An hour after devouring a plate-stacked load of sushi in Matsuyama, a slightly uncomfortable tension goes through my gut, “Oh no… My bag, wallet, cards and passport have been left behind. A quick phone call from our local guide Yuji Aboshi and the day is saved. Yes, Japan is very safe. I’ve been hit by my first adrenaline hit but this is just what I need to focus for the adventure ahead. The Shimanami Kaido Sportive awaits.
Words and Photography: Benjamin Weser
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Oyasumi – Good Night
Bleary-eyed and barely fuelled by our 7-Eleven breakfast purchased the night before, it’s just 4am as we’re politely guided onto the hotel shuttle bus headed to the Shimanami Kaido start in Imabari. The bus ride is quiet but behind those silent minds is a vibe of excitement. Every seat is filled with enthusiasm to hit the road and experience the stunning landscapes and bridge crossings that connect Hiroshima and Ehime prefectures.
After a one-hour power nap on the purring bus we arrive in Imabari. Our local cycling guide Aboshi san delivers our bicycles right on time. We install front wheels and gear up with snacks, shoes, helmet and jacket to stay warm as our pre-sunrise arrival with two hours to start time isn’t particularly conducive to full summer kit. As is standard practice, someone is underprepared and today Alexandre from France takes the title; warm enough up top but forgetting his socks and realising all our clothing is already on the way to the finish in Onomichi, the rest of us warm up more with laughter.
The air is fresh, and the sun is about to hit our faces while we lined up at the start. Time to peel of jackets and drop our bag of surplus supplied into loading stations for collection after the finish line – this morning is super easy and the organisation has been spot-on.
Straddling my top tube at the start line pretty much ready to go, at my side are eight other lovely human beings I spent the last three days with discovering Japan. Our group was next level multicultural; France, Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia. We all came for the same simple reason, to experience this beautifully-organised sportive called the Shimanami Kaido. Those following at home will remember how much we loved this route the first time but we simply had to come back and experience the real deal. Here we are!
The experiences and relationships forged through this cultural concoction deliver so much more than what lies between the start and finish lines. You can’t put a price tag on experiences like that. Traveling with like-minded people and doing the things you love like simply riding your bike, taking some snaps and telling stories to inspire others – sign me up for 2019, please.
I glance around, scoping kits, bikes and etiquette, many of the riders look fairly ‘casual’, I wonder if the 70km D-Course we’ve found ourselves in is the right choice. ‘Hey, Ken, I think we should have gone for the 110km or 140km’. A firm reply from Hong Kong’s MTB XC National Champion comes within one second: ‘Yes!’.
Start! The start signal injects me with the sense of being in a race, the sudden goosebumps aren’t due to the cool air. The non-competitive nature of the event is promptly reinstated in my mind as the tempo remains relaxed, 10 minutes in and we haven’t ridden faster than 20km/h. I am looking down to my Garmin and my heart rate shows a figure well under 90bpm – pretty much Zone 1. This is nearing complete. No worries. I re-focus and take the opportunity to capture some happy snaps while riding. I look around and see overly excited local spectators everywhere; cheering, whistling and waving flags with arms and body. I couldn’t understand a word, but the message was clear – welcome. Today we’re all one big family sitting on two wheels.
What: Shimanami Kaido Sportive
Where: Japan, Hiroshima Onomichi
How far: 30km, 70km, 110km, 140km
Next one: October, 2019. Date TBC
Price: $50-$170 (prices based on 2018 event, distance dependant)
More information: cycling-shimanami.jp
Read Ben’s full recount of his Shimanami Kaido ride in a coming edition of Cyclist. Subscribe and we’ll mail the next issue direct to your post box hot off the press plus we’ll even throw in a few extra goodies just for good measure.