Choosing your own bike in Japan

Japan is a country for bicycle lovers. High gas prices, convenient roads and safety laws make cycling a cheaper alternative to cars or trains for many people.

Plus, riding a bike lets you explore all the interesting things along the way and get a more local feel while connecting to major points of interest in any major city or neighborhood.

The question is, which bike is right for you? Choosing a bike can be confusing, but we’ve narrowed it down to the type of riding you plan to do, your lifestyle and your budget.

How to choose a bike

The most important thing to consider is the purpose of your rides. Do you plan to use your bike only to go to the supermarket or the station? So maybe a faithful mom-chari (mom’s bike) is the right bike for you. As far as your lifestyle goes, road bikes are best suited if you’re looking to get fitter and ride longer distances.

Next, consider your budget. Thrift stores in your area or Sayonara sales groups on Facebook might produce something reasonable, but it’s usually a hit-and-miss situation. On the other hand, buying new gives you the luxury of choice. Mama-charis are the cheapest option, with single-speed bikes starting at ¥20,000. Depending on the brand, road bikes in Japan cost around ¥80,000. Some of them are even on par with the price of a motorcycle.

Types of bikes

While there are tons of other types of bikes, from single-speed city bikes to custom steel models, we’re rounding up the four most common types you’ll see on the road.

mama chari

This “tank” is the ultimate definition of a utility ride. Photo: iStock/Satoshi-K

If you plan to use your bike only to travel short distances to your local supermarket or train station, consider a mama-chari. A mama-chari is Japanese slang for “mom’s bike”, which is basically who they’re built for. If you see a mother dragging a child on a bicycle, it’s a mama-chari. It is also one of the most common types of bicycles you will see while cruising the streets of Japan.

Mama-charis offers the convenience of carrying your groceries, helping you take your kids to kindergarten and make short trips. These bikes are popular because they are great for running errands. Typically fitted with a basket, they can be further customized to add up to two child seats.

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Wiley C. Thompson