- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

実用車  - The Ubiquitous Utility Bike

Anyone who has lived in Japan will recognize these bikes. At a glance they look the same as the old bikes that have been around longer than Jiji can remember. But if you look closely they are really pretty impressive machines.

Just like the old jitsuyosha, the frame is strong and heavy, with a step through cross bar for easy access. The sturdy stand and the curved handlebars which give these bikes an upright seating position also make them look like the old fashioned models. These bikes however, have internal gears, usually 3, 7 or 8 speed shimano hub gears. They have modern caliper rim brake on front and sturdy reliable roller brake on rear. They often also sport nice bright hub dynamo lights - th is one is standard bottle dynamo, but resistance isn't much of an issue on an electric assist bike.

Japanese electric assist bicycles these days really are pretty amazing, often with a whopping 30-100km(!) range and a powerful drive which automatically adjusts the level of torque input from the motor based on the gear you are in and how hard you push the pedal, fading out almost imperceptibly at higher speeds (around 25kph) to preserve the battery and for safety, and unlike earlier models, these electric bikes can also be pedalled normally with motor off, further extending battery life. These bikes often come with fairly large sturdy lockable waterproof boxes on the back like this one, installed securely on the rear rack. An amazing practical touch to these practical bikes is the grip tape sealed to the top, so that if necessary you can put an extra box on top of that temporarily without it slipping out of place in transit (note the bungy cord dangling down to the ground in the picture). Finally, a huge capacity steel basket is fixed over the front wheel, supported from the front hub, which has a waterproof vinyl lining and cover for extra all-weather carrying capacity. Saddle is wide and suspended, which actually helps when you are sitting bolt upright. The upright position is however very good for handling, especially when there is a lot of weight on the bike. Another feature is a front wheel lock, to stop the front end from flopping to one side when there is something heavy in the front basket. Naturally, they also come with a quick rear wheel lock and mud guards installed.

These bikes are commonly used by bankers, deliverymen, servicemen working for printing companies etc, shop owners etc etc etc. They are the epitome of practicality and convenience, and a cheap, clean, sustainable solution to many of our transport needs (and health issues). They are of course particularly useful in towns and cities that are quite dense, where most distances travelled are not very great, and there are many narrow back streets that are safe and quiet. Unfortunately not quite as practicable in the car-oriented societies and cities of the West, but with a 50km range electric assist motor, the issue is more one of safety than distance.

Ever since setting up my mountain bike + xtracycle, I have had a new found respect for the humble jitsuyosha. Fortunately I don't need electric assist yet!

I am afraid I didn't get the brand of this bike, but it looks like a Panasonic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have always had a soft spot for the jitsuyosha (実用車). You are correct these are impressive machines, and their forefathers are even more impressive. I restore these wonderful machines. Anyone interested drop by