Everything you need to know about the newest, most convenient, and most exciting way to travel.
I know what you are thinking: unicycles, aren't they just what clowns and magicians ride around the circus? The truth is, I thought the same as well before I had ever come into contact with one, and with good reason. Electric unicycles have been much quieter in the personal transport world than their more famous counterparts the Segway or electric scooter. They have been picked up on a lot later than these two-wheeled options and have had far more of a niche following. Until now.
Now people are just starting to wake up to the fabulous array of opportunity these one-wheeled wonders provide, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Less cumbersome and easier to carry than a Segway, more convenient and hands free than a scooter, and better at off-roading than both of them, it is hard to argue with the unicycle’s capabilities. whether you need it for that last mile of your commute, rushing across campus, or negotiating tricky changing terrains, this is the tool to help you out. Oh, they are also really, really, fun.
The future of personal transportation is here, and it has just one wheel.
What are Electric Unicycles?
Okay, so first up, what actually are electric unicycles? Well, as the name suggests, they are single wheeled, self-balancing, personal transport vehicles that are powered by electricity rather than with your own effort. Just like a Segway, they are driven through your own physical direction to give a far more exciting level of control than some more traditional methods of transport. If you lean forward, they go faster. Backwards, slower. And leaning left or right will direct the unicycle to follow suit. This gives an exhilarating responsiveness that can be addicting once you get the hang of it.
Don’t worry if this all sounds dangerous though, or you are worried about a lack of balance, electric unicycles unlike their manual versions fully harness 21st century technology to make them as self-balancing as possible. This is largely in the form of accelerometers, which detect any sharp movements like the ones that would occur if you were toppling over, and gyroscopes, which maintain your orientation and resist these sudden changes. These two devices working together make it much harder to fall off than your standard manual unicycle or even bicycle, and after a bit of getting used to will make riding the electric unicycle almost as easy as walking.
Aside from these features in common, there is lots of variety among different electric unicycles in terms of design, layout, and capabilities. Most often however, you will see a unicycle where the motor, gyroscopes, accelerometers, rechargeable battery, and any other components are all placed in a single shell around the wheel to form a sleek, modern design. You will then have flat, often foldable for ease of carrying, pedals on either side of this wheel for you to stand on and control the device. They are not always that simple though, and sometimes have a raised seat and even on occasion handlebars for added comfort. While these make the device bulker and so slightly more difficult to pick up and carry, for many they are absolutely worth it to travel in luxury for longer journeys.
When were Electric Unicycles invented?
The history of electric unicycles is a little bit harder to pin down than you would perhaps imagine, and all depends on your point of view.
Giving us our first point of confusion, we don’t actually know who invented the manual unicycle, or even when they did it. What we do know is that they were seen in the form we would recognise them soon after the invention of the penny farthing bicycle around the 1870s and 1880s. Before that though, as early as 1869, an inventor called Richard C. Hemming had patented a single wheeled vehicle called a monowheel. The difference was this device actually had a wheel going all the way around the driver. As cool as this looked though, unfortunately there were too many issues in driving them safely and effectively and they never really caught on in the mainstream.
Moving into the 20th century, we saw our first attempt at a motorised single wheeled transportation in 1931 by an inventor known as Mr Gerdes. Again, taking the monowheel approach with the driver encapsulated a huge, six-foot wheel, now they were instead propelled by a small motor. These were incredible, and well worth a YouTube for some very old and fun footage, but unfortunately again they failed to be commercially successful, and for now unicycles faded from society.
Then, in 1964, an ex-American football coach named Charles F Taylor finally obtained a patent for what we would call a motorised unicycle, sitting on top of a single (thankfully smaller than six foot) wheel. While it was again powered by diesel rather than electricity, and again not a commercial success, this valiant result of 25 years’ worth of experimentation by Taylor was still a vital step on the way to the electric unicycles we know and love today.
Finally, in 2003, Bombardier announced the conceptual design for their Hot Wheel, and the true electric unicycle was conceived. It wouldn’t actually be born until a year later though, when computer scientist Trevor Blackwell unveiled the first, functional, self-balancing unicycle in September 2004.
A whole bunch of innovations followed, notably American inventor and entrepreneur filing a patent application for a seatless, standing electric unicycle in March 2010, but the basic principle had been laid down. Although it would be another 5 years or so before electric unicycles became affordable and effective enough to truly rival their more established competitors the Segway, to all intents and purposes this is where the history of the electric history of the unicycle ends, and we move into its present.
What is the Point of Electric Unicycles?
Now we know what electric unicycles are, and how they came to be, but that still leaves the question, why should you bother with one?
The first answer to this is easy, convenience. Commutes into work can be a nightmare, getting across a campus between lectures can leave you so out of breath and flustered you can’t even concentrate for the first ten minutes, sometimes just getting home after a long day feels like an uphill struggle. An electric unicycle solves all of these. Glide effortlessly through crowds, drastically cutting journey times and actively saving you energy. While electric scooters and Segways can do this job just as well, they lack woefully far behind in terms of practicality across a journey alternating public transports, or storage when you get to your destination. With the most streamlined electric unicycles you can simply hop off, fold the pedals away and grab the top handle. Taking up less room than a bag of shopping, you have absolutely no worry of annoying other commuters.
Next up, and what first got me into electric unicycles, is fun. Obviously, this is individual preference, and whether you prefer another form of electric transport will depend on the sort of person you are. If you want a less intense ride perhaps something like an electric scooter is for you. If you want excitement however, you can’t beat the feeling of zooming along on an electric unicycle, feeling it respond to your every control, every thought. Exhilarating.
Finally, you may choose an electric unicycle out of a desire to help the planet. Plans are for global carbon emissions to hit net zero by 2050, and moving to electric vehicles is a big part of that. Although currently a lot of the electricity to power them is still gained from fossil fuels, many countries are moving away from this to provide renewable energy sources, and so electric vehicles are only going to get better for the earth as time goes on. This is happening all over the transport industry with an electric revolution sweeping the sector, and electric unicycles are a great step you can take to cut down on emissions for those short journeys.
Are Electric Unicycles difficult to ride?
So you are sold. Electric unicycles are great in theory, they are fun, efficient and a fantastic way to get from A to B, but won’t one wheel make them difficult to ride? If you are not that balanced won’t you just keep falling off, or crashing into people? This is a very valid concern, and we completely understand why these worries would put a lot of people off, but like most fears, 9 times out of 10 they are completely in our own head. The accelerometers and gyroscopes are fantastic stabilisers, and this is definitely not a challenging circus act like manual unicles. In fact, once you get used to it, it is as instinctive and natural as walking.
Like anything new though, you are going to have to learn it. We absolutely do not recommend taking one out the box and riding it to work when you have to make an important 9am meeting. If you take it to the park or a field a couple of times though, and give yourself the opportunity to get used to the new experience, you should have it down in no time.
Still not convinced or want some tips? This is a fantastic video of someone going from never having ridden an electric unicycle to proficient in just a couple of half-hour sessions, complete with advice to help you do the same.
Are Electric Unicycles legal?
Perhaps the only downside to electric unicycles is that as a new form of transport, they currently occupy a legal grey area and are often unregulated. This is particularly the case in countries like the UK, where until there has been a court ruling on them or a high-profile incident, they are going to be very much living between the cracks. That being said, we have had many reports of people in the UK using them in busy areas with a police presence and having absolutely no issues. Although you should always check the rules in your own country, it seems that as things stand as long as you behave sensibly and safely, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the authorities.
How fast can Electric Unicycles go?
Like anything, how fast it is will very much depend on which one you go with. In general though the most portable options for city travel will max out at around 10-15 mph, while the bigger choices can hit a whopping 55 mph.
With such top speeds, and such a large variety, whatever you want it for and whatever your preference, there is an electric unicycle for the occasion.
That’s it. We have given you the lowdown of what electric unicycles are, how they got here, and what they can do for you. In fact, we have covered everything you need to know about this fantastic and exciting new mode of travel. All that is left is for you to decide, is it right for you?
Author: Michael Winter