The obstacle to creating a successful motorized bicycle apparatus is not the mechanics; it is the marketing. No matter how high-tech a motorized propulsion system is, it will be ignored and abhorred by consumers if it retains the same dumpy, dense stigma associated with crude do-it-yourself attempts at a Harley’s baby nephew. Therefore, Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology (MIT) designers in MIT’s Smart Cities department have successfully integrated mechanics with panache with the ground-breaking motorized bicycle propulsion system, the GreenWheel.

MIT Wheel

The GreenWheel is, according to its designers, “A modular, in-wheel electric motor that transforms any pedal-powered bicycle into an electrically assisted hybrid bicycle” – in short, an electrical bicycle propulsion system. It has two parts: a wireless throttle and the actual aluminum GreenWheel apparatus, which is approximately two inches thick and the size of small dinner plate. The GreenWheel contains an electric motor, electric generator and eco-friendly batteries. The batteries are powered by either plugging into an electric grid or pedaling, which sends the bike into hybrid-electric mode. The GreenWheel can be mounted on the wheel of any regular bike. Ryan Chin, one of the designers, declares, "Just take the wheel off, put a GreenWheel equipped wheel on in its place, plug it in and it should work just fine." Installation requires a modicum of technical knowledge, so unless one is a hardcore DIY or a qualified bicycle mechanic, setting up the equipment may lead to some bruised fingers and exasperation.

Save gas, save money, save time, save effort – the GreenWheel can these and more. Rather than the traditional bulky, ungainly motorized bicycle kits, the GreenWheel is a polished alternative. By gently twisting on a Bluetooth wireless throttle, the electric motor in the GreenWheel is revved up and the bike smoothly scoots away at possible speeds at 30 mph. MIT designed the Greenwheel with durability in mind. It should last approximately 40,000 miles, leading Michael Chia-Liang Lin, another of the GreenWheel’s designers, to comment: “You'll have to replace the bike before you replace the batteries.”

Smart Cities, a research and design program at MIT’s Smart Cities laboratory, envisions numerous possibilities for applications. “Power is not limited to microgeneration,” they claim. After dreaming of the big picture, they offer the idea, “Bikes outfitted with the Green Wheel and a mobile device can create a network of distributed urban sensors, collecting data on road conditions, sound pollution, and mobility.” They also suggest ad-hoc bike-messaging systems, health data aggregation, and other amenities.

The GreenWheel can solve several critical issues in the modern world.  First, it can create accessible third-world transportation. In developing nations, conventional internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered engines may be unavailable, far too expensive or impossible to maintain. Simple systems are required for reliable transportation. Any urban-dweller with access to a power grid may use the GreenWheel, transforming dreams of personal transportation into a living reality.

Second, it can make mass transit go green. Metropolitan mass transit is designed to redeem the thousands of hours spent driving to-and-fro, emitting poisonous fumes and toxic gases. A public GreenWheel-equipped bike sharing program can reduce emissions and therefore lessen the carbon footprint and increase public health.

Welcome the VIPs: a hand-selected group of privileged cyclists supposed to test the practicality and functionality of the real-life, on-the-street GreenWheel. MIT plans to monitor mechanical performance, capability, market reception, and other criteria in preparation for the potential mass production of the GreenWheel system.

Copenhagen and South Africa stand next in line. Emulating Paris’ renowned public bike-sharing system, these nations, on account on the 2010 World Cup, are intent on GreenWheeling their visitors and tourists to-and-fro. Negotiations are currently in progress to expedite GreenWheels to these nations in a market trial.

Oh, and add two more to the GreenWheel list: you and me.