Many different kinds of personal transportation are undergoing an electric revolution, but electric bikes might make up the biggest section of the market. In fact, it's boomed fast enough that we're already seeing weird, alternative ideas pop up. A perfect example is GeoOrbital, one of a few companies that is literally reinventing the bike wheel.
GeoOrbital has been publicly working on its product for a while. Over the last year or two, CEO Mike Burtov has been drumming up press interest in the GeoOrbital wheel while his company worked on refining the product. But now the development is finally finished, and GeoOrbital has launched a Kickstarter campaign as a means of taking preorders, raising a bit more capital, and continuing to spread the word.
GeoOrbital has a simple, modular premise. Instead of building a battery and motors into a bike, or installing an aftermarket solution, the GeoOrbital wheel can be added to almost any bike in a matter of seconds; you just snap off your front wheel and replace it with GeoOrbital's electric wheel. Instead of spokes, the wheel contains a sort of triangular housing with three smaller wheels that rest against the inside of the rim. Like a set of gears, those smaller wheels grab the rim and turn the bike wheel, propelling you forward by using the 500W motor and 36V battery found inside the housing. (Only one is actually powered, though — the other two are for stability.)
The wheel is solid foam, too, which Burtov says gets rid of the problem of flat tires, and all together the package weighs 20 pounds. The only other piece is the throttle, which comes in the form of a small lever that you attach to the handlebars with a power button and a little string of lights that indicates the remaining battery. Burtov says all the parts that make up the GeoOrbital wheel are the same that other companies use to make e-bikes, his company just found a way to repurpose them into a package that can be retrofitted to almost any bike.
The battery will last at least 20 miles — 50 if you pedal
The GeoOrbital wheel has a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and the battery — which is removable, and therefore easy to charge — will last at least 20 miles on its own, or about 50 miles if you mix in some pedaling.
Burtov brought a nearly production-ready version of the GeoOrbital wheel to our office in midtown Manhattan, and I took it for a spin around the block. And as far as the setup goes, it really is as simple as Burtov describes it — you can slide it into your bike frame, tighten up the quick release, and you're on your way.
The wheel I tested performed well, too. I mostly stuck to just using the throttle — using the throttle while pedaling takes some getting used to — but it made quick, fun work of the bike lanes around our office. (Having a little extra boost available to help dodge taxis and trucks almost feels worth the price alone.)
There were some vibrations during the ride that made me a little uneasy, though. The GeoOrbital wheel was solidly locked in place, so this seemed to stem from the alignment of the guide wheels on the rim — something that will hopefully be fine-tuned when the company starts its production run. Otherwise, it mostly felt like a normal bike ride.
GeoOrbital has some competition in this strange little corner of the e-bike world. Evelo is already on the market with the Omni wheel, which retails for over $1,000. Another company called Superpedestrian licensed a similar idea from a group at MIT, and is currently taking preorders.
The GeoOrbital wheel will eventually retail for about $900 — which is cheap by electric bike standards — and the company is offering it for as low as $500 to early backers on Kickstarter. (Those prices would match or undercut GeoOrbital's competition.) Burtov says the company plans to ship the wheels in six months time or less.