China’s youths find freedom in customised scooters

For some young people in China, scooters are not only a mode of transport, but also a fashion statement to express their personality.


A worker works on a scooter at a factory in Jinhua, Zhejiang province. [HU XIAOFEI/FOR CHINA DAILY]

July 28, 2023

BEIJING – From cute to retro, new generation expresses itself by personalizing two-wheelers

For some young people in China, scooters are not only a mode of transport, but also a fashion statement to express their personality and a philosophy of finding beauty in the ordinary.

They invest money and time in decorating and personalizing scooters in diverse styles such as steampunk, cyberpunk, Hello Kitty, pastoral and retro. And riding their own creations on the road gives them a great sense of joy.

Yao Xuelei, 28, who works at an internet company in Beijing, favored a checkerboard motif and the famous Mooneyes vehicle modification logo to decorate her new scooter.

Most of the scooter is black and white, offset by a yellow floor mat and gloves. “It is a typical retro style I’m keen on,” she said.

The scooter cost about 3,000 yuan ($418) and the modifications were about 300 yuan. Yao drew a preliminary sketch before buying all the materials and it took her three days to complete the modifications.

“I use the scooter to commute between my apartment and the company and it lifts my spirits every day seeing the cool design created by me,” she said.

Personal taste

Compared with cars and motorbikes — scooters are cheaper, lighter and easy to operate, which makes them an ideal option for short-distance travel. Also, with the popularity of new energy automobiles, scooters have undergone rapid development with the promotion of green lifestyles.

Tens of thousands of blogs, photos and videos on social platforms share scooter owners’ modification stories. Some of their creations are considered works of art and have received many views and likes.

Zhou Zhou, 27, from Anhui province, said anything cute and adorable makes her happy. She put a lot of colorful stickers on the wind deflector and other parts of her scooter, including her favorite cartoon characters Buzz Lightyear and LinaBell. She also placed a row of small decorative items and a cupholder on the front of the scooter.

“Because there was no major modification, I completed it in just half an hour, and it only cost me about 300 yuan,” Zhou said. “Although my colleagues said I made the scooter look too flashy, I think it looks really good. Especially when the weather is nice, I enjoy riding my electric scooter to work.”

She said the modifications hadn’t changed the scooter’s performance. “But the bright colors make me feel happier, so I can say it brings me a psychological lift,” she said.

Zhou said scooters are very convenient for commuting and can help navigate traffic jams, so she enjoys riding them.

China’s youths find freedom in customised scooters

Zhou Zhou says the scooter’s cute look makes her happy. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]


For Wu Jianguo, however, it took two weeks to customize her scooter as she waited for decorations ordered online to arrive. The scooter was a birthday gift from her friend last November and looked quite plain in its original state.

Wu added stickers and ornaments from popular Japanese manga series Crayon Shin-chan as well as custom-made foot mats. The most interesting modification was the tail box trunk.

“Originally, I just liked the look of the trunk and was planning to make holes in it with a soldering iron. However, to my surprise I discovered four holes under the trunk that were perfectly suited for zip ties.

“So I attached the trunk to the back seat using baking cooling racks as supports. This made it very stable and versatile. If I ever decide to replace the trunk, I simply need to detach the zip ties.”

She said after the modifications the scooter is more practical to use. “The phone holder in the front allows me to use navigation, and the cup holder makes it easy for me to drink water without having to dig a bottle out of my bag when waiting at a red light. The rear trunk is even big enough to carry a watermelon.”

The 30-year-old from Zhejiang province rides the scooter two to three times a week in spring and fall, mainly to go buy food.

“This is actually my first scooter. I often heard news reports about stolen vehicles, so I only considered having one now that fewer scooters are being stolen. It’s great that I don’t have to worry about losing it.

“With this small scooter, I don’t have to search for parking spots, pay parking fees, or wait for buses. It saves me money and time on short-distance trips. However, in summer and winter, I still choose to drive a car because it can get too hot or too cold on the scooter,” she added.

During the modification process, Wu also took the time to learn traffic regulations to avoid breaking any rules. For example, the size of the tail box trunk cannot exceed the size of the handlebars, so she measured the dimensions carefully before purchasing it online.

About 500 netizens gave a “like “or commented on her scooter diary released on the lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu. One netizen wrote, “Although I don’t have one myself, it made me infatuated with having one.”

There are more than 80,000 stories on Xiaohongshu about scooter modifications, many of which have inspired more people to do similar things to their two-wheelers.

China’s youths find freedom in customised scooters

Owner Wu Jianguo drew inspirations from Japanese manga series to decorate and modify her scooter. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]

Staying legal

Liu Zhenyi, 37, from Beijing, bought a scooter after online photos of a modified retro-style scooter sparked her interest. She rides the scooter every morning to a stadium where she plays volleyball. During the journey she often has to negotiate traffic jams.

Liu removed the back seat of the scooter and installed a vintage brown box, as well as a leather pouch in the front. The scooter is now able to carry more sports equipment. The modifications cost about 600 yuan.

When she purchased the vehicle, the salesperson informed Liu about following local traffic regulations, and advised her on which parts of the scooter can be legally modified. This helps customers ensure the modifications are safe while they try to enhance the scooter’s appearance.

In most Chinese cities electric scooters are classified by their speed and weight, meaning they only require a license plate for legal use. Riders do not need a license to be on the road.

In Beijing, for instance, an electric scooter’s top speed is set at 25 kilometers per hour, and its weight, excluding the battery, cannot exceed 55 kilograms.

However, it is easy to disable preset speed restrictions on electric scooters. Illegal modifications can involve using software or programs to remove speed restrictions and replacing major parts such as the battery, motor, controller, tires, wheel hubs or suspension.

By the end of 2022, scooter ownership in China had reached 350 million, meaning one in four people in the country owned a scooter, data from the China Bicycle Association showed.

Annual production of scooters in China has surpassed 35 million, ranking first in the world, with scooters commonly used for short-and medium-distance trips, a report from Economic Daily said.

Yao, who works at the internet company, said compared with a motorbike her scooter is light, and easy to ride and push. Also, on some Beijing roads only motorcycles with certain license plates are allowed, but such restrictions do not apply to scooters, she said.

However, the limited battery life concerns Yao.

“I feel anxious heading to destinations further than 5 km, worrying that the charge may run out when I drive back. Especially when I keep the headlights on during the night, the power will be consumed even faster.”

China’s youths find freedom in customised scooters

Liu Zhenyi gets help to remove the back seat of her scooter and install a vintage brown box. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]

Driving sales

Scooter manufacturers are also coming up with new measures to attract young consumers who are seeking more fashionable designs.

They pay for celebrity endorsement or cooperate with copyright owners of popular films and cartoons to promote certain scooter models.

A salesman in Beijing surnamed Liu said products in his store, which are of a good quality and appearance, cost 4,000 to 7,000 yuan. The scooters in the shop are cool and stylish, as well as retro and cute, and most of the customers are women.

In the past, the sight of a scooter on the street would have barely turned a head. However, customized scooters have attracted a strong following among young people and are helping drive sales.

According to data from the Huaon Industrial Research Institute, the 26 to 30 age group accounts for 32 percent of the consumer group for two-wheeled electric vehicles in China, while those below the age of 25 account for 11 percent. Young people account for over 40 percent of the electric vehicle market.

Luo Xianliang, vice-president of Ries Positioning Strategy and Consulting, China region, said many young people got into the habit of using independent means of transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Besides, scooters are cost-effective and can meet the demands of daily commuting; their design also aligns well with the aesthetic preferences of young people,” he said, adding that personalized modifications are a manifestation of young people’s pursuit of individuality.

“For these young people, the scooter is not just a tool, but also a reflection of their personality, and it has social aspects.”

Cecilia Huang, partner of global consultancy Prophet, said the trend represents a longing for freedom and social interaction for the new generation before they can afford to own a car.

“The pursuit of personalization is not the aim of traditional motorcycle or car showoffs,” she said.

Customizing the scooters is like taking decorations that were in the rider’s personal spaces, such as their own rooms, studies and bookcases, and moving them to “a roofless space that is exclusively theirs”, Huang said.

These items can be diverse as figurines, blind boxes, anime-related and Lego models. “This space extends their personality, interests and self-identity, where items not allowed to be displayed in the family living room can now be shown,” she said.

To tap into the potential of the youth market, the future of electric vehicles must go beyond treating smart electric scooters as mere commuting tools, she added.

China’s youths find freedom in customised scooters

Liu Zhenyi says her scooter has a retro style. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]

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