Broken Spoke: The Future’s Electric

Broken Spoke: The Future’s Electric


Broken Spoke: The Future’s Electric


Duncan Moore


This week in Broken Spoke, Duncan reckons The Future’s Electric


While we might like to think that cycling keeps us young, there’s no denying that there’s a growing elderly population. Now many of those older people may want to go cycling, but with age catching up on them find that grinding up the hills is just too much these days and simply give up on bikes. Then again, there are those who are adopting new technology and moving over to electric assist bikes.


Broken Spoke: The Future's Electric
Photo courtesy of Clément Bucco-Lechat


Electric bicycles have been dismissed for many years, but now their time is coming. In years gone by they were frequently overlooked, if not outright mocked, for their looks. They could not help it, the designers had to find ways to incorporate large battery packs, and the solutions were often less than elegant, but as technology has advanced and battery technology continues to develop, useable battery packs are getting smaller and smaller and easier to incorporate into more regular looking frame designs.
A key indicator that electric bikes are about to go mainstream is the fact that custom builders are starting to experiment with electronic drivetrains. The recent North American Handbuilt Bike Show (NAHBS) featured a bike from Californian custom shop Sycip that featured the Shimano Steps Electric assist motor and took the prize for the ‘Best Experimental Bike’. In previous years, trends at NAHBS have filtered through to appear on models from the larger mainstream manufacturers.

Sycip electric bike
The Sycip electric bike


While Shimano has had the Steps Electric package in its range since 2010, the set-up used by Sycip for its custom build was a new version and it can only be a matter of time before the big S puts its marketing muscle behind the idea – and where Shimano leads others follow.

Shimano Steps Electric package
Shimano Steps Electric package


However, I would suggest that Shimano may not be the first choice when e-bikes go mainstream. I’ve heard rumours of at least one well-known urban bike manufacturer seriously considering adding a bike fitted with the Copenhagen wheel to its range.
Originally designed by engineers at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City Labs, the Copenhagen Wheel is a fully wireless, electric pedal assist system, packaged into the bike’s rear wheel. The fact that it can be used with regular frame designs already give the Copenhagen Wheel the advantage over Shimano’s Steps.

The Copenhagen Wheel
The Copenhagen Wheel


Compatible with both single speed and geared frames, the Copenhagen Wheel can be combined with a smartphone app allowing users to lock and unlocked the wheel’s motor, and monitor statistic like riding time, distance ridden, calories burned, and elevation climbed.
The self-contain nature of the Copenhagen Wheel is one of the things that makes it potentially popular. There’s no need to think about flicking handlebars switches or other wired controls. Once the wheel is connected to a smartphone the level of resistance can be set, which means it then senses when you need electric assistance, a hill for instance, and it kicks in automatically.
The Wheel is also clever enough to have a regenerative system built-in, too. When you’ve reached the top of the hill the assist shuts down, but on the incline the rotation of the wheel helps to recharge the internal battery.
Now if the government would apply a similar subsidy to e-bikes like it does to electric cars then there would be a real impetus for traditional non-cyclists to get out on two wheels, even if it means they are getting an electronic helping hand on the climbs. At the end of the day, the more people there are on bikes, the better it is for everyone.
Shimano Steps
Copenhagen Wheel
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