Cycling Japan: Roads and Navigation

ROADS AND DRIVERS:  I’ve only cycled 540 miles, but here’s my impressions of the roads and drivers:


First, the roads have ranged from Good (a small bit) to Excellent (more than half) to Sublime (the rest).  On busy roads there is normally a clean and very wide shoulder or there is a bike path/sidewalk.  On lightly traveled roads, there may not be a shoulder, but there aren’t many cars either, and, when there are cars…

…the drivers have been exceedingly courteous (it’s Japan, would you expect otherwise?).   So far I’ve had one truck pull out in front of me, but even then, I barely had to touch my breaks; nonetheless, he should have waited.  Everyone gives me a very wide berth even if they don’t need to.

OK, so this isn’t New Mexico – but I’ve yet to have a driver give me the finger (happens too often in NM); never had a driver point aggressively at the shoulder (even if there isn’t one, which in NM, there often isn’t) gesturing that I should move over which would effectively put me in the dirt; cut so close to me that one can only assume the driver was either not paying attention or was trying to send the lycra-clad cyclist a message; or yell out his (never a her) window, “get off the fucking road”.

Hmm… that hasn’t happened yet.

In the cities, like in most of the world, there are LOTS of bikes.  Not high-end racing bikes, but commuter bikes, upright bikes with baskets on the front.  In the Sapporo downtown core, I’m certain there are fewer cars than bikes.  However, I keep wanting to tell people, “put air in your tires, it’ll be much better cycling!!!”

On a related note, I had to laugh when I read in the Santa Fe long-term cycling plan that they want to be – and I quote – “the most bike friendly city in the world” (my emphasis).  Please, don’t make me laugh… how about just try to be non-aggressive for now, and we can work on “friendly” later.  Obviously the city planners have not seen just how high the bar is.  Here’s a letter to the editor I wrote a few weeks ago when some moron in a Suburban came so close to me his passenger mirror almost clipped my ear.


NAVIGATION:  There was a time when I felt I had a pretty good sense of direction. However, somewhere along the way I seemed to have lost that sense.  After three years, I am still convinced the road Alison’s studio is on (Upper Canyon Road) goes North.  But it goes East, and I don’t know when it’ll feel that way to me. Consequently, I can no longer rely on my judgement when it comes to navigation.  I need tools.

So I’ve used a variety of them on this trip with no problems.  Getting lost was one of my biggest concerns. I plotted my route using a Japan map I purchased for my Garmin GPS along with the Garmin Basecamp software (a very quirky and annoying product).  Then I would export each segment to Google Earth to see the details, such as tunnels and the elevation profile.

I also have a paper map; though, it’s scale makes it almost useless.  A bit of common sense, even if combined with a lousy sense of direction, is also handy.  Plus, the signs always have route numbers and destination city names.

The GPS has been great (the Google Earth elevation data is always off, fortunately it’s been overstating the climbs somewhat). The other day I was at an intersection and my notes from the map said to go straight.  The GPS said to turn left.  I decided to put my faith in the GPS, and when I got to my final destination I looked at my computer map, and sure enough, the GPS put me on a smaller road that was a shortcut.  It was a road that I didn’t even see when plotting the route.

So much for the good technology story.  Then again, I won’t go on about the computer and the camera.

~ by Robert on August 29, 2013.

3 Responses to “Cycling Japan: Roads and Navigation”

  1. I am pleasantly surprised to read about the road quality in the north where winters can get rather cold, subjecting the tarmac to plenty of stress. The roads around Tokyo and Yokohama can be a bit bumpy as they like to dig up and patch up roads regularly for reasons that are not always obvious…


  2. Awesome photos, Robert!
    If you’re still planning on riding through Tokamachi, let me know.


  3. Hello Robert, thank you for sharing your Japan bike experience. I’m planning to bicycle 4 weeks in Japan coming October. You mentioned you got yourself a GPS map for your Garmin. May I ask which map did you get and where from? I can only find the open street maps, but no official Garmin map for Japan.


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