Cycling has been a highlight of our stay in Kyoto and our visit to Nara. If you plan to visit, I highly recommend you to check out the bike hire service here and make use of all the service and facilities available. So this post is going to be a combination of sharing our experience cycling in Kyoto and Nara and passing on information about a few things concerning bikes here.
Cycling is common here. I saw all kinds of people on bikes: kids in school uniforms, grandmas wearing aprons, office workers in suits (and women in pencil skirts!), mothers with young children (check out the bike below!), stylish young women and men. I also saw multiple bike shops and bike hire places. More about actually hiring bikes later.
There are cycle lanes that are marked out on the roads and crossings. Cyclists here are classed as pedestrians, so when there is no marked cycle lane, cyclists get on the pavement, which I think makes a lot more sense than cycling on the road like in the UK. (CORRECTION: Our friend Meg from Osaka said “Bikes are classed as cars legally in Japan so we must go car lane except for pavements with cycle lanes. It’s just something we all do illegally“. So, there you go.) I guess partly because cycling a bike is a lot more relaxed here. Few people wear a helmet. NO ONE wears skin-tight lycra outfits. The pavements get slightly chaotic and un-cycle-able at rush hours. But everyone is completely polite and courteous, saying “excuse me” as much as British people say “sorry”.
Bikes are safe here. You don’t need to lock it to a bike rack. In addition, there are a lot of designated bike parking spaces around, especially near subway stations. Using bike parking is a new experience for me and they are great – inexpensive (free, a lot of the time) and convenient!
This is how you use bike parking spaces:
- Push your bike onto the rack. Lock as normal. Then you can leave. The rack locks your front wheel with a “claw”.
- When you come back, go to the fare machine (like a normal car park machine in the UK) and put the number of your bike rack in. The machine will give you a price and you just throw the correct amount of coins in or tap your contactless ICOCA card (equivalent to Newcastle’s POP card and London’s Oyster card). Your bike rack will release your bike and you’re ready to leave!
Cycling is easy here. The city is mostly flat and it’s not very big. In addition to safe parking, Kyoto is easy to navigate. It has a chess board grid layout. It’s hard to get lost as long as you can count. Don’t be deceived by Google Maps though. Because the buildings are densely packed, it gives the illusion that places are further away from each other than they actually are. Look at a map of Newcastle and a map of Kyoto on the same scale to compare:
There is one more thing that I only found out in the last couple of days: Electric bikes are the norm here! More on that later when we get to the bit about cycling in Nara.
We hired our bikes through the guesthouse we are staying in. They have two folding bikes available for guests without extra charge. They also booked two extra bikes from a nearby bike shop for us in advance (for additional cost). When we arrived, we just needed to pick them up.
Because our guesthouse is not close to a subway station, we have been cycling to and from the subway station every day when we go out sightseeing. Yesterday Andy and I went for a bike ride along the river. It was a nice sunny day. The riverside path was quiet with only a few people and groups of happy nursery school kids. We also cycled all the way from Kyoto station home after dark, which took about 45 minutes along back streets. We saw a lot of random places and got to know the city because we had to actually navigate by reading road signs (we had no internet).
Various bike parking spaces.
Because you are a faithful reader of this blog and have gotten all the way to this point, a special tip for you is that JR West Rail offers free bike hire service if you travel with a JR pass (one per pass, first come first served). We were given four electric bikes for the day. They really made a difference for my parents going up the big hill in Nara – and the excitement alone was worth it! You need to check for specific rail passes obviously but I really have to recommend JR West service. They are so helpful and friendly!
Hope this post gives you one more option in travelling around Kyoto and Nara :)