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Bike can turn into wheelchair if disaster strikes

Chunichi Shimbun

Junji Nagayama, the head of a heavy equipment delivery company in Nagoya, has developed a bicycle that, in just a few minutes, can be transformed into a wheelchair.

Named Qjo, which literally means to rescue, the idea is to use the wheelchair for emergency purposes.

Cyclists can use it to move injured people or help the elderly evacuate.

Qjo looks almost the same as a regular 27-inch bicycle. The only differences are a tiny wheel jutting outward above the front wheel and two pieces of folded cloth underneath the handlebars. The cloth holds a wrench and a metal plate.

To change the bike into a wheelchair, Nagayama, 56, first uses the wrench to remove the pedal. Next, he loosens a screw under the saddle to swing the front wheel around until it is facing the back wheel, creating its frame.

After that, he removes the saddle and positions it at neck level and fits the two pieces of cloth over the back and bottom of the seat.

To complete the transformation, he fits the metal plate below as a leg rest.

The whole process took around 3 minutes.

Nagayama decided to develop Qjo after witnessing the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which devastated much of the Tohoku region.

He saw online videos of towns and cities, where buildings had been reduced to little more than piles of debris, posted by people who were going around on bicycles. He then thought, “What if they found injured people while they were out there?”

That was when he came up with the idea of developing a transportation method that could be also used for rescuing people.

He chose the bicycle because it is relatively easy to use for navigating debris-covered streets, and the wheelchair for its ease of use.

Nagayama has always enjoyed tinkering with and repairing machines.

To make his project a reality, he disassembled and rebuilt bicycles several times while at the same time looking at diagrams of the two different products.

He received help from his friend, Hiroshi Mori, 60, who advises a management consulting firm, and completed his project in 2½ years.

When the March 11, 2011, quake hit, there were people who could not escape the tsunami in time because they were injured and consequently lost their lives.

Nagayama believes that with Qjo, even women and young children will be able to help others easily.

The only thing the rider needs to convert the bike into a wheelchair is a wrench. Nagayama built it in such a way that the screw can be loosened by hand as well.

The product is also designed with safety in mind. The handles are used to push the wheelchair while the brake can be used even in its reconfigured form.

Nagayama is applying to the World Intellectual Property Organization for an international patent. Once it is approved, he plans to sell it to manufacturers for mass production.

“I want to make it lighter or develop it further so that the user can change it without using any tools. There is plenty of room for improvement,” said Nagayama.

“I hope to release it to the world as a product as soon as possible and hopefully, it will be useful for saving lives,” he added.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on March 26.