A few years ago, a shiny red wheel that turns any bike into an electric bike emerged from MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, promising a future of lazy two-wheeled transportation for all. But despite a number of promises, the Copenhagen Wheel has yet to actually hit the market.
No matter: A group of Slovenians have created the FlyKly Smart Wheel, which also turns any bike into an electric bike, but at a third of the weight of the Copenhagen Wheel, with an open API and the ability to incorporate crowdsourced intelligence.
Niko Klansek, one of the Smart Wheel creators, came up with the idea for a pedal assist device that fits onto a bike rim's spokes after starting the FlyKly electric bike company in 2011. "I'm a bicycle lover. The idea was that I wanted to put a motor, a battery, and electronics inside the rear wheel so you can put it in any bike you want, and say 'Today I want to ride it as an electric bike,'" says Klansek, who now lives in New York City.
And so Klansek created exactly that: a nine-pound pedal assist wheel containing a super-thin motor and lithium battery. When using the wheel, cyclists can go up to 20 mph for 30 miles without pedaling before they need to recharge. While that's not enough for a long bike trip, it leaves ample battery power for short jaunts around a city.
Installing the wheel is easy. Just remove a bike's rear wheel, replace it with the Smart Wheel, and start riding. Set the top speed via the FlyKly app (currently compatible with iPhone, Android, and the Pebble watch, but the Smart Wheel API is open source), and keep track of distance, battery, time traveled, and speed as you ride. The Smart Light comes included and features a handlebar smartphone holder and the ability to recharge an onboard LED light (and mobile electronics) while you pedal.
Klansek doesn't like when the Smart Wheel is compared to electric bikes. The Smart Wheel's feature set is so much more advanced, he says, that the comparison doesn't make sense. "The Smart Wheel collects data, learns how you use [the bike], and will suggest better routes and quicker routes," he says. Data can be shared and compared with the larger Smart Wheel community. Ultimately, Klansek imagines that cycling data could be used by cities to evaluate the best locations for new bike lanes.
While the Smart Wheel is optimized for city riding, it's also a fancy object that's ripe for the picking by bike thieves. However, the wheel can be locked by pressing a button on the app and an onboard GPS means that a stolen wheel can be tracked and recovered.
And if the wheel breaks? "We make it so it's hard to break. Because it's connected by Bluetooth to the app, if something goes wrong, before it breaks, it will notify you," says Klansek. The Smart Wheel can't be fixed by a local bike shop, though. FlyKly has opted to replace broken wheels instead of repairing them. "We believe we're shipping quality products," says Klansek.
The Smart Wheel is available on Kickstarter starting at $550.