For some, the idea of riding a bike conjures up one of two images: skin-tight biker shorts and shirts and helmets as part of a high-speed march along winding roads a la Lance Armstrong or a leisurely loll on a two-wheeler with a basket and a squeeze horn through a park or neighborhood that involves as much coasting as it does pedaling.
However, if Superpedestrian gets its way, thousands – maybe even millions – of people will completely rethink how they use a bicycle with the company’s new Copenhagen Wheel. The wheel was designed by a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City Laboratory in concert with the city of Copenhagen, which is one of the bike-friendliest cities in the world. The lab then licensed it to Superpedestrian for additional development.
The wheel can be attached to any bike and increases the speed of the bike. By using an array of sensors, it develops an algorithm based off the rider’s pedaling pattern to seamlessly boost the speed of the bike when the rider is pedaling.
The harder you pedal, the faster you go. The Copenhagen Wheel increases the rider’s output by three to 10 times; depending upon how hard he or she is pedaling and other conditions, reaching speeds as high as 20 mph. The wheel uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery that uses regenerative braking to charge the battery, which also charges when the rider is coasting. The battery has a range of 30 miles.
More importantly, it does all this without any wires or cables. The wheel is tied via Bluetooth to an app downloaded on to a smart phone. Once the wheel senses the phone, it unlocks the wheel. The connectivity is key because the sensors in the wheel can determine the topography of an area and adjust the amount of power it develops based on the needs of the rider at any given moment.
By using the app, the rider can record all of the information from a particular ride or route and develop a personal profile tracking information such as distance travelled, calories burned and elevation gain and even compare and share those stats with friends.
“Effectively, the Copenhagen Wheel puts your bike online – at the center of your personal Internet of Things” said Carlo Ratti, co-inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel and director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab, in a release.
With more and more cities are searching for ways to cut the number of cars rumbling around the streets, the timing of the Copenhagen Wheel may be perfect. Several cities are moving toward eliminating all non-essential car traffic, leaving those who need to maker their way around those places with a just a few options for their daily commuter: their feet or their bikes.
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“Can we make bikes a competitive alternative to cars, buses and subways for people who live in or commute to work in cities? That is our mission ” said Assaf Biderman, Superpedestrian founder and associate director of the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory.
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“For the millions of city residents who are tired of sitting in traffic jams or long waits for the bus or train, the Copenhagen Wheel provides an easier, more environmentally friendly way to get around using the bike that’s already sitting in their garage or front hall.”
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The market for electric bikes in the U.S. is growing, about 100,000 units sold in 2012 and it nearly doubled to 185,000 in 2013, and is expected to hit 400,000 in the next few years. However, the real market for such a development is China, where 32 million electric bikes were sold last year. Most cost a few hundred dollars, but are notoriously unreliable and flimsy and must replaced every few years.
The Copenhagen Wheel retails for $799 and can be used on any bike and even moved from one bicycle to another. The company expects to begin shipping wheels by the end of the year. After purchasing a wheel, the buyer gets a wheel, a user manual, and charger with international adaptors so it can be used anywhere. The company also has tech support available to help owners put the wheels on and resolve any issues that crop up during installation or use afterward.
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