The next time you are waiting for your lunch order to arrive to your office or that all-important package to be handed to you by a courier, consider this: how many journeys do delivery riders make just to serve your personal needs in a week? Now, how about a year? Then scale that up to the size of every person and company in the UAE.
That is an awful lot of air and noise pollution. Which is the environmental conundrum that occurred to the entrepreneurial brothers behind Solva Technologies. Co-founders Mohamed and Yousif Al Abd, born in Sharjah, are veterans of three previous start-up enterprises, and are now pioneering electric bikes in the Emirates, with the delivery market firmly in their sights.
“Two years ago, we were at a traffic light,” Mohamed recalls. “My brother, when he’s stressed, he likes to open the window to have some fresh air. He opened the window and was like: ‘No one can have fresh air any more, there’s bikes all over the place and you can’t breathe’.
“That’s when it clicked – we’ve heard about electric cars, but we’ve never heard about electric bikes.
“Each [petrol-powered] bike produces about 10 kilograms of CO2 every day – so imagine if I replaced just 10 per cent of those bikes.”
Fast forward 18 months, and the first Solva test bike was completed, with support from Sharjah incubator Sheraa and The Catalyst accelerator at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, along with additional help from oil-and-gas giant BP.
The process involved the brothers speaking with more than a dozen companies and travelling to about a dozen countries, before settling on China as a manufacturing base.
Half a dozen different test models later, they are now preparing to provide bikes to a wide range of clients, including AnyOrder, Freedom Pizza, Hardee’s and Zaatar W Zeit.
They hope to have 3,000 bikes on the road by the end of this year; by 2020, they hope to provide 40 per cent of all the delivery bikes in the UAE.
While that may sound ambitious, Mohamed says that they are confident of reaching that mark.
There are additional plans to expand across the GCC, with significant interest already in Saudi Arabia, and clients in Kuwait and Bahrain.
The three models in the Solva range – SE 9000, ST 5000 and SC 6000 – are breaking new ground to such an extend that there was some confusion when the brothers first went to register their new creations.
“We were really worried when we received the bikes that we were going to be facing obstacles registering them,” Mohamed says. “The guy at the testing warehouse was like ‘There’s no exhaust, I cannot test the emissions. How do you want me to register it?’
“So we had to convince them that it’s an electric bike. It gave us a sense of achievement: the first three electric bikes registered in the UAE.”
The SE and SC are plug-in fully-electric bikes, designed for the government (SE) and delivery (SC) markets; the ST is also completely electric, and for delivery purposes, but is designed to have its battery easily switched for a full-charged one, to eschew charging times for companies such as Aramex that are operating throughout the day. Prices range from about Dh10,000 up to Dh35,000 per bike.
The SE is the fastest of the lot, with a top speed of 120kph. It can hit 100kph from a standstill in about five seconds – impressive acceleration that I experience first hand while riding as pillion passenger with Mohamed on a test drive in Sharjah.
Mohamed loses his baseball cap, as I cling on for dear life.
While you save on waiting time for your delivery, you also save the world and the environment. "From a CO2 perspective, you are saving 100 per cent CO2 on a city level," Yousif explains. "And you are saving 85 per cent on a power-planet level if you compare it to the CO2 you emit from using gasoline to operate your fleet."
Aside from the green impact, and the usual reduced maintenance costs of electric vehicles versus petrol equivalents, the bikes possess several other innovations that give them an edge over regular motorcycles.
There is a reverse function, while the regenerative motor replenishes your battery when you are not accelerating. And a GPS tracker along with data readings on speed, distance, routes, temperature and the like are combined to map faster ways to destinations for delivery riders.
The company has also mooted a same-day replacement service for any bikes that are damaged and is developing the scheme.
As Mohammed puts it: “It’s a solution – more than a bike.”
More information is available from www.solvatechnologies.com