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Imagine a big wheel—five or six feet tall. Now imagine a motor, a seat and a little gas tank mounted on a track inside that wheel. Of course, it has to be mounted on bearings because you can sit inside that wheel—a monowheel motorcycle—and drive it. That is, if you’ve got a wide daredevil streak.
Kevin Scott is just such a daredevil. Last October he set the British speed record for monowheel motorcycles using a 200-cc go-kart engine in a 59-inch wheel, according to Road & Track magazine. His vehicle, named WarHorse, hit 61.18 mph, breaking the old record of 57 mph. The UK Monowheel Team and Kevin set that record at Elvington Airfield in North Yorkshire. The team of four engineers, aged between 49 and 60, has been building innovative motorcycles since 2010.
American Kerry McClean held the old record, set at Irwindale Speedway in California in 2001. Kerry is a pioneer monowheel builder in our time. He’s a champion of do-it-yourself monowheel building and has built some pretty powerful machines—one using an eight-cylinder engine.
Driving a monowheel is tricky. The only way to steer is to lean and the only way to stop is with the throttle (and, we bet, boots on the asphalt). Avoiding a “gerbil incident” is a major challenge. That’s when the rider loops around with the outer wheel. Probably not what you want in traffic.
Monowheels have been around about as long as any kind of cycle, and have been powered by feet, gas, and electricity. They’ve always been dangerous, but old advertisements indicate that people bought them. You can see various old models at Douglas Self’s online museum.
They are not very practical for long rides or even for commuting, but if you’ve got the itch, you can buy a Wheelsurf for about $2500.00. They are made in Brazil and sold by a Dutch company. The Wheelsurf is built so that you feel enclosed when you sit in it; the odd weight distribution takes some getting used to. It’s smaller than many monowheels. Three little wheels on the inner frame contact the outer rotating frame, which has a solid rubber tire. The engine is a standard Stihl 55 cc two-stroke single cylinder with one speed and a centrifugal clutch. It’s derived from a chainsaw motor and starts with a pull-cord. It’s got a maximum speed of 30 kmh. Two little auxiliary wheels descend during braking and are said to operate well at low speeds on level ground. Going downhill, it’s about as responsive as a skateboard, we hear, except that you’re apt to be spinning around inside it because the outer wheel stops and you don’t.
If you decide to buy one, you might want to wait a bit as fixes for several problems are underway. According to the folks at Wheelsurf, several models have been registered in the US and are road-legal. Frankly, we don’t think it’s ready for prime time, because it’s slower than the turtle-est moped and breaks like a battleship. But, it isn’t all that expensive and it should be great in parades!
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