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.
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).
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.
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.
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!”