Urbane bicyclist-about-town and Bike Rave instigator Lennart Nout reviews a cunning new invention that might change the future of bikes. (NB this review is a cross-post with our mates over at TransportBlog. Because you can have too much of a good thing)
Why would a (relatively) fit young man like me invest in an electric bike?
Because I am lazy. I am not a cyclist, I don’t necessarily enjoy sweating, and my genetic make-up (I’m Dutch) does not make me appreciate hills, especially when I’m on my way to work. I dress for the destination, not for the trip, so anything that helps me up the hills is very welcome.
In May 2013, I “invested” in FlyKly, a new start-up company from the United States. Their Kickstarter campaign promised a wheel that would turn any bike into an electric bike in 5 minutes: a wheel with a built-in motor, battery pack and control system. As any gadget-appreciating young urbanist with a credit card would do, I immediately pre-ordered one. And so did 2,357 other people, pledging a total of over $700,000.
As is common with Kickstarter-type projects, the delivery was pretty slow. After about 8 months, the initial company announced they had merged with an Italian company and had completely redesigned the product from scratch, which resulted in an additional 6 month delay… followed by more delays. Eventually, in December last year, the wheel arrived.
Of course I was very excited– but the fun was short-lived, as that first wheel turned out to be a lemon. Long story short, and with many thanks to the efforts of the customer service department, a new wheel was shipped to me relatively quickly. And here it is:
After about a month with the FlyKly, I can finally give you a fair and unbiased review of the machine. I will judge it by five measures:
- Will it change the world?
Installation (10 out of 10)
The FlyKly is delivered as an entire wheel, with all the electronic components well hidden in the aluminium hub. This makes for extremely quick and easy installation: I am literally talking 5 minutes. You take off your old wheel, you plonk in the new wheel. Done. As the Dutch would say: “A child can do the laundry”.
After the physical installation, the only thing left to do is input some settings like circumference of the wheel and the size of your cogs. The entire process, from unpacking the wheel to riding the bike, takes less than 15 minutes. I am not kidding. Ten out of ten.
Operation (9 out of 10)
The wheel settings are controlled on an app via bluetooth. That means you have to connect your phone to change the speed, power and regenerative braking power (yes! Braking recharges the motor). This can be a bit tricky, as the bluetooth range is about 5 cm. But once the settings are done, there’s nothing more to do and the wheel will run itself.
The wheel kicks in after about 10 seconds of riding; you know it’s working when you hear a gentle hum from the hub. Back-pedaling will start the regenerative braking, which makes the wheel charge itself a little while going downhill. I found this particularly useful when riding slowly approaching intersections or when there are pedestrians around. NB Don’t expect this to replace your normal brakes! Not fantastic, but a nice feature.
You charge the battery pack by removing a cap from the side of the axle and plugging in the provided charger. Again, very inconspicuous and very easy.
And the wheel shuts itself down automatically after 4 minutes (or so) of inactivity, so no need to remember to turn it off. All up, super easy! Nine out of ten.
Look (9 out of 10)
Because everything is contained within the hub, your bike won’t look like an electric bike. I particularly like this feature, as I find most electric bikes particularly big and bulky.
The wheel only adds about 3.5 kg to the weight of your bike, as well. This means that you can still quite easily lift your bike up a set of stairs or into a bike rack.
The only thing that reveals what’s inside the hub is a little blue LED that shows the wheel is “on”. This is nice, especially if you like LEDs (I do),
Feel (7 out of 10)
So how does it perform? I tested it on some of Auckland’s hills, and it easily gets you to the top of Queen Street and Franklin Road with very little sweat. The FlyKly does not transform your bike into a high-powered super speedy race bike – the top speed is 25 km/h – but what this wheel does is take the edge off cycling. It’s like somebody giving you a push all the time. It may not be powerful enough for some, but it’s perfect for me.
The range of the battery pack is approximately 35 km, compared with the 50km that many other electric bikes boast. This may be a limitation for some, but for me it’s plenty, as I usually cycle around the city with an occasional trip to Henderson or to Mission Bay (hello BIKE RAVE!).
World changing capabilities (7 out of 10)
The key question for all new gadgets: will it change the world?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: A device like this – especially one so easy to use — takes away another barrier to cycling. It gives people more confidence when riding, as it feels like you’ve always got a little bit of help. At the same time, you don’t really have to think as hard about your route, as it will help you get up the hills a lot quicker and without effort. It allows you to dress for the destination, even on longer, hillier routes. Buying a wheel is also a lot cheaper than a whole electric bike. I got this wheel for US$600. It retails now for about $1,000, but this price is likely to drop with competition coming in. You can keep your cool, old, heavy, grandmother’s bike on the road! In combination with the infrastructure that’s on the way (hello city centre cycle network), innovations like this will make cycling a lot more viable for a lot more people.
Final verdict: Very likely to become pretty popular in the near future.