Favorite Motorbikes Scooting Back in Beijing – what are the motorcycle rules?

Beijing CBD Motorcycles

All shot in one day: Motorcycles on Guanghua Road

It seems that there are a lot more gasoline powered motorbikes on Beijing’s roads this year with the coming of Beijing’s automobile license plate limits — and I have become quite curious about their legality, as well as about their environmental impact.

When I first came to Beijing in 2006, it seemed that there were significantly fewer motorbikes here than where I had spent 2005 — in Changsha.  In fact, in my memory, besides 3-wheeled vehicles, there were practically no motorbikes.  This was reinforced for me in 2008 when one of my foreign colleagues had her motorbike confiscated by traffic police.  Around the time of the Olympics, I’d say there were only electric 2-wheelers on the road.  I could be wrong, but I’ve got a pretty strong feeling about that.

Recently, another friend of mine stopped using her motorbike because she wasn’t allowed to fill it inside the city.  This got me looking into the rules.

According to the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, some questions have been rolling in about legality of motorbikes in Beijing City.  The answers are as follows (translated from Chinese):

Motorcycles are managed according to the following rules in Beijing:

  • On Changan Jie (from Xinxing Bridge to Guomao Bridge), motorcycles are forbidden from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm;
  • Motorcycles are always forbidden on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th ring roads;
  • Motorcycles with a 京B license plate, and all motorcycles with license plates from outside of Beijing are forbidden from operating inside the 4th ring road (not including the side-roads)

This leaves only the 京A license plates allowed for use within the 4th ring road, with the limitations listed above.

So what does it take to get a 京A license plate for a motorcycle in Beijing? That’s tricky — Beijing stopped issuing 京A license plates in the 1990s!  So, you’ve got to make your way down to motorcycle markets in southern Beijing where a second-hand plate will cost you RMB 12,000 — about the cost of a motorcycle.  The prices for 京A plates have risen from RMB 10,000 last year, and 9,000 the year before that.  It’s no wonder that of the 25 motorcycles I photographed yesterday (and put in the collage above), only 2 of them had 京A plates!

So why not e-bikes?  Aren’t they the hottest thing in Asia these days?  As one motorcycle salesman said, compared with the electric bicycle, motorcycles can go further distances and have longer lives – up to 10 years with proper maintenance, while electric bikes generally last for three years.  A friend of mine who bought a motorcycle (and who used to own an e-bike) also said that he hated dragging the 14 kg battery around to charge it at night.  Gasoline is just so much more portable!

The license plate limitation policy in Beijing is having far-reaching effects on the automotive industry in Beijing.  People need practical vehicles, and e-bikes seem to be not able to fill their requirements.  Gasoline-powered motorbikes are practical, but do not have policies to support them, resulting in a mostly illegal fleet of motorbikes on Beijing’s roads.  This means everyone is just waiting for the day when Beijing’s traffic police have an “Illegal Motorbike” campaign and clean them all off the road again.

Traffic management in an overpopulated city is not an easy issue to deal with.  Planning has to be smart, flexible and practical for urban residents.  Is Beijing up to the challenge?

Lone rider

Transformers taking China

The battle of Autobots vs. Decepticons is heating up in Beijing.  As witnessed on cars of every brand and class, Chinese drivers are loving the Transformers decals — and making their allegiances known.  Not a day goes by now that we don’t see Autobots and Decepticons driving around, marking their territory, letting the public know which team they are on, and letting us all know that we should be afraid.

I will expand my collection of these wonderful decals as time goes by (and when I get my phone back), but for the time being, I leave this picture with you to enjoy your “Punishment and Endurement” by our Decepticon police overlords.

Deceptapolice: To Punish and Endure. Watch out, Beijing. Transformer Wars a'comin!

Electric Car in the Beijing Wild — Caught on Camera!

Outside of car shows and research labs, I never see electric cars on Beijing’s roads.  Well, that all changed one fateful evening in July (sorry it’s taken time to get this online).  There it was, parked outside Ritan Park along Beijing’s Guanghua Road.

Beijing Car in the Beijing Wild

A teeny-tiny EV parked outside Ritan Park, July 2011

As you can see from this picture, this is not a big normal-sized car, this must be one of those low-speed EVs that we are hearing about.  I don’t recognize the brand — looks like it’s a little manufacturer from Hebei called Wanlian-Dawo.  This little puppy goes 30 km/h with a range of 80-150 km with 3 kW of power. It seems this company has no certification for producing cars, so…I guess this is not a car, but two electric bikes duct-taped together with a shell on top.  It also has no license plate.

I’m afraid its range is not far enough, however — the next day, I rode past this same place, and the car was still there.  Either the driver was drunk when he/she left Maggies and took a taxi home, or this little car ran out of power and had to be towed to a charging location.

These are the risks of driving an EV!

Civilized Chaoyang Traffic Control – Manual style

It has been a while since I updated the blog, and I think I’ll start an update with some supergreat news.  In preparation for the October 1 “National Holiday”, Chaoyang District has been under strict inspections and shaping up.

That means that there are suddenly hundreds or thousands of volunteers available to control intersections across Chaoyang district.  From the east second ring road to east 3rd ring road, there are at least 25 young students controlling intersections, holding banners to block pedestrians and cyclists for entering the intersection, and to keep everyone in their bike lanes, sidewalks and turning lanes.  It is quite a project. And it is impressive that students suddenly have time to be standing around on the street.

Volunteers manage intersection - Civilized Chaoyang!

You can see in the picture above, they are using physical barriers to block cyclists from moving into the intersection.  There is also a table for water and volunteer management under the umbrella there.  What you can’t see in this relatively poorly taken picture is that there are also two police officers at the intersection, there are the regular traffic control people (the guy in the red hat, for example), and 3-4 students.  Amazing resources this country has.  人多力量大! (More people, greater power! — Mao Zedong).

Beijing Energy and Environment Roundtable Slides

I gave a presentation on policy options for low carbon transportation (energy and vehicles) at the Beijing Energy Network / Beijing Energy and Environment Roundtable last night (June 29, 2011).  Many thanks to all who attended and asked such great questions!

Some people had requested a copy of my slides.  Here they are below.  If you have any more questions, definitely feel free to contact me!

Robert Earley BEER  [pdf]