You just keep pushing. You just keep pushing. I made every mistake that could be made. But I just kept pushing.

Rene Descartes 

Biking touring blunders aren’t just for newbies!  Even after 7+ years on the road, we managed to bungle our Japan tour; a few minor slip-ups left us lukewarm on the Land of the Rising Sun.

Here’s what NOT to do on your next tour.

Mistake: Heap on added stress at the start.

Bike tours are best when you ease into them.  Taking on a new country where you don’t speak the language and are not familiar with the customs can be overwhelming.

We attempted to navigate the densely populated urban corridor between Osaka to Tokyo as our introduction to cycling in Japan.   It was a disaster.

Solution: If you’re flying to a foreign country to tour, it’s wise to make things as easy as possible in the beginning.    If you can afford it, take a taxi from the airport and book yourself into a comfortable guesthouse.   If you’re counting every penny, find a host through Warm Showers or Couchsurfing.  Acclimate yourself to your new surroundings.  Re-assemble your bike in a relaxed environment.    Get used to the new money; learn a few words of the local language.  Then set off cycling.

If you’re in a major urban area, you may want to consider busing it or taking a train into the countryside and starting your tour there.

Mistake:  Obsess over the budget.

Being frugal is fine.  It allows you to tour for longer and experience more of the world.  But when sticking to a budget takes the fun out of touring, it’s time to re-evaluate.

Japan is one of the world’s costliest countries.  We knew that going in.

Having already spent time in expensive countries (we’d just flown in from Australia which is one of the priciest places on the planet) we didn't think sticking to a tight budget in Japan would pose a problem.

Turns out it was.  Australia is all about solitude and wide open spaces.  There’s not much to tempt your consumer control when you’re riding through the outback.

Japan is more about culture and cuisine.  It’s tough to stick to a budget with so many temptations.

By trying to stick to $20 a day we created a lot of stress and missed out on many of the wonderful things Japan has to offer.

Solution:  Give your budget some extra padding in costlier countries.  Many cyclists on multi-year tours top up their savings during a working holiday in Australia.  Teaching English in Asia is another solid option for earning quick cash to fund a bike tour.

Even if you’re on a tight budget, go ahead and allow yourself a tiny splurge at least once a week.  Then you can go back to a steady diet of ramen noodles.

Mistake: Wrong season, stupid!

We’d been warned that Japanese summers can be hot and humid.  Having survived 90% humidity in Borneo, we didn’t think Japan’s climate could be all that bad.

Wrong again.  Turns out hot and sticky in mega cities is far more uncomfortable that hot and sticky in the jungle.

Had we biked Japan in April and followed the cherry blossoms or cycled the country in autumn as the leaves change, we’d have enjoyed sunshine and moderate temperatures.  Instead, we got soaked in the seasonal rains and spent evenings swatting mosquitoes and lay awake at nights drenched in a pool of sweat.

Solution: Listen to advice.  Seasons matter more than you think.  Sometimes it’s fun to challenge yourself by biking in extreme heat or attempting ‘impassable’ roads in the wet season.  Some fanatical cyclists may even enjoy diving into the Patagonian headwinds.  But most of us are better off under more pleasant conditions.


Mistake: Attempt to do it all.

One of the best parts of bike touring is the ability to slow down and enjoy the world at a pleasurable pace.  Stop for chats with the locals, snap photos of cows, settle into a campsite early and watch the sunset.

When you’re stressed about reaching your destination, all these joys slip away.  That’s what happened to us in Japan.  First, we had to reach Tokyo, then we had to get to Hokkaido, and finally it really was essential to get way down south to catch a ferry to Korea.

Part of the problem was that we’d succumbed to the “everybody’s having more fun syndrome”.  Cyclist X had blogged about this amazing mountain road and we didn’t want to miss that.  Blogger Y had written about the fabulous coastal cycling, and Biker Z insisted we’d be fools to miss out on the quiet country roads.

Attempting to ‘do it all,’ generally results in frustration and fatigue.

Solution: My advice is just to enjoy where you’re at and not worry too much about ‘missing out’ on some ‘amazing’ spot.  Remember, bike touring blog updates tend to be heavy on adventure and excitement and light on aggravations and annoyances.  Take your tour at your own speed and just cycle the spots that really interest you.

Mistake:  Bad attitude.

By far the biggest mistake we made during our Japan tour was slipping into a negative mindset.  Once you start moaning and groaning about all the things you hate about a place, your tour is doomed.

Solution:Annoyances and aggravations are inherent to any type of travel.  The key to not becoming consumed by these inconveniences is acceptance.  I’m spending time on this site to help get back on track.  Feeling better already.

5 Bike Touring Mistakes (and how to avoid them)!
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11 thoughts on “5 Bike Touring Mistakes (and how to avoid them)!

  • September 24, 2013 at 1:39 AM

    (VIA Facebook)
    So true guys.. thank you for putting this info. Very important and useful. Thankfully I chose the right season to cycle Japan and gave myself enough time – 3 months – but right now planning my long tour in Asi and using your site lots to dig info.. . Best on your way..

  • September 24, 2013 at 2:35 AM

    (VIA Facebook)Attitude is the number one by not accepting the culture you are in and wishing it were different

  • September 24, 2013 at 2:38 AM

    (Via Facebook)
    So true guys.. thank you for putting this info. Very important and useful. Thankfully I chose the right season to cycle Japan and gave myself enough time – 3 months – but right now planning my long tour in Asia and using your site lots to dig info.. . Best on your way..

  • September 24, 2013 at 2:40 AM

    (Via Facebook)
    Ah the 20/20 hindsight kicks in. Thank you for sharing it. My sister talks of “miles fever” if we can do x miles we can see_ . There is some who regret not seeing _, but if you have a great time, was it a bad thing?

  • September 24, 2013 at 2:41 AM

    (Via Facebook)

    Very happy to see this article as some of the bad mood you were referring to, in my opinion, was seeping into your Japanese posts this summer. We all make mistakes, but identifying those mistakes almost makes them worth committing. Thanks for reinforcing some of the lessons I think a lot of us identify in the abstract while comfortably home, but tend to lose track of on the road.

  • September 24, 2013 at 2:42 AM

    (Via Facebook)
    Interesting to hear about mistakes you made in Japan, from the outside, looking at the photos ( although in retrospect there were loads of pointed comments about rain ) it looked like the worst was over when you got out of the city. I hope that sharing the stresses and strains will allow you to enjoy your next country. You are always welcome back in Aus ( despite it being so pricey!)

  • September 24, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    Thanks for this useful reminder!

    The first tip I definitely will follow as I prepare for my two months of cycle touring in Chile / northern Argentina. Nothing like setting out gently.

  • September 25, 2013 at 1:21 AM

    Being an Australian I couldn’t agree with you more about how expensive my country has become, having a working holiday here helps. I am planning my next trip to Japan for March,April and May of 2014. The last trip was February and March of 2013 and on a couple of occasions I fell prey to the idea I had to get to the next stopover and pushed too hard and missed so much. But as far as expensive goes, I consider Japan to be literally miles cheaper than Oz, I stayed in hostels and business hotels and the occasional Minshuku. I kept in mind that I was a tourist and tried to see as much of the cultural sites nearly every where I travelled. I might even write a blog on the do’s and don’ts of travelling in Japan, always remember it is not a race.

    • September 25, 2013 at 3:59 AM

      I consider Japan to be literally miles cheaper than Oz,

      Interestingly you’re not the first Australian who’s said that. I guess restaurants are a better deal in Japan and hotels, too. The only thing we really spend money on is food (self-catering) so that’s all that matters to us price-wise. Thanks for sharing your perspective and all the best on your next tour.

  • September 26, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    Japan can certainly be a great place for cycle touring. If you can handle the narrow, often crowded roads that may or may not have sufficient shoulder to accommodate intrepid touring cyclists, you will inevitably be rewarded for your efforts. Wherever they exist, the pedestrian pathways can be legally cycled although the width, surface quality and condition varies a lot. This summer many of the pedestrian pathways in western Japan were rampantly overgrown with weeds.

    I totally agree with your comments on choosing the right season. Winter is generally too cold for cycle touring, except perhaps in the southwest, and summer is oppressively hot and humid, except in the north. I cycled Hokkaido in the summer of 2011 and the weather was mostly excellent. Camping, food and scenery were delightful and the roads were well made and uncrowded. Japanese onsens are almost uniformly great and Hokkaido has some of the best, including a few free ones. However, when I returned to western Japan (Kansai) by ferry, it was in the grip of a heatwave and I survived by cycling at night. It is definitely advisable to tour Japan in spring or autumn; I personally find Japan’s autumn weather most agreeable. Cherry blossoms are very pretty while they last, but the sky is often quite cloudy, whereas autumn has more blue sky, pleasantly clear air and sunshine.

    It is possible to eat relatively cheaply in Japan and not necessarily by eating noodles all the time. There are numerous “family restaurants” with satisfying meals at reasonable prices, as well as domburi, curry and bentou shops which are inexpensive. You can have a feed of fresh sushi at a “kaiten” sushi restaurant, and there are usually cheap eateries located close to universities. Convenience stores, which are found on almost every city corner and at regular intervals along major roads in the countryside, sell fresh sandwiches and various popular Japanese style lunch foods at reasonable prices.

    One of the best aspects of cycle touring in Japan is the ferries. They enable cyclists to jump certain regions without the hassle of packing the bike into a bag or a box for transportation by train or plane, and of course to cross from Honshu to Hokkaido or Shikoku, as well as between Shikoku and Kyushu. You pay a small surcharge for your bike but you just wheel it on and the staff secure it at the side of the vehicle deck. You can even leave baggage on the bike in the knowledge that no one is likely to touch it.

    Only one of the three bridge crossings from Honshu to Shikoku can be made by bicycle (the Shimanami Kaido) but it is highly recommended. It’s a fantastic 67 kilometer scenic ride over a series of huge suspension bridges and several small islands, with the reasonably priced Sunrise Guesthouse at the Shikoku end that caters especially for cyclists.

    If you love scenic green countryside and don’t mind the odd hill climb, Japan is extremely good value for the touring cyclist.

  • January 16, 2016 at 7:55 AM

    Good tips. Since this is mainly reflective of your time in Japan and others have commented, i thought i’d add my two bobs worth. First you are not alone to try cycling in summer there. Its seems that’s what most long distance travellers do. I have come across numerous accounts. And everyone seems to do much the same thing, starting in Hokkaido and goes south, rides up the busy areas such as the seto sea conurbation and generally make all the mistakes you talk about.

    I always have lots of time to research and plan my trips so generally i can avoid all those mistakes but i still make some. The stupidest mistake i made for my Japan trip was booking my flight too early in the spring. And dammit, i knew it was a mistake as i was doing it. I had read the spring was a good time to be there and that summer was really hot but anyway i wanted to see the cherry blossoms so that fitted with me just fine. But in order to get the best flight, which was available and perfectly timed really for me to be in kyoto at peak cherry blossom time, I went ahead and booked one three weeks too early because i couldn’t get my head around how to manage my itinerary. I didn’t want to start my trip with a week in a city. So i ended up going to Kyushu when it was still cold and I didn’t particularly want to go to Kyushu at all. That said I shouldn’t complain too much about it, the visit there gave me a good perspective on the people and I enjoyed a couple of the sights a great deal and food was good.

    But i also met someone who cycled from Tokyo to Kyoto along the coast and said they didn’t find it too busy which surprised me. Overall i had a great time in Japan. My favourite places were the Noto Penninsula, Kyoto in cherry blossom season but everything else wasn’t far behind. I would probably have liked Kyushu more if the weather had been warmer too and with leaves on the trees. Winter landscapes aren’t that appealing unless covered in snow.


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