February 18, 2014

Four Interesting "Cargo Bikes" From Japan

Earlier this year I wrote that cargo bikes will have a difficult time finding a market in Japan among everyday cyclists. This is largely due to the fact that the existing bicycles available in Japan are more than adequate for the tasks Japanese people use them for every single day. Compared to the United States for example Japanese make more frequent trips to the supermarket, and buy less on each trip therefore there is little need for the large carrying capacity of a cargo bike. When it comes to carrying children Japanese manufacturers have a large range of bicycles available specifically designed to carry up to two children, and often against manufacturers specifications you'll see them carrying three. Add to this that electric versions of Japanese city bikes, or "mamachari", are coming down in price there is little room in the market for cargo bikes amongst daily bicycle users.

Despite this a number of Japanese manufacturers have begun experimenting with the idea of adding carrying capacity to small wheeled bicycles which are common in Japan. While none of the bicycles have the carrying capacity of cargo bikes available in the West they certainly have more than enough for the average Japanese cyclist.

The Rikisya Tank

As is often the case after natural disasters the bicycle emerges as one of the best transport options in the face of blocked roads and limited supplies of gasoline. In the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan people turned to their bicycles for carrying food, fresh water, blankets and kerosene etc.

The Rikisya Tank was developed as a "Post Disaster" bicycle.  In addition to a rear rack it has an innovative frame which is wide and split down the middle thus providing extra carrying capacity between the seat and handlebars. It is often photographed hauling jerrycan presumably full of water or kerosene between the seat and handlebars to demonstrate its usefulness post disaster.

In addition to the extra carrying capacity the bicycle features wide puncture proof, albeit non standard sized, tyres, and a dynamo light with connectors which can be used to charge mobile phones and various appliances.

Another interesting design feature is that the handlebars can be collapsed, and the whole bike be stored vertically using its rack and rear wheel as a stand. This allowing many bicycles to be stored in a space efficient manner for use after a natural disaster, but as you can imagine if stored bicycles aren't checked regularly you'll discover they've all got flat tyres in your time of need.

I personally find the idea of a "post disaster" bicycle quite interesting, unfortunately the Rikisya Tank is cheaply built from non standard parts which makes me question its durability and usefulness in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Also given that most people already own a bicycle which in a pinch can carry a jerry can of fresh water I don't believe the Rikisya Tank will find much of a market.

The 2 Way Outdoor Bicycle

With a less serious mission comes the 2 Way Outdoor Bicycle from Doppelganger, a 20inch folding bicycle with a seemingly huge 28L basket on the front and rear rack with a 10L basket attached to one side. This bicycle seems perfect for families who enjoy picnicking at the local park and need a bicycle to cart all of their gear.

Closer investigation of the Doppelganger marketing material reveals that they believe this bicycle is perfect for camping and has the luggage capacity to be useful as a post disaster bicycle, both of which I consider rather dubious claims given my experience with their bicycles in this price range in the past.

As this neat little folder comes with mudguards standard, and the large front basket can be removed it makes a great little commuter during the week, but can handle bigger loads on the weekends.

The Doppelganger 330 ROADYACHT

With limited carrying capacity the 330 ROADYACHT from Doppelganger features luggage space between the handlebars and seat post with the width of the carrying space becoming narrower towards the seat post so as to not interfere with the riders natural pedaling action.

While an interesting design this really does not offer any more carrying capacity than the average mamachari bicycle. The addition of a rear rack and front basket would make this a terrific little machine for carting gear around Tokyo, but as it stands in its current configuration this bicycle is perfect for short trips to the supermarket or carrying a bag of rice home as pictured.

The Bridgestone Assista Joshi Wagon

Unashamedly marketed towards housewives the Bridgestone Assista Joshi Wagon is a common sight on the streets of Tokyo. Available with or without electric assist this small wheeled bicycle comes equipped with a large rear basket, a front rack (which can be replaces with a basket) dynamo light and mudguards. In "Auto Economy Mode" the battery on the electric assist version will carry rider and luggage up to 35km before requiring a recharge.

Again it's carrying capacity is on par with a regular mamachari bicycle but its small wheels give it a low centre of gravity making it much easier to handle when fully loaded and the addition of electric assist makes carrying heavier loads a breeze.

While none of these bicycles can compete with Western cargo bicycles for sheer carrying capacity it is interesting to see Japanese manufacturers tackle the idea of "post disaster" bicycle, and that they are challenging how we think about carting goods on small wheel bicycles.

The mamachari is the station wagon of Japan, ideal for almost all tasks, but bicycle manufactures realise they will have a difficult time competing in such a crowded market and thus are experimenting with new designs in the hope of creating new markets. Many of the designs are hit and miss, but it's wonderful to see so many new ideas being tested here in Japan.


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