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Electric unicycles catching on, users hope rules can be relaxed
Mr Rick Tan has been drawing stares from strangers on his commute to and from work the last 10 months.
The reason: his ride, an electric unicycle that is a curious hybrid between the pedal-driven, single-wheel cycle and the motorised Segway vehicle.
The sight of Mr Tan, 43, an IT manager, straddling a single wheel upright and gliding hands-free through crowds is a vision of the future of travel that has arrived.
And he is not alone in turning to the one-wheel wonder as an alternative to the crowded public transport system here.
While electric unicycles are not allowed on roads, parks and park connectors and the authorities frown on their use on pavements, the battery-powered vehicles are nonetheless catching on here, say retailers.
Its users have been spotted riding them on various occasions such as getting around large office buildings or on grocery runs.
Its growing popularity here follows the rise of electric unicycles in countries such as China and Australia. A postal delivery company in Britain has even allowed its postmen to deliver mail on electric unicycles to increase efficiency.
While it may take practice for riders to find their balance on the vehicle, users praise it for being nimble, environmentally friendly and, yes, cool-looking.
Mr Tan, who has been zipping down pavements on an electric unicycle since last February to get from his Boon Keng estate flat to his office in Beach Road, says: “I used to take the MRT but I didn’t like squeezing with everyone else. I also get to work in 20 minutes instead of 25 minutes by MRT.”
He adds of the stares: “People do look at me and I usually just smile back at them.”
Marketing manager Chia Tien-yao, 37, who rides one when he travels short distances such as from his office to the MRT station or bus stop, says: “The unicycle is convenient and portable. I wouldn’t be able to take most bicycles onboard public transport, but with electric unicycles, it’s no problem at all.”
Electric unicycles come without steering handles and they rely on a device known as a gyroscope for orientation and balance. Users can move forward and backward or turn left and right by leaning their bodies a little in the desired direction.
An electric unicycle from American brand Solowheel, for example, can travel at speeds of up to 16kmh, more than three times a person’s average walking speed. It weighs about 11kg and can carry loads of up to 113kg, as well as ascend slopes with an incline of 15 degrees.
Finding one’s balance on the unicycle, though, can take more than a few tries.
Mr Alvin Chan, 43, a senior manager at a country club, took three days to learn to balance on the vehicle.
He says : “At first, I often lost my balance and suffered several cuts to my ankles. But after a total of six hours of practice, I never fell again.”
He adds: “I like that I don’t need to use my hands to control the unicycle. This way, while riding, I can use my hands to carry groceries or my iPad.”
These vehicles, however, do not come cheap. Available in retail shops and online stores, they are priced from $500 to more than $2,500. A folding bicycle, in comparison, sells for about $200.
The high price tag has not stalled sales.
Mr Thomas Hoon, 37, a distributor of electric unicycles since 2013, says he receives between 30 and 40 inquiries a month.
The growing number of electric unicyclists has also led to the formation of an interest group, The Wheelies.
Mr Hoon co-founded the group with three other enthusiasts and it organises outings on electric unicycles two to three times a week to places such as the Marina Barrage, Haw Par Villa and Sentosa. Each outing draws about 15 people between the ages of 25 and 42.
The greater usage, however, runs headlong into safety regulations barring them from parks, park connectors and roads here.
The director of parks at the National Parks Board, Ms Kartini Omar, says: “Motorised electric vehicles can reach high speeds. Signs in our parks and along our park connectors have been put up to advise and remind the public against the use of such vehicles.”
Those found using the vehicles in NParks parks and park connectors may be liable to a fine of up to $5,000.
While there are no regulations against using electric unicycles on public pavements, a police spokesman says: “Singapore’s footways are not wide enough for shared purposes. The risk of collision, resulting in serious injuries to the users as well as pedestrians, is significant.”
Users found guilty of causing hurt to pedestrians may be jailed for a year and/or fined $5,000.
And while the electric unicycle is allowed to be brought on board public buses and trains during non-peak periods, a spokesman for the Land Transport Authority says bus drivers can bar the vehicle from being carried on board if they deem it likely to cause obstruction, discomfort or injury to any passenger.
The spokesman adds: “Cyclists are required to wrap the pedals, handle bars and other protruding parts of the unicycle at all times to prevent injury to other commuters.”
Mr Hoon says most users know the rules, although some feel they may be too restrictive.
He says: “As a group, we follow etiquette on using electric unicycles safely. For example, we always call out to pedestrians to make sure they are aware of our presence before we overtake them.”
He adds: “The Wheelies will continue to engage the relevant authorities on the use of electric unicycles in Singapore. We hope that one day, we will be able to ride them in parks and park connectors.”
Erklärung seitens eWheelz™
In Singapur gewinnen die elektrischen Einräder immer mehr an Popularität. Während einerseits zwar bemängelt wird, dass man erst Praxis brauche, um damit fahren zu können, wird andererseits gelobt, wie flink, umweltfreundlich und praktisch ein elektrisches Einrad im Alltag sein könne. Aktuell gibt es keine Vorschriften gegen eine Verwendung von elektrischen Einrädern auf öffentlichen Gehwegen, allerdings werden Unfälle, welche durch elektrische Einräder verursacht werden, sehr sehr hart bestraft, beispielsweise durch Haftsstrafen von der Dauer eines Jahres. Es wird bemängelt, dass elektrische Einräder Beschwerden, Verletzungen und Behinderung des öffentlichen Verkehrs verursachen können. Eine Gruppe namens The Wheelies bemüht sich darum, die Verwendung von elektrischen Einrädern in Singapur zu ermöglichen.