Are you familiar with “itasha?” Even if you’ve never heard the word, there’s a good chance you’ve seen an example of it before. Itasha describes cars that have been decorated with anime characters. This can range from some basic stickers on the windshield to full-blown vinyl wraps. The word “itasha” literally means “painful car.” In a more colloquial sense, you could say it means “cringe-worthy car.”
I wouldn’t drive an itasha car, but what about riding an itasha bike? This Canyon Aeroad CFR Tokyo Edition is what I’m talking about. It has an anime design, but unlike a custom vinyl-wrapped car, it comes straight from the factory with a cute pink-haired anime girl painted on the seat tube. It’s Canyon-designed and Canyon-approved itasha. So you tell me, is it painful and cringy to look at? Or is it the coolest thing since Dragon Ball Z?
The Aeroad CFR: Super Fast, but Not Without Faults
Before I scare all the readers away by talking about anime, let’s talk about the road bike underneath the eye-catching paint: the Canyon Aeroad CFR.
As the name implies, the Aeroad is Canyon’s aero road bike which uses deep and sculpted frame tubes to reduce drag. The CFR frame is the top-of-the-line version, which is built with higher-grade carbon to reduce the frame weight by around 100 grams compared to the Aeroad CF.
If you’re a road racing fan, then you might recognize the Canyon Aeroad as the bike ridden by Mathieu van der Poel, one of the sport’s biggest stars. Nearly all of his major road victories have been achieved on the Canyon Aeroad — Amstel Gold, Strade Bianchi, Tour of Flanders (x2), Paris-Roubaix, the 2023 road world championship, and more. He also won stage 2 of the 2021 Tour de France, winning the Yellow Jersey in his first Tour appearance, and holding it for 6 days.
Jasper Philipsen in Green on the Aeroad CFR at the Tour de France. Photo: A.S.O./Chaley Lopez
The Aeroad CFR was also the most dominant bike of the 2023 Tour de France, winning 4 out of 21 stages and the Green Jersey thanks to van der Poel’s teammate, Jasper Philipsen (who also finished second behind van der Poel at Paris-Roubaix).
The Aeroad is clearly a super fast bike, especially when ridden by the best riders in the world, but it hasn’t been perfect. It received a major overhaul for the 2021 model year and there were a few teething issues with the redesign. The seatpost would creak, slip, and/or get damaged due to a faulty seatpost wedge. To fix this, Canyon issued a recall and replaced it with an updated wedge.
The Aeroad also came with a "CP0018 Aerocockpit" integrated stem and handlebar. These clever adjustable handlebars allowed owners to change their handlebar width with a single tool by sliding the drops in and out.
However, van der Poel experienced a dramatic handlebar break during a race and Canyon subsequently asked owners to stop riding their bikes until it could fix the issue. Again, the part was recalled, and the bars were replaced with an updated version.
Then, in 2023, another recall notice was issued for owners of 2XL Aeroad CFR frames. For unclear reasons, the 2XL version of the Aeroad CFR was deemed unsafe to ride, so Canyon offered to replace it with the slightly heavier Aeroad CF, while also refunding owners the price difference as well as an additional $500. (If you’re curious, TPC addresses all manufacturer recalls when servicing Certified Pre-Owned bikes.)
Even though the Aeroad has been one of the fastest and most dominant race bikes over the last few years, it has also been a bit temperamental. Currently, the known issues have all been fixed, so if you’re buying a new Aeroad (or a Certified Pre-Owned one) you can confidently ride it hard. Despite that, first impressions are always hard to shake, and you’ll see many comments on Canyon’s social media posts joking about breaking seatposts or bars.
Last year, Canyon launched the Aeroad CFR Tokyo Edition with a video featuring Japanese trials rider Tomomi Nishikubo doing various high-impact stunts:
If you're a conspiracy theorist, you might think that this video was meant to prove the current Aeroad’s durability (I think that). Furthermore, Canyon may have released the Aeroad CFR Tokyo Edition simply to clear out left over current generation Aeroads ahead of a potential 2024-25 update. If that's true, then I’d say Canyon was pretty successful.
Browsing comments on YouTube and Instagram, the people who like this bike, REALLY like it, and it sold out quickly. The example I’ve featured here sold pretty much the moment it was listed on our site. (We only just managed to snag a few shots before it went out the door.)
I wanted to feature this bike because I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. I’m a car guy and have known about itasha cars for a long time. But seeing that same art style on a bike feels incredibly novel.
Riders out there have already made itasha bikes by decorating their bicycles with anime stickers, but this is the first and only factory anime-painted bike that I’ve ever seen (correct me if I’m wrong!). It seriously looks like nothing else out there. Still, I’m surprised this bike was so desirable, but maybe I’m just getting old.
Itasha: Cringe = Confidence?
An itasha car meet in Japan. Photo: Japan Travel
Anime is more popular than ever. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have invested a huge amount of money into bringing more anime onto their platforms and the dedicated anime streaming platform Crunchyroll is a huge profit driver for Sony. Not only is anime easier than ever to watch, but it’s easier than ever to find other anime fans online who share your interests.
But even with anime’s growing popularity, most of us likely have enough shame to not plaster our car or bike with anime images that will draw (likely negative) attention. What I’ve found though after researching the weird world of itasha, is that expressing, embracing, and perhaps normalizing that feeling of shame might be what itasha is all about.
When exploring the r/itasha subreddit (which has over 36,000 members), it’s clear that the people posting and commenting on these cars KNOW they are cringy. Either that’s part of the appeal, or they truly just don’t care what other people think. People will point, laugh, and take photos, and that’s part of the fun. Some itasha fans are earnest. Others do it out of a sense of irony.
I don't have this sort of confidence. Photo: Danny Choo
As someone who has been incredibly self-conscious my entire life, it’s kind of amazing that there are people out there who are this comfortable with themselves. To drive this type of car or ride this type of bike takes a level of self-confidence that few possess. While looking at these machines makes me cringe, I must give these fearless exhibitionists a bit of respect... maybe.
So Would (or Could) You Ride This Bike?
I actually don’t think the Aeroad CFR Tokyo Edition looks that bad. The bright color scheme is well-coordinated and pleasing to the eye. And when it comes to anime characters you could potentially paint on a frame, the one used by Canyon on this bike is pretty tame.
I searched around, but couldn’t find any info on who the character on this frame might be. Canyon’s marketing copy says it’s “inspired by Manga’s bold characters, vivid colors, and dynamic action sequences.”
As far as I can tell it’s just a generic anime-inspired face. In fact, it’s the same generic anime face Canyon painted on Mathieu van der Poel’s mountain bike for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Hmm, that looks familiar. Photo: Canyon
If you missed it, van der Poel was riding an itasha Canyon Lux in the Olympic mountain bike race. Unfortunately, he dramatically crashed out of the race in the first lap, handing the gold medal to his rival Tom Pidcock.
Daijōbu (are you okay) van der Poel-san!?
This crash might be the most embarrassing mistake of van der Poel’s career, and it completely overshadowed his special-edition frame. (Bonus question: Would you rather crash spectacularly on live TV in front of millions of viewers, or ride an itasha bike?)
If he hadn’t crashed, I do think van der Poel could have stuck to Pidcock until the end. Winning gold in Tokyo on an itasha bike would be something to behold, a true power move. After being robbed of that chance, Canyon decided to recycle the design for the Aeroad CFR Tokyo Edition.
Would I ride it? No. Like I said, I’m incredibly self-conscious. But I know the rider who bought this very bike. He’s a domestic pro, and he has the legs and confidence to ride whatever bike he wants. If he can drop some haters on a frame that looks like this, I imagine that will feel pretty cool.
Extra Credit: Some Other “Interesting” Stuff I Learned
Meet itabasu (itasha bus) and itadensha (itasha train).
Welcome to the bonus section. This section isn’t exactly about the Aeroad CFR Tokyo Edition anymore. I just want to talk about some of the absurd and potentially disturbing things I discovered when I started Googling and fell into the itasha rabbit hole.
Itasha originated on cars, but as we’ve seen with this bike, it can be applied to anything. Anime liveries can be found on commercial trucks, motorcycles, buses, and trains, as well as bags and other apparel. However, the most insane examples of itasha I found were military attack helicopters:
The future of war is... strange...
These are AH-1S Cobras operated by the JSDF (Japan Self-Defense Forces) which feature characters representing cities or pilots. Nose art on military aircraft is nothing new, but seeing it in this form was a shock to me. These itasha attack helicopters were used for recruiting purposes. It makes sense. A lot of young men watch anime, and they’re what the military wants.
This led me to stories about the US sending Marine recruiters to anime conventions. Diving deeper, I then found many strange social media posts showing anime decals being used on weapons, vehicles, and other equipment being used in the current war in Ukraine. Soldiers on both sides are placing anime characters (most of these posts are NSFW so I won't link them) on their gear, perhaps for morale, but also for social media memes.
We’ve reached the point that Gen Z makes up the majority of our fighting forces, and it felt strange (and sad) to realize that the young people currently fighting in Ukraine are no different from the 19-year-old goofball down the street from me driving a car with a massive anime decal on the hood. We’re living in a strange new anime-filled world, and itasha is just the tip of the iceberg.
We won the race, but the REAL victory was the friends we made along the way.
On a brighter note, I also recently discovered a cycling anime called “Yowamushi Pedal,” and it’s insanely goofy. It’s about a nerdy-looking kid who joins his high school cycling team. It turns out he has a massive aerobic engine after riding his heavy, singlespeed commuter bike to the city (a 40-mile round trip) every day for years. He’s a natural climber and just needs support and guidance from his friends to become a champion.
I don’t actually recommend watching this series unless you’re under the age of 16 or already an anime nut. All you need to know is that it’s essentially Dragon Ball Z on bikes (the racing is absurdly overdramatic) and the main villain is a tall character on a hilariously undersized frame. He also sprints like Caleb Ewan. I’ve been sending my co-workers this image on Slack and thought you might get a kick out of it too:
I agree, guy in background. Learning more about itasha was a fun ride.