Sometimes I feel like my entire life is spent commuting — by train, taxi, or on foot. But biking is by far my favourite way to get around in NYC, except for those minutes I spend huffing over the Manhattan bridge. That’s where Evelo’s Omni Wheel comes in. The after-market add-on can transform most bikes into an electric-powered commute machine. And it works — for the most part.
Like most things in life, convenience comes at a price, and in this case, convenience costs $1,000. It’s an eye-popping figure, but in the context of electric bikes, it actually seems downright affordable. After all, you might already have a really nice frame you’re not willing to part with. Meanwhile, for those beyond the US and Canada, getting your hands on one of these things won't be easy as the company won't ship orders beyond North America – still, it's an interesting thing to take note of should it ever break free of those shores.
The Omni Wheel is a hub that fits right into your front wheel frame. The wheel is then hooked up to a handle-mounted display and throttle. The display shows your approximate speed and battery life, and the throttle works as you’d expect. Down is go, up is stop. The charging port, housed on the metal hubcap, uses a proprietary three-pronged charger that you definitely won’t want to lose.
When you slap this giant hubcap on to your existing front wheel, it’s best to not think of your ride as a bike anymore. The Omni Wheel adds a lot of weight — between about 8 or 9 kilos depending on the model. So forget a quick jog up your third floor walk up with your newly motorised bike.
And, of course, because the hub is so hefty, it subtly changes how the bike handles. For example, the hub makes your bike front-heavy, which means slower response times when you’re swerving to avoid a car door or spaced-out pedestrian. It’s not a design flaw per se — it just takes some getting used to.
But the biggest problem I experienced with the Omni Wheel is wind. Unless you’re cycling every day you probably don’t think about it much, but outdoor bicycles have spokes to mitigate crosswinds. Seal up all those holes, and suddenly, every gust of wind slams into your bike and forces you to rapidly wrench back control. In New York City, this is an especially big problem since tall buildings have the tendency to create wind corridors. So when you’re crossing an avenue — one the worst times to lose control your bike — you can feel the tug of the wind on your handlebars. That said, I never felt like the Omni Wheel put me in any actual danger. It’s like the disk wheels popular with mid-2000 hipsters. They’re not a danger as much as an annoyance.
If you overlook its relatively nitpicky failings, the Omni Wheel’s battery blessing starts to feel almost indispensable. I rode with the Omni Wheel almost 30 miles, covering all three major Brooklyn-Manhattan bridges, and I have yet to suck the wheel’s battery completely dry. Evelo says the Omni provides 40 miles on a charge, and I’d venture that’s about right, depending on your riding style.
The omni charges via a proprietary port. So hold onto the charger.
Regardless of its impressive range, I would still charge the thing every single time you get home. Because you do not, I repeat, do not want to be caught mid-ride with a dead battery — not unless lugging around an extra 10 kilos for no reason sounds like fun to you.
What will keep the Omni Wheel off every city computer’s bicycle isn’t that weight, its the price. For someone who has a beloved bike that they want to endow with electric powers, it might be worth $1,000 (that's about £762 for an idea of cost in UK terms, despite its non-availability beyond North America). But for most, you should just plump for an integrated electric bike. Yeah, it’s heavy, but it’ll still handle like a normal bike for the most part.
With that being said, I will miss finally being the cyclist yelling “left” as a I blaze by on the Brooklyn Bridge.
- Climbs hills like a PRO
- Susceptible to pesky headwinds thanks to the hub covering the entire wheel
- Eight to nine kilos of extra weight changes the handling of your bike
- Unless you love your bike the price tag is ridiculous. Grab a full electric bike instead.