Bicycles

Review: GeoOrbital Wheel brings an electric boost and a touch of sci-fi to your bike

Review: GeoOrbital Wheel bring...
The GeoOrbital Wheel turns your existing bike into an e-bike
The GeoOrbital Wheel turns your existing bike into an e-bike
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The GeoOrbital Wheel that we tested weighed a little over 22 lb (10 kg)
1/5
The GeoOrbital Wheel that we tested weighed a little over 22 lb (10 kg)
Installation is for the most part just a matter of taking your existing front wheel off, putting the GeoOrbital Wheel on, and fastening its hard-wired throttle control to the handlebars
2/5
Installation is for the most part just a matter of taking your existing front wheel off, putting the GeoOrbital Wheel on, and fastening its hard-wired throttle control to the handlebars
The GeoOrbital Wheel turns your existing bike into an e-bike
3/5
The GeoOrbital Wheel turns your existing bike into an e-bike
The GeoOrbital Wheel's handlebar-mounted throttle control
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The GeoOrbital Wheel's handlebar-mounted throttle control
The GeoOrbital Wheel has a top throttle-only speed of 20 mph (32 km/h)
5/5
The GeoOrbital Wheel has a top throttle-only speed of 20 mph (32 km/h)

Of all the cycling gadgets we've had the chance to test here at New Atlas – and there have been quite a few – the GeoOrbital Wheel has got to be one of the most fascinating. Like the Electron Wheel and the Omni Wheel, it's an electric front wheel that instantly converts your existing bike into an e-bike. Unlike them, however, it looks like it belongs in the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. That said, is it really the electric wheel of the future?

The GeoOrbital Wheel actually owes its existence to another sci-fi classic – Tron. Inventor Michael Burtov was inspired by the light cycles in that film, which feature what are known as centerless wheels. This means that they have no hub or spokes, instead consisting of a rim and tire that revolve around an empty space in the middle.

In the case of the GeoOrbital Wheel, though, that empty space is partially occupied by a non-rotating module that contains the 500-watt brushless motor, the removable Panasonic li-ion battery pack, and the electronics. Three arms reach out from that module to the inside of the rim, each one equipped with a rubber roller at the end. The bottom roller is powered by the motor, causing the rim to rotate around the module.

The GeoOrbital Wheel that we tested weighed a little over 22 lb (10 kg)
The GeoOrbital Wheel that we tested weighed a little over 22 lb (10 kg)

Because the rollers are constantly pressing against the rim's inner surface, there's no room for a valve stem to be sticking up. As a result, the wheel has to be equipped with a foam-filled tire that doesn't require air. This means that flats aren't an issue, although there is a bit of a revolving weight penalty. Additionally, once the tire's tread wears out, you won't just be able to nip up to your local bike shop to buy a replacement – you'll likely have to order one from GeoOrbital.

Installation is for the most part just a matter of taking your existing front wheel off, putting the GeoOrbital Wheel on, and fastening its hard-wired throttle control to the handlebars. In the case of the bike that we were using, though, there was enough of a difference between the width of its rim and that of the GeoOrbital Wheel, that we also had to readjust the brake cable in order to open the brake to the right width. This means that going back and forth between the two wheels would not just be a matter of opening and closing the brake's quick-release. To be fair, though, we did have the same problem with at least one of the other electric wheels we tested.

The GeoOrbital Wheel has a top throttle-only speed of 20 mph (32 km/h)
The GeoOrbital Wheel has a top throttle-only speed of 20 mph (32 km/h)

Once you're ready to go, it's just a matter of powering the wheel up by turning its included "ignition" key, turning the throttle on by pressing a button on it, then pressing down on its thumb lever for smooth, even acceleration.

A top speed of 20 mph (32 km/h) is possible using nothing but the throttle, and there currently is no proper pedal-assist feature. In other words, when you pedal without the throttle engaged, the motor does not provide power proportional to your pedalling effort. Although the motor does kick in slightly when you initially start pedalling (to help offset the resistance created by the regenerative braking system), using pedal-power alone certainly still does require some effort – certainly more than is required using a regular non-electric front wheel.

A true pedal-assist module is planned as a future upgrade.

Installation is for the most part just a matter of taking your existing front wheel off, putting the GeoOrbital Wheel on, and fastening its hard-wired throttle control to the handlebars
Installation is for the most part just a matter of taking your existing front wheel off, putting the GeoOrbital Wheel on, and fastening its hard-wired throttle control to the handlebars

As for battery life … on the 700c wheel-size model that we were using, one 4-hour charge of the 10Ah/36V battery is good for a claimed range of 20 miles (32 km). There's also a 26-inch model with a correspondingly smaller 6Ah/36V battery, which gets 12 miles (19 km) on a 3-hour charge. In both cases, the range can be increased if you pedal a bit while simultaneously using the throttle – essentially giving your bike two-wheel drive.

And as for weight … although the 700c model has a claimed weight of 21 lb, it came out at over 22 (10 kg) when we weighed it. Although that sounds like a lot, it is right in the neighborhood of other similar products. And, like those, it does make your bike quite front-heavy, causing it to hit potholes and other road boo-boos pretty darn hard – good thing it's got that no-flat tire. Additionally, when it does take those hits, the battery rattles within its housing more than we would have liked.

All in all, we found the GeoOrbital Wheel to be quite clever and snazzy-looking, but we'd probably wait until the pedal-assist feature arrives before buying one ourselves. It's priced at US$995, which once again may sound like a lot, but is actually decent compared to what else is out there.

Product page: GeoOrbital Wheel

8 comments
exodous
Yeah, I like this way better than a fully-electric bike. It is much easier to just have a bike and throw something like this on when you need it. Touring with kids seems like this would help a lot, when it is pedal assist. Kids are extra weight and just because you have spawned doesn't mean you can't go out and bicycle or even tour vast distances. It is also teaching your kids not to be lazy and get them some fresh air, kids live way too many hours inside. Also for the elderly this would be nice.
Milton
not so sure about this one...
T N Args
I think there are several alternative suppliers, not just GeoOrbital, for foam-filled tyre replacements.
Stradric
Aesthetically, that's a pretty dorky upgrade. Also, I can't imagine the spokeless design provides adequate stiffness, especially since it adds so much weight over that wheel. It just seems like a very experimental way to spend $1000.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The best feature of this is that you might be able to pedal at a constant aerobic rate while going up and down hill.
Nik
The unsprung weight looks to be a problem, and the rattling that the motor will get from road bumps is not likely to ensure it a long and trouble free life. Also water and mud effects on the rim are likely to interfere with traction, and cause significant erosion, and probably corrosion.
studleylee
I envision a stick derailing the rim and the triad of drive/support rollers digging in to catapult the rider. It's one of those great napkin-what-if ideas that needs further improvement for the real world utility.
Grunchy
UCI requires at least 16 spokes on a wheel. It turns out that is partially due to safety, because it limits how big a thing you can insert through a moving wheel (for example, an animal collides with the side of your wheel and inserts its head in between the spokes - could become a bit of a mess). It's an interesting concept, but not realistically practical.