First developed to smooth the ride of people confined to wheelchairs, Israeli-based SoftWheel has taken their in-wheels suspension concept and refined it for a wide of cyclists. By essentially isolating the bicycle rim from the hub with a set of three tunable shocks with hydraulic rebound damping, the Fluent bike wheel is said to deliver an unmatched level of comfort, while maintaining ride control and stability, and actually reducing energy lost when riding over obstacles and surface irregularities. Take a closer look at options for city and even e-bikes after the jump…
Much like their wheelchair design has made it easier and more comfortable for users to get around in an urban environment, SoftWheel hopes the Fluent wheel can do the same thing for cyclists. The way they describe how the wheel absorbs shocks claims that they are especially effective at abrupt sharp edge obstacles like riding up and down stairs. Since the rim can variably move in the direction of each impact (as opposed to a typical fork which can only telescope up and down, or a rear suspension setup which is confined to the axle path determined by its layout), it is better suited to the wide range of actual impacts your normally encounter.
SoftWheel also claims that this movement measurably decrease the energy lost from suspension movement. Their simulated track testing equated these gains to 16.4% extra energy that was not lost in a traditional suspension system. That of course means saving energy for the rider, and results in faster rolling. We’ve seen conceptually similar solutions like the carbon leaf Loop Wheels without damping, and even a smaller amount of suspension built into Gokiso’s hubs, but these Fluent wheels are certainly more tech-heavy.
In addition to their solutions for wheelchairs and (Yes!) cars, SoftWheel has three versions for bikes. The premium wheelset is the disc brake Fluent HD setup designed for all around and even off-road riding, and available with either 27.5 or 29″ carbon rims. Its 3 shocks use an adjustable preload gas spring and hydraulic damping for 40mm of shock stroke. That isn’t the same as wheel travel due to the orientation of the shocks, so it’s not exactly clear how that translates to rim movement or really hoe it would compare to traditional suspension travel.
They’ve also developed a more bullet-proof wheelset with 25mm of shock travel called Fluent B designed for urban bike share programs. It includes a dynamo front and an internally geared rear hub. Lastly, the Fluent E is an e-bike version with 40mm of stroke and an integrated proprietary rear hub motor.
Final pricing hasn’t been set, but it looks like the standard wheelset should run about $2000 when they are available sometime later this year. In each of the wheels they use tech called Adaptive Rigidity that seems to be an optimized suspension tune geared to “absorb the bumps that matter and stay rigid over the ones that don’t”. How that is achieved isn’t entirely clear, but is certainly a unique take on suspending a bike.