What is a Mama Chari?

Mama chari bicycle in front of a shop
Photo by spinster cardigan under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

With COVID scaring people out of packed trains, everyone and their mother is riding a bike in Tokyo, including “mama chari.” So naturally, I decided to get into the action myself. But I didn’t have the first clue about how to refer to types of bicycles in Japanese. Since you’re here, you too are probably interested in how far the Japanese bicycle vocabulary rabbit hole goes. So this series will be an explanation of bicycle-related Japanese vocabulary that you likely won’t find in textbooks, beyond “jitensha” (自転車)!

Today, we will look at the ubiquitous mama chari!

Please keep in mind that this post put together by a complete bike novice. If you spot any missing vocabulary or incorrect definitions, please do leave a comment!

Mama Chari (ママチャリ)

Mama Chari Traits

  • Front basket
  • Rear luggage shelf
  • Front and rear mud guards
  • Front light (often peddle-powered)
  • Rear wheel lock and key
  • Bicycle stand
  • Bell on handlebars

Introduction

Ah, the mama chari. This is probably one of the first non-textbook bicycle-related words you’ll learn when first coming to Japan. Mama chari basically translates to “mom bike.” It’s probably the most ubiquitous type of bicycle in Japan, with its easily identifiable basket, peddle-powered light, and bell. It’s often one of the cheapest options, too.

Reclining

One of the difficulties I had with this type of bicycle was that its seat is usually a reclining type, with curved handlebars. In America (my home country), the most popular types of bicycles tend to be more forward leaning, with straight handlebars. So it took me a while to find my balance.

Weight

These bicycles tend to be quite solid and thus quite heavy. A quick browse on an online Japanese cycle shop shows that a lot are over 20 kg! If you will need to take your bicycle up and down stairs often, it might not be the best choice.

However, if you’re looking for an affordable, reliable bicycle, a mama chari is a good choice.

Mama chari bicycle handlebars
By Emran Kassim under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Difference between Mama Chari and City Cycle (シティーサイクル)

When you’re looking at bicycles in Japan, you might find references to “city cycles.” While there doesn’t seem to be a clear difference, many websites (such as this one) indicate that one of the biggest differences is the frame.

Mama chari tend to be reclining seats, where your body is leaning back when you’re sitting on it (think of a Harley motorcycle). They also usually have curved handlebars. On the other hand, city cycles tend to be forward seats, where your body is leaning forward when you’re sitting on it. City cycles also tend to have straight handlebars.

Wrap-Up

If you’re thinking about getting a bicycle to ride around town, a mama chari might be a good choice! They tend to come in a variety of prices, come with many accessories, are sold everywhere, and are quite hardy.

Are you thinking about getting a mama chari?

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