Iconic bridges, country lanes and panoramic views all unfold slowly in front of your eyes. This is the joy of cycling along the Shimanami Kaido cycling trail. A 70km journey that crosses six islands and connects the Japanese mainland to its fourth biggest island, Shikoku. This has become a mecca for cyclists and still caters for everyone – whether you are a serious rider racing against the clock, or someone looking for a fun day out.
“The cycle route? Turn right at the traffic lights and stay on the blue line, have fun!” explained the taxi driver waiting for potential fares while a sea of cyclists disembarked at the ferry terminal.
The boat had just unloaded another set of eager cyclists at Mukaishima Island just across the water from Onomichi – the start of the Shimanami Kaido.
In the bright sunshine in front of the terminal, a diverse mix of cyclists glanced at maps and went through their final preparations as they readied themselves for the ride ahead. The passionate cycling devotees sat gleaming in the latest garments and equipment on perfectly calibrated racing bikes. Others stood chatting with friends on their rugged rentals, ready for a relaxing day of sightseeing.
We were among the rugged rentals. It was a surprisingly swift turn around from stepping into the bike rental center in Onomichi, to cycling off along the designated route. Bikes were chosen, forms were filled, and explanations were given in snippets of English – all within a few minutes. It was like clockwork.
The returns system was more evidence that everything was engineered to lessen the burden on the riders. Rental bikes could be returned to the original rental shop, or dropped off at selected terminals on route. Good to know in case things get sore and a bus or ferry becomes too good to ignore. They also provide emergency numbers to call for punctures or any other eventuality.
For more advanced cyclists looking for high quality rental bikes, the Taiwanese bike maker Giant has its own rental system with shops at each end of the route. The Giant shop in Onomichi can be found inside the chic U2 building on the waterfront. For travelers who want to enjoy a high-end Shimanami experience, an overnight stay at Hotel Cycle in the same U2 building is highly recommended. The hotel was designed specifically with cyclists in mind and all rooms come with dedicated wall space for bikes.
The best thing about the Shimanami Kaido? It accommodates everyone, and people can cycle the route in whatever way suits them. For serious riders, it is the perfect distance to test endurance and feel the satisfaction of crossing the Inland Sea to Shikoku in one day. There is also a recommended advanced route on the English map for those who want to push that little bit harder. Some stretches of road are labeled with the motivational warning, “steep hills, you can do it!”
For people seeking a less testing journey, the route can be broken up into a two-day trip with an overnight stay on one of the six islands. If your itinerary will only allow for one day of cycling, and the thought of a 70km ride is too daunting to contemplate, a three to four hour ride will take you to Setoda Port, where a high-speed ferry will deliver you and your bike back to Onomichi.
The standard route guides you through small towns and vast stretches of coastline. The course was opened in 1999 and created with cyclists in mind. Most of the big climbs come before the major bridges, but these inclines have been carefully managed to be gentle on the legs. The bridges also have separate lanes and underpasses for cyclists, to keep you at a safe distance from fast moving traffic.
Thirst is not a problem on the Shimanami Kaido. In a country where you can find a vending machine on the summit of Mount Fuji, it’s no surprise that every few hundred meters one appears alongside the route. The cycling trail also passes local shops and restaurants, so you have ample opportunities to take a break and enjoy the local delicacies.
Each of the islands also boasts a number of worthwhile sightseeing spots. Kosanji Temple in Setoda attracts a lot of visitors, as does the Murakami Suigun Museum in Oshima Island, detailing the exploits of the famous band of Japanese privateers that once held influence over this part of Japan.
A slight detour into Omishima Island will also reveal a treasure trove of sights. For history buffs, the Oyamazumi Shrine has an astonishing collection of armors and swords on display once owned by legendary historical figures.
As with everything about the Shimanami Kaido, you are free to do and see as much, or as little as you want. The only thing that might dictate terms is tired legs.
Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route
The Shimanami Kaido connects Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture to Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku Island.
This article was based on a journey that started in Onomichi, but people also choose to start in Imabari and cycle north towards Onomichi.
Address： Shimanami Kaido. The following islands are connected by the Shimanami Kaido: Mukaishima Island, Innoshima Island, Ikuchijima Island, Omishima Island, Hakatajima Island, and Oshima Island.
For information about standard rentals please refer to the following website:
For information on high-end Giant bicycle rentals and Hotel Cycle, please check this website:
Words and Photography by Tom Miyagawa Coulton
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