Is a Single Wheel the Answer to Electric Mobility? The First Example is Onewheel

I have covered a variety of electric vehicles, from four wheel sports cars to various two wheel bicycles. I recently tried a couple very different single wheel solutions, each of which offer a compelling glimpse into the future of electric mobility. In my subsequent column I will look at a single bicycle wheel solution.

Onewheel is what would be birthed if a Segway and a skateboard did the horizontal mambo. Onewheel is the brainchild of Kyle Doerksen. Doerksen grew up in Western Canada, loved snowboarding on powder, and sought that fluid riding experience on solid ground. He was working on motion controlled kids toys in Silicon Valley, and wondered if that technology could be used in transport. He added a powerful motor, and began seriously tinkering. He had a prototype a year later, then launched his company a few years thereafter. The company was funded by Kickstarter in 2014, and then Doerksen assembled a couple investment rounds.

Today Doerksen is focused on growth. His company is based in Santa Cruz, and employs 25 people. The key company focus is on dealing with the creation of a new market.

Doerksen realizes he has created a new market sector, and with that comes exciting challenges related to consumer engagement, production and distribution. He has focused his wholesale distribution on specialty dealers handling outdoor gear, mountain bikes and sporting goods. He notes the most successful are those retailers who offer demos. Doerksen states that “retailers love Onewheel because it brings people in the door. Everybody wants to see it and touch it and most of all try it!”

Doerksen is building an inside sales force, which provides more control as opposed to using sales reps. “It can be a challenging product, so an outside rep might not devote the proper amount of attention,” notes Doerksen. “Compared to a more mature market like kayaks, this is a process of education.”

Doerksen admitted that the second iteration of his product, called Onewheel Plus, sells out as soon as it is stocked. I commended him on this happy problem. It retails for $1500. The original version sells for $1300 and is just about sold out; he won’t be making any more of them.

I took a ride on the Onewheel Plus, and I was quickly enamored. My schooldays of cruising on skateboards came back to me rather quickly; it has been a decade or two since I was on a skateboard. The flow of a great day on the snowboard is also definitely captured on the Onewheel. If you have ever balanced on an Indo board, that is the first sensation. But much like a Segway, you quickly learn how to lean forward to get underway, lean to turn and ease back to slow down. I took a few loops around the parking lot, and then insisted on trying it on the beach. Cruising along the shore evoked many raised eyebrows, much to my delight.

Onewheel video clip on the beach

Doerksen is stoked about the universal enthusiasm when folks see it in action, across all age groups. It was far from a given when he was tooling in his garage that this would be an attractive product, and he eschewed focus groups. Sounding not unlike Steve Jobs, Doerksen asserts “If asked, people would have no idea if they’d want a one wheel skateboard.”

But he believed. “The flow and feel was the key to acceptance by experienced riders. To see it play out is pretty exciting.”

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.