Solowheel unicycles are now cheaper and lighter, but still hard to tame

I'm not going to lie: Various parts of my body are still in agony as I'm typing up this article. Yesterday, I attended Inventist's Beijing event where it launched four new Solowheel electric unicycles, as well as the two-wheeled Hovertrax. And in case you didn't get my hint, yes, I had the fortune of test riding some of these human transporters afterwards. For those who aren't familiar with the Solowheel, imagine this: it's like a Segway but sans handle and only with one wheel between your legs, so you'd have to work harder to tame the self-balancing mechanism. If you're already a unicyclist then this shouldn't be a problem at all.

The new range of Solowheels start from a much lower price point than the original $1,995 version. First, we have the Spirit, which is essentially the original version modernized with a more stylish look, a more powerful 1,500W motor (instead of 1,000W) and better battery cells. It also packs new features like headlights, tail lights plus Bluetooth connectivity for tracking its speed, mileage and battery status in its upcoming mobile app and dedicated wearable device. Surprisingly, the special Chinese edition Spirit only costs $1,199, but it won't be available outside China.

Then we have the $1,499 Cruise (also China only), which is essentially just a prettier version of the Spirit with color customization option. Next up is the $2,199 Xtreme ($2,295 in the US, due in August), which is a ruggedized model with a larger 18-inch wheel plus a sturdier 1,800W motor, but lacking headlights and a kickstand. All three models can reach a top speed of 16km/h and can go as far as 25km after a full two-hour charge (or just one hour with the optional rapid charger). On a related note, the Solowheels have regenerative braking and gliding with up to 70 percent efficiency.

The $2,599 Orbit (sold as the Lite in the US for $2,995, due in early September) is the odd one out of the four Solowheels, and it can be considered as the company's new flagship product. While the other three models weigh between 11kg and 12kg, this one is just 6kg thanks to its hollow center, yet it packs a whopping 2,000W motor and still manages the same top speed of 16km/h. Its smaller battery is actually tucked underneath the fixed pedals (the other models have foldable pedals), and while it offers a shorter 12km range, it takes half the time to charge up fully, plus it still supports energy regeneration. Other tradeoffs include the lack of lights, waterproofing, kickstand, battery indicator and double-layered casing; but otherwise, the Orbit should suffice as an everyday short commute vehicle. The high price also reflects the not-so-obvious technological challenges Inventist faced during the two years spent developing the Orbit.

Last but not least, there's the $1,199 Hovertrax which breaks away from the Solowheel series. In fact, Inventist already unveiled this in May last year for its Kickstarter campaign, though it has yet to start shipping to backers. You can think of this two-wheeled device as a mini handle-less Segway that you can store in a backpack. Unlike the Solowheels, there's no steep learning curve here: You control the speed by again leaning forward or backward, and you change the direction by simply twisting the Hovertrax with your feet. With a full half-hour rapid charge, this vehicle can cover up to 15km but with a top speed of just 8km/h -- which, as I found out during my test ride, is a necessary speed cap due to the sharp turns it can make.

Inventist claims that most people will get the hang of its Solowheels in 15 to 20 minutes, but I was struggling a lot even almost 20 minutes later, as you can see in the above video. At the beginning, I was told to start by pushing the Solowheel with one of my legs, as if I was on a mini scooter. But my legs and waist quickly grew tired as I struggled to stay balanced while pushing at the same time. It was a similar painful sensation I felt in my early days of learning ice skating. Without any handles to hold onto, my arms were everywhere which probably didn't help, either; though I only realized this when watching my hands-on video clips. Eventually, I gave up. My muscles were aching and I had a flight to catch, but I wouldn't mind giving it a go again with proper shoes instead of sandals.

Washington-based Inventist told us that we can expect these devices to hit the Chinese market in about two months' time, and interestingly, South Korea is the next Asian country to prep a major launch. Shane Chen, the company's founder and chief inventor, added that the Solowheel has a strong following in both the US and China, so it shouldn't be long before these new unicycles show up stateside as well.

Update: Inventist reached out to let us know that the US will be getting an updated version of the classic Solowheel some time this winter. It'll feature a modern look, lights plus Bluetooth capabilities, and it'll retail for approximately $2,000.