John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
These human-powered jalopies invoke the fantastical vision of Buckminster Fuller.
One of the most striking vehicles in the ongoing North American International Auto Show is not a shiny-new Tesla or 3D-printed car but a boxy, thin-wheeled jalopy that looks like it delivered milk in the 1950s:
This celebration of 90-degree angles is the Cyclone, a concept vehicle from Michigan collective The Future People that runs solely on the power of two people pumping pedals. The contraption's inventors constructed it, hilariously, using boat-building techniques, allowing enough room in the spacious, mahogany-clad interior to stuff in cargo and another couple of passengers. "The Cyclone," they crow, "is an indispensable part of a complete sustainable luxury lifestyle."
And it's just one in a small line of green Frankenvehicles that The Future People are developing. Included in the Detroit auto show is also their Zeppelin, a sleek space pickle that recalls Buckminster Fuller's 1933 Dymaxion car (though without the whole fatal-accident thing). This ride is again propelled by two cyclists, though it has an assist from an electric motor that pushes it up to 25 mph. The vehicle can last for 20 miles on the motor alone, and allegedly gets the equivalent of an incredible 700 miles per gallon:
The Future People hope that as the world turns away from fossil fuels, roads will teem with these environmentally friendly, throwback-looking buggies. They write:
The Future Cycles project was born from the realization that the American transportation infrastructure will far outlive the gasoline-powered vehicles that we currently use on it. Our question is, "What transportation alternatives could replace these vehicles that would deal with shifting energy availability and still provide the kind of independent travel that our infrastructure requires?"
New alternatives would need to be much lighter in weight, highly efficient, use only local sustainable energy, and be inexpensive to own and maintain. The Future Cycles project proposes vehicles that combine the weather protection and carrying capacity of a car with the efficiency of a bike. Our goal is to create a car-like experience in a vehicle that is human-powered and legally defined as a bicycle.
For those not in Detroit, here's a peek under the hood of the Zeppelin and the Cyclone: