Electric Motorbikes in China

Three out out four motorbikes in this photo run on electricity.

It’s motorbike madness in Vietnam. That’s why we were unprepared for what we found in Guilin, China. Electric motorbikes.

We didn’t figure it out right-away. We just knew the streets were quieter, a little less polluted and the motorbikes could really sneak up on you. Finally, we realized that most of the bikes didn’t have exhaust pipes.

I think I read about an electric motorcycle being built by a former Tesla engineer, but prior to these I don’t think I’d seen one. I was quite taken by the discovery and its implications.

According to a man on the street who spoke English, an electric motorbike costs $250 versus the $650 for a gas powered models cost. Electric bikes don’t require a license or registration (and associated costs). But most importantly, gas costs roughly $8 gallon here while electricity is “Cheap, cheap, cheap.” Presumably government subsidies (whether regional or national) have a lot to do all of these advantages.

The only downside is that they only go 50 km on a charge, but that doesn’t seem to be much of a downside here. Based on a combination of my highly unscientific analysis of a few motorbike parking lots, I’d say that electric bikes outnumber gas bikes in this city at least 2 to 1.

I can’t help but think of all the teenage electric motorbike mechanics, the spare electric parts being created and sold out of home shops and how a good chunk of a city population has adapted to using a limited range vehicle. Of course, the electricity in China is largely generated by coal  power plants that are so dirty they cause 25% of California’s air pollution, so they shouldn’t be awarded any green medals just yet.

With all the talk about the need to invest in green technology at home, it seems that, at least in this tiny Chinese city of 2.5 million people, we could learn some best practices on implementation.

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