MIT-designed snap-in wheel turns any bicycle into a hybrid

MIT supergroup Superpedestrian wants to sell you a superbike.

The Copenhagen Wheel by the MIT spin-off is a self-contained module that turns an ordinary bicycle into a hybrid. The Wheel works like a Toyota Prius or Chevy Volt, generating juice during braking and turning on to boost a bike rider up steep hills.

“What it lets you do is not waste energy,” Assaf Biderman, founder of Superpedestrian, told “Usually when you brake, you waste it into heat. This gives it back to you so you can get a push.”

A slick-looking, 12-pound red disk that sits within the spokes of the bike’s back wheel, the Copenhagen Wheel was invented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City Lab. It was featured for an entire season on the TV show “Weeds,” but it hasn’t been released as a product until now.

“You ride it just like any other bike,” Biderman said. The Copenhagen Wheel works with single-speed “fixies” and multi-gear bikes. It can zoom up to 20 miles per hour -- reasonably fast for a bicycle -- and has a range of 30 miles, although the rider may need to remove the lithium-ion battery to charge it fully for that sort of travel.

More On This...

And it improves as it goes: The $699 Wheel learns the rider’s abilities and studies the hills and valleys he travels to determine when it should kick in and help out.

How exactly it does that is part of what makes the product so special, Biderman said.

“This is the secret sauce we’ve been working on,” he said. Around a dozen sensors tucked away inside the module learn how the rider pedals as well as the topography he or she is riding on, Biderman explained. When the Wheel needs to kick in, it does so seamlessly, to integrate with the rider’s pedaling.  There are no additional throttles, wires or buttons.

The Wheel can be customized by connecting to the rider’s smartphone, as well. The Superpedestrian mobile app lets riders maintain a personal profile by tracking usage statistics such as distance traveled, calories burned and elevation gain. These stats can even be compared and shared with friends, the company says -- social cycling, in a sense.

“Effectively, the Copenhagen Wheel puts your bike online – at the center of your personal Internet of Things,” said Carlo Ratti, co-inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab.

The Copenhagen Wheel is available for purchase now at, but the modules -- which are individually handmade in Cambridge, Mass. -- won’t begin shipping until early next year.

Looks like you’ll be pedal powered until then.