Rinko Bukuro Bags – Taking the train with your bike in Japan

Whether you just want to do a day trip away from the city to avoid the trafficed roads or a longer overnight tour, you’ll probably want to take your bike out of the city. Take any train with you bike, as long as you have a rinko bag!

What is a rinko bag?

All train operators in Japan will let you on any train with your bike. The only caveat is that it must be in a bag. No exceptions. Consequently, many companies sell bags specifically for taking bikes on the train called “rinko bukuro” bags (輪行袋 in Japanese Kanji).

These bags are specifically designed for bicycles. You just remove one or both of your wheels put them with the frame into the bag and use the strap to carry it over your shoulder.

Compact Rinko bag stored at the front bulkhead of a train

Generally speaking there are 2 broad categories of bag: “Regular” and “Compact.” With the regular bags you simply pop the front wheel off and tuck next to your crank, turn your handlebars sideways and chuck it in the bag.

Compact bags take up less space in the train because both the front and rear wheels will need to be removed and lashed to the sides of your frame. Consequently, the compact variety is much easier to find spaces to stow on those limited express and shinkansen trains.

The two main disadvantages of taking off both of the wheels. Firstly, thereis the additional time it takes to remove rear wheel and secondly, with the rear wheel removed it leaves the most vulnerable part of the bike, the rear derailleur, exposed and more prone to damage.

Strong the rinko bag behind the seats of the Shinkansen

What rinko bag is good? How much do they cost?

Monbell Compact RINKO Bag Quick Carry L

Don’t let the name “compact” fool you. This bag from Mont-bell will be able to take your road bike easily with the rear wheel still on.

General Tips

  1. The MontBell Quick Carry bag is one of the easiest to use and personal favourite of this author.
  2. Practice getting your bike in and out of the bag two or three times at home. This is especially true if your first rinko trip relies on you being somewhere at a specific time along the way (e.g. you have a reserved seat on a Shinkansen) Don’t leave it until you need to catch a train! Getting the bikes in the bags isn’t difficult but it can be a bit counter intuitive the first time!
  3. The rolled-up bag can be stored in a jersey pocket, bottle cage, seat pack, or strapped to handlebars. (Or left in the locker at the train station if you’re coming back the same way and really really can’t manage the extra weight.)
  4. Shops just give away the plastic spacers for the front forks. They just throw them away. It’s a light and useful accessory to guard your fork against accidental scratching or squishing.
  5. Positioning on the train. Most trains have a bulkhead wall at the very front or back which is ideal to lean bike against. Many trains have a wheelchair space closer to the middle of the train. On limited express and Shinkansen trains it can be a bit tricker to not block things in the area between cars.
  6. We’re technically supposed to cover the entire bike, including the saddle. The MontBell bag recommend earlier doesn’t do this. Generally speaking, this isn’t an issue. However JR Shikoku has been known to be quick a stickler on this point. Either taking the saddle out or covering it with a lastic bag usually gets the problem solved quickly.
  7. Most rinko bags when stowed will be able to fit in one of the waterbottle holders, or alternatively (especially on those hot summer days when you want two watter bottles) on your front handlebars.
  8. Be concious of other train users and try to take a train outside of the rush hours (especially morning), not only can it be difficult get the bike on the train but you and it will be squished in with other train users.
Rinko bags can be kept in bottle cage holders when riding

What if I’m stuck without a bag?

if you do find yourself stranded and without a proper bag and need to get on a train (for example after some catastrophic mechanical failure, you can generally get yourself on a train in a pinch. head in to the nearest convenience store (“conbini”) and buy some large trash bags and tape. It doesn’t matter what the bike is covered with, so long as it’s covered. I have been caught out on occasion and had to resort to this. It certainly won’t look pretty but it will get you home!