Long Blue Line: Cycling Shimanami

A long blue line runs 70 kilometers, across picturesque islands and over majestic suspension bridges, between Onomichi and Imabari in Japan. This is the famous Shimanami National Cycle Route, a trail that Singapore native Poh Yu Seung and his wife selected for their first bicycle tour. The couple packed their Brompton-style folding bikes and flew to Osaka, home of the famous Shimano Museum. From Osaka, they took the train to Onomichi, where they began their cycling journey. Yu Seung shares the unique characteristics of the Shimanami Islands, as well as learnings about Japanese culture, a fascination with the Brompton folding bike, and the rich Japanese bicycle industry tradition, which is largely unknown both domestically and abroad.  

Episode Transcript

Yu Seung: You know, Gabriel, for you, if you just turned up there today as a bicycle tourist, you just literally need to look for a thick blue line of paint. I’m not joking, it’s really true. Super amazing blue line of paint, like Smurf blue, you know?

Gabriel: You just heard Poh Yu Seung invite me to follow the blue line of the Shimanami National Cycle Route, as it winds across picturesque islands and over majestic suspension bridges. I previously knew nothing of Shimanami, and very little about cycling in Japan. By the end of the episode, I had gotten acquainted with the unique characteristics of the Shimanami Islands, and also learned much about Japanese culture, the Brompton folding bike, and the rich Japanese bicycle industry tradition, which is largely unknown both domestically and abroad.  

Sandra: You’re listening to The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. In this podcast, you’ll meet people from all walks of life and learn about their most memorable bike touring experiences. This is your host, Gabriel Aldaz.

Gabriel: Hello cycletouring enthusiasts. Welcome to another episode of the Accidental Bicycle Tourist. Today my guest is Poh Yu Seung, a native of Singapore who along with his wife is just getting to know the joys of bicycle touring. Yu Seung, thank you for being a guest on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist.

Yu Seung: Thank you very much. I’m happy to be here.

Gabriel: So let’s talk a little bit about your bicycle touring experience. So, how did you get into it?

Yu Seung: I started looking at bicycle tours during the Covid years, around 2020. At that time, my wife and I were already active with motorcycle tours, but Covid reduces the actual amount of travel we do, so we looked at bicycle tours, different regions, especially around Asia, and not having this 12-hour flight away from my home country of Singapore.

Gabriel: Okay, so you’re in the category of people who started because of the pandemic.

Yu Seung: Yeah, for sure, for sure.

Gabriel: Was there a particular place that attracted you?

Yu Seung: Well, a handful of Asian countries surfaced during this search with very strong infrastructure support. Taiwan is strong because Giant, the bicycle company, provides a kind of a national service to have cycle tourism. The second country that came to our knowledge was Korea, and the third one, the one we talk about today, would be Japan. As we did more and more reading across Covid, lots of free time, we realized that all three of these countries have nationwide government-supported cycle tourism paths. A billion YouTube videos, even from Europe, you know, they travel as far as from Europe just to go to Asia to cycle in very safe situations, completely isolated bike paths, and these bike paths are fully paved, and you can take your 16-inch or 18-inch wheels, and of course there are other guys with the full-sized touring machines with 700c wheels. The variation of the terrain is also fantastic. You can do short journeys, 50 kilometers around a city, by the riverside, at all times within two minutes of the nearest café. And the extreme version is you can do two week’s sleeping tours with a different location every night. So Asia has something to offer for cycle tourism.

Gabriel: Since you were just getting started with bicycle touring, and you said, there’s a huge choice of touring setup, can you describe what you ended up choosing, and why you chose it?

Yu Seung: For sure. My wife and I chose to tour with a folding bike. The general style of this category is called tri-fold. Tri-fold because across the length of the bike you can fold it in one-thirds. Generally, the most common brand on the international scene is Brompton.  

Gabriel: Ah, yes. The Brompton folding bike is very famous.

Gabriel: Many of you have heard of the legendary Brompton folding bicycle. A young British engineer named Andrew Ritchie invented it in his London bedroom in 1975. In 1979, he filed for a patent. Thanks to the ingenious tri-fold design that Yu Seung mentioned, the bike could be transformed into a compact package in a matter of seconds. Ritchie called it a “magic carpet for the city.” As expected, Ritchie received endless rejection letters and struggled to produce the bicycle for years. In 1987, a satisfied Brompton owner decided to invest in the company, which has since grown to become the largest volume bicycle manufacturer in Britain. Brompton calls its bicycle “an accidental design icon” symbolizing London, and as recognizable as a red double-decker bus or Big Ben.

Yu Seung: Those of us with IP knowledge will also know that the Brompton patent cannot last until 2024, so factually, the patent has expired, a long time ago, probably ten years ago, so you can buy ethical and very good quality copies coming out of Taiwan and China. And you are using same-size tires, same brake systems, or whatever cranks you see on the Brompton as well.

Gabriel: And why did you choose that design to go touring?

Yu Seung: It’s a very personal reason. Years ago, I used to take part in mountain bike racing, and so I’ve been through, quite a lot of times, to go through the laborious process of packing the full-size bicycle, taking out the wheels and the handlebars just to fit it in a box. I didn’t think that was part of my holiday activities to be packing two bicycles now. Rather just to fold and get on the plane, yeah? That was my idea.

Gabriel: Yeah, that makes sense. Can you tell us a little bit more about your mountain bike racing?

Yu Seung: In my active time, a very active time in racing, there were race events in Singapore. I also took the effort to identify events in Malaysia and Thailand and took part in events there as well.

Gabriel: Was this downhill?

Yu Seung: No. At the time there were these trendy events called cross-country racing.

Gabriel: Yeah, okay, cross-country. So there’s a vibrant cross-country mountain bike community in Singapore and surroundings, it sounds like.

Yu Seung: Ah, that’s right, that’s right.

Gabriel: Singapore, being a city-state, are there places you could get the training within the boundaries of Singapore?

Yu Seung: Oh yes. For us, quite an interesting fun fact. We have five official mountain bike trails, which are managed by the government’s park office.

Gabriel: I assume, like everything else in Singapore, these are probably well-maintained and well-marked, and very well thought through.

Yu Seung: Ah, yes, of course. After the trails were built, they even took the effort to put in place trail maintenance, infrastructure support, like shelters. Maybe it’s the size of half a tennis court, kind of an open hut. It has a concrete foundation with a wooden roof. It has no walls at all, but primarily it’s for cyclists or hikers to take shelter in the event of rain. Singapore, being a tropical island, we are among the top five most lightning-prone cities and countries in the world. So the authorities also provide this for us.

Gabriel: Now, that’s thoughtful. Well, let’s get back to your touring setup. You had mentioned that you didn’t want to do the whole process of packing and unpacking a bike on your holidays. So that’s one reason you chose the folding bike. What are some of the other reasons?

Yu Seung: Well, because we realized that a bike tour is kind of a holiday situation, is not for racing, not to be top ten in the rankings, we decided that speed is not so important. The unique feature of the tri-fold bike or the Brompton-style kind of a bike is that in the folded package the derailleur is always protected by the two wheels. A lot of folding bikes don’t do this, and these other folding bikes, when it is folded, the derailleur being a very sensitive and delicate part of machinery, is always on the outside of the package. When we are in transit, maybe on the bus or on the train, the derailleur could get knocked or bumped about, and then the gears get out of alignment or, worse still, you have a mechanical damage and that really gives you trouble during your travels. For this Brompton-style kind of a folding bike, they have a block out at the front of the steerer tube. This block allows you to attach a bag, and this bag is sitting directly above the front wheel, but there is no connection to the fork. All the load is coming directly into the frame. This bag, you can go up to 25 or even 30 liters, and this allows you to comfortably carry clothes for entire week. You can just clip it to the front of the bicycle, and in this way the rider’s back is very relaxed. There’s nothing on your back. You don’t carry a backpack. In Asia, where temperature is maybe warm, it’s also more cooling for the cyclist. This is why my wife and I chose this style of bike for travel.

Gabriel: Yeah, that makes good sense.

Yu Seung: Other features of having folding bikes is the multi-mode idea. When you get to the city, even just for maybe a 30-minute journey to go to the local café, you can also take your own bike, just to move around in the city, or moving park to park within the city. Then, if you need to cover longer distances, then the folding bike has the option that you can really just fold it and bring it into the local train with very little trouble from the authorities.

Gabriel: Yeah, we don’t want trouble from the authorities.

Yu Seung: No, no, no. Especially when they have language barrier.

Gabriel: Oh yeah, that’s double trouble. Certainly the folding bike is super convenient. Did you only have the bag in the front, or did you also have something in the back?

Yu Seung: No, for us is only on the front, 25 to 30 liters on the front.

Gabriel: Oh wow. That’s unusual.

Yu Seung: We wound up along this line of thinking because we want to adopt some tricks from the modern technology in the hiking world. For instance, if one was to go and look at the modern camping equipment with the good quality brands, the A-grade brands, you can find a rain jacket, in the folded condition, is only the size of a tennis ball. All these very small and lightweight items. So this way you can tremendously reduce the volume of things that we bring on the entire journey, whether it’s rainwear or tropical wear, and as a result, a lot of things actually fit into that 30-liters bag.

Gabriel: Absolutely.

Yu Seung: I mentioned that the area we are planning to go touring is generally in Asia for now.

Gabriel: Yeah, that makes sense. And then, as far as travelling by airplane, I imagine there are some advantages to traveling with a folding bike. Is it treated in a more friendly way than a full-sized bike that’s maybe in a box? Nowadays, airlines can get away with charging a lot of money for transport. How is the Brompton handled?

Yu Seung: Well, in the Brompton community there is a very common bag made by Ikea.

Gabriel: Wait, it’s not the blue ones with the handles?

Yu Seung: Not the shopping one, not the one for the customer in the store. Essentially, it is the same material as those blue bags but it’s completely translucent or see-through.

Gabriel: Oh, ok. Cool!

Yu Seung: The model name of the bag is Dimpa, D-I-M-P-A. You can zip it up on all three sides, so this way the bike can go in, it can be totally zipped up. This is very widely used by the Brompton travelers around the world. When you put this bicycle into the very soft bag, and then from the nearest supermarket of the country where they travel in, they cut some cardboard, line the inside of the bag, and after you zip up the bag on all three sides, the cardboard doesn’t fall out. They just check in the bicycle in this way.

Gabriel: Okay, so that’s one option.

Yu Seung: If you are uncomfortable with this kind of technology, then you can buy a very technical box. It’s pre-molded to fit only the Brompton bicycle. This one obviously costs much, much more money. And also for us, we felt that when you get to your destination country, you have a second problem that you can’t load it up on your bicycle and travel along with it. It means you need to leave it at the hotel, and then it implies that you must enter and leave your destination country at the same city, same hotel. You can’t just move from A, B, C, D and then exit at a different city, so we felt like this was a limitation for us.

Gabriel: Right, right.

Yu Seung: I think right now in the Brompton community, my perception is like 50/50. There are a lot of riders who still stay with this softer bag. The idea is when you get to that destination city, it’s pretty safe to throw away that hard cardboard and then soft plastic shell is rolled up into a ball, it’s stuffed somewhere into your luggage, and you can go to different parts of the country, people won’t even know you have a bicycle travel bag in your luggage. One or twos night before you leave, just go to the supermarket and look for some cardboard.

Gabriel: Yeah, that’s perfect. I’ve often had to go to bicycle shops to get a whole box on my way back from somewhere, but in this case any cardboard would do.

Yu Seung: So, on the topic of bicycle touring, you’re probably asking or thinking, what did we do with the tent, yeah?

Gabriel: Yeah.

Yu Seung: Obviously, as bicycle tourists, we need to adopt the technique called wild camping, if you can’t get to Point B in one day’s cycling range. For this specialist technique, I recommend this YouTube channel. His name is called Brompton Traveler.

Gabriel: Oh, okay.

Yu Seung: Just some days ago he released a commemorative video that he has been doing this for ten years.

Gabriel: Wow!

Yu Seung: Yup. He’s traveled some huge distances. During Covid times, he completed a 2,000-kilometer journey and doing wild camping with the Brompton.

Gabriel: Sounds like I need to interview this guy!

Yu Seung: Yes, you should. In his travel scenario, he uses the 30-liter bag as well. For sure, he puts 30 liters in the front block, but on the rear of the bike, where the luggage rack is supplied by Brompton, he actually manages to strap a 30-liter backpack, but in the totally vertical position. So you may be wondering how to secure the backpack. What he did was, from the underside of the saddle he has a roughly 12-inch-long pole. It looks like a broomstick. He revealed in other videos that hollow metal pole allows him to carry some spare spokes as a backup.

Gabriel: That’s clever.

Yu Seung: When the pole is connected to the seat rails, it’s very sturdy and the poles double up as becoming like the shoulders of any human being, right? And when he reaches the destination, he takes out a few zip ties, the pole goes under the seat rails, and then the normal thick padded straps of the backpack goes over this metal pole. And then with a few other strategically placed Velcro straps, the entire backpack is just standing securely underneath his saddle. And the base of the backpack is resting underneath the rear rack.

Gabriel: That’s very ingenious.

Yu Seung: Yeah, yeah. I saw the video of him cycling towards the camera. I have no clue he’s even carrying the backpack. Yeah, it’s very neat. So in the first 30 liters in the front is maybe his clothes and then the second 30-liter backpack, he’s putting all his camping materials.

Gabriel: I was really trying to picture it in my mind, how you would only carry your gear with the 30-liter bags in the front, but now we get the full story.  

Yu Seung: That’s for the serious traveler, who really wants to do the wild camping, but for my wife and myself, we know we are just kind of entry-level bicycle tourists. We are definitely looking for the Airbnb, so we just put the clothes in the front for now. But for the Brompton Traveler, and I think his name is Gianni, he just really made me realize, it is possible to go for the full wild camping with his setup.

Gabriel: So for now, his YouTube videos are only inspiration. You haven’t actually tried to make this yourself. Okay, but maybe one day.

Yu Seung: Yeah, yeah. It’s one of the targets. We must have targets in life.

Gabriel: Alright, so now I think I have a picture of your setup, and I can see how you can easily go to and from countries in Asia. And so let’s then talk about some of your destinations that you went to. You mentioned three countries. Did you go to all three: Taiwan, Korea, and Japan?

Yu Seung: Not yet. We’ve only been to Japan. And in Japan, the name of the region that we went to is called Shimanami. I know the name sounds a little bit long, so if any of the listeners want the spelling, it’s S-H-I-M-A-N-A-M-I. Shimanami. This region is super unique, because the local authorities embraced bicycle tourism as a source of income for the locals. You know, Gabriel, for you, if you just turned up there today as a bicycle tourist, you just literally need to look for a thick blue line of paint. I’m not joking, it’s really true. Super amazing blue line of paint, like Smurf blue, you know? Bright, unique Smurf blue line of paint. Follow the line, and from start to end of this officially marked path it’s 70 kilometers.

Gabriel: No way!

Yu Seung: Yeah, yeah. Really.

Gabriel: Okay, that’s a first. That’s a first for me. I’ve followed maps, I’ve followed roads, I’ve not followed a Smurf-blue line.

Yu Seung: Yeah. Too bad this is a podcast, where you can’t show exact pictures to your listeners.

Gabriel: Right. How thick is this line, just so that we can get an image in our mind?

Yu Seung: About eight inches wide.

Gabriel: Eight inches wide. You cannot miss it.

Yu Seung: Why did authorities put the blue line there, eh? So, for the listeners, you will generally know that Japan is famous for having many, many small islands. So this region, 25 years ago was a very prosperous shipbuilding region for Japan, and unfortunately, they lost the market of shipbuilding to China. So what remains in the region that they have great infrastructure for cars, because they need to bring the supplies to build ships, but these communities no longer have any commercial business. So, to encourage cycle tourism, this blue line just guides us across the five different islands. More interestingly for the cycle tourist is that on each island there is a different tourism experience. You might cycle past a disused shipyard, you can cycle past a brand new, one- or two-year-old bicycle-themed resort with glamping-style tents and even e-bikes from Specialized that you can rent from these companies. Maybe five kilometers down the road you cycle past an old 1990s pachinko slot machine kind of a gambling parlor, which is of course not in use anymore. It’s just the building is there and everything’s falling apart. So it is an amazing mix of new and old, all in the same 70-kilometers journey.

Gabriel: It sounds amazing.

Yu Seung: Yes, it is eye-opening. Nothing else to describe it except eye-opening.

Gabriel: Yeah, yeah. Let me just first clarify. Where, if I think about Japan, where would we find the Shimanami region?

Yu Seung: Shimanami is near to Hiroshima. I’ve sent you a link to the official government website. It is called Shimanami Cycle and there there’s a button to click on to request for all English translations.

Gabriel: Oh, that’s good. I definitely would need that. I guess you can start in either direction.

Yu Seung: Ah, yes.

Gabriel: If you are on the island of Honshu, then it starts off near Hiroshima.

Yu Seung: For us, when we planned the journey last year, we actually used a city. The name is Onomichi. And then, to rent bikes, once you get off the train, there are bicycle rental stations there. You can either rent from the community-operated bicycle rental kiosk or the corporate bicycle brand called Giant, you know, they also have a very large store there.

Gabriel: Okay, so you have a choice.

Yu Seung: Yup. And the start of the 70-kilometers line is at Onomichi on the one side. It goes across a variety of islands and then, at the other end of the 70-kilometer line, is Imabari. For my wife and myself, we planned a four-day’s journey across these different sets of islands.

Gabriel: Imabari is on Shikoki Island, which is also a pretty big one. In between the two big islands, there are these five small islands. That’s the setup, I believe.

Yu Seung: Yeah.

Gabriel: Okay, so a total of six bridges connecting the two big islands with the five small islands, so it’s quite a few islands.

Yu Seung: Yes, so for listeners who have not been there, obviously it is, I guess, very simplistic for someone with a good quality road bike and a strong rider to say, “Hey, it’s only 70 kilometers and I can go on a straight line and finish 70 kilometers in one day.” This is not to do the tourism here, because the way the authorities designed it is that, as you get up the bridge and cross into the next island, it’s highly recommended you descent the bridge, go back to sea level, and then on the island to please make some exploration, half day and even one day on each island. Yeah. Essentially, you have a whole region to explore. Even in this one week, you don’t repeat any of the islands.

Gabriel: Right, and it seems like these bridges are just incredible, that are connecting the different islands.

Yu Seung: Mhm. A-grade engineering. Very clean, very professional, very well-maintained, bright white paint they are using all the time. Beautiful bridges.

Gabriel: Can you describe a little bit more about the bridges?

Yu Seung: Sure. Each of the bridges, always consistently a few hundred meters in the air. It’s kind of a standardized height because it is designed to be high enough to clear any of the ocean-going liners. Some bridges are so wide that they have three lanes of car traffic in each direction, and our cycling path is always underneath the car platform. That’s how big these bridges are. It’s not a little, tiny, wobbly bridge.

Gabriel: No.

Yu Seung: The path purely for cycling leading to the bridge is super controlled. It’s just at a very gentle three percent grade. From the sea level, they will make a very winding path to get up the height of the bridge, so it doesn’t overtax the cyclist as well. The infrastructure is huge, and when we are on that bridge, we are easily cycling for two to three kilometers before we reach this next island.

Gabriel: Yeah, if I go look at the map that’s on that website, the longest one is at the very end. It’s this Kurushima Kaikyō Bridge, 4,100 meters, and it seems like this is the longest suspension bridge structure in the world, which is just wild. There’s also some ferry services for people who don’t want to bicycle. For the first one, it looks like the cyclists need to take the ferry.

Yu Seung: Yes, only for the first one, and in the tourist maps, they explain very politely, there’s no provision for any cycle path. It was just not part of the original plan when they built the bridge a few decades ago. So only for the first one, you need to take a little four-minute boat ride.

Gabriel: Okay, that’s quick. And then, is this path completely dedicated cycle lanes or is it mostly shared with cars?

Yu Seung: It is shared with cars.

Gabriel: Okay. And then in Japan they drive on the left side of the road, which is the same as Singapore.

Yu Seung: Yup, exactly.

Gabriel: So you were absolutely accustomed to it, whereas when I’m biking on the left side of the road, I always feel like I might die, because I’m not sure where cars are coming from. I don’t know if there’s roundabouts, but really roundabouts going in the opposite direction always confuse me.

Yu Seung: Oh yeah, yeah, because you guys are cycling on the right side of the road, eh? Right-hand side of the road.

Gabriel: Yeah, I think a lot of places in the world that are not England or members of the Commonwealth, in most of those places, you do bike on the right. I actually don’t know how Japan got cars driving on the left, because it was obviously never part of the English Commonwealth.

Yu Seung: That’s a good observation.

Gabriel: Yeah. Getting back to the transportation, did you fly into Hiroshima?

Yu Seung: We flew to Osaka, because from my country Osaka is quite an affordably priced destination and also a shorter flight. The second reason we chose to go to Osaka first is because Osaka is the home for the Shimano factory.

Gabriel: Oh, that’s something very interesting.

Yu Seung: I’m actually quite pleased to tell you that Shimano has a cycling museum in Osaka, and I heard about it many years ago. And, naturally, able to confirm with a variety of sources that the museum is still open, so we made it a point to visit this place as part of our Japan trip.

Gabriel: Very good. So then you can answer a bit of trivia. What product did Shimano actually get its start manufacturing?

Yu Seung: It’s a freewheel. The bicycle freewheel with only single speed was the very, very first product.

Gabriel: Very good. That’s correct. You know your Shimano history. And overall, how was the Shimano Museum?

Yu Seung: It’s I think A-grade, or maybe in German-speak you call it “perfect.” It’s brand-new. They opened it in the middle of Covid. It’s a three-story building and the first story is a library. You can borrow reading materials, all about cycling, there. And in this building, they have a huge collection of historical machines from very first French draisine, and it covers all the way to the modern bike.

Gabriel: Oh, so they are also covering some of the history of bicycles.

Yu Seung: Yes, they really wanted the entire display to have the visitor understand how the start of the first two-wheeled device is helping mankind, just from two wooden wheels with somebody sitting across the top tube, you know?

Gabriel: Right, right. The draisine is an example of that, right? There wasn’t any kind of a drivetrain. You just got on a seat and pushed off.

Yu Seung: Exactly. It’s… I guess the most similar thing you can find today is the Strider for kids.

Gabriel: The design of – I think his name was Karl von Drais, and that’s why it’s called the draisine – survives today in the Strider bicycle for children. No drivetrain.

Yu Seung: That’s right.

Gabriel: Awesome. That is definitely on my list when I finally make it to Japan.

Yu Seung: Highly recommend it.

Gabriel: Okay, well, let’s get back to Shimanami. As I look at the map, there’s an entire archipelago with maybe 10 or 15 total islands and many touristic attractions, including temples and museums and gardens. So, I’d like to delve a little bit more into some of the things that really stuck in your mind, in terms of the attractions.

Yu Seung: A couple of highlights for us. There are very traditional Japanese-style onsens in these islands. Are you familiar with the onsen?

Gabriel: No.

Yu Seung: Onsen is a traditional Japanese travelers’ guest house, right? And it’s spelled O-N-S-E-N.

Gabriel: Okay.


Yu Seung: Even in the Shogun warrior days, when people were traveling around the country by horseback or on foot, these traditional guest houses were existing. So today in Japan, onsens still live on. You can imagine usually these would be family-run businesses for a few generations, and it’s always good quality accommodation, followed by local food from the local region, typically well-prepared. In the onsen, it’s customary to find either a public bath or even a hot bath or a hot spring. So these were the memorable things we were able to do when we were in the Shimanami area.

Gabriel: So this sounds like a perfect way to relax after a day of pedaling.

Yu Seung: Yes, yes. Hot baths and good food is always a standard attraction for cyclists.

Gabriel: I think good food is nice, and I would say the hot baths are a definitely luxury and a particular selling point of Japan compared to other places in the world.

Yu Seung: Yeah, it would be. For the second memorable thing for us is to see these huge industrial relics from a previously booming shipyard town from the nineties. We saw varieties of old hotels that businessmen used to stay. You could see remains of the shipyards, long already non-functioning. There was still one last functioning restaurant at a row of shops where all the other shops had closed, but this one last functioning restaurant was serving very fresh sashimi and rice, and sea urchin as the topping. When we stepped in, you just had this imagination that it was a former, previously glorious kind of a restaurant where businessmen were probably drinking brandy and smoking too many cigarettes while making business deals in the ‘90s and year 2000’s. Furniture from year 2000 is looking very sad, you know, in 2024. Today, I guess the owner is still running the business because he has a lot of white hairs and he doesn’t know what else to do.

Gabriel: Those glory days are past now, but do you think that the bicycle tourism revitalization project is working?

Yu Seung: I mentioned there are a few memorable things, so the third part of the memorable things is to see this injection of new, modern-style businesses that have been appearing. We cycled past multiple cafés serving the modern language of coffee, you know, the words like espresso, latte, cappuccino, and even food like croissant and baguette, it’s all there in Japan. Other strong clue that cycling tourism is coming into the region, is that the convenience store accommodates us. So, when we step into the convenience store, the entire shelf is loaded from floor to ceiling with bicycle-specific items like spare tubes and lights. So this is really a good sign.

Gabriel: Right, right.

Yu Seung: Other good sign that cycle tourism is coming into the region, at least one company is offering a full service for cycle tourism activities. For instance, you could deposit your bags with him and tell him you want to cycle to anywhere within the archipelago, and then when you’re tired you make a call to his company, and the staff will activate the minibus to pick you up and put your bike on the bike rack as well, and then bring you back to the hotel.

Gabriel: And what is the name of this company?

Yu Seung: The name of this company is Wakka, W-A-K-K-A.

Gabriel: Oh, that’s great. Wakka has a lot of services that they can offer with the minibus.

Yu Seung: That’s right. On his minibus, apart from passenger space, the bus has Thule racks to carry our good quality road bikes. When I turned up at his premises, he even has a range of e-bikes from Specialized. I got the impression is sort of a Specialized-approved experience center. I could say to our listeners, you know, that if you don’t even feel like packing your own bikes, you could go there and rent.

Gabriel: Yup. So he’s got top-of-the-line equipment.

Yu Seung: Yup, that’s right. So we know this variety of three different interesting points for us, from the rundown part to the modern face of Shimanami, is really what made it so memorable for me and my wife.

Gabriel: It seems like it’s a place in transition. You have this former industrial shipping center, now reinventing itself. They’ve decided to embrace bicycle touring. You’ve mentioned road bikes. Does that mean that you saw some people who were doing it for the exercise, riding quite fast on this bike lane. Did you see some, you know, Lycra-clad cyclists?

Yu Seung: Ah, yeah. There was maybe a quarter, maybe twenty to thirty percent of riders, actually treating the space for exercise, like a training ground.  

Gabriel: Right, exactly.


Yu Seung: Sixty to seventy percent are bicycle tourists, like me and my wife, either riding a hybrid bike or an e-bike. There were e-mountain bikes available.

Gabriel: Oh, wait. So, people were on mountain bikes? Are there also some trails you can go on instead of the blue line?

Yu Seung: There didn’t seem to be any offroad trails, you know. It’s just that mountain bikes you can rent. Companies allow you to rent this e-mountain bike because it’s popular with the tourist crowd.

Gabriel: Right. And besides the blue line – and I haven’t seen what it means – but I also see some yellow lines and some pink lines. Are those different detours that one can take?

Yu Seung: Yes, so these are just different routes or different tourism paths.

Gabriel: There’s a huge variety of things on this map. There’s, for example, the Omishima Museum of Art, the Omishima Brewery. There’s some waterfalls. Did you explore some of these other colored loops?

Yu Seung: Yes, we did. We managed to go to an art museum. There was a second archaeological museum. We realized that this region is really supporting cycle tourism because they even have bicycle racks placed outside the museum to allow the tourists to just park the bike there while going inside. So lots more museums to distract the tourists in this area.

Gabriel: Did you visit any temples?

Yu Seung: Not for us. My wife and I are not the temple-visiting crowd.

Gabriel: Okay, alright. Understood.

Yu Seung: Yeah.

Gabriel: One thing that I see here is that the yellow line is called the “island explorer,” and that seems reasonable. This pink line, very charmingly, is called “feel the burn.”

Yu Seung: Yeah, that’s probably the route that goes to the hilltops where an observatory for astronomy is located. So I suspect that’s why they call it “feel the burn.”

Gabriel: Did you and your wife tackle any of the “feel the burn” segments on the Brompton?

Yu Seung: No, no. We saved it for the second visit.

Gabriel: Okay, you didn’t want to feel the burn.

Yu Seung: No, no, no. It’s a holiday, remember?

Gabriel: Yeah, I was just asking, because you said that you were a competitive mountain biker, so you have definitely felt the burn in your life.

Yu Seung: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Gabriel: But not this time.

Yu Seung: No, no, no.

Gabriel: Maybe your wife didn’t want to.

Yu Seung: Ah, no, no. Definitely not.

Gabriel: Speaking of that, let’s talk a little bit about your wife. We haven’t really mentioned her too much.

Yu Seung: Sure.

Gabriel: Was it your idea to do the bike tour? Was she receptive to it? How did that go?

Yu Seung: I was a joint decision. Fortunately for me, she enjoys both cycling and motorbiking, with the combination of being in an exotic country like Japan, with good food, fresh air is really exciting for us.


Gabriel: Yeah, but the food in Singapore is so incredible that it’s a very high bar for Singaporeans visiting other parts of the world. Usually, the food is a step down from Singapore.

Yu Seung: Ah, you sound like you’ve been to Singapore.

Gabriel: Oh, yes, I have been. It’s a one-of-a-kind place, as you know. Sounds like it was pretty easy to convince your wife, and that she enjoyed it. You talked about doing a second tour in the future, so that’s always a good sign. Since you are experienced motorcycle tourists, I’d like to hear a bit more, how does motorcycle touring and bicycle touring compare? What are the different advantages and disadvantages?

Yu Seung: Oh! There’s just so many areas. I would say, with motorcycle touring, prominent thing is the element of thrill on the motorcycle, because to pick up speed is easy. With the motorbike, the disadvantage is it’s difficult to go to small places because the machine is large. So as I said, with the folding bike scenario, you can fold and put it onto a train, you can relax in the train. But with the motorbike, you are riding it every day. Wherever you go, you need to bring this piece of, I guess, baggage. So there’s no off day. There’s no day you can relax, and if you’re not operating the bike, you’re stuck in one location.

Gabriel: Right.

Yu Seung: So because of this, it changes the style or the cadence of the travel. On the day you’re traveling on the motorbike, it’s a very rigid plan: put on the helmet, gloves, move, and you keep moving to your destination at night. It’s kind of like a military march, but in the bicycle touring…

Gabriel: It doesn’t sound like that much fun to me.

Yu Seung: Because you and I are cyclists, you know that whenever you stop to make that drink, you probably wearing normal street clothes. You don’t have intimidating-looking gloves, you don’t wear a helmet that hides your face, so on the bike it’s so easy to stop and talk to someone and the conversation is so relaxed. So for me, I think this is the biggest difference.

Gabriel: That’s a huge difference. I agree that you can definitely meet other people very easily on a bike tour, and so I’m curious, on your tour, were there any people that you met? Any experiences with the locals?

Yu Seung: Yes, for me, with that Shimanami trip, the most memorable conversation was with the hotel owner. Yeah. I sent you some pictures of the van with the blue paint.

Gabriel: That was the van that picks you up.

Yu Seung: Yes, yes. They pick up riders and they also provide accommodations. That’s the one.

Gabriel: You’ve sent me a photo that shows both a van and an SUV from this cycle taxi. And it’s very cute. It has an icon of a bicycle and an arrow, and it says “on top” to indicate that the bicycle is carried on top, and then the van, it has an arrow, and it says “direct in.” And then, of course, they say “English available.” They don’t say English is spoken, but they say English is available.

Yu Seung: Yeah, yeah.

Gabriel: This Japanese entrepreneur made an impression on you as someone who was really, sounds like, dedicated to this.

Yu Seung: Tremendously. So this is why I had a memorable conversation with him, because he had all these world-class products in his hotel, you know. He had the Specialized e-bikes and things like that, right? Very modern stuff from the international world of cycling. Then I asked him, “How come I don’t see any good quality Japanese bicycle products around?” For example, Osaka is a world-class city for cycling. If you walk in the city, in Osaka, Japanese women are cycling on the pavements, bringing their kids home from school, riding a Japanese-style supermarket bike, and those kind of things. Very similar to Copenhagen. And they use these bicycles really like a true form of transport. And I asked him, “How come you don’t show any of the good quality Japanese racing bikes?” So it was memorable for me, because he took a huge surprise that I helped him to realize that Japan produces good quality bikes, bike frames, and parts as well. He shared with me, in a private conversation, as an enthusiast, “Well, a lot of the guys who like the good bikes, they just look at local products as second class and that imported is better.” That was quite memorable for me.

Gabriel: That’s interesting. I’m trying to think of other Japanese bicycle-related brands besides Shimano, and I don’t think I can come up with any.

Yu Seung: Yeah. Maybe Miyata?

Gabriel: Oh, Koga-Miyata? The name sounds about as Japanese as you can get, but at some point, it was a Dutch company.

Yu Seung: Yeah, that’s right. So, Koga-Miyata is blended company with Dutch and Japanese origins, with Miyata. Other famous brands from Japan that are still having an impact in today’s modern world for cycling. Suntour in the ’70s was making derailleurs and cranks. Suntour is now making suspension forks. Araya makes very high quality rims, and they were rivaling Mavic during their peak of their production.

Gabriel: Yup, I’ve heard of them. Suntour I also have heard of. I just didn’t know they were Japanese. Okay.

Yu Seung: Other Japanese brands that are producing great quality products is CatEye for cycle computers and lights. CatEye is Japanese.

Gabriel: Okay, I did not know that.

Yu Seung: And what about water bottle cages or work stands for your home, to work on the bike? Or maybe a bracket to hang your bicycle in your house? If you have a look at the Minoura range of products, again it’s all world-class products. They are built to last a long time.

Gabriel: Okay, so that covers quite a bit, from bicycle frames to components to lights to work stands.

Yu Seung: The boss of the cycle tourism company said, “Hey, Yu Seung, if you like cycling in Japan there’s also other regions that have this national cycle tourism route classification.” This means that the national government supports bicycle tourism there. You can look for this description called the National Cycle Route.

Gabriel: So, besides Shimanami, there’s other places with this infrastructure. Oh, that’s interesting.

Yu Seung: So, if we Google it as National Cycling Route, I can see a few other regions. Toyama Bay Cycling Route is one option. Tokapuchi 400 is a second option. Pacific Cycling Road is a third option, and of course Shimanami Kaido is part of the National Cycling Route.

Gabriel: Which reminds me that, after about four days of pedaling and sightseeing, your trip concluded in Imabari.

Yu Seung: Tada!

Gabriel: Japan is crazy about jingles, so I didn’t think the episode would be complete without one, in this case to promote tourism in Imabari. The country is also obsessed with mascots, so naturally Imabari has Bari-san, a lovable yellow bird of unknown gender. Bari-san wears a crown in the likeness of the Kurushima Kaikyō Bridge and clutches a custom-made wallet shaped like a freight ship. After listening to this episode, those references make total sense!   

Gabriel: I know you brought your own Brompton-style bikes along, but if somebody rented a bike in Onomichi, can they just drop it off in Imabari?

Yu Seung: Yes, you can. Yes, you can. That’s exactly one of the nice tourist packages that’s available. You rent from Onomichi and you explain to the tour company, you would like to rent a bike for X number of days, they organize the package for you, and you make them the promise that you will pedal the bike to Imabari at the end, and they are totally cool with it. It is a very convenient, very, very common arrangement by tourists.

Gabriel: That makes it even easier. And I love this infrastructure that’s in place. They’ve really thought of everything. I’m curious, if you’ve thought about your next adventure, since this first one was a success. Would you return to Japan? You’ve also mentioned Taiwan and Korea.

Yu Seung: Well, we decided Korea would be probably the most difficult one for us, so we save it for later. The Four Rivers Cycle Route. The full distance, I understand, is up to 600 kilometers.


Gabriel: Wow, 600 kilometers.

Yu Seung: It seems like the Korean authorities have it organized very professionally. A lot of other cyclists show in their YouTube videos, that you go to a start point, some office, you go in, register yourself, and you collect a blank book that looks like a passport. And then, as you cycle along the journey, you get to structures that in the videos look like a phone booth. You go into that phone book and there’s rubber stamps and you get to ink your passport like a crossing a customs stations.

Gabriel: Well, that’s very endearing.

Yu Seung: Yeah, so it’s great tourism value, and obviously lots of people take pictures and selfies as you move along the journey. So, more importantly, as you travel, your passport gets more and more of these ink marks from the rubber stamps, so you feel this building, building sense of achievement. So that’s Level 3.

Gabriel: Very good.

Yu Seung: For us, Level 2 is probably Taiwan. For Taiwan, likely we will rent something from Giant bicycle company. There’s a huge range of services. Full support, where a Giant van is available. You can choose any style of bike to travel with. You can say, “Please take my luggage into the van” or you can say, “Just please rent me the bike from your Giant office, and you please don’t follow me. I want to be carrying everything on my own as well. That’s what I want.”

Gabriel: Yeah, so it sounds like you have the full range of options.

Yu Seung: And in Taiwan, e-bikes are available, so those are also part of tourism package options. Likewise, if one of the partners is not so strong physically, then that partner can take the e-bike, so Giant has all these options for travelers.

Gabriel: And how do you choose these different options? Do they have a specific place in the country where you have to go and do this?

Yu Seung: Yes, I have seen that Giant publishes a web portal that allows the traveler to pick from the annual calendar of trips. So, from there, it’s a very comprehensive range of dates and months. You can select your start point to start your journey. The most popular ones among the Singapore riders, I understand it is the round-island cycling trip of Taiwan.

Gabriel: Oh, that’s quite a long ride. Taiwan is pretty big. In the future, we might look forward to episodes on Korea and Taiwan, from those who have been there.

Yu Seung: Yes, of course. I hope that. I thought, as we move towards the end of the podcast, I could share a little quotation I picked up about traveling: “Travel is not reward for working, but it should be education for living.” This quotation is not my invention. It is from Anthony Bourdain.


Gabriel: Wise words.

Yu Seung: Yeah, yeah. So, I thought this is a useful quotation for bicycle tourists, because with this kind of attitude, we have this good reminder that we want to always just go slow and to really enjoy the scenery.

Gabriel: The transcript for this episode is available on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist website. I welcome feedback and suggestions for this and other episodes. You’ll find a link to all contact information in the show notes.  If you would like to rate or review the show, you can do that on your favorite podcast platform. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram. Thank you to Anna Lindenmeier for the cover artwork and to Timothy Shortell for the original music. This podcast would not be possible without continuous support from my wife Sandra. And thank you so much for listening. I hope the episode will inspire you to get out and see where the road leads you.   

Yu Seung: To the bridge is super controlled. It’s just at a very gentle 0.3 percent grade.  

Gabriel: Yeah, I think the grade has to be 3 percent.

Yu Seung: Ah, yes, of course, of course. 0.3 percent I think is nothing.