New Zealanders Adopt the Japanese Mamachari Bicycle

Byron Kidd
With cycling so commonplace in Japan it is easy to forget that dedicated groups and individuals around the globe are working hard to promote cycling, not as a sport, but as a viable alternative to the automobile.

Two such people are environmental entrepreneurs Jason and Sarah Penny who recently started the business Mamachari Bicycles in Wellington, New Zealand.  Mamachari Bicycles imports second hand, upright bicycles from Japan in order to recycle them back on to New Zealands roads, similar to what New Zealanders have been doing with used cars for decades.

Stumbling upon their business by accident I was intrigued to know what gave them the idea for the business, and to learn how it was being received in New Zealand so promptly contacted Jason with a flurry of questions.

What motivated you to begin importing and recycling Japanese mamachari bicycles?

We had just seen the documentary 'The Age of Stupid' at the movies and we decided that we had to do something, however small. We wanted to improve the way we treated God's creation which we feel is a gift to be valued. I was working on eco-housing at the time which was a long slow process and seemed expensive for people to take up. I figured, why not just try to take as many cars off the road as I could?

When did you start the business?

We started the business in March this year when we received our first shipment of 200 bikes from Japan into Wellington. We finally decided to import them around the end of last year.

Had you or your wife had any experience with import/export or the bicycle trade before?

We had never imported or exported but Sarah had lived in Japan and Taiwan for about three years and was familiar with these kind of bikes. Both of us have been keen cyclists since we were young. As for bike mechanics, we both knew how to change a tyre but not much more.

The Mamachari Workshop in the beautiful city of Wellington, New Zealand.

How has the business been received in New Zealand?

It's been welcomed with open arms. The kind of people who buy our bicycles tend to be of a very positive disposition. The people who still prefer thier car look on what we're doing as very positive, and I try to preach a moderate line. Our customers are brilliant. All the old boys come in a tell me about the old Raleigh 20's with the Sturmy Archer gear and the older ladies talk about how our bikes are like the ones they used to ride when they were girls. I had one couple come in a buy a bike to replace the one their 77 year old father had had stolen. He was Indonesian and had been riding up till then. We have had many people from places like Japan and Holland where cycling culture is well established, and they come to us for a normal bike.

What have been some of the rewards you've experienced?

Seeing such a big impact so early on. We sold most of our first shipment fairly quickly so we knew we'd struck a chord. We had been looking for reasonably priced commuter bikes for ourselves for a while so we knew they just weren't easy to get and suddenly all the people who were looking had the bikes right there. Everyone has been so supportive and encouraging and we love seeing the reaction when people walked into our garden and saw all these beautiful bikes lined up. They looked like all their Christmas's had come at once!
Now, when we're biking around town we see them all the time, and we all smile and call out compliments on each others bikes.I also enjoyed working in our garden for two months in the sunshine before we finally found a workshop space. The new workshop is across the road from the beach and looking out at the island in Island Bay. It's not so bad. One day I hope support my wife and kids with this venture and know that I'm doing my bit to make my city a more beautiful place to live.

Do you think New Zealanders are becoming more aware of everyday cycling as opposed to sports cycling?

I think they are slowly becoming aware although I think we've only just started. They tell me about 2.5% of people in Wellington cycle regularly and that is fairly good as far as the country average. It irks me that cycle shops have been selling mountain and racing bikes to customers who will never use them for those purposes (for very high prices). It's not much different to every New Zealander owning either a formula one race car or a rally car for driving to work or the shops in. Fast and good off-road but not very practical or reasonably priced.

Do you think New Zealanders will take to the mamachari style of bicycle?

Kiwis are smart and they know a good thing when they see it. I think kiwis take to change very efficiently. I'm sure they'll love the mamchari, everyone who has either seen one or taken it for a ride certainly has.

Inside the Mamachari Workshop

New Zealand has mandatory helmet laws.  Do you think they hinder the adoption of cycling as an alternative form of transport?

I think they can hinder cycling. Lobbyists overseas oppose compulsory helmet laws by pointing to New Zealand as an example that it doesn't solve the problem of safety. I have heard many people talking about how they would cycle if it wasn't for the compulsory helmets and that drivers ignore them and speed past. These two things are tied up together. If drivers acknowledged the cyclists right to be on the road, and understood their vulnerability with or without a helmet at the same time, we might be onto a winner. 

What are the cycling laws in New Zealand?  Can you cycle on the footpath as well as the road?  Are you permitted to carry passengers?

Cyclists in NZ are not permitted to ride on the footpath, although I understand that there are exemptions which I believe are based on wheel size (ie. small enough to belong to a childrens bike). We do have some shared spaces now and bike lanes are starting to appear. We are only beginning to scratch the surface. All the money and civil engineering is still tipped obscenely in favor of the motor vehicle. I'm not sure if we're allowed to carry passengers, except of-course for young children and babies. 

To me Jason and Sarah's story is absolutely amazing.  Two people with no previous experience importing and selling goods from overseas taking a huge personal and financial risk to introduce New Zealanders to cycling as it should be and as a result one by one reduce the number of cars on New Zealand's roads.

I wish them every success and encourage our New Zealand based readers to look them up.  Maybe you're happy with your formula one road bike or high end rally car of a mountain bike, but if you hear someone mention they'd cycle more it it was more affordable, or if the bicycles were more accommodating then you'll know to send them to Mamachari Bicycles.

Mamachari Bicycles is based in the beautiful city of Wellington, New Zealand.

240 The Esplanade
Island Bay

You can contact them by phoning, texting or emailing, or better still, drop by their workshop/showroom down on the beach.

Opening Hours

Wednesday – Friday     10am – 5pm

Saturday – Sunday         10am – 4pm

Monday – Tuesday         Closed

Phone: (04) 384 8610

Text: (021) 065 0801


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  1. This is a great idea! I'm glad to see mamachari being picked up elsewhere. We take them for granted here in Japan because there are just so many - even to the point where you can easily find abandoned vehicles. I hope New-Zealanders take to them :)

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