Many Western electric vehicle fans have taken the Chinese love for Electric Bikes as proof that the world can move away from its love affair with the automobile, these bikes can zip up to 60kph and will run anywhere from 30 to 50km on a full tank of juice, whatâ€™s more is they start at around 2000rmb which is roughly $312SUD. Electric bike sales reached 22.2 million units in 2009, an increase of 1.5% over a year previously, now there are some 120 million electric bikes on Chinese roads according to some estimates, thatâ€™s a lot of bikes.
Of course E-Bikes are well received owing to their low cost, even lower operating costs and ease of use. When you ride a bike to work you are going to end up inevitably covered in sweat, if you take a cab to work youâ€™re going to have to sit in a traffic jam whilst the meter rolls along, if you drive your own car youâ€™re going to be sitting in the same traffic jam and then struggle to find parking which you will have to pay out of the nose for. So for many, the E-Bike is the ultimate solution for short distance inner city traffic, in down town Chinese cities the whirr of an electric motor is now more common a sound than the creaking of bicycle chains that seldom saw oil in their lifetimes.
Motorbikes have long been hounded out of most city centers, most people donâ€™t even bother trying to apply for a motorbike license anymore as they know you will get better results when attempting to turn lead into gold. In other major world cities the motorbike is still seen a major traffic tool, but in cities such as Tehran where motorbikes rule the road, almost 80% of the cities pollution comes from motorbikes. In the developing world, motorbike emissions are not held to the same high regard as automobiles, so in a bid to clean up Chinaâ€™s biggest cities most municipal governments threw down blanket bans on all gasoline powered motorbikes.
Now back to E-Bikes, on buying one of these bikes consumers are given a brief demonstration in how to use the brake, accelerator and alarm system, they hand over their $312USD and they are free to take to the roads â€“ at speeds of upto 60kph. No instruction is given, no driving license test is handed out, thatâ€™s it, go learn, trial by error. E-bike riders rarely stick to the rules that encourage them to use the bike lanes or even attempt to signal before attempting life risking manoeuvers, putting E-Bikes alongside traditional slower moving peddle bikes is a recipe for disaster. Crash safety is the biggest concern; in a runoff with an automobile the E-Bike rider is likely to be worse position than the car driver.Â Worse still, on rainy nights when it is difficult to see what is around you when driving, E-Bike riders will often wear black or dark blue capes and take to the roads regardless, furthermore they rarely turn on their E-Bike lights to indicate they are in your immediate vicinity which increases the danger factor ten fold.
E-Bikes are certainly a great idea put itâ€™s a poorly regulated industry which is only going to result in a higher death count on Chinese roads. Allowing people to directly upgrade from a 10km per hour bicycle to something that is potentially 8 times more powerful is going to result in a few tears and road rash. E-Bike riders should have to undergo road awareness training before taking to the roads, traffic police should be more aggressive in their policing of E-Bike riders, especially those that take to elevated highways at peak times where the potential for E-Bike and automobile collisions are at a high point. The government should also step in to introduce regulation to control E-Bike speed, other countries have done so, especially in crowded cities, New York for example allows bikes with up to 1000 watts to take to the roads, other cities have set the barrier at 750 watts. An average speed of 25-30kph is more than enough for short distances.