Superpedestrian’s ‘Copenhagen Wheel’ Is Now For Sale

Born out of MIT, it helps give cyclists the boost they need to get up those tough-to-bike hills.

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Showing up sweaty to the office after an intense bike commute could soon be a distant fear, because starting today, a bike-wheel attachment that helps power riders up hills with relative ease is available to the general public.

Known as the Copenhagen Wheel, the device is comprised of a self-contained motor and batteries that snap onto the back of an ordinary bicycle, instantly transforming it into a hybrid electric vehicle with social media capabilities.

The wheel stores energy during a ride, and when cyclists need a boost, it helps give them an extra push to get where they are going. “The average non-professional rider puts out around 75 watts [when riding],” said Assaf Biderman, an MIT researcher and founder of Superpedestrian, the company that makes the wheel. “With the motor you get a continuous 250 watts extra. That’s 325 watts. That’s more than four times than your average person can put out. You are almost four times stronger.”

Developed in MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory in 2009, as part of a research project sponsored by the Mayor of Copenhagen, much of the progress on the wheel has taken place during the past year, aided by a multi-million dollar investment from Spark Capital and the collaboration between lab technicians and Superpedestrian.

Sales of the Copenhagen Wheel start today, and Biderman expects them to ship by the first of April. Although pricey—a wheel can cost as much as a bike, coming in at $700—and a bit on the heavy side, weighing approximately 12 pounds, Biderman insists it’s an investment worth making for anyone taking on the urban landscape with two wheels.

“We have seen in the past decade a bike renaissance around the world. People all over the planet are searching for ways to move around on bikes that are more sustainable and more pleasurable, and to replace some of their car travel,” Biderman said. “What we are doing is offering an alternative that is both fun, and it’s a seamless experience—you ride it just like any bike.”

Not only will the distance of bike commutes feel shorter, he said, but bikers will show up places without sweat dripping from their foreheads. “The bike learns how you pedal. So from a technical standpoint, it improves by understanding how hard you push when you pedal, and how often you need help,” he said. “The steepest hill on Beacon Hill will feel slightly more difficult than riding on a plane.”

The Copenhagen Wheel uses a cyclist’s smartphone in tandem with a sensor built into the circular red hub, which recognizes the topography a user typically encounters on a ride. They can then pre-program when they want the wheel to help them out. The app even tracks data such as distance traveled, calories burned, and elevation climbed, which can be shared on social media sites. “It opens the door to a more social experience,” Biderman said. “It keeps you fit, while allowing you to reach further than ever before. You can share that with others, and inspire others.”

Since Superpedestrian announced that they were building the wheel for the general public back in October, the company has received tens of thousands of inquiries about purchasing the device from all over the world, he said.

Biderman said the immense interest has members of the Superpedestrian team working on their next project—which he wouldn’t discuss—to make riding more interactive and enjoyable. “We have a whole bunch of plans for the future, but for now we are selling the wheel. But there is a lot coming up next in the pipe,” he said.