Features
18 May 21

e-Bikes are revolutionising mobility in Africa

A growing number of startups in several African countries are leapfrogging standard mobility development and building fleets of electric motorbikes, scooters and three-wheelers. The purpose is to provide taxi and delivery services, clean air and valuable employment in poor communities.

According to an article on The Wall Street Journal, supporters of electric vehicles and renewable energy see motorcycles as the fastest way to promote inexpensive, clean-energy transport in Africa. e-Bikes are also ideal for  navigating the country’s often challenging and congested roads.

Least developed but more advanced

This isn’t the first time Africa has skipped several stages of technological development. The revolution in mobile communication in the rainbow continent bypassed landline phones and Africa is now leading the world in acceptance and adoption of mobile payments - even before many towns and cities have cashpoint machines.

Motorcycles are the primary mode of transport in many African countries and in cities their numbers far exceed cars and other vehicles. They are easy to acquire, cheap to run and ideal for congested, poorly maintained roads.

EV potential

Electric vehicles have the potential to provide African citizens with cleaner air and economic opportunity in poorer communities.

In February 2021, Kenya-based ARC Ride launched an electric motorcycle-based service for Uber Eats deliveries in Nairobi. Fleet size is currently 35 vehicles but there are plans to grow it to 300 by August. ARC is also building its own charging network using thermal energy generated from volcanic heat.

The United National Environment Program (UNEP) is funding EV projects in several African countries. According to the agency, sales of both electric and traditional two and three-wheeler motorcycles will jump 50% by 2050.

In Kenya, UNEP says motorcycles are set to triple to five million this decade. This surge will be driven largely by businesses such as ARC. They buy the vehicles and then lease or rent them to drivers. Fuel and maintenance costs for electric motorcycles in Africa are 40% less on a per-mile basis than their fossil-fuel equivalents.

A waiting list for vehicles

In Kigali (the capital city of Rwanda), e-motorcycle service Ampersand (launched in 2019) currently has 35 vehicles carrying out delivery and taxi services. The company has a waiting list of over 7,000 requests for vehicles. Drivers working for these companies can roughly double their incomes so it’s no surprise the waiting list is long.

Companies taking notice of Africa’s EV potential include Mellowcabs, based in Stellenbosch, South Africa, which operates 60 light-duty electric delivery vehicles in Botswana and Namibia, as well as South Africa. Japan’s Yamaha Corporation took part in funding for electric motorcycle delivery company MAX.NG. The company is on track to launch 1,000 EVs in Nigeria by the end of 2021.

Relying on renewable energy

The recharging infrastructure relies mostly on renewable power, such as geothermal, solar, hydro and in a growing number of cases, second-life or swappable, pre-charged batteries.

Less than two years ago, experts said that EVs wouldn’t take off in Africa because they’re too expensive and electricity is hard to come by. That may still be case with cars but electric motorbikes and mobility, however, are proving to be a perfect enabling partnership.

*Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Authored by: Alison Pittaway