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Copenhagen Wheel wins James Dyson Award heat

A revolution in cycling or a solution looking for a problem?

A new bike wheel that transforms ordinary bicycles into electric ‘smart’ bikes, has won the US heat of a global design award scheme.

We reported - with some scepticism - on the Copenhagen Wheel when it was launched by its designers at MIT back in December. Now it stands on the verge of wider recognition thanks to its success in the James Dyson Award, an international design award with the brief of ‘designing something that solves a problem’.

Whether the Copenhagen Wheel solves any problems is open to debate, but the designers clearly think it does. On the wheel’s website it's described as “a new emblem for sustainable urban mobility that improves the cycling experience, offers a cost-effective transportation alternative to cars and fosters a community of cyclists in cities.”

The wheel’s distinctive red hub contains a motor, batteries and an internal gear system as well as environmental and location sensors to collect data that can be used to plan routes, to help achieve exercise goals or to create new connections with other cyclists.

As Dave said in our original story while it's all very admirable from a technological standpoint creating a motor system that's all contained in the hub, is surely going to limit the battery life and leading on from that the appeal beyond already bike friendly cities like Copenhagen. Does a rider actually need their iPhone to change gear for them? Where is the advantage over a nice retro Sturmey Archer lever. If the iPhone can calculate your cadence and auto-shift, well that's handy. But again, you're using battery juice to do something you could do with your thumb.

As for all the information the wheel is gathering, the inventors don't seem to have heard of information overload - it's only useful if you are going to use it otherwise it's just useless data. Finally, what happens if you get hit by a crosswind? Could be nasty.

We're not the only ones who don't think the Copenhagen Wheel is the next big thing. On the Guardian’s Bike Blog, Adam Vaughan says the wheel should be filed under ‘solution in search of a problem’, adding that it “…feels like part of a wider trend to overengineer bicycles and shoehorn in the web for the sake of techno-fetishisation rather than any genuine need. The result: more profit for makers of accessories and bikes; higher prices and more maintenance for cyclists.”

We're less worried about that because we think most people are attracted to the bicycle by it's simplicity manufacturers that ignore that essential truth normally end up with a warehouse full of unsold and unwanted smart commuter bikes, indicator units, folding helmets, etc, etc.

The overall winner of the James Dyson Award will be announced in October. To find out more – and to see what the wheel is up against – visit the awards website.

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine ( 

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SimpleSimon | 13 years ago

new take on "all the gear, no idea" !!

jova54 | 13 years ago

I think it falls into the same category as the 'motorised' pedals.

Nice ideas if they really work but the scepticism remains.

David French | 13 years ago

I quite like it... Looks cool  4

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