By JJ Walsh
The Shimanami Kaido Expressway connects six islands from Onomichi in Hiroshima to Imabari in Ehime. Seven spectacular bridges link these tranquil islands in the Seto Inland Sea, Opened in May 1999, six of these unique bridges were designed to be crossed by automobile, bicycle or foot. The bike paths for the entire course are therefore very safe for cyclists to use regardless of your level of fitness. The bike ride is 70 km in total and provides users with spectacular aerial and land views of the diverse landscape these islands are famous for.
Bike rental is available from Shimanami U2 at 7am at Onomichi a port and 9am at Imabari. Bikes can be reserved at least 4 days in advance of your trip to ensure that you get the type you are after. Alternatively you can arrive at the rental counter early like I did to ensure that you get first pick of the bike selection.
The Shimanami Kaido also provides a cyclist with great flexibility as the experience can be tailored to your own itinerary and fitness level. Your start point can be from either side at Onomichi,or Imabari as the bike paths are marked from either direction. Cyclists have the option of completing the route in one day or breaking it into a few sections by staying in accommodation along the way. Alternatively you can choose to complete a section and catch the ferry to back Onomichi from Setoda, Ekimae, Shige, Higashi, or Sawa Port and your bike can be returned with you for ¥1350.
To start this journey from Onomichi a ferry will take you and your bike to Mukaishima Island for ¥110. Upon arrival you will find a large map of the island to your left to help get your bearings and a blue line on the road which to guide you through the entire Shimanami Kaido. I found the bike trail easy to follow as there are large signs to ensure that you are traveling in the right direction and alert you to upcoming turns.
As you wind your way through each island you will notice the relaxed attitude of its inhabitants and scenery that evolves from farmland, shipping yards, industrial sites and the beach. The changing scenery alleviates your mind from focusing too much on your bike riding and makes this trip much more manageable. Cycling across the Shimanami Kaido also provides you with the flexibility to deviate off the main road to stop in small towns to see sights along the way such as the Hirayama Museum, Kosanji Temple or a hot radon bath at Tatara Hot Spa.
There are many rest stops, bathrooms and places to eat along the way which are marked on the map provided when you rent your bike. My traveling tip is to plan some stops along the way to provide you with shorter goals to reach rather than the full 70 km.
Lastly, you will also notice toll boxes at the end of each bridge however, they are not for bike riders so there is no need to stop for these. You can save that money for a well deserved ice-cream or two at the end.
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