Move over e-bikes, electric unicycles popping up Vancouver’s streets

A few years ago, Tom Bramble wanted his Vancouver commute problem solved.

Bicycling to his city office made the most sense, but his bike was likely still where he took it off at the end of the work day.

“I was worried about buying a bicycle and having it chained to a lamppost or stolen after it disappeared,” he said. “So I started looking for alternatives and came across electric unicycles.”

Electric unicycles – EUCs for short – are compact, battery-rechargeable, single-wheel devices that are small enough to carry and keep on a desk. Unlike an e-scooter or e-bike, there are no handlebars. The rider stands near the wheel on the flip-out foot rest and propels and steers it by subtly shifting their body weight, similar to a Segway.

“It seemed like such an elegant solution to my problem,” Bramble said. “It’s a briefcase that can take you hundreds of kilometers for a few cents. And it’s a lot of fun.”

EUC, short for Electric Unicycle, is growing in popularity

Tom Bramble and Tony Davis demonstrate their electric unicycles

Tony Davies was also an early EUC adopter, although, at age 73, he is not typical of riders who do the youth slant. The retired taxi company dispatch manager bought his first “wheel” six years ago and has upgraded a few times since then. He says horse riding feels like freedom.

“I absolutely love it,” Davis said. “I just stand on it. I don’t have to pedal. It has a wheel. So if I go to a shop or restaurant, I take it with me.”

Whistler Road Trip Not Recommended

Last fall, Davis took his new EUC on a test drive up the Sea to Sky Highway, covering 110 kilometers from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler on a single charge. Even if he made it through without hurt, this is not an adventure he would recommend to others.

“About halfway up, I thought, this is really dumb,” he laughed. “The scary part was the cars; they just get so close to you. And then you go to the corrugated part that warns drivers about bike lanes, but [the bumps] Extend into the bike lane … so that’s not too cool.”

EUCs are not road legal, but are allowed on Vancouver bikeways under a provincial pilot program to open up regulations to e-scooters and other micro-mobility devices.

High end electric unicycles have a battery range of up to 150 kilometers per charge and can reach a top speed of over 60 kilometers per hour. The model shown retails for $4,495. (Gotway Monster Pro/Vancouver Electric Unicycle)

Bramble turned its eureka moment into a side hustle all those years ago, launching the online store Vancouver Electric Unicycles in 2016.

He sold only 15 units in a year. Now, with increasing awareness of decarbonization and e-mobility, he is carrying “several hundred” EUCs annually.

‘My friends were laughing at me’

“When I started selling them, most of my friends were laughing at me,” he said. “but I think [EUCs] Corners are starting to turn. And especially with COVID, people started looking for alternative forms of transport. They want something green.”

Prices range from around $600 to several thousand dollars, and full safety gear is recommended. The battery range runs between 50 and 150 kilometers per charge, depending on the model. Some high-end units are capable of going over 60 kilometers per hour.

Of course, riding that fast is not advisable. Davis says he rarely goes over 20 kph and always wears protective gear, including a helmet and a rear view mirror strapped to his wrist.

Like every micro-mobility device, there is a learning curve to mastering the electric unicycle and newbies must be prepared to practice before they hit the city streets.

“I would say most people can learn to ride within two hours, at most half a day. It sounds uncertain at first, but it gets easier,” Bramble said. “Once you get used to it, walking feels incredibly slow.”

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