January 07, 2010
Electric Bikes Big In China

More electric bikes are sold in China than in the rest of the world combined.

The cycles in question, known as “e-bikes”, are battery-enhanced machines that are the darlings of the modern, urban Chinese. More than 20 million were sold this year, putting a vast army of commuters, unable to afford cars or motorcycles — and without licences — on the roads at a sedate maximum speed of 12 km/h (7˝ mph).

If the rules stay as they are, analysts say, e-bike sales may rise to 25 million next year. If they change, as seems possible, the ramifications will stretch far beyond the streets of Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Guangzhou.

The article discusses a proposal in the Chinese government to classify the e-bikes as motorcycles so that people will have to get drivers licenses to operate them. This is expected to dampen sales.

What I find noteworthy about this report is the scale on which electric bikes are used. While some people think declining world oil production after Peak Oil will lead to a huge collapse my own view is that we have lots of cheap (albeit less comfortable) ways to get around with less energy. Electric bikes are a cheap and obvious option. Electric bikes and scooters at a variety of ascending prices for faster speed and longer range would allow many people to get around without oil. The more affluent will drive pluggable hybrid cars.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 January 07 12:07 AM  Energy Electric Cars

Wolf-Dog said at January 7, 2010 1:22 AM:

It may also be possible to plan totally new, very well designed compact cities, where mass transportation will be very efficient so that in crowded areas personal cars will not be used. Unlike the ugliest city in the world (NYC) and its incredibly dirty subways, it is possible to build a very clean city made of only a few beautiful giant pyramid shaped buildings, with ultra-fast elevators that move both vertically and horizontally. There would be a lot of very clean and ultra-quiet and fast underground trains that take the citizens to the rest of the city, which will contain a lot of parks and nice gardens (since there will be only a few giant pyramid buildins), and the faster longer trains will take you to the business and industrial districts at very high speeds in excess of 400 mph. This would not only increase the quality of life, but the new architecture would be much more energy efficient, possibly 75 % more energy efficient.

Dentin said at January 7, 2010 6:24 AM:

I'd just like to point out that every calorie of human energy has a ridiculously huge cost in terms of the energy needed to produce human food; in the grand view, it's hardly free. It may happen to be less energy for the moment because we're moving less stuff at slower speeds, but there's less advantage there than there seems.

LL said at January 7, 2010 6:46 AM:


The irony of what you just said is that the very city where you can rely on Mass transportation and not have personal cars is the very city you are trashing New York City!! Within the US anyway, residents of NYC have one of the lowest carbon footprints.


LL said at January 7, 2010 7:11 AM:

I like the idea of using electric Bikes over Motorcycles...
Sure with the current China, Coal is the main source of power so it may not be any cleaner than an oil burning Motorcycle but there still many benefits.

-The Coal is produced a a different location where the population density is less.
-This will be a great starter for small electric cars as the population is already comfortable with charging.
-It is easier to control emissions as China transitions the power generating to more Nuclear and renewables, than to do it at the tailpipe.
-Coal/Nuclear/Wind/Hydo can be produced domestically so there is no impact by unstable oil producting regions.

PacRim Jim said at January 7, 2010 10:10 AM:

Nothing is free. There will be health consequences of reduced exercise.

Nick G said at January 7, 2010 1:38 PM:


Why pyramids?


Motorcycles are far dirtier, and less efficient than you'd think. E-motorcycles and e-bikes are an enormous improvement, both for conventional pollutants and for CO2 emissions. Also, charging will tend to be at night, which provides the night time demand that supports wind and nuclear power.

Dentin, PacRim Jim,

Human muscle power is a positive when voluntary, a really big negative when imposed.

Chris said at January 7, 2010 2:42 PM:

7.5 mph as the maximum speed on an e-bike? Could that be right? I can easily hit 25 mph on my road bike on flat ground.

Jesse said at January 8, 2010 9:56 AM:

A Pedego bike can go about 20 miles per hour with the battery. I'm seeing more electric bikes in the US.

CyclemotorEngineer said at January 11, 2010 7:33 AM:


Yes, our food is very costly in terms of primary energy. It turns out that there is a minimum in the food consumption versus exercise rate curve. So, beyond light daily exercise, pedaling your bike does not help reduce oil use. Most people in this country do not even get light daily exercise. The electric bicycle can help one get to the most sustainable level of exercise and economically provide the means to travel the rest of the way home. Please see my Google Knol for a more complete discussion:

The embodied energy of food greatly exceeds its caloric content, oil is the main source of this embodied energy, and you are what you eat, therefore:


LL said at January 11, 2010 9:19 AM:

Nick G,

That was my whole point about motorcycles! An electric bike on grid powered by Coal is no cleaner than a Motorcycle. Or in otherwords it is just as dirty.

The benefit is that as Nuclear and wind play a bigger role in China, the Bikes will become cleaner and it done passively from the point of the bike owner. Nothing for them to do.


CyclemotorEngineer said at January 11, 2010 9:37 AM:


An electric bicycle powered by the existing US electrical grid is significantly cleaner and less expensive per mile than a moped burning gasoline:

LL said at January 11, 2010 10:30 AM:


Interesting graph. This would imply that an electic bike is cleaner than a gas moped even if the US grid was 100% powered by coal. The US is about 50% and China at around 70%.

Even though China's coal plants are dirtier than the US ones, I guess the electric bike is a win win even without China's grid moving to Nuclear and Wind.


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