The mamachari returns

The resurrected mamachari graces the California Academy of Sciences bike racks.

When I left for our Pacific Northwest trip the mamachari was out of commission. With no working battery, my 65 pound single-speed bike was technically functional, but I had no interest in taking it out on hilly neighborhood streets.

Before we left I had written to Mama Bicycle, who has written many times about his willingness to try to export mamacharis to a soon-to-be-appreciative world. I asked him if he could identify a replacement for my mamachari’s battery, and if there was one, ship to the US. He was delighted to do it. I don’t think that bicycle people could possibly be nicer. Unquestionably, if you are interested in a mamachari and you live outside of Japan, he is your guy.

Oh, how I love Japantown. If Japan is anything like it, it must be totally awesome.

When I sent photos of the Bridgestone battery he identified the model immediately, found that they were still being sold in Japan, and figured out how to send one. I was so impressed! My mamachari’s battery is a NiCd, fortunately, which meant it was legal to send by air from Japan to the US (evidently newer lithium-ion batteries have an occasional spontaneous combustion issue, so they’re harder to ship). Nickel-cadmium batteries have their issues (charge memory, safe disposal, weight, range), but they have a couple of points in their favor too. One is that they seem to last forever—the original battery on my bike was in continual use for about six years. The other is that they’re fairly cheap. Even with the non-trivial cost of overseas shipping, it cost less than the least expensive lithium-ion battery sold in the US. For several more years with this bike it seemed more than worth the cost.

Although he was confident that he had identified and shipped the correct battery, I was nonetheless a little nervous about getting a battery shipped from Japan sight unseen. What if it wasn’t the right model, and I’d wasted my money on a battery that didn’t fit my bike? And I’m guessing he may have had some anxiety about shipping one to me, too, especially given that he couldn’t ask for payment until it arrived (his Paypal account had to be upgraded to take US dollars and it took a while).

New battery on top; old battery below. The only difference is that the new one holds a charge.

When I returned to San Francisco, our office receptionist was very excited to announce he had a package for me from Japan. I opened it up when I got home, and I’ll be: it looked identical to the old battery. It fit into the battery compartment perfectly. After a few hours of charging, I took it down to the basement, loaded it, and took the bike for a spin around our basement. WOW! Evidently the old battery was under-charging for quite a while, because the mamachari was suddenly extremely peppy.

The new battery didn’t have a connection to the backup battery like the old one, so given that and the new battery’s increased range and power, I took the spare battery off the bike. Now I’m riding a 50 pound mamachari. It makes a difference.

“I need a bike!”

We are back to having three working bikes: MinUte, Brompton, and mamachari. On Labor Day, when we were out with a neighbor, his son wanted to show off his new bike-riding skills. She hadn’t ridden a bike for over 20 years and she is short. So we loaned her the mamachari (the obvious choice as it is single-speed, hard to tip, and can nonetheless get up almost any hill) and headed to Golden Gate Park. She took off with a bit of a wobble, but after a block began yelling, “I need a bike! I need a bike! Look at me, I’m riding! I so need a bike!” Two hours later she was still yelling, “I need a bike!” By the end of the afternoon, another friend we’d met at the park had arranged to loan her their old folder.

So thank you so much, Mama Bicycle! You are awesome! The mamachari’s return has not only made our lives better, it also recruited another parent to family biking in its first week back in action.

And check out what I spotted at Western Addition Sunday Streets! Another (unassisted) mamachari!

My daughter loves being able to ride to preschool again. Like my son, when she arrives on a bicycle she is treated like royalty. Their friends jump up and down, waving wildly. “Turn on the pink power, mommy!” she yells. “I’m riding the mamachari! I’m riding the mamachari! Look at me, I’m riding the mamachari!”

14 Comments

Filed under electric assist, family biking, San Francisco

14 responses to “The mamachari returns

  1. This is so awesome. I want a mamachari, too! I am in Boston…any advice (besides a trip to Japan, which is not in my budget, sadly)?

    • Josette, Shuichi (see comment below). Shuichi, Josette. Shuichi is the man behind Mama Bicycle (linked on the right sidebar) who sent us our battery. He is very interested in exporting Japanese mamacharis! You should email him and see what you two can work out. I think it would be a great bike to carry kids in Boston.

  2. Hi Dorie. I am your battery guy ;). I am happy to hear that you and your children got to ride it AGAIN. Hope I will ship a Mama Bicycle too in the future. I plan to make a market survey if there are a certain numbers of parents who want it. :)
    Ah, feel free to ask me about the battery’s condition and more. Cheers.

  3. HI Shuichi! I am interested in mamacharis, but need more info about what is available and at what prices! I found this catalog: http://www.maruishi-cycle.com/news/12catalog/index.html
    But it can’t read it and Google translate doesn’t work with Flash. :(
    Can you help me with finding out what the brands/options are and how much it would cost to buy one and import it? I’d be riding with my 3 year old, his backpack, my work bag (with laptop and lunch inside) about 8 miles each way, with two pretty big hills along the route. Thanks!
    Josette (in Boston)

  4. Interesting thread with LOTS of pics of different mamachari configurations. Common themes: different size wheels, lower center of gravity, step-through frame. http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/648881-MAMACHARI-Philippines

  5. Also, a question about gearing: do you know if mamacharis can have an internal gear hub with 5 or more gears? Is it just a matter of replacing the single speed hub with a Shimano Nexus 8 or whatever?

    • I’ve heard of mamacharis with a 3-geared internal hub + assist in the rear hub (these have been out for years in Japan and BionX will be releasing a similar setup this year). Swapping out parts on these bikes can be very hard–One Less Minivan posted about this once–because a lot of them are integrated into the frame. I can’t do much with the rear wheel roller brake on mine given that it’s integrated with the motor; all our bike shop could do was true the wheel. The brakes are definitely the weakest link on my mamachari. I think they’ve gotten better in the last five years.

  6. Molly

    Are there mamacharis that can carry 3 children? I consider myself medium sized and am barely tall enough for the bakfiets I tried. Am actively shopping for an option that would allow me to do the steep wet hills of Seattle with 2 toddlers and a 5 yr old. The Mama Bicycle website is too sophisticated for me to figure out contact info – maybe you can connect me to Mr. Shuichi, oh Hum of the City?

    • I’ve never heard of a mamachari that can carry three, but I’m not the one to ask. I have Shuichi’s email as shuichi.kobayashi at hotmail in Japan, which is hotmail.co.jp. He’ll probably also respond to posts here once it’s daytime in Japan. With three kids if the oldest is big enough you could attach a trailer-bike. If all three are too little to pedal, maybe an BionX assisted Madsen? That’s a good bike for short people. You can check the Revolutions per Minute Facebook page for a look at a BionX-assisted Madsen that one mom is using on SF hills (just posted this week).

      You might also see if a CETMA Largo would work for you. There is a family in Seattle with one; they showed up at the Cargo Bike Roll Call. Maybe you could see if Family Ride got their contact information? That would definitely fit three kids as well. As noted on some of my other posts the long johns have a learning curve, though, so I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out if it’s not “get on and go” during a test ride like some of the other family bikes.

      • @Molly and Dorie
        Sorry both of you. We don’t seat three children on a Mama Bicycle in Japan. I agree to Dorie’s opinion that you attach a trailer bike to it if you do want. To be honest, seating two children was officially allowed in Japan last year. So seating over three children is out of scope in Japan. In fact, it seems difficult and rather dangerous to seat over two children on the normal style mamachari compared to other big cargo bikes.

  7. Update on the mamachari situation! I am in a rush to begin biking with my children, so I ended up buying a Yuba Boda Boda. For others who may be looking to import a mamachari — looks like an amazing bike! Go here to Shuichi’s blog to find out how you can order one. http://mamabicycle.blogspot.com/2012/10/update-negotiation-with-forwarder-and.html

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