Nineteenth-century German bicycle company Opel morphed into a motor car maker. On September 1, Canyon of Koblenz revealed it was potentially on the same trajectory as it added a concept electric car to its roster of high-end bicycles.
The vehicle is a one-person “future mobility concept,” says the company—it can reach speeds of 37 miles per hour and travel on both roads and cycleways.
Bicycle companies transforming into car firms was commonplace in the 1890s and early years of the 20th Century—brands such as Rover, GMC, and Chevrolet had bicycling beginnings—but it’s unusual for the same to happen today.
“We don’t have any ambitions to go the next step,” said Canyon product manager Sebastian Wegerle speaking to me by video from a product unveiling in London.
“Canyon Bicycles will always be Canyon Bicycles,” agreed company founder Roman Arnold, speaking to me from Canyon’s HQ in Koblenz, Germany, “because this is what we think is the future.”
And the future won’t be dominated by full-size automobiles, he added.
“The [full-size] car is not the future for short-distance mobility. Cars get stuck in traffic jams; this cannot be our future.”
Canyon has been working on a small, cycle-based car for more than two years. If it goes into production, it would be made with the help of automobile companies.
The firm’s four-wheel car is 83 centimeters wide, one meter high, and 2.5 meters long. It weighs just 95 kilos and has an expected range of 95 miles, “not because we expect people to travel on holidays with this vehicle,” said Wegerle, “but so you don’t charge it every day.”
The Canyon car driver has to pedal, and because spinning legs are where the steering wheel would normally be, the vehicle is maneuvered with tank-steering levers to the side.
Critically, it has a roof.
“We have to provide full weather protection,” said Wegerle, “therefore we have this closed capsule concept. So whenever it’s raining, you’re fully protected in your capsule, and you’re safe and dry inside. But when the sun is shining, you want to have this bicycle feeling, with wind flowing through your hair. You can hear the birds singing and smell the bakery next door.”
The motor-switching car has been designed to sit in two EU classes: the e-bike class, with a maximum speed limit of 15mph, and the 50mph L7E scooter class. The Canyon quadricycle car is smaller than a Renault Twizzy, a Carver tricycle car or a Canta microcar, the type of two-seater car often seen on Dutch cycleways.
Will people liken the Canyon car to the ill-fated Sinclair C5 of the mid-1980s? This was an open-to-the-elements electric-powered trike invented by Sir Clive Sinclair, who had plans to sell 200,000 a year (much of it was made by a Hoover factory in Wales) but sold only 5,000 units, and led to much ridicule at the time.
“Everybody laughed at this vehicle,” said Wegerle.
“And if we see that everybody starts laughing [at us] then we won’t produce [our] vehicle. But I think we have avoided the mistakes that Sinclair made, like balance issues and lack of weather protection.”
“We bought [a Sinclair C5] two years ago [on eBay] to look at the form factor,” adds Wegerle.
“I think the perspective has now changed. If the Sinclair C5 came out today, you would not end up with the same reactions. It’s a different situation today: cars are not the Holy Grail of mobility anymore.”
There’s no C5-style giggling: “We have had journalists looking at our concept car: nobody is breaking down laughing,” said Wegerle.
Canyon’s concept car was launched in London alongside a new electric bike platform, the Precede:ON, a carbon-framed urban utility e-bike with integrated lights, fenders, a kickstand, and rear rack.
Canyon Bicycles GmbH was formed in 2001 by the current CEO, 58-year-old Roman Arnold, and was the new company name for Rad-Sport Arnold, a large bike shop in Koblenz founded in 1985 as RTI Sports, a distributor of Italian road-bike parts. (RTI Sports was co-founded by Roman’s brother Franc, who later founded Ergon, the grips-to-saddles brand, also based out of Koblenz.)
Rad-Sport Arnold sold an own-label bike line called Radical, the name of which was changed to Canyon in 1996. The consumer-direct company started designing its own Asia-made bikes in 1998.
The brand has a clinically-clean, high-tech, new-build factory outside the city limits of Koblenz.