China's heavy and fast no-pedal lead-acid e-bikes could be reclassified as motorbikes; anger ensues.

Less power to the people

E-bike owners in China (of which there are many millions) are joining with e-bike makers (of which there are many hundreds) to cry foul on the possible classification of lead-acid battery-powered e-bikes as motorbikes.

Media outlets in China are reporting that the Standardisation Administration of China wants to resurrect 10-year-old rules saying that electric bikes weighing over 40 kg, and which do not require pedal-power and which are able to go faster than 12.4 miles per hour should be classified as motorbikes, not bicycles.

Motorbikes require registration and licensing; bicycles do not. However, the great bulk of China’s e-bikes require no pedalling whatsoever, unlike e-bikes in the EU, which have to be pedal-assisted.

Christopher Cherry, assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, said e-bikes in China are extremely well-used. His PhD thesis was on China’s e-bike industry. He lives part of the year in Kunming, China, and has seen a radical shift away from the battery-free bicycle.

"Kunming has an estimated 700,000 e-bikes, up from about 180,000 in 2006. Traditional bicycles are nearly extinct."

E-bikes are allowed in bicycle lanes, motorbikes usually aren’t. Chinese e-bike manufacturers are leading campaigns to prevent the reclassification. However, analysts believe that as pedal-free e-bikes get heavier, faster and more powerful, it will be harder and harder for lead-acid e-bikes to remain classified as bicycles.

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