How to take a bike on a train in Japan
A common question for cyclists coming to Japan is: Can you take bikes on the train? The answer is yes and this post is a handy guide on how to take your bike on the train in Japan.
Table of Contents
Taking bikes on the train in Japan isn’t as simple as it is for our friends in Europe or North America. I remember living in Berlin and simply rolling my bike onto the train if I was in a rush, the weather turned bad or if I was simply tired.
Things are different in Japan. To take a bike on the train it needs to be covered completely so essentially it’s just a large bag or a piece of luggage.
Also, if you do take your bike on the train try to avoid peak commuter times - especially in larger cities - as the trains can get very crowded and things just seem that bit easier when you have a bit of space for your bike and any other bags you might have.
If you can avoid the peak commuter times, local trains tend to have a bit of space where you can put your bag.
Depending on the train, there are areas near the ends of carriages with a bit more space for people in wheelchairs or for people with a fair bit of luggage.
There is overhead storage on most trains and if you have panniers, a backpack or any other bags, you can free up your hands by putting it above and then trying to get a good spot for your bike.
If the train isn't too crowed you might be able to put the bike on the ground leaning against the train doors. Of course be careful the doors don't open on that side and your bike jumps out.
Sometimes standing the bike vertically against the back of the seats can also be a good spot. You've of course got to watch that your bike doesn't come tumbling over and landing on someone.
Shinkansen (bullet train)
It’s also possible to take your bike in the bag on the Shinkansen. Behind the back row or every carriage there is extra storage space which is free for anyone to use.
Space is limited and these small storage areas are prime real estate so be sure to get on as early as possible and try and get your bike in there.
If all of the storage space is taken you do have the option of putting the bike in the space in front of your legs.
There is a fair bit of leg-room area on Shinkansen seats (2x to 3x that of an economy class plane seat) so if it’s your only option you could probably put the bike in front of you and stand it up vertically on the rear wheel.
If there’s a person sitting next to you, your bike might be taking up a bit of their space so practice your Sumimasen which means excuse me and sorry in Japanese, and be sure to apologise for the inconvenience to them.
Remember you can try and reserve the rear seat of the carriage which might give you first spoils on the space but even if you manage to reserve a rear-seat, the storage space is for everyone so there’s no guarantee there will be room for you.
One trick is to try and get on the Shinkansen that is starting from your destination.
This means that the people at your station will be the first to board and there is more chance of getting a rear-seat and snagging some storage space. In Japanese this is called 'starting destination + hatsu' so if you are going to Hakata from Osaka, I would ask the staff when the next 'Shin-Osaka hatsu' is.
The Green Car
The Green car is the slightly luxury carriages on the Shinkansen. They are more expensive but every seat has a bit more room and there is more chance of being to reserve a seat in the green car as they are more expensive and not always booked out.
The front seats and the rear seats have extra room for storage in the green car so if you have a larger frame and are worried about finding space on the Shinkansen, you can ask if any front or rear seats are available in the green car.
You can put the bike in front of you standing vertically pretty easily. It helps if the seat next to you is free so you've got a bit more space.
I was recently on a Shinkansen with a 570mm road bike and it was peak tourist season so I booked the green car to make sure I had some space to put the bike.
The Train Bag
There are a few different kinds of train bags or Rinko bags as they are known in Japan. A Globalwheels favourite is the Tioga Cocoon bag which we have been using for a fair few years.
You can check out the product from the below link:
The bag rolls up into a small bag just larger than a water bottle so it’s very compact when not in use.
We’ve experimented with different sizes and we find for bikes larger than 500mm it’s better to use their 28” or Mountain bike size (MTB).
Getting a larger frame into the road bike sizes is of course possible, but it’s really tight and makes the process that bit harder and also increases the chance of rips in the bag or broken zippers.
Inside the small carry bag you have:
- Bike Bag (see image further down blog)
- Small straps (in the middle of below image)
- Larger shoulder carry straps (two straps - on right in below image)
Instructions on how to put bike in
Take off front wheel and attach to frame
First, take the front wheel off and position the pedal and crank to face back and parallel to the chain stay.
Then using three of the smaller straps (there are more in the bag but we find three is enough) fix the front wheel around the frame, crank and chain stay area.
You should attach the wheel to the left side of the bike (non drive-train side) and you can just tie the straps in bows, you don’t have to thread them through the little clip, tying bows is faster and also easier to undo on the other side.
Put the Bike in the Bag
First, make sure you know which is the front, rear, top and bottom of the bag. The rear of the bag is round as that where the back wheel sits.
The top of the bag has a little hole to put a strap around the stem for the handle bars. Some people think this hole is for the seat post, it isn’t. The seat post will stick out between the two zippers (more about zipping up below).
The bag opens and closes with two zippers at the back of the bag. Once you open the zippers it’s time to put the bike into the bag.
Start putting the bike into the bag, handlebars first. The handle bars will turn to the side as you get more of the bike in the bag but you might need to give them a bit of a turn.
As you keep maneuvering the bag over and around the bike there might be times when it’s easiest to stand the bike on the rear wheel so you can get the bag moving around and covering the bike freely on both sides.
When the bike is properly in the bag you will be able to zip the bottom zipper around the chainring and back wheel.
When you are finished you will have both zippers zipped up snug on either side of the seat post.
Using Shoulder Strap
If you like, you can attach the shoulder straps so you have the option of carrying the bike on your shoulder. This is useful when your hands are full with panniers or other bags so you need to carry the bike on your shoulder.
If you’re not holding any bags or you have a backpack, the shoulder strap isn’t necessary. I usually just carry the bike by the saddle with one hand and use my other hand to feed my ticket into the ticket gates.
Here’s how to put the shoulder strap on…
Use the longer strap on the seat post and the shorter one on the handlebar stem.
First, wrap the longer one around the seat post then thread the clip end through the loop on the other end. You can then pull it tight.
Then wrap the small one around the stem and thread the clip end through the loop on the other end. Pull tight.
Attach the clips and there’s your shoulder strap.
That’s it, you should now be ready to get the train with your bike.
Note on the seat post and saddle
According to some rules floating around online, JR does sometimes state in documents that the seat and seat post must also be covered and not sticking out.
However, from our experience of getting the train, we've never been asked to cover the seat when using the train bags.
If by chance staff asks you to cover the seat, simply zip the two zippers above the seat so it's all covered. Depending on the size of your frame and the height of your seat, you might need to lower the seat a little so be sure to keep your multi-tool within reach just in case.
Overzealous Station Staff
There might be some station staff that don’t like the seat sticking out the top and will ask you to cover the bike completely. If this is the case, simply lower the seat a bit if you have to then zip the bag up completely to cover the seat.
Don’t bag up under station staff noses
We recommend bagging the bike up a bit out of view from the station staff who are usually sitting in the booth near the ticket gates.
Even though taking bikes on trains when they are covered is allowed, it’s better not to invite too much attention or be a nuisance.
Japanese stations can get busy and the ultimate goal of station staff is to make sure trains run on time with a minimum of fuss. So if you’re spread out in the middle of the station, or even worse in front of the ticket gates, you might be in people’s way and invite concern or questions from the staff.
I find getting packed and ready a bit away from the ticket gates and also getting your ticket early makes the process go much smoother. Then when you are ready, walk to the gates, pass through and head to the platform.
Avoid peak hour
As mentioned above, stations in Japan can get really busy and crowded. If you are trying to catch a packed commuter train with a bike bag it’s bound to be an unpleasant experience.
If you can be flexible with time, avoid rush hour and enjoy a bit more space to put your bike down. If you need to get the train at a busy time, be organised and try to board at the ends of carriages as there is a bit more space for your bike and other bags.
There are times when the train is busy, or you have a long walk with your bike and bags through the station to the different platforms, but stick it out and think about how you’ll be feeling when you’re back on the bike with the wind in your hair.
Have any of you caught the train with a bike in Japan? If so how was your experience? If you have any tips that we haven't listed in this post we would love to hear them in a comment below.