Wired NextFest Report: Wheelsurf's single-wheeled, recreational ride

The most visually inspiring vehicle at NextFest was a motorcycle-like, disk-shaped contraption with a single, concentric outer wheel called the Wheelsurf. I say inspiring because sitting on one undeniably transports you into an Isaac Asimov story.

The Wheelsurf's single wheel is powered by a 31 cc, 1.5 horsepower Honda 4-stroke through a centrifugal clutch. Tito Lucas Ott, the vehicle's designer and manufacturer, said that the engine will continue running even if you find yourself upside-down.

The inner structure consists of the vehicle's frame which is essentially a circular tube to which the body and engine are mounted. The concentric outer structure is a 70-inch steel wheel with a solid rubber tire. The vehicle tops out at 20 mph, but they say the next version will hit 30 mph.

They weren't letting people test drive the vehicles, however, they did provide a demonstration. First of all, you've got to wonder just how you keep yourself right-side-up or more specifically, how you keep your body from riding up to the top of the circular frame. You might guess that underneath the vehicle's skin there exists a complex system of gyroscopes, but you'd be way off. Other than the gyroscopic action of the outer wheel, there are no gizmos to keep you from falling over or turning upside-down. It's basically a skill game. Tito says you need to lean forward during acceleration and back while braking. He admits it takes some getting used to.

There's also a pretty steep learning curve attached to steering. Yes, there are hand grips, but the handle bar is fixed and only offers controls for throttle and braking. From what I could tell, turning on a Wheelsurf is basically a subtle combination of throttle and weight distribution.

Tito doesn't pretend that the Wheelsurf will replace cars or motorcycles or even mopeds. When I asked him what kind of gas mileage the vehicle gets he simply said, "I don't know. We were never concerned with that. It's for recreational purposes."

If you want one of these vehicles, you should put your order in now as there's a three month lead time. Oh, and it'll set you back $4,500. Wheelsurf's website seems to have some old information, but check it out for more pictures and ordering information - www.wheelsurf.nl.

Make the jump for more pictures.

With all due respect, we were lucky that Tito had some problems with one of the Wheelsurfs as it gave us a chance to look under the skin.

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