This is the week of the failed Copenhagen Summit and therefore it is the week of MIT’s The Copenhagen Wheel, which has some very cool ideas put into the one package, namely the Bluetooth control where you take your normal (Bluetooth and GPS enabled) phone and mount it on your handlebars and you have yourself an instant dashboard.
And the self contained nature of the motor is pretty choice, and it is designed to go into a standard rear fork so presumably it is quite thin. I’d chuck one in my old normal bike, but it getting energy it seems only from braking does seem pretty limited. It’d be a toy electric bike, not a real one. A real electric bike has a handlebar throttle.
They’re an English Company from somewhere called Hampshire and that means they’re relatively expensive to buy in New Zealand. Try this guy in Whakatane.
So here it is a bit bruised and battered (but cleaned) after a few months of use:
It is a pretty solid bike. The frame is strong. It is also heavy. The bike with battery is 23 kg. That makes it a pain to chuck it over a gate or a fence. It is a pretty sturdy ride too. The riding position is quite upright, so it’s pretty comfortable. The 37v 14a advanced lithium polymer battery (518 watt hours) drops in behind the seat. It is lockable to the frame. Unfortunately it means you have to take the seat out to get to the battery. This means each ride I have to set the seat height again. Usually I charge the battery at home leaving the battery in the bike, but if I recharge at work I take the battery out. I have managed to break the battery handle 😦 It was made of plastic and wasn’t strong enough,
which means the battery is just that bit harder to get in and out. The little black rubber cover for the recharge plug and the fuse are long ago lost.
On the whole for the battery design I would prefer to have them mountable on the back carrier (my carrier is a 3rd party after market accessory). I would also like them daisy chainable. So if I bought another battery (which I can’t do, because the batteries cost too much) I’d like to be able to plug in a second or subsequent battery and then the computer was smart enough to drain one entirely first then the next. And if they were daisy chainable to a battery or two in a towed trailer, that’d be even better. I’d love a range on my battery where I could ride electric assisted all day.
Here’s my bike from the front with it’s after market lights. The bike is trying to do an ET wearing a monocle impression. The pannier is a standard one (not one of the Wisper ones) I bought at a local bike shop. The front end is pretty solid too. The throttle in the handlebar grip that works like a motorcycle throttle is an integral part of the system. I’m not wanting to press the screen of an iPhone to change gears. I like the Shimano gear set that comes with the bike. There’s only 7 gears, and I use about 3 of them, but step through the others. 1, 4 and 7 are the ones I use. I do most of my riding in 7th and top gear. On the flat I can ride pedal assist at 34km/hr and sustain about 28 km/hr in the first hour. I eat hills on it, and can ride up quite substantial hills in 6th or 7th and at 22km/hr, where on a normal bike I’d be in granny gear. My friends on normal bikes can usually keep up with me (and vice versa) on the flat, but I accelerate on hills whilst they drop behind.
Range wise I can do a comfy 40km without too much of a sweat. By the time I get back there’s power still in the battery and in me. I can do 80 or even 100km (depending on hills and wind) and me and the bike have had it with nothing left in either of our batteries. On my normal bike I’m dead after 60km.
On a bike carrier on the back of my car there are a few qualms. Firstly it is so damn heavy. I usually remove the battery to make it 3 or so kilos lighter. Next because the bike is longer than a normal bike by about the width of the battery behind the seat, it hangs over the side of the car by a couple of inches. Next the rear brake cable goes under the cross bar of the frame, when everything else is neatly wired on the bottom bar of the frame. And that back loop of metal for running the brake cable along is just in the wrong place for my bike carrier. So the end result is I’ve stuffed the cable up a bit and put a bit of wear onto the frame. Really it would be better to route the brake cable for the rear brakes with the other cables.
The computer is down low and not well protected. It is only splash proof and not fully waterproof. This I reckon is a design oversight. However I’ve forded a few creeks and it’s been fine. Then again the plug on the purple wires has fallen out the back. What that plug is for I don’t know. I plugged it into its other end and it makes the bike stop working.
The cogs on the back hub have corroded a bit. (Maybe cause I ride it on beaches) and the back connector’s plastic lug doesn’t fit on any more (nor did it very well at the start). I think this should be redesigned as a plug and socket for facilitating the removal of the back wheel. You need two 18 mm spanners to get it off and then it hangs by the wire. Two 18 mm spanners carried in the panniers is actually quite heavy. Some form of quick release that is key locked matching the other locks on the bike would be ideal.
So far I’ve had 26 punctures. Between a heavy bike and a heavy rider and off road riding I’ve had a few punctures. I’ve gone for goo filled tyres and not had a puncture since. If it becomes a problem again, I’m thinking of trying out fancy polyurethane airless tyres shipped over from Colorado.
I’ve had 4 broken spokes. They were due to two rough (but fun) rides. And spoke lengths on the rear wheel are a non standard 20cm. I think I should treat it as a commuter and touring bike, and leave the single track downhill for a different bike (and a younger rider). It does handle the gravel roads quite well. Flying across hard packed sand at 30km/hr it also handles quite well (but don’t stop pedalling or using that throttle as it’s heavy and it’ll sink into the sand).
The rear brakes being the brake pad against the rim type are pretty bad. The front disk brake works a lot better.
It’s taken a bit of rough punishment from me and it’s held up quite well. The original bike computer was rubbish quality and soon went. It’s replacement fell off and was lost, but that was a crap Cat Eye mount’s fault not the bike’s . The pump that comes with the bike is rubbish quality as well. It wasn’t that hard to put the bike together when I got it either.
On the whole it has been a whole lot of comfortable and fun rides and I absolutely love riding it. Routine maintenance is the key for it to have a long life. I may replace the back brakes with a better mechanism and reroute the cable for it and file off those tabs on the cross bar. I’ll be fussy about any bike computer if I get another one (but maybe I should just get an iPhone with GPS).
In Wellington I can chuck it on the trains, but that extra couple inches of length make it more difficult than a normal bike to get it on. One conductor told me I couldn’t have the battery connected since it was an electric train (I don’t get it either), but he was fine with it if I took the battery out and put it in my backpack.
When I’ve gone for a 40km ride in the evening and I don’t feel like pedalling anymore I stand up on my pedals with a straight back, just holding onto the throttle and leaning slightly forward and looking around into the paddocks, watching the world silently go by. I call that riding position the pukeko. Because the bike is so silent I’ve snuck up on a few pukekos and ducks. And I rolled past a falcon on a fence post 4 feet away who wasn’t disturbed enough to fly off. So it is a good mobile platform for bird watching.
Pedal electric technology isn’t perfect yet. The MIT Copenhagen bike shows there’s a lot more room for innovation. It’s not perfect yet, but what there is, is pretty fantastic. And if pedal electrics get more people on bikes for short (or long) commutes, and if we get pedal electric recumbents, and we get pedal electric velomobiles taking over the city, then we should be able to give up petrol and diesel engine commuting.
The keys to it are battery range and this is where daisy chaining comes into it. The other key to it is speed. A 250Watt motor on a bike doesn’t give enough speed. I think the cruising speed of an electric bike should be around 40km/hr, and for a more stable recumbent 50km/hr. In a velomobile (which by my definition is a recumbent in a shell) it should be 60 km/hr since you could put some basic safety features into the shell like a roll bar above the head. And if people could commute at 60 km/hr (with or without pedalling themselves) carrying maybe some groceries and a kid in safety then who’d need to have a car in the city at all.
We wouldn’t need to plead for cycleways. We could just kick off the cars and use the roads.
I love my Wisper Sport.