In 2009, TreeHugger April spotted the Copenhagen Wheel in, logically, Copenhagen. Unveiled at COP15, it was " conceived and developed by the SENSEable City Lab for the Kobenhavns Kommune" with the prototypes built by Ducati. A lot of hype ensued, and then- silence.
But the Copenhagen Wheel wasn't vaporware. SENSEable City Lab Associate Director Assaf Biderman licensed the technology and set up Superpedestrian to build it; Lab director and wheel co-inventor Carlo Ratti is strategic advisor. The company has been working away in "stealth mode," (defined as " a company's temporary state of secretiveness, usually undertaken in order to avoid alerting competitors to a pending product launch or other business initiative.") They got their funding ($2.1 million) from Spark Capital (who also backed little unknowns like Twitter and Tumblr) and David Karp, founder of Tumblr.
Now they loudly ring their bell and toot their horn that this thing is real, it is in production, and you can pre-order it for just $699.
This is not your usual electric bike.
It doesn't have a throttle that lets you just run it like a motorbike. It senses how you ride and gives you a boost when you need it.
Riders are given a boost as they pedal by measuring their effort, instead of using a throttle. This preserves the normal biking experience while enabling riders to bike faster, farther, and easier....All actuation of the wheel happens automatically via the pedals through sensing and control algorithms. When the rider pedals harder, such as when going uphill, the wheel pushes with increasing power. Using your smartphone with the Superpedestrian app, you can vary the level of powered assist.
It has regenerative braking that charges the unit as you go downhill. Of course there is an app that will "allows you to lock/unlock your wheel, chose amongst a menu of customizable rides, and track personal usage statistics including time, distance, calories burned, elevation climbed and more, all of which can be compared and shared with friends."
The 13 pound wheel has a 48 volt replaceable lithium battery with a motor sized and governed to appropriate legal limits: 350W push it to 20 MPH in the USA, 250W and 15.5 MPH in Europe. I think they should use the lower European standards in America, it is more than fast enough, and Europeans are better cyclists, but they are following the legal limits, sensible or not.
The design is, as they point out, seamless; there is no wiring harnesses or controls to be installed.
The Copenhagen Wheel makes your bike look even better. It's completely wireless, compact and simple; all designed for your everyday commute. Twist two nuts, install the wheel, download the app and you're ready to go!
The Copenhagen Wheel will make cycling easier for a lot of people who struggle up hills; it will make it easier for people to travel longer distances by bike than they might have completely under their own power. It is an assist, not an electric bike. that means it can go a lot farther on a smaller battery (which is how it all fits into the hub) and with a much lower learning curve, as the wheel learns the cyclists habits and adapts to them. Considering what it does and the opportunities it opens, the way it helps makes bikes accessible to such a wider audience, it is cheap at $699. I certainly want one.
Order it at SuperPedestrian