I’m going to miss the Copenhagen Wheel.
After I spent a few days riding a bicycle with the smart, motorized wheel that gives you an extra boost of speed — something that requires no button-pushing, lever-pulling or any other kind of interaction — I fear that riding a normal bike will feel boring, antiquated and exhausting from now on.
That’s because the Copenhagen Wheel — which looks like two red frisbees affixed to your bike’s back wheel — not only gives you an extra boost of electric propulsion while you’re pedaling on the streets but also when you’re trying to power up hills, to the point where cycling up a steep incline feels almost effortless. The drive system adds just enough electric propulsion to your pedaling that it can barely be felt, making you feel as if you’re far stronger than you actually are.
The larger implication is that it will allow you to cycle farther distances and use your bike for more activities. For city dwellers, that means the Copenhagen Wheel will make your bicycle the ultimate city bike. It is called the Copenhagen Wheel, after all, because the prototype was developed by an MIT team in collaboration with the city of Copenhagen, Denmark.
After years of development by the MIT team that became Cambridge startup Superpedestrian, the device is now available for purchase. While I want to make a solid recommendation for this device, the only thing that gives me pause is the price point. You can order the Copenhagen Wheel by itself and install it on your bike for $1,499 (or monthly installments of $99). You can also order a bike with the Copenhagen Wheel already installed for $1,999 (or $135 a month).
The Copenhagen Wheel I used was a loaner and I’m definitely not in a position to spend that much money right now — which is why I will miss it —but if I do end up with some extra cash, I would highly consider it because the device is a game-changer. If you’re not in a position to buy it, like I am, you can try it out for yourself at locations in Cambridge and Palo Alto.
There’s a large “hill,” we’ll call it, near where I live in Malden, Massachusetts, called Waitt’s Mount. The ultimate reason you would want to go up this hill is because it has an incredible view of the greater Boston skyline. But to get up there with a bike requires quite a lot of exertion on your part. And if you’re kind of out of shape like me, you will likely have to stand while you pedal, make a lot of awkward grunting noises, unleash a few cuss words and feel fairly exhausted when you reach the top.
With the Copenhagen Wheel, I was able to avoid embarrassing myself trying to get up the hill. In fact, I probably impressed anyone who witnessed my out-of-shape self confidently pedal up the hill with little effort. In other words, I crushed that hill.
The Copenhagen Wheel also has the ability to turn you into a speedster on the streets. As soon as you start pedaling, you will instantly sense an extra push provided by the device, which is especially helpful when you’re trying to quickly accelerate at a traffic light that just turned green. The only thing I will say is that because you can easily reach 20 miles per hour on the bike within a few seconds, you’ll want to exercise caution in high-traffic areas.
This is all made possible by a combination of sensors, computers, a battery and a motor that is housed within the Copenhagen Wheel, which Superpedestiran say can power your pedaling power by up to 10 times. Using more than 70 sensors, the device learns your riding style and adapts to it based on how you pedal.
Security and ride-tracking
What’s also cool about the Copenhagen Wheel is the app that comes with it — something that is absolutely required, which is why I recommend anyone who buys the device to get a phone bike mount. As part of the wheel’s design, the device actually requires you to sync it over Bluetooth and register it with the app before you can use it. Once you do that, you can actually lock the wheel from being used for security purposes, and the app also has a self-diagonostic system for safety and reliability.
Once you mount your smartphone on your bike’s handlebars, the app serves as a dashboard, showing you how fast you’re going, along with how much effort you’re putting in versus the motor. It also lets you toggle different modes for the motor: normal, turbo and exercise, the latter of which actually makes you work harder to pedal. You can also turn off the motor altogether, which is what I did to see how pedaling up a hill with and without the motor on.
The app also tracks where you ride and provides you a summary of each trip, breaking down the distance, duration, average speed and calories spent. It also shows you a neat graph of how much power you put into the bike versus the motor.
Move over, self-driving cars?
Self-driving cars seem to dominate the conversation when it comes to the future of mobility, but Superpedestrian’s proprietary mobility system provides another path forward. While the Copenhagen Wheel is certainly expensive in its current state, I can imagine future models opening up that could make the device accessible to more people.
One of the more compelling ideas that have come out of autonomous vehicle development is that car ownership may become obsolete if the technology can be applied to a ride-sharing model, which could possibly reduce the overall cost of transportation.
With that in mind, imagine if something like Hubway, Boston’s bike-share program, partnered with Superpedestrian to equip its bikes with the Copenhagen Wheel. Such a partnership could lead to people using Hubway bikes for longer distances and more often because of how the Copenhagen Wheel can cycle faster and up hills without effort.
If Superpedestrian has its way, it could make us even less reliant on cars. Now that’s my kind of future.