When you’re riding around on a one-wheeled skateboard in New York City, a lot of people stop and stare, perplexed by how you’re managing to maintain your balance while travelling so fast.
That’s the sheer draw of the OneWheel, the smartly named electric skateboard that allows you to balance atop a spinning rubber wheel while you surf around the streets — it just looks like good old-fashioned fun.
I’ve been itching to try the OneWheel for myself ever since I first saw it at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. After finally getting to ride around on one, I can confirm that it’s as fun and exhilarating as it looks, and it’s all thank to the intelligent self-balancing sensors that make the physics-defying skateboard possible.
The OneWheel originally started as a side project, invented by Kyle Doerksen in his free time before he got a prototype working and took it to Kickstarter. The Kickstarter campaign quickly took off, crushing its $US100,000 goal and eventually raising over $US630,000. Fast forward to today, and OneWheel has fulfilled its Kickstarter pre-orders and is shipping consumer orders as fast as possible.
To test drive (or test ride?) the OneWheel, Doerksen and I walked to a plaza near Madison Square Park — a relatively open area with less of the frantic foot traffic that typically plagues the city’s footpaths.
While the magic of the OneWheel is its self-balancing sensors, it turns out that the trickiest part is learning to get a feel for how this balancing works.
To mount the OneWheel, you first place your back foot on the rear of the board, and then you place your front foot on two pressure-sensing pads on the front of the board — which engages the motor resting inside the wheel — while you slowly lean forward.
The torque of the motor then kicks in, and you’re balanced. Lean forward, and you’ll accelerate, lean backwards, and you’ll slow to an eventual stop. If you keep leaning backwards while at a standstill, you’ll start to reverse, though that’s a bit trickier as people usually prefer to ride facing a certain direction, just like on skateboards and snowboards.
Turning also takes some getting used to, as you need to remember to continue leaning forward through the duration of the turn, but by the end of the session I felt I was getting the hang of it. For something as foreign as balancing and turning on a single wheel, I’d say the OneWheel is still pretty easy to pick up compared to other board sports.
You also really notice the benefits of the only having one wheel when you’re turning. On a skateboard, sharp turns are pretty difficult and most of the time you turn by leaning — but the four wheels cause your turns to be more sweeping and broad. Thanks to the OneWheel’s single wheel, it’s much easier to weave your way around people or rotate around by leaning heavily in one direction while keeping your balance tipped forward.
The OneWheel is also surprisingly fast. It used to only travel at speeds up to 12 miles per hour — which still feels pretty zippy when you’re riding around on only one wheel — but thanks to the ability to update the board’s firmware through the OneWheel app, it can now hit 14 miles per hour.
The OneWheel app is your hub for checking the battery life and fine-tuning the feel of your ride. OneWheel refers to these customisation settings as “digital shaping,” and the various settings such as “Classic” and “Extreme” tweak various speed settings to alter the feel of the ride.
The “Classic” is best for beginners — it causes the board to tip backwards slightly and slow once you hit about 8 or 9 miles per hour. “Extreme” is looser setting for more experienced riders that doesn’t feature this limitation and allows speeds up to 14 miles per hour.
One of the coolest features of the OneWheel is that its app enables riders to update the firmware of the board wirelessly via Bluetooth. That means that in the future, OneWheel can introduce more customisations and riding settings and all riders will need to do is stand close to their board with their phone in hand.
The OneWheel’s battery is good for 4 to 6 miles of riding, but it recharges in only 20 minutes, making it feasible for riders to carry the charging cable with them in their backpack and plug in to extend their range.
There’s no doubt that the OneWheel is a ton of fun, but unfortunately it all comes at hefty cost — the OneWheel retails for $US1,499. Over 30 people came up to us while we were riding to ask more about the OneWheel, but when I told them the price a majority of them laughed. While you could compare purchasing a OneWheel to the cost of a nice bike or tricking out a snowboard and purchasing ski lift tickets, the $US1,499 price point is still going to be far too steep for a majority of riders.
If you’re in a position to drop that kind of money on a fun way to commute and have a blast on the weekends, the OneWheel will certainly deliver — I can’t wait to try it again and walking to work has never seemed more boring.
You can learn more about the OneWheel or one for yourself by clicking here.