Tyre and wheel manufacturer Vittoria has announced that it's taken a stake in Zehus. You probably haven't heard of them, but they make an interesting hub motor system called BIKE+.
BIKE+ has been around since 2014. It's an integrated hub motor with the motor, electronics, sensors and batteries all inside the hub body. The hub backs 160Wh of battery capacity and the whole thing weighs just 3kg. It's similar to products like the Copenhagen Wheel and the FlyKly, but where it differs is that it's not designed to be recharged: instead, the hub takes power from you when you don't need assistance and gives it back when you do.
It's an innovative system. We've tried the BIKE+ hub aboard a Klaxon Chat city bike, and it delivers a smooth and progressive assistance from the 250W motor. It's also light, and unobtrusive.
As power systems go, it's more or less invisible: there's no battery, display or wiring. If you do need to charge the battery, then you can: there's a charging port available and a full charge from flat takes about three hours. But Zehus claim that for day-to-day riding the battery level is self-sustaining. You work a little bit harder on the flat and it takes energy when you're going downhill or braking, and then you get it back when you need it: starting from stationery, or going uphill.
The hub has a Bluettoth connection and there's an accompanying app that gives you access to the motor system so you can tweak the assistance level or check the battery. It also gives you access to diagnostics, navigation and more.
So why have Vittoria come on board? "Vittoria and Zehus have an aligned vision of the future in urban transportation", Zehus say. "The market of smart wheels will dramatically increase in the next decades, not limited to developed market where one in four bicycles will be hybrid, but also in developing markets with millions of units already sold to consumers every year."
So there you go: it's going to be big. Vittoria's plan is to offer the wheels as part of a bike-wheel system that's easy for manufacturers to add to their range, or for end-users to fit. Up until now Zehus have been manufacturing the hubs in Italy but Zehus and Vittoria have now set up a new company in Taiwain to manufacture the hubs; the first new units will be rolling off the production line in late 2016.