Panasonic XM-1 owner in Tokyo

shiruba

New Member
Hello from Tokyo. Here a lot of people have bikes and even electric bikes, but the sporty "eBike" is a recent phenomenon. I bought the first domestically produced eMountainBike.
 

Ravi Kempaiah

Well-Known Member
Arigato!

I have forever been fascinated by the Japanese and especially, the Zen culture.
Japan is like half the size of Illinois, but contains some of the world's most respected corporations in Automotive (Toyoya, Honda, Nissan, Yamaha etc), Battery manufacturers (Sony, Panasonic), electronics (Toshiba, Sony, Panasonic, Sharp etc).

We recently had an interesting discussion about the usage of eBikes in Japan.
https://electricbikereview.com/forum/threads/e-bikes-in-japan-just-a-little-article.26876/


May be you can share how people use eBikes in Japan and how the market is evolving. Are people happy with the speed, range, utilitarian applications, cycling infrastructure etc. Always great to hear from people who have lived it.
 
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shiruba

New Member
Hi, actually, I saw that discussion, which is why I phrased me entry as I did (differentiation of "electric bikes" vs. "eBikes", considered different beasts in Japan).


Until recently, electric bikes in Japan basically came in one of the following varieties:
#1 The typical "Mamachari" electric assist bike sold in Japan is for housewives hauling children around, and usually has a very low center of gravity. This makes it unsuitable for using on the road, although you aren't technically supposed to ride them on the sidewalk. They are usually designed for low speed/low performance, and short distances. Most people will only bike within the vicinity of their house, since if they had to bike farther than the nearest station, they may as well just take the train.

#2 Aside from the Mamachari type mentioned above, you can get similar models without the child seats, which are basically low speed pedal assist utility bikes. Usually seen in use by older folks, but these can be genuinely helpful since there are a lot of hills in Japan.

#3 The third type would be another variation that is like #2 above, but used for hauling trailers for delivery. These are typically allowed to have more power.

In general, the bikes have not been for long distance or high performance, so they did not have very large batteries or high performance parts. This is not to say that they were low quality - they tended to last a long time - just that for example, most of them only had three gears at most. The concept was "help people who need help to get up hills", and that was about it.

There are bike enthusiasts in Japan to be sure, but the average person only uses their bike for short distances, and so doesn't really think too much about things like gears, braking, etc. As I am sure many on this BBS know, many hard core bike geeks don't think bikes should be electric anyway, so it was hard to know what demand electric sports bikes (i.e. "eBikes" would have).

Panasonic had been testing the waters for several years with the hurrier line and one other line, but both were basically their normal electrics assist models with slightly better specs.

Meanwhile the eBike trend was going on in Europe, with faster, sexier models being created, and Japan was not participating in this. One day in 2017, Yamaha decided to come out with the YPJ-C. This was basically a normal road bike with power assist. Reviews were mixed, with some liking the fact that they would get assist in a "sports bike", while others complaining that it was an odd mix. One reviewer said "The battery is small enough that you shouldn't think of this as an electric assist bike, it is more of secret weapon, a turbo button to get you up a hill that can be used 3 or 4 times"

Since then they have released other models, you can check here:
https://www.yamaha-motor.co.jp/pas/ypj/concept/index.html

I wasn't so interested in the YPJ-C because I have always preferred mountain bikes. To me, road bikes only work in a rarified theoretical environment where you don't have to jump up and down on and off the sidewalk, etc. I am always scared of breaking the tire, and feel jolted every time I have to jump, etc. Also, I wanted Disc brakes, so I kept my non-electric cross-bike.

Then Panasonic announced the XM-1. This was their first entry, and in fact the first domestic entry at all, into the eMountain bike category. This made quite a stir. Some people simply said "There is no such culture in Japan." (i.e. trying to say that there might be a market in Europe, but not Japan). I saw one article saying something like "What is the target market for the XM-1? Rich middle-aged single divorced males!" etc. In fact, as always, 95% of the news coverage was positive, but it was also just politely copying the press release that Panasonic put out. The main negative commentary was simple: Who would pay $3K USD for an electric bike? Most electric bikes were $1k - $2k. On the other hand, many non-electric Mountain bikes could cost over $2k. Panasonic simply said "We are confident in our pricing", but they could have been bluffing. They also said they were producing only 200 units in the first year, so presumably they weren't so convinced of the demand themselves.

For me, $3k is a lot to drop on a bike, and I could just as soon purchase a moped or motorcycle instead, so I decided to check it out before I bought it. They held a test drive event in Shibuya, which I attended. It was interesting in that they gave us each a bike and then sent us out into the wild, with the only instruction: "Be back in an hour". I took this video at the time:

I rode all around Shibuya, to Ebisu and back, trying to find the biggest hills I could find. Although the maximum power output is regulated by law (in order to keep it classified as a bicycle instead of moped), the performance was much different than a normal electric assist bike, and the response was much faster. This thing was fun to ride, and since it was easy to navigate hills, I knew I could use it for actually getting around even in the summer. I could use it instead of the train sometimes, which is what I was interested in. I could use it to go to work, etc.

I liked the large tires, I loved the disc brakes, I didn't like the separate AA powered light.

One of the things that struck me as interesting was that the charger was basically like a huge laptop charger. (Usually electric bikes in Japan have a kind of dock that the battery drops into).

I was sold, and placed my order as soon as I could.

I have put a lot of videos online of my biking for anyone who is interested:





(most are decidedly not so interesting, though. I only put them up because some friends like to watch them while doing the exercise bike indoors).

As for the 200 units they were not sure they would sell? They sold out in less than a month. After that, suddenly, Yamaha announced their own mountain bike version. In addition, Panasonic announced a road utility bike version (XU1), and another mountain bike version (XM2) with larger handle bars, built in light, and motor with internal gear shifting.

Most recently, they announced the XM-D2, a full suspension model with 2.8" tires. They are only making 100 units of this one, since the price is almost $6k USD.

You can see all of the current products:
http://cycle.panasonic.jp/products/ewm/

I am not sure about the status of the other major Japanese maker, Bridgestone.
 

Roxlimn

Member
The XM-D2 seems a bit overpriced at $6k, but it might still be alright. It doesn't really have any competitors in the space in the local market.
 

shiruba

New Member
The closest competitor I could find to the XM-D2 was a Ducati eBike that hasn't been released yet. That is a bit more expensive, but looks cooler, and probably has a more powerful motor. It would probably be difficult and expensive to import though, so I'll go with the XM-D2 myself.

If the XM-D2 does sell out like the XM-1 did, I think we can expect Yamaha to announce a copycat once again.
 

JRA

Well-Known Member
A very well presented and interesting perspective on Japanese electric and burgeoning eBike culture. Thanks for sharing!
 

Roxlimn

Member
The closest competitor I could find to the XM-D2 was a Ducati eBike that hasn't been released yet. That is a bit more expensive, but looks cooler, and probably has a more powerful motor. It would probably be difficult and expensive to import though, so I'll go with the XM-D2 myself.

If the XM-D2 does sell out like the XM-1 did, I think we can expect Yamaha to announce a copycat once again.
Giant makes the full suspension Trance E+ line of models and I just bought the 1 model version - Trance E+1 pro. It is based on the highly successful and tested Trance All-Mountain geometry, and it features a Fox 36 Performance EVOL suspension fork - possibly the best all-mountain fork model line in production today. Tuned right, it smooths out most small bumps and gives you outstanding traction, without giving up support on bigger hits. The fork is soft on smaller bumps, and supportive for bigger bumps - truly a revelation. It also features Giant's Maestro rear suspension, widely lauded in MTB circles.

The main problem is that I do not know whether Giant has good customer support in Japan, and you really want aftermarket support for ebikes. Yamaha still hasn't come out with a full-suspension model, and their current ebike lineup is not inspiring.

The Trance E also looks incredible - truly an aesthetic pleasure viewed live.
 

Roxlimn

Member
The bike's suspension is absolutely required for the gnarlier trails and jumps in the mountains, but even in town, the double suspension keeps off rider fatigue and helps control on the tarmac. I'm hoping the local rental shops at least have an XM-1 or better in stock when I go ride the Shimanami Kaido. They're practically built for each other.
 

shiruba

New Member
Well i know Panasonic was talking about renting them out, but I haven't heard any news about that. Some trails have similar bikes for rent. For example, smile Tokyo rents out the comparable Yamaha eBikes. I would be happy to loan mine if, but Hiroshima is quite far from Tokyo!

As for aftermarket support, I haven't needed anything other than this changes and a chain cleaning, but the good thing is that I can take it into any Bic Camera, which are all over the place. The bad thing is that they don't all carry the special tires.
 

Buzze

New Member
@shiruba , what is the Japanese law like regarding speed pedelecs (electric supported bicycles up to 45km/h)
A Japanese friend of mine would like to use one to commute from Yokohama into Tokyo, but hasn't seen one yet.
This type of e-bikes is rapidly becoming popular in my country (Belgium) and some other parts of Europe, but so far I haven't seen one in Japan.
I was surprised by how widespread they became in between the last two visits (2015年10月 and 2019年4月), but most of them were mamachari-type like you said.
For reference, my current speed pedelec is a Stromer ST1X
 

shiruba

New Member
@shiruba , what is the Japanese law like regarding speed pedelecs (electric supported bicycles up to 45km/h)
A Japanese friend of mine would like to use one to commute from Yokohama into Tokyo, but hasn't seen one yet.
This type of e-bikes is rapidly becoming popular in my country (Belgium) and some other parts of Europe, but so far I haven't seen one in Japan.
I was surprised by how widespread they became in between the last two visits (2015年10月 and 2019年4月), but most of them were mamachari-type like you said.
For reference, my current speed pedelec is a Stromer ST1X
So... anything with over 250 watts of power or over 200% assist or any assist over 24 kph is not considered a bicycle in Japan. As soon as you break one of those rules, it needs to be registered as a moped or motorcycle. That means license plate, insurance, helmet, and some other trappings like brake lights, turn signal lights, and mirror are required.

I have an "Ebike" bike like this (carbondry poweredbike) , but they are very uncommon in Japan. Bikes are very very common in Japan, but most people use them for short distances (closer than the nearest train station) to carry stuff like groceries, so utility bikes are very common, whereas sport bikes are much less common. I think fast bikes are fun, but it's not much of a market here at present.

If you want more details on the law, let me know, the manual for my poweredbike has a lot of explaination.

I remember one point is that even if the power is off, legally you can not ride the bike without a license, number card, etc. (Technically you can't ride it at all powered off since it is registered as a motorcycle but not working properly as a motorcycle).

At any rate, there is no speed pedelec category under the law. Your Ebike with either fall under the normal bike laws, or it will become a moped and need to comply with noted rules instead.