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The Shimanami Kaido Cycling Guide – Japan

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The Shimanami Kaido Cycling Guide - Japan

ReeceBy Reece   Posted 22nd Mar 2023

If you have twin passions for East Asian cultures and cycling tours in Japan, you likely have some familiarity with the Shimanami Kaido. Even if you’re a cycling enthusiast with only a burgeoning interest in Asian cycling holidays, you may have encountered this term before. This is because the Shimanami Kaido has cemented a reputation as one of the most unique, beautiful, and popular biking routes not just in Japan and Asia, but the world.

At Grasshopper Adventures, we have included this renowned route in our Japan E-Bike Tours and Stunning Shikoku Bike Tours of Japan, we've used our experience to create this Shimanami Kaido Cycling Guide.

If you have any questions about our bike tours in Japan, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. In the meantime, please read on for more information about the iconic Shimanami Kaido cycling route.

What is the Shimanami Kaido?

The name Shimanami Kaido has become shorthand for the cycling route itself. However, the name actually refers to a 60km-long toll road connecting the country’s main island of Honshu with the smaller island of Shikoku. This is why you may also hear Shimanami Kaido referred to as the Nishiseto Expressway.

To connect Honshu and Shikoku, the route passes over six much smaller islands scattered across the Seto Inland Sea. Due to this varied geography, the route hops over water and islands via an interconnected network of paths and long-reaching, eye-catching bridges. The result is an easy-to-follow, relatively flat cycling route surrounded by spectacular scenery. It not only has plenty for the eye to feast on, but it’s also suitable for cyclists of most levels.

The island of Shikoku also features on our roundup of Top 7 Bucket List Tours

Onomichi City in Japan

What Route Does the Shimanami Kaido Follow?

Starting in the north and heading south, the Shimanami Kaido begins in Onomichi City, Honshu, and terminates in Imabari City, Shikoku. The six islands between these two locations are Hakatajima, Ikuchijima, Innoshima, Mukaishima, Omishima, and Oshima. There are multiple routes you can take to explore these welcoming, picturesque islands. Of course, the extent of your exploration will depend on how much time you have.

If you’re looking for the simplest trail from start to finish, you can follow the blue line painted on the path itself. Running between the JR Onomichi Station and the JR Imabari Station, the blue line indicates the most straightforward route from one end of the Shimanami Kaido to the other.

For even more Japan cycling inspiration, read through our 9 Reasons to Explore Japan by E-bike.

Is the Infrastructure Set Up for Cyclists?

Absolutely! The route opened as recently as 1999, so the bridges are attractive and modern and feature dedicated cycle lanes separated from traffic. Having been maintained to a high standard, the path itself feels as safe and fresh as ever! So there is no need to worry about the conditions and you can get on with enjoying the beautiful views. It's what makes this route perfect for a cycling holiday in Japan.

Over 150 partners participate in the Shimanami Kaido program and are dotted along the route, including guest houses, cafes, and retail shops. These rest areas welcome cyclists with open arms. You’re never too far from drinking water, local food, toilets, air pumps, bicycle stands, benches, and other conveniences. On the islands, the cycling route diverges from the expressway via ramps leading down from and up to the bridges. These will keep you separated from the traffic and have gentle inclines to suit cyclists of all levels.

Cycling on Shimanami Kaido

How Long Does it Take to Cycle Shimanami Kaido?

You have ample opportunities to diverge from the direct blue-line route, as mentioned previously, and explore the beautiful islands between Honshu and Shikoku. As such, the length of time it takes to complete Shimanami Kaido depends entirely on the path you plan to take and how far you want to cycle each day. It’s this flexibility that makes Shimanami Kaido so appealing to cyclists from around the world.

When following the most direct route from start to finish, it’s 70km (slightly longer than the expressway) on relatively flat terrain. As such, more experienced cyclists can complete Shimanami Kaido in a day. However, to explore a little more of the islands and truly soak in the stunning scenery, we advise extending the trip over two days.

This is exactly what we do on our Stunning Shikoku and  Japan E-Bike Tours. The Shimanami Kaido represents the first two days of these multi-day adventures, with an overnight stop on Ikuchi Island, the third of the six islands. Both tours enjoy the route at this more relaxed pace, allowing you to soak in the beauty and ambiance on display at every turn.

When is the Best Time to Cycle the Shimanami Kaido?

Generally speaking, the climate in this part of Japan is quite pleasant throughout the year. However, we advise avoiding cycling in the rainy season (the end of June and early July) and the height of summer, as it can get quite hot. It's also good to avoid the middle of winter (January) as this is not as nice for enjoying the outdoors, which is the whole point!

The ideal time to cycle Shimanami Kaido is in the spring months of March to May or autumn’s pleasurable spell between September and November. No matter when you visit Japan for your biking trip, make sure to check out these essentials for cycle touring.

Why Should I Cycle the Shimanami Kaido in a Guided Group?

The primary benefit of cycling this famous route with a guide is the knowledge they can impart. The guides at Grasshopper Adventures are bilingual and experts in the areas they lead rides through. As you progress along Shimanami Kaido, they can color everything you see with fascinating insights into the local history, culture, and geology.

And because you’ll be in a small group of other cycling enthusiasts with an interest in Japan, you’ll be among like-minded people. This combination of incredible scenery, expert insight, and great company makes the perfect recipe for an unforgettable cycling experience.

Cycle the Shimanami Kaido with Grasshopper Adventures!

We hope this introductory guide to the Shimanami Kaido has provided the information and inspiration you need to start planning your own adventure. If you would like to join an expert-led trip with the leaders in Asia bike tours then browse our range of Japan cycling tours to find the perfect trip for you.

And remember, you can always contact us for more information about any of the tours we operate, be they in Japan or other destinations throughout Asia.





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