Assembled in Nairobi, Roam's electric motorcycle is tailored to local needs

In Kenya, motorcycle taxis — also known as boda bodas — are a common way to get around. The country imports more motorcycles than cars and doubles its fleet every 7 to 8 years. Unfortunately, they're not the cleanest mode of transport, emitting far more pollutants per kilometer than cars do. Meanwhile, 80% of Kenya's electricity comes from renewable sources.

Electric motorcycles seem an obvious solution, but existing options have been either too unreliable or too expensive for most Kenyans. One of the local startups looking to change that is Roam. The Swedish-born, Nairobi-based brand designs motorcycles specifically for use on the African continent, made to perform well both on rough rural terrain and city streets. 

Its new model, Roam Air, is easy to ride (no gears) and has a robust frame capable of carrying a 220 kg (485 lb) load while weighing just 135 kg (298 lb). The dual-battery version has a range of 180 km (112 miles). And these bikes are incredibly affordable, priced at USD 1,500 for the single-battery version, with a second battery costing USD 550.

Mass delivery of the Roam Air will start in 2023, and Roam's efforts to make electric vehicles accessible to a wider market don't stop at motorcycles. The startup is also focusing on electrifying public transport. The Roam Rapid, Kenya's first-ever electric mass transit bus, went into operation in Nairobi last month.

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Switching to zero-emission transportation is crucial to slowing down climate change. It's also key to reducing air pollution, especially in countries with low standards for emissions. But for people in developing and developed countries alike, the immediate draw of electric vehicles may well be cost savings.

Because electricity is cheaper than gasoline, Roam estimates drivers and fleet owners can cut their operating costs by 68% percent, while service and maintenance are, on average, 33% lower. Roam also demonstrates that regional manufacturing can beat cheap imports, both for affordability and reliability. Its rugged and utilitarian bikes are assembled in Nairobi, and that local presence allows the startup to respond nimbly to the specific needs of its customers. The future is electric. And locally made...?

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