FlyKly Smart Wheel—First Ride and Impressions, June 2014.
With much talked and written about the FlyKly Smart Wheel, this was my first chance to see and ride this all-in-one E-bike conversion wheel. It’s taken a couple years to finally hit production, gaining much of its help from a Kickstarter campaign. The first round of wheels have started to be shipped and by September the Kickstarter contributors should be getting the electric boost on their bicycles they desired (and helping to get the future on track).
I met with Niko in Santa Monica yesterday during his US introduction tour. He stopped first in New York, then in San Francisco before this day on the beach by the Santa Monica Pier. From here he is off to 6 European cites to do the same thing. His plan is to let his Kickstarter helpers see and feel the wheel and to let the media (me) learn about it too. The day was a success, the attendees quite pleased, and I learned more about this new innovation.
This FlyKly is the second of the three all-in-one E-bike conversion wheels I have been able to ride. It is designed to replace the back wheel of a single-speed bike (or many other style bikes) to allow it to help its rider. With only one speed it has its limits, but the gearing tooth count can be changed to better fit the rider’s needs. Also, a three ring front gear set could be used (with a rear derailleur type chain tensioner) to add some versatility in that department (or the two-speed Schlumpf bottom bracket drive).
It is fully automatic in its use, yet some of its working parameters can be set with the use of a smart telephone. The phone can also communicate with the wheel to give performance feed-back and other vital information (such as troubleshooting, working modes and theft protection). The phone is not needed for the ride, although it is needed for the initial set-up and to make changes in settings (including setting a cruise control mode). The phone app is a download from FlyKly.
The FlyKly Wheel I rode was set to 80% assistance, 16 mph. maximum speed (which is the max assistance speed) and to 80% regeneration. It has three modes—one for normal assistance—off for no assistance—and exercise mode for continuous resistance. As a person who uses no cell phone I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to ride it, but if I did get a FlyKly Smart Wheel, I would need someone with a phone to do the initial settings before I could use it.
So what is a all-in-one E-wheel? What we have is the batteries, the motor and the electronics all housed in the hub of the wheel. There are no external wires or other pieces that it needs. It mounts to the bike easily (making sure the chain path is straight and the gearing is correct). It comes in two different axle spacing widths to fit most all bicycles. Niko said it might be best to get the narrow one so you can use it on all the bikes you might have in mind. Spacers could be used when fitting it to the wider spaced bikes.
You have your choice of rim sizes (20”, 24”, 26” and 700c I believe) and it comes in several different colors to fit you personal preference. It also comes with a tire and tube mounted, but you may want to up-grade or change it to match your bike better. It does mount on the back of the bike which can add a little bit of complexity for the do-it-yourselfer, as opposed to one of the other E-wheels that mounts to the front of the bike. The bike I rode had only a front brake, (this was to allow the rider a better feel for the regenerative braking I think), but in all reality front and rear brakes are the best way to go on any bicycle.
Ok, you see the words “regenerative braking” above, what does that mean? Now it is time to talk about how it works and how well. The FlyKly Smart Wheel is fully automatic. It works with no controls or thoughts from the rider. You just ride somewhat normally and it assists your ride as you go. It gets its information from 3 internal sensors, a load sensor, a pressure sensor and a level sensor. The first one knows you are pedaling, the second how hard you are pedaling and the third the grade you are riding on (to increase the assist levels when climbing). Also is has a speed sensor, yet this is not something to be concerned about in this discussion.
Turning on the wheel is easy. It goes into sleep mode (off) by itself after two minutes of inactivity. To turn it on you pedal forward and then backwards. You can do this by riding or like Niko showed for the demo purpose, by lifting the rear wheel off the ground and hand pedaling it. Once it is on it does all the rest by itself. So to repeat myself, you just ride and enjoy.
As you ride you can feel the assist come in a very natural way. It is not excessive, but quite noticeable. As you stop moving the pedals the turns off and the bike glides like any other bike (there is very little drag from the motor so it coasts nicely). When you rotate the pedals backward the FlyKly Smart Wheel goes into regen mode. This does two things. It adds a drag brake that slows the bike noticeably but not severely, and it makes electrical power to slightly recharge the battery. This means as you stop or descend hills, power in the battery will be added to extend your riding range. It seemed weird to pedal backwards, but it becomes very normal within a short time of riding this bike.
The bike Niko had the wheel on was pretty much a fixie type. It can be added to most any style bike yet lends itself to this bike nicely. The FlyKly Smart Wheel weighs in at 6 lbs. so it makes for a very good feel and a very non E-bike kind of maneuverability. He had it color matched to the bike, but with a wide variety of colors to choose from, you can go stealth or with in you face colors, including a glow in the dark model. You can also get the complete bike (the Wize Bike) that has an even more sophisticated FlyKly motor on-board. On their site too is a cool bike light that also helps to mount your cell phone to the handle bars.
So what is to like or not like about the FlyKly? I spent the full three hours at the demo day (more like four) and heard most all the feed-back from the maybe 40 or 50 people who were there and rode it. These people are the contributors and they were very interested in getting all the info and a feel for the wheel. Some were already E-bikers and many were not. On the whole the responses were close to 100% positive.
In no particular order this is what I heard and my own opinions too. For one, what isn’t there to like about a cool E-bike conversion? It comes with a nice small smart charger that plugs in the wheel at the end of the axle. I did feel like this was in very vulnerable place and could be damaged if the bike fell over or scraped on obstacles. I think I would add a metal safely loop there like you see on bike derailleurs and other items. Hopefully FlyKly makes one up and includes it with each wheel. It comes with a rubber cover plug, but I felt this just wasn’t enough.
The motor felt good, but many power-hungry E-bikers will not be pleased with the 250 watt motor. That is ok because this product isn’t really designed for them. It is more of a super lightweight boost to aid your pedaling. If you need to do thirty up the steepest hill, you will be disappointed. Yet if you want a low-cost, lightweight fun boost to your everyday ride then the smiles will be all yours.
The lack of multi-gears will bother some. I mentioned above how some extra gearing can be added. No place for a disc brake mount will bother others. This bike had no rear rim brake but it can easily be incorporated. The lack of a massive battery range is a potential concern, yet about 25 miles (or more) is possible depending on the rider, the terrain and the use of the regen feature.
The need for a smart phone turned me off, but many will revel in this part of the FlyKly. The ease of installing the wheel will be great compared to many E-bike conversion kits on the market. The lack of options, power and range could be an issue, but many will like the easy feel and performance you get with this. No wires and all that goes with it makes for a clean looking E-bike that most anyone would be proud to show-off and ride.
All in all it worked just as promised. They have really put it though its paces during development so it should be a trouble-free E-wheel that performs like many will like. With the delivery at the Italian factory of a new casting machine for the hub, production will ramp up quickly (till now each hub has been CNC machined, nice, but time consuming). The wheels are assembled and shipped from both a New York facility and one in Italy. Some Asian parts are used, but on the whole they are making and assembling each wheel in house.
Orders placed now are on a pre-order basis and the Kickstarter folks are starting to get theirs. I have just touched the surface on this new item, so to get more info link to their website and FB sites.
All in all, great job Niko, and thanks for the invite, I had fun, Turbo Bob.
“Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world.”—Grant Peterson.
Check out the FlyKly Smart Wheel on their website and FB page.
These are the 4 videos I shot that day.