Tom Burke and Ryan Sinatra have both been riding “The Wheel” for around 6 years. What’s The Wheel, you ask? Well, maybe you’ve heard of its predecessor, the “One Wheel,” or the “Airwheel”? No? Well, how about the prehistoric model that initially launched onto the scene in 2001 – the “Segway”? There have been many iterations of these types of futuristic vehicles, but “The Wheel” is the real deal, according to Burke and Sinatra who just rode to Rochester and back on these bizarro contraptions.
Albeit bizarre, what we are looking at here is a 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque mode of transportation. I know that they said the same thing about the Segway, which has finally halted production. But you might say that the Segway opened people’s eyes to the possibilities, and even opened the door for other types of “human transporters” to successfully break into the market, albeit a bit painfully.
To that end, the thought of riding The Wheel to Rochester and back seems totally ludicrous, daunting… and even painful. We’re not talking about a walk in the park here. Instead we’re talking about a personal transport vehicle that can travel at speeds of 40MPH, and has a 50 mile range on a single charge. The model of choice for Burke and Sinatra is the 1300 watt hour, 84 volts Gotway MSX.
I asked the adventurous duo how they first gravitated towards The Wheel, and they said that they have been hooked ever since they saw a commercial for one of the early-on models that went 10 MPH and needed to be recharged at the drop of a helmet. “This is actually an Electric Unicycle that we’re looking at here,” said Burke, who noted that technology is finally progressing at a fast clip. “Not only is this latest model fast, it’s very maneuverable. It’s the best Personal Electronic Vehicle (PEV) on the planet.
The two told me that there is a growing community of riders in Buffalo. “Ten that we know of.” And while that might not seem like a lot, the floodgates might soon open – it depends on who you’re talking to.
In order to fully immerse themselves into culture, Burke and Sinatra drive up to Toronto on occasion, where they ride along with 40 others on group excursions, although COVID-19 has put a damper on those international road trips. That’s why they decided to test out a trip to Rochester. And when I say test, I mean test. We’re talking about a ride where you don’t know the trails, you have no idea where to recharge, and you don’t know where to rest or eat due to COVID-19. “It’s the same rules and regs as bicycles,” Burke mentioned. “We pretty much went on Rails to Trails routes along the Erie Canal. Previous to Rochester, we did a 50 mile ride, so we figured, what’s another 26 miles? What we didn’t take into account was the twists and the turns of the trails, and a little backtracking, which brought the journey to 95 miles each way.”
“That’s the same distance to Cleveland,” Sinatra interjected. “When we got to the hotel it was the best ever. Half way to Rochester we learned that our intended host couldn’t accommodate us anymore, due to virus precautions. When we arrived in Rochester at 3:30am, we had to find a hotel.”
“Yeah, and that’s when his celebratory beer exploded in his backpack,” laughed Burke. “Ryan also had an interesting time navigating the fast food drive-throughs – the people behind the windows would ask us if this was some sort of an experiment. There are three different reactions that we got on the trip – stern looks, laughs, and those who completely ignored us.” “Dogs loved to lunge at us,” added Sinatra.
Here are a few lessons and takeaways from the duo:
- The learning curve is super easy
- Make sure that you have comfortable shoes for long distance trips
- Never take your eyes off the road – there are distractions like patches of sand and gravel
- You can ride in the rain – The Wheel is water resistant
- You can stand or sit on The Wheel, both are fun. Standing is easier.
- “Respect The Beep” – when the unit beeps, it’s telling you that it’s about to “spike the voltage” and then shuts off to protect the motherboard from getting fried. When you hear the beep, slow down, and get off.
Burke and Sinatra consider themselves pioneers when it comes to these types vehicles, which are still relatively new to the market. “That’s why we want to set good examples,” said Burke. “We always wear helmets and protective gear, we go slower around pedestrians on the trails… this is the future of transportation – it’s going to become main stream with more regulations… we want to show that we are responsible, unlike the electric scooter that people are so reckless, and leave all over the place.” “When you own the vehicle, you’re more responsible,” Sinatra agreed. “At the same time I don’t think it’s going to catch on as fast as Tom says, because of the price tag, which is $1600. That’s not cheap.”
There’s something romantic about being out on the open road.
Burke said that his greatest takeaway from the epic journey was the sense of the freedom. “There’s something romantic about being out on the open road. You never know what you’re going to see, or who you’re going to meet. From Amish children to crotch rocket riders – everyone is fascinated with The Wheel.”
While Burke told me that he can’t wait to get back on the road again, Sinatra was actually hesitant. The trip took more of a toll on him, including a fall going about 25MPH. “I straightened my legs,” he said. “I should have been more relaxed. There are no shock absorbers or suspensions on these things (yet). Standing for four hours straight can be tough – Tom is better at riding sitting down than I am.”
According to Burke and Sinatra, only a couple of other riders have ever undertaken a ride like this, and one was the creator of The Wheel. Next, the two want to “wheel” to Chautauqua or the Finger Lakes.
What’s up next for this crew? Burke wants to open a shop in Buffalo. He’s excited to sell the next generation of The Wheel, which will be 24″ (current is 19″wheel), and will run around $2500. “This version will be more like a touring vehicle for longer distances,” he explained. “One charge will take a rider all the way to Rochester, instead of three stops. Like I said, this is the future – everyone is interested in The Wheel, and now the technology has finally caught up with all of the expectations.”
For anyone looking to find out more about making a purchase, check out www.ewheels.com. To follow Burke and Sinatra on their future adventures, tune into:
Burke IG: @SherwoodForest
Sinatra IG: @ryansinatra.jpeg