While commuting by bike in Japan is not as common as it is in Europe yet, as the Japanese work-life culture changes it is becoming a much more popular way of transport to the office. The central Tokyo area has a pretty decent bike infrastructure so you can rest assured that commuting on a daily basis is a pretty relaxed way of getting to work. Here we will give you all the tips and recommendations you need to get you started as a bike commuter.
Buying a bike
So, you have made up your mind and decided to start a biker lifestyle in Japan; now, you need a bike! The first thing that you have to decide is what kind of bike you want and how much are you willing to pay for it.
The “classic” bike in Japan
In Japan, the standard bike is called Mamachari (ママチャリ). While it’s not the most beautiful bike you will find, it is indeed a really cheap option and a great starting point in the biking world. Just be careful though; this won’t be a good idea if your commute has a lot of challenging roads or it is a really long ride (more than 5 km each way).
You can buy this type of bike at almost any local bike shop or medium-sized supermarket and it should be around 7,000 JPY up to 15,000 JPY.
Long commutes and hills are a no-no for the mamacharis, although some inhabitants of the island do it. But in my opinion, it’s a pretty hard experience and it will take its toll on you after a while.
You could go for an electric-assisted mamachari bike (e-bike) but it won’t be cheap. Besides, part of the beauty of the bike commute is the workout, so an e-bike is out of the running for now.
So let’s get to business. If you are willing to expend a little bit more and have a more challenging commute (10-20 km with uphill roads), your best option will be a city or cross bike. This will cost you from 15,000 JPY to an exorbitant 150,000 JPY, but you will receive a great experience through all your commutes.
And when you think about it, it’s not that expensive. Just one train trip will cost you around 350 JPY. To make it worth your money, you only need to take around 171 trips by train. That is only about 85 days of commuting or 4 months of riding your bike Monday to Friday. Piece of cake!
These bikes can be found at any major supermarket (Aeon Mall, Don Quijote, Seiyu) or if you want a more advanced bike you can go to any major bike retailer (Giant, Trek, Specialized or Y’sRoad).
Now that you have a bike, we need to get it ready to hit the road: first, by obeying the official Japanese transit rules and second, ensuring you have a safe ride. There are a couple of things that you need to have to comply with the official transit rules here in Japan.
Bike official registration (自転車 防犯登録 (jitensha bouhan touroku)): usually this will be done by the store clerk that sells you the bike and it costs around 500 JPY. However, if you buy your bike online you will have to do it yourself at this link http://www.bouhan-net.com/regist/online.html
Bike insurance: traffic accidents and tickets are something serious so be sure to get good insurance for your bike. You can do it at most convenience stores at the self-service kiosk or online on sites like https://www.rakuten-sonpo.co.jp/family/tabid/997/Default.aspx
Front and rear lights: REMEMBER TO KEEP THEM CHARGED! You can get these at any 100 yen store or online on sites like https://www.amazon.co.jp
Brakes: Both front and rear brakes are mandatory, so sadly no fixie riding while in Japan.
Helmet: Even though it’s legal for adults to ride without a helmet, you shouldn’t be doing it. The brain is the most valuable organ of your body so you better take good care of it.
Repair kit: The only thing worse than a flat tire is not being able to repair it. So don’t forget to get a quick repair kit and an extra tube for your bike (you can get really cheap ones at 100 yen stores).
Fresh towel and facial sheets: Make sure to take a clean towel and a couple of facial sheets, especially in the summer, to start the day fresh and clean.
Train VS Bike
After reading all this you might be asking yourself, is all the hassle really worth it? After all, Tokyo’s train and subway system are famous for taking you everywhere safe and sound. So let’s crank some numbers to ensure this will work for you.
Your usual commute by train will be around 12,000 JPY per month. That’s 144,000 JPY yearly or 600 JPY per day that you could be saving. You could either use that money for a nice breakfast after your ride or put it every day in a piggy bank and save enough for a nice weekend retreat to Hawaii (or wherever you want) by the end of the year! So it’s not small beans what you could save.
Your body will appreciate the movement before and after at least 8 hours behind a desk. It doesn’t matter if you commute 5 km a day or 20 km, just by moving your body you’re helping it to be healthy. Riding at a decent pace (15-20 km/h) you will be burning at least 35 calories per kilometer. So if you commute 15 km round trip you will be burning around 500 calories per day. You can have a nice dessert or even a couple of beers every night without the guilt!
Also, your mind will surely be happier than if you had to go through the hassle of boarding a train during rush hour every day.
Now this can be a deal-breaker if you live on the outskirts of Tokyo (more than 20 km away). Sadly, riding to work every day probably won’t be your best option. But cheer up; you can always leave extra early once in a while to enjoy a nice ride to Tokyo.
Now, assuming you are in the inner Tokyo circle around 10 km away from your office, here is where things get interesting. The average walking distance from your house to the train station and then from the station to the office is around 5-15 minutes each; that’s up to 20 minutes each morning. To that we have to add your train ride, which should be at least 3 or 4 stations, so that’s an extra 10 minutes. Finally, you have to take in consideration the waiting time for the train or the changes of lines, coming to a total of 35 minutes per day on the overall train commute.
On the other hand, if you ride your bike at a really relaxed pace (15-20 km/h) you can be at the office in no more than 30 minutes. If you put the pedal to the metal and go a faster pace (20-25 km/h) you can make it in as little as 20 minutes. So yeah, as amazing as it sounds you probably will be faster than the mighty Japanese trains if you ride your bike.
Riding your bike to work is an amazing way of commuting, saving money and keeping a healthy life through most of the year in Tokyo. Just make sure that your 課長 is OK with it first!!
Mexican coder in Japan.
When I’m not coding, I’m either riding my bike or having a beer.
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