MIT Unveils The Copenhagen Wheel

Written by Boston Biker on Dec 15

So my first impression was…what? Then I was sorta, hmmm. Now I am kinda What? Hmmm….

I am not really sure how I feel about MIT’s new Copenhagen Wheel part of me is really excited about how this could bring more people into cycling, but another part of me is kind of turned off by all the gizmo’s and wizbangs. One of the reasons why I cycle is because it is simple. This is very complicated but wrapped up in a simple shell. If it all works like they say it might be a great way to get people who would otherwise not cycle (because they are lazy, or not physically fit enough) cycling. It also allows you to collect all sorts of environmental data about the routes you cycle.

The best part of the site in my opinion is the kinds of things cities could use all this data for:


You can also make a bigger contribution through your daily commute. And share your data, anonymously, with your city. When many cyclists donate the information their wheel is collecting, your city gains access to a new scale of fine-grained environmental information. Through this, your city can: Cross analyze different types of environmental data on a scale that has never before been achieved before. Build a more detailed understanding of the impact of transportation, on a city infrastructure Or study dynamic phenomena like urban heat islands. Ultimately, this type of crowd sourcing can influence how your city allocates its resources, how it responds to environmental conditions in real-time or how it structures and implements environmental and transportation policies.

Here is there press release and quotes from their website:

New bicycle wheel not only boosts power using Formula One inspired technology, but also can keep track of fitness, friends, smog and traffic – helping Copenhagen become the first carbon neutral capital by 2025 It looks like an ordinary bicycle wheel with an oversized center. But packed inside the sleek, bright red hub is a veritable Swiss army knife’s worth of electronic gadgets and novel functions.

The Copenhagen Wheel, designed by researchers at MIT’s Senseable City Lab, will be presented at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change on December 15, 2009 before heads of state and mayors form all over the world. It can store energy every time the rider brakes and then give that power back to provide a boost when going uphill or to add a burst of speed in traffic. “The wheel uses a technology similar to the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which has radically changed Formula One racing over the past couple of years.

When you brake, your kinetic energy is recuperated by an electric motor and then stored by batteries within the wheel, so that you can have it back to you when you need it.” – explains professor Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab. “The bike wheel contains all you need so that no sensors or additional electronics need to be added to the frame and an existing bike can be retrofitted with the blink of en eye. In a sense, you drive by foot: when you pedal forward the motor supplements your torque; when you pedal backwards to brake, the motor starts regenerating electric energy while reducing your speed.”

The first goal of the Copenhagen Wheel is to promote cycling by extending the range of distance people can cover and by making the whole riding experience smoother so that even steep up-hills are not longer a barrier to comfortable cycling. Accordig to Ritt Bjerregaard, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, “our city’s ambition is that 50% of the citizens will take their bike to work or school every day. So for us, this project is part of the answer to how can we make using a bike even more attractive.”
But there are also a variety of extra functions hidden within the hub of the Copenhagen Wheel. By using a series of sensors and a Bluetooth connection to the user’s iPhone, which can be mounted on the handlebars, the wheel can monitor the bicycle’s speed, direction and distance traveled, as well as collect data on air pollution and even the proximity of the rider’s friends. “One of the applications that we have discussed with the City of Copenhagen is that of an incentive scheme whereby citizens collect Green Miles – something similar to frequent flyer miles, but good for the environment,” comments Christine Outram, who led the team of researchers at MIT.

The project aims to create a platform for individual behavioral change. “The Copenhagen Wheel is part of a more general trend: that of inserting intelligence in our everyday objects and of creating a smart support infrastructure around ourselves for everyday life,” comments Assaf Biderman, Associate Director of the Senseable City Lab. “The Wheel also has a smart lock: if somebody tries to steal it, it goes into a mode where the brake regenerates the maximum amount of power, and sends you a text message. So in the worst case scenario the thief will have charged your batteries before you get back your bike.” The initial prototypes of the Copenhagen Wheel were developed along with company Ducati Energia and the Italian Ministry of the Environment. It is expected that the wheel will go into production next year, with a tag price competitive with that of a standard electric bike. According to Claus Juhl, CEO of Copenhagen, the city might place the first order and use bicycles retrofitted with the Copenhagen Wheel as a substitution for city employee cars as part of the city’s goal to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

The Copenhagen Wheel team at MIT is composed of Christine Outram, Project Leader, Rex Britter, Andrea Cassi, Xiaoji Chen, Jennifer Dunnam, Paula Echeverri, Myshkin Ingawale, Ari Kardasis, E Roon Kang, Sey Min, Assaf Biderman and Carlo Ratti. The project was developed for the City of Copenhagen in cooperation with Ducati Energia and with the support of the Italian Ministry for the Environment.

Patti Richards Director, Media Relations MIT News Office Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave., Room 11-400
Cambridge, MA 02139
tel: 617.253.8923
[email protected]


– “It uses a technology similar to the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which has revolutionized
Formula One racing over the past couple of years. When you brake, your kinetic energy is recuperated
by an electric motor and then stored by batteries within the wheel, so you can get it back
when you need it.”

– “The Wheel is a self contained unit. It can be plugged into any bike without requiring additional
electronics or wires. It is fully controlled by your feet: when you pedal forward, the motor supplements
your torque; when you pedal backwards to brake, the motor starts regenerating electric energy while
reducing your speed.”

– “Over the past few years we have seen a kind of ‘biking renaissance,’ which started in Copenhagen
and is now transforming the urban experience in many cities from Paris to Barcelona or Montreal.
We could also call it a ‘Biking 2.0’ revolution, whereby cheap electronics allow us to augment bikes
and convert them into a more flexible, on-demand system.”

– “The initial prototypes of the Copenhagen Wheel were expensive, but after production streamlining,
we calculate that the price will be competitive with that of a standard electric bike.”

– “The Copenhagen Wheel is part of a more general trend of inserting intelligence into our everyday
objects to create a smart, supporting infrastructure around ourselves.”

– “Our goal with the Copenhagen Wheel is to promote cycling by expanding the range of distance
people can cover and by making the riding experience smoother. When long distance and steep hills
are no longer barriers to comfortable cycling, many cities can become more bicycle-friendly.

– “The bike wheel is an extension of your personal mobile device.
Controlled through your smart phone, the wheel recognizes you as you approach. While you ride, you
can switch gears and motor modes using your phone, and receive real-time alerts automatically”.

– “The Wheel also has a smart security system: if someone rides away with it, the Wheel goes into a
mode where the brake regenerates the maximum amount of power and sends you a text message
with its location. So in the worst case, the thief will have fully charged your batteries before you get
back your bike.”

– “As bikers collect and share air quality data, cycling becomes more than a clean mode of transport. It
opens yet another door for citizens to participate in governance and in the maintenance of public

– “Bicycles are very efficient machines. Rather than reinventing them, we’re introducing a simple
technological enhancement that allows any bike to become a smart and responsive hybrid”

– “One of the applications we developed for the city is a Green Mile program, which is similar to a
frequent flyer program, but good for the environment.”

– “It opens the door for individuals to participate in plans to reduce emissions, such as carbon cap and
trade, which have so far been offered mostly to large organizations.”

– “In 2009, The Italian Ministry for the Environment put aside 12 million euros for supporting the
dissemination of cycling in cities. The Copenhagen Wheel fits with our vision and represents an
exciting step towards sustainable urban transportation.”

Here are some images of it in action. Sleek looking design, but I worry about the spokes…they look a bit…fragile.

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Posted in Mechanical, news, video | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “MIT Unveils The Copenhagen Wheel”

  1. By J on Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

    Looks like a great idea, I think Ill get one when they go down in price.

    Also acts as a safety feature, based on the pictures, it makes the bike rider more noticeable to other traffic.

  2. By William Furr on Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

    The crowd-sourced data aspect is fascinating. Then again, I’m a computer science student, so I’m into that sort of thing. That has all sorts of awesome applications, especially for commuters and local governments. The trick is making it easy and compelling to get folks to do it.

    I also wish I had an internally geared hub. I *like* my gears; I’m not willing to go fixie. But the derailleur and cassette are just begging to get destroyed by a Boston winter, and they’re just so fiddly anyways.

    I wouldn’t mind a power assist, either, especially on hills and in traffic. Biking in traffic stresses me out and I bike harder than I would otherwise. I guess I should just chill out and go at my own pace, but I can’t get over feeling like I’m in the way and slowing everyone down.

    I do wonder about the weird spoke design. I wonder if the thing is sturdy enough to stand up to potholed bumpy Boston streets. I made it about two weeks before I bent my stock rear wheel and replaced it with a handmade wheel for strength.

  3. By i love espresso on Dec 16, 2009 | Reply

    it’s cool to see so much attention paid to bikes!

    wish the demo rider was wearing a helmet.

    can we add racks/panniers so i can carry my lunch to work and the groceries home?

  4. By ArMan on Dec 19, 2009 | Reply

    I think we can all get over the gizmo/whizbang aspect of this easily – it’s, essentially, a commuter application and, if it gets more folks on cycles, then yee-haw! Objections to complexity have been around since cycling began. Who now doesn’t love STI shifters and clip-in pedals?? Hey, did you hear, they’re now making bike frames out of…………wood!

  5. By Saint Bif on Dec 19, 2009 | Reply

    Hi, I just returned from the COP-15 climate conference. While there I saw this bike on display, and most interesting was a demonstration of the data in GIS that showed a lot of possibilities for analyzing commute characteristics of routes in and around the city. I am a bicycle commuter and I love gadgets and data. The thing is though, this bike seems out of place in Copenhagen. Bikes there are very basic, inexpensive, well worn, and strictly utility. An affordable mode for getting from A to B, and nothing more.

    I obseved that hardly anyone locks his or her bike. You can simply park your bike by the sidewalk and go into your home/work/store. It will still be there when you return. This MIT bike would be massively out of place and a thousand times more valuable than the thousands of bikes around it. Eventually it most certainly would be stolen or vandalized unless you could find a secure location (difficult if you are riding to the grocery store, or parking near the station in order to catch the train or metro). Who needs those worries? A better name might be the Anti-Copenhagen bike as it defeats the purpose of uncomplicated and affordable transportation.

  6. By Kim on Mar 4, 2012 | Reply

    For someone like me, who is looking for some sort of ebike, NOT because I’m lazy (in fact, I’m a road bike racer), but because I’m sick and tired of driving a whole vehicle to all the places I need to go for my work, and yet, if I ride my bike as is, I can be sweaty for work and in cycling clothes of some sort, THIS sounds like a possibility. My job entails lots of driving, but not all that far away from any point at any one time. This sounds as if it could be cheaper than buying a whole e-bike, such as the BOB, which is about 1K and 35 lbs, and although foldable, it would be nice to maximize space by just using my existing very nice road bike by simply changing out my rear wheel. Although, one question I have is what is that about braking by pedaling backward?? Without looking into it more right now, sounds like kids’ bikes? I’m afraid my road bike does no such thing. Maybe I’ve misunderstood the description. I would probably buy one if some sort of braking by pedaling backward is not the way it works. I just found that description so confusing. Yet, it says it works with all bikes, sooooo… ?????

  7. By U.N. Owe on Oct 22, 2013 | Reply

    U’re not sure …. how u ‘feel’ about a frakkin’ wheel?!?!

    Ur an idiot, [email protected]’s obvious.

  8. By Jet Jock on Oct 22, 2013 | Reply

    Looks great, no where does it say what it costs.
    Guess if you have to ask you can’t afford it.

    Wheel only $125.00 to $165.00 they got a winner.

    More, probably will fail.

  9. By DKB on Oct 23, 2013 | Reply

    Pedaling a bike is such an efficient use of human energy that it’s hard for me to imagine where the “excess” energy [to be stored by the wheel’s battery] is coming from. Perhaps the wheel contains a brake, so the energy normally dissipated as heat by the brake is stored as a charge, instead? Nevertheless, your brakes barely get hot, so how are you going to store enough energy to be a real help in going up a hill? And, of course, you’re dragging quite a bit more weight up that hill with the “Copenhagen wheel.”

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