The wheel is fully sealed, making it an all-weather riding option.
Here at RoadBikeReview, we're big fans of actually pedaling your bike using your heart, your lungs, and your legs to get places. But we're also realists. And when it comes to two-wheeled transportation, the new reality is that eBikes are coming and they are coming fast. Today, there are entire magazines and websites dedicated to motorized bikes. At the Eurobike tradeshow, eBikes had an entire convention hall all to themselves.
We're also big fans of any invention that will get cars off the road and replace them with bikes - even motorized bikes. Bike commuting - especially in crowded urban areas - can help reduce traffic congestion, lower air pollution, and even save you a few bucks on things like parking and gas.
It's for all these reasons that our interest was mildly piqued by an ongoing Kickstarter campaign being run by a Slovenian company called FlyKly. Its goal is to start up an operations base in New York City distributing the Smart Wheel, a pedal assist device that's encased inside a thin electric motor that's mounted around the wheel's hub area and is claimed to fit onto just about any bike.
"We want to make cities more people - not car - friendly," says Niko Klansek, one of the Smart Wheel creators. "I'm a bicycle lover. The idea was that I wanted to put a motor, a battery, and electronics inside the rear wheel so you can put it in any bike you want, and say 'Today I want to ride it as an electric bike.'"
Before we go on, we must pay homage to the original inventor of this idea, MIT's SENSEable City Lab whose Copenhagen Wheel made a splash in 2012 on the cable TV series Weeds, but never actually hit the market. That wheel was also about three times the weight of this new iteration, so perhaps that's why it didn't pan out.
The new Smart Wheel is claimed to weigh nine pounds and generate about 250 watts, which nets a top speed of 20mph, with a full charge lasting about 30 miles, according to FlyKly. Full recharge time via a wall plug is 2-3 hours; some charging also occurs when coasting downhill or pedaling with the motor off, though it's not clear how much extra mileage can be attained this way. The whole system runs on a 36V Lithium battery that has a life expectancy of around 1,000 charges.
And while many a observer will find this idea fraught with compatibility issues, or see at is simply an idea for a problem that doesn't exist, with less than two weeks to go, the FlyKly Kickstarter campaign has raised nearly $415,000 (well past their goal of $100,000), selling out of its $550 early bird Smart Wheel kits. If you want in on the action now, it'll cost you $590, which is still far cheaper than traditional eBikes, which start around $1,000 and rapidly go up in price from there.
No chance of anyone sneaking one of these into an office park criterium.
The Smart Wheel comes in eight color options (white, black, grey, blue, red, green, yellow, pink). If all goes according to plan, FlyKly plans to start production in early 2014 and begin delivery in May.
As for bike compatibility, FlyKly plans to release both 26-inch and 29-inch versions of the wheel, which will have a single rear cog. That means a little derailleur tweaking could be required in order to get it running smoothly. This also raises the potentially thorny issue of swapping back and forth between rear wheels. That's no big deal for regular cyclists, but could prove a challenge for the casual commuter crowd who still gets tire punctures fixed by their local bike shop.
The pedal assist functionality means that the wheel's motor turns on when you start pedaling and then accelerates to your desired speed, which is set via an accompanying smartphone app. The motor stops when you stop pedaling. The end result is time saved getting to your destination, and of course less sweat, which is a frequent complaint lobbed at bike commuting advocates.
Operating alongside the Smart Wheel is the Smart Light, which includes a cycling light and a handlebar-mounted smartphone holder that can recharge both the light and your phone while you're pedaling. This also gives you ready access to the Smart Wheel app, which in addition to allowing the user to set top speed, also searches and tracks route information, and secures the device when not in use. Simply lock the Smart Wheel via the app and it wont spin when a would-be crook attempts to pedal away. If the thief tries to carry your bike away, the app sends you an alert and will even track the wheel's whereabouts.
Smart Wheel is iOS, Android and Pebble Watch compatible. Here's a video from the company's Kickstarter page that illustrates the wheel in action.