This electric bicycle can solve the urban transportation problem

Cities limit themselves to cars. From London’s controversial ULEZ expansions to Oslo’s car-free liveability program and right-wing fears of ’15-minute cities’, motor vehicles are under attack in urban areas. One answer is the e-bike, whose US sales increased 269% between 2019 and 2022, with a projected market size of $2.69 billion by 2023. But what if you want the low footprint of an e-bike , except in a package that is safer and more secure? better protected against the elements, like a car? The Norwegian startup CityQ thinks it has the answer: an ebike, but not as you knew it before.

The CityQ vehicle is somewhere between an electric bicycle and the Citroen Ami, a ‘four-wheeler’ that does not require a regular adult driver’s license in some regions. “We call it bridging a car and a bicycle to something that is missing,” says Morten Rynning, CEO and founder of CityQ. “Norway has the highest maturity and number of electric vehicles in the world. More than 80% of all cars sold are fully electric. But that doesn’t really solve the problem of traffic congestion or parking problems. Norway is a good example of this. Everyone is talking about electrification, but there is something missing and Oslo decided they wanted to shut down private car traffic.”

Greater flexibility than an ebike

The problem is that regular bicycles don’t solve all urban transportation needs. “Up to 70% of all cyclists do not cycle when it is raining or freezing,” says Rynning. “Two-thirds of all cycling fatalities in Oslo occur during rain or frost. So just increasing the percentage of cyclists wouldn’t work. It’s not just bad weather. Maybe you want to take children or some luggage, or you want safety and comfort. This is a global situation, and not just the Norwegian one.”

Rynning wondered what was missing. “Having two-ton electric cars doesn’t help either,” says Rynning. “It is not sustainable, even if it is better than a petrol car. A lot of CO2 is still needed and you need a car charging infrastructure, which you don’t really find everywhere in cities. The answer is to downsize electric vehicles to make them as light as possible. If you have a two-ton electric car and you can make a 100kg vehicle, it takes 95% of the energy to move it on the road.”

To make its vision a reality, CityQ starts with the commercial market. “I would like to start with a passenger version, but the need and willingness to pay for freight is greater,” says Rynning. “Freight also needs a more robust vehicle and you can go from a robust vehicle for B2B to a consumer product, but the other way around is difficult. E-scooter sharing did the opposite and was a failure. The entire e-scooter business model would take more than four months and the average was around six days. Reliability is the key word.”

Still an ebike, so no registration required

The ebike market also has much less regulation than cars. In Britain the main rules are a maximum engine power of 250W and this requires pedaling or the vehicle must be registered. “The homologation of a car is different in all countries, while a bicycle has one standard in Europe,” adds Rynning. “The problem with the bicycle is that it is not allowed to carry much weight. You need a very specific engine to carry more weight and people, that’s why we have two in the rear wheels. With 220 Nm of torque, they have what is technically almost four powerful mountain bikes. This means that this bike can climb a gradient of 20% uphill when loaded, so you can enter a parking garage without any problems. People are surprised by city e-bikes that you don’t have to pedal much. This one needs almost nothing. It is a level of comfort comparable to that of a car, and that is where we are revolutionizing e-bikes.”

Another revolutionary feature is the absence of a chain. “A chain is a very old-fashioned invention,” says Rynning. “You don’t really want all those mechanical parts. If you sit like in a car and you have engines in the back, you have almost two meters between the pedals and two engines. You might have three chains to do that, and that becomes a maintenance nightmare. We have a software-based drivetrain, which is very high-tech, but allows us to drive in reverse. It allows us to fine-tune the feeling through software. I could decide for myself whether I wanted a winter bike or a sports bike. We can have regenerative brakes, which reduces the need for repairs and maintenance.”

The CityQ design includes two interchangeable batteries that provide a range of between 100 and 120 kilometers, depending on weather and topography. Each battery weighs approximately 11 kg and provides just over 1.4 kWh, for a total of 2.8 kWh. These are both under the seat and can be removed like a suitcase for charging. You still have to pedal to produce power, which meets the requirements of an ebike. There is also a system like gears, despite the lack of a chain. “You press a button and it delivers more power,” says Rynning. “There will also be an app. Initially this is for locking and unlocking or to see how much battery charge you have left. If your bike is stolen, we can lock it.” In the future, CityQ will use AI to help define driver profiles. “We will define it based on the topography and your user settings.”

CityQ will initially launch the cargo version of its ebike, but there will also be a passenger version based on the same platform. “We can add different types of containers on top of the cargo bike,” says Rynning. “We also have a pull-out bed. We only need minor changes to create the passenger version. We try to change as little as possible, so it’s easy to draw a line and then decide what kind of model we’re going to build.” The passenger version of the CityQ is intended for one driver in the front and then two children or one adult in the back, but there is also just enough room in the back for two adults. “The width of the vehicle is 89 centimeters, so not enough for two large adults, but normal slim people will fit in there.”

CityQ: Changing the Game for Urban Transportation

The goal of CityQ is to reduce car traffic through micromobility. “But use this for so much more than you can with a bike or an e-scooter,” says Rynning. Because this is a bicycle it doesn’t have to undergo car safety testing like Euro NCAP, but CityQ is still focused on maximizing this area. “There will be a standard for safety, and we have been part of that expert group. It is a big step forward that we consider safety like a car. We have a skateboard system in the middle, in a metal frame that provides safety from the side and improves stability. Then we have doors, a cabin, even a bumper and a safe seating position. This also makes it easy to add seat belts. We worked with a car manufacturer that specializes in this field to make the bicycle safe for the rider and child occupants, for pedestrians and for the vehicle itself. It is not as safe as a car, but it only goes 25 kilometers per hour and is so much safer than a two-wheeler or traditional cargo bikes.”

CityQ also largely makes its vehicles in Europe. “European innovation in e-bikes has been incredibly exciting to watch over the past four years, creating motors, batteries and wheels in an ecosystem,” says Rynning. “We have a battery from Aqua Energy in Germany and an engine from Huntsman. About 80 to 90% of what we currently produce comes from Europe.”

CityQ is already testing its cargo bike at DHL in London and wants to launch the passenger version in Great Britain in July. “DHL has done some early testing and they really like it,” says Rynning. “It has been very well received by the riders who would otherwise use a van. We also have a few in Berlin and Scandinavia that are used for food delivery. We start with the Norwegian Postal Service in Oslo.”

Once the cargo and passenger bikes have been launched, CityQ will consider further variants. “We would like to make a faster version,” says Rynning. “We have a patent for an off-road system. We would like to help anyone who needs transportation, including the elderly and disabled.” CityQ is also looking at specialist applications such as campus transport, golf carts and moving large ships. “But urban transport is where we believe the need is greatest. Our mission lies in that area. This is not a bicycle. It’s not even a cargo bike. It is a vehicle platform that fills the missing link of a super small, light vehicle.”

However, the CityQ bike will not be cheap. The expected price will be between £10,000 ($13,000) and £12,000 ($15,000), which seems expensive, although other cargo bikes can cost more than £15,000 ($19,000). “We need a lease subscription-based model and flexible ownership will be important because this is not the only vehicle you will need in the future. Maybe you also have a car and a regular bicycle.” CityQ hopes that in two to five years the consumer version will cost somewhere between £5,000 ($6,000) and £8,000 ($10,000), about the same as Citroen’s Ami. That is much more than a regular ebike, but a lot less than a car. It could be a game changer for urban transport.

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