Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

August 29, 2014

A Vehicular Revamping

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling,MIT,schools,transportation — Sharanya Srinivasan @ 5:22 pm

Anyone who has traversed up the bulbous convexity of a steep hill has made the sweaty decision that bicycles should come equipped with an alternative power source that does not involve leg muscles. Luckily the recent development of the e-bike, an electric bicycle that comes with a rechargeable battery-powered motor, has addressed this serious transportation concern. According to a 2014 report in The New York Times, e-bike sales are “surging” in Europe, with “250,000 e-bikes on the road in Switzerland and bike sales rising by over 9 percent in Netherlands”. Numerous start-ups in the Cambridge and Boston areas are looking to emulate the success of e-bike sales abroad, by engineering products that significantly reduce the physical exertion of riders while enabling an easy crossover from standard bikes to electric.

Superpedestrian, a Cambridge-based enterprise, creates a novel design for the e-bike called the Copenhagen Wheel. This technology involves no necessary hardware to install other than the wheel itself, and therefore fits on most standard bicycles. The wheel’s motor is operated by a lithium battery which manipulates the torque on the bike’s back wheel to propel the vehicle 20 mph via power assist. And the best part? The speed settings for the Copenhagen Wheel can be controlled by a smartphone app. Superpedestrian, born from a collaboration between MIT’s SENSEable City Lab and the City of Copenhagen, plans to release its first consumer models by the end of the year.

Evelo, another Cambridge-based company, was established a few years ago and advertises the “electrifying power” of its bicycles. Evelo bikes are equipped with Intelligent Pedal Assistance, which provides 3 options of riding with a mid-drive motor system. Further e-bike expansion is around the corner – Craigslist posts shared by the Boston Cyclists Union have hinted that another electric bike venue will be coming soon to Boston.

Undoubtedly, these e-bike businesses are looking to capitalize on the relatively strong biker culture that already exists in Cambridge, a demographic that spans college students maniacally racing to class, leisurely weekend cyclists, and daily commuters pedaling to offices. Thus far, e-bikes have garnered attention in the US as a transportation option for the elderly and people with limited mobility. However, The New York Times states that e-bikes still represent a “niche” in the US. For e-bikes to experience commercial success in Cambridge and elsewhere in the US, these start-ups need to reach a broad target market and encourage standard bike users to transition to the electric version.

The state of Massachusetts also has specific restrictions on motorized bicycles, that limit the speed of e-bikes to 25 mph and prohibit their usage on major highways or roadways where standard bicycles are not allowed. Another “speedbump” to e-bike sales might be price; the Copenhagen Wheel is priced at 799 dollars, and various Evelo models land at 2000 dollars. Certainly, there is fairness behind the upmarket price tag on e-bikes (remember the smartphone app?), but it is up to electric bike companies to market this rationale appealingly to consumers.

Regardless, for those cyclists who find pedaling to be tiresome and an exercise in redundancy…you now have your solution!


  1. Count me in! I certainly will opt to pay more for the comfort and convenience that comes with a motor. Just let me know when Superpedestrian, or another Cambridge start-up perhaps, adds an umbrella as well. My new jalopy would be a sweet ride everyday!

    Comment by Ini — August 29, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

  2. I had heard about the Copenhagen wheel and it seems like a great invention. It’s nice to know that even old technologies as the bicycle are getting upgraded. Will see if I get one once it comes out to the market!

    Comment by Elmer — August 29, 2014 @ 8:33 pm

  3. Interesting news item -hope it will get more bikes on the road to ease congestion and help the environment

    Comment by Vs — August 30, 2014 @ 8:38 pm

  4. I can’t wait for the day that bikes that can steer themselves.. that’s when I would switch from cars to bikes! I like the visibility into this type of bike though – most people don’t realize that there is innovation in bicycles as a form of transportation.

    Comment by Lavanya — August 30, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

  5. Good point – this kind of bike can eventually build in additional safety measures to reduce the number of bike related accidents in congested areas.

    Comment by Jack — August 31, 2014 @ 12:01 am

  6. This is the kind of innovation that makes me both excited and thoughtful at the same time. A mechanized bike sounds great. Yet do we not already have versions that are built and sold in the market today?

    There are mopeds, scooters, motorcycles and various other hybrid versions of mechanized two-wheelers to suit ever consumer’s taste. Is this new innovation entirely “new” or just another morphed product? Maybe price is indeed the selling point, and the astute consumer gets just what he wants with a smaller price tag to tide him over that speed bump or incline on the road. If that is the point of this innovation, there is cause to celebrate. If not, this is merely old wine in a new bottle, thanks, I will pass on it.

    Comment by Druid — September 1, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

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