Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reinventing the wheel

If there is one thing Columbia has no shortage of, it's a general disdain from a segment of this community toward cyclists.  Take some comments published in the Tribune this week in response to the city not approving the installment of surveillance cameras downtown.

"Well everybody needs to stand up and take note of what happened last night in Columbia with the city council.  They decided not to put up the cameras downtown for surveillance, but yet they were all in favor of voting for the bicycle ordinances.  So what does this tell us?  They are more concerned with people who ride bicycles than the consensus of the general public...."

"I was hearing that the eggheads of our city council voted no on the cameras again.  Seems to me like $50,000 is not really that bad for putting cameras downtown to keep people safe.  Hell, they blew more money than that on those stupid bike lines.  What's wrong with them eggheads down there?  Don't they care about people's safety in Columbia?  Man, this place is beginning to be a real crap town to live in, I'll tell you that."

Interestingly, there was not even any discussion of bike ordinances at this particular council meeting when the issue of cameras was brought forth.  It thus seems as though the well of cycling hatred has become a  depository in which the ladel of blame may be dipped for any public gripe.  Escalating crime in the city?  Well, if the eggheads hadn't spent so much money on those silly bike lanes, we could have afforded to pay more police.  Small businesses hurting?  Well, if those damned cyclists would quit riding and start shopping more, we probably wouldn't be in this mess!  And speaking of "crap town", are park grounds being overwhelmed with dog feces?  Well, if those damned morons on bikes weren't riding around all the time, then dogs would magically stop crapping.

Furthermore, surveillance cameras don't make people safe....people not hurting other people makes people safe.  And aside from the packs of naked ninja riders roaming the streets, I've not heard of any bicycle gangs or marauding bands of cycling pirates pillaging the city (although it does kind of sound like fun if they let you actually dress like a pirate). 

Perhaps what enrages non-cyclists so much is the rudimentary status of the mode of transportation which we so love.  For example, just before Thanksgiving, I had to make a last minute run to the grocery store to get ready for a large dinner I was preparing.  I was running late and therefore in a big hurry.  As I entered the check out line at the store with some tomatoes, a couple blocks of asiago cheese and a large toilet plunger, I received some strange looks from fellow shoppers.  But if I have learned anything in my time on this planet, it's that nothing clogs a toilet like the holidays.  At any rate, in the checkout lane, I found myself behind a middle aged woman who had purchased enough food to feed Team RadioShack for, perhaps not the Tour de France, but certainly enough for the Dauphine.  When it came time to pay, she slowly withdrew the billfold from her macrame purse and began paying in bills and change: actual paper currency and small metallic disks.  I got increasingly anxious as she meticulously fumbled through the archaic legal tender, making sure she had the exact amount.  I thought to myself, "Come on, lady - bust out the plastic - swipe it - and let's go!"  But perhaps this is how drivers feel when trapped behind me riding my velocipede up Chapel Hill?

Well, lucky for everyone then, must be the new cycling development that MIT researchers released at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change called the Copenhagen Wheel.

Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory and the Copenhagen Wheel project says about the wheel, "It's sort of like 'Biking 2.0' - whereby cheap electronics allow us to augment bikes and convert them into a more flexible, on-demand system."  What would any modern endeavor be, after all, without cheap electronics and on-demand capabilities?

What this device does is recuperate the kinetic energy otherwise wasted during the act of braking, which then is used to power the rear wheel at a later time, for example if you need some help pedalling up a hill.  In addition to that, the wheel is a veritable iPhone with a wealth of other gadgetry to monitor speed, direction, distance traveled, air pollution and the location of the cyclist's friends.  And speaking of iPhones, all these actions are coordinated and managed through an app on an iPhone (of course) that is mounted to the stem.

One of the major marketing ploys of the new wheel is the ability to accrue "Green Miles" which is the new term to refer to the miles ridden on your existing cheapo CATEYE bicycle computer.  With the "Green Miles" program, you can upload your ride and miles totalled to a social networking site, and thus brag to your cycling companions.  They liken this to a 'frequent fliers' program minus the opportunity to get loaded on gin in the hospitality "crown room" prior to boarding your flight.  Time may prove me wrong, but I think we need another social networking site like Lance needed that other testicle.  The first one seems to be doing the trick.

As we learned earlier in the week, marketing your bike or bike product with the use of models that might resemble the projected purchaser is important, and the folks at SENSEable City Lab have done just that by retrofitting the Copenhagen wheel onto a Cinelli fixed gear ridden by a scarfed, European blonde woman in knee-high boots for the online promos:

Of course, for this young lady, other successful and less expensive modes of powering her bicycle up a hill would be to ditch the boots and not be riding a fixed gear in the first place. 

So the question remains of who exactly is the target market for a device that the inventors have labeled as one which will "Transform your ordinary bicycle into a hybrid E-bike..."  Ratti has called this advancement "sort of like Biking 2.0...." which has brought forth some geniused ribbing from BSNYC.  If the Copenhagen Wheel is "biking 2.0", then I'm guessing carbon frames must be somewhere around a "1.8", gear technology would have to be "biking version 1.4" so that would mean "biking 1.0" would have to have been....

Now that would be something to see on a surveillance camera....

Pedal on!

1 comment:

  1. this device recuperates kinetic energy...and I have a kinetic energy harnessed within my person that is revealed in: A Kinetic Person's Power, Sub Titled: Voice Command Ability (Creative Non-Fiction)By: Kenneth Adrian Ellis. It is a documented gift...I hold a Certificate Of Copyright from the Library Of Congress for video footage on which I perform my is in the area of parapsychology! Goto:, Search: Kenneth A. Ellis, then Goto: to read my on-line Press Release! God Bless for allowing this posting!