The Copenhagen Wheel



An article on Green.Blorge discusses a new project out of MIT called the Copenhagen Wheel.  It was unveiled on December 15th at the United Nations Climate Conference.  This wheel is the first of it’s kind which will allow you to retrofit almost any bicycle with an electric assist.  But it is so much more than this, the wheel allows you to use

your phone to unlock and lock your bike, change gears and select how much the motor assists you. As you cycle, the wheel’s sensing unit is also capturing your effort level and information about your surroundings, including road conditions, carbon monoxide, NOx, noise, ambient temperature and relative humidity. Access this data through your phone or the web and use it to plan healthier bike routes, to achieve your exercise goals or to meet up with friends on the go. You can also share your data with friends, or with your city – anonymously if you wish – thereby contributing to a fine-grained database of environmental information from which we can all benefit.

I have yet to decide whether this is just a little over the top or something that could really catch on and become a reality.  I’m a big fan of electric assist bikes, as I think it expands the range everyone can cover on a bicycle.  However, I’m also a big fan of the simplicity of the bicycle.  When you start introducing too many gadgets and electronics that are fundamental to the functioning of the bike, you are ultimately going to have more issues.  I know many people who can enjoy and can work on all aspects of their bicycles, a much higher percentage than those who enjoy and can work on their own cars.

The concept is intriguing, but I’m not sold yet.


  • Geoff
    Dec 23, 2009 at 6:07 am

    Keep electric bikes off the bike path. They are motorized and thus more moped than bicycle. So far I've encountered a handful of people going way faster than they they have the skills to deal with on the bike path. Very dangerous.

    Electric assist is great and really is an awesome idea, i love the sound of this wheel, would be perfect for the iPhone crowd. Just stay off my bike path.

    /grumpy curmudgeon

  • Dec 23, 2009 at 6:33 am

    Good point Geoff. I think that is going to be a sticky issue we are facing for a long time, but something the bicycle community should have some serious discussions about and make sure the expectations/laws are well understood by all bike path users.

    As an aside… a few years back, I distinctly remember hauling ass one night to catch up with some unusual blinking lights on the bike path. I finally caught up with this person, only to discover they were "riding" an electric assist tricycle. The thing did have pedals and the guy pedaled for about 10 seconds to help it get started across an intersection, but that was it. The whole time I chased this thing down I had been impressed with the speed, until of course I actually caught it. Agh.

  • Ted lewandowski
    Dec 23, 2009 at 11:46 am

    The Copenhagen Wheel has built-in energy regeneration through braking similar to what you find in most hybrid and electric cars. As you pedal back to brake that kinetic energy is harvested and stored in batteries to give you an electric boost when only when you need it.

    This energy is dependent on how much you use your brakes – thus you must pedal the bike to store any energy first to use it later – in only short amounts like hills.

    Therefore this is not an ebike by definition or by your description in the above article.

  • Ted Lewandowski
    Dec 23, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    ALSO it should be emphasized that the wheel provides real-time data on pollution levels by monitoring carbon monoxide and NOx levels and showing the number of GREEN MILES riden – thus giving the rider the amount of CO2 saved by not driving their car.

    These functions alone are worth the price of the wheel as they will not only give you information on what streets to avoid due to traffic congestion/pollution – but also encourage more people to use the bike by showing them actual data on the amount of green miles riden.

    Since a lot of Police Departments have bike patrols – this could easily be mapped out by simple bike patrols by local police departments.

  • barry
    Dec 24, 2009 at 10:56 am

    My concern is the "slippery slope" – once some macnine-powered vehicles are allowed on the bike paths there can be a precedent for others – segways, gof-carts, electric scooters etc

    There is also a question of sidewalks on which bikes are allowed (and I use occasionally in tough spots in No Prov like Mineral Spring) – do we want electric-assisted bikes allowed on sidewalks??

  • Ted Lewandowski
    Dec 24, 2009 at 11:10 am

    You should know simply by going to this website that no serious cyclist rides on the sidewalk. Furthermore most towns and cities prohibit it.

    Rather than see the good that the Copenhagen Wheel can do you Freds are off on a tangent about how the ebike is going take over the bike paths and sidewalks.

  • barry
    Dec 26, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Is it true that "most" towns and cities prohibit use of sidewalks iby bicyclists? Which ones? It is defintitley NOT in state code.

    I think it is much safer for me to use stertches of sidewlks on sections of roads like Mineral Spring, Putnam Pike where there is huge traffic volumes and no shouldrers at all, and no alternative routes (and few pedestrians!) I don't think it is prohibited, nor should it be.

  • Ted Lewandowski
    Dec 26, 2009 at 8:40 am

    The City of Providence prohibits bike riding on the sidewalk for safety reasons – one for pedestrians – two for the safety of the cyclists.

    Most cars when pulling out of a garage or parking lot will pull right out to the edge of the sidewalk and the street so that they can see the traffic in the roadway and might not immediately see a cyclist who is traveling at 15mph and is not immediately in their view – if you're lucky enough that they even look at the sidewalk.

    Believe it or not, you're exposing yourself to more danger riding on the sidewalk than riding in the street!

    There are several cities that have the 3 foot rule – meaning that a passing motorist must give at least 3 feet of space between his vehicle and the cyclist. They also have to slow down to 25 MPH but this is largely not enforced.

  • Peter B
    Dec 27, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    I think this would be a great addition to those that need a little help going up and down the hills in providence, and replacing cars with bike on streets for the short trips.

    As for the bike paths they aren't hilly, and the wheel can control assistance so maybe it could be posted that they are required to be turned off or limited when on the bike path.

  • Ken Gould
    Dec 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    I disagree with Barry and Geoff's slippery slope argument. Enforce common sense rules on the safe use of bicycle paths by any greener-than-auto vehicle rather than getting worked up over which physical properties of such a vehicle are the most virtuous.

    Electric Assist, in any of its current forms, is a step in the right direction! Anything that broadens the appeal of alternative (greener) transportation will help generate the critical mass needed to get more bike paths built (which, maybe, we shouldn't even call "bike" paths anymore).

  • Dec 30, 2009 at 4:59 am

    Schmidt Hub generators assisted randonneurs for decades to get enough electricity to power decent headlights for dark hours of brevets, and presumably cell phones and I-pods, which you shouldn't be using while riding anyway and run for longer on a charge than you want to ride in a day. Anything you must pump energy into to later recover steals from your body. There's no free power (perpetual motion). The bicycle is already the perfect machine to maximize gain from minor effort.

    If you pedal yourself up hills you build lean tissue and warm up, welcome btus for Winter riding. Self propulsion is a way to store warmth. If you want a push on training wheels, convert stored waist fat into miles and the ride will seem a lot easier.