Why Are You Still Walking?

Test-driving, and not falling off of, the Onewheel Pint

Lance Ulanoff on Onewheel
This is me, riding a Onewheel and trying to not look terrified.

 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

It was (literally) raining on my mobility parade.

I was promised a test drive on the new Onewheel Pint powered skateboard (some might call it a hoverboard, but it’s not) but a quick glance out of my sixth-floor window told me all I needed to know about my prospects for an open-road ride.

While we renegotiated a meeting spot (“Hey, can you bring that thing to my office?”), I started to think about the now nearly 20-year history of self-balancing, center-of-gravity propelled personal mover machines, which some believe peaked and crashed with flammable hoverboards in 2016.

Onewheel Pint
The Onewheel Pint electric skateboard.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

We Can Move Better

The desire to change how people get from place to place is as old as humanity. We’ve ridden horses, camels, and ostriches in a quest to get off our feet. Later, we put four wheels under us and boarded metal containers and flew up into the sky.

Most of these latter solutions are blunt objects for our short-distance travel needs. Bicycles are the obvious best solution for a quick ride to the park or store, but there have always been those looking for something that split the difference between a bike and a motorcycle ride.

We’ve ridden horses, camels, and ostriches in a quest to get off our feet.

In 2001, inventor Dean Kamen thought he had the solution. Introducing the first Segway to the world, he told Time Magazine, “…it makes no sense at all for people in cities to use a 4,000-lb. piece of metal to haul their 150-lb. asses around town.”

I think he was right, but the promise of the self-propelled, almost thought-controlled, $3,000 personal people mover was almost instantly undermined by a level of hype that only Star Trek’s Transporter could’ve satisfied. Kamen expected to build a billion-dollar industry. Instead, Segways were relegated to small armies of police officers and, famously, mall cops, before the company and its technology were sold many times over.

The thing is, not many people credit Kamen and the Segway with actually launching a billion dollar personal mobility industry that includes a tiny successor to the original Segway and, yes, even products like the Onewheel. 

I've Ridden Some

Before I rode the Onewheel (I actually tried to ride an earlier version and totally failed), I learned to ride a half-dozen different self-balancing hoverboard platforms, unicycles, electric skates, and other powered personal people movers. All of them owe a debt to Kamen’s original idea.

These machines have, to some extent, succeeded where the Segway failed because they’re much, much smaller (most could be carried with one hand), they cost a fraction of what Segways originally cost, and are almost all easier to ride.

Lance Ulanoff riding a powered unicycle
It took me weeks to learn how to master this device.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Hoverboards, Segways, and their ilk, though, have yet to achieve anything like Kamen’s original vision, which was to sell millions of them all over the world’s cities, suburbs, and parks. Hoverboards briefly proliferated on, for instance, New York City streets before being banned in countless municipalities.

Coincidentally, the last of these devices I saw on the street was a Onewheel electric skateboard gliding down 34th St, as its rider looked straight ahead, oblivious to commuter stares.

Riding into the Mainstream

As Onewheel executives carried a pair of 25-lb Onewheel Pints into my office, I considered the odd looking electric skateboard. Onewheel is, basically, a beefy 12-inch wheel surrounded by a metal platform. It’s a little like one of those ball balance board platforms, but with the ability to roll away with you on it.

Inside the wheel is a motor and sophisticated balancing technology. Unlike most hoverboards, including the original Segway, you ride Onewheel as you would a snowboard, with your feet pointing one way and your head, shoulders, and, most importantly, your eyes facing in the direction you want to go. 

Riding the Onewheel
The Onewheel self-balances, but you have to figure out how to use your center of gravity ot move without falling off.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Onewheel’s execs told me they’ve sold tens of thousands of the self-balancing skateboards over the last two years. In that time, the company’s built a devoted userbase. The Onewheel Pint, however, is aimed at slightly different crowd.

“We’re taking it from core enthusiast to a more mainstream product. People don’t have to get their tattoo before they buy it. They can wait until after,” laughed Onewheel CEO Kyle Doerksen.

As such, the Onewheel Pint is the company’s first sub-$1,000 ($950) rideable and sheds a few pounds and inches from the original device to be smaller and more portable. They even moved the carrying handle to the side of the wheel. The reduced size does mean reduced range. The Pint gets approximately 8 miles per charge, compared to roughly 20 miles for the Onewheel XR.

Lance Ulanoff riding Onewheel
This was my best moment on the Onewheel.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Getting on and off the Onewheel has always been a challenge, but along with the introduction of the Pint, Onewheel’s introduced Simple Stop, which you enable via the connected iOS or Android app. Simple Stop removes the ability to go backwards and replaces it with a lean back to tilt one side of the Onewheel until it touches the ground and you can step off.

I’d heard enough and was anxious to ride. The Onewheel team handed me a helmet and helped me mount the Pint. I placed one foot on one side of the platform and then the other on the other side as the Onewheel seesawed into a balanced position. Nerves made my legs wobbly, and the Onewheel guy gripped my arm. Just as with other self-balancing riders, I thought about and looked where I wanted to go and then I just went.

By my second ride, my legs stopped wobbling and I almost let my Onewheel friend release my arm. Then I watched as a coworker stepped on and, with far less guidance, zipped around the whole office.

Mélanie Berliet on Onewheel
The Spruce General manager Mélanie Berliet was a natural.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

So What

Onewheel Pint’s wide wheel can handle bumps and cobblestone roads and it’s more maneuverable than your average hoverboard or Segway. If it weren’t for all the local laws prohibiting it, I could imagine riding through a busy Manhattan sidewalk.

You may never ride a powered skateboard, hoverboard, or Segway and it’s unlikely the world will ever adopt these personal mobility devices in significant numbers, but it still warms my heart to see the Segway’s descendants riding high.

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