The world’s most efficient people mover roams the inner city streets of Sydney daily. Here is the creation story of the solar powered electric box bike
Cargo bike riding is already a great way to move around the city with a family but after joking to my coworker about a shift in the design to solar, there was nothing stopping me to make a dream an everyday reality and inspire others.
A huge problem with design in bikes is that the product is not adapted for different terrain, climates and ultimately users. A dutch bike is 100% functional in the nertherlands, but put it on a Sydney street and it is simply useless without huge modifications. While this is broadly true of box bikes entering the sydney marketplace, my german made Radkutsche rapid is a different story, withstanding the rain cover.
European weather is so I’ve heard cold and damp for a big chunk of the year. Sydney on the other is mainly sunny all year round, even in winter the sky is a crisp blue. So Europeans box bikes have great rain/snow proof translucent rain covers. And Sydney siders are left to use the same design - essentially creating a green house box bike for their children to bake in.
It was so obvious to me that the bike needed a sun cover and repurposing a solar panel as the cover by transforming its usage to harness energy feeding back into the battery was even more obvious.
At first I remember resistance but I was persistent and a dear friend helped me with the best options. He essentially surprised me one day with a gift of a flexible solar panel and a genasun control unit. He has asked an old staff member who rode the canning stock route a year earlier using solar powered fat bike what could harness the maximum amount of energy. (Yep Glowworm is full of people on the limits)
And there it was my solar powered bike was on the road, turning heads and stopping traffic. Literally I laughed almost every street i rode on the first week. People would stop, mouths wide open and just slowly say “S O L A R” or shout upbruptly and uncontrollably “hey solar panel”. It was such a big shift in the design my partner refuses to ride it because he hates the attention. Friends or family who ride with me notice the reactions, the expressions, the hope it generates.
It comes at no surprise that me and so many families are struggling to survive in Sydney. I grew up in Glebe and know the city well, but the struggle to survive isn’t about my ability to stomach its competitive and nepotistic characteristics. It’s that here and so many other cities have lost sight of life itself. We’ve forgotten we exist beyond a system reliant on us to sleep, eat, shit, and work. As an extreme of this system, Hong Kong faces an epidemic of child suicides as broken children return from abroad unable to go back to a life where there isn’t bike riding after school.
My partner works in research and on one project some figures shocked both of us: 80% of us live in Urban environments, 90% of our time is spent indoors, 5% of that time is spent in cars, but 100% of our surroundings is a living ecology.
Sydney, the starting place of the colonial project, has no interest in protecting this living ecology. The city builds and builds over this living ecology and renames country it will never own regardless of how many times a piece of paper passes hands. ‘Sydney’s tomorrow’, wants us to forget whose country we walk on and that this country is living.
In light of this, my bike for me is that glimmer of hope we can push against a force so strong we forget our own everyday practices are part of the problem. It is me who pollutes, purchases and kills country everyday. So when I ride I have to remember my kids and I live in a living ecology surrounded by trees, plants, animals, waterways, people and culture. And all of these elements that make up the living ecology are related to the enormous force of the sun which brings us much more than energy for a bike, it brings us life.
My family and I live on Gadigal Country. It always was and will always be Gadigal Country. We are grateful for the leadership of past, present and future elders. They shine light on pathways we want to walk and breath daily