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Orthodontists of the world, rejoice. You’re about to become very, very rich.
It turns out someone had the bright idea to attach an electric motor to a unicycle, creating the Airwheel Q5 in the process, and spawning an unprecedented demand for restorative dental surgery.
That’s right. An electric, self-balancing, self-propelling unicycle. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
But despite the inherent absurdity of the product – and make no mistake, it is absurd – the makers think that this is going to become the transportation device of the future. Move over, push bike. Sinclair C5, your time is up.
But does it deliver, or is it just stupidly unsafe and an overall bad idea? To find out, and learn how you can win our somewhat scuffed Airwheel Q5, read on.
The Airwheel Q5 is available for $780 in the US, or £700 in the UK.
I can’t stress how big this thing is. It weighs about 12 kilograms, and takes up an incredible amount of space. Forget about taking this on the bus and tucking it in-between your legs. It’s simply too large, although that’s probably a consequence of having a battery that supports a range of 23 kilometers and an 800w motor.
There’s not much included in the box, besides some stabilizers, and the screws to attach the stabilizers to the AirWheel. There’s also some documentation, which wasn’t terribly helpful.
Oh, and the power brick. Brick is an appropriate word to describe this, given how ridiculously it is. It’s big, but it can charge the device with 80 percent of its power in just under 80 minutes, making it less impractical than it looks.
Riding The AirWheel
The AirWheel is surprisingly simple to ride, although it does take a bit of getting used to.
To get started, stand on the kit, and lean ever-so-slightly forward, and it’ll start to move you forwards. The further forwards you lean, the faster you go. If you’ve ever ridden a Segway, you’ll know the feeling.
The kit, despite only having a small motor, can propel you at up to speeds of 18 kilometers per hour, making safety equipment an absolute must.
Similarly, to reverse, you need only lean back. Reversing is also how you reduce speed and brake.
Turning is achieved by slightly angling your body to guide the Airwheel in the direction you want to go in. In theory, at least.
Since the AirWheel only a small wheel, it can be seriously difficult to steer, making it quite unsuitable for indoor use.
That’s not to say that you’d want to use it indoors. The tires are made out of a very cheap rubber that leaves skid-marks everywhere you go. Tiling and laminate flooring in particular is particularly susceptible to them, and the marks can only be removed with some elbow-grease and hard scrubbing.
With all this leaning, you’re probably wondering how you don’t end up with your face in the asphalt. Well, the secret lies in the self-balancing technology incorporated into the Airwheel. As you lean forwards, the bike keeps its center of gravity, meaning you don’t fall over.
Although, this only works when leaning forwards and backwards: the AirWheel Q5 doesn’t balance from side-to-side, making it somewhat a somewhat risky proposition for those lacking a decent center of balance. Like, me.
The real problem comes with mounting the thing. The promotional videos make it seem so easy, but it isn’t. The problem is, you have to mount it in a single, swift movement to keep it from tipping over. Both feet need to be on the Airwheel almost immediately. Approach it with any kind of trepidation or hesitation, and you won’t be able to mount it.
I’ve had the review unit for about a month or so now, and I’ve used quite a bit. I still don’t know how to mount it without clinging on to someone or something.
Which brings me on to an important point of the review. How safe is the AirWheel Q5?
Obviously, safety is a huge consideration for anyone who buys one of these things. There are a few concerns I have about the AirWheel in this respect.
Firstly, it has a nasty habit of randomly speeding up when you’d least expect it. An example of this is when the operator falls off. The Airwheel then accelerates sharply and wildly spirals off. When this happens, there’s no way to stop it or control it, and it can easily cause damage to person or property. Or damage to itself, so apologies in advance for the scuffing.
Turn the AirWheel on without immediately mounting it, and it will start to move off on its own and accelerate, until it ultimately – yes – falls over, accelerates wildly, and spirals away.
Another issue emerges when the user picks up the device whilst it’s turned on. The AirWheel accelerates wildly and abruptly stops. If you don’t have a firm grip, it can easily fly away and hit someone/something.
Ultimately, this isn’t a safe piece of kit. It’s dangerous, hard to control, and comes with some insanely odd behaviors.
The AirWheel is also rather heavy. After all, it’s a wheel attached to a motor and a huge lithium-ion battery, encased in sturdy, thick plastic.
The problem with this is that the handle isn’t cushioned in any way, making it intolerable to hold for any real length of time. The plastic actually digs into your hand, and left me with some nasty cuts.
Furthermore, the AirWheel is entirely impractical for terrain that isn’t flat asphalt or concrete. When presented with, say, cobbled streets which are endemic in the UK, it struggles and has to be carried.
Should You Buy It?
Make no mistake, the AirWheel is an expensive toy, and one that comes with some serious drawbacks that ultimately make it incredibly impractical. However, I found it to be fun. I’d never use this as a day-to-day transportation device, but I’d happily use it for recreational riding.
Another consequence of riding the AirWheel is that it is such an incredible conversation starter. There are many times when I’d be riding it through the streets of Liverpool, only to be stopped and asked what it was that I was riding, and if they could have a go.
It’s fun. It’s expensive. It’s scary. It’s ridiculously dangerous. And it will make you friends.
Don’t buy it. It’s just ludicrously unsafe, even if it is lots of fun.
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