Silly Scooters, Seg-Things, Ninebot One, and Big Chuck in China (and videos)

DEC 31 2014 BY TDILLARD 13

A lot of people consider a vacation to involve white sand beaches, umbrella drinks delivered on sterling trays and long, delicious afternoon naps within the sound of the lapping surf.  Not our friend Big Chuck.  We’ll leave it to your internet detective skills to learn the true identity of Big Chuck, but he’s the kind of guy who schedules his vacations to visit China and Japan’s Maker studios, manufacturing districts – starting with Shenzhen, southern China, and street vendor EV parts tents.

Where he found this.

Seg-thing, street vendor, China

Seg-thing, street vendor, China

Chuck and his Maker bros call them “seg-things” – Segway-like devices that are self-balancing (thus, “it can seg.”) and, surprisingly ubiquitous on the streets of China.  From his blog:

Also strangely common: These things. You might know them as solowheels, but their ilk populates this area like no other small transportation utensil I’ve ever seen. I think they spawn somewhere in the area. Maybe  2 dozen vendors over the whole day just had one or two sitting about. The lowest price I sweet-talked one to (and I wasn’t out to buy one, so I didn’t try very hard) was 1300 RMB or right around $200.

Here’s the SoloWheel:

SoloWheel, from Inventist

SoloWheel, from Inventist

Want a taste of what it’s like to ride one of these things?  Look no further than the SoloWheel’s instruction video:

There’s more.  Oh yes, much more.  This is only one example of the small, personal sized seg-things he saw there:

More seg-things

More seg-things: IMUVE02 Skateboard Scooter

Fascinating.  Read on, and you’ll see Chuck went off sleuthing to find the homeworld for the IMUVE02: Sunnytimes, and even paid them a visit, where they were remarkably forthcoming in sharing the details of their design, the products and their company.

We were looking at the Ninebot One, too.

Ninebot One

Ninebot One

They have some instructional videos too, but this one is more fun: stunting on the Ninebot One:

You’ve got to guess that it took all of maybe an hour before the first stunt was attempted on the first working prototype, right?  How can this not be a blast?

And now for the editorial.

We, in the US, have our notions about what Chinese manufacturing is all about, and after seeing this firsthand account of the bits and pieces available in China, literally on the street, it’s hard to make a case that they’re not one of the most aggressive and open “Maker” markets in the world.  Our particularly self-serving and self-aggrandizing view is that the US and others invent everything cool, and the Chinese simply rip it off.

Considering what could be fabricated by a simple walk down a street with some cash in hand on the streets of Shenzhen, compared with how much time and effort it would take to collect the same parts in the US, it’s hard to argue that they’re not encouraging invention and development of new technology – whether robotics, simple electronics or EVs.  Let’s talk about EVs.  China is the world’s biggest market for electric Vespa-style scooters and e-Bikes.  Granted, they have a huge air pollution problem still, but as Chuck put it:

I some times discount Tesla and all of the big Western efforts at “green transportation” and “future mobility” because of all the publicity, chest pounding, and government money-getting – the “look at us, we’re changing the world because we’re so awesome!” approach. In the mean time, you have these Chinese companies who literally have put tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people on electric wheels in the past 10-15 years.

When I came to Beijing in 2007, everyone still rode normal bikes. There are still normal bikes here too, but the 电动车 is now what you see 80% of people riding while carrying their extended family, week’s groceries, and two chickens. All on a 350 watt hub motor, even! Dirt simple, dirt cheap, and reliable.

No judgement here, just an observation.  After following the travels of Big Chuck through this paradise of pieces and parts, we’re a lot less inclined to view China as simply a knock-off machine, but as competitors who have stepped up their game.  Indeed.  When we stop seeing them as “them”, and us as “us”, and realize we’re all trying to bring the world into the 21st century, maybe some barriers can be dropped and some work can really start.


Don’t miss the entire journey:

Categories: Bikes, General


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13 Comments on "Silly Scooters, Seg-Things, Ninebot One, and Big Chuck in China (and videos)"

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Solo wheel video 47 seconds in “And that you use good judgement when you ride your solo wheel” As the rider is seen riding with his hands securely in his coat pockets.

All kidding aside, China will definitely be EV innovators. I just hope that can be said of us all. So far, so good.

It’s sad that things like those will never be legal to ride in germany, without a license plate, front and rear lights and signals and a horn …

One of the biggest issues with dynamically balancing devices, is that they DO NOT COAST. The drivetrain MUST to be powered 100% of the time, or the rider falls. Any part fails; and you have a rider in peril.

The Segway was developed over 10 years, before it was shown to the world. Dean and team learned early on, that high quality components and redundancy were very important in ensuring rider safety.

The Chinese clones often are built from the cheapest components and don’t offer critical backups to motor windings, batteries, etc., if there are onboard hardware failures. This makes clones much cheaper, but also far more less reliable and safe.

Segway is currently trying to legally prevent copying their hardware designs and manuals from dangerous Chinese clones. These cheap machines have found their way to the US, and now endanger unknowing citizens who think they’re getting a cool transportation alternative, at a much cheaper price. But the risks to life and limb, just aren’t worth it.

Get the real thing. Get a Segway.

I have an Airwheel q3 (similar to the models above, but on the high end). I work at a large U.S. campus, and this thing has been a life changer. These things are going to explode in the U.S. market. Its not for everyone, but I have about 700 miles on mine in 4 months, and riding it is second nature. I have ordered a second unit, a Ninebot One (seen above) as I wanted something super sporty, a little faster, and more portable).

If you are considering getting one of these, look at the Q series in Airwheel. It has 2 wheels very close together (functions as a single wheel) and it decreases the learning curve significantly compared to the single wheel models.

BTW… Ignore the comment from anonymous… First of all, Segway doesn’t make a e-cycle. Solowheel is the American e-cycle maker, but the price is through the roof for a product that is LESS quality than the major Chinese competitors (Airwheel, Ninebot, IPS, for example). I have personally examined and ridden a Solowheel. It SUCKED compared to my airhwheel in every way. The major competitors have out-innovated and increased the quality over Solowheel…

Consider the Ninebot One, for example. It has a solid metal block at the top of the unit holding everything together. The solowheel is just the wheel assembly covered by a plastic shell. The Ninebot has audio, visual, and tactive feedback when you are exceeding its capabilities. Far more safety alerts than the Solowheel.

Solowheel suck and are to expensive. Segway is great, but it too expensive. There is a reason they are getting so many competitors

It’s all fun and games until your unit fails, and you need reconstructive surgery to rebuild your jaw from a “faceplant”.

You might then question the wisdom of buying a dynamically balanced transporter with cheap Chinese capacitors, single wound motors, cheap batteries that burn when punctured, and no computer backup if there is a glitch.

700 miles, eh? Lets see if your device gets to over 14,000 + miles, like my Segway has.

Hmmm. So they’ve sold 300,000 air wheels in China alone in the last year? Have they even sold 100k of that overpriced sidewalk hog since it was overproduced? When you’re trying to figure out to get over that curb, or how to get around a group of people, I’ll be way to. Segway sucks compared to this.

I must have had my French keyboard loaded, because that previous response was unintelligible, and must have been some weird autocorrects. I was saying that Airwheel has sold over 300,000 of their products in 2014. I don’t hear of mass ‘face reconstructions’. I don’t think they would be around long if that were the case. The segways are so overpriced that I doubt they sold over 100k in their entire existence. And as someone who rides in a city, every day, I often come across situations, where as a rider of a small device, I am easily able to circumnavigate obstacles. There are places I ride, everyday, that a Segway would not go. And you’re going to have fun loading and unloading that large waste of technology in and out of a trunk, then having to assemble it, when I just pull the e-cycle out of the trunk, set it on the ground, and go. The Segway has been a failure because it is expensive, too big, too heavy, and just plain not what it was hyped to be. Glad it works for you, but its obvious the e-cycle is going to dominate the market place.

Thanks. FYI. These things aren’t $200. They do have some total junk in China that will set you back that little, but expect $650-$1250 depending on features and range.

As stated, there are super cheap versions of them, but that’s not the majority of what people are riding. Those units for $200 in China will cost you $400 after it is shipped to the US, and the big players, like Airwheel, cost much more. So, there is junk out there, but most of thr Chinese e-cycles are neither junk nor $200

I ride a FireWheel F-779 and GotWay mSuper 18″. Neither have failed and I’ve modified the alarm systems and added features. These machines are like magic, I hope they come to the U.S. so we can improve up on them wit our higher standards.