The future of transport, or an expensive fad? I went hands-on with the latest gadget promising to revolutionise travel.
Uniwheel, a new electric unicycle designed and built in Britain, is the latest in a range of self-balancing gadgets vying to become the future of personal transport.
You’ve probably seen these so-called Hoverboards and electric unicycles making headlines as they explode in popularity (or just exploding) with stars, celebrities and hipsters adopting them as the new must-have gadget to get around.
Last week Uniwheel was unveiled at a glitzy launch party in a Shoreditch warehouse. I went along to see if this £990 gadget really might be the future of transport.
First things first, I spent most of my time with Uniwheel… on the floor.
Uniwheel is not easy to to ride. I spent ten minutes just trying to balance on the gadget properly (whilst clinging on to the arm of a helpful engineer).
Once I had found my balance, gently leaning forward kicked in the powerful electric motor that will take the rider up to around 13 mph. In my 30 minutes riding I only managed half of that. Leaning left or right is enough to slowly turn the wheel, while with a sharp twist of the waist you can take a tight corner.
Uniwheel has a self-balancing system that means you can’t over-lean forwards and backwards, the wheel will compensate with more or less speed as needed, but leaning too far to the side and you’ll quickly fall off.
This is unlike Uniwheel’s two-wheeled Hoverboard rivals which are far easier to balance on.
Those are the drawbacks for Uniwheel, the advantage of its one-wheel construction is that the wheel is apparently more portable (still weighing a challenging 10.8kg) and its large wheel is better suited to the bumps and uneven footpaths of a city like London.
And this is all despite the fact that Uniwheel and its peers are all currently illegal to ride on the streets or pavements in the UK (a fact that hasn’t stopped Uniwheel from marketing to city commuters and from most of the company’s employees using the device on a daily basis).
After 15 minutes with Uniwheel I was riding it nearly unassisted, gliding with (relative) ease and only loosely holding on to my engineer-friend for dear life.
Riding the device wasn’t easy, but having a 1,500 watt electric engine between my feet felt remarkably freeing, and I can almost imagine a world where whizzing around on Hoverboards and £900 electric unicycles is the future of personal transport.
If I can only stay upright.