Bizarre Bikes is a segment that looks at an unusual motorcycle and examines its history. There have been a number of weird vehicles, and one of the strangest has to be the monowheel. Although it looks like something out of a sci-fi film, the Monowheel has been around since the early 20th century.
The first monowheel designs were based on bicycles and they appeared as early as 1869. A monowheel was similar to a unicycle, but instead of sitting on top of the wheel, a rider sat inside the wheel’s circumference. The design involved a seat and pedals connected to a small wheel, which connected to a larger, outside wheel. The rider peddled the small wheel and that activated the large wheel, creating motion.
This made steering difficult because of the limited apparatus. It didn’t stop designers from moving forward and a 150 cc single-cylinder engine prototype was created in 1910. To address the steering problem, some manufacturers built monowheels with plane propellers.
In the 1930s, science magazines started producing car-like monowheel concepts. They were enclosed by glass and metal and could seat a lot of people. This might have been a creative approach, but none of these concepts ever translated into real life.
In addition to being difficult to steer, a monowheel had other issues:
- Visibility – As the rider was inside the wheel, they needed to face the wheel’s inner rim. This obstructed their view and made the monowheel hazardous to the rider and other road users.
- Horizontal stability – There was always the risk of the wheel falling off, unless it had active stabilisation like a gyroscope. The rider also needed to put their feet on the ground when not in motion.
- Gerbiling – There was a risk of the rider spinning around the inside of the wheel. This was called ‘gerbiling’ due to the similarity of a gerbil running too quickly inside a hamster wheel.
Despite the limitations, manufacturers continued to create monowheels as a novelty vehicle. There have been a lot of variations, including an electric monowheel called a Dynasphere that was tested in the UK.
An intriguing variant was brought out in 2003 called the RIOT wheel. It involved the rider sitting in front of the wheel and being balanced by a heavy counterweight. The RIOT wheel was powered by a sprocket attached to the spokes.
What do you think of the Monowheel? Do you believe it’s a good invention or something that should never have been attempted?