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Bicycling

Relax and Adventure

Plan Your Trip

Bicycling

Japan may not come to minds of many bicycle riders as tour destination when they plan bicycle trips overseas. Believe it or not, Japan is an excellent destination to travel by bicycle. An island country with compact and diverse geography, Japan caters to all levels of fitness and bicycling experience. There are thousands of kilometers of outstanding bicycling routes with wide selections of spectacular sceneries and terrains. Roads are generally maintained in excellent conditions throughout the country, even backcountry roads in remote provinces. Countryside has quiet and relaxing rides with surprisingly low traffic. Numerous natural hot springs located in many parts of Japan are bonus, because it is a perfect way to finish a long day on a saddle. At own pace, cyclist feels the nature and discover a lot of hidden attractions of Japan.
 

Route Planning

Sufficient route planning makes a bike trip efficient and minimizes stress. There are two major factors in planning bike routes in Japan: First, traffic in big cities or on major highways could be very heavy, and wouldn’t be pleasant and could be dangerous. Wherever possible, try to avoid large cities and stay on smaller local roads which are generally quieter and greener. Thanks to Japan’s well-developed train system, you do not have to get out of big cities by bicycle. Instead, you can hop on the train with your bicycle and transfer to a good starting point for the ride. On the train you are required to put your bicycle in a bicycle carry-on-bag called rinko-bukuro, which can be purchased at most major bicycle shops at around 6,000-7,000yen.
Second factor is Japan’s geography. More than 70% of Japan’s land space is mountainous, so it is essential to consider how many hills to include in your route. Some of the hills could be challenging to ride. Even the coastal roads often have hilly segments. You can check elevation profile of your route with English-Japanese road atlas published by companies such as Shobunsha and Kodansha. Alternatively, you can plot your route and see its elevation profile at websites such as mapmyride.com.
For those who prefer to leave route planning to locals, there are a few operators who offer bicycle tour packages that include accommodation, English-speaking tour guide, support vehicle and rental bicycles at various locations.
If you do not have much time for a long bicycle trip, you could still enjoy short rides with rental bikes. Bike rental service is becoming available in many locations throughout Japan at a train station, tourist information center, bicycle rental shop, or hotels.
 

When to Go

Weather conditions should be considered carefully when planning a bike trip in Japan, particularly for a long tour. Spring (March to early June) and autumn (October and November) have mild temperatures and little rainfall, and hence the best seasons for bike trips in Japan. Although it is perfectly possible to explore Japan by bicycle in other seasons, there are less desirable seasons for bike tours. In Japan, summer usually begins in June with a few weeks of rainy season. Once it is over, much of Japan becomes hot and humid. Exceptions are Hokkaido (which does not have a rainy season) and mountainous regions in the Honshu Island. Late August to September is a typhoon season. In December, January and February, many parts of Hokkaido, Northern Japan and the mountainous areas of Central Japan are covered with snow, and become very cold. On the other hand, bike trip is still possible in these months on the Pacific coast side or in the southern regions including Kyushu, where the climate is relatively mild and dry during winter.
 

Basic Traffic Rules

Visitors who ride bicycles in Japan should note the following:
• Ride on the LEFT side of the road. Cars also drive on the left side of the road in Japan.
• Obey all traffic regulations. On a bicycle you basically follow the same rule as a car. Stop at all stop signs and red lights, yield the right of way and use hand signals when turning, slowing down or stopping.
• When riding with others, ride single file.
• Be as courteous to other road users, but do not assume that all drivers you meet will be as well mannered and observant as you are. Pay extra attention at intersections, driveways and other spots where motorists may not be able to see you. Motorists in Japan are used to slower bicycles, and may under-estimate your speed.
• Cyclists must yield the right of way to pedestrians. Do not ride on sidewalks except on those with ‘Pedestrians and Bicycles’ signs.
• Any bicycle in Japan must be equipped with a light, bell and a rear reflector.
• Tandem bicycle is prohibited except in Nagano prefecture.
 
Useful Links
Following websites provide practical and useful information about bicycle trips in Japan with suggested destinations and routes.
http://www.kancycling.com
http://www.japancycling.org