[PHOTO AY LEFT - Innovatronix’s e-bike Exceed is foldable and can run up to 30 kph]

MANILA, NOVEMBER 21, 2009 (STAR) By Norman Sison - - Ever since the issue of global warming began heating up thanks to the 2006 documentary“An Inconvenient Truth,” the bicycle is being championed as one solution to climate change.

But even with the threat of extreme weather – plus rising fuel prices – people are still hesitant to use foot power. Well, you don’t want to be sweaty and smelly when you get to the office, and you don’t want to be exhausted when you start your day.

Environment advocate Ramon Castillo’s simple solution? Just give the bike a new spin. Install an electric motor.

Castillo’s Antipolo-based company, Innovatronix, is the first Filipino firm to mass produce an electric bicycle, the Exceed. Only the electric motor comes from abroad; the rest is all-Filipino.

“The e-bike, I believe, is one of the most cost effective means of motorized transportation as far as environmental foot print is concerned,” says Castillo, an electrical engineering graduate from UP Diliman. “The environment is one area where, I think, I can contribute my share. Therefore, I decided to help.” With nations now combating global warming and climate change, the environment promises to be a greener pasture.

Electric bicycles are nothing new. Even the Exceed is not the first model produced by Innovatronix. Castillo first designed an electric bike in 2004, but it sold poorly mainly because it wasn’t aesthetic enough. It was a bike with an electric motor slapped onto the rear. Only the diehard environmentalists could love it.

Innovatronix engineer Marvin Tapia says the old design also gave this imaginary fear of having your finger or foot being accidentally snagged and severed by the chain connecting the motor to the rear wheel. “So we took customers’ feedback and suggestions and designed a new bike.”

With new specifications in mind, Tapia drafted a new design on the computer. It was trial and error for six months as he sourced and tested parts. By September this year, the Exceed was ready for the road.

“We had to find the balance between what the customer wants, the availability of parts, the manufacturing cost and the selling price,” says Tapia. The result is a bike that appeals to a wider market, including women and teens. Innovatronix sells 12 units a month, compared to four with the old e-bike model.

Tapia, who takes the Exceed to and from work, says motorists often ask about it. “Instead of just passing by, they drive beside me and ask where it comes from, how much and all that,” Tapia beams with pride. “People become more impressed when I tell them that it’s Filipino-made. Kids want to joyride in it.”

And unlike the old e-bike model, the Exceed is five kilometers faster at 30 kph – and foldable. You can load it in the car trunk and go out for a spin on a picnic. You can also bring it inside the house or office and not worry about it getting stolen.

With a maximum range of 28 kilometers on a single charge – that is, on a level road surface – Castillo envisions the Exceed as an alternative for short distance travel, such as in small provincial towns where the ear-splitting, bone-rattling, smoke belching tricycle is king.

Just crunch these numbers: charging the Exceed takes about three to five hours. A tricycle ride is at least P10 – or P40 if you pay for all four seats per one-way trip. Meralco, on the other hand, charges an average P9 per kilowatt hour – and Exceed’s battery is good 28 kilometers. If your battery runs out, you can always revert to foot power.

As technology improves, Castillo predicts lighter, faster and longer-ranging e-bikes. “In probably five years’ time, we will see e-bikes that can easily travel 50 kilometers per day at almost no fuel cost.”

He also sees a longer road with the Exceed. “It is also a good stepping stone for us to learn more about technologies needed to manufacture other electric vehicles.”

Innovatronix is currently designing the “e-cart”, a small four-wheel vehicle. Castillo’s target market is businesses with warehouses that need to move items from one end to the other. “Warehouses would greatly benefit from zero emission technology because they are enclosed.”

Castillo adds that the death and destruction wrought by Ondoy showed the urgency of climate change. Towns and cities need to have more bike lanes and bicycle parking lots to make bike use more appealing.

However, changing people’s mindsets is the biggest challenge. In an effort to change one-track minds, the Light Rail Transit Authority just days ago designated “green zones” on its trains. Bikers are allowed to bring their wheels onboard, but only foldable bikes are allowed to prevent them from taking too much space.

Once people see how cost effective the e-bike is in terms of transportation cost, Castillo says we will see many practical applications. For starters, they are ideal for going around villages and for businesses serving short routes.

“Eventually, alternative charging stations will even make the e-bike more eco friendly,” Castillo says. E-bikes may be charged using solar and wind power, eliminating the need for power plants running on fossil fuel someday.

For the electric bicycle, the future only looks bright and green.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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