Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mama Chari ( ママチャリ ) in Chicago!

We found ourselves this afternoon at Working Bikes again, where there is a glut of great bikes now that it’s winter. In addition to the usual Schwinn/Raleigh/etc offerings, there were a few very unusual ones today, including a couple of Japanese bikes rarely seen in the US. If they had been (a lot) less than $300 each we would have had to run off with both of them!

We see Fujis in the US pretty often, since they have been (or were) sold here. They were more commonly imported to the Northeast than to Schwinn headquarters, Chicago. Working Bikes has an odd one now, an Avalon Sport — Japanese market? Not sure. Looks like it.

There was a good 3-speed Panasonic too. The picture didn't come out. You'll have to imagine it.

When was the last time you saw a With? Or is it a Pets With Kids? Not sure of the manufacturer’s identity. Some common ones for bikes like this are Maruishi/Frackers, Bridgestone, Sogo. Look at the link at the end for more. If you know what this one is and when it dates from please let us know. It’s a (1990-ish?) Japanese Mamachari - a mom chariot. Here are a few pics:

The Pets With Kids is a low, three single speed bike with a full chaincase and a step through frame. The kickstand locks open and holds the rear wheel up securely. See how the front wheel is small, with ape hanger bars surrounding a child seat / carrying basket? Even a small-framed person can easily move 2 kids and/or groceries or tools or whatever they want with something like this. Because the weight is distributed directly over the steerer tube, the child or load in front doesn't mess up the handling of the bike much. And they can talk to you easily and get a good view. There are windshields available on many of these bikes in Japan to keep the child comfortable even in a little rain.

 The little smoked orange colored plastic
footrest is down for a child to sit.

You can strap one kid into the front seat and one into the back, or use both baskets for carrying things. The back cushions on this one are a little old and messy (they need new upholstery or replacing) but everything still works fine. The plastic OGK basket on the handlebars sports a fold-down section for little feet to stick out the front when it's not full of groceries. See how the seats fold to turn into baskets?

This person raced to the store to
get the mama bicycle when she
heard about it!

The front fork can be locked in position so the bike doesn’t get knocked over by wriggling children (or wriggling groceries). There is a generator light — but only on the front wheel. The back has only a fender reflector. Look at the Japanese domestic market generator with a plastic guard to prevent splashing muck and to keep fingers clean! Modern mamachari bikes link the kickstand and the front fork lock automatically, but good luck finding one in Chicago. There are apparently one or two more of these bikes in town. Are they yours?

The back wheel has a cheesy ring lock, nearly enough to keep a bike safe in Japan except from the bicycle cleanup crews that toss them in the backs of trucks if they're illegally parked...  Always a good idea to lock your bike TO something, even there. This one even still has its key and keychain!

I love Japanese bicycle names - I once had a one speed "Fantastic Milk" with odd leaping monsters shaped like the word for mountain on the chainguard. Do you know of any other fun bicycle model names?

Here's a domestic Japanese market Bridgestone that someone donated or found:

The Bridgestone Starlight is not intended for carrying kids, but it has many similar features to the Mamachari. It has a 3- speed Nexus hub and a Bridgestone rear band brake. The sign says "this will give you a smooth trip for a long time". 

There is an older Nexus generator hub, the front lamp has a green blinking standlight-type thing, and the rims are stainless steel. 

Look at the, um, are those pressure indicators on the rims? This bike has some quality features I haven’t seen before.

(Other Japanese related stuff in Chicago, if you are looking, includes the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Old Town, Mitsuwa marketplace on Algonquin Rd in Arlington Heights (from kotatsu tables to Japanese thick bread to the only delicious ramen in Chicagoland I think), Kawaii housewares on Halsted and Maxwell, Toguri on Clark and Belmont (closed), Sunshine Cafe on Clark and Catalpa, and JASC, the Japanese-American Service Committee, also on Clark, a cultural institution with many families that moved to Chicago after the US government displaced them from their land to nasty camps in the second World War. Now we need Muji and Uniqlo like New York already has. And a ママチャリ bike store!)

There are really good city and utility bikes in Japan. People use them every day in all kinds of weather. Just look at pictures of a Japanese train station to see the ocean of cycles waiting for their owners to return and ride back. There are also several interesting sites about mama-chari out there, including mama bicycle.  Best of all, though, this excellent post, full of great pictures, on Katesensei, a Japanese language learning site, gives you an idea of how great the infrastructure and bike options are in Japan - really, they don't have half this stuff in Copenhagen or Amsterdam. (Anyone interested in starting an Osakaize blog?)  There's a bike storage option for train stations you won't believe. Look at the link and drool!

oops - one followed us home...
what on earth will we feed it?
Looks like it'll be a kids bike. Maybe.
You can still find more good bikes there...
... like a lugged frame double-butted cr-mo
Schwinn superior for only $210, and a
triple butted Miyata mixte, too!


  1. and the hundred dollar question (or is it three hundred), did that bridgestone come home with you?

  2. OH. Mama chari. I miss mine! From living there for a few years, it seemed that all these types of bikes with/without kid carrying abilities were named thusly. The high schoolers all called their bikes mama charis anyway...

  3. Anonymous posted a comment that we like but which links to Craigslist, which isn't our favorite site for kids. We wanted to leave it up though - so here is the comment followed by Anonymous's number and photostream:

    I was thrilled to find this by googling "mamachari". I recently imported a whole shipping container of these bikes from Japan and am now in the process of cleaning them up and reselling them. I'm glad to see that there are other enthusiasts out there. I am located in CA but here is my craigslist posting if you're interested in taking a look.


    More photos:

  4. I think mamachari are technically the ones for carrying kids, with the kid seat ape hanger front handlebars, and the others are jitensha じてんしゃ or charinko チャリンコ (which probably doesn't actually mean 'chariot' according to Don't ask me.
    (Danielle set me straight above)

    The bikes the guy sells look like great city bikes and hooray for Anonymous for importing the container of used ones. Sorry about the confusing order of comments.

  5. Hello, this is Anonymous with the Japanese bikes for sale in CA. I do apologize for linking my craigslist ad. As soon as I hit publish, I saw your policy on linking advertising in the comments and I immediately felt like a jerk. So I really appreciate you sharing the link to my flickr stream. I know my photography skills leave something to be desired--let's just say it's a work in progress. But anyway, I'm loving my mamcharis/charinkos/jitenshas! Your blog is great--keep up the good work!

  6. HI Anon-
    Let us know when there's a non craigslist informationish link we can share.

  7. I had one and I gave it away to a mom in Iowa City because I didn't need it anymore and no one responded to my craigslist ads to buy it. It was a Frackers Mama with two seats on it. The one between the handlebars and one mounted to the back. Awesome awesome bike, I miss it, I rode it everywhere when we lived in Japan. I had it shipped from Japan for like $200 back in 2008. It was the blue one. Maybe if you are ever in Iowa City you may see it being ridden around. Or perhaps she sold it and it's floating around out there somewhere.

  8. I have 4 of these bikes I shipped back from Japan in 1999. Does anybody know what they are worth


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