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SHANGHAI, China — A lot of riders in the bicycle lanes of China's cities and towns have given up pedaling and are zipping along on silent electric bicycles.
Sales have skyrocketed, and China is now the global leader in this inexpensive form of motorized transportation. At least 1,000 companies have sprung up to meet the demand.
Sales have almost doubled every year, said Ma Qingyi, vice general manager of Shanghai Cranes Electric Vehicle Co., a major manufacturer.
Last year, Chinese bought 16 million to 18 million electric bicycles, up from 10 million the year before. Some see sales hitting 25 million to 30 million this year. But so far, the diandong zixingche, as the bike is called here, is a unique Chinese phenomenon, with limited export appeal.
In many major cities, electric bicycles now make up 10 to 20 percent of all two-wheeled vehicles on the roads, a trend that could have an impact on the nation's rising greenhouse-gas emissions and poor air quality.
Many Chinese cities, including Shanghai, population 20 million, have banned motorcycles and motor scooters as dangerous and polluting, giving a huge sales boost to what the bike trade has dubbed e-bikes.
Rising gasoline prices, crowded public buses and congested roadways have contributed to the surge in electric bicycles, as has the emergence of a consumer class with climbing income that's still unable to afford cars.
The e-bikes enable people to commute longer distances, allowing them more freedom in where they choose to live.
A simple electric bicycle has a battery that can power a rider along for 25 to 30 miles before needing a recharge. Recharging the battery requires eight hours.
Riders find they can recover the outlay for electric bicycles over a year. "They spend less than 2,000 yuan (about $260) to buy an electric bike, and they don't have to pay for public transportation," Ma said.
"Some people pay 10 yuan (about $1.30) a day in public transportation. An e-bike costs just a few cents a day."
Experts say e-bikes can run 30 miles on 5 cents' worth of electricity, a rate of energy consumption that makes them even more efficient than fully occupied buses.
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