The electric bicycle is an idea whose time has come. As the cost of lithium ion batteries falls (thank you, Elon), an electric bike is now affordable for many who were priced out of the market just a few years ago. Electric bikes still have some problems, though. For one thing, most are still expensive. Popular models sell for between $2,000 and $3,000 dollars. For another, they are heavy. That means hauling an electric bicycle upstairs into your apartment or office can be a chore. Last, conventional bike racks can’t handle the weight of the typical electric bicycle.
Behold, the Geo Orbital. Lots of e-bikes mount an electric motor inside the hub of the rear wheel or mount it permanently to the frame. The Geo Orbital is different. It replaces the front wheel. The 500W motor and battery are part of the wheel itself. Two battery sizes are available — 6 amp-hour and 10 amp-hour. With the larger battery, electric only range is 20 miles. For the smaller battery, range is listed at 12 miles. The top speed is 20 miles per hour. Of course, the more you pedal, the further you can go. And regenerative braking is included in both versions.
Take your existing bicycle, remove the front wheel, slip the Geo Orbital wheel into place, clip the remote throttle to your handlebars, and you’re good to go. The battery can be detached and brought inside for easy charging. It can also be used to recharge electronic devices. Because the battery and/or entire wheel can be removed easily, your existing bike rack can still be used.
The Verge describes the Geo Orbital this way: “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.” The tire is solid foam to eliminate any worries about getting flat while riding.
Who would think of such a thing? The inventors are all refugees from large, successful companies Ford and SpaceX. Previously, they helped build micro-businesses with the Peace Corps. Regular price for the Geo Orbital is $900, but early backers can claim one for $500 on Kickstarter. The original goal of $75,000 was quickly surpassed. So far, the campaign has raised nearly $430,000 with 39 days left to go. The first Geo Orbitals are expected to ship starting in June.
What is riding a bike fitted with a Geo Orbital electric wheel like? Recently, Skip Ferderber of GeekWire took one out for a test ride. “So how does it feel when riding it? I tested the bike wheel on the grounds of the Seattle Center. Because its power source is on the front, the bike initially felt slightly heavier and less flexible than a standard bike. Once I thumb-activated the throttle the bike felt both easy to navigate and powerful. It took less than two minutes to become accustomed to the bike powering me instead of me pedaling. In my final (but short test), I drove it up the short hill to the west of Key Arena and was pleasantly surprised at how easily it powered me up hill. I am not precisely a featherweight.”