Kyoto On Two Wheels

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Photo by cliff hellis

Being the hub of a thriving tourist industry that attracts millions of visitors each year, Kyoto has dozens of world heritages spread through the city. How do all these visitors travel around the city? Public transit consists of two subway lines, which go past many central areas but doesn’t reach many of the famous temples, and there is also the notoriously difficult to understand bus system.
 
The best way to get around Kyoto is by bike. There are bike lanes all over town, especially around Gojo, Oike and the small roads around Shijo. By bike, you can easily get around the town’s historical sites or go cruising out by the beautiful Kamogawa, the main river in Kyoto and one of the real treasures. Kyoto city is laid out in a checker board fashion, built after the Chinese imperial capital Xian 1200 years ago, and is easy to navigate. It is also very flat which makes it a wonderful bicycle friendly city.

Taking the above mentioned into consideration, the most effortless way for visitors to get around town is to rent a bike. Here is a selection of places with English speaking staff where you can rent a bike:
 

Store Location Link
Kyoto Eco Trip 1 min from Kyoto Station www.kyoto-option.com/en
Nanakomachi 5 min from Kyoto Station www.nanakomachi.com
J-Cycle 4 min from Shijo Station www.j-cycle.com/takatsuji/en
KCTP Multiple locations www.kctp.net/en

Do you live in Kyoto but haven’t gotten around to buying a bike yet? It just might save both your health and finances! There is everything from mom and pop places where you can get a second hand mama-chari for 5995 yen to chain stores and more fashionable shops downtown. I bought my second hand mountain bike from Eirin, which is a Kyoto based bicycle shop. They usually have English speaking staff and provides both new and second hand bikes.
 
Despite being a good bicycle town, one of the problems with Kyoto is bicycle parking downtown and around stations. When I was new in Kyoto I once paid upwards of 1000 yen an hour while parking next to Kyoto station. That being said, Eco parking is worth checking out, having about 30 parking stations in Kyoto, where you can park free for a couple of hours and then be charged at an hourly rate. There is also always the alternative of using, for example, Aeon mall for free parking. When you take your bike to enjoy Kyoto’s nightlife in Potoncho there is a parking-lot that only charges 150 yen per day. Kyochari(only Japanese) is my recommendation for finding bicycle parking-lots in Kyoto.

If you decide to park illegally on the streets, you will be blocking the way for pedestrians and at the same time as you are summoning the tow truck that maintains Kyoto city regulations (Jorei). However, if there is no other option: read the leaflets that the tow-truck-drivers post before they go out on their raids. They appear on signs, announcing the dates that bikes in that area will be towed. They mainly raid downtown areas or places with a lot of illegally parked bikes such as train stations. You have to dish out 2300 yen to get it back. The truck will drop them off either at Jujo or at the Nijo depot. 

There are a few places that should be avoided by bike in Kyoto. Once I was stopped by an angry OL (Office Lady) when I was cruising around Shijo. It’s nowadays forbidden to ride bikes on Shijo street, ever since the street was widened for pedestrians. I would also avoid Teramachi street and the many Shoutengai (shopping streets) where you have to get off your bike and push.
  
You need to be as careful driving on the road as on the side walk, which often are crowded with local tourists and unpredictable pedestrians. Despite the rules, cyclists in Kyoto often use the sidewalks because of the dangers of the road, such as badly parked cars, delivery cars and sleeping taxi-drivers ignoring the bicycle lanes.

Aside from common sense, remember that these rules apply in Japan: A registration of bicycle (Bohan Toroku) is a requirement as crime prevention. Many of the traffic rules are similar to those of driving: riding on the left side of the road, obeying stop signs and traffic lights, etc. Since June 2015, there are updated bicycle laws which forbids: holding an umbrella while riding, riding with more than one person one bikes that aren’t designed for it, riding on the sidewalk (unless there are signs indicating otherwise) and riding abreast with other bicycles.

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Your Entry to Japan.
  • Melinda Haley says:

    Just wondering: I saw a post stating it’s illegal to use your phone while riding a bike (fair enough). Would mounting a phone to the handlebars (so I can look at google maps and not get lost) count as usage?

  • Hello Kyoto, and thanks! Kyoto Cycle is a great page that gave me a lot of inspiration writing this post.

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