Hop off train, onto bike for simple solo traveling

Toshiya Minami

Toshiya Minami

A Yomiuri Shimbun employee rides a folding bike in front of the Inubosaki Lighthouse. The Japan News/Asia News Network

TOKYO — The fall leisure season is now in full swing, but for many, the prospect of crowds can see travel dull some of its luster. If this applies to you, then why not try some carefree solo cycling? I had heard that there was a new trend of taking the train to your destination on a folding bike and cycling around. So I asked an expert on the subject if I could come along.

On a sunny day last month, I had the opportunity to accompany Hiroshi Tamura on a “Rinko” journey. The 51-year-old editor of Fahrradmagazin makes many such trips where someone rides a bike on public transport. Folding bikes are perfect for such Rinko excursions.

Our destination was the city of Choshi at the easternmost tip of Chiba Prefecture. The city offers many sights within a radius of about five kilometers. Folding bikes aren’t great for long-distance cycling, but they’re good for stop-and-go trips to visit tourist attractions.

“Bikes are basically a tool to be enjoyed alone,” Tamura said. It’s fun to decide for yourself about the destination, route and equipment. And if you’re into activities like fishing or camping, your foldable two-wheeler will complement them well.

A folding bike can be found from online retailers for as little as 10,000 yen. But for this ride, I rented one through a subscription service whose monthly fee is 3,190 yen. It weighed about eight kilograms.

Bikes ride for free

On the day of the trip, we met at Tokyo Station at 7:30 am and took the JR Shiosai Express train to Choshi. According to East Japan Railway Co. regulations, a folding bicycle or a regular bicycle with the wheels removed can be taken on a train free of charge if placed in a special bag and measures 250 centimeters or less combined for all three dimensions and weighs 30 kg or fewer. On Shiosai trains, there is a space behind the seats at the very back of the carriage where a pannier can be placed. I parked my bike there.

The term rinko may still be unfamiliar to many, but the latest edition of the authoritative Japanese Kojien dictionary includes the word, with the second entry defining it as traveling on public transport while carrying a bicycle to reach a cycling destination. This term was also adopted into English by some cycling enthusiasts. The rinko custom is said to have been started by riders of keirin cycle races as they have to travel between keirin routes around the country.

Immediately ready

It took us about three hours, including transfer time at Choshi Station, to arrive at Tokawa Station, the last stop on the local line of the Choshi Electric Railway Co. The wooden station building there has a rustic charm.

Tamura pulled his bike out of his bag and unfolded it in no time. “That ease of use is the good thing about folding bikes,” says Tamura.

We drove down a prefectural road with the scent of the sea in the air. After about 15 minutes of smooth driving, we reached our first stop, the scenic Byobugaura cliffs, which are approximately 10 kilometers long and up to 60 meters high. The geological strata of the cliffs, deposited as early as 3 million years ago, have been eroded by the rough Pacific waves to reveal their strata as horizontal streaks.

Then we turned around and made our way to Inubosaki Lighthouse, the easternmost lighthouse in the Kanto region. As I struggled to follow Tamura, who was easily climbing an incline, he suddenly stopped, slung his bike over his shoulder, and began walking up the roadside steps. “It’s easy to switch to walking with a bike,” says Tamura.

Inubosaki Lighthouse is one of 16 lighthouses across the country that the public can enter. After paying the entrance fee of ¥300, visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse, about 30 meters high. I did just that and was greeted by a beautiful view of the vast blue ocean. The strong sea breeze cooled my body, which was hot and sweaty from climbing the spiral staircase – designed to have 99 steps to associate with the name of the nearby shore, “Kujukurihama,” which has the kanji characters for “99.” “ contains.

Beware of “the wall”

Eating is another great pleasure of travel. We got hungry and went to a restaurant near the lighthouse. Tamura ordered ramen with a fried sardine, a choshi specialty. I ordered a seafood rice bowl, the most popular item on the restaurant’s menu.

When cycling, riders have to be careful not to “hit the wall”. This refers to a state of using all of your energy without ever feeling hungry or thirsty. That’s why it’s important to eat often, before you feel hungry.

“Local specialties are obviously something to enjoy, but cyclists should pack extra groceries, even for short distances, when they’re riding in an area for the first time,” Tamura said.

After lunch, we rode our bikes past farms and houses as we rode along the Choshi Electric Railway line back to Choshi Station. On the way to Tokawa Station in the morning, the scenery flew by in the train window. But now I could enjoy the view in peace. “This route can be enjoyed by both train and bike,” Tamura said. “It kills two birds with one stone.”

It was about 15 kilometers from Tokawa Station to Choshi Station. It took about four hours including our lunchtime.

“Once you master Rinko, you have unlimited options for where you can cycle,” Tamura said. Where should I go next, I wondered. I look forward to the thought of another Rinko trip.

Ukyo Shibuya, 30, of Cycle House Shibuya, a Tokyo-based bike shop that specializes in folding bikes, says folding bikes are the perfect choice for rinkos and for riding in urban areas and reaching tourist spots.

“Even for a beginner, it only takes about three minutes to slip a folding bike into a pannier,” Shibuya said. “On a road bike it takes 10 to 15 minutes because you have to take the wheels off and stuff like that.”

According to Shibuya, the distance covered per pedal stroke on a folding bike is the same as on an ordinary bicycle, despite the typically small wheels. “The top speed is slower than other bikes. But they’re good for city riding, where there are a lot of stops and starts at traffic lights, and for cycling between tourist destinations, as they require less effort to pedal.”

Shibuya recommends people choose a bike that fits their height. He also advises studying the planned route beforehand, for example to see whether the course is flat or hilly.


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