If you’re a huge sci-fi fan, you’ve probably watched the Tron movies. The neon-bright electric motorcycle bikes that raced through the digital highways are prominently featured in the 2010 sequel, Tron: Legacy. These futuristic bikes became every child’s expectation of what the bike of the future would look like.
We’re still far from transporting our consciousness into the digital realm, but Tron bikes are now becoming a reality thanks to hubless electric bikes. Hubless bikes could usher in a new era of transportation fitting for the 21st century.
For thousands of years, we have used the same tried-and-tested design of the wheel. Despite groundbreaking innovations in the automobile industry, the wheel remained the same at its very core. But by removing the spokes, hubless wheels changed the game forever.
They said it couldn’t be done, but hubless bicycles may have just reinvented the wheel.
We have to rewind a few thousand years to appreciate the spokeless electric bike.
It all began 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). Known as the “Cradle of Civilization,” Mesopotamia was home to numerous civilizations, such as the Sumerian civilization.
Deemed as the world’s first known civilization, the Sumerians had the rare opportunity to be the first at almost anything. Their writing system, the cuneiform, is hailed as the world’s first. Then came the wheel.
By simply putting axles into two solid wooden discs, they revolutionized transportation and agriculture. Wheels made the process of plowing a lot faster and less labor-intensive, making them instrumental in the mechanization of agriculture.
The wheel connected the economies of faraway ancient civilizations, forming a web of commerce and trade. But, unfortunately, wheels also carried the winds of war. Empires transported soldiers and supplies using chariots and carriages.
However, thousands of years later, the wheel would be further refined and improved. The Egyptians were the first to introduce spokes into the wheel. The use of spokes reduced the weight and the material needed to manufacture a wheel. It became the standard design across different civilizations at this point in history.
During the 19th century, the wheel would get another upgrade in the form of wire spokes and pneumatic tires. In 1808, the aeronautical engineer George Cayley invented the wire spoke, which replaced the wooden spokes in the wheel. The tensioned wires allowed bicycles to endure heavier loads.
Not long after, pneumatic tires would enter the scene. Invented by Robert William Thompson, pneumatic tires gave riders a smoother ride. The air-filled tires absorbed the small bumps along the road, making it more comfortable for the rider. These tires replaced the solid rubber tires, which were the norm back then.
Since then, the wheel has only received incremental improvements. We never again saw a revolution in wheel design until Franco Sbarro invented the “orbital wheel” in 1989. This hubless wheel surprised everyone because it had no spokes at all.
The usual spoked wheel is set into motion by force from the hub at its center. This hub is then connected to the drivetrain, which is powered by a motor or a pedal. Despite its many variations, this simple concept proved efficient in translating energy from the rider or the motor into motion.
In a spokeless electric bike, the number of moving parts is significantly reduced. The wheel is set into motion using a series of bearings fixed along its circumference. These bearings are connected one way or another to the drivetrain which is powered either by an electric motor or the pedal.
Some challenges that hubless designs need to overcome are inherent in the concept itself. One example is the less powerful torque produced by such configurations. Another one is how difficult it would be to maintain, especially in the case of an accident.
With ordinary bikes, a bent wheel can be fixed or even easily swapped out. No other parts of the bike would be affected. Unfortunately, such is not the case with hubless bikes. A bent wheel can mean broken bearings which will be complicated to fix.
There are attempts to push the first commercially viable hubless electric bike into the wider market. Examples of these are the Reevo Bikes and the Verge Motorcycle.
The Reevo Bike is a hubless bike designed for urban and casual riders. It features a "Triple Barrier" anti-theft system which consists of a fingerprint reader, locks built within the wheels, and GPS tracking.
Looking like the Tron motorcycle, the Verge Motorcycle is a full-fledged electric motorcycle with spokeless wheels. This motorcycle design surely stands out among the rest.
Riding a bike with no spokes can turn some heads along the street. It would certainly be an uncommon sight to behold. However, we are not fully there yet. Hubless bikes have yet to surmount difficulties that come along with such a concept.
Conventional electric bikes have come a long way. E-bikes can now deliver the performance that demanding activities such as mountain biking require. As we wait for hubless bikes that can be commercially viable, it’s more practical to purchase an electric bike instead.
In the meantime, why not browse our electric bike buying guide? For those who are on a tight budget, read about the best folding electric bike under $1000.