Chari is the Japanese word for bicycle. A mama-chari is the type of bicycles that mothers use. Do you have an image of that bicycle now?
Bikes parked outside Sapporo Station.
It is the ubiquititous style of bike that I have seen so far in Japan, mothers riding it or no. This bike, with a thick cushy seat, no gears, and slightly curved handle bars (looks like straight ones are optional, but less popular), can be seen ridden by young and old, male and female alike. Baskets are loaded with groceries and school supplies. Elegant women flow past wearing skirts and heels while pedaling effortlessly.
Students biking along the main road though campus.
This got me thinking. Why isn’t the U.S. as caught up in bikes? And why is it so rare to find one of these super cheap, super comfy, super easy to ride bikes? It’s not like the infrastructure here is particularly friendly to bikes. There are bike lanes, but most bikers ride on the sidewalk. Similarly, most riders don’t wear helmets. Riding a bike here feels as natural as walking. It’s also surprising that the level ownership is so high given that biking is only possible during the summer months since Sapporo gets buried in snow virtually all winter long. It becomes less surprising when you consider the price tags - new bikes sell at just over $100.
In the U.S., a bike buying guide will help you decide between a super sleek road bike and a rugged tough mountain bike. This is problematic because most people would rather not bear the discomfort of riding in the aerodynamic position of long distance road biking. Mountain bikes are more comfortable but not very efficient for commuting because of the grippy tires. On the other hand, the bikes here are extremely comfortable, and I would say the next best thing to sitting in a car. The last time I saw a bike like this was at the farmers’ market in Burlingame, CA, and it was an Electra Townie which has a price tag in the $400s (then again, it was Burlingame).
Which city in the U.S. is closest to this type of bike culture? Tell me, because I want to live there. Or maybe I’ll just have to come back to Japan.