Ehime: Cyclists Return to the Scenic Shimanami Road

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A family cycles along the Shimanami Kaido Cycling Road in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

IMABARI, Ehime — The Shimanami Kaido Cycling Road, which links six islands in the Seto Inland Sea, attracts about 300,000 people each year. With a total length of about 70 kilometers, the cycling road runs between Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, and Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. The road was chosen as one of Japan’s representative cycling routes in November 2019, amid a global cycling boom.

Construction of cyclist-related facilities has made progress along the road while a special boat carrying cyclists and their bicycles is currently in service. An international competition scheduled for this year was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But cyclists ranging from children to adults have gradually been coming back to the road where infection prevention measures have been put in place.

“The view seen after biking up a steep mountain road is superb,” said a 35-year-old man from Saijo, Ehime Prefecture.

“This is the best view you can see along the Shimanami Kaido,” he added and smiled.

For a bit of adventure, you can cycle across the 4-kilometer Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, then hike up the mountain to the Kirosan Observatory Park after turning off the cycling road. At the park’s observation deck, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea, including lush green islets, the swirling sea and vessels coming and going.

Shimanami Kaido was open to traffic in 1999 as one and last of the three liaison bridge routes linking Shikoku and Honshu islands. Shimanami Kaido differs from the other two — Seto Ohashi bridge and Akashi-Kaikyo Bridges — because it has a path for pedestrians and cyclists, which was created on behalf of the islanders.

Publicly operated bicycle rental services started when the route was opened to traffic, but the number of bicycles rented were at low levels, though it topped 70,000 in the initial year of operation. The low number was due to a shortage of repair spots and a toll that was imposed. The fee was set at ¥50 to ¥200 for passage across each bridge between the islands, so cyclists were required to pay ¥500 to pass through the entire Shimanami Kaido.

Taiwan’s leading bicycle maker Giant Manufacturing Co., commonly known as Giant, opened its own outlet at JR Imabari Station in 2012. The company’s founder visited the location and rode along the route on one of his company’s bicycles, despite his old age — contributing to a boost in the worldwide reputation of Shimanami.

A cycling competition was held in 2013 with the use of the Nishi-Seto Expressway, which runs alongside Shimanami Kaido. And since the year that followed, “Cycling Shimanami” has been held biannually as a major international cycling event.

In the meantime, the bridge tolls were lifted in July 2014, thus contributing to a sharp rise in the number of people visiting. Visitors from both home and abroad amounted to an estimated 330,000 in fiscal 2018.

Kenji Kawahara, the manager of Sunrise Itoyama, which is one of the cycling terminals in Imabari, said emphatically, “We’ll carry out measures to prevent infections without yielding to the coronavirus, thereby further broadening the base of cyclists.”