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How e-bikes and scooters Have Been weaving their way into the transport system


THE streets of Beijing are thronged with two-wheeled contraptions. Some appear to be conventional petrol mopeds but since they zoom through red lights at pedestrian crossings their eerie silence and lack of exhaust reveals them as electrical. Executives in suits cruise by on electrical kick-scooters, looking like big kids on their way to school, though travelling much more inexpensively. Electric bikes, hacked together using a battery strapped to the frame and wired into a back-wheel hub comprising a motor, crowd the edges of roads.


China's cities have been at the forefront of a quiet swarm of electric two-wheeled vehicles. Millions now ramble their centres. This transformation of urban mobility is also going on in the West, albeit with a notable addition which has yet to take off in China: firms that lease out electrical kick-scooters. All these are carrying many American cities by storm and are arriving in Europe.


In the bike-mad Netherlands almost one in three recently bought Bicycles last year was electrical, up from one in 20 a decade before. Commuters, from the sweat-averse to the environmentally conscious, are all excited. Some 40% of Dutch e-cyclists use them to replace automobile journeys. Riding for fun is on the upswing, also: a best-selling model in Europe this past year was the e-mountain-bike.


In Germany, 15 percent of new bikes offered in 2016 were electric, With sales up by 13 percent and exports by 66 percent compared with 2015. Belgium and France are big markets also. Whereas exports of routine bikes from China, Taiwan and Vietnam to the European Union fell by 15 percent between 2014 and 2016, e-bike exports more than doubled. Firms are also joining the ride. Among Germany's largest electrical fleets is owned by Deutsche Post DHL, a logistics giant, and comprises about 12,000 e-bikes and e-trikes (three-wheeled ones).


For customers the vehicles don't come cheap. They typically Cost a couple of thousand euros--more when you include bells and whistles. Thus new businesses are popping around lease or rent them out. Some of these serve couriers working in the gig economy. Others go after hipster leisure riders. Bike-sharing providers are rushing to add them. Almost a third of Paris's Velib fleet, for example, is electric, though the roll-out was tricky.


For cyclists in American cities, however, e-scooters may steal The show. Their characteristics fit even more neatly into rental versions than e-bikes do. Powered not just by power, but by volleys of venture money, e-scooters are the latest craze coming from California. Revenue for a few of the firms renting them is growing so fast as to surprise even seasoned Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Bird Rides, a pioneer of the business, and not a year old, has become a"unicorn" faster than any other American startup prior to it. Its valuation has reportedly reached $2bn.


In certain places, like Santa Monica, among the earliest Places where Bird introduced e-scooters, using them to get around has become a habit. With a few taps on a program riders can unlock them and off they go. As soon as they have reached their destination they park the scooter at a place where it can be picked up by another rider. Each trip costs $1 plus 15 cents per minute.


The other aspect of the model is that Individuals can Earn Money by Charging them. Freelance"bird hunters" pick up scooters with vacant batteries and plug them in at home. The startup pays between $5 and $25 per automobile billed, based on how hard they are to find (the places of"dead" scooters are shown in a different program ). Charging mostly happens at night and the vehicles have to be back on the street in specified places before 7am the following day. That Bird and other companies can outsource this action explains why they've been able to launch their services so quickly in numerous cities. Hot on Bird's brakes is Lime, co-founded by Toby Sun, a Chinese entrepreneur, which boasts a similar expansion rate and valuation (its chargers are called"juicers"). Located in Paris this week, Lime will conquer Bird into Europe.


The spread of e-bikes and e-scooters is in future likely to Be further hastened by ride-hailing giants eager to offer the full selection of urban e-mobility choices. Uber at April bought Jump, an e-bike-sharing startup. And Lyft is said to be on the verge of taking over Motivate, yet another e-bike firm. Both firms are reportedly also interested in renting out e-scooters--as is Ofo, the Chinese leader of dockless bicycle rentals.

On both sides of the Atlantic two-wheeled e-vehicles increase Three major questions: how to govern them; whether their economics work over Time; and what happens to the information they generate


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