Monthly Archives: December 2009

MIT’s Copenhagen Wheel: A new direction for electric bikes?

Recently MIT announced their new design for an electric assist bicycle wheel that has been getting a lot of press. Unlike most electric bicycles, which utilize a separate motor, battery, and controller, the Copenhagen wheel crams all three components into a sleek-looking housing in the bicycle’s rear wheel. This eliminates the snaking wires and protruding batteries that abound on many electric bikes, and aside from the screaming red color of the prototype, makes for a more incognito electric kit setup.

The motor uses regenerative braking, a system which generates power during braking and coasting, to provide power. Some current electric bike motors like Sanyo and BionX use regenerative braking, but MIT’s design is the first to use it exclusively. They haven’t released any hard numbers on how much power the wheel produces, weight, or battery life, so we’ll have to wait and see how it works in the real world.

Aside from the motor, the Copenhagen wheel is also unique in its many additional features. It has a bluetooth link that syncs with the iPhone and other smart phones, enabling the rider to control the wheel’s power output and display real-time info like speed and distance traveled. Personally, I’d like to see another option for controls that doesn’t involve strapping an expensive mobile phone to my handlebars, but I assume that will be addressed when this design moves closer to production.

All in all, I think it’s a good idea, and if the real-world performance matches the vague claims and fancy pictures on their website, this design and others like it could really forge a new direction for electric bikes.

Commuting in the Snow

My first day at Philly Electric Wheels, and my twenty-mile round trip commute, happened to coincide with the first winter storm of the year. During the day, thick clumps of snow drifted down as customers, neighbors, and friends circulated in and out of the shop. By the end of the business day, the sun had set and the snow continued.

It seemed like the perfect opportunity to test a headlight, so Afshin sent me out into the storm with the Cateye EL530 headlight, a one-LED powerhouse producing a bright 1,500 candlepower beam that cut through the dark and made other road users aware of my presence as the snow swirled and the wind blustered around me. Cateye’s quick release light mount made it easy to detach the light so I could illuminate snow-splattered street signs as I tried to find my way back home.

Finally the snow dwindled into a light drizzle and I found myself on familiar streets. By now I was accustomed to the cold and took my time admiring low clouds swirling around the tall buildings of Center City and dawdled through the darkened streets of South Philly until at last I arrived at my crumbling row house. All the while the Cateye headlamp provided a strong, steady beam undaunted by the cold, wet night.

If you’re looking for a waterproof headlamp that packs a lot of power for dark winter evenings, come down to the shop and check out the EL530.