How not to use your Mama-Chari: Bicycling in Japan

When I arrived at my apartment in August, there were three abandoned bikes lying in the yard. It turns out there are a lot of abandoned bikes in Japan, because they are so cheap. A decent bike is only about $80 at our local store. Of course, these bikes are pretty basic, with no gears, but they come with a light, a lock and a sweet basket. It’s the basket that gives them their name, Mama-Chari, or Grandma’s bicycle.

I, at one time, owned three bikes, one I purchased, one from the yard and one from my school. However, it seems that bikes are the only thing people in Japan will steal, and my school bike was stolen from the train station that I had one described as ‘so remote, you don’t need to lock your bike’.

My major bike mishap was a little more serious though. The mama-charis come with a light attached to the front wheel that uses the wheels motion to power the light. You can flick it off during the day to reduce resistance. A month ago, I was riding to the station in the dark when I decided to flick on the light, with my foot. Whoops.

Of course, my shoe immediately got stuck in the spokes and I had one of those transcendental, slow-moving time moments where I knew what was going to happen and I couldn’t stop it. Up over the handle bars I went, as I did a face plant on the ground and my bike landed on top of me. In a little shock, I tried to get up and I noticed a small child staring at me from his parents lawn. His eyes were gigantic and he ran away as soon as I said hi. Picking up my stuff, I decided I could still make it to the train station on time. I was obviously delusional. My bike was barely functional, having lost the light, the bell, some spokes, and most of the basket to the fall. I made the train but after getting on I looked in the mirror and noticed a huge bruise already forming on my face and then at my hand to see that it was covered in blood. I got off at the next station and turned around.

A week after the incident!

Scott met me, and as soon as we made it home I discovered massive bruises on my thighs from the handlebars, the beginnings of a black eye, and a killer headache. I spent the rest of the weekend in bed catching up on Mad Men, so at least one positive thing came out of my idiocy. And I’ll definitely never stick my foot in the spokes again.

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