Ryno Motors self-balancing, single-wheeled scooter test ride

We’ve had the opportunity to ride some crazy contraptions over the years here at Engadget, like the skateboard-cum-tank Shredder and the self-balancing two-seater from GM called the EN-V. Today we carry on that tradition with another thing that can keep itself — and its occupant — perched upright. It’s called the Ryno, an all-electric single-wheeled scooter that looks like something Judge Dredd would throw a leg over before bringing justice to some nefarious evil-doers. It’s the pet product of mechanical engineer Chris Hoffmann and, after five years of tinkering and development, it could be finally making its way into peoples’ garages by next year. Join us for a wobbly first ride.

The first rendition of the Ryno was a simple thing with no steering and primitive balancing. It could go straight — barely — and not much else. Too hard to ride, it was replaced with the version you see above, a newer test mule offering an interesting handlebar arrangement that works to help shift the weight of the rider. With only one wheel on the ground obviously you can’t turn on a dime, but when pressing on the left bar the thing pivots and turns right — a little disorienting for a motorcycle rider used to counter-steering, but intuitive enough after a few moments.

On the right there’s a thumb-throttle and a brake lever, but riding this is more about feel than manual controls. Like a Segway it balances on its own, but with only a single wheel down there it’s up to you to keep it from falling to the left or right. Come to a stop and you need to put at least one foot down, but even at low speeds it’s reasonably well balanced. We never quite toppled over, but that’s thanks at least in part to Chris running behind us the whole time — just in case something went wrong.

He was able to keep up thanks to an unintimidating top speed of 15MPH in this version, which we never quite achieved. At first carving feels uncertain — we found ourselves over-correcting with the mechanical shifting of the body, but were quickly motoring around on a busy side-street and dodging traffic. Still, making tight turns can be a bit of a challenge thanks in part to the gigantic 250 width tire that’d look comical on many cruisers, but the Ryno is light enough (125 pounds) for you to simply stop and pivot should you need. That weight also means transporting a Ryno should be a reasonably simple affair, either in the back of a truck or even on oversized bike racks that will mount to a tow hitch.

Our test ride was unfortunately cut short thanks to aging, tired batteries that petered out just as we were getting the hang of things, but our time in the saddle left us smiling. It also left any passers-by staring. This is definitely a curious looking thing and everybody wants to stop and take a picture of it. This perhaps helps to drive part of its curious appeal, though designer Chris points out a few practical advantages to this over a Segway.

The primary application right now is security guards and the like, hired guns who spend long hours patrolling areas again and again. In many cases cars are too big and, while a Segway works, standing on one of those for a full shift isn’t exactly easy on the ‘ol feet, especially if you’re working injured. On the Ryno you are at least sitting down, and its tiny size means you can easily maneuver through the middle of crowds — making sure those dastardly Angel Gang perps don’t get away.

But there is a consumer version planned that might sell for as little as $4,000. This third edition will have more power, up to 18 miles in range and a removable battery that can be easily charged and swapped in. It’ll also feature a disk brake (the current model relies purely on regenerative braking), enabling higher top speeds and, in theory, more insanity.

Will it capture the hearts and wallets of thrill-seekers? We’ll wait for a longer test ride of a production model before we make any pronouncements there, but Chris already has five people lined up to pay a whopping $25,000 for hand-built machines. That’s certainly an encouraging sign for a production model that’ll cost just one fifth of that.

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