Where to Start: Imabari or Onomichi
Starting in Imabari
- If you start in Imabari you'll start on a high. The 40km section from Imabari is considered by most to be the most scenic part of the cycle ride; the islands are less built up and slightly wilder and the bridges are at their longest.
- Despite both cities being at sea level, the downhills from Imabari are longer (and the uphills consequently steeper). This means you feel like you're going downhill for a greater proportion of the ride.
- Of the two towns, Onomichi is the nicer, it's a known tourist spot for local Japanese, and it has a bunch of great restaurants which are perfect for an end-of-cycle meal. To me, it seemed the better place to end.
- Imabari takes much longer to get to from Hiroshima, and it's easy to end up starting late in the day, especially if you don't spend the night before in Hiroshima.
Starting in Onomichi
- Starting in Onomichi means you get to save the most scenic part of the route until the end, giving you a much needed kick when you're feeling tired at the end of the day.
- Onomichi is easier to get to than Imabari, allowing you an earlier start to the day.
- The ride "feels" more uphill.
- You have to get back from Imabari at the end, which is a journey you might not be grateful for late at night/when tired.
Bringing your Own Bike
It's no problem getting your bike to Onomichi from Hiroshima as it is well connected by train. However, getting your bike to Imabari from Hiroshima is a pain in the ass.
From experience, the journey from Hiroshima to Imabari goes something like this:
- Cycle from Hiroshima Station to Hiroshima Port (6km).
- Get a ferry to Matsuyama. Be warned you cannot take your bike on the fast ferry, so you're stuck on the slow one for an eternity.
- Cycle from Matusyama Port to Mitsuhama Station (3km). This takes you through a horrible tunnel. There's a segregated pavement to the right side, get on this if you can, otherwise you'll spend a panicked six minutes inches from being hit by a car.
- Arrive at Mitsuhama Station. Put your bike back in its bag. Stick your bike on another train to Imabari (the doors open alternately at stations so there's no easy place to put it).
- Get to Imabari, unpack your bike and begin the ride.
Renting a Bike
- Giant Store: Offers a wide selection of bikes from decent to ultra-high-end-carbon-racers. Significantly more expensive (¥3,000/day +), and if you're only doing the route one way there's a fixed ¥3,000 fee to take your bike back to the start. Book more than a week in advance if you plan on doing the route at the weekend as supplies are limited. The staff speak good English. There is one store in Imabari and one in Onomichi, so there's no convenient option to drop off the bike if you get tired of cycling.
- Numerous shops in Imabari and Onomichi offer cheap rentals (¥1,000 per day). They also offer greater flexibility in that they can be returned at terminals across all the islands, not just at the start/finish. Various types of bicycle are available, including tandems (¥1,200 per day) and electric bikes (¥1,500/six hours), though the tandems and electric bikes must be returned to their original terminal. Advance reservations are not necessary.
One Day or Two Days?
If you are renting a bike, your day will be limited by the opening hours of the shop you rent from, so an extra day will reduce the time pressure, especially for less experienced riders.
Where to Stay
I had assumed we'd be in a dorm but my sister and I were given a private room with twin beds, and they served a huge Japanese-style breakfast that got us raring to go for our second day on the road. They also have an onsen (hot bath) which is GREAT after a day on the bike.
You can see more accommodation options on the map at the top of the page but I can't give any my personal recommendation.
What to Bring
There are cafes and restaurants along the route, but these are mostly limited to the bigger towns. I advise bringing a bottle of water (or two) and a couple of snacks to keep you going if you start losing energy while in the wilderness between towns. Make sure you have enough cash, as you might find it difficult finding an ATM when you need it most and many shops/hotels only accept cash.
What to See
We debated spending the night in Imabari, but instead chose to ride through the evening to our hostel. This wasn't so much of a problem as I had a head-torch and the rental bike came well equipped with a powerful front LED light. The route isn't that well lit, and it gets really dark at points, so I wouldn't recommend doing it at night if you don't have lights. The lack of light also meant we missed most of the views, but it was such a surreal experience doing it in the dark that, in hindsight, I don't really mind.
The second day was spent cycling through fog and drizzle. Again, we got unlucky with the views, but all-in-all it's such a pleasant cycle that it really didn't matter. We found a great pizza restaurant in Onomichi to finish. It doesn't appear to be on Google Maps, and I can't remember its name, but it's to the left of the station as you face it. If you get into the shopping arcade, you've gone too far.