Asia On Two Wheels
Red lights. Motorcyclists are office ladies in suits, middle aged aunties with long sleeves and masks, and a commuter like me stopped at the intersection. This is the everyday scene in Taiwan. Despite the fact that public transportation and automobiles are available for most people, motorcycles, or say scooters, are still popular in Taiwan. People do not see scooters as alternatives for who cannot afford cars but a more convenient vehicle for short distance transportation.
Bicycle traveled through seas and continents as war, imperialism and globalization swept over the world. From Japan, the two-wheeler was taken in and digested by Taiwan’s local culture and grew its own personalities. Structures of all combination and the diversity of application emerged to meet local people’s needs. Bicycles were not used for racing, cross-country traveling and off-road biking in developing countries as much as in developed countries then. Riding bicycle was more a means of moving goods and passengers than a healthy lifestyle and eco-friendly leisure activity. These bicycles, designed and made sturdy and durable, were called “iron horse” by Taiwanese, for they could load heavy stuffs and could travel long distance.
Motors were applied then but it was until the 50s and 60s that these big heavy two wheelers gained their popularity. As domestic economy grew and consuming ability increased, the demand of motorbikes enlarged. Later on, with the increase number of women devoted into job markets, female commuters demanded vehicles more suitable than bicycles or buses. Lighter scooters designed for women accelerated the sale. When it came to the 80s, scooters have become the most common road transportation and they still occupy all over the streets.
Two wheelers in different cultures
Similar transition from bicycles to motorcycles can be observed in Southeast Asia. The percentage of owning motorcycles is much higher than owning automobiles in countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and India. The mobility and affordable price are great draws to consumers. Motorcycles and bicycles are easier to maintain and easier to park than cars. However, it seems not a good idea to ride in metropolis since pedestrians have their pavements and riders struggle to survive among the chaotic traffics in rush hours. But it is exactly the reason why people ride the small and agile scooters: to make their way out through the gaps of cars stuck in the traffic jam.
Distance, weather, incomes, family, infrastructure, land-use planning, etc. are the reasons that possibly influence your choices in terms of transportation. In regions where bicycles and motorcycles originated from, biking had rooted in the culture. The geography and climate are suitable for riding, and the road systems are friendly to two wheelers. However, in regions which are vast in territory, commuters have to travel relatively long way to work since people moved out from the business center districts and lived in the suburbs. Popularity of bicycles and motorcycles are also blocked in places with server weather and rugged landscapes.
Therefore, bicycles are now mostly used for urban sightseeing, professional sports and personal hobby. Bicycles and their cousins like quadracycles with multiple seats treadle, tandem bicycles and rickshaws are mostly applied for tourism and entertainment than daily transportation while motocross, sportbike and cruiser have become a culture of groups which are enthusiastic about bikes.
Motorcycle and automobile markets are closely related to the energy development, economy and construction of the countries. Urban planning, population issues and urbanization have led to traffic congestion. Motorized vehicles caused air and noise pollution and energy consumption. It involved regulations, policies of development and economic structure. Convenient motorcycles are not the solution to traffic jam caused by overpopulation and the malfunction public communication.
With the rise of public awareness toward environment preservation, Taiwan had introduced electric scooters and electric mopeds in response to new emission regulations and response to carbon reduction. It seems to reduce pollution, but for countries that rely on motorcycles, the difficulty of bring back bicycle, the price of electric vehicles, and charging and maintenance, and the most essential energy issues remain unresolved.
The Hanoi authorities vowed to ban motorcycles and to solve the traffic problems with public transportation in 2030. However, how to replace the 5 million motorcycles in the city with the most massive motorbikes populations in Vietnam, the government is not only facing difficulties in policy implementation, but challenging the motorcycle culture of the people.
Transforming a motorcycle city: the long wait for Hanoi's metro
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