The Airwheel X8 – Learning To Ride An Electric Unicycle Is Harder Than It Looks

An Aussie company called Gyrotech imports a range of electric scooters, including the O-Chic that Luke loved. But for those who are looking for something that can tackle the great outdoors, the Airwheel X8 is the ultimate, if challenging, electric scooter.

The Airwheel X8 is essentially an electrically powered unicycle. It costs $899 in Australia.

Unlike pretty much any other scooter on the market, it uses a single wheel and a gyroscope to give forwards and backwards balancing — just like the O-Chic or a Segway.

What makes the X8 unique though is that it doesn’t balance side to side — leaving that tricky to master skill to the rider.

You stand on two strong, wide aluminium foot rests and straddle the top of the unit with your legs. Lean forward to travel forward. Lean back to slow down, stop, and reverse.

Easy-peasy right? It really isn’t, but it is a whole lot of fun and totally worth the effort.

What’s Good?

The X8 has a powerful 800 watt motor, a long 23 km range and a tyre large enough to handle decent off the tarmac obstacles. It uses Panasonic lithium ion batteries, which can be charged to 80% in 90 minutes, and fully charged in 120 minutes.

At 11.1 kg, it is just light enough to carry onto a bus or train without impacting anyone else. It would probably even squeeze into a large backpack if you wanted to go totally incognito.

Unlike the O-Chic, or Segway style electric scooters, the X8 is super slim, and when riding you don’t take up any more space than if you were walking instead.

In other words, it’s actually the perfect urban commuter scooter. While it’s not cheap, it’s no more expensive than other high end electric scooters.

Taming the Beast

Learning to ride the Airwheel was both more and less work than expected. It’s initially very hard to even climb on, but once you are over that hump it’s easier to progress to (wobbly) riding.

It’s totally worth it though, as it’s easily the best electric scooter I have ridden. Once you get going, it’s somewhat akin to skiing – big smooth carving corners as you sweep along.

Getting on the X8 is a tricky affair – you have to hold the Airwheel with a single foot, then quickly hop on, all whilst keeping your balance. If you mess up, the unit will do it’s best to escape. Fortunately it comes with a leash that makes it both easier to balance at first and keeps the scooter from throwing itself violently onto the ground.

One way to make this a little easier, is to practice getting on and off next a wall in your garage or something else you can’t damage anything. Being able to hold onto something really helps learn how the X8 controls, without falling off every 2 seconds. Another alternative is to get a friend to give you a hand balancing when you first get started.

The first time you actually go any distance, you will have forgotten how to dismount on purpose and just have to jump for it and hope. If you do manage to let it go, the unit will fall over, but the motor cuts out.

To steer, there are two main techniques. At speed, you gently lean in and the wheel carves around in the direction you want to go. At lower speed, it’s more of a twisting motion with your lower legs – physically re-aligning the X8 to the direction you want to go.

When you first start, steering will mostly consist of wobbling wildly in different directions with little control, but as time goes on you can start to actually direct it.

Once you manage to reach higher speeds, there is a disconcerting feeling that the Airwheel will let you fall over forward. Fortunately there are two aspects that keep you (relatively) safe. The Airwheel has a top speed of around 18 km/h – so even if you do take a tumble it’s slow enough you can hit the ground running and (hopefully) recover. The unit also actively stops you going too fast, pushing back on the feet supports and slowing you down.

It took a solid couple of hours of practising to be able to ride the X8, and even then it was mostly about not falling off. An easy way to feel depressed about your skill level is to jump on YouTube and watch young kids ride it around with only one foot, or jump off a variety of obstacles.

Fortunately the easiest way to alleviate these feelings is to have another go – it’s just that fun.

The X8 comes with a pair of small, rollerblade style training wheels. These make it super easy to balance and you can jump on and roll back and forward to your heart’s content. But that’s all you can do – the extra stability means you can only make the very shallowest of turns. Try anything harder and the wheel actually dig in sideways and throw you off the Airwheel.

Practice makes perfect (or at least less bad), but don’t expect to come away from the experience unscathed — if nothing else, the hard plastic of the shell will leave the sides of your shins sore or bruised and your leg muscles will ache from all the balancing. In our case, a twisted ankle gave an unwelcome break from riding.

If you are out and about riding the X8, expect every second person to stop and ask you questions. It happened so frequently that I eventually just started yelling, can’t stop, still learning, so I didn’t have to perform an awkward mount and dismount in front of anyone.

A few bystanders will want a go – which is both good and bad. The good is that it’s hard enough that most will give up after a few tries and you can quickly go back to riding yourself. The bad is that they will likely add a few scratches or dings to your shiny new scooter, feel frustrated and not actually get to feel how good it is.

What’s Bad?

As much the X8 often feels like a first generation product. The LED battery feedback is simplistic and the warning buzzer is harsh and loud. If you do let it tip over, it will flop onto the ground, emitting a note that is suspiciously like a heart monitor flat lining. It won’t stop either, until you turn it off and on again. While the motor does cut out, it has a slight delay and revs up first, thinking you are falling and trying to balance you. If you are unlucky the wheel can catch the ground and propel the X8 around, scratching it up, or worse, hitting your legs.

The X8 isn’t smart enough to know if it is on the ground or not – pick it up while on and the motor revs wildly before cutting out and beeping at you.

As we said before, the X8 is probably the perfect commuter scooter – but there is one huge issue. Here in Australia, it’s actually illegal to ride on the road, or footpaths, as the motor is too powerful. You are pretty much limited to private property.

It’s worth noting we did ride it both on a quiet street, and down a variety of bike paths with no issues. Since its virtually silent and very compact, the general public don’t feel threatened in any way, as long as you ride with plenty of caution. But the risk is still there and there are actually serious potential fines for riding one where you shouldn’t.

Should You Buy It?

Airwheel X8

Price: AUD $899

  • Loads of fun
  • 23 km range
  • Powerful motor
Don’t Like
  • Questionable legality
  • Steep learning curve
  • Basic Smarts

Yes, with the knowledge that it’s not a product you can just jump on and ride away.

If you are prepared to put in the time and effort to learn to ride (and can take a few bruises) then its amazing fun.

It’s worth noting that Gyrotech sells it as a non road scooter, but suggests you contact your local council if you want to find out more about riding on bike paths and in parks.

Make sure you were appropriate safety gear – a helmet is essential all the time, but knee and wrist protectors wouldn’t go astray while learning.

If you want something cool but with an easier learning curve, the O-Chic or Airwheel S3 from Gyrotech are probably a better bet.

If you want a road legal electric scooter, then check out the Fonzarelli 125.

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