A Complete Guide to Enjoying Cycling Routes in Japan!

gunma japan travel guide


Are you a cycling enthusiast? Do you dream of exploring picturesque landscapes and serene roads on your bike? If so, then Japan is the perfect destination for you! With its breathtaking views, well-maintained routes, and cycling-friendly culture, Japan offers an unforgettable experience for cyclists of all levels. In this complete guide, we will show you how to perfect your cycling routes in Japan, ensuring you have the best possible experience. So, get ready to dive into the world of cycling in Japan!

6 Big Things to Focus On in Cycling Route Design in Japan

To help you plan your cycling routes effectively, we have broken down this guide into six main areas of focus. By understanding and implementing these key factors, you can ensure that your cycling route in Japan is not only enjoyable but also safe and scenic. Let’s take a quick look at these six areas:

  1. Strava Heatmaps in Japan Pros/Cons
  2. National Roads & Prefectural Roads
  3. Rindo Forest Roads
  4. Cycling Paths vs Cycling Routes (Rivers & Lakes)
  5. Understanding Japanese Traffic Cycles
  6. Google Maps & Street View

Now, let’s delve into each of these areas to discover the secrets of perfecting your cycling routes in Japan.

1. Strava Heatmaps in Japan Pros/Cons

When it comes to cycling heatmaps, Strava is the go-to service for cyclists worldwide, and Japan is no exception. By analyzing the aggregated GPS data of riders, Strava’s heatmaps provide valuable insights into popular cycling areas. However, it’s worth noting that accessing Strava’s heatmap in Japan requires a paid subscription. Despite the cost, the wealth of information provided by Strava’s heatmap is well worth it.

The heatmap shows brightly lit areas that indicate popular cycling routes. By studying these areas, you can identify roads that are frequently used by cyclists. This information is particularly valuable when exploring rural regions, where it may be difficult to determine if a road even exists. If a road is not highlighted on the heatmap, it is less likely to be paved or suitable for cycling, especially in mountainous areas.

It’s important to note that popularity does not always equate to the ideal cycling experience. Urban areas often have many commuters recording their daily routes on Strava, which can distort the heatmap data. Therefore, it’s crucial to distinguish between popular and ideal roads when designing your cycling route. We’ll discuss this further in the section on Google Maps & Street View.

2. National Roads & Prefectural Roads

In Japan, the road network is divided into National Roads and Prefectural Roads. National Roads, denoted by a specific number, span across the entire nation. While some National Roads may have wide bike-friendly paths, they are generally heavily trafficked and not the ideal choice for cycling.

On the other hand, Prefectural Roads offer a more varied experience. These roads can range from quiet and well-paved routes to busy roads with limited cycling infrastructure. When considering a Prefectural Road for your route, there are a few key indicators to look out for:

  • Winding roads that pass through mountains or hills with nearby bypass tunnels.
  • Few stoplights along the route.
  • Rural areas with minimal residential or commercial establishments.
  • Forested areas, which often indicate less traffic.
  • Proximity to a National Road that is likely to attract most of the traffic.
  • Roads that seem to lead to less-populated areas.

By considering these indicators, you can increase your chances of finding a quiet and enjoyable Prefectural Road for your cycling route.

3. Rindo Forest Roads

One of the hidden gems of cycling in Japan is the network of Rindo Forest Roads. These roads, as the name suggests, meander deep into forests, offering cyclists a tranquil and scenic experience. Rindo roads come in various forms, from smooth pavement to gravel or even dirt paths.

Rindo Forest Roads are often the quietest and most picturesque routes in Japan. They provide a break from car noise and offer a serene atmosphere for cycling enthusiasts. While some regions may have mostly gravel or rugged pavement/cement Rindo, others, like the Kita Kanto Region, boast beautifully paved roads.

To identify a Rindo Forest Road, you can utilize Google Street View. If a road has a full Street View available, it is likely to be paved and passable. By checking the Street View and satellite data, you can get a good idea of the road’s condition and traffic level.

4. Cycling Paths vs Cycling Routes (Rivers & Lakes)

If you prefer a more leisurely cycling experience, Japan’s cycling paths along rivers and lakes are perfect for you. These paths offer long, flat stretches, allowing you to enjoy the countryside at a relaxed pace. In fact, Japan is home to the longest car-free cycling path, stretching over 200km from the ocean to an Onsen hot spring town.

However, it’s important to understand the difference between cycling paths and cycling routes in Japan. Many promoted cycling routes, like the famous Shimanami Kaido, may only include a limited section of dedicated cycling paths. The rest of the route often involves traveling on regular roads, which can be busy and less enjoyable.

To get the most out of your cycling experience, we recommend exploring dedicated cycling paths or routes that prioritize car-free sections. This will ensure that you can enjoy the peaceful surroundings and avoid traffic-heavy roads.

5. Understanding Japanese Traffic Cycles

Japan follows a cyclical pattern in many aspects, including traffic. By understanding these patterns, you can plan your cycling routes more effectively and avoid congested areas. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Japanese holidays are high-traffic periods and accommodations tend to be more expensive. Avoid visiting during Golden Week, Obon, Japanese New Year, and New Year’s holidays if possible.
  • Three-day weekends are common in Japan, resulting in heavy traffic from Friday night through Monday night.
  • Rush hour exists even in small cities and towns, typically occurring from 7-8:30am and 4-6pm.

By avoiding these peak periods and planning your rides early in the morning, you can minimize traffic and enjoy a more peaceful cycling experience.

6. Google Maps & Street View

The final piece of the puzzle when designing your cycling routes in Japan is Google Maps and Street View. These tools provide valuable information about the roads, traffic, and overall cycling experience.

Using Google Street View, you can visually explore the roads and see what it would be like to ride them. This is especially helpful in determining if a road is paved or suitable for your bike. By dropping the little yellow Street View figure onto the map, you can check if the road is highlighted in blue, indicating full Street View coverage.

Google Maps also provides satellite images that can give you a rough idea of traffic levels. If a road appears crowded with vehicles in the satellite image, it is likely to have heavy traffic. However, it’s important to note that these images represent a single moment in time and may not accurately reflect the real-time traffic conditions.

By combining the information from Strava Heatmaps, Rindo Forest Roads, and Google Maps & Street View, you can create a comprehensive and enjoyable cycling route in Japan.

Wrapping It All Up

Planning the perfect cycling route in Japan requires time and effort, but the rewards are well worth it. By utilizing Strava Heatmaps, understanding the difference between National and Prefectural Roads, exploring Rindo Forest Roads, considering cycling paths, being aware of Japanese traffic cycles, and using Google Maps & Street View effectively, you can design a route that maximizes safety, enjoyment, and scenery.

As you gain more experience in route planning, you’ll become more efficient in assessing the quality of roads and making informed decisions. Remember, each journey is unique, and there are always hidden gems waiting to be discovered along the way.

So, gear up and get ready to embark on an unforgettable cycling adventure in Japan! Happy riding!

Cycle Stand in Shimoguri no Sato town on the way to the Minami Alps

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