Engineer pins hopes on minimalist moped

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At first glance, Fuki Planning Co.’s moped looks like a low-end consumer bicycle, having no gear shift, blinkers or brake lights. The compact 31.7cc engine attached underneath the saddle is the only thing to suggest that the bike can run without pedal-power.

“This bike is the antithesis to the current trend of motor vehicle design, which usually features too much power and many functions in order to pad prices,” said Fujio Kuroyanagi, the Yokohama firm’s 52-year-old president.

“My mind-set as a manufacturer is to make very basic products at as low prices as possible with designs that allow users to freely customize them.”

The lineup currently includes four mopeds priced between 69,800 yen and 163,000 yen. All use bicycle parts, except for the main frame and wheels, which are more durable than those for regular bicycles. The firm has sold about 1,200 units since their release in 1998.

Like scooters and motorcycles with engine displacements of less than 50cc, the bike is classified as an “engine-equipped bicycle.” It thus requires a license plate and its rider must wear a helmet.

The bike is not supposed to run faster than 20 kph, but a legal loophole gives mopeds one big advantage — when engine power is combined with pedaling, mopeds can exceed that speed limit, and moped riders always have the excuse that they’re using both the engine and their feet.

“Still, our moped is much slower than regular scooters, but it is especially enjoyable to ride,” Kuroyanagi said.

“Speed has been everything in the mind of those who view the motor vehicle, but I want people to notice that it is more fun than just that.”

A former engineer on a Formula 1 racing team in the 1970s, Kuroyanagi established his firm in 1978. The company, which currently employs five engineers, has invented a so-called pocket motorcycle, which measures less than 1 meter long and 50 cm high.

The development of the new moped, which took three years, was a dream of Kuroyanagi’s for years — to bring back vehicles from an old page of the country’s motorcycle history.

“I saw many people riding around on mopeds when I was a kid,” Kuroyanagi said.

“But I always had special affection for this vehicle, which died out in the era of rapid economic development, in which speed became everything.”

Kuroyanagi’s only concern is that his brainchild is not selling well. Though Fuki’s factory has an output capability of 200 units per month, current sales stand at just 20 to 30 units a month.

Although Kuroyanagi naturally hopes to boost sales, he said he is satisfied with the design of his products and has no intention of changing it.