These photographs circulate via email and have also been posted to numerous blogs, online forums and social networking websites.
The photographs are genuine. Such specialized motorbikes do indeed exist and have been put to use in various parts of the world, including Asia, North America, South America and Europe.
The innovative motorcycle recovery vehicle dubbed the “Retriever” was distributed by a Swedish based company Coming Through. The tow bikes are based on the Honda GL 1800 GoldWing motorcycle.
The advantage of this type of recovery vehicle is that they can be operated as a normal motorbike on the way to the recovery site and are therefore much more maneuverable through heavy traffic than a conventional tow truck. Once at the site, the tow unit can be easily deployed by one operator. The stricken vehicle can then be rolled or winched on to the tow unit and towed to the designated destination.
While such tow bikes certainly do exist, exactly where and when the photographs in this message were taken is currently unclear.
Many versions of the message claim that the photographs show highway patrol offices in Japan operating the tow bikes and use the subject line “Japanese Tow Trucks”. However, the cityscape in the photographs along with the number plate of the vehicle being towed suggests that at least two of the photographs may have been taken in China, not Japan.
And a 2006 article on Korean news website dkbnews that includes the same photographs indicates that they were taken in Shanghai, China. The article notes that the tow bikes were deployed in Shanghai in June 2006.
And information previously available on the website of the North American branch of Coming Through noted that the “Chinese Police piloted Retriever and within a couple months decided to negotiate for 100 more units to be used extensively at 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing”.
Some sites that display these photographs claim that the tow bikes were actually invented in Japan. However, this is untrue. While the base model motorcycle used is from the Japanese company Honda, the towing conversion was designed and developed by a Swedish inventor.
Some versions of the message claim that the tow bikes are recently developed technology. However, as noted above, the bikes have now been available for several years.
The following YouTube video shows The Retriever in action:
Subject: FW: Japanese Tow Trucks
New! Used by Japanese highway patrol!
If I hadn’t seen these pictures, I would not have believed it !!!