Designing for impact — a bike that can power a home for 24 hours

Created by CJ Alvarado
February 22, 2016

Half the world’s population either has no electricity or access to it only 2-3 hours a day. This contributes to a perpetual cycle of poverty. The Free Electric hybrid bike is changing that. It’s expected to have an immense impact on people who live their lives off the grid or with barely any access to electricity.

Free Electric Bike

“Everything requires energy. Energy is the great equalizer,” says founder Manoj Bhargava. The Free Electric hybrid bike can supply a rural household with energy for 24 hours after one hour of pedalling. The pedalling drives a flywheel, which turns a generator and charges a battery.

The Free Electric was conceived about three years ago. The initial prototype didn’t work, but the design has undergone iterative development until a working version was created. Each working part of the bike has then been refined to be made as simple as possible.

Designing for impact means that any maintenance could happen without special tooling or complication. The machine is made out of standard bicycle parts, some weights, an alternator and a 12-V battery. It was designed using these materials so that it could be maintained or repaired by a bicycle mechanic anywhere in the world. In the interests of simplicity, again, there is only one gear. This spins a flywheel, which turns a generator, which, in turn, charges the battery. The bike is said to be easy to pedal with little little trade-off between ease-of-pedalling and productivity. In order to achieve this, an optimal gear setting was configured by engineers at Billions in Change.

One bicycle could potentially provide a small village with electricity if each household spends one hour per day pedalling.

The bicycle is also a clean way to generate power. If half of the world is hooked-up to a Free Electric it means half the world is using eco-friendly energy.

Currently, two versions of the bike exist. A simple version for poorer countries will cost around US$250. A more sophisticated model aimed at wealthier countries where electricity might drop out as a result of a natural disaster, for example, is priced at $1,200-$1,500.

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