One of the problems with electric bikes has been that there seemed to be only three ways to get one:
One – Buy a bike with the battery artfully integrated into the frame;
Two – Buy a retrofitted bike with the battery attached somewhere;
Three – Buy a kit from Bionx or Currie, and attach the battery somewhere.
My problem with Option One is that such bikes tend to get too heavy to pedal without the e-drive. Products like the A2B Alva or Octave are attractive, but look like mopeds or light motorcycles. Also they cost three thousand dollars and up.
Regarding Option Two, I was in a shop a few weeks ago and groaned when I picked up an A2B Kuo, a folding electric bike with lots of features that weighs 40 lbs. The A2B Galvani looks like a bike, but with the hub and battery in the rear, I wonder about the balance. With the hub in front and the battery just above the axle, Xootr claims their e-Swift is perfectly balanced, and it still only weighs 25 lbs.
I never had the time to mess around with Option Three, but now there is an Option Four. A group from MIT called Superpedestrian developed the Copenhagen Wheel, which has both electric motor and batteries entirely contained in a 700c or 26″ rear wheel. The Copenhagen Wheel costs $800 and is available for pre-order. You can put one on your bike, or buy an entire bike.
Another group called FlyKly has a Smart Wheel in 700c, 26″ and 20″ wheels. The Smart Wheel is only for single speed enthusiasts. Although FlyKly has changed hands recently, you can preorder their hub now, also for $800. Delivery starts in October 2014.
A third company, ZeHuS, offers their Wize hub, but only with their own bike or to other manufacturers for now.
In theory this is a great idea. I could use the electric drive wheel for commuting, but swap in the original wheel for short trips or exercise. In practice, I need a 20″ wheel and more than a single speed drive, and I’m not interested in owning a smart phone or tablet just to manage my bike hub.
And of course batteries don’t last forever.
Update 20141020: ZeHuS has acquired FlyKly, and FlyKly’s Smart Wheel has been redesigned to be smaller and lighter. There are complaints on Kickstarter that FlyKly is late delivering their hubs, but that may not be entirely a bad thing.