Frequently Asked Questions about Cycle Touring in Hokkaido

Posted on Aug 1, 2018
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Posted on Aug 1, 2018

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Where we can, we try to pitch in our two cents in the Facebook group discussions and respond to queries here on The Hokkaido Wilds website. A few queries do get repeated, however. So here's some nuggets of wisdom about taking a bike on a train in Hokkaido, registering a bike in Japan, and other small but significant kinks in the perfectly planned Hokkaido cycle tour.

Last updated Dec 14, 2018

Note: This is a work in progress. Please make a comment below if you have any specific questions you’d like answered. We’ll strive to respond as soon as possible.

Can I use a bear/cow/hiking bell on my handlebars while cycling in the city in Hokkaido?

Short answer: There is no clear law regarding hiking and/or bear bells on bikes in Hokkaido. You’ll probably be fine.

Long answer: See this post.

Is it illegal to ride a tandem in Hokkaido?

  • Short answer: On almost all public roads, yes, it is illegal – you are not allowed to ride a tandem (sorry Graeme and Betty). On designated cycleways, no, it is not illegal – you can ride a tandem. BUT, I would find it impossibly unlikely that tandem bicycle riders would encounter the law being enforced. See Tokyo by Bike’s reasoning here. Furthermore, upon calling the Sapporo Cycling Association, a representative said they couldn’t imagine police calling well-equipped tandem tourers out (they’d certainly never heard of it happening).
  • Long answer (with references): As far as Japan national road law is concerned, it is permissible for as many people to ride a vehicle as there are seats to do so (See Article 57 of the national Road Traffic Act – in Japanese). Bicycles are classed as vehicles, so for all intents and purposes, the Road Traffic Act allows as many people on a bike as there are saddles/seats. However, the national Road Traffic Act has a provision which allows for prefectural bylaws to override the national Road Traffic Act in regards to ‘light’ vehicles (keisharyou – 軽車両), of which bicycles are a variety (Article 57-2) . Unfortunately, according to Hokkaido road law, two- and three-wheeled cycles are not allowed to have more than one person riding them at the same time (Article 10-1 (p.10) of the Hokkaido Road Traffic Law).
    • NOTE: This rule does not apply if 1) you are on a signposted, designated cycleway or combined cycle/pedestrian pathway (as defined by Chapter 6, Article 48-14 of the Road Act) or 2) you are 16yrs and over carrying up to two children 6yrs and under on approved bicycle seats or 3) you are operating a business whereby you offer transport to up to two people on a bike with appropriate apparatus to do so (Article 10-1 (p.10) of the Hokkaido Road Traffic Law). Furthermore, if your bike has 4 wheels (or more), then you can have as many people on it as there are seats.

Do I need to register my bicycle in Hokkaido/Japan?

  • Short answer: For most people reading this page, the answer is no. If you don’t live in Japan, you do not need to register your bicycle.
  • Long answer: I just called the Hokkaido Police to find out a definite answer to this issue. I said “What if someone from overseas, who has no Japan address or phone number, comes to Japan for cycle touring for a few months? They plan to be here for an indefinite period of time, but will not have a Japanese address or telephone number during that time.”

    Here is what I was told (paraphrased): “Bicycle registration is only required by law if the owner of the bicycle has a Japanese residential address and phone number. In order to register your bicycle in Japan, you must have a Japanese residential address and telephone number. Therefore, because the cycle tourist has no Japanese address or telephone number, they cannot register their bicycle. If they are stopped by police for any reason, they should explain the situation – i.e., that they have no Japan address or phone – and that will be no problem at all.”

    Just to make sure, I just called the Tokyo-based Tokyo Bicycle Registration Association (http://www.bouhan-net.com), and they confirmed what the Hokkaido Police told me – officially you can’t do bicycle registration without some form of Japan-issued ID that shows a Japanese address and telephone number. A bike shop will probably happily take 500yen from you and do the registration for you, using your current hotel address…but you are under no obligation to register a bike if you’re not living in Japan.

Can I take a bike on a train in Hokkaido/Japan?

  • Short answer: Yes, but it needs to be partially dismantled and fully covered in a dedicated bicycle bag. 
  • Long answer: Take a look at our in-depth post here.

Comments | Queries | Discussion

18 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions about Cycle Touring in Hokkaido”

  1. Hi Rob , thank you for this website .
    If you were to get another small wheel travel or folding or suitcase or minivelo bike which would it be ?
    Brompton , Bike Friday , Moulton , ect .
    And how would you spec the gearing and tires ?

  2. Thanks for the great info. My question is where can we use our credit card to get yen in Hokkaido or do we need to bring cash with us?

    1. Hi Margie, thanks for the question. Yes, you can get cash out using a foreign credit card. The most reliable option is ATMs at 7-Eleven convenience stores. These are very common in mid- to large-sized cities in Hokkaido. You should encounter a 7-Eleven on or near your route at least a couple of times a week, no matter where you go in Hokkaido. Counter-intuitively, bank ATMs are the least likely to take foreign cards. Other convenience stores such as Lawson, Family Mart, and Seicomart also sometimes have ATMs that take foreign credit cards, but the stores that do are fewer and more far between.

  3. Hi Rob,
    Your site is proving invaluable to the last minute planning of our June (40th birthday/finished the master’s degree) cycling trip. There are three of us flying over from Vancouver, Canada. I have four questions for you if you have time!
    1. Can we put our bike boxes on the train into the city from CTS rather than ride in?
    2. Do you recommend a specific hotel or guest house that would be bike-friendly and potentially willing to store folded up cardboard bike boxes and extra gear while we are out touring?
    3. What would be a good second leg of our tour? (details below)
    – arrive June 10, start cycling the beach/Niseko Hills route and be back in Sapporo on June 14th (so, 4 riding days) (one friend is flying out on 15th)
    – on 15th, resume riding from Sapporo and be back by the 18th (that’s 4 more riding days)
    4. Finally, we are not going to camp… doable?
    Thanks so much. I used to follow your instagram account until getting rid of social media – makes me wish I was still riding and exploring Asia on a regular basis!
    Cheers,
    Chris (+ Joffre & Rob)

    1. Great to hear, Chris.

      1. Can we put our bike boxes on the train into the city from CTS rather than ride in?
      Yes. So long as the bike is covered (either bike bag or box), you’re set (https://hokkaidowilds.org/traveling-with-a-tern-folding-bike-on-the-train-in-japan).

      2. Do you recommend a specific hotel or guest house that would be bike-friendly and potentially willing to store folded up cardboard bike boxes and extra gear while we are out touring?
      I don’t personally know of any…but I’m sure there must be…try posting this question on https://www.facebook.com/groups/alt.2600/.

      3. What would be a good second leg of our tour?
      Really depends on what you want to see/do, and how many kms per day you want to do. What about bringing a very basic tarp or super compact bike bag – you could cycle across Hokkaido to Abashiri if you’re willing to put in some big days (https://hokkaidowilds.org/cycle-touring/abashiri-to-sapporo-trans-hokkaido). Or cycle up to the top of Japan (https://hokkaidowilds.org/cycle-touring/japan-far-north-rishiri-rebun). Then get a train back from either of those places.

      4. Finally, we are not going to camp… doable?
      There are minshuku (民宿) pretty much everywhere in small towns, if you are OK with the uncertainty of whether there’ll be somewhere to stay or not. They are essentially Japan’s equivalent of AirBnB, but have been around before the Internet was a twinkle in Berner Lee’s eye. They can be pretty good value, like $70 per person per night, including a huuuuuge dinner and breakfast. Not all minshuku have online booking options though…and if they do, they’ll be in Japanese. There are, of course, larger ryokan Japanese inns (旅館) and hotels in larger cities.

      I hope this helps!

  4. Hi Rob. First & foremost many thanks for an excellent & informative website – brilliant! I live & work in Thailand (18 years on Koh Samui) & plan on doing a 2-3 weeks trip to Hokkaido on my Brompton in either September this year or June next; I notice that you already have a number of ‘recommended’ routes but was wondering what route(s) you would recommend if I wanted to get up into the mountains / National Parks as well including some of the coastal routes & nearby islands? Please note that my Brompton is geared/set-up for touring in the mountains so no issues there & obviously the beauty of the Brompton is the ease of jumping on & off all forms of transport if need to connect / combine the routes…

    Many thanks in advance Paul for any advice you can give on the above.

    Cheers – Mark.

    1. Coast and islands (plus hiking on Rishiri), I would recommend hands down the Rishiri and Rebun route. Great hiking on Rishiri: https://hokkaidowilds.org/cycle-touring/japan-far-north-rishiri-rebun. Here’s a PDF topomap for Rishiri that we put together: https://cdn-images.hokkaidowilds.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/rishiri-island-topomap-A3-Ver2.pdf

      For some hiking in and around the Tokachi/Daisetsu area, consider the central Hokkaido hikes we have on the site – all those are accessible by bike (although will mostly be out and back to trailheads).

      1. Thanks Rob – very much appreciated.

        Would you say this is all ‘doable’ on a Brompton? Also, is there a Brompton reputable dealer / place to by spares / repairs etc in Sapporo?

        Thanks again mate – your site has inspired me to ride Hokoiddo!

        Cheers,

        Mark

        1. Would you say this is all ‘doable’ on a Brompton?

          Most certainly! I wouldn’t bat an eyelid doing all the long routes (except for the trans-Hokkaido bikepacking route) on my 20″ folder.

          Is there a Brompton reputable dealer / place to by spares / repairs etc in Sapporo?

          Yes – the Shugakuso Store in Sapporo is very good, has plenty of parts etc. See the first store on this list: https://hokkaidowilds.org/bike-shops-for-cycle-touring-gear-in-sapporo-city

          1. Brilliant Rob! Thanks mate – I really do appreciate you taking the time to reply with your knowledge & advice on cycling in Hokkaido.

            Top man.

            Mark

  5. Pamela James-Martin

    Hi Rob
    My husband and I are looking to bring our road bikes to Hokkaido for around 2-3 weeks. We want to time it so we get at least the beginning of autumn. We would prefer to spend a few days in 3 or 4 locations and do day rides, but would also like to go to Daisetsusan national park. What timing would be the best to catch some autumn colours? What means are there to get transfers of bikes and luggage from one location to another in Hokkaido.

    1. Hi Pamela, around mid-September is the best time for autumn colors in the Daisetsuzan National Park. Early October is good for autumn colors in the lower areas around Sapporo etc. Transferring bikes is a little bit complicated in Hokkaido, but not impossible. The most convenient is the train (see this post: https://hokkaidowilds.org/traveling-with-a-tern-folding-bike-on-the-train-in-japan). You’ll need a lightweight bike bag of some sort to put your bike in. Also note that train stations don’t allow bikes to be rolled onto the platform, and unfortunately you can’t roll a bike onto a train directly. You’ll need to ferry your gear and bikes from the ticket gates to the platform (sometimes up stairs). Long distance buses are another option – they will also require bikes to be put into bike bags. I hope this helps.

    1. Hi Patrick, from what I understand from their website (in Japanese: https://www.vanilla-air.com/jp/service/non-standard-baggage), you pay the extra charge for the bike, but your total checked luggage including the bike needs to be within 20kg in total. It looks like you pay 1000yen for every extra 5kg over and above 21kg (https://www.vanilla-air.com/en/service/checked-baggage). Not a bad deal. As for recommended airlines, it pays to just check all the options to see who has the best deal for the dates you want to fly. All airlines that operate within Japan are super good at handling bikes nicely.

  6. Rob, are you able to suggest some options to use as a base for day rides of around 60-100kms into the surrounding countryside and mountains? We are a group of road cyclists rather than cycle tourers, looking to spend 4-5 days doing day rides from each of maybe three different bases. Many thanks. Phil T.

    1. Hi Philip, I would suggest looking into Niseko (southwestern Hokkaido), Furano (central Hokkaido), and Utoro (eastern Hokkaido). There would be at least half a day driving between each of these locations though. Take a look at the Hokkaido Cycle Tourism website for some nice road-cycling routes (here).

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