The sixth edition of the World Advanced Vehicle Expedition (WAVE) recently promoted electric mobility across three European countries, leading up to a symbolic demonstration at the UN headquarters. Gizmag took part aboard an e-scooter, among a strictly electric fleet of trucks, vans, cars and bikes.
The WAVE Trophy owes its roots to Solartaxi, the experimental vehicle that Louis Palmer took around the world relying solely on solar power, and earned him the United Nations (UN) Champion of the Earth Award. After becoming the first to go round the globe with a solar vehicle, Palmer repeated the trip as part of a three-vehicle expedition and on 2011 the Zero Race completed the Earth's circumnavigation after 80 days.
Once the breakthrough had been achieved, the WAVE Trophy materialized as a more realistically feasible rally that would attract more enthusiasts. The event is always organized and directed by Louis Palmer, himself often traveling with the converted Iveco Daily Switchbus that is part of the electric-only support fleet.
In its current format the WAVE Trophy has carved through the heart of Europe every year since 2011. Either connecting the Mediterranean with the North Sea (2012), or spreading horizontally from France to the Czech Republic (2011), the message has always centered on the fact that numerous vehicles can cover long distances without burning a drop of fossil fuel. Three consecutive Guinness World records for the biggest electric vehicle parade (2013 to 2015) add credit to the event.
The 2016 rally was initially supposed to go after another world record parade, before an approval by the UN for access to the Place Des Nations changed everything. Palmer's persistence paid off with permission to park vehicles on the square right across from the UN's central building in Geneva, Switzerland. There was a new plan in place; use the participating vehicles to spell out the hashtag 1.5ºC, which calls attention to the world temperature rise over pre-industrial levels.
In order to deliver this message in Geneva though, the WAVE participants had to cover a distance up to 1,800 km (1,118 miles) from Bremerhaven, the rally's start point in northwestern Germany. For vehicles with smaller range and speed, the alternate routes avoided highways and lowered the total count to 1,600 km (1,000 miles); still a pretty tall order for small city vehicles like the Kumpan Electric 1954L scooter that powered Gizmag.
The route took us southward across Germany's western plains, over to the French Alsace region around Strasbourg, and then to Basel in Switzerland. From there the electric rally crossed over the Jura mountain range of the Western Alps towards the vast Lake Léman and the beautiful coastal cities of Lausanne and Geneva, before turning back to finish at Liestal, a few miles down the road from Basel.
Divided into daily stretches of 200 km (124 mi) on average, the scheduled route took eight full days to complete. Although it was more or less a stroll in the park for the Teslas taking part, it offered several challenges to the smaller members of the WAVE. Our 45 km/h (28 mph) scooter with the 100-km (62-mi) range was equipped with a spare set of batteries and still required careful planning of each day's charging stops – thoughtfully pre-planned by the event's organizers.
The rally included participants coming from as far as Australia and Canada, riding/driving more than 75 vehicles in total. The several Teslas were complemented by a variety of electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, BMW i3 and Mercedes-Benz B-Class. There were of course some special custom-made electric cars that regularly stole the show, such as a VW T2 Bulli, a Citroen 2CV, an astonishing '53 Buick Roadmaster (that unfortunately succumbed to a failed converter) and a Saab 900.
In the bike class only one Zero S motorcycle made it this year, plus two scooters that represented the Team Kumpan Electric – one for David Hoole of Eco Vehicle Exchange and another for yours truly. A VR3 three-wheeler also joined in after the group made a charging and lunch stop at the VR Bikes factory, and followed until the finish line.
Finally, the lightweight class included my WAVE heroes. Whenever we felt that the route was a bit too much for our scooters, all we had to do was think of the two pedelecs. Rolf and Beat from Switzerland pedaled the whole distance – and this was not their first WAVE.
The most challenging parts were those that included climbing slopes, straining our range to below 80 km (50 miles) and a couple of days that required distances of over 300 km (186 miles). Yet we always managed to reach each day's target, even if at times we had to ride for 8 to 10 hours to make the distance. This calculates to an average speed around the 30 km/h (19 mph) mark. Normally this wouldn't be a problem if it weren't raining.
Starting under a glorious sunshine in Bremerhaven, the second day brought on the first raindrops; they wouldn't stop until the penultimate day in Lausanne. Doing the majority of the distance under constant, and occasionally heavy, rain was definitely not pleasant for the riders – the same probably also goes for Team Kyburz with the eRoad open roadster.
The highlight of the event was without a doubt the Geneva demonstration. Finally graced with soothing sunshine, the WAVE vehicles formed their message on the Place Des Nations and took advantage of extensive media coverage. Apparently the UN opted to honor us with invitations to several major news networks that were there to document the event – including Reuters.
There Louis Palmer revealed another action that had quietly unfolded throughout the previous months. Several of his peers around the world, as well as WAVE competitors, visited schools and commissioned hand-drawn cards with messages from the children. Thousands of cards formed a mosaic among the electric cars and bikes on the Place Des Nations.
In similar fashion, an important action of the WAVE Trophy involved two days dedicated to visiting schools along our route in Switzerland, where we had the opportunity to speak about our vehicles to the children. Judging by their reactions, the idea proves highly effective in constructing a cool image for electric vehicles in the eyes of tomorrow's commuters.
Taking part for the first time at the WAVE Trophy was a very special experience on many different levels. For the typical motorcyclist like myself, such a long journey on a small electric commuter proved to be easier than I initially expected. Having never ventured into such an odyssey in the past, I think that given the chance I'd do it again.
After spending eight full days at speeds that allowed me to savor the beautiful scenery of 1,600 km (994 mi) of B-roads – or occasionally count the floors of high buildings as I was slowly passing them by – I wouldn't mind a two-wheeler with a little more top speed for a change, as I certainly would appreciate some better weather. Regardless though, participating in something this unique leaves me with nothing less than a sense of fulfillment.
Electric cars and motorcycles probably cannot save the climate on their own. They must play a pivotal role in reducing pollution in big cities, although on a global scale their impact would be tempered by heavy industry and mass transport of all sorts (land, sea, air) that gorge on fossil or nuclear food. Nonetheless, change has to start somewhere and this is where the WAVE excels. Executing its ambassadorial duties even louder every year, the WAVE Trophy is on its way to deservedly becoming an institution.
Visit Louis Palmer's YouTube channel for videos from every day of the 2016 WAVE Trophy –including one from day six with a happy Team Kumpan rider enjoying his first dry miles after five days of unrelenting rain.
Project website: WAVE