WHY WALK WHEN you can glide? With the help of motion sensors, tiny computers and electric motors, a new breed of personal-transportation devices (sometimes misleadingly called hoverboards) is creating more efficient and thrilling ways to travel.
These electric-powered devices, which charge via a household outlet, have no clunky steering mechanisms or easy-to-lose remote controls. You pilot them by shifting your weight. Once you get the hang of them, it’s almost as if they’re reading your mind. Look toward your desired destination, lean in that direction and whoooosh.
To help you stay upright, motion sensors feed data to a computer that figures out how to engage the motor. They can sense when a wheel needs to pivot just enough to keep you steady—and when to accelerate.
Learning to ride these is easier than mastering a bike, but good balance is required. Unless you’re a seasoned skateboarder or Rollerblader, plan on inching around your driveway like Bambi taking his first steps. A helmet, as well as elbow, knee and wrist pads, are recommended.
The legality of these devices, such as the three featured here, is murky. Although no law currently prohibits the use of the OneWheel in California, for example, the company lobbied to pass a law, going into effect next year, that explicitly allows it to be ridden wherever bicycles are permitted. The U.K. has banned the IO Hawk, but it’s legal in most of the U.S.
The only other caveat is that these devices are heavy. Lugging them through a train station or the lobby of an office building can be a drag. (The IO Hawk weighs 22 pounds, the OneWheel 3 pounds more; each RocketSkate weighs 7.5 pounds.)
But these gadgets are not meant to be carried. They’re designed to fly. Here are three especially smooth rides.
For Carving Turns | OneWheel
Top Speed: 15 mph
Range: 7 miles
Charging Time: 20 minutes
This 30-inch-long board with a huge wheel suspended in the middle might seem like an accident waiting to happen. But cruising on the OneWheel is not as daunting as it might look, thanks to a gyroscope and accelerometer embedded in the platform. The system not only controls acceleration and braking based on how your weight is distributed—it also helps you stay upright. A smartphone app lets you dial back top speed and acceleration rate.
That said, the OneWheel is challenging to get the hang of. To engage the device, place your back foot on one side and set your dominant foot on a spot marked on the other platform. You’ll feel the system kick in. Then lean in either direction to roll forward or backward.
It took me about two very fraught minutes to get comfortable enough to inch forward on my own. Ten minutes later I was able to make tentative wide turns. Before long, though, I got it. The 11-inch air-filled tire, I discovered, flies over rough road and sand with barely a hiccup. $1,499, rideonewheel.com
For Ease of Use | IO Hawk
Top Speed: 6.2 mph
Range: 12 miles
Charging Time: 3 hours
The IO Hawk is as easy to master as a Segway—just stand and lean—but you don’t look as dorky on one. Unlike a Segway, the IO Hawk has no dignity-abusing handle poking up. It’s also a lot smaller. (It has celebrity cred, too, for what that’s worth: Justin Bieber and other boldfaced names have been spotted on it.)
A few seconds after hopping on, I was whizzing around with confidence as the electric motor whirred beneath me. Each wheel can be controlled separately (it’s like having two gas pedals), so I had no trouble making tight turns. And since the wheels can spin forward and backward, twirling in place is a cinch. This is what it would feel like to have wheels for feet.
The LED lights in front are bright enough to illuminate any divots in the road. They also draw attention to your futuristic ride. Before long, I was hooked. I’d even look for excuses to roam the office with it. It’s a great way to get to the water cooler and back. $1,800,iohawk.com
For Skating | RocketSkates R10
Top Speed: 12 mph
Range: 10 miles
Charging Time: 2.5 hours
Yes, these self-propelled roller skates were inspired by Road Runner cartoons in which Wile E. Coyote supercharges his roller skates using dynamite. Thankfully, these use 55-watt motors.
After you step into the RocketSkates and buckle them over your shoes, you begin as you would with traditional skates: Push off on your dominant foot. Once both skates are rolling, you can activate their motors by tilting your foot forward. To brake, lean back on your heels.
Sounds easy enough, but it took me about an hour to feel steady on my motorized feet. Two motors is a lot to keep track of—which I realized when my feet would pull in different directions if I went duck-toed. You don’t need skating experience, but it’s definitely helpful to have clocked time at the roller rink.
Like the OneWheel, these have an app that lets you adjust the riding mode from beginner to expert. It’ll also let you tailor the skates’ performance by taking into account your weight and height. $699, actonglobal.com
Corrections & Amplifications
The OneWheel is legal to ride in California. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said its use is illegal in the state.