Worst place to cycle in Japan

Justin

Speeding Up
Nov 12, 2016
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Coming from Sydney, which is by far the worst place I’ve cycled (hyper-aggressive drivers, poor roads, a dearth of good, scenic routes close to the city, no big climbs, etc.), I rarely go through a day when I don’t feel grateful for living in Japan. It may not be the best place in the world for cycling, but it’s gotta be right up there, and anyway, it’s so much better than what I came from.

That got me wondering: is there anywhere in Japan that’s actually bad for cycling? A few weeks back, I was going through Kumagaya on my way from the Arakawa to the Tonegawa, and I remembered how much I hate going through that town. Maybe it’s just the routes I’ve tried that suck — they were all busy roads with little-to-no shoulder, and the traffic was much more aggressive than what I’m used to in Japan.

A pal once told me that Fukuoka is a notoriously bad place to cycle due to angry drivers. I haven’t cycled there myself.

Are there any other places in Japan that have a reputation for being (relatively) bicycle-unfriendly?
 
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dastott

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May 10, 2012
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Fukuoka
Been cycling around Fukuoka for a few years. Seen a handful of road rage drivers and the drivers do use their horn more than in the UK or Thailand where I have also cycled. It is a very good place for cycling just outside the bigger cities.
 
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Justin

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Nov 12, 2016
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@Half-Fast Mike I’d love to know where that is. I’ve tried a few through-roads (suggested by Strava as the most popular options with cyclists), and they were all pretty hairy.
 

Half-Fast Mike

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@Half-Fast Mike I’d love to know where that is. I’ve tried a few through-roads (suggested by Strava as the most popular options with cyclists), and they were all pretty hairy.
Seems to have been r341. I may have been lucky with off-peak traffic, or I may have different tolerance as I normally commute along R246 into central Tokyo ;-)
 
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Kangaeroo

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...I may have different tolerance as I normally commute along R246...
That is the worst road I have cycled in Japan (but still infinitely better than Australian cities where the drivers, police and a lot of the cyclists are awful).
All the tunnels en route to Norikura from Matsumoto were pretty vile, too.
And National Route 19 (Nakasendo) has some absolutely glorious views but along the spectacular Kiso River is single lane with dividers in the middle of the road and shitloads of truck traffic, so I was torn apart by the desire to enjoy the tantalizing views and guilt at holding up traffic with iced-up truckies becoming increasingly frustrated at being held up by the fat old bastard on a bike, so it was a scary ride in the end.
 

Justin

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Nov 12, 2016
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Poor lighting and booming echoes make any mountain tunnel longer than 150 metres a bit scary. Even when a car is 100 metres behind you, it sounds like it’s right on your tail.

I did 246 nearly every weekday for five years and never had any problems, but I was only going from just past Sancha into Shibuya and back. I gather it gets more sketchy going further west.
 
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baribari

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Fukushima
I *hate* *hate* *hate* having to ride through the city center here (except before 6:00 a.m. or so), but everything outside of the city proper is basically amazing cycling. The roads are poorly maintained, though.
 
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OreoCookie

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I have not lived in Tokyo, so I don't know how it compares to other cities, but I have spent time in Nagoya, Fukuoka, Toronto, Munich, Sendai, the Bay Area and a few other cities. Poor is relative. City centers can be really annoying, you have to know your routes, which need not always be the shortest. If you avoid some simple mistakes, you are usually fine. So for example, I often prefer to be behind the first car at a traffic light, because most Japanese drivers don't know how to properly use indicators in advance. Very, very often they would signal right before turning … into you. Give taxis extra scrutiny. And avoid major arteries if you can.

There are local variations. Bike paths in Sendai are pretty useless. First of all, Japanese, both, pedestrians and the variety on bikes, don't care about bike paths. Many pay only the absolute minimal amount of attention. And then there are the actual bike paths. I have one particularly comical one from home to my daughter's day care: it is very narrow to begin with, but littered in between are tons of large obstacles such as trees, utility poles, trash bag collection sites and power distributor boxes. To make it more fun, the obstacles sometimes cluster to form a chicane and include “mobile obstacles” as well. So I constantly have to weave in and out of the “bike path”.
A pal once told me that Fukuoka is a notoriously bad place to cycle due to angry drivers. I haven’t cycled there myself.
I have lived in Fukuoka (well, Fukuoka-shi, but on Ito-shima), and Kyushu is a wonderland for cyclists. The only bad thing I can think of is the weather: during the height of summer, it is way too hot and humid to do sports outside (at least when I was there, 2012–2013). And there are think-of-endless-buckets downpours that can last several hours, which would make your life pretty miserable if you got caught by surprise outside on a bike.

In general, cycling in Japan is pretty great. The back roads are not well maintained, but that's something that wider tires can fix to a large degree.
 

Justin

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Nov 12, 2016
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It’s really interesting to see people here talk about poorly maintained roads. As @OreoCookie says, these things are relative, and for me that means comparing Japanese roads to the abysmal, potholed goat tracks back in Australia. Relative to those, Japanese roads — back streets, rural roads, everything (with some exceptions, obviously) — seem to me to be in great condition.
 

OreoCookie

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It’s really interesting to see people here talk about poorly maintained roads. As @OreoCookie says, these things are relative, and for me that means comparing Japanese roads to the abysmal, potholed goat tracks back in Australia. Relative to those, Japanese roads — back streets, rural roads, everything (with some exceptions, obviously) — seem to me to be in great condition.
Hehe, true enough. The state of the road in my mind just determines what bike to use. If I were in the American mid-West, I'd probably own a gravel bike.

On a personal note, I don't care so much about the state of the roads, bad generally means more and faster traffic. As a recovering MTBer I want to avoid traffic whenever possible, but as a city slacker I also want all the amenities of urban Japan. :)
 

joewein

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I don't particularly like Rt246 and especially the Kanagawa side, but I do use it occasionally even there. In my opinion Rt20 west of Kampachi is far worse. Yes, 246 is busy and there are some flyovers that bikes are excluded from, but the lanes are not as tight as Rt20 on the west side. I have also had bad experiences on Rt20 out in the countryside, between Uenohara and Otsuki. That's why I stay well away from those stretches of Rt20 now.
 
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poi

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Sep 2, 2019
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Poor lighting and booming echoes make any mountain tunnel longer than 150 metres a bit scary. Even when a car is 100 metres behind you, it sounds like it’s right on your tail.

I did 246 nearly every weekday for five years and never had any problems, but I was only going from just past Sancha into Shibuya and back. I gather it gets more sketchy going further west.
I once biked from northern Gunma to Niigata.Beautiful scenery but the tunnels were terrifying especially when the big trucks came up behind me.Never again!
 
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