Electric Unicycle Buying Guide
If you’re here then you’ve probably gone through the same experience as everyone else. You saw someone, either in person or in a video, rolling along silently on a weird contraption. A single wheel nestled between their feet. You have questions, I know. How much? Which one? Is it hard to ride?
Never fear, I’m here to give you the goods when it comes to picking the right electric unicycle. Before we get to the things you should pay attention to I’ll quickly go over what exactly electric unicycles are.
If you didn’t know, a unicycle is just like a bicycle, but it only has one wheel. Sort of obvious, I know, but it has to be said. With one less point of support, a unicycle requires quite a bit more skill to ride than a bicycle, testing the rider’s ability to maintain balance not just from side to side, but also forward and backwards.
Like the Segway, electric unicycles take care of both forward/backwards balance and actual forward locomotion, leaving you to only deal with side-to-side balance and tilt.
For modern congested cities and suburbs where most people need to travel fewer than 10 miles in one direction, personal electrical transport devices such as these unicycles are an affordable, clean, and green solution for commuters or those who just want to have a bit of fun.
There are a lot of not-so-great products out there though. So in this buyer’s guide I’ll be going over the most important considerations. If you spend some quality time considering these factors, you’ll end up a much more satisfied customer.
Ease of Use
Compared to other electric rideables, electric unicycles probably have the steepest learning curve. While you’ll be cruising around on a “hoverboard” or traditional Segway in less than an hour, it may take a day or two of trial and error before you’re comfortable on one of these guys.
Quite a few models either come with training wheels or have them as an additional option; you’ll also get a safety tether that will allow you to save your unicycle from a scratch-inducing tumble should you have to step off while learning to ride.
You should always wear at least a helmet, even after you’ve mastered riding. These unicycles are capable of significant speeds, enough to cause serious injury in a fall.
Although not as big a problem as with “hoverboards”, electric unicycles also make use of lithium polymer batteries. Make sure that your prospective unicycle has all of the right electrical safety certification. Look for batteries made by reputable brands such as Samsung or LG.
Also make sure that you read the charging recommendations in the manual that comes with your unicycle. I know it’s lame to read the manual, but lithium polymer batteries are no joke. In the rare event that one does go wrong, you’re facing a serious fire hazard. So don’t skip over this step.
Top end models can go for as much as $2000, but the decent entry-level range starts at $400 and up. If you encounter an electric unicycle that costs less than $400 do your homework properly, especially if it’s the list price and not a sale or discount.
Most electric unicycles have a weight limit in the region of 264 pounds, which should cover most riders. The heavier you are the lower the range and climbing power of the unicycle, so keep that in mind if you weigh near the limit.
Bigger wheels equate to better handling of small holes and bumps in the road, as some contact with the surface is retained. Inflatable tires are good for the same purpose. Sixteen-inch wheels are a good average, although if your intended route is in very good conditions you can happily use a fourteen- or even twelve-inch model. Larger wheel sizes usually equate with more expensive models.
Some electric unicycles have two wheels side-by-side. This lets them carry more weight, handle better in a straight line and are generally more stable, but turning ability is compromised.
A big rubber and metal wheel, battery, and motor are not going to be light. Carrying even the lightest of electric unicycles is no fun. Many models have a carry handle to help with this, but I personally think that they spoil the looks of a unicycle and those that lack a handle often look the best.
Luckily, manufacturers like Airwheel sell a range of backpacks specifically designed to comfortably transport your unicycle when not riding it. I highly recommend that you have one of these if you’re going to get on a bus or train as part of your journey.
Speed and Range
Although capable of going faster, many electric unicycles are electronically limited to 12 miles per hour. They’ll also have overspeed protection, low battery warning, and safety systems. When the battery is low or the speed gets high, it will tilt you back and slow you down to prevent an unintended launch into space.
Since most electric unicycles do not have easily removable batteries, it’s important that the range a given model offers will get you where you need to go. If you’re commuting to work or school you may only need to cover one leg of the trip, charging up again at your destination.
Charging time from empty are typically between 90 minutes and 120 minutes; perhaps as much as four hours in some cases. So keep that in mind when looking over the range figures.
Some models of unicycle have more than one battery option. It may cost a bit more, add to the weight, and increase the charging time, but could add crucial miles to make your intended journey.
Almost all electric unicycles originate in the Far East, so it’s very important that you check whether you can get parts locally or if you can get support from a local dealer. It may be more expensive, but going through a local dealer is better in the long run if you don’t want an $800 door stop thanks to a lack of parts or support.
Also bear in mind that the battery will have a shorter warranty than the rest of the unit and has a limited number of full recharge cycles before it finally dies, so also find out where you can get a replacement battery unit. Modern electrical motors can last a long, long time, but batteries with unlimited recharge cycles are still a long way from the consumer market.
Also, try to stick with name brands like Airwheel or Ninebot – they are easy to track down if you have trouble.
Electric unicycles are some of the most challenging electric vehicles to master, but they can also be some of the most rewarding. They may not have the cool factor that hoverboards are currently enjoying, but overall they are more capable and more versatile for outdoor travel, especially since, unlike hoverboards, electric unicycles often have proper waterproofing, making them far more practical.