What if every time you put the brakes on your bicycle, you were actually storing energy that later could be used to propel yourself without pedaling? From a strictly physics perspective, whenever you do brake (whether that be in any moving vehicle), you’re losing all the kinetic energy you amassed while accelerating. Engineering student Maxwell von Stein thought all that overcompensating of pedaling was senseless. The New York City cycling commuter sought a way to harness “regenerative braking energy” to help him to ride more efficiently through perilous urban landscapes. So, he created the Flywheel Bicycle.
A flywheel, which stores rotational energy, is not actually new. Some of the first wool spindles, potter’s wheels and steam engine water wheels were powered by flywheels. The same mechanics are also applied in hybrid cars, in which motion is converted to electricity, stored in a battery and then converted back to motion again. Whereas hybrid cars store energy chemically through lithium-ion or hydrogen fuel cells, the Flywheel Bicycle stores it kinetically. Energy-efficient and green!
Stein’s Flywheel Bicycle, which is rigged with a 15-pound steel flywheel (taken from an automobile) in the frame, gets “charges” by braking. In the traditional sense, a bike is slowed down by pressing the brakes and expelling (or, throwing away) perfectly good energy. Inversely, Stein’s Flywheel Bicycle slows by transferring its kinetic energy from the back wheel to the centered flywheel. When a boost is needed (say, when he’s cycling uphill) Stein redirects that energy to the back wheel without any strenuous pedaling.
“When a rider wishes to reduce cycling speed, the flywheel is capable of temporarily storing the kinetic energy released. This energy can later be used by the cyclist to resume increased speed levels” Stein told EcoFriend.
Unfortunately, the Flywheel Bicycle is not yet on the market, though it’s definitely a transportation concept worth rehearsing in a future bike market. Would you ride a Flywheel Bicycle? Does it take away from the workout? Or would it encourage more folks to commute without having to fear treacherous city streets?
- By Sarah McClure
Images Courtesy of Cooper Union