Many electric bike companies would kill for the kind of press coverage the Copenhagen Wheel from Superpedestrian of the US has garnered. The powered hub has been featured as one of Time’s “best inventions”; Gizmodo said it was ushering in an era of “Bike 2.0”; and The New York Times said it could “reinvent the wheel.” And all for a product that has been turning heads since 2009 but has yet to ship a single wheel. That is about to change, said Assaf Biderman, co-founder and CEO of Superpedestrian.
From a booth at Eurobike he confirmed: “We will be shipping soon. We have been manufacturing since December last year, and we’re currently doing all the certification tests required for selling around the world. We’re ramping up, but slowly. It’s a complex product, and we care about quality.”
The Copenhagen Wheel is a rear wheel replacement and turns a standard bike into a power-assisted electric bike (250 watts for the EU market; 350 watts in the USA). It pairs with a smartphone app, which readies the wheel for use and also acts as a digital “key”.
Company executives have visited Eurobike a number of times, but this is the first time Superpedestrian has had a booth.
The company is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the oversized hubs made in Detroit.
Made from a cast magnesium disc in distinctive red the Copenhagen Wheel is packed with electronics, including 12 sensors. “There’s a torque sensor like most electric bikes, but we’re tracking many other metrics, such as motion and spatial awareness,” said Biderman.
“There are 30 robotics engineers working in the company, who have come from Segway, from iRobot, from Bluefin. But all of the clever stuff is hidden, you just pedal. Your phone is your key. You get close to your bike, and it wakes up automatically – if it’s not you, it won’t work. If you’re a data geek, you can get all the data you want. If you don’t care, you just ride.”
Superpedestrian is a spin-out from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) also of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Copenhagen Wheel was developed at MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory in 2009, as part of a research project sponsored by the Mayor of Copenhagen. Biderman, an Israeli urban planning academic with a background in physics, is still SENSEable’s Associate Director. Superpedestrian originally licensed the technology from MIT but bought out the patent in 2012. The company originally gained $2.1m start-up funding from Spark Capital of the US, one of the lead investors in Tumblr, Twitter and Occulus.
Last year the company was boosted with additional funding of $4m, including from General Catalyst, a backer of internet companies such as Kayak.com and AirBnB. Other investors include Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto and eight other high-worth individuals.
The Copenhagen Wheel has a range of 50kms and is currently on offer for $950, with the eventual cost being $1250. The company’s website offers 26-inch and 700c builds. A 27.5-inch version will be introduced next year.
As well as selling consumer-direct Biderman said Superpedestrian is also open to approaches from OEMs. “We have thousands of orders already placed. We’ll be back ordered for about six months. We’re selling direct not because we have anything against distributors; we’d love to work with partners, but we want to keep the price close to cost.”
$950 is also the price of the FlyKly electric bike wheel, which raised $701,239 on Kickstarter in November 2013. This product, made by a Slovenian company, is now commercially available and superficially similar to the Copenhagen Wheel. Biderman is confident that the Copenhagen Wheel’s pre-orders, its stellar press coverage and backing from tech investors will see off this and other challengers.