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E-Bike Buyer’s Guide: Tips on Shopping for Electric Bikes in China

Jun 12, 2017 By Esta Chappell , Comments (1)     Add your comment Newsletter

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Step out onto the streets of pretty much any Chinese city, and you'll instantly have to skillfully dodge a swarm of e-bikes silently whooshing past, often laden with goods and family members. The popularity of these noiseless, although horn-happy, two-wheelers, may have stemmed from the associated financial and environmental benefits, but by joining the masses and buying an e-bike you will also gain the freedom to explore the city at your leisure. And it's as easy as buying a pair of shoes—there are many different styles available for varying purposes, and in most cities you need only visit your local supermarket to find them.

E-Bike Buyer’s Guide: Tips on Shopping for Electric Bikes in China

The basics

So what exactly is an e-bike? As the name suggests, it's the electric-powered bike that's sort of a cross between a foot-powered bicycle and a gasoline-powered motorcycle. Broadly speaking, there are two types of e-bikes. Bicycle style electric bikes (BSEB) look similar to traditional bicycles and have pedals, while scooter style electric bikes (SSEB) generally don't have pedals and look similar to traditional scooters (e.g. headlights, speedometer etc.). Of course, as e-bikes have risen in popularity in China, companies have responded by releasing a very large range of electric-powered styles that fit somewhere in between these two, such as folding bikes, mountain bikes, tricycles, tandems, choppers, unicycles and even electric mini farthings (such as the YikeBike).

Things to consider before buying

When purchasing an e-bike the main aspects to consider will be the battery, the motor, and most likely the price.

1) Battery
How far you can travel on a single battery charge (without regard to your body size, terrain, tire pressure etc.) is based on voltage (V) and Amp Hours (AH) of the battery. In general, BSEBs have a 36V (sometimes 24V), 10AH battery, with the added advantage of peddling if the battery runs out before you make it to your destination. SSEBs, on the other hand, tend to have a larger 48V, 20AH battery but are peddle-less, which means if your battery dies, you're likely pushing it home. The larger battery equates to greater performance (acceleration, speed, capacity to go up hills), but this will deplete the battery more quickly, so both styles have an approximate 30-60 km range.

If you have to carry the batteries up several flights of stairs to charge them (check for power points in the basement), then you'll need to consider the battery weight. 95% of batteries produced are lead-acid, the lead content of which accounts for 70% of the battery weight (e.g. 48V lead-acid battery weighs about 18 kg). The usual life span of lead-acid batteries is 1-2 years or 10,000 km, after which you can trade in the old battery, saving money. Charging times range from 4-10 hours. Keep in mind that in colder weather the battery will run down more quickly, thus requiring more frequent recharging.

2) Engine size
As with the batteries, engine size is also larger for SSEBs: 300-500W (with some brands even reaching1000W). This equates to top speeds of 30-40 km per hour. Meanwhile, BSEB engines are considerably smaller at 250-350W and can only attain top speeds of 20-30 km per hour. Unfortunately, peddling at the same time won't make you go any faster, nor will it charge the battery.

3) Price
How much you pay for your e-bike largely depends on where you buy and if/how much you can bargain on the price, as well as what style of bike you choose. In general, expect to pay between 1,500-2,000 RMB for BSEBs and 2,000-3,500 RMB for SSEBs. Bikes  with 64V or 80V are usually at the expensive end of the scale.

Where to buy your e-bike

Perhaps the most trustworthy places to purchase an e-bike are the large chain supermarkets such as Auchan, Carrefour, Wal-Mart etc. These megastores will help you to register your bike—a process involving taking the license plates, purchase documents, your passport, and the 10 RMB fee to the area's registration office. The disadvantage of buying from a supermarket is that you won't be able to bargain down the price, although there's no harm in trying and I've heard stories of some people managing to get discount vouchers. Also, it may be a little trickier to go back and get repairs done if something goes wrong.

Alternatively, you could visit one of your city's numerous locally owned electric bike stores, which you're all but guaranteed to find through a quick web search or by walking around a populated neighborhood for a few minutes. These stores tend to have a larger range of styles and although prices are not clearly labeled, there is a greater possibility that the dealer will be willing to bargain. Local shops also tend to have small repair workshops on the side. The registration process should be the same, or alternatively, you can register the number plates yourself at the local police station. 

Final notes

Overall, what you decide to buy will be dependent on many different factors, such as how far you want to travel, if you are carrying a pillion (the seat for a passenger behind the driver) and if are you worried about the battery dying. Here are a few parting pieces of practical advice when buying an e-bike:

-Research the style/brand of bike you want first.
-Try before you buy. Take as many bikes out for a test ride as possible.
-Check what accessories are included, such as a bicycle lock, rain cover etc.
-If the bike doesn't look legal, check it on the list of approved bikes at your nearest police station.
-Always keep an eye out for roadside charging units. These cost around 1 RMB per hour and can give you roughly 30 minutes of power per charge.
-Most importantly, once you are out on the road: be aware, use the horn (to alert pedestrians and other vehicles), and ride safely. 

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Keywords: e-bike buyer’s guide China shopping for electric bike China ebike tips China

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1 Comments ( Add your comment )


I would add this: 1. Brakes are crucial - make sure both rear and front have disc brakes. Drum brakes wear quickly and aren't so easy to replace. 2: Size matters - make sure you fit the bike and the bike fits your needs and location. Big flashy bikes look good and go fast but in poor cities are quickly targeted. Bigger bikes can be hard to park in very congested urban areas and will be scratched and dented by clumsy locals not to mention being harder to control if you are inexperienced. 3. Money matters: don't spend more than 4,000 on a bike. Like most things made here, they fall apart easily and the most essential parts will need replacing within 9-12 months. If you are a complete newbie you can pick up second hand/ refurbished/ stolen and repainted ebikes in various areas of your city - often besides ebike markets or from expats. I don't suggest a second hand bike because the parts might be pretty much shot within a few months but they are a good way to learn to ride and can be a good short term investment if you are new to China and unsure how long you might stay. 4.Battery. Bigger batteries mean more power but they take longer to charge and being lead dont hold as much charge in winter. Lithium batteries are more portable and longer lasting but are more expensive and there has been a spate of fires from over charging (at least in HZ where i live). 5. Riding. If you are clueless then just follow everyone else. If you are unsure of the route to work or back home then follow a bus or alternatively use your map app. Whatever you do, keep your eyes on the road at all times and drive defensively. That means anticipate accidents and trouble spots and never expect a local to ride logically - just expect the unexpected and you will be fine. Cheers.

Jun 14, 2017 16:52

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