SportsTech

Ninebot an elegant way to get around

The electric unicycle is good-looking and feels solid, but mastering it is a challenge

The Ninebot One electric unicycle is an elegant mode of transport, but one which is also devilishly difficult to master.

Like a Segway, it accelerates and brakes by using gyroscopes and sensors to detect a user leaning forwards and backwards. But unlike a Segway, it has only one wheel, and no handle.

To ride it, users have to stand on fold-out footpedals on either side of the machine, and manoeuvre by shifting their body weight in the direction they want to head towards.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $1,199 from Falcon PEV (www.falconpev.com.sg)

    TOP SPEED: 22kmh

    RANGE: 30 to 35km

    WEIGHT: 12.8kg

    MAXIMUM LOAD: 110kg


    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

I own an electric scooter, so I foolishly thought that learning to ride the Ninebot cannot be too difficult.

But after hours attempting to ride it in a straight line, the result was always the same: a wobble from side- to-side, flailing arms, and then a crash which sends the poor Ninebot skittering across the floor and beeping in distress.

But my incompetence is no fault of the Ninebot One.

It rises head and shoulders above its competitors in the electric unicycle market, which has seen plenty of new entrants over the last year with the increasing popularity of personal electric vehicles.

Its 16-inch wheel is one of the larger ones on the market, making it more stable when going over bumps or rough patches.

In comparison, electric unicycles such as the Airwheel X3 and Kaabo K8 both sport a 14-inch wheel, and most of the Gotway models, with the exception of the 18-inch Msuper, are smaller too.

The 1,500-watt motor is smooth and quiet, and powerful enough to easily take me up gentle slopes as I was learning how to ride it.

Above all, the Ninebot just feels solid. I have tried out other electric unicycles on the market, but most of them tend to feel rickety and flimsy, like a hard crash might crack its shell or shear off the footpedals.

I cannot say for certain that the Ninebot's build quality is better, but it certainly feels more reliable and well-designed than anything else I have tried.

Its footpedals are sturdy and large enough to stand on comfortably, and its side panels feel solid, yet flexible enough to withstand numerous spills.

At 12.8kg, it is surprisingly heavy, and is certainly not something you can easily lift with one hand and carry around.

It is also one of the best-looking electric unicycles out there. While the Ninebot can be accessorised with different coloured shells, my review model was a basic white, with a beautiful ring of colour-changing LEDs circling the wheel cover.

Take note though, that unless you are an experienced rider, the Ninebot's pleasing looks will probably take a beating soon after you buy it. The review unit arrived at my office battered and scratched, evidence of previous testers' learning journeys. After spending a few weeks with it, I am sure I added many more dents and scrapes to that count.

Again, I am sure a more competent rider would not have such trouble. While learning, I could really feel the Ninebot's gyroscopic stabiliser trying to keep me upright.

Riding it is a little like riding a bicycle, in the sense that it is a lot harder to ride it very slowly than it is to do it fast. But the fact that the Ninebot has just a single wheel, and no handle or discernible brakes, makes it difficult to pick up enough speed to keep it upright.

So, be prepared to crash - at least at first. After you do, the Ninebot will begin to beep loudly, as it cannot detect the floor.

If you lift it off the floor from an upright position, it will also begin to beep and its wheel will spin uncontrollably quickly, which is strange for something that is touted as a "safety mechanism".

At the end of the day, though, although I found it impossible to ride, there are numerous videos of people riding electric unicycles around easily and even doing tricks on them. If I were one of them, I would buy the Ninebot One in a heartbeat.

But I am not, and so for now,

I will stick to a two-wheeled electric scooter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Ninebot an elegant way to get around'. Print Edition | Subscribe