Biking is fun! Biking uphill is not as much fun. Neither is biking to work on a hot day and arriving all sweaty and red-faced, or having to bike home (uphill, probably) when you're already exhausted, or pushing your bike up the street because it's too hilly or you're too tired. And the least fun of all is having your bike stolen.
FlyKly wants to fix these problems. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign on Wednesday for its FlyKly Smart Wheel, and racked up $40,000 of their $100,000 goal in just a few hours--as of this writing it's at $82K and climbing.
The Smart Wheel packs a super-thin motor into a tough plastic casing that fits on the spokes of a bike rim. You're only buying the wheel, so you can put it on whatever bike you already own and love. (FlyKly will produce 26- and 29-inch versions in eight colors, and you supply the bike, inner tube, and tire.) The motor can propel you up to 20 miles per hour for up to 30 miles, so you get the same pedal-assistance magic as a "real" electric bike, but with less weight, less cost, and some really cool smart features too.
Electronics inside the wheel talk to your smartphone via Bluetooth 4.0--FlyKly has apps for iOS, Android, and even the Pebble watch. The apps let you set the top speed for the motor, plus they display data on your speed, distance, and how the wheel's battery is faring. (It charges as you pedal or ride downhill, or you can plug it in between rides.)
Sounds great, but what's it like to ride? I got to test out a road bike equipped with a prototype Smart Wheel when FlyKly CEO Niko Klansek dropped by the TechHive offices, and within a block, I was a believer. All you have to do is set the speed, hop on, and start pedaling--as soon as the Smart Wheel realizes you're moving, the motor kicks in with a satisfying whir. It could not be simpler. Stop pedaling, and the motor coasts too. (Braking works as normal.) You can even pedal backward to make the motor start up again, if you insist on making the motor do all the work instead of just assisting.
The Smart Wheel even has GPS built in, and the app can show your location on a map and provide bike-friendly directions. But that's not the only reason FlyKly crammed a GPS in there. The app also lets you lock your wheel between rides, and once the wheel is locked, the only way to move the bike would be to pick it up and carry it. But if that happens, your phone will alert you that your bike is walking away, and track its location on a map for you. Brilliant!
FlyKly is also producing a "Smart Light" that's basically a pedal-powered bike light slash handlebar mount for your phone. And an SDK will let developers integrate the Smart Wheel's data into their own apps or hardware. The main FlyKly app will let you earn badges, compete against friends, and learn new bike-friendly routes around your city.
The FlyKly Smart Wheel is on Kickstarter now, with product scheduled to ship in May 2014, with a price of $590 for the wheel, the Smart Light, and a charger. We'll have a full review when we can put rubber to road with a finalized product, but from what I've seen so far, my own bike's dumb rear wheel is about to be kicked to the curb.