Japan Cycling Guidelines

Free bike rental in Matsumoto

Traveling is such a bliss when I get to ride a bicycle. Much as I like to walk, cycling makes me get to explore faster, and I find it quite exhilarating feeling the wind blow on my face.

The first time I rented a bicycle while exploring a new place was in Munich, Germany, as we only had less than a full day to explore before hopping back on the train en route to Austria. There were too many things to do at the time, as it was also right smack in the middle of Oktoberfest. So I was quite relieved to discover the perks of cycling.

And then this trip to the Japan Alps happened. I prepared my feet for thousands of steps trekking, and so when we got to Takayama, I looked for the nearest bike rental place so I won’t have to walk too much yet. Afterwards when we got to Matsumoto, I was thrilled to find that there were free bike rentals all around the tourist destinations of the city. Oh, happy days!

Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes
Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes

When I am biking in a new place, the first thing I look for other than a map, is a quick guide on safety rules to follow. Let me share with you what I’ve read on the safety guidelines for cyclists in Japan:

1. Ride on the left side of the street.

In Japan, cyclists only use the left side of the street (same direction as to what cars and other vehicles use). In most places there are bike paths, and when there is none, then cyclists can use the sidewalks or roads. When the street is too narrow, cyclists can ride on the sidewalks.

2. Helmets for children.

I know in some countries wearing helmets is required by law for people riding bicycles. In Japan, all children under the age of 13 must wear a bicycle helmet. Children under the age of 6 should also wear helmets if they are riding in the children’s seat of their parent’s or guardian’s bicycle.

3. Reduce speed on sidewalks and give pedestrians the right of way.

Pedestrians are given priority on sidewalks. Cyclists must not obstruct pedestrians if riding inside lines marking pedestrian paths, and if there is a risk of obstructing pedestrians on sidewalks, cyclists must stop riding and dismount their bicycles.

It is also discouraged to ringing bicycle bells at pedestrians on sidewalks.

4. Cycling Safety Rules

    Cyclists must obey traffic lights and intersections, like coming to a full stop on a stop sign.
    Just like driving a car, cyclists are prohibited to drinking and cycling – violators can either face fines or face up to several years in jail.
    Cyclists must use bicycle lights at night, or also at daytime when riding through tunnels or during foggy weather.
    Riding double or side by side is prohibited.
    Lastly, cyclists must also not use an umbrella or talk on their mobile phones while riding their bicycles. Personally, I think this last one’s a no-brainer. But then again, people can be creative. Thankfully there are these rules.

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