China BicyclingThe following is an excerpt from the book Save Gas, Save the Planet. Copyright ©John Addison. All rights reserved.

 

China has more than 450 million bicycles. Jonathan Weinert, working on his PhD at the Institute of Advanced Transportation Studies at U.C. Davis, reported from China, “In a thousand-year-old village in the Shanghai countryside, where people live on a couple dollars a day and the average home lacks a toilet, it hit me (well, almost). I was crossing the intersection and nearly got blind-sided by a surprisingly quiet zero-emission electric bicycle.”

China went from selling 330,000 electric bikes in 2000 to selling 20 million in 2007. Over 1,600 companies, ranging from start-ups to Honda, are competing for the business. Frank Jamerson, coauthor of Electric Bikes/Worldwide Reports, predicts annual global sales of electric bikes and scooters will total about 100 million within ten years.  Electric-powered scooters and motorcycles will soon outsell gasoline-powered scooters and bikes. Accelerating the trend is a growing number of cities that ban gasoline-powered two-wheelers because of air pollution.

Weinert identifies a number of reasons for the exploding growth of e-bikes. They are low cost with many selling for $100 to $300. That’s the price of a good cell phone or iPod. It only costs a little over a dollar to charge the battery for a month’s worth of commuting. It is less expensive to e-bike than to pay for public transportation.

Sales received a big boost when major cities such as Shanghai banned gas-powered scooters and motorcycles in city centers to reduce air pollution. E-bikes fill the void and fit the people’s long history of using bicycles.  E-bikes often navigate stop-and-go traffic at faster speeds than larger vehicles.

“E-bikes are a homerun for cities plagued with poor air quality and governments worried about energy security and future oil supply,” Weinert said. He sees other major benefits of e-bikes such as reducing congestion, more parking in less space, and affordable mobility for millions who cannot afford cars.

In 2006, Weinert became the proud owner of an electric vehicle. “I forked over a whopping $260 (post-haggling, I’ll have you know), for a slick new, sizzling Vespa-style e-bike!” he said. “Life on campus at Tongji University has never been the same. I get a lot of stares/glares as I silently whiz past the crowds of bikers and walkers on their way to class.”

E-bikes are in two broad categories: those that look like bicycles and can be pedaled with human power and those that are scooters. Most have a range of only 30 to 50 miles before recharging. For more money, much greater range can be achieved with e-bikes using li-ion batteries. E-bikes continue to improve with better electric motors and longer battery life. Weinert foresees that other Asian countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand replace polluting scooters with e-bikes.

More than 100,000 e-bikes and e-scooters are sold annually in the United States, and about as many in Europe. In Dallas, Leonard Buhrow sold his Mustang GT convertible and now rides his Tidal Force electric bicycle to work at Texas Instruments, a commuter-friendly employer that offers bike lockers and changing rooms with hot showers. Leonard takes pride that his electric bicycle contains five Texas Instruments digital signal processors. He enjoys his 14-mile, 50-minute commute around White Rock Lake in Dallas and down the White Rock Trail.

You may want to follow Leonard’s example and get an e-bike for local trips. It will save you a bundle in gasoline. E-bikes are perfect for many people because of low cost, mobility, ease of parking and storage. Eventually many of America’s 8 million on-road and off-road motorcycles and scooters may be electric.

As incomes increase, early adopters in China, India and other emerging nations will upgrade to new generations of light electric vehicles. As incomes have increased for many Chinese e-scooter owners, they have upgraded to more expensive zero-emission motorcycles with freeway speeds and ranges approaching 100 miles. Others have bought larger three-wheel electric vehicles with room for two passengers and locked storage.

There is continued innovation in light electric vehicles with three or four wheels that carry increasing numbers of passengers and loads. With the success of light electric vehicles, China is now starting to deploy all sizes of electric vehicles, including electric buses and trucks. Over 10,000 makes and models of electric vehicles are now offered in China.

While United States automakers sue states to stop the regulation of greenhouse gases and fight improved vehicle standards, the auto industry continues to lose market share to a new generation of fuel-efficient and zero-emission vehicles from Asia. The trend is unstoppable. Let us hope that Detroit starts listening to customer demand for fuel efficiency before they lose more customers.

Forty million people ride e-scooters and e-bikes. Globally, over 20 million electric vehicles are sold each year. For many, from a United States college student to a working mother in China, the e-bike is all they can afford. As their incomes rise, these people will want more powerful light electric vehicles. Over 100 million people globally ride in electric vehicles from low range to high, small size to big, low-income to luxury.

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