electric Beijing or how i joined the e-bike revolution with a Yamaha Metis Max

I posted last week over at beijingdaze.com about the complexities and steps required to procure a driver’s license and motorcycle license plate in Beijing which can be quite a process if you wanna do it all legally… which i did! After a few weeks of trying really hard to procure myself a gas-powered two-wheeler, I finally gave up and went the “greener” route with an e-bike.

The idea has been floating around my brain for almost a year, after reading Kaiser Kuo’s musings about owning an e-bike and how it had put [him] back in touch with Beijing .

I liked the idea of the e-bike for many reasons: ecologically friendly, low maintenance, practical, no legal hassles and generally easy to own. My biggest problem though was the range: Most e-bikes on the market right now have a 30 to 50km range on a good day unless one invests in a lithium ion battery that might cost twice the price of the bike and won’t necessarily work out for the best.

My adventures and roamings through town can be lengthy on any particular evening taking me from the East side of town to the CBD then over to Gulou with a pit stop in Sanlitun, a trip to 2 Kolegas and finally back to the East side of town. This type of Journey adds up to about 60km and I needed a bike that could last the distance.

beautiful on the outside, scary on the inside

My first choice was a Big Turtle King or Da Gui Wang (大龟王). I like the way they look and they’re popular enough that it would be easy to get them serviced anywhere in town. The standard battery comes with realistic range of 30 to 40 Km when travelling at 35 k/h, much less if going faster. Don’t believe any shop keeper that says otherwise. Better batteries are available at a premium with the Lithium Ion option running at 4000RMB for the battery alone but it will last for 80 to 100km depending on the speed you’re driving.

I figured I’ll get one with the base battery and then upgrade as needed after I was convinced it worked. However, a trip to the bike shop changed my mind rather quickly: The big turtle kings are nothing but the shell of the gas powered version that someone took the engine out off and hacked up with an electric motor. They’re literally using fuse switches like the ones outside my door and there are naked cables running under the hood. There was no way this thing is gonna withstand one of Beijing’s famous downpours without electrocuting me… yeah, everyone is riding them but that don’t mean I will.
There is an export model making the rounds around Beijing that should be cleaner/neater but it’s not readily available and will run you 5000RMB minimim with the shitty battery.

Next up were the brand names: Cityfy is had a good reputaion but didn’t make any model i cared for. Yamaha, on the other hand, had just come out with the Metis Max which was a substantial upgrade to the regular Metis series they had been building for years now.

I had seen this model online and it was rated with an autonomy of 80km on one charge. I was lucky enough to be at the shop when someone that owned one came around and i was able to ask them a few questions about it. In a nutshell, of all the options available, it seemed like the one most likely to fit my needs and i got it. Total cost 4000 RMB including registration which was the taobao price.

The bike, or scooter I should say, is quite comfortable and has no problem handling 2 passengers! There are two power settings on it: Low and High. Using the low setting allows you to go at speeds of 25km/h to 30km/h and travel for at least 60 to 70km when riding alone.. about 60 if you have a passenger.
The high power setting brings in quite a bit of zip to the experience and lets you go between 35 to 40 km/h for a distance of up to 40km… this is all on the stock battery!

I’m also a lot more comfortable riding something that I can assumed has seen a semblant of quality control so that the lights and other components won’t fail without a warning! I could have paid a lot less but I’m a firm believer in the “You get what you pay for” motto.. this thing is gonna last me.

I’ve been using this baby for exactly a week and I can’t believe the difference it’s made in my life already: I can go anywhere i want anytime I want without dealing with taxis, crowd on a subway or any of the mafan that has plagued my life over the past few years. I’m also slowly venturing into side roads and back alleys seeing a whole new side to Beijing i never new existed.

now, unto the negatives:

– The battery on this thing is a freaking monster: it weighs in at 29kg… yeah, that’s twenty nine kilograms!
– There is no odometer telling you how much you’ve travelled. you have to rely on the battery gauge and learn to estimate your own distance. I used google maps to figure out how much i travelled on average and keep a cheat sheet as a reference.
– It is no speed demon
– As a brandname, it’s not so easy to mod the bike. local no-names can have tons of addons but the Yamaha might not handle them.
– that’s it

I decided to keep track of distances travelled per day and taxi costs I would normally pay to travel said distance in an excel spreadsheet just for the heck of it and so far, I’ve logged the required amount km I would do on a normal week in taxis! And guess what: in one week, I’ve saved 10% of the bike’s value in Taxi fare! yes, I had no idea I was spending in excess of 400 RMB/week in cabs!
At this rate, I would recoup the whole cost in about 10 weeks. That is not to mention the fact that I am no longer drinking out as much as i used to. 1 alcoholic beverage is all I’m allowing myself at the moment.

Do I have any buyer’s remorse? Nope! I can’t believe it took me this long to take the jump! The battery weight is definitely a pain in the ass and a bit of a concern. So far, I’ve taken it in 3 times and I’m getting used to it but I’d much rather have a 10kg battery. I still look at the Big Turtle Kings with envy sometimes but that more because i like the way they look. If someone were to clean them up and do a neat install, I’d consider switching and getting the extra speed but for now, I think I got the best bike for my needs.

My next mission is to convince bar/restaurant owners to set up charging stations much like they have free wi-fi available. Keep a charger or two handy for those customers that might require a little top-up. It costs less than 1 RMB to recharge the whole battery for 10 hours so think about the extra added value of keeping a customer on a seat drinking/eating while their bike charges. You’d make up that insvestment in a heart beat.

The Silver Daze

I’m also fixing to Join Kaiser in his quest to get a gang together with the sole purpose to keep bike lanes car-free…. I’ll go one step further and say i want them to be pedestrian free as well!!! Those bastards have sent me into fits of road rage cursing at their selfish ways over the past few days… who’s with us?