Four Interesting "Cargo Bikes" From Japan

Byron Kidd
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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  1. How can I purchase these bikes? I've recently opened a cargo bike shop in Chicago, IL, and these would be really hot additions to the store, even if only to ogle and not sell.

    1. Contact Doppelganger via their "Contact Us" page which, unusual for a Japanese company, is actually in English. I'm sure they'd be open to expanding their market overseas. The URL is:

      Let them know you found them via this article on Tokyo By Bike, and let me know how discussions go. I'd love to see these bikes in America, and many people I know in the states have expressed interest in owning one. Who knows they may be buying them from you in the future.

    2. Be aware that Japanese sizing is small, even for Japanese IMO. You won't be able to sell these to anyone over 5'9".

  2. Bicycles with cargo between the knees seem a good idea, except you have to compromise horribly on pedal q-factor and/or splaying your knees. Many Japanese men at least do ride with splayed knees for some reason, so this may suit them: not the N.American market.

    Wide-tire 20" wheels seem the ticket for a low centre of gravity hauler, for kids or cargo. Alas, I am 6'1"+, so no Japanese bike is going to work. Even if it did, I could not then share it with my 5'1" wife, could I? Sigh. Too bad nothing in size of that style's being built in my size, though the Soma cargo bikes come close. I do not want a long-tail.

    1. Before I rode the Rikisya Tank (at my local bike shop) I anticipated that such a wide load between the knees would promote an awkward pedalling style, but the wide part of the frame is actually quite low and thus did not interfere with the pedalling motion, this being a sit up straight bike and all. So carrying water as pictured above is no problem, but you would have to alter your pedalling style to carry the box of instant yakisoba in the second picture.

    2. I'm 6 foot and have had no problem with 2 doppelganger bicycles (the 215) and now the excellent d10 xact (max saddle height 97 cms). With the 215, I had to buy the longer 50cms seatpost which doppelganger sell. Also, with the seat fully lowered, your wife would have no problem riding these bikes.

  3. seems like some good ideas, I can't help thinking they could all be combined into one really good small-scale cargo bike - big front basket, between-the-legs narrow basket (narrow enough to not affect pedaling!) and a sturdy rear rack (that doubles as a vertical stand) with collapsible baskets on each side, strong frame, balloon tires on strong 20" wheels, standard parts, dynamo lighting front and back, and with a workcycles/cetma/mundo style geometry it could be made to fit a variety of riders.

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