The Electric Cargo Bike of the Future

As cities around the world grapple with growing populations, air pollution, and increased traffic congestion the humble cargo bike is not just having a moment, it is becoming a movement. Sales of cargo bikes are predicted to increase by 50% year on year across Europe, and estimates suggest that by 2030, annual European sales of cargo bikes will reach one million for commercial use and an additional one million for family use. Studies show that in some cities, cargo bikes are becoming something of the default choice for logistics companies, delivery services, and even people who work in the trades, such as plumbers and electricians. And there is good reason for this: a recent study shows that in urban areas, electric cargo bikes deliver 60% faster than delivery vans, with higher average speeds due to increased agility allowing them to deliver, on average, ten packages an hour, compared to a delivery van’s six. Even better? Cargo bikes cut emissions by 90% when compared with diesel vans.

This is all great news and will make our cities more livable by decongesting roads, reducing carbon emissions, and offering more breathable air. But – and this is a big but – what happens when you need to go somewhere and it’s not a beautiful summer’s day? What if it is instead a day when the skies open up and rain or snow make the idea of riding a bike the last thing you want to do.

It’s this last bit that gave the CEO of CityQ, Morten Rynning, his inspiration to create a new kind of cargo bike, one that offers all the benefits of a traditional one – but that also keeps you protected from the elements. Rynning says electrification of mobility is happening everywhere and the key to electrification is downsizing, because a bigger vehicle needs a bigger battery and more charging. This downsizing will happen in combination with access and the flexibility rental and subscription models bring.

We cannot just replace petrol car traffic with electric cars. There is not enough space, not enough batteries nor charging capacity. We need small, light vehicles like CityQ with car-like comfort, capacity and safety to become truly sustainable

Morten Rynning Founder & CEO CityQ Car-ebike

“And like the electric cars, we are replacing mechanical drive train with software and connectivity. So, cycling CityQ can be customized, fitting families that are commuting or for last mile delivery of things like groceries. Replacing car traffic with cycling requires that we make cycling more attractive – even in bad weather and when bringing children, groceries, and cargo packages.”

Morten Rynning, a Norwegian, has long worked with competitive intelligence, e-commerce, and also mobility. In Oslo, car-free zones are already in place, something he embraced because he was always look forward to cycling in the summer. But when he really started counting the days he actually cycled, it wasn’t all that many compared to his ambitions.

“So, I started looking at why I didn’t cycle more. Maybe it was too hot, and I didn’t want to show up at meetings covered in sweat, or maybe it was raining – I had all sorts of reasons. At the same time, politicians were pushing cycling, but they never looked at the practical aspect of things. And I could see that this wasn’t just an Oslo issue, it was a global issue – and if we really want to commit to removing vehicles from our cities, we need to define cycling differently.”

Like many in Oslo, Morten Rynning already drove a Tesla and he could see how disruptive that technology has been, so it got him thinking about the challenges around truly integrating cycling and other urban mobility options into city life. He says that governments come up with environmental schemes like car-free zones in cities, but these leave a vacuum.

“They don’t see that in order for these schemes to be viable, they need to go further and support innovation and innovative solutions that fill that space in the market. They say: ‘you should cycle’, and then things like e-scooters come in and they’re surprised and often don’t like it, but they’ve created the market by pushing for car-free zones in the cities. So, it’s a bit of a vicious circle and I decided to address it.”

Rynning became interested in how IoT, together with cycling and micro mobility, were enabling bit changes. This led to him getting involved in Sharebike – a start up in e-bike sharing and learning more about the sharing model while developing CityQ in parallel.

“Initially I was a bit optimistic and even naïve about the challenges of making this kind of bike-platform. The first prototype of CityQ was a disaster; not working well at all,” explains Morten Rynning. “One of the biggest problems was the chains. We had two chains and just adjusting them was awful: they were missing out on energy; they made a lot of noise – just a disaster. So, I started to look more closely into the chainless option and pedal by software. Also, the cargo bike market has matured and the components that didn’t exist a few years ago are now becoming available, making the bike more robust and improving cost of ownership.”

“We also see the speed of innovation increasing within vehicles, including in 4-wheel ebikes. That is why we have made a vehicle platform – enabling quick innovation and flexible assembly – things learned from IKEA, Tesla and escooters. Part of this is implementing remote maintenance and upgrades.”

After looking at traditional cargo bikes, Rynning and his team saw that they had a lot of maintenance issues, so they developed one with less parts and more simplification. Assembly-wise, this simplicity made it possible for one person to assemble it and they could assemble two in a single day.

“One thing we saw was that in order to be agile, CityQ needed multiple models, because one size was not going to fit all,” says Rynning. “Quality was also on the table – we wanted to make something high quality, but high-quality costs, so we then had to figure out how to make that profitable. We looked at both subscription and sharing models. The sharing model is sustainable but can be a disaster when it comes to vandalism, like you see with e-scooters. Also, CityQ bikes are bulky, so you can’t really leave them on the sidewalk like you would with an e-scooter. A couple of CityQ bikes left outside the office door when you arrive at work is ok – 200 is not.

“This is where we saw that subscription and rental models were a better fit. You can see this in car rentals and even e-scooters to an extent. You want to move away from the five- or ten-minutes trips and move more towards share and care, and building loyal, long-term relationships with customers.”

CityQ & IoT

CityQ have connected their bikes for the most obvious of reasons: they want to know everything about them. The bikes are chainless, so they are essentially ‘cycling by software’ and you can change the functionality via firmware, so connectivity is at the core of the entire bike. This means that they can remotely manage the fleet – know where the bikes are and the status of it, and you can understand the maintenance needs through predictive maintenance, which allows CityQ to address problems before they get too big, but also keep track of bikes that could potentially have long-term trouble, all of which reduces costs.

IoT and connectivity allows us to remotely manage and diagnose the bikes, as well as lock and unlock them remotely. So, if one gets stolen, we can disconnect the pedals and it is deemed unusable.

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