Sparks fly as China quarrels over battery-powered bikes
By Chris Buckley
BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - China's vast population of battery-powered bikes is the focus of uproar after new rules ignited public fears, and hopes among some, that these pack mules of the nation's economic boom could be run off the road.
China's image as the land of the bicycle has been fading as its rising wealth has boosted ownership of cars and, for the less well-heeled, "e-bikes": bicycles with battery-powered motors as well as small pedals to distinguish them from motorbikes.
But the spread of the e-bike has struck a policy pothole after the national standards agency issued rules threatening to rein in the bigger models, favored by traders and couriers hauling loads.
The Standardisation Administration of China resurrected 10-year-old rules saying that electric bikes weighing over 40 kg or able to go faster than 20 km (12.4 miles) per hour should count as motorbikes, and suggesting riders of such bikes would need the licenses they had long done without.
A week of public debate, industry lobbying and media reports ensued about the potentially costly licenses and possibility that bigger e-bikes would be priced out of the market.
Last week, faced with growing clamor, the administration issued a statement on its website (www.sac.gov.cn) repeating the rules, but it also said it was up to province and city governments to decide how to enforce any registration demands.
The debate has revealed a nation divided between love and hate for electric bikes -- and consumers and businesses who increasingly feel they should have a say in government rules about what they can buy and make.
China's ruling Communist Party keeps a tight lid on public discussion of politics. But in consumer rights and other less sensitive areas, citizens and industry groups are becoming bolder, a trend echoed in the e-bike debate. Continued...