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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Copenhagen Wheel Gives Bicycles A Boost

Copenhagen Wheel co-inventor Assaf Biderman outside the Here & Now studios. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Copenhagen Wheel co-inventor Assaf Biderman outside the Here & Now studios. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Install the wheel, download the Copenhagen Wheel app, and you're ready to go.  (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Install the wheel, download the Copenhagen Wheel app, and you’re ready to go. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

The Copenhagen Wheel is a back wheel outfitted with a rechargeable battery that gives a bicycle rider a boost when going uphill. The battery is charged when riding downhill and braking.

The wheel is engineered and marketed by Superpedestrian, after being initially developed at MIT’s SENSEable City Lab as a research project sponsored by the mayor of Copenhagen.

Copenhagen Wheel co-inventor Assaf Biderman joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the technology, which he hopes will make commuting by bike easier and more attractive.


  • Assaf Biderman, co inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel. He teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is the associate director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.

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  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    I’m looking forward to hearing this story, and I’m curious how the regen(erative braking) works with a gear set and derailleur. How is the battery charged? I’d love to to use it on a velomobile; like a Quest.

    • Benjamin Nead

      It really is a cool idea. Most pedalec-type e-bikes are sort of cabbaged together from diverse parts, with wires and various controller/battery boxes hanging off the frame or underneath the seat. This one simply bolts onto the rear dropouts and a wireless connection to a smartphone or small tablet computer sets the parameters . . . no wires.

      Questions I have regard battery performance in hot climate cycling (it gets a LOT hotter down here in Arizona than in Boston or Copenhagen.) I’m waiting to hear from folks who have bought it and put it through the paces on their own before I buy. But if it works as well as advertised, I’m in.

  • Caroline

    This bike is excellent! Good for those who are a little out of shape, or a little more elderly and have knee problems. I love to bike ride, but cars traveling so fast on back roads make it less fun or comfortable than 30 years ago when I rode around 10 to 15 miles a day. The pedaling backwards is cool ~ thanks for the demonstration. It works over the radio! NO ONE SHOULD USE A PHONE WHILE BIKE RIDING, or DRIVING!!!

    • Benjamin Nead

      Yes, good point, Caroline. Having a smart phone (or it could be a small tablet or iPod Touch, with no phone) on the handlebars to occasionally assist with adjusting the parameters of the wheel shouldn’t be too much of an issue, though.

      An iPod Touch seems like a natural accessory for the Copenhagen Wheel (yes, I checked their web site and it’s supported.) I keep my cheap flip phone in my messenger bag when I’m cycling and on that rare occasion I do get a call while pedaling, I pull off the road to answer.

      I used to ride around with earphones on, while listening to a Walkman cassette player and without wearing a helmet. I wouldn’t think of doing any of that now. But, sadly, you’re always going to have distracted cyclists out there regardless. If one happens to encounter a motorist who is equally distracted with their electronic gadgets, it’s the cyclist who is always going to suffer the most.

      Bike safe!

  • Tom Drexel

    Wasn’t this featured in the Showtime series, Weeds”?

    • sdpaia

      Yes, I remember that too.

  • Thomas
    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Does that law apply to an electric *assist* system like the Copenhagen Wheel? In other words, you have to pedal to go on this system; whereas with an electric bike with an accelerator that can go without pedaling is quite different.

    • Rsm2

      You don’t need an assist in NYC. Inwood to Wall is what, 5 miles, mostly downhill?

      • McOregon

        Both ways?

    • Gym

      Too bad is right…if the new Mayor or NYPD ever choose to enforce this particular law. Just spend some time in the Big Apple and you will see a wide range of eCycles weaving through the city streets (mostly delivering stuff). I see it on a daily basis.

      BTW – Mine is a Wilderness Energy conversion on an old Monteque folder.

  • jonathanpulliam

    I would be wary of a number of potential drawbacks. The added mechanical complexity imposes added parts/maintenance as well as some inherent parasitic drag. If your downhill coasting must be slowed to charge the battery, only a fraction of this energy will be returned as useful power. The article does not mention the battery technology, but many cells are so expensive that they may invite theft; some even run you the risk of incendiary explosion, if they are improperly charged or become damaged. Moreover, there may be operating scenarios in which the extra gyroscopic effects owing to having a far more massive hub may mitigate against optimal “road handling” and hence overall safety.

  • ScrewBot

    “A lot of people are taking up cycling now, but we wanted to modify bicycles to make sure they consumed electricity and the riders got less exercise”, say the inventors of the Copenhagen Wheel.

    • jonathanpulliam

      “… and the riders got less exercise”. No. Physics dictates that riders expend more energy (exercise), not less, to cycle a given distance, using the hub described in this article, assuming no external recharging of the battery power cells occurs, for the reasons I mentioned in a separate post.

  • MinPDX

    This looks like a great product but…
    It’s not $700 as claimed in the interview. It’s $799. The $700 was some sort of “early bird” teaser.
    The delivery date is summer, 2014.
    None of these are in daily use by actual consumers.
    I can walk down the street here in Portland, buy an ebike, and ride it home this afternoon.
    It’s a nice idea but I think I’ll wait.

  • Fred

    Too bad it’s just a joke. A perpetual-motion-powered bike WOULD be cool!

  • ScrewBot

    Riding a bicycle on the flat is ALMOST effortless, riding it downhill IS effortless, and riding uphill with a multi-geared bike is easier than walking. So, this expensive 12 pound motor is for what, exactly?

  • Vizsla

    weight?? how much does it weigh..

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