Lindsey Batstone, an officer with Laconia Police Department, demonstrates the use of the GeoOrbital device, which converts a conventional bicycle into an electric bike capable of speeds up to 20 mph and with a range of about 15 miles. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The next time you see one of the city’s police officers patrolling on a bicycle, take a good look at that front wheel.
A Boston company that makes a power-assist front wheel for bicycles has given two of the devices to the police department to try out on a trial basis.
The GeoOrbital wheel, which cost about $1,000 for a consumer model, can be easily swapped for the front wheel on most bicycles. Once in place, the wheel can speed a bicycle to 20 mph on an electrical charge that can last for 20 miles, more if the bicyclist does some pedaling. A spare battery can be inserted in the wheel to extend range.
It works through a wheel-within-a-wheel design. A small wheel runs along the rim of the front wheel, driving it and the bicycle down the road. A throttle switch attaches to the handlebars.
The tire is filled with foam, so it doesn’t go flat.
GeoOrbital is a start-up company that received funding through a Kickstarter.com campaign, which sought $75,000, and ended up raising $1.26 million.
Powered bicycles, or E-Bikes, have been around for a long time, but what’s innovative about the GeoOrbital wheel is its ease of installation on regular bikes, David Cohen, vice president of business development for GeoOrbital, said Monday at the police station.
“The E-Bike is also heavier and more expensive,” he said.
“Our wheel takes about 60 seconds to install.”
It has a 500-watt motor and the batteries take about four hours to recharge.
Police chief Matt Canfield said the police department has five bicycle patrol officers, which help further the community policing philosophy and enable the force to have closer ties to the community.
“People feel the bicycle officers are a little more approachable and that they can talk to them easier,” he said. “Kids love it. It’s not quite as intimidating.
“From the enforcement standpoint, especially if they are out at night, they can see and hear things better than you can in a car and the bicycle is quiet.”
Bicycle patrols are also useful in high-traffic situations such as Motorcycle Week, said Officer Lindsay Batstone.
She enjoys using a patrol bicycle with the power-assist wheel, particularly on hills.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “You’ve got to smile while you are using it. It’s really neat. It definitely takes a lot of the wear off your body, getting somewhere, because it does all the work for you.
“You don’t have to pedal at all.”
Myles Chase, owner of MC Cycle bike store in Laconia, said bicycle purists might not like a power-assist wheel, but that it could be helpful to police and others.
“There are a lot of applications that that this makes sense and this is one of them,” he said. “It could allow an officer to get to a place faster and it could be helpful to them if they are on their bike for an entire work shift.”
He sells bikes with a power-assist function, including to the elderly.
“They love biking, and with an electric-assist bike, they can go out and enjoy a two-hour ride and still have energy at the end of the ride,” Chase said. “Also, hunters purchase these bikes to get out in the woods quietly without smelling like exhaust or working up a sweat.”
Standing with the new electric bike, from left, are Detective Tony Horan; David Cohen, vice president of business development for GeoOrbital, which makes the device; Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield; and Officer Lindsay Batstone. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)