Bicycles, kick-powered scooters, and motorcycles have been around for more than a century, but human ingenuity keeps devising more fun and useful machines to ride on. Some are mainly toys for kids, while others are enjoyable for adults as well. Here I describe several classes of these vehicles, which might serve as gifts to others or to yourself.
For those who want a different experience than sitting on a seat and peddling, a number of bikes allow you to stand more or less upright, and use a stepping motion to power it. Think of a StairMaster on wheels. 3G makes a line of youth and adult stepper bikes. Your upper body gets some workout as well. Here is the Hammer model ($ 649 )
Zike makes a less-expensive line of stepper bikes and scooters that are available in retail outlets and on Amazon. The Z-600 bike ($429), shown below, is large enough for adults, yet is somewhat compact with 20” front and 16” rear tires. The Saber ($500) is a more stylish teen model.
Zike also makes Z100 ($140, for children) and Z150 ($200) Wingflyer scooter versions. The Z-150 gets good reviews as a kid’s scooter, as a low-impact adult workout, or as means to keep up with your children on their kick scooters. I almost got one for me, but decided against it after reading that folks taller than about 5’8” (173 cm) will feel hunched over using it.
A somewhat related product is the Rockboard scooter. You propel this by rocking back and forth on the footboard, which pivots in the middle like a see-saw. It is thoroughly described in this video. I found one for sale on Amazon for only $100, and could not resist getting it. It works as advertised. Kids really like it. It is a good balancing challenge to ride for the first time, and is an intriguing piece of machinery. It is fine for riding around the neighborhood, but I would not want to ride miles on it. It is well-built, and the handlebars adjust high enough for adults. The large wheels can handle pavement cracks. It can fold down to a flatter configuration and be used as a regular kick scooter, although in that mode it is more difficult to propel than a regular Razor-type scooter, because your feet are higher off the ground and there is drag from the main drive mechanism. It folds down reasonably compact, but it is heavy (21 lb, 9.5 kg) for its size. For commuter usage (e.g. scooting 1-2 miles from your home to the bus, and carrying onto the bus), a plain Razor-type kick scooter with large wheels (about 10 lb) seems preferable.
Elliptical bikes are similar to stepper bikes, but use a more elaborate mechanism so your feet move around like they do on an elliptical trainer. Many people find this more enjoyable than the plain up and down steppers. These tend to be higher-end products, costing around upwards of $1500. The Elliptigo is sized like a regular bike, but you stand erect and can stride with the elliptical motion.
The StreetStrider gives a full upper-body workout. It steers by leaning. A trainer stand is available so it can be used indoors as a stationary elliptical trainer.
Trikke Carving Scooters
The Trikke series of 3-wheeled scooters have a special joint mechanism that tilts all the wheels as you lean into a turn. Going downhill, you can “carve” back and forth, leaning into the curves. On level ground, you can generate forward motion by constantly turning side to side, with leaning and weight shifting. It engages the whole body and is easy on the knees. Here is a short video of former president Jimmy Carter at around age 80 demonstrating Trikke riding. Below is a photo of some happy folks carving away on their Trikkes:
The T7 model (about $170) is good for for older children and medium sized adults. This has 7” (180 mm) polyurethane wheels. As a taller man, I bought a T78 model ( $260), which has 7” (180 mm) wheels in back and an 8” pneumatic tire in front. Larger models have up to 12” diameter pneumatic tires to handle the roughest pavement.
There is definitely a learning curve involved in riding a Trikke. The first time I mounted it, I could not get it to move forward at all. I went back and viewed the DVD that came with the vehicle, and found helpful training videos on YouTube. This site has a good set of written instructions. Lowering the handlebar and inflating the front tire to a full 75 psi helped.
I can now go reasonably well on the level, shifting my weight side to side. On a slight downward incline I swoop back and forth, leaning hard into the turns like a slalom skier. It’s fun. With a slight upward incline, I can muscle the front wheel back and forth to inch upwards, getting a solid upper body workout. It is an enjoyable challenge to keep getting better at handling it. To get up a slope that is at all steep, I have to push along with my foot on the ground like a regular kick scooter. The Trikke has dual hand brakes, but is not meant for going straight down long steep hills. It is an engaging form of exercise for riding around in a parking lot, on wide, fairly level paved trails, or in residential streets, but I would not treat it as an efficient means of transportation.
Other Three-Wheeled Scooters
For children and young teens, the Razor Powerwing scooter gets high marks. The two back wheels are swiveling casters. It can be powered by wiggling the hips side to side. It is very easy to pull the front wheel off the ground (a “wheelie”), and to make the scooter spin completely around or drift sideways. A 7-12 year old might keep entertained doing tricks with this for hours in a small, smooth area like a driveway or playground.
The Y Fliker ($160 for C5 model)series of scooters has some similarities to the Razorwing, but Flickers have larger wheels and seem to go faster. Flikers are likewise powered by wagging one’s butt and feet, and can also perform tight spins and sideways motion. This looks like a good product for 9-15 year olds.
The Ski-Motion Scooter ($170) is a sort of cross between the Trikke and the Fliker. It has castered rear wheels, and two sets of joints in the horizontal arms that join the rear wheels to the front steering column. This allows leaning turns like the Trikke, but also permits your feet to move in and out relative to each other. This allows a variety of foot and leg motions, somewhat like skating or skiing. It is very easy to get going, starting with the in/out scissoring motion. The Ski-Motion is better than the Trikke at navigating narrow, crowded walkways, and it has essentially no learning curve. Tall adults may feel hunched over with its short, non-adjustable handlebars, and its small rear wheels are best suited to fairly smooth surfaces.
Onewheel: Like snowboarding over pavement and grass
The Onewheel was invented by a transplant from British Columbia to coastal California, who was homesick for snowboarding. It was developed and brought to market through Kickstarter crowdsourcing. It is a type of motorized skateboard, with one large rubber wheel in the middle of the board. It is battery-powered, and has sensors and smarts built into it. You go forward by leaning forward, and steer by leaning.
It is described and reviewed here. It can go up to 14 mph, with a 4-6 mile range, and weighs 25 lb (11 kg). Here is a video interview with, and demo by, its inventor and here is an impressive video of its capabilities. It can go over dirt, grass, bounce over small logs, etc. Everyone who sees one wants one – – until they learn it costs $1700. Update 2020: Onewheel now offers a smaller, cheaper ($950) version called the Pint. Looks good for urban maneuvering and college campuses.
Stabilized Electric Unicycles
The Segway technology has been scaled down to having a single wheel, with steps on either side that you stand on. These device is called an electric unicycle or electric wheel. They are eye-catching and futuristic, and may be one of the cooler ways to cut across your university campus. Thanks to gyros, sensors and electronic smarts, the wheel will not easily tip over. It will go forward as you lean forward, and decelerate as you lean back. Steering is by twisting your feet. There is a substantial learning effort. It seems aimed at the agile, fast-healing 15-30 year old market segment. Tabular comparisons of the most popular models are given here and here. They weigh around 25 lb. Below is a snazzy Ninebot One E ($850), with a range of 14 miles (24 km) and a speed of 12 mph (20 kph). Airwheel has models priced down to about $550.
You can find YouTube videos demonstrating the use of these devices. A skilled rider can maneuver through narrow, crowded areas. Here are some trendy 20-somethings on Airwheels: