Cycle Easy: Japan's best routes for casual cyclists

Japan has some of the best cycling routes for casual cyclists who want to add a bit of excitement to their trips. Bikes are easy to rent, the routes are well-prepared, and Japan's convenience stores and vending machines are waiting to support you on every stretch of your adventure. We picked two staple routes you can add to your next visit and asked people who have recently completed them for their tips and insider knowledge. Lia from Ryokan Wanderings answered our questions about the 70 km Shimanami Kaido going from Shikoku island to mainland Honshu. Then, Kyde and Eric spilled the beans about their recent cycle around Japan's largest lake, Lake Biwa.

Don't forget to read the first part of this cycling series where Shin, who cycled 19 000 km across Japan last year, told us about his favourite cycling areas and gave us some tips on how to prepare for a longer distance spin.


Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido is a 70 km long scenic bike route that stretches across several smaller islands on the Seto Inland Sea. It's really easy to follow the main route as a blue line leads you from the start until the finish, also telling you how long you have left until the end (you can explore the islands a bit more if you want to). You can start in Imabari on Shikoku or in Onomichi. Both offer bicycle rentals and often you can rent a bike on one side and return it in the other town. If you are not an experienced cyclist, we recommend starting in Imabari to get more favourable winds and less steep climbs but both work well as starting points.

@ryokanwanderings

Here is what Lia told us about her recent adventure:

How difficult was it to cycle Shimanami Kaido?

Shimanami Kaido is a relatively easy cycle for individuals. The routes are clearly marked out with easy to difficult (longer) routes colour coded, and for the most part the route is flat and smooth until you go uphill to go over the suspension bridges.

Who would you recommend it to?

I think Shimanami Kaido can appeal to a range of ages and abilities, as you can take your time, stay overnight on the islands - if you get tired you can drop off your bike on the various islands and just take a ferry. We saw families, young children, elderly, every age group you can imagine cycling along the islands.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you attempted it?

If we were to do it again, I would give ourselves 2 nights to stay over (instead of the one) on different islands just so we could explore more, and really experience the islands and local life.

Do you have any tips for first timers?

If you’re not a serious cyclist, wishing to do a roundtrip of the Shimanami Kaido in one day (which they do) - definitely give yourself one night to stay over on one of the islands, to give yourself and your bottom a breather.

Have you tried cycling anywhere else? Do you have any recommendations?

Yes,  we cycled the Kunisaki Peninsula and beyond in Oita Prefecture afterwards. Again, relatively flat and easy unless you do what we did and go over mountains… (that made it difficult)

You can read more about Lia's cycling adventures in Oita prefecture and her Shimanami Kaido cycle on her blog Ryokan Wanderings or take a look at her beautiful pictures on her Instagram.

Biwa-ichi

Biwa-ichi is a more impressive route that runs around Lake Biwa and is approximately 200 km long!  It takes three or more days to complete it but it's a great opportunity to explore this beautiful area north of Kyoto. You can 'cheat' and shorten it by cycling across the Biwako Ohashi Bridge and not going around the South Basin to cycle 50 km less. If you are tight on time, you can easily rent a bike and just spend an afternoon taking in the views. You can find more information about the different routes available here.

We asked the YouTube couple Kyde and Eric about their impressive trip:

@kydeanderic

How did you prepare for cycling around Lake Biwa?

We didn't prepare much! Just did some google searches to find a popular route around the lake, and then found a wonder bike rental shop in the area to book the bikes. It was all super easy on their website. 

Do you have any tips for people who want to follow in your steps?

If it's your first time on a longer distance bike trip make sure you are riding high quality riding bikes set up properly for your size. It made the ride lots of fun and easier than we expected. 

Is there anything foreign visitors need to know before cycling in Japan?

Some areas of Japan require insurance for biking. It's cheap and can be arranged at some convenience stores easily. Look into it online before a trip, it could save you a huge headache. 

@kydeanderic

Have you tried cycling anywhere else? 

Nope, our trip around Lake Biwa was actually our first multi day bike trip. I haven't personally cycled it, but a bike trip around Hokkaido in the summer would be amazing as well. Hoping to do it someday.

You can watch videos from their Lake Biwa adventures on their YouTube channel here or follow them on Instagram

Read the first part of this cycling series, where Shin who cycled 19 000 km across Japan last year, told us about his favourite cycling areas and gave us some tips for beginner cyclists.

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