Coming soon: Turn any bike into an electric bike

Can a simple new device turn around the fate of the electric bicycle in the United States?

It was 2009 when we first wrote about the Copenhagen Wheel , a small device developed by MIT that attaches to the wheel of a bike, stores energy from braking into a battery, and provides an electric boost when a sensor detects you're putting out too much energy to pedal. Essentially it turns almost any bike into an electric bike.

And while its been almost four years since it was initially unveiled, MIT has finally decided to spin off the project into a company to provide the Copenhagen Wheel commercially. And now, with $2.1 million in financing, the company, Superpedestrian, plans to start taking orders next month and filling them early next year, New York Times reports.

The question now becomes, can the Copenhagen Wheel boost the number of electric bikes in places where they haven't caught on? Currently China dominates the market for e-bikes with around 92 percent of e-bike sales and 28 million e-bike sales expected this year [PDF]. Meanwhile, there were barely more than 50,000 e-bikes sold in the United States last year. However, the versatility of the Copenhagen Wheel makes me think that it could be a hit with U.S. bike commuters (especially in hilly places) since you don't need to buy an expensive new bike with a motor.

Still, there's reason to be skeptical of e-bikes taking off at all in the United States, with or without the Copenhagen Wheel. Because, as Quartz points out, while lawmaker are happily promoting electric cars, electric bikes have been a different story as numerous states have passed laws to limit their use. Talk about an uphill battle (without a motor).

Photo: Facebook/The Copenhagen Wheel

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