Japanese globetrotter pulls handcart 40,000 km thanks to special tires

Japanese adventurer Masahito Yoshida, who recently completed a solo around-the-world trek pulling a two-wheeled cart, did so with the aid of tires specially built for the 40,000-kilometer journey.

Yoshida, 32, from Tottori, set out from Shanghai on his world tour in January 2009. He returned there on June 9 this year after globetrotting across Eurasia, North America, Australia and Southeast Asia.

A year before the trip, Yoshida asked Inoue Rubber Co., a tire maker based in Nagoya, to develop a special tire for his adventure.

“I wanted to visit small villages I would have gone past on a bus or train and meet the people living there,” he said. “A cart was the most suitable means for carrying food, clothing and shelter.”

Yoshida traveled in some very inhospitable locations during his trek. In Australia, he walked 250 km in five days across a desert, relying on canned food and water. In Bulgaria, he was hospitalized after suffering frostbite in mountains where the temperature fell to 20 degrees below zero.

When he ran out of spare tires, Yoshida tried tires made in China and Thailand. Some went flat after traveling just 30 km. His cargo weighed roughly 100 kilograms, including food and water.

Yoshida said he was able to walk 5,000 to 6,000 km “without any problems” using the tires made by Inoue Rubber. The Japanese adventurer said a store clerk at a Canadian bicycle shop was stunned by the ruggedness of the tires.

Koji Yamada, who was involved in the development of the tires, said there is nothing surprising about their performance. “The tires withstood a 10,000-km endurance test,” Yamada said.

Inoue Rubber has manufactured bicycle tires for about 90 years and accounts for 20 percent of the domestic market. But it had never produced a tire specifically for carts, and officials hesitated when first approached by Yoshida.

Inoue Rubber eventually decided to take on the challenge, believing Yoshida’s around-the-world trip would be great publicity and advertising for the sturdily built tire.

Japanese door-to-door parcel delivery companies, such as Yamato Transport Co. and Sagawa Express Co., are turning more and more to carts pulled by workers or electric bicycles because they are environmentally friendly, can negotiate narrow or congested roads and require little parking space. Inoue Rubber hoped to cash in on that market.

Heavy-duty tires are also required for electric bicycles. A typical model weighs around 25 kg, which is about 40 percent heavier than an ordinary bike.

Inoue Rubber built the tires for Yoshida’s cart using a four-layer nylon cloth for their framework, compared with the double-layer structure used in standard tires.

They also incorporated materials used to make truck and bus tires in the new tire’s rubber to better withstand heavy loads.

In April 2010, Inoue Rubber released a new tire based on the prototype it developed for Yoshida’s cart under the Ashiraku Pro brand and has sold about 46,000 tires for electric bicycles.

The company says it expects the domestic electric bicycle market to expand from 400,000 units last year to 1 million units in five to six years.

Sources used: The Asahi Shimbun

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