Biker Boy: Tips on riding in Japan in cold weather
Plan for frosty weather riding by following these tips
On a recent four-day 600km loop from Tokyo to Shimoda in Shizuoka prefecture, I learnt that riding in temperatures below 10 deg C requires planning and keen observation.
GET THE RIGHT BIKE
Book your rental bike in advance via several bike tours operating in Tokyo. Prices vary and depend on the length of usage as well as mileage clocked.
A journey through the coastal towns along the Izu Peninsula can be enjoyed even on smaller-capacity motorcycles, such as my 200cc Adiva scooter.
Most Japanese motorists are law-abiding and safe. They are also courteous and will follow speed limits, especially on narrow mountain roads.
RIGHT SAFETY APPAREL
Without gloves, your hands will become numb quickly. A riding jacket with a removable thermal layer keeps your body warm.
Donning long johns, a scarf or balaclava will make you more resilient against the bone-chilling wind. High-cut boots or a full-face helmet offer some protection against the wind too.
PLAN YOUR JOURNEY
While physical maps are useful, there is no need for one - most road signs are in English. But having a handlebar mount for your smartphone is a must.
I chose Google Maps as my navigational app because the instructions and road names are in English, and it also shows traffic congestion and will suggest alternative routes.
EARLY PETROL STOPS
While navigation maps show you the location of restaurants or petrol stations, the information may not be updated.
A few petrol stations on our half-day ride from Shimoda to Mishima were closed. Fill up whenever you spot a station instead of waiting until you see your low fuel light blinking. Otherwise, you could find yourself stranded along a deserted road.
BE MINDFUL OF CROSS WINDS
They are sometimes so strong they can shift your bike's alignment, particularly when you ride between big hills or just as you leave the many tunnels dotting the Izu Peninsula landscape.
Big lorries that overtake next to you can also briefly disrupt your bike's handling.
Depending on the distance travelled, you may pay between 200 yen (S$2.40) and 2,100 yen. If you are riding alone, keep coins and notes handy.
As you approach a row of toll booths, stick to the extreme left where there is usually a staff member to collect your toll fee. If you enter an unmanned toll booth, you will need to reverse out of a queue.
TAKE A BREAK
Plan for frequent breaks at rest stops to warm up and get some blood circulation into your tired limbs. When a scene like the majestic Mount Fuji hits you, do not stop immediately by the side of a narrow mountain road. Look for a designated rest stop because such roads in Japan harbour many blind corners.
At night, roads leading into towns may not be well lit, so slow down.
Also, watch out for reflective cat's eyes. If you stray onto them, the raised safety devices will give you a jolt as your front tyre goes airborne after hitting them.
Make friends with locals as they can suggest scenic routes rather than boring highways. From one friendly and unexpected encounter, I discovered the splendid and unique Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge on Route 414, which loops twice between two mountainsides. The experience of riding the bridge was priceless.