There was a point in history where the format for vehicles was wide open. Cars ran on gas, power, or steam. We had these flying contraptions, balloons, airships, planes, and helicopters. One could cross town on a motorized bicycle, one with pedals, or even a unicycle.
By the 1930’s we’d pushed most of these forms to their limit, settled on gas for fueling cars, biplanes for dusting crops, and only clowns rode unicycles, but there was one corner of travel yet unexplored.
For a minute, it seemed we would add monocycles to the list of transportation options. Lest you’ve been Rip Van Winkle-d since then, we’re still on at least two wheels in most cases, but there are a few exceptions. We will get there, but let’s start with the early entries.
The first designs popped up in the 1860s, but we have scant records of those rickety designs. They were manual-crank systems, hardly sexy, definitely dangerous.
Then, in 1929, Popular Science featured an artistic rendering on the cover of a monowheel motorbike racing on a track.
The Pop-sci article started began…
“Spectators at the speedway before the National Stadium in Rome, Italy, gasped with amazement… a huge wheel, driven by a motorcycle engine, careening at high speed around the track like an overgrown toy hoop.”
They called it the Motor-hoop. It was really the Motoruota.
1923 Cislaghi Motoruota Monowheel
That Motoruota monowheel was by Davide Cislaghi, a police officer from Milan, Italy. Note the cockeyed riding position.
The first thing this writer thinks about is the bill from the chiropractor. It does, however, solve the problem of the wheel in your face as you steer. Even in more modern designs, the driver has to peer around the large wheel blocking the view.
There were two versions of that first mono-hoop, both with car steering wheels, and an angled rider position. What came of those mono-hoops, who knows, but they must have inspired this next one.
Legend has it that Cislaghi once rode from Milan to Rome on one of his Motoruotas. Perhaps. The picture above is often cited as him on the invention but is likely just a proud owner.
1932 Purves Dynasphere
Other engineers co-opted Cislaghi design, but the Dynasphere by Dr. JH Purves broke the mold. The idea for the Dynasphere was more aggressive than the sexy monowheels before it.
Build a big enough wheel, and you can seat more than one person in an indestructible tire. If it’s wide enough, it won’t tip over, solving for the stability issues in predecessors.
Purves built several versions of his idea, which was supposed to be more economic. Needless to say, it must not have panned out. Imagine trying to cross under bridges in that beast.
This is the only mass-produced monowheel in existence, made in the Netherlands of all places. The Wheelsurf goes 12-mph, but you’ll find it challenging to ride on the road.
Most places will not allow it. It’s not only not fast enough, it’s not considered roadworthy. The Wheelsurf is for boardwalks, parks, and beach rides, a novelty.
If you’re familiar with the Segway or the hover boards that made so much press the last two years, then you have a basic concept for the Monowheel balance scooter. It’s like a low-tech version of the Segway.
The company that produces the Monowheel is a German company. They would call it a motorized unicycle. Fine; whatever.
Controlling the monowheel is a matter of leaning the direction you wish to go. The unit houses a computer and electromagnetic stabilizing technology.
Thank you, Burning Man for this delicious monowheel, which looks like what a snail would build. The rider on the RIOTwheel sits in front of the wheel, solving the whole wheel view issue.
It’s hardly a sexy monowheel, but you can’t argue the functionality of this bad boy. It’s stable, goes over more than most cars, and look like something Mad Max would operate.
This monocycle once held the world’s record for fastest monocycle at 57-mph. McClean had to suffer for his glory, though. In the video above, you see him crash in the 900-pound vehicle, flipping sideways.
It’s not pretty; understandable if you choose to skip it.
Of the event, McClean said, “… I got through it. You’re not gonna have success without failure.”
You may have seen this one-wheeled motorcycle floating about the internet. It’s a real thing, but the production of the Ryno seems to have stalled.
The idea came from the mind of the creator’s child, but it really works. Using gyroscopic stabilizers, Ryno stays vertical so long as it has battery power.
The inventor has made several versions, but alas, when will they hit the road?
Keven Scott’s Monowheel
The average speed of Scott’s monowheel is 61.18 MPH. That speed took the prize from McClean’s. The design shares much with the Motoruotas, it’s uncanny.
Scott too crashed his monowheel but survived. He claims that one find more stability at higher speeds, but that does not account for variables like dunno, distracted freeway drivers?
It’s unlikely we’ll see the Motoruota design or its great grandchildren ever leave the safety of the speedway.
The Ryno seemed so promising, but for now, we are stuck risking our lives on regular old motorcycles unless you count the Monowheel scooter or the Wheelsurf.