Not many plan a cycling trip that spans 7,000km, that too in the peak of summer. But as far as Sushil Reddy was concerned, the brighter the better. In May this year, the graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) set off on his hybrid bicycle to raise awareness about solar energy as a sustainable energy source. Seventy nine days later, he had pedalled across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi—and earned a Guinness World Record for the longest journey on a motorized bicycle.
En route, Reddy and his team stopped at small towns, remote villages and bustling cities to speak to people about the great big ball in the sky. They carried with them solar lamps and mobile chargers to demonstrate how they work. While many of the sessions were held in schools and colleges, Reddy said the most interesting interactions happened on the road. “Many times we were pulled over by truckers and drivers who were curious about the panels on the back of my bike,” Reddy said. One local on a scooter followed him for about 6km, outside the Gujarati city of Una, only to eventually stop him and ask for a selfie, before enquiring about the solar panels.
“My plan was to cover 100km a day, and travel about 7,000km in 70 days,” Reddy told National Geographic Traveller India. That’s a daunting task, which is why his bicycle was kitted out with solar batteries to harness the sun’s energy and power his journey. Reddy and his team at kWatt Solutions, a renewable energy startup incubated at IIT-B, developed a cycle that has a motor connected to solar cells. While the biker does have to pedal, the motor reduces the effort.
Reddy’s journey took him through various landscapes—Gujarat’s dry scrublands, Rajasthan’s scorching deserts, and Punjab’s green fields. “Himachal’s roads were tough because they were uneven, very narrow and we had to keep stopping on the side to allow trucks to pass,” Reddy recalled. But along with the tough terrain came fantastic food. The highlights of his meals in Gujarat were the various farsans the state is famous for; his favourite was fafda. Rajasthan’s famous kachoris and Indore’s sweet jalebis, Reddy says, gave him the strength to pedal on.
The story of Reddy’s bicycle trip is out as an e-book on Amazon; proceeds will be used to support the energy needs of a school in the Rajasthani village of Jatwara. Reddy is also developing solar-powered devices for the rural market, and is considering similar biking expeditions in Europe and North America next year.
The Sunpedal Ride, Sushil Reddy (available on Amazon, 2016, ₹99)
Kamakshi Ayyar is a former member of NGT India's digital team. She is partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.