Monday, July 27, 2009

Cruisin' on E-Bikes

This won't really surprised anyone who's been to China the past couple years; electric bikes are really popular over here.

From The Associated Press:

SHANGHAI — It's a simple pleasure, but Xu Beilu savors it daily: gliding past snarled traffic on her motorized bicycle, relaxed and sweat-free alongside the pedal-pushing masses. China, the world's bicycle kingdom — one for every three inhabitants — is going electric.

Workers weary of crammed public transport or pedaling long distances to jobs are upgrading to battery-powered bikes and scooters. Even some who can afford cars are ditching them for electric two-wheelers to avoid traffic jams and expensive gasoline.

The bicycle was a vivid symbol of China in more doctrinaire communist times, when virtually no one owned a car. Even now, nearly two decades after the country began its great leap into capitalism, it still has 430 million bicycles by government count, outnumbering electric bikes and scooters 7-1.

But production of electric two-wheelers has soared from fewer than 200,000 eight years ago to 22 million last year, mostly for the domestic market. The industry estimates about 65 million are on Chinese roads.

Car sales are also booming but there are still only 24 million for civilian use, because few of the 1.3 billion population can afford them. And unlike in many other developing countries, Chinese cities still have plenty of bicycle lanes, even if some have made way for cars and buses.

"E-bike" riders are on the move in the morning or late at night, in good weather or bad. When it's wet, they are a rainbow army in plastic capes. On fine days, women don gloves, long-sleeved white aprons and face-covering sun guards.

One of them is Xu, on her Yamaha e-bike, making the half-hour commute from her apartment to her job as a marketing manager. She had thought of buying a car but dropped the idea. "It's obvious that driving would be more comfortable, but it's expensive," she says.

"I like riding my e-bike during rush hour, and sometimes enjoy a laugh at the people stuck in taxis. It's so convenient and helpful in Shanghai, since the traffic is worse than ever."

Read On
A few months ago, I bought a mountain bike from a friend of mine who was returning back to America. The lightly-used bike, an XDS MA530, cost less than half of what I would've bought it for new. It's the best bike I've ever owned. It's a 21-speed, has shocks, and disc breaks. Here's a stock photo I just found of it on the internet:

While it is an old-fashioned pedal bike and not an electric one like those featured in this article, I can definitely relate with that last quote of the abstract above. Cruising around on a bike is vastly superior to riding other kinds of transportation.

As the article mentions, Chinese streets are well-equipped with bike lanes. Just about every main street in Xi'an has a small bike lane off to the side of the street for two-wheeled traffic. This makes cruising around (relatively) safe and quick.

I can get from my apartment into the city to meet Qian at work in about fifteen minutes on my bike. On a city bus, the trip would take at least twenty minutes (if I don't have to wait very long for the bus to come). And while a taxi would be faster than my bike, it'd cost about 15RMB ($2). So I view my bike riding as the best way for me to get around the city.

One of the interesting aspects of my bike riding in Xi'an is that I wear a cloth mask covering my mouth and nose as I cruise around. After I began riding several months ago, I realized that my throat would hurt after being out on the streets. Particularly after riding on a typical gray and smoggy day in Xi'an. I found wearing a mask really helps though. Sometimes I'll ride for a while, reach my destination, and then take off my mask only to find that the air outside actually stinks. But I hadn't realized this until taking off the mask.

It sounds as if the electric bikes are helping out with this problem of terrible urban pollution. Although the bikes are not a long-term pollution prevention because the bikes still require electricity (provided by, more often than not, coal-fired power plants in China) and have serious problems with disposal of the large batteries (that is discussed in the article above).

Despite the problems associated with electric bikes, they're a step in the right direction. I really enjoy seeing them on the streets of Xi'an. I have no problem being passed by an electric bike on the streets of Xi'an. A gasoline-powered one shooting exhaust in my face is another story all together.

And I can't expect all of China to stay content with pedal bikes like I am at the moment.


Anonymous said...

I remember a conversation here a while back about the joys of car ownership. I personally agree what the one poster said about looking forward to or enjoying not having a car (I forget exactly).

I have owned about 10 different cars in my life. Sports cars, trucks, luxury cars, and I am sure a lot of Chinese would be very jealous of that. I personally am hoping to be living in China for a bit sometime in the next few years, and I am very much looking forward to living in a place where not having a car is the norm. I am so sick or dealerships, oil changes, car washes, gas stations, registration fees etc... Would much rather zip around on one of those little electric bikes. Of course, if I had never owned a car in my lifetime, I would probably be car crazy.

Mark said...

You're right, Hopfrog, car ownership has been discussed on here a few times.

I believe I've both defended it in one sense and dissed it in another.

Now that China is the largest car market in the world, I defended the right for them to own cars. It seems natural to me that a country and its people will want cars seeing that they've never had the chance to have them in the past. I also talked about the "freedom" that having a car allows one to have. There are certain times (like during heavy travel periods such as Spring Festival) where having a car over trying to use public transportation would be really, really nice.

But then at other times on this blog I've talked about how nice it's been, for me, to not have a car.

I had a car (on and off) from the time I was 16 until the time I was 22. I completely understand where you're coming from on oil changes, fees, and everything that comes along with owning a car.

And it's a great thing to live in a place that is totally outfitted for walkers and bike riders. There are two (and about to be three) big super markets within about a ten minute walk of my apartment in Xi'an. How great is that?! I'm pretty sure just about every street in China would score 100% on this website -!

When you finally make it to China, you'll definitely appreciate the walkability of living in China. I strongly recommend getting a bike - either pedal or electric - and using it to cruise around the city where you live.

Right now, going around the city on my bike is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day.

Scott said...

I miss riding around Maastricht on my bike, I loved the night rides. Don’t get me wrong the day rides were nice but the night was something else all together. The city was empty, stores all closed, no fast food chains with a long line of cars, no parking lots, no rush no push. At most you would find a late night food joint like Prisma serving some grub but even those places were calm and cool. Coffee shops were hustling with smoke and good times. I loved riding through the shopping district, an area that was off limits to cars, it was either by foot or peddle, once past the shops you would hit a bridge, maybe someone jamming or just catching the view of the Maas. It really was a wonderful way to get around and enjoy yourself at the same time, oh did I mention it was free.

Ramesh said...

The other face of China is also what you see in Guangzhou. Because of reportedly rising crime of petty robberies from people riding two wheelers, the authorities responded by banning all motorised two wheelers outright. So its either a bicycle or a car - nothing in between in Guangzhou. No electric bikes, I'm afraid.

Taylor O said...

I've been looking at electric bikes for awhile; range is still a problem for ones with decent power. Brammo and Zero seem to have the most interesting products.

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