Announced earlier in Fall 2018, the Boso Bicycle Base (BBBase) is a concept train designed specifically for the transport of bicycles and cyclists to the Boso region in Chiba Prefecture for special events and on a pre-determined weekend schedule.
Read about our previous coverage on the Boso Bicycle Base.
Early next year, the East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) will start a weekend service connecting Tokyo to coastal areas in Chiba Prefecture.
Geared specifically for bicyclists, the Boso Bicycle Base (BBBase) train presents an opportunity for casual cyclists to explore the Chiba coastal region and exposes those less acquainted with the Boso peninsula to suggested cycling courses.
Starting January 6th, the BBBase train will depart Ryogoku station every Saturday and Sunday morning. From January through March, each weekend of the month will focus on a different region of the Boso peninsula. Those interested in riding the BBBase must reserve their seat(s) at least 5 days in advance to one of the four courses: Sawara, Choushi, Uchibo, and Sotobo.
For each destination, JR East has meticulously prepared and made available online cycling route maps in short (avg. 20KM), middle (avg. 40KM), and long course (avg. 60KM) variations. Of course, more avid and exploratory cyclists may opt to seek more mileage (just be back to the appropriate train station in time for the return trip!).
Departs Tateyama 1710 - arrives Ryogoku 1938
Departs Katsuura 1743 - arrives Ryogoku 1938
If you're just visiting Japan and/or unsure about the rinko mode of bike transportation, the BBBase presents a unique one-of-a-kind train experience. Those able to ride directly (or drive) to Ryogoku will be able to enjoy the BBBase most; after all, having to rinko to Ryogoku, only to assemble your bike again admittedly does defeat the BBBase train's "no assembly required" claim to fame.
On the other hand, those already familiar with the rinko process are likely to find the prices steep and the rigid schedule constricting, especially for a day trip. Frankly speaking, we don't foresee too many serious cyclists riding the BBBase unless it is offered a transportation option bundle for a sporting event.
As the number of large-scale sporting events increase annually throughout Japan, JR East has seen a rising demand in the deployment of the "cycle train". For those keen on sports events and activities in the Boso area, the BBBase is a positive step by Japan Rail in understanding consumer trends and meeting new demands.
The Boso Bicycle Base
The train used for the BBBase will be a modified version of an older train model with six cars. Cars 1 to 3, 5, and 6 will be designed to allow bicycles to be racked alongside seating for cyclists. The fourth car will be a multi-purpose space meant for small gatherings, such as event briefings. At maximum capacity, the BBBase train will hold 99 bicycles and seat 99.
The cheapest day trip comes in at ¥6,500 (Sawara) and you could fork out ¥8,800 for the most expensive Uchibo course with a Wadaura (rather than Tateyama) start. With the exception of the Sawara course, each course offers a variety of overnight packages...but as previously mentioned, you'll need to book these through JR and a relatively strong command of Japanese may be necessary for a successful reservation.
As a mode of transportation, JR has evidently given a lot of thought to making it bicycle and cyclist friendly. The exterior is simple yet appealing - there are no strange mascots and the neutral grey color scheme is minimal but tasteful. Little touches like the non-slip floors, outlet ports at each 4-seat cluster, and changing rooms will certainly be appreciated by cyclists post-ride. The free space in car four is particularly useful for event briefings and as a space to stretch your legs or chat in a more spacious area. The lack of WiFi onboard is disappointing but that's nothing new in Japan. JR is not actively nor widely promoting the BBBase in English, so making reservations may be challenging without linguistic support.
It's true that cyclists desire more creative solutions in regards to bicycles on public transportation in Japan. The BBBase may be a small extravagance for some cyclists but for all, it's a unique way to experience how JR East have tried to understand consumer trends and meet new demands.
Within the constraints of current circumstances and the expectations of the broader general population (whom we assume aren't so eager to see fully-assembled bikes maneuvering the already congested trains and stations), the BBBase is at the very least, an olive branch to an expanding community of casual cyclists (with a good command of Japanese). We have high hopes that JR will continue to expand its efforts in accommodating the finite wants and lifestyles of their passengers.
The BBBase always departs from Ryogoku station Platform 3 for two reasons. Ryogoku is a JR rarity because the station features a solo platform which, while perfectly usable is not usually open to the public and reserved for special purposes. A separate platform is important because it means cyclists and their bikes don't have to mix and mingle with the regular train riders. Additionally, Platform 3 is unusual for being level to the ground (refer to photo below). Almost all JR platforms are elevated and require stairs, elevators, escalators, or a combination to access but Ryogoku's platform 3 is ground-level, meaning you can literally ride right into the platform, and onto the BBBase train.
Neat experience on a concept train
Meeting space is great for special events, e.g. event briefings for a triathlon
Non-slip floors, bathrooms (including changing rooms), and electric outlets are surprisingly useful for cyclists stomping around in cleats, needing to clean up or change post-ride, and for charging devices, especially those necessary to upload data on Strava
Comfortable seats are nice when you're sitting for 4+ hours round trip
Convenience of being able to ride on without disassembling and packing into a rinko or bike box
Recommended cycling courses and packaged plans are useful to the uninitiated
Must get your bike and self to Ryogoku
Strict schedule to follow (you could take the local trains back, but not without a rinko!)
Seats must be reserved at least 5 days in advance
Costly and feels over the top for cyclists already familiar with Japan and who know how to get around
Lack of English support or guidance makes it challenging for those who can't read/speak/write Japanese
No wifi onboard means your Instagram uploading is going to have to wait