The Shimanami Kaido is undoubtedly one of Ehime Prefecture’s primary attractions. Not just for cyclists, but for any tourist visiting the area. The series of bridges spanning across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea make for a stunning experience by car, but arguably even more so by bike. By cycling the route, you are taken off the expressway and down into the islands themselves. You experience firsthand the beauty of the tree covered mountains and bluffs, the winding local roads through the islands small towns and villages.
The first time I cycled the Shiminami Kaido was with a friend after a day in Hiroshima. We rented bikes from Onomichi and headed along the trail southwards. While many have argued with me, I believe this direction is by far the most enjoyable. Not only are there less up hill climbs (for those of us who are not that inclined towards physical exercise, this is fantastic news, though there are still plenty of vertical slogs to conquer), but also, if you manage to complete it within a day, you will be rewarded at the final bridge between Oshima and Shikoku with a stunning sunset over the Inland Sea. While you can cycle northwards and still have a fantastic experience, for me, the sunset over the final, largest bridge on the route was simply too awe-inspiring to miss going the opposite direction, and made the 76km grind feel that much more rewarding.
The route is incredibly simple so there’s no need to worry about getting lost or constantly praying for signal so you can check google maps. Just follow the blue markings along the roadside and you know you’re on the right path. The route itself follows a nice routine; first you cross a bridge, arguably the best part of the trip as the views are spectacular. Second, you descend spiraling pathways to the base of the island. Then you cycle across each island in turn, either following its coastline or through their mountainous interior. Finally you ascend back up to the beginning of the next bridge. Across, down, around, up, rinse and repeat. Each island also has enough individual flavor and atmosphere to keep the cyclist interested throughout the day. One island is nestled comfortably between two others, creating amazing inlets and waterways between them. On another, you are taken through the mountains and forests; another is more populated with towns and villages, ideal for stopping and catching your breath and a quick drink or snack; yet another has a beachside resting station, perfect for lunch and an ice cream.
Here are a few pieces of personal advice for anyone looking to cycle the Shimanami Kaido, particularly if you aren’t an avid cyclist like me. If you are renting a bike from one of the rental stops at either Onomichi or Imabari, do you’re best to find one with good gears and a good seat. If you can get there early enough, you’ll have your pick of the lot. Gears are essential for tackling the bigger inclines, and you don’t want to be stuck riding one of the 3 gear granny bikes. If you can, I recommend purchasing a seat cushion from the bike shops near the rental spot. Trust me, your posterior will thank me. Next, drink lots of water and energy drinks. There are plenty of convenience stores and supermarkets in the towns along the way, plus vending machines, so keep yourself hydrated. You must wear your helmet while cycling the Shimanami, especially when riding a rental bike. You can of course cycle your own bikes, but you will need to transport them to the start of the route yourself. And finally, just a word of encouragement to any who are on the fence about cycling the Shimanami. I myself am no fitness nut, I don’t cycle regularly, and usually require comprehensive and lengthy persuading in to order to engage in physical activity. I have completed the Shimanami three times to date, and am keen to do it again. It is a fantastic experience, one not to be missed while staying in or visiting Ehime. 76km is a long way for most people, but it can be comfortably done within a full day of cycling. If not, there are places on the islands where you can book rooms to stay the night, in order to make it a weekend trip.
Well, that’s pretty much it. Not much more for me to say, except I hope to see you on the Shimanami one day, hopefully not as you speed past me. Happy cycling. Look at that sun set. Look at it. Sigh.
Ralph Duffy-McGhie, Matsuyama