Cycling on the Shimanami Kaido for Beginners.
Enjoy the rare views on an E-Bike!

Cycling on the Shimanami Kaido for Beginners. Enjoy the rare views on an E-Bike!

Cycling on the Shimanami Kaido for Beginners.  Enjoy the rare views on an E-Bike!
Just For Fun

The Shimanami Kaido is a sought after route for any cyclist, whether pro or amateur and whether they’re from Japan or overseas. However, there is a huge difference in elevation between the island routes and the bridges connecting them, so those lacking in physical strength or suffering from a lack of exercise might find them to be a bit of a challenge.

For people in those categories, this article will tell you how to enjoy the Shimanami Kaido as a beginner using an e-bike, a sports bike with integrated motor assistance which can be rented at Sunrise Itoyama, the starting point of the Shimanami Kaido on the Ehime side.

Our guide for the article will be Arashi Murakami, head of the consolidated cyclist support facility Wakka located in Omishima, one of the top tourist destinations on the Shimanami Kaido. This article is a must read for those who wish to challenge the Shimanami Kaido or those who want to try out their first sports bicycle. 

 

What are the key points to enjoying your first ride in comfort on an e-bike?

— I’d like to ask you the key points to enjoying the Shimanami Kaido on an e-bike, but first, could you tell us more about the bike itself?

Murakami: The e-bike is a sports bike, much like a road bike, mountain bike, or cross bike, to which an integrated drive unit has been installed to make it electrically assisted. So in other words, the mechanical configuration of the bike is slightly different from the other so-called electrically assisted bikes.

Arashi Murakami

Arashi Murakami

What are the major differences between an electrically assisted bike, like an e-bike, and normal bikes? 

Murakami: The biggest difference is that because of the electrical assistance, a wide array of users can enjoy cycling irrespective of age, gender, or physical strength, such as those who have given up on the idea of cycling because they’re not strong enough, or those not confident to try long rides or cycling up hills.

The bike allows such users to enjoy the special exhilaration unique to cycling, the sense of achievement from reaching the destination, and the changing scenery and townscapes on the way.

E-BIKE

E-BIKE

Murakami: On the other hand, malfunctions when falling over is a surprisingly frequent problem. While it depends on the size of the battery, e-bikes typically way two or three times more than a normal cross bike, so anywhere between 20 and 25 kilograms.

The bike stand is small compared to its weight, so it can fall over when parked, or it might fall over when the rider gets tired. I often hear about the screen breaking when that happens.

But despite those aspects, electrically assisted bikes are much easier to ride (laughs). The ups and downs along the Shimanami Kaido and on the islands of the Seto Inland Sea can be severe, so it is the perfect environment for e-bike cycling.

I understand that the saddle is set higher on sports bikes such as the e-bike. Isn’t that one of the aspects that might be unfamiliar to a beginner?

Murakami: With casual bikes, most users adjust the height of the saddle so that both feet reach the ground when they sit on it. They might put their things in the bike’s basket, or carry their child in the child seat, so they feel safer if their feet touch the ground.

But with sports bikes, you adjust it so your feet reach the lowest position of the pedals, and the best position is when your knees are slightly bent. This allows you to communicate your strength to the bike efficiently via pedaling.

The best position is with the knees slightly bent

The best position is with the knees slightly bent

Murakami: So in other words, the high saddle height is actually good for casual bikes, not just sports bikes. To give a slightly over simplified example, you could almost say that if you had a $10,000 bike with a low saddle height compete against a $500 bike with a high saddle height, the cheaper bike would win. The amount of fatigue when riding long distances would be completely different.

The ease with which you would be able to climb hiss would also be completely different. Sometimes I see people who have managed to reach the top of the hill where the incredible view is waiting for them only to be too exhausted and out of breath to enjoy it. Those people usually have their saddle set too low (laughs).

— Be that as it may, it can still be scary to sit on a high saddle. How do you deal with that?

Murakami: First, step over the part of the frame in front of the saddle. Then you put your foot on the pedal, and then sit in the saddle just as you start pedaling.

Climb into the saddle after first stepping over the frame.

Climb into the saddle after first stepping over the frame.

Murakami: Some people also tip the bike at an angle to get into the saddle, while others put their foot on a step or similar first, so it’s a good idea to experiment with finding your own approach.

As soon as you get up and start pedaling, I’m sure you will realize the trick to it. But the most important thing is your sense of balance. When you stop, you should gently tip the bike to the side to put your foot on the ground.

— E-bikes have gears just like road bikes and mountain bikes. How should those be used? 

Murakami: The basic rules is to use the outer (higher) gears for flat areas and inner (smaller) gears for climbing hills.

Pedaling with outer gears is heavier and requires more strength, but once you pick up speed, you can go pretty fast. Meanwhile, inner gears make the pedals lighter which is great for climbing hills, but you can’t go very fast.

You can enjoy cycling more by adjusting the gears effectively to conserve your strength and reduce muscle fatigue.

Changing gears

Changing gears

Murakami: Another thing to consider is how many times the pedals go around per minute. In other words, are you cycling for aerobic exercise, or for anerobic exercise?

Setting the pedal resistance low and pedaling a lot will make you sweat from the aerobic exercise, which is great if you are dieting. Meanwhile, setting the pedal resistance high and continuing to pedal at that setting is good if you want to develop muscle strength.

— That’s very informative. Sports bikes have several different types of handle. How should you choose the right one?

Murakami: Generally speaking, the flat bars used on cross bikes and mountain bikes are fine. However, if you are riding long distances, such as 100 kilometers, than it is easier to use drop handles.

It becomes obvious when riding long distances, but the position of your arms with flat bars is unnatural and wears out your shoulders. Meanwhile, the position of your arms when using drop handles is natural. You just have to build up your abs to use them properly (laughs).

Flat bars

Flat bars

Drop handles

Drop handles

— What are some things that you should watch out for when riding the Shimanami Kaido on an e-bike? 

Murakami: You should always make sure that the remaining battery capacity is enough for the distance and elevation of the course you want to ride. For example, a ride around the coast of Omishima would be about 40 kilometers, so it is important to check the remaining battery capacity as you go to make sure it is enough.

Also, it is important to reduce the weight of your gear as much as possible, though this is true for all bikes, not just e-bikes.

You should use light weight clothes, though you don’t have to go so far as to wear a bicycle racing outfit. For example, I wouldn’t recommend wearing jeans because they’re heavy and can damage the saddle from friction.

Murakami: It also goes without saying that you should always wear a helmet all the time. While unfortunate, an accident will always happen eventually due to various unexpected circumstances. For example, wild boars frequently charge into the road all of the sudden as you’re riding down a hill on Omishima.

Modern helmets are very light and have good ventilation, so they’re quite comfortable. Don’t let the idea of wearing a helmet seem bothersome, just do it.

Helmets

Helmets

 

Hidden spots that you will especially want to visit when riding the Shimanami Kaido on an e-bike

— Now I would like to ask you about lesser known spots along the Shimanami Kaido that even beginners could enjoy if they use an e-bike.

Murakami: The first island you arrive at if you start on the Ehime side is Oshima, and I recommend without hesitation that once there, you should visit the Tanoura Pass (Tanoura Toge).

It is located on route 48 going counter-clockwise around the circumference of Oshima from the northern end where it connects with Oshima Bridge. There you will find a very challenging incline, as the name suggests.

Tanoura Pass (Tanoura Toge)

Tanoura Pass (Tanoura Toge)

Murakami: However, the amazing sight once you reach the top and begin to descend on the other side makes it worth it. The view of the ocean is so encompassing that you almost wonder if you are going to be sucked into it.

It’s a long incline, so it’s not normally a place that beginners can get to, but on an e-bike, you can climb it easily, so I really recommend you give it a try.

— Oshima is better known for the view from the Kirosan Observatory, so I did not know about this pass. How about Hakata Island, the second island reached from the Shikoku side?

Murakami: On Hakata Island, one of the smaller islands along the Shimanami Kaido, I recommend the mountain known as Kaisan. During the cherry blossom season in April, you can enjoy an almost complete 360 degree panoramic view of cherry blossoms from the peak of the mountain. But you have to climb a long incline to get there, so it’s a difficult destination for beginners. It’s no trouble at all though if you’re on an e-bike.

Cherry blossoms on Kaizan

Cherry blossoms on Kaizan

Murakami: Also, a slight distance from Hakata Bridge on the south of the island, I recommend a place called Funaori Seto. Funaori means “ship breaking”, and refers to the famous intensity of the currents at this point that are strong enough to damage ships. This is another place with challenging inclines, but the view of the currents from the top of the cliff is really impressive.

Funaori Seto

Funaori Seto

Funaori Seto

Funaori Seto

— The island of Omishima, where Wakka located, is bigger compared to the other islands, isn’t it?

Murakami: The circumference of the island is around 40 kilometers. That would take about two and a half hours for a fast rider, and over three hours for a beginner.

This is the main destination along the Shimanami Kaido for tourism. In addition to the hot springs and accommodation options, there are also several art museums such as the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture.

There are plenty of places to go on Omishima, so it’s hard to pick one, but let me tell you about the Washigatozan Hill Climb to the highest peak on the island. Also known as the one of the best lesser known views on the Shimanami Kaido, the 360 degree view from the island’s highest peak is overwhelmingly moving. It is definitely a place worth visiting.

Washigatozan

Washigatozan

Murakami: However, there are some sections of road that are unpaved, so I recommend tackling it with a mountain bike or cyclo-cross style e-bike. You will experience a type of cycling that is different from the norm.

— It’s true that from what I’ve heard from people cycling on the Shimanami Kaido, I’ve hardly heard anything about Washigatozan.

Murakami: There’s one other spot I’d like to mention that is out of the ordinary. There’s an elevator situated at the center of the first bridge you cross when traveling the Shimanami Kaido from the Shikoku side, the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge, that allows you to descend to a small island called Umashima.

Umashima

Umashima

Murakami: It’s not a tourist spot. There’s just one village of a few dozen people. But it’s really nice because you can get a sense of the real lifestyle of the people of Setouchi. The Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge seen from the island below is also quite impressive.

The Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge

The Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge

Murakami: There’s also a cave at the edge of a beach on the south of the island that can only be seen during low tide, and you can see a rocky area beyond that if you go through to the other side.

Umashima

Umashima

Murakami: There you will find the swirling currents of the Seto Inland Sea flowing right before you, and the ships traveling back and forth are also really impressive. This is a key spot for transportation in the Seto Inland Sea passed by ships from various different countries. When I go there, I always check the shipping schedule using an app called Findship.

— These don’t sound like places a beginner cyclist would normally go, so I’m surprised you can get there easily on an e-bike.

Murakami: Well, I’ve often see sights such as beginners on e-bikes riding past advanced riders on sports bikes going up hills.

I hope the e-bike can help everyone to discover the joy of cycling and have fun taking in the many views and destinations on the Shimanami Kaido.

PROFILE

Arashi Murakami

CEO, Wakka Inc. Arashi Murakami won the top place in the Glocal Frontier Award for Ehime Prefecture in 2018 with his business plan for a consolidated facility for cyclists geared towards foreigners and senior citizens. He established Wakka in the same year. He plans to open another facility for cyclists on Omishima in March 2020.

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