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Xi’an China’s Electric Avenue


When I first arrived in Xi’an about two months ago I was not surprised to see a large number of motor scooters and small motorcycles around the city.  As time went on, however, I began to notice something strange.  That is, 99 percent of the machines I was seeing were electrically powered rather than powered by gasoline (petrol).

Curious, I began to look into the matter and discovered there is now a law in Xi’an which bans gasoline powered scooters and motorcycles from the city center.  This deserved more research, so I took advantage of the labour force in the English Writing and Rhetoric graduate level class I am teaching at Xi’an Jiaotong University.

I needed to assign my students a research project anyway, so I gave them an assignment to answer the following three questions:

  • When did the ban on gasoline “cycles” go into effect in Xi’an?
  • Are there other cities in China with similar regulations?
  • If so, what are some of the major cities with those regulations in place?

I also asked the students to prepare for an in-class debate on “Are Electrical Motorcycles/Scooters a good thing for Xi’an and China?”  They were instructed to be prepared to defend both the “Pro” and “Con” arguments.

The debate went very well, with the “Con” team barely edging out the “Pro” team.

In the mean time, I collected the information I need for a story I’m working on for upcoming travel magazine pitches.

In summary, the first law forbidding gasoline motorcycles/scooters went into effect in 1985 in Beijing.  Since then about 150 municipalities (including Xi’an) have adopted similar laws called “Jin Mo orders”.  The main justification for the orders is that gasoline motorcycles contribute more pollutants to the atmosphere than automobiles, due to no environment controls on the motorcycle engines.

Xi’an initial “Jin Mo order” went into effect on 1 July, 2000, forbidding gasoline motorcycles within the old city walls during certain hours of the day.  Since then the law has been modified several times and now bans gasoline motorcycles 24 hours a day in the city center and beyond to the “first ring” highway which circles the city (think “beltway” here).

And so the laws went into effect.  On the downside many gasoline motorcycle companies went out of business.  As it turns out, however, a new industry sprung up in the manufacture and sale of electrical vehicles.  While the argument can be made that electrical motorcycle scooters do not pollute the air during operation, the coal fired power plants generating the electricity certainly do create massive air pollution problems.   With its four coal fired power plants surrounding the city, one only has to look into the constantly blacked sky in Xi’an to get the point.

Other problems have popped up as well.  In its wisdom, the city government decided that unlike gasoline motorcycles which require registration and a driver’s license to operate, the electrical vehicles are free of these regulations.  The result is an army of untrained electrical motorbike drivers doing anything they wish on the streets.  For example, it’s common to see electrical scooter drivers going down one-way streets in the wrong direction… with no headlights on at night… wearing no helmet… with three children piled on the machine.

Just walking across the street requires eyes in the front, back, and sides of your head, as you never know from what direction the scooters might be coming…  And if that is not dangerous enough, the machines (having no gasoline engine) are deadly silent.  And don’t think once you make it across the street to the sidewalk you are safe…  They ride almost at full speed on the sidewalk as well… day or night… rain or shine.

So that’s the background.  Now let’s take a look at some of the machines.  As I mentioned above, a whole industry has sprung up manufacturing and selling these machines.  There is a street in Xi’an named “Santa Lu” in which one electric scooter shop follows the next for a full two city blocks.

The machines are surprising advanced and far “out tech” anything I’ve seen in the USA and Europe.  In a time when electrical vehicles of all kinds seems to be the wave of the future, that technology is already well established in China…

So let’s take a look at some of them…

We will take a walk down Santa Lu street beginning with the archway that introduces the electrical scooter sales district…  I affectionately call it “Electric Avenue”.

(Tip:  Clicking any photo will bring up a larger version.  Clicking that version will display maximum size.)

Entry-way arch to Santa Lu Street (Electric Avenue).

A young salesman named Jiao Hang spent a lot of time with me explaining the various models. The prices you see are in Chinese Yuan. To convert to US Dollars, divide by 6.5. To convert to Euros, divide by 8,8. I saw basic models beginning at about $450 and super deluxe models going for about $3000. There are plenty of high-quality high-tech models available for under $1000, however. That's less than a decent bicycle in the US! (Come on you entrepreneurs out there... Why aren't you importing these machines?... You KNOW electrically powered vehicles will be the next big thing!)

So let’s take a look at more models on this YouTube video.  If your connection is fast, I suggest you view it in 1080 p High Definition and in full-screen mode.

Can’t view the video?  You may be in a region where the video is blocked.  If so, send me a message with your email address and I will send a low-resolution version.

So that’s my tour of “Electric Avenue” for today.  Stay tuned for some new “off the beaten path” things to see in Xi’an.  Until then…  Zàijiàn!

  1. Thanks for sharing, I’m currently in Xi’an and last weekend I went to San ta Lu street to see it for myself. Unfortunately I just walked and looked, since I know no Chinese. Very impressive but I did not see any of the higher performance motors that are available in the rest of the world.

    • Yes, the electric models cannot yet match the power and speed of petrol powered models… but that will come. There are some electrics in China which can cruise at 95 kph and have a range up to 150 kilometers. Chinese development of this technology is light years ahead of that in the West where electric powered bike/scooters are little more than toys.

      • Well in the US there are several Chinese manufacturers that export bicycle hub motors much larger than what I saw at the market. Crystalyte comes to mind. check

        Thanks again for the entry, I would not have found it otherwise. When I head back to the states my next project will be my version of a Chinese work trike.

      • Hey Steve. What are the specs for the “large hub motors” you are looking for? Here is a model from Jonway motors… The motor is 5000 watts and 72 volts! That’s pretty “beefy”:

        I don’t have time right now to surf the endless-sphere forums… Duty calls here in Xi’an, as it’s the start of the new semester. I’m swamped preparing my classes. 😉 … But I’ll look when I have more time.

  2. Yes, that lack of licensing for electric motorbikes is a big problem. Just about when I think I’ve seen every kind of possible crazy (and rude) behavior by riders, I’ll see something new. “Infractions” I’ve seen include (but is not limited to) driving the wrong way on the streets, driving on crowded sidewalks… horn blaring for people to “get out of the way”, and almost hitting people inside of buildings, riding the electric bike through the building corridors. It’s “the wild wild east”.

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  1. motorcycles: Xi’an China’s Electric Avenue « coolblueice | Helmet Hair Motorcycle News
  2. By train from Amsterdam to Hong Kong

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