An American Abroad

Wheels: Two and Three

Half the vehicles on the roads of Yuxi have two or three wheels. The vast majority of the two-wheeled variety are scooters and small motorcycles. Bicycles may have reigned supreme on Chinese streets forty years ago, but they are a tiny minority today in Yuxi.

Most of the scooters are electric. They whir by so quietly that they often take me by surprise.
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By law, motorcycles can have an engine displacement of no more than 150cc. That’s tiny. The first photo below is of a mototaxi. They hang out at almost every intersection in town and will take you wherever you want to go in town for ¥5 (about $0.80). Note the two helmets: one for the driver, one for his passenger.
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The most interesting and unusual vehicles here are the three-wheeled mini-trucks. These have a motorcycle front end and engine married to a flatbed. Some of them are electric. The carry everything from furniture to flowers. Some have coal-fired cookstoves on their backs and function as food carts.
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There are still some of their pedal-powered forebears on the roads. They’re built to last. Note the three downtubes on this first one.
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  1. Joseph Pratt says:

    Thank you for this tour Jim. I’m glad you’re taking time to post on the blog. I very much enjoy following you adventures. Joseph Pratt

  2. Ken Wieland says:

    Jim what you need to do is find Yuxi version of “Radar.” Then let him find you the right set of wheels. Can you trade in US dollars? Is there a premium on using dollars over Yuan? I am just thinking that having a local you trust would be a big plus in your lifestyle. Can wait to see what you get, because I know you will. (Wish I was there)

  3. I wonder if you’ll eventually buy a scooter of your own?

    How are the public transportation systems?

  4. Matt Scheiber says:

    It’s interesting to hear about the near disappearance of the traditional bicycle. I may have told you that when my brother taught in China in 1983, it was illegal for cars to use headlights in the city at night because they blinded the bicyclists.

  5. James Trumm says:

    Ferd, I may eventually by some wheels–a bicycle, a scooter or a motorcycle. I’m leaning toward the latter, since it would enable me to get out of the city more easily to visit the smaller towns in southern Yunnan.

    Matt, I learned recently that Yuxi has the second-highest per-capita car ownership rate of all cities in China. Bicycles do seem almost quaint here, as does the idea that just 30 years ago headlights were forbidden. It seems cliche to say it, but this country is changing incredibly rapidly.

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