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Rie Sawada- The Big Pedal!

Rie Sawada is everywhere. Has been everywhere. And always with a bike, a big camera and an even bigger smile. Born and raised in Handa, a city of 118,000 in the Aichi Prefecture of Japan, Rie pedaled thousands and thousands of kilometers to find her favorite everywhere…Oregon.

Rie’s travels first took her 40km northwest from home to Nagoya where she served coffee by bike in front of the popular Circles bike shop. From here her global journey saw her become what we’d call an ambassador-influencer today. Rie’s first bike was a stock, singlespeed Nishiki with some coffee-making upgrades she designed herself but she wanted to achieve even more and commissioned a custom bicycle from California’s Hunter Cycles in 2013. She named it CharRie’s Café (@charries_cafe) and set out to “travel the world, serving fresh hand-brewed coffee and homemade sweets on a bicycle.”

“I started the bicycle café on Valentine’s Day in 2010 sharing lots of love in front of the Circles bike shop in Nagoya, Japan. I have personally served thousands of happy cyclists and just people on the street, at Music Festivals, bicycle events from Cyclocross Races to the Cycle Messenger World Championships, Bike Shops, and Farmers Market all over the world.”

CharRie’s Café = Chari+Rie+Café: “Chari” means “Bike” in casual Japanese.

Rie tells us there is a larger purpose to her mission than just the adventure of pedaling and sharing good coffee. “I want to show Girl’s Bicycle Power to promote women’s cycling culture and inspire people through the power of bicycles and the possibilities of alternative transportation.”

Her travel has been limited in recent times though much of that has to do with the demands from her role as General Manager of SimWorks North America, a Japanese-based bicycle component and accessories company. SimWorks is a project spun from the founder of Circles bike shop where Rie once set up her first coffee bike. The company operates independently from a space within Chris King Precision Components’ facility in the NW Industrial area of Portland and is ever present at U.S bicycle events. SimWorks embodies the very same spirit of adventure and optimism that drives Rie and it’s yet another dynamic bicycle business we are happy to see call Oregon home.

February is a busy time in the bicycle industry and even more so in 2021. Not only are brands trying to get ready for the season ahead but this year they’re still trying to catch up to the demand from the previous year. Despite being busy with work and adventure, Rie enthusiastically sat down with us to share her bicycle and Oregon stories. 

It seems like every weekend that Rie assembles a crew of friendly riders and explores Oregon

How did you end up in Oregon?

I was born and raised in Japan until 20 years old and since then I’ve lived all over the world. From Japan I lived and surfed in San Diego for 6 years, back to Japan for 5 years, then to Berlin for 3 years, and Santa Cruz, California for a couple of years before having to return to Japan due to visa restrictions. I was always dreaming to move back to the United States and when the opportunity came to establish SimWorks North America there was no doubt that we would choose Portland for our base. We had made good friends with the bicycle businesses and community in Oregon and I, of course, loved riding here. Though it took three business visa applications we finally were approved and established the business in February 2018.

“I love this photo, this was a super special ride at The Oregon Dunes for me.”

Why travel the world by bicycle? 

I thought bicycle touring was the best way to see the world more than any other transportation. I also wanted to promote women’s cycling culture and inspire people through the power of women on bicycles and the possibilities of alternative transportation. There is no language barrier between bicycles.

Click here to visit Rie’s blog documenting her 4-month, 5,500 kilometer trip in 2013 serving coffee across Europe from Charie’s Cafe.

Charie’s Cafe circa 2012

What is your message to the world?

There is no impossible; anyone can do this. Even I did this. I didn’t even know how to read a map when I began and didn’t know how to do bicycle touring by myself before this. 

I documented my trip with my photographs and texts through Instagram in an effort to show cultural perspectives and the importance of community on a global scale inspired by the places I saw and adventures that I experienced.

What is your favorite place to ride in Oregon?

There are so many favorite and beautiful places here in Oregon I can’t pick! 

I like Oakridge, Sandy Ridge, Silver Falls, Timothy Lake, Deschutes River Trail, Bend, Sisters, and so many more! Trail systems in Oregon are impressive, always well maintained and fun. It’s especially hard in Japan to find good dirt trails like here; it’s my dream here.

I also like gravel bikepacking. I explored some parts of the Oregon Timber Trail and rode the Oregon Outback bikepacking trip crossing Oregon from the Klamath Falls up to The Dalles. Those were hard rides but bikepacking is always a great way to see the beautiful places of Oregon.

From the Oregon Outback route

Coffee is important to you, what is your favorite style?

Yes, coffee and snacking is very important for me with the bike especially. Coffee is my communication tool to share things. I took some classes learning about coffee when I lived in Japan in 2010, and wanted to share my taste of coffee and experiences and that’s where the idea for the bicycle café came from.

My favorite style is pour over with fresh ground Guatemala or Sumatra beans which are necessary to make good taste. It takes a lot of effort to make one cup of coffee but pour over makes the coffee mellow, full-bodied, easy to drink with a loving taste. And I found that I can communicate best with people by making my special pour over coffee with much love. I want to make more people smile with my coffee.

I definitely bring tasty snacks good with coffee and beer to share with friends on rides. I sometimes make homemade cookies, Mochi, Onigiri (rice balls) and bring them with me for a ride and share with friends. I like sharing.

What is SimWorks?

SimWorks was created with the vision of connecting people from all over the world with a shared love for the elements in the world of cycling that ask us to slow down, connect with our natural environments, and savor the most meaningful ideals in our lives. We put an emphasis on heritage bicycle products with deep roots in Japan – thoughtful, useful offerings from small-batch makers and craftspeople. SimWorks has an eye for timeless style and a focus on offering quality products that will make you smile. 

What is it like being a woman in the predominantly male bicycling business?

It’s fun. I developed a women’s bicycle community in Nagoya, Japan including a fixed gear bicycle dance team “Gacharinco” and yearly bicycle calendars. I’m feeling that growing up as a tomboy and liking outdoor adventure, it was easy for me as a woman to be in the bicycle community with so many men already in the business. Everyone welcomed me and I made a lot of both male and female friends through bicycles especially with people who are mostly unique and adventurous people. I’ve learned a lot from the adventure cycling community called WTF Bikexplorers about gender inclusivity and racial equality within the bicycle community. I have much more that I want to do and know that as a woman leading this company there are many great things we can do to improve the opportunities for women in sport and business.

What is your prediction for bike trends in 2021?

Big pedal!

SimWorks most recent new product, the Bubbly Pedal in collaboration with renowned Japanese manufacturer MKS.

Thank you, Rie, it’s safe to say we all agree that 2021 is the year of the big pedal. Not just the physical bicycle component but also as a theme. Here’s to many days of big pedal!

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1 Comment

  1. Rie, this is a wonderful story. I unofficially follow your posts and to read this adds something special to what I have already seen. This is a story I will share with my students. I’m always looking for stories of adventure and ones which touch the heart of people. [I teach physical education, visual art, drama and dance in Perth, Western Australia] All power to you in your quest to live life to the full and your desire to share joy with others and encourage them with the mantra that all things are possible.