Japanese Bicycle Manufacturers Missing Opportunities Overseas

Byron Kidd
Japanese bicycle manufacturers are missing a ripe opportunity by not exporting Japan's famous mamachari bicycles to the world.

Cities worldwide are beginning to realise that cycling is more than a hobby, its a viable form of environmentally friendly transport that reduces traffic congestion, promotes healthy lifestyles and contributes to a vibrant local community. Some countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Japan have known this for some time hand have perfected bicycles specifically designed for "everyday cyclists"; those who use the bicycle to commute to work, get their groceries and ferry their children to and from kindergarten etc.

Mamachari Cyclist, Tokyo, Japan

Unfortunately in countries that are just warming to the bicycles as transport idea, the majority of bikes on sale are designed for the bicycle enthusiast market making them most unsuitable for urban transport. A bicycle with the wrong geometry, without a rack or basket, lacking fenders and dynamo lights is not the perfect machine for making a comfortable ride to the store and cycling home fully loaded.

The Japanese mamachari bicycles are perfectly suited to this style of riding, with their upright riding position, step through frames and ample luggage capacity. Japanese manufacturers must understand that the overseas demand for such bicycles is only going to increase over the coming years.

Japanese bicycle makers have invested substantial effort over many decades designing bicycles suitable for "everyday cyclists" in particular electric assist models with smaller tyres, long wheelbases, low centre of gravity and robust kickstands, kitted out with baskets and child seats. Bicycles such as these simply do not exist in many foreign markets, but the demand for them is slowly increasing.

Japanese manufacturers such as Bridgestone, Panasonic, Yamaha and Miyata must act quickly and open concept stores in select international locations to introduce their bicycles to, and establish themselves in, these emerging markets. A single boutique shop in the correct location would serve to educate cities about the benefits of their superior products. When people understand the practicality and accessibility of the mamachari sales will undoubtedly grow internationally.

Sadly the mamachari has an image problem in Japan, they're considered cheap, almost disposable items which are ridden, unmaintained, into the ground then simply abandoned. The influx of cheaply made bicycles from China has also tarnished the mamachari's image at home. Therefore it is difficult for many Japanese to believe that a market exists for the mamachari overseas.

In addition to this, evolution of products in Japan is often compared to the evolution of animals on the Galapagos islands. Products which flourish in the home market often find it difficult to compete overseas. Remember Japanese cellphones of the late 90's with their cameras, colour screens, internet access, TV and apps?  Leagues ahead of the world at the time, yet they unable to expand beyond Japan. Japanese businesses are well aware of Galapagos effect which may have shattered their confidence and blinkered them into thinking there is no market for their product overseas.

The demand for mamachari style bicycles, city bikes, or Dutch bikes, is only going to grow as the world embraces cycling as an alternative form of transport. Japanese manufacturers must lead the pack in educating the world about the benefits of a well designed urban bicycle in order to capture market share. They have the designs, they have he manufacturing capacity, they just don't realise there is a demand for their products overseas.

For Japanese bicycle manufacturers the time to act is now.

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  1. First they'd have to make them big enough for adults. Seriously, if you're over 5'9" none are big enough.

  2. NGOs and local governments do "export" used ones to developing countries.


    Wonder if it is financially feasible to sell brand new ones. Shipping costs might be the deal breaker.

  3. Many companies and NGO's export used bicycles (those illegally parked bicycles removed from around town) but Japanese manufacturers flatly refuse to export Japanese city bicycles to the world.

    Its a shame because for city cycling, especially with children the mamachari is perfect.

  4. I import used mamachari bicycles to the UK and I can tell you that from my research it's not the shipping cost that would be a deal breaker here - it's the EU's 48.5% anti-dumping levy (effectively making duty and tax 82.5%) on bicycle made in China. If there was a manufacturer with a factory in Japan willing to export - and make them bigger - it would be totally viable and affordable.

  5. When I moved from Japan to Germany the first thing I wanted to buy was a mamachari. The Dutch "sit up and beg" bikes are similar but much heavier so I settled for a Jopo. I really miss my mamachari...

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