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  • Photo by ebikes4africa.org
  • Photo by ebike-for-africa.myshopify.com

In Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, the local social startup SunCycles is making solar power E-Bikes. A very bright idea, not only because Namibia is one of the sunniest countries in the world with an average of 300 days of sunshine a year…

Bikes Instead of Cars and Taxis

To enable access to transport in many parts of Africa is a great challenge. Making it a local, sustainable mobility solution is even more intriguing. The Namibian startup SunCycles shows a way to make it happen. Marita and Bernhard Walther got inspired by the cycling infrastructure in the UK and the European E-Bike hype when thinking about the high costs of daily transport by car or taxi in Namibia as public transport is lacking. Even though half of Namibia’s population lives in cities, bikes are rare, especially in the capital Windhoek due to the constant heat and ascending slopes in the city. The social startup made use of those synergies: the couple is making E-Bikes powered by the sun to cruise the slopy streets of the city. Currently, there are more than 100 SunCylces in use and charging the bikes at one of their solar recharge stations, some of them being repurposed shipping containers, is free. One charge is supposed to take you 30 to 50 km on your E-Bike.

From Low-income commuters to policemen or healthcare workers, many groups can benefit from the mobility service SunCycles offers. Even outside the city, the E-Bikes have found utilization. Park rangers use them for their ample patrols covering long distances in a short amount of time. They upgraded the solar recharge system to store a day’s worth of sun energy in a car battery in order to recharge the bikes during nighttime.

Accessible Clean E-Mobility

The idea is gaining traction just in time to solve a common electric transport dilemma for Namibia which plans to reduce 89 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. By using solar power to electrify transport the source of electricity is clean.

The ways to get hold of a SunCycle are numerous but attention is put on accessibility and empowerment: “You can buy a bike from us, or we can convert your bike into an e­bike. The point is also to show customers how it is done so the customer does not have to struggle when he is out there. You can bring any of your old bikes and we can convert it with a solar kit to set you on the road. We call it retrofitting.” In addition to their E-Bikes, SunCycles also supplies communities and off-grid areas with solar powered e-hubs to provide a more sustainable source of energy. As a perspective, the entrepreneurs envision a functioning cycling infrastructure in Namibia with safe cycling lanes.

SunCycle presents an open (parts can be accessed via their online shop) and sustainable idea for transport in sub-Saharan conditions, locally made and benefitting diverse stakeholder groups. There is one other aspect of this idea that for me as a design researcher is deeply human-centered and most convincing: how much fun it is to ride an e-bike…