Pricey electric bicycle wheel gets you to work sweat-free

When cost outweighs the chance to stop pedaling.

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    Yes, I own a bike. But it's nothing to get excited about. A neighbor put it on the sidewalk with a "free" sign, and bam! I had a bicycle. It's old and rusty but perfect for neighborhood errands. I normally wouldn't use it to ride to work, but the $1,000 GeoOrbital wheel could change that. If I could afford it.

    Gallery: GeoOrbital electric bicycle tire | 10 Photos

    If you live in an urban environment, you've probably noticed the rise in the number of electric bicycles cruising in the bike lanes. With battery packs strapped to the frame and oversize rear hubs powering daily commutes, the riders show up to work without looking like a sweating mess. But if you've already got a bike and are short on space (there's barely enough room in your studio apartment for that second lamp), the GeoOrbital converts your two-wheeled whip into an electric one without too much hassle.

    The electric wheel contains all the necessary technology needed to drag you around town: battery, motor, guide wheels and a throttle you attach to your handlebars. In other words, it's heavy. Heavier than my actual bike, and if you're the type of commuter who has to carry his bike up and down stairs to catch mass transit, you're going to notice that extra poundage.

    The company says the whole contraption can be installed in 60 seconds. If you don't count the time I spent adjusting my brakes, it took less than 45 seconds on the first try. Subsequent installs take less than 30 seconds.

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    Once you're ready to roll, the GeoOrbital requires a key to be turned on. The same key is used to unlock the removable battery. It also ships with two keys in case you have a shared bike or you're prone to losing things.

    I weigh over 200 pounds, so I wasn't sure how well the wheel would perform on the hills of San Francisco. On the flats, it did a great job pulling me along. The GeoOrbital's top speed of 20 miles per hour was quick enough to keep up with other cyclists without actually pedaling. But I was regularly passed by anyone wearing spandex.

    On hills, I actually had to pedal. Yet, it was never enough to work up a sweat. It was more like a leisurely climb. I watched others struggle to get up the same hill and I felt like maybe I was cheating. People ride bikes for a host of reasons and one of them is to be in better shape. I was circumventing that. That lingered in my mind as I passed another person huffing and puffing while trying to get up the incline. Seeing them struggle while I glided by squelched any guilt I had about losing out on a workout.

    GeoOrbital says the wheel will do 12 miles before needing a recharge. My large frame and the hills I tackled brought that down to about 10 miles. An impressive feat. But once that battery power disappears, the wheel becomes a huge albatross that turns your ride into an intense leg workout.

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    Controlling the speed of the bike is where the handlebar-mounted thumb-controlled throttle comes in. If you've ever ridden a quad or ATC, you'll recognize the design. Just depress the gray lever and away you go. It took a few tries to get the throttle in a comfortable position on the handlebars, but even then (like my old ATC), after about 45 minutes I got thumb fatigue. That'll probably pass if you ride that far every day, but it takes a while and something to consider.

    Except for my maiden voyage, the rides were uneventful. During my first time on the bike, the rubber wheel that propels the main wheel unloaded some rubber bits after dragging my large frame up and down San Francisco's many hills. By the end of the ride, the GeoOrbital was producing a rougher ride and making more racket than usual. I got home, removed the excess rubber from the wheels, charged the bike and didn't have the same problem on any subsequent rides.

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    Other than that hiccup, the wheel was easy to charge, install and riding it was enjoyable. It's nice to get to a destination without getting all sweaty. It took my old rusty bike and made it modern and sleek. Well, sleekish -- it's still covered in rust.

    Yet, I can't justify paying $1,000 for a tire. The GeoOrbital doesn't feel like it's made for people like myself. A person with a sub-$1,000 bike that wants to get around town without too much fuss. Instead it feels like it's geared towards the person that spends thousands on their bike and has a closet full of colorful spandex. Maybe during the week they still want to ride their impressively light bike to work without having to take a shower when they arrive. If you're that person, check out the GeoOrbital. For the rest of us, get back to pedaling.

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