Home » This Tiny Japanese Folding E-Bike From Toy Designers Is An Unreliable Car’s Best Friend

This Tiny Japanese Folding E-Bike From Toy Designers Is An Unreliable Car’s Best Friend

Icoma Tatamel Topshot 2

While many electric mobility solutions can seem at ideological odds with fun junky cars, I reckon the problem is that we haven’t seen many electric runabouts that are both small and practical enough to fill the right sort of niche. So how’s this for a niche? At CES 2023, Japanese company Icoma showed off the Tatamel, a folding e-bike that’s the perfect companion for those who own precisely zero reliable cars.

Icoma Tatamelbike 01

Old oleopneumatic Citroens, Soviet motors, neglected Porsches, even high-mileage Buick Reattas are all cool enthusiast cars that share one thing in common – they break. As such, owners of cars like these will eventually break down and need to hoof it to the nearest auto parts or hardware store in search of a bodge. The problem is that walking as the crow flies can be tiresome, and carrying a bunch of car parts on a used Boosted board will make you feel and look like an uncoordinated spy kid. The Tatamel solves this issue by being a charming e-bike you can fit in your trunk, like a Motocompo for the electric age.

First up, the obvious big draw: The Icoma Tatamel folds. Not only do the wheels and handlebars fold up for compact storage, the whole folded package measures just 27.2 inches by 27.2 inches by 10.2 inches, or about the size of a 265/40R19 tire, so it should be able to fit in all sorts of trunks. Given the Tatamel’s nifty folding nature, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that the company’s founders used to work for Takara Tomy, the Japanese maker of Transformers toys. Then there’s the way the the bike itself can act as a workshop on the go. Optional side panels can fold out to become tables for rebuilding fiddly components. There’s power on board to charge your phone and light, and you can option it to put out up to 600 watts of AC power for charging tool batteries.

So what about riding performance? Well, top speed is capped at 25 mph, but range with the standard 12 Ah battery is up to 20 miles, and will likely be much longer with the optional battery add-on that takes things up to 29 Ah. Both the 10-inch front wheel and 6.5-inch rear wheel are attached to proper suspension, so don’t expect the Tatamel to be a bone-shaker either. It ought to do the job just fine despite its diminutive dimensions.

Suspension

In fact, the only downside to the Icoma Tatamel is that it isn’t cheap. Pricing in Japan starts at the equivalent of $4,000, which is a lot. However, it’s not that bad compared to the alternative. A Plus roadside assistance plan from AAA costs $94.99 per year and only includes four tows per year with towing range of 100 miles. Plus, AAA typically only tows to home or a repair shop. If you break down on the road a lot, the Tatamel could pay itself back in just a few years and still be a fun way to zip around once you reach your destination. Or at least, that’s one way I’d try to justify buying an adorable e-bike to my family.

Icoma Detail 03

Mind you, tiny electric vehicles like the Icoma Tatamel aren’t legal everywhere, but that’s changing. Mass Transit Magazine reports that the National Association of City Transportation Officials took a look at e-bike and e-scooter sharing and found an awesome trend. Americans took more than 313 million trips on station-based e-bikes, dockless e-bikes, and dockless e-scooters between 2019 and 2021, a massive increase over the roughly 7.22 million trips taken from 2010 through 2012. These adult-sized fun machines are more popular than ever, which has led to more and more cities legally permitting use on public streets.

2 Icoma Kv Rear

Screen Shot 2023 01 06 At 3.21.19 Pm Screen Shot 2023 01 06 At 3.21.32 Pm Screen Shot 2023 01 06 At 3.21.52 Pm Screen Shot 2023 01 06 At 3.22.01 Pm

Sadly, my home city of Toronto isn’t a huge fan of pedal-less e-bikes or e-scooters, but hopefully that’ll change. These tiny e-mobility solutions like the Icoma Tatamel are great for scything through rush hour, getting a bit of fresh air, and generally enjoying fair-weather seasons. Maybe the little runabout EVs we really need aren’t cars after all, but can still fit well with automotive enthusiasm. Indeed, it seems like the people at Icoma are car people like all of us. A scroll through company founder Takamitsu Ikoma’s Twitter account conjures up pictures from a DAMD styling car show, reminiscing over Fiat Barchetta ownership, and numerous other automotive pursuits. Fun cars and e-bikes sharing the same world, now that’s a wonderful concept.

(Photo credits: Icoma)

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15 Responses

  1. I’d forgotten how good looking the Fiat Barchetta is. I don’t think they were officially sold in the UK, but some must have been imported.
    Hmmm, there’s one for sale for £4k, however the listing says “This car is in great useable condition and simply needs light recommissioning.”.
    ‘light recommissioning’ on a Fiat that was never officially sold here? That sounds potentially expensive.

  2. When I owned my Volt, I did think briefly about using our folding electric scooter as last mile transportation when working downtown. There’s free charging one of our downtown Casinos, so I could have parked there for free and then used the scooter to get to my destination. The problem was me getting over two issues… the thought of 40-something me looking ridiculous riding a scooter, and the realization of the danger of riding a scooter in downtown traffic.

  3. This is the kind of product that seems out of reach in terms of buying one, but simple enough in theory to build that it sounds like it could be a really fun and useful fabrication project.

  4. This looks like it would’ve been perfect for my beaters-only driving days. In fact, when in college I actually hauled around an old fashioned 3-speed manual bicycle during my Freshman year of college when I was driving a complete shit-box ’78 Buick Skyhawk hatchback. Amazingly, I never had to actually use the bike – the old Buick smoked, coughed, slipped gears, had braking issues, yet never broke down. However, the Skyhawk cost me $275 plus a decent (for the time) radar detector. Even accounting for inflation, this thing I’m sure would’ve been far outside my meager transportation budget.

  5. Okay, but what does it weigh? The video has two people lifting it out of the van. If one person can’t load and unload it, it’s not very useful.

    1. The bike looks pretty unwieldy from how they carry it.

      I’m imagining a winch and tackle setup on the inside rear hatch door to hoist this from a floor compartment near the spare tire and out of the car — it would need some kind of beefy prop rod and the door and hinges would have to be reinforced.

  6. This is pretty cool, and it reminds me of something.

    A few years ago (not sure if they’re still around) there was a company in London called Scooterman. You’d call them up after a night of drinking. They’d dispatch a driver on a folding scooter to your location. The driver would toss the bike in your trunk, drive your drunk ass home in your own car, and then drive away on the scooter. You get home safely; you don’t have to go back to the bar to get your car; and the driver can go pretty much anywhere on a folding scooter.

    I’d like to see folding motorcycles/scooters to catch on to encourage more enterprises like that… not to mention the “lifeboat on an unreliable car” concept.

    1. I’m told by friends who went there, that Bowdoin College had the exact same service back around 2007 (which is when they told me about it). Presumably with motocompos or something similar.

    2. Even if you don’t die or kill someone, a DUI is such an awful thing that without question it would be cheaper to call a tow truck. I drove wreckers in college and I had a few calls like that.

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