I’ll admit I was skeptical at first. What is this motorized skateboard? What’s wrong with a real skateboard? It goes on dirt trails? So does a bike. What’s new about this? It sounded like a gimmick.
by Feet Banks
Then I saw it: One big wheel, well that’s new at least. Like a mini F1 race car tire with a battery, motor and everything contained inside. Skepticism turned into vague interest. Then I talked to the guy who invented it, Kyle Doerksen, a Stanford-trained engineer originally from Calgary who grew up snowboarding in the Rockies. While working in San Diego, Kyle developed the concept for Onewheel as an alternative to walking a mile to work each day.
“It was inspired by the feeling of riding powder,” Kyle says. “ Floating in powder is so awesome and forgiving – you can’t catch an edge or do anything wrong. And that is the key aspect of the Onewheel ride, it has that floating feeling, like an endless wave.”
Kyle began working on his pavement powder board in his garage back in 2007. “It was a long process,” he says. “At first I wanted to see if you could build a board with a single wheel that had no motor or balance control, the answer is no. Then I thought, with a computer and gyro in there, I could make it balance for me. What would that ride feel like?”
“Lean forward and the Onewheel accelerates (up to 24km/ 15mile per hour), lean back and it slows down. I didn’t even mess around with the app, which allows riders to customize the settings for their skill level.”
Motivated by that curiosity, Kyle began to tinker with the newest technology of the day. “Back then, the Nintendo Wii came out and that was the first consumer product with motion sensing built into it,” he says. “Then smartphones came out and that drove the cost of motion sensors way down. Now every smart phone has a tiny chip with 3 gyros and two accelerometers in it that costs about two bucks. The sensor’s the key to the balance of the Onewheel.”
Gyros and accelerometers? As Kyle explains it, the Onewheel begins to sound less gimmicky and more Back to the Future awesome. “The other building block was the motor,” he says. “The motor inside the hub of the wheel was a challenge – one moving part, no chain, with a centre of gravity in the middle. Then the battery, we went with the best available. We took the point of view that if people are gonna thrash these things around a lot, they don’t want to wait for hours to recharge. We designed a system that takes about 20 minutes, it’s similar to what they are using in electric cars.”
The Onewheel had my full attention, then finally, I rode it. Funwheel! The learning curve is short: within five minutes I was rolling around on the pavement, and after 15 I was carving up the walking trails in the forests of Brackendale. Lean forward and the Onewheel accelerates (up to 24km/ 15mile per hour), lean back and it slows down. I didn’t even mess around with the app, which allows riders to customize the settings for their skill level.
“We care about the ride,” Kyle says. “We built it for us and we want it to ride awesome. If we were just a bunch of computer nerds who didn’t care about the ride, this wouldn’t work. We are computer nerds who do care about riding.”
“The brains are the software,” Kyle explains. “At first, I did all that, but after I brought on a business partner with a software background, one of the most interesting things happened. If we get a rider who wants it to carve deeper in a low speed turn, we try to translate that into math and program it. The same way a snowboard or surf shaper listens to the rider and knows how to plane a bit off the edge to deliver a specific ride, we do that through adjusting the software. We really tried to connect the board sports world with the tech world.”
And that is the difference with Onewheel, a rider-owned company created by a real snowboarder/surfer who actually gives a crap about how the product performs. “We care about the ride,” Kyle says. “We built it for us and we want it to ride awesome. If we were just a bunch of computer nerds who didn’t care about the ride, this wouldn’t work. We are computer nerds who do care about riding.”
And it shows. Onewheel is the real deal. Carve the forest!
Onewheels retail for around $1,400 and can haul ass. For more info, check out onewheel.com