Just like electric cars, electric motorbikes use the energy stored in rechargeable batteries. In Uganda, the first motorbike came into use in October 2019. From afar, it looks like any other Bajaj boxer, the most common boda boda type of motorcycle, but a closer look reveals all the distinguished features it has over the latter.
Early this year, Padson Betunga, 42, who had given up transporting heavy luggage (which he has done since 2003) after he suffered a devastating accident that fractured his left collarbone and wrist, returned to business after purchasing the electric motorbike. With it, Betunga says he does not need to use a lot of energy, especially when riding uphill.
Instead of an engine like in fuel-run motorbikes, the electric motorbike has an electric motor which has instant, 100 per cent torque. This means rapid acceleration even on hilly roads.
Betunga says there is a special feature on the dashboard that will keep showing you how much power the battery has, just as phones show the percentage of power left before you can recharge. The lithium ion battery lasts 60km and in Kampala, there are 10 stations where the batteries can be recharged.
These include at Wandegeya behind Ham towers, at Kabalagala Shell fuel station, Najjanankumbi at Stella fuel stage, Namungoona at Total fuel station, Mukono opposite Total fuel station and Kanyanya at Gaz station, among other.
According to Titus Kimbowa, the business team leader at Zembo Motorcycles, a company that sells E-motorbikes, charging the battery lasts two hours and a client pays about Shs3,100 per recharge.
Since the motorcycle does not have air filters, oil, spark plugs, timing belts, a clutch or even a gearbox, maintenance is easy. This is because there is little to replace or maintain except for the tyres and battery, which needs charging. Also, since the motorcycle comes with a warranty, Zembo motorcycles will carry out free service under the warranty time. “In case of any service on the bike they can come to us and we service it for two years. There is a two-year-warranty on this electrical bike,” Kimbowa says.
Betunga says since he could no longer carry heavy luggage because of his now recuperating fractured wrist, he was surprised at the weightlessness he felt while riding his bike.
“I once carried two passengers and even though we had to use a steep road, I just increased the power,” he says, adding that the bike can easily carry up to 100kgs.
Since electric motorcycles do not have an exhaust, you do not have to worry about the passenger getting burns. “Also, the motorcycle does not shake while riding or when stopping. Sometimes, those vibrations are uncomfortable that by the time you reach your destination, your legs are shaking,” Betunga says.
Since the motorcycle is silent on ignition, one would be worried about it being stolen easily. However, according to Kimbowa, just like a car, the E-bike has a remote control which keeps it fixed to one spot. “Even if you are able to carry it away, you will not be able to ride it. If by chance the owner forgot to lock it, he can call the company from where he bought it and they will be able to shut it down and also track it,” he says.
Unlike the highly preferred the Indian Bajaj Boxers 2019 model costing about Shs4.8m and the other fuel powered motorcycles that may not exceed Shs4.5m, the E-bike costs Shs5m.
While it is more expensive than the fuel powered bikes, the E-bike brings in more returns basing on its maintenance and charging costs.
Betunga was asked to pay a down payment of Shs300,000 and to present copies of his driver’s licence, National ID, two guarantors. The rest of the money would be paid by the end of the two years. Using the motorbike as a boda boda, Betunga has been able to save Shs300,000 per week as his net income.
While a fuel boda boda uses more than Shs500,000 worth of fuel a month, Betunga says he spends around Shs120,000 on charging the battery, saving more than Shs300,000 every month.
While the E bike is excellent for city riders, it may not work for long distance riders since recharging stations are limited to Kampala for now.
Other special features
The motorbike also has charging ports for your phone.
The lack of an exhaust reduces fumes, making it environmentally friendly. It also reduces the risk of burn.
It has a remote control, just like a car so you can lock it from a distance.
Brakes can all be controlled using the hand. The bike has no crutch.