It's pretty rare that we come across a product that we really like, but it's hard not to love something that is as much fun as Future Motion's Onewheel XR. Future Motion is a fellow Kickstarter alum and though we missed the campaign when it launched in 2014 and earned $630K, we're glad to know about it now.
I first encountered the Onewheel in Florida when our friend Ryan pulled one out of the back of his hatchback after a good meeting with one of our manufacturers. That was a few months ago, and since then I've put 100 miles on my own and wanted to share my experience.
Ryan had this huge grin on his face and said, "you've got to check this out." I asked him if I could try it and with a few words of caution and an explanation of how it worked, I got on. He explained that it basically had a Segway-like motor in the wheel. Lean forward to go forward, lean back to go back and carve like you're snowboarding to turn. I hopped on and rode it maybe 30 yards in a straight line with my legs shakingly unstable the whole way. I remembered that Ryan said to jump off with both feet– so that's what I did, and wow was it awkward.
It seemed like a cool toy, but for someone who wasn't really experienced with board sports, I figured that window had passed for me. It wasn't until I started checking out the Onewheel Instagram feed and people posting about it on YouTube did I realize the potential. I started to obsess with getting something like it. I looked at the Boosted Board and while it looked like fun, the off-road adaptability of the Onewheel won me over.
I placed an order on their site after a late-night Instagram session and had to wait an excruciating month before I tried it out because they couldn't build the new XR (extended range) fast enough. Here's the thing– my brother's 40th birthday was coming up and I wanted to get him something that'd keep him feeling young in his advanced age. He always loved to skate when we were growing up, and I couldn't hang; he had the checkered vans and everything. Well, Onewheel had some stock of their + model at a local shop called Halfmoon Outfitters here in Charleston, SC. The day before I headed up to Virginia to surprise my brother, I picked one up for him and it took all my restraint not to test it out... you know, to make sure everything was OK.
I gave my brother his Onewheel on his birthday and I'm not sure he knew what to think. He'd never seen one before, but his eyes lit up as I explained exactly what he was looking at. We pulled it out of the packaging and carried it into the backyard where we took turns shakily getting used to the speed, responsiveness and turning. It was so much fun but the yard had a few bumps in it which can be tough for a beginner.
When you first get on one, your legs shake trying to balance it related to your front (toes) to back (heels). It's naturally stable in the forward (front foot) to reverse (back foot) direction because of the motor but leaning toward your toes or toward your heels is how the board turns and that's where it is tough at first. Your calf muscles will be sore from your first few rides but push through it. You'll get the hang of it after a couple hours of riding.
After riding in my brother's backyard, we took it to a big park with a grassy field with firm ground. Much improved. Because the ground was so smooth, we could pick up speed with no problem and just float over the land. It's an incredible feeling looking forward with the board out of your peripheral view. After we got some confidence on the firmer grass, we took it on the asphalt in his neighborhood.
The Onewheel will go 20+ MPH, which is faster than most humans can sprint. This puts you in a bad spot if you're going that fast and you hit something or the nose dips. It's very difficult to run out a stop like that without some serious road rash. Going 20 mph without a helmet and pads is an invitation for pain.
Onewheel has a feature called pushback that keeps you going at a safer speed but you can push past that to go faster. As you approach an unsafe speed, the motor will actually force the nose of the Onewheel up so that you slow down. This is the motor telling you that, given the conditions, you need to slow down. What happens if you push past this? It will go faster but be warned– the motor is using all its resources to achieve the speed and may not be able to keep your forward foot from dipping into the ground. Going over 15mph and hitting the ground, it will be very difficult to avoid losing your footing. I would recommend keeping your max between 10 and 15mph. I've hit a few pot holes at lower speeds and have been able to run them out, but even though I'm a fairly fast sprinter I'm not sure I could run out a 15mph stop.
My brother, however, was doing 20mph when he went over the front end of his and did end up with a small fracture in his wrist and some road rash. Be careful! Broken bones and road rash are part of any activity where you're going over 10mph and exposed. I've crashed my bike and ended up in the ER before and this sport carries the same risks. Protect yourself with the proper gear.
My Onewheel XR arrived at my doorstep about a month after I first rode my brother's and I couldn't wait to start riding it. With the extended range, my first night out, I was able to ride for 11 miles all over downtown Charleston and still have battery left over. It says it'll go 12-18 miles but so far, I haven't had enough time to test that out. I have done a few rides at 10 or 11 miles since getting it so the extended range model is definitely an advantage. The Onewheel + will do 5-7 miles.
Once you get comfortable riding in straight lines and turning, I'd reccommend testing out the limits of how much it'll carve to really get used to whipping it around. The better you are at avoiding obstacles and quickly turning, the safer you'll be. Turning can really be a whole body movement and it's fun to just carve back and forth.
After about 50 miles or riding on the street and grass, I couldn't wait to take it to the beach. The beaches around here have some pretty hard packed sand which is key. If the sand isn't firm and you're able to leave deep footprints, your Onewheel isn't going to perform well; but if you're lucky enough to have solid flat beaches like we do, you're absolutely going to love it. This, so far, is the best riding experience I've had. You can carve in and out of the shore break as the waves come in and cruise right along the edge of the beach.
I usually go about an hour before sundown when the beach is mostly clear of tourists and carve floaty smooth lines from one end of Sullivan's Island to the other. Fun Fact: Sullivan's Island is one of our favorite beaches and the namesake of our aviator MagLock Sunglasses. I usually start with my sunglasses on, then put them securely on my shirt collar when the light gets too low. It's pretty amazing how well they stay put. Okay, product placement over– back to the Onewheel review :)
In order to ride on the beach, I'd highly recommend purchasing a fender for your Onewheel. They offer a plastic version here or you can pick up a more durable carbon fiber version at Craft & Ride. And don't forget to pick up a helmet for your head! I can recommend my simple black skate helmet by Bern.
The Onewheel is decidedly rugged. It weighs 29 lbs, features an off the shelf go-cart tire, and surfaces that don't quite flow. Honestly, it appears to be more home built, and I've had a few folks ask me if I made it myself. As an industrial designer, one of the first things I do when I get a new product is mentally "reskin" it or try to imagine how I would improve it.
The Onewheel is in the realm of visually good enough to sell. It might face tough competition if there was someone else out there making a version that was built as tough and looked better– but nobody is doing it. Could it be improved visually? Absolutely. However, I completely get why it looks the way it does. It is a Hummer, not a Ferrari– and for good reason. Within a day of having mine, it was scratched and worn looking; you get over dings quickly when it doesn't start its life looking like a MacBook. Do I think they should still make it look better? Absolutely, but not while sacrificing toughness.
The improvements I'd like to see on the next Onewheel design are:
I'm one of those people who has a tendency to get into hobbies and then find myself without the time to really enjoy them. I took paramotor lessons and found I just didn't have the time to keep practicing when the wind was just right, got a dirt bike but got buried doing maintenance and having to travel to find decent places to ride, learned to SCUBA dive but rarely go because of the effort it takes, got a boat but rarely use it because it takes so much time to put it in the water.
It's a frictionless good time and after years of getting into things that just have too much complexity, it's nice to try something that makes having fun so effortless. With the Onewheel, it's like having a bike– you just go. There's little maintenance, it fits easily in your car, you can carry it around, and you don't need anybody else to have a really good time– though it is more fun to ride with other folks.
If you check out the Onewheel Instagram and are intrigued at all and have the cash to spend, I'd definitely recommend giving one a try. It's the most fun you'll have on any number of wheels. I regularly talk to people about it with a grin on my face, and I tell them just as my friend Ryan told me, "you gotta check this out."
All photos: Paul King @dirtlord
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