17 December 2009

The Copenhagen Wheel

Addendum: 14 June 2010: Read this interesting criticism of the Copenhagen Wheel from Steven, Architectural Historian and cyclist: Two thumbs down for The Copenhagen Wheel. The City of Copenhagen and MIT have been working on a project for a while and it was finally revealed here in Copenhagen this week. The Copenhagen Wheel. An electric assist device on a back wheel that is also filled with a host of functions. Smart, responsive and elegant, the Copenhagen Wheel is a new emblem for urban mobility. It transforms ordinary bicycles quickly into hybrid e-bikes that also function as mobile sensing units. The Copenhagen Wheel allows you to capture the energy dissipated while cycling and braking and save it for when you need a bit of a boost. It also maps pollution levels, traffic congestion, and road conditions in real-time. The Copenhagen Wheel with Lord Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard in the background.

Now I certainly didn't write that, above. They did. Of course they did. The most interesting aspect of the gadget, in my opinion, is that it can be retrofitted onto existing bikes. That's geekspeak for "take off the wheel you have now and put this new one on". It might also be an interesting idea in that it eliminates the need for many electric bikes and all the large, cumbersome batteries that are so difficult to dispose of. Simple, elegant and symbolic. I just hope you can get versions of the wheel in different colours to match your existing bike. In Copenhagen rust-coloured wheel hubs would be a big hit. Oh, except it weighs 15 kg. Nevermind.

We also have to question the wisdom of e-bikes in cities. Are we supposed to send fast moving, silent machines into mainstream bicycle cities like Copenhagen where the average speed for Citizen Cyclists is 16 km/h? We have enough problems with scooters. Do we need SILENT scooters flying past?

If you think about it, everything we need for cycling in a city has already been invented. Over a century ago.

Read more blah blah blah about The Copenhagen Wheel on MIT's website about The Copenhagen Wheel.


bikefriendlytowns said...

When do you reckon they'll be available? I need a red one for the wifes velorbis before Christmas!

gantxe said...

In the video looks like there is a Facebook page, I am not able to find it... any idea ?

kfg said...

Regenerative braking/coasting has been a Holy Grail of the geekazoid crowd for a long time. I find it's generally more trouble than it's worth as implementing it at least partially negates the intended benefits while at the same time driving up costs and lowering reliability.

You have to do oh so much to receive oh so little.

At least they built it into the hub, which is the only really proper way to do electric.

I'd hazard that this device isn't going to go over big in the long run on the simple bicycle, but might well find a useful home in the velomobile arena where the machines typically have features that will negate some of the negatives of this wheel.

Peter said...

There are batteries, but they are inside the red case. I'm not sure that using a cell phone is the ideal method of controlling the wheel.

In the original MIT concept, a portable, bar mounted controller communicated to the wheel via bluetooth. That seems OK.

I have regenerative braking on my bike. The company that makes the assist system estimates it adds 10% to the assist range.

In general, assist can recover only part of the energy lost to braking.

Chris Hutt said...

Is this an electric bike or not? If so, and assuming the batteries are in the wheel hub, then that's going to be a lot of extra weight to get rotating when you accelerate, making it even more sluggish.

This strikes me as a bit like the Sinclair C5, something that tries to meet a demand that doesn't exist. Regenerative braking is unlikely to be worth the expense, weight and complexity (more to go wrong) for the marginal benefits. Electric bikes make sense for some but the battery should not be built into the hub. Trying to combine those things in one hub gets you even more expense, weight and go-wrongability. That's simply not what cycling is about.

Ben Horne said...

When will this be available?

Peter said...

The batteries are in the red housing but do not rotate. The electric drive coils, batteries, and electronics are all stationary. Only the rare earth magnets rotate.

Chris Hutt said...

Peter, thank you for answering that point. Even so there remain so many unanswered questions? How much does it weigh? What capacity do the batteries have? What is the efficiency of the regenerative braking? Why add sophisticated sensors and electronics to the hub when these could be carried independently (and so removed from the bike for security and when not required)? it seems that a lot of weight is put into the hub when batteries would normally be placed nearer the centre of gravity of the bicycle

Peter said...

The advantage is that you can just replace your rear wheel with this and you are ready to go. No wiring needed.

Bionx makes a similar direct drive wheel which has nearly everything in it except the batteries. Their 250 watt wheel weights 7.5 lbs.

My impression is that this is a short-range assist motor, supply just part of your power with your pedaling supplying most. A 2 AHr lithium battery would be enough to give you significant assistance over 10 miles and weigh less than 2 pounds.

So maybe a total weight of 10 pounds.

Anonymous said...

Why do electric-assist bikes seem to fall into two camps - horribly expensive and crammed with spurious future-fragile gimmickry or else 1970's lawnmower motors bodged onto giant batteries?

Either way, they end up way too heavy AND ridiculously priced.

Living in quite a hilly country, I'd like to think that when I'm older, I could buy a wheel to put on my bike that just helps me up hills and extends my daily range for a reasonable cost to me and to the planet. That's all.

An electric-assist that's light enough to carry upstairs and has the same design ethic of any good bicycle: robust, simple, minimal, economical and futureproofed (repairable, updatable components). Won't designers even try to design that?

Evan said...

This was in the NYT's Science Times section on Tuesday:


Kim said...

It is an interesting way of collecting environmental data, it looks a lot better that any e-bike I have seen so far. I do wonder how well the Li batteries would stand up to the Copenhagen winter...

Peter said...

ananymous - you can go out and buy an assist system that adds 14 lbs to your bike and gives you good hillclimbing assist for maybe 30 miles.

But these systems with lithium batteries are very expensive.http://www.greenspeed.us/bionx_250_lithium_battery.htm

VERY reliable, from my experience. You can go cheaper with some other kits but you are sacrificing the simplicity and reliability.

Right now, the technology just isn't there ( mostly battery technology) to give you cheap and reasonable range and lightness.

Adam said...

Interesting but I'd imagine that cost and lack of self sufficiency through it needing to be repaired by someone who knows how to do it will divide opinion on and desire for it. Many people cycle as it is cost effective. Many people also cycle because they can repair and maintain bike themselves. This would likely remove both those aspects.

Duende said...

To be excellent for coexistence with the majority of US mass transit sysyems, this sounds great if it were available on 20 inch wheels of folding bikes. Is that coming?

Winnie said...

Very good wheel!!! I need one in Hong Kong. When will it available and how much?

spag said...

I personally don't really see this thing happening, I mean people installing such a huge device on their bikes.

If this is a real working machine, though, you can just as well install it inside the shared bikes of such a system!

There are also minor marketing glitches in the video from a "Copenhagenize view": the device provides information on breathed air quality and sporting performance, when 1) air quality is not any worse on a bike, no matter what anyone says, 2) cycling is not a sport, no matter what anyone says.

What do you think? :)