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Bike-commuting in Japan: 3 Approaches

by Admin on June 13, 2009

If you are going to commute by bicycle in Japan, there are three basic approaches to the situation that you can take, depending on the type of commuting that you are looking to do.

Short-distance: Mamachari

Mamachari is Japanese for the “mother chariot,” and these bicycles often can been seen with child baskets on the front and back. More commonly, however, they are the bicycles of young students, old men, and everyone in between.

They are usually cheap, single-speed bicycles that come outfitted with the full compliment of rain and dirt avoiding gear, as well as baskets and racks for hauling things like bags and groceries.

Currently, in addition to my road bike, I own the cheapest mamachari money could buy from a local shop. The bike gets me around the city, but I would not take it further than 5km each way as it can be quite tiresome to ride.

The mamachari is almost never ridden in the street, but usually on Japan’s wide and bicycle-friendly sidewalks. Almost exclusively without a helmet. If it is raining you can generally stay dry by riding with an umbrella in your right hand.

Medium-distance: Mountain bike, mini-velo, or road-racer

If you are looking to go further than just around town, or just don’t like the setup of the mamachari, your next option would likely be some sort of mountain bike. Aside from mamachari, they are the most commonly seen bicycle on the roads here.

Once you get out of the city you will often see people riding this cycles in the streets or on the sidewalk (where there still is one). They often don’t include the same basket space as the mamachari so you will have to carry a backpack if you want to haul things.

Also options are the mini-velo and road racer, which are even more efficient than the mamachari or mountain bike. However, these are less common because of their price.

Long-distance: Road racer

If you are planning to do anything more than 20 mile round trips, I would suggest you pick up a decently geared road bike. Many hills you will encounter in Japan are severe enough that you will want a solid bike to help you get up them so that you don’t end up walking all the time.

If purchasing a bicycle in Japan, you can get decent road bikes for commuting or touring at many larger bike shops. While I often use specialty shops because I have been commuting on my racing bicycle, this isn’t really necessary for the average commuter.

Road bikes can be purchased as cheaply as 800-900 bucks for the lower end of the Bianchi line, which seems to be popular all across Japan. You will also find other American and European makers for sale up from that price.

If commuting with a road bike, I suggest getting yourself a comfortable and roomy messenger bag to carry your things since it is likely your bike won’t be doing the work for you.

Happy commuting!

Related posts:

  1. Get on Your Bike and Ride: Commuting Tips
  2. Car-free in Japan
  3. Get on Your Bike and Ride – Commuting Tips
  4. The Bike to (xyz) Day
  5. How to Buy a Used Road Bike
  6. Recent Posts

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carz July 30, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Interesting strategy. You are combining bike-free lifestyle with mainstream fuel-oriented fashion. You should opt to get more green in the future, though. You can do it.

2 Admin July 31, 2009 at 12:41 am

I’m not sure what you mean by fuel-oriented fashion…

3 Edelweiss December 17, 2009 at 11:00 am

I am confused by that comment… This article is about types of biking available in Japan. How is that about being bike-free or fuel-oriented?

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