The Shimanami Kaido is one of my favorite cycling routes in Japan. While the route sounds quite intense, most of the inclines are manageable—as long as you stick to the main route—and speeding down the mountains can be very rewarding. Crossing the first few islands from Onomichi can feel tough at times with frequent ups and downs, and some busy urban areas. However, pressing on makes it all worth it as you get used to cycling the long distance and the views just keep getting better. We've covered the route in a few articles here, as it tops our top three cycling routes in Japan list, but this time we're giving you the full experience.
Watch the video above to experience the journey and then read below for the key spots along the route.
Starting Point — Onomichi
Walk out of the JR station in Onomichi and you might find yourself a little lost. Though avid cyclists set up their bikes in the designated setup areas, there doesn't seem to be a place to rent a bike in sight. Take a right once you exit the station towards the shopping mall and the bus station. Keep walking down the street and you will find the official bicycle rental terminal. Here, you can rent a bike for ¥1,000 per day and the bikes are well kept. However, walk on slightly further to rent a road bike at the Giant Bike Store. Bikes start at ¥4,000 a day but having a cross bike or a road bike will set you up well for the route to come.
Once you've got your bike, head over to the port to board the ferry for ¥110 to Mukoujima Island and you're all set to go! You don't need a map—just follow the blue line directing you towards Imabari.
The first part of the route seems underwhelming with the views that have been promised but push on and you will certainly be rewarded later on. Snake past all of the cars and buildings to eventually make your way to the first incline, and therefore the first bridge.
After you speed your way down the first bridge, the views become more promising. Cycle past forested paths and scattered beach coves and enjoy the nature as you cycle while still feeling fairly refreshed. Do note that at some points on this island you'll be faced with some of the steeper climbs of the route.
Reaching the end of Ikuchi Island should definitely feel like an achievement. You would have almost reached the halfway point and the views just keep getting better. The beaches may be small but are frequent. The waters become a glowing turquoise blue and getting away from the built up towns provide fresher air. In fact, there are several hidden and lesser-known beaches along this route that will provide you with a perfect place to take a breather.
Cross over to Omishima Island and take a long deserved break at the Cyclist Sanctuary. Drop off your bike and head into the michi no eki (道の駅, rest area) to purchase some of the local products. The islands are famous for its production of citrus fruits, and the fresh 100% orange juices made from locally sourced produce is certainly a recommendation. Try out the dekotan (でこたん, pictured above) to experience the sweetest and the most flavorful orange juice available on this island.
Heading into Hakata Island signals the final stretch of the route. This island is exceptionally good for its winding paths, especially for those inclines and declines around the bridges. Power through this island quickly to give yourself enough time for the final island.
Oshima is the final island you will need to cycle through before entering the Shikoku city of Imabari in Ehime Prefecture. If you have any energy left, head down the Island Explorer route. It will potentially add an extra 10-20 kilometers (6-12 miles) to the total of your route with some unforgiving uphill climbs to navigate the mountains, but the views and the hidden beaches are some of the most pristine and rewarding aspects of the cycling route.
The Final Stretch & Sunrise Itoyama
Aim to hit the final long stretch of bridges as the sun is setting to fully appreciate the natural views of the Seto Inland Sea and the islands sporadically placed across the waters. If you are lucky, you may also see some whirlpools developing in the waters below. Cycle to the end of the bridge and head over to Sunrise Itoyama for an affordable stay where you can park your bike and rest comfortably for the evening.