Eric Rowe is easy to spot.
He’s the guy astride an electric unicycle in black motorcycle gear and a helmet with a neon blue mohawk on top cruising the streets and trails of Snohomish County.
It turns a lot of heads and draws some excited finger-pointing, especially from children.
Most of the time he’s not alone.
Rowe, 48, is part of a small but growing group of electric unicycle (EUC, as enthusiasts call them) riders in Snohomish County. There are a handful of members in the Everett evening EUC rides Facebook group, a collection of people with a shared interest in zipping around the area on the motorized mono-wheeled devices.
“Two years ago, people looked at you like you were an alien,” said Jeff Smith, an electric unicycle rider who lives in Marysville.
Electric unicycles are pretty much what one might imagine: one wheel with an electric motor that powers its momentum. It diverges from pedal-powered unicycles in form and speed.
Some have suspensions and use motorcycle tires. Foot stands replace pedals so riders can balance. A seat is available to rest on, and some have telescoping handles.
Those options let the rider sit or stand when moving. Sitting helps reduce wind resistance.
Everett EUC group members Randy Gane, Jeff Smith and Rowe didn’t ride traditional unicycles before they tried the modern motorized versions. But they have heard that analog unicyclists can learn to ride an electric one faster than most people.
Leaning forward moves the electric unicycle forward, and the greater the lean the higher the speed. When a rider goes fast, it can look like they’re just a few degrees from falling face first.
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Gane, 63, got into riding electric unicycles in August after riding a Onewheel, a brand name for something like skateboards but with one large central wheel to balance atop. He’s convinced there’s an evolution for Onewheels and electric scooters to electric unicycles.
His desire to go faster, farther and ride on something other than pavement drew him to an electric unicycle. His King Song S-22 gets around 40 miles in a single charge and has suspension to take on dirt and gravel trails in east Snohomish County.
But they’re also fast, with the King Song model topping out around 40 mph. Other makes and models can go faster.
That speed can make falling dangerous without proper use and precautions. A reality TV star recently was hospitalized after apparently crashing while riding an electric unicycle near New Orleans.
Gane, Rowe and Smith know the risks. They wear helmets with full face protection, elbow and knee pads, plastic body armor and wrist guards. They also rarely push their unicycles to their top speeds and try to stay at bicycle speeds, usually between 15 and 20 mph, and adhere to “trail etiquette.”
“It saved me last weekend,” Smith said, pointing out the scratches on his pads from crashing on a forest trail ride near Monroe.
Usually it only takes a couple of falls for new riders to invest in the proper gear, Gane said. Plus crashing jeopardizes the often expensive investment that can cost between $500 and $5,000. Gane, Rowe and Smith’s models were between $2,100 and $3,200.
Smith, 64, was a skier and liked riding on personal watercraft for the thrill. But his knees couldn’t take the impact anymore.
He tried riding a Onewheel and Segway that friends had. From there, he was hooked on personal electric vehicles and got into electric uncycling.
Learning to ride it, especially the first step of just mounting and moving, took a little time.
“It’s like learning to ride a bike all over again,” Rowe said.
Their devices weigh just under 80 pounds. It’s a bit of heft to get into motion at first, especially for new riders who haven’t figured out the feel yet.
Gane, Rowe and Smith use theirs for recreation, but people can use it for transportation. Despite the weight, it can shrink to fit under a desk, if someone rode one to work. To charge a full battery, it takes about three hours.
The trio got into electric unicycles for the portability. Compared to an e-bike, which is heavy and large, the unicycles are compact. Gane drives a Fiat 500e, an electric compact car. There’s no room for an e-bike in there without a rack, and many e-bikes need sturdy trailer hitch-mounted racks instead of ones strapped to a trunk.
During a sunny Sunday afternoon roll along the Everett waterfront, people around Boxcar Park took long looks at them as they rumbled through the gravel parking, across the grass lawn and onto the trail. Along the boardwalk, they weaved through people biking, pushing strollers and walking. Atop the bluff at Grand Avenue Park, someone on a bench photographed them as they rolled past.
“I’ve been by some skate parks,” Smith said, “and the looks I get are something.”
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