Every day, students Khemara Kimhak and Soeun Chanratika consume at least a litre of petrol, travelling on their motorbikes to reach their destinations.
From the capital’s Stung Meanchey district, their itinerary consists of a trip to the Royal University of Fine Arts for their studies followed by a ride to Koh Pich for their part-time job as apprentice designers.
However, their daily routine has emptied not just their fuel tanks but also their pockets.
Fed up, Kimhak, 20 and Chanratika, 19, started a project which aims to create a vehicle that runs on electricity, instead of fuel – a method which they believe is more economical and environmental-friendly.
“I want to see Phnom Penh as a city free from the air pollution that’s brought by all kinds of vehicular transportation,” says Kimhak, an architecture student.
The Kimhak-Chanratika partnership began in their first year at university. Chanratika, upon noticing Kimhak’s creative potential, motivated him to create something that benefits society.
“Before I met him, I already liked devoting my time doing social work. I wanted to make a big impact in society but I was clueless as to where or how I should start.
“Since we started hanging out more, we realised how our skills and hobbies could make our vision a reality. I knew that Kimhak liked experimenting and working in his workshop.
“I noticed his potential and motivated him to create something that goes beyond personal interests. Alas, the electric bicycle was created,” says Chanratika.
Through her support, Kimhak was able to merge his hobby of creating things and his dream of contributing to the society.
The fruit of their efforts finally came to be with the development of the prototype of the locally made electric bicycle, which will be introduced in the Cambodian market shortly.
Despite their budding success, the process they had to go through to develop the ingenious vehicle was not exactly a stroll in the park.
Hours were spent sketching the design and assembling the parts – some of which were imported from abroad. The bending and shaping of the metal for the bicycle’s frame was left to the hands of an ironsmith.
“Initially, we were clueless. We didn’t know where to start. We were told to seek advice from Tony Morvant who was experienced in building bamboo bicycles.
“He has a big workshop complete with proper equipment and machinery. He was very helpful. He even volunteered to mould and attach the frames for us,” says Chanratika.
The whole process took them three months of work.
“We only spent four days making the body frame and attaching the tyres. But the entire process took three months because we had to wait for the delivery of the parts we ordered from China,” says Kimhak.
“We patterned the tyres and rims to those used in other electric bicycles so we could reach a perfect balance and optimal weight load capacity,” supplies Chanratika.
The black lightweight bicycle, which they named “tinky bike,” was created out of a $700 budget.
“The ‘tinky bike’ can carry up to 125kg. Two chargers are provided – the standard charger requires seven hours of plugging in while the other offers a fast-charging method which only takes two-and-a-half hours.”
The latter, says Kimhak, costs more and is suitable for people who need to travel a long distance. They can simply make a one-hour stop at any coffee shop while they wait for the battery to recharge, he adds.
“The electric bicycle, charged fully, can travel at a speed of 40km per hour spanning a distance of 60km,” he says.
Users, they say, would spend only around 1,000 riel ($0.25) to power the “tinky bike” for an 80-km journey.
Once struggling to cough up money to sustain their transportation needs, the pair now uses the bicycle daily to get to their university and workplace.
“It’s not difficult to navigate. It’s lightweight and easy to manage. More importantly, it’s comfortable and economical,” says Chanratika.
As it is still in the early stage of production, the bicycle needs further improvement, says Kimhak.
“I was not meticulous enough when we worked with the ironsmith so the body frame is not exactly faithful to the design I came up with. I will also make the seat a little longer so people would feel more at ease riding it,” he says.
As if to prove their brilliance, the pair was awarded $3,000 in the fourth SmartSpark – a social entrepreneurship programme designed to support young innovators turn their ideas to reality – for the creation of the “tinky bike.”
“We plan to put the ‘tinky bike’ in the market to be sold at varying prices depending on the battery-life they choose. A bicycle with a 30-km range battery will cost $549, a 40-km range will cost $649 while a 60-km range will be priced at $749.
“Other than the battery, the bicycles will be the same in terms of structure, function and electrical accessories. The warranty period is also different from 12, 18, and 24 months for each option respectively,” says Kimhak.
With the electric bicycle costing more than the standard ones, Kimhak admits that it will be hard to break into the market.
“The uniqueness of the ‘tinky bike’ is found in its design and the local craftsmanship imbued in it,” he says, adding that they welcome potential partners and investors looking to produce more electric bicycles with them.
Borne out of their dreams and passion, the pair hopes that the electric bicycle will receive support from fellow Cambodians.
Before it revs up the market, Kimhak and Chanratika offer special prices for pre-orders.
For more information, visit their Facebook page @TinkyBikeCambodia or call 099 39 88 83.