Japan is seeing a huge rise in the number of bicycles as many areas and streets have been redesigned with bikeways for cyclists. There are also some exclusive long-distance bike trails for serious bicyclists out there. If you visit smaller islands in Japan where public transport is limited, cycling is one of the few ways to explore. However, there are certain rules you should follow if you want to take your bike on a plane, train, or bus.
Japan has a ton of bicycle rules to ensure safety for bikers, car drivers, and pedestrians. These include respecting the road signs, riding responsibly, using proper brakes, etc. Also, you need to carry insurance and registration papers and refrain from riding in tandem.
People who visit Japan as tourists should not consider cycling as they are not allowed to register as per the rules. However, that rule is dysfunctional as you can actually rent a bicycle in most places, although it is better to ride them in less populated areas such as the suburbs. Be sure to ask for more information from your hotel or rental shop beforehand.
In many Western countries, carrying a fully-assembled bike inside the train is usually seen. However, in Japan, where trains are crowded most of the time, this is not allowed. The only way you can bring your bike on public transport is by disassembling it and carrying it in a bike bag called the “rinko bag” or “rinko-bukuro” in Japanese.
Rinko is the process of disassembling a bike and packing it inside a bag to carry without any restriction on public transportation systems such as the train or plane. These bags come in various colors and designs. All you need to do is take off the wheels and additional items attached to the bike. Keep all the separated parts, including the body and helmet (if you have one), in the bag and zip it up. You can use the shoulder wrap that usually comes with the bag to hold it while you commute, or you can simply place it next to you against a pole, seat, or wall.
This really depends on which airline you are taking for your trip as each has different policies regarding the transporting of bikes. Usually, you will have to check-in your rinko bag. Some airlines might charge more, while some might not even allow you to bring your bike even with a rinko bag.
Trains are the most common way of transport in Japan, especially in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. However, trains in Japan do not have separate cars for cargo so a rinko is a must if you want to take your bike with you, keeping an eye on it at all times. For long-distance trains, there are luggage sections in each and every car where you can leave your bike.
Japanese station staff are usually very kind and give accurate information, so you can always ask them if you have questions about taking your bike on the train. Some of them are well versed in English, too.
Buses are also a very common way to get around in Japan as it has low fares and fewer crowds. If you are traveling for long distances, you should be able to find a “Kosoku” bus that has space underneath for baggage so you do not have to shell extra for your rinko bag.
City buses meant for short distances, namely “Noriai” or “Rosen” bus, charge extra. Sometimes you might even have to buy an extra seat for your rinko bag as such buses do not have enough space or racks to accommodate a lot of luggage.
Bikers, rejoice, as boats are probably the best option to transport your bike without any hurdles. If you live by the sea, it is really easy to carry your bike without a rinko bag as ferries usually have space for cargo. Some ferries might let you take your bike without any fee, while some might ask for about 20% of the total fare.
Now that you know how to take your bike on public transport in Japan, you’re all set for your next cycling adventure!