most Japanese cities are still not very cyclist friendly. Sapporo has been taking steps to remedy this, and there is currently an experimental bicycle blue lane project being tested along the Soseigawa River Park. For the time being however, cyclists are required to ride at the edge of the car lanes, stopping often to walk their bicycles on the sidewalk when they encounter obstacles such as delivery trucks parked at the side of the road. The official rule is that bicycles should ride at the side of car lanes when possible, and on the sidewalks only when there are no pedestrians. When there are pedestrians cyclists are required to dismount and walk their bicycles. However, this is not enforced and rarely happens in practice, as most cyclists are afraid to ride in the narrow space provided at the edge of car lanes, and motorists often fail to give way. The result is that the roads and sidewalks in Japan tend to be a free-for-all of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, with the police doing little to help sort things out. Expect to be honked at if you follow the rules and ride at the edge of the car lanes, and keep a sharp eye out for cyclists on the sidewalks as a pedestrian to avoid being hit. Hopefully Japan will work out clear cycling lanes and rules (mandatory helmets would be good as well!) in the future as the move towards more environmentally friendly methods of transportation results in fewer motorists and more cyclists.