Electric Cycles: Just Rs90,000 Crore Can Empower 300 Million Indians!
The government is building all-weather roads in villages in order to provide better connectivity to villagers.
 
Unfortunately, connectivity does not automatically lead to mobility. 
 
Mobility means the ability to use existing infrastructure to go wherever one needs to go, at a time of one’s choosing – no waiting, with minimal effort and at an affordable cost.
 
Just as Vande Bharat coaches provide connectivity, but do not provide mobility to people who cannot afford to pay the fares, roads by themselves mean nothing to people who have no convenient means of using them. 
 
This brings us to the question—how do people actually use these village roads?
 
Affluent villagers ride two-wheelers, tractors, or even cars. Poor villagers wait (and pay) for a bus or a shared auto, or simply walk.
 
In between, there is a big chunk of people who use bicycles. 
 
India has about 300mn (million) bicycles,and about 10mn new bicycles are sold every year. Given that we have 940mn people between the ages of 14 and 60, one in every three adult male and female Indians rides a bicycle. Since some bicycles have more than one user, the total number of cyclists in India would probably be close to 400mn.
 
 
The ‘all-weather’ roads do make life easier for cyclists, but only slightly so, because they still have to pedal the cycle, albeit on a smoother surface.
 
If our village roads, and the lanes and bi-lanes of our cities and towns, are to provide more mobility to our cyclists, we need to find a way to 'empower' them.
 
Before I explain, let’s pause a bit to think about how an average cyclist uses his/ her bicycle.
 
If you have observed cyclists on our roads, be it in cities, small towns or villages, you would have noticed three things:
- The vast majority of bicycles are of the traditional type, a design which has remained virtually unchanged for more than 70 years. You will find very few bicycles of a ‘modern’ design, featuring a lean-forward stance, multiple gears, caliper brakes and so on.
 
 
- Cyclists do not ride fast. They move at a leisurely pace, slightly faster than walking speed.
 
- Many cycles carry much more than just the rider. Often, there is an additional person on the rear carrier or on the upper bar in front of the rider, or a load is carried – goods of every description are transported by bicycle.
 
 
Another point to note – an average cyclist seldom does a round trip exceeding 15km, because it is quite difficult to cycle for longer distances on a heavy, single-speed cycle, especially in the usually hot Indian climate.
 
So, how do we 'empower' our cyclists?
 
Simple – give them a 'power assist', i.e. add a battery-powered electric motor to the cycle.
 
Before you say 'bah', consider this:
- The power needed from the motor is actually very small, about 50-70 watts, because the cycle need not go faster than about 10kmph (kilometres per hour). In fact, a powerful motor, on an old design bicycle with rudimentary brakes, can be quite dangerous.
- The range of the powered cycle need not exceed 15km. If a rider routinely needs to ride longer distances, (s)he just needs to fit an additional battery pack, or recharge the battery mid-trip.
- The battery pack can be recharged at home, using a small charger connected to a standard 5amp wall outlet, just like a mobile phone.
 
The battery-motor duo will add very little weight to the bicycle, not more than 5kg, but will greatly assist the pedal power of the rider. It will make it much easier to carry an extra load, ride a long distance, or climb a slope.  Of course, the bicycle will remain essentially the same, and the cyclist can simply pedal if any malfunction occurs.
 
Bicycle conversion kits are available in plenty, but they have three shortcomings:
- High cost, in excess of Rs6,000.
- High power – 300-watt motor and correspondingly large battery.
- Sophisticated electronics – speedometer, and battery level indicator.
 
What is needed is a simple kit featuring:
- A standard and basic, design which will enable any bicycle mechanic to easily fit it on any bicycle.
- A small motor rated at about 75watt, powered by a battery with 150-200 watt-hour capacity. These specifications will be ample for a 15km range at speeds up to 10kmph-12kmph.
- No electronics – just a simple on-off switch operated by the thumb.  The motor will work as long as the switch is kept pressed.
 
It should be possible to design a simple ‘universal’ kit priced at Rs3,000, provided GST (goods and services tax) is waived. Any IIT can produce a practical design, along with a detailed plan for mass manufacture. Small and medium enterprise (SME) factories can manufacture the kits, thereby generating employment.
 
Why do all this?
You have probably guessed what I am going to suggest next.
 
Yes, you got it - a free electric conversion kit for every bicycle.
 
Bicycle kits for 300mn at Rs3,000 each—just Rs90,000 crore. Spread it over five years, and it comes to just Rs18,000 a year, a drop in the ocean for our Rs50 lakh crore Budget.
 
Look at it from another angle. Rs3,000 is equivalent to 400 units of free electricity, just two months of free power which many states are giving already, every month. Importantly, this will be a one-time expense, not a repeat expense like free electricity.
 
And look what it fetches you.
 
The ubiquitous bicycle, rejuvenated as an electric avatar, will cost about Rs1.5 a day to run. It will benefit more than a third of our adult population by providing mobility, saving time and effort and enabling people to travel longer distances, maybe for a better job or more trade. It will also set them free from the vagaries (and expense) of public transport – all at a very affordable cost.
 
A great freebie, don’t you think? 
 
Politicians may please note another big plus – it could fetch lots of votes!
 
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world, playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)
Comments
shankarmes
4 days ago
Even with a motor of 10kmphr, people still wouldn't use it at scale for the same reason as you mentioned - Tropical Hot Climate. Exposing yourself to heat and humidity is just unbearable day in day out.
vrisab
5 days ago
An excellent article in which a lot of thought has been given. By far, the most impressive thing about the article is that it can be done & done easily. Thank you for the fine idea.
Pragna Mankodi
6 days ago
The author of this article is always coming up with out of the box suggestions to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. The suggestion of eBike is practical, implementable and cost effective too. Hope this article resonates well in the corridors of power. The suggestion if implemented will be benefitting politically to the party implementing it while in power! Power to the citizens and the politicians - a win-win situation for both.
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