Friday, March 25, 2016

Fossil Free Friday: Powered Wheels (for bikes) Overview

This is a weird but very promising category. The hard part is the Copenhagen Wheel.

Have you ever watched a food commercial that made you really hungry for something, but the place advertising was too far away so you went to a closer version of (virtually) the same thing? It's like that. The early videos and Kickstarter and promos for the Copenhagen Wheel had us e-biker and wannabe e-bikers drooling and scrambling to come up with money to send them to reserve our expensive but oh-so-cool Copenhagen Wheels. I was, at the time, broke (for which I am strangely thankful).

So, competitors started developing similar products and the race was on, or so it seemed. The competitors built their products, got them to market, and are now putting out updated versions and spin-off products. And those poor people who ponied up the reservation money a few years ago are starting to see some light at the end of their CW tunnels, but you still can't just order a Copenhagen Wheel, snagit!

So, what it so cool about these products? They are ultrasimple in installation and operation, and shipping for them is relatively cheap.

How simple are they? To be a fully capable powered wheel installer/e-bike rider you have to have two basic skills.
  1. Can you fix a flat on a bicycle? (Or can you get your bike to a bike shop?)
  2. Can you install and operate an app on a smartphone? (Or, do you know any teenagers who are willing to help?)
If you can answer "yes" to a few of those questions, you are ready for a powered wheel install and operation. There are even how-to youtube videos to show you how in case you have a few struggles with answering "yes".

The concept is simple. Motor, controller, throttle, and batteries are all contained in a wheel. Slap it on your bike, download an app and pair it to your wheel. You're good to go. In some cases, the setup has a dashboard, so you don't even need the smartphone.

 
What's available now: the FlyKly
 
 
Yep Flykly got their product to market quickly. Their Smart Wheel will cost you $999, regardless of which size (20", 26", or 28") you choose. It can only be had as a rear wheel, which complicates installation a tiny bit, but many people (like me) prefer the ride characteristics of rear-wheel motors. The Smart Wheel can carry you up to 16 mph for  25-60 miles. And it's pretty stealthy. Most people won't know you are riding an electric bike. By the way, the FlyKly is an assist-only product. If you don't pedal, you don't go.
 
You can also buy a FlyKly Smart Bicycle for $1590 (cool, basic, with 20" wheels) or you can buy one of the coolest folding people movers on the planet, the FlyKly Smart Ped, for $999. I don't even like kick scooters (it's a fat middle-aged guy thing) but I have to admit this thing is a great execution of a phenomenal idea.
 
What's available now: the Evelo Omni Wheel
 
 
 
The Evelo Omni Wheel is also available for immediate shipping. While it has similarities to the FlyKly, there are some very big differences. At 350 watts, it is considerably more powerful - so it should be faster and/or capable of carrying larger loads (like me, for instance). It is front-wheel only, it comes with a digital display and an actual throttle - it can go with no pedaling at all. Evelo also offers in-house financing, FREE shipping, and a 7-day trial period. It is also not rare to catch the Omni Wheel on sale. (The Omni Wheel available now is the second-generation model - fewer early adopter kinks.) Evelo also sells complete e-bikes, but not one with the Omni Wheel.
 
Available soon (We Hope): Copenhagen Wheel, Daymak DDS, GeoOrbital
 
 
You can learn more about the Copenhagen Wheel at superpedestrian.com
 
Daymak Shadow
 
Daymak has an interesting place on this list as a once and future provider of powered wheels. Five years ago they offered up a bike with an integrated power wheel - the Shadow. It was a very interesting early approach, but it does not appear to be available now.
 
 
For about a year now Daymak has been showing off the DDS, a powered wheel that has the novel approach of solar panel charging. They hope to offer it as a wheel or a complete bike. It's a rear wheel setup with a 250 watt motor. You can sign up for email updates on the site.
 
 

 
Last up, we have the GeoOrbital Wheel. I think I like this one a lot. It's a very different approach, and (as of today) we will have big news about it 31 days from now. The GeoOrbital idea is to keep the internals stationary while spinning only the rim. It also has the most powerful motor (500 watts!) of the bunch and the 36-volt battery can be upgraded for more range.  (This wheel seems to have more options for those who'd like to do some hot rodding upgrading. Sigh.
 
May the wheels in your head be spinning as you dream of these wheely appealing products! May you be safe and may you travel clean!