Before Aladdin came along, many would have considered magic carpets demonic. Before Harry Potter, flying brooms would have suffered the same perception. But we did get those realignments within popular culture that changed perception for the good.
Unfortunately, modern magic carpets are also suffering a perception problem. And as of yet, nothing has come along to alter public perception for the good. We came close.
A couple of years ago, Rideables known as Hoverboards burst onto the scene – literally BURST onto the scene. To put it in common parlance, they turned out to be a bit splody. As if foreshadowing the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, the batteries would burst into flames rather unexpectedly, and dramatically.
The shame is that hover boards were really starting to catch on until they started to catch on fire. They were the hottest Christmas gift before they literally became the hottest… You get the idea. This became such a big problem worldwide that the hover boards were recalled, banned, and denied entry into countries and on airplanes. They may never recover.
The other perception problem rideables have is that they are just expensive toys for rich kids who are board with their skateboards. YouTube was filled with teens playing with these things, but not of grownups with jobs using these things. There is a huge difference between the two. And until rideables are marketed differently to tell the real story of their usefulness, they are likely to be viewed as marginal devices by the mainstream.
What Is a Rideable?
I define a rideable as any powered transport designed to carry one person at the speed of a brisk walk or slow jog. It cannot require a special license to operate. Nor can it reach street-legal speeds. Traditional vehicles like motorcycles and automobiles, even if electric powered, are not rideables for the purposes of this article.
Within the category of rideables are many subcategories. These subcategories are differentiated by things like:
- The number of wheels
- The orientation of the wheels
- Manual or self-balancing
- Standing ride or sitting ride
Beyond these categories are considerations such as:
- Size and portability
- Range and speed
- Learning curve
For the purposes of this write-up, we will focus on truly self-balancing vehicles, manual balancing vehicles, electric skateboards, and scooter-style vehicles. Each category has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with the one that started it all:
1.The Segway i2 SE Stands Alone as a Truly Self-balancing Vehicle
The only reason one would call it a self-balancing vehicle is because the form-factor intuitively demands that balance is not a given. The Segway stands on 2 wheels, one on either side of the vehicle. It seems like it should tip over forward or backward. But it typically does neither.
I have to qualify it because there have been a handful of high-profile people who have taken a tumble on the self-balancing device. Companies can’t make fool-proof devices faster than evolution can make better fools. That is why Segway riders are almost always pictured wearing helmets. Self-balancing does not mean that it can’t fall over.
The top device in this category is still the Segway after all these years. The Segway has been around for going on 16 years. And nothing has toppled it from its perch. It is the most well-engineered, most reliable, easiest to learn rideable on the market today. But it is still very uncommon to see ordinary consumers riding one of their very own. That is because after all these years, most of the initial disadvantages remain.
Chiefest among those disadvantages is that it is still way too expensive. It is also really big and heavy. This is not a transport for putting in a car or taking on a crowded city bus. Here are some of the relevant specs:
Weight: 105 lbs
Max speed: 12.5 mph
Range: 24 miles
Price: $5,000 – $10,000
Let’s have some real talk for a moment. At the $10,000 range, you can buy a Honda Goldwing. And at 105 lbs, you’re not picking it up for any reason. It’s like a luxury motorcycle, but with a top speed of 12.5 mph.
Worse yet, there is no sign that the price is going down like computers. If anything, prices go up like cars. High prices are what you can expect from a top of the line product that has no real competition.
2.Segway miniPro: Balancing Price and Ease of Use
Nothing competes with a full-blown Segway. But the product is responsible for spawning a new category of devices. Companies have tried to take the primary mechanism of the Segway and repackaging it in something that is much less expensive.
All of these products maintain the scheme of propulsion and steering by shifting your weight in the desired direction of travel. There is no gas pedal or steering wheel. But I contend that the real magic behind the Segway is that you can get on it without a sense of balance. The Segway is as stable as a tricycle, but without the third wheel.
The new line of products omit this feature, requiring the rider to BYOB. In this case, bring your own balance. Without it, you will most certainly face-plant, knee-scrape, and spend your first three days looking like you are in training for the circus. Cutting the extra weight and the extra expense also cuts out the magical balance.
Many of the devices are marketed as self-balancing. But that can be very deceiving. That said, some are easier to learn than others. It is no surprise that the best of these simplified vehicles comes from the makers of Segway. It is the Segway miniPro.
Weight: 28 lbs
Max speed: 10 mph
Range 14 miles
A couple of details jump right out. The first is the price. You can pick one up at the time of this writing for about a tenth of the price of the full-sized Segway. $600 is about the price of a decent bicycle. Now, we can have a mainstream conversation.
You will also notice the top speed isn’t that much different from that of the Segway. So if not speed, you have to wonder where all the savings are coming from. Part of it is range. 10 miles is a big difference. However, you can use the mini in conjunction with public transportation. The full-size has to handle the entire trip by itself. Because of that usage difference, the range difference may balance out.
Speaking of balance, that is where the mini wobbles a bit. It does stand upright by itself. But you do have to provide some balance of your own. In terms of being self-balancing, it is the best of the rest by far. The learning curve is slight, but it definitely exists. By all accounts, it is as comfortable as standing. So you don’t have to deal with fatigue associated with the ride.
This could be considered a smart rideable, as it has a smartphone app associated with it. But don’t be fooled. The app is an integral part of the operation of this vehicle. There are certain training tasks you will need to perform before the full speed of the device is unlocked. You can only fully unlock it through the app.
This type of app integration is common with modern rideables. And though the implementation is different for each device. All the other rideables covered here have some type of app integration. If you are living the rideable lifestyle, it is assumed you already have a smartphone.
It started out with a $1,300 price tag. At that price, it was intriguing, but a no buy. It quickly dropped to $1,000. The price seems to have stabilized at a wallet-friendly $599 at Amazon. With 522 reviews averaging 4.5 stars, it is definitely worth a look.
3.ZBoard 2 Blue and Boosted Board: All Aboard
Skateboarders aren’t left out of the fun. The type of person who skateboards right now is the type of person who would be attracted to electric skateboards, and only a subset of them. Few people are going to ditch their cars for a skateboard.
ZBoard 2 Blue
Even so, the ZBoard seems to be the way to go if you are interested in kicking it old school, the new-school way. This powered board has weight-sensing foot pads that you step on for acceleration or breaking. The breaking pad can also be used for reverse.
Weight: 17 lbs
Max speed: 20 mph
Range: 16 – 20 miles depending on model
Price: $1,299 – $1,499
It is said to be very easy to learn even if you have no prior skateboard experience. Give yourself about three days to become fully proficient. This offers the best speed to range ratios you can get in a modern rideable of this kind. However, you want to avoid water. Getting caught in the rain can prove to be damaging to your board, and your warranty.
The Boosted Board offers an alternative. It is a powered skateboard that you control with a handheld controller. Here are the specs:
Weight: About 15 lbs
Max speed: 20 mph
Range: 7 – 12 miles depending on battery option
Price: $1,299 – $1,499
There are plenty of cheap knockoffs of this product. But I don’t recommend cheap knockoffs of something that could kill you. If Hoverboards taught us anything, it is that cheap knockoffs are no way to experience this type of product. The danger factor goes way up as the product quality goes way down.
The Boosted Board has the added complexity of a hand controller. It also has much less range than the ZBoard, but at the same price. These factors give the ZBoard the edge. Both would greatly benefit from waterproofing and a $700 price cut.
4.URB-E Sport: Pedal to the Medal
Speaking of kicking it old school, it doesn’t get much older than bicycles and scooters. Put a battery on them and eliminate the sweat equity it takes to move them, and you have a whole new category.
One of the best things about this category is although they are not truly self-balancing, most people already know how to ride them. It just becomes a matter of finding the right balance of comfort, portability, range, and price.
My pick for the most promising of all the magic carpet rides is the URB-E Sport. It is promising it has yet to be tested in the open market. At the time of this writing, it has another 6 weeks before preorders are scheduled to ship. This is a second-generation product that offers improvements over the existing one, including greater range and a much lower price.
Weight: 30 lbs
Max speed: 14 mph
Range: 16 miles
This product checks nearly all the boxes for a modern rideable: it is faster than a Segway, smaller and lighter than a Segway, as easy to learn as a Segway, with a very usable range, and is priced in the range of a decent bicycle. It provides a seated position with two options for positioning your feet. This has it all, except for real-world customer reviews.
This product has the best chance of transitioning to the mainstream for the reasons listed above, plus one more that really matters, but is seldom mention. The URB-E Sport has a design that is familiar enough so that it doesn’t scare people.
5.Solowheel Xtreem: The Unicycle Rides Again
I almost didn’t mention powered unicycles because few people are going to try them. If they try them, most will not get past the ultra-steep learning curve. They are just never going to make the mainstream leap. Hoverboard-style devices have a much better chance.
That said, for those intrepid souls who have what it takes, There is the Solowheel Xtreme:
Weight: 26 lbs
Max Speed: 9 mph
Range: 12 miles
These units were converted from metrics based on figures from the website. But it is important to note that will all the specs, they can vary based on the weight of the rider, and the conditions of the ride. Your milage will literally vary depending on body type and how you ride it.
There are other monowheels that are less expensive and get better range and speed. But they all have a steep learning curve. Although the price is too high on these products, the real reason the mainstream will pass on them is the actual and perceived learning curve of riding a unicycle. It is too closely associated with a circus trick to make the jump to your morning commute.
But bicycles and scooters are already there. People are comfortable seeing them, and being seen on them. Your grandma would not look out of place on a URB-E Sport. That can’t be said for the other rides on offer.
All that notwithstanding, for a product to go mainstream, it has to be affordable, easy, and fun, with usefulness tossed in for good measure. At $599, the Segway miniPro is starting to turn heads. And it is available today.
Rideables are just one generation away from becoming full-on vehicular alternatives. They’re faster and easier than walking or running, safer and greener than driving, and more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. But even the present generation is good enough to get a confident recommendation. No matter what type of rider you happen to be, your magic carpet awaits.