The Painful Bikers

Fancy Frontier is Taiwan’s premier anime (Japanese animation) and cosplay expo. Four times a year National Taipei University’s stadium fills with thousands of fans, come to shop at the hundreds of vendors on display, but mostly to rub shoulders with, and take photos of the cosplay stars.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the stadium carpark is a small collection of motorbikes and scooters (with a few cars thrown in for flavor). All feature striking anime graphics, covering their entire bikes. These are the “Tong (痛車)” riders. Translated, it means ‘’painful car’’ and is an offspring of Japanese “Itasha (いたしゃ)’’ culture. The word painful has been interpreted in two ways – one is the painful effect on the wallet such dedication requires; the other, more sarcastically, being the painfully embarrassing nature of these vehicles as viewed by others. In Japan, the motorcycle part of the culture has been further sub-categorised into ‘’Itansha’’; however, in the Taiwan there is no differentiation between motorcyclists or car enthusiasts (I suspect largely due to the lower number of participants).

The Tong sub-culture, has slowly been spreading internationally since the early 2000s. In car-mad Japan this culture started in the car modification community and trickled down to motorcycles (and even bicycles). It became a thing in Taiwan approximately 10 years ago, conversely, starting at the bottom end of the motorcycling community with riders mostly choosing inexpensive scooters for the purpose. As the island grew more prosperous, the trend not only grew but the new-found prosperity allowed people to spend big, the Tong riders were no longer restricted to 250cc’s and under, the era of big bikes had arrived.

Although modifications vary (performance mods such as loud pipes and ECU tuning are common enough, albeit not compulsory) the required modifications are a custom paint or vinyl sticker job, covering the whole bike, that renders homage to the rider’s favorite anime (graphics such as flames or abstract/tribal designs are not permitted, membership is very specific when it pertains to ride decoration). In the case of scooters, the body work often exceeds the value of the bikes themselves.

For your own graphics and decals, go here:

The bikes used are almost exclusively Japanese (although I would guess any full-faring sports bike would fit the bill, after all, bodywork is required to fit the paint jobs); other than the paint, their style is about peacocking (as much LEDs as you can fit into the headlights and pretty much anywhere else on the bike, wheel wells, behind hoses, etc.).

Groups are spread apart, local chapters exist in most of the main cities, however due in part to the difficult road system in Taiwan (motorcycles are forbidden from the freeway network), they rarely meet in large numbers. The groups do often converge at conventions, a place where they can find like-minded people of the non-biking variety. Often, the bikes become a backdrop for a photo with a cosplayer, or an item of admiration for other anime fans, a sign of fandom gone to an extreme where the lines between the regular fan and the lifestyle become a blur.

And in the city, at night, when they pass, a colorful blur is all that can be made out.