By Bonson Lam
Take Exit 5 from the Karasuma Station and after a short walk, you will find yourself at J-Cycle, a bicycle shop that sells, fixes and of course, rents bicycles out to tourists.
One of the best things about Kyoto is how bicycle-friendly the city is. This combined with its rather compact size makes Kyoto the perfect place to explore on bicycle.
There are many places where you can rent bicycles in Kyoto, so why J-Cycle? For starters, their English competency. Renting anything in Japan involves a good bit of administrative procedures, and if you do not speak any Japanese, rentals can more often than not end up in a hilarious disaster. J-Cycle pre-empts that.
J-Cycle’s staff have all been trained to explain the rental procedure and bicycle briefing in English, whilst slightly more complicated questions may stun them, getting your bicycle should not be a problem. On top of the English-speaking staff, J-Cycle’s forms, instructions and maps all come in English, meaning that you will never have to puzzle out the hieroglyphics on these papers ever.
Speaking of maps, J-Cycle makes tourist life simple by offering maps with a number of pre-planned routes around Kyoto’s main famous sites. This means that if you cannot be bothered to puzzle out an itinerary for yourself, you could easily follow the J-Cycle map. Of course, you can also map out your own cycling trip in advance or make detours along the way, after all the bicycle is at your command. A suggestion from the author, if you happened to be a fan of anime/manga, you could pick up an ‘anime-pilgrimage’ map from the Kyoto Manga Museum and cycle to the destinations featured in the shows, hence adding a new layer of fun to your bicycle adventure.
If you have a poor sense of direction or are not good with maps, you may want to think twice about getting on a bicycle and exploring Kyoto. As said before, Kyoto is a small city, the roads are really much shorter than they are on the maps. This means getting lost, back-tracking and getting lost is a large part of your cycling experience (hence the term ‘adventure’), but hey, getting lost is half the fun right?
Thoughtful as ever, J-Cycle has GPS for rent (sadly the contraption is only in Japanese) – if you are faithful user of Google Maps, they have smartphone holders for bicycles on rent as well for ¥200, so you can navigate and cycle at the same time!
Now, for the price. A basic module sets you back at ¥800 for a day (return time is 6.30pm) whilst a 3-gear module is ¥1,000 a day. Honestly, it would be best if you chose the 3-gear module because of the many hills the plague Kyoto’s terrain, especially near Gion.
Truth be told, there is no other advice this author can provide that the many brochures in J-Cycle cannot, however just a quick tip. Bicycle parking spaces are called chuu-rin-jyo in Japanese and illegal parking of bicycles can get your bike removed/towed, so remember to find parking for your precious bike or risk paying the ¥30,000 compensation fee for the bicycle.
Now, go forth and cycle!
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