The Making of “Solar Etwin” – The Solar Powered Motor Assisted Bicycle
It all started with the project of an e-bike (naming it “Etwin”) – a motor powered bicycle which assists pedalling and eases the effort on flats and positive gradients. The idea to make an electric bicycle was to check its viability and performance as a product prototype before it can be improved further for it to be market ready.
I had a Decathlon MyBike which I thought of tweaking and converting to an electric motor assisted bicycle. I got in touch with Mr. Shrikant Shinde in Mumbai for e-bike equipment like the motor, charge controller and the throttle for a customised ebike solution for the Mybike. A lithium Polymer Battery proved worth its value to complete the ebike system. A few welding sessions and alignment adjustments later, it was time to test the ebike system on the Mybike.
The major advantage of the Decathlon Mybike is its aerodynamics which cuts through the wind without much effort. The initial results – An average speed of 20 kms/hr and a mileage of 25 kms per charge on reasonable flats. Multiple rounds of test-driving in the IITB campus and voila! The “Etwin” was ready. The challenge was choosing the right melange of electrical components and mechanical designing.
Adding Solar Power – Making of “Solar Etwin”
The next step was to solarize the “Etwin”. Flexible Solar Panels are the key to design the solar etwin because of the light weight. I procured a 60 Watt Flexible solar panel from an importer due to lack of flexible solar panel manufacturers in India. Designing the structure to fit the panel on the bicycle was the next step. Taking into consideration the weight, handling and maximizing the solar power output, the structure was designed the way shown in the images below.
After a white paint job, this is what the final prototype of the “Solar Etwin” looked like (image below). Dr. Chetan Singh Solanki, the founder of kWatt Solutions Pvt. Ltd. has been a mentor to build this solar powered cycle. kWatt Solutions Pvt. Ltd. works in the solar energy space and has played an instrumental part to make this happen. A subsidiary company – Solarizer Products Pvt. Ltd. and a ketto crowdfunding campaign helped me to get this project going – https://www.ketto.org/solarbicycle.
Once ready, I wanted to put this solar Etwin to an endurance test and push it to its limits. Then came the idea of the Mumbai to Goa Konkan coastal route which would prove to be a good testing ground for the solar bicycle. I thought of using this Mumbai to Goa bicycle ride as a medium to raise solar awareness among the people on the way, especially the villages in the Konkan region which lack electricity. kWatt Solutions Pvt. Ltd. has developed efficient and cost effective solar battery chargers which I planned to distribute for free to the villagers.
I joined a group of 10 other cyclists and a support vehicle led by an experienced campaigner – Dr. Milind Chitley – Hills & Trails – who helped with the route map from Mumbai to Goa. I approached Himanshu Singh of Decathlon who helped me with giving away the cycling accessories for the journey. In 2012, I had participated in MTB Himalaya two day cycling race in Shimla. I got in touch with Ashish Sood from HASTA – MTB Himalaya to help me spread the word about this ride. Holidify and Cycling Cities helped to spread the word about this ride with a cause. A big thank you to the media folks – Abhimanyu from Indian Express, Neha Kulkarni from DNA, Pankaj Pandey from NavBharat Times, Free Press Journal, RJ Rishi Kapoor from Red FM 93.5 for spreading the word.
Mumbai to Goa – The ride began on 18th December 2015
Day 1 (Mumbai to Murud) – 18th December – 60 kms of cycling
I vividly remember calling Quifers – the logistics service for a tempo to take the Solar Etwin early in the morning from IIT Bombay campus to Gateway of India. After having a brief introduction with the group, we had curious people surrounding the solar Etwin already. A Samosa and a sandwich later, we started off in a ferry to Mandwa jetty at 9 am.
As the sun rose, the excitement was just beginning. The support was tremendous which made this day even more worthwhile and memorable.
The people were more than curious to know more about the project. I had a good time explaining them the concept and working of the solar Etwin.
The cycling group with the support vehicle starting off from Mandwa. The group comprised of a mix of people primarily from Mumbai with four foreigners. - Salil, Abhijeet, Juee, Saurabh, Chandana, Yashasree, Nandini, Rutesh, Dr. Milind, Sandeep, Amit, Bert, Marlene, Carol, Jim.
At 10:30 am, we started off from Mandwa cycling towards Alibaug, Kashid towards Murud. I could hear whispers of “सौरउर्जा” (Solar Energy) as I pedalled past the pedestrians. Some motorcyclists stopped me and asked how solar energy powers the motor. Many people waved at me and I waved back !
We reached Murud at 6:30 pm just after sunset. With reasonably flat roads and rolling terrain, day 1 was easy for the Solar Etwin. With a fully charged battery, I used the battery power to assist me in pedalling for 30 kms out of the 70 kms covered on Day 1.
Day 2 (Murud to Harihareshwar) – 19th December – 60 kms of cycling
After a Poha chai breakfast at Murud, we started early at 8 am to visit the Janjira fort. The Solar Etwin was gathering light and charging the battery while we visited the fort.
After an hour spent at Janjira fort and insights from Nandini, our tour guide, we headed off to Diveghar for lunch via the Dighi Queen ferry.
We had Lunch at one of the homestays in Diveagar. The locals were welcoming and the lunch was delicious. I gave away a kwatt solar battery charger to Mr. Ashish who served us lunch at his house.
Post Lunch, I detached the solar panel from the solar Etwin and rode for 20 kms with a fully charged battery. The coastal route was beginning to show its glory with clean beaches on one side and a narrow road on the other.
We reached Harihareshwar at 7 pm. A good day for the solar etwin again. 30 odd kms using pedal assist out of the 70 kms covered on day 2. Another good day for the solar Etwin.
Day 3 (Harihareshwar to Karde) – 20th December – 65 kms of cycling
A rest for the solar etwin today as the roads started to get gravely and dusty. There was a risk of damage to the structure of the solar etwin. I used a Schnell mountain bike today. We started off early at 8 am after a poha chai breakfast and crossed the creek between Bagmandala and Vesavi and then cycled upto Karde Beach, Dapoli. We stayed at a beach side resort and relaxed on the beach. Our support vehicle started using kWatt solar battery chargers to charge the mobile phones of everyone enroute
Day 4 (Karde to Velneshwar) – 21st December – 60 kms of cycling
An early morning offroad section to start off the day. We had lunch in a homestay. I noticed a lot of solar street lights on the route. I talked to some of the villagers who said that although there are solar streetlights installed by Village Panchayats and the Panchayats understand the value of solar power, they are not well maintained. Dust settles on the solar panels and there is no one to clean them regularly thus affecting their performance. The villagers have to clean it themselves. Team kWatt Solutions is currently looking into this and finding a sustainable solution to this problem.
On the way, we were following the coastal route with amazing sights of the pristine untouched beaches.
On the way we were treated with some spectacular views of Anjarle beach. We stayed besides Velneshwar beach for the night in a beachside resort.
Day 5 (Velneshwar to Pawas) – 22nd December – 65 kms of riding
This was an eventful day as we started from Velneshwar quite early at 7 am after a light poha chai breakfast. We crossed the Tavsal Jetty. It was interesting to see the Tavsal Jetty Control Point powered using Solar Energy with 200 Watts of Solar Panels. The local bodies at Tavsal encouraged solar power for the people as an alternate source. They procured Solar Panels from Jain Solar which they said they rely on primarily for villages.
After lunch, I visited the Ganpatipule temple besides the scenic beach and met the office incharge of the temple. He said that Ganpatipule town usually does not have electricity cutoffs but the villages nearby do suffer from electricity cutoffs. I explained him how solar energy could be used in these villages and gave a demo of the working of solar battery chargers and donated a kwatt solar battery charger to him. It was quite a good interaction which also brought a smile on his face He said he was impressed by the work done by team kwatt solutions and he would be definitely distributing the solar mobile chargers to the nearby needy village kids to help them study and prosper in their lives.
After lunch, we cycled to Pawas and reached at 7 pm. We stayed at Matoshree Ashram for the night at Pawas.
Mr. Kiran, the caretaker of Matoshree Ashram at Pawas which was our nighthalt, used solar water heaters because of load shedding. He was another recipient of the kwatt solar mobile charger.
Day 6 (Pawas to Kunkeshwar) – 23rd December
This was a long day where we covered 90 kms. I was back on the Solar Etwin for a flat 40 kms barren rolling section. I used the solar power to assist me in the afternoon heat. An evident reduction in effort as I felt easy being assisted by solar power.
There were so many curious school children from Sangli who were on a picnic surrounded the “Solar Etwin” at Parde on the way to Kunkeshwar. A short lecture to the budding enthusiasts about how solar energy works during the lunch break was enlightening. It was glad to know that most of the students of 8th 9th grade knew what solar energy is
We also met Firoz who was riding self supported on his customised bicycle from Goa to Mumbai. An inspiration indeed.
We had a Unicyclist, Jim Sowers from the USA, who was riding on a Unicycle all the way! I have huge respect for this crazy guy
Finally after a long tiring day, we were greeted with amazing sights of Kunkeshwar beach and temple which was our night stay. We were tired but happy to conquer one more day. A hot shower and a hot dinner and a well deserved sleep.
Day 7 (Kunkeshwar to Vengurla) – 24th December
One more eventful long day as we woke up early and visited the Kunkeshwar temple. After Poha chai for breakfast, we started our day.
We cycled on the beach for 2 kms! After crossing the Malvan town in Jetty towards Vengurla, nothing can get more coastal than this! we cycled on the beach for 2 kms to get back on the road after the ferry dropoff. Our ferry was tugged by another one as the motor failed in the middle of the creek.
Vengurla was our stay for the night as we reached late and tired at 8 pm. We had one last group dinner with everyone sharing their experiences It was heartening to see the group of strangers becoming good friends at the end of the trip
Day 8 (Vengurla to Goa) – 25th December
We had one last day to go! Excitement was at its peak as everyone got up early for an upma chai breakfast and then we were off for the final dash!
A short day as we covered 50 odd kms to reach the Maharashtra Goa Border on Christmas.
We reached Aronda Bridge which is the Maharashtra – Goa Border. This bridge was completed in 2013 and inaugurated by Mr. Manohar Parrikar – an IITB alumnus and current Defense Minister of India.
Reaching and crossing this bridge was one of the most exhilarating experiences! We all congratulated each other and took photographs before we headed into Goa and finished our ride
After lunch, we dispersed – A sense of accomplishment in the group was evident as the new year was about to welcome us! It was a good end to 2015.
It has been a great learning experience for me and for the Solar Etwin. It was heartening to see the locals so welcoming. Also it was a great eye-opener as far as the solar energy on the Konkan belt is concerned. There is a hint of solar energy which exists but there seems to be a lot of scope. I am sure through my journey, I have made a few people wiser about solar energy and its immense positive impact. I will continue with my efforts in my capacity to make people aware and wiser about the power of the sun.
I recommend this Mumbai – Goa coastal cycling trip to everyone! This has been a treat and a pleasure to discover the hidden treasures on Konkan which are still pure and untouched. The beauty of Konkan belt has been mesmerizing to say the least.