When MIT unveiled designs for the Copenhagen Wheel in 2009, it generated a lot of buzz. The deceptively simple, self-contained system can turn any bike into a “smart electric hybrid” cycle by providing a kinetic boost for riders. Four years passed—during which time the Copenhagen Wheel received a handy, high-profile publicity boost as part of a plot line on the HBO’s Weeds—and now Massachusetts-based company Superpedestrian is finally accepting pre-orders for the wheel.
The wheel was developed by members of the SENSEable City lab at MIT, and the project was sponsored by the Mayor of Copenhagen—hence the wheel’s name. It was unveiled back in 2009 at the COP15 Climate Change Conference, with anticipation that Copenhagen might even use bikes retrofitted with the wheel as a substitute for city employee cars as part of the city’s bid to become carbon neutral by 2025.
So what makes the Copenhagen Wheel quite so exciting? Straightforwardly, it’s an incredibly simple device that can do some not so simple, incredibly helpful things. The distinctive 13lb red hub fits onto the back wheel of any existing bike and features a 48V lithium ion battery and a 350W motor (250W if you’re in the EU). The hub stores energy generated through a regenerative braking system, which it then uses to provide an electric boost while you ride.
How much of an assist the Copenhagen Wheel provides is determined by sensors and electronics within the wheel. If you’re pedaling hard to go up a hill, the motor kicks in. If you’re cruising along happily on a smooth straight path, the motor may not run at all. And at its highest speeds, the motor can power your bike to a respectable 20 mph. A smartphone app connects with the wheel’s electronics via bluetooth, and users can determine how sensitive the wheel is to their pedaling.
Furthermore, the app can secure the bike (and the wheel). Through its bluetooth connection, the wheel will register when the phone, and the user, are in range, and unlock the wheel. When you leave your bike and walk away, the wheel will lock. Additionally the app collects personal usage statistics, including, but not limited to, time and distance traveled, elevation climbed and calories burned. All in all, the manufacturers claim that the Copenhagen Wheel “preserves the normal biking experience while enabling riders to bike faster, farther, and easier.”
After the wheel was developed by MIT’s SENSEable City lab, several of the lab’s members obtained the license for the Copenhagen Wheel’s design, and formed Superpedestrian who have now brought the product to market. Available for preorder, the Copenhagen Wheel costs $699, and the first units are expected to ship in the first quarter of next year.