Getting geared up for the open road

Getting geared up for the open road

Getting Geared Up for the Open Road


Getting a License:

If you already have a motorbike license from another country, you can be issued with an equivalent Japanese one. If you have a Japanese car license, you can ride a scooter or a motorbike up to 50cc.

If you have an international bike license, you can ride a bike of any size. If you’ve never ridden before, the best way to learn and to get your chugata license (up to 400cc) is to enroll in a driving school.

If you have a Japanese car license, this greatly shortens the time it takes to complete the course, as only 18 hours of riding classes are required; there is no written test. Plus, Japanese proficiency is not a must to enroll.

The course costs about 80,000 yen and instruction is generally excellent. To get an ogata license (over 400cc), if you already have the chugata you can take a riding test at a driving-license center. Alternatively, you can enroll in an ogata license class, which consists of 12 hours of riding class and costs roughly 60,000 yen. If you only have a Japanese car license and want to get a big bike license, the cost of the course rises to 136,000 yen and involves 30 hours of riding lessons.


Buying a Bike:

The best used bargains can be through private sales - but inspect carefully before you pay, because you're on your own later. Even though you end up paying more, there are some advantages to buying from a dealer. First, you can choose the model of bike you really want.

Second, good shops offer a warranty for at least three months (or usually a year for new models). Finally, they do all the paperwork to get you on the road. Finding a good bike shop is crucial. The bike area in Tokyo’s Ueno district is good for accessories, clothing and parts, but some have a dodgy reputation for selling rebuilt bikes, or ones with their odometers rolled back.

Word of mouth is probably the best way of locating a reputable dealer. Haneda Honda in Ota-ku, Tokyo, is good for new and used Japanese bikes and BMW models. The owner, Takao Sato, speaks English, and offers renewable theft insurance for both used and new motorcycles.

At Motorcycle Doctor Suda, located in Machida City, the owner, Takahisa Suda, speaks English and will negotiate on your behalf in the event of an insurance claim if you buy accident or theft insurance through him (even if you don’t buy a bike there). Motorfield Frontier of Machida has a good range of bikes and a great oil-change program For a one-time fee of 15,000 yen, they’ll do free oil changes every 3,000 km for as long as you own your bike. If you ride a lot, that adds up to huge savings.

Red Baron, a major chain with more than 220 shops in Japan, offers a six-month warranty on used bikes not more than five years old. Its new and used bikes come with a free 200-km-range (from the nearest shop) roadside rescue service. Alternatively, there are many bike magazines with thousands of ads for new and used bikes. Three of the leading ones are Goo Bike, UBike! and ChampU.


Which model?

Choosing the right bike is a personal decision, but here are a few guidelines. A 250cc bike or a scooter is good for riding around town. They have plenty of power and you don’t need to pay expensive shaken fees . If you are planning long tours, opt for the wind protection offered by a bike with a fairing. If you like camping, consider a dual-purpose bike that can handle both paved and dirt roads. If you love speed and great handling, a sports bike is the ticket.



Mandatory vehicle insurance in Japan (jibaiseki) only covers the medical expenses of the other party in the case of an accident. It’s highly recommended that you also buy optional insurance (nin’i hoken), which covers the other party’s property damage, namely, damage to their vehicle. This is reasonably priced and the same for most bikes. As incidents of motorcycle theft are on the rise, be sure to buy theft insurance, though as claims are increasing, many companies do not offer it for used bikes and will not renew the one-year coverage available with new bikes.



Any bike over 250cc must undergo a shaken (safety inspection) every two years, which also involves renewing the mandatory insurance, registration and paying road taxes. Dealers generally charge about 80,000 yen to do all this. If you speak a little Japanese, you can get it done yourself, for about 35,000 yen. Call your local vehicle inspection office for details.



There’s no point in denying it. For all the joys of motorcycling, the fact that you’re traveling at high speeds, balanced on two wheels with no bodywork to protect you makes it an inherently dangerous activity. However, good riding habits, correct apparel and defensive driving can greatly improve the odds in your favor.

For example, it’s vital to maintain a keen awareness of your surroundings and leave a safety zone between you and vehicles around you. This goes for parked cars as well, as drivers often open their doors unexpectedly. Improve your skills by taking free courses offered by the police at motor vehicle centers.

  • Avoid following a taxi. Taxi drivers often stop suddenly and sometimes swerve across multiple lanes of traffic.

  • Riding in the rain presents special hazards.

  • When asphalt first gets wet, oil rises to the surface, making it very slippery. As it takes more time to brake safely, you should ride slower.

  • Manhole covers and painted lines, in particular, become very slick when wet.

  • Ice is your main enemy in the winter, and mountain roads become hazardous from December to March. Take care on bridges as they freeze over faster than roads.

  • Helmet shields also tend to fog up in cold weather, especially when it’s raining. Various products, such as Fog City, help counter this.

Commuting on a bike in the city greatly increases your chance of having an accident, not only because you’re on very crowded roads but because car drivers are in a rush to get to work on time and often throw caution out the window.


Riding Gear:

As the old adage goes, "dress for the accident, not for the ride." When a spill can’t be avoided, good riding gear can be the difference between minor aches and major injuries. This means a good helmet, preferably full-face, sturdy leather gloves and boots, and preferably a padded, motorcycle-specific jacket. Motorcycle pants with armor for the knees and hips are also highly recommended. 


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