Saturday, March 10, 2018

Review: #Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel Electric Assist

I recently got to test out a Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel, on a loaner bike from Tandem Bike Cafe. The Copenhagen Wheel is a 350 Watt electric assist hub with batteries, motor, & sensors all in one unit that gets laced into your rear wheel. It's controlled via Bluetooth with an app on your smart phone.

First off, this e-assist is sleek. The Copenhagen Wheel hub is shiny candy red with a silver metal centre where you find the on/off dial, battery charge display lights, & charging port. The Copenhagen Wheel adds 7.6kg to the weight of your bike, which is similar to other add-on electric assist systems out there.

The Copenhagen Wheel is compatible with 26" & 700c wheels, & the app works with Android & iOS smartphones (see the Superpedestrian support site for more details on compatibility). You need to download the 19MB app, then pair it with your phone to use the assist.

Took the Copenhagen Wheel out along the Fraser in Richmond
You can mount your phone on your handlebars--this is what I did so I could have easier access to the display--but it's really not necessary. The Wheel app shows you your battery charge, speed, how much assist you're getting & how much is your own pedal power. You can adjust the level of assist: Eco, Standard, & Turbo, or Exercise, which actually provides extra resistance when you pedal. I found the app quite intuitive & easy to use. I did try to track my routes so I could get stats on my average speed, etc, but it didn't work every time--not sure why.

So this thing is pretty & simple to use, but how does it FEEL, right? I have tried a few other e-assist bikes out, some for a few minutes, one for a couple of weeks, but the Copenhagen Wheel is far & away my favourite at this point. The assist engages seamlessly--I honestly found it difficult to feel when it started. It just made me feel like I had superpowers, even on the lowest Eco setting.

First ride up the steeeeeep Heather Street hill
Unlike other e-assist bikes I've tried, the assist does come on as soon as you start to pedal, so you need to be slightly more careful when starting out (don't have your wheel turned sharply, for instance) but I really didn't find this an issue--it just felt super smooth to me. The sensors read how much effort you're putting into pedalling & adjust accordingly--there are no sudden shifts as the assist comes on (like some ebikes I've tried), nor does the assist continue after you stop pedalling.

I liked the immediacy of the assist, because it meant that I could move through traffic more easily. Crossing arterial roads can be difficult with the heavy cargo bikes that I usually ride, so the majority of the time, I cross only where there's a beg button & a light, usually waiting until the arterial traffic has the red light. But with the Copenhagen Wheel I was able to zip through smaller gaps in traffic & found that riding in with traffic (vehicular cycling) was a lot easier, as I could keep up with city car speeds, maintaining 30 kph fairly consistently.

The first day I used the Copenhagen Wheel I rode about 34 km using mainly turbo & Standard boost, which nearly drained the battery. I did a fair bit of hill climbing, going up & over the "hump" of Vancouver to Richmond Ikea & back to Mount Pleasant, then over to Britannia Community Centre. The smooth assist of the Copenhagen Wheel really does flatten the hills. I found my speed still went down--I wasn't cruising up steep hills at 32 kph or anything--but the assist increased compared to the effort I was putting in, & it didn't feel like much of a hill at all. Starting on a hill was no big deal either, which is a huge contrast to riding without assist. I will do anything to avoid hill starts when I've got my bakfiets loaded up.

Another day of riding was from home to downtown plus a jaunt on the Arbutus Greenway, 25 km total. That was tonnes of fun--couldn't wipe the smile off my face when I realized that I was already at Marine Drive, on the other side of the city in minutes! A few days later I did about 10 km running errands downtown, (without charging it in between) which also nearly used up the entire battery charge. Superpedestrian says that the wheel's range is up to 50km but I didn't manage to get that far at all--35km was the range I found, no matter which settings I used. However, this riding was all during fairly cold weather--zero Celsius to maybe a max of ten degrees--plus the bike was kept in an unheated garage which could have impacted the range of the battery.

I'd like to try the bike out again in the summer when the weather is warmer to see if it does impact the battery range. If I do, I'll definitely add an update to this post!

Plugging in the wheel to charge is super simple
Speaking of battery power, the bike is not necessarily the easiest thing to charge. The cable clicks magnetically into a small port in the centre of the hub--nice design there--& you can get a full charge in about four hours. But you need to have the entire bike with the charger, unlike many ebike systems where you can remove the battery to bring it in & charge under your desk, or wherever. If you don't have an outlet near where you park your bike at home or at work, the Copenhagen Wheel might not be the best system for you.

Superpedestrian tells me that the battery should be good for 1000 charge cycles, which would likely be several years for quite regular use. The Copenhagen Wheel was only released onto the market in 2017, so it will be a while before we see reports of real-world long term usage & battery replacement.

Another feature I started playing with on the day I rode the Arbutus Greenway was the regenerative braking. The Copenhagen Wheel will slow you down if you backpedal a bit, which helps to charge the battery (though I didn't find it helped with battery life significantly) but also allows you to use your brakes less. When I was riding on the greenway or on quiet bikeways, coming up to a stop sign, I was able to use just the regenerative braking without using the bike rim brakes at all. For a sudden stop due to, say a driver not yielding properly, or a pedestrian stepping out in front of you, the regenerative braking is not enough, but it would augment your bike's brakes.

One of the things that has kept me from considering adding electric assist to any of my bikes has been my fear that I wouldn't get as much exercise. However, I found that I was still working hard enough to get my heart going even with the assist on Turbo. The main difference was that I was just arriving sooner. So if I got a Copenhagen Wheel & rode exactly the same distances I did before getting it, then yes, I'd get less exercise. However, because longer rides were a bit less strenuous, I was also riding more than I usually would. So having the Copenhagen Wheel really bumped the trips that I do occasionally by bike but often with a car, into the category of easy to do by bike.

Took the Copenhagen Wheel over to Richmond
If you have a long work commute, it can be a bit of a grind, especially if it's hilly. Adding the Copenhagen Wheel could make your ride a lot more fun & probably save you time too. I found that I usually cut at least 30% off my usual (unassisted) ride times with the Copenhagen Wheel.

The Copenhagen Wheel is compatible with a cargo bike, provided your rear wheel is the right size, though Superpedestrian doesn't recommend carrying more than 150kg of rider & cargo for optimal range & acceleration. Some real-world examples: me, my two children & our Bakfiets weigh about 150kg. My husband Oliver, the two kids, & the Yuba Mundo are about 10kg less than that.

Some other notes on compatibility: the Copenhagen Wheel replaces your rear hub, so doesn't work with internal gear hubs. It also isn't compatible with disc or roller brakes at the back--you'll need rim brakes. I'd say the regenerative braking would probably more than compensate for the difference in stopping power between disc & rim brakes, however.

Locked up with three locks
Next, I wanted to mention security. Because this wheel is so shiny & red, it's going to attract attention, including thieves. & because the entire thing is all on the rear wheel, it would theoretically be easier to steal that e-assist setups with a removeable battery & more wiring. There is a level of security provided by the fact it must be controlled by the smartphone paired with this specific wheel. However, I'm not sure that many thieves would realize this, so it might get stolen anyway. When I locked the Copenhagen Wheel up outside, I used three different locks to secure it, two of them fed through the rear wheel specifically. Of course, security is always going to be an issue with any e-bike, since they're so valuable.

To sum up, I really loved the way the assist worked so seamlessly & I'd definitely consider buying a Copenhagen Wheel for my bike in future. For anyone wanting to flatten out the hills in their city, with a long commute to work, particularly if you're not interested in buying a whole new ebike, this could be a great option.

You can get yourself a Copenhagen Wheel at Tandem Bike Cafe in Vancouver for $1970 CAD, including installation. Talk to Clint John at Tandem if you'd like to borrow the Copenhagen Wheel on a loaner bike & try it out yourself.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for writing this post & was not given any product--I borrowed the Copenhagen Wheel from Tandem Bike Cafe for a couple of weeks. Opinions are my own, & any information on technical specs of the product comes from the Superpedestrian website. 

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