I’m a pretty tough person. Notwithstanding all the wild things I’ve done outside of Japan—hiking to Everest Base Camp; jumping out of a plane in New Zealand—I’ve completed some of the most extreme activities here, from climbing Mt. Fuji to doing the Kumano Kodo in summer.
I bring this up not to brag, but to give some context: I didn’t think cycling ~70 km over the Seto Inland Sea would be a big deal at all. Spoiler alert: It was.
Now, this is not to say you shouldn’t cycle the Shimanami Kaido—you absolutely should. However, I encourage you to learn from the mistakes I made, and indeed from my hubris.
How to Rent a Bike for the Shimanami Kaido
Not surprisingly, if you want to bike the Shimanami Kaido, you’re going to need a bike. The good news is that there are many companies that offer bike rentals. The bad news? While an e-bike would obviously make this journey a lot easier, there’s some fine print that makes it impractical for most people to rent one. Namely, if you want to rent an e-bike, you have to ride it all the way back to Onomichi to return it.
If you want to do a one-way rental—and unless you feel confident that you can bike 140 km in one day, assisted or not, you’re going to have to—you need to rent an ordinary bike. I personally chose to make a bike reservation here, but there are many shops and even hotels in Onomichi (and Imabari, if you’re starting there) that can assist you in procuring a bike.
The Shimanami Kaido, Step by Step
A short ferry ride from Onomichi
After you rent your bike near Onomichi Station, the bike rental associate will advise you to bike around 500 meters to a pier. This will allow you to board a ferry that, in just a few minutes, will take you over the water to Mukaishima island, where the biking route officially begins.
The first bridge
Past this point, you start to get a feel for what it will be like to cycle the Shimanami Kaido. After crossing the first suspension bridge onto Innoshima island, you’ll cycle past gorgeous mikan orchards and through charming towns. You won’t have covered much ground, but depending on the wind, it may feel like you have.
Ikuchijima: Fuel up here
This will take you onto Ikuchijima, which was the first place along the Shimanami Kaido that I really started to feel like I was “there.” As you approach the town of Setoda, you’ll find a number of restaurants (or, convenience stores, if you don’t want to sit down). You’ll also find Kousan-ji temple, the route’s most famous tourist attraction.
More islands, more bridges
I hope that if you cycle the Shimanami Kaido, you’ll have better luck than I did past this point. As I made my way off Ikuchijima onto Omishima, Hakata island and finally onto the larger (and last) Oshima, two strokes of bad luck befell me. First, the sky filled with clouds. Secondly, my front tire went flat!
One last bridge
Of course, I didn’t realize this until I was biking down the steep hill from Oshima’s Kirosan Park viewpoint, at which point it was too late to do anything about it. Well, except bike over the extremely long Kurushima Kaikyo bridge, during which I discovered the being “almost” all the way to Imabari can still feel like a long way away.
Can You Do the Shimanami Kaido in One Day?
I did the Shimanami Kaido in one day, so I can say for sure that it is possible. On the other hand, it took me much longer to complete than I expected, even though I rented my bike in Onomichi right at 8 AM. In fact, I came within 10 minutes of not being able to return my bike in Imabari, and missing the last bus of the night back to Hiroshima. Some of this was due to my bike’s front tire going flat, but a lot of it was my own hubris.
The next time I bike the Shimanami Kaido—assuming there is one—I’m definitely going to stay overnight somewhere. Probably on Ikuchijima, as it’s both the island with the most things to see and do (I’m gutted I didn’t have time to visit Kousan-ji!), but also the one with the most hotels, even if properties like SOIL Setoda and Suminoe Ryokan are rather spartan.
Other FAQ About Cycling the Shimanami Kaido
How long does it take to cycle the Shimanami Kaido?
Official tourism authorities advise that cycling the Shimanami Kaido can take anywhere between 4-6 hours for expert cyclists, to 8-10 or even 12 hours for those who are merely sightseeing. However, based on my own experience, I really recommend spending a night on one of the islands to take some of the pressure off yourself.
What is the best bike for Shimanami Kaido?
Ideally, you would use an e-bike to complete the Shimanami Kaido cycling route. Unfortunately, as of January 2024, you need to return these bikes to where you rent them from, which is a complicated proposition, given that most travelers bike a one-way journey. On the other hand, while the ordinary bikes available for rental should get the job done, I know first-hand that this approach is not without its risks.
How far to cycle the Shimanami Kaido from Onomichi to Imabari?
The cycling distance between Onomich and Imabari is about 70 km, give or take, assuming you begin your journey with a ferry to the beginning of the trail, as the bike shop in Onomichi will recommend. Time-wise, you can expect the Shimanami Kaido to be an all-day excursion, unless you’re a competitive cyclist with little desire to stop and sightsee along the way.
The Bottom Line
I hope this post has encouraged you to cycle the Shimanami Kaido, and not made you afraid of it. There’s a reason the 70 km of trails between Honshu and Shikoku islands are known as the best cycling route in Japan. At the same time, having a higher baseline of information than I did when I embarked upon my own Shimanami Kaido journey will help you avoid some of the mistakes I made. Need personalized help working this adventure into your own trip, or deciding if you should do it at all? I do hope you’ll consider hiring me to plan a custom Japan itinerary—let me sweat all the details for you!