CityQ, a four-wheeled midpoint between bike and car

In the pandemic, all forms of smaller-than-car transportation have boomed—cycling is way up, as people try to get around without using ride-hail services or public transportation. What's more, sales of ebikes are way up too, as the quality and price of electric gear for bikes has dramatically improved in recent years. I haven't seen figures on this yet, but my sense—from having seen an increased number of folks whizzing by on electric scooters and electric skateboards—is that in cities, there's been an uptick in the popularity of any form of smaller-than-car transportation that's been electrified.

A year ago, I wrote a piece for Smithsonian about the birth of cycling in the 19th century—bikes were quite controversial back then—that also tackled the fights over electric scooters today. The first generation of escooters were pretty flimsy and often outright dangerous to ride, with tiny wheels that could easily be thwarted by potholes. (I interviewed people who'd sustained brain injuries after taking a header off a rented escooter.) But the second and third generation of scooters were getting bigger and bulkier, the better to safely withstand city streets.

One bike-history I interviewed, Carlton Reid (author of the terrific Roads Were Not Built For Cars) pointed out that the same evolution took place bicycles back in the 19th century: They started out incredibly flimsy, and gradually became bulkier and more roadworthy. He predicted the same thing would happen to forms of "micromobility" like electric scooters, electric skateboards, and the like. They become a bit safer and more amenable to everyday riders by moving in the direction of automobiles, as it were—biting off a bit of the car's ruggedness, while retaining the smaller-ness of the original mode of transportation.

One can see this happening to ebikes themselves, too, right? There's a whole category of them that lean into the bulkier design of mopeds and motorcycles, like Rad Runner, or the Scorpion, or the Roadster.

Which brings me, finally, to the CityQ, pictured above. It fairly looks like the apotheosis of this trend—perhaps its logical absurdity, something you'd get if you trained a generative AI only pictures of bicycles and cars, and had it output the chimerical midpoint.

I can't say whether this thing is even vaguely practical, sturdy, or usable! I can't even say whether it'll make it outta vaporware status. But the design direction tracks this larger trend fascinatingly.

Certainly the idea of being more-protected from the elements is nice, and easily carrying passengers is similarly so (much as taxi pedal-cycles are in use worldwide). The fact that it's chainless—that you pedal the front wheels as you would the front wheel of a tricycle—is also interesting, and probably reduces its mechanical complexity. Since it's legally rated for bike lane in Europe, I can imagine it causing some bitter fights with regular cyclists, who already frequently loathe ebikes and think they should be banned from bike lanes.

Designboom describes it a bit more here:

CityQ has been developed to make bicycling more comfortable for everyone, even in the winter season, and in bad weather. it has a window, roof and rotating side doors with the ability to be semi or fully enclosed. it measures only 87 centimeters and weights around 70 kilograms. it is aligned with european regulations for ebikes and 3-4 wheel cargo ebikes. the driver has to pedal, and motors are limited to 250W and the max speed is 25kmh. with two batteries, it has a range of 70-100km.

'CityQ is an ebike with the comfort and technology of a car and with the benefits of a bicycle,' comments morten rynning, founder of CityQ. 'you can cycle two children and luggage door to door without having to worry about bad weather, car traffic or parking issues. nor do you have to worry about hassle with mechanical gears and chains – as these have been replaced with a software-managed drivetrain – like you find in electric cars. that is why we call CityQ a car-eBike.'

CityQ has no chain or gears. like an electric car – these mechanical parts have been replaced by software. this enables programming a range of convenient drive modes like reverse, cruise control, regenerating breaks, heavy cargo mode, and automatic gearing. as part of this software platform, CityQ includes an app to open/lock, track and even rent the car-eBike.

I've been meaning for some time to report a big story about this chimerical trend in micromobility—I need to get off my butt and do it.