My day road-testing solar powered cargo bikes

Electric bikes aren’t new to me. When I was seconded to Cornwall County Council in 2001 I was very excited that a fleet of electric bikes were available in the main entrance of County Hall for staff to use. I used them to get to meetings, to courier documents around town and to go to the pasty shop at lunchtime. It was fantastic. I could ride a bike, wear my suit or my best dress and turn up looking pristine. That was 10 years ago; those bikes were fairly heavy and had a limited distance capacity. Two days ago I went to Urban-e bikes in Berlin to see the latest and greatest technology in electric bikes, electric motorbikes and solar powered electric cargo bikes. It was fun, really fun!

Urban-e bikes are situated in Torgauer Strasse in Schoneberg, part of the former Berlin gas works being transformed into a cutting edge environmental and sustainable business park with wind turbines on the tops of buildings and giant solar panels charging electric company cars. It’s a hive of e-bike, e-car and environmental technology.

Frank Müller one of founders of Urban-e, gave me a guided tour of the site and then the fun really began. I road-tested electric bikes that looked like ‘normal women’s bikes’, e-bikes that looked like Tour de France bikes, electric cargo bikes and electric motorbikes. I was electrified! The finale, or the superbike, was the solar powered electric cargo bike.

I’d never ridden a fully laden cargo bike before. It was different, very different, but I managed to hit the top speed of 35km/hr (25 mph) and soon learnt that it’s way easier to keep balance at a higher speed than at a lower speed. The bike was sleek, comfortable, powerful and practical…. It even had an iphone charging point!

So, are solar powered electric cargo bikes part of future urban transportation and mobility?

Yes I think they are. I live in Brisbane where the sun shines lots. In fact it’s so sunny in summer that I have to close all my blinds and curtains when I am at work to prevent my house resembling a greenhouse. In Brisbane recharging a solar bike would be a quick and easy. In fact if they are viable here in Berlin – I’ve been here for 10 days and I’ve not seen the sun once yet! – I’d say they would be fairly feasible in many cities.

More importantly solar powered bikes save money. I have a car; its old, its small and compared to most cars on Australian roads its very economic, but it still costs me lots of money; the capital cost, insurance, registration, annual servicing, maintenance, fuel and parking charges.

Seems to be that a solar powered bike might just be the ‘austerity’ transport we all need and I’d say that Mrs Merkel would agree!

Frank from Urban-e will be part of a public debate on e-mobility and parking in our cities at the BMW Guggenheim Lab on Friday 29 June at 7.30pm.