The year is 2045 and people commute on self balancing electric unicycles. Wait, the year is 2015 and people are doing that already thanks to loads of companies bringing out these awesome commuters.
The child of a Segway and unicycle, the Airwheel X3 turns heads. From kids to grandfathers I had people stopping me and asking what I am riding. I had a chance to test out the Airwheel X3 which is one of 8 commuters available from Airwheel.
The 400 Watt motor reaches a top speed of 18km/h. At 12km/h the AirWheel X3 beeps and the front end of the pedals lift up to try to prevent you from going faster. You can go faster if you want to but I found that 12km/h was a good speed and that’s where I was happy at. Riding an electric bicycle at 40km/h is something I will do any day but since there is nothing to hold onto, it’s best to keep the Airwheel at safer speeds.
The X3 has a range of about 23 Km on a single charge. There are four lights which indicate how much power you have left. When power levels fall lower than 15%, the power indicator lights will blink and the X3 will emit a beep. The front end of the pedal will sink to force you to decelerate and eventually stop. It’s best not to attempt to ride the X3 when the battery is lower than 15% as a sudden loss of power can cause you to fall over. I took the X3 out after a super long ride the previous day without charging it and I was forced to stop and carry the unit. Luckily I was only a few roads away from home. It is best to always charge the X3 before use which will only take about two hours.
The first time I rode the X3 I thought “what am I doing?” Don’t let this feeling scare you off as once you get the hang of it, it is so much fun! I probably rode the X3 for an hour or so and I was getting pretty good at it. The next day I was able to go for short distances before needing to stop. I find that it pushes against your leg when you are first learning how to ride so I took a few days break to allow my leg to heal. After the break I was able to go long distances and I didn’t even get off. Now I am a pro 😉
The instruction Manuel tells you about the X3 and how to charge it. What it doesn’t tell you is how to actually ride it. The best way to learn is either watch videos on YouTube or get an expert unicyclist to teach you. Luckily I had one available. To ride the X3 you need to place one foot on the platform on either side of the wheel and push the Airwheel X3 towards your opposite leg. Then you can either hold a wall while you put your other foot on or if you have more experience you can push forward and quickly put your other foot on. I can do both ways but I do prefer to hold onto something so I can get my feet in the right position. Knowing how to get on without a wall is vital for those situations where you don’t have anything to hold onto.
Once you are on the X3, you need to either lean forward to get it to go or apply more weight on the top of your toes. When leaning forward it is best to only lean forward a bit otherwise you may pick up too much speed too quickly. To slow down, you do the opposite and lean backwards. Turning the Airwheel is done by either leaning slightly to one side or using your hips.
The on-board gyroscopes and inertial monitoring keeps the Airwheel X3 up and stops you from falling forwards or backwards. Left and right balancing works the same way as a bicycle. If the X3 comes to a complete stop, you will fall over. What you can do is come to a near stop and slowly move which will keep you from falling over.
The X3 comes with training wheels and a strap if you feel the need to hold onto the unit. This is actually pretty useful if you fall of as the X3 won’t crash as you will be holding it. I didn’t use the training wheels when I first learnt but I did try them out and they made it harder for me. I guess it will help a first time rider.
The platforms to stand on fold in to allow you to easily carry the X3. I found the X3 to be a bit heavy if you are going to carry it long distances but for shorter distances the weight shouldn’t be a problem.
The Airwheel X3 is really well built. The casing is made of a really hard plastic. You can’t prevent the occasional crash and you will get scratches on the outside casing but the inside of the Airwheel is well protected and that’s what matters. I am pretty sure you could apply some vinyl to the casing to prevent scratches! When the X3 tilts to over 45 degrees sideways, which happens if the unit falls over, tilting protection is activated and the X3 turns off to prevent injuries. The unit will beep and you will need to switch it off and then on before you ride again.
Self balancing unicycles are popular in places like China but they are starting to appear in South Africa thanks to a few local places that are selling them. I received the review unit from Odd Wheel Unicycles. I loved hearing the comments as I whizzed past people and some even stopped to ask what I was riding. The Airwheel X3 is the first SBU that I have ridden and it loads of fun. Since it is compact, it is the perfect commuter. You can take it on the bus or train and put it under your desk at the office!