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Solar bikes made for Africa

Roger Christen, a Canadian engineer in partnership with a Kenyan company, Ofgen Ltd, has designed a four-wheel bike made from bicycle parts and powered by the sun

When solar cars were introduced in the market, Roger Christen, a Canadian engineer who has worked in Morocco and Madagascar for 27 years, thought it was a brilliant idea. The 67-year-old man who has worked on several World Bank development projects, soon realised that the cars would remain a dream for many people because they are  expensive.

This made him think outside the box with an aim of making a  bikefrom existing technology and components, which would be relatively cheap. That is how the idea of making solar e-cycle, an e-mobility innovation for Africa was born in 2014 in Morocco.

“Our starting capital was Sh5.1 million (US$50,000). This was from the savings of my partner in Kenya Ofgen Ltd and my contribution. We received a Sh25 million (€ 216,000) grant from Energy Environment Partnership East Africa (Finland, UK and Austria) to build 70 units,” said Christen.

One of the workers takes the bike for a road test. Photo/COURTESY
One of the workers takes the bike for a road test.

Armed with the idea, they selected electric bicycle components such as bicycle frames, wheels, tyres and brakes, because they were readily available, light and cheap. They added lead acid batteries and photovoltaics panels for power and the first prototype was ready to roll out.

“With this technology we want to provide competitive low-cost accessible transportation to fast-growing populations in Africa and a source of electricity to off-grid rural populations.

Most of our components are made in China, but assembled in Kenya. We use off-the shelf bicycle parts to create the lowest cost four-wheel transportation device that doesn’t require fuel,” he said.

The manufacturing cost for the bikes is between Sh173,000  and 231,000 (€1,500 and 2,000).  When they start selling them they go for Sh289,000 (€ 2,500).

“Our target market is individuals, enterprises and communities’. We are going to test our business model in Kenya and we will be renting the vehicles out at a low rate,” he said.

Currently, they have six operational prototypes – some with two motors, others with four motors. Four are in Morocco and two in Kenya and the product can comfortably carry two people and baggage weighing 300kg.

They can run for 50km using only rays from the sun.  They have also made a new product in Kenya called solar cargo tricycle. This is a solar-powered bicycle designed to carry cargo.

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