Cycling the Shimanami Kaido しまなみ海道 | 7 Bridges of the Setouchi Sea

Sunset across the Onomichi strait.
Sunset across the Onomichi strait.

Introduction

Quite possibly the most famous of Japan’s cycling courses the Shimanami Kaido is a stretch of islands linked by bridges that spans the Seto Naikai, or inland sea of southern Japan.

Situated between the main island of Honshu and the southern island of Shikoku, the Shimanami Kaido boasts views of turquoise seas, small fishing towns, endless islands of citrus, and the longest suspension bridge in Japan.

And the best part? Thanks to careful planning you can ride it all by bike!

Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route Map
Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route Map from Shimanami Kaido Setouchi Sea Tour.

The Route(s)

Though most resources out there will convey the Shimanami Kaido as an 80km ride from Onomichi to Imabari that takes 1-2 days, the route actually consists of over 250km of well labeled cycling routes across the islands!

The local governments have a great map you can download here, as well as purchase at many stores and tourist information centers once in Onomichi and Imabari.

If you are pressed for time, the main route is great and by far the flattest option. But, if you like to get off the beaten path and want to see a bit more of the local scene on these rural islands see our recommended route below!

The group stoked to see the final bridge!
The group stoked to see the final bridge to Shikoku!

Which Route is the Route for You?

One of the best parts of the Shimanami Kaido is the accessibility of the route. Thanks to careful route design, if you choose to do the main route most active people will find the 80km route doable in one day.

That said, if you have never ridden for 5 hours plus in a day, it will be wise break up the ride and/or do some training before hand as to not get in over your head.

For those that are more regular cyclists, or those looking to get off the beaten path there is much more be explored beyond the main route!

Steady coastline for days!
Coastline for days!

The Main Route | 80km, Mostly Flat

The main route that most people will ride is around 80km and takes anywhere from 3 hours to a full day to ride depending on ability and how much you stop.

This route is the easies to follow as not only do all the big signs point you where to go, but also blue arrows reading “This way to Imabari” or “This way to Onomichi” abound and reassure you at almost every intersection and turn.

While this is not our favorite route, this is a solid choice for those with limited time, or less comfortable with longer distances. You can also break this up into two days of roughly 40km each by staying the night on Ikuchijima Island.

Shimanami Kaido Main Route Cycling Map.
Shimanami Kaido Main Route Cycling Map.

Strava Route File ~80km & 500m gain

The magnificent shinto gate at the Oyamazumi Shrine.
The magnificent shinto gate at the Oyamazumi Shrine.

Osusume Course おすすめ〜

This is our favorite route for those with a little more time or are more comfortable covering more distance.

This course takes a meandering spin around each island with a fun stop on each island!

  1. The tasty artisan chocolate factory Usho Chocholatl
  2. The sweeping views from the Muku Bay Observation and Rest Area
  3. Spectacular heaven and hell of the Kousanji Temple Complex
  4. Ancient tree, temple, and kantas of the Oyamazumi Shrine & Weapons/Armor Museum
  5. The sandy shores of the Hata Okiura Beach
  6. The behemoth ship building at Aiesu Shipyard
  7. The perfect spot to soak it all in from the other side at the Kurushima Strait Observatory
Shimanami Kaido Osusume Course Bike Route.
Shimanami Kaido Osusume Course Bike Route

Strava Route File 132km & 1,300m gain

Picking a fresh mandarin by the sea.
Picking a fresh mandarin by the sea.

Things to Consider & FAQ About the Shimanami Kaido

I am an experienced cyclist who likes to ride fast. Is this route a good fit for me?

The Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route is designed for casual cyclists. It is designed around hybrid bikes and low speed riding for sightseeing.

This is a pro for the casual cyclist, but a serious con for more experienced or faster riders. The cycling paths are often narrow and poles abound making maintaining consistent speeds above 25kph downright unsafe.

If you want to cover ground at higher speeds you would do best to just stay on the roads and avoid the main route in exchange for an alternative route.

What kind of food is there along the route?

Being in the inland sea of Japan, this route is chock full of delicious seafood! Local specialties including red snapper and octopus abound and meals at hotels are very heavily seafood based.

Onomichi & Imabari both have a wide selection of food, but the islands are very limited in selection. If you like seafood, this is a win. If not, you will find it hard to eat in while on the islands.

That said, there are a fair number of conbini’s on the islands that will have options.

What if I am Vegetarian, Vegan, or don’t do seafood/meat/dairy/etc?

If you don’t read/speak Japanese your best bet will be the conbini’s as many have English on packaging. As with much of Japanese cooking, dashi (fish broth) will find its way into most all meals.

This is a tough problem with dining in the Japanese countryside, so if you can add just dashi to your dining palate for your trip you will expand your food options immensely.

Natural Beauty VS Concrete. Is the route naturally beautiful?

This is a tough question as the short answer is, it’s complicated.

Japan is a land of natural beauty and massive forces of nature. With that, those that inhabit the island nation are in a constant battle to tame nature.

This region of the inland sea is one of the hardest hit areas each year during Typhoon Season. And with that, the shorelines are protected most everywhere with tons and tons of concrete reenforcement.

That’s not to say you won’t see some sandy beaches and stunning teal waters, but 90%+ of this route is a concrete shoreline with retaining walls about 1m (3ft) high.

When on the islands all flat spaces have been occupied by housing, roads, or concrete, and the hillsides often held by concrete retaining walls or covered in citrus groves.

For those looking for more natural scenery we recommend checking out the Kita Kanto Region.

Is it Dangerous to cycle this route?

Far from it! Thanks to the ample support stations, signage, and other riders this route is very safe for all ability levels.

That said, if you have not ridden this long, or do not have any experience riding a bike before this could prove very difficult. This is not a great “first time riding a bike” or “first long ride” as the poles will prove difficult for beginners and you do regularly share the road with traffic.

Where Can I Rent A Bike?

There are lots of rental options at both ends in Onomichi and Imabari.

Onomichi Bike Rental Shops
Road & E-Bikes: The Red Bicycles
Single Speed Bikes: Better Bicycles
Cheapest Option: Onomichi Port Bikes
Name Brand & Higher End Options: Giant Store

Imabari Bike Rental Shops
Cheapest Option: Imabari Port Bikes
Name Brand & Higher End Options: Giant Store

Guided Tours: Shimanami Kaido Tour of the Setouchi Sea

How do I get back to Onomichi once I reach Imabari?

1) Ride Back – For those with some steam still in the engine why not ride back on a different route!

2) Bus from Imabari Station to Onomichi Station – This bus runs roughly every hour from 7am-7pm. These direct express busses will be able to take your bike as well. Fare is typically around 2,500 yen. You can use Google Maps to check schedules.

Sample route via Google Maps

How to I get to the Shimanami Kaido?

You can start from either Onomichi or Imabari, but we recommend starting in Onomichi.

If you are coming from any major city in Japan the JR Rail will be the easiest and fastest option. Here is a sample from Google Maps from Tokyo Station to Onomichi Station.

If you are coming from Osaka another option is the ferry from Osaka’s Nanko port to Ehime’s Toyo port just south of Imabari.

Seaside scenery of the Shimanami Kaido.
Seaside scenery of the Shimanami Kaido.

Pros & Cons of Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

Pros:

  • Seemingly endless coastline to ride
  • Fresh seafood everywhere
  • Easy to follow signage throughout
  • Easy bike rentals on both ends, but especially easy in Onomichi
  • Ferry between Onomichi and Imabari makes for easy one way riding

Cons:

  • Difficult for those with food restrictions around fish, meat, and wheat.
  • Most of the main route is on a shoulder of the main road on the islands.
  • Concrete abounds
  • Poles, Poles, Poles. Japan has a bit of an obsession with putting poles at every entrance and exit to a cycling/pedestrian path. The Shimanamikaido is no exception to this. Be prepared to gently weave your bike between these often metal pylons frequently.
  • Not designed for speeds over 25kph
The longest suspension bridge in Japan, the Kurushima Bridge.
The longest suspension bridge in Japan, the Kurushima Bridge.

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