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December 04, 2013

Energy-Storing Wheel Part of Growing Trend of Commuting by Bicycle

A new bicycle wheel has recently become available that assists bicycle riders with climbing hills using stored energy. The Copenhagen Wheel is another innovation in a growing trend of more bicycle commuting.

Superpedestrian, Inc. a Cambridge, Mass.-based spinoff from MIT’s (News - Alert) SENSEable City Lab, licenses the technology from the university to develop the Copenhagen wheel. The wheel is designed to replace the rear wheel of a bicycle. The most obvious difference from a conventional wheel is the orange plastic hub containing a motor, sensors, a lithium battery and wireless communication hardware.

A Copenhagen-equipped bicycle is pedaled the same as a regular bicycle. Once a speed of 5 km/h is reached, the motor kicks in and assists the rider. The battery is regenerated from brake heat and downhill riding. Sensors detect slope and location while wireless hardware communicates incline, speed and environmental conditions to the rider through a smartphone app, which also lets riders adjust how much assistance is provided.

The app also includes a feature where riders provide information about a route. The crowd-sourced information lets other riders know about things like safety issues, course conditions and detours.

The benefits of the Copenhagen Wheel are significant for bicycle commuters, the most obvious being its assistance with riding over hills. Since it takes less effort to ride, commuters are less likely to arrive at their destination physically exhausted and covered in sweat. It is also a greener alternative to gasoline-powered motors also designed to assist cyclists.

Bicycle commuting is becoming more popular according to data from the American Community Survey (ACS (News - Alert)). In 2012, 0.64 percent of commutes were by bicycle, a 10 percent increase over 2011 and the largest increase since 2007-2008. Since 2000, bicycle commuting has increased 62 percent.

Superpedestrian is not the only organization responding to this trend.  The Transport Commuter Bike developed through a project sponsored by Chicago-based SRAM LLC has a storage compartment where the spokes of the front wheel would normally be located. The wheel rotates on multiple bearing surfaces on the outside of the compartment.

Bicycle commuting outside the U.S. is also getting some attention. SRAM supports the World Bicycle Relief (WBR) charity, which makes bikes available to impoverished locations in Africa. As a result of WBR’s efforts, recipients of bicycles have increased productivity in their work, education and providing medical treatment.

Bicycle commuting has grown significantly over the past decade and does not appear to show any signs of slowing down. Thanks to a few innovative and charitable minds, it is becoming more convenient and available than before. 

Edited by Alisen Downey

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