COIMBATORE: S Manikandan, a BBM student of PSG College of Arts and Science and an MBA student of Bharathiar University, was fascinated with anything that had wheels. And the fact that he grew up in Coimbatore, a city that nurtures talent from the automobile industry also helped fuel his passion. “It is hard to be not an auto-mobile lover when you are from here. We have grown up watching people like Narain Karthikeyan and Sundaram Karivardhan. The automobile bug eventually catches you,” says Manikandan.
Even though he has been in the jute manufacturing industry for 16 years, Manikandan has grabbed media attention for inventing electric bike, Spero, which saves energy and is environment friendly. The cycles have been manufactured to ensure safety and comfort. The product has evolved through different stages of the manufacturing process, says Manikandan. “The engine consists of Li-ion batteries that work in all conditions, both hot and wet. ”
It took them nine to 12 months to come up with the first prototype. Featuring digital gears and disc brakes, the vehicle promises the rider a smooth driving experience. The batteries are used not only to store the power but also in regeneration which increases the mileage of the vehicle. “We have made sure that the kinetic energy is re-channelised to the battery for it to charge it on its own, while braking. Even when you are pedalling, the energy is generated.” Manikandan feels the need of the day is to protect the environment and Spero does not emit any tail pipe gas. As more and more young people are taking to cycling as a fitness routine and an alternative mode of transport to escape the traffic snarls in our metros, Spero should tick all the boxes.”
The cycle looks slick, with a delicate front and a heavy back, where the engine is placed. “A shock absorber has been fixed in the front. We have also set up disc brakes so that your halts are comfortable and not sudden even if you are cycling in high speeds.”
Milltex Engineers, Manikandan’s Company, has produced these e-bikes through a crowd-funding platform called fueladream.com. They were connected to the Bengaluru-based team through a common friend. The head was excited hearing about Spero, says Manikandan. After photo-shoots and trial runs, Spero was out in the crowd-funding platform for people to give their feedback. This was the best part of the whole process, says Manikandan. “We were asked so many questions. We got an opportunity to interact with the clients and clear their doubts.” In a short time, the rate of the cycle shot up from Rs.29,900 to Rs. 47,800. It is currently available only to the funders in the platform. They are planning to release it in the general market this year.
The response was amazing. People came up to contribute Rs. 100 as a token gesture, because they were so excited about the idea. “The best feedback came from an old farmer who called me and said his son gifted it to him. He said his son would never have bought it unless he liked it.” The vehicle is senior citizen-friendly as it allows you to tweak the pace according to your stamina. And the system is extremely interactive. “We are planning to set up support centres across the country in eight to 12 cities in the next six months. Otherwise, the clients can just call us. We are available 24 / 7.”
Manikandan believes in a business model that facilitates communication between a client and a manufacturer. “We also hope to organise annual conventions to collate ideas about innovative products like Spero. I was inspired by the APPLE conventions in the U.S.A. It could be ideas as simple as a bell, a helmet or a bag. We want to know exactly what people want.”
He is happy that he is a part of Government of India’s larger plan to ensure 100 per cent electric mobility in the country by 2030. “And, we are making it real for the Indian population. There is something about the cycle that brings back innocence. Almost all of us would have owned at least a tri-cycle when we were kids. We saw the joy on the faces of the people who participated in our trial run. It was obvious they were drawn back to their childhood days.”