- Simple to install and operate, wireless, works with most 26" wheeled bikes that don't use disc brakes
- Automatically senses inclines and wind resistance when riding to add more power
- Makes the front of the bike heavier (wheel is ~20 lbs) and changes the steering dynamic a bit
- No LCD or smart phone interface to communicate speed, distance or battery capacity (there is an LED battery indicator on the wheel itself)
This review is for the 2013 Electron Wheel distributed by Currie Technologies. For a time, units were being recalled due to a faulty quick release skewer which has been updated and replaced on all subsequent models. You can read about the updated 2016 Electron wheel here which has an improved pedal sensor, is available in three wheel sizes, costs less and is compatible with a wireless app.
The Electron Wheel was developed by Belon Engineering and is distributed by Currie Technologies (makers of eZip, IZIP, eFlow and now Haibike). It’s one of several wheel-based ebike conversion kits out there including the Copenhagen Wheel by Superpedestrian and the FlyKly Smart Wheel by FlyKly. What sets the Electron Wheel apart is that it’s currently available for purchase vs. pre-order, is a bit simpler to interface with and it’s also more expensive. All of these ebike wheel kits contain the battery, control system and motor but some offer smart phone interfaces and other features. The Electron wheel focuses on simplicity with no LCD screens or or wires or fancy interfaces besides the on/off switches on the wheel and pedal sensor. It does have a simple LED battery indicator however and inside there’s a gyroscope that adds more power when ascending hills.
Despite its simplistic human interface, the Electron Wheel runs some pretty sophisticated processes to judge when to add power. An accelerometer rotates with the wheel measuring gravity value and orientation (compared with the reference pointe stored in memory). As the orientation of gravity changes, the algorithm calculates road slope and throttles power accordingly. Also, it runs an algorithm that modifies the motor power based on the wheel velocity to compensate for wind drage forces! Pretty neat stuff. In layman’s terms this just means it knows when you’re climbing a hill or riding into the wind and it compensates with more power to smooth out the ride.
Speaking of power, the Electron Wheel uses a 250 watt geared brushed motor. That’s not the most impressive spec and the bike is only designed to go 18 miles per hour but it does so very smoothly and offers noticeable torque. Being brushed, the motor is a bit simpler than a brushless design and doesn’t coast quite as efficiently. When pedaling with the wheel in off mode you can still hear the gears whirring inside and feel some resistance as a result. This could be a frustrating experience if you ran out of juice on the way home and considering the location of the battery indicator (on the wheel itself) and that tendency to accidentally leave the wheel and pedal sensor turned on (because both have on/off switches) this might happen more frequently than you’d like.
The battery pack in the Electron Wheel offers 24 volts of power and 10 amp hours of capacity. That’s another low-end spec but it works well enough for around town and allows the battery to fit inside the wheel and balance the weight out. Lithium-ion technology is relatively light compared to other battery chemistry like Lead-acid and delivers more charge cycles before wearing out. It’s a solid design with two years of warranty, just not as much power or range as a larger pack. The instructions suggest keeping the battery topped off and storing it in a cool and dry environment. The quick release system makes this easy enough and also allows you to bring the wheel into your destination (when commuting to work for example).
This kit really shines in terms of simplicity but you have to double check that it will work with your bike. Make sure you’ve got 26″ wheels and make sure you don’t have disc brakes. I’ve heard they may offer different sizes in the future and that would be great since many city style bikes come with 700c 29″ wheels. Also, check that there is enough clearance between your left crank arm and the rear chain stay because the bike that I used in my testing didn’t have enough space there and the sensor hit the frame with each pedal rotation. I had to flip the sensor around and mount it on the right crank (where the front chainring is) for it to work but then it got in the way of my feet. Not ideal. The picture below shows how the sensor would hit the chainstay because there wasn’t enough room:
I enjoyed cruising around with the Electron Wheel but it wasn’t perfect. It’s quiet enough but also doesn’t go super fast. It’s relatively light weight to carry on its own but the weight is noticeable when steering the bike or trying to lift with the wheel mounted. The sensor pack is almost effortless to use but isn’t super responsive and can get in the way or completely not work if you don’t have the space for it like in my case. The slogan for the product is “meet the new reality in electric bike conversion” and indeed, it’s simple to install and almost thoughtless to operate. Still, the aesthetics are imperfect as it only comes in black right now and has a large metal leveling device sticking out on the side. It could use some polishing and I expect that will happen over time.
No electric bike conversion kit is perfect because every bike is different and there are optimization misses between the different designes. Other products that come to mind are the RideKick Trailer and Hill Topper, each with their own pro’s and con’s. There’s a lot of interest in electric bike wheels right now and from an efficiency standpoint they are awesome because they don’t require the creation, shipment and support of an entirely new bike, they let you recycle the one you already own and in that sense the Electron Wheel is pretty awesome.
- Easy to install or swap between bikes (as long as they both use 26″ wheels and don’t have disc brakes)
- Wheel can be charged on or off the bike and uses a quick release, pedal sensor can also be charged off the bike
- Includes two pass-through points on the wheel to make it easier to lock and carry
- Includes a built in level to help with optimal mounting (though it does stick out a bit once the wheel is on)
- Awesome warranty with two years on the battery pack and one year on the motor and other components
- Being distributed by Currie which has relationships with dealers all across the US and has a long history of making and selling ebikes
- Much easier to change flats and service this kit than rear-mounted wheel kits
- Uses wireless sensors so there are no extra cables to deal with which makes it look a lot nicer
- Only available in 26″ wheel design (standard on most mountain bikes and cruisers) so if you have a city bike with 700c wheels this won’t work
- Not compatible with disc brakes, have to use rim style like v-brakes or cantilever brakes
- Uses a brushed motor vs. brushless which requires more maintenance, has more of a fixed speed and torque, poor heat dissipation and louder operating noise
- No LCD computer or smart phone interface to show your speed, distance or battery capacity
- Only available in one color, black, but looks good overall
- May catch more crosswinds and become less stable than standard bicycle wheel or deep dish rims
- Adds weight and inertia to systems with front shocks, changes rebound characteristics
- Pedal sensor pack may not work if there isn’t enough room between your crank arm and the chainstay