Cycling the Shimanami Kaido
Cycling the Shimanami Kaido in Japan may just be bicycle heaven. Gorgeous views, tasty and frequent food and drink stops, and the best cycling infrastructure I’ve ever seen.
The Shimanami Kaido is a 70 kilometer route for cyclists and pedestrians linking Honshu, Japan’s largest island, and the lovely island of Shikoku. The path begins in the town of Onomichi on Honshu and, six bridges and six islands later, reaches the town of Imabari on Shikoku. Although the recommended route could be done in a single-day, it is easy to stretch into a multi-day trip with museum, ice cream, and photo stops to keep busy.
We arrived in Onimichi mid-afternoon and were delighted to find the U2 – a cyclists’ hotel!
After a quick planning session over lunch, we hopped a short ferry to Mukaishima, the start of the ride.
We arrived in Onimichi at the end of Golden Week (Japan’s busiest holiday period) but still found the path nearly deserted. There were other tourists riding, but it wasn’t crowded at all.
The ride through the islands was lovely – with both natural beauty and many spots to stop and have food, drinks, or local “salt” ice cream. And throughout the ride there are “rest stops” – areas with bike parking, clean restrooms, local delicacies, and small restaurants. It almost felt like a supported ride because there were so many options for drink and snack spots. If it had been a little warmer, we could have taken a mid-day swim as well.
But the true wonder of the Shimanami Kaido is the cycling infrastructure. The roadway through the islands is an expressway, and the cycle path follows the expressway’s bridges – but with modified approaches for cyclists on the bridges. The cycle paths approaching the bridges are carefully constructed so that the grade is not too high (averaging around 5%) and easy to climb, even on a fully-loaded Brompton.
And the views from (and of) the bridges are incredible. Green islands, deep blue sea, and soaring, friendly infrastructure.
We camped somewhere near the half-way point, at Sunset Beach on Ikuchijima Island. For 1400 yen (around $12) we got an entire lawn for our tent. Another 300 yen each ($2.40) got us three minutes of hot shower. It wasn’t the best deal in the world, but still much less expensive than a hotel.
I don’t have that much to say about the ride because it was just a pleasant, easy experience. After the challenges of riding in India – and even Nepal – riding in Japan sometimes feels like it is almost too easy. My only complaint is that I have nothing to complain about.