The History and Evolution of the Electric Unicycle
The electric unicycle is gaining more and more popularity (and, at times, notoriety) with every passing day. But where did it come from? Who created the first electric unicycle, and why? The story goes back two decades, but it traces its origins as early as the 19th century.
The Mechanical Unicycle
It’s unclear who invented the first unicycle and exactly when. What we do know is that the unicycle likely originated from the Penny Farthing, a bicycle famous for its unique construction, with one very large wheel at the front and a much smaller wheel at the back. This bike was mounted using steps or a jump and could be pedaled for speed and steered using handlebars much like a modern design, albeit with a slightly more challenging balance system.
Some sources claim that a British circus performer named James Bedford Elliot of the Elliot-Savonas was the first to create and use a unicycle. They began appearing in his and his family’s acts in the late 1870s, and by the early 1900s, they were becoming more and more popular in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe.
The First Electric Unicycles
The first electric unicycle didn’t appear until nearly a century after mechanical unicycles gained popularity in Europe. The first designs and patents for the machines started appearing in 2001 with the popular PEV company Segway. Sadly, early trials of electric unicycles were not entirely successful, so it wasn’t until 2010 that they became available on the public market with the Solowheel, created by Shane Chen. The Solowheel held the better part of the EUC market for about four years until several competitors came onto the market in 2014 and 2015 in the forms of King Song, InMotion, and Ninebot, who purchased Segway.
From 2019 on, some major innovations were made to electric unicycles across the market. Better technology led to longer ranges and higher top speeds, meaning EUCs were becoming more practical options for everyday commuting. New technology allowed for smart functions like Bluetooth connectivity and adaptive braking, as well as side lighting. Designs became sleeker and more protective of electrical elements, which upped water and debris resistance and made for safer rides. More recently, bigger companies in the industry announced built-in suspension, which has again made riding EUCs a more viable option for the average commuter.
Reception and Reactions to Electric Unicycles
Electric unicycles have been met with mixed reactions over the years. Initially, when the first models hit the markets in the early 2000s, they were seen as little more than novelty items (and rightly so, given the improvements that would come later) and were not given much credence as actual commuter vehicles. Though EUCs have evolved over time to become more serious machines, this image as a luxury “toy” has been hard to shake.
That being said, modern views on electric unicycles are trending toward the positive. With the rise of other electric vehicle options including the electric scooter and the e-bike, people have begun to take these machines more seriously, or at least offer them more than passing thought when it comes to making informed personal vehicle choices. Infrastructure for personal electric vehicles is also improving, and with the ever-increasing importance of environmental awareness becoming more and more apparent, the electric unicycle is becoming a more widely-loved option for all kinds of riders.
Electric unicycles have an interesting and storied twenty-year history that starts much earlier – it’s a machine built on the ingenuity of generations of personal vehicle riders. Whether they’re a future-forward option for eco-friendly travelers or simply a fun novelty ride, electric unicycles have come quite a long way in a short amount of time.
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