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Things to remember when buying a scooter in China

For many expats in China, one of the best ways to get around your neighborhood is not by foot, but by the ever popular scooter or e-bike. These highly affordable, seemingly everywhere, two-wheel machines provide a large percentage of the population with an ideal way to get around. While it can be tempting to jump right in and buy a scooter or e-bike, there are a number of things to consider before you do. Here are five questions to ask before you buy your next scooter or e-bike.

Posted on May 31, 2016 by Rob McBroom


Do I want a motorbike, scooter, or e-bike?

In China, there are three types of two-wheel machines available: motorbikes, scooters, or e-bikes, and you are going to want to first consider what type of bike you want to buy. Between our staff in our Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing offices there are riders of each type of bike. Here are their recommendations.


In a paper published by the UN's Sustainable Development branch, it was found that "China, as the world's largest electric two-wheeler manufacturer and exporter, accounts for 92 percentage of the global market in 2012." This makes E-bikes (bikes powered by batteries) the most popular two-wheeled vehicle in China, with an estimated 200 million plus e-bikes on the road (as of 2014).

These machines are generally affordable, easy to ride, can be charged easily via a power plug, and can be purchased from stores (including stores like Carrefour or Walmart) in pretty much every city and town. Our staff use these bikes to get around their neighborhood e.g., getting groceries, going to the mall, or even commuting to and from work.

When looking for an e-bike, you will come across two main types that you will need to consider:

  • Bicycle Style Electric Bikes - Essentially a bicycle with an electric battery added to it. These bikes have pedals that are fully functional and have been deemed by the government as bicycles. As such, they have a limited speed - usually 20 km/hour and will usually be fairly cheap.  

  • Scooter Style Electric Bikes - These often represent more of a scooter in looks than a bicycle (they don't have working pedals), and are powered fully by batteries. In cities like Shanghai and Beijing, these bikes are the most popular among expats and locals alike as they can go faster than the bicycle style ones and many can go a considerable distance on a single charge. Some models even feature removable batteries that can be charged at home or at the office.

One important thing to note here is that not every city allows e-bikes. For example, Guangzhou and Shenzhen both have banned scooter style e-bikes from certain roads though pedal e-bikes are still legal. That said, most e-bikes are treated by the police as bicycles so enforcement of bans is usually spotty at best.


The popular workhorse of South East Asia is commonly seen in many cities around China as well. While similar to e-bikes, scooters (or mopeds) run on petrol and tend to have bigger engines which means they go faster than many e-bikes. They also tend to be slightly more expensive as well.

One of the other main differences between scooters and e-bikes is that you are required to have a driver's license in order to drive a scooter in China.

Like E-bikes, some cities have actually banned scooters on certain roads, so it is important to ask around when considering a scooter as you may live near a road where they are banned.


Larger motorcycles are increasingly popular in China, especially among expats and locals who need to travel longer distances for work. While a variety of bikes are available, you may struggle to find motorcycles with engines larger than 150 ccs, as the vast majority of motorcycles sold in China are 125 CC.

If you are considering purchasing a motorbike in China it is important to note that you are required to have a valid driver's license and insurance. Beyond that, many cities have banned motorbikes from freeways and the downtown cores of many cities.     


What are the risks of driving a scooter in China?

According to Bloomberg, "A study conducted by researchers at Peking University and other institutions from October 2010 to April 2011 found that e-bikes were involved in 57 percent of serious non-fatal road accidents in a rural hospital in Suzhou. Traumatic brain injuries were sustained by 36 percent of injured riders."  

While this may seem high, anyone who has spent time on the road in China would see they could make sense. Drivers in China simply ignore road rules, and it is common to see e-bike or scooter riders often cutting in front of turning cars, failing to stop at red lights, or simply driving too fast for the conditions.

Combine this with the fact that the vast majority of scooter drivers don't wear helmets and protective gear like jackets or even appropriate pants, and it is clear to see that you are at risk if you ride a scooter in China.   


Do I have to register my scooter with the police?

This varies by city. In many of the larger cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai, it is mandatory for owners of scooters and motorbikes to register their bike with the police and to obtain a legitimate license plate along with the appropriate driver's license and insurance.

In larger cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai, it is now mandatory for people who own a scooter style e-bike to register it with the police. For example, according to Time Out Shanghai, you need to go to a specific office to register your e-bike. This is free of charge, and in some cases, the store you bought the bike from may help you with the process. If you are considering an e-bike it would be a good idea to check with the local authorities whether you need to register it or not.


How can I minimize the risk of riding a scooter or e-bike in China?

There are a number of things you can do to minimize the risks of riding a scooter in China. First and foremost, it is highly recommended that you purchase a helmet. Most of our staff have purchased motorcycle helmets from respected stores in Shanghai or Beijing and wear them whenever they are on the bike. It is important here not to purchase a bicycle helmet as these will not provide enough protection. If you are curious as to where to procure a helmet, try talking with your colleagues. It is also equally important that if you are going to purchase a more powerful motorcycle you also get the right equipment e.g., leather riding jacket, boots, long pants etc. If you are wondering whether these provide protection or not, just ask anyone who has been in a motorcycle accident and they will all likely agree that they are.

Another way to mitigate the risk is to be aware of the hazards of driving on the road. First off, pay constant attention to the other drivers and pedestrians around you, they can do anything at any time so paying attention could help you avoid any collisions. Secondly, pay attention to the quality of the road. For example, the paint used to demarcate lines on the road is extremely slippery when the road is wet. Turning, speeding up, or slowing down while your tires are on these lines could result in a crash. If there is fresh snow on the roads, then it would be advisable to avoid riding your scooter as they lack the traction of four-wheel cars. Again, asking your colleagues for other tips can be beneficial.

Finally, it is important to secure the right type of insurance. As we noted above, if you have a motorcycle or gas scooter you are likely going to have to secure motorcycle insurance. Beyond that, it would also be a good idea to ensure you have a robust health insurance plan. Should you be in an accident, your health insurance can provide coverage for any medical issues that arise from riding a motorcycle. One thing to be aware of here, however, is that many health insurance plans exclude care related to motorcycle accidents that occurred while you were speeding or racing.

To help find the best health insurance plan on the market, visit Pacific Prime's online quotation system for a free quote. We can help recommend a plan that will provide coverage for all of your daily activities.


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