This 60-year-old man is building e-bikes from scrap and recycled materials for people with disabilities
Have you ever gone on YouTube to find a video on making chicken biryani, and ended up, two hours later, bleary-eyed, watching how poultry farming is done in the US? For Vishnu Patel, it was the do-it-yourself end of the spectrum.
Post retirement, the 60-year-old did not rest on his laurels. The owner of a dye business in Surat, Gujarat, he handed over the reins to his son, Nikhil, and started binging on DIY videos online. But what emerged out of it was Vishnu finding his calling.
In 2017, while watching these DIY videos, he came across a tutorial on how to build a vehicle entirely from scrap. Vishnu was hooked. A couple more videos later, and he had the confidence to do it on his own.
Born with Polio, and having hearing impairment, himself, Vishnu Patel has been building two and three-wheelers for people with disabilities since 2018. Being a green vehicle enthusiast, he has built nine electric bikes from scrap materials like remotes and circuit boards.
In an area spread over 2,000 square feet, Vishnu builds and designs the e-vehicles from scrap on his own, with a little help.
Do-it-yourself for good
Vishnu has no aim to disrupt the market with his e-bikes, but works with the ultimate aim of providing customised and cost-effective vehicles for people with disabilities. Further, he hopes that people would get inspired by his initiative and reduce their carbon footprint by opting for green transport alternatives.
Vishnu began by buying scrap from scrap markets, and rummaging around for discarded electronic items at home.
With no formal training in building vehicles, Vishnu, who has studied only till Class V, built his first electric bike, or e-bike. On the initial prototype, Nikhil says,
“We took a discarded scooter, and disassembled it completely. Later, as my father wanted to make an electric bike, he tried to fit batteries into the vehicle and replaced the fuel tank with the lithium ion battery. Along with the battery, we also purchased control boards, brakes, and other few critical parts, which cost us around Rs 35,000.”
Each e-bike takes around a month or two to complete, as Vishnu is the main man behind the entire manufacturing and designing. Nikhil says that the cost for building each e-bike ranges between Rs 30,000 and Rs 60,000, or above, with lithium-ion batteries making up most of the cost.
Vishnu works around his disability and hearing impairment with Nikhil’s help. He starts with specific components on his own, and enlists his son’s help for things he is unable to do.
Nikhil says the mileage posted by their electric bikes has been around 35–45 km/hour on a single charge and has an axle motor bought from the market. The vehicle takes around three to four hours to get fully charged and can carry a total load of around 150 kg.
The father-son duo is now in the testing phase with their e-bikes. On taking them to the market, Nikhil says,
“We will be registering ourselves as a startup first and later we would take our e-bikes to the commercial market,” Nikhil says.
There will be many steps to clear before the vehicle is market-ready. As for quality check, the unit has no industry-compliant testing facility yet.
To help PwDs move with ease
Vishnu looked at e-bikes for disabled persons because he was concerned about the environment and also wished to help the disabled community become more mobile and independent. This was why he combined two of his concerns into his efforts.
Beyond commercial aspirations, Vishnu fosters a desire to help persons with disabilities (PwD) move around and be independent.
“You may have seen bikes for disabled people with three tyres in the rear end. My father’s aim is to attach another seat in the rear, so that four people can travel together. Further, you don’t have to reverse the vehicle manually. Instead, there is a separate control that can take the vehicle in the reverse direction with ease,” Nikhil explains.
So far, Vishnu has built 10 such modified bikes for people with disabilities. Vishnu also retrofits regular bikes for PwDs who approach them. He charges Rs 25,000 for such modifications.
The road ahead
While Vishnu has not yet received any support from the government or private agencies for far, he soldiers on, working to ease the lives of disabled persons, and also contributing to a cleaner environment with his electric bikes.
For now, he is working on testing the vehicles’ performance on urban and rural roads and enhancing the overall weight capacity before thinking of going commercial.