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New dockless Wheels on the ground

Friday, November 22, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

A new style of vehicle joins the city’s family of dockless mobility options today. Wheels, a company formed by the founders of the on-demand dog walking app Wag!, obtained a permit earlier this month to put up to 500 of its mini electric “bikes” on city streets. The company is deploying a smaller fleet to start with and will be scaling up to 500 over the coming weeks. These bikes are approximately the size of the dockless scooters popularized by Lime, Bird, et al., but use a seat to give riders something closer to the familiar feel of riding a bike. Unlike most e-bikes though, these rely entirely on an electric motor and have pegs in the place of pedals. This alternative design prompted the city of San Diego to kick Wheels off the streets in July, saying the “motorized bicycles” aren’t in the same regulatory category as dockless scooters. Wheels, however, believes in the unique value of its product. With the low center of gravity, the seated position, and the larger wheel size, the company says the vehicles have a broad appeal for customers who wouldn’t feel quite comfortable on a stand-up scooter. Wheels says its ridership demographics back up the claim, women representing half and people over age 35 making up a third of total riders. Like the Revel mopeds that recently came to town, these mini-bikes have swappable batteries that allow them to stay on the streets instead of being packed up in trucks to be recharged overnight. The company says the small size of the batteries also means they can be easily replaced by riding the bikes to battery swap “hubs” instead of transporting batteries around town in a truck or van. Wheels says this plus a “modular” design means the bikes are theoretically more sustainable in the long term than other dockless products. The mini bikes will soon feature a smart helmet system that can be unlocked through the app and will be connected to some sort of sensor to encourage riders to actually use the helmet. In another smart feature, Wheels bikes have Bluetooth speakers to help calm the nerves and also prevent the use of headphones while riding in traffic. The bikes have a top speed of 20 mph and a range of 15 miles.

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