Planning First Tour (Complete Beginner)

Howdy, ya'll! So quick background: I'm a college student and will be studying abroad in Okayama, Japan for nearly a year (October - August). While I'm there I'll have Feb 14th - Mar 31st (44 days) off for Spring Break and am looking for a relatively cheap way to spend it while also making the most of the opportunity. I'm considering backpacking or preferably touring for much of the break, but have done neither so I'm a bit clueless as to how realistic my plans are and was hoping ya'll could help set me straight. Also, since I'll be there for so long I plan on buying a used bike for about ~$500 regardless for commuting to class, something like this.

My Idea right now is to plan a tour of the cheaper, sub-$25 a night, air-bnbs for lodging and camping in between if/when any are too far apart. I plan to stay in or near civilization for the majority of the time and use air-bnbs/laundrymats as needed for keeping clothes clean. Of course, I would need panniers, bike tools, and some camping gear, but price wise it all seems quite reasonable to me so far, staying away from premium branded gear.

One of my biggest unknowns is just how far it's reasonable to expect to bike in a day for someone who doesn't bike much, 20 miles?. I can casually bike all day if it's flat, but I've never used panniers before nor do I have much experience biking on hills. I'm planning on the tour lasting about 30-40 days ideally and would love to be able to cover 700 miles, but I don't know just how realistic that is. What do ya'll think?
Thanks for any advice you can give!!! (First post, sorry if I broke any rules!)
 

alicat

Legendary Member
Location
Staffs
Welcome to the forum. Calling @Andy in Germany.
 
Howdy, ya'll! So quick background: I'm a college student and will be studying abroad in Okayama, Japan for nearly a year (October - August). While I'm there I'll have Feb 14th - Mar 31st (44 days) off for Spring Break and am looking for a relatively cheap way to spend it while also making the most of the opportunity. I'm considering backpacking or preferably touring for much of the break, but have done neither so I'm a bit clueless as to how realistic my plans are and was hoping ya'll could help set me straight. Also, since I'll be there for so long I plan on buying a used bike for about ~$500 regardless for commuting to class, something like this.

My Idea right now is to plan a tour of the cheaper, sub-$25 a night, air-bnbs for lodging and camping in between if/when any are too far apart. I plan to stay in or near civilization for the majority of the time and use air-bnbs/laundrymats as needed for keeping clothes clean. Of course, I would need panniers, bike tools, and some camping gear, but price wise it all seems quite reasonable to me so far, staying away from premium branded gear.

One of my biggest unknowns is just how far it's reasonable to expect to bike in a day for someone who doesn't bike much, 20 miles?. I can casually bike all day if it's flat, but I've never used panniers before nor do I have much experience biking on hills. I'm planning on the tour lasting about 30-40 days ideally and would love to be able to cover 700 miles, but I don't know just how realistic that is. What do ya'll think?
Thanks for any advice you can give!!! (First post, sorry if I broke any rules!)
Welcome!
First of all, do a search for Japan touring on these (and other) fora. Check out CrazyGuyOnABike.com. Lots of info in journals.

Not sure how practical it is on $25 a day. My understanding is that Japan is expensive.

As regards budget vs premium gear, as for a lot of things, there are times when premium gear will be well worth the money, and times when it is overkill. You have lots of time to figure out what is important to you.

As regards distance? How long is a piece of string? I can't tell you how far you can cycle. All I can suggest is that you start to cycle as much as possible now. When it comes around to planning, don't plan on doing long distances. If you fall behind it's stressful. If you're ahead of schedule you have the luxury of exploring more or expanding your route.
700 miles over 30 days sounds like very relaxed distances to me. Some folks here would do multiples of that. But that doesn't matter. It's what is good for you that matters.

On the assumption that you speak the language and are sufficiently tuned in to the culture, a month wandering around Japan could be the trip of a lifetime!

Good luck!
 
Welcome @DigitalPanda:

I'm hoping to get some riding done when I visit Japan to see my wife's family and I've been gathering information and videos from people who've been before. Previously I've cycled on a heavy city bike but Japan has Hills, and a lighter geared bike is more suited to the terrain.

I've travelled through Okayama, (unfortunately by train not bike) and south to Shikoku Island, the large Island to the south of Okayama which is very attractive. From the accounts of other travellers it's also a cyclists paradise, with lots of cycleways, friendly local people and not too many cities. I'm told there's now a circular route around the Island with cycleways over the rather massive bridges from the mainland, and that unlike the rest of the country there are signs at junctions (Japan doesn't do direction signs very well, I'm not sure why) You could probably use the whole time in Japan just cycling around there.

From research thus far, I've found the following useful:

Japan cycling Navigator. English language site with suggested routes for end-to end rides and journal entries and descriptions.

Bikemap works reasonably well for Japan. Having tested it around Ise, which I know relatively well, it doesn't send you down too many odd routes. As Japan doesn't manage to have a straight cyclable route to anywhere from anywhere, this is very helpful. I'd suggest using Google street view which seems to have explored everywhere in Japan. Most Japanese websites do this anyway.

Positivo Expresso: Long term resident in Japan who rides frightening distances and writes about them very well...

Two YouTube accounts from by* people who live and work in Japan:

Rides of Japan (Tokyo area) makes very good quality videos about living and riding in Japan. Probably best to go to the Playlists and find the "Cycling" and "Bikepacking" videos because he's a self-confessed gear freak. He also has videos on types of tents and stoves you can use.

Two wheel Cruise Based around Nagoya, posts videos weekly about cycling and living in Japan and is very friendly and informative if you ask a question in a comment.

Also some videos from people touring:

Adam Hugill is touring all over Asia and has just posted his first video from Japan.

My personal favourites are these channels: Codey Ogill and The College Picker travelled together through Japan a year or two back, and both made a daily Vlog about it. They wild camped on most nights which saved a fortune in accommodation, and show how they ate low cost food from convenience stores. They also travelled through Shikoku.

Hope this helps. If you find more info please share it...

*Too long in Germany: I'm picking up German English...
 
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Tigerbiten

Veteran
I would decide on either camping or hotels not both.

Camping gear basically doubles the weight of the gear you need to lug around.
So unless it's well used, them it's only excess weight that only slowing you down.
A quick Google search for "campsites" pulled up a fair number all over Japan.
But I'd also explore the cost per night, as some upmarket sites can be as expensive as a cheap hotel.

Luck ............. ^_^
 

mjr

Comfy armchair to one person & a plank to the next
If you have NHK World on your TV, there's a "Cycling Around Japan" series repeated every so often, which might give you brief glimpses of what to expect, in amongst all the stops they make (I guess it's part funded by the tourism offices). You don't have to do it like they do, of course.
 

classic33

Legendary Member
As regards distance? How long is a piece of string? I can't tell you how far you can cycle. All I can suggest is that you start to cycle as much as possible now. When it comes around to planning, don't plan on doing long distances. If you fall behind it's stressful. If you're ahead of schedule you have the luxury of exploring more or expanding your route.
700 miles over 30 days sounds like very relaxed to me. Some folks here would do multiples of that.
Good luck!
25% of its origional length
Any longer than 25% of its origional length and it ceases to be a "piece of string".
From further down the thread.
"There is even a formula for the length of a piece of string:

• 2(0.5l) [or 2l/2] - where 'l' is length (doh!).

In other words, that can be written as "Twice as long as half it's length." "
 
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OP
D

DigitalPanda

Regular
Thanks for the friendly welcomes, everyone! It's great to see such a helpful and welcoming forum!

I would decide on either camping or hotels not both.
I think I agree with this. Even just for the sake of budget, If I'm going to have the camping gear I might as well use it the most I can, I mean it's free to use once I have it. And checking air-bnb there are definitely a lot of hostels, share rooms, etc under $25 but the issue practically is that most of them are heavily booked and often require a reservation a few weeks to a month in advance to reliably book them, so for a first timer like me who doesn't know exactly how far I can consistently go each day, the stress of having a bunch of reservations booked in advance would ruin the trip I think and deny me the freedom to change plans. So I think I'll try to stick largely to camping.
For those interested, I found This Map of campsites, onsen, and rest areas in Japan.

And thanks-a-million @Andy in Germany for all the links ^_^

As more details come together and I find more resources I'll try to share them here to get everyone's advice and hopefully help anyone else who plans a similar trip. Thanks again everyone :notworthy:
 

Tigerbiten

Veteran
I've just glanced at the bike you were thinking of.
It will be fine around town but it will make it very hard work uphill when loaded as it has no very low gears.
I'd look more toward MTB gears than road gears.
As a rough rule of thumb, on a tourer the biggest sprocket at the back wants to be at least the same size as the smallest chairing at the front.
That gives you at minimum a 1:1 hill climbing gear, which you will need with a camping load.

Luck ............. ^_^
 

Tigerbiten

Veteran
That depends if you can walk while pushing it. I'm pretty sure I'll have a nice walk up a big hill / small mountain next tour as my price for using a high-geared roadster. More time to enjoy the view!
I'll admit there's that.

I'm thinking more about at what angle does it become hard work and you need to get out of the saddle to climb.
With a couple more gears down then you maybe able to climb a couple of % steeper hill before you need to move out of the saddle.
Or you can expend slightly less effort climbing the same steep hill in the lower gear and therefore go can a few miles further that day.

As the OP admits he's a beginner, it's probably better he get a bike with a useful low gear now, rather than coming back and asking how to lower his gears.

YMMV ............. :biggrin:
 

united4ever

Über Member
Watching with interest, there are a lot of tunnels in Japan with few easy, alternative routes. What's the law on going through these high speed tunnels? - look dangerous to me.

Most Japanese people cycle on the pavement slowly...maybe Japanese drivers are not so used to cyclists on roads doing 15 mph plus.
 

PaulSB

Legendary Member
@DigitalPanda I'm not going to comment on the practicalities, bikes, kit etc. as many here have far greater knowledge than I.

The one point I would make is you have already identified the key to successful touring. That is not to have a schedule which puts you under stress to get from A to B to C. There are several ways to achieve this but make sure this is your approach.
 
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