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.