Watch out for the mamachari!
My partner, Stuart, was merrily walking along the pavement minding his own business when he saw a little old Japanese man cycling in his direction coming the other way. No worries though. There was loads of room and just the two of them on the pavement.
Errr wrong. Whichever way Stuart went, the little old man went as well... until the inevitable happened and the bike and Stuart ended up in a bit of a messy collision. There are certain things you need to be careful of when it comes to cycling in Tokyo. Being on two wheels lets you go at your own pace, stop for a break when you want, and explore the hidden backstreets that often get missed in the city. But you need to know what you're doing before you climb onto your saddle.
So what are the road rules you need to know before you get on your bike? These are the most important ones:
You will see many people cycling in Tokyo on the sidewalk or pavement. In quieter areas this is fine, but it can be rather traumatic during busier times of day for everyone concerned. If you're Stuart, it's pretty traumatic even when there's nothing but you and the bike on the pavement!
In fact, it's not actually legal to ride on the pavement, but it's accepted by the majority so.... it's up to you. Be warned though. if you do happen to have an accident and hurt somebody while they are walking on the pavement, you will be held responsible. Our advice would be to stick to the roads when you're cycling in Tokyo and make sure you know what you're doing when it comes time to park up and stop for some sightseeing.
When you find yourself wanting to stop and take a closer look at something, make sure to park your bike correctly. When you're cycling in Tokyo there are specific areas for this and they're usually easy to find just look for all the other bikes if you're not sure!
Why not just park your bike up anywhere? If you do leave your bike in the wrong place, it is likely to get carted off to the pound by the bike police, and the only way to get it back is to go and pay the fine. Definitely a hassle you want to avoid. And as with any other country, you should never leave valuable items with your bike and make sure you lock it up securely. Tokyo is a safe city but there's always someone who's willing to help themselves to your possessions.
And what happens if your plans for cycling in Tokyo include taking your bike on the train?
If you are planning on taking your bike on the train while you're in Tokyo, you'll be happy to know you won't have a problem. As long as you follow a few rules.
There is no extra charge for taking your bike on the train, but you must carry it in a bike bag. The more serious you are about biking, the more serious your bike bag needs to be. If you travel with your own bike and need to take it on the plane with you, then the quality of your bike bag needs to be even better.
But what if you just want to rent a bike while you're here?
There are three excellent companies that provide visitors with everything they may need if they want to try cycling in Tokyo. We've listed the links to their sites below with a brief description of each to give you an idea of what each is about. The sites are in English and you can book or ask questions either by email, by telephone, or in person once you arrive in Tokyo. Here they are:
1. Cycle Tokyo!
First on the list are 5 hobby cyclists in Tokyo who decided to set up their own website, Cycle Tokyo! Their idea, and it's a great one, is to encourage others to explore the city on two wheels just the same as they have. We managed to grab an interview with the founder of this group, Ats, which you can find it over in our Tokyo people section, on our Cycle Tokyo page.
What makes Cycle Tokyo! unique are the detailed maps, plans, and actual route information they provide. They also include all the fun or hidden areas that many tourists never see because they just don't know they're there.
Don't forget to check out their recommended courses and decide how you'd like to spend your day cycling in Tokyo.
2. Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute
If you want to rent a bike during your Tokyo vacation check out the Japan bicycle promotion institute. They have a relaxing route mapped out around the Imperial Palace and tell you where and how to rent a bike nearby if this is the only cycling in Tokyo you want to do.
And so to wrap up, let's go back to that little old man on his bicycle called a mamachari...
Beginning with what on earth's a mamachari?
If you're cycling in Tokyo you're bound to come across several hundred, probably more, mamacharis. A mamachari is a very basic shopping bike and just about every Japanese family I know has one tucked away somewhere. Mamachari literally means 'mum's bike'.
Many Japanese people use a faithful mamachari to get around their local area. But you wouldn't want to go too far on one as they don't have any gears and are a bit clunky to ride. For local shopping trips they are great though. Just be wary of people talking on their cell phones, holding umbrellas and trying to cycle at the same time, or that little old man whose wobbling right at you as you're minding your own business walking along the pavement.
How was Stuart after his minor collision? Just a few bumps and scrapes. Nothing serious. Although the old guy was pretty shaken up and needed some time to catch his breath before heading off again looking for his next victim ; )
If you do want to go cycling in Tokyo, make sure you check out the companies above and see which one is best suited for what you want to do. Then, when you're ready, start to think about any other tours you'd like to take as part of your Tokyo itinerary. There's plenty to choose from over on our Tokyo tours page.
Have a look and see what you think. And if we're missing something let us know using the email address at the bottom of this page. We may know where you can get what you're looking for even if it's not on the list.
Wouldn't you love to find a guidebook that is just for first-time visitors to Tokyo. Find those all important things that only a local would know like: what to expect at the airport, what Japanese is most useful for a traveler to know, what packing tips are specific for Tokyo, what should you do in an emergency, the basics of using the trains, and much more. Head over to Taming Tokyo today and judge for yourself.
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