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I Get Around

These days, there’s a lot of public discourse regarding transportation. People are excited about the ‘disruption’ of the category and how much change is yet to come. From current peer-to-peer ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft, to the advent of the everyman electric vehicle from legacy brand’s such as GM, to the newfangled Tesla, getting around sure isn’t the same as tooling around with dad in the station wagon. Even wider eyes soon envision high speed rails zipping up and down U.S. coasts with light rails tying yesterday’s bloated and underutilized suburbs to today’s revitalized and reclaimed urban centers, brimming with Millennial families and Boomer retirees. The days of independent transportation seem numbered, so it seems.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit friends in central Paris. Paris is one of but a few nexuses of Europe―lots of people rapidly moving in and out. And while Europe is lauded for its near universal adoption of public transportation, what struck (jolted!) me riding in from the airport was the vast number of people relying on motorized ‘bikes’ to get around. I sat in traffic jam after traffic jam, slowing jerking forward to town, all while these bikes zoomed by, between lanes, making their own lane of travel and operated by their own set of rules―college kids, moms, government employees, all types.

They weren’t really motorcycles, mopeds, or scooters―they were something else. On closer inspection I found most had two wheels in the front and back―technically, they were four-wheeled individualized open-air cycles. Cycles driven at high speed with careless abandon. Yet everyone appeared to understand an unspoken set of rules in the snarl of traffic. They were given a ‘pass’ regarding traffic norms and had firmly established their own habits and practice, allowing for an orderly anarchy to prevail. No one complained, not one battered an eyelash. In the end, they ended up at their destination a lot quicker than my peer-to-peer vehicle.

Once settled in my hotel and filled with three espressos, I walked the 6th in search of these road devils. Taking a corner, I found cycles parked everywhere, some replete with ‘lap coats’ to keep out the dirt and rain and the chill of Paris morning commutes. I asked a local who was about to board his vehicle how often he rode. He responded in staccato Parisian French, “all the time, every day, of course! What else is Paris!” You wouldn’t think such a vehicle would be so widely adopted for year-round use in a climate as harsh as Paris, but such is the case. One model that kept popping up as I continued my walk was the QooderDesigned and built by Swiss manufacturer Quadro Vehicles, the company says it “offers the agility of a motorbike but with the comfort and safety of a car.” The key to the vehicle is said to be its ability to “lean” into a turn without fear of falling over. Equipped with a patented hydraulic system both front and rear, tied to single-wheel suspension and coupled with a low center of gravity, the Qooder is truly a unique new category of transportation.

A lot cheaper than either a hybrid or electric vehicle, more reliable than any car  service, the Qooder and its peers may be the humble vehicles that eventually tame our urban snarls here in the U.S. It seems to be doing pretty well in Paris; everyone seems to have one. And besides, in Parisian fashion, it’s really chic!

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