Mic Chapman was a self-confessed street-machine hoon but a stint in a solar-powered car changed his life.
“Electric vehicles (EVs) are like the Scalextric slot cars you had when you’re a kid – you pull the trigger and the power delivery is instant,” he says. “Something just clicked.”
Twenty years ago, his dream of opening a bike shop was put on hold when he was diagnosed with cancer. He recovered and ended up in Adelaide studying mechanical engineering and then renewable energy technologies. He gave up his V8s, too, out of concern for the environment.
In 2003, he took part in the World Solar Car challenge (first place in production class) and then the Zero Race in 2010 – a race around the world in 80 days – in Trev, an EV designed and built in Adelaide, driving from Switzerland to Russia.
“After driving solar cars I thought, this has to be the way. Life changed.”
He’d found a way to explore his love of vehicles in an environmentally friendly way, and was hooked.
Watch this video of Trev in Berlin during the Zero Race.
But it wasn’t until he got a job selling electric bikes that everything came together.
Back then, the bikes were clunky (or as he puts it, ‘glorified tractors’), and seen as being for ‘lazy riders’, but for Mic, they brought all of his passions together.
MICycles opened in Thebarton in 2014, and each year, his business has increased dramatically.
His main customers are commuters who don’t want to arrive at work sweaty, people with health problems or injuries who can’t pedal hard, and those who’ve lost their driver’s license. Cargo bikes are taking off, too.
“The entire transport industry is about to be transformed. It’s an electric revolution,” he says.
The store displays bikes he’s developed and he has plans for a road-registerable electric motorbike based on a modular electric bike.
“If you want to get it registered, you can program it with your laptop, make it more powerful, put on some LED lights and away you go. I’ve spoken with the Department of Transport and they’re keen, though they took some convincing.”
These days, electric bikes are becoming more ‘plug and play’, with less need for specialists to sell/maintain them. Big brands are launching new, mass-produced bikes, with similar drops expected in the motorbike and car industries.
So does he worry about losing business to the big players?
“It’s not really a danger as I don’t have that view of ‘time is money’. As long as this is working, I don’t care. At the end of the day I’ll have some great toys.”
Mic is pushing for change with government and councils, starting with electric bikes but moving to electric motorbikes and his other passion, recycling. He’s particularly focused on soft plastics and dreams of recycling all the soft plastic bike packaging into a filament that can be spooled into a 3D printer to make bike parts.
For now, he takes it to recycling centres or gives it to customers to re-use.
As for electric cars, the industry is set to take off, he says, with charging networks already happening around Australia, including one from Adelaide to Cape Jervis and one planned for Kangaroo Island.
“You’ll be able to log on to an app, switch the car to the house and run your house on it, if needed. It’s already here, that sort of stuff.
“Those big players, they’re just waiting for the right moment. It’ll be revolutionary and it’s just around the corner.”
He’s also excited about the possibilities the light electric vehicle industry presents for reviving SA’s car manufacturing industry, and on a smaller scale, is looking at converting cars – old Volkswagons, Datsuns, Toyotas – to electric motors.
“They’ll burn off any petrol car, leave them in their dust.”
Looks like he’ll have a chance to let that hoon out again.