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French man triumphs in solar bike race

The Connexion, Sep 6

[A more accurate headline should be ‘French man does reasonably well in solar bike race’. Ed]

A Frenchman has come 8th out of 60 participants in a 12,000 km race from Lyon in France to Canton in China, using only an electric bike entirely powered by solar energy.

Romain Neauport, a 33-year-old from Lille, was taking part in the Sun Trip race, and took over two and a half months to complete the challenge.

The Sun Trip only allows riders who use a solar-powered electric bike, with the solar panels used being pulled behind them on a 65 kg trailer (which also carries the riders’ provisions and bags).

Mr Neauport left Lyon on June 15, and arrived in Canton on July 29, passing through eight countries on the way: France, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and China.

He said: “The aim of the race is to show that we can be completely independent for energy when using an electric bike, thanks to solar panels. There is no other charging method possible. Many participants do this race with prototypes, but we decided to do it with one of our [usual] VTT models.”

The solar-powered aspect means the bike’s efficiency and speed can change throughout the race. When the sun is strong, the bike speeds up; when it is cloudy, it can slow things down dramatically, requiring a change in route.

Yet, in some countries, there was only one possible route - such as in Kazakhstan - and other routes were banned completely, such as roads through war-torn areas Crimea, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

He added: “We are a bit like sailors with their sails. We are totally dependent on weather conditions. When there is no sun, we have to adapt - either by relying only on human power, or by changing our itinerary. There is always some improvisation.”

The Nord resident works for a company called 02Feel, a manufacturer of electric bikes, based in Wambrechies.

He used a VTT Trekking Aéro model for his trip, with Shimano E8000 gears and a Shimano 504 Wh battery, plus a trailer carrying the solar panels.

One of his goals during the long journey was to test his bike’s limits, after 02Feel’s engineers had adapted it for the journey - and it was deemed successful.

Now, Mr Neauport is hoping to build solar-powered bikes for the general public.


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