How many more people would bike to work if they weren't afraid of the uphill climbs along their commute? Thanks to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we are about to find out. The New York Times reports the Senseable City Laboratory is working on a wheel to gather the kinetic energy we generate while biking, saving it up for when we need a boost on those daunting hills.

According to the article, the researchers envision the new wheel as part of "Biking 2.0," putting cycling in the same category as hybrid cars. The cycle stores up the energy released for braking or coasting downhill, and communicates that via smartphones. The spinning wheel will charge a battery in the hub, called the Copenhagen Wheel (named after the city where it was unveiled this week). The new part can be retrofitted into any existing rear wheel. It differs from other electronic bikes because it eliminates heavy batteries or wires since all of the mechanisms are contained within the wheel hub. In addition to the energy-harvesting technology, the new hub includes "sensors that track air quality, a meter that logs miles and a GPS unit to track routes." This information can all be sent via Bluetooth to the cyclist's cell phone.

According to developers, the rider need to place his phone on the bike handlebars and the Copenhagen Wheel Application communicates information to the phone regarding how much effort the rider exerts, when to change gears, how much motor assistance is needed, or even whether the bike should be locked or unlocked.

The Danes seem hopeful that the new wheel can fit in well with their culture that is "trying to wean itself off cars," but others are skeptical that cyclists will accept the new technology. In an era of fixed-gear or single-speed bikes, simplicity seems to reign supreme. Perhaps dedicated cyclists will indeed spurn the new hub. But this might not be the target market for the hub anyway. As M.I.T. researchers continue to develop this biking technology, they stress their first goal is to create "a bike that's a true transportation tool." They point out that people with short commutes who would otherwise be wary of sweat or hills might be encouraged to hop on a bike. The Times quotes lead researcher Christine Outram as saying, "[this hub]'s a technology that can get more people on bikes."

Harvesting cyclists' kinetic energy
New bike wheel, called a Copenhagen wheel, gives bikers a boost for big hills.