At first glance, the Jyrobike looks a little like magic: Give it a push down the sidewalk, and it rolls along by itself, staying completely upright. The secret is a quickly-spinning disc inside the front wheel, which uses gyroscopic force to automatically balance the small bike whenever it starts to wobble.
For kids, it’s a way to learn how to ride a bike in an hour or two. But unlike using training wheels, it starts teaching the art of balance from the beginning; if you lean too heavily, the bike will tip over.
"We designed it so the bike does about half the work," says Jyrobike CEO Robert Bodill. "Training wheels do all of the balance…but when you take them off a child will fall over and have bad habits. We found a sweet spot to provide a lot of stability to give the child confidence, which is sort of half the battle with kids learning to ride."
The wheel has three different settings, so after a little practice, a new cyclist can gradually reduce the amount of help they’re getting. Eventually, the "control hub" can come off completely.
The designers worked to make the bike as fun as possible, adding a few preset sounds like a bugle and dinosaur to the wheel. "The fun factor is another way to build confidence," says Bodill. "If kids like what they’re doing they’ll tend to want to do it again, and do it with more vigor and enthusiasm and motivation."
Sometime next year, the company plans to introduce an adult version as well, intended mostly for older riders who have balance issues or those with disabilities. "We'll use an algorithm to identify rider behavior," explains Bodill. "So you would have an adult who might be more or less wobbly, depending on the speed and their abilities and their height, and the Jyrobike would automatically compensate for that until they become stable."
The company is working on research now with the government in the Netherlands, where 70% of trips happen by bike. "When someone in that community gets unplugged because they can’t ride a bike, they feel isolated," says Bodill. "We want to help change that . . . Globally, we know that there are about a billion people with some type of disability. In the U.S., there are 7 million people with some balance impairment issue."
The children's version of the bike is raising funds on Kickstarter now.