- All in one smart wheel electric bike kit for 26" or 700c wheels, works with single speed or cassette
- Removable Lithium-ion battery for convenient charging or extended rides (with optional second pack)
- Solid one year warranty, larger and heavier than some wheel kits, only available in bright red
This review is for a prototype version of the Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel, a newer more updated version has been demoed and reviewed here. The updated version does not have a locking side door or removable battery, it has a magnetic charging port, on/off switch and LED charge level indicator along with an updated app.
Superpedestrian was formed by students and faculty from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who had been working to identify and solve sustainability related problems before braking away to commercialize. In 2009 a predecessor to this unique drive system was presented at the Kyoto Protocol climate change conference in Copenhagen. It was sponsored by then Lord Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard and received half a million dollars to continue research. In addition to this grant, Superpedestrin has received funding rounds from Spark Capital (known for funding Foursquare, Twitter, Oculus Rift, Skillshare and others) and others. A lot of the innovation seen with the FlyKly and Zehus ebike wheels originated with the Copenhagen Wheel project and I’m told that some members of these companies are actually former MIT students who worked on the project but have since gone in their own directions.
What makes this all-in-one electric bike wheel conversion kit so special is the ambition and creativity it has sparked in the industry. It’s an elegant, efficient and powerful motor, battery and wheel system that work together and respond to your smart phone to operate in different modes. It may sound a little complex but the system is actually very intuitive and easy to use. There aren’t any wires to run along the bike frame or extra control boxes and battery racks to add… it’s all in the wheel. You charge it up, turn it on, select a mode in the app (turbo, normal, flat city, eco or workout) and then pedal like normal. The wheel uses speed and torque readings to assist you and record performance. When you it’s time to slow down you can use your standard rim brakes (this version of the Copenhagen Wheel is not disc brake compatible) and pedal backwards to activate a power regeneration mode that turns the motor into power station, adding a bit of juice back into your battery. It’s a neat system that works with single speed or multi speed rear cassettes so you can use it with cruisers, road bikes or cross country mountain bikes without losing your own mechanical advantage.
I was able to test ride a developer kit version of the Copenhagen Wheel and was asked not to photograph the internal parts (though the final version will have a removable battery pack). Inside there’s a 350 watt gearless motor that uses magnets to drive forward. It’s smooth and extremely quiet. The hub is setup in a direct drive configuration which means it doesn’t freewheel so there is a bit of drag when coasting or using the system in off mode (as shown in the video). By using a gearless design the regeneration on this kit feels stronger than that of the FlyKly and generates more power thanks to the larger magnet configuration for 350 watts vs. 250. It’s able to easily reach a 20mph top speed and climbs pretty well but also weighs a bit more at ~13 pounds vs. ~6.5 pounds.
The battery technology used here is Lithium-ion which is energy dense (light weight) and long lasting for 1,000+ charge cycles if cared for. The ability to remove the pack makes charging convenient and opens up the possibility for extended range using multiple packs! Once the battery is charged (estimated to take ~4 hours), a physical switch activates the Bluetooth wireless technology onboard and makes the motor discoverable to the app. Once they’re connected the bike is ready to go. One concern I had about the battery location on this kit was the possibility of overheating. Given the proximity of the motor, the batteries providing electricity (and also getting charged with regen) and all of this being sealed inside an aluminum shell it seemed like it could cause damage. I was told that there are sensors inside designed to detect and regulate temperature by limiting performance in the event of overheating. Nice! Keep in mind, if the battery is completely full, regeneration won’t work because there’s nowhere to put the extra energy being generated and this would also hurt the batteries.
I’ve already touched on the smart phone app that serves as a mode selector, ride history reference, wheel lock and social tool but it’s worth digging in a bit deeper here. While visiting Superpedestrian I was told that starting out, the team had thought to add environment sensors that could communicate with the app and send data to the cloud. Imagine the possibilities that knowledge of air quality, temperature and route preference could unlock for motivating change at the city, state and national level. More bike paths, stronger regulations for vehicle emissions etc. and that’s a big focus right now in places like Beijing where people are literally dying from air pollution. This is a place where ebikes were formerly banned (August 2002 to January 2006) due to concerns over environmental, safety and city image issues, but now embracing the technology.
I realize this is a bit of an atypical review with more background than stats and experience descriptions but it’s important to understand the setting and trajectory of the Copenhagen Wheel. Sure, it’s not the lightest or stealthiest thing around and it only comes in bright red but it’s ushering in a new kind of transportation that’s affordable, efficient and smart. At ~$800 this thing will transform your existing bike and help you go further and faster for less than almost any other option around. While it’s not exactly available to the public at the time of this writing, the developer kits are slated to ship Q4 2014 and I’m sure the guys at Spark Capital are pushing to get the public version out ASAP as the demand is huge. While I still prefer a Haibike AMT Pro or Easy Motion Neo Jumper for off road use, the Copenhagen Wheel is hard to beat in the city.
- Removable battery pack for charging on or off the bike and easier replacement and recycling
- Powerful 350 watt motor provides good torque for starting and climbing hills but runs quiet
- Open software API and developer support for creating your own apps or downloading those made by others
- Mobile app lets you choose a power setting, review ride history and create a profile for social interactions
- Flat City model provides a little assist on flat terrain and automatically kicks in to “flatten” hills conserving battery while providing a consistent ride
- Drive system is available spoked into 26″ and 700c wheel sizes, includes rim and tire
- Gearless motor design is smooth and quiet, provides excellent stopping and regeneration
- The batteries, controller and motor are all contained in the rear hub so you don’t have to run wires around the bike, the hub is also designed to be water resistant for easy cleaning and use on rainy days
- System is basically hands free once turned on (pedal forward to get assistance and pedal back to activate regen)
- Torque sensor activation is smooth, responsive and efficient extending the range of the battery as you pedal along
- Relatively affordable at $800 for the wheel and motor combined, pretty easy to install compared with other kits
- Solid one year warranty provided by Superpedestrian including motor and battery
- App is easy to use when riding if you’ve got a smart phone handlebar mount (swipe up or down to change modes)
- A bit heavier at ~13 pounds than the FlyKly or smaller 250 watt conversion kits
- Unique spoke design looks great but requires help from Superpedestrian to replace and still requires trueing to keep wheel straight over time
- Moderate cogging (magnetic drag of direct drive motor) when coasting or in off mode shown in video review
- Only available in bright red, not the stealthiest electric bike design given the size
- Creates a rear-heavy bike with more unsprung weight, may expose motor and battery to more trauma than a centerdrive electric bike
- Brake levers aren’t connected to motor system, if you keep pedaling the motor will fight your brakes (have to stop or pedal backwards)
- When battery is fully charged, regenerative braking won’t work (motor will stop powering the bike but won’t slow you down)
- Not compatible with disc brakes, must use rim brakes or rely on front brake only with rear backwards pedaling regen mode
- No twist throttle option, pedal assist only