Is this electric wheel the people-mover of the future?

Is this electric wheel the people-mover of the future?
(Joshua Lewis/KOMO News)

SEATTLE - Can a briefcase-sized electric wheel become the people-mover of the future? Or, is it destined to become just a fun novelty made here in Washington?

One Seattle fitness enthusiast who first encountered the Solowheel during a trip to Istanbul knows where he stands.

"Skiing, skateboarding -- all of those exhilaration sports -- this is all that with a practical element, too," Ted McDonald said. "That's what hooked me."

The Solowheel was invented by Shane Chen, founder of Inventist, Inc. in Camas, Wash., after working on a project for an electric unicycle.

"One of Shane's main things is to make daily life fun," Inventist marketing director Andrew Ross said. "And, the Solowheel is a combination of transportation and exercise."

The 24-pound contraption contains a motor and a battery, giving riders up to 10 miles per trip before needing to be recharged. Two metal platforms on each side of the wheel provide a place for your feet. To go forward you lean forward; to slow down and stop you lean back. The Solowheel is designed to go no faster than 10 mph, and Ross said if a rider needs to bail they are so close to the ground they can simply hop off.

Since its creation two years ago, Inventist has been busy testing the Solowheel in Europe and Asia.

"In areas you can bike and get around easily people really seem to use it quite a bit," Ross said. "Barcelona has very small, narrow streets, and this can make it easier to navigate than riding on a bike or scooter or car. In Asia, a lot of people are using them for transportation and getting around."

After seeing the Solowheel take off overseas, Ross said Inventist now has plans to start pushing it across the United States. And if you ask McDonald, Seattle is the perfect place to start.

"This is the coming age of human vehicles," McDonald said. "It's the beginning of an age of vehicles that are both enjoyable to ride, safe to ride and reward us with a kind of feeling the more we do, the better we are going to be."

An unofficial spokesperson of sorts, McDonald has taken his Solowheel all over the world -- from Turkey, to Prague, London to Tokyo - sharing with others what he sees as the future of moving people.

"You ride to the supermarket, you put it in your basket. You go shopping, you get your stuff, you have both hands free. You ride home with a bag in one hand and an umbrella in the other if you need to. You can carry it on buses, planes, trains, and you don't need special equipment," McDonald said.

Right now, there's no law defining what a Solowheel is in terms of transportation, but Ross said the company is currently working with transportation officials to change that. The hope is to make it legal to use on sidewalks, similar to a Segway.

There are currently a small number of distributors locally and regionally selling the Solowheel, including an electric-bike shop in Seattle and a shop in Woodinville.

Inventist has plans to release a newer model of the Solowheel by the first part of next year. The new version will feature a slightly larger wheel Ross said will make it easier to ride over rocks, curbs and bumps.