As a biker commuter and general cycling enthusiast, I’m excited to see a spate of bike-related gadgets hit the scene. First we had the smart bike lock, which I really wish had been around a couple years ago (RIP, best bike ever). Then we got the awesome, if pricey (though still cheaper than a new noggin), invisible bike helmet. And because good things come in threes, there’s now a smart bike wheel that will help us get to wherever we’re going without getting sweaty.
I’ll admit that the sweat factor is somewhat of a deterrent to biking, and while helmets are obviously important, standard helmets make bike rides even warmer. In the spring and early fall, I show up to work at least 10 minutes early so I have ample time to stop sweating and to make myself look presentable. I also never use one of those old overhead projectors.
Born in Slovenia but now living in New York, bike commuter Niko Klansek invented the smart wheel after one too many Michael Bluth moments in which distributors and suppliers didn’t take him seriously at meetings because he sweated like a courier, not a businessman. So Klansek started looking into electric bikes, but found them to be expensive and unwieldy. So then he gave up on his smoothie business (frozen bananas, dude!) and started his own electric bike business, Flykly.
Soon, he decided to focus on developing an electric wheel that could be attached to a regular ol’ bicycle. And, like so many other gadgets these days, the Flykly wheel is operated via an iPhone or Android app. You program your desired speed, up to 20 mph, and when you start pedaling, the smart wheel starts spinning until you reach your target speed. Once you’re at that speed, you do have to keep pedaling, but the resistance is minimal — it feels like cheating in spin class. To brake or slow down, you just have to stop biking and the electric assistance stops. Because it’s unnecessary when you’re going downhill, the wheel rests and recharges its batteries on the downward slopes, helping to preserve a battery life of 30-50 miles.
The Flykly got its momentum with a successful Kickstarter campaign through which it raised over $700,000. The retail price hasn’t been set yet, but it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. And in case you’re wondering whether the smart wheel would make a tempting target for thieves, Klansek has thought of that too — the wheel locks when not in use. Sure, a thief could just take the whole wheel, but you could lock the wheel itself, and in the event that someone did take it, you’d be notified via your app that your wheel was moving and the GPS sensors would make it pretty easy to find.
I think this is a cool idea and I like Klansek’s approach of building a bike that allows bikers to “dress for the destination and not the ride,” especially given that I haul multiple changes of clothes with me every day. But here’s the thing — I like to bike. I like the exercise, I like being faster than other cyclists and especially cars because I’m actually exerting myself. Every now and then I see an electric bike hogging the bike lane and I think to myself, that’s not a real bike. But then again, inventions like these shift paradigms and provide new and bigger definitions for what objects are or can be. And the more people we can get out of cars and onto bikes, no matter what kind, the better. With all these cool biking gadgets, cycling might just become irresistible.