Cycling the Setouchi Shimanami Cycling Course by Lukas
Quite Challenging: Getting there
The beds in Evergreen Hostel are just too comfy which resulted in me sleeping far too long on the day I wanted to cycle the famous Setouchi Shimanami Cycling Course: an approximately 70 km (~34.5 miles) long route from the City of Onomichi to Imabari City, going over six islands in the Seto inland sea.
Lucky for my late riser self the Shinkansen from Hiroshima Station runs every hour to Onomichi. So I took the streetcar to Hiroshima Station and bought a ticket to Onomichi for about 2,500 Yen. After 1,5 hours and two times changing trains I finally arrived.
From there the first thing to do is to rent a bicycle, obviously. Next is finding out where the cycling course actually starts. I got that information from the very nice (and English speaking) lady at the tourist information at the station. The bicycle hire is just about 500 meters (~0.31 miles) away from the station and has a variety of bikes. With my height of 193 cm (~6”4) I wanted to grab the biggest bicycle. It turned out to be too small, though. The fee is 1000 Yen plus another 1000 Yen deposit for a bike and a helmet for one day. If you want to finish your trip somewhere else you can give back the bike at any of the rentals all over the course. But you only receive your deposit if you return the bike to Onomichi (taking a ferry for the way back) or if you manage to get to the last station at Imabari. Spoiler: Because I slept through, I did not make it to the end and had to give up just before 6 p.m. when every rental point except the last one is closing.
After a short (2 minute) ferry trip I finally got to the point where I could start riding my bike. The ferry runs every few minutes and costs under 200 Yen, so no big spending here.
A little more Challenging: Riding the bike
The course itself is very impressive. Most of the time you have trees with lemons, oranges or grapefruits to your left and the gorgeous Seto inland sea to your right. I was quite lucky because of the beautiful weather. The sun was shining in my face and a little breeze made it a perfect day for a bicycle trip. And your body can get quite hot on this course, since it is exercise after all.
To get from island to island you will cross long, formidable bridges. So you actually will ride a bike over the sea, which is pretty cool! The course itself is rather diverse. You go up, you ride down and go around corners to have another look at that amazing view!
Finding your way is pretty easy. You just have to follow a big blue-white stripe on the road and look out for the sings and the next bridge you see in front of you.
The most Challenging: Getting back to Hiroshima
To get back to Hiroshima you have a few options depending on where you decide to stop cycling. If you stop on one of the first 3 islands after Okonomichi you can take a ferry back there and then hop on the train to Hiroshima. There are also a buses departing from all over the course back to Okonomichi. But you might not be able to take your bike on the bus. Also there is a bus going from Imabari to Hiroshima with stops all over the Cycling Course. That’s the one I ended up taking. The problem with this bus is: It only goes three times a day with the last one leaving from Imabari at 6:05 pm. The Website of the bus-company is http://www.setouchibus.co.jp/ if you want the check the exact timetable, sadly it is only in Japanese.
As I mentioned before I didn’t make it to the end of the course. That was not only because of the bike-rental-times but also because it got dark and I wanted to catch the last bus. So I stopped biking at Omishima, the fourth Island of the course. It was harder than I expected to find the place where I could return my bike. Actually I was pretty lucky I found it in time. Just imagine standing in front of a closed bike rental place in the middle of nowhere. I finally returned my bike (without getting the 1000 Yen deposit because it was another rental company).
I still had some time left until my bus back to Hiroshima came and so I took the opportunity to take a rest in the nearest Onsen (Japanese Hot Spring). One of the best things to do after an exhausting day! The Hot Spring was really good; it had an outdoor area with a view of one of the islands where you just rode your bike. I even met another German guy, what a coincidence!
After the refreshing bath I went to the bus stop in complete darkness and was very relieved when the bus really arrived. The Bento which I ate on my way back was one of the best meals I have had on my trip to Japan. All the exercise and relaxing in the Onsen afterwards made the food from the convenient store next to the bus station justas good as a trip to a 5-star-restaurant.