Mamachari: Family Bike Awesomeness from Japan

To think that even many “green mamas” in the US are buying minivans while Japanese Moms are pedaling around on affordable family bikes. I had never heard this word “mamachari” before, and I’m sort of cursing the humble Japanese culture for giving me tons of Japanese students of English — even many who studied sustainability with me! — who never wanted to brag by mentioning this cultural icon.

If the video above is too serious for you, check out this one from a program called “Cool Japan.” In it, a panel of astonished foreigners explain that in their silly countries bike baskets are for kids, no one has thought of opening a secure bike parking and shower facility near busy office parks, and biking is seen as more of a recreational activity than a mode of transport. They marvel at mamachari being sold at big box stores instead of specialty bicycle shops. This is making me want to move to Japan!

This week, I’m going to see a Bridgestone Angelino with e-Assist that a family in Seattle is selling. I’m pretty excited. Here’s a bike that’s built for short people like me. It has a lot going for it. It has an electric motor assist, but it’s about 1/4 the price of a locally popular e-bike brand. The child seats look super sturdy and safe in case of a spill. It also has small wheels, which I’m hoping will make it easier for me to ride.

I had an absolutely awesome hodgepodge bike in Philly that I bought from some nonprofit that taught kids to make bikes. They had pieced it together from various parts, and the two wheels were different sizes. Something about that ratio made it super fun to ride and easier than a typical bike to get up hills. Unfortunately, the frame was bent in the moving truck that shipped our stuff across the country, so that bike is no more.

thx, Asahi, for this pic of a mamachari with mudflaps!

thx, Asahi, for this pic of a mamachari with mudflaps!

One thing I did not like about my old beater was the way my skirt would get caught in the chain if I tried to ride it to work in my teaching clothes on a spring day that called for long, flowy skirts. Apparently, the thoughtful designers of mamacharis have considered this problem. The Japanese bikes contain enclosed chains and gears, as well as mudguards on both wheels.

The news this week is all about people suffering from “election anxiety.” This interview with Margaret Atwood, author of historically-based dystopian novels, makes clear why. In between phone-banking sessions and door-knocking walks, we could all use a good bike ride and a breath of fresh, fall air. Happy trails, everyone. Stay sane.

1 comment

  1. A

    Hi Julia, I am a university student in Japan. I can see a lot of people riding mama-chairi everywhere and not only mothers but also all age of people in Japan use mama-chari because of its toughness, safety, and cheapness. There are junior high school near my house and I often see junior high student riding mama-chari to go school. If I have to say something bad about mama-chari, it is heavier than other type of bicycle such as road bike. However, now many mama-charis have electric support on board so it doesn’t matter. As you say, mama-chari is really sturdy. When I am 10 years old, I bought my first mama-chari, and even now I can ride it ! I hope japanese mama-chari help many mama in the world.

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