Commuting by bike just got a lot easier. Companies have developed a “smart” wheel to turn any bike into a personal electric-hybrid vehicle. The wheels boost human power with a little built-in motor fitted to the wheel hub. The wheel-hub device communicates wirelessly over Bluetooth with a biker’s smartphone and can sense when pedalers need an assist such as when pedaling up a hill.
Superpedestrian’s Copenhagen Wheel and the FlyKly Smart Wheel have covered the most ground so far in e-bikes, as they are known. Users just replace their old back wheels with a new wheel all ready-to-go. In addition to getting an extra power boost, riders can capture distance traveled, store energy in the wheel’s battery while pedaling, and even share their number of calories burned on social media. Best of all, the wheels lock the bike with a single touch. With top assist-speeds of 20 mph and rechargeable batteries, they give enough juice for about 30 miles.
U.S. Census Bureau data shows figures for bicycle commuters rose 60 percent from 2000 to 2010. Souped-up bikes could swell the trend. A formerly sweaty arrival after the morning ride to work becomes a breeze since the wheel’s computer kicks in extra power as you pedal, reducing the effort required. Niko Klansek, founder of FlyKly, points to a benefit likely to woo hipsters, who can “dress for the destination, not the ride.”
“Over the past few years we've seen a cycling renaissance throughout the world. People are looking for alternatives,” said Assaf Biderman, co-inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City Lab. He founded Superpedestrian Inc. to market the Copenhagen Wheel—named for Denmark’s bike-loving capital—which sold nearly 1,000 initial units this month.
Getting more people to cycle is more than putting a bike on speed. Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni conceived the cardboard bike as a means of simplifying transport and helping the poor. His recycled cardboard bike may also interest non-riders in a new way to commute without the typical investment. Speaking to The Christian Science Monitor, Gafni said people have a craving for what is “simple and easy-to-use,” a big contrast to e-bikes. He hopes his low-tech bike, not yet commercially available, may one day be transportation in the developing world.