Electric Two-Wheelers Run Rampant In China, Outrun Regulations

Follow Antony

Smart ebike electric bicycle

Smart ebike electric bicycle

Enlarge Photo

China might be one of the biggest car markets on the planet, but for makers of electric and hybrid vehicles, it's a tough one to crack.

The same cannot be said for electric bicycles, though.

The country's love of bicycles is well-publicized, but the market penetration of electric bikes still shocks. Navigant Research suggests there are as many as 2,700 to 3,000 electric two-wheel vehicle producers in the country.

That's producers alone, not a sales figure. Those are even more staggering, with over eight million sales when electrified scooters and bicycles are consolidated. In 2012, the Chinese market accounted for 81 percent of the global market for electric scooters and motorcycles.

Electric two-wheelers in China are popular for two main reasons.

The first is that they're the most accessible form of powered transport available. A rudimentary electric bicycle might not be quick and it might not do much for your image, but it's still one of the cheapest, least labor-intensive ways of getting around.

It works for the same reason any bicycle works in China too--it'll cut through the awful traffic of major cities like nothing else.

Smart eBike electric bicycle review

The second reason electric bikes sell in such vast numbers is because the rules governing them have been fairly relaxed, until recently.

China's government is trying to change this, with limited success. Currently, an e-bicycle in China only needs to meet fairly basic criteria. It should have pedals, a top speed of no more than 12.4 mph, and a weight limit of 88.2 pounds.

And that's pretty much it. As e-bikes they don't have to meet licensing laws, so they're much cheaper than scooters or motorcycles. Most are even built like scooters, with a step-through frame and virtually useless pedals--and many retailers will instruct customers on how to disable the speed limiter. It's easy to see the appeal.

New Chinese rules require e-bike makers to obtain licenses, have cut down on lead-acid battery production, and some regions have even tried outright bans. Eventually, suggests Navigant, it's likely that the categories for electric two-wheelers will be revised to make them easier to regulate.

If sales continue at their current rate though, annual electric scooter sales could top 12 million by 2018.

The future of electric cars may not be that rosy in China, but two-wheeler manufacturers will be laughing all the way to the bank.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Us

Comments (18)
  1. We were in China 3 years ago, and I was amazed at the number of electric bikes even then. Virtually nobody was actually pedaling to move, just sitting comfortably and riding along with the traffic flow. It was impressive even 3 years past.

  2. One downside of those electric bikes is the lack of safety. Many of the electric makers have underpowered brakes and excessive top speed capability. The collisons between the electric bicycles and pedastrian in a congested city is a huge potential danger especially since the e-bikes are extremely quiet.

    One thing the Chinese government should do is to require a minimum level of performance on the brake system and test all of the products with safety ratings.

    The e-bicycles also have some appeals in crowded cities such as SF and NYC.

  3. It would be nice to see some good data on actual accidents and severity versus miles traveled by other means. I would be too afraid to use one in any city, unless it was designed for them, which would be a great idea IMHO.

  4. If people watched where they walked it wouldn't be an issue. That is their responsibility. Why is everyone so worried about that?

  5. Agreed. It is everyone's responsibility to watch where they are going.

  6. Compared to non powered bikes? Why would you compare a powered bicycle to a motorcycle? I have never run into a pedestrian while riding a bicycle. If the rider is not capable of controlling a powered bike, maybe they should get one with a 10 mph limit.

  7. A crazy fast cyclist killed a man in a cross walk last year in SF.

  8. @Xiaolong: I recall that story. However, for context, tens of thousands of cyclists a year are killed by motor vehicles. The number of pedestrians killed by cyclists is orders of magnitude lower.

  9. I absolutely agree. That is a fact. However keep in mind that motor vehicles kill b/c its way larger masses and higher speed combined with the careless driving.

    If you increase the speed of the bicycles without proper brakes and add that to "careless riding", the accident rate will ONLY go up from there.

    As far as that story goes, didn't the rider make statements such as "I was going way too fast and there is no way that I could stop in time. So I just choose a line and went for it"?

    Most cars take about 8 seconds to do 0-60mph but can stop from 60mph to 0 in about 2 seconds.

    We need "better" brakes on some of those electric bicycles..

  10. I use an electric bike to get to work when the weather is good (almost always). I have a Leaf when it is too cold or wet. My heavily modified Ultramotor A2B Metro does 37mph and 32 Wh/mile. It has excellent disc brakes. I have a dedicated 24vdc solar setup with two 12v AGM batteries in series to keep the bike's RC lipo batteries charged but I can charge it on the grid if I choose to. It is dead silent except for the freewheel. If I see pedestrians approaching the road I just whistle at them to alert them to my presence. I also have a Zero S motorcycle but the electric bike offers a more pure riding experience due to it's low weight at 100 pounds. Riding an electric bike is pretty dang cool. It is perfect for China's densely populated cities

  11. I gotta think riding a Zero S is pretty cool as well.

  12. Yes but nowhere near the magic of an electric bike, especially one in which I have a significant time investment. Riding the bike makes me always think that it's too good to be true.

    The S is interesting but it weighs 240 pounds more than my ebike. And I've ridden so many faster BMW's(every one was faster). I hear the 2013 bikes are a lot snappier.I thought that the Zero would be great since more is better, right? Well, it turns out that less is more in this case.

  13. Ok- lets all get electric bikes, ride them to work, then stop at the gym on the way home to get a work out in.

  14. I would buy one in a heart beat if they cost only a couple hundred more than non powered. Most are $800 to 1500 extra.

  15. The chinese version is a lot cheaper than that...(for a reason)

  16. I had an electric scooter that I rode around for 3 summers. It only max'd out at 15 mph and had crap for brakes but it was cool for bombing around in. It is pretty small and not very noticeable. I was actually kicked out of the Lacey, WA Fred Meyer while wheeling it around there. (it had a key ignition but is light enough to carry off) This happened during probably my 20th visit there. (was working just around the corner at the time).But alas the weather around here simply does not mix well here. too much of a fair weather rider. I still ride (the manual kind) but only during the Sunshine

  17. m ebike weighs 45lb has a 48vx10ah battery and a single speed 60T:16T (3.75) gearing. With pedaling i max out at 34.66 mph on level ground.

    I use it for daily commute from my home to work (35 mi one way) I use the metrolink train for 25mi chunk and pedal the rest.
    Since it is light weight and same size as a fixie bike i can take it on bus or train. It works great. I can go a whole week without touching a car.

  18. Perfect!

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.