A Guide to Getting a Bike in Japan

‘Japan is a country of many bicycles and few cyclists’

If this isn’t a quote already then it should be. The most common bicycle in Japan is the mamachari: A type of short-distance utility bike for shopping, riding to and from the station, ferrying kids around etc. These bikes are great in their own context (see this post), but not great at other things that you might want a bicycle to do. Getting a mamachari in Japan can be easier than getting a haircut, and sometimes cheaper, but if you want a ‘sport bike’, then you might have to try a bit harder and read the rest of this guide.

What is a ‘Sport Bike’?

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I’m using the term ‘sport bike’ as shorthand for any bike designed for a specific discipline or purpose in cycling where good performance might be desirable. In the home centers of Japan it’s possible to find a whole host of ‘stylish’ (debatable) alternatives to the mamachari that aren’t really built for higher performance than a shopping bike but are often less functional. These bikes are sometimes harder to distinguish from my loose definition of ‘sport bike’, so watch out.

Anyhow, this post isn’t called ‘Choose the Right Bike for You!’ There’s plenty of information out there in the wide blue yonder of the web to help you do that. My point is that if your needs are simple, short distance and transportational then this post won’t help you much, just buy a mamachari and enjoy.

I decided to break this guide into two seperate posts. The first weighs the benefits of bringing a bike to Japan vs. buying one when you get here. It also gives some tips on transporting your bike as painlessly as possible and on where and what to look for when buying a new bike in Japan. The second post is a detailed look at the different ways to get a used bike in Japan, including some sources that you might not expect. I’ve managed to build up a fair amount of experience in used bike hunting since getting here and seeing as information about the subject seems to be pretty thin online, I’ve decided to share.

Should I Bring my Bike to Japan? – Transportation or Consumption

Buying a Used Bike in Japan – The Third Way

Remember, it may not always be easy, but cycling in Japan is most definitely worth it.

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