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I rode an electric unicycle through the streets of New York City and it felt like the future

I rode an electric unicycle through the streets of New York City and it felt like the future


One-wheeled wonder

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I commute to work every day using a skateboard. I skate from my apartment to the subway, and then from the subway to work, and vice versa. It's fast and it works, but I'm still on the hunt for the best personal EV. Hell, it's almost 2015 — where's my hoverboard?

For the last week I've been living with Focus Designs' self balancing unicycle (SBU). I've been commuting to and from work with it (getting through subway turnstiles with the SBU is akin to having a small suitcase). I've taken it along the East River, to Brooklyn, over the Williamsburg Bridge, and through Central Park.

I’ve used other futuristic rideables, like the Zboard and E-Go Cruiser, but this was my first interaction with a unicycle — motorized or not. Riding the SBU comes with a steep learning curve. It takes a lot of trial and error, concentration, and endless "should I put my hands here? Like this?" etc. It took me about 30 straight minutes to learn to maintain balance consistently. Riding the SBU is easy once you've mastered staying up right. It's similar to a Segway in that you lean forward to go, and lean back to stop.

I’ve fallen off the SBU twice. Both times the same thing happened — I took off from a complete stop and leaned forward too much. The unicycle accelerated to top speed and the accelerometer and other senses failed to kick me back into position and I essentially became one with the concrete. I scraped my elbows and sides, and I’m pretty sure I sprained my right wrist. I got right back up and continued on home, but damn, those falls were quite painful.

The SBU has two pegs for each of your feet, a charging port, a key to "lock" the device, and a power button. The seat is extremely uncomfortable to the point where I got sore from riding the SBU — I recommend swapping the seat if you purchase one.

The unicycle has a top speed of 12.5 mph and has a range of up to 10 miles. When we filmed the video in Central Park, I rode it for three consecutive hours, which included going uphill, hitting top speed plenty, and following a rickshaw — all before the battery kicked the bucket. And it only takes about 90 minutes to charge, which is quite quick.

Getting around the streets of New York City on an electric unicycle is quite a ride — it draws a lot of attention. The people that notice me usually turn their heads and shout things like "Does it have a motor?" and "Where'd you get that?!" I don’t mind. I've talked to more strangers in the last week than I have in the last year, because how often do you see a unicycle, let alone an electric one?

I’ll say, carrying around a 26lb electric unicycle doesn’t exactly feel like the future. What does feel like the future is riding a near-silent one-wheeled contraption on New York City roads. Once cost goes way down and some (well, most) of the bulk diminishes, we may just reach a point where these vehicles are as as common as your standard bicycle is today. But in my vision of transportation in the future, I don’t exactly want roads.

I want a time-traveling hoverboard. That's what I'm saying. I want a time-traveling hoverboard.