If you haven’t been paying attention to the growing revolution that is the most interesting multi-use, micro-mobility phenomenon, the Onewheel is basically an electric skateboard, but with a single large pneumatic self-balancing wheel through the middle of it.
The large air-filled tire allows the rider to navigate rough pavement, rocky trail, sandy beaches and even snow. The amazingly smooth, cloud like ride makes for the feeling like one is effortlessly “floating,” thus the lifestyle-based hashtag, #TheFloatLife.
Proponents of the Onewheel ride for a vastly diverse set of reasons, from commuting and running errands, to trail riding, doing tricks, and even professional racing. The extraordinary flexibility of the Onewheel allows the owner to travel up to 32 miles (on the most expensive model) while still easily fitting in a backseat of a sub-compact or a small closet in the tiniest of apartments.
Because the device gained a great deal of popularity during the pandemic lockdown, many cite the Onewheel as a means of combatting mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The “lean forward to go, lean backwards to stop” control gives the rider a sense of piloting the vehicle with their mind.
While Onewheel riding can be incredibly rewarding, it comes with an unavoidable risk. Like bikes, scooters and skateboards, the Onewheel is capable of speeds approaching 20 miles per hour and, if miss-piloted, can result in injury to the rider. A unique feature of a Onewheel lies in the devices warning system, called “pushback,” in which the nose of the board rises slightly when a rider is approaching the maximum speed. If the rider ignores the pushback and continues to accelerate, the board will “nosedive” and come to a stop, hurdling the rider forward. It’s the micro-mobility equivalent to someone throwing a stick through the spokes of a bike while riding.
While this seems like an extremely dangerous occurrence, the simple way to ride safely is not to push the limits of speed. Simply slow down when you feel pushback from the board, and of course, wear safety equipment. If the rider simply rides within themselves and the limits of the device, the Onewheel is actually very safe. And like anything, including driving, you can never be 100% in control of your safety… you just prepare for what might occur by using common sense and protecting yourself.
Last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched a recommendation to stop using and purchasing a Onewheel. Citing the fact that 4 people have died while riding the device, and many others have been injured, some seriously, from ignoring pushback and being thrown from the device, the agency has requested a recall of all Onewheels by the manufacturer, Future Motion.
Future Motion has rejected the request, citing that riders are made aware of the risks involved, similar to scooters, skateboards, ATVs and motorcycles. Furthermore, Future Motion collected 4,000 letters from riders in a single week in support of the company and its product.
After personally riding over 1,500 miles on a Onewheel, mostly for transportation, I can confidently say that this is the most unique, fun, and even practical form of micro-mobility that I have ever encountered. The feeling of floating, as if on a magic carpet, augmented with plenty of range, power and ability to tackle nearly any terrain make it a game changer in your micro-mobility quiver. And all this in a small package that allows you to bring it through the front door of just about any destination. If you’re willing to accept a learning curve and an outside-the-box transportation solution, there is simply no better alternative.
That being said, I too wear the scars of riding the Onewheel recklessly. But these scars are no different than anyone who’s ever ridden a bike and taken a turn too sharp on wet or slippery pavement. They are no different than the ones you might incur on an ATV, dirt bike or snowmobile ride, and last I checked, the market for those vehicles was massive and unquestioned.
And with all due respect to the CPSC, let’s remember that nearly 43,000 people died from car crashes in 2021. Until 2020, the leading killer of children and teens for several decades was car crashes. With this in mind, we have yet to see a call from the CPSC to recall all automobiles.
The hyper-focus of condemnation with regard to a new form of mobility, while ignoring the real safety hazards of automobiles, motorcycles and other widely accepted motorized vehicles is blatantly hypocritical. If someone condemns the Onewheel as a safety hazard and moments later climbs into their 5,000 pound SUV capable of 100mph, they need to re-evaluate their view of what it means to facilitate a safer society.
Like so many practical micro-mobility options, the Onewheel poses a risk that the rider must accept. But this risk is only to the user, where as the owner of a massive 7-seat SUV poses a greater threat to society if irresponsibly piloted. The benefits of the Onewheel, recreationally, practically and psychologically far outweigh the risks involved, and as someone who as experienced both ends of this spectrum, I guarantee it.
The Onewheel likely won’t be the transportation solution of the future for everyone. Too much practice, balance and skill is involved to envision this reality. But there’s no doubt that Future Motion has created a device that is unlike any other micro-mobility option, and the world is better for it.