Bicycles

Review: Bike-boosting Copenhagen Wheel finally hits the streets

Review: Bike-boosting Copenhag...
The Copenhagen Wheel is now available for purchase
The Copenhagen Wheel is now available for purchase
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The US version of the Copenhagen Wheel (which is the one that we got) has a 350-watt motor powered by a 48V/279Wh lithium-ion battery, which takes four hours to charge
1/5
The US version of the Copenhagen Wheel (which is the one that we got) has a 350-watt motor powered by a 48V/279Wh lithium-ion battery, which takes four hours to charge
Copenhagen Wheel users can switch between Eco, Standard and Turbo pedal-assist modes via an iOS/Android app on their Bluetooth-paired smartphone
2/5
Copenhagen Wheel users can switch between Eco, Standard and Turbo pedal-assist modes via an iOS/Android app on their Bluetooth-paired smartphone
LEDs of the Copenhagen Wheel indicate battery life, as does the app
3/5
LEDs of the Copenhagen Wheel indicate battery life, as does the app
The Copenhagen Wheel is now available for purchase
4/5
The Copenhagen Wheel is now available for purchase
The 700C version of the Copenhagen Wheel that we were using tips the scales at 20 lb (9 kg)
5/5
The 700C version of the Copenhagen Wheel that we were using tips the scales at 20 lb (9 kg)
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It was back in 2009 that we first heard about the Copenhagen Wheel. Developed by MIT's SENSEable City team in consultation with the City of Copenhagen, it was a motor-equipped rear bicycle wheel that could turn an existing human-powered bicycle into an e-bike. The years since saw some production delays, but as of this April it finally became commercially available. We recently tried the wheel out for ourselves, and think it was worth the wait.

The US version of the Copenhagen Wheel (which is the one that we got) has a 350-watt motor powered by a 48V/279Wh lithium-ion battery, which takes four hours to charge. That motor kicks in whenever you pedal, adding a proportional amount of electrical assistance – a top motor-assisted speed of 20 mph (32 km/h) is possible, and there is no throttle-only mode. One charge of the battery is good for a range of up to 30 miles (48 km), although that will depend greatly on factors such as the hilliness of the ride.

The wheel is compatible with single-speed and 7, 8, 9 or 10-gear Shimano or SRAM drivetrains, coming with a cassette pre-installed. It isn't compatible with disc brakes (yet), and it also isn't recommended for use with carbon fiber frames. Unfortunately the test bike that we were planning on using didn't meet all of those criteria, but thankfully Edmonton's Hardcore Bikes came through with a loaner for us.

The US version of the Copenhagen Wheel (which is the one that we got) has a 350-watt motor powered by a 48V/279Wh lithium-ion battery, which takes four hours to charge
The US version of the Copenhagen Wheel (which is the one that we got) has a 350-watt motor powered by a 48V/279Wh lithium-ion battery, which takes four hours to charge

Mounting the wheel is almost as simple as just taking your existing rear wheel off and putting the Copenhagen Wheel back on it in its place. It does have a torque arm that has to be secured to the chainstay via an included steel hose clamp, and putting that clamp on did turn out to be quite a fiddly process – enough so that you'll probably just want to leave the Copenhagen Wheel installed indefinitely, as opposed to going back and forth between it and the original rear wheel as the mood strikes you.

There are other electric bike wheels that replace the front wheel, and putting them on certainly is simpler, as you don't have to bother with the chain and derailleur. One of the advantages of going with the rear wheel, however, is the fact that the Copenhagen Wheel uses its own torque/cadence sensors to detect when you're pedalling, so no peripheral devices are needed. By contrast, electric front wheels require a separate pedal sensor.

Copenhagen Wheel users can switch between Eco, Standard and Turbo pedal-assist modes via an iOS/Android app on their Bluetooth-paired smartphone
Copenhagen Wheel users can switch between Eco, Standard and Turbo pedal-assist modes via an iOS/Android app on their Bluetooth-paired smartphone

Additionally, there's no control unit that has to be mounted on your handlebars. Instead, you can switch between Eco, Standard and Turbo pedal-assist modes via an iOS/Android app on your Bluetooth-paired smartphone, which can simply be stuffed in a bag or pocket. That app also allows you to do things such as tracking your cycling routes, monitoring battery life, and locking the wheel when the bike is left unattended.

And yes, we checked … the motor does keep working once the phone is turned off. This means you won't be stuck pedalling an unpowered wheel if your phone's battery conks out mid-ride.

Once we got it on the road, we found that the Copenhagen Wheel performed flawlessly. Its motor kicked in smoothly and instantly whenever the pedals were in motion, giving us the feeling of constantly riding with a great tailwind. Going up hills was a breeze – no pun intended. And although the fast-accelerating Turbo mode certainly made for some fun riding, we found that even the battery-saving Eco mode provided a good boost.

The 700C version of the Copenhagen Wheel that we were using tips the scales at 20 lb (9 kg)
The 700C version of the Copenhagen Wheel that we were using tips the scales at 20 lb (9 kg)

It's possible to turn the motor off completely while riding, although we wouldn't recommend doing so unless you're travelling downhill. The 700C version of the wheel that we were using tips the scales at 20 lb (9 kg), which is a lot of weight to turn around using just your legs. That may sound heavy, although a couple of the other electric wheels we've tested have actually weighed two or three pounds more.

Additionally, it's definitely worth noting that its build quality is good and solid. It doesn't rattle at all, even when going over bumps, which certainly can't be said of all of its competitors.

If you're interested in getting a Copenhagen Wheel of your own, it can be purchased now via the website of its manufacturer, Superpedestrian. It'll cost you US$1,499, which does put it at the high end of such products – other electric bike wheels range from around $995 to $1,249.

Product page: Superpedestrian

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9 comments
Leonard Foster Jr
The price is a deal killer, you can buy whole ebikes at that pricing, and what's up with the spokes?
Pete0097
My brother and I built an electric bike back in the 70's. 3 speed Rayleigh frame. It could go 40 mph and go about 40 miles. It was low tech. It wasn't pretty, but silent and fun.
Booleanboy
I agree with Leonard Foster Jr - the price is a complete killer. This is a market just waiting for a manufacturer to have the faith to produce a well-developed unit that will sell at high enough volumes to achieve a price point waaay below this.
BenOuellette
Evelo Omni wheel is 520 watt hours and is cheaper.
jd_dunerider
I can't imagine spending that much money on this. That being said, if someone gave me one, the first thing I would do is paint it black! So ugly.
pmshah
Converting a bicycle onto an e-bike is no big deal and not a new concept either. I remember my father used to sell a rear wheel called "Cycle Master" back in the late 50s to early 60s. It was imported from England. It has a small 2 stroke engine and did an excellent job.
Bruce H. Anderson
Is the battery pack is internal? How is it charged?
The price may seem high, but compared to the cost of getting a European drivers license, it's not that bad. In the USA it may face some resistance, but perhaps not so much in urban centers located in temperate climates, where it is a lot cheaper than a car.
Ed Llorca
The built in battery is nice but you can buy everything you need for $700 probably with a bigger battery and a lot less dorky looking
Gregg Eshelman
A US version? How many other versions? If they'd just make ONE version for everywhere the cost could be lower due to not needing to design and build and certify them all.
That was a lesson learned by American car manufacturers in the 1960's when air conditioning was becoming popular in cars. Make AC standard and costs go down because there's no need to design, manufacture and keep in inventory the non-AC components, and no need to train assembly workers on two very different installs.
But it took until into the 1980's for car companies to apply this method to almost all models.
Yet even after doing this for air conditioning, they continue to make pointless differences in functionally identical components between different makes of the same vehicle. For example, two different nameplates on the same vehicle, with the same drivetrain, may have differently shaped and incompatible accessories under the hood, where the vast majority of owners will never see, and if they do ever lift the hood wouldn't notice or care that a part on a Chevy won't fit a Buick. The ones who *do* care and curse the manufacturers are the mechanics.
Ford was especially bad about this with their Ranger Pickup and the Explorer/Mountaineer and Sport Trac based on it. Those three are chock full of incompatible parts for which there's absolutely no reason the exact same part could not have been used across the board.