After going to the museum of natural history yesterday morning, I went and purchased an ebike! My buddy purchased one a few weeks ago and shared how economical it is for commuting around. He sent me to an area where there was 4-6 ebike shops all beside each other, and well over 100 different bikes available. These bikes ranged from basic pedal bikes to decked out ebikes with coloured components, flashy lights and treated tires which look like they are miniaturized dirt bike tires! Prices vary considerably, from 1500¥ to over >4000¥!
As I browse through the selection, willing to spend up to 2500 (as per my estimates in the previous post), and discovered a few things about the bikes. Most of the bikes come with a 48V battery (which is two batteries together), tops out at 60km, and starts redlining at 45km. This is common amongst the bikes I saw there. As for distance, the bikes get a surprising 50-60km on a single charge. Thats not bad! Although Tianjin is a large city, everything is easily reachable within the distance of 50-60km, most of the time travelling to the central area of Tianjin would require less than 5km. My bike includes a storage compartment on the back which doubles as a back rest for the second rider. A second storage compartment is under the seat, doubling as the battery housing. Some bikes I considered had a small storage compartment in the front attached to the steering column area, the one I purchased has a small area for a water bottle and storage of small items such as phone and keys. These features were not what sold me on my particular model. During my previous experience on my buddy's bike, I noticed two things which would have been really nice to have as a second rider. The first was a proper size foot rest. His bike has a tiny sliver for the second rider, this made my feet hurt because I was constantly flexing them to keep them from falling off. The second was the handles, although my friend had decent handles, the one I purchased has a "roll cage" type frame made of metal tubing. This not only helps protect the frame if it hits anything, the tubing design extents two bars straight up and has a metal ball at the top for the second rider to hold. It also doubles quite well as a bracket I can hang my backpack on and avoid having to wear it on my back (which was really annoying while using a bicycle, because my back would get sweaty). And has a built in charging option, so once I get it inside the bike parking area of my building, I can simply plug it into the bank of wall outlets there :D
One of the nicest features is a built in USB port for charging my phone. The downside, the port is stuck inside the compartment under the seat :'( Rather, the port should be redesigned to be in the front compartment where the water bottle and phone sit. All in all, I'm quite pleased with the purchase, proud I was able to get what I want without speaking any Chinese, and even negotiated the seller from 2200¥ to 2100¥, not a lot, but the point was to negotiate and practice more so than how much of a reduction I could get (ps. I hate the world discount).
After getting the bike, I had to head back to my apartment and get my passport. I'd been arranging to meet someone in a town outside of TJ and instead of spending a few hundred ¥ to get there and a few hundred more back by taxi, and my outright refusal to take a bus, I decided to make the purchase and start using the bike right away. As a result, travelling home, then to this town allowed me to clock an impressive 65km on the bike within the first couple hours and near 100km within the first 24 hours. Shades on, warm sun, EarPods pumping, and the road ahead, I set off.
Most of my route to this town included riding on the highway. Now, for those of you in Toronto, who are freaking out about my riding a ebike on the highway, I'll let you have you freak out and grab a Xanax lol. You must understand, the highways here aren't like in Toronto, although they are the same size or larger. In Toronto, the top speed is 100km/h with the majority cruising at 120km/h, hence your freak out in comparison to my 45-50km/h. Understandable. What you don't know, is that here the top speed on the highway is 80km/h and HEAVILY enforced by HQ cameras stationed roughly every 1-2km. On a 3 lane highway, there's probably 4-6 cameras facing you as you approach, strong lights brighten the area for the cameras, and the same on the back side (but fewer cameras). The cameras are not only used to track speeders (which are then mailed/emailed the bill), once you get 12 tickets/yr there are serious drivers license implications. The cameras are also used to photograph the front two passengers and uses facial recognition to search for wanted people/criminals. Essentially, people don't speed on the highways. Additionally, I've been on the highways here numerous times and regularly see people riding their ebike on the side of the road. In fact, I've seen a woman who appeared in her 50's to cross the highway with her groceries, nobody batted an eyelash, and she wasnt the first. (insert photo sent to Quincy).
To be honest, travelling on the highway actually felt safer for a variety of reasons. While in the city, the degree of constantly changing variables is exceedingly high. Dealing with lights changing, following directions, crossing intersections, observation from your entire field of view for criss-crossing ebikes, bicycles, and cars. Some vehicles may be driving the wrong way down your side of the road (common), many people don't have lights on at night (this trip wasn't), vehicles turning off or onto the road, trucks not seeing you, buses crossing into your lane for stops (note an issue on streets with dedicated ebike lanes — of which, most major ones are), other ebike riders, pedestrians, etc. etc. etc.. The highway has much fewer changing variables: The cars coming from behind me. How is this managed? The mirrors. Crossing on/off ramps? There are two approaches, the first is to ride the dotted line as the on/off ramp starts. The second is the immediately cross over the emerging ramp and cross back over at the last moment, this method eliminates being in the way as much for cars. It does however come at a cost. Crossing twice increases risk of both being hit and also not being able to get back on the highway (applies only to off-ramps). Without proper time and space to cross back, you may be stuck going in a new direction.
At my arrival, I come into contact with someone who says she'll let me charge my bike in her shop overnight while I sleep in the hotel (which was in the same building). The following morning, I come down after checking out and prepare to head off. The girls who run the shop don't speak any English but urged me to stay because of bad weather. It's quite the trip, taking just under 2 hours for 40km, and was about to rain hard! I resisted and said I'd be ok, not wanting to be stuck there for the day and having just checked out (this was about 10:30, and I didn't have to check out until 1 at the latest).
Apparently most ebikes come with a special poncho. It has holes inside for the mirrors to stick out through, and a clear piece of plastic to allow the light to shine through, as well as see the speed/battery gauge. The poncho kept me from getting soaked when I did eventually head home and helped keep me warm.
Before leaving, one of the girls came back with burgers, fries, drink and nuggets for us to eat! Once the storm subsided, I took off, wanting to get going before it picked back up and Tianjin weather showed just cloudy for the part of the day I'd be heading home while raining later. I wanted to move with the soft part of the storm as East bound storms out of Beijing would hit TJ by 6pm.
Once on the road, I quite enjoyed the ride. The solitude, independence and mobility were all greatly appreciated on a decent size trip for a little bike and first 24 hours of having it. I'm really happy to have purchased a vehicle which runs on electricity instead of gasoline (only a few people in TJ run gas bikes). I am confident in my purchase given my estimated use, and how practical it is. I LOVE practical items. My travels today have given me some interesting ideas which I think will be really inspiring to a lot of people. Stay tuned for more details in the future.