Within two weeks of our move to Beijing, we quickly realized that we all needed bicycles to get around. Even during that cold month of December, it was essential to have wheels and a basket, not to mention a child seat. That was five years ago, and “simple” transportation has evolved to tuk tuks, golf carts, and even the newer electric bubble mobile frequently seen around the streets in Shunyi.
We were here for two years before the company leased a car for my personal use. While I would NEVER wish to go without a car like that again, I must admit I wound up being in better shape riding my bike everywhere as a result. Still, with kids going in all directions all the time, work obligations, and ever-changing weather, I am very grateful for my car. During my non-car period, the only option that I saw around and seriously considering looking into was your run-of-the-mill golf cart. It would hold extra people, have a cover on top to shade or semi-protect from the rain, and it would speed up my transportation. But I never shopped for one.
Then I started to see a lot of tuk tuks around. The ones you see in the city are essentially automatic rickshaws, pretty basic in design. Those out in the ‘burbs all look alike — most of them are red, and they are driven by moms of two or more young children, much like the mini-van mom you see in the states. It’s practical although not particularly stylish, and it comes with a bit of a label on it.
Enter the new bubble mobile. Or egg mobile. Or covered electric bike, or whatever else you might call it. These bizarre looking vehicles are genius. They still hold extra people, two passengers in the back on most models, and they run on electric battery charge (6-8 hours of charge gains about 100km distance). They can be uncovered if it’s nice out; covered if it’s not, and they have a top speed of around 40km/hr, so it’s not like having speeding motorcycles around to worry about.
The really neat thing about all of these options is that with the new license plate regulations prohibiting people from buying a car until they have been in Beijing for at least a year and have won the license plate lottery, it’s a great lower-cost and effective way to motor around without having to even get a driver’s license. The bubble covered electric bike costs around RMB 5,000 (the one pictured, a deluxe model, cost RMB 9,000); tuk tuks can be far less expensive, and if you buy a used one from a departing family, you can even get a bargain for well under RMB 1,000.
I’m not about to give up my car, but it has crossed my mind that maybe a second, smaller vehicle like this could be convenient when I know that parking is going to be a problem. Hmmm…