Originally published on April 15, 2015.
One day on my lunch break, I was standing outside the Grist offices and saw something that made me think an undiagnosed brain tumor might be making me hallucinate: It looked like a man on a crazy, seatless unicycle was cruising up the hills of downtown Seattle with no effort at all. I shouted after him, “WHAT IN THE HELL IS THAT THING??” but he was too busy talking on his iPhone to respond. After I got back to the office, I Googled “electric wheel ride uphill what is this machine” and, deep on results page four, I found it: the Solowheel.
The Solowheel, it turns out, was invented right here in Washington state by Shane Chen, the founder of the experimental design firm Inventist. But if Chen is the inventor of the Solowheel, its great champion is the last guy on the planet you would expect to be into this kind of tech gadgetry: Barefoot Ted McDonald, a central character in the book Born to Run — a cult classic among ultramarathon runners that helped spark the barefoot running revolution. These days, Ted, who also started the minimalist running sandal company Luna Sandals, is more likely to be found cruising on his Solowheel than running a 100K, and he sees such potential in the wheel that he became an official dealer and opened Seattle Solowheel out of the Luna offices.
I went to the home of Luna Sandals and Seattle Solowheel to find out just what this crazy vehicle is all about, and to try it for myself.