This article is part of FT Globetrotter’s guide to Tokyo and a new cycling series, Ride with the FT

Bicycles are an indispensable part of Japanese infrastructure. Even in Tokyo, where the temperature rises above 30C for weeks with inhumanely high humidity (and a capillary-like network of air-conditioned public transportation to counter it), cyclists are still everywhere. In Tokyo’s population of 14m, there are an estimated 8.4m bicycles.

The typical Japanese city bike is mamachari — “mother’s bicycle”. Sturdy and perfect for daily use, these bikes are also meticulously well-designed, with a sizeable basket, a small attachment to hold an umbrella over you and, in many cases, one or two child seats.

In recent years, though, the mamachari market has slowed and sportier bikes have become increasingly popular as the population grows more health- and eco-conscious. And, as with so many trends in Japan, manga plays a role here too: Yowamushi Pedal, a popular series about an anime geek who joins a road-race team at his high school and strives to be a hero, brought a strong tailwind. (An English version is also available.)

Unfortunately, there are far fewer cycle-only routes in Tokyo than in European cities. Governments, central and local, promise to spend even more tax money to extend the network, but the pace is slow. For the moment, we are still obliged to ride on the road alongside cars and lorries or jump on a train or metro to a safer cycling route. It is often worth heading out of the centre to the suburbs or city limits for a greener ride.

Below are four suggested routes in Tokyo’s outer suburbs, all reachable by public transport with your bike. The idea is to kill two birds with one stone — to enjoy a long, scenic ride with a delicious gourmet stop-off en route.

Where to ride

You can cycle on the pavement under certain circumstances. But if you want to ride fast, you should stay on the road, on the left. Make your hand signals clearly visible to drivers when making turns. Obey traffic lights even if no vehicle is nearby.

Insurance

Since April 2020, it has been compulsory to have bicycle insurance in Tokyo. It is fairly inexpensive — most policies cost less than ¥5,000 (£45/$32) per year — and can be purchased online, at a convenience store or through your mobile-phone carrier. Without insurance, cyclists could be liable for very high damages. At least two court cases in the past 15 years ordered cyclists to pay nearly ¥100m (about £650,000/$920,000) in compensation to pedestrians for severe injuries caused by careless riding.

Travelling with your bike

You can bring your bike on board for free on all of the major train operators in the Greater Tokyo area, including Japan Railways (JR). In fact, the routes mentioned below are easier if you take a train one way, either to the start or home at the end, depending on where you are based. But there are some conditions: you have to disassemble your bike and fit both wheels and the frame into a bike bag (rinko bukuro). Also, the cycling community encourages you to travel in the end car of the train, which is usually less crowded: a Japanese way to coexist — be considerate to others.

Globetrotter Longer Tokyo cycle map, Shin Kiba to Kawagoe

The Arakawa cycling route runs some 90km between the mouth of the Arakawa river (JR East’s Shin-Kiba station and Minami-Sunamachi station on the Tokyo Metro are nearby) and Musashi-Kyuryo, a huge national park in Saitama prefecture. Most of the route is paved, marked and flat, as it runs along a wide riverbed, making for a very smooth ride. But it is not cycle-only — you will have to navigate your way alongside joggers, walkers and dog-lovers.

You might continue up to Musashi Kyuryo, which itself deserves a day-long visit — it has an impressive 17km bicycle-only cycling route (bike rentals available: ¥420 for three hours for adults, ¥270 for kids under 16). But I would leave the river at Kamigo Bridge, 50km from Shin-Kiba, and turn left at Route 16 (watch out for fast trucks) towards Kawagoe. Nicknamed “Koedo” (Little Edo), it has a number of Edo-period shops and warehouses. It’s a must-see if you live in or are visiting Tokyo.

Globetrotter Longer Tokyo cycle map, Haneda to Hamura

Officially known as the “Tama River 50km”, this is probably the most well-known cycling route in Tokyo and popular with those who enjoy long-distance. The starting point in the map above is right next to Haneda, one of the busiest airports in the world and a symbol of Tokyo as a global city. But soon you will be riding alongside the river, flanked by small factories and warehouses, then large condos, followed by nice shopping centres. A few hours later you’ll be pedalling through greener scenery, despite still being in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, the paved route is much narrower than that of the Arakawa path, with even more joggers, walkers and dog-lovers. Another downside is you have to cross the river from left to right and back to left several times to get to Hamura, so it’s best to cycle with someone who knows the way the first time you go. Lunch? My recommendation is to take a 30-minute detour from Tamagawara bridge to Jindaiji temple; there are several good Jindaiji soba-noodle restaurants nearby.

Globetrotter Longer Tokyo cycle map, Misaki-Guchi station to Oiso Station

Misaki-Guchi station, the last stop of the Keikyu line, is in the middle of nowhere — a quiet residential area with few shops in sight. Exit the station, get your bike ready, and off you go to the right (heading north) for a long ride along the Miura Peninsula and the arc of Sagami Bay.

After a couple of kilometres of easy downhill riding through Hayama and Zushi seaside resorts, you will enjoy beautiful coastline views of the Pacific along Route 134. Halfway along the route you’ll reach Enoshima, a small island with a variety of good seafood restaurants — one dish to try is shirasu donburi, or a bowl of rice with lots of small fish. You can also stop off at Kamakura, a historic town full of shrines and temples with a large statue of Buddha. Until you get to Enoshima, Route 134 is a single carriageway, so it can be slow in heavy traffic. See it as an opportunity to enjoy the ocean view, rather than exercise.

Globetrotter Longer Tokyo cycle map, Koremasa Bashi bridge to Lake Tsukui

This is a harder route than the first three, but worth trying in many ways.

Here is a chance to experience what it’s like to be an Olympian cyclist. Koremasa Bridge is the start of the competition part of the Olympic road- race course (244km for men, 137km for women). This suggested route takes in about 20km of the Olympic course along Onekan (pronounced o-nay-kan, meaning an arterial road on a mountain ridge), one of the most popular cycling routes for enthusiasts because of the relatively wider road, fewer traffic lights and some decent ups and downs.

You can attempt the entire road-race course, as all of it is on public roads; there are maps available online, including this one. But this is not for me, so my suggestion is to make Lake Tsukui the goal of the day and enjoy a scenic view of blue waters and, in autumn, colourful trees.

Another 12km or so and you will get to Takao station, where the JR Chuo line will take you back to central Tokyo. Or you can head for Hashimoto station on the JR Yokohama line, which is closer to Lake Tsukui. In which case, be sure to pedal on a bit further to Ogino Pan, a bakery known for its agepan (deep-fried) and anpan breads (stuffed with red-bean paste), which will restore your energy levels. You can also take a look inside its factory.

Maps by Liz Faunce

Where do you enjoy cycling in Greater Tokyo? Tell us in the comments

For more stories like this, visit ft.com/globetrotter, check out our guide to Tokyo, and follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at