Leave aside the minivan and take a spin on the mamachari, Japan’s most ubiquitous suburban ride.
You know that whole “soccer mom” stereotype, the one with the suburban mother with multiple kiddos, tons of errands and extracurriculars to keep track of ? Of course, she needs a minivan to tote around all those kids and equipment—unless she’s Japanese. In that case, ditch the minivan for the mamachari (ママ チャリ), a sturdy, affordable vehicle for all her daily needs, with one major difference: the mamachari is not a car, but a bike! Mamachari is a nickname combining the borrowed words “mama” and “chariot.” That might sound fancy, but until recently the term was meant to make fun of these popular rides, which are more properly called “city cycles” (シティサイクル). They’re considered bikes for moms because of their utilitarian style. The front is mounted with a large metal basket that’s perfect for groceries, with a child seattting in behind it. A second seats in back, too, so the kids can ride with Mom in style on their way to school or the supermarket. The bike also has a cushy seat for Mom, and a low top bar for easy mounting, even in slippers or a pretty skirt. Riders can board this baby without worrying about mussing up a smart out, because the bike also includes mud guards and a casing for the entire bike chain.
The mamachari also has some great features to maximize convenience for any spur-of-the-moment trips. It comes with a built-in lock with a non-removable key, so there’s no need to worry about bringing a U-Lock or hunting down a place to loop your bike. Likewise, once you get to your destination, just hop off and engage the handy kickstand and you’re on your way. There’s also a long-lasting light for dusk or night riding, no batteries required.
All these convenient perks have led the bike to the “mom” reputation, but it’s actually useful to anyone who lives in an urban or suburban space.
You may be thinking: with all these sweet grab-and-go functions, don’t people worry their bikes will get stolen? Good question. An estimated 85% of Japanese own a bicycle, and the vast majority of those bikes are mamachari. At a reasonable price point between ¥10,000 and ¥20,000 ($115–215), these metal beasts are uber-useful, and not exactly high fashion. So, in the unlikely event that yours gets stolen, you can just snag another. They’re actually meant to be semi-disposable, or at least capable of enduring long periods of neglect. That’s because they’re usually stored out in the elements, under partially covered bike parking lots beside apartments, schools and businesses. So the next time you need to make a grocery run or pick up the kids, think about how great it would be to hop on a mamachari and breathe in the fresh air while you dominate those chores.
Tips to get those wheels turning
RULES OF THE ROAD
If you haven’t already done so, you need to try out a mamachari on your next trip to Japan. Here are three tips to succeeding in this not-so-fast-paced cycling world.
Do NOT use an umbrella
It used to be a common sight, but safety comes first these days, so keep your hands on those handlebars!
DO bring your kids along
Illustrations by Reiko Ema