- 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.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Shigeoh: A Clean, Green Hot Company

If there is one company that exemplifies the Japanese no-fuss, can-do attitude to solving problems with a bit of lateral thinking, it is this one: Shigeoh. Some time last year these bicycles began appearing all over downtown Tokyo.

My interest piqued, I looked further. These bicycles all had a decal saying "Shigeoh". It turns out that Shigeoh, the company that decked these bikes out into such great work-horses is a small company which prepares and services bicycle and scooter fleets for Japan Post and other very large companies. I had been wanting to visit them and learn more, but recently they renewed their website with more information and even a video clip from a news program about the system. This particular fleet of bikes was a contract from a copy machine servicing company (Ricoh?) last year, when the rules changed in Japan making parking more difficult. The company decided to try an experiment that would both be "green" and deal with the parking issue. For something so radical the investment was very large - costing somewhere near a million dollars to replacing it's fleet of mini-cars, motorcycles and scooters with this fleet of fully equiped electric bicycles.

The news report notes that management at this copier servicing company were initially concerned about travel times - thinking naturally enough that bicycles would be slower than their former scooter & car fleet. But it turns out that they were in fact been able to drastically reduce their travel times since switching to the bicycle fleet. The other concern was over physical effort. But it turns out that there was no need for concern on that point either. Apparently staff were a little tired at first, but after a few weeks they quickly became accustomed to the cycling and now many actually enjoy their work more. No doubt the heavy duty electric assist helps. So on the whole, it sounds like a pretty darn good move. What's most amazing however is that the copy company expects to recoup its near million dollar investment in the fleet within just 24 months.

Unlike some overseas e-assist systems, Japanese electric assist models cut out at relatively modest speeds while conserving extra power for hills, so these systems are very safe and convenient. The model used for these Shigeo bikes looks like a Panasonic "Vivi Toughness", one of their most heavy-duty, high-tech models, which has a Lithium Ion battery with an incredible range of 84-130km, and is sold standard with lock, racks, mudguards, an integrated LED front light and a solar powered tail light. Full recharge time is just 4.5hrs.

The battery pack has an integrated locking system to avoid theft, and the rear end of the frame is specifically made longer to accommodate the large battery. This also gives a longer and more stable area on which to perch the larger solid rack fitted by Shigeo, as well as the secure lock box. Note also the umbrella perched below the nice soft suspension seat.

Front basket seems to have been swapped out by Shigeo for a stronger, larger version with a faux leather waterproof box inside. Notice the front fork lock, to keep the front end straight when parked even with a heavy load on the front - no front-end flopping around.

Stanrdard comes with hub gears and roller brakes, but Shigeo have swapped out the stand for a heavy duty spring-loaded, locking stand. The fleet always looks spotlessly clean - no doubt serviced regularly by Shigeo employees. If I worked for a eco investment fund, this might be one little outfit worth sizing up very closely. I can imagine many companies around the world who could make very good use of a bicycle fleet system like this.


J7 said...

I actually had an internship in Kyoto 7 years ago where one of my duties was making intercampus deliveries of supplies on one of these types of bikes with electric assist. I thought I had the coolest job in all of Japan, being able to ride through Kyoto on a bike like that-- I got to see more of the city and places I could never see even on the 250cc motorbike I had access to. Sure wish I could travel like that safely in car-crazy Atlanta, GA USA...

Ryanoceros said...

Wow. That's interesting. I'd love to hear more about your experience sometime.

These low-speed electric bicycles really have a lot of potential. But their potential can really only be unleashed if the right traffic infrastructure is there - Atlanta, LA, Las Vegas, and "Brisvegas", Australia these days have gone too far down the 6-lane road to make it easy anytime soon. Fortunately Japan and other "old-world" cities (even Tokyo) still have the kind of infrastructure that can make these options work, so there is a lot of hope. The key is letting road builders (区役所の土木工事担当者達等) and urban planners know, in no uncertain terms, that these vehicles are also legitimate road users which need to be accomodated at a design level.