HONG KONG–When Barcelona native Guim Valls Teruel moved to Beijing, he had never seen an electric bike before.

Within a week, he had bought his own after seeing them peppering the bicycle paths of the capital.

Now, three years later, the 33-year-old is riding an electric bike on a three-year world tour to raise awareness of the eco-friendly transport option. His journey – the first of its kind – kicked off in June from the Olympic ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium in Beijing, where he worked as a marketing agent for a restaurant.

To reach Hong Kong, he travelled through eastern and southern parts of the mainland, South Korea and Tokyo. He’s off to Macau next, and from there he’ll continue around the globe until he reaches London in time for the 2012 Olympics.

‘I’ve spent three years in each city,’ he said, explaining his choice of Beijing and London as the start and end points. ‘I love them both, so I can give them back something.’

As he travels five continents for a projected 80,000 kilometres of riding, his pedal power helps charge the battery fixed onto the bike. Two large tarpaulins with solar panels trap energy from the sun and plug into the battery as well. When the sun is not shining, the battery can be plugged into a charger and recharged in about three hours. He carries his belongings in a trailer fixed to his bike.

‘I think electric bikes could be very useful for someone who might never ride a regular bike because it’s hard or slow. That’s the good thing about an electric bike; everyone can use it. You just have to pedal and the bike moves itself.’

He hopes his journey will have an impact on places where people use scooters or cars as their primary mode of transport.

While he has not had any accidents so far, Mr Teruel has had his share of adventures as he rides around 120 kilometres a day. In cities, he sometimes stays in hostels, with friends or with strangers offering rooms on the internet. But when he can, he puts up the tent he carries in his trailer and sleeps outside. In Japan, while sleeping under his tent in a park, his battery charger was stolen while it was charging in a nearby public toilet.

He was stuck there for a week until he got a new one shipped out.

Another time, he was stopped by Japanese police for biking on a road apparently off-limits. Not understanding his English, they demanded he come to a police station, but Mr Teruel – in a hurry to catch a boat to Shanghai – got on their good side by showing a clipping about himself from a Japanese newspaper.

As he moves from city to city, he is taking photos and shooting a documentary. ‘I prefer to see how the people live and get involved with the city,’ he said.

He also maintains a blog on the project, www.electricbicycleworldtour.com, and accepts donations and sponsors for his currently largely self-funded project.

Originally published: Aug 19, 2009 by The South China Morning Post (link)