I ride my bike into work several days a week. The trip is just under four miles, with a lot of traffic lights, and a decent incline up one half of the Brooklyn Bridge. Google Maps estimates it should take 23 minutes on a bicycle, and on an ordinary bike, that was usually what I found as well.
When the weather is nice, the ride can be a real pleasure. The bits I like least are getting stuck at a red light or behind a tourist snapping selfies in the bike lane on the bridge. It’s also a bit uncomfortable on warm days, when I might show up to the office dripping sweat.
So I jumped at the chance to test out the Copenhagen Wheel from Superpedestrian. A large hub in the center of your rear wheel contains a motor, battery, and sensor package. As you push your foot down, it measures the speed, torque, and cadence you’re putting in, then adds an electric assist. Pedaling feels totally normal — except you go twice as fast with half the effort.
I’ve been testing the bike for a little over a month, and I love it. I get to work in about 15 minutes, so I shave a third off my average commute time. And while I get enough exercise to elevate my heart rate, I’m not straining, so I don’t show up to the office with sweat stains all over my shirt. Because I can easily accelerate, I get a lot less stressed out when I’m stuck waiting for a light or caught behind slow pedestrians.
You need to pair the wheel with the app over Bluetooth to unlock it. This adds a mild layer of safety — people can’t just switch it on and ride away at top speed — but it’s also a slight inconvenience. If you’re on a ride and your phone dies, you can’t power the bike down because you won’t be able to unlock it again.
Once the app is paired, you can see a log of all your trips with the distance traveled, time, and a map of your route. As you start to ride, the app switches to travel mode. You start in Standard mode, which provides a healthy assist on each pedal. You can also switch to Turbo mode for an extra boost. I found Turbo to be nice on inclines, but uncomfortably fast on flat ground or when going downhill.
You can also switch to Eco mode, which is basically a smaller boost than Standard. I used this a few times when my battery was getting low but still had a bit of a ride left. You can also turn the assist off, which I did just as a test. The bike pedals like normal, but it’s pretty heavy with the motorized wheel in back. Finally, you can toggle it to resistance mode, which pedals against you for a serious workout. It’s a nice option for hardcore bikers, but I never used it.
While you’re riding, the app will also show you your current speed, battery life, and a graph indicating how much of the power that’s pushing the bike forward is being generated by you versus the motor. That’s a nice touch, although it wasn’t something I found very instructive.
The technology inside the wheel was originally developed at MIT’s Senseable City Lab, unveiled back in 2009. A team was then spun off as Superpedestrian, a startup based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It started taking preorders way back in 2013, but struggled for a while to get production right. It finally managed to deliver units to all its early backers in March of this year, and in May, it began taking orders from the public with a promise of delivery in two to three weeks.
The wheel isn’t cheap. You can buy a bike with a wheel attached for $ 2,000. Superpedestrian offers 18 different frames from five different brands. You can also purchase just the wheel for $ 1,500, which would put the cost at the low end of most electric bikes. It can be sized to fit any adult bike, but it doesn’t work with disc brakes. That’s a nice option if you have a frame you particularly love but want to upgrade to an e-bike. It also gives you the option to use the wheel for long trips and an ordinary tire for your average commute.
My review unit included the bike and wheel. But Verge art director William Joel swapped out the wheel on his beater for a Copenhagen. That process wasn’t very tricky, and he really liked the experience. After a few days of riding, he did run into an issue where the wheel seemed to be fighting against him, emitting a strange high-pitched whine when he pedaled hard. One of the nuts holding it in place had come loose. (Will figured that out and repaired it within 20 minutes.) Still, your experience with assembly and repair will probably depend on your comfort with building and maintaining a bike.
In my testing, the battery took between three and four hours to fully charge. In Standard mode I got 20 miles of range on a single charge — more on Eco mode, less on Turbo.
The Copenhagen Wheel weighs 17 pounds, as much as some similarly priced bikes weigh in total. At 30 pounds in total for the model I got, it’s not the kind of thing you want to bring up and down a couple flights of stairs every day. Some electric bikes, like the VanMoof and the Evolo, distribute their motors and battery more widely throughout the frame. With the Copenhagen Wheel, all the weight is concentrated in the rear, making it more difficult to carry, and impossible to hang on a wall rack.
Aside from the weight, who is this bike for? I think it’s ideal for someone who wants a daily commute but not strenuous exercise, or someone looking to take long weekend trips that would be too physically taxing without a little assistance. You still get most of the experience of an ordinary bike ride. In fact, the best part of the experience, in my opinion, was how quickly your forgot about the fancy tech powering it. Unless you know about the company, it looks like an ordinary bike with a fancy hubcap — and a surprisingly powerful rider.