In an increasingly robust e-bike market, the Copenhagen Wheel brings something new to the table beyond the typical beefy bike with a motor — and it comes with a pretty good story, too. Speaking in general terms, it’s a new rear wheel that turns your bike into what the company calls a “smart electric hybrid”. Inside the wheel is a motor, batteries, sensors, a Bluetooth Low Energy 4.0 module and an embedded control system — all of which work together to understand the way you pedal and multiply your pedal power by three to 10 times, depending what mode you choose in the Bluetooth-connected app. The simple synopsis, along with the Copenhagen Wheel’s handsome design, makes it sound like a pretty straightforward piece of gear — but in fact what happens in the wheel is much more complex than your average e-bike.
The Copenhagen Wheel‘s technology is the work of a team that includes 15 roboticists and one of the founders of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, Assaf Biderman, whose work at the university focused on managing human-computer interaction. In 2009, his lab partnered with Copenhagen, one of many cities worldwide with which SENSEable works, to see how they could encourage even more people to cycle. The answer was the Copenhagen Wheel, which, until 2012, was a funded research project at MIT. After considerable interest from the public, Biderman decided to start Superpedestrian with an exclusive license from MIT to develop the Copenhagen Wheel.
Since then his team has worked to overcome a wide range of challenges: packing a whole computer’s worth of intelligence into a 13-pound wheel, spoking the thing, managing the batteries so they perform efficiently in a variety of weather conditions, and so on. With an anticipated launch date in late 2014, they’re still working out some kinks; for instance, our test prototype was as of yet unsuited for a 31-mile ride, which is the battery range Superpedestrian intends for the final product. But our ride on a prototype was inspiring. The Copenhagen Wheel feels smoother and more natural than other pedal assists we’ve ridden, without the bulk and the industrial look of most e-bikes.
And it’s more versatile. Each mode, accessible via app with a swipe of the finger, changes the experience: “eco” uses power sparingly, “exercise” adds some resistance (which, like pedaling backwards, regenerates the battery) and “turbo” gets you going from zero to 20 mph in short order. Ultimately, though, the wheel will fulfill its intended purpose when you spend time with it and it gets to know you as a cyclist — in other words, when you partner with a robot to get around the city more easily and more enjoyably. That’s an e-bike we can get behind.
Top Speed: US: 20 mph, EU: 25 km/h
Size: 26 inches or 700c rim
Weight: 13 pounds / 5.9 kilograms
Connectivity: Bluetooth Low Energy (4.0)
Range: 31 miles / 50 kilometers