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Posted by on Aug 2, 2014 in Blog, Video

The Great Uphill Challenge

Get up that hill

Thar she blows...

Thar she blows…

As far as impressive hills go, none come bigger or more intimidating (well, within a 20 mile radius of my front door :) than Butser, home to many a hobbyist, including me and my flying machines.

But today, I’m here to test the limits of my Airwheel (X5) as I make it carry me and a large flask of earl grey tea from the bottom to the top of the South slope, arguably the second easiest way up, after the main road in, which is a gentler climb. It’s a reasonable challenge to attempt, as the other ways up are almost certainly beyond the scope of my little wheel. Perhaps a double-motored double power Q3, or a Rockwheel could get up those, but I can’t, so I’ll try the ones that might just work if I’m lucky with me and my little 500 watt motor…

If you had an X3 here, I’ll be honest – you won’t make it up this slope with 400 watts and your weight, which I’ll guarantee you is a fair bit more than my 9 stone.

Start at the Bottom

Having wheeled myself for half a Km to the field at the base of the hill (mistake) and having been out with it briefly before this mission, I was down to 3 lights shortly after I started. I wondered if that would be enough, and suspected not.

This moderate but protracted climb starts gently enough, with perhaps as little as a 1:6 gradient, and the Air wheel seems more than happy with the rough bumpy bike paths, but after a few hundred yards that starts change as the hill begins to steepen toward and then beyond the recommended Air wheel max of 1:5, around a 2o degree slope.

Where I would have gone...

Where I would have gone…

That steepens more and more until we hit the hardest part, which is perhaps 1:3 over short grassed but rutty ground, littered with rabbit tunnels and entrance holes, any of which can pitch you off the wheel if you hit them at the wrong angle. They pitched me off twice, once on the way up and once on the way down. No injuries thanks to slow speeds, quick jump-off plans and good wrist braces. Helmet not required again I note…

The hardest wall to climb…

It was at this point that I first noticed my Airwheel begin to complain and have problems keeping under me as I leaned forward further and further to try and show it the way forward. At one point I couldn’t escape rabbit holes so had to manually carry to 20 yards or so on to slightly flatter bit, because launching on rough terrain up a very steep slope is almost impossible. At the very worst point I was going uphill, but so slowly I was struggling to retain balance.

The final hurdle…

Fortunately, that steep section passes after about 200 yards, and we can pick up a small bit of speed as we get up the next 300 yards of more reasonable 1:4-5 hill-top. But that steep section has really caned my batteries – I’m down to 2 lights already, and I’ve traveled not even a mile.

By the time I made it to near the top,  I was down to 1 light, and got my first battery warning (15% remaining), prompting me to turn around, and test another property of the Airwheel – its battery regeneration !

Both brave, in our own ways.

Both brave, in our own ways.

Downhill Derby


Racing the sun back home…

Going down a hill and the consistent braking that involves causes the wheel to convert my mass, as acted upon by gravity back into electricity, which it feeds to the battery. I’ve never been able to find any statistics about how much power can be returned to the pack this way, but for the first time today I definitely regenerated a whole light’s worth of extra welly – that’s 25% of total, and that gave me easily another mile or so over tarmac and trails to get back to the car park.

Result. Hill conquered. Only just, but it did it. And I am that more experienced and a very happy rider for the experience :)

Points of Note

In the last 3 days of rides I have encountered 3 mildly problematic situations with dogs, every single one of which would not have occurred, or could have been solved if that dog had been trained or on a lead, or both. I’ve had old blind dogs that dither in the middle of a path with their owners, making it impossible to predict which side to best pass them on, I’ve had young and untrained Rottweilers that are terrified of anything with wheels running all over the place on an entry ramp to the A3 (that was today!), and I’ve had a few dogs think it’s hilarious to try and run after me for prolonged periods of time, something that owners, quite wrongly, consider to be somehow my fault.

One woman even got quite aggressive when I stopped to wait for her, and informed me the path was for walkers, not for wheels. I pointed out I had one wheel, and was a pedestrian like her, except better equipped. I didn’t mention the dogs on leads thing.

But in all the places I was riding, dogs are meant to be on leads, and as I have noticed for years and years now while out flying, the majority of dog owners globally ignore that rule, and some seem to hold the other person responsible when their dogs run into, harass other park users. Ordinarily I wouldn’t care what dogs were doing (except when I’m trying to land a flyer) – they are rarely threatening, but if they get under my wheel whilst enthusiastically yapping alongside me that’s not going to end well for anybody.

In delightful contrast, the 2 wolves I passed today were beautifully trained and on leads, so we caused each other no problems when we met twice round the lake, even though they growled at me the first time. More like them please.

Happy ridings / flyings / watching / living