As we continue along the path of climate crisis, there's an increasing focus on energy and mobility. How should you get around town without firing up the car and burning yet more diesel? Do you really want to squeeze yourself onto another 40C underground train? Despite the increase in cycling on many cities' roads, that's not for everyone - the energy, the sweat. We get it.
Skoda gets it too and, through the Klement - which was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show 2019 - is looking for another route into tackling what it calls 'sustainable micromobility in the city'. The Klement - derived from the name of one of Skoda's founders - isn't an e-bike solution, though, it's a whole other form of transport. There's no pedalling required; indeed that's not even possible. Currently there's a mighty-fast 45kmph top speed (which actually puts it outside the realms of assisted vehicle and into something that would require a licence - at least on UK roads).
We're first introduced to the Klement proper just outside the centre of Prague, Czech Republic, in Skoda's homeland. With about 45 minutes to kill and as many kilometres-per-hour to accelerate through, just how well does this it's-not-a-bike electric two-wheeler fare?
It's way faster than you might expect
- 45kmph (26.5mph) top speed
- 62km (36.5m) max range
- Hydraulic ABS brakes
At first sight the Klement looks much like a hybrid road bicycle. It's not, of course, as there is no pedals, chainset, derailleur or any of that cycling stuff. Instead there are two foot 'paddles', not only for resting your feet upong, but also for control.
The controls are based on a tilting mechanism: forward is accelerate, with greater angles pushing greater propulsion; backward hits the brakes, again with severity increasing the harder you lean back into it. Step off the pedals and acceleration is disengaged, with braking kicking.
Powering everything along are two lithium-ion batteries, with a total capacity of 1,250Wh, and a 4kW motor to the rear that's capable of pushing the Klement along at up to 45kmph (26.5mph). Yes, you read that correctly, Skoda hasn't implemented the 26kmph (15.5mph) cap that would be required to call this an electric bike. But then this is not. So this two-wheel solution goes one heck of a lot faster (and the company even showed us a 70kmph prototype that really did whizz along).
Think about it this way: most cyclists on London's roads aren't averging even 30kmph. The Klement, with minimal effort, will quickly move along at, well, city road maximum pace without so much as breaking a sweat.
There's a learning curve
- No hand-based controls; two foot 'paddles' control acceleration and braking
- 25kg target weight (prototype is heavier)
However, there's a learning curve. Those foot 'paddles' (as we're calling them) don't click into gear; going forward depends on sustained tilting to the desired degree and, therefore, speed. That means sort-of locking the feet into a very mild angle, which creates the tiniest amount of tension through the legs - a bit like hovering over a pedal in a car whilst stuck in a motorway traffic jam, that kind of feeling.
Then there's the bike weight: at a target 25kgs (the prototype felt heavier to us, having tried to life it, but then it's an unfinished model) it's not light. As way of comparison the Smart electric bike we rode some years ago weighed over 26kgs - making it impractical for carting up stairs and such like - and the Klement will suffer the same potential issues as that. Namely, if you run out of juice, how easily do you think you can push 25kgs up hill?
That weight is a little bit tricky when it comes to cornering too. Because you don't want to turn at great speed - a great way to go flying off, as it would be for any open vehicle - you'll be finding the sweet spot with those foot paddles to get it just right. But this makes turning circles huge and a little juddery if you accidentally end up engaging the brake to any degree.
Still, get used to it - and we did pretty quickly, despite our brain always trying to find the second 'pedal' as if about to ride a bike - and you can whizz away to controlled speed in a near instant. It's easy to maintain lower speeds if you wish, too. We hit 48kmph (28mph) tops, then levelled out to 30kmph (18mph) and 20kmph (12mph) nice and steadily by finding the right tilt on those paddles.
- Wireless charging and sync with smartphone
- Speed, acceleration, braking and battery level output
Being of the future, the Klement doesn't depend on a built-in interface that could age over time. Instead it relies on your ever-evolving smartphone to be used as a central display. It slots and twists into place, open to the elements and easy to read, also drawing juice from the battery (via wireless conduction, Qi fans) to stay charged up, and can get a relay of the acceleration, speed and braking levels. It's all displayed very nice and clear interface.
This is clever because it tells you how much battery the bike has remaining. Skoda claims you can travel for up to 62km (36.5m) on a charge, which isn't something that's ready to test, nor that we can verify yet. However, the smartphone interface does show a percentage reading and as the Klement also uses regenerative braking to push energy back into the batteries it's theoretically possible to keep the battery level sustained or even raise it - assuming you're hitting a lot of downhill anyway.
- Built-in lights (LED, daytime running) and indicators for road safety
- Could be a feasible road-worthy city solution
The Skoda Klement is a lot of fun. Its 'hoverboard style' foot paddle controls are certainly a learning curve, while the 25kg+ weight can feel a little hefty to handle - and there's no kick-stand, what's that all about? - but once you're up and going the sheer speed and smoothness of this future city micromobility concept is kind-of breathtaking.
It's nothing like riding a bike, because it isn't one. But it's more exciting than the never-ending appearance of e-scooters - but then, no doubt, this will be a much more expensive solution too. And with companies like Lime already making headway into many international territories - the e-bike rental service, which GPS-tracks and charges users accordingly - there's potentially scope for Skoda to open discussions with what those kind of services will look like in the future.