THE streets of Beijing are thronged with two-wheeled contraptions. Some appear to be conventional petrol mopeds but as they zoom through red lights at pedestrian crossings their eerie silence and lack of exhaust reveals them as electric. Executives in suits cruise by on electric kick-scooters, looking like big kids on their way to school, though travelling much more enthusiastically. Electric bicycles, hacked together with a battery strapped to the frame and wired to a back-wheel hub containing a motor, crowd the edges of roads.
China’s cities are at the forefront of a quiet swarm of electric two-wheeled vehicles. Millions now roam their centres. This transformation of urban mobility is also happening in the West, albeit with a notable addition that has yet to take off in China: firms that rent out electric kick-scooters. These are taking many American cities by storm and are arriving in Europe.
In the bike-mad Netherlands nearly one in three newly bought bikes last year was…