Not a Letter from China

Fenster writes:

I was going to write about urbanism and bikes in Beijing but it’s been done before.

The New Urbanism Blog has a short piece, and a nice picture, of group dancing in front of St. Joseph’s Wangfujing Church, in downtown Beijing quite near the Forbidden City.

That was exactly the scene as I walked by last week, so it is a regular thing.  And, as the blog points out, it’s a nice urban thing, too. Check it out.

Meanwhile, I was also going to write about bikes and e-bikes, but it turns out that this guy Eric Osnos at The New Yorker has done so, and done it quite well.

The nerve of that guy Osnos, though.  He obviously copied me by entitling his series of articles “Letter from China”, and to make things worse, he got them into print before
I got mine online.  Sheesh.

But take a look at his e-bike piece.  This article and the blog piece suggest that, despite China’s overall seeming indifference to urban values in its headlong development spree, such values continue to have a place there, at least in Beijing.  Hutongs, bike lanes, a busy streetside retail scene and density that does not allow for hiding out.

So this will not be a letter from China.

But let’s consider the e-bike phenomenon while we are on the subject.

E-bikes have exploded in popularity in the past few years in China.  In 2009 China had 25 million cars but four times as many e-bikes.  That proportion has probably grown further in favor of e-bikes.

A Goggling of the topic reveals that just in the past several years there has been a similar explosion in Europe, Canada, Australia and other parts of the world.  The explosion is not as big as China’s–how could it be otherwise?–but it has been remarkable nonetheless.  Further, Googling also reveals scads of links dealing with e-bikes in other parts of the world but almost none dealing with e-bikes in the US.  That’s because, in effect, no one is interested in buying them stateside, though they are available.

Much is made of the car culture being the reason for this.  I buy that, but it can hardly be the only factor.  It is probably also the case that the bike culture resists as well.

I am myself much in favor of promoting cycling in the US and for a while commuted about 15 miles each way to work in Boston and Providence.  But bike culture, while a lot more than an affectation, is still an upper-middle class thing, and a statement about values as much as a means to keep fit and save money.  Looked at from that perspective, e-bikes are a fairly reprobate phenomenon.  A schlub in Beijing looking for a cheap and easy way to get to work is likely to have no such reservations.  So while I suspect e-bikes will take off here at some point in the not-distant future, they still has something of an image problem for being neither fish nor fowl.

Here’s one on the way from Germany.

Would you consider one?

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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7 Responses to Not a Letter from China

  1. epiminondas says:

    Re: the German bike…An e-mountain bike seems like a strange concept. In fact, it almost seems to be an oxymoron because the most highly prized merit of such a bike is light weight. Batteries and electric motors, even small ones, are heavy.


  2. dearieme says:

    Consider one? I’ve placed an order. I hired one for the weekend and it was conclusive. I have health problems that mean I can’t cycle off with the confidence that I can get back home again. With an ebike I can do so. Bloody brill!


  3. Fenster says:

    Dear dearieme

    I take it you are British. Underscores the point that e-bikes are taking off over there. No responses yet from Americans indicating they are buying.


    • Blowhard, Esq. says:

      I hadn’t even heard of e-bikes until this post. I work in a bike-heavy city but I’ve never seen one around. I’d love to check one out in person.


  4. dearieme says:

    Yep: after 26 years of cycling to work, and anywhere else within easy reach, being unable to cycle has been a blow. Now I will be able to get around again and get some light exercise into the bargain.


  5. dearieme says:

    P.S. It’s presumably the wonders of the Lithium battery that changes everything. I can’t picture ebikes making any sense with lead-acid batteries.


  6. dearieme says:

    Here’s one of our local suppliers.

    I wanted something I could ride in cycle lanes and park anywhere; I didn’t want motorbike-style restrictions, insurance and so forth.


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