It describes itself as the ‘future of urban mobility’. With a range of 150 kilometers and a top speed of 80 km/h, the futuristic-looking electric tricycle from Nimbus costs $10,000 and aims to position itself as a green alternative to cars, safer than motorcycles and with a high degree of ease of ownership. We tested a prototype of the tricycle to get an idea of where the company is headed.
The vehicle I drove was an early prototype and there were clear signs of that; the doors were hard to close and the team had to “prepare the vehicle” before I could get in, making some last minute adjustments before I took the wheel. And yes, despite this being a corner leaning tricycle, it does have a handlebar. As an experienced motorcyclist I found that very strange indeed.
This prototype device felt a little wobbly and unstable, but I suspect that’s teething trouble from a vehicle still in development. The beauty is that it is completely fenced; you have a heater, and seats, and a roof and a windshield and wipers. The number of times I’ve ridden in the rain and wished I could just be warm and dry are countless, so those are huge pluses in the ‘pros’ column. Of course, scooters with a roof have been around for a while (BMW made one in 2000), and the Nimbus sets itself apart by being almost perfectly incomparable to anything else on the market.
The biggest challenge I had was that, when I’m on a motorcycle, the “correct” lean angle of a motorcycle is a function of speed, weight (of bike + rider) and how tight you are turning a corner. When driving small slaloms in Nimbus’ prototype, it felt like the lean angle was “wrong” – sometimes too small, feeling like the vehicle could tip over, and too much at other times, again feeling like the vehicle could tilt. I gave the feedback to the team and the company’s CEO, Lihang Nong, and the company was able to correct some of the issues I had:
“We tuned the steering feel after you left based on your comments and then it drove much more predictably for new drivers,” Nong wrote to me in an email.
The luxury of having an early prototype car, of course, is that everything can still be tweaked and updated, and it’s probably not worth judging the vehicle on its driving characteristics after my short test drive. In addition, I hasten to add that I have driven tens of thousands of miles on two and three wheel scooters and motorcycles, so in this case I might be a particularly picky crowd.
My impression is that this vehicle is not intended for the recovery of two-wheeled speed freaks, but for people who otherwise would not want to know what one down, five up resources. And that’s okay, because that’s the vast majority of the population.
The vehicle has some really smart innovations. For example, under a small “hood” on the front of the vehicle, it has both a 220V charger – just like you’d find on any electric car – and a vacuum cleaner-style roll-out 110V charger. This gives you plenty of options for charging the vehicle in many situations.
In addition to charging the batteries in the car, the batteries are actually removable. There are four of them, all under the driver’s seat, and the company jokingly calls them “V-4 batteries.” Because the batteries can be removed for recharging elsewhere, this vehicle is a particularly interesting choice for people who do not have a parking space or driveway where they can recharge the vehicle. An added bonus to that front is that the small car is short enough to be parked perpendicular to the curb – meaning you can take advantage of even the smallest of parking spaces.
The vehicle’s top speed of 50 mph is a bit of a deal breaker for me. For starters, it means you can’t really drive on any highways, including the bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Technically, the speed limit on the bridge is 80 mph, but on my return trip from the Nimbus test drive, I decided to stick to that speed limit in my car for once. Other cars drove past me left and right. In a car, it didn’t feel safe to stick to the speed limit, and the Nimbus is a tiny little thing compared to my daily driver. In a nutshell, it wouldn’t feel safe to drive across the bridge, and since that’s the only way to get from Oakland to San Francisco easily, it’s torpedoing the company’s bid to become a car replacement.
The car has a back seat where a second person can sit behind the driver, straddling one leg on either side. There are seat belts to keep you in place, and the vehicle has a forward-looking Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) that also works to protect you.
As a six-foot person, I’m probably on the extremely tall side of who will fit in this car. With the seat (which can’t recline) pushed all the way back, I could barely find enough room for my knees to move between the accelerator and brake pedals. I also felt my hair touch the windshield above me, and the pillars around the doors created quite a large blind spot for me, which I had difficulty avoiding given the limited size of the vehicle. Given my proximity to the windshield, I’m afraid to imagine what would have happened if I had crashed at 80 mph; my head has nowhere to go except straight through the glass, and there wouldn’t be enough room for me to wear a crash helmet in the car. #TallPeopleProblems, sure, but worth mentioning.
The test drive itself was okay, and it’s impressive how far the small manufacturer has come. The vehicle’s acceleration wasn’t particularly impressive: even the cheapest 125cc scooters I’ve ridden seem to have more oomph. I haven’t been able to test the vehicle to the limit either; when I pressed the gas, the drive belt skipped and made a terribly loud creaking/clicking noise. I feared for a moment that I had broken the vehicle, but it turns out to be just a quirk of the little car’s prototype status. A little disconcerting, but more importantly, I couldn’t wander around in the car like I would on a motorcycle, and it’s been hard to estimate what performance it’ll be capable of once the production units start to roll off the production line. roll.
I think the biggest challenge keeping me from pre-ordering the Nimbus is that while $10,000 is relatively cheap, it gives the cute little tricycle a huge and formidable competitive landscape. With ten large you are in the same range as one electric cargo bike with all the bells and whistlesa reasonably priced electric motor or a very cheap used electric car. Somehow, in the midst of that onslaught of more famous competitors, Nimbus must find a home and an audience.
Overall, I really want to like the Nimbus. I think these types of vehicles deserve to exist in the increasingly complex micromobility landscape. I totally see that there is a fleet of these available where today you can use one of the electric scooters available for hire by the hour. There is definitely room for small cars or covered motorcycles in the urban landscape. I’m super excited to see them develop and I really hope I get the chance to drive one of the production vehicles.
All in all, Nimbus is definitely worth keeping an eye on as the company gets closer to production.