Last year, Chinese bought 16 million to 18 million electric bicycles, up from 10 million the year before. Some see sales hitting 25 million to 30 million this year. But so far, the diandong zixingche, as the bike is called here, is a unique Chinese phenomenon, with limited export appeal.
In many major cities, electric bicycles now make up 10 to 20 percent of all two-wheeled vehicles on the roads, a trend that could have an impact on the nation's rising greenhouse-gas emissions and poor air quality.
Many Chinese cities, including Shanghai, with its population of 20 million, have banned motorcycles and motor scooters as dangerous and polluting, giving a huge sales boost to what the bike trade has dubbed e-bikes.
They spend less than 2,000 yuan (about $260) to buy an electric bike, and they don't have to pay for public transportation," Ma said. "Some people pay 10 yuan (about $1.30) a day in public transportation. An e-bike costs just a few cents a day."
Experts say e-bikes can run 30 miles on 5 cents' worth of electricity, a rate of energy consumption that makes them even more efficient than fully occupied buses.
Outside China, sales of electric bicycles remain low. About 100,000 units a year are sold in the United States, and about as many in Europe. But it is China that now leads the world in electric bike production and sales. And many of its 450 million bike riders are increasingly trading up to electric.
In the United States, consumers are also migrating in greater numbers to e-bikes, drawn in part by lighter and more powerful batteries and practical aids like bike lanes and lockers. E- bike sales are forecast to double by 2009 to 200,000 from 100,000 in 2005
Encouraged by the trend, local governments in some regions have started offering incentives to get more people pedaling e-bikes. In Pasadena, California, a rewards program has been developed, with cash handouts for frequent e-bikers and a $500 subsidy.
But India, perhaps, offers the most e-bike promise. Scooter-like e-bikes appeal to penny-pinching hipsters, and an e-bike craze is running fast among India's call center crowd.
The arrival of Ultra Motors, a British electric vehicle upstart which just won recognition from Red Herring, a technology Web site, and from the World Economic Forum, attests to India's e-bike potential.
In only two months, the company has sold 4,000 e-bikes with its strategic partner, Hero, India's biggest bike maker. Ultra is incorporating its more efficient motor, designed by a Russian scientist, into Hero's bikes; it plans the same for scooters and rickshaws, for sales of up to 300,000 vehicles by 2010.
IEEE spectrum reviews the trends in China and has several pictures
Pizza delivery via e-bike in China
Man riding an e-bike in Shanghai
The Biggest Challenge facing electric-bike makers may not be municipal bans, conservative standards, or even technology. It may be the roads. China is following the development path of Western countries like a map, rapidly redesigning its cities around the automobile. Across China, cities are rejecting a mixed-use model and redeveloping along a strict zoning model, razing residential buildings in center cities to make way for shiny office towers and paving farmland on the periphery to create large industrial parks.
Car culture is a disaster for the bicycle. Road widening often comes at the expense of bike lanes, while highways are off-limits to bikes and nearly impossible to cross. On the smaller roadways, rush-hour traffic blocks the bike lanes and intersections, prompting outbursts of road rage from frustrated cyclists. Yu used to cycle 20 to 30 minutes between work and home, but he now drives—a 10- to 60-minute trip, depending on the traffic. "It's too dangerous to bike, so people give up. I gave up," he says.
Yu is confident that, in the long run, it is the gas guzzlers that will be forced to give way. One reason is gridlock. Another is China's endemic urban pollution
If China can find a way to make relatively efficient electric bikes a significant part of its transportation system, it could have major repercussions elsewhere in the developing—and developed—world.
High speed bicycle and tricycle kits
A study of electrical bike adoption in China. 10 million sold in 2005
Bion X, electrical bike conversion. Kits can be used to convert different bicycle or tricycle configurations
4 multiplying effort levels: The motor can boost your thrusting power by 25%, 50%, 100%, or 200%,depending on the sssistance level selected
Source of electric bikes
24 and 36 volt e-bikes
sources of bikes and reviews
bicycles and trykes (48, 56 volt) up to 42mph
Electric bicycles have mileage equivalence of about 400 mpg
Electric scooters in China
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