HAVANA, CUBA – Electric motorcycles are buzzing along this highway outside Cuba’s capital, where young adults perform stunts and display their two-wheelers, which would be largely silent if not for the music blasting from the speakers.
In recent years, Cubans have been inundated with motorinas, or electric scooters, promoted by the government as an efficient alternative to petrol and diesel shortages, as well as a transport solution.
Since they were allowed to be imported last decade – Cubans cannot import motorcycles with gasoline or diesel engines – about 300,000 of them have circulated on the island, according to Col. Mario Rios Labrada, head of vehicle registration at the National Transit Directorate. Comparatively, there are approximately 500,000 cars.
There is a price range between $2,000 and $5,000 for the motorcycles. The majority of these products originate in China and are imported to Cuba through Panama. Locally made electric motorcycles are being manufactured at an old bicycle warehouse in Villa Clara, according to Cuban officials.
“There is an `outbreak´ of electric motorcycles, everyone likes them,” said Ernesto José Salazar, 20, who works in a paint shop. “We got to meet up with 200 motorcycles, honking and listening to music.”
Through social networks, young riders organize and spend hours discussing battery benefits, tyre prices, and bike shops.
“Fuel is a lost cause, you have to look for it and queue up, right now having an electric motorcycle here is life itself,” said Alejandro Vasallo, 23.
A shortage of fuel is affecting Cuban drivers, especially diesel, which is also used to power the power grid, which collapsed this summer. Due to the sanctions imposed by the United States on Venezuela, an ally and supplier of the island, there have been oil shortages on the island.
Drivers of electric scooters recharge their batteries using normal power outlets and are out of luck when the power supply fails.
The Cuban government promotes electric motorcycles as an energy-efficient alternative to a public transportation system plagued by shortages of parts to fix broken down buses.
“Electricity will always be cheaper than diesel fuel and gasoline, and in addition, electric motors are much more efficient than combustion engines, you can save up to 70% of the cost of fuel,” Ramsés Montes Calzadilla, strategy director of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, said in an interview with news website Cubadebate.
As electric motorcycles become more popular in Cuba, they are also causing problems: their batteries tend to catch fire, plus their relative silence combined with a lack of driver experience is causing traffic accidents.
According to the latest data from the Fire Department, there were 263 fires from motorcycles with gel or lithium batteries in the first half of 2020, a significant increase from 208 fires in 2019.