Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Geo Orbital Electric Wheel in the Wild

I've been known to check out bikes when I am riding and sometimes I see something unusual or cool.  Riding home last Friday, I turned around and noticed this wheel on a bike:

Quite the wheel.  Those aren't spokes but the guides and engine for turning the rim.  
It was clearly an unusual wheel and turned out to be an electric wheel from Geo Orbital.  These are locally designed wheels (and maybe locally made but that isn't obvious on their website) are heavy and somewhat odd, compared to the Copenhagen wheel.  The rim seems loose on the motor but then you can lift the bike and the wheel sensors notice this and don't run.  They also don't use standard tires - these are form tires.  The bike seen here has front suspension so whatever lack of suppleness in the foam is made up for with the suspension.

That's a hefty battery.
The battery is large and heavy but has a twenty mile range without pedaling (with a rider of an undefined weight).  That's enough for many possible commutes coming into Boston or Cambridge.

Andrew bought an inexpensive bike just for the purpose of adding the electric wheel.
Andrew, the owner of this bike, knew the folks who are making these wheels and bought his bike to use the wheel.  I believe he wasn't riding before so this wheel may be getting him on the road when he otherwise may not be.  And this wheel is under $1,000, about $700 less than the Copehangen wheel.  He was able to sprint away from the rest of bike riders at intersections and likely on any road.  The one drawback was that the wheel was both very heavy and the ride seems somewhat loud to me.

One thing about this and other e-bikes that worry me - are the brakes sufficient to stop the bike at pedaling plus electric assist?  The other issue is whether these should be allowed on bike paths.  It's clear that mopeds are allowed on bike lanes but I'm not sure if this meets the criteria for keeping off bike paths.  I am generally concerned about overpowered bikes on bike paths with kids around.  This concerns includes bikes with the Copenhagen wheel and also racers (or pathletes) that keep me from taking my nine year old on the Minuteman.  Another concern about the wheel is that the fork you use is up to you.  I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't want to try this with a carbon fork and I would feel safest on a steel fork that was made for the purpose (although that means losing suspension).  Your mileage may vary.