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Bicycle riders get turbo-boost from high-tech wheel

Power Pitch

Some very smart people at MIT who set out to reinvent the wheel actually did, and now biking around town may never be the same. 

“You cycle like a normal bike, and you feel like a hill disappeared or distances have shrunk magically,” said Assaf Biderman co-founder of Superpedestrian.

CNBC gave him 60 seconds to prove to a panel of experts and viewers that his new wheel is a really big deal.

Pedal to the metal

As the associate director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab Biderman partnered with the mayor’s office in Copenhagen, Denmark, a city famous for its bike culture, to create the Copenhagen Wheel.

“The Copenhagen Wheel is a back wheel you can throw on almost any bicycle that turns it into a smart, hybrid electric,” he told CNBC.

The wheel looks a lot like any other, but at the center of the spokes is a round piece of bright-red plastic. The eye-catching cover hides a motor powered by a chargeable lithium battery, and when the wheel spins it can charge the battery.

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The wheel includes 12 sensors designed to detect when the rider needs help pedaling and can deliver a surge of power.  The Power Pitch team took a spin, and it feels a lot like a turbo-boost .

Biderman described it as feeling like “Superman on a bike,” adding that “the effect is quite magical.”

The co-inventor said that installing the technology is as easy as replacing a wheel, “Two nuts, two bolts, and we’re ready to go.”

The Copenhagen Wheel’s patented technology includes Bluetooth, so it can connect to Superpedestrian’s iPhone (AAPL) or Android app (GOOG) to track distance and elevation, and to share routes.

The wheel requires charging and can be plugged into a standard wall jack. Biderman estimates a full charge will last about 31 miles. It’s set to come out this year for a price of $799.

Navigant Research projects that worldwide sales of e-bikes will grow steadily, from 30.6 million units last year to 37.9 million in 2020, with 90 percent sold in China.

Biderman said that Superpedestrian, which launched in December, has received more than 1,500 presale orders from over 19 countries.

When Power Pitch panelist Sonal Shah, senior fellow at the Case Foundation, asked about lowering the price, he said, “With multiple units sold, the price will go down.”

Power Pitch panelist and Collaborative Fund investor Jessica Jackley raised concerns about competitors such as FlyKly, another start-up that has a battery-charged wheel that turns a conventional bike into a hybrid. That product is available for preorder for $590. 

“I haven't seen what's inside FlyKly's product.  It's not out yet.  So I don't know if it is infringing on the technology that we have licensed,” Biderman responded.

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Superpedestrian is backed by Spark Capital and Tumblr CEO and founder David Karp. It has raised $2.1 million in funds so far.

See Assaf Biderman #powerpitch his startup @Superpedestrian to Power Pitch panelists Jessica Jackley @JessicaJackley, an investor and advisor at The Collaborative Fund @collabfund;  Sonal Shaw @SonalRShaw, senior fellow at the Case Foundation, which focuses on world-changing ideas; and CNBC’s host @MandyCNBC.

—Additional reporting by Erin Barry and Ray Parisi

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