Copenhagen Wheel: When the hype meter twitches

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We might make a slight emendation to Cozy Beehive’s intriguing piece entitled “How the Copenhagen Wheel Works,” adding the word, “Supposedly.”

We love the idea, the concept, the theory, the design, the gestalt and zeitgeist of the Copenhagen wheel. But it’s been months now and we have yet to see anything that looks quite, well, real to us.

Plus there are several things that make us a bit uncomfortable.

First are the flashy ads featuring models who look better suited to the runway than the roadway. You have to love a helmet-less beauty in fashion boots hopping on a Copenhagen wheeled bike for a 60-second “demo” of its wonders. There are times she doesn’t even look like she’s riding the thing, as though it’s a dream sequence from some Lady Gaga video.

It would’ve been nice to at least feature a real rider in the ads. What, DrunkCyclist and BikeShopGirl weren’t available?

You don’t produce hype like this without big money. It reminds us of the buildup to another revolutionary magical device we never quite believed in: the Segway.

Which also, coincidence of coincidences, had support from MIT, where technology investment goes to die. OK, I’m being harsh. It goes there to live it up — bright lights, big city, lotsa ink and press parties … and then fade to marginality.

The video, and Cozy Beehive’s communiques with MIT’s Senseable Lab (a name that also makes us uncomfortable), talk about Phases and Prototypes and Great Things to Come. And I love the goal sets, e.g. a target weight of 3.5 kg (just under 8 lbs.). But there’s more fairy dust here than elbow grease.

One thing in particular I don’t get is the so-called exercise mode. Dude if a cyclist wants exercise on a bike, it’s not going to be the kind where you pedal against a mechanism that is deliberately increasing drag. I’ve hung around a lot of competitive cyclists, even trained with a few, and not a single one has ever tightened his or her brakes to increase drag on the wheels in order to get more “exercise.” It’s just kinda not why we ride.

Then there’s this: “Typically, a flat city commute of 2 km will make a 70 kg cyclist expend 31 Watts of power.”

OK, you lost me at “2 km.” I mean, who commutes slightly more than a mile to work? The whole equation of “8 hours on a single charge” really starts to break down when you tick up the calculator to real-world commutes of 5 or more miles over hilly terrain.

As for the iPhone connectivity, I’m kinda scratching my head. It’s cool enough, I guess (although if you’re really interested in personal energy output, calories and training, why are you riding an electric bike?). But it could go on any bike. It has nothing to do with a battery-assist rear wheel hub.

Now the sensible folks at, uh, Senseable have to keep raising money for more R&D. We understand that. So perhaps they can be forgiven for hype aimed more at Wall Street than Street Smart. The danger comes in over-promising, which winds up cheating an expectant public. A lot of people are genuinely psyched about the Copenhagen Wheel — including many who were psyched about the Segway … and Windows Vista … and electric knives. They don’t deserve another disappointment just to get VCs all warm and fuzzy.

How about a video that candidly discusses the technical challenges here, what needs to happen technologically to make it viable, how long it will take to really do what they’re aiming for, and what real-life application will mean for real-life commuters.

Ron at Cozy Beehive is a mechanical engineer, which I’m not, so I will happily defer to his judgment on specifications and performance when the CW, or something like what is promised as the CW, actually exists. For now we prefer to keep it real. The bullshit detector hasn’t gone off yet, but its needle keeps jiggling every time another glitzy “update” of the Copenhagen Wheel comes within drafting distance.

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5 thoughts on “Copenhagen Wheel: When the hype meter twitches”

  1. Check out Trek’s Valencia +. We just got one in the shop over at Gregg’s Bellevue.

    It has 4 levels of pedal assist (you still have to pedal, if only lightly, to make it go) and 4 levels of self-re-charge (feels like your brakes are rubbing, but just click it on while you’re going downhill). I’ve only been on a 5 minute zipp around town, but so far– have been very impressed!

  2. 2km doesn’t seam too off the mark for Copenhagen. I haven’t seen this done but if you plot bike mode share and average trip distance you will probably notice that as biking becomes more mainstream the average trip length becomes shorter and shorter. Of course that is affected by land use but Copenhagen is a pretty dense and compact city.

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