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Browse Current IssueCulture The Onewheel XR: Riding the Onewheel Electric Skateboard is Vaguely Familiar, Yet Entirely New.

The future is strange; we have all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, cars drive themselves, apparently Google’s chat AI is sentient, and personal mobility is in a Precambrian explosion of innovation. All of which is fueled by advances in complementary technologies like batteries, electric motors, gyroscopes, GPS, apps, and the relentless drive to make things smaller and more powerful. 

The Santa Cruz-based startup, Onewheel, is riding this technology wave like a SoCal surfer. And they’re not just taking existing, recognizable forms of transportation and electrifying them. There’s no slapping a hub motor on bicycles. That’s been done. Or attaching an oversized laptop battery to a skateboard. That’s too easy. Instead, Onewheel has created something vaguely familiar, yet entirely new. And people can’t help but stare when you whiz past them at 20 MPH like an alien on your way to do … I don’t know — alien things.

In classic startup fashion, Onewheel was born from years of back yard tinkering and a lofty dream in Santa Cruz, California. After 8 years of prototyping, founder Kyle Doerksen had succeeded in bringing his wild idea to life. Kyle immediately hired a team to develop the first Onewheel and bring it to market. It was an immediate hit. That was in 2013, and Onewheel has been steadily growing ever since.

The model that Onewheel sent us is called the XR. This was the halo of their product offerings up until 2021 and has been superseded by the newer GT. The XR is driven by what Onewheel calls a “Hypercore Brushless Motor” that will transport you up to 18 miles on a single charge (the GT claims a range up to 32 miles). If you’re out for a long ride, there can be some range anxiety, mostly because carrying home an awkwardly shaped 35-pound object just isn’t fun (ask me how I know). Fortunately, your legs will probably be gassed before the board is.

(2) The Onewheel XR model as tested.

The Hypercore motor combined with the internal electronics, accelerometers, and gyroscopes perform a few simple actions: propelling you ahead when you lean forward, slowing you down when you lean backwards, and making micro adjustments to maintain balance as you go. There’s no remote (like some battery powered skateboards), it has LED headlights and taillights, and it carried my 180 pounds up steep hills without complaint. The Onewheel also has an app that easily connects your board and phone via Bluetooth to give you data such as speed, total miles, maps, a distance-focused leader board, and most importantly, battery life. It’s actually pretty slick and has a well-designed UI that adds to the experience of being a “Onewheeler.”

(3) The updated Onewheel GT model features a 3-hp motor, a Trail-Slayer GT treaded tire, and up to a 32-mile range.

Onewheel has created something vaguely familiar, yet entirely new. And people can’t help but stare when you whiz past them at 20 MPH like an alien on your way to do…I don’t know — alien things.

The sensation of riding the Onewheel is something that needs to be experienced to be understood, but the closest approximate comparison is likely snowboarding. It doesn’t behave like most other wheeled vehicles. This is mostly due to it “steering” on a center axis. And since there are no “brakes” and it is self-balancing, you simply trust that the board will intuit what you want it to do. Remarkably, it does. And well.

The Onewheel — even with its 6.5-inch wide tire — is surprisingly maneuverable once you get the hang of it. The operative phrase is “once you get the hang of it,” though. Beware: there’s a learning curve. I’ve been skateboarding for the better part of 20 years, and though I picked it up quickly, I imagine someone less-acquainted with board sports might have a steeper hill to climb in order to feel confident.

Learning to ride the Onewheel was a little intimidating at first as it doesn’t quite have a comparison outside of perhaps a Segway or one of those hoverboards where the battery spontaneously combusts and burns your house down. If you’re familiar with board sports, I suspect you’ll pick it up fairly quickly. But mastering the Onewheel is going to take some commitment. And though it might bite you, it’s worth taking the risk as the smile it can put on your face (and onlookers) is worth it. Either way, make sure you have health insurance.

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