It's not uncommon for Americans to own bikes. It's just uncommon that they actually use them for transportation, rather than just an occasional spin around the park. A new design might help get more old bikes out of garages. In less than a minute, the GeoOrbital wheel can convert a bike to electric and make it easier to ride on daily commutes.
The hubless, spoke-less wheel—inspired by the light cycles in Tron—is filled with a motor, a battery pack, and electronics. Instead of spinning like a normal wheel, the module stays in one place, and small rollers make the rim turn by itself.
Basically, it includes everything that you might get in a fully electric bike, but in a single piece that's simple to install. You pop your old front wheel off, and put this one on. A throttle attaches to the handlebar, and when you need an extra boost of power to get through traffic or up a hill, you push it. The battery can last between 20-50 miles of riding, depending on how much you're pedaling, and the bike can go 20 miles an hour on its own.
"If your goal is to up-cycle your bike into an e-bike, there really aren't too many options out there currently," says co-founder Michael Burtov. "Most existing options are kits, which come with the various separate pieces (motor, battery, controller, throttle) and need to be assembled onto a bike, typically taking an hour or two unless you're well practiced, and requiring some mechanical skills. The new way is to build this into one neat package."
It's also less expensive than most electric bikes, which can cost thousands of dollars. The wheel will retail for around $900, and on the current Kickstarter campaign, the first pledges got a wheel for $499.
It's not the first electric wheel, though the design is unique. Others, like the FlyKly Smart Wheel, or the long-anticipated Catherine Wheel, look more like a traditional wheel. It's a little lighter than the Omni Wheel, a design that also packs everything into the front wheel, in part because the new design uses a lightweight foam tire (which also can't go flat).
The founders are hoping that it makes more people start to use a bike to commute. "For our team members and beta testers that commute on it daily, they report feeling safer because in many cases you're going at the same speed as cars without any effort," says Burtov. "You can change lanes more easily and accelerate with traffic from a stop. It feels just like riding your bike, only now it has superpowers."
While 100 million Americans say they ride a bike at least once a year, only 14 million ride twice a week. Though bike commuting is growing, it's still less than 1% of all commutes.
Though a few of the electronic components are imported, the rest of the wheel is made in Massachusetts, where the engineers can be present in the manufacturing process and monitor quality. "Too many companies make the cheapest thing that they can, and sell it for the lowest price possible," says Burtov. "They design things to break. We want to be a company that designs things to last."