Traveling with a Bike on the Train in Japan

Posted on May 13, 2015
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Posted on May 13, 2015

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216 15
Reading time: 3 min
In this how-to post, I give some advice on how to travel on a train in Japan with a bicycle. In this particular situation, Virginia has a folding bike. However, you can certainly travel on a train with a full-sized bike in Japan too. The rules are the same as a folding bike. A) make it smaller (i.e., remove a wheel and turn handlebars), B) cover it with a bike bag or similar, so that the entire bike is enclosed.

Last updated Oct 13, 2018

In Japan, traveling on the train with a bicycle is both a blessing and a curse. These are the pros and cons, as I see them.

Pros

  • You don’t pay extra for taking a bike on the train in Japan. Even on the mighty shinkansen bullet trains. Nada.
  • You can take a bike on any train at any time on any carriage.

Cons

  • You have to partially dismantle the bike. That is, at the very least, remove the front wheel. If your bike is of the folding variety, you’re off the hook – no dismantling required.
  • The bike must be completely covered with a bike bag (or wrapped in something such as a 500 yen large blue tarpaulin).
  • There are no ‘bicycle areas’ on the trains. This means that if your bike doesn’t fold down small, you may need to stay with your bike and move it when people want to move between carriages etc.
    • TOP TIP: Trains stop at pre-determined locations on Japanese platforms; find the end or front of the train that you’re fixing to board – end or front carriages usually have less people in them, and less thoroughfare. You’ll spend less time stressing about whether your bike is getting in someone’s way. I.e., best to put your bike at the extreme end or extreme front of the train, in the carriage entrance area. Also, use the handrails etc to secure the bike from falling over…then just enjoy the ride.

Long story short, if you own a small-wheeled folding bike, traveling on a train in Japan can be extremely straight forward. Here’s how the intrepid Virgina Toy from New Zealand managed it when she visited Sapporo on a whirling academic research visit to Sapporo in northern Japan. I stood back and snapped pictures as she got the bike ready for the train.

Step 1

Pack your panniers into a lightweight fold-up sack, and attach this to your fold-up trolley. You do have a lightweight fold-up trolley, right? Virginia bought this one for $15 at an electronics store in Sapporo.

Packing up a Tern folding bicycle for train travel in Sapporo station, Japan

Packing up a Tern folding bicycle for train travel in Sapporo station, Japan

Step 2

Panniers snugly ensconced in their bag and trolley, time to sort out the bike. Prepare the bike bag.

Packing up a Tern folding bicycle for train travel in Sapporo station, Japan

Step 3

Fold the bike. Virginia travels extensively around the world on academic conference trips and the likes with her Tern Link P24h. The ‘N-fold’ is very simple, and best of all, the bike stays standing upright once folded.

Packing up a Tern folding bicycle for train travel in Sapporo station, Japan

Step 4

Get that bike in the bag. Virginia’s bike bag is a Tern padded ‘Stow Bag’ made of extra heavy duty fabric and has some degree of padding. She puts the bike on planes just with this bag and the bike seems to have survived multiple inter-continental flights.

Packing up a Tern folding bicycle for train travel in Sapporo station, Japan

Step 5

Shoulder the bike-in-the-bag, grab the trolley, and head to the ticket dispenser, parting the crowds like Moses and the Red Sea.

Packing up a Tern folding bicycle for train travel in Sapporo station, Japan

Step 6

Buy the ticket.

Packing up a Tern folding bicycle for train travel in Sapporo station, Japan

Step 7

Squeeze through the gates and look for an elevator up to the platform.

Packing up a Tern folding bicycle for train travel in Sapporo station, Japan

Comments | Queries | Discussion

15 thoughts on “Traveling with a Bike on the Train in Japan”

  1. Hi Rob! Thank you so much for all your information, pictures and explanations!
    I’ll do the lenght of Japan next march by bicycle from Haterumajima to Hokkaido (my itinerary is 3800 km long).
    After that I’ll go to the Phillipines and maybe do another adventure.

    I have a big question, and I really appreciate your opinion.
    Here my question:
    Im between: The Tern Node D16 and the Surly Disc Truck (I wanted the Tern P20 but isnt available in Japan).
    I love the practicity of the Tern but for the same money I can have a better machine perhaps.

    Could you tell me please for which one you would go?

    Thank you in advance!

    1. If it is your only bicycle, I would choose the Surly Disc Trucker. Yes, it will be more effort to put on a plane or train. But considering the following:

      • Time you will spend riding the bicycle: More than a month or two.
      • Time you will spend putting the bicycle on a train or airplane
        • Using a folding bike: Approx. 15 minutes
        • Using a ‘normal’ bike: Approx. 30 minutes

      My point is, there isn’t all that much time that you save using a folding bike versus a non-folding bike. So, better to choose the more comfortable bike for a long trip! I find that the folding bike is convenient for short trips, but for longer ones, I would prefer a larger bike.

      1. Hi Rob sensei! Thank you so much! Now I’ll go with the Surly without doubts.
        Rob sensei I really appreciate your opinion and criteria! And your time for sharing and respond.
        Is so nice when you can make a choice with full understanding and based on someone that really knows and has experience as you.
        Again, thank you so, so much!

  2. Great info. My wife an I have just completed a three year ride around Europe with tern fold ups we are now thinking of riding and train Japan.
    Our web blog is http://www.tbeartravels.com. Search Swiss bike mission. The stories will take you down the Rhine, elb and Oder rivers.

    Foldup bike on trains the only way to travel……such freedom.

    Fred and Bev

    1. Awesome! I am sure you’d love it. The trains are not as bike-friendly in Japan as they are in Europe, but it is perfectly doable!

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