When I first came to Beijing I used to commute to work for an hour and a half each way on the subway. That meant most of my time was spent either at work or in the metro.
I think it was in one of those early morning commutes that I vowed to myself that I would never knowingly accept such a commute again if I could help it. In order to make good on that promise to myself I needed to find another job and minimize the time spent commuting.
Since those early days I have switched jobs a few times and apartments as well. A big part of my solution to the original commuter problem is to live in an apartment located nearby my office and to ride an electric moped.
Riding a moped into work is not perfect, (early morning traffic still gives me anxiety), but it definitely beats taking the bus or metro. In fact, the utility I have found in owning a scooter is one of the biggest reasons why I like my job and life in China.
My Current Scooter Set Up
Throughout my time in Beijing I have had two scooters. The first was a beat-up model with wide handlebars that navigated the hutongs more like a boat than anything else. Ever though it was old, it was still useful to commute from the room that I had rented in the city center to my job a few blocks away (this was post first Beijing job).
That bike had many problems and eventually I ended up selling it to a local repair shop for 300 RMB. Considering that I had used it for the better part of a year, and bought it for 800 RMB, I considered it a good purchase.
I purchased my second and current scooter upon getting a new job in a different district and moving nearby the office. In this area, it was very hard to find a good apartment close to the subway, so buying a scooter was a way for me to get around while still living somewhere nice.
While people often go for style when purchasing scooters, I chose a slightly different tact. For me, the most important feature was utility as I was using it as a tool to both commute to work and park nearby the different metro stations. That meant I was concerned primarily with the scooter utility.
When judging a scooters utility there are two important factors: batteries and safety. I decided to go with a very basic, large black scooter and lead batteries for 2500 RMB based on these two criteria.
As noted above, perhaps the most important quality of a scooter is its battery system. In China, there are many different kinds of batteries to choose from, ranging from cheap lead, to higher quality lithium.
Lead batteries are of poorer quality. This means that they will wear out much faster and weigh much more depending upon your desired range than lithium. However, because they are less valuable, they are also less likely to be stolen. A box of six lead batteries can cost from anywhere between three hundred to one thousand RMB.
Lithium batteries are much better. Generally speaking, you will only need one lithium battery to power your scooter with excellent range. They are lighter and also last much longer than their lead counterparts.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of lead batteries is the difficulty in charging them. If you plan on using your bike for commuting anything more than a couple of kms, then you will need more than one in your bike. (For the record, I commute 9 kms every day and have placed the entire pack of six batteries in my bike).
To charge lead batteries, riders either pull them out of the bike and lug them up to their apartments, or literally bring their bikes into the elevator and wheel them into their apartments.
The advantage of using lithium batteries is that you can simply pull the battery out and easily carry it up to your apartment. It’s simple, convenient, and incredibly light in comparison to lead batteries.
However, I chose to power my bike with lead batteries because I am honestly too afraid of a lithium battery being stolen. I myself have had two bikes stolen from me in Beijing (one I was watching for a friend) and do not relish the idea of going through this again with a lithium battery bike. Lead batteries allow me to leave the bike nearby the subway and worry less about the costs should it be tampered with.
Aside from batteries, the safety of one’s scooter is also very important. We can judge safety mostly in terms of how well the parts work: most importantly its wheels and brakes. The size of the scooter is also very important.
My first scooter in Beijing was second-hand and very unsafe.
Looking back at it now, I understand how the poorly maintained brake pads caused me to get into an accident. That … and a lack of concentration.
In order to hedge against poorly working parts I decided to buy a brand new scooter. This was a good way to ensure that everything was as new and safe as possible.
Also, like any good American, my desire to optimize safety led me to purchase the largest scooter that I could find. This idea was put into me at a very young age when my siblings and friends got their first cars to drive. That is, if you get into a crash, the largest car will always come out on top.
For these two reasons I went with a brand new model of the largest scooter I could find. This ensured brand new brakes and tires, as well as something large enough to make sure that I was a presence on the road.
Overall, I am happy with the purchase. It lets me cruise into work safely, and if something happens to the bike then I am not at a terrible financial loss. The size has proved well worth it while riding to and from work and I have not had a problem so far leaving it parked in various places.
However, I think if I were to purchase another bike I would seriously consider upgrading to lithium. As most of my distance gets put on between my compound and place of work, I find that actually I don’t need to worry about parking it that often. Once complaint that I have is that bringing my scooter into my elevator and then apartment multiple times a week is a hassle. I would definitely consider paying a little bit more to solve this problem.
What do you think? Are my scooter criteria aligned with your own? How do you make commuting to work more enjoyable?
electric scooter: 电动车 (diàndòngchē)
battery: 电池 (diànchí)
wheels: 车轮 (chēlún)
second hand: 二手 (èrshǒu)