A Carbon-Reducing Bicycle Wheel?

by Michael D. Lemonick

I just got a press release from MIT touting something called the Copenhagen Wheel, which is making its formal debut in Copenhagen today. It’s the result of a collaboration between MIT, the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Ducati Energia, and it’s being touted as a way to reduce carbon emissions and help the city of Copenhagen become carbon-neutral by 2025.

Here’s how it works: you replace the rear wheel of your bike with the Copenhagen Wheel, which houses both an electric motor and a regenerative braking system that feeds power to the battery when you pedal backward to slow down. But (as they say on low-budget TV commercials) that’s not all! The wheel is Bluetooth-enabled, so you can use a smartphone to lock and unlock your bike, change gears and decide how much of a motor assist you prefer. You can also call up real-time information about how many calories you’re burning—and, thanks to built-in sensors, you can call up information about conditions around you, including temperature, humidity, noise and even nitrogen oxide pollution.

Evidently, the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen hopes that 50% of his citizens will eventually use bikes to get to work or school each day (if you’ve ever been in Copenhagen, it feels as though they already do, but I’m sure he knows), and that by making it easier for the less fit to ride, the Wheel will make it more appealing to do so.

Maybe so—although the cost could be an issue (the inventors haven’t set one yet, but the website claims it will be competitive with the cost of existing electric bikes).

I’m not getting one, though—not because I doubt the coolness of the idea, but because I need a non-electric bike to keep my calorie footprint in check.