I’ve written before about the limitless reasons you should travel to Japan and explore it by bike, but with an e-bike in particular the experience expands. The pedal assist allows you to move at a more consistent pace, so in turn, you can take more time soaking up the fascinating cultural and visual highlights of a visit. But there's a host of other reasons why an e-bike and Japan are so well suited, so I've shared them below along with some extra insight into touring Japan and e-bike touring in general - Here are my 9 reasons to explore Japan by e-bike on your next adventure.
Yamaha E-bike used on Japan tours
How does an e-bike work?
First, let’s clear up what I mean by e-bike. It’s a bicycle that looks and mostly feels like a regular bike, but it’s not quite. It has a lithium battery and a small electric motor integrated into the pedal/crank assembly which adds to the power output on your own pedal stroke, so no pedaling, no momentum. So it doesn't do all the work for you, a frequent misconception, it simply augments what you put into the bike, thus making you go faster than you normally would for the same amount of effort. The power assist is also adjustable, so you'll still getting a good workout on the lowest setting, and if you struggle a bit on hills, then the higher assist settings can be very useful.
E-bike through Japan's meticulously kept streets, and lush forests
It’s also important to know in this article I'm referring mostly to a dedicated e-bike tour of Japan, where everyone else in the group is also on e-bikes. Originally, Grasshopper Adventures introduced e-bikes as an option on regular tours and this option still stands. But then we got to thinking about the game-changing capabilities of e-bikes and realized that there was an incredible opportunity to use this technology to create a better tour for everyone.
Now I've clarified these points, allow me to share these 9 reasons as to why it's a fantastic idea.
1. You have more time to explore this exquisite destination.
Because everyone in the group is riding an e-bike, you can all achieve a similar average speed. The bikes are limited to 19 mi/30km per hour, so that’s the top speed people will be riding on the flat or uphill sections of the road. When descending, those who are more confident will move faster, but that doesn’t have a big impact on average group speed.
Kengo Kuma's public library
You can expect to ride at an average speed of 25-28km per hour (15-17mi), so a door-to-door ride from the exciting city of Matsuyama to the charming little mountain town of Yusuhara, is only going to take you around 3.5 hours; and that includes the intriguing stops along the way. So in turn, when you arrive in Yusuhara you have the whole afternoon to explore. This means more time to enjoy Kengo Kuma’s beautiful library (pictured), sip a pour-over coffee from a barista who takes it all very seriously, or soak your bones in an authentic outdoor onsen. It’s not like you are rushing the ride experience, there is still plenty of time to stop, chat, take some photos and enjoy the company of your fellow travelers. It’s just that you move a little more quickly and consistently, arriving earlier at your destination.
2. You have more energy & recovery time.
Japan is a hilly country and if you aren’t riding those hills on a tour, then you aren’t on the best tour in Japan. What this does mean is that there are days when your legs are a bit jelly-like after the ride and the next day you can be feeling a little stiff. With an e-bike, even if you push hard on a low assist setting, the shorter ride time means you have plenty of additional time in the afternoon and mornings to recover, and you’ll find the overall tour a lot more enjoyable.
Enjoy hills with ease through beautiful forested terrain.
You'll have the extra energy to spend your afternoon visiting the Ikuo Hirayama Museum of Art in Setoda. Here, this most celebrated of contemporary artist’s work is showcased, including pieces depicting his journeys on the Silk Route. You might also explore the interesting Gojo Onsen area of Matsuyama, a city of half a million people that you’ve likely never heard of. How you make use of this extra time and energy is obviously up to you, but there is no shortage of things on which to use it.
Japan's delectable cuisine sits at your fingertips
3. You can still eat, plenty!
A big part of any visit to Japan is the food. The good news is that even on an e-bike, you are still getting a great workout and need to fuel that. After a ride you'll want to enjoy all the great cuisine Japan has to offer, including the most amazing Sushi and Sashimi you will ever have the opportunity to eat. To say that the Japan e-bike tour has a strong food emphasis would be a mild understatement. You will fall in love with the culinary side of Japan just as much as the cultural side. If you would like to know more about the local cuisine, check out these 7 foods you must try in Japan!
More time to stop for photos with no catch-up stress
4. You can catch up after a photo quicker.
We’ve all been in that situation. There’s a great scene to snap a photo of, but it’s your sixth photo stop of the day. You’re pretty tired of playing catch up with the group so instead choose to skip the shot. Well, that’s not an issue with e-bike tours in Japan. Go ahead and capture that memory from your tour, then just flip the pedal-assist setting to the highest and easily cruise back to the tail of the group.
A variety of cycling skills can be combined
5. You and your travel partner can comfortably ride together.
E-bikes have been called the great biking equalizer. They provide the opportunity for people to ride together when they might not ordinarily be able to do so. My wife, Marie, and I are a prime example of this. Marie is a good rider, but there are a bunch of factors on my side that make me a much faster rider. This leads to obvious differences when we are touring together. About a year ago, we bought a couple of e-mountain bikes and started riding those on the weekends. I can have a cruisy ride on the lowest setting and Marie can hold the same speed on the next setting up. It’s been so much fun being able to comfortably ride side-by-side again and enjoy a chat while we do.
E-bikes are common transportation for daily use in Japan
6. You are in good company.
E-bikes have actually been a thing in Japan for a lot longer than most parts of the world. They were designed for short-distance travel — commuting in a city or dropping kids at daycare, doing the shopping, that sort of thing. What this means is that as you are humming along on your e-bike, you’ll be meeting lots of other people going about their daily lives. You can all exchange a knowing look that you have graduated to the future of bike touring.
7. Absorb more culture.
Visiting the studio of the foremost authority on the art of Washi Paper and then actually making the stuff yourself is quite a special experience. The pace of an e-bike tour means there is no rush, you get to really absorb the story of Washi Paper, and also of Rogier himself, the locally based aficionado. As a Dutch national, he calls Japan home after being captivated by Washi Paper many decades ago.
This is just one example of how a faster ride makes for a slower move through the cultural connection of a tour.
Less vehicle transfer means more time to explore
8. Less vehicle transferring.
Because the group is traveling at a more stable, more predictable pace, we can plan distances better, and on long days you can cover the distance with confidence. While there are lots of variables that impact the range of e-bikes, you can comfortably cover up to 90km on a battery. As a result, there isn’t much need to transfer by vehicle and that’s great. Let’s face it, sitting in a van in your riding gear is not something you do unless you have to.
But just because we can cover longer distances doesn’t mean we do. We recognized that this game-changing technology could be put to better use giving you more time to enjoy destinations, forgo van transfers and make the most of the extra opportunities.
Pristine roads snaking through incredible terrain
9. The routes and roads of Japan are world-class.
The quality of the roads is really a great mystery in some ways. The population density in some areas we ride is probably not sufficient to warrant a high level of road investment. But the layers of government in Japan continue to maintain even seldom-used roads to an incredibly high standard. The routes this makes available to us are just incredible. You can ride through the mountains and along valleys where you might see a car once every 20 minutes, but you are riding on silky smooth tarmac with ample shade overhead.
The big thing is the topography. It’s absolutely stunning. The winding climbs are breathtaking and the descents are just so much fun! On an e-bike, you can really enjoy this riding every day without becoming excessively fatigued.
Bask in the renowned politeness and hospitality of the Japanese people
Beyond the gorgeous landscape, culture and food, the other experiences never cease to amaze. Encounter spiritual wonders like the 88 Henro Temples and indulge in the calming sense of peace and order offered by the Japanese people, alongside great consideration and kindness.
If your next adventure is about inspiration via beauty, culture, connection and giving yourself the time to take it all in, then Japan is the place and e-bike is the way!
Learn more about our Japan E-Bike Tour.