Local company has big plans for small vehicle
SEATTLE -- The latest personal vehicle, called a "Solowheel," is a cross between a unicycle and a Segway.
A silent electric motor powers the briefcase-sized vehicle while the rider is standing up, no handle bars, balancing on two pedals.
"If you can ride a bicycle, you're over qualified," said Ted McDonald, the company's pied piper.
McDonald said the initial cost ranges between $1,500 and $2,200, but costs about a penny for an electrical charge that runs the Solowheel for a full hour. No parking. No emissions. No traffic jams. It can easily be carried, even onto a domestic air flight or on a bus.
After launching in Seattle not long ago, the Washington state based company cannot make them fast enough.
"This is the beginning of a new era of micro vehicles," said McDonald.
Solowheels can go up hill or downhill and can even re-charge the battery when being used in certain ways. Everywhere he goes, people gawk at the fascinating vehicle. McDonald said so many people want to stop and talk to him about Solowheel that it'd be impossible actually to do so. Now, he resorts to handing out cards.
"This is new in the public sphere! Nobody's ever seen this before," he said.
The first question most people seem to ask him: How hard is it? McDonald glides smoothly like an ice skater, circling in large or tight circles, through crowds, and always coming to a fully controlled stop.
"Walk this way," he instructs one onlooker. "See? That's how Solowheel works."
He explains that leaning slightly forward or slightly back tells the sophisticated software inside to command the motor. It becomes an extension of your thought after only a few tries.
McDonald offers a one-hour training class for buyers. The Solowheel, McDonald said, is legal in public spaces, on sidewalks, and on streets with a speed limit of 25 mph or less. It can work on pavement, gravel, dirt and even grassy terrain. Solowheels are not allowed in Seattle bike lanes.
"You just can keep the smile off your face when you're doing it! OK?" laughs 75-year-old Richard Traband.
He was visiting McDonald's sales officer on lower Queen Anne in Seattle to upgrade to a newer model.
"I've never broken a bone in my body in 75 years and I don't want to start now," said Traband. "But I just had to try this! It just seemed like so much fun!"