Airwheel 600 – A Year-in Review
Who’s counting the hours ?
I am. Thought it was about time I did another Airwheel blog as I have finally crossed the ‘600 hours on it’ mark, a relatively landmark moment, because it means that my time on the machine has cost just £1 an hour and every hour I spend on it now just makes that even cheaper and better value for money. It has to be said I am truly impressed with the reliability and the lack of ongoing costs in the year and a bit since I’ve had mine.
Indeed, my Airwheel X5 has moved me over 3500 miles, saved me an incredible amount on petrol, and made all my journeys much more enjoyable than walking or driving into the bargain. She looks a bit worn round the edges now, but she’s still motoring along…
The Joy of the Ride
You can train yourself to do some pretty amazing things on an Airwheel, but I have found all my efforts focused on practical riding skills rather than backwards rolls and up-kerb jumps. The stunt manoeuvres are much fun to try (and fail at), but ultimately it’s the forward ride where it counts, and getting from A to B without having to put a foot down.
Once the novelty of riding a ‘virtual hoverboard’ wears off (although I’m not sure it ever does completely), there remains a certain delight to be taken in how gracefully and effortlessly I can navigate the varied terrains of my normal ride into town. It becomes less about specific riding moves and more about economy of movement, and choosing perfect paths through the landscape, then riding them at precisely the correct speed. A foot-down is a disappointment, but actually falling off, for any reason except mechanical failure is now considered pretty much an ultimate fail. But, mainly thanks to my much practiced ‘look-ahead’ skills, I can’t remember the last time I fell off mine.
But no matter how good you get at riding an Airwheel, challenge still remains whenever riding in public because of people, cars, animals and potholes, all of which my journeys encounter regularly and sometimes at very close range. You quickly learn that you need pretty superb control of that machine to successfully navigate all the hazards that a typical ride might present.
No matter how good one’s look-ahead skills are, if you’re riding on pavements and walkways there are always going to be young children, dogs, and texting adults, all of whom move erratically and unpredictably, and most of the time aren’t looking where they are going. They are always moving much more slowly than the Airwheel, so we must overtake them from behind, or get past them without incident if they’re going the other way.
The problem is lack of awareness on their part – sometimes they simply don’t see you until you are inches away from them, so you must predict what they are going to do and choose the path around them that is least likely to go wrong should they do a sudden random swerve, or even a dead stop in your path. In a busy shopping center you have to be even more careful because there are so many people going in so many directions, and there are shop entrances, shopping trolleys and bollards to be avoided. And in the Summer holidays, even more young children running chaotically everywhere.
Occasionally, I find myself trapped in a non-overtakable space where the path ahead is blocked by enough people to take up all of it, forcing the sort of slow down that makes balancing much more difficult, though not impossible. It is possible to ride at around 1-2 mph for extended periods of time, but it does feel painfully slow, so sometimes I just find something to lean on, stop, and wait for the path to clear.
But all of these journey hazards are fine because it’s very enjoyable to develop those spatial skills, and rewarding to successfully avoid collisions by forward planning. Just very occasionally now I might have to dead stop and dismount because I didn’t think a path through well enough, or someone I didn’t see just appeared out of nowhere, but most of the time the levels of control the Airwheel provides are more than enough to cope with rides in busy pedestrian areas and right next to traffic without having to put a foot down.
And if you really need a clear run, then you can always just go wheeling early in the morning or late at night when there is nobody around…
When I first got my Airwheel I set about testing it in the countryside on every type of terrain I could think of, but now, a year in, I’ve got all that out of my system and realised that the most enjoyable rides are the ones where I’m not having to concentrate furiously hard on the terrain at all times to avoid falling off.
To that end I have found and refined a series of ‘perfect runs’ to the places I need to get to regularly, routes that are comprised of the smoothest surfaces, the nicest scenery and the most enjoyable ride lines. I am lucky, Petersfield is mostly very well surfaced and even the lake path is good enough that only minimal concentration is required to ride it. That riverside cycleway into town is really good for Airwheels, and it’s never not enjoyable to get into town that way.
It’s one of the best things about having an Airwheel, no matter how exhausted from work or whatever I am, I can still just hop on my little wheel and get effortlessly glided to some lovely scenery for a relaxing cup of tea by the lake. Brilliant. And for less than a pound a go. Bargain. After 600 hours I can’t say I’ve noticed much reduction in ride time either – the battery is still providing around 7 miles of range in the warm weather, with that reducing to more like 4 or 5 in the Winter months, where Lithium batteries do less well. This is more than enough to get my shopping in and go once round the lake and back home, so I am still happy with that.
A year in I must conclude that the Airwheel X5 is possibly the best purchase I have ever made. The sheer amount of enjoyment it brings to otherwise mundane tasks like shopping and travel make it well worth the £600 price tag. And that is before we get to the petrol savings. The Airwheel has all but replaced my car, which only gets used now for long journeys to work at the weekends. All other driving and shopping is now by wheel, and for only about 25p’s worth of electricity a recharge.
There are a few minor negatives I should mention – the design of the input valve on the inner tube could be improved so that it doesn’t weaken with every re-fill, and I wish my X5 could go a little bit faster. 11 mph feels just a touch slow when you’ve been on one a while. 20 mph max would be perfect.
As keen as I am on the more exciting flying machines, the biggest problem is that you need the weather to be right, and that’s sometimes a pain if you live in the UK. The Airwheel doesn’t care however, and works just as well in torrential downpours and horrific winds as it does on sunny afternoons, so I’m extra pleased that I’ve always got something cool to do when I can’t be out flying.
If you haven’t guessed, I can heartily recommend the Airwheel X series.
Go get yours from here, not Amazon, where you might be sold a fake, made with cheap, easy-break parts.
Update: As of Sep 2015, the X5 is not listed on the airwheel web site. Other X series models, and the Q series remain available, together with Airboards, an e-bike, and the new A3 segway-style machine.